DIARY OF A PRAIRIE TRAVELER
By W. O. Browitt
The writer of this diary was a cultured young lady raised in a very well-to-do home in Cincinnati [Cincinnatti], and her education was much above the average. Graduated from a convent, she was trained in music and art, and was principal of the schools in Ludow, Ky. There her health failed and she came to Nebraska with her brother, Lou Eggleston. A young neighbor, William Browitt, found the attractive young lady very necessary to his happiness, and they were married July 13, 1880, the first couple to be married in the new little town of Bradshaw. Mr. Browitt had homesteaded in Custer county in the spring of 1880, near where the town of Callaway now stands. There he built a sod house and made other improvements, making several trips in covered wagon with furniture and provisions.
Arriving back in York county on Christmas day, 1880, he was weather-bound until spring when he returned with his bride. The events of that trip are recorded in this diary, which becomes of unusual interest when one realizes how strange it must have seemed to the young woman whose training in music and art had scarcely prepared her for the life of a pioneer's wife. Beautiful pictures of her painting adorn the home of Mr. Browitt in Bradshaw today, and one of them, an oil painting of cows in a beautiful setting of lush grass and still water, makes one think of the contrary Sally mentioned so frequently in the following diary:
April 16, 1881: Saturday afternoon we started for our new home. Will and I and our possessions and Joe accompanying us. Our wagon is a moving farm. On the back is the coop of chickens and ducks and within are the two calves, grains, feed, irons, boxes, clothes, old boots and shoes, papers, mittens, "grub" in boxes, and jars; with the pans and tea pots tossing around on the bed, for we also have one on top of the above articles and its height is so great that when we lie down our noses touch the wagon covers. Nep and Dixie, the team, pull us all day long, while Cap and Fannie, the dogs tied to the wagon, trudge along behind the horses. Sallie and Rose, the cows, are tied to Joe's wagon so we can watch that Rose goes along alright.
Saturday evening: Sallie fell down several times, till at last it was time to stop and after trying several places to get hay and stabling we at last succeeded and drove into the yard of a Dutchman to camp. Poor Sallie was sick but we waited on her good and let the calf out of the wagon with her till morning. None of us could sleep for little Beauty, the calf, bawling all night.
Sunday, April 17, 1881: Up and off bright and early. Sallie is much refreshed and both cows travel better. In the afternoon Joe's horses broke the double-tree in two pulling through a bad place, and our horses stuck in the same place ; but Sam, Joe's horse, pulled us out. Will and Joe doctored up the double-tree, till they got to a house where they found a stick to make one. They with several men and boys from that house made one while I and the traveling farm waited in the road. Arthur Wellman came along on the road at Grand Island and talked a while. We camped at a house three miles east of the Grand Island bridge, and Joe at the second house ahead.
Monday, April 18, 1881: We started off early and overtook Joe. Cattle were refreshed and handled good. We got to Grand Island for dinner. Will milked Sally and I picked a goose Joe had shot and cleaned it ready to cook for supper. We camped near Shrupperville mill. Had a fire from coal that Will picked up along the railroad, and had goose for supper. It was delicious and we all had our fill even the dogs, and now Will and I are preparing for bed.
Tuesday, April 19, 1881: We are now camped at Shelton in the edge of town which is a little one horse concern, and while Will and Joe are repairing a double-tree I must jot down a few words to remember the talking widow with the pink sunbonnet [runbonnet] that came up to see me a few minutes ago. She informed me that she traveled the same way eight years ago, and three years ago her husband died, and now she has come to town to live. Her home is in the process of construction across the way, and I suppose will be a neat little frame house although it is just commenced.
Will and I had lots of fun this morning as we always do as he is full of mischief. And now we are ready to start out again, but will visit till the train we see has passed, for it frightens Nep and Dixie so to pass the engine. We have journeyed along the railroad this afternoon with only a few stops, passing through Shelton and Gibbon and now have camped a mile west of Gibbon at a great big comfortable farm home. We cooked our supper by the campfire. This is a pretty place, Wood River running through the yard you might say. And oh! what a drove of cattle they drove from the pasture into the barn yard. There are also seven or eight head of horses and colts frisking about. Tomorrow noon we expect to reach Kearney and then leave the railroad. Will has played the tramp most all the way from Grand Island walking along the railroad picking up old iron and coal also for our campfire. He has enough old nuts, burrs and bolts now to set him up in a wagon and harness shop.
