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Edwin R. Bird papers

Identifier: MSS 2628

Scope and Contents

Collection includes a diary, correspondence, and poetry written by Bird between 1851 and 1860. Includes information on his overland migration to California and his activities after his arrival.


  • 1851-1860


Conditions Governing Access

Open for public research.

Conditions Governing Use

It is the responsibility of the researcher to obtain any necessary copyright clearances. Permission to publish material from the Edwin R. Bird papers must be obtained from the Supervisor of Reference Services and/or the L. Tom Perry Special Collections Board of Curators.

Biographical History

Edwin R. Bird (1829-1910) was an American saddler and prospector in Illinois and California.

Edwin Ruthven Bird was born August 19, 1829, in Barcelona, Chautauqua County, New York, to Frederick Bird and Louisa Goddard Warren. As a young child, Bird and his family relocated to the Detroit, Michigan, area. Later, the family lived in various locations in Illinois, including Geneva, Rockton, and Winfield. In 1842, Bird's father, Frederick Bird, died. Bird's mother, Louisa Warren Bird, moved the family to Warrenville, Illinois; soon thereafter, Edwin Bird moved to Chicago to live with his uncle, Silas B. Cobb, where he learned the harness trade.

In the spring of 1854, Bird left his home and work in Naperville, Illinois, and traveled to California as a member of an overland migration party. Bird kept a diary of his overland journey in which he described his expedition in detail. On April 10, 1854, the date of his first diary entry, he related the departure of his overland "company." Bird reached the Bear River on July 4, 1854, the date of the last entry in his diary. He later mailed this diary to his sister on August 5, 1855. The location of the second half of Bird's diary is not known; as a result the exact date of his arrival in California has been lost to history. In California, however, Bird corresponded with his "dear sister." These five letters document Bird's life from February 4, 1855, to November 18, 1855. Statements in the Bird letters seem to indicate that he copied entries from his later diary to his letters. The letters themselves, however, might have constituted Bird's "diary."

In California, Edwin Bird lived and worked in two communities: Montezuma and Columbia. He and his brother Byron prospected for gold, and in Columbia, Byron Bird purchased a store which both brothers operated. Edwin Bird was also involved in California politics, specifically the activities of the American party. According to the 1856 Tuolumne County, California, Miners and Business Men's Directory, Edwin Bird also worked as a saddler.

In 1866, Edwin Bird returned to Illinois, where he met Clara A. Smith; they married September 26, 1867, and lived in Woodstock, Illinois. Edwin Bird and Clara Smith Bird had one child, Frederick Joel Bird, born April 27, 1875, in Woodstock. Clara Bird died April 17, 1894, and Edwin Bird retired from his business six years later. In 1901, following the marriage of his son, he moved to California where he met Penelope P. Sever. They married December 29, 1904, and lived in Long Beach, California.

Edwin R. Bird died June 26, 1910, in Long Beach. A funeral service was later held for Bird in Warrenville, Illinois, where he was interred.


3 folders (0.3 linear ft.)

Language of Materials



Arranged in three series: 1. Edwin R. Bird diary, 1854-1855. 2. Edwin R. Bird letters, 1855. 3. Edwin R. Bird poetry, 1851, 1860.

Custodial History

In 1940 the Newberry Library, with the permission of Frederick Joel Bird, transcribed the Edwin Bird diary. In 1945, the Edwin Bird diary was, with the permission of Frederick Joel Bird, microfilmed by the National Park Service. Merrill J. Mattes in "Platte River Road Narratives: A Descriptive Bibliography of Travel Over the Great Central Overland Route to Oregon, California, Utah, Colorado, Montana, and Other Western States and Territories, 1812-1866" incorrectly states that the holograph diary was in the possession of the Newberry; the original was, until 2003, in the possession of the family. In 2003, Lise Embley, great-great granddaughter of Edwin R. Bird, donated the Edwin R. Bird diary, letters, and poetry book to the L. Tom Perry Special Collection.

Immediate Source of Acquisition

Donated; Lise Embley; 2003.


19th Century Western and Mormon Manuscripts.

Related Materials

Typescripts; Newberry Library; 60 W. Walton St.; Chicago, Illinois, 60610; 312-943-9090.

Processing Information

Processed; John M. Murphy; December 16, 2008.

Register of Edwin R. Bird papers
Karen Glenn, student processor; John M. Murphy and Susan Fales, curators
Description rules
Describing Archives: A Content Standard
Language of description
Script of description
Language of description note
Finding aid written in English in Latin script.

Repository Details

Part of the L. Tom Perry Special Collections Repository

1130 HBLL
Brigham Young University
Provo Utah 84602 United States