Oregon Trail: Charlote Ann Milsberg's Journey

February 6, 2013
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Brian H.,
E. Amherst, MA
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This is a story of what life was like on the Oregon Trail.
Dear Rosy,

April 15, 1842

I am going to call my diary Rosy now. I once had a best friend in Boston, and her
name was Rosy. So way over here in Independence I am going to keep her memory alive.

Finally! My father took so long to tell me why he was closing down his store. At first he refused to tell me a single hint.

“Oh, you’re too young,” he’d say. Or, “I don’t think you’ll understand.”

I got so frustrated that I bugged him day and night until he finally backed down. He called me to his study for something important. I already knew what he was doing. That is one of the sole privileges of a daughter; you get to read the minds of your parents.

“Dear,” he began, “The information I am about to tell you is confidential. It stays in this house, and does not leave it. Your friends are not permitted to know, either.”

I couldn’t imagine why closing down a store has to be confidential. I mean, maybe he doesn’t want to be ridiculed, but lots of people have been closing down their stores lately.

My father broke into my thoughts, “I closed the store because we’re moving.”

I sat there in dumbfounded silence. My father watched for my reaction, but he couldn’t see it. I was instantly fighting an inward battle. What about my friends? Will people like me at the new place? Will I have to sacrifice too much of my things? What about my poor kittens?

I left my father in the study and went to my bedroom. I tried to memorize every single detail, knowing that this was one of my last times being in it. I have lived here ever since I was born, I can’t believe my father would dream of taking us away! My mother came into the room and sat down on the bed next to me.

“Why do we have to move?” I half whined, half asked.

“Your father thinks we may be able to get better deals in Oregon,” Mother stated matter-of-factly.

I jumped up, “What, to Oregon? Why there of all places. It’s a heathen country way out there, I am not going!”

Mother grabbed my arm.

“Charlotte, please!”

I absentmindedly walked out of the room. I heard mother muttering, “Why did I tell her Oregon? I knew this would happen.”

This thirteen year-old is not leaving her life. I feel as if my life is upside down and nobody can turn it up right again. Maybe it will sacrifice too much.
Charlotte Milsberg

Dear Rosy,

May 4, 1842

We are two days into the trail. I miss the kittens, the extravagant dinners, and the tea parties, the servants, and especially Auntie Jane. I have had her as a nanny all my life. I could never live without her. Yet I am still alive.

Today was a breeze. Well in rough country life-style, it was a breeze. We had no encounter with any danger. The rivers were rushing from the melting snow in the Appalachians, but we drove pretty easily through the rivers. One wagon behind us got stuck in the mud on the other bank, so we had to help drag them out.

My friend, Rachel, and I decided to meet different people. Rachel was my best friend back in Independence, and still is and forever will be. We met a girl named Elena Hale. She is a very friendly person. We had lunch with her and her two friends. They are at the very back of the wagon train, the last three to be exact.

I sat in the back of the wagon on top of the sacks of flour. Our wagon was packed so tightly that if you took one item down, the whole stack threatened to tumble out. The trail was muddy and we slipped around a lot in the muck. My father got out regularly to help the oxen get through some extra muddy parts. That heavy wagon just made their hooves slide in the mud.

My back hurts really badly right now as I write. I am not used to sleeping on the hard ground. I slept underneath the wagon last night. It rained hard that night so I was glad I chose to sleep under the wagon. Those less fortunate got soaked to the bone. Each night my father takes turns on watch. It is just for protection against bears, raccoons, and other animals that would like our food. We are also on the look-out for any Indians who might want to keep us out of their territory.

All in all, we have traveled a mighty small ways compared to what is ahead of us. I guess it is probably around 20 miles.

Tonight I am going to sleep under my friend Rachel’s wagon. We invited Elena and her two friends, Jade Fey and Karen Fritz. It is kind of like a slumber party.
~ Charlotte Ann Milsberg

Dear Rosy,

June 13, 1842

It was early in the morning and the sun wasn't out yet. Father decided that we should be moving before sunup. Some ways along the trail, about two miles, we saw some lights in distance. We didn't think much of them until we got closer.

We had lamps lit, hanging out the back of our wagon, so that the people behind us can see where we are. Other people can see the lights too, like Indians. The lights that we saw were an Indian camp. And the lights that we had hanging out the back of our wagons were seen by the Indians. They came galloping on their horses, yelling out their battle cry.

Mother, my younger sister, Rochelle, and I huddled in the back of our wagon. Mother was crying out rivers which made Rochelle start crying, which made me all shaken up.

I ambled to the front and opened the curtain. The curtain separated the driver’s seat from the wagon itself. I peeked out of the curtain to see a hoard of Indians charging at the wagon. We were the first wagon in the train and so we had to sound the alarm and get all the men together. Father saw me watching the scene and quickly tried to get me back inside the wagon. I begged to watch and so Father relented.

