Saturday, 9 June 2007

Sarah Jane Daglish - Trip Across The Plains

This week I received a transcribed copy of a remarkable diary written about a journey across the plains of the United States from Knoxville, Iowa to San Bernardino, California. It was written by Sarah Jane Rousseau (nee Daglish). Below is a page from the original diary.

The story begins in England in North Shields, Northumberland, where William Daglish (who is my g-g-great uncle) married Mary Elliott in May 1812 at Christ Church, Tynemouth. The couple had two daughters, Mary Ann and Sarah Jane. In the 1820s the family moved to London, from where they emigated to the United States, arriving in New York in 1833.

A picture of family life in London is given in an article written by Sarah's granddaughter Evelyn Anderson-Strait. She wrote that the family lived in Brunswick Square where the girls were taught by tutors "and for seven years they were taught by a music master who had been a pupil of Beethoven".

In America, Sarah met James Rousseau, who had been sent on a government mission to survey the then unknown lands of Michigan. He later became a doctor, and the couple married in 1839, having 4 children. There is a a pair of portraits of Sarah and James, which are reputed to have been painted by Samuel Morse, inventor of Morse code - but otherwise a distinguished portrait painter.

In 1864 the Rousseaus (Sarah, James, and children Elizabeth, John and Albert - elder daughter Mary Ann stayed behind in Iowa) joined three other families in a wagon train to San Bernardino. The others were the Earp, Hamilton and Curtis families. The Earp family included the notorious Wyatt Earp, then 16 years old.

It was a hazardous journey, setting out in May and arriving in December, seven months later. The reason for the Rousseaus making this trip seems to have been for Sarah's health; at this time she was crippled by arthritis and she believed the warmer climate would give some relief.

Their route followed the so-called "Mormon Trail" to Salt Lake City, and then the "Mormon Corridor" to San Bernardino. Although established routes, there were still hardships and dangers, particularly from Indians. During the first part of the journey these were principally from the Sioux, Comanche, Snake and Blackfoot tribes which posed a real and constant threat. During the latter part of the trip, an interesting relationship was created with the Paiute Indians, who would ride with the party by day and at night some would tend the horses and cattle whilst others were "held prisoner" until the morning to ensure the safe return of the animals.

After reaching Salt Lake City, they frequently encountered Mormons, who were invariably friendly and hospitable. The men of the party were invited to meet Brigham Young (pictured right), sometimes known as The American Moses, who Sarah describes in the diary as "easy in manners, affable and a good deal of a gentleman". They also heard his brass band - Sarah notes that they played "A Life On The Ocean Wave", which she says was a great favourite of hers.

On the darker side, they passed the site of the Mountain Meadows massacre, where in September 1857 a Mormon militia and some Paiute Indians killed an entire wagon train - around 120 unarmed men, women and children were killed. Sarah notes that "only 6 small children too young to tell the tale were suffered to live. They are at Salt Lake City. I cannot for a moment suppose that such barbarism will be buried in Oblivion. Oh it cannot be. It will be brought to light and the aggressors punished."

Sarah wrote in her diary every day; the entry normally includes a description of the weather conditions and the daily mileage travelled - 25 miles on a good day. She also records details of the passing landscape and buildings. It is a truly remarkable, historic document that I cannot do justice to here.

Sarah died in San Bernardino in February 1872, and her husband James in July 1882.

So, a story which includes Beethoven, Wyatt Earp and Samuel Morse. The mention of Beethoven seems like a possible embellishment, whilst the portraits appear to me to be a little crude for Morse's normal style - but the Wyatt Earp connection is a historical fact.

Meanwhile Sarah's sister Mary Ann married Albert Miller in 1838. Albert, usually referred to as Judge Albert Miller, was a distinguished pioneer in Michigan - Miller's mother's family claims descent from those who arrived aboard the Mayflower in 1620. Mary Ann and Albert had two daughters. In the 1850s my great great uncle, another William Daglish, also emigrated to America, qualifying as a doctor and lawyer before joining the Millers in Michigan, where he married his cousin Emily Miller. This could be a story for future weeks ...

I am very grateful to Pam Greenwood who so kindly sent me a copy of Sarah Jane's diary and has provided much additional detail, and to Dick Molony who was the source of most of the information and in particular the article by Sarah's granddaughter Evelyn Anderson-Strait and the portait of Sarah. The transcribed version of the diary is in the San Bernardino Historical Society's collection.

Update - July 2008: Sarah Jane and her husband James Rousseau are buried in the Pioneer Cemetery in San Bernardino, California. The following pictures were provided by Dick Molony.

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