One of the coolest things about finding a diary or the interview of an old pioneer, is the details about how they actually traveled. Here is the description of a young, 16-year-old girl, Susan Thompson, who was actually on the Oatman wagon train:
A Perpetual Picnic
"We were divided into companies and each band was governed by a captain. Royce Oatman was the man from whom we received directions and counsel." Each wagon had a supply of "jerked meat, dried apples and berries, flour, corn beef, meal, preserved fruits, bacon and beans that we had prepared during the spring months and which we planned were sufficient for eighteen months, lay with our bedding and clothes in a compartment beneath the wagon floor.
"In a few weeks we had passed beyond the occasional towns and the scattered farms of Kansas and were out into that vast unknown region known as the West. We were a happy, carefree, lot of young people and the dangers and hard-ships found no resting place on our shoulders. It was a continuous picnic and excitement was plentiful.
"Every two or three days a stop was made and while the women baked and washed, the men hunted for antelopes n' buffalos or smaller game, such as rabbits and pheasants. Often, when we were camping near a stream, we had quantities of fresh fish.
"Never since those days have I seen churning done so easily. Each morning, after the milking, the milk was put in the churn which sat on the projecting cross beams which supported the canvas top of the wagon, and each evening, when we made our night's halt, we had fresh butter ready for supper.
"In the evenings we gathered about the campfires and played games or told stories or danced. My grand-daughter in El Monte, has my old violin, which so many evenings gave out the strains of 'Money Musk' and 'Zipp Coon' as the young folks danced in the light of the campfire and the lard-burning lanterns. Often, during the daytime halts,we ran races or made swings. There was plenty of frolic and where there are young people gathered together, there is always plenty of love-making."
When the wagon train would reach towns, sometimes, the resulting traffic jams would resemble big city congestion.
Eventually, the perpetual picnic gave way to more somber themes, as when a young girl died on the trail:
"We were on the prairies and there was no timber, so each family gave a board from their wagons for the casket. A kind of terror of the plains came over me as the dusk of the evening [came on]. . .we left the grave on a little hillside and heard the howling of the wolves drawing nearer and nearer."
—Susan Thompson, “Following the Pot of Gold at the Rainbow's End in the Days of 1850: The Life of Mrs. Susan Thompson Lewis Parrish of El Monte, California. By Virginia V. Root--Huntington Library, San Marino
The Oatmans began their ill-fated journey on this wagon train that had some 93 members, riding, or walking beside 43 wagons (Susan Thompson, above, says 30), bound for The Land of Bashan (today known as Yuma). Petty infighting, alternative visions and illness took its toll. So much so, that by the time they reached Socorro, New Mexico their ranks had been cut in half.
And by the time they reached the Gila River west of the big bend, in Arizona, the wagons had been reduced to only one.
To read that full story of the Oatman massacre go HERE.