Composing an essay like this is both rigorous and constantly exciting. I love being able to draw connections between ostensibly disparate peoples and share in their feelings of extreme awe, of terrible pain, and their constant propensity to hope. While on the trail, most diarists recorded their opinions on other people, on flowers, on mountains, or on rivers in a single declarative sentence. For example, when Julius Nevins encountered steamboat springs for the first time in 1849, it was the “greatest curiosity that I ever saw.” The newness of everything west of the Missouri River was so startling that it challenged most emigrants perceptions of what was both awful and beautiful, righteous and wrong. Several diarists in particular, Winfield Ebey, Kate Dunlap, and Lucia Everett, commented on so many different things and their voices are largely what bind my three sections on trail-society, landmarks and celebrations, and perceptions of Native Americans vis-a-vis the environment together. It has been a joy to watch them “encounter the unfamiliar” in ways that were consistently similar, despite their differences in sex, class, and year of travel.
In particular, I have learned that traditional historical analytical modes like gender, race, and class become less-useful when looking at an event like the overland migrations. These emigrants, despite how prepared they might have been for the crossing, largely encountered everything on the trail at the same time, blurring those different facets together, and always with the environment at the center. In this way, emigrant fears of an attack by Native Americans are associated with hostile weather systems, or landforms like Independence Rock conjoin with protestations of nationalism. My methodology has focused on this intertwined, and imminently new, perception of the frontier landscape and its peoples in combination with the social borderlands that they were constantly attempting to recreate around them. My next big writing adventure will be to modify my essay so that it flows well between Hannah’s work in the eastern warm-up before migration, as well as work laterally with Andrew Cabrall’s research into the Native American contact period.