Traveling West: Diary of Mary Graddy

Traveling West: Diary of Mary Graddy

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August 20th, 1821

Today is a day of hope and of great anticipation. John, my husband, has told me we are to leave to California tomorrow. We are to leave our small, pitiful home here in Massachusetts and find many opportunities in the west. We have heard of many men who have traveled west and discovered gold. “Gold covers California like a blanket,” they have told John. Our farm here leaves no opportunities for our family. Our two sons and three daughters are growing older and we wish for them to be prosperous. Not like now. Now, we have no money and our only value, our farm, is falling apart.
I must pack very few belongings into our wagon and we must be ready to leave with the others when the sun rises in the morning. The elder girls, Anna, who is fifteen, and Lucy, who is twelve, are to help with the cleaning and packing all day. Fannie, seven years old, is very sick, and has some sort of flu. The doctor costs money, which we don’t have, so we are relying on our prayers and faith in God to help her. John and our two sons, William who is seventeen, and Andrew who is ten, are taking care of all last minute details for the farm, and my brother from Virginia is arriving tonight with his wife and baby daughter to care for the farm while we are gone and they are to live here unless we return.

August 23rd, 1821

This is our third morning traveling and we are all anxious and eager to see this great place called California. The oxen are behaving well, and I believe we will make it there in a few months. Fannie is slightly better and she has ceased crying throughout the night as she did before we left. This is a sign from God. The Lord shall guide us through this and we shall overcome all obstacles and since Fannie’s fever has gone away I feel better about each new day.

September 1st, 1821

Eight days since I have written and those days have been very relaxing. My children and I walk beside the wagon throughout the day and sing many joyous melodies. The weather is starting to cool down now and the breeze feels sensational as it whips through my hair and brushes over my skin.

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Soon winter will come and we shall face the extreme cold and sicknesses. William is maturing extremely well and is very tall and strong now, much like his father.

September 17th, 1821
Lucy is now sick as Fannie was before, but a different type of sickness. She says to me everyday, “It feels like insects are crawling through my body.” She vomits up anything she consumes and her whole body is red and blotchy. We are all so close together in this small wagon I am worried we may all catch what she has. We find strange insects crawling through our wagon everyday and are finding many snakes everywhere. William tells me to save the snakes for food in the winter, but I assured him we will always have enough food and to eat a snake would be a very immoral act to take. I pray for peaceful days ahead.

September 28th, 1821

I have no hope left for my daughter, Lucy, she is emaciated, only skin and bones. Now, our whole family has rashes covering our skin from head to toe. John assures me that it is the weather, but I know better, it will get worse. The cold months are yet to come. Only my dear William is well, and he is very helpful in aiding everyone. I warned him today, “If you stay too close to Lucy dear you will then be sick as she is.” He told me, “I do not care, my family is more important than my own life and I wish to be with all of you.”
October 10th, 1821
The winds feel like giant men pushing against me. I dislike leaving the wagon except when making camp, I am no longer sick, but Lucy, Anna, and Andrew are all too weak to move far, especially to walk the quick pace alongside the wagon. William walks with Fannie a lot and they think up hilarious jokes to make everyone laugh and smile. I still have all my faith in God and pray many times a day. Lucy is getting worse though, she is now coughing blood which splatters along everywhere, and the stains will leave their mark upon us. Her skin is also flaking and her bones show through her skin. John forces her to eat and clamps her mouth closed so when she throws up she must swallow what comes out, but that still doesn’t help.

October 19th, 1821
I have secretly cried myself to sleep every night. Only John knows of these tears and he kisses them away. He tells me just to have hope and to keep praying, all he does is reassures me, but I still worry. I believe Lucy is going to pass. She talks no longer and only looks into my eyes pitifully. She manages weak smiles and today whispered to me, “Do not worry, I am to be in a better place soon. Be happy for me.” I quickly looked away from her eyes and managed to hold back the tears fighting against my eyes. I must keep strong for my other children. Andrew and Anna are sick, but try not to show it much. There is some kind of fever infecting us all. I cry now for my beloved daughter.


October 31st, 1821

Lucy is no longer with us. She passed early this morning and we
stopped the wagon to bury her here in the mountains. I wept openly today and my children all wept. William quickly dried his tears and
went with his father, and as they walked away I smiled, yes, in the midst of all this I smiled because I knew my two men were being brave for the family, they were scared beyond reason inside, but pretended to be strong. Two days ago at night I realized John was not by my side. I then arose to look for him and saw him sitting on the ledge of the mountain crying I went back to bed quickly and let him be. I have been praying less frequently the past weeks, but today I did nothing except weep and pray. I held Fannie close and we prayed together. Fannie’s birthday is tomorrow, she will be eight.

November 16th, 1821
We expected to be closer to California than we are. Our oxen are weak and tired of walking all this way. The mountains are very steep and the weather is horrible. I has rained for five days nonstop and our wagon is drenched and cold. I wish we could have a fire. We stop frequently and catch fish and the men go hunting. The food is not so plentiful and our time is limited. Andrew is weaker than ever and he broke his leg today. He went to get more water from a stream and fell. His bone is not in the right place and John can not put it back in place and neither can I.
November 21st, 1821

One of our oxen died today and the other one can’t carry our load so we have thrown most of our goods into the river. Andrew’s condition is as bad as is Anna’s. My little Fannie has become close to Anna now and they sit together and talk. Anna has a horrible cough and constant fever. We have not bathed properly in months. We shall go to the river this afternoon and bath a little. The water is so cold, the cold burns my skin and makes the rashes on our skin worse. John is very weak so William must drive our one ox. I pray we make it.
I gave up praying for two days and then there was a terrible storm. The rain flooded our wagon. I must not give up on God, because it is He whom I need more than ever now. I must stay strong for my family, but we all feel ill constantly. I believe that the sickness Lucy suffered from is in all of us, but we do not suffer as she did.

December 8th 1821

The snow is so thick and the mountain too high for our wagon and weak ox to continue the journey. I believe that we will have to wait and rejuvenate ourselves until we are able to continue on. We have set up a small camp, but the fire and our body heat alongside one another does not stop the cold chills going through our body. We have not had food in four days and the rivers are all frozen. There are no animals anywhere and the snow has covered our area to where we can not leave it now. We must find food before we all die.

December 14th 1821

Andrew disappeared last night and we can not find him anywhere. This blizzard is beyond our control and my prayers and faith in God are the only thing that is keeping me from giving up. We have been searching for Andrew all day, but I believe wherever he is, he is dead. John assures me that he is okay, but again I know better. We must find food to live because all of us are too weak to continue and the other wagons continued on without us. They were worried about our sickness contaminating them. Anna is dying. Her once beautiful, long, golden, wavy hair is now falling by the seconds in clumps and her scalp has began to flake as well. Her pupils have became very small, sometimes as small as the head of a pin. She also randomly has violent muscle spasms that she can not seem to control.

December 29th, 1821

My family has all died of the cold. I shall give up and be gone.


*Mary died the next day and her body was found many months later.
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