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Gretchen Schafer's 1871 Diary:

Travel on the Transcontinental Railroad

Here is a short diary (translated from German recently) from 1871 describing the journey to Washington Territory [including travel to San Francisco over the entire length of the Union Pacific and Central Pacific Railroads]. Gretchen and Margaretha are the same person. Gretchen is the diminutive for Margaretha. I guess that she was just putting a formal title on her diary. Her diary ... was really tiny - 4 inches high by 3 inches wide and leather bound. I would have had to break down the spine of the diary to get a copy....so I was never able to make copies. ... They were part of a larger group that left Madison for Washington Territory where homestead land was still available. ... They headed to the city of Olympia, by way of Victoria, British Columbia. My great-grandfather took a raft down the Black River outside of Olympia to the Chehalis River and up the Satsop River (base of Olympic Peninsula) and found land for their homestead. So they left the Civilized Madison, Wisconsin area with its large German community, and good farmland (my great-grandfather had purchased a farm outside of Madison in 1849), and roads and railroad access for the unknown territory of Washington where homestead land was available. There were no roads (but the neighboring Indians took them places via canoe) and the railroad didn't show up for another 25 years. I always wondered why they left Wisconsin. Then I found out that there was a recession around Madison after the Civil War....the economy was switching from wheat to dairy products, there were failed harvests as well (perhaps in part due to "chinch" bugs eating the wheat), and a lot of people who stayed ended up in bankruptcy. ... The recipe/shopping list section was in English but I still had some trouble reading the words.

Margaret (Gretchen) Schafer, age 21, wrote the following in her journal:

Margaretha Schaefer of the Town of Springfield, in the County of Dane, in the State of Wisconsin, left Wisconsin the tenth day of November 1871 at half past five in the afternoon.

On November 10, 1871, at half past 6 in the afternoon we left Cross Plains and arrived in Madison at 6:35. Left Madison at 10 o'clock, arrived in Chicago on the 11th at 6:45 in the morning. Went to another station, ate breakfast, saw some of the scene of the fire and left Chicago at 10:45 in the morning. Arrived in Council Bluffs on the 12th at 9 in the morning.

The train stopped only for a few minutes. Continued right away and arrived at the [Missouri] river at 9:30. Went on the steamer right away and arrived in Omaha at 10: 45. Brewed a little coffee and went to the city to do his purchases. Did not get very far into the suburbs, 1st because it rained heavily and 2nd because the city was still too (new?) and the buildings still quite destroyed . [this last sentence must be about Chicago...since Omaha hadn't had a fire]

At 6 o'clock in the evening of the 12th the trip continued until the 13th. At 8 or 9 in the evening we crossed the North Platte River having seen nothing except a great, unending prairie. That and once in a while a little hut made out of mud. The little town of North Platte is quite important.

In the morning of the 14th we still were crossing over prairies, just once in a while one could see rocks, sand, hills and big herds of cattle. Shortly before 11 o'clock we arrived in Antelope Station. The train stopped for about a quarter of an hour. We made use of the time by walking up and down a little and the young folks to throw snow.

We had a coach just for ourselves. Leather covered chairs. During the day they serve as seats and at night for sleeping by putting the seats of two chairs against each other and the pillows across. On the 14th at 3 in the afternoon we saw the Rocky Mountains for the first time. A quarter-hour later we saw the white snowy peaks. One-quarter hour after 3 we went through the first snow shed. 20 minutes before 4 we arrived in Cheyenne.

They offered a girl 6 to 7 dollars per week. Cheyenne is 1009 miles from Chicago. Omaha is 492 miles from Chicago. San Francisco is 2391 miles from Chicago. Council Bluffs is 488 miles from Chicago. Bryan is 135 from Chicago.

Shortly before half past 8 in the morning of the 15th we came through the first rock door. In front of Fort Steele big herds of antelopes. Fort Fred Steele is similar to a caldron, surrounded by rocks. Its location is spectacular. The pretty houses with the soldiers. In the morning of the 16th we drove through 11 snow sheds to Evanston. The first brewery is about the size of our old smokehouse.

