When my grandfather gave me Washington Peck’s 1858 wagon trail diary, I felt very honored, but then I realized that it came with a responsibility: his story needed to be preserved and shared.

As I struggled to decipher the fading handwriting, his cryptic comments presented mysteries that took years to solve. Peck wrote that one winter day in Missouri was colder than the coldest day in Canada the year before. He came from Canada? Another entry stated that eight years earlier he had left the Great Salt Lake City for California. So how did he get to Missouri? Who was the murderer on the Raton Pass? And what happened to the survivors of the Rose Party massacre in 1858?

When historian Bob Powers showed me Sallie Fox’s dress with the arrow hole and told me John Udell (a survivor, along with Sallie, of the 1858 Mojave attack) credited Peck with saving his life, I was hooked.

One day, years later, Tom Zanna, another Peck descendant, called and told me Peck had written another diary in 1850-51 on the way to the California Gold Rush. The more I learned, the more incredible Peck’s story became. He was a conductor on the Underground Railroad, a wagon train captain and a Washington Territorial representative.

The gift from my grandfather was more than the diary itself. After dismal history class experiences, the diary had inspired me to study the history that opened the American West. Now I offer his overland diaries, and the answers to his cryptic entries, to you, the reader.

Available from Arthur H. Clark Co. at 405-325-2000.

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