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Weston Wagons West - Ep P1 - 1852 - Martie Weston and J.P. Preston cross into Iowa westward

Updated on November 19, 2017
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Dr. Bill's first passion is family history. His second is a passion for creating family saga, historical fiction stories that share it.

Martie and J.P. were horse wranglers

Horse wranglers managed the herd of horses
Horse wranglers managed the herd of horses | Source

They boarded the ferry to begin the journey across Iowa

Well before the first thaw of the spring of 1852, Martie Weston and J.P. Preston had arranged to be part of the Hedrick group crossing Iowa with the intention of joining one of the later wagon trains to California in Council Bluffs. The two young men had established excellent reputations as horsemen and hard, reliable workers during the fall and winter in Mercer County, Illinois. They were now ready to make the ferry crossing from New Boston across into Iowa. Along with “Snake” and “Buck” the four young men would be the “horse wranglers” for the Hedrick group, under Captain H.R. Hedrick, at least until they reached Council Bluffs. Circumstances on the Iowa leg of the journey and in Council Bluffs would dictate what came next.

Each pair of young men had two pack mules with them to carry they own tents, supplies and equipment for the journey. Along the way, three of them would herd the extra horses each day, their own plus those of other travelers contracting their services, and one would be responsible for the four mules. They would rotate the mule responsibility each day.

On April 10, 1852, the Hedrick group moved to the front of those ready to board the Ferry to the Iowa side of Mississippi, to land just south of the mouth of the Iowa River, in south Louisa County. By late afternoon, the entire group had crossed and made camp for the night three miles to the southwest, along the path they would take come morning. Iowa had become a state in 1846, just six years earlier. Settlement had begun in the east and was still moving westward. Captain Hedrick had told the group they would generally be crossing Iowa from one small town or village to the next, with the population they would encounter diminished each day they moved westward.

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They crossed the Des Moines River

The Des Moines River near Ottawa
The Des Moines River near Ottawa | Source

The Hedrick group ferried across the Des Moines River

On the first day west, the Hedrick party stopped briefly, before noon, at the newly laid out town of Morning Sun, to allow the animals to get water and have a brief break. As nightfall approached on April 11, they made camp on the east edge of the village of Mt. Pleasant, in Henry County. On April 12. the group proceeded to the west along a fairly well established road, through many cultivated fields, to the town of Fairfield, in Jefferson County. Fairfield was a community of several hundred people.

Late in the afternoon of April 13, they made camp two miles east of the Des Moines River. They would be using a fairly newly constructed ferry to cross the river. The ferry, and much of the surrounding town of Ottumwa, had be severely damaged by a devastating flood in 1851, the prior year. The ferry was one of the first things rebuilt, and was now operating, but with limited capacity. Captain Hedrick announced to the group that they would be delayed a day in getting across.

The Hedrick group did all get across the Des Moines River late in the day on April 14, but immediately made camp in a field about a mile west of the river for the night. On April 15, the group proceeded west through land that was only sparsely populated. The camp for the evening was near the middle of what Captain Hedrick said was Monroe County. The population in this county was very sparse and spread out. Captain Hedrick indicated the next day, assuming they were able to keep moving at the speed they had been, they would cross into Lucas County, and the area was more settled. They hoped to get to Chariton, a new community just platted a couple of years previously.

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Etienne Cabet in the 1850s
Etienne Cabet in the 1850s | Source

The population thinned out again as the group continued westward in Iowa

With just the four horse-drawn wagons and the herds of animals, the Hedrick group was able to maintain a good pace, and the weather cooperated, as well, even though it was mid-April in Iowa. From Chariton, on the morning of April 16, the group proceeded west toward the small village of Afton, in Union County. Captain Hedrick said that night that Adams County, next to the west for them, was still in the process of being organized as a county. It was named for the 2nd and the 6th Presidents of the United States. The camp for the night was on a lake called Icaria, A group of French-Americans had recently purchased land there for a utopian socialist movement community on the lake. The first settlers had recently arrived from Nauvoo, Illinois, where they had bought land from the Mormons in the area when they left that area a few years before.

Upon arrival, there were only four men actually living at the site. They were friendly and welcomed the members of the Hedrick group passing through. As the Hedrick group moved on west on the morning of the 18th, Captain Hedrick said they would continue to travel through nearly unpopulated area for most of the day. They planned to camp on the far side, after fording Red Oak Creek. It was a creek with many red oaks on its banks, it was said, but no leaves would be visible this time of year, of course. Fortunately, the creek was where it was supposed to be, as well as a well-used ford. The creek was easy to cross due to the mild winter and the creek was low.

On the 19th, as they moved west from Red Oak Creek, Captain Hedrick said they would be entering the Loess Hills that ran along the eastern side of the Missouri River. They would be making camp near a town that had been settled as Coonsville by the Mormons in 1848. The Mormons were now all gone, however, and local folks were said to be working to get the new name of Glenwood accepted for the town. Captain Hedrick said the group would stay in Coonsville on the 20th. Their destination near Council Bluffs, where they would stay a few days to make arrangements for moving on west, was less than a day away. There would be a lot of other transient people, like themselves, in the area. He would ride ahead, taking Buck along, to locate a suitable campsite. He would send Buck back when he located a spot, staying there to hold the spot. Buck would then bring the group into Council Bluffs where Captain Hedrick would be waiting for the group to arrive. This worked as planned, and everyone was anxious to get across the river and on their way. How that would happen, would play out in the coming days.

Note from the author

While each of the Weston family and extended family members, as well as Capt. Hedrick, Buck and Snake, are fictitious, all the other persons mentioned are actual historical figures used fictitiously based on the best information available at the time of the writing.

J.P. , James P., Preston was the author's great-grandfather.

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    • DrBill-WmL-Smith profile image

      William Leverne Smith 3 years ago from Hollister, MO

      You are very kind, MsDora. Thank you, very much. It was a pleasure sharing the story, crossing my home state, those many years ago. ;-)

    • MsDora profile image

      Dora Weithers 3 years ago from The Caribbean

      Smooth interesting narration. Thanks for letting us share the adventure with the Hedrick group.

    • DrBill-WmL-Smith profile image

      William Leverne Smith 3 years ago from Hollister, MO

      I love writing it... and, yes, to me the research is the "funnist" part... This series is so much fun, as well, because I can use my action family history research I've done over the past 20 years. Thanks for the visit. Hope you will return and read more of my stories! ;-)

    • BlossomSB profile image

      Bronwen Scott-Branagan 3 years ago from Victoria, Australia

      Lots of interesting information. I love reading historical fiction and I know it takes much research to get all the background facts correct.

    • DrBill-WmL-Smith profile image

      William Leverne Smith 3 years ago from Hollister, MO

      There was still a lot of open prairie available in Iowa. My home counties did not see a white settler until about 1856... west central. I've often wondered how would have fared in that environment. Usually assume I'd have died young, one way or another... might have survived as a teacher... ;-)

    • billybuc profile image

      Bill Holland 3 years ago from Olympia, WA

      This is just about the time my ancestors moved to Iowa. As for the Oregon Trail, I simply can't imagine the courage it took to pick up one's belongings and make that journey. Stout people they were.