No gentle tinkling of a silver spoon against crystal here. ATTENTION PLEASE. Maintain order in the Archive at all times.
I’m just taking to heart an old lesson from my Retired Army Colonel father-in-law: everything ship-shape and in it’s place.
Last month I nearly missed two priceless cabinet card photogaphs of my grandmother while sorting bits of trash and debris from my aunt’s estate. I realized just in time, that it is wise to Examine Everything. Today I was reminded about another wise piece of advice: Maintain Order.
The Backstory: Our basement office is the world-wide headquarters for a million-schemes and plans. It holds the archive files for fifty years of family businesses; craft supplies, yarn, and sporting goods from a past lives, and now, boxes and boxes from my aunt’s estate. As well as boxes from Uncle Herman’s estate. And my in-laws estate. And Mom’s estate. You get the picture.
Today I looked at one small shoebox. It seemed to hold mostly letters and cards that I had written to my aunt since college days. We brought it home from her house in Orange County as we cleaned out her desk. At the back of the box was a few odd items: a cookbook, an unframed picture, an envelope with my uncles’ sermon notes, and a construction paper covered typed booklet. They were headed for the miscellaneous pile when I took another look.
The manuscript begins:
The following copy has been carefully taken from a little black diary formerly the property of Mrs. Laura Woodman Mills, who wrote the diary as she crossed the plains from Illinois to Stockton, California in 1861, and is now in the hands of her daughter Mrs. W. B. Harper of Garden Grove.
Mrs. Mills, at one time a school teacher in Illinois, made this trip at the age of twenty seven, in company with her husband and small son Frank.
No doubt, my aunt (who taught school in Garden Grove for many years) must have come into contact with someone who knew Mrs. Mills or her daughter Mrs. Harper. Perhaps the women were even members of the little church where Uncle Benny was a pastor.
The typed transcription includes notes and a few census references. I wonder who prepared this? I wonder if the diary still exists? I wonder where it is today? Hopefully, the family has a copy. . . What a sad story if it had been lost . . . Or mixed in with Uncle Herman’s submarine mementos, or even Mom’s Orange County bits and pieces. As it is, we only have the Garden Grove / teacher connection; but, maybe it’s enough. . .
This journal is the kind that’s tough to put down once you start reading. Laura writes about the people and things she sees along the route; about men who die; about her own little boy celebrating his first birthday.
Saturday, August 3
Remained in camp today until 2 o’clock. A boy twenty years old belonging to the train that is traveling with us went out last evening to look for a cow and did not return. Was found this morning shot and scalped by the Indians. The sick man dies today at noon and so they were buried side by side. It seems hard to see anyone buried here among the Indians without coffin or prayer, but it matters not to them. Moved on.
It’s a compelling story. I surely hope the family has managed to hold on to the original diary.