As Told by
The Long Journey Begun
At last on April 14, 1852, we
Keokuk in company with Uncle Claybourne and his family; Mr. Stanard,
married cousin Jane Hill and settled in Brownsville, Oregon; two
of Templetons; John Pelton and a number of others making a train of
wagons and some seventy-five people. The roads out of Keokuk were
almost impassible, and at times the wagons were mired up to the hubs,
travel was difficult and slow. Mud, mud, mud that had to be got
and such "Geeing" and "Hawing" to the unruly oxen, the cracking of
and bellowing of loose cattle can neither be described nor
To jump up meant to wade over shoe tops and no rubbers or galoshes were
known in those days. Think of that first night out with tents in
the mud, supper in the mud, and feather beds for the men in the
It was a great celebration for my sister Has's fourteenth birthday, but
I guess no one remembered it but she. It was very tedious all
way across Iowa, and we had to double team to get through, but we
on our way steadily and arrived at Council Bluffs, May tenth.
Here we found an immense city of wagons waiting to be taken over in flat-bottomed ferry boats, propelled by oars. The river was very high and some two miles wide. Father had written to the man in charge of the emigrant trains crossing the Missouri River at this point and had informed him of the probable date of our arrival and had received a permit to cross. When we drove up ready to cross with the tongue of each wagon made fast to the wagon ahead, those who had arrived ahead of us were very angry. They ran our wagons back from the river and placed theirs ahead, then our men rolled the wagons back and placed ours in position again and stood guard iver them all night. There was great pushing and crowding, and many not belonging to my father's train got across on his permit. There were no houses then at Council Bluffs, and on the Nebraska side where Omaha now stands were only some Indian teepees. It took three days, May 10,11 and 12, to cross.
Almost all of our wagons were transported across the river the first day. The next morning, May 11, one of our wagons and a boat loaded with cattle started across the river. My brother John, a young man twenty-three years of age, accompanied them. Suddenly the boat sank. An effort to save John was made, but it was unsuccessful. He was drowned and his body was not found. A deepsense of loss and sadness fell upon us as we left the river to continue our journey, leaving John, who was so well beloved, behind us.
The next night we made camp on the site of the city of Omaha. The roads were very soft and miry in this vicinity. We arrived at a bog over which a bridge had been constructed by previous emigrant trains. Here we encountered Indians for the first time. They had surrounded the bridge and boldly insisted that we pay them to cross. My father told them to clear a path and get out of the way or he would make it unpleasant for them. They did as ordered in a hurry, and we went on our way unmolested.
Soon we discovered that three calves had been left behind; my sister Lou and cousin Caroline volunteered to go back and get them, provided they were supplied with pistols for the trip. After they had found the calves and were returning, the Indians gathered at the bridge again and demanded the calves as pay for having permitted the wagons to pass. Lou told them to take the calves, but Caroline drew her pistol and told them to get off the bridge. They did so without further parley.
The day we were comming to the Platte River we saw a black cloud, and father called to hurry up and try to get to lower ground, but the cattle were slow and the wind blew very hard and it hailed on us. However, when we arrived at the river, we found that we had missed most of the storm. The wind had blown the covers off the wagons, flattened the tents, the cattle had stampeded and the people were greatly frightened. We were thankful to have missed being in its path. Father endeavored to keep his teams in good condition and loaded one wagon with corn to feed the cattle till the grass got better. Brother Cicero had one yoke of big raw-boned oxen in his team of four yoke. He named them "corn eaters." When he would get in the wagon, they would turn around and look at him, wanting some corn. Brother thought he would get even so he took the leather aprons off a saddle and made them some blinds. They presented a very funny appearance and caused a lot of laughter.
When we reached the Elkhorn River, we found a great band of Indians already camped. Uncle Claybourne selected a good spot for a tent and requested a young Indian who was standing there to move. The Indian refused, and Uncle pushed him out of the way. The Indian ran away and soon returned with a number of his fellows armed with bows and arrows. They insisted that Uncle be punished. Father talked to them in their jargon, and they finally agreed to make peace if they could have a lot of bread. This was ag reed upon; and while it was hard on the cooks, we all got busy and they were soon eating the bread of peace. In the morning we crossed the river by propping up the wagon beds so they would be above the water.
During this time we were milking about thirty cows where we had good grass, and would fill a large five or six gallon can with milk in the morning and put in the wagon. By evening we would have about a pound of butter. Soon, however, the grass grew scarce and the cows went dry, so we were without this food. The corn for the cattle became so reduced that one wagon had to be abandoned. It became hot and dry, but wheter under the scorching rays of the sun or in a p;ouring rain -- go we must or we would not get over the mountain trail before winter came. Sickness must not stop us or even death except for a short time. We girls were to cook supper and make down beds in the evening and to get breakfast and the packing done in the morning. It was our ambition to be started down the trail before the train. To get behind meant almost to be left behind. Along the Platte River all the cooking had to be done with "buffalo chips" for fuel, which we girls gathered as we went along. We walked a large part of the way; and when our hired men struck, I had to drive one of the yoke of oxen, so over that part of the road I at least doubled the distance. Beautiful scenery was often passed without a single look; we were so tired. I think the journey was harder on the women than the men. It usually took a couple of days to cross a river, and the women washed at these places.
