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Undaunted Pioneers

Ever Moving
ONWARD - WESTWARD
and
HOMEWARD

As Told by
Mary Dunn

A Time of Anxiety

    But over our beautiful Southland a war cloud bided its time.  Even the stoutest hearts felt a vague unrest as the time approached to take sides in the issues at stake. In our home the call of the West clambored insistently and persuasively. In 1849 my father, Isaac Hill, accompanied by his son, La Grande, his mother, Elizabeth Land Hill (who was a relative of Joseph Lane, the first Gobernor of Oregon) his three brothers, William, Russell and George, his sister louise Kelley with her husband and son, Isham Keith, and a nephew Sterling Hill, crosed the plains.  They spent the winter in the Willamette Valley, and father built a saw mill in Clatsop County on the Columbia.  Here he planned to establish a permanent home, but early in the spring of 1850 news of rich gold mines near Yreka, California, stirred the little settlement.  Preparations for going there were soon made.  My uncle, Russell Hill, had married a Miss Cheedle near Salem, and Grandmother Hill made her home with them.  They decided to remain in the valley as also my brother La Grande.  Father and his brothers, William and George, left for Yreka where they began working in the "Humbug Mines" -- so called derisively and as it turned out inappropriatly. As they passed through the Rogue River Valley they camped on what was later the Dunn farm, and its beauty was a lodestone that drew my father insistently.
    When Aunt Louise and Uncle Kelly reached Yreka, and it became known that a white woman was in town, the miners, greatly  excited, gathered around the little cabin just to gaze at her. Aunt Louise had taken a little sheet iron stove across the plains with her; now before an appreciative audience she collected her equipment and began to bake pungent dried apple pies.  This was more than home pie hungry famished men could endure.  They begged almost tearfully, for the privilege of buying all she could bake.  When that first day in Yreka drew to a close, Aunt Louise found herself possessed of fifty dollars and a thriving business.
    It soon became evident that the Humbug Mines were rich in ore, and the Hill brothers worked in them successfully until the spring of 1851. Uncle George now decided to go on to Southern California.  Uncle William returned to Missouri and father prepared to follow the trail back to Tennessee.  He brouight two mules, loaded one with provisions, mounted the other and set out for home. He arrived in Sweetwater in the fall of 1851.

The Decision to Move Westward

    At once we began preparations for our long overland journey to Oregon.  We put up quantities of dried peaches for our trip.  It is never easy to break the tender ties that bind a well-established family to the old home community.  My mother was filled with trepidations and anxieties, yet she bore her fears in Spartan silence.  My two sisters, Haseltine (Has) and Martha (Lou), and my two brothers, John and Cicero and myself were all fired with the curiosity and eagerness of youth in their teens.  Some of this feeling was tempered as we began to realize the immensity of the undertaking in choosing the things that we could take with us.  Father left all of our books except Pilgrim's Progress and the Bible.  I smuggled my Kirkem grammar in and brought it along without his knowledge and have given it to one of my grand-daughters.
    Early in February, 1852, we left Sweetwater, Tennesee, for our new home in fr away Oregon.  All of our transportable possessions -- bedding, clothing, and food -- were packed in boxes made of white poplar just the width of the wagon beds.  They were placed in a large wagon drawn by mules.  Has and I rode with the driver, and the rest came by horseback and in a light rig. We went fifteen miles to Lowden  and stayed at a hotel that night.  In the morning we went down the Tennessee River for two days to Decatur, Alabama.  One event of the trip remains distinctly in my mind.  On we struck a rock and when the shock was over, the captain asked his wife, "Were you frightened?"  "Not much" she replied. Then turning to me she asked, "Were you?" Thereupon they instructed me that if anything should happen I must hold fast to a bale of cotton, and I would be able to float.  We passed a shot tower along the way.  A cradle of boiling lead high in the tower was poured through a sieve and dropping into the cold water of the river made shot.
    From Decatur we went overland to Tuscumbia in a large bus drawn by six horses.  They followed the railroad right-of-way which had been graded byt nit finished at that time.  The scenery was beautiful as we went through the courtry of gardens and cotton fields with the darkies singing as they worked.  This was around Muscle Shoals of which we have heard so much the last few years.  I remember it as a boiling tumble of water full of eddies and rapids.  Here we boarded the "Saranac" and went north on the Tennessee River to the Ohio, then to the Mississippi.  There was a heavy storm at Cairo and we were detained there a day and a half.  There was a big dance and a fine supper on the boat that night.  Then we traveled on north to Saint Louis.  Here on March first we transferred to the boat, :Kate Kearneyh," and left on our last river ride to Alexandria.  A stage coach took us from there to Athens, Missouri.  Here we were glad to visit on a farm with father's sister, Elizabeth Duty, and to rest for the next lap of our journey.  We stayed with these relatives during the month of March while father and the boys worked on the outfit that we were to take across the plains.  From Athens we went to Keokuk, Iowa to visit father's brother, Claybourne Hill, who decided to accompany us West.  I can remember one evenng while at Uncle Claybourne's, we were all singing "How Firm a foundation," and someone said, "Mary, you sing like your father."  He had such a beautiful voice, it made me very proud.
    The days spent here were too busy for homesickness or regrets.  We made tents, sunbonnets and other things for our comfort along the way.  Father had a wagon made with a body in the shape of a boat and calked it so it could be rowed across streams too deep to ford.  On the side of the wagon was hung a stove with reflectors to use for baking purposes.  Father purchased one hundred fifty head of cattle, mostly young heifers, a span of four fine mares in the country near Oscaloosa, Iowa.  Finally we were ready for the start tommorrow.  Nine wagons had been brought up to the house to be packed.  Ox teams had been selected from the three hundred head of cattle.  Our own family had four wagons, one humdred fifty head of cattle and six yoke of oxen and the mare teams.  Our provisions for our family of seven and two hired men consisted of cornmeal, flour, peans, rice, bacon, sugar, coffee, tea, cream of tartar, dried fruits and quantities of corn for the stock.  We had two tents.
 

Last updated by William P. Russell onSaturday, 25-Jun-2005 21:02:00 MDT