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John R. Shinn’s 1850 Journal:

(Originally transcribed by me and compiled here)

With the exception of a (very) few spelling changes, the language and structure of this transcipt is in keeping with the original journal as written by John R. Shinn.

 

Transcribed 10 Feb 2009: “Here is the first installment of my ggggrandfather's covered wagon journal. It was written in 1850 on John's first trip to California (he would eventually settle there in 1854). John was from New Jersey but began his journal after crossing the Missouri River. He was a farmer and a surveyor so the journal is a little dry and mainly notes geographic and weather conditions during their journey but it is an interesting read nonetheless. I believe it can be found in the Bancroft Library at UCBerkeley and it is mentioned at Paper Trail

"John R. Shinn's Journal as kept by him in crossing the plains to
California 1850.

Commencing at Traders Point where the company crossed the
Missouri River.

1850
May 24 Crossed the
Missouri River. Traveled 10 miles over fine Rolling Prairie land. Camped on the Pappea Creek. Water good, and grass plenty and some wood. Weather very warm.

May 25 Traveled 18 miles over about the same kind of country as the day previous. Camped on the
Elk Horn River. Very good place to camp, this is a stream of considerable size, so much so as to cause us to ferry our wagons. Weather still warm.

May 26 Crossed the River. Traveled 6 miles. Camped on the
Platte River. Plenty feed, wood and water. Weather pleasant.

May 27 Traveled 20 miles over a level country. Camped by a small
Lake on the Platte Bottoms, good place to camp. Had quite a hard shower in the morning, saw some Indians they were quite friendly but great beggars.

May 28 Traveled 24 miles, country level. Crossed Shell Creek, had to bridge, camped by a small
Lake south of the road. Food and water good but very little wood. Plenty of Indians, they seem disposed to be friendly. Weather cool.

May 29 Traveled 18 and a half miles. Road good. Camped on the Loup fork at the place where they ferry. Good camping place, weather pleasant.

May 30 Crossed the River Loup Fork, this a very rapid and somewhat dangerous stream to cross, traveled 12 miles. Camped by a small lake or pond south of the road. Plenty of feed and water but little or no wood. Weather fine.

May 31 Traveled 23 miles. Road tolerable good. Camped about one mile from the Loup Fork by a small
Lake. Plenty of feed and water but no wood nearer than the water. Weather good."

For a map of his route, click here. I will post scans of the original journal soon. I've stuck to the journal pretty faithfully but he wasn't big on periods so I added a few to break up the sentences.

Note: John seems to have followed the Mormon Trail, though he wasn't Mormon. I've seen him also mentioned on a site for the Hastings Trail, though I don't know much about this route.”

 

Transcribed 16 Feb 2009: “… Here is volume two of the journal, which covers June 1st-15th:

"June 1st Traveled 21 and a half miles over somewhat rolling country. Camped on the Prairie. Food good, very little water and no wood. Rained very hard at night, had a stampede among the cattle.

June 2 Traveled 18 miles. Camped on Prairie Creek. Plenty water and grass but no wood. Weather warm.

June 3 Traveled 14 miles over a beautiful level country. Camped on
Wood River, very good place to camp. Had a fine shower in the evening.

June 4 Laid by to rest our teams and wash etc. Weather somewhat dull.

June 5 Stayed in camp at the above place on account of heavy rains and a stampede among the cattle. Weather good.

June 6 Stayed in camp. Some of the men out hunting cattle. Weather pleasant.

June 7 Traveled 25 miles over level country. Camped by a slough south of the road. Plenty of feed and water but no wood. Weather fine.

June 8 Traveled 20 miles. Camped by a slough. Plenty of feed and water and some wood.

June 9 Traveled 8 and a half miles. Camped on Elm Creek. Plenty of food and water but no wood. Some rain fell through the day.

June 10 Traveled 19 miles. Camped on the
Platte River. Plenty of food and water but no wood. Weather good.

June 11 Traveled 25 miles. Camped on a small
Lake south of the road. Plenty of feed and water but little or no wood. Road good, weather pleasant.

