6 Things My Great Grandparents Taught Me About Survival - Part 2

6 Things My Great Grandparents Taught Me About Survival - Part 2

                                                                                                     By Jeanette Vale

The Ship Horizon had been crossing the Atlantic Ocean for over a month.  As the American continent came into view, the weary sea-goers were eager to put feet on land and have this leg of their journey behind them.



Oil on Canvas by Fitz Henry Lane 1856

On June 30, 1856, Richard, Emma, and their children disembarked from the ship. 

The streets of Boston were ‘wide and handsome’ and the markets reminded Emma of home.    Houses were from three to six stories high, some of these rivaling homes on Regent Street back in London

Boston 1856


Boston Fashion 1850's

Emma noted that Boston’s upper class were dressed beautifully in the latest European styles.  Imagine going from London, to Boston, and in both cities seeing the finest life offered.

 And then, they Pushed Westward– In a Cattle Car.

 After several days of delay, the only train large enough to fit the family and the group they were traveling with was a cattle car on a train and they rode in this manner to Albany New York.  It must’ve smelled.  Were there seats?  Emma was holding a baby and there was the three-year-old toddler as well.  Can you imagine their fatigue?    Were their legs still noodle-like from being on a ship for so long.  And how long is a train ride from Boston to Albany?  In a modern car today, it is a three-hour drive.  From Albany to Cleveland Ohio the train pulled in on the 4th of July.  Americans had to explain to these newcomers what all the parades and firing of artillery was about.   

When they finally arrived in Iowa City they were greeted by a sharp punch in the gut.  Months prior to this Richard had sent money enough for a wagon, a team of ox, and supplies to get them across the next 1,000+ miles!   Instead, he was informed that no such provisions were there.   The gentle, even keel Richard was furious.

Instead, everyone in the group were to make their own hand cart and each person was only allowed seventeen pounds of personal items each.

Translation:  there was a lot of precious stuff tossed in a pile left there to rot in Iowa City. 

It gets worse (part I)

 Other groups that had come before them, had depleted the seasoned hickory and elm wood in making their handcarts.    Richard had experience as a carpenter.  He had to make their handcart out of unseasoned wood.  During the long miles ahead, this sad contraption would warp, shrink and crack.  He had to keep fixing it. 

Their three-year-old son rode on top of their pile in the handcart and Emma held the four-month-old baby the whole way while also pushing the handcart from the back with her other hand. Remember their next youngest was age five.  He walked the whole way while their older children pulled the handcart with their father.  

 Along with this traveling company there were ox teams and wagons to pull bigger items.  Richard was able to secure a chest with carpentry tools and this chest went into the wagon pulled by Ox.  Today we still have his full chest of tools that he bought there in Iowa City.  At our last family reunion, I was able to handle these tools.  It was so amazing to touch history.


 The weeks passed as they trudged on through blistering heat.  I won’t go into all the details.  But in short, it was horrible.  And then….

It got worse (part II)

Winter hit the plains a month earlier than expected.  Because of the condition of the handcarts being so rickety some people were forced earlier in the trip to throw off more items.  This included blankets that they would need, and now they needed those blankets.  Louisa, their oldest daughter, woke up one morning to find her hair frozen to the prairie ground.  They had to boil water and pour it on until she thawed. 

One person in the group wrote in his journal, “Our rations are very short, 10 ounces of flour per day, 10 ounces of pork per 20 days.  Short rations of tea, coffee, sugar, rice, and apples.  It is not enough” By the first week in October fifteen died.  By the end of this trip, I believe the people were all cut down to ½ cup of flour each per day, and that was all.  People resorted to boiling leather (and even boots) for a meal.  Yes, you read that right.    And there were many more deaths, with the ground too frozen to dig decent graves. 

One of the best things we have in our day is the ability to freeze dry food.  It is so light weight and easy to have ready in minutes.  The shelf life and convenience of the product are excellent.  Taste, nutrition, and having real food on hand during chaos is life saving. Imagine having  Stroganoff, Cheese and Broccoli Bake or Enchilada beans and rice ready before a toddler can whimper!  I wish I could zip back in time and plunk down  A bucket of entrees into their handcart.  

Did Richard, Emma and their children even survive this? 

Louisa, age nine and Frederick, age 7 helped their father pull the handcart for over one thousand miles. 

I marvel at the children who lived during that time.  They were forced to grow up very fast and handle big jobs.  The Frontier was not a place for sissies.   

Today, with technology and transportation we are accustomed to ease.  We work very hard and sometimes allow the rising generation to watch.   I see entitled grape eating behaviors occasionally, even in myself.

When the SHTF we are a Louisa or Frederick, or we become them fast (or there's a third option). 

By getting prepared we increase our confidence, and we acclimate quickly to the changes that lay ahead in our turbulent world.


We will check in with Richard and Emma near the Sweetwater River crossing in Wyoming.    Friends, step on, prep on and ENJOY the ride, with cruise control, and heated leather seats.

This blog is a three-part series, but a fourth will follow.   We will be taking a tour of Richard and Emma's cabin--because it is still standing today!  You do not want to miss it!


Previous article The Normalcy Bias in Today's World & How It's Proving DEADLY

Leave a comment

Comments must be approved before appearing

* Required fields