Libbie Ditzler Cable's Letters from California
Libbie Ditzler and Andrew Cable on their wedding day, March, 1854.
Excerpts from Genevieve Towsley's "A View of Historic Naperville" reprinted from her Sky-Lines articles in the Naperville Sun, reprinted here with the consent of Sun Publications. All comments in italics are Ms. Towsley's. HANNAH DITZLER'S WORDS... "My sister Libbie had a handsome, black-eyed beau by the name of Andrew Cable. His folks were going to travel across the plains to California. Andrew promised father he would not go if married, so they were married March 16, 1854, by Rev. George Blank. But Andrew did not keep his promise, and joined his folks, so Libbie went and had a long wedding trip that lasted six months.
"It seems I can see them as they started in the covered wagon. Mother cried in the house, and we children were on the outside cellar door, and cried because mother did. I was too young to realize the parting. Father had gone away to work, but it was a severe trial for him..."
Although Hannah records brief excerpts from several letters Libbie wrote along the way, the young bride evidently did not give any detailed or chronological account of their adventures. In 1912, at age 76, she was still living in California. although it was 58 years after her arduous experience, she sent Hannah her impressions of the trip, saying, "I can remember things 60 years ago better than those of last week. While I was lying here sick, I thought of things that happened long ago. I could have written more, but I am tired..." Libbie died a short time thereafter. Here is the story of her "wedding trip." LIBBIE'S WORDS...
"It was the 11th day of April in 1854, when a party started from Naperville, Ill., to travel across the plains to California. A very bad journey it was. There were about a dozen families with twenty wagons. Our family had three wagons with three yoke of oxen to each wagon, and a light wagon with two horses, and six men. We traveled in a row.
"We were some weeks getting to Council Bluffs, Iowa, through rain, snow and mud. there we stopped nearly a week to let the animals rest and the men reload the wagons and buy a lot of provisions to last us for some months, as we did not reach California till the last of September.
"We crossed Missouri river on a ferry boat. There we saw the first Indians, and were afraid of them. So were all the cattle. From there the trip began.
"Had so many thunder and rain storms that everything was soaked. Many nights we slept in wet beds, and again there were wind and sand storms, so we could not have fire or cook meals. for many weeks we had to travel along that bad Platte river. Had to cross it so many times, and each time did not know if we would get across. If the team would stop any, the sand would cover them. Each time a man on horseback had to go aside o them with a whip and urge them on so they would not stick fast and drown.
"As we traveled on for months, people had to form in large companies, for fear of Indians. At camping time, many (Indians) would come around the wagons, and almost take guns and things away, but still they never hurt us any. We always treated them well with tobacco and so on. Every evening all had to form all the wagons in a circle and have the tens and fire inside. Five or six men stood guard all night to watch the cattle, as we did not know what cattle and horses would be driven off, or we all be killed, as we heard of some before us and some after us. Some women and children would be left without men or grub or team, and would have had to starve if not some other company had come along.
"The farther on we got, the thinner and weaker the train got, so everybody had to walk. Only rode across rivers and bad places. Before we got to those high mountains, we came to some trading post, where some wild looking men- five Indians- had grub to trade for other things. I had a large blanket shawl and nice shoes that I let go for something to eat, and so did others. Grandma let her featherbed and things go, as we had to make the load as light as we could to cross those high mountains.
"On the 4th of July we were on a high mountain. On this side of the mountains we had to cross a terrible bad desert. We had to camp a day and let the cattle rest and feed, and get all the water they could. Then we started out at evening. Till the next day at noon it was so hot and the sand so deep that many of the cattle in the train died before we reached the end, for want of water and weakness. Some people almost died, as all had to walk, and could haul very little water in the wagon. That was the hardest part of all.
"After we got across the desert, there was a small creek of water several miles away. The cattle smelled the water and got so crazy that the men could do nothing with them but take off their yokes and let them go for the water. People were about the same. When we reached the creek the whole train camped a day to let the stock rest and feed. Many were so poor they could scarcely walk.
"In a few days we came to a small trading place called Elizabethtown. Here they had California onions to sell, and people were just as crazy for them as the stock was for water. Our train was quite large. We did not lose our stock as some did. All along the road we saw dead cattle with their yokes on, and graves. If anyone died, they had to bury them and go on.
