Amelia Stewart Knight: ‘No fool of a job to be mixed up with several hundred head of cattle’

In the spring of 1853, Boston-born Amelia Stewart Knight, her husband Dr. Joel Knight and their seven children set out from Monroe County, Iowa, along the Oregon Trail in a covered wagon.amelia stewart knight

She was pregnant, but she never complained during the five-month journey though she endured heat, cold, wet, mud, headaches, sick children, physical danger and homesickness. On Sept. 18, 1853, the day after their journey ended, she delivered their eighth child, Adam, by the side of the road.

Amelia Stewart was born in Boston in January 1817. On Sept. 18, 1834, she married Joel Knight, an English immigrant who had learned the hatter’s trade. In Boston he studied medicine, supporting himself by selling hats. In 1837, Amelia, Joel and their 5-month-old son Plutarch Stewart moved to Iowa, where they lived for 16 years.

By 1853, Joel Knight had had enough of the harsh Iowa winters. He decided it would be healthier for his family if they moved to the Oregon Territory. On April 9, 1853, the family set out from Monroe County: Plutarch Stewart, Seneca, Frances, Jefferson, Lucy, Almira, Chatfield and Wilson Carl.

Amelia Stewart Knight kept a diary of their journey along the Oregon Trail. On May 31, 1853, she wrote:

Tuesday, May 31st — Evening — Traveled 25 miles today. When we started this morning there were two large droves of cattle and about 50 wagons ahead of us, and we either had to stay poking behind them in the dust or hurry up and drive past them. It was no fool of a job to be mixed up with several hundred head of cattle, and only one road to travel in, and the drovers threatened to drive their cattle over you if you attempted to pass them. They even took out their pistols. Husband came up just as one man held his pistol at Wilson Carl and saw what the fuss was and said, “Boys, follow me,” and he drove our team out of the road entirely, and the cattle seemed to understand it all, for they went into the trot most of the way. The rest of the boys followed with their teams and the rest of the stock. I had rather a rough ride, to be sure, but was glad to get away from such a lawless set, which we did by noon. The head teamster did his best by whipping and hollowing to his cattle. He found it of no use and got up into his wagon to take it easy. We left some swearing men behind us. We drove a good ways ahead and stopped to rest the cattle and eat some dinner.  While we were eating we saw them coming. All hands jumped for their teams, saying they had earned the road too dearly to let them pass again, and in a few moments we were all on the go again. Had been very warm today. Thermometer at 98 in the wagon at one o’clock. Towards evening there came up a light thunderstorm which cooled the air down to 60. We are now within 100 miles of Fort Laramie.


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