by lyle e davis
I fear we have become a bit soft. In fact, I doubt many, if any, of us could go through the trials and tribulations our pioneer families endured in making the trek out west . . . whether it be to Oregon territory, or down here in the desert of San Diego County.
A few years ago I tracked down one of my pioneer ancestors who helped settle the town of Talkeetna, Alaska. We drove out to his beautiful log house (it was much more than a cabin) and learned that he had walked the four or five miles into town to retrieve shingles for his roof, and then walked back, carrying those same shingles on his back! No moving companies, no horse and buggy, he, and his fellow pioneers, did it all themselves. For all the needed “town” supplies. Hard work, hard labor, but look what they achieved!
And, remember, they also had to live through the often bitter Alaska winters.
It is good to go back and see just what our pioneer families went through. Perhaps then we can appreciate what they did . . and also appreciate . . we’ve got a pretty soft life compared to them.
Here is a compilation of diary entries of a number of pioneers who were pioneer travelers to Oregon. Entries are as they were originally made in their diaries. Their names will be listed at the end of this story:
Preparing to Emigrate
EApplegate: All the summer, fall and winter, after getting Shortess's guide, little else was studied or discussed, and many a man had mastered much of its contents. In obedience to Shortess's advide to trade for all the good American and English cattle we could, father and the uncles had collected nearly eight hundred. The migration of a large body of men, women and children across the continent to Oregon was, in the year 1843, strictly an experiment; not only in respect to the members, but to the outfit of the migrating party. Before that date, two or three missionaries had performed the journey on horseback, driving a few cows with them. Three or four wagons drawn by oxen had reached Fort Hall, on Snake River, but it was the honest opinion of the most of those who had traveled the route down Snake River, that no large number of cattle could be susisted on its scanty pasturage, or wagons taken over a country so rugged and mountainous ... The emigrants were also assured that the Sioux would be much opposed to the passage of so large a body through their country, and would probably resist it on account of the emigrants' destroying and frightening away the buffaloes(sic), which were then diminishing in numbers.
JApplegate: The migrating body numbered over one thousand souls, with about one hundred and twenty wagons, drawn by six-ox teams, averaging about six yokes to the team, and several thousand loose horses and cattle.
May 21 - The Great Emigration
Barry: Slowed by a late spring, we got under way from eastern Kansas.
Burnett: A general start was made from the rendezvous, and we reached Elm Grove, about fifteen miles distant, about 3 P.M. This grove had but two trees, both elms, and a few dogwood bushes, which we used for fuel. The small elm was most beautiful in the wild and lonely prairie; and the large one had all its branches trimmed off for firewood. The weather being clear, and the road as good as possible, the day's journey was most delightful. The white-sheeted wagons and the fine teams, moving in the wilderness of green prairie, made the most lovely appearance. The place where we encamped was very beautiful; and no scene appeared to our enthusiastic vision more exquisite than the sight of so many wagons, tents, fires, cattle, and people, as were here collected. At night the sound of joyous music was heard in the tents. Our long journey thus began in sunshine and song, in anecdote and laughter; but these all vanished before we reached its termination ... A trip to Oregon with ox teams was at that time a new experiment, and was exceedingly severe upon the temper and endurance of people. It was one of the most conclusive tests of character, and the very best school in which to study human nature. Before the trip terminated, people acted upon their genuine principles, and threw off all disguises. It was not that the trip was beset with very great perils, for we had no war with the Indians, and no stock stolen by them. At one time an ox would be missing, at another time a mule, and then a struggle for the best encampment, and for a supply of wood and water; and, in these struggles, the worst traits of human nature were displayed, and there was no remedy but patient endurance. At the beginning of the journey there were several fisticuff fights in camp; but the emigrants soon abandoned that practice, and thereafter confined themselves to abuse in words only. The man with a black eye and battered face could not well hunt up his cattle or drive his team. Our emigrants, on the first portion of the trip, were about as wasteful of their provisions as if they had been at home. When portions of bread were left over, they were thrown away; and, when any one came to their tents, he was invited to eat. I remember well that, for a long time, the five young men I had with me refused to eat any part of the bacon rind, which accordingly fell to my share, in addition to an equal division of the bacon. Finally they asked for and obtained their portion of the bacon rind, their delicate appetites having become ravenous on the trip. Those who were in the habit of inviting every one to eat who stood around at meal times, ultimately found out that they were feeding a set of loafers, and gave up the practice.
