The Helonaki
  • Home
  • About
    • Land Acknowledgement
  • Support
  • Deep Dive
The Helonaki
The Helonaki

Shackleford Diary - Setting Out

Jen Glaubius
Listen on Apple PodcastsListen on SpotifyListen on Google PodcastsListen on StitcherRSS Feed
  Become a patron

In This Episode:

On May 1st, 1865, Ruth Shackleford's family set out for California from Missouri in their covered wagon. In this episode, Jen describes the beginning of her journey mapping Ruth Shackleford's diary.

Show Links:


Clark County, Missouri Monday morning May first 1865. This morning we started from Clark in company with two other families those of Mr. Gatewoods, and Mr. Rhynes. I feel very sad and low-spirited on account of Frankie being sick and seeing them part with their friends. It makes me think of parting with you all. We traveled today over very rough muddy roads. The children and I rode in At's horse wagon, the cattle being unruly and it raining. Frank's team stalled twice; had to pry the wagon out with fence rails. We are camped tonight two miles west of Fairmont at a Mr. Miller's. It being a very cold evening, we were politely invited into the house to warm. We made coffee on her stove and ate supper in the wagon. Ann and I slept in the house with our sick children. Frank and the other children slept in the wagon.

That was the first entry Ruth Shackleford wrote as her family traveled from Missouri to California in 1865 by covered wagon. It would take her family six months to reach San Bernardino, California, through the plains, mountains, and desert, enduring homesickness, illnesses, and deaths in the family.

I'm working on a project to provide context for this diary starting by mapping their journey in GIS. In this episode, I'll describe my first steps in doing that mapping and the tools I'm using. I'm Jen Glaubius and this is The Helonaki Deep Dive.

Where I'm going to start today is with how I actually became interested in this project and the Ruth Shackelford diary. When I was in junior high in the 1990s, my family received a typewritten copy of the diary, which actually is the first one. Ruth Shackleford and her family actually returned to Missouri from California in 1868, only staying there three years. And we received a copy of both of these diaries, the trip to California and back and I read it and it was very very interesting. Recently the topic of the Diary came up with my family and I decided to look for a copy. Which it was published in a collection of...of journals by women who traveled by covered wagon called Covered Wagon Women. Ruth Shackleford's diary from their trip from Missouri to California 1865 and the return in 1868 was published in volume 9 of Covered Wagon Women which is available as a Kindle ebook, if you're interested. This collection was edited and compiled by Kenneth L Holmes. And so there's help in identifying places and people and an introduction to each each diary.

What's interesting about Ruth Shackleford's diary in particular, is that she wrote every day. Some days, especially when she was sick when they were going over the mountains in present-day Wyoming, she would only write I'm feeling very sick today or something like that.

What I plan to do with this project. So my background is in archaeology, geomorphology, as well as, geography in general. I've been doing computer mapping - geographic information systems - GIS since for about 20 years since the year 2000 and my interest in this is to map their journey but also to provide context for their travels. It's going to take me time to figure out the best way to do this, but I want to provide context for especially their encounters with Native Americans, which early on in the diary when they're passing when they're going through through the plains. There are many references to possible attacks by Native Americans and references to graves and things like that. And I want to provide context for... basically that the journey that the Shacklefords and others went through was going through Native Americans land. And the constant pushing, like the services, the places that people like the Shacklefords would stop was basically... had been encroaching on Native American land for decades at this point by 1865.

I mentioned that my expertise is partly in archaeology and I've worked with historical records before but never with a diary... a text like this. And so part of what I'm doing is putting together a project where I can do the mapping that of Ruth Shackleford's diary, but I can also possibly expand it to include other diaries in the future.

Now the mapping is interesting is is kind of a it's a challenge and that's part of why I wanted to do this project. So, as you heard in the opening, Ruth Shackleford, she says they're leaving from Clark County, Missouri. She doesn't give an exact location there at the end of the first day. They're camped two miles west of Fairmont at a Mr. Miller's house. These are not exact locations, which makes mapping kind of difficult. And so what I would like to do is not just show the path, but eventually I'd like to do an animated map to show daily progress so I can link up events that happen in the diary with the location that they were in. I need to have the start and stop point for each day, which means I need to have a location and since so many of the locations like this first one - two miles west of Fairmont. Where in the world is that? That there's a lot of uncertainty about about where these locations are.

And so part of what I'm doing as I'm going through and mapping locations is adding in an estimate of uncertainty of my confidence in the location. So I'm still working out how to categorize uncertainty. I'm not using a numerical scale.

What I'm doing is categorizing my certainty or uncertainty of location into four categories. First is Very Certain if I'm absolutely certain that this is the place so that means it's a named location in her diary. She gives the name, it's the correct name, and I have a certified location either from an online gazetteer, especially from and I'm like, yes. Yes, this is the place or another authority such as a map. So I have both the name that's correct and an authoritative source for the location.

So that's the that's the Very Certain. Below that is Certain and this might be a place that isn't...doesn't have a specific name in the diary. Or it might be named wrongly but from clues in the diary I can figure out where it is or from notes from the editor and it has that certified location that it there is an authoritative source for that location.

