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  • Writer's pictureNancy Herman

The first death: May 1846

Updated: Oct 19, 2021

The Big Blue River camp is an important landmark because it’s where Virginia Reed’s grandmother died of consumption. It was the first death of the journey, and it’s interesting to contrast the care taken by the pioneers with Grandma’s burial, when they thought they had all the time in the world, with the hurried burials of their fellow travelers months later, when they were frantic to cross the Sierra Nevada Mountains before the snow hit.

A grieving Virginia later wrote: “It seemed hard to bury her in the wilderness and travel on….but nowhere on the whole road could we have found a more beautiful resting place.”

Virginia also noted her grandmother was buried under a spreading oak near Alcove Spring. The original headstone has been lost (the photo above is a more recently installed monument to her memory), so we no longer know exactly where her grave is. But I like to think it’s under a beautiful oak I saw on the path to the spring.

The day after Grandma’s funeral the company rafted across the Big Blue River two wagons at a time. Nervous women and children sat inside their wagons during the frightening experience. Fellow traveler Edwin Bryant wrote: “The business of ferrying…continued with vigor until nine o’clock at night, when all the wagons, oxen, and horses were safely landed on the western bank of the river ….”

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