It was very cold in Omaha Nebraska that morning in March 1851. My mother was nervous waiting at the staging area for our wagon train. Daddy had made it to the new state of California and sent for us. He had staked a claim near Sonora and was getting a good amount of gold from it. We would be following the Emigrant trail to Fort Bridger Wyoming. From there we would take the California trail to Sutter’s Mill.
“What’s the matter momma?” I asked putting my arm around her.
“Nancy, you’re only 17 years old, you don’t know what it will be like on a wagon train for five or six months. People die from disease and exhaustion and other perils. One or two out of every ten will never get to California. I am scared for both of us.”
“Don’t worry momma, we will be alright,” I said hugging my mother.
My momma’s body was buried along with four others in the same grave, the day before our wagon train got to Fort Bridger, Wyoming. It had been almost three months since we left Nebraska and I had become quite friendly with Mister Baxter and his wife Emma. They took care of me and momma when momma got sick with cholera. They kept a close eye on me after momma died. They were going to Oregon when we got to Fort Hall, Idaho and we would have to go separate ways. We lost a lot of wagons and people crossing the Rocky Mountains but we did make it to Fort Hall.
I was going to be on my own for the last six or seven weeks of the journey. We had over 300 wagons when we started out but only 120 were going on to California. After momma died some of the men made advances toward me. Not just the young ones or the single ones either. Mister Baxter chased them away, but as soon as we left Fort Hall they started up again.
I could feel them staring at me all the time. I tried to ignore them. Sometimes they would walk by me and touch me pretending it was an accident. I stay away from them; especially the ones I knew had been drinking whiskey. It was a long way across Nevada, mostly high desert plains. The land was flat and we made good time traveling along the established wagon route. The days were hot and the nights cold. We could see our destination, the Sierra Nevada Mountains, in the far distance. I pulled the blanket up around my neck and looked at the stars in the sky. I thought about seeing my papa in a couple more weeks. I thought about him seeing the same stars as me from the other side of those mountains. The wagon wheel at my back always made me feel safer. I drifted off to sleep.
I could hardly breathe and I felt something covering my mouth and touching my nose. I opened my eyes to see a man kneeling over me, a knife in one hand and a gloved hand holding my mouth shut.
“Don’t make a sound or I will cut your throat. Nod if you understand.”
I was so scared; my body violently shivered. I managed to nod. The man pulled me to my feet while he still covered my mouth. He dragged me into the night away from the wagons. I could feel the cold ground on my feet as he dragged me. He was strong and I knew I could not fight him. He forced me to the ground still holding my mouth while I gasped for air through my nose.
“If you don’t yell while I get a little poke, I won’t hurt you.” He whispered and I could smell the strong smell of whiskey on his breath.
I nodded that I understood. I had never been bedded by a man but I knew what he was going to do.
He pulled my night dress up and tore or cut my panties right off me; as he knelt between my legs forcing them apart. I almost passed out with fear. He stuck his knife in the dirt next to me and pulled his pants down.
I grabbed his knife and stabbed him in the neck. He let out a loud yell and I pulled away from him and ran toward the wagons. He chased after me but I got to the closest wagon ahead of him. I was yelling help and a young man came around the wagon and jumped on him, wrestling him to the ground. The young man from the wagon beat the man till he could not get up. A crowd had gathered around, but they just stood and watched. The young man got a blanket from his wagon and wrapped it around me.
“You will be safe now, I won’t let anyone hurt you anymore,” He said with clenched teeth while breathing hard. Two men helped the other man limp away in pain. My young hero was a man named Tom Cambell. Tom let me rest in his wagon and he stood guard for me outside. I felt safe and comfortable and fell asleep. The next morning Tom handed me a cup of coffee when I climbed down from his wagon. Tom was 23 years old and headed to California to make his way in the new state.
We became good friends and he watched over me all the way to Sacramento, California. He even saw me off, when the stage arrived headed to Sutter Mill. I found my Daddy and told him about momma and what happened that night in Nevada. I also told him how nice Tom was to me. A few days later daddy took me to find Tom. Daddy and Tom had a long talk about me and how a mining camp was not the best place for me. Daddy bought small farm near Stockton for Tom and me as a wedding present. We were very happy together and started a family. Daddy came to visit at least once a month.