So that's Certain below that we get to Uncertain. That Uncertain category and I do this with named places or places that are named wrongly that don't have a certain location that there's uncertainty in where it could be as if the location could be one or more places. So there are locations you could know but they're not absolutely I'm not absolutely sure which of the two. I'm picking one, but I'm not sure.

And then the last category is Very Uncertain and I'm using this for unnamed places. Or is without a certified location. So anything that has a lot of ambiguity like that two miles west of Fairmont at a Mr. Miller's. I am not sure I could find Mr. Miller's if I would that would maybe bump up the certainty to Uncertain. But without that I'm kind of taking a guess out there and I want that reflected when I go to map.

And so when I get to the mapping phase I'll be able to use these certainty categories in the visualization. I can show location to just like Very Certain as like a point but as my uncertainty grows that location can be visualized maybe as more of a blur to show that it is not this one exact place.

So that's what I'm intending to do in the future and I'm setting it up by putting in this uncertainty right now, but let's talk a little bit about how I'm actually doing this, like doing the mapping of locations. So I... I'm trying... I try to use open source software whenever possible partly for the cost, but also because I believe that for knowledge to be open, for information to be freely shared, it needs to be collected and used within software that is available to everyone. So I've tried to do that.

So when I started out I was trying to use QGIS, which is a computer mapping program, open source. It's something I've used for years. It's a great program. What I was doing was collecting information within a single file and then trying to add in fields for the date of the entry that that location appears in. And this is very difficult like partly their places mentioned like as in that first entry, like Clark County is a location that's named but that's not a point. That's a county so it's an area. Same thing with Missouri. It's an area, and so it was very difficult to try to collect all of these places and link them up to every time they were mentioned and added like what source I was using to get them from just within a single QGIS file, and I also wanted to look at the text itself. So it wasn't the best tool in this case.

So next I tried using Recogito, which is a web-based tool to annotate places, as they call it. And this is something I never used before, but I uploaded the text that I had turned into a digital file with OCR and I was able to tag locations in the text. And anytime I tag something Recogito looked for other mentions of that location and helped me mark those places. It was like you could mark this place as well and then it tried to get a location from um, a linked gazetteer. Uh...Recogito was originally created for looking at classical texts. So places in the Med... around the Mediterranean, but they have other gazetteers links such as geonames. The problem is if the location has a lot of ambiguity such as, again, like 2 miles west of Fairmount. That's not going to be in any type of named location gazetteer. It's just not going to appear. So that was an issue. Recogito looked really interesting. If I was dealing with only like named locations instead of a lot of camp sites that are very hard to find, it would definitely I would have stuck with Recogito.

But instead I tried nodegoat which is another web based research tool. They call it a research environment where you build your own data model, so it takes a little more setup than Recogito, but then you also create your data set and it allows you to visualize data as well. And it gives more options for putting in location. So you could add locations through a gazetteer, geonames is linked with it. But you can also add and points, latitude, longitude and more importantly for this project geometry. So areas or lines for streams because streams get mentioned a lot. Because as you would imagine if you're traveling across the stream in a covered wagon, fording it you're going to mention it because it's something that's going to happen and it's sometimes very much fraught with danger.

So at this point I've spent a little over week setting up my nodegoat project, still work in progress. But the possibilities in nodegoat are really amazing. I'm able to customize it in many ways, which is great and there's a lot of possibilities for expanding the project in the future.

So let's talk a little bit about how I've actually set it up. So first of all, I can have sources added into the project as a type of object. I keep most of my sources... all my... I use Zotero, which is another open source tool that I use for bibliographic management. But I put references within nodegoat as well.

I've also played a little bit with adding in people. I set up a people object. But since I want to focus first on mapping the locations, I'm leaving that aside and and we'll talk about that on a future episode once I get to that point.

So as I go I'm working to tag all locations that are mentioned within Ruth Shackleford's diary. So this is the way I've set it up. I have three basic data object types and a data object type is basically related is... you could think of it as like a spreadsheet table or a single database. And so you have individual data objects within an object type.

So the three that I have right now are are an entry which is an individual daily diary entry, a place which is any type of location that appears in the in the diary text, and then references which is where I saved all my sources that I used to figure out where places are, or references, later on I'll use it for references to events that happen.

So in the entry object every diary entry every day is a separate entry object and it's listed with the date and author. So right now they're all Ruth Shackleford, but this allows me to expand in the future if I want to add in other diaries from other people.

So within an entry, each location... I tagged each location within the diary entry. And this creates a relation from the diary entry into the place... um... object so it's another table. So these places can be somewhere the Shackleford's passed through or stop at like towns, forts, or it may be a location that that's mentioned.

So there's a lot of talk... Ruth mentions, Oh, I wish I was back in the old Missouri, especially as it gets later and later in their travel to California. Each place type in the entry in the entry itself is tagged by the action that happened. So each Place mentioned can be tagged as a stop, as a pass-through, or that it's a mention.

