In the Footsteps of Sarah Raymond Herndon


  In the spring of 1865, twenty-four-year-old Sarah Raymond left war-torn Missouri with her mother and two younger brothers to head west with a wagon train. They didn’t know where they would end up. Perhaps Oregon or California. 

   Across the plains of Nebraska, through Wyoming and Idaho, they traveled. Enduring hardships of many kinds, including unfriendly weather, hot-tempered travelers, rough terrain, and sickness, they pressed on. 

   Finally settling in Virginia City, Montana, Sarah married a builder and miner named James Herndon. They went on to have five children and spent the rest of their lives in the west they loved.  

   Over 150 years later, I traveled through Montana with my mother and siblings. We had a Chevy suburban instead of a covered wagon, and paved highways instead of rugged trails. But the Montana we saw was the same Montana Sarah Raymond saw. The Montana of breathtaking, snow-capped mountain peaks, vast blue sky, dazzling sun, and forests, mountains, and plains teeming with wildlife--elk, moose, bison, deer, pronghorn, grizzlies, bald eagles, and a plethora of other creatures. 

   Like Sarah Raymond and her family, we had left Missouri to head west. We first settled in Colorado, then took a brief sojourn in Georgia, before heading west again. That was when we drove through Montana and found the place we would call home. 

   To those who are settled comfortably somewhere, it may be hard to understand why someone would want to pack up and head to a strange place where, even though it’s beautiful, it has its own set of hardships, including loads of snow (sometimes even in June). 

   Sarah Raymond pondered this same question. She wrote: “The motive does not seem to justify the inconvenience, the anxiety, the suspense that must be endured. Yet how would the great West be peopled if it were not so? God knows best. It is, without doubt, this spirit of restlessness, and unsatisfied longing, or ambition--if you please--which is implanted in our nature by an all-wise Creator that has peopled the whole earth.” 

   I hadn’t thought about it that way before. But I think she’s right. The Bible tells us that God has a plan for people to spread throughout the whole earth, living and glorifying Him in every corner of the planet. Perhaps this desire in us to go west is part of God’s way of fulfilling His plan for humanity. 

    It may be difficult to put into words, but there is something about the west, and for us Montanans, there’s especially something about Montana, that draws us. 

Source: Days on the Road: Crossing the Plains in 1865 (The Diary of Sarah Raymond Herndon)


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