165 Years Ago: The Tale of An Eight Year-Old Girl Traveling to California
By Diane Euston
When one usually reads of pioneers crossing the frontier, the stories are saturated with biographies of men. These men, full of promise, pushed their families in ox-driven wagons down the trail and are the common perspective given.
But even a little girl had a story worth telling. This girl, at eight years old, made the arduous journey with her family from New Santa Fe in Jackson Co., Mo. and rode 1,700 miles on horseback all the way to Sacramento, Ca. in 1852.
Letitia Cantrell, daughter of Darby and Hannah Kerby Cantrell, was born in 1844 on their family farm bordering the Blue River just southeast of current-day Minor Park Golf Course. Lettie, as she was known to family and friends, was the oldest of five children.
As with many men of the time – and especially during the California Gold Rush and after – Darby decided to roll the dice and ride into unknown territory for the prospect of riches.
Preparations were made, and on April 1, 1852- 165 years ago- the Cantrell family and others left on a wagon train across the plains. They packed their wagons full of provisions, including household goods, and loaded up their farming equipment.
Livestock traveling snugly next to the wagon train were branded before the journey began and blended into a common herd. These herds were usually driven by the men and boys.
Women and even young girls were expected to complete common chores, including mending garments, cooking meals and tending to the younger children.
Knowing his adventurous daughter Lettie would grow bored helplessly riding in a wagon for months, Darby outfitted her with a pony, saddle and riding whip. Little Lettie wasn’t going to be labeled; she was given the unconventional freedom to ride.
“I think I can almost claim the honor of being a plainsman,” Lettie stated in a Kansas City Star article published in 1909.
Lettie was free-spirited and unafraid. She refused to leave her pony on the four-month journey and worked with the men and boys to drive the cattle across the countryside.
According to the Kansas City Star, the Cantrell family took the northern route through Fort Laramie and Fort Bridger and arrived in the Sacramento valley in September 1852. Her father became a successful rancher in San Joaquin Co., Ca., settling in a township called Dry Creek.
Wine connoisseurs know the area well, as this land today is worth millions of dollars and is used to make some of the best vintages of wine California has to offer.
In 1870, Lettie, now 26 years old, made her first trip back to Jackson Co, Mo. to visit family. When she left California, her father commented that she would make it back in as many days as it was months that they took to get to California. In 18 short years, the trip from the west coast to the Kansas City area was shortened to four short days due to the expanding railroad.
On another visit in 1877, Lettie reconnected with childhood friend Nathan Lipscomb, the brother of Martin City founder, J.H. Lipscomb. He stole her heart and they were married. Nathan was a Confederate war veteran who also had left the comforts of home and was a wagon-master for Seth E. Ward (namesake of Ward Parkway) and his freighting business in the late 1860s.
Lettie and Nathan settled on his farm in Section 19 of Washington Township. The farm’s entrance was on current-day 135th St. and encompasses the subdivision Newcastle and where Lowe’s, Walmart and other businesses are today.
Nathan passed away in 1906 and their only son, named Darby Cantrell Lipscomb after Lettie’s doting father, died in 1918 of the great flu pandemic that engulfed the nation. Lettie continued to be active even in her old age and was a presence in the Martin City area for over 45 years.
Lettie Lipscomb passed away in 1922, leaving behind the legacy of a strong, independent character. Her story challenges the wit of any man that took a risk and traveled thousands of miles into the wilderness. She, too, was a pioneer with a tale worth retelling.
Diane writes a blog about the history of the area. To read the stories, visit www.newsantafetrailer.blogspot.com.