Introduction: D. B. Ward was not among Yelm’s first or permanent settlers, but he did write an account of his family’s move from Arkansas to the northwest. His connection with Yelm is teaching there in the mid-1860’s, a little over a decade after Yelm’s first settlers.
Across the Plains in 1853
By Dillis B. Ward
To the Prairie Schooners of 1853 and their sturdy pilots
Whittier, the good old Quaker poet, has written:
“I hear the tread of the pioneer,
Of nations yet to be;
The first low wash of waves,
Where soon shall roll a human sea.”
It is one thing- to read the thrilling story of that human sea as it splashed its way from the Mississippi Valley, across the “Great American Desert,” over the mountain passes, and on to the valleys and harbors of the Pacific slope. It is quite another thing to have been a part of that low wash of waves and then, in the twilight of life, reach back into memory and record for children and grandchildren the story of that dangerous journey. This has been done in these pages.
Not alone will the author’s family and friends get pleasure from these annals of the past, for it is from this and similar stories that the history of the West will draw the substance that will make it live; it is from such writings that the poet will derive the inspiration for the awaited American epic.
I am glad, for my children’s sake, that this story is written, and I greet it also as a welcome addition to the rich lore of the buffalo, the ox-team, the canvas-covered wagon creak on the long trail, and the brave men, women and children who matched their courage, their skill and their trust in God against danger of every kind. They triumphed or they died. The hearths they kindled are still ablaze. By the torches they lit, Americans may forever learn of loyalty to God and home and native land.
EDMOND S. MEANY.
University of Washington
Seattle, September, 1911
Across The Plains In 1853
Members of my own family and others have suggested—sometimes urged—that I put in writing some of the earlier experiences of my life,, especially incidents connected with that long and somewhat, at that time, perilous trip “Across the Plains” in A. D. 1853.
I am sure that if the history of such a trip should be written by one qualified (and I am equally sure I am not qualified for such an undertaking), it would make a wonderfully interesting story.
One need not draw upon his imagination for material for such a story—the mere statement of the facts connected with the incidents of almost daily occurrence would be sufficient.
However, I will tell as best I may, after a lapse of well nigh sixty years, without notes of any kind to aid my memory, of such incidents as come to my mind. To aid in getting a correct idea of what the prospective emigrant had before him, in his contemplated journey, it may he well to say: A look at the map of the United States, as it appeared fifty or sixty years ago, will reveal to the student of today many wonderful changes.
At that time the advancing line of American civilization had progressed in its Westward march till those hardy frontiersmen who had reached the Western limits of the States of Arkansas and Missouri, stood facing a vast region extending west to the Pacific Ocean, which, by the meandering and tortuous route of the adventurous traveler was more than 2,500 miles distant. With the exception of the few hardy settlers who had located along the Pacific Coast from California to the British possessions on the north, the country was substantially unoccupied, save by the many numerous and powerful tribes of Indians.
So little did the geography makers of that day know of this immense stretch of country that, where are now found populous and wealthy communities, they placed the legend “Great American Desert,” and thought, no doubt, they were giving reliable information to the rising generation.
A trip across this “Great American Desert” to the faraway Northwest—the Willamette Valley in Oregon—in 1853 was, to those who made it, full of interesting, sometimes exciting, incidents.
It was the good fortune of the writer of this article, then a boy of fifteen years of age, in company with the other members of his father’s family, to make such a trip.
Before proceeding further, however, let me add just a word personal to myself and family. I was born, so I understand the record to have been, three miles
from the town of Hartford, the county seat of Ohio county, in the state of Kentucky, on the 30th of June, A. D. 1838.
My mother (my father’s second wife), whose maiden name was Elizabeth Railey, died when I was but thirty days old, and I was brought up and cared for until I was twelve years old by an only sister (half-sister), who, though quite young, took entire charge of my father’s house until his marriage with his third wife, which occurred near the town of Batesville, in the county of Independence, Arkansas, when I was twelve years old, or in the latter part of 1850. This event occurred about five years after my father had removed from Kentucky to Arkansas.
Here I must digress long enough to say that I am not in sympathy with the thought so often expressed that step-mothers are proverbially unkind to the children of the husband by a former wife. No kinder, no better, mother ever lived than my step-mother. When my father married her, she had five children by her first husband, but no one coming into the house could have known by any word or act of hers which one of the six was the step-child.
My father and mother (step-mother) were Christians and lived happily together till his death, which occurred in Oregon, near Salem, in 1872.
My step-mother was a Mrs. Baltimore, whose husband died at Little Rock, the capital of the state, while representing his county, Independence, in the state legislature, of which, I have heard it said, he was a leading and prominent member.
My father, Jesse Ward, was born in Maryland in 1796, but with his parents moved to Kentucky when he was little more than a year old. At about the age of seventeen, father enlisted in a Kentucky regiment of volunteers, then being- raised in his county, and was sent with the other members of the regiment to New Orleans to assist General Jackson in the defense of that city. He was present at the great battle which occurred there on the 8th day of January, 1815, and witnessed the defeat of the British forces upon that occasion. I have heard him relate many incidents connected with that campaign, some of a serious nature, others ludicrous.
Returning at the close of the war to his Kentucky home, father followed the business for eighteen years, before there were any steamboats on the Mississippi river, of a “Mississippi river flatboat man.” He conducted the business on something like the following plan: He would take his crew for the following trip, usually five men besides himself, into the woods, get out material, construct and launch his boat, and, having loaded it with a cargo of pork and tobacco, float down the river to New Orleans; dispose of his cargo and boat—the latter for what it would bring, usually but a trifle—and then with his crew start on foot on the long trip home. I have heard him say his usual profits on such a trip would be about one thousand dollars. From the time he went into the woods till his return from New Orleans was about six months.
After the death of my mother, father moved from Ohio county, where he had always lived, to that part of Kentucky then known as “The Purchase,” where he lived for two years, and then with his family of three children, viz: Hester L. and Bazzel S., children by his first wife, who was a Miss Ford, and myself moved to Arkansas.
This move of my father, insofar as his personal interests were concerned, I would call a jump “out of the frying- pan into the fire.” But as related to my own future interests, a most fortunate circumstance; for if we had remained in Kentucky, we probably would not have gone to the Pacific Coast, and if we had not gone to the Pacific Coast, two very important thing’s might not have occurred. First, we would have, in common with the people of that section of the country, experienced the horrors of the war of the rebellion, and who can say on which side of it we might have been found? Second, if we had not come out to the Pacific Coast, I might not have come to Washington Territory, and might, therefore, have been tied up for life with some ordinary mortal rather than with the prettiest, brightest and best girl of all the earth, Miss Sarah Isabella Byles, daughter of Rev. Charles Byles, a minister of the Cumberland Presbyterian church, who with his family, crossed the plains from Kentucky in 1853, and who was of that first party of immigrants to cross the Cascade Mountains through the Matches Pass. Rev. Byles (“Uncle Charley Byles,” as he was familiarly called by his many friends), located, in the fall of 1853, on a homestead on Grand Mound Prairie, some sixteen miles south of Olympia, where he continued to live up to the time of his death, which occurred in February, 1870. Unlike many others who came to the coast in the early fifties, he did not leave his religion behind him, but brought it with him and continued to preach the same old Gospel truth he had preached before leaving his Kentucky home, working on his farm from Monday morning till Saturday evening for the support of himself and family, and then on Sunday, with hymn book and Bible, off to some distant appointment to preach to the settlers scattered throughout the counties of Thurston and Chehalis, without compensation other then the knowledge of duty well performed, till called to the higher and better life of the Great Beyond.
On his arrival in Arkansas, my father first settled in Jackson county, which was peopled by a class of rough, semi-civilized (not all of them, of course) people, who had little regard for human life and whose chief diet was corn bread and bear meat, sandwiched in with bad whiskey and tobacco juice.
Father was very much dissatisfied with the conditions as he found them there, and after raising and disposing of one crop of corn moved to a farm located about three miles from Batesville, which, at the time, contained a population of about 2,500, fully one-half of whom were colored people – slaves.
Father was at this time a very industrious and energetic man, and in a comparatively short time, not exceeding five years, had accumulated quite an amount of this world’s goods; that is to say, he owned 240 acres of land, of which about forty acres were in cultivation. The farm was well stocked and had good country buildings. He also owned and operated (for that time and country) extensive lime kilns, which were a source of cash income that went far toward helping on in that measure of financial success for which he toiled.
Nevertheless, father was not pleased with his surroundings. In the first place, he was a staunch member of what was there called “The Church North.” It must be remembered that about the year 1844, the Methodist Episcopal church had forbidden the ownership of slaves by its bishops. About this time one of its prominent bishops had married a widow who was the owner of a large number of slaves. This started a controversy in the great church, which ended in a split in that body– the one branch being known as the M. E. Church South, while for convenience, the mother church was called the M. E. Church North. This largely helped to bring about the agitation of the slave question which culminated in the secession of the Southern states and the Civil War. Father was anti-slavery – a Henry Clay Whig. The country where he lived was largely pro-slavery. All this, together with the fact that the climate was not healthy, there being scarcely a month in the year that some member of the family was not ill, led to dissatisfaction and a determination to get out of the state. But where to go was the puzzling question. It was while in this state of mind the Western Christian Advocate, of which paper father had been a regular reader, came to hand, containing a letter written by the Rev. Isaac Dillon, a minister of the M. E. church, then preaching to the few hardy pioneers in the Willamette Valley, Oregon. Rev. Mr. Dillion later had his home on Blakeley Island, San Juan county, in this state. He has since died. In this letter Rev. Mr. Dillon told the story so well that of the many attractions of the Pacific Coast in general and of the Willamette Valley (in the then Territory of Oregon) in particular, that after a brief family council, in which father, mother and the older children all were heard, it was resolved to go to Oregon.
