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Our holdings include hundreds of glass and film negatives/transparencies that we've scanned ourselves; in addition, many other photos on this site were extracted from reference images (high-resolution tiffs) in the Library of Congress research archive. (To query the database click here.) They are adjusted, restored and reworked by your webmaster in accordance with his aesthetic sensibilities before being downsized and turned into the jpegs you see here. All of these images (including "derivative works") are protected by copyright laws of the United States and other jurisdictions and may not be sold, reproduced or otherwise used for commercial purposes without permission.

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[REV 25-NOV-2014]

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Looking Back: 1948

Looking Back: 1948

My grandmother at my parents' wedding in February 1948. I can't help but look into her eyes and think of what she had seen in her lifetime: Came to California from Ohio on a covered wagon with her family in 1888, survived the San Francisco Earthquake with her newborn son who would be killed less than 1 year later in a stagecoach accident, lost another child who was a twin, and my grandfather had died and left them broke 4 years before this picture was taken. Yet all I have ever heard from every relative was what a strong, warm, loving woman she was. This is one of many slides recently found at my brother's house. The box is chock-full o' late 40s and early 50s goodness. View full size.

On Shorpy:
Today's Top 5

Forget train vs. wagon

That necklace is fabulous!

Wagon train cost

From :

The overland journey from the Mid-West to Oregon and California meant a six month trip across 2,000 miles of difficult country. It was also an expensive enterprise. It was estimated that the journey cost a man and his family about $1,000. He would also need a specially prepared wagon that cost about $400. The canvas top would have to be waterproofed with linseed oil and stretched over a framework of hoop-shaped slats. Although mainly made of wood, iron was used to reinforce the wagon at crucial points. However, iron was used sparingly in construction since it was heavy and would slow down and exhaust the animals pulling the wagon.

The wagons were packed with food supplies, cooking equipment, water kegs, and other things needed for a long journey. These wagons could carry loads of up to 2,500 pounds, but the recommended maximum was 1,600 pounds. Research suggests that a typical family of four carried 800 pounds of flour, 200 pounds of lard, 700 pounds of bacon, 200 pounds of beans, 100 pounds of fruit, 75 pounds of coffee and 25 pounds of salt.

Train fares in 1882

Central Pacific and Union Pacific Railroad train fares of 1882.

The fare from Kansas city to San Francisco was $104 in first class, $78 in second class and $47.50 in emigrant class, whatever that was.

$47.50 translate into $1,316 nowadays (according to one inflation calculator). For a family of four, it represents a total fare of $5,264.

[One thing to consider in your calculations is that (using the Union Pacific as an example) children under 5 traveled free, and children under 12 paid half-fare. So the cost for Grandma's fare would have been zero, not $47.50. Second, "inflation calculators" are less and less meaningful the farther back you go. What you want to know is not so much how many dollars such a trip might cost today, but how much it cost compared to the alternative. Which would include buying or hiring a wagon and team, outfitting it, feeding the animals, food and other provisions, tolls, lodging, repairs, etc. As for "emigrant class" -- emigrants were settlers moving west; emigrant class was the cheap seats, similar to flying coach or sailing in steerage. Emigrant-class coaches were often part of freight trains. - Dave]

Covered wagons, sure

There are days I feel old enough to easily feel like I came to Minnesota in a covered wagon. But no, I was born in 1948, the year this pic was taken. Guess I came in a Studebaker. I also say to Truck5man, please keep posting pics!!! Lovely. Thanks!

Hey! Leave 'er alone!

Wow. Quite a few master debaters regarding her traveling methods. I called my mom who for the record is 87 years old and could take every one of us, and asked her to "confirm" she came here from Ohio in a covered wagon. She corrected me that my grandmother was 2 (making it 1884) and the family consisted of 6 kids and my g-grandparents. Probably making train fare a wee bit expensive for my g-grandfather who was a carpenter by trade.

[Or would train fare be considerably less expensive than the cost of moving (and feeding) eight people and a team of horses 2,000 miles across the continent in a journey that would take weeks? - Dave]

You're more than welcome to call my mom and question her (good luck with that). Added bonus: An awesome picture of my uncle Walt and my brother and cousins in the San Francisco Bay with one of my uncle's toys in about 1959. More to follow!

Google "covered wagon migration"

The first link I come up with shows "The Covered Wagon of the Great Western Migration. 1886 in Loup Valley, Nebraska" from the National Archives. I see no reason to doubt the story behind this lovely photo.

[I don't doubt for a second that people in the late 19th century used wagons to travel long distances in the Loup Valley, Nebraska, and a thousand other places. But from Ohio to California, a journey over 2,000 miles, probably not. - Dave]

Good point. If we want to doubt the story, I wonder if only part of the trip was in a wagon. Perhaps there is another reason this method would be chosen. If you fancied yourself a master of horses and wagons, and then the industrial revolution caught up to you, maybe you would stubbornly keep to the old ways. I can think of plenty of things my grandparents spend money on that is considered impractical by modern society.

