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TitleSWEET FREEDOM'S PLAINS
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Table of Contents
                            SWEET FREEDOM’S PLAINS:
	TABLE OF CONTENTS
	LIST OF FIGURES AND MAPS
		Photographs and Illustrations
		Maps
	PREFACE
		Methodology
		Style and Format
	ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS
	INTRODUCTION
	CHAPTER 1 RACE, SLAVERY, AND FREEDOM
		The Early Black Presence
		The Question of Race
		The Evolution of Their Status
		The Contagion of Liberty
		Permanent, Hereditary Chattel: A Snapshot of Antebellum Slavery in the South, Indian Territory, and Border States
		Northern “Unfreedom”
		The Nature of Freedom in the West
		Utah: Slaves and Saints
	CHAPTER 2 THE JUMPING-OFF PLACES
		Getting to the Jumping-Off Places
		First Impressions
		Doing Well and Doing Good
		Negotiating the Racial Terrain
	CHAPTER 3 THE PROVIDENTIAL CORRIDOR
		The Complex of Trails: Experiencing the Oregon, California, and Mormon Trails
		The Complex of Trails: Experiencing the Southern Trails to California
		Other Routes
		Mapping the Way
		The T. H. Jefferson Map
		Working All the Way: Servant, Laborer, or Slave
		Working All the Way: Mountain Men, Pilots, and Guides
		Working All the Way: Hunters
		Working All the Way: Interaction with Indians
		Working All the Way: Grasping the Reins and Popping the Whip
		Working All the Way: Domestic Help
		The Nomadic Community of the Trail: The Need for Security
		The Nomadic Community of the Trail: Sickness, Accidents, and Acts of Kindness
	CHAPTER 4 SWEET FREEDOM’S PLAINS
		A Visible Presence
		Imagined Possibilities
		Their Expectations: Fulfilled, Disappointed, and Transformed
		Fulfilled Expectations
		Disappointed Expectations
	CHAPTER 5 PLACE OF PROMISE
		Establishing Themselves as Free People
		Making a Place for Themselves
	Appendix
	BIBLIOGRAPHY
		Primary Sources
		Secondary Sources: Books
		Secondary Sources: Journals, Magazines, and Newspapers
		Dissertations, Theses, and Unpublished Manuscripts
		Interviews Conducted by the Author
		Archival Manuscript and Photograph Collections
		Public Records, Reports, and Plans
		Online Sources
		Maps
                        
Document Text Contents
Page 1

SWEET FREEDOM’S
PLAINS:

African Americans on the Overland Trails
1841-1869

By

Shirley Ann Wilson Moore, PhD.

For the National Park Service

National Trails Intermountain Region

Salt Lake City & Santa Fe

January 31, 2012

Page 2

ii

The Flying Slave

The night is dark, and keen the air,
And the Slave is flying to be free;

His parting word is one short prayer;
O God, but give me Liberty!
Farewell – farewell!

Behind I leave the whips and chains,
Before me spreads sweet Freedom’s plains

--William Wells Brown
The Anti-Slavery Harp: A Collection of Songs
For Anti-Slavery Meetings, 1848

Page 135

118

corpse had been chopped to pieces with an axe.” 302 A .44-caliber bullet was recovered from his

spinal column. Tests revealed that he had been paralyzed and mutilated in the attack. The

archeologists surmised that during a lull in the fighting or under cover of night, the two slaves

who had managed to survive the attack dragged the body of the slain black man into the building

and buried him beneath the floor.303

The experiences of Charlie Tyler, Amos Kusick, and the unnamed black man at Rock

Ranch provide further evidence of the dangers that could strike western emigrants, regardless of

race and irrespective of the circumstances that prompted their journey.304

The Nomadic Community of the Trail: Sickness, Accidents, and Acts of Kindness

Childbirth, disease, and accidents posed greater dangers to overland emigrants than did

Indian attacks. While overland mortality estimates vary, most historians have placed the number

between four and six percent. John Unruh, Jr., has estimated that trail mortality was about four

percent. Trails historian Merrill J. Mattes has placed the number closer to 6 percent. Whatever

the actual rate, the reality was that accidents and disease posed far greater threats to emigrants

than did the native populations of the West.305 Based on emigrant reports of deaths caused by

diseases, accidents, and violence, some historians have estimated that the number of graves

averaged 10 per mile along the 2,000 miles of trail from the jumping-off places to the end of the

California-Oregon trails. In 1849, California emigrant Dr. T. McCollum noted that the “road

from Independence to Fort Laramie is a graveyard.”306 Health, therefore, was an important

302 This is a summary of a preliminary osteological report and laboratory analyses conducted by the University of
Wyoming in 1987, summarized in Guenther, “Could These Bones Be from a Negro?,” 43-44.
303 Ibid., 51-52.
304 Ibid., 52.
305 See Unruh, The Plains Across, 408, 516, n. 75 for a discussion of the varying estimates of overland death rates.
See also Carter, “Sometimes When I Hear the Winds Sigh,” 153-154; and Mattes, The Great Platte River Road, 82-
88.
306 For emigrant graves along the trail and the McCollum quote, see National Park Service, Across Wyoming, 28.

Page 136

119

security concern for the overlanders who marshaled all available resources to combat the

diseases and other maladies that plagued the trails.307

Childbirth is inherently risky, more so in the nineteenth century, and particularly for

those women who went into labor amid the dirt, heat, and physical and emotional stresses of the

overland journey. Journal accounts abound with mentions of mothers who were left in trailside

graves after suffering complications of childbirth. Many women likely died from “childbed

fever,” infection introduced by birth attendants who, ignorant of germ theory, failed to wash their

hands after handling livestock, rancid meat, dirty water, “buffalo chips,” or other sources of

contamination.

In an 1848 diary entry, Mormon pioneer John Brown described the conditions under

which his own wife bore her child:

The [boat] . . . ran aground and stuck fast and the river was
falling . . . they finally threw some 12 of the animals
overboard, after which the boat floated . . . John Bankhead’s
wife [gave] . . . birth to a fine son on board the boat . . . . We
reached the Black Hills, where we found little to feed, and our
cattle began to die. Within a few miles of the La Prela River
[probably La Prele River in Wyoming] my ox-wagon broke
down, where it remained all night. Next morning, August 29th
my wife gave birth to a fine son.308

However, experienced doctors and midwives, white or black, could ease the fears and

difficulties of childbirth. Black overlander Biddy Mason learned and practiced her craft on the

southern plantations where she was born and raised. Several women, both black and white,

among her Mormon emigrant parties of 1848 and 1851 were pregnant at the start of their

307 Carter, “Sometimes When I Hear the Winds Sigh,” 152-154; Unruh, The Plains Across, 408-409; Bagley, So
Rugged and Mountainous, 363-364, 395-396. See also Clark, “Diary of a Journey from Missouri to California in
1849,” 4, 25.
308 Hayden, “Biddy Mason’s Los Angeles,” 88; Brown, Autobiography of a Pioneer, 94, 99, 101.

Page 270

299

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