This letter was written by the member of an emigrant party on its way to Idaho Territory—the “New Eldorado”—in 1864. He may have been one of the party that left La Crosse county, Wisconsin, in May 1864, that were attacked by Sioux Indians fifty miles east of Fort Laramie in [present day] Wyoming. That part consisted of 18 men, some twenty to thirty women and children, and over sixty wagons. At least one man was killed in that raid—Charles Green Hanscome.
The author’s initials appear to be “B. M” but I can’t be certain of that and I cannot find any individual with those initials to match his situation. Neither can I pinpoint the woman to whom he addressed his letter though we know from the letter she was employed as a school teacher in La Crosse county in 1864. It appears the two had known each other for some time and were schoolmates together. There are too many young women by that name to identify her with certainty.
The letter also reveals that the author was joined by at least two brothers who met the emigrant party in Council Bluffs, Iowa—the “jumping off” place for most of the caravans. Which emigrant party they were with is impossible to say, although it appears he had traveled to Council Bluffs with the party from La Crosse county. The State Register of Desmoines reported hundreds of emigrant teams crossing the river daily.
I have not been able to learn whether the correspondents ever reunited.
Addressed to Miss E. L. Miller, Neshonoc, La Crosse Co., Wisconsin
Council Bluffs [Iowa]
May 8th 1864
My Dear Emma,
Your kind and loving letter was received yesterday. How my heart bounded with joy when I recognized at a glance your writing. It reminded me of bygone times and school days never to be forgotten. It caused a shade of sadness to fall over me when I thought I was going farther and farther from all that is dear to me.
Emma, how often, how very often, I think of you. Whenever I am alone, my thoughts are sure to wander back to that loving one who shall never never be forgotten “till life and memory perish.” O! Emma, you have been a true and loving friend to me. It was very hard for me to part with you yet two short years will soon pass away and if you are true to me as I know you will be, we shall meet again for surely will I return to my dear Emma as soon as convenient and when we meet, we will never, never part again.
The trip so far has been a very pleasant one to me. I have enjoyed myself very much as well as I can when I am away from your society. We are encamped three miles east of Council Bluffs. My brothers have not arrived yet. We shall remain here until they come.
I wrote to you April 17th. You did not say that you had received it. I sent it to West Salem. Perhaps it was taken from the office. It is the last one I shall send to that office. I will send them to Neshonoc or LaCross.
There is a great rush here for Idaho. Nearly 100 teams pass daily. It seems as if such a tide of emigration will overflow Idaho yet. There is many valleys of rich farming grounds where thousands can find a home.
Emma, I have been very lonely today. It is Sunday. I have read your letter over and over How I love to ponder over its pages—every word is dear to me. O how I should like to take a glance into your school room. I can tell just how it would look. There stands a tall, beautiful young lady. A book is in her hand and a little class of young “Ideas” are standing up before her all in a straight line. They are reading. All is silence except the one that is reading now. And then a word is corrected by the young lady and then the reading continues. Have I not pictured it right? Perhaps not. Well, I will have the rest of it right surely, “A light rap is heard on the half open door. She steps to the door and meets a young gentleman. A slight blush is now on her cheek. After the usual greetings of the day are over, he asks if he can have the pleasure of her company Sunday eve. She hesitates a moment—her thoughts fly away to some absent one, hundreds of miles away. Tis but a moment. She consents. After he is gone, she reflects, “Am I true to that absent one—surely not, but it is too late now.” Surely this cannot be right. Well I shall not try again.
Emma, “Tis said that absence conquers love.” Can absence ever conquer our love? There may be a love that absence conquers, but it is not a true, deep and undivided love. O, Emma! how dearly, how fondly, I love you. The hope of meeting again is the only thing that cheers my lonely way. Were it not for that, life would be miserable. I am very sad and lonely at times, often thinking were it not for you, I would wander on like some lonely planet in this world without a cause—without an aim in life, save to forget the past and its bygone pleasures.
I will not detain you any longer with this scroll. Please direct to Fort Laramie next. We will probably stop at Bannock City when we get to Idaho. Fort Laramie is 522 miles from here. It will take us about 30 days to get there. Be sure and write for your letters cheer my lonely way. Goodbye my dear one. Ever your dear and loving friend, — B. M.