Life of a Pioneer Child essay winner

In cooperation with the Poudre School District, the Virginia Dale Community Club sponsored an essay contest for the Poudre School District fifth graders studying Western settlement. The theme of the essay was “A Day in the Life of a Pioneer Child.”

The Virginia Dale Community Club owns the 1862 Virginia Dale Overland Stage Station which is in the process of being restored. Its mission is to promote the rural way of life and to educate adults and children about their Western Heritage.

Each June the Club has an Open House at the Stage Station. This year the Open House theme was “Settling the West.”

The student essays were judged for content, evidence of research and originality. It was difficult to select the essay that was thought to best reflect the theme as they were all well written. Shea Grogan from O’Dea IB elementary was selected as the winner. At the Virginia Dale Open House on June 14, Shea read her essay and received a $25 Gift Certificate to Barnes & Noble and a Certificate of Achievement.

Here is her winning essay:

A day in the Life of a Pioneer child in the 1860s
August 24, 1861

Dear Diary,
My family has been on the trail for two and a half months now. I’m tired of eat’n beans and a li’l bit of sugar on top of every stinkin’ meal at night. I am Jessica, the only child in the family that can read and write. I was taught by my somewhat strict mother on the start of our long journey.
. . .
We had to stop a lot for all our wagon train partners to catch up with my family’s oxen. I keep thinking about my old home in Illinois and how much I miss my friend Sally. My Ma keeps telling me that it is going to be alright, but I have this odd feeling in my gut telling me that she was wrong.
. . .
Today my family and I had to cross the Cheyenne River. I could hear the white water rapids from a mile away. This is where my gut-wrenching doubt came back. I heard Pa say we had a 50 percent chance of swamping our wagon while we crossed the river. One of the men in my wagon train had an idea of combining our ropes and using them to help guide us across the river. We started to cross. I am so nervous especially because my little 1-year-old brother John is not super steady in the water. The only way that I will be able to cross is if I believe in myself and not have doubt in my family’s choices.

There was a wild fire that made some trees unstable by the river, they were burned really badly. One of the trees was about to fall over, and my older brother Jake yelled to my li’l brother to get out of the way. It was too late. The tree fell on John. The whole wagon train bowed their heads in silence for John. Ma was cryin’, he was her favorite child out of all her children.
. . .
I carved a cross out of Ponderosa Pine bark and carved in all the names of the children in the wagon train that did make it across the river. As I carved the children that did survive the river it came to my thought that John was the only child that did not get to the new land.
. . .
We made it out alive, well at least I did. We finally arrived at the prettiest land I had ever seen. It was the amazing “West.” My father told me that this was our new home and this is where we would stay forever on. After I saw this beautiful new land I had forgotten about my home in Illinois.
. . .
Now we have stayed in the West for years. I started to feel like I am free and I can live the way I want. I will remember every day of that Long journey by looking back at my diary, and how my ii’l brother died.
. . .
Now that I am 25 years of age I get to travel by myself, and I always will make sure my kids are safe when crossing all rivers because of what happened to my li’l brother. Now that i have my own children I take them to go see their uncle’s grave by the river and tell them stories of our adventures and how their uncle passed away. Every day I go and pray near the river that John could have lived to the end, and enjoyed the new beautiful land we call the West.
. . .
My children at least have their one uncle that lives right next to us. My young’uns love their aunt and their cousins. If only John was here to celebrate Lilly’s 8th birthday. We all miss John dearly. No adopted brother could match little John.

Forever yours,

For more information about the Virginia Dale Community Club visit

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