Longmire’s Trip West

James Longmire Heads West


I started from our home on Shawnee Prairie, Fountain County, Indiana, with my wife and four children, Eicaine, David, Tillatha and John, on the 6th day of March, 1853. My youngest child was not able to walk when we started, but spent his evenings while on the trip in learning, which he did by supporting himself by holding to the tongue of the ox wagon while in camp. John B. Moyer, a very fine young man, who had studied for the ministry, but who at that time was teaching our district school, went with us, also Joseph Day, a son of one of our neighbors. I got a neighbor to drive us to Attica, the nearest town, where we took passage on the U.S. Ariel, a little steamer running on the Wabash River, as far south as Evansville, at that time a flourishing town of 4,000 or 5,000 inhabitants.

A shocking incident of our first start was the bursting of the boiler of the steamer Bee, twelve miles from Evansville, which caused the death of every person aboard. Our steamer took the poor, mangled creatures aboard and carried them to Evansville, where they were met by sorrowing friends, who had sighted the signal of mourning displayed by our steamer. From Evansville we took the steamer Sparrow Hawk for St. Louis, thence by the Polar Star up the Mississippi and Missouri Rivers to St. Joseph. We were now upwards of 2,000 miles on our westward journey. Here I bought eight yoke of oxen and a large quantity of supplies, and traveled in wagons along the river to Kanesville, now Council Bluffs, where we camped, as it was yet too early to start on our long journey, the grass not having grown so that it would afford food for our cattle along the route; so we decided to remain for several weeks and make some preparations for an other start. I bought a carriage and a span of horses for $250 which my wife and children were to use as far as the road would permit. I also got a sheet-iron stove, which, with cooking- utensils, only weighed twenty-five pounds, but which proved a real luxury, as we were able have warm biscuits for breakfast whenever we chose, besides many other delicacies which we could not have had by a camp fire. I only paid twelve dollars for this stove, but it proved invaluable to us.

At Kanesville I stood guard at night for the first time in my life, in company with Van Ogle, who was also camped here, preparatory to going to Puget Sound. It was dark one evening, as I finished feeding my cattle, so that I could not see the person who spoke in a fine childish voice, saying: "Is there a man here by the name of Longmire?" I thought it must be a boy by the voice, and answered that that was my name, when he introduced himself as John Lane, a man of whom I had often heard but never seen, a tall, well built man, with a smooth, boyish face, and fine, squeaking voice, much out of keeping with his great body. He invited me to his camp nearby where I met Asher Sargent and his family, Sargent being his brother-in-law, and after some conversation we made arrangements to continue our journey together. While here we met a young man by the name of Ivan Watt, who was anxious to cross the plains, so I arranged with him to drive one of my ox teams, and found him excellent help at various times when he met obstacles that were hard to overcome. His friend, William, Sargent’s two sons, Wilson and Francis Marion, and Van Ogle drove the others.

The time had come when we decided the grass was sufficient to feed our cattle on the way, and we moved twelve miles below Council Bluffs to a ferry, where we made our final start for Puget Sound on the 10th day of May, 1853. We camped for the night about one mile from the ferry, where we were joined by E. A. Light, now of Steilacoom, who was a friend of John Lane’s. Nothing occurred worthy of note until two days afterwards, when we reached the Elkhorn River, where we found a ferry with only one boat, and so many emigrants ahead of us that we must wait two or three weeks to be ferried across the river. A party of emigrants were lucky enough to get three canoes, and while they were crossing we all went to work and made one more. By this time they were across, so we bought their canoes, and with our own proceeded to ferry our goods to the other side. Here occurred an accident which proved disastrous, and spoiled in a measure the harmony existing up to this time in our little company of emigrants.

John Lane started with some fine stock, among them a thoroughbred mare of great beauty, and very valuable, which we would not allow to swim with the rest of our stock safely across the stream. With a rope around her neck held by Sargent, and myself on .one side of the river, and with himself and E. A. Light on the other side, we towed her across, but alas dead! We landed her according to Lane’s instructions, and tried to revive the beautiful creature, but failed.

