Guthrie County Pioneers arrived June 2, 1855

Are you fascinated by pioneer stories, trying to imagine what it must have been like? Many of the ones I’ve read about said that picking up and moving wasn’t any harder than their lives in general, and that their trek was an adventure. At least the kids thought so.

Ephraim and Lucy Jane Moore would become great grandparents of Leora (Goff) Wilson. When they loaded their two wagons May 6, 1855, to trundle west from Parke County, Indiana, they headed straight for Lucy’s brother’s place in Guthrie County, Iowa. Traveling in two wagons with household goods and six children, ages 3 to 15, the Moores journeyed about a month.

Illustration in History of Iowa From the Earliest Times to the Beginning of the Twentieth Century by Benjamin F. Gue, 1903. (Public Domain)

Conestoga wagons were 15 feet long and emigrant wagons were 10 feet long, as well as narrower and shallower than the Conestogas. My guess is that the Moores traveled in the smaller wagons, with a canvas cover that could be rolled up on the sides so ones riding inside could see the countryside. Every inch of space inside was filled with what they’d need, for cooking along the route as well as what they’d need to start with in their new home.

At twilight, wolves came around, howling their eerie cries. The Moores probably made sure the fire burned all night to keep them away. Did this family travel with others in order to share lookout duties at night?

There were no bridges across the Mississippi River until the late 1860s, so both wagons would have been loaded onto a steam-powered ferry to make the crossing. Just imagine the whinnies, hooves clopping, steam whistle sounding. Or maybe they used oxen. Those details weren’t recorded.

The Moore family arrived in Guthrie County on June 2, 1955, staying with Lucy’s older brother, John Branson, until sometime in August, when they moved to nearby land of their own. At that time, John and Margaret (Mains) Branson had five children of their own, ages 1 to 12. Their pioneer home may still have been fairly primitive, with a couple of rooms with a loft for the children. It was a good thing the Moores arrived during the summer so the kids could spend most of their time outside. But where did everyone sleep?

I read that many times, new pioneers used their wagons as living space for several months, at least a place to sleep. Now I can better imagine how two couples and eleven children shared the Branson pioneer home in 1855.

Six more children were born to Lucy Jane (Branson) Moore, three of whom would die very young, which was always a worry for pioneer families.


Frontierswomen: The Iowa Experience by Glenda Riley

“Life Story of Ephraim W. and Lucy Jane Branson Moore as told by their grand-daughters Laura Jordan Goff and Sadie Moore Parker,” from the Moore Reunion Journal, August 6, 1922

The daughter of Ephraim W. and Lucy Jane (Branson) Moore, Emelia Ann (Moore) Jordan, was the grandmother of Leora (Goff) Wilson. They are mentioned in Leora’s Early Years: Guthrie County Roots.





  1. It’s hard for us moderns to visualize packing up everything one owned and moving crosscountry without roads, bridges, etc. But then again, people back then didn’t have to rent storage units to house all the “stuff” that wouldn’t fit into their large but stuffed-with-stuff houses! Today, we can’t fit all our “stuff” into our houses or garages, have to park out multiple vehicles outside the garages, and still have to rent storage space! In material things, we are truly blessed. Not so much so in some of the things that really count most–family, friends, relationships, history, etc.

  2. I enjoyed your account of Ephraim and Lucy’s move west. I had ancestors who moved west as well, in the early 18th century–all of thirty miles from the seacost of New Hampshire to an inland area better suited to farming.

    • Your grandmother? Around 1900? I wonder why they didn’t just take the train, unless they didn’t want to leave anything behind. (Grandma Leora’s father moved to Nebraska from Iowa, then to northern Minnesota, both on the train. They even took livestock with them to MN!)

  3. It’s difficult to comprehend how much society changed between 1855 to 1905. and then from 1905 to 1955. You share these changes and advances quite naturally in your blog posts. Thank you, Joy.

  4. What seems rustic to us probably seemed at least somewhat normal in those days. Everything done by human power and livestock. Few well-maintained roads anywhere but cities. Not even many railroads outside the eastern seaboard. I always enjoy pioneer tales! Outhouses and lack of women’s rights are the two things that keep me from wanting to travel back in time.

    • You’re right, Eilene. When I was a senior in high school, Dad began building a new house after tearing down the old one. We lived in an old house at the top of a long lane with no closets and, unfortunately, an outhouse. I was thankful to leave for college since it took Dad a couple of years to finish the house while farming full-time.

      • At least we know we would survive if circumstances suddenly reversed! But let’s hope that flush toilets (and TP) are forever.😁

    • Such hard work that could be destroyed by the weather, disease, or hoards of grasshoppers, at least what I gathered from some of Hamlin Garland’s stories.

  5. This was so fun to read after just spending a week in a cabin in the woods on the Shenandoah that is speculated to be a former small church. I was trying to imagine the roads being built back then and people traveling on that long dusty, hilly, winding way (with little if no room to pass another vehicle) by horse and buggy…
    Thank you for this timely trip into the past, Joy!

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