We continued our journey along the Platte and soon arrived at Loup Fork. There were many wagon trains trying to cross it as it was late evening. The bed of the river was mostly quicksand and was extremely dangerous to cross, so one wagon could not follow the track of a former. Father watched them for some time and decided we would go farther up the stream to find a firm crossing. We followed up the river for two days and crossed without any trouble.
Cicero became ill before we reached Fort Laramie, and he could not ea t our usual far e of fat bacon and beans. He begged some of the boys to cross the river and get him some potatoes. Father was sure we could not get any potatoes until we reached Oregon, but the boys crossed and came back with a bushel of them. They made a wonderful diversion for all of us to have a tast e. As our small cousin, Luceren Hill watched the potatoes baking by the camp fire he solemnly stated, "All I want in the world is just one more 'tater'." Needless to say, he got it.
At Fort Laramie, where we arrived May 22, which was my birthday, we found that along the south side of the Platte the cholera had broken out and hundreds were dying. Every one was eager to get away from the dread disease as quickly as possible, and they crossed to the north side below Laramie, bringing the cholera with them. All was bustle, hurry and confusion. Father realizewd that it would be impossible to get away from it, so he calmly planned to go on our way and make the best of what should happen. He had a doctor in St. Louis prepare a box of medicines to use, and he probably saved many lives by prescribing these remedies. Many would pass us with their sick and dying, stopping only a few minutes to bury their dead by the wayside. It almost caused a riot in our own train. Those who had horse teams galloped ahead, but it only broke down their teams that they were already almost unfit to travel. The country here was barren and waste. Our cattle were getting very poor, and father lost two of his fine mares, but much worse was the fact that cholera had come into our midst. Our train fared better than many others, having very little sickness and only one death. The little Pickens child was sick a day or so before father knew it, and she died. We managed to get a box for the body and gave here a Christaian burial. The cholera stayed with the trains until they reached the Cascade mountains. As we traveled that three hundred miles up the Platte we passed many graves where loved ones had been left by the wayside. The depressing, lonely graves, coupled with a constant fear of the Indians, caused us to face each day with a dread of what it might bring to us.
The days when we were forced to do without fresh water were extremely trying; when there was no water for the stock, we traveled day and night. We had a fine Durham heifer that belonged to my brother John who was drowned, and she was very precious to me. She was about to give out on account of the her and lack of water. I stole a cup of water out of our scanty supply and gave it to her, then walked by her side the rest of the day in order that i might hold an umbrella over her. That help (with a biscuit which I fed her and for which I was roundly scolded) enabled her to reach the next stopping place and water.
We could see Chimney Rock ahead of us for days; it was a natural guidepost, and the road to it was very straight. We reached it June 6. One morning I was the first one up in camp,and upon leaving the tent I saw an immense herd of buffalo grazing nearby. I called the men, and one of them rushed out and began firing into the herd. Immediately they stampeded and the ground shook so much that our cooking utensils rattled. It was a spectacular sight as they went thundering off in the dawn. This hill where the buffalo went out of sight was one of the few places I recognized when I followed the trail as nearly as I could by train in 1902, just fifty years after.
Our route led past Independence Rock which covered some twenty-seven acres of ground and towered more than a hundred feet above Sweetwater river. We found good water here, plenty of green grass and many lovely flowers. Thousands of names had been carved upon the sides by those who had camped in the vicinity. We travelled a long distance along the beautiful Sweetwater river and eventually came to the Devil's Gate, an opening through the solid rock, said to be four hundred feet deep and nearly vertical. Practically all routes west came through this cleft in the granite ledge, although they might take other paths in other places. We drove down stream in the bed of the river for some distance. So full of deep holes was the river bed that the passage was very rough and dangerous. Many of us were freightened and nervous.
At South Pass here we crossed the Continental Divide we found the weather very raw and cold. There were snow drifts all around, and I picked flowers standing in a drift. As we moved westward we crossed the Green river on July 2, then on into Idaho where we reached Fort Hall on July 12. We crossed the Snake river near here for the first time. We found the country across Idaho very trying. The weather was hot and the dust heavy. The cattle suffered for water, and we were glad when we reached the Boise river, which we followed down to the Snake which we crossed near where the city of Boise is now. It was now July 31, and we lay by for a day, and it took us three days more to cross the river. The day the family crossed Mother and sister Has went with the first load, and Lou and I stayed with the goods until the last. The sun was very hot, and there was a group of Indians near. One of their number had died, and the whole tribe howled all day to add to our misgivings. It was nearly dark when father returned for us. He loaded the three running gears of the wagons, piled all of the loose traps on top of them, and Lou and I climed to the very top of the load. Across the river we started. Father had been rowing all day and his arms and hands began to cramp so painfully that he could neither row nor steer the boat. We drifted down the river for a mile or more before we finally found a landing place. It was pitch dark by that time, and father told us that we would have to go to camp for help, as he could not leave the wagon. We could see the light from the camp fires, so we started out, making our way the best we could. We scrambled over rocks, brush and vines; sometimes we were up and sometimes down. It did not take much imagination to hear all kinds of wild animals which added to our speed if not our comfort. We finally reached camp, two freightened, exhausted girls, and sent help to father.
Last updated by William P. Russell on Saturday, 25-Jun-2005 21:05:44 MDT