June 12 Traveled 20 miles. Camped by a small
Lake south of the road. Pleasant weather. Plenty of feed and water but no wood.

June 13 Traveled 20 miles over good road. Camped by the
Platte River near the Bluffs. Plenty of feed and water but no wood. Weather pleasant throughout the day and shower in the evening.

June 14 Traveled 15 miles over a level country. Camped on the North Bluff fork of the
Platte. Plenty of water and grass but no wood. Weather good.

June 15 Traveled 21 and a half miles. C(amped) on Petit Creek. Plenty of feed and water. No wood. Weather good."

Geographical notes: he is still in
Nebraska throughout these posts. A map of his route can be found here. While looking for information on Petit Creek (which is in Nebraska), I found this site which is also of interest.”

 

Transcribed 19 Feb 2009: “Covering June 16th- 30th.

"June 16 Stayed by (Sunday) to rest. Weather good.

June 17 Traveled 22 miles. Camped on Camp Creek, plenty of feed and water. No wood. Weather good.

June 18 Traveled 25 miles over level country. Camped on the
Platte River near Castle Bluff. Had a very [heavy] shower of hail, the stones varying from the size of a Pea to that of a marble.

June 19 Traveled 17 miles. Camped on the Prairie. Plenty of feed and water. No wood, used
Buffalo chips for fuel.

June 20 Traveled 25 miles. Camped on the Prairie. Plenty of feed and (mosquitoes) but very little water and no wood, but
Buffalo chips. Pleasant [weather].

June 21 Traveled 23 miles level country. Campe[d] on the Prairie opposite Chimney Rock, this is a large rock which stands by itself in the form of a chimney to quite an elevated height. Found plenty of feed, some water, no wood except
Buffalo chips which are used as a substitute. Weather quite warm.

June 22 Traveled 22 miles. Camped on Spring Creek, 4 miles above Scotts Bluff. Feed and water good, no timber, weather warm.

June 23 Sunday, laid by to rest ourselves and teams. Weather warm.

June 24 Traveled 19 miles. Camped on the
Platte near Fort Laramie. Not much feed, plenty of wood and water. Weather good.

June 26 Traveled 4 miles. Crossed the
Platte at Fort Laramie at noon. Traveled 3 miles. Camped on high ground. Found some feed, no wood, nor water within 3/4 of a mile. Weather pleasant through the day and shower at evening.

June 27 Stayed in camp making shoes for cattle. Weather good.

June 28 Still in the above camp making shoes, etc. Weather warm with a heavy hail storm in the afternoon, some of the hail as large as a Pint-Cup.

June 29 Traveled in the afternoon 10 and a half [miles]. Camped 1 mile west of the Warm Spring in the Black Hills. Weather cool and showery.

June 30 Traveled 22 and a half miles. Camped on a small creek. Pretty good feed and water, no wood. Weather cool and windy. Passed 7 graves."

During this installment John passes from
Nebraska to Wyoming. A map of his route can be found here.”

 

Transcribed from 23 Feb 2009: “Covering July 1st- 15th. John is in central Wyoming throughout. Trouble crossing the Platte and unforgiving terrain made this leg of the journey a bit slower for him and you can see in several posts where they went less than 20 miles in a day.

"July 1 Traveled 23 and a half miles. Passed 16 graves. Camped on
LaBonte River. Plenty of wood, and water, but very little feed, weather good.

July 2nd Traveled 18 miles. Camped on a small creek near La Prele River. Found a spring of good water, plenty of wood but very little feed. Passed 10 graves, weather good.

July 3rd Traveled 12 miles over a rough country. Camped on the Prairie near the North fork of the
Platte. Passed 6 graves. Found pretty good feed, no wood, nor water near. Weather good.

July 4th Traveled 7 miles to Deer Creek thence up the creek about 5 miles to camp on account [of] scarcity of feed at the place where we first struck it. Found tolerable good feed, wood and water. Passed 2 graves. Weather good.

