University of Nebraska Press
Date of this Version
The diary of Erastus Flavel Beadle is the diary of a man lured by the myth of the West as a place of adventure, a new start, a chance to get rich. It is also the diary of a man who faced realities that drew him back to the East, from which he had come. The diary is one man’s brief account of life in Nebraska Territory in 1857, and it provides snapshots of a human drama as it plays out in business, culture, and politics. Beadle’s diary furnishes a picture of the reality of one small piece of the nineteenth-century American West and a glimpse into the dreams and hopes of a group of men for the creation and future of Saratoga, a western city to rival all others (see map 1).
Three years after the Kansas-Nebraska Act embroiled the plains states in a struggle that presaged the war to come, the irrepressible Erastus F. Beadle left his home in Buffalo, New York, and set out for the territories to see about some land. Specifically, Beadle had a stake in the Sulphur Springs Land Company, an enterprise that proposed to build the community of Saratoga just north of Omaha for prospective settlers, who were arriving by the boatload. In diary pages and letters home, Beadle noted his impressions—the details, anecdotes, and characters that filled his days—and in doing so, left a remarkable record of a bygone way of life in the American West. Beginning with his three-month journey westward, Beadle takes us from the hardships and amusements of travel on the "Big Muddy" to the magnificent sight of a prairie fire at night, from the political propaganda abroad in the "slavery stronghold" of Kansas to the realities of doing business on the Nebraska frontier. Whether describing roads or water routes, mishaps or accommodations, finances, politics, or daily life, Beadle writes with an immediacy and character that make his diary as entertaining as it is informative—a living, intimate chapter of American history.
This excerpt includes the Introduction and the Diary through March 25, 1857 (17 pages).
Originally published as: To Nebraska in ’57 : a diary of Erastus F. Beadle. New York: New York Public Library, 1923.
Introduction © 2001 by the University of Nebraska Press