The family at this time – summer of 1852 – consisted of father, mother, three stepbrothers. Francis M., Noel B. and John M.–and two step-sisters – Mary E. and Ada A. Baltimore – half brother, Kirkwood Clay Ward, about one year old, and myself, fifteen years old the following June – a total of nine persons. Besides these, there was a grown-up half-brother, Bazzle S. Ward, and also a half-sister, Hester L. Ward, grown to young womanhood, who joined the family of eleven persons. S”
Of the eleven, all but two – Ada A., now Mrs. Ellis of Spokane, and the writer – have gone on that longer journey, to that land from which none ever returned to tell of its beauties, its grandeur and its rest for the footsore travelers of earth.
It was in the month of June, 1852, that my people decided to locate in the Willamette Valley in Oregon Territory. Having arrived at this decision, the next thing was to make the necessary arrangements. And from that date, June, 1852, till the start was made, March 29th, 1853, thought, time and energy were all given to getting things in shape for the long journey.
Among the younger members of the family (probably the same was true also of the older ones), little was thought of or talked about except Oregon and how we were going to get there. In the innocence of our childhood, we looked upon the whole affair as a great picnic excursion. The seriousness of the matter did not occur to our youthful minds.
And, in all probability, had the older members of the family realized the magnitude of the undertaking, the difficulties to be overcome, the trials and privations to be endured along the way, some other place nearer home would have been selected.
First, by way of getting in readiness for the trip, the farm must be sold, the crops (we were farmers) disposed of and, later on, the household goods converted into cash. Then wagons must be bought. These must be selected with great care; they must not be too light or too heavy, and must be of the best possible material; tents, camp outfit, supplies, including a well-selected chest of medicines for emergency use, for six months, as it would take that length of time to make the trip, and there would be no opportunity for renewing the supply in case we should run short; and last, but by no means least in importance, the selection of ox-teams, on which so much would depend.
To all things earthly there is said to be an end, and so it came about that at the close of about eight months our preparations for the trip had all been completed and there now remained but one thing more to be done before entering upon the long and trying march, namely, the final good-byes, the separation from and leaving behind relatives and friends whom it was not probable we should ever again meet in this life. Should it be thought strange that upon such an occasion there were sad hearts! That eyes unaccustomed thereto were dimmed by tears, and that the voice failed and only the silence. A pressure of the hand gave evidence of the deep feeling of the heart? For, be it remembered that, to the friends left behind, it seemed as if we were tempting the fates and that, if not overcome by the elements, by floods and impassable mountains barriers, surly the scalping knife of the treacherous Indian would be our portion. However, the separations ended and the children in their childish way had viewed for the last time the swing in the old peach orchard, had picked gum from the old sweet-gum tree down by the spring and, for the last time, drank of that spring’s cool waters. I had been an invalid all my life, my weight at fourteen being but seventy-four pounds, and had been repeatedly told that I could not stand the trip, and that I would probably leave my bones somewhere by the way, but the traveling and camping life seemed to be just the thing for me, as I continued to improve from the first day of the journey to its close.
Our outfit consisted of four wagons, which contained bedding, wearing apparel, provisions, consisting chiefly of corn meal, flour, rice, beans, bacon, sugar and coffee; also one three gallon cask of the best proof brandy for medicinal purposes. Attached to each wagon was a team of from four to six oxen. We also had with us quite a band of cattle.
My step-mother’s brother, Hilary Cason, and family, and William Bently and his family; the former’s family consisting of his wife, a son and two daughters, the son being about six years of age, the daughters younger. Cason had two wagons with the usual outfit and teams. On arriving in Oregon, Cason located on a claim three miles east of Portland, near Mount Tabor. Some of his children and grandchildren are still living in Portland and vicinity. I think his widow is still living, but I do not know where. Bently’s family consisted of himself, wife grown-up son–deaf and dumb but very bright- and two younger daughters, both accomplished and quite handsome. His outfit, like that of Cason, consisted of two wagons, with teams and the usual supplies. Bently went on up the valley of the Willamette and located on the prairie east of Albany.
Our entire party, on leaving Batesville, was made up of the three families named, which, together with the hired men, teamsters, in all twenty-six persons, eight wagons and teams and the loose cattle, the latter being
owned by my father.
The first day out we broke a wagon wheel. That made it necessary for us to lay over one day while repairs ere being made.
Prior to starting, there was given into the writer’s care and keeping a mare, chestnut sorrel, Kit by name with an outfit consisting of a saddle, bridle, thirty feet of rope three-quarters of an inch in size, with a ten inch iron spike; the rope and spike to be used in “staking out” at night, or at feeding time. I was informed that if Kit became disabled or was lost on the way, I would have to “hoof it” for the rest of the distance. It is needless to say, Kit and I soon became fast friends, and I am pleased to be able to state both made the trip in safety, getting into our camp in the Waldo Hills, a few miles east of Salem, Oregon, in good shape, my weight, however, not having materially increased, but I was much improved in general health.
A CAPTAIN SELECTED.
Our route of travel led us through the northwestern part of the state and through what was then known as the Cherokee or Indian Territory, on the western border of which we made a stop of a day or two, and, having been joined by other emigrants [sic], it was thought best to organize by forming a semi-military company. This we did, choosing for captain a man by the euphonious name of Smith; we called him “Bob” Smith.
Smith proved himself an admirable man for the place. Our train consisted of eighteen wagons, having twenty-two men capable of bearing arms, besides about thirty-five women and children. We were now well on our way, having left behind us all traces of civilization other than that of our own party.
Parts of the Indian Territory through which we had passed, seemed, at this season of the year, a veritable paradise. Indeed, I think I have never seen a country more attractive to the eye than was this, interspersed as was that part through which we passed, with timber and prairie in about equal parts; the prairies all carpeted with young grass and flowers of many varieties, while many of the little streams and brooks were alive with silver perch and other fish. Many of the Cherokee Indians were owners of good farms, well stocked, and owned slaves, many of them no darker than their copper-colored masters.
With the exception of one man-Harrington by name-whom father had picked up without recommendation or previous acquaintance, to take the place of a Mr. Hensley, who was taken sick and had to give up the trip, not a person of the company had ever been beyond the white settlements or had the slightest knowledge or experience of such a trip. This man Harrington, claimed to have crossed the plains from St. Joe, Missouri, in 1849, but of this we were doubtful.
Somewhere, I know not where, we had secured what we called a “guide book,” which gave us the course of the streams, direction of the hills and mountain ranges, and the general features of the country. Through its aid, and by the exercise of the frontier’s man’s “instinct,” we were enabled to reach the main line of travel, at a point not far from the crossing of the Green River, now Northwestern Utah. Prior to this, except about 125 miles on the old Santa Fe trail, we had been following, as best we could, a trail at times wholly obliterated.
AN EARLY CALLER
I shall never forget how, as we were camped just in the edge of a narrow belt of timber which skirted a small stream on the western border of the Indian Territory, the entire camp was alarmed at the unexpected appearance in our midst of a real, live Indian. Stretching off to the west, as far as the eye could reach, was a vast level plain, without so much as a shrub or bush to obstruct the vision.
Someone of our party, looking out over this plain, discovered, very early in the morning, a lone horseman coming on the jump directly towards our camp. As this was an unlooked for event, all eyes were soon turned in the direction of the rider, who continued to approach; nor did he stop till the middle of the camp was reached, when, with an “ugh!” he dismounted, threw his hair rope-lariat-to the ground and proceeded to make himself at home.
He was dressed in Nature’s rude habiliments, save the aboriginal breech-cloth and a blanket thrown over the left shoulder, drawn around the body and fastened on the right side, leaving the right shoulder and arm exposed, giving free use to the member.
His head was shaved, except a tuft of long hair on the top and back of the head, into which were woven the usual eagle’s feathers.
His face was smeared or streaked with some sort of yellow and red paint.
He was a good specimen of the wild Indian of the plains, and belonged, as
we afterward learned, to the Osage tribe. He could not speak in his tongue,
the little communication which took place between him and members of our party, who were not too badly frightened to talk to him, was by sign
After he had spent a half hour inspecting our camp, he quietly mounted his
pony and left us. That night our guard was doubled, as it was thought Mr.
Indian was surely a spy and that he would return within the next twenty-four hours, accompanied by many braves, and attempt to capture or kill our entire party. However, we soon became used to seeing Indians; the nervous ones got over being nervous, and all settled down to business just a if the plains and camp life with hostile Indians and immense herds of buffalo, had always been our next door neighbors.
A PATHETIC SCENE.
Pathetic indeed was the first grave we saw on the plains. I was that of a
young woman belonging to an emigrant train next ahead of ours. The brief
funeral services had just been concluded and the sorrowing ones had again
taken up the line of march as we approached the grave, which was upon the gently slopping side of a hill looking towards the west. I do not remember the name, or where the warty was from, nor did we ever again see any of its members. But, far away from home, surrounded by scenes both new and strange, the young life but recent so full of hope, went out despite the soothing touch of a mother’s loving hand or a father’s earnest prayer. They buried her there beside the trail, amidst the solitude of the desert; and oh, how it did seem as if the heart of those sorrowing ones would break as they looked for the last time upon that lonely spot, so far from home, so far from everywhere.