July 5th Laid by to rest teams and wash. Weather pleasant.

July 6th Left camp on Deer Creek, came down to the
Platte River and camped.

July 7th Stayed in camp on the
Platte River waiting to cross. Weather pleasant.

July 8th Still in camp. Unable to cross on account of high wind.

July 9th Cross[ed] the River on scows and traveled 10 miles. Camped on
Platte. Plenty of wood and water but very little feed. Weather good.

July 10th Traveled 17 miles. Camped in a ravine. Pretty good grass, some wood, no water nearer than the
Platte one mile off. Weather dry and windy.

July 11th Traveled 14 miles over a rough road to what is called the Mineral Spring. This water is called poison to stock. We then went 5 miles south to the
Platte and camped. Passed 1 grave.

July 12th Traveled 22 and a half miles over a barren country. Passed 33 head of dead cattle, 4 left to die, 5 dead horses and 2 left to die. Camped on a small creek south [of] the road. Plenty of water, some grass, no wood. Weather dry and windy.

July 13th Traveled 21 and a half miles over a dry and barren country. Passed 2 graves, quite a number of dead cattle and a few horses [and] 1 mule left to die. Camped on the Sweet Water River at the upper end of the Devil's Gate. This [is] a curiosity worth the traveler's notice. It is a gap through which the river runs through the mountain, the wall of each side is more than one hundred feet of almost perpendicular rock. Weather dry and windy.

July 14th Traveled about 5 miles off from the road the foot of the mountain and camped, it being Sunday. Found good feed and water but no wood. Passed 2 graves, passed several dead cattle, and a few horses.

July 15th Traveled 10 and a half miles. Passed 2 graves. Camped on the
Sweet Water River. Plenty of good water, some feed and plenty of wood by carrying it from the mountain. Weather dry and windy."

 

Transcribed 26 Feb 2009: “"July 16 Traveled 20 and a half miles over pretty good road. Passed 3 graves. Camped on the Sweetwater near the Bitter Cottonwood Creek, pretty good place to camp.

July 17 Traveled 16 miles. Camped on the Sweetwater, pretty good camping place. Weather dry and windy.

July 18 Traveled 16 miles. Passed 1 grave, quite number of cattle left dead and dying. Weather windy.

July 19 Traveled 12 miles. Passed 6 graves and quite a number of cattle dead and dying and some horses.

July 20 Traveled 18 and a half miles. Passed 6 graves, 33 dead cattle, 3 live ones, and 3 dead horses. Camped on the Willow Creek. Weather windy with a shower at night.

July 21 (Sunday) Traveled 17 miles. Passed 12 graves, 21 dead cattle and 5 horses. Camped at the Pacific Springs,
South Pass Rocky Mountains. Here the water runs west. Good camping place except for wood, weather good. (written to the side of the entry) The altitude of this pass is 7,085 feet.

July 22 Laid by at the above camp to recruit our teams. Weather good, fine shower in the evening.

July 23 Traveled 24 and a half miles over a level but barren country. Camped on the Little
Sandy River. Plenty of water and wood, very little feed. Passed 1 grave, 38 dead cattle, 3 live ones, 6 dead horses. Weather cool, shower in the afternoon.

July 24 Traveled 25 and a half miles. Camped on the Big Sandy, there is no water in all this distance except the Big Sandy, 8 and a half miles from the Little Sandy. Passed 15 dead cattle, 3 left to die, and two dead horses. Weather cool, little rainy.

July 25 Traveled 17 miles over a desert like country. Camped on the
Green River 7 miles after crossing it. Weather cool.

July 26 Traveled 15 miles over a desert country without water or grass. Passed 12 dead cattle. Camped on Black Forks. Weather pleasant.

July 27 Traveled 28 miles. Camped on the Prairie. Plenty of feed, no wood nor water. Passed 2 grave. Weather cool with a little rain.

July 28 Traveled 10 miles. Camped on Black Fork, 1 mile below
Fort Bridger. Pretty good place to camp. Weather cool and pleasant.