Poor Sargent had to bear the blame, unjustly, I think, and only escaped blows from Lane, whose rage knew no bounds, by my interference. But .he left our party, after begging me to go with him, and in company with E. A. Light, Samuel and William Ray, and a man named Mitchell, continued his journey. We regretted the loss of his beautiful mare, and the unpleasantness between him and Sargent, which caused: him to leave our party, for friends were few and far from home, consequently much dearer; but these, friends were to meet again, which we little expected when we parted.

Two hundred miles further on we came to Rawhide Creek, a pretty stream, with banks bordered with graceful, waving willows, cool and green, and the last that we were to see, in fact, not another tree or shrub for two hundred miles. Here we stopped to rest our thoroughly tired, foot-sore oxen, and do our washing, which was not done always on Monday, to the annoyance of our excellent housekeepers, who at home had been accustomed to thus honoring "blue Monday." We had killed a few antelopes along the road, which furnished the camp with what we thought the best steak we had ever eaten, and were fired with the resolve to secure a still greater luxury, in which we had not yet indulged. We had already seen several small bands of buffalo, but had no opportunity of capturing any of them; so I selected Ivan Watt, a crack shot, by the way, as my companion, and with bright hopes, and spirits high, we started to bring in some buffalo meat, and thus further prove our skill as hunters from the Hoosier State. We left over and Day to guard the camp, assist the women with the washing, and kill jackrabbits, game too small for us. We rode about fifteen miles north, where we came upon two buffaloes quietly feeding upon a little slope of ground. We dismounted, picketed our horses, and on all fours crept toward them till barely within range of our muzzle-loading rifles, when they saw us. We ran for our horses, which we luckily reached, and lost no time in mounting, when the buffalo turned and ran from us across the level plain. Going on a little further, we came to a ridge or elevation which afforded us protection for our horses, in which we once more picketed and, walking about a hundred yards, commenced firing into a herd of the coveted game, which we came upon suddenly, selecting for our target a large bull. We fired nine shots apiece, but our game did not fall, but would snort loudly and whirl around as if dazed, not knowing from where the bullets came, and not seeing us from the ridge of ground, where we were hid from view. Seeing that our shots did not bring the game to the ground, I told Watt we were aiming too high, and reloading, we took aim and fired together, but lower, and to our great joy the huge creature fell, as we thought, dead. Rushing back to our horses we mounted and hurried to secure our prize, which lay on the ground only wounded, and upon seeing us staggered to his feet, and ran about a hundred yards and fell again. The rest of the herd, frightened at seeing us, ran wildly across the plain with uplifted tails, and were soon out of sight. Seeing that our buffalo could not run, I sprang from my horse, and taking fair aim at his head, fired and killed him, much to my surprise, as I had heard a theory that a buffalo could not be killed by a shot in the head. Again we secured our horses, and began to strip our game of his smooth coat, selecting the hind quarters for our share, judging these to be the choice of cuts, which we were to put into a bag which we had carried for this purpose. Little did we know of the life and customs of the plains. In about 15 minutes after we began our work we were surprised yes, perfectly horrified to see about thirty big, hungry grey wolves coming rapidly toward us, attracted no doubt by the scent of blood from the dead buffalo. Nearer and nearer they came, till, hearing a noise, we looked in the direction of our horses, we saw them running in wildest fright to the north, in a directly opposite course from our camp. We hurriedly left our game to the wolves, most willingly, having no wish to contest their claim to it, and went in pursuit of our rapidly fleeing horses. We had intended to be in camp with our meat in time for dinner, and had set out in the morning without a morsel of food in our pockets. So nightfall found us hungry, tired, afoot, and miles, how many we knew not, from camp and friends, our horses gone, and hardly knowing which way to turn. However, it was a starlight night, and fixing my eye on one bright star, I told Watts that we must take that star for our guide, and go on as far as we could that night. We went on, Watts complaining of hunger very often, until the sky became cloudy, and we could no longer see our guide, when we sat. down, and placed our guns on the ground, pointing towards the star that had been to us so far a welcome guide. The time we could not tell, as neither of us carried a watch, but it must, have been far in the night. From the time of leaving camp, the many mishaps of the day, and our extreme fatigue, it seemed an age. Soon all trouble was forgotten in the deep sleep, from which we awoke to find the sky clear, and our late guide ready to light us on our weary journey. We arose and started once more, neither stopping for an instant or turning aside for rock, bush, or bramble, but keeping as nearly as possible in a straight line, never forgetting our star till it grew dim before the coming daylight. Thus we went, still fasting, over the beautiful rolling country, till about nine or ten o’clock in the morning, when we climbed a steep bluff, and below us saw the Platte River Valley, through which slowly passed a few straggly emigrant wagons. The very sight of them brought joy to our hearts, and also relief to Watts’ empty stomach, for the first thing he did on reaching the wagons was to ask for food, which was freely given. I inquired the way to Rawhide Creek, which the emigrants told us was 2 miles behind them welcome news to us in our tired, and almost famished condition. But as we were so near our own camp I did not ask for anything to eat. Watt, however, insisted on sharing his portion with me, which I accepted, and must say relished after my night’s fast. We hurried back to camp, where I found my wife almost crazed with grief at our long absence, thinking of course we had been killed by hostile Indians. My friend Sargent was thinking’ of continuing the journey the next day if we did not return; but my wife was thinking of some way by which she could return to our old home on the banks of the Wabash. However, when we told them of our danger and narrow escape, even with the loss of our horses and game, grief turned to joy, and peace reigned once more in our camp.