Barry: The Oregonians were crossing the Wakarusa (River) --letting their wagons down the steep bank with ropes, unaware that "a very practicable ford... (was) about one hundred yards above." Their pilot, John Gantt, joined the camp on the Wakarusa's west bank that night. On the 25th the vanguard reached the Kansas crossing (at Topeka); the rest arrived next day. Since the river was high and unfordable, a committe (appointed May 27) "attempted to hire Pappa's (Joseph Papin's) platform, but no reasonable arrangement could be made with him." The emigrants then built their own ferryboat, completing it on the 28th.
Burnett: We reached the Kansas River, and we finished crossing it on the 31st. At this crossing we met Fathers DeSmet and DeVos, missionaries to the Flathead Indians. To cross the Crow (River) they dug out canoes of black walnut and lashed them together to form a raft. On this the wagons were put and ferried over. The Zachery family when near the western bank had the misfortune to have the raft sink, immersing the whole family as well as their provisions and all in the water. There were crowds of peaceable Indians on the shore who boldly plunged into the water to their rescue. A little boy about six years old was sitting on an ox-yoke which, being light, floated off with him. The river ran very rapid at this place and the little fellow perched on his frail raft hung on without a cry of fear. Several savages fleet offoot ran down the bank, and after getting a few rods ahead of the boy, went out and brought the young Moses ashore.
Burnett: We met a war party of Kansas and Osage Indians, numbering about ninety warriors. They were all mounted on horses, had their faces painted red, and had with then one Pawnee scalp, with the ears to it, and with the wampum in them. One of them, who spoke English well, said they had fasted three days and were very hungry. Our guide, Captain Gant, advised us to furnish them with provisions; otherwise, they would steal some of our cattle. We deemed this not only good advice but good humanity, and furnished these starving warriors with enough provisions to satisfy their hunger. They had only killed one Pawnee, but had divided the scalp, making several pieces, some with the ears on and part of the cheek. Two of this party were wounded, one in the shoulder and the other in some other part of the body.
Burnett: Ever since we crossed the Kansas River we had been traveling up Blue River, a tributary of the former. On the 17th of June we reached our last encampment on Blue. We here saw a band of Pawnee Indians, returning from a buffalo hunt. They had quantities of dried buffalo meat, of which they generously gave us a good supply. They were fine looking Indians, who did not shave their heads, but cut their hair short like white men.
Burnett: We crossed from the Blue to the great Platte River, making a journey of from twenty-five to thirty miles, about the greatest distance we ever traveled in a single day. The road was spendid, and we drove some distance into the Platte bottom, and encamped in the open prairie without fuel. Next morning we left very early, without breakfast, having traveled two hundred and seventy-one miles from the rendezvous, according to the estimated distance recorded in my journal.
Burnett: The valley of the Platte is almost twenty miles wide, through the middle of which this wide, shallow, and muddy stream makes its rapid course. Its banks are low, not exceeding five or six feet in height; and the river bottoms on each side seem to the eye a dead level, covered with luxuriant grass. Ten miles from the river you come to the foot of the table lands, which are also apparently a level sandy plain, elevated some hundred and fifty feet above the river bottoms. On these plains grow the short buffalo grass, upon which the animal feeds during a portion of the year. As the dry season approaches, the water, which stands in pools on these table lands, dries up, and the buffalo are compelled to go to the Platte for water to drink. They start for water about 10 A.M. and always travel in single file, one after the other, and in parallel lines about twenty yards apart, and go in a direct line to the river. They invariably travel the same routes over and over again until they make a path some ten inches deep and twelve inches wide. These buffalo paths constituted quite an obstruction to our wagons, which were heavily laden at this point in our journey. Several axles were broken. We had been apprised of the danger in advance, and each wagon was supplied with an extra axle.
In making our monotonous journey up the smooth valley of the Platte, through the warm, genial sunshine of summer, the feeling of drowsiness was so great that it was extemely difficult to keep awake during the day. Instances occurred where drivers went to sleep on the road, sitting in the front of their wagons; and the oxen, being about as sleepy, would stop until the drivers were aroused from their slumber. My small wagon was used only for the family to ride in; and Mrs. Burnett and myself drove and slept alternately during the day. One great difficulty on this part of the trip was the scarcity of fuel. Sometimes we found dry willows, sometimes we picked up pieces of driftwood along the way, which we put into our wagons, and hauled them along until we needed them. At many points of the route up the Platte we had to use buffalo chips. By cutting a trench some ten inches deep, six inches wide, and two feetlong, we were enabled to get along with very little fuel. At one or two places the wind was so severe that we were forced to use the trenches in order to make a fire at all.