July 29 Laid by at the above camp to rest, had a shower and some hail.

July 30 Traveled 20 miles over a rough road, quite a number of small streams. Passed 3 graves. Camped 1 mile west of the Soda Spring. Plenty of grass and wild sage but no water. Weather pleasant.

July 31 Traveled 17 miles 14 of it without water for stock. Passed Dividing Ridge between the waters of the
Colorado and the Great Basin, the altitude of this ridge is 7,700 feet and passed 2 graves. Camped on Bear River, plenty of wood, water and grass. Weather cool and pleasant."

Note Bitter Cottonwood Creek is in Fremont Co.,
Wyoming. Willow Creek is in Utah. Most of the landmarks covered in this entry are explained here.

 

Transcribed 2 March 2009: “August 1st-15th. John is in Utah throughout. While I find the journal interesting, I do wish he had at least commented on Salt Lake City and frankly, I'm a little puzzled why he didn't. Salt Lake City would have only been about three years old and the only thing close to a city in the vacinity, therefore, I would think it would get more of a mention. Oh well, though. As I re-read the journal, I'm beginning to think that John wrote it as a guide for his return trip. John would return to New Jersey after arriving in California in 1850 and then went back to California in 1853. I always had just assumed that he was unexpectedly forced to go back to New Jersey for that brief while, but now I think that his return was always the plan. The technical and geographical observations make me think this is a guide for other travelers west , like John, more than anything. A love poem at the end, written (I think) about John's future wife back east, is another reason why I think it was always his plan to return to New Jersey, albeit briefly...


"August 1st Traveled 19 miles. Camped in a ravine by a spring. Plenty of grass and water, some wood. Passed 1 grave. Weather fine with a quite a frost in the morning on
Bear River.

August 2 Traveled 15 miles over a very rough road. Camped in
Echo Canyon, good place to camp. Nothing particular occurred to attract the attention of the company except that we upset one wagon twice. Weather pleasant.

August 3 Traveled 8 miles. Camped 2 miles east of the junction of the old and new road, on the
Wiber River, good place to camp. Weather pleasant.

August 4 Traveled 16 miles up
Wiber River. Plenty of grass, wood and water. Passed 1 grave. Weather warm.

August 5 Traveled 15 miles over a rough country. Camped by a stream for good water. Plenty of grass, wood and water. Weather pleasant.

August 6 Traveled 16 miles over a rocky and mountainous road and through a deep canyon. Camped at the foot of the
Great Salt Lake. Passed 1 grave. The mountains, each side of the canyon, are said to be 7 or 8 thousand feet high.

August 7 Stayed in camp at the above named place. Weather warm and showery.

August 8 Traveled 6 miles to the city of
Salt Lake, thence 4 miles to the Jordan River and camped. Weather warm.

August 9 Stayed in camp getting cattle shod. Weather warm.

August 10 Still in camping shoing or getting cattle shod. Weather warm.

August 11 Still in camp at the above place. Weather very warm.

August 12 Still in camp on the
Jordan. Weather warm.

August 13 Traveled 17 miles. Camped by a spring near the
Salt Lake at the foot of the mountain. Water a little brackish[?]. Road good. Weather warm.

August 14 Traveled 23 miles camped on Willow Creek. Plenty of water, wood and grass. Weather warm.

August 15 Stayed by at the above camp cutting[?] and preparing for crossing the desert."

After this installment are the best entries in the journal, where John describes crossing the salt flats and desert and finally the mountains to reach
California.

...the mountains mentioned are probably the Wasatch...

 

Transcribed 5 March 2009: “August 16-31. John goes from Utah to Nevada in this installment. For a map of his route, click here.

"August 16 Still in camp at the above place. Weather warm.

August 17 Traveled 25 miles. Camped by a spring. Water some brackish, we found no fresh water in this day's travel. Road pretty good. Passed 1 grave, weather good.

August 18 Traveled 10 miles. Camped at Elbow Spring, here is the last good water for 95 miles. Road good but very dusty. Weather warm.

