Wyoming State Archives
Western Trail Diaries
The Journey of Alexander Hamilton Chapman, March 30 - June 19, 1850
Many thousands of people crossed what is now the State of Wyoming during the mid-1800s. Their destinations and objectives varied: Gold in California and Montana, land in Oregon, Mormon settlements in Utah, government surveys, etc. Many of these travelers recorded their daily experiences and observations in diaries. One such diary that has survived since that time details the journey of Alexander Hamilton Chapman of Indiana, who journeyed west in 1850, determined to reach California.
Chapman's diary is typical in that the entries commonly report the distance traveled each day, with description of the land crossed, landscapes unfamiliar to those accustomed to the less arid and more forested eastern half of the United States. Descriptions of flora and fauna are also typical of these accounts. There are also references to the presence or lack of the basic necessities of the trail: Water, wood for fires, and grass for the beasts of burden.
Noteworthy events on the trail included encounters with Native Americans, either encamped or in wandering groups; passing white settlements; and inclement weather. Even these occurrences elicited little more than brief comments. There are many reasons for the brevity of daily entries: The labors of travel and caring for self, family and stock when encamped, fatigue, illness, various other distractions, and, possibly, the need to conserve writing materials. Most probably wrote what they felt was sufficient, a summary of the day. They did not intend to write major works suitable for future publication.
One of the afflictions
of the trail affected Mr. Chapman's account of his western travels.
His last entry states that a lengthy illness and resulting fatigue caused
him to neglect his diary during the last part of his trip. At least
we know he survived the journey, a feat not accomplished by all who
traveled the western trails.