After resting the remainder of the day we prepared, not for a buffalo hunt, but for a hunt for our horses, the next morning Mr. Sargent loaned us two of his horses, which we rode, and in case we did not return that evening he was to put 2 other of his horses to my carriage, and proceed, with Moyer, Day, my family and goods, the next morning, we .to overtake them somewhere along the line. After making this arrangement we went back to the scene of our disaster and our late adventure, where we found large herds of wild horses, but no track of our own, which, being shod, were easily tracked. We hunted until sundown, when we came to a mound or hill from one hundred to one hundred and fifty feet above the level with a circular depression or basin on the top of it, which we selected for our camp. Taking our horses into the basin, we made them secure by hobbling them, took our supper without drinks, and cold. Here we witnessed from our elevated position a grand buffalo show fully 5000 scattered over the vast plains, many of them quite near to the mound on which we stood; but we had not the least temptation to hunt. buffalo, although it seemed to be one vast herd as far as the eye could reach. We arose the next morning, and continued our hunt till the middle of the afternoon, when we gave up all hope of finding the lost horses, and taking a westerly course, set out to overtake the wagons, which had stopped before night for our benefit. A buffalo hunt proved a source of joy as well as sorrow to our party for soon after camping for the night, Moyer saw two men, buffalo hunters, who, like Watt and myself, had been lost, riding our lost horses leisurely along the road. Going to them, Moyer said the horses belonged to our camp. They told him that they had seen the horses on the plains, and knowing that they had escaped from some emigrant train caught them and gladly rode them into camp. They declined the $5 reward that Moyer and my wife wished them to accept for the great service which they had done us. The previous day my wife rode in the ox wagon, leaving our carriage at the service of Mrs. Sargent and family, in part payment for the borrowed horses, but the next day she gladly gave up the cushions and comfort of the ox wagon for those of the carriage, which was again drawn by the lost horses. Nothing further happened, except the occasional killing of an antelope or stray buffalo, my desire for buffalo hunting not being fully satisfied, although I had vowed, after my late adventure, never to hunt buffalo again. Sargent and I killed one about this time that weighed fully 5,000 lbs., whose meat was so tough we could not use it, he evidently being the patriarch of the vast herd. We crossed the Bocky Mountains at South Pass, according to the instructions given in "Horn’s Guide for Emigrants," which we had carefully observed during our trip. It gave minute instructions as to proper camps, roads, and where to find good water and grass, crossing of streams, and other information which we found of great value, as our experience afterwards with regard to grass and water proved. Some days after crossing the mountains our party was increased by the families of Tyrus Himes, father of Geo. H. Himes of Portland, Oregon, and Judson Himes, Mrs. W. H. Ruddell and Mrs. Nathan Eaton, of Elma, Washington, and Mrs. John Dodge, the first of whom settled on their arrival here on a place five miles east of Olympia, and the last on Mima Prairie. Accompanying Mr. Himes were Joel Bidson and son, Henry, C. Euben Fitch, Fredrick Burnett, James and Charles Biles, and family, "Bat" and Elijah Baker with families, two Woolery families, Wm. Downey and family, Kincaid and family, Peter Judson and family, besides a number of single men all told numbering somewhere near one hundred persons. All went smoothly until we crossed Bear River Mountains, when, feeling some confidence in our own judgment, we had grown somewhat careless about consulting our handbook, often selecting our camp without reference to it. One of these camps we had good reason to remember. I had gone ahead to find a camp for noon, which I did on a pretty stream with abundance of grass for our horses and cattle, which greatly surprised us, as grass had been such a scarce article in many of our camps. Soon after dinner we noticed some of our cattle began, to lag, and seem tired, and others began to vomit. We realized with horror that our cattle had been poisoned; so we camped at the first stream we came to, which was Ham’s Fork of Bear Creek River, to cure if possible our poor, sick cattle. Here we were 80 miles or a hundred miles from Salt Lake, the nearest settlement, in such a dilemma. We looked about for relief. Bacon and grease were the only antidotes for poison that our stores contained, so we cut slices of bacon and forced it down the throats of the sick oxen, who after once tasting the bacon, ate it eagerly, thereby saving their lives, as those that did not eat died the next day. The cows we could spare than the oxen. None of the horses were sick. Had we consulted our guide book before, instead of after camping at that pretty spot, we would have been spared all this trouble, as it warned travelers of the poison existing there. This event ran our stock of bacon so low we were obliged to buy more, for which we paid 75 cents per pound and 50 cents per pound for butter, which we bought of Mr. Melville, one of our party.

