Diary of a
Journey West and Letters Home
Robert E. Fisk came to Montana,
as part of a wagon train, in 1866 with three of his brothers in search of
gold. Upon reaching Helena in early
September 1866, he mined for a while and then formed the newspaper the Helena
Herald, as he had been trained in the newspaper business. He returned to Connecticut in early
1867, where he and Elizabeth Chester were married. They soon set off for Montana after a
honeymoon in New York. They set up
housekeeping in Helena, and Robert continued in the newspaper business and
Lizzie raised their family. The
following two activities contain excerpts from Robert's journal of his travels
westward and Lizzie's letters to her family in Connecticut from her new home in
Diary of Robert E. Fisk's
journey to Montana in 1866, excerpted
Monday June 25. The organization having been completed,
and all ready for the forward movement, the bugle sounded the "assembly," and at
10 o'clock, A.M. the Montana Caravan, numbering between 300 and 400 persons, and
nearly two hundred wagons, took its course, three columns abreast,
westward. Marched five (5) miles,
forded the Wild Rice river, which occupied three hours' time, and went into camp
at 4 o'clock P.M. on the west bank of the river. Wood, water, and grass plenty and of
- If there were between 300-400 people with the 'Montana Caravan' and only
two hundred wagons, about how many people per wagon were there?
- The caravan moved five miles in three hours time, how many miles per hour
were they moving?
Robert remarked that their campsite had plenty and good quality wood,
water and grass. What would they need each of those items for?
Wednesday, July 4. Broke camp at 7 o'clock. Course till 1 o'clock P.M. -when we
lunched, watered, and baited the cattle-due west. The nooning was taken on a small lake,
shallow, and miry bottom, but affording good water and in plenty for man and
beast. Country passed over -rolling
prairie, covered in many places with [blank in manuscript] denoting it to be a
great and much frequented range for buffalo. Distance traveled this forenoon -10
Several hunting parties went out early this morning, and brought in a
number of buffalo tongues, livers, and other delicate parts of this royal
The nation's birth day was celebrated by a great portion of the party,
mounted and dismounted, in the exciting sports of the hunt. The afternoon was excessively hot, the
thermometer ranging at 2 o'clock at 98° in the shade, but the temptation offered
by large herds of buffalo, with here and [there] a herd of antelope-the former
game mustering in large force on either flank and in front at a distance of one
mile-was too great to be resisted, and the horsemen, getting in rear of a
thousand shaggy bison, drove the monster game in a run over the rolling prairie
toward the footmen ... Among the number killed were several fat, young bulls,
two cows, and a calf weighing 100 lbs.
The hunt was of the most exciting character ... From the carcasses of the
slain animals the choicest parts were cut, and the huge bodies were left to rot
on the prairie, or be food for wolves.
What happened to the bison after they were shot?
Draw a picture of Robert's "exciting" hunt.
Friday, October 5. Was up to Halena [Helena] City to
day. It is not so large a place as
I thought it was-but it is the busiest place I ever saw. They have also got a good many fine
buildings-and one splended [splendid] Stone building is in the course of
construction. The streets are very
narrow. There are a good many
Chinese there and all of them (I guess) wash clothes for a living. ... Invested
in several glasses of "Lager Beer" 25 cts per glass. In fact they don't look at a fellow for
less than 25 cts apiece. Peaches
are 50 cts apiece. The fruit came
from Salt Lake. I saw good horses
and saddles sold at auction for $40.00. ... Potatoes are 3 cents a pound-Green
Apples are $1.00 per pound.
Billards [pool] 75 cts per game.
Almost as warm as summer to day.
Letters from Elizabeth
Chester Fisk to her mother and family in Connecticut,
Why do you think the food items Robert wrote about were so
What was his opinion of Helena?
What stereotype did he make of the Chinese residents in Helena?
Imagine that you are visiting your town for the first time. Write a journal entry describing the
architecture, the residents, as well as the prices for the food items that
Robert lists in his entry: peaches, potatoes, green apples.
[Helena, July 31st, 1867]
[D]uring all [of last week] we
have had only one eastern mail and that one brought no letters for me. Wells, Fargo & Co. are great
swindlers and great monopolists.
With their immense capital on which to perform business, they "buy out"
every opposition line of coaches or mail wagons, and oblige everyone to wait for
them. They regularly bring through
passengers and express matter for which they will be paid, but having contracted
for the mails, and being sure of their pay at any and all hazards, they toss the
bags containing all those letters, books, and papers which are reminders of the
continued affection of absent friends into any convenient gulch or defile of the
- What is the
monopoly Lizzie speaks about in this letter? Why did Wells, Fargo & Co. opt to
take passengers over mail?
- Do you get
letters in the mail? Or do you communicate mostly by email? What are some of the advantages and
disadvantages of mail and email?
[Helena, September 2nd,
I made bread on Saturday and
would like to send you a piece; it is very nice. Fabricated some pie, too, after my most
approved style and sent come to the office hoping to get [an editorial] puff,
but it doth not appear. Can you
credit my words when I tell you that, in this country where milk well water is
one dollar per gallon, and eggs one dollar and a half per dozen, I made cream
pies. Any today, I have been guilty
of the further extravagance of cooking for supper a spring chicken for which I
paid only $1.25 in [gold] dust.
Such is the fact and not a bone is left to tell the [tale], but we had
visitors at tea, Stuart and Jacky, and we don't have chickens every day.
Why do you think that the food items Lizzie spoke about were so
- What types of utensils and cooking methods would Lizzie have used to
prepare her food? Remember they did
not have electricity in 1867.
[March 25th, 1878]
Have you seen or heard (I hardly
know which term is correct) the telephone?
We were invited one evening a few weeks since to meet a party of friends
at Prof. [H.P.] Rolfe's to witness some experiments with this instrument. The machine is very simple. Only a mouth piece and ear trumpet
attached to the brass wire which they had been accustomed to use in
telegraphing. The wire made a
circuit of about three miles connecting the house of another friend where also a
party was assembled. By applying
the ear trumpet or cup to the ear, we could hear and distinguish voices in
conversation, singing, &c....
With a little improvement we (you and I) will yet be enabled to visit
with one another across the continent.
The voice or sound transmitted is most peculiar and unearthly. I can think of nothing like it. It seems to come from the depth of the earth. I fancy the still, small voice the prophet heard must have been something like this.
Imagine that you are Lizzie using a telephone for the first time. Who would you call? What would you say? What would you be thinking about this
- Imagine that you have moved to Montana from your home far away. Write a letter to your family back home
and tell them what life is like in Montana.