August 19 Traveled 15 miles over a desert country without water or grass. Camped at a spring at the foot of the mountains, this water is a little brackish, but does very well for camping purposes, and is the last of any kind until after crossing the desert. We found some feed and plenty of wood. Weather pleasant.

August 20 Left the above camp at a quarter before 3 o'clock p.m. Traveled all night and the day following and next night, until half past 6 am on the 22nd making the distance of 80 miles in 39 hours whole time, about 27 hours traveling time on the desert after crossing the mountain which took 5 and a half hours, to travel 8 miles it being very steep and rough. Camped at Pilot Peak Creek until
noon then traveled 2 miles to better grass and water. Weather good.

August 23 Laid by to recruit the cattle. Weather pleasant.

August 24 Traveled 4 miles to the last spring before crossing a 35 mile desert. We left this place at
5 p.m., found a small spring at midnight in the mountains but very little water, not sufficient for stock. Arrived at the next water at half past seven in the morning of the 25th, August.

August 25 Laid by the rest of the day. Weather pleasant.

August 26 Traveled 18 miles over a level but dry and dusty country without water and but very little feed. Camped by a spring, the water is quite strong of sulphur, will do for camping purposes.

August 27 Traveled 20 miles over a mountainous and desert country without water and very little feed. Road good, but very dusty. Camped by a spring at the foot of the mountains, the water is rather warm and tastes strong of sulphur. Pretty good place to camp. Weather warm through the days, cool at night.

August 28 Laid by to rest. The company divides at this place, Heman Doyle [John's future father-in-law], Alvah Grow, Daniel Bacon, Orin S. Grow and John R. Shinn. Left, Peck, Andrews and company. Weather pleasant.

August 29 Traveled 19 miles about 4 of it was up a gradual ascent to the top of a mountain, thence down a gradual descent and across a valley which is quite barren. No water and very little grass until within 3 miles of the mountains on the other side, there we found good water, grass and sage for fuel. The Indians are very troublesome in this vicinity, stalling and shooting cattle and horses seems to be their business. Weather pleasant.

August 30 Traveled 20 miles over a low mountain and through a valley without feed or water. Camped by a stream of good water, good place to camp. The Indians are bad at this place also.

August 31 This day's travel was down a large and beautiful valley abounding with grass[?] and water and some good timber. Good camping. Weather good."”

Transcribed 12 March 2009: “…looked up the term "brackish" (If you read the last entry on John R. Shinn's journal you know what I'm talking about) since it is one I'd never heard of before and good ol' Wikipedia came to my rescue on that!

"September 1st Traveled 23 miles down the same beautiful valley. Plenty of grass and water all the way, camped by a spring, good place to camp. Road good, weather cool and[?] pleasant.

September 2 Traveled 20 miles over a dry and hilly country. Found water once and that very poor, camped by a small creek pretty good place to camp. The Indians are bad in this place, drove off some stock from one company that was camped in the same place. Weather good.

September 3 Traveled 19 miles down the above creek until it sunk. Camped by some holes dug for to get water. Not very good place to camp. Road very good this day, weather fine.

Sept. 4 Traveled 16 miles of good road. Camped by a creek this one of the branches of the of the Humboldt. Plenty of water, grass and wood.

Sept. 5 Traveled 18 miles. Camped at the head of a canyon. Plenty of wood, water and grass. Weather warm through the day, but so cold at night as to make ice. Road good.

Sept. 6 Traveled 18 miles, some of the way through a canyon. The road rough and bad, having to cross a creek several times. Camped at the Junction of Fort Hall Road and the one that comes south of
Salt Lake. Pretty good place to camp, weather pleasant.

Sept. 7 Traveled 22 miles over rough country. Camped in the mountain by a spring, water pretty good and some bunch[?] grass and sage for fuel. Weather fine.

Sept 8 Traveled 17 miles down Mary's River. Plenty of grass. Camped on the river, tolerable good place to camp.

Sept 9 Traveled 25 miles. Road good, passed 3 graves. Camped on Mary's River. Weather good.