So for example in the very first entry she starts out with Clark County, Missouri, Missouri is a mention. She's there within it, but it's more of a mention of a place than a very exact location. Let's talk a little bit about the place objects.

So these are locations that are either named in the entry or inferred. So locations can... I classify them by the... by their type. So it's a state, a county, towns, forts, streams, and then something that's going to come up for almost every day are campsites. And these are places that would have the least certainty they're going to almost entirely be Very Uncertain in the certainty. But I'm tagging them even though I'm not trying to provide an actual location right now. Anything I can find like towns, forts, streams, states, those are places I can find from because a gazetteer. I use geonames dot-org a lot looking up actual places. And I can get latitude and longitude from there, which I add into the place object entry.

I also can use maps. And let me... I'll give you an example of that in just a little bit. My final type of reference... my final type of object is a reference object and these are all my sources. So I have an entry for geonames dot-org the website. I have a... I have a reference for each map that I use and it links up with zotero. It... there's a little bit of overlap in nodegoat, the reference objects contain the author of the source, the title, the year, but it also includes the Zotero site key, which allows me to easily look up my entries in Zotero without having to import all of that information so I can go back and look at it in Zotero.

So let's give you an example of how this tagging... of how the lookup actually works. So they're... in the entry for May 15th, 1865 Ruth Shackleford describes passing through, quote, a little town in Union County, Iowa called French Colony, unquote.

So here's my steps for finding this location called French Colony, and I want you to note that there are three locations noted here. There's Union County. There's Iowa, the state of Iowa, and then there's a town called French Colony. So French Colony, itself.

So first I looked for French Colony in geonames dot org, there were a few hits, but none of them were in Iowa. So that's a problem. This entry mentions a Union Coun... Union County. On the web... there's this great website that has geo-referenced historic maps from the David Rumsey map collection. David maps have been georeferenced by people. You can actually go in and georeference maps too, and so they have some a lot of county maps for Iowa. It was awesome.

There's one from 1875 of Union County. So I pulled that up, looked for French Colony. Not on there. Just for context the the diary entry, like right after they went through French Colony, they went through a town called Queen City. So I looked for that in the map. Also doesn't appear and this is from a decade after Ruth Shackleford was writing so I expected to see something. So something's going on.

So what I did next was I Googled it. I Googled French Colony, Iowa. Found a Wikipedia article, which is not the most authoritative but I just needed a clue for where this could be. And so the Wikipedia article on Iowa talks about a French colony named Icaria, which is near present-day Corning, Iowa.

If you look at Corning, Iowa, it's in Adams County not Union County, so ding ding ding. This is probably why I couldn't find it on this map.

So I went back to the David Rumsey Maps. Looked at the one for Adams County and there is both Icaria and Queen City on the map. So I now have a now have a authoritative source for the location.

So, what's really awesome about the David Rumsey collection is you could either download the maps or they provide a link so you can open up the maps in... in mapping software such as ArcGIS or QGIS, which is I... Which is what I use. So I was able to open it up and then I could place a point that I was saving for the locations. I use the center of Icaria and then later for Queen City.

And I was able to save them and when I save these points, I have a field setup that calculates the latitude and longitude for each point that I place. And so I was able to collect the latitude and longitude and then add the both of those to the place object for French Colony AKA Icaria within nodegoat. When I did this, so I was able to tag this location. So I was able to add my source, which is that David Rumsey 1875 map, um... provided by them. So that map went into my Zotero collection and went in as the source in nodegoat. And I also tagged the certainty, the uncertainty for this place object.

So even though I was able to find an authoritative source for Icaria, because it doesn't have that name in Ruth Shackleford's diary, that adds some uncertainty. So I tagged it as certain, within the place object.

That's one example. I think in the next episode. I'm going to walk you through how I'm tagging and adding locations for streams and other like geometric areas.

As you can see this system is a work in progress. It's evolving and I would love to have any suggestions or feedback that you... that anybody wants to provide.

You can email me at That's h-e-l-o-n-a-k-i.

If you have a comment or suggestion, please drop me a line.

That's it for this episode.

If you enjoyed it, please subscribe and leave a review or recommend The Helonaki Deep Dive to a friend.

If you'd like to send a little cash our way to support the Deep Dive, there's a link to the Helonaki page on Buy Me a Coffee in the show notes.

The Helonaki Deep Dive is written produced by me, Jen Glaubius, of the Helonaki.

The theme music is Deep Ocean Instrumental by dan o at

Thanks for listening!


Theme music by Dan-O

Additional sounds from Zapsplat

The Helonaki Deep Dive is written and produced by Jen Glaubius of The Helonaki

Questions or comments:

We'd love to hear from you!

Email The Helonaki Deep DiveEmail The Helonaki Deep Dive

The Helonaki

  • Home
  • About
  • Deep Dive
Follow on TwitterFollow on InstagramFollow on GithubFollow on Facebook
The Helonaki acknowledges that the land on which we work is the territory of the Podunk and Wangunk Peoples, who have stewarded the land and waterways through generations.

© 2021 The Helonaki