"On the last day of April, 1849 we began our journey to California." Sarah Royce set off from Iowa in a covered wagon with her husband and two-year-old daughter and kept a journal that described various encounters over the next few months with quicksand, stampedes, cholera and wrong turns in the desert that left the water supply very, very low.
"When my little one, from the wagon behind, called out, 'Mamma, I want a drink,' -- I stopped, gave her some, noted that there were but a few swallows left, then mechanically pressed onward again, alone, repeating, over and over, the words, 'Let me not see the death of the child.' "
Sarah Royce's private recollections became public because after she made it to California she gave birth to a boy who grew up to head back East to become known as "the most distinguished intellectual that frontier California had produced." Soon after Josiah Royce went to Harvard as a philosophy lecturer, he asked his mother to write down her memories of crossing the country.
I found the result, a reprint of a slim and modest book that the Yale University Press published in 1932 as A Frontier Lady, on a back shelf in the library, mixed in with all the other random books that a local public library has collected over the years and called California history. I can't put it down.