"Yellow Fever"
The Gold Rush

The Deaths of Midwesterners along the Trails West

©Illinois Trails History and Genealogy; Susan Cook

Some of the pioneers who ventured into the
Northwest Territory were looking for a better life for their families, some went for the adventure and excitement, others still went looking for a piece of land to call their own. They had suffered through attacks by Indians, outlaws and survived sickness to find their piece of the "promised land" Upon discovery of Gold in California in January of 1848, some found the "yellow fever" too much to ignore. Men went alone, some brought their families, all found the misery they would experience nothing in comparison to their earlier travels. Two families from Springfield, Sangamon County, Illinois experienced great horrors on their trek to the west. History knows them as the "Donner Party"

Many of the early backwoodsmen and adventurers led the hopeful through trails to the West. Each spring, these pioneers gathered at Independence and St. Joseph, Missouri, and Council Bluffs, Iowa, to begin a 2,000 mile journey westward. Most came from the interior of the nation, the same who bravely traveled into the Northwest Territory. Those who lived on the East Coast traveled by steamship, by way of Panama. All experienced lack of food and water, disease and death.

J.S. Holliday, author of "The World Rushed In":

"The people who went to California by the the tens of thousands were greenhorns -- city folks. They didn't have a callus on their hand, had never fired a rifle, had never followed a plow, had never rode a horse, didn't know up from down in terms of the wilderness world, the frontier life. And they weren't interested in it."

All they could think about was gold as they plodded westward alongside covered wagons at two miles per hour -- for up to six months. The first weeks on the trail took the adventurers along the Platte River, past landmarks like Chimney Rock, Courthouse Rock, and Scotts Bluffs
Military outposts like Ft. Laramie were most important as post offices -- places to send letters to eager families back home -- heartfelt letters of optimism and hope.

Along the land trails, slabs of wood sprang up across the trails in great number, painted with the name, place of birth and date of death of those who died along the way.

The following is a list of some of the deaths that occurred during the height of the trip west. Additions will be provided as we locate them.

Death on the Plains
Notations by travelers to the West, along the Overland Trail

St. Louis Reveille, 1849...

On the road from Childs to St. Joseph, several hundred graves were counted, most of them are in the open prairie, and a rough plank at the head of the grave, the name of the deceased, his native State and the disease of which he died are hastily painted with shoe black or such other material most easily procured under the circumstances.

This morality seems to have existed only between the starting point on the MIssouri and Fort Child. Further than that, disease and death seemed entirely to have disappeared. The emigrants were hale and hearty, and spoke of their prospects with the same hopes and animation that had spurred them up at home.

July, 1850
Graves sited along the Trail

"John Herlinger, Ralls County, May 10th, on a branch of the Wolf River, saw two more graves here, and on the 10th passed a grave containing two bodies, but could not make out their names. The 11th, passed the grave of Joseph Veit, from St. Louis, aged 32 years. Same day, camped near two graves, one of a child, the other of W. Creekpaum, of Rockville, Indiana. The 12th, found two graves, one of J. W. Young, Carroll County, Mo., aged 11 years, the other Geo. Stanley, of Pike County, Ill. The 13th, camped near grave of Gordia B. Caffeen, of LaSalle County, Ill. The 15th passed three graves today, Robert Maloney, Randolph County, Mo., accidentally shot himself, Goodson G. Gabbert, Bachanan County, and one unknown. Met six men and one woman returning, the husband of the latter having died on the Plains"

October 11, 1850
Missouri Republican

List of Illinois deaths reported at Fort Laramie, this summer:

J. Dewey, St. Clair County, Ill., died June 11th at Little Blue, aged 48 years (of cholera) leaving a wife and family

J. Bond, Jr., Clinton County, Ill., died June 4th, at Little Blue River, of cholera, aged 21 years

David Fike, St. Clair county, Ill., died June 9th, 50 miles this side of Fort Kearny, of cholera, aged 10 years