Sept 10 Traveled 25 miles over a desert country without water or grass. Camped on Mary's River. Pretty good camping, passed 1 grave. The Indians are some troublesome on this portions of the road. Weather good.

Sept 11 Traveled 18 miles over a desert without feed or water. Road good, camped on Mary's River. Plenty of feed and water and some wood. Weather pleasant.

Sept 12 Traveled 20 miles. Camped on Mary's River, plenty of feed, water and some wood.

Sept 13 Traveled 20 miles, passed 2 graves. Camped on Mary's River, plenty of grass and water and some wood.

Sept 14 Traveled 13 miles over deep sand. Camped on Mary's River, passed 1 grave, plenty of feed, wood and water.

Sept 15 Traveled 20 miles. Passed 2 graves, camped on Mary's River, feed and water scarce. Weather pleasant.

Sept 16 Traveled 20 miles. Camped on Mary's River, passed 3 graves. Road pretty good, feed and wood scarce, water not very good, weather pleasant.

Sept 17 Traveled 16 miles, passed 1 grave, this day's travel was over a desert, camped on Mary's River, feed and wood very scarce, water poor.

Sept 18 Traveled 20 miles, camped on the Mary's River, feed and wood scarce and water very poor. Weather pleasant.

Sept 19 Traveled 18 miles. Camped by a lake near the sink of the Mary's River. Water, feed and wood poor. Passed 1 grave. Weather good.

Sept 20 Traveled 18 miles by
6 o'clock pm thence to the Boiling Spring by 12 o'clock am. This spring or springs are a curiosity seldom found on deserts, thence over to the Truckey [I think this is supposed to be Truckee] River by 12 o'clock noon Sept 21st. Making the desert in 25 hours distance 40 miles. Passed 1 grave. Road good except about 8 miles of the last end which is deep sand. Weather good.

Sept 21 Laid by 1 mile above the first crossing of the Truckey River in the afternoon, good place to camp.

Sept 22 Laid by at the above camp (Sunday) to rest. Plenty wood, water and grass. Weather pleasant.

Sept 23 Traveled 16 miles up the
Truckey River. Road rough, camped on the River. Plenty of grass and wood and water good. Weather warm with a shower in the evening.

Sept 24 Traveled 24 miles. Camped on the River, plenty of water, wood and grass. Road some rough.

Sept 25 Traveled 15 miles of very mountainous country. Camped by a small stream in the mountain, pretty good place to camp, weather warm.

Sept 26 Traveled 18 miles good road, camped by a creek of good water, wood and grass also good. Weather pleasant.

Sept 27 Traveled 18 miles, crossed the
Nevada mountain, camped 4 miles from the summit in the Yuba Valley, road over steep, 1 mountain.

Sept 28 Traveled 20 miles, camped in the mountain, plenty of wood and water but no food. Road very rough, weather pleasant.

Sept 29 Traveled 7 miles, camped in a small valley, plenty of wood and water and some feed.

Sept 30 Traveled 16 miles of pretty good road except the Bear Valley Hills which was very steep, camped in mountain opposite
Washington on the Yuba River. No feed or water, but plenty of timber.

Oct 1 Traveled 15 miles of good road, camped on Rock Creek 5 miles from
Nevada City, good water and wood not much grass. This brings us to a termination of our long and tedious journey for which I trust we felt thankful,

John R. Shinn"


On the last page there is an excerpt from the poem Lament of the Irish Emigrant. While it is in John's hand, it is with a different marker than what he used to write in his journal and the handwriting is a little different (less defined), which makes me think he added it at a different date, either before his journey or after.

"I’M sittin’ on the stile, Mary,
Where we sat side by side
On a bright May mornin’ long ago,
When first you were my bride;
The corn was springin’ fresh and green,
And the lark sang loud and high—
And the red was on your lip, Mary,
And the love-light in your eye."

The rest of the poem can be found here.

 

I can copy and e-mail original pages of the journal to anyone interested, go to the homepage for my e-mail contact.