MOUNTAIN STREAMS TO CROSS.
Our course led us across many of the streams which at that season of the
year were running bank full and were not, therefore, fordable.
The first one of these to be crossed was the Cache la Poudre, and this is
the way we did it. Arriving upon its banks about eleven o’clock a.m., we
went into camp, and while noon lunch was being prepared the men were
devising some plan for getting across the stream. There was very little
timber on this stream, but two dry bits of logs were found, which being
lashed together made a raft of sufficient size to carry a man. On this one
of our men, William Ruble, who is perhaps still living in Oregon, seated
himself, paddle in hand. Around his waist was fastened the end of a strong
twine cord, the ball of this being held in the hands of another man who
remained on the bank. While the man on the little raft pushed out into the
stream and succeeded in making a landing on the opposite bank, some half
mile below the starting point, the man with the ball running along down the stream in order to keep as near as possible to the one on the raft. In this way we had spanned the stream – with a twine string. Then securely
fastening a stout rope to one end of the twine, the man on the other side of the stream was enabled to draw the rope across. By putting out a headline we had our rope ready for work. Our ferryboat was made by lashing together two wagon boxes, which had been caulked. Into this craft we placed out goods and chattels, then the women and children, and in less than twenty-four hours the entire outfit had been safely transferred to the opposite bank of the stream.
Our cattle and horses had to swim the stream, at this point about one hundred feet wide, with a strong current.
IN THE BUFFALO COUNTRY
A very pleasant part of our route was that along the Arkansas River, which we followed for a distance of perhaps one hundred and twenty-five miles, possibly more. It was while the following the course of this stream, and along the old Santa Fe trail, we ran into an immense herd of buffalo. You would like to know how many there were in that herd? I do not know. There may have been one hundred thousand, there may have been five hundred thousand.
It was probably two o’clock in the afternoon while we were traveling along the level valley with the river from one to two miles to our left, the hills perhaps two to five miles to our right, and sloping back for many miles, that we entered the herd, for they simply opened up a sort of lane way through which we passed. We did not get through till six-thirty that evening-four and one-half hours.
Of course our train of ox-teams moved slowly, but we must have traveled at least five miles before we passed through the herd, which stretched off to the right and left as far as the eye could reach; so far away that a buffalo seemed no larger than a man’s hat,-mere specks on the sides of the distant hills.
It would seem as if the protecting hand of Providence was over us, for if anything had occurred to set that vast herd of buffalo in motion, probably not one of our company would have lived to tell how it all happened.
We traveled till quite late that evening in order to put as many miles as possible between us and this immense herd of buffalo.
The next day we remained in camp, and while there were no buffalo in sight when we rose the next morning, it did not take long to find them by the thousands. We feasted on buffalo meat that day and the next, but were soon out of the range. I think the most vicious appearing animal I ever saw was an enraged buffalo bull, brought to bay by a pack of dogs. And about the most docile and foolish thing I ever saw was a young buffalo calf. The calves, of which there were many, seemed to be guided solely by instinct, and that of a very poor quality. A person on horseback might ride out through the herd, which was three to five miles from camp, and be followed in by two or three buffalo calves.
Buffalo veal and the flesh of the heifers, which at this time of the year were fat, made fine eating. Upon them we feasted to our hearts’ content while in the buffalo country.
AN ENRAGED BUFFALO BULL
I will remember the last buffalo I saw. It was in the afternoon, and as our train was wending its weary way along, looking off to the right of the trail we discovered, perhaps a half or three-quarters of a mile away, three old fellows quietly feeding. Immediately two of our men, with three dogs, started out to have a “little sport.” The dogs singled out one of the three, an immense old bull, as poor as that “Job’s turkey” of which we have all heard, and soon “brought him to bay.” As soon as the men got within shooting distance they fired at the old brute, wounding him only slightly. Immediately he started for the river. To reach it he would have to pass through our train which was stretched out for quite a distance in the direct line of his march. In order that his onward march might not be impeded by our wagons and teams, the drivers had all turned their teams on the trail with their heads towards the river, thus throwing back ends of the wagons in the direction from which he was coming, and at the same time opening up gaps through which it was hoped he would be delighted to pass without stopping on his way to the river. There was one team, however, a pair of mules attached to a light spring wagon-a family rig which upon this occasion was being driven by a young woman, a Miss Brewer (many of her relatives are now living in the counties of Thurston and Chehalis, in this state) who failed, for some reason, to so place her team. On came the enraged buffalo, smarting from, the wounds he had received and harassed by the dogs, which were yelping, at his heels. The men, meanwhile who had gone out to have a “little sport,” had not dared top fire at him for fear a stray bullet might strike the wrong object. In his maddened condition, it so happened that he struck the train at that point where Miss Brewer’s team was standing, striking first one of the hind wheels of the wagon, he tossed it with his horns as though it had been a bag of straw; the next instant he made for the near mule, which he severely gored in the flank then in the breast just forward of the left shoulder. All this occurred within the space of a minute of time. Meanwhile several shots had been taken at the thoroughly maddened beast, the fatal shot, however, and the one which immediately ended the trouble, was fired by a young man whose name was Ivan Bentley, the dear mute before referred to.
We left the worthless carcass of the buffalo, and the wounded mule where the incident occurred, and passed on, soon forgetting in the presence of other incidents of peril, that of the enraged buffalo.
INDIANS IN LARGE NUMBERS APPEAR
We had not for a long while met with an Indians, but toward the latter part of the afternoon we had noticed them in large numbers. We had traveled in order to reach a certain camping place, much later than usual on this day. Just as we were going into camp we were quite surprised, and pleased also, to see a lieutenant and half a dozen men, all wearing the uniform of men belonging to the American army, approaching us, for we had not liked the appearance of the Indians we had been seeing during the afternoon.
However, we were not, at first, pleased with the message delivered us by the lieutenant. It was in substance that we must not go into camp where we were; that the country round about us was infested by Indians who were not friendly; that only a short distance away was a post or fort, garrisoned by United States troops; that it was quite possible, on account of the nearness of this post, that the Indians would not disturb us. The commandant of the post had learned of our train and had thought it best for us to come on to the fort that night and had sent these men out as an escort. We therefore moved on, and in a short time reached the fort and went into camp under the protection of the Stars and Stripes. We were beneath the shadow of the flag where none dare molest or make us afraid.
Under orders from the fort, we were not permitted to turn our stock upon the range as usual, but kept them within our corral, make by forming our wagons in a circle and keeping the stock tied inside of this circle or corral. The stock was fed from wild hay furnished by the troops.
The next morning the reason for all this was made clear, when we discovered that several thousand Indians were camped as near the fort as safety would permit and that the post guard had been doubled that night.
Several tribes were represented at this gathering. Fortunately for us they all left that forenoon and we were permitted to move on. The Indians had been here for about two weeks, holding some kind of a council. The Pawnees, Araphoes, and some other tribes. The Araphoes were thoughtful enough to tell us they would see us again, and they did.
We had now passed Ash Creek, Pawnee Rock and Pawnee Fork, three points on the Santa Fe trail, that in later years became historic because of the persistency with which the Indians attacked all who were called to pass through that part of the country. Many a poor fellow lost his scalp and his life in that troublous, turbulent country.
Providence was very kind to us on this long and weary journey, for through sickness, difficulties and dangers with which our way was beset almost from start to finish, we were permitted to pass on to the end of out journey without the loss of any member of our family, or indeed, so far as I know, any member of our entire party.
FORCED TO GO WITHOUT SUPPER
I call to mind just now, how one afternoon some day prior to our reaching the fort, as we were traveling along the Santa Fe trail, we found ourselves quite a distance from the Arkansas River, by reason of that stream flowing off to the south, forming a sort of horseshoe at this point. Our route lay across, so to speak, the open end or heel of the shoe. Meanwhile our captain, having ridden on ahead of the train for the purpose of finding a camping place-that is, a place where water and grass could be had for our teams. This we undertook to do. The afternoon had been cloudy and warm. As soon as it began to get dark, the lightning commenced to flash, accompanied by distant peals of thunder. In less than one hour after dark the lightning became almost continuous, flash succeeding flash in rapid succession (may I say with lightning like rapadity? [sic]) and the thunder no longer distant, seemed to shake the very earth beneath our feet. In the midst of all this, the rain began to come down, at first in occasional drops, but soon in torrents, until our teams became unmanageable and we were forced to stop, loosen them from the wagons and go into camp, soaking wet, and without anything to eat. After an hour of this sort of thing, the storm passed, enabling the men to get the stock together, which was held under guard till early next morning, when the march was resumed and continued until about nine o’clock, when coming to a delightful spot where there was wood, water and grass in abundance, a combination not often met with, we made camp and proceeded to prepare breakfast, which we ate with a relish, not having had a square meal for more than twenty-four hours.