Miss Elisabeth Fike, St. Clair County, Ill., died June 20th, at Chimney Rock, of cholera, aged 13 years

James Haines, Gallatin County, Ill., died May 18 at Chimney Rock, of cholera, aged 22 years

Jane Riddle, Pike County, Ill., died June __ on crossing of South Platte, aged 70, of cholera

_____ Riddle, Pike County, Ill., died June __ on crossing South Platte, aged 87 years, of cholera

H. Richardson, St. Clair County, Ill., died June 5th, at Little Blue river, aged 30, of cholera, leaving a wife and two children

Hiram Scott, Whiteside County, Ill., died June 21st, at Horse Creek, of cholera, aged 25 years

A. Sublette, St. Clair County, Ill., died June 5th at Little Blue River, aged 24 years, of cholera

George Stanley, Pike County, Ill.

John Smith, same

P. Smith, same

P. P. Wills, Alton, Ill., died June 9th, at Fort Kearny, of cholera, aged 49 years leaving a wife

October 17, 1850
Missouri Republican
List of Iowa deaths reported at Fort Laramie, this summer:

Mrs. McClark, Iowa, died June 8th, at Council Grove, aged 70

Mrs. S. Brouett, Kanesville, died July 5th, 40 miles east of South Platte

Mrs. M. Dany, July 6th

N. N. Stepfoy

J. H. Stratton, Cedar County, died June 10th, of Cholera, aged 29 years; leaving a wife and 3 children

G. W. Jordan, Dubuque County, died May 1st, aged 27 years, leaving a wife and 4 children

Miss Emeline McCarthae, Decatur County, died July 8th, aged 18 years

James McKay, Louisa County, died June 20th, aged 37 years, leaving a wife and 5 children

O. C. P. Davis, Van Buren County, died July 31st, aged 32 years

Mrs. Riche, died June 5th, aged 70

William Dalton, died June 19th, aged 23

Mary CAmpbell, died July 8th

Mrs. Charlotte Thompson

J. Q. McClelland

Emma B. Camp

Elisha Hawroit, aged 52

George Catlin

Maria Adams, a child

J. C. Lee, a child

Mrs. E. Mallary, aged 52 years

Miss Irinda Crandal, aged 19

Z. Hays

L. Carnes

Mary Johnson

M. Moorns

Able M. Seargent, aged 54?

Thomas Seargent

E. Kingston, Garden Grove

Catharine Bedford

Joseph Snetham, aged 38

Miss Adelia Hart, aged 11

Col. Charles M. Johnson, Kanesville

Mrs. Delilah Campbell, Kanesville, died August 19th, aged 38

On June 17 1850 the number of those headed for California through Fort Laramie was listed as:

2483 Men
17 Women
17 Children

Deaths in California

"In looking over the late California papers, we find notices of the following deaths, mainly at Sacramento and San Francisco:

Martin Rose, aged 26, Ill.
John Diedrich, Chicago, Ill.
Jonathan Hicks, 12, Chicago, Ill.
John Patten, Ill.
Wilson Bennett, 32, Wisconsin
Daniel Brooks, Whiteside County, Ill., formerly of Conn.
John Taylor, 33, Ill.
John McMann, 21, Putnam County, Ill.
John Petinger, Pike County, Ill.
James W. Maxwell, Carroll County, Ind.
George W. Hallenbach, Wisconsin
James W. Campbell, Ill.

The St. Louis Republican

The following are names of Emigrants who have died on the way to California

G. W. Jordon, Dubuque County, Iowa
Owen H. Cressy, Iowa
George Scofield, Iowa
John W. Means, Iowa
Joseph Cozzens, Wapello County, Iowa
Elizabeth Fields, Decatur County
Amos L. Hardin, Warren County, Ill.
John Anderson, Henderson County, Ill.

Return To The State Page

Return To The Events Page

Return To The Main Illinois Trails Page