"Traveling across the plains is a good place to find out people's disposition. Some fight and quarrel and leave for another train, and leave some sick and in need of help.
"After we left the onion town we traveled a long time along the Humboldt river. that was such a bad river, so very rocky, and sometimes the wagon nearly tipped over, and so deep that our goods got wet every time. We had to ford it many times. Often the train had to stop half a day and make a bridge to cross bad places. Most every day a man would go ahead on horseback and select the best way to go.
"After we were on this side of that large river we were no longer afraid of Indians and could rest nights. Our train began to divide. Some went one way and some another. Only a few families with us came down to Oroville and up to Clear Creek. That was traveling across the plains in 1854, and many of the hardships have not been told..."
Libbie's hardships were by no means over, when they reached their destination, according to extracts from letters that Hannah has noted. Her family back in Naperville had received a letter from her, written from Laramie, Wyoming, on June 18, 1854. Although the Cable family reached their selected site in northern California, halfway between Big Butte creek and Feather river, in late September, Libbie did not write her folks until December 11!
Hannah recorded Libbie's going to Hamilton- 18 miles from their home, but if she told of her forthcoming motherhood, Hannah left that out. A letter written February 1, 1855, told of "Frankie's birth" on January 16. Poor Libbie had been pregnant throughout the entire trek to California!
Libbie and her Andrew must have lived with his parents at first, since a letter in July of 1855 tells that they "live alone now...Have three or four men boarders." A letter the following year related "eggs are $1 a dozen, milk $1 a gallon, and butter $1 for half a pound...Coyotes get our hogs in daytime...Andrew hauls timber 16 miles from the mountains for a barn."
In December 1857, she wrote that a Sunday school and church had been started in their valley. Her second son, Sam, was born in February 1858, and she commented on the return of Abe Hartrunft to Naperville. He was one who accompanied them to California four years earlier. The first daughter, Ida, was born in 1859. Libbie spent "six weeks with the old folks" at that time.
In 1860- "the old folks move to Oroville, and we will live in their place. Tell Eli not to come to California..."
1861- "Andrew paid $500 for a small place (they move again?). Nora Adeline lies on the floor and kicks (child number 4?)..."
1862- "Old man now sold their place and Libbie and Andrew now move in with old folks..."
1864- "Andrew is going away for the whole summer (to get work?). Ida fell out of bed and cracked her collar bone. Has a lump on it...Old folks build mill and move across Butte creek...Clara born June 14 (Word of this 5th child's birth was not sent home until September.)
1865- "Children have no schooling. Frankie is deaf. Haven't been in church for several years. Children don't know what church or school is. Don't expect to stay in California all my life..."
1866- "Have high water. Old folks had to go out of house on a scaffold to wagon and to mill where they were two nights and a day without any food- only flour and water...Children don't know their letters yet. (Dec.) Old folks move down to Santa Clara county.
1867- "Frankie, 13, can't read yet. Ida has picked up and can read in first reader. Have no time to teach them.
1868- In January she wrote, "Have not been from home in three months. (Esther Elizabeth was born in December.) Have not seen a woman in two months. Children don't know what Christmas presents are. Old folks moved to Stockton..."
In August she wrote- "Andrew talks of going below to Los Angeles..." In September, "Next week we intend to move down below..." December- "In San Joaquin county now, 12 miles from Stockton. Traveled three months."
1869- Frankie, age 14, wrote his first lines to his grandparents in Naperville. Old folks move back to Butte county. By November, Libbie, Andrew, and their six children had moved "back in Butte County" again, too!
1870- Nora (age 9) went to live with "old folks", and in May had scarlet fever but recovered. In November she went to live with Josepha- Andrew's sister, and Frankie went with another sister- Joanna.
1871- "Boys go to school. Girls can't go through the mud. Clara's gone to Josepha's.
1872- First mention of Andrew Eli's birth, although he was born in May of 1870!
1873- Frankie does not go to school. Lives with Headers. Sam is in mountains with the cattle, Ida with Josepha. Hannah should come for visit.
In 1874 Hannah accepted her sister's invitation and did go to California. Extracts from Libbie's letters are ended in her scrap book at this point. One can imagine the heartening reunion of the sisters after 20 years of separation.