All the men in our train soon gathered around our wagon with guns, axes, and any other weapons that were available. The Indians got closer and their cries got louder. Closer and louder. Closer and louder. Closer and boom, they stopped. Just like that, the whole stampede stood still in a cloud of dust. The Indian chief came out with his hand raised. The men laid their weapons down and Father stepped up to meet the Chief.

They stood there conversing awhile then Father came back to tell us the news.

“They have met other trains in the year before. They welcome us to join them at their village tonight to trade and to eat and to sleep there. We will have a meeting right now to see whether or not we should accept their invitation.”

I scrambled back behind the curtain to tell Mother.

“No! We should not accept their hospitality, those heathens! You better tell Father to cancel the meeting and tell everyone that we are not going!” Mother said hotly.

“But Mother, it's already in session. Father said it would be held right away,” I explained.

Mother groaned, “I can not stand those evil people.”

I left Mother to her mutterings and went back out to the brisk clear morning.

It was finally decided that we would camp just out the Indian village. All day we set up camp, and learned how to pick berries, herbs, roots, and non-poisonous mushrooms. Rochelle played with the Indian girls against Mothers wishes. Father said it wouldn't hurt her. I had fun learning how to do many different things Indians do to survive out in the wilderness. I also learned how to cook a delicious soup. I wrote it down so I could remember how to make it.

Your Best Friend,

Dear Rosy,

July 4, 1842

Today is Independence Day! I got up real early and helped Mother make porridge and cornbread. Mother allowed us to put a spoonful of sugar on our porridge. That was a treat! It used to be an everyday thing to have sugar, and even honey was normal. Now we live like poor people and I don't like it one bit! This trail just isn't for me. When I get older I am moving back to the east.

After breakfast Rachel, Rochelle, Rachel's little sister, Amy, Elena, Jade, Karen and I coloured American flags. We decorated our wagons with them. We also braided blue, white, and red yarn into the horse’s mane and tail. Mother said it added a festive touch. Then Mother and I made 'Vanity Cakes' for a noon treat. They are called ‘Vanity Cakes’ because there is hardly anything inside them.

After lunch, which is rare on the trail because we try to ration our food, we prepared the huge dinner. Mother let Rachel and I make and decorate the cake. Mrs. Sherman, Rachel's mother, came over to help Mother with the food. We worked until late into the afternoon until about five o'clock. Then Father, Mr. Sherman, some really helpful boys, and some other men set up every family's table to make a single long table for the whole wagon community. Then all the families set their food on their table.

We sat down and Father had to shout to say grace. Everyone heard him because he has a loud, strong voice. We had such a good time with friends. We know almost everybody in the wagon train. Then Mother and I cut our cake and passed it to our family and the Sherman’s. The cake tasted so good. I asked Mother if I could give some to Elena, Jade, and Karen and she allowed me to. Then we played games with all the kids in our wagon train. It's almost midnight now so I better get to sleep.

Sweet Dreams,
Char Milsberg
Dear Rosy,

August 29, 1842

Four days ago we had an Indian attack. No one got hurt, but I hope it doesn’t happen again. Two very clever twin boys, named Connor and Peter LaRue, gave up their beautiful birthday cake inside a basket. The Indians took the cake and went away. I seriously think they took the cake for the basket.

Today was Rochelle and Mother’s birthday. I hope no Indians attack today! Mother turned 37, and Rochelle turned eight. Today was also the day that we reached 1,300 miles. So Father said we had two reasons to celebrate.

The night before, Mrs. Sherman, Rachel, and I planned a surprise birthday party. Mrs. Sherman had a lot of crepe paper, paints, and balloons. We made banners, and origami.

I woke up a few hours before Mother and Rochelle would, and tip-toed to the Sherman’s wagon. We gathered the decorations and tip-toed back to our wagon. We quietly hung the decorations above where Mother and Rochelle were sleeping.

When we were finished, we tip-toed back to the Sherman’s wagon. We started to prepare a breakfast I haven’t seen the likes of in years! Or so it seems. We carried the breakfast on a platter back to the Milsberg wagon. Father must have heard us somehow because when we got there he was up waiting for us.

“So what are you guys up to?” He asked teasingly.

“Oh, some ‘Surprise Breakfast’ work,” Mrs. Sherman whispered back.

We set the platter beside Mother and Rochelle and let the aroma of the breakfast wake them up.

“What is that delicious smell?” Mother said and sat up.

“We made you a Birthday Breakfast!” I exclaimed.

“I feel like a queen!” Mother said.

Rochelle woke up and we gave her breakfast to her. She was surprised and very happy to have an extravagant breakfast. I don’t know where Mrs. Sherman got it all from. We had another community supper like we had on the 4th of July. It was all yummy and we had games again too.

I saw a pretty bird today. My father brought his animal book along so I looked up the name. It is called “scissor-tailed flycatcher”. Then I also saw a beautiful black bear. We killed one for meat, and I cried because I liked the cute cuddly black bear. My father said not to say that because they are not cuddly. I know that of course. This has been our second black bear we have killed on the trail so far.