We were joined at Salmon Falls by a Mr. Hutchinson and his family. Here we crossed the Snake River for the first time, a quarter of a mile above the falls. Hutchinson had a fine lot of horses and cattle, which caused him much anxiety, as he feared they might drown while crossing the river.

There were many Indians here of the Snake tribe, and he tried to hire one of them to swim his stock, for which he offered money, with out making the least impression on the stolid creature. Finally taking off his outside shirt, a calico garment, Hutchinson offered it to him, which, to our surprise, he took; this was the coveted prize. He swam four horses safely and drowned one. When he reached the opposite side of the river, he quietly mounted one of the best horses and rode rapidly away over the hills, leaving us to the difficult task of crossing the river which we did without further accident. We paid, however, $4 for every wagon towed across.

For 200 miles we wended our weary way on to Fort Boise, a Hudson’s Bay Company’s trading post kept by an Englishman and his Indian wife, he being the only white person at the post. Here we had to cross the Snake river again, which at this place was a quarter of a mile wide, with poor prospects for a crossing, as the agent kept the ferry, and demanded $8 per wagon, just twice what we had paid at the other points. I tried to get an Indian to swim our cattle, but failing, Watt proposed to go with them if I would, which seemed a fair proposition, and as they would not go without someone to drive them, we started across. Watt carried a long stick in one hand. With the other he held on to the tail of old "Lube," a great, raw-boned ox who had done faithful service on our long and toilsome journey. I threw my stick away and went in a little below Watt, but found the current very strong, and which drifted me down stream. Thinking I should be drowned, I shouted at Watt, "I’m gone." He with great presence of mind, reached his stick to me, which I grasped with the last hope of saving my life, and by this means bore up till I swim to Watt, who caught on to the tail of the nearest ox, thus giving me a hold on old "Lube’s" tail welcome hold too, and one which carried me safely to shore. Only for Watt’s coolness and bravery I would have lost my life at the very spot where Mr. Melville’s men were drowned the previous evening.