It was while camped here that we were surprised by a white man, on foot, making his appearance in our camp and asking for something to eat. He was dressed in ordinary citizen’s clothes and carried a United States musket and Colt’s revolver. He told us a horrible story of how they had been set upon by the bloodthirsty Pawnee Indians and all except himself either killed or carried off int captivity. He further stated that he was trying to make his way back to the States. After eating a hearty meal, he started on his way, loaded with all he cared to carry of the best we had in the way of eatables. He left us about frightened “out of our boots,” as we fully believed all he told us. That night our guard was doubled, and I well remember how my father sat the night through in the door of our tent with his trusty rifle across his knees, prepared in case on an attack by the Indians to defend with his life, if need be, his family.
The long night ended and the sun came out bright and clear next morning, and again we were spared. Great was the indignation of our party when, a day or so later, it was learned that our man who claimed to have just escaped the murderous savages, and whom we had treated so royally, was a deserter from the United States troops stationed at the post to which I have already referred. We afterwards heard, I do not know through what channel, that Mr. Deserter was, soon after leaving us, killed and scalped by the Indians.
A few days after leaving the fort we passed the old adobe trading post of the Bent brothers, which at this time was deserted, and soon after we left the old Santa Fe trail entirely. After leaving this trail, which turned into the south and across the Arkansas River, our course lay on up the river in a northwesterly direction.
Nothing worthy of not occurred in this part of the country except the immense herds of antelope. Of these we killed enough to keep us well supplied with the choicest of fresh meat.
For many weeks after leaving the Santa Fe trail, we followed what I think must have been Fremont’s trail, as he made his way across the county in 1843.
We left the Arkansas River at old Pueblo, a settlement of people,–half-bred Mexicans and Indians,- who had located on that river near where Boiling or Turkey Creek empties into it. IT was a delightful spot. Here on this creek I saw the last wign of wild turkeys. It might not be amiss to say that for some ten or more days before reaching Boiling Creek, we had been traveling along in sight of the Spanish Peaks, which were off to our left.-that is, southwest of us.
I call to mind my first sight of a snow-capped mountain. It looked something like a white cloud in the distance and nothing was thought of it for several days; but when day after day it appeared in about the same place, with little or no change, we all began to wonder, and as day followed day for more than a week, “still the wonder grew,” until our man Harrington, who claimed to have seen such things before, informed us it was not a cloud but a snow-capped mountain.
DECEPTIVE DISTANCES IN COLORADO
This reminds me of how, as we were traveling along on a hot forenoon, we saw off to our left, well up in the head of a ravine, a pile of snow which seemed to be not more than a half mile from where we were. It occurred to two of our young men that it would be a nice thing to have some of that snow. Taking a bucket apiece, they started at about ten o’clock a.m., each to bring in a bucket of it. We traveled on till noon, had our lunch and resumed our march. In the evening at about the usual time, we went into camp, but our boys with their buckets were still absent. We were becoming quite uneasy about them and a half dozen of our men were arming themselves and getting their horses saddled preparatory to going in search of them, thinking some ill must have befallen them, when, to the great joy of all, they made their appearance. Their story was that they had traveled till about the middle of the afternoon without seemingly having gotten any nearer to desired object than when they left us in the forenoon. In no country in the world is the atmosphere clearer, distances more deceiving than in Colorado and we were at this time in what is now part of that state.
The experience of these young men reminds me of the oft told story of a traveler out in Colorado, who, coming to an irrigation ditch only a few feet across and not more than “knee deep,” espied a man sitting upon the edge of the ditch disrobing himself. Being a little curious to know why he was doing so, asked him what he was going to do. The answer was, “I’m going to swim this river.” “But,” said the stranger, “this is no river; it’s only a small irrigation ditch.” “Oh, you can’t fool me mister, I know it don’t seem so mighty wide nor so awful deep, but you can’t tell anything about it out here in Colorado. I’m going to swim this here river.”
WHERE DENVER NOW STANDS
After leaving the Arkansas River at Pueblo, our course for some distance was almost due north, leading us up a stream which we called Turkey Creek to the divide between the waters flowing into the Arkansas River and those flowing into the south fork of the Platte River. After reaching the summit of this divide, we followed down Cherry Creek to where it emptied into South Platte and camped where the city of Denver now stands. It was a delightful place, with plenty of wood and water and the best of feed for our stock. We remained here from about noon until the morning of the next day, when we resumed our journey, crossing Cherry Creek, and a short distance above its mouth we crossed the South Platte. This last stream we forded, but in order to do so had to put blocks under our wagon-beds, or boxes, thus raising them to the tops of the standards, as the fording was deep. The current of the river was very strong and the quicksands in the bed of the stream did not make the crossing less dangerous. Near the headwaters of Cherry Creek, we met a party of five prospectors with their pack animals, who had been out prospecting for gold, but not having been successful, were returning to the “States” disappointed, declaring there was nothing worth looking for in all that country, which later on proved so rich in the precious metal.
INTO THE POCKY MOUNTAINS
Soon after leaving the South Platte our route of travel took us into the Rocky Mountains, which was by far the roughest and most difficult part of our trip. Sometimes we had great bogs or marshes to cross, sometimes for miles our trail led us through almost impassable forests, and at other times we were climbing steep mountains or crossing deep ravines. On the fourth day of July, just as we were emerging from a rugged bit of mountain, covered with a growth of scrub timber, we crossed the head of a deep ravine on a bridge of snow or ice, from beneath which, a short distance away, flowed a beautiful stream of clear and perhaps I need not add, cold water. Soon after crossing the ravine, we came out on to the top of a long, high ridge where there was no timber. The day was cloudy and so cold that we had to but on our overcoats, while the women and children kept themselves in the wagons under a double portion of cover. Just how long we were in getting through the mountains I am not sure, but not less than two weeks, possibly three.
A DRY CAMP
It was while we were “floundering” (I think of no better word for it) along through there mountains, it happened that on a certain day, just after noon, we struck into a forest of large timber, — pine I think it was, — in which we were forced to camp that night, and as there was neither food or water for our stock, we were of necessity forced to make a “dry camp” of it. This was another unpleasant night for us.
The next morning we were up early, and having eaten something left over from the day before, were just in the act of “hitching up” when there commenced to pour into our camp from the west, along the trail we were to pass over, a band of Arapahoe warriors. They continued to come on horseback, till there were perhaps two hundred of them. They had been out on the warpath against some tribe – perhaps the Blackfeet Indians – and were loaded with the trophies of war, not the least conspicuous of which were divers and sundry scalps which were dangling from their spear heads and Indian Bridles. They were becoming quite annoyed, and things began to look anything but pleasing for us, when our captain ordered our bugler, – and he was a good one, too – to blow the signal, three loud blasts of the bugle, for the company to form and move on. This he did. The effect on the Indians was magical; at the first blast those of the Indians who had dismounted immediately mounted their ponies; the second blast set them talking in a most excited manner, and before the sound of the third blast had dies away, they were moving off in a great hurry. Never before or since had the sound of that old bugle had so much music in it as upon this morning, in the midst of that Rocky Mountain forest, surrounded as we were by hundreds of Arapahoe warriors.
OTHER UNWELCOME VISITORS
About eleven o’clock that day we left the forest behind us and came out upon a most beautiful little prairie, where there was plenty of feed for our hungry cattle and horses. Here we stopped, and finding water handy, had our breakfast, while our stock was also cared for. This prairie was a sort of butte, at the foot of which there was a sort a narrow belt of timber in the direction we were going. Looking on over and beyond this belt into a valley, which was some five miles away, we saw what appeared to be a very large camp of emigrants. We were quite sure there were only four parties of emigrants attempting this year to follow the route we had taken, and we did not know one of these was following us. We did not know where the others were, but were satisfied they were some days in advance of us, as in many places their trail had been altogether obliterated by the occasional heavy rain-storms, by the buffalo and by lands of the Indians with their horses, so we were quite surprised to this supposed camp of them only a few miles in advance of us.
Immediately upon his arrival in camp, the interpreter, acting under direction of his superior, the chief, dismounted and was handed by that individual a document, which he proceeded to read. The substance of it was, that a treaty had been made between the United States government and this particular tribe of Indians. By the terms of which they were ever after to remain at peace with the government and its citizens, and that all citizens of the United States were to be permitted to pass unmolested through the country of the Arapahos. The old chief, at the conclusion of the reading of this important and exceedingly nerve quieting document, proceeded to deliver an address, which was given us in good English by the interpreter, in which he emphasized the thought that we were in the ‘house of our friends,’ so to speak. On this point we were a little skeptical.
Having finished our meal and having given our stock sample time to feed, we were again soon on the move. Our road led us down the side of the butte and through the valley, where we had seen what proved to be Indian’s camp.
A NARRORW ESCAPE FROM SERIOUS TROUBLE.
