Archive for June, 2018

edwards-diary-001“As soon as we were across the [Missouri] river, we started up the river on our long westward journey. Late in the evening we camped at a farm house some six miles from Covington. The road we traveled is very smooth and level. The Missouri bottom here is some 18 or 15 miles wide and, for between one to three miles in width, is covered with a heavy growth of cottonwood timber. Back of Covington, for several miles, the country is not settled and cultivated as it should be, for, to all appearances, a more beautiful locality could not more easily be found. The soil is deep and rich and covered with an abundance of grass, with water and timber within convenient distance.”


edwards-diary-003This description of the Sioux City, Iowa area in 1865 is from the Edward Edwards’ journal. (I will use diary and journal interchangeably in this post.) Other towns mentioned in the next couple of pages of the diary are Decotah, Franklin, St. John, Ponka, St. James, and Niobrara. Some of these towns still exist and can be visited by driving west of Sioux City.



A portion of the Edward H. Edwards journal is in the Archives and Special Collections.


edwards-diary-002The diary’s writer Edward Edwards was from Sioux City, and he was 24 years old when he joined the Sawyers expedition as teamster. The expedition’s goal was to construct a wagon road from the Missouri River at Niobrara City, Nebraska to the gold mines of Virginia City, Montana (Drago and Mott).






edwards-diary-004.jpgThere are many different types of diaries. Some give an account of day-to-day life. Edward’s journal is not that type. It doesn’t have daily entries, and it doesn’t tell us much about constructing a road or what it was like living in a camp. It does contain detail descriptions of the land, plants, weather, and major events like meeting Natives or finding fossils. It reads like a travelogue.





When reading a diary for historical research, it is useful to ask yourself questions similar to the following:

What was the diary’s context?

What was the writer’s intent? Was it promotional? If so, what was the goal?

Was it written while the events were occurring or later?

Are there phrases borrowed from other contemporary literature? Clichés may indicate that the writer is repeating common knowledge rather than writing personal observation.


edwards-diary-005.jpgDrago and Mott tell us that Edwards wrote to his family during the same trip. I wonder how the observations in this journal compare with observations in those letters.


Some of the diaries from the Archives and Special Collections are on the Digital Library of South Dakota. Diaries by Austin Horace and an unnamed Civil War soldier are available there for viewing.




edwards-diary-007If you are looking for a fun volunteer activity, consider transcribing handwritten diaries for an archives. One of our diaries is in shorthand. If you know how to read shorthand, you could tell us what a young man in Sioux Falls in the 1870s-1880s was journaling.






Harry Sinclair Drago and Phyllis Mott. “The Edwards Letters and the Wagon Road to Virginia City.” In The Westerners, New York Posse Brand Book, Volume 9, Number 1, 1962.







Read Full Post »

%d bloggers like this: