At the time of this writing, I am riding in the comfort of an air conditioned minivan, traveling through the deserts of Arizona and California along I-10. I began to think about 19th century settlers crossing these plains in their covered wagons. Did they cross through this region on their way to Los Angeles, or would they have taken a milder northern route? If they did cross through the desert, where did they get water? Would a single family travel alone with any hope of success?

I have so many questions about the daily life of a settler in the 19th century -- I'm hoping someone can point me to a good published diary or other historical account.

  • The first thing coming to my mind is reading J.F.Cooper.
    – sbi
    Mar 17, 2012 at 22:08
  • Considering that the areas you are traveling through were once a part of Mexico it may depend on WHEN in the 19th century you are expecting people to travel to the west. Much of the westward migration before that was on paths like the Oregon Trail that were in place before the Mexican War and since it was an area mostly known and traveled it was a safer bet.
    – MichaelF
    Mar 18, 2012 at 12:35
  • This question does not really fit our criteria. It is asking for a list rather than an answer to a specific question. As such, I am going to move it to the community wiki. If you would like to revise the question, i will consider changing it back. history.stackexchange.com/questions/how-to-ask Apr 27, 2012 at 15:49

2 Answers 2


I would recommend many of the books that are part of the "Lakeside Classics." The anthology consists of many diaries and descriptions of settler life for the time period you are concerned with. To quote from their website:

"Many of the early volumes consisted of the speeches and writings of noted Americans. With the publication in 1911 of "The Autobiography of Gurdon Saltonstall Hubbard", the series took its present character: first-person narratives of American history, usually taken from books long out of print and not easily obtainable. Through the 1980s, the volumes emphasized history on the North American continent, including titles on the Civil War, the American Old West, early exploration and everyday frontier life. During the 1990s, as the company extended its business internationally, the series was expanded to include narratives by Americans with experiences beyond our borders. "


  • Fantastic -- Exactly what I was looking for! Green check for you. Mar 19, 2012 at 21:09
  • @BrienMalone thank you. The whole anthology is a pretty cool set. I would love to be in a position to one day own it, but it seems like that is an exceedingly difficult task.
    – ihtkwot
    Mar 19, 2012 at 21:12

I'm quite sure that they usually took the Oregon trail and didn't go through Arizona. Usually, families traveld in groups.

Sources: Oregon trail game and Laura Ingalls Wilder.

  • Little House in the Big Woods

  • Farmer Boy

  • Banks of Plum Creek

  • By the Shores of Silver Lake

  • The Long Winter

  • Little Town on the Prairie

These books are mainly autobiographies of Laura Ingalls Wilder in the late 19th century (not 1900's)

  • 2
    I'm familiar with both -- Oregon Trail is a bit too simple for the sort of thing I'm interested in. Ingalls' original memoirs would have been exactly what I want to read, but unfortunately, what survives today is the sanitized, dramatized novelization a re-written by her daughter. Mar 19, 2012 at 21:21

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