We had with us at the time a buffalo calf which one of our cows had kindly consented to adopt. This calf seemed an object of great interest to the Indians. However, all went well until about two-thirds of the way down the hill, when all of a sudden the Indians who were following from our resting place on the butte, seemed to have become uncontrollably hilarious. They shouted, they laughed, they yelled, and swung their blankets, and ran to and fro, the purpose being to have us think they were overjoyed at something or other, while their real purpose was to not only create a stampede of our stock, but of our teams as well in which, if they had seen successful—and it came too close to it for comfort—would have been the wreck and ruin of the whole train. Once more providence was with us. About that time we had reached the foot of the butte and were approaching the Indian camp, our highly-prized buffalo calf, in which every member of the train had learned to take a lively interest, met its doom. A party of braves had managed to separate it from the stock we were driving, and taking it only a short distance from the road, in less time than it takes me to write, they had killed it and divided its flesh among its savage captors. We had now arrived within about one hundred yards of the Indian camp, to which the old chief had preceded us when, without a moment’s warning, from a command given by the old traitor, three hundred Indian warriors were drawn directly across our line of march. Of course there was nothing left for us to do that but stop, which we did? There were about four hundred, all told, by these warriors. They were, for the most part, armed with bows and arrows, spears, knives, and tomahawks; a few of them having guns, while our men were well armed with rifles and revolvers—colt’s six shooters. We were taken at a disadvantage, in that the Indians were all around and about us and out-numbered us nearly twenty to one. From the time we left our moon camp on the hill to the present moment, they had been growing more impudent, not to say insolent, and it now really seemed as if we could have serious trouble before we got out of this scrape. Of course we had been thrown off our guard by the great pretensions of the old chief, that his people were friendly; that by the treaty we were at liberty to pass through his country without being interfered with in any way whatever. The halt having been made, a parley was at once entered into, the outcome of which was that they had been on the warpath against any other tribe (I think the Black feet Indians) for some time and had been successful—and the number of scalps in sight bore evidence that in this, at least, they were telling the truth—and were very hungry, and that while they were willing we should pass through there country, we should, in as much as we had plenty, pay them for the privilege; that a contribution of flour, sugar and hardtack would be acceptable. This suggestion, backed up as it was by about four hundred braves who seemed to have the “drop on us”, it was thought best to accept, in view of the fact, further-more that if we had to fight our way out, some of us would undoubtedly be killed, and that perhaps some of our women and children would fall into the hands of the Indians. A collision between our company and the Indians was narrowly averted more than once during our detention of about three hours; for there were two young women in our company, one tion of about three hours; fo;________________________________________________________________________________________________having a head of beautiful red hair, the other driving the team attached to the light spring wagon before referred to, in which the Indians seemed to take great interest and argued that these two young women must be left with them. However, a vigorous punch in the ribs with the muzzle of a rifle in the hands of one of our men satisfied them that we were not of their way of thinking on the subject. After we had made over contribution, we were permitted to move on, which we were not slow in doing. I was not one of the adult members of the company; I was not supposed to be large enough or of sufficient importance to be armed. It was my business, with others, to look after “the loose” stock—that is, the horses and cattle not attached to the wagons, while on the march. This kept me quite busy during our detention by the Indians, and while so engaged I wondered what I would do in cast of actual hostilities. Boy like, though I was not armed. I thought I could be of help in some way but was not sure in just what way I could be most useful, but finally decided that if the battle went against us, Kit and I would make our escape as best we could. Kit was not over fleet of foot but I had great confidence in her, and did not seem very much troubled as to what the outcome would be. I also remember thinking, if I should fall into the hands of the Indians, I would soon be able to convince them I was a pretty good sort of a boy, anyway, and I would be able to get along with them without any very serious trouble until an opportunity of escape offered.
This trouble with the Indians occurred in one of the most delightful little valleys imaginable, with high mountains on both sides of it. It was our purpose to put as great a distance between ourselves and the Indians before camping as possible. We traveled, therefore, till after sundown that afternoon, and coming to a desirable camping place, decided to stop for the night. We had formed the usual corral with our wagons and were just getting our teams ready to turn out to feed, when quite unexpectedly to us, two white men on horseback rode up and warned us not to attempt to stop there over night; that if we did we would surely have trouble with the Indians before morning; that we were within about two miles of the North Platte, where the two companies of emigrants whom we knew to be somewhere in advance of us, were camped; that there were with them about two hundred fighting men : that if we would “hitch up ‘ and move on, they would pilot us to their camp. These men had been out as a sort of advance picket line, and had fortunately discovered us, hence the warning.
Of course we moved on, and under the guidance of our newly found friends, reached their camp without further incident. The women folks, on whom the incidents and excitement of the last twenty-four hours had been specially trying, although perhaps no more so than on the men. were tired, worn out and nervous. On getting up the next morning, we found ourselves camped on the bank of the North Platte, which was up to the high water mark, made so by the melting of the snow on the mountains. These people had been here for quite a while, having had much difficulty in getting across the river on account of the high water, the current being- very strong at this point, as we were well up in the mountains. Had they gotten across and away before we arrived, I hardly know how we would have succeeded in getting over, as this river was much larger and the current much swifter than any stream we had yet crossed. .
CROSSING THE NORTH PLATTE.
By noon of the next day after our arrival, they were all safely across the river, but as our rope was not long enough to reach across they not only allowed: us to use theirs but also assisted us in getting over, so that by evening all our belongings with the exception of three wagons, were on their side of the river. We were using two of our wagon boxes for a ferry boat-Unfortunately, as our ferry was returning empty for another load, something went wrong which caused our headline to break and away went our ferry boat—wagon boxes. However, we were fortunate in being able to pick them up about two miles below, where they had gotten into an eddy and floating near the shore, were caught. This left myself and eight men;
my father being one of them, for that night on the side of the river from which we were crossing. To add to the unpleasantness of the situation, we were without food or bedding, and having worked hard all day with only a lunch for dinner, we were a pretty hungry set next morning- when at about nine o’clock, having succeeded in getting our boat up the stream and in working order, we crossed over and had breakfast.
That night, not knowing but that the Indians might attack us early the next morning (we were never afraid of an attack at night, as this was contrary to all customs among them), we had drawn three wagons onto the bank of the river in the form of a half circle and had arranged that two men should keep watch alternately for two hours, while the others slept. I, being only a boy, was excused from doing guard duty. About two o’clock next morning we were awakened by the guards, who said we were about to be attacked by the Indians; that they were approaching us on their horses and we must sell our lives as dearly as possible. To add to the seriousness of our predicament at this time, it must be remembered we were wholly unarmed, all of our firearms having been sent over the river during the afternoon with our other effects. The camp on the Opposite side of the river was powerless to help us, but their guards had discovered that something was wrong on our side of the river, and when they were made to understand the nature of the trouble, we could occasionally catch their words of encouragement above the gurgling noise of the on-flowing river. When the tramping of the hoofs of the Indians horses could be plainly heard across the river, our friends fired a few volleys, which, together with our own yelling (it seemed to me we were making noise enough for ten times our number of men) served to cause a hasty retreat of the Indians. Looking at the matter from this distance of time, I am sure the Indians had no thought of attacking us, for they were, of course, wholly ignorant of our helpless condition, but that a number of them had ridden over to the river expecting that possibly they might find some of our stock which they
might run off. Fortunately, our stock was all on the opposite side of the river.
This crossing of the North Platte proved to be the last stream we were compelled to cross in our own extemporized ferry boat. The next stream to be ferried was the Green River, which we crossed about one hundred miles east of Salt Lake City, on a ferry run by a white man; and we were not slow in availing ourselves of the privilege of crossing on it, though we had to pay roundly for it.
Just after getting through the Rock Mountains, I had an attack of “mountain fever,” which took me out of the saddle and compelled me to ride in a wagon for about ten days. On regaining health and strength I again took to the saddle, which I continued to occupy with the exception of one week—when Kit, along with the rest of our cattle and horses, stampeded—until the end of our journey. There were a few days during my illness that I was unconscious, so a short break was made in my personal knowledge of the trip. When I had sufficiently recovered to begin to take an interest in what was going on about us I missed the presence of my father, and upon inquiry learned that he, too, was very ill with an attack of mountain fever. For a month he seemed to hover between life and death, but finally recovered, but was never the rugged, healthy man he had previously been.
With these two exceptions, there was no sickness in our family while we were on this long journey. |
STRIKING THE OLD TRAIL. |
It was a short time before we reached Green River that we struck the main traveled road from St. Joe to the Pacific Coast; and what a change! Before all this, we had been following- a trail so dim—except a while on the Santa Fe—that at times we would have to stop, being- in doubt as to what course or direction to take. We now found ourselves on a broad highway from twenty feet to five hundred feet in width. On the route we had been traveling-, we had, with one or two exceptions, the best of feed in greatest abundance, while after striking this great highway feed was scarce everywhere. Neither had we been seriously bothered by the dust or troubled by the alkali; but from this on, the dust was almost intolerable and the alkali in many places very troublesome. Before this, game was quite plentiful at many points along- the way, while after reaching the main thoroughfare, we saw absolutely no game. When reaching this point, our stock having had plenty of feed, were in fine condition, but we were not slow to note the different appearance of the stock of those who had traveled on the main line.
While, as before stated, there were but four companies of emigrants on our route that year until after we had crossed the Rocky Mountains, and weeks and weeks at a time when we saw no civilized persons not members of our party, there was no time after we reached this point until after reachin the point where the Oregon road branched off from the road leading California, that we were not “in sight” of some party, other than our own, of emigrants. While the emigration of 1853 was not so heavy as that of 1852, there were thousands of people that year (1853) bound for the Pacific Coast
Prior to our reaching- the main traveled route across the plains, we had not lost a single head of our cattle or horses, and did not see any dead stock along- the road; but after this, the sight was a familiar one. The
stench from these carcasses was at times, because of their great number, something awful. Neither had we lost any of our wagons, but it was now a matter of almost daily occurrence to pass one or more wagons, loaded or partly loaded, standing beside the road or at the last camping place of some party.
And the graves, of which we had up to this time seen but one, now lined the road, most of them, however, of persons who had died the year before. Of these, we counted at one place twenty-one, said to have died of cholera.
