Forward by Karen Vittorio, Rush Ranch Educational Council President:
Researching the Rush family history has been an effort spanning 20 plus years with few successes. Despite the overwhelming amount of information available on the internet, not much more is known today than what we began with. It's frustrating at best, so discovery of even the tiniest bit of new info, once verified, is akin to winning the lottery. Recently, we received a copy of a first hand account of the Rush family journey from Indiana to California as seen through the eyes of a twelve year old girl. It was written by Eleanor Rush, the oldest child of Hiram and Ann Rush. Not only is it a wonderful addition to our research, it is also an interesting glimpse into American history, with details previously unknown. It is a thoroughly fascinating and enjoyable read. The text has been copied as it was written:
I remember starting from South Bend on the morning of the 19th of Feb. 1849. Friends and relatives stood all around us bidding us goodbye and saying they never expected to see us again. They thought we would perish by the way or be killed by the Indians or die on the plains as were were the only family from that part of the country that had started to California that year. They followed the teams quite a way, cheering us and hoping we would arrive safely.
Our men were all young men our neighbors sons who are some of them now living in California. One of them has a son who is now Judge of the Supreme Court of California. My uncle Clinton Rush seventeen years old was with us. We had enough men to man the teams besides my mother my sister and myself and an Irish woman by the name of Kelly who worked her passage as cook. I was twelve years old and my sister was seven.
We had four wagons four yoke of oxen to each wagon and a number of extra cattle and about five cows. Our wagons were what they called over-jet the same as they use for band or picnic wagons now. Each wagon had a stove in it made of sheet iron and cooking was done in the wagon. We used to fry the most delicious hams and chicken. We could buy chickens for five cent apiece and eggs for two and a half or three cents a dozen all the way through Ill. and Iowa and Missouri. Women would sit on the fences waiting for imigrant trains to come by and buy of them. They had other things to sell. Corn meal bacon and hams and all those kind of things besides we killed many praire hens which were very fine eating. In our wagons we carried bedding clothing and some provisions.
We crossed the dreary plains of Ill. where for miles we would see only the smoke from chimneys on homes miles apart. Perhaps a half days journey apart, by ox teams. We traveled about 15 miles a day. The men took great care of the cattle because we had such a long distance to travel before us. We tried to reach a house every nite which was always accomplished.
We used to stop at a house and beg the priviledge of making beds in the living room or dining room for my father and the women folks, the men slept in the the wagons and kept fires going in the stove to kept themselves warm. We paid for our lodgings when they would take it. At one town the land-lord of the tavern insisted upon our coming in and eating at the table with the boarders and go into the parlor making quite important visitors of us. We passed through the towns of Peoria, Joliet, and Ottawa and Montworth and at Galesburg where there was a very fine Medical college.
It was at a Dutch tavern not far on our journey in Ill. that the occupants carouse all nite and we were very much afraid and in the morning the boys told us that a couple of medical students had stopped there in a sleigh with a dead body in it which they had stoled. They were going to some college with it. My Father and uncle stopped there after wards where he had been delayed by some some business transaction and he said that they had'd been able to sleep either because the people were so noisy and that a man had been murdered there. He had to go there and was never seen afterwards.
My father was bringing fine Morgan horses to Cal - one day some very dangerous looking Indians came to our camp - we were all afraid. They wanted to trade. My father had to give them some of his fine Morgans in exchange for their ponies. He had to do this because he said they would steal them otherwise. We children were glad to have the ponies. We had been walking behind the wagons - now we could ride.
I was going to say that at one place they burned there corn for wood as wood was so scarce and when they got desperate they burned there fence rails as wood was so scarce on the praires of Ill.
We crossed the Mississippi River at Fort Madison which was just a quiet place we staid there a few days. We passed the towns of Dubuque and Farmington then on into Missouri, where we had another dreary waste to pass over with bad roads all the way and creeks frozen over. Had to cut the ice so that the cattle could go down into the water to carry the wagons over, in some places they had almost to swim. They would go crackling down into the ice and come out with there limbs bleeding.
There were two towns in Missouri that I remember particularly and a stream called Medicine Creek it was so muddy and dreadful looking that it makes me sick to think of it. It was very difficult to ford. It was here the people from around came down to the creek to see us thinking we were wonderful because we were coming way to Cal. Medicine Creek was not far from St. Jo and it was in timber land. One woman that came to talk to us we afterwards met in Cal. The women were very poorly dressed and wore sun bonnets. The men wore brown or blue jeans. They were back-woods people and ignorant. Something like Cable (George Washington Cable) writes of in his stories.
Another town I remember in Missouri was Trenton. Here it was that I first witness slavery. We stopped a week with two old people where they had slaves. We all staid in the house and I became acquainted with the negro children. I used to talk some with a child of my own age, who waited on table, her name was Martha. She told me which of the slaves were ugly and had to be whipped. She didn't think it any harm. They cooks name was Julia, she was good to me used to give me nice biscuit dipped in chicken gravy. One day I saw Julia jump onto a horse bareback and go out into the woods to gather herbs. Martha told me that Julia was ugly some times and got whipped. They used to tie her to a tree and whip her. Her husband had been sold and it made her ugly. At nite I felt so bad and sorry about it I couldn't sleep. The two old people who owned the slaves were rich and had sons married and living from home.
It was a few more days travel when we reached the Missouri River at St Jo. St Jo seemed to be on a bluff. There we waited among many other companies of immigrants our turn to cross on the scow ferry, which was a scow drawn across the river by men pulling ropes. Our names had to be put in a book and we waited our turn.
Here while waiting we laid in provisions, hard tack flour, sugar, salt, potatoes, bacon, ham, dried beef and ammunition. We looked around among the immigrants making the acquaintance of people who were coming to Cal.
A week was spent here waiting for our turn to cross. We met the Bloomington train of Ill. Most of the immigrants were men going to seek gold. We joined with other teams and made about twenty five wagons in all. They made my father captain of the company. Each company formed that way as a protection against the Indians. We crossed the Missouri the 16th of May. After crossing we camped a day or so on this side to say farewell to an uncle who had come on horseback from South Bend on purpose to dissuade my father from coming to Cal and to beg us to return with him to South Bend. When he found that my father was determined to go on he gave us his fine Kentucky Morgan horse. One that we were very fond of because he used to take us to ride on it. The horse was a big sorrel. My uncle Si was an old bachelder. He was very kind to us. He was a good kind uncle to us. He took a steamer and went down to St Louis on the boat and from there home. That was the last we ever saw of him. My father had six brothers living when we left South Bend and he was the 5th brother.
Sadly, that's all we have. We don't know if Eleanor stopped writing the memoir at this point or if she continued to write about the rest of the journey to California. Personally, I'm dying to know more about the rest of the trip westward and how the Rush's fared along the way.