Sincerely Yours,
Charlotte Milsberg

Dear Rosy,

September 24, 1842

Today is my birthday! Mother and Rochelle paid me back by giving me a surprise birthday breakfast.

Father said we are near Oregon, only about one month away. I am glad we are almost there. I am getting sick of this trail. Not too long ago we had alkali water. We had to rush the oxen to find some drinking water. It was five days before we found drinking water. Our water barrels were basically dry and two of our oxen died of thirst and someone in our wagon trail got really sick. We had to stop for awhile so the person could become fully recovered. That slowed us down a lot. Having no water is a hassle and a danger. I hope it never happens again.

I am glad we are almost past the Rocky Mountains. Father said we have about 400 miles left until Oregon. I am so ready for this trip to be over!

Peter LaRue gave me a flower necklace. Rachel and Elena keep telling me that he must be sweet on me. Well I told them it just might be the other way around! Elena said that she thought Connor LaRue was a nice guy too. Jade laughed and told her no wonder she is sitting in the Fey wagon more often.

I got a jewelry chest from my Grandma Wilson. Mother had brought it from home to give to me on the trail. I will have to send a thank you in the mail sometime when we get to the next town. It is a beautiful jewelry chest. It is made out of hickory wood with intricate designs of flowers. Inside is a velvet cushion with different cubicles to put different jewelry. It was an heirloom from Mother’s great-great grandmother, who got it from the Queen of England. She was Her Majesty’s Lady-in waiting. I am proud of my heritage.
Charlotte Ann Milsberg

Dear Rosy,

October 16, 1842

Today I will tell you of the tragedy that we had three days ago. We were edging down a steep, muddy slope when Jade Fey’s wagon started sliding. Their oxen lost footing and the wagon tumbled down the hill. Mr. Fey was severely injured and Jade’s little sister, Holly, died the next day. She was only two months old and she had almost died when we had a second alkali water period, eleven days ago. (Remember when I said that I hoped a water shortage would never happen again? Well, my wishes never came true.)

Father said we would rest a couple extra days give Holly a proper burial. That meant making a casket and having a modified burial service.

Our wagon train was pretty shaken up. We were extra careful in going down hills. Mother and Mrs. Sherman cried a lot. They had become good friends of Mrs. Fey when they helped take care of Holly when she got sick from the water shortage.

We made goodies for their family along with some dinner. Rochelle and I made sympathy cards for the Fey family too. Rachel and I also offered to baby-sit Jade’s younger brothers so Mother and Father could visit with Mr. and Mrs. Fey. Jade came to me that night and said how much she hated this trail.

“Nothing’s been going right.” She said.

One good thing that has happened the past few days was that Father said we were very, very close to the border of Oregon. I saw the mile marker that said 100 miles left to Oregon! Father said it would take awhile to find a place to settle down, but at least we are almost in Oregon.
~CAM; Charlotte Ann Milsberg
(That is the nickname the JEK girls gave me. Jade Elena Karen)
Dear Rosy,


November 15, 1842

Guess what? We are finally settled in Oregon! We arrived in Oregon three weeks ago. We are living in a tent though. It is big enough for our family. We are living a bit poor too because our clothing has patches on them. They’re thin and faded and too small. We don’t have very good winter clothing and it is getting colder and colder every day.

Mother works for a seamstress in town to raise money. Father works at a lumber yard. He is trying to get money to build us a house for the winter. I will be very glad when we get our house up.

Rachel and her family are living right next to us. Mr. Sherman also works at the lumber yard. He is making money to build a house too. They won’t be living right next to us, but really close. I am glad for that.

Rachel and I were enrolled late in a school in town. The teacher, Ms. Reilly, is really nice and all the kids treated us nice. It is a big school, but not as big as the one back home in Missouri. Rachel and I aren’t in the same classroom, but we eat lunch together and see each other in the hallways.

Elena is in the same class room as me. Peter is too for which I am glad. Connor is also in my classroom and Elena is a glowing rose. I saw her and Peter passing notes a few days ago. Rachel and Karen are in the other classroom. Jade is two years younger than us, so she was at the other end of the building.

I made another new friend here, her name is Molly. She moved to Oregon last year. She said that her wagon train faced a buffalo stampede, Indian attacks, and frequent deaths because of sickness. I felt sorry for her because our wagon train hardly had any problems. We had one death, one person really sick, and only one Indian attack.

Rochelle isn’t in school yet because we don’t have enough money to pay her tuition. She helps Mother at the seamstress’s shop. Sometimes she gets a little bit of money for helping around.

I like it here and don’t want to leave. I am glad it turned out this way. Missouri was nice with servants and everything, but Oregon is better because now I get to do it all myself. I have never known that pleasure before.
Forever Yours,
Charlotte Ann Milsberg (CAM)

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Tabitha1233 said...
Feb. 11, 2013 at 11:17 am
I really enjoyed reading your story! Thanks for sharing!
Raspberry30 replied...
Feb. 12, 2013 at 2:37 am
Thanks! :) glad you liked it!
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