“A TRADING POST.”
It was just before reaching Bear River that we saw our first “trader.’ He was a Mormon and located near the road-side, and had for sale flour, bacon, sugar, tobacco and a few other articles. My folks thought we would probably run short of flour before reaching our journey’s end, and so bought one barrel, for which they paid him forty dollars. This we thought an exorbitant price, as we had paid but two dollars and seventy-five cents per barrel at home for the best, and this we had purchased was not the best. As I now think of it, the wonder is we did not have to pay more than we did.
Our route led us east and north of Great Salt Lake some distance, possibly at no point were we nearer than seventy-five to one hundred miles of it. However, we were near enough to meet, from time to time, a number of Mormons, of whom we were in constant fear. More to be dreaded were they than the Indians. While passing- through this part of the country, it was no unusual sight to see great piles of wagon tires and in fact all parts of iron pertaining to a well finished wagon, lying- along-side the road. This was to us at first unaccountable, but we later learned that the Mormons had, after taking- to their settlements such as they needed for their own use, gathered up the wagons, great number of which, as before stated, had been abandoned by the emigrants, and burned them and then collected the iron, which they also later on took to their settlements and used as best served their purpose.
A MORMON TRICK.
Arriving- at the crossing- of Thomas Fork of Bear River, we found a Mormon had built a bridge across it at the only available fording- place in that immediate vicinity, and was doing- a thriving’ business, charging seventy-five cents for every wagon and team that crossed over on his bridge. To have treated him as he deserved would have been to throw both man and bridge into the river, but this would have been to invite serious trouble with the entire Mormon community, backed by the numerous Indians of the territory. This we could not afford to do, but a ford was found three miles above, which meant an extra six miles travel, as it was simply going- up the river on one side and down on the other to the intersection of the road at the opposite end of the bridge, which we did rather than submit to what we considered an unjust demand. However, most of the emigrants paid the seventy-five cents, so that Mr. Mormon was, after all, reaping a golden harvest.
The actions of this man were completely eclipsed by the fellow (Mormon No. 2) who, at the next stream we had to cross, had constructed a bridge about two-thirds of the distance across the stream, stopping about ten feet from the shore, where the water ran perhaps a foot deep. He had been kind enough to give his bridge a sort of slant from the starting point to where it ended, so that at the lower end, or “jumping-off place,” it was about on a level with the water, and as the bottom of the stream was a solid gravel bed we had no great difficulty in getting off the bridge and onto the bank. So as far as we knew, this was the only fording place on the stream and as the charge for crossing was only twenty-five cents, we thought we had best pay it and get out of the territory as soon as possible.
Not many days after this I saw the first sulphur springs, of which there were several location within the space of a few acres. These were very strongly impregnated with sulphur. I drank of the water, but it was not, to my uncultivated palate, a much desired drink. Soon after passing these springs, we came to the “parting of ways,” that is, where the road to Oregon left the California road—the Oregon road leading off in a northwesterly direction, while that to California seemed to lead in an almost due westerly course. As a matter of fact, we were now in Oregon, as the territory at that time extended west to the summit of the Rocky Mountains; but as our destination was the Willamette Valley, which was many hundreds of miles away, we did not consider ourselves in Oregon until that valley had been reached.
PARTING OF THE WAYS
As a portion of our company was bound for California, it was at this “parting of ways” we separated. There were no elaborate ceremonies of long drawn out good-byes indulged in to commemorate the event. It was simply, “There is your California road,” or, “There is your road to Oregon. Good-bye,” and each party was off to its chosen land of promise.
Soon after leaving the California road, as we were slowly wending our way along the dusty road with the hear almost unendurable, we were delighted to find a spring of clear waster bubbling forth from beneath a stony hillside just off the road a short distance. In order that all who wished might have an opportunity to quench their thirst at this beautiful fountain, the train was brought to a standstill and a general rush made for the spring, some with cups and some with buckets. It was my luck to be the first to reach it, and not waiting for a cup, stretched myself out, boy-like, on my stomach, for the purpose of getting a good drink of cold water. What to my surprise—for I had never seen or heard of such a thing before—to find the water was boiling hot. I was disappointed, but had my wits about me sufficiently to keep my mouth shut until several other who had rushed up about the same time with their cups, had made a like discovery. It is needless to say we did not refresh ourselves with any cooling draughts from that spring. None of my people had ever before seen a hot spring. From this point our route led us over onto the tributaries of Snake River, which we reached some distance about American Falls, These were, by the way, the most picturesque and interesting falls we had seem, chiefly by reason of the largest volume of water carried
A VALUABLE HORSE STOLEN
If I am not mistaken, it was just after passing these falls that we camped on a small stream called Goose Creek. Another party, perhaps not more than fifteen or twenty persons, were camping on this creek about two hundred yards from us. There was with this party a man who had a stallion, worth in Oregon at this time, from $1,000 to $1,500, which he was bringing across the plains, and which he had guarded most carefully, not allowing anyone else to care for him for fear something might happen to him or that he might in some way lose him. On this particular occasion, as upon many others, he has, after supper was over and it was just getting dark, taken his horse out that is might feed for an hour or so. He had a rope about thirty-five feet long, one end of which was fastened to the halter which the horse wore, while he held the other in his hand. Being tired, he laid down upon the dry ground face up, and was possibly counting the stars, when his attention was attracted to his horse just in time to see him mounted and ridden hastily away by and Indian (Snake). He was on his feet instantly and fired two or three shots at him from his revolver, but his horse was gone for good. In telling of it afterward, he said he remembered hearing his horse “kind of snort like,” but thought nothing of it at the moment. The rope which he had been holding in his hand was cut about six feet from the halter worn by the horse. The stealing of this horse and many others, some of them well-bred animals, will account for the great number of fine horses which a few years later were to be found among the Indians of the Snake River and adjoining territory.
CROSSING THE SNAKE RIVER
After traveling sown the Snake River for some days, we came to a place where some enterprising body had put a ferry across the stream, and, by vigorously asserting that the country on the opposite side of the river contained plenty of grass and was well watered, succeeded in including a large number of emigrants to cross over, and, as the charge was two dollars and a half for each wagon, he was doing good in business. We took his advice and crossed over into the land of promise, and the promise was about all there was to it, except that when we arrived at old Fort Boise, where we had to recross the river, we had to pay eight dollars per wagon for the privilege of getting back onto the south side of the river
A NATURAL BRIDGE
Just after we had gotten over to the north side of the river we crossed a small creek which had, a little way below the crossing, worn its way through the rock so that the bed of the stream was from fifteen to thirty feet below the surface, and here, below the ford and over this chasm was a natural bridge, which at this particular place was probably thirty feet above the bed of the creek. Quite a number of us crossed over on this natural bridge. Our man Harrington, in an attempt to get a better view of the stream below the bridge, was unfortunate enough to lose his balance and topple over into the creek. We all gave him up for dead, but soon heard him calling lustily for help. He had drifted down the stream a short distance and had managed to crawl out onto a projecting rock, from which, by means of a rope, one end of which was lowered to him and which he securely fastened around himself below the arms, we managed to haul him to the surface, dripping wet and considerably bruised, but with no broken bones. Soon after this Harrington left us. I have never seen or hear from him since.
DEATH OF REV. HINES.
Nothing remarkable occurred while traveling down the north side of the
Snake river, and in due course of time we reached old Fort Boise, where
there was a trader who owned and operated a ferry, charging the moderate sum of eight dollars for each wagon and team and its contents. Horses and cattle were forced to swim the river. It was at this place that Rev. Hines, a brother of Rev.s Gustavus and H. K. Hines, prominent pioneer ministers of the Methodist Episcopal Church was drowned while trying to swim the river with his horse. His body, I think, was not recovered. Our company now consisted of my father’s family, four wagons, and my step-mother’s brother, Hilary Cason, with his family and two wagons. A part of our company, as before stated, had taken the California road; a part had kept to the south side of the Snake River, and some of the others we had left behind—out–traveled.
Just after we had crossed the Snake River the second time, it being late in
the afternoon, we went into camp at a point about two or three miles up the river, at or near the mouth of a stream, which emptied into the river. This proved to be an ideal camping place: it also proved for us the most
disastrous of any on the entire trip. We had eaten our supper, having first
herded our horses and cattle near our camp, and were busying ourselves with the ordinary camp duties, our cattle lying quietly resting themselves–a typical camp scene: quiet, serene, restful—- when, without a note of
warning, every animal was on its feet and thundering away over the plain in a wild, mad rush which seemed to cause the very earth to tremble beneath our feet, and in less time than it takes to write of it, they were away and out of sight. It was a veritable stampede. And as it was now getting dark, nothing could be done further than to wait the dawning of another day. And such a dawning! Everyone in camp was awake and up early. Breakfast was prepared and eaten in silence. Not a horse, not a cow or an ox, was to be seen anywhere. There we were, several hundred miles from the nearest Oregon settlement, men, women and little children: provisions growing scarce; tired, worn out, foot-sore; at the time thinking our cattle and horses had been run off by the Indians, for we were in the midst of semi-hostility. It was a time to try men’s souls. It was while surrounded by these discouraging conditions that upon some member of our party looking out upon the plain, one of our saddle horses was discovered coming leisurely toward our camp. This was taken as an omen of good and hope, which had well nigh taken its flight, was restored. The horse was soon under saddle and my brother, B.S. Ward, armed with a Colt’s revolver and his trusty rifle, with a lunch for the day, set off on the trail in search of our stock. Well do I remember the saddened
faces of members of the family that early morning as he started out over the plain and across the hills into the heart of an Indian country. But he must go; others followed on foot, but he being on horseback, as was expected, traveled much faster than those on foot ad was consequently far in advance of the others. However, all returned that evening in safety, having found another horse and five or six head of our cattle, and some knowledge of the country had been gained; also the important fact that the Indians had had nothing to do with the stampede and that probably there were no Indians in that immediate vicinity at that time.