Burnett: The party of hunters returned with plenty of fresh buffalo meat. We thought the flesh of the buffalo the most excellent of all flesh eaten by man. Its flavor is decidedly different from that of beef, and far superior, and the meat more digestible. On a trip like that, in that dry climate, our appetites were excellent; but, even making every reasonable allowance, I still think buffalo the sweetest meat in the world.
JApplegate: It is four o'clock A.M.; the sentinels on duty have discharged their rifles--the signal that the hours of sleep are over--and every wagon and tent is pouring forth its night tenants, and slow-kindling smokes begin largely to rise and float away in the morning air. Sixty men start from the corral, spreading as they make through the vast herd of cattle and horses that make a semicircle around the encampment, the most distant perhaps two miles away. From 6 to 7 o'clock is a busy time; breakfast is to be eaten, the tents struck, the wagons loaded and the teams yoked and brought up in readiness to be attached to their respective wagons. All know when, at 7 o'clock, the signal to march sounds, that those not ready to take their proper places in the line of march must fall into the dusty rear for the day. There are sixty wagons. They have been divided into fifteen divisions or platoons of four wagons each, and each platoon is entitled to lead in its turn. The leading platoon today will be the rear one tomorrow, and will bring up the rear. It is within ten minutes of seven; the corral but now a strong barricade is everywhere broken, the teams being attached to the wagons. The women and children have taken their places in them. The cow drivers are hastening, as they get ready, to the rear of their charge, to collect and prepare them for the day's march. It is on the stroke of seven; the rush to and fro, the cracking of whips, the loud command to oxen, and what seemed to be the inextricable confusion of the last ten minutes has ceased. Fortunately every one has been found and every teamster is at his post. The clear notes of a trumpet sound in the front; the pilot and his guards mount their horses; the leading divisions of the wagons move out of the encampment, and take up the line of march; the rest fall into their places with the precision of clock work, until the spot so lately full of life sinks back into that solitude that seems to reign over the broad plain and rushing river as the caravan draws its lazy length towards the distant El Dorado. We have reached the top of the bluff, and now have turned to view the wonderful panorama spread before us. To those who have not been on the Platte, my powers of description are wholly inadequate to convey an idea of the vast extent and grandeur of the picture, and the rare beauty and distinctness of the detail. No haze or fog obscures objects in the pure and transparent atmosphere of this lofty region. No other race of men with the means at their command would undertake so great a journey, none save these could successfully perform it, with no previous preparation, relying only on the fertility of their own invention as it arose. They have undertaken to perform with slow-moving oxen a journey a journey of two thousand miles. The way lies over trackless wastes, wide and deep rivers, ragged and lofty mountains, and is beset with hostile savages. May we not call them men of destiny? They are people changed in no essential particulars from their ancestors, who have followed closely on the footsteps of the receding savage, from the Atlantic seaboard to the great Valley of the Mississippi. The pilot, by measuring the ground and timing the speed of the wagons and the walk of his horses, had determined the rate of each, so as to enable him to select the nooning place, as nearly as the requisite grass and water can be had at the end of five hours' travel of the wagons. Today, the ground being favorable, little time has been lost in preparing the road, so that he and his pioneers are at the nooning place an hour in advance of the wagons, which time is spent in preparing convenient watering places for the animals, and digging little wells near the bank of the Platte. It is now one o'clock; the bugle has sounded and the caravan has resumed its westward journey. It is in the same order, but the evening is far less animated than the morning march; a drowsiness has fallen apparently on man and beast; teamsters drop asleep on their perches and even when walking by their teams, and the words of command are now addressed to the slowly creeping oxen in the soft tenor of women or the piping treble of children, while the snores of the teamsters make a droning accompaniment. All able to bear arms in the party have been formed into three companies, and each of these into four watches; every third night it is the duty of one of these companies to keep watch and ward over the camp, and it is so arranged that each watch takes its turn of guard duty through the different watches of the night. Those forming the first watch tonight will be second on duty, then third and fourth, which brings them through all the watches of the night. They begin at 8 o'clock P.M., and end at 4 o'clock A.M. It is not yet 8 o'clock when the first watch is to be set; the evening meal is just over, and the corral now free from the intrusion of cattle or horses, groups of children are scattered over it. Before a tent near the river a violin makes lively music, and some youths and maidens have improvised a dance upon the green; in another quarter a flute gives its mellow and melancholy notes to the still night air, which, as they float away over the quiet river, seem a lament for the past rather than a hope for the future. It has been a prosperous day; more than twenty miles have been accomplished of the great journey. The encampment is a good one; one of the causes that threatened much future delay has just been removed by the skill and energy of that "good angel" of the emigrants, Doctor Whitman, and it has lifted a load from the hearts of the elders.
