A paper letter in this era of electronic mail, texting, and cyber-chatting is like a handmade afghan or a jar of homemade preserves; it is a hand-wrought little gift from one human being to another. You may never again find a small bundle of letters tied with a silk ribbon tucked away in the attic or stashed in an old desk drawer.
Letters can open a door not only to the day to day life of our ancestors but it can provide clues to the history of the westward movement. They can help us see how things never really change. They can help us understand the constant movement of people from the East to the West. Take the following letter from the Fremont County Historical Society’s collection for example.
January 22, 1861
Perhaps you are astonished at the date of this – but it is no forgery – you will be obliged to own that I am ahead of you at pioneering! Fairly circumvented you, haven't I? Here I am on the frontier! On the “border” by the old Missouri! Can walk over to Nebraska any day!
I've had a taste of travel too! Have been two months on the way – came all by water, commencing on the old Cassadaga (a river in New York)! You just look at the map and you will perceive that Fremont Co is the southwestern Co. of Iowa. And by looking further you will see that it is near the eastern terminus of the Platte River Route to Pikes Peak! The people of this country are continually going to and coming from there – carrying freight – querie whither I go there next spring or not – For about six months I have been living with Mr. Sears (formerly of Sinclearville) studying law! At Sidney, the county seat of the county.
I am now out in the country at an Aunt's for the purpose of hunting deer and am snowed in to day with your old friend Sam Hedges – who is the same jolly rougue yet – Prairie chickens, rabbits, quail, squirrels, etc are in abundance deer are petty scarce.
The boys in Sinclearville are scattering pretty fast – perhaps you heard that some of them are in California.
What the deuce are you in an eastern State for – why don't you come out West! Where there is room? You just come out here and we will go to P.P. In spite of fate – here's plenty of gold just waiting to be picked up! Indians and buffalo in any quantity – Please show us a specimen of your hand write.
Caleb J. Allen, Jr
PS: Sam can speak for himself
Caleb J. Allen was a nephew of Dr. Samuel W Ripley one of Fremont County's earliest doctors and also was related to the Chambers family who donated land for the Chambers Cemetery. Caleb Allen Jr. joined the Union Army and served with others from Fremont County.
The reference to the Platte River as the route West mirrors today’s travels. Travelers during that time were following the path established by the Glenwood Culture in prehistoric times. Today, we travel the same route via interstate in fast moving cars. A similar path regardless the time connecting the past and the future.