Wednesday noon, April 20, 1881: We were off bright and early this morning and the cattle traveled up well. We have dined in Kearney, quite a large, thriving city for the west. While eating dinner we saw a man who looked so much like brother Jim that he reminded us both of him. Will and Joe have gone to buy bailed hay and a window and lumber for the door for our new sod house. They have come back now, and are packing up the lumber, etc., into our wagons, and we will soon be off over the hills, leaving the railroad and making for the far west for our new home. I do wish we were there, and so does Will, for we are anxious to get home, put our crops in, and fix up the place. I was just going to stop writing when an old lady came up to the wagon for a chat, wanting to know if we were from Wisconsin. Says she came here this way in 1865. While talking her long string garter dropped off and fell at her feet but she carefully picked it up.
Thursday night, April 21, 1881: Here we are tonight in a lovely camping ground at the foot of an elevation of land. A great draw between us and the house opposite where we get hay and water. The cows are lariated on the grass eating and enjoying their rest in the cool, quiet evening. We all enjoy it for it is such a lovely spot and such a mild, pleasant evening. I picked up dead brush and Will and Joe made a booming fire and we cooked our supper and ate around the fire entertaining two or three men who came [same] over to have a chat with us poor travelers. We don't feel very poor on such a night as this, but last night just as we drove into camp it started raining and we had such a dismal time altogether that Will remarked, "It must be nice to be rich." We slept soundly in the covered wagon all night long while the rain was pouring down but we did not get wet. This evening we are opposite the post office called Trapper's Grove. It is a little log house and a short distance in front of us is the draw lined with timber, and on the level prairie at the foot of the draw is where we are camped. We are within 37 or 38 miles of our new home now. Tomorrow night is our last night out for we expect to reach there Saturday.
Friday noon: We were up bright and early this morning and had a good round breakfast (huge plate of toast and coffee) by a roaring camp fire. Several men were over and purchased seed corn at 70 cents per bushel. We could sell any quantity if we had it. The cows traveled [travelled] well this morning, and horses too, for we had several rivers to travel, and Nep and Dixie pulled like majors, only having to double-team once.
Tonight at 9 o'clock I am alone on the far off prairie in our covered wagon, with a revolver by my side in case it is needed and faithful and ever watchful old dog Cap chained to the front of the wagon to guard me from all danger 'till Will comes. He and Joe after camping and lunching by the roadside on this lonely prairie have gone back afoot three or four miles to bring the cow Sally who lagged behind so this afternoon 'till finding she would not go we lariated her on the grass and drove on to camp where we could feed and stop 'till morning. Sally is the most stubborn creature imaginable for we have tried every possible means to make her travel but could not. It makes one feel very bad – it spoiled all our pleasure on our trip. Will says he will never travel with cows again. It is very lonely here with no one but the horses, dogs, etc., to make it more so. To the left side of the road is a great pond of standing water and the usual accompaniment – thousands of frogs making the stillness hideous with their songs. Yes, it is very lonely and brings to my mind the great changes we undergo in this life. Quite different is my life now to only a few years ago when I was a free, careless, happy, school girl. How I should have laughed then at such a picture as surrounds me this evening with me for the central figure. Yet here I am now – a good example of the western traveler, and so far from feeling out of place it seems now to look back on those days that I was there out of place. Yet though I was happy then, I am still and more so for I have such a good and loving husband now to smooth the rough roads and brighten my way. And before long we shall have the brightest and happiest home in the world. I must listen for Will now, the wind is blowing very hard and I think I hear him coming.
Saturday night: After many trials and tribulations we arrived at our sod mansion about three o'clock this afternoon and no words can express our happiness that our wearisome journey is at an end. Yet we are not all here either – for that stubborn cow Sally concluded this morning that she would not accompany us any farther, and after the usual mild entreaties and persuasions to induce her along, we untied her from the wagon and tried to drive her along slowly after giving her a bucket of bran slop. However neither coaxing nor driving could conquer her and we finally decided to leave her at a farm house we were just passing and Will go back for her tomorrow. The people kindly took charge of her much to our relief for she has been the only deterrent to our pleasure during the trip.