Burnett1: our people halted for lunch at noon, and to rest the teams and allow the oxen to graze. Our wagons were about three hundred yards from the river, and were strung out in line to the distance of one mile. While taking our lunch we saw seven buffalo bulls on the opposite side of the river, coming toward us, as if they intended to cross the river in the face of our whole caravan. When they arrived on the opposite bank they had a full view of us; and yet they deliberately entered the river, wading a part of the distance, and swimming the remainder. When we saw that they were determined to cross at all hazards, our men took their rifles, formed in line between the wagons and the river, and awaited the approach of the animals. So soon as they rose the bank, they came on in a run, broke boldly through the line of men, and bore to the left of the wagon. Three of them were killed, and most of the others wounded.
Burnett: we arrived at a grove of timber, on the south bank of the South Fork of the Platte. This was the only timber we had seen since we struck the river, except on the islands, which were covered with cottonwoods and willows. From our first camp upon the Platte to this point, we had traveled, according to my estimates recorded in my journal, one hundred and seventy-three miles, in eleven days.
Burnett: we made three boats by covering our wagon boxes or beds with green buffalo hides sewed together, stretched tightly over the boxes, flesh side out, and tacked on with large tacks; and the boxes, thus covered, were turned up to the sun until the hides were thoroughly dry. This process of drying the green hides had to be repeated several times. From July 1st to 5th, inclusive, we were engaged in crossing the river.
Ford: We were not molested by the Indians beyond horse stealing and driving off cattle and having to pay to get them returned. They were friendly generally. We saw but few. They appeared to be wild and shy and afraid of the wagons. Ours were the first wagons they ever saw, and the first that ever crossed the plains from Missouri with the exception of eleven wagons that came out in 1842 to Fort Hall and there stopped. The persons in that train packed through from Fort Hall. We came to the Buffalo Country on the Platte and there we made boats of beef and buffalo hides--putting them around wagon beds; and for some we made frames. We swam our animals from bar to bar where we could get a footing until we could get across.
Arthur: Too much can not be said of Dr. Whitman's persistent activity urging the emigrants to bravely travel, travel, as he said that nothing else would carry us through. The emigration of 1843 was the first emigration of consequence to Oregon, and they made a broad wagon road from the frontier of Missouri to the Columbia river and made the way plain for future emigrations. The history of the emigration of 1843 may well be deemed a record of men and women's heroic deeds. They cheerfully gave up home, society, and all the blessings of peace and quiet, and turned from a country blessed with plenty, to face the unknown dangers of a wilderness, and to patiently endure the perils and privations, and to challenge the fierce assaults of the wild beasts, and the still wilder and more ferocious Indian foe. But a kind Providence permitted us to overcome difficulties and reach Oregon with but few accidents and but little sickness of a serious nature. Two babies were brought to light on the way. One baby died from sickness, and one boy four or five years old was killed by falling under the wheel of a wagon. One man was drowned crossing Snake river, and one lady died from sickness and was buried where LaGrande City now stands. The train was delayed but little otherwise than at the crossing of streams, and the tardy moving of a large drove of loose cattle and horses. The train was delayed eight days crossing the main Platte river. A caulked wagon box and a green buffalo hide formed with a hood and cross-sticks in the shape of a wash bowl and a small rope was made fast to each end of the wagon box and the buffalo boat, as it was called, and two or three men to each boat towed them from side to side. Late in the evening examination disclosed the possibility of teams fording the river drawing the empty wagons. Early the next morning eleven teams, drawing as many wagons endeavored to cross, but about midway the river the sand had washed out and made a channel so that we could not go ahead, neither could we go back against the current; after some difficulty we loosed the cattle from the wagons and permitted them to swim to land. It being the fourth of July, twenty-five or thirty men celebrated the afternoon in water waist deep getting the wagons out of the river; all the while listening to the glowing tales and development of Colonel Nesmith's genius.
Nesmith: Childs and Waldo out of sight ahead. I go on with a party to look at the Chimney. Eight or ten of us ascend to the top of the mound from whence the shaft or column of clay and sand ascends about 150 feet above the mound, which is about 200 feet high, making 350 feet above the level of the plains, and one of the greatest curiosities I have ever seen in the West, and can be seen distinctly thirty miles on the plains.