In Echo City [Utah] we had an imposing view of the mountains. The beautifully high mountains with their shapes looking as if alive. Shortly before 3 we passed the Devil's gate . It lasted 20 minutes! On the 17th in the morning we lost one of our passengers. He was a funny chap. He went outside for a breath of fresh air. The train left and he had to stay behind. Everybody was sorry. In the afternoon we visited a China hut . The people were friendly and clean. Until Ogden we were in two coaches. In Ogden the coaches changed and we were all together.

On the 18th we arrived in Winnemucca [NV]. The train stopped at 1:30. On the 19th we came through a snow shed 30 miles long. Just before Colfax we passed over a very big and high bridge and to the greatest distress of us all, the train stopped on the bridge for a quarter hour. Immediately after this we saw the first green gardens with nice salads, green peas, spinach.

Colfax [CA] is in a romantic setting on the foot of a high mountain, surrounded by gardens. Colfax is 54 miles from Sacramento. In the evening of the 19th at about 7 we arrived in Sacramento. Had to change coach again and went on to San Francisco. San Francisco is 138 miles from Sacramento. Shortly before 8 we arrived in Oakland. In Oakland we boarded a steamer and arrived shortly before 10 in San Francisco.

There were so many hotel advertisers in San Francisco who asked us to stay with them that we did not know with whom to go. We went to the Hotel Chicago. The people were very kind. We stayed until the 22nd. At 2 in the afternoon on the 22nd we went to Petaluma and stayed until the 30th . On the 1st we went from San Franciso to Victoria and arrived on the 6th. We stayed at the Pacific Hotel until the 8th.

We left at noon and arrived in Olympia on the 9th about 5 in the morning. We waited for daylight and then went to the Tacoma house where we stayed until the 10th. Father rented some rooms at (Rosins) where we all went. I stayed until the evening and then went to Salomon's where I was employed for 2 dollars per month.


Take 3 quarts flour, 4 eggs, 1⁄2 butter and Lard mixed, 1 pow. sugar, 1
nutmeg, 1 cupful yeast, 1 pint warm new Milk.

Ginger Crackers
2 quarts flour, 1-quart molasses, heaping tablespoonful butter, and 1 of
ginger, and 1 cinnamon and 1 teaspoonful of soda in a little buttermilk or
sour cream.

Ginger bread
1-quart flour, 1-pint molasses, 1 teaspoonful soda, ginger.

Barbary Buns
Sift a cupful sugar with a quart flour; make it into a dough with a gill of
yeast and rather more than a half pint new milk when risen, work into it two
spoonfuls butter, 1⁄2 ounce caraway seed, Make into small buns.

Peach Leather
Stew soft peaches into a smooth paste, washing them and cooking 1⁄4 lb. sugar
to each pound fruits. After cooking well spread on plates rubbed with
butter. Dry in the sun sprinkled with sugar and rolled up.

Silver Cake
Take the whites of 8 eggs and beat to a stiff froth 2 cups sugar, 1-cup
butter, 1-cup sweet milk, 4 cups flour, 1 teaspoonful of soda, and 1 of
cream tartar.

Preserve Peaches
To each pound of fruit allow a pound of sugar, put a layer of sugar at the
bottom of the preserving kettle, and than a layer of fruit and put on stand
it over hot ashes until the sugar is dissolved than boil them until they
clear, take them out piece by piece. Spread on a dish free from syrup.
Boil to syrup in a pan until it jellies when the peaches cold fill the jars
half full and fill up with the boiling syrup. Let them stand a short
time. Cover with a cloth from 25 to 30 min. or enough time to preserve.

Gold Jelly Cream
Beat the yolks of 5 eggs with an ounce of gelatin, 2 quarts of plain milk, 1⁄4
lb. sugar, and flavor to suit the taste. Freeze.

Silver Jelly Cream
Prepared as above with the white of the eggs, flavor Differently, turn in

Instant Bake
2 cups sugar, 2 cups flour, 6 teaspoonfuls butter, 6 eggs, 1⁄2 cup milk,
1-teaspoon soda, 2-teaspoon cream tartar. Bake in jelly tins.

[Bartar ?] Cake
Put in a large cup of boiling milk, 3 eggs, 4 tablespoons sugar, 1 lb.
almonds or walnuts blanched and chopped, to be thrown in just as the custard
comes to a boil, put the custard between the cakes when the are cold.