The search was continued for several days, and finally, by making up odd
teams, using cows where oxen could not be found, we were enabled to move on farther with three of our wagons, leaving the fourth where it stood, with most of its load undisturbed. Our next camp after leaving the Snake River was fifteen miles away.
A HOT DAY—NO WATER.
Between these two points we suffered more for want of water than at an
other time on the road, because, being short of teams, we did not fill—as
was our custom—our water casks, and the day being exceedingly warm and the road dry and dusty, our suffering for water was intense. When we finally reached water, I did not wait for a cup to dip it up with, but spread myself out on my stomach and drank my fill. Our teams when nearing water became almost unmanageable and seemed to know we were approaching water long before it could be seen. We remained at this camp several days, hunting for more of our cattle, but finally gave it up as a bad job and moved on. The hardest part of our journey was from the time we left the Snake River at old Fort Boise till our arrival at The Dalles on the Columbia River. There was with our party a man by the name of Ruble, with splendid people, well liked by every one in the trail . Ruble had, when we started out, a wagon with the usual outfit and a one-horse buggy; this last for the wife and baby. Ruble stopped somewhere on the road to give his team needed rest. While we were camped near Boise, trying to get teams enough together to move on, the Rubles passed us. My present recollection of it is that the buggy and wagon were gone—had been left behind—that Mrs. Ruble with her babe in her arms was riding astride the horse, and that her husband and his brother were walking, and that in place of the wagon and team they once had, they now had a cart made of the forward wheels of their wagon, to which was attached a single ox. They managed to get through, settling in the Willamette Valley, where they still live, respected and beloved by all who know them
THE GRAND RONDE VALLEY.
When my people arrived at the Grand Ronde Valley, it was in the undisputed possession of the Indians, of whom there were many. We camped there one night only. Some of these Indians took quite a fancy to me ; perhaps because of my complexion, which was naturally dark and which, of course, had not been made lighter by reason of exposure on the way out, and wanted me to stop with them. This offer I declined, with thanks.
It was at about this point we struck into the Blue Mountains. It was also here (the Grand Ronde Valley ) that we saw the first potatoes we had seen since starting. These potatoes were offered us by the Indians, who appeared anxious to trade for clothing and other belongings which seemed to strike their fancy.
AT THE DALLES AND ON THE RIVER.
We finally reached The Dalles, which, to one long accustomed to camp life, seemed a wonderful place indeed. Here we shipped our wagons, goods and chattels, and the women and children, on a barge in tow of a steamer, down the Columbia River to the portage or Cascades. Myself and three others took charge of our horses and cattle and drove them over the trail, crossing the river on a ferry about where the White Salmon empties into the Columbia. On this part of the trip it was my business to lead the way.
This was no easy task, for the trail was in many places difficult to find and was so rough in most places that I could not ride, but had to walk and lead Kit. The better to enable me to perform my allotted task, Kit wore a bell; the cattle quickly learned to follow this, so that it was a matter of no small importance that I kept in the right trail rather than to follow some false one, of which at times there were many. This trip from The Dalles to the Cascades required twice the length of time we had been informed would be necessary, so we ran out of “grub,” and for the last thirty-six hours went hungry.
After crossing to the north side of the Columbia, we expected to get into the Cascades early in the afternoon, but instead, after traveling in the dark for two or three hours, left our stock on the trail and pushed on, reaching our people, who were anxiously expecting us, a little before midnight. As we had been without food for so long, we had a rousing supper of bread, bacon and coffee and then slept before the camp fire till long after the sun was up the next morning.
At the lower end of the Cascades, or Falls of the Columbia, we shipped our wagons, goods and chattels, and the women and children, on a steamer bound for the mouth of the Sandy, where all emigrants traveling by this route disembarked. It was my good fortune to be counted with the women and children this time, and thus to escape the drive.
As soon as the men with the horses and cattle arrived, we again took up the line of march, much encouraged with the idea that we were so near the end of our long journey.
NEARING THE END OF THE LONG JOURNEY.
We arrived at the mouth of the Sandy on the 20th day of September, 1853, and on the 1st of October made camp for the last time, on a beautiful little brook in the Waldo Hills, some ten or perhaps twelve miles southeast of Salem, and about a quarter of a mile from the home of an old couple by the name of Griffith.
I shall always remember them for their many acts of kindness while we remained in their neighborhood. They had a fine garden. I had never before seen such large heads of cabbage or eaten such fine potatoes.
And of these they said, “Help yourselves, without money and without price.” And to us, who were travel stained and dust begrimed; to us who for six long months had lived on bacon, beans, hardtack, rice, a little dried fruit and coffee, these garden vegetables were indeed a most welcome and pleasing change.
This section of the country was about all occupied; that is, there was one family on every mile square of land. All of these old settlers were not as liberal or kindly disposed as old Mr. and Mrs. Griffiths, as, for instance, there was a Mr. Colby, who sold us wheat at four dollars per bushel; and old man King, for whom we boys worked, digging potatoes and taking for pay every tenth bushel. The old skin-flint!
Father bought land and made his home near the Pringle school house, in the Oak Hills, about three miles south of Salem. To one who has never had such an experience (and such is not now possible, for the then unknown country lying between the Western frontier, as it existed at that time, and the Pacific Coast, exists no longer) it is not an easy thing to so describe
the trip as to fully impress upon the mind the worry and the wear upon brain and muscle of such an undertaking. It was to me the most interesting six months’ period of my life. It was a long, long journey; full of grave responsibility to the older members of the family, especially so to Father and Mother. But for me, a lad of fifteen, it was for the most part full of interest, each succeeding day bringing with it some new experience
or object of interest.
Having reached the end of our long and trying journey, we were footsore and weary, every thread and shred of our clothing begrimed and filled with the alkali dust of the plains, and the exposed portions of our anatomy tanned and browned by exposure till they were but little lighter in color than that of the natives of the plains we had just left behind us.
Oh, it was such a relief on retiring that first evening to realize that we should not be called upon the next morning to take up the line of march for another twelve or fifteen miles, and then on and on. Our camp was mad in the “Waldo Hills,” some ten or twelve miles east of Salem, the then capital of the territory, where we remained till about the middle of the winter, when we moved to the north of Salem about four miles, where we lived for a year, finally locating three miles south of Salem in the Oak Hills, near what is known as the Pringle School House. Surely no more beautiful country, especially in the springtime and early summer, could be found anywhere. Groves of oak timber, through which one might ride or drive for miles; grass from a foot to two feet high, the whole country carpeted with flowers most beautiful and fragrant, an abundant supply of pure water from a thousand streams, with game and fish in abundance, a soil most fertile – surely no country was more beautiful, more healthy or richer in promise of future possibilities than this same valley of the Willamette River.
As a rule, the early settlers of Oregon Territory were men and women of an energetic and progressive class; people of education and refinement. Such were Reverends Small and Johnson, of the Cumberland Presbyterian Church, men of marked ability.
Rev. Thomas Small went out to southern Oregon t0 the gold mines which had been discovered there, but, be it said to his credit, never forgot his sacred calling. It is said of him that on a Sunday morning at about the hour of eleven o’clock, he would begin to sing—he had a fine voice and was a splendid singer—and soon the entire camp would be in attendance. He would then invite the men to remain and hear him preach, and few went away till the services were closed. He was an interesting speaker, and how much of good he may have accomplished the next world alone shall reveal.
And then there were Lee and Roberts and Waller and Leslie and Dillon, missionaries sent out by the Methodist Episcopal Church, and later, in 1852, Rev. Daniel Bagley, by the Board of Home Missions of the Methodist Protestant Church. These men, far-sighted and true to the cause they were sent out to represent, have left the impress of their labor upon the institutions of the country, which time may not efface. In the early political life of the Territory there were Abernathy (the Territory’s first Provisional Governor) and Nesmith (who later represented the State in the United States Senate) and Lane (“Fighting Joe Lane,” Oregon’s delegate to Congress), and General Gains, and Jacobs and Williams (later United States Senator from Oregon and Attorney-General under Grant), and Bush, of the “Statesman,” Salem, and Dyer, of the “Oregonian.” published in Portland, and others who had much to do with the successful conduct of the political affairs of this far-away Territory. Of the home builders of the old Oregon territory, their early struggles, their sometimes failures, repelling attacks from hostile Indians, their final triumph over every obstacle, until they had added another star to the constellation of States, a book of many pages might be written, but as this is to be only a brief account of a trip across the plains in 1853, I will not attempt the role of historian of the great State of Oregon
Introduction: John Edgar arrived in the northwest as an employee of the Hudson’s Bay Company. He eventually terminated his service them, married a native women, Betsy, and moved on to the Yelm prairie. They were the first family to settle there. The following depicts part of there life there.