Burnett: we arrived at Fort Laramie, where we remained two days repairing our wagons. We had traveled from the crossing of the South Fork one hundred and forty-one miles in nine days. Prices of articles at this trading post: Coffee, $1.50 a pint; brown sugar, the same; flour, unbolted, 25 cents a pound; powder $1.50 a pound; lead, 75 cents a pound; percussion caps, $1.50 a box; calico, very inferior $1.00 a yard. At the fort we found the Cheyenne chief and some of his people. He was a tall, trim, noble-looking Indian, aged about thirty. The Cheyennes at that time boasted that they had never shed the blood of the white man. He went alone very freely among our people, and I happened to meet him at one of our camps, where there was a foolish, rash young man, who wantonly insulted the chief. Though the chief did not understand the insulting words, he clearly understood the insulting tone and gestures. I saw from the expression of his countenance that the chief was most indignant, though perfectly cool and brave. He made no reply in words, but walked away slowly; and when some twenty feet from the man who had insulted him, he turned around, and solemly and slowly shook the forefinger of his right hand at the young man several times, as much as to say, "I will attend to your case." I saw that trouble was coming, and I followed the chief, and by kind, earnest gestures made him understand at last that this young man was considered by us all as a half-witted fool, unworthy of the notice of any sensible man; and that we never paid attention to what he said, as we hardly considered him responsible for his language. The moment the chief comprehended my meaning, I saw a change come over his countenance, and he went away perfectly satisfied. He was a clear-headed man; and, though unlettered, he understood human nature.
Newby: A very bad road. Joel J. Hembree’s son Joel fel off the waggeon tung & both wheels run over him.
Newby: Lay buy. Joel Hembree departed this life about 2 oclock.
Nesmith: I came on ahead with Captain Gantt and an advance guard, passed over some very rough road, and at noon came up to a fresh grave with stones piled over it, and a note tied on a stick, informing us that it was the grave of Joel Hembree, child of Joel J. Hembree, aged six years, and was killed by a wagon running over its body. At the head of the grave stood a stone containing the name of the child, the first death that has occurred on the expedition. The grave is on the left hand side of the trail, close to Squaw Butte Creek.
Nesmith: Trailed six miles and camped on the Platte about noon, and endeavored to find a ford. Several men sick in camp, afflicted with a kind of fever. The company discontented, and strong symptoms of mutiny. Some anxious to travel faster, some slower, some want to cross the river here, some want to go ahead, and others want to go any way but the right way. This will always be the difficulty with heterogeneous masses of emigrants crossing these plains.
Newby: We fordid the North Fork, tho it was with some difficulty. We first drove over a branch of the river on to a sand beach, then we toock 2 large rops & tide them in the ring of the leed cattle, then thare was from 30 to 40 men on a nouther sand beach that puld at the end of the roap to keep them strate & pull them out, as it was nearely swimming & up streme & a current like a mill tale. This was a bout 50 yards wide. Thin we had to forde a nauther branch a bout the same width, tho not so deepe. I toock the most of my thing out of my waggeon & tide it to a nother one and it turned over & over & come luce & washed down the river. A Mr. Lee & Mr. Williams & my self follerd after ia a bout one mile & had all like to got drowned. We made our escape, & that was all in the morning. We found it a bout 3 miles down the river. We got it out with out much damage. I lost my gun & shot pouch, ax, tare bucket & oxyoake. So much for the 22(nd).
Nesmith: This is my birthday, being twenty-three years of age and upwards of 3,000 miles West of the place of my birth. Edwin Otey and myself struck out toward a large mountain South in quest of game...returned to the company about noon. Found them nooning on the ground near the ford, where Applegate's company had crossed the river the evening previous. Two men from Childs' company met us this evening, informing us they were all across the north fork about ten miles ahead.
Burnett: July 24 we crossed the North Fork of the Platte by fording, without difficulty, having traveled the distance of one hundred and twenty-two miles from Fort Laramie in nine days.
Arthur: The train crossed the middle Platte on a ferry boat at Fort Laramie and forded the north Platte, Green river and the various crossings of Snake river by coupling a train of teams one to the wagon of the other and placing an extra driver to each team below on horseback to guard the teams into line. Occasionally the train would stop a day to give the women a chance to do some washing.
Nesmith: Got up to the crossing about noon. Applegate's company on the opposite side. Drove across in the afternoon without difficulty.
Burnett: we arrived at the Sweetwater, having traveled from the North Fork fifty-five miles in three days.
