1853: Philo Judson Parmater to Phebe Parmater

This letter is not signed and “Sister Phebe” is the only clue to his identity. Though I could not find a sister named Phebe among on-line genealogical records, I believe the letter may have been written by Philo Judson Parmater, being the only young man I have found whose biography seems to fit the profile.

Philo Judson Parmater (1833-1885), the son of Aaron Parmater (1803-1850) and Louisa Winegar (1813-1855). When Philo was young, the family moved from Niagara County, New York, to Farmington, Michigan. They remained there until 1845 when they relocated Ypsilanti, Michigan. After five years, Philo Parmater came to Elkhart, Indiana, and remained there until 1853 when he went to California. He made the journey overland and engaged in mining in Colorado County. He remained in California 15 years and returned to Elkhart in 1867 with considerable capital. He entered the woodworking and lumber business in partnership with Mr. Maxon. He was married to Ellen Schutt, daughter of J. V. O. Schutt. [Source: History of Elkhart County, Indiana (1881)]

George Washington Tibbits

George Washington Tibbets

Another member of the 1853 caravan may have been T. N. Benton from Elkhart, Indiana. His wife was killed by the accidental discharge of a gun and was buried in Ione Valley, Iowa.

There seems to be little doubt that the trail guide leading this caravan of 25 men and women was  George Washington Tibbetts (1798-1855), the son of Benjamin Tibbetts (1769-1853) and Hannah Snow (1772-1861). George came from Bangor, Maine to Indiana in 1818, settling in Marion County. In the spring of 1844, George took his wife, Mary (Burnight) Tibbets (1803-1863) and large family from Marion County to Bremer County, Iowa, traveling in a caravan with wagons drawn by ox teams. He located on Section 24 (the present city of Jefferson City). About 1851, he ran away to Minnesota to avoid arrest and never returned, according to a history of Bremer County. He is said to have died of small pox in Dakota, Minnesota.


Iowa, Mosquito Creek
May 8th 1853

Sister Phebe,

Today is Sunday and I am not at church. Neither am I sparking any of [the] pretty ones either but here I am in Iowa about twelve hundred miles from the old parlor where I have spent many happy hours. I’m within six miles of Kanesville,¹ Council Bluffs quietly seated in a covered waggon with my little trunk paper pen and ink before me endeavoring to pen a few lines to you. I sent a letter home when I left Elkhart stating that I had turned gold hunter and tis even so. I left the seventh of April about one week after the company I am with started. I overtook [them] in two days about two hundred miles from Elkhart and have been travelling nearly ever since.

Mosquito River east of Council Bluffs, Iowa

Mosquito River east of Council Bluffs, Iowa

We have had first rate times the most of the way. We travelled through part of Indiana, across Illinois, and across Iowa — some of the prettiest country in the kingdom and some of the darned meanest. We have crossed five rivers. The first was the Mississippi which is nearly half a mile where we crossed which was at New Boston [Illinois], thirty miles from Monmouth [Illinois]. We then came into Iowa. The next was the East Fork of the Skunk River. The next was the West Fork. The next was the Desmoines. The next was the Nishnabotna. While we were traveling through this state, we were often out of sight [of] timber — nothing but the broad prairie; not even a shrub or twig to be seen. We camped one night where all the wood we had to cook our grub with was little trigs about ten or twelve inches in length but however, we got along first rate.

There’s twenty-five of us in our company, nineteen men and six women — three married and three unmarried; all first rate fellows. The captain of our company’s name is George W. Tibbitts. This is his second trip through by land and you may depend he understands every crook and turn of the route. He went yesterday to Kanesville to make all arrangements for crossing the [Missouri] river but there’s such a crowd there we will not cross for two or three days. There’s more than five hundred teams between here and there now and a continual stream passing all of the time.²

The Indians near Council Bluffs were probably Pottawatomie

The Indians near Council Bluffs were probably Pottawatomie

We are camped now right in the midst of lot of the darndest looking Indans ever drew breath. All the clothing they have on is their blankets and their moccasins. They are all around with their bows and arrows. O how I long to be pricking their hearts.

It’s about dinner time and I must bring this to a close. I don’t expect to have another opportunity of writing before we get to Salt Lake, which will be in about six weeks and I should be glad to find a letter there from home. I was considerable disappointed in not finding one at Kanesville from home or from Ma__. You must write as soon as you get this. Direct to Great Salt Lake, Great Salt Lake City, Utah.


¹ Council Bluffs, Iowa, was often called Kanesville until about 1852, being the enclave and outfitting post of Mormon emigrants.

² The James Longmire party of 25 wagons, many of them from Indiana, may have been ahead of the Tibbets party. The Longmire party  left Council Bluffs on 10 May 1853 to begin their 2,000 mile journey to the California coast. They were credited with blazing the first trail over Naches Pass in the Cascade Range.


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