Lafayette Spencer's Oregon Trail Diary 1852


The Annals of Iowa, Vol. VIII, No. 4 (Jan. :1908) PP 304-310, contains the 1852 overland diary of Lafayette SPENCER. The group with which he traveled left Van Buren County, Iowa on May 11th and reached Portland, Ore. on Oct. 26th.

Members of the party were:

BRATTAIN, Paul & family of 7 adults

NEWMAN, William

SPENCER, Lafayette

SPENCER, Charles, wife & 2 children


GIMPLE, George

SMITH, Michael, wife, 2 sons, 1 dau.



WHETSTONE, Jacob & family

TAYLOR, George & family

CARTER, Robert & family

BARNES, Adam & family

MITCHELL, Oliver & family

HITTARY, John & family

BAKER, Napoleon

HOWARD, Wm. & family

ADAMS, Charles & family

CLARK, Thomas & family

WHETSTONE, Thomas & family

BOLEY, Nicholas & family

BOLEY, John & family

WATSON, James & family

WATSON, Hill & family



EBERT, George

EBERT, James

EBERT, William

KECK, Henry

KECK, Sloan

There were a number of deaths among these people. Nancy SPENCER, apparently the wife of Charles, died June 10, 16 miles west of Prairie Creek and 16 miles east of Wood River. Note that on BLODGET's death list, the date is given as June 3, with her being from Wisconsin. Robert CARTER died on June 18, five days west of Kearny, Neb. (party traveled the North side of the river). Michael SMITH died Sept. l8th, ten miles beyond Burnt River. Charles SPENCER died Oct. 27, the morning after the party arrived in Portland.

This Was Submitted to the ANCESTREE by Mrs. Mary Nelson of Holdrege, Neb.

I'm sure someone in your group may have this but sometimes these little bits & pieces are hard to track down.


Charlotte St. Clair

Recording Secretary of the newly formed, OLD FORT GEN. SOC.

Ft. Madison, Iowa

In the spring of 1852 there was organized among the citizens of Cedar Township, Van Buren County, Iowa, an emigrant train of about twenty-five wagons. Each wagon was drawn by from three to five yoke of oxen. In the company.were Paul Brattain and family of seven adult persons; William Newman; Lafayette Spencer; Charles Spencer and wife and two children; Henry Newman; George Gimple; Michael Smith and his wife, two sons and a daughter; George Hammonds; Henry Hammonds; Jacob Whetstone and family; George Taylor and family; Robert Carter and family; Adam Barnes and family; Oliver Mitchell and ' family; John Hilary and family; Napoleon Baker; William Howard and family; Charles Adams and family; Thomas Clark and family; Nicholas Boley and family; John Boley and family; James Watson and family; Hill Watson and family; Iradel Anderson; Mathies Anderson; George, James and William Ebert; Henry and Sloan Keck.

Paul Brattain was best known to the Iowa public of any in this train. He had served in different official capacities, the most important being as Treasurer of the Des Moines River Improvement Board of Public Works.

To assist his brother, William, who expected to follow in 1853, Lafayette Spencer kept a diary of his trip to Oregon, which he transmitted with a letter after the journey ended. This letter and the diary are in the quaint diction and orthography of the writer. It is herewith presented with no more than necessary alterations.


December 27, 1852

Dear Brother:

I now embrace the present opportunity of writing a few lines to let you know that I am well at the present time, hoping that these few lines will find you all well. I have not much to write about at the present time. I have traveled a good deal in Oregon. We started from John Newman's near Oregon City the eighth day of November for the Rogue River Gold mines. We traveled some two hundred and fifty miles, to South Umpequa River. It rained so much that the roads got so bad that we could not travel with our wagons. We stopped on Cow Creek to wait for the waters to run down and prospect for gold, but could not make it pay very well We lacked some seventy miles of getting to Rogue River but it commenced snowing and snowed for fifteen or sixteen days in succession. The snow is over two feet deep and still snowing. I do not know what will become of our stock for the people have no feed to give them. The pack mules are beginning to die now of hunger. I will stay here until the winter breaks up then I will go to Rogue River. I have traveled all through the Willamette Valley. It is about 20 miles wide and is cut up with hills and mountains. All the land that is worth anything is cleaned up. The Umpequah Valley is not as good as the Willamette Valley, nor half as big. All of the best of the claims are taken up. I shall advise you to stay where you are, but if you want to come you must start by the first of April with six or seven yoke of oxen to the wagon and as much as one or two hundred dollars in cash. You will find it a long, tedious journey to travel. I send you my journal that I kept on the road through to Oregon. Mr. Newman is gone on to Rogue River. I am staying here in Umpequa with the team and provisions until I get word from him what to do. I live fat and saucy. Direct letters to Kanyonville, Douglass County, Oregon.