I've seen that expression before

Mostly on parents of the bridal couple at weddings; difficult to read, and as many have suggested, perhaps more related to events of the past than those of present time. My own mother wore a similar look around my sister in law for some time after my older brother's wedding until she finally realized their marriage would indeed endure. They recently celebrated their 44th anniversary, are parents to 2 and grandparents to another 2. She and my own father divorced after slightly less than 10 (frequently turbulent) years.

The covered wagon option

I'd guess that not everyone thought that they could afford to migrate by train in 1888, and it was faster but it wasn't necessarily as cheap as the records would suggest, so a very poor or stubbornly frugal family might have decided to make the trek by wagon. Migration by train obviously became more common than by covered wagon after the completion of the transcontinental railroad, and probably nobody even tried it in the 20th Century except as a publicity stunt. But, out here in San Diego County, my uncle George Irey, who graduated from San Diego High in 1916, made a month-long vacation trip every year with his parents and siblings in a pair of mule-drawn covered wagons, from their farm in El Cajon over the very rugged mountains east to their land in the Imperial Valley. They owned cars, but George said they continued to use the wagons through the 1920s because they actually enjoyed it, despite the fact that they were doing so in the early summer every year, when it was more than 100 degrees in the desert. Never mind what my dad said privately about George's family enjoying that.

Wagon Travel

Well, you are correct that there was no widespread overland migration well into the 20th century, but there was smaller movements. My grandmother at the age of 2 or 3 went by wagon from Kentucky to the logging areas of Wisconsin around 1912, and returned the same way about 1918. Why wagon? They had to take the stove, plow share, tools, cookware, clothing etc. There were four families that went up and two that came back. My grandmother who died at the age of 93 remembered the trip back quite well. They stopped frequently, sometimes for several days while her dad did odd jobs or to fish or hunt for extra food. Poor people did what poor people had to do to survive.

Railroad development

Below is a link to a nice series of maps, showing railroad development in the United States. It is really quite fascinating. By 1880, the rail network was very developed, and as it notes, "every state and territory was provided with railway transportation."

I do appreciate the sentiment about the changes one sees during a lifetime. I once read a research report from the 1950s, where the author was interviewing folks about changes in the area. One of his subjects had lived in the same house since the 1880s! Of course, it is long gone and the past seems so distant, yet not much separates us from it. The chasm is narrow, but deep.

Generations X & Y.-- Bah!

They sure don't make 'em like they used to. I think that's part of what makes me LOVE this site so much.

Covered wagon revisited

I knew a woman, now deceased, who traveled with her family by covered wagon in the early part of the twentieth century. It was a shorter trip than the one in question, only going from Illinois to Oklahoma, but I think it would be possible some families still made use of the prairie schooner if it was all that they could afford. Oxen graze. It might have been much cheaper than passage for the family and property on a train. The wagon trains of the mid-nineteenth century may have been a thing of the past, but one family moving their belongings is believable.

By covered wagon in 1888? Sure!

As to your earlier comment, people migrating to California very often loaded their belongings in a wagon or wagons, added hoops and covers to protect the wagon contents, and headed west. This lasted well into the early years of the 20th century.

[I think you're very mistaken. There were no long overland migrations by covered wagon "well into the 20th century." - Dave]

No "migrations", but plenty of individual trips by folks looking for a better life. Lots & lots of them made the trip by early auto & trailer once those displaced the horse & mule as motive power.

[I'd lay good money that the number of families or individuals traveling from anywhere in Ohio to California by wagon in the late 1880s was pretty close to zero. Historically documented, non-anecdotal examples to the contrary are welcome! - Dave]

1888 - Covered Wagon?

I agree with Dave. Great pic but almost no way she traveled from Ohio to California by covered wagon in 1888. She could have taken any number of train routes well-established by then, and it would have been a heck of a lot cheaper than feeding a team of horses (not to mention people) for the two month journey (at least).

The photo tells the story

Although the details you provided on your grandmother's life add depth to the story, those eyes tell all of the story you really need to know. It makes my heart ache to think of the burdens she carried.

Age perspective

Wonderful photo of your grandmother, Truck5man! Would you know how old she is in this photo? Just for perspective sake, let's say she was eight years old when her family moved to Cali in 1888. That would make her 68 in this photo. A woman who is 68 today would be six years old when this photo was taken.

There was this (garbled)

There was this (garbled) family tale of my paternal greatgrandmother (1875-1955) having traveled as a child from the midwest to California by wagon train. What was more likely in our case was that it was her mother as an infant who had made the trip that way.

Ohio to California

I can see traveling there by covered wagon in 1858, but 1888? You'd just take a train.

Also: Where was this picture taken? Excellent job of scanning!

Thank you for sharing this with us

This is a strange, moving picture. Your grandmother has a sad, kind, and beautiful face. I agree; please post more of your pictures.

40s garb in color

What a treat to see such a sharp, detailed and vibrant color shot of how real people dressed in the period. While her fashions might have been regarded at the time as somewhat dated, I think we can say this woman had quite a sense of style nonetheless. The lighting is quite striking, too - not your typical flash-on-camera angle. I wonder if it's illuminated by photoflood? Please keep delving into that box!

Lovely picture

Your grandmother looks like and amazing, strong woman.

Please post more of these!

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