Arthur: On Sweetwater the train rested three days in order to lay in a supply of buffalo meat before leaving the region inhabited by that animal.
Nesmith: Started for the company about 8:00 o'clock in a very cold rain. Howell took sick and threw away his meat. Got up to our wagons in the evening. They lay at Independence Rock, our company having split. Colonel Martin, with most of the wagons, had gone ahead. Our wagon and some others of his company fell in with some deserters from Applegate's company, making in all nineteen wagons.
Burnett: while traveling up the Sweetwater, we first came in sight of the eternal snows of the Rocky Mountains. This to us was a grand and magnificent sight. We had never before seen the perpetually snow-clad summit of a mountain.
Nesmith: Mr. Payne, a man in Martin's company, died this morning at 3:00 o'clock. He suffered severly, being unwell since we left Fort Laramie. Died of inflamation of the bowels, leaving a wife and four small children. He was decently interred on a rise of ground at the left of the road.
Burnett: we crossed the summit of the Rocky Mountains, and on the evening of the 7th we first drank of the waters that flow into the great Pacific. The first Pacific water we saw was that of a large, pure spring.
Burnett: we crossed Green River, so called from its green color. It is a beautiful stream, containing fine fish. On the margins of this stream there are extensive groves of small cottonwood trees, about nine inches in diameter, with low and brushy tops. These trees are cut down by the hunters and trappers in winter for the support of their mules and hardy Indian ponies. The animals feed on the tender twigs, and on the bark of the smaller limbs, and in this way manage to live. Large quantities of this timber are destroyed annually.
Burnett: we were informed that Doctor Whitman had written a letter, stating that the Catholic missionaries had discovered, by the aid of their Flathead Indian pilot, a pass through the mountains by way of Fort Bridger, which was shorter than the old route. We, therefore, determined to go by the fort. There was a heavy frost with thin ice this morning.
Burnett: we arrived at Fort Bridger, situated on Black's Fork of Green River, having traveled from our first camp on the Sweetwater two hundred and nineteen miles in eighteen days. Here we overtook the missionaries. On the 17th we arrived on the banks of Bear River, a clear, beautiful stream, with abundance of good fish and plenty of wild ducks and geese.
Burnett: we arrived at the great Soda Springs.
Fremont: we made our halt at noon in a fertile bottom, where the common blue flax was growing abundantly, a few miles below the mouth of the Thomas' Fork, one of the larger tributaries of the river. We descended into a beautiful bottom, formed by a lateral valley, which presented a picture of home beauty that went directly to our hearts. The edge of the wood, for several miles along the river, was dotted with the white covers of emigrant wagons, collected in groups at different camps, where the smokes were rising lazily from the fires, around which the women were occupied in preparing the evening meal, and the children playing in the grass; and herds of cattle, grazing about in the bottom, had an air of quiet security and civilized comfort that made a rare sight for the traveller in such a remote wilderness.
Nesmith: Passed Soda Springs about 2:00 o'clock. Camped on Bear River at a place where our trail leaves it.
Newby: We reached Sody Springs. These springs bile up & dont run off. Appears to go a way as fast as it biles. The water tasts like sody after it is done buyling. Thare is ten springs: six large ones & 4 smawl ones. Thare is allso a hot spring. The water is warm as dish water. It builes & fomes like a builing pot....
Burnett: we arrived at Fort Hall, having traveled two hundred and thirty five miles from Fort Bridger in thirteen days. Fort Hall was then a trading post, belonging to the Hudson's Bay Company, and was under the charge of Mr. Grant, who was exceedingly kind and hospitable. The fort was situated on the south bank of Snake River, in a wide, fertile valley covered with luxuriant grass and watered by numerous springs and small streams. This valley had once been a great resort for buffaloes, and their skulls were s cattered around in every direction. We saw the skulls of these animals for the last time at Fort Boise, beyond which point they were never seen. The company had bands of horses and herds of cattle grazing on these rich bottom lands.
Ford: We crossed the mountains to Fort Hall. It was occupied by the Hudson's Bay Co. I think it was Grant that had charge of that. All those forts were made of adobe walls like the wall around a lot and inside of that wall were adobe buildings, generally small. The wall around the lot was 6 or 8 feet high, and about 18 inches thick. It could have been knocked down very easily, but the Indians had nothing but arrows and could not shoot through it. They had a few guns but very few at that time.