William Spencer       Lafayette Spencer



May 11th, 1852. Started from home. Pass through Birmingham and camp on the East fork of Lick Creek.

12th. Pass through Libertyville and Ashland and came at the Agency.

13th. Pass through Autumwa. Cross the Des Moines River and camp 8 miles west of Autumwa.

14th Camp on Colt Creek 2 miles west of Albia, the county seat of Monroe County.

15th. Camp on the 14 miles between Albia and Charidon Point in Lucas County.

16th. Camp on Grave Creek 4 miles west of Charidon Point.

17th. Camp on Camp Creek in Clark County.

18th. Camp on Seven Mile Creek in Union County.

19th. Camp on Twelve Mile Creek. Cross Grand River at Pisga, the old Mormon Town.

20th. Camp on Medawa Creek in Adams County.

21st. Camp in a grove one mile west of the Road.

22nd Camp on a creek six miles East of Indian town.

23rd. Camp near Nesyynabetany.

24th. Camp on Silver Creek in Potawatimy County.

25th. Camp at Council Bluffs 2 miles below Kanesville on the Missouri.

26th. Lay by.

27th. Lay by.

May 28th Camp on Missouri River 10 miles above Kanesville at the upper ferry.

29th. Lay by.

30th. Cross the Missouri River in the night and Camp on the west bank

31st Travel 18 miles. Camp on Pappea Greek. Good grass.


June lst Travel 10 miles. Cross the Elk Horn River and camp on Bridge Creek. Good grass.

2nd Travel 15 miles. Camp on a lake to the left of the road. Good grass.

3rd Travel 15 miles. Camp on Shell Creek. Good grass.

4th Travel 24 miles. Camp on Loup Fork near the Ferry. Good grass.

5th Lay by. Nancy Spencer taken sick.

6th Travel 4 miles. Cross the Loup Fork and camp on the Plaines.

7th Travel 18 miles and camp on Loup Fork. Good grass.

8th Lay by for Mr. Smith to get up with us.

9th Travel 22 miles and camp west of the Cold Spring. Good grass.

10th Travel 16 miles and camp near Prarie Creek. Nancy Spencer died. at 9 o'clock P.M. and buried at 8 o'clock A.M. the next morning.

11th Travel 16 miles and camp on Wood Greek.

12th Travel 15 miles and camp on the Plat River. Good grass.

13th Travel 24 miles. Camp on Plat River opposite Fort Kenney.

14th Travel 16 miles. Camp on Buffalo Creek. Grass fair.

15th Travel 15 miles. Camp on Plat River near Willow Lake. Grass fair.

16th Travel 15 miles. Camp on the Plat River. Good grass.

17th Travel 15 miles. Camp on the Plat River near Skunk Creek. Good grass.

18th Travel 7 miles. Camp on a small creek. Robert Carter died with Colrhea.

19th Travel 18 miles. Camp on Plat River. No more timber for two hundred miles.

20th Travel 15 miles. Camp on Plat River. Good grass.

21st Travel 20 miles. Camp on Wolf Creek and Spring.

22nd Travel 10 miles. Camp on Rattle Snake Creek.

23rd Travel 8 miles. Camp on Plat River near Cedar Bluff. Good grass.

24th Travel 22 miles. Camp near Castle Creek. Good grass. Their is a postoffice kept their. I wrote back.

25th Travel 20 miles. Camp on Plat River. Good grass.

26th Travel 18 miles. Camp near Ancient Bluff. Good grass.

27th Lay by on the account of sickness.

28th Travel 16 miles. Camp near Chimney Rock. Good grass.

29th Travel 18 miles. Camp on Plat River near Scott Bluff. Good Grass.

30th Travel 25 miles. Camp at Blue Stone Cliff on Plat River.


Read Page Two of the Lafayette Spencer Journal


Submitted by Richard Smith -, May 24, 1998.

Return to Main Oregon Page

Return to Pioneer Biographies

Copyright © 1998 by Jan Phillips

Last updated Saturday, 01-Mar-2014 16:57:59 MST.