publications

Lilljeholm, John

Authors of trail diaries and reminiscences rarely discuss what they expect to experience on the journey west. One exception was John Lilljeholm, who was living in Chicago, Illinois, in 1849 when he learned that gold had been discovered in California. He planned to go west, but illness prevented him from making the trip. Lilljeholm probably received his information about the trail from newspapers, and his expectations were likely shared by many others who made the trip. The dangers and difficulties were greatly exaggerated.



“The overland journey to California takes five months and is very difficult and dangerous, for the Indians often attack and murder entire caravans that do not have enough men to hold their own against them. Also there is a great lack of water and fodder on the enormous plains they have to travel across. Those who plan to travel overland to California usually get together, four people to one wagon drawn by three yokes of strong oxen. The wagon is then loaded with flour, salt, coffee, tea, and a small supply of some kind of spread [?]. (During the journey plenty of this can easily be procured from hunting.) After each man has been armed with two six-shooters, a rifle, a Bowie knife, and an axe, the journey is made partly by land and partly by steamboat down the Illinois and Mississippi Rivers to St. Louis. . . . Here smaller steamboats are boarded for the trip up the Missouri to a town called St. Joseph. From here the overland route is taken, with 150 to 200 wagons to a train, over desolate and barren country, inhabited only by a few wandering tribes of Indians and buffalo.



“Usually, fifteen to eighteen miles are covered in a day, after which camp is prepared for the night in the following way: All the wagons form a circle, within which the tents are set up, fires are lighted, and the evening meal is prepared, and after sentries have been put out, they go to bed. This kind of caution is necessary, for such a caravan is constantly surrounded by blood-thirsty, stealthy Indians, who by day try to capture any hunter who has wandered away from the company, or by night to take the camp by surprise. In spite of all measures taken for their safety, the Indians often succeed in inflicting serious losses on the bold adventurers, and frequently bloody battles are fought with considerable loss of life. Most often, however, the Americans, being better armed, win out. After many adventures while crossing the immense plains, where the needed water (which must be brought along), as well as fodder for the oxen, are often lacking, the wagon train reaches the Rocky Mountains. The Rocky Mountains can be crossed in only two places. The wagons must be taken apart, and these as well as the oxen are then hoisted up from rock to rock with ropes. The same procedure is followed on the descent on the west side, and after a journey of ten or twelve days from the mountains, or four and a half months in all, the wagon train finally arrives at the gold diggings.”


Become a Member!

Our members make history happen.

Join Now

Other Publications

The Bachelors’ Protective Union of Kearney

When the Bachelors' Protective Union gave a gala reception for two of its newly married, former members and their brides in March of 1890, the social club for young, ...

U.S. Weather Bureau in 1890s Nebraska

The U.S. Weather Bureau was established by an act of Congress on October 1, 1890. It took over the weather service that had been established in the office of the Chief ...

Canning the Way to Victory

During American participation in World War I the U.S. Food Administration, under the direction of Herbert Hoover, launched a massive campaign to persuade Americans to ...

The Shoemaker’s Ashes

"Edward Kuehl, one of the most peculiar characters that ever lived in Omaha, or anywhere else, was found dead in his bed last night in the back room of his place of ...

Crazy Horse Surrender Ledger Foreward

Red Dog, an Oglala Lakota who lived at the Red Cloud Agency, Nebraska, 1876-77 (Nebraska State Historical Society RG2955.ph).   In the summer of 1876, following the ...

Darryl F. Zanuck

Darryl F. Zanuck Darryl F. Zanuck (1902-1979), a native Nebraskan, produced some of Hollywood's most important and controversial films. He helped found 20th Century Fox ...

The Burlington’s Profitable Pork Special

Nebraska railroads were much concerned with developing an adequate economy in the areas they served. The Burlington, for example, had a long history of caring for the ...

Bungalow Filling Stations

After the giant Standard Oil Company was broken into thirty-four separate companies in 1911, the newly independent Standard Oil of Nebraska dominated the state's market ...

The Bull Fight

This is the perfect time of year for a visit to the old fishin' hole. But a group of fisherfolk from Plainview discovered that this bucolic pastime sometimes has ...

Buffalo Soldiers West

African-American soldiers on the western frontier are the focus of an exhibit at the Nebraska History Museum in Lincoln. Buffalo Soldiers West, on loan from the Colorado ...

Protection for Buffalo

The extermination of the buffalo on the Plains occurred largely between 1870 and 1885. The Nebraska State Journal of Lincoln on February 1, 1874, editorialized in vain ...

Buffalo Hunting

In late October 1877 young Rolf Johnson and three friends left their homes in Phelps County, Nebraska, for a buffalo hunt in northeastern Colorado. The hunt was not very ...
About History Nebraska
History Nebraska was founded in 1878 as the Nebraska State Historical Society by citizens who recognized Nebraska was going through great changes and they sought to record the stories of both indigenous and immigrant peoples. It was designated a state institution and began receiving funds from the legislature in 1883. Legislation in 1994 changed History Nebraska from a state institution to a state agency. The division is headed by Interim Director and CEO Jill Dolberg. They are assisted by an administrative staff responsible for financial and personnel functions, museum store services, security, and facilities maintenance for History Nebraska.
Explore Nebraska
Discover the real places and people of our past at these History Nebraska sites.

Upcoming Events

View our new and upcoming events to see how you can get involved.

Become a Member

The work we do to discover, preserve, and share Nebraska's history wouldn't be possible without the support of History Nebraska members.

Latest Hall of Fame Inductee

The Nebraska Hall of Fame was established in 1961 to officially recognize prominent Nebraskans.

Become a Member

The work we do to discover, preserve, and share Nebraska's history wouldn't be possible without the support of History Nebraska members.
Nebraska Collections

History Nebraska's mission is to collect, preserve, and open our shared history to all Nebraskans.

Our YouTube Video Collection

Get a closer look at Nebraska's history through your own eyes, with our extensive video collections.

Additional Research Resources

History Nebraska Research and Reference Services help connect you to the material we collect and preserve.

Support History Nebraska
Make a cash donation to help us acquire, preserve, and interpret Nebraska’s history. Gifts to History Nebraska help leave a legacy and may help your taxes, too! Support the work of History Nebraska by donating to the History Nebraska Foundation today.

Volunteers are the heroes of History Nebraska. So much history, so little time! Your work helps us share access to Nebraska’s stories at our museums and sites, the reference room, and online.