During the 1840s, 50s, and 60s, thousands of Illinoisans went west to seek their fortunes in California and Oregon. Among them was Servetus M. Thorpe, who left his wife and three children on their DeWitt County farm and traveled overland to California in 1862 in search of gold. The gold rush was over, however, so Servetus went on to Oregon, where he established a steamboat line on the Columbia River.
In 1864, he sold out his shares of the steamboat company and made his way home. His journey took him through Nicaragua, a route that was quicker and safer than traveling across the continental United States. There Servetus purchased this carved gourd for his wife. It was likely created by a local craftsman as a souvenir item intended for sale to one of the thousands of American travelers who passed through the country each month.