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By Linda Emley
A few days ago I was traveling down a highway in “The Land of Lincoln” and saw an exit sign for the town of Alton, Ill. My heart skipped a beat because some of my ancestors lived in Alton before they moved to Ray County.
My grandmother, Mildred Kell Schooler, was very dear to me. Her grandfather was David William Kell,who was born in Alton July 29,1844. My grandmother was a small child when David died, but she grew up hearing stories about his journey from Alton to California in 1865.
He traveled in a spring wagon to California and worked there for a short time before returning to Alton by boat. Usually these kind of family stories are told around the dinner table and the details get lost over the years, but that is not the case with David’s journey because he kept a dairy of his travels.
His leather-bound diary is one of my most treasured items. I also have a small Bible that he carried on his journey. When I was growing up, these books were kept in the drawer of my grandmother’s buffet. She also kept pictures in this drawer, but she let us carefully hold these family treasures when we wanted to see them.
One of her old photo albums has a picture of David Kell as a young man, which I keep with his Bible and diary.
The first entry in his diary was, April 6, 1865: “Left Alton on board the steamer boat Jennie Deans. This beaing on Thursday eve. April 7th Friday. Landed in Keokuk Iowa after dark. Harnessed up and drove out 4 miles and camped. Very cold.”
His last entry was Nov. 5, 1866: “Half past 7 o’clock taken the train for St. Louis got in to East St. Louis about 11 o’clock and taken the train for Alton. Arrived in the city of upper Alton. Enjoyed good health. David W. Kell, Upper Alton, Illinois”
He had many adventures along the way with Indian attaches and other Wild West tales.
There are three history books that have been written about Ray County. The first was in 1881, thens follow-ups in 1893 and 1973.
I was happy to find David’s story in all three of these books. It’s interesting to see his story get just a little bit better with each new history book.
The 1881 Ray County History Book says, “He emigrated to California in 1865, while there was occupied with farming. He returned home in 1867.”
The 1893 Portrait and Biographical Record of Clay, Ray, Carroll, Chariton and Linn counties tells this story, “In 1865 he went overland to California, consuming five months in the journey. During the time he eudured many hardships. While in California he ran a hay press on a farm, receiving wages that were anything but liberal. His return journey was much more pleasant, as it was made by ocean steamer.”
David Kell’s trip received more detail in the 1973 Ray County History Book. “In 1865, at 21 years of age, David W. Kell left Illinois on a trip across the U.S. to the west coast with three men in a spring wagon driven by mules. Joining a wagon train of 56 wagons, they went by way of the Black Hills through the Dakotas having many interesting experiences along the way. Arriving in California in August of 1865, and short of money, they went to work on a ranch until September 1866. David bought a ticket and boarded a steamer at San Francisco and arrived back in St. Louis, Mo. in Nov. 1866. He kept a diary of his trip.”
A hundred years from now, someone will be reading this history book and wonder what ever happened to the diary of D.W. Kell. I’ve spent the last 20 years typing up his diary, but it hasn’t been an easy task because the last few pages are very faint and hard to read. Another reason it has taken so long is David’s spelling and his verbiage is sometimes different than what we use today.
I plan on publishing a book about his journey someday so David’s story will be a part of history forever.
Have some Ray County history you’d like to share? Write Linda at firstname.lastname@example.org.