For Breakfast or Lunch:
Take a 1⁄4 lb. cheese good fresh, cut it up in thin slices, put in a spider
turning over a large cupful of sweet milk and a 1⁄4 teaspoonful of dry
mustard, a dash of pepper, a little salt and a piece of butter as large as a
walnut, stir the mixture all the time, have at hand 3 crackers finely ground
and sprinkle them in gradually as soon as they are stirred in turn out the
contents on warm dish and serve.

1 lb. flour, 1⁄2 lb. sugar, 1⁄2 lb. butter, 2 eggs, cinnamon and rose water.
Lemon Pie
1 lemon, 1-cup sugar, 2-teaspoonful milk, yolk of 1 egg, mixed and baked in
a crust 1-cup water.

Ginger Snaps
2 cups molasses, 1 cup lard, 1 tablespoon ginger, 1 tablespoon soda, 1
teaspoon salt

Gousin (?) Bake
1 cup sour cream, 1 cup sugar, 1 egg, 1 teaspoon of saleratur, 1 teaspoon
Lemon essence, flour to make a batter.

German Puffs
Melt a 1⁄4 lb. butter mix well with 1⁄2 lb. flour, add a quart milk, 8 eggs well
beaten, some grated nutmeg, some cinnamon, beat well together, fill the cups
half full, and bake.

Batter Muffins
1 quart warm milk
1-teaspoon salt beat 5 eggs and stir in half teacup yeast. Stir in flour
enough to make a stiff batter, let it rise, drop in rings and bake.

9 eggs, 1 quart sweet milk, twelve teaspoonfuls flour and a pinch salt.
Bake 20-25 minutes.

Fruit Cake
2-1/2 lbs. raisins 1 of Citron
2-1/2 lbs. currents - 1 of sugar
1 lb. butter - 1 of flour
8 eggs, 1 cup Molasses
1 wine glass of Brandy
1 wine glass of Wine
1-1/2 teaspoonful of nutmeg
The same of cloves,
Cinnamon, allspice
Mix all ingredients as for round cake. Sir in fruit, slice the citron and
put in layers. This makes 2 loaves. Bake 3 loaves in a stove or oven.

White Mountain Cake
1 Cup butter
2 cup white sugar
4 eggs, 4 cup flour
1 teaspoonful Galeration
1 cup milk
2 tsp. cream tartar
Dough with 2 eggs
2 cups sugar
1 cup milk
1 tsp. nutmeg
1 teaspoonful of Gota (?)
2 tsp. cream of tartar
Butter the size of an egg
Jelly Bake
3 eggs
1 cup of sugar
1 cup of flour
Butter the size of an egg

The following shopping list is excerpted from Maggie's notes:
Paid for Ronds 4.55
Aug 9, 1874
Received in Money:
Aug. 20 4.00
Sept 01 5.00
Sept 17 20.00
Paid the Dentist 22.00
went home, Feb the 8th and came back Feb the 20th
Received of Hougelmyer 5.25
Send to Philadelphia 4.75
Aug 20th bought:
1 pair slippers 2.50
Writing paper . 25
Thimble . 12
Thread . 12
Calico 28 yds. 2.80
2 pair stockings . 75
1 cord . 25
1/2 doz. buttons . 25
Gloves .50
12 1⁄2 buttons . 25
Knife .25
Thimble .10
porta tamper .25
October 20
Corset strings .29
1 pair shoes 2.25
calico 15 yards 1.50
P. Stamps . 25
1 hat 4.20
Envelopes . 25
12 yards muslin 2.00
Belt . 75
1⁄2 yd. ribbon . 15
6 yds. Calico . 60
Hair tonic 1.25
Spools - 6 . 50
Stamps .50
Paper . 50
Stamps for cloth 2.00
1 yd. waterproof 1.00
1 pair of gloves 1.00
Necktie .20
Pair shoes 3.50
Mending 1 pair shoes .75
Flannel 5 yds. 2.50
Knife .75

1875, September the 10th. Bought in Union City:
Dennis, 2 neckties 1.50
1 pair of shoes 1.75
1 veil . 50

Diary Content, Translation, and Commentary Courtesy Sue Schafer.

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