NOVEMBER 24, 1920
By Major Frank
A. Fenn, Copyright 1920
None but those who
experienced the trials of a trip by wagon over the old emigrant road
across the plains can realize what was endured by the Argonauts of the
Mrs. Rhoda M. Fenn
was one of the pioneer women of Idaho County.
With her husband, Stephen S. Fenn, and four children she arrived
in Florence late in June, 1862, from California whither she emigrated
from Iowa ten years before.
Leaving his wife in
Dubuque, Iowa to follow him when he had prepared a new home for her in
the land of golden promise. Mr.
Fenn crossed the plains to California early in 1850.
In August of that year Mrs. Fenn became the mother of a daughter,
Clara J. Fenn.
After two years of
anxious and expectant waiting, the young mother with her baby girl
joined emigrant train destined for Nevada county, California, where, at
Jefferson Bar on the South Yuba River, the new home had been made ready.
The train which was under the direction of Captain M.A. Singleton
was composed of some 70 persons. Mrs.
Fenn was the only woman in the party but, with her babe in arms, she
braved the hazards of the perilous trip through the then wilderness from
the Missouri river almost to the Pacific.
She was typical of the splendid frontier women who indelibly
impressed their characteristics of courage and fortitude upon the
population of the entire west.
Council Bluffs was
the point of departure for Iowa emigrants.
To get there was but a preparatory step which might be retraced,
beyond there the course led ever to the westward, there was no turning
back. To him who looked
longingly toward the New Eldorado, the Missouri river was the Rubicon.
The Singleton train
left Council Bluffs in May, 1852, the year which is recorded in emigrant
annals as the “cholero year”. Nothing
beyond the usual brushes with Indians occurred to the train until it was
well out on the Platte Valley, and then, on the night of June 20, the
cholera came upon it. Several
persons were stricken but that first night none but little Clara
succumbed. Early in the
morning the mother saw the remains of her only child placed in a rude
feed box, which had been detached from the back end of one of the
wagons, and buried with scant ceremony beside the road whose course
during that frightful year was clearly defined through the fatal Platte
Valley by the way-side mounds that registered the awful toll exacted
from the multitude whom the lure of gold tempted into the western wilds.
To escape the deadly
scourge of the valley the train was forced to hurry on and on ever
westward, the length of the marches limited only by the endurance of the
teams. Death itself was not
permitted to retard the flight for life.
The dead hurriedly buried in shallow graves with only the
mournful howl of the prairie wolf as a requiem, and the train moved on.
While the bereaved mother stood leaning against the wheel of a
wagon and looking in mute agony at the new made grave of her loved one.
E.S. Jewette, a member of the company, sat up there a little head
board, a strip plank, on which was inscribed “Clara J. Fenn, aged 1
year and 10 mos”, and at the same time placed in the mourner’s hand
a slip of paper on which was written the following:
“How oft the
tenderest tie is broken,
How oft the parting
tear must flow,
The words of
friendship scarce are spoken,
Ere those are gone
we love below,
Like suns they reise
and all is bright,
Like suns they set
and all is night.
To Mrs. Fenn, from
Then the command
“forward” was given the teams moved out and the lone and sorrowing
woman turned from her own dead to minister as best she might to the
living companions to whom Israel whispered the dread summons.
She was not called but, spared for others’ sake and after
passing out of the valley of the shadow of death at last reached the
California home for which she had endured so much.
Very few even of her intimate friends ever heard from her the
story of her tribulation there in the Valley of the Platte, but she
always preserved the little slip of paper on which Jewette had written
his sympathetic words and when she passed on she left it as a precious
heirloom in her family.