At Fort Hall we changed our Captain. We got a man by the name of Wm. Martin to pilot us and he acted as Captain a piece. He turned off on the California road with Childs. Dr. Whitman then volunteered to pilot the emigration through to Walla Walla. He lived in Walla Walla. He said he would pilot us there but he could not stay with us. He would leave notices with us how we should travel and we followed those notices till we came to Grande Rounde he went through and sent an Indian back to pilot us through from Grande Rounde to Walla Walla. We had no trouble from Fort Hall to Grande Rounde Valley.
Fremont: Kit Carson rode into the camp with flour and a few other articles of light provision, sufficient for two or three days--a scanty but very acceptable supply.
Nesmith: Got an early start this morning. Traveled ten miles to the river. Nooned on the river. Traveled down it and camped on the bank, making twenty miles to-day. The river here assumes a broad, placid and beautiful appearance, the water being very clear, unlike any of the river in the Western states.
Burnett: we arrived at the Salmon Falls on Snake River, where we purchased from the Snake Indians dried and fresh salmon, giving one ball and one charge of powder for each dried fish. We found several lodges of Indians here who were very poorly clad, and who made a business of fishing at the falls. The falls were about eight feet perpendicular at that stage of water, with rapids below for some distance. The stream is divided upon the rapids into various narrow channels, through which the waters pass with a very shallow and rapid current, so that the fisherman can wade across them. The salmon are compelled to pass up these channels, and readily fall a prey to the quick, sharp spear of the Indian fisherman. The spear consists of a strong, smooth pole, ten or twelve feet long and an inch and a half in diameter, made of hard tough wood, upon one end of which there is fastened a piece of sharp-pointed buckhorn about four inches long. The larger end of this piece of buckhorn is hollowed out to the depth of about three inches and fastened on the end of the pole, which is tapered to fit onto it. To the middle of this buckhorn there is securely fastened a thong or string of sinew, the other end of which is firmly attached to the pole about one foot above the buckhorn, leaving a considerable slack in the line. With this spear the Indian fisherman lies down or sits close to one of these narrow channels with the point of his spear resting near where the fish must pass. In this position he remains motionless until he sees a fish immediately opposite the point of the spear, as the fish slowly ascends the rapid current; when, with the quick motion of a juggler, he pushes his spear clear through the salmon before this powerful fish can dodge it. The buckhorn at once slips off the end of the pole on the other side of the fish the first flounce he makes; but he is securely held by the thong attached to the pole. No spear could be more skillfully designed or more effectually used than this.
Nesmith: Trailed down Boise on the South side. Traveled sixteen miles. Encamped on the bank of the river. Indians in camp this evening. We have seen them for the last four or five days. Every day they come to sell us dried salmon, and present a poor, squalid appearance, besides being d--d lousey.
Burnett: we arrive at Fort Boise. then in charge of Mr. Payette, having traveled from Fort Hall, two hundred and seventy-three miles, in twenty-one days. Mr. Payette, the manager, was kind and very polite.
Nesmith: Crossed the river this afternoon without any difficulty, water being about four feet six inches deep.
Fremont: "From the heights we had looked in vain for a well-known landmark on Powder River, which had been described to me by Mr. Payette as l'arbre seul (the lone tree); and, on arriving at the river, we found a fine tall pine stretched on the ground, which had been felled by some inconsiderate emigrant axe. It had been a beacon on the road for many years past."
Burnett: we arrived at Fort Walla Walla, then under charge of Mr. McKinley, having traveled from Fort Boise, two hundred and two miles, in twenty-four days.
Nesmith: In four miles' travel we struck the Deschutes River. Hired two Indians to conduct us across the ford, which we crossed without difficulty. Just below we passed the Dalles, quite a waterfall on the Columbia. Arrived at the Methodist Mission in the evening.