Betsy & John Edgar: Pioneers on the Prairie
The U.S. government offered 320 acres to any male American citizen and another 320 acres if the man was married. John Edgar had formally married Betsy in 1849 and acquired his American citizenship in 1853. Then he applied for and received a Donation Land claim on the Yelm Prairie. John Edgar had chosen 640 acres on the edge of the Yelm prairie to start his farm, build his home, and raise a family. The Yelm Prairie was like all of the others in the area. The common terms to refer to the soil there were “sandy” and “gravelly.” Others would use the term” rocky.” That gravelly soil was covered by bunchgrass and camas, with stands of oak punctuating the roughly fifteen square miles of prairie. The large prairie was surrounded by stands of timber more than 100 feet tall. In the distance, seeming to float above the intervening fifty miles of forests between itself and Yelm, Ta-co-bet’s (Mt. Rainier’s) snow-covered shape dominated the horizon. Often obscured for days or weeks at a time by the fog, mists, and rains of the region, the mountain’s sudden re-appearance made it seem to loom merely a few miles away. When John Edgar faced the mountain in the morning the sun arose over its white shoulder, creating dazzling displays of yellow and orange light, occasionally streaked or wreathed with clouds. There was a certain calming quality to the mountain. “His place is a very beautiful one,” wrote Edward Allen, an 1853 visitor.
Aesthetics aside, John Edgar chose his land wisely. Not far from the Nisqually River, his Donation claim straddled a creek (now Yelm Creek) and ran along the edge of the forest. Edgar had decided not to spend years of his life cutting the trees and removing the stumps from anticipated farm land, opting for primarily prairie. He was going to use the prairie as pasture and graze his animals on the bunchgrass, which grew to be two feet tall. The nearby forests would provide logs for his cabin. A visitor noted another reason for Edgar’s choice of land, “Upon it is one of the best springs [later known as Crystal Spring] that can be found in all the territory, gushing out almost large enough to turn a mill, and as cold as ice.” Another visitor to the Edgar place in 1853 he commented on Edgar’s “good taste to leave standing, in one of his fields, a number of scotch firs, beautiful shade trees, and evergreens.” Soon the prairie was dotted with great numbers of South Downs sheep, which had been delivered to Edgar from Portland.
Edgar’s chosen profession was shepherding, having worked as a shepherd in England and Ft. Vancouver, as well as for the PSAC at Ft. Nisqually. On the Yelm prairie he continued this chosen trade, both for the PSAC and his own private interests. In less than a decade on the Yelm Prairie Edgar had seen his flocks and herds increase in size, sometimes dramatically. His flock numbered over fifty sheep. He had a large herd of more than forty horses: a collection of mares, colts, fillies, yearlings, geldings, and at least one special riding horse. He owned four dozen horned cattle, including oxen which he now used for hauling logs. The cattle provided meat, milk, and butter for the family, but the meat and butter were great items for trade in an economy where cash was scarce. Rooting about the prairie were Edgar’s swine. Pigs, sows, boars and shoats competed with native nuts-and-roots gatherers for the natural produce of the prairie. As the stock grazed on the prairie, the depredations of local wolves and big cats were a frequent concern for Edgar and his hired men. Even the crows reaped their toll, occasionally swooping down and carrying off a chicken.
There were no other families on the Yelm Prairie at the time. During those first few years in the cabin John and Betsy lived miles from their closest neighbors. One of those neighbors was the Orkney islander and former Hudson Bay employee Thomas Linklater, who lived near the Deschutes River near what is today the town of Rainier. Linklater had worked in a number of capacities for the company over his twenty-year career, shepherd being one of them. He moved to the Tenalquot Prairie in the fall of 1849 and within a year he was managing flocks of over 2,000 sheep. In 1851, Linklater ended his career with the HBC, married a native woman, became an American citizen, and eventually filed a Donation Land claim. He developed a strong friendship with Edgar, the latter naming Linklater, along with Ft. Nisqually Chief Factor, William Tolmie, as the administrators for his will.
Heading west from Edgar’s place was twenty miles to Olympia, and to return to Ft. Nisqually one had to ford the river, proceeding wet to Steilacoom. Indians passed through the Edgar’s corner of the prairie, possibly on their way to the Cowlitz River, or merely hunting for camas bulbs or acorns that had fallen from the oaks which were scattered around the prairie. Soon Edgar’s free range hogs would be competing for this nutty bounty. Salmon came up the creek at the appointed time of the year. Many years later Allen Yellout recalled a temporary Nisqually village located near the Edgar home. The small community of cedar-bark houses stood on both sides of Yelm Creek near where it emptied into the river. Nisqually usually stayed at that locale for five or six weeks during the fall’s dog salmon run. Yellout remembered a fish trap of cedar boughs usually being set up by the Nisqually who emptied it every morning. The Indians stayed long enough to dry their catch, then moved on. For Betsy it was always a time to look forward to. She had married a successful rancher who possessed a large number of animals and with the Nisqually nearby, she could talk about her good fortune in her own language with people who understood her. One can imagine John Edgar walking down to where the men were spear-fishing and trying his hand at it, accompanied by hoots of delight and derision from his Nisqually neighbors. Meanwhile, further up Yelm Creek, John Edgar’s horses, sheep, and cattle walked through the creek, muddying the water, as well as urinating and defecating in the salmon habitat. Thus, the slow degradation of the stream began.
The Edgar’s new home was a typical log cabin. It was built with the help of local Indians who provided day labor, working for hand-me-down pieces of clothing, foodstuffs, or other trade goods. Their efforts paid off. Surrounded by a “zigzag or worm fencing,” Edward Huggins considered Edgar’s place a:
[R]oomy, warmly constructed log house, of course, very plainly furnished, as were all the houses in the country at that early date. The furniture was all home-made and the carpets coarse Indian mats made of rushes. If not handsome, they were warm and comfortable.
Some of that homemade furniture included a cubbord [sic], a beaurow [sic], and five chairs. They owned a cooking stove (most likely a dutch oven), but still had a large iron kettle for cooking in the fireplace. There was tableware for meals and a coffee mill for grinding coffee beans. There were moulds for making candles. The clock was a prized possession.
Edward Huggins enjoyed his visits there, for he was treated “right royally.” [Like Heath, Edward Huggins recognized Edgar’s special personality, “John [Edgar] was a good looking fellow, hospitable, and kind-hearted.”] Another traveler who stayed with the Edgars was Second Lieutenant William Trowbridge. He stopped by in August 1853 as he made his way from Cowlitz Landing to Ft. Nisqually. Trowbridge was glad to be there. He had ridden in from Muck Station (Near today’s Roy). Crossing the Nisqually at dusk, the forest prevented the sun’s last rays from helping light his way. Splashing through a “roar[ing] river,” uncertain of its depth, and unable to see his Indian guide, Trowbridge was happy to finally ride up to Edgar’s house. Promising his guest supper, Edgar led him inside. Ignoring Trowbridge’s protestations to do nothing special, Edgar turned to his sleeping wife, saying (in Chinook jargon) “Betsy! Okuk Tyhee tikeh muk-amuk.” (“Betsy! This chief wants to eat.”) From under her blanket she responded in jargon. Edgar served up some bread and showed the Lieutenant where to spread his blankets for the night.
In the morning’s light Trowbridge surveyed his surroundings. He was not impressed by the clutter of mats, blankets, saddles, “rumpled” beds, clothes, pails, and even farm implements covering much of the floor. A tangle of dirty arms and legs signaled children about. According to Trowbridge “charming Betsy” was “little concerned” with the “disorder,” going on to compare her attitude to that of a dog. She serenely sat on the hearth cracking and eating hazelnuts with her children. Later Betsy “hung her papoose over her shoulder like a raccoon” and walked to the woods to gather more snacks. Edward Allen also noted the children. He was struck by their “unattractive” and “dull almost African features.” Still, Allen concluded, “He [Edgar] seems very proud of his children” and was bringing up his family in a Christian-like manner.” It appears that often the disarming hospitality of the Edgar family diffused prejudice that arrived at their doorstep.
John Edgar was a well-equipped farmer. Breaking up the root systems of the prairie was an arduous, time-consuming task and he owned both a shovel plow and a regular plow to make the work easier. He had a set of harrow teeth. For harvesting grains he had a scythe and a grain cradle (something he and his neighbor George Brail went halves on). There was the usual array of hoes, shovels, saws (hand and crosscut), and axes. Edgar had a lot of gear to be used with his stock: ox yokes, wagon harness, a saddle and bridle. He had a wagon, but by the mid-1850s it was broken down.
Census records from 1850 show Edgar had 80 acres under the plow, harvesting impressive amounts of oats, potatoes, peas, and wheat, which he took to the grain mill in Tumwater. His efforts earned a certain reputation in the county. The Pioneer and Democrat made it a point to note his success, writing that John Edgar,
[O]f the gallant, democratic little Yelm prairie, afforded us a rare treat in the shape of green corn, colliflowers [sic], beets, onions, carrots, etc. of mammoth growth and epicurean flavor. The Yelm prairie is a trump every time, and in connection with its vegetable reputation, it might be proper to observe that with the handsome present of the aforesaid luxuries, was accompanied a stalk of wheat, perfectly matured and well headed, measuring eight feet in length.
This was not the first time Edgar had been heralded for his agrarian acumen. Previously the Puget Sound Courier in Steilacoom had sung praises for his enormous