At Grande Ronde a happy surprise awaited us. Nelson Sargent, whose father was in our party, had met John Lane, who had arrived in advance of us, with the welcome news that a party of workmen had started out from Olympia and Steilacoom to make a road for us through the Naches Pass over the Cascades, ours being the first party of emigrants to attempt a crossing of the Columbia River north of The Dalles. Lane waited at Grande Ronde while Nelson Sargent came on to meet his aged parents.

Our party was re-united at Grande Ronde. E. A. Light, John Lane, and others, who had left us at the Elk Horn River, met us here and continued the journey with us across the Cascades. We went 50 miles farther, to the Umatilla to meet only strangers, was truly an event never to be forgotten, and one which my wife often refers to as a bright spot on memory’s page.

Before proceeding -with- my narrative, I will mention the fact of my arrival in this country with torn and ragged pants and coat, my cap tattered and torn, and with one boot on, the other foot covered with an improvised mocassin made from a piece of cow hide from one of the animals we had killed a few days previous. In this garb I was to meet a party of well dressed gentlemen from Olympia, who had heard of us from Andy Burge, and who, led by Mr. J. K. Herd, came out to welcome the first party of emigrants direct from the east over the Cascade Mountains north of The Dalles. My dress was a fair sample of that of the rest of the party, and when together we felt pretty well, all being in the same fashion, but when brought face to face with well dressed men, I must confess I felt somewhat embarrassed; but our new friends were equal to the emergency, and our embarrassment was soon dispelled by a copious draught of good old Bourbon, to which we did full justice, while answering questions amid hand shaking, hearty and genial. This was the 8th of October.

On the 10th of October Mr. Tolmie, chief factor of the Hudson’s Bay Company, stationed at Fort Nisqually, paid a visit, asking us numerous questions about our long journey, and arrival, and treated us in a very friendly manner, but soon left after bidding us a polite farewell. In about, three hours he returned with a man driving an ox cart which was loaded with beef, just killed and dressed, which he presented to us, saying, "It is a present to you," and a most welcome one it was at that time, for which we expressed heartfelt thanks to the generous giver. Leaving our families in camp, E. A. Light, John Lane and I started out to look for homes, after having received due notice from the Hudson’s Bay Company not to settle on any land north of the Nisqually River. We crossed the river and went to Yelm Prairie, a beautiful spot, I thought, as it lay before us covered with tall waving grass, a pretty stream flowing through it bordered with shrubs and tall trees, and the majestic mountain, which the Indians almost worshipped, and to which they gave the name Ta-ko-bed, as it seemed standing guard over all in its snowy coat. It was a scene for the artist’s brush, the most beautiful I had ever seen, and good enough for me; so I bought a house from Martin Shelton, but no land, as it was yet unsurveyed, and returned for my family. On this prairie the grass grew tall and rank, and herds of deer wandered leisurely as cattle in their pastures at home.

When I returned to camp, Bill Harmon, who had a logging camp on Puget Sound, was waiting for me, as he wanted my boys, John Moyer, Ivan Watt, and Bill Clafin, the latter having joined us at Fort Hall, to work for him and offered them $85 per month; but they declined until they saw me, when I assured them that I could get along without their help. Knowing that the boys were needy, I told them to go along, which they did, soon after getting an advance in salary to $100 per month. We started to our new home, my wife and children in one wagon drawn by three yoke of oxen, which she drove, and I went ahead with another wagon with four yoke of oxen.

Our carriage had long been left on Burnt River also the harness, which we saw afterwards on a pair of mules driven past us while on the emigrant trail. Arriving at home, we found a large number of Indians camped nearby, and about thirty of them came the first night to examine thing’s new to them, which they did, expressing surprise, or satisfaction, by grunts and guttural sounds, which were Greek to us. We found but three white families as neighbors, George Braile, a bachelor, Mr. and Mrs. Levi Shelton, and Mr. and Mrs. James Hughes, the latter at this time residents at Steilacoom. The following winter I took a donation claim, a portion of the farm on which I have since lived. Levi Shelton, and Mr. and Mrs. James Hughes, the latter at this time residents at Steilacoom. The following winter I took a donation claim, a portion of the farm on which I have since lived.

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