Burnett1: A portion of our emigrants left their wagons and cattle at Walla Walla, and descended the Columbia in boats; while another, and the larger portion, made their way with their teams and wagons to The Dalles, whence they descended to the Cascades on rafts, and thence to Fort Vancouver in boats and canoes. William Beagle and I had agreed at the rendezvous not to separate until we reached the end of our journey. We procured from Mr. McKinley, at Walla Walla, an old Hudson's Bay Company's boat, constructed expressly for the navigation of the Columbia and its tributaries. These boats are very light, yet strong. They are open, about forty-five feet long, five feet wide, and three feet deep, made of light, tough materials, and clinker built. They are made in this manner so that they may be carried around the Falls of the Columbia, and let down over the Cascades. When taken out of the water and carried over the portage, it requires the united exertions of forty or fifty Indians, who take the vessel on their shoulders, amid shouts and hurras, and thus carry it sometimes three-fourths of a mile, without one letting it down. At the Cascades it is let down by means of ropes in the hands of the Canadian boatmen. We employed an Indian pilot, who stood with a stout, long, broad paddle in the bow of the boat, while Beagle stood at the stern, holding a long-steering oar, such as were used upon flat-bottoms and keel-boats in the Western States. I remember that my friend Beagle, before we left Walla Walla, expressed great confidence in his skill in steering, as he had often passed the Ohio Rapids at Louisville. But these rapids were nothing to those on the Columbia. I have seen Beagle turn as pale as a corpse when passing through the terrible rapids on this river. Our Indian pilot was very cool, determined, and intrepid; and Beagle always obeyed him, right or wrong. On one occasion, I remember, we were passing down a terrible rapid, with almost the speed of a race-horse, when a huge rock rose above the water before us, against which the swift and mighty volume of the river furiously dashed in vain, and then suddenly turned to the right, almost at right angles. The Indian told Beagle to hold the bow of the boat directly toward that rock, as if intending to run plumb upon it, while the rest of us pulled our oars with all our might, so as to give her such a velocity as not to be much affected by the surging waves. The Indian stood calm and motionless in the bow, paddle in hand, with his features set as if prepared to meet immediate death; and, when we were within from twenty to thirty feet of that terrible rock, as quick as thought he plunged his long, broad paddle perpendicularly into the water on the left side of the bow, and with it gave a sudden wrench, and the boat instantly turned upon its center to the right, and we passed the rock in safety.
While passing through these dangers I was not much alarmed, but after they were passed I could never think of them without a sense of fear. Arthur: After resting at the Sweetwater we rolled on slow but sure, until the 120 wagons, with but few exceptions, reached The Dalles. rough and steep mountains, deep canyons and uncertain brooks to Vancouver, a distance by the serpentine trail of one hundred miles or more. The company was detained six days at the Cascades moving wagons and goods below the rapids, a distance of six miles. From there they were conveyed down the Columbia and up the Willamette to the falls. At Vancouver the stock was crossed over the Columbia river and marched on to the Wallamet Falls, as they were then called, and we were at our journey's end.
Those Who Kept the Diaries:
Barry: "The Beginning of the West" by Louise Barry
JApplegate: "With The Cow Column in 1843" by Jesse Applegate (OHSQ Vol 1 p.371-383)
EApplegate: Elisha Lindsay Applegate as told in "Pacific Trail Camp-Fires" by Dr. Reese P. Kendall (1901)
Arthur: A Brief Account of the Experiences of a Pioneer of 1843 by John Arthur (Transactions of the Oregon Pioneer Association 1887 p.96-104)
Burnett1: "Recollections and Opinions of An Old Pioneer" and "Letters of Peter H. Burnett" OHSQ Vol III p.398-426by Peter H. Burnett
Fremont: Memoirs of My Life, John Charles Fremont
Nesmith: Diary of the Emigration of 1843 by James W. Nesmith (OHSQ Dec 1906 329-359)
Newby: William T. Newby's Diary, Emigration of 1843 (OHSQ Vol 40 p.221-242); original housed at University of Oregon, Corvallis, OR
For the reader who is interested, we highly recommend reading all of the diaries. They can be found here: http://www.oregonpioneers.com/1843trip.htm
Of all of the Diarists, I believe the most eloquent were Jesse Applegate and Peter H. Burnett. Indeed, they were so eloquent and so prolific that I had to edit out a lot of very interesting commentary due to space considerations.
One sad note about all of these diary entries: Dr. Marcus Whitman, the physician who helped so many of the pioneer travelers, tending to their medical needs as well as acting as a guide to hit the right trails, as a provider of food and other supplies, as a liaison with the Indians, with whom he apparently had a great rapport, was betrayed by one or more of those Indians and was massacred. A sad and totally unfair ending to such a wonderful, trusting man.
The pioneer trail was fraught with danger, however. Women, children, and their men, died on the trail . . . usually from illness or accident. Occasionally, a violent death would end the pioneer’s life.
In another tragic ending, two children, within miles of their goal, drowned in the Columbia River, following a capsized boat. One can only imagine the grief of the parents . . . who had fought all the elements, weather, hunger, Indians, and rough traveling conditions, to be within sight of their goal and then to lose their children. Losing a child is bad enough alone . . . to lose them and the children not reach the promised land must have increased the grief a hundredfold. Could we handle these problems today? Would we be as strong as our pioneer ancestors? I doubt it.