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Weston Wagons West - Episode H3 - Hank Weston’s Trek from Ohio to Iowa

Updated on October 2, 2017

They traveled in their wagons

A farm wagon with hoops and canvas top
A farm wagon with hoops and canvas top

The forty-plus day trek was a burden on all participants

The Weston ‘wagon train’ that left Marietta, Ohio in early July was expected to take 40 days plus a few days of delays and rest along the way. They took three farm wagons with hooped covered tops pulled by two pair of oxen, two pair of mules, and two pair of horses, respectively. Two young men, cousins, were employed to herd the other animals they took along, including cows, horses and mules. A good deal of thought was put into what would be taken, what would be left behind, and what they would have available when they arrived at their destination.

By this summer of 1849, a good number of families had already taken the trek west, even across the continent to Oregon and California. The men who became known as the 49ers going to the California gold fields had already gone in the spring, to make it over the mountains before fall snows arrived. The Weston trip was different from those, but they did follow some of the same pathways on their journey. The trails they followed, however, were not yet roads, except in a very few locations. They were dusty if it didn’t rain, muddy if they did. Weather was always a concern, and provisions were made for this, as best they could. Tarps and tents were available, but each had their limitations.

Mary, riding with Joe in one wagon, had a baby only a few months old to protect and care for, Josh, along with two daughter, aged 5 and 9. Nine-year-old Sarah was helpful, and five-year-old Cathy could mostly take care of herself. Hannah was seven months pregnant by the time this journey began. She could have insisted on staying in Ohio, but followed her husband, Jake, as well, to follow his dream. Newly weds, Hank and Melinda were in charge of the third wagon. Each of the men and each of the women were capable of handling their team and their wagon, even Hannah, though she hoped she wouldn’t need to. Each, except Hannah, in her present condition, could also ride, as well. Everyone could walk, and much of the time did just that. The party left full of confidence in a trip well planned, anxious to get to their destination.

They took a ferry across the Wabash

A ferry across the river
A ferry across the river

Almost everything went as planned

With only a few exceptions, the trip was a pleasant experience, except for Mary and Hannah, of course. These women knew what to expect, of course, and made the best of their unpleasant experience, because they knew they had to. Around the campfire each night, Melinda did all she could to ease the load on Mary and Hannah, who were grateful, and said so to Melinda in quiet moments. Hank made himself available to assist wherever he could, as well, not feeling as many overall responsibilities as the other men, at this point. He did man-work when needed, he helped the women when it was useful to them. The two young cousins held up their end of the work, as everyone had hoped that they would.

The party was delayed one day waiting their turn on the ferry across the Wabash River between Indiana and Illinois and they were delayed two days awaiting the ferry to cross the Mississippi River into Iowa. These had been expected, and could easily have been longer. One thunderstorm caught them in southern Illinois that caused a one-day delay in getting dried out and on the move again. Their wagons and animals to pull them proved to be good choices. There were no broken axles or broken wheels the entire trip; only a few minor adjustments needing to be made three times.

The families were pleasantly surprised that many of the nightly stops were on the edges of small towns, as they went across Ohio, Indiana, Illinois, and finally eastern Iowa. Often they would ford a small stream running through the town and camp on the far side. They could easily obtain eggs and fresh fruits and vegetables as needed in most towns. Someone almost always came out to them offering goods. Turning down the offers was almost the bigger challenge. The route across southern Iowa, before they turned north toward Jasper County, in the Des Moines area, was especially well prepared for travelers. It seemed everyone from the east was following the same route here, most going on west to Council Bluffs, on the Missouri River. At Ottumwa, on the Des Moines River, the Weston party turned northwest and followed the east side of the Des Moines River until they arrived at Des Moines Township, in the southwest corner of Jasper County.

The farm came with an orchard

An orchard on the farm
An orchard on the farm

A new home awaited the three Weston couples and their families

They followed the directions given them by old friend Arnold Boston and arrived at his farm at about 4 pm on August 24th. Less than an hour later they were crossing the small creek that ran in front of their new farmhouse. With no prospect of bad weather, the Weston family decided to simply camp in the yard, for the night, to give them the opportunity to become familiar with these ne surroundings before taking further actions. Arnold told them the house had been thoroughly cleaned, but he knew the women would want to clean it themselves, before moving in. He was right. The house was a story and a half frame structure with two bedrooms on the first floor in the back. It had a fireplace on the right of the main room. There were stairs to the loft that ran the length of the house.

Outside, there was a large garden to the left, as one stood facing the house, which was west, and an orchard to the right, to the east. The other buildings, a barn, a crib, a hog house, a chicken house and a couple of other small buildings, were behind the house, to the north. The big front yard was about fifteen feet above the creek running by the homestead. Beyond the creek, to the south, was a strip of cropland about a hundred yards or so on to the ‘road’ that would run east and west past their home. Arnold had pointed out that the farmland ran about a half mile to the east, as well as to the west, and a half-mile to the rear (north). This was the south half of a section of land, well surveyed, 320 acres.

Although they had their supper in the campsite, in the yard, and would spend the night there, before they went to bed, they had already decided how they would be using the house. Joe and Mary, with young Josh, would take one bedroom. Jake and Hannah would take the other, with the expected baby now due in only a few short weeks. For now, Hank and Melinda would use one half of the loft, and the girls, Sarah and Cathy would use the other half. They would eventually build a third bedroom off the first floor for Hank and Melinda. With this plan in mind, the women would set out first thing in the morning to prepare the house to live in. The men would assist as needed, but set about exploring the farm to determine specific priorities for each of them. The two young men caring for the extra animals would stay a day or two, then leave to return to Ohio.

Note by the author

The Hx series of historical fiction family saga stories consist of characters that are fictional or real persons used here fictitiously. Activities and events are consistent with known historical facts, but are entirely fictitious. The Jacob and Levi Weston characters were first created as a part of “The Homeplace Saga” stories. The first 20+ episodes of this Lx series filled in the early years of the lives of Levi, Jacob and their family, also descendents of Thomas and Fred Weston

These first 20 episodes of the Levi Weston story have been compiled into an ebook: “Weston Wagons West: Levi Weston, L1-20 (1823-1874).” Thank you for your support.

“Weston Wagons West” and “The Homeplace Saga” historical fiction family saga stories are the creation of the author, William Leverne Smith, also known as “Dr. Bill.”

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    • DrBill-WmL-Smith profile image
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      William Leverne Smith 19 months ago from Hollister, MO

      It certainly was a totally different world. Extremely hard for us to imagine, it seems to me. Thank you for your visit and comment on a full day! ;-)

    • billybuc profile image

      Bill Holland 19 months ago from Olympia, WA

      Even relatively short trips like that were filled with danger....I can't imagine travelling hundreds of miles in that way....and then you think of the Oregon Trail....my goodness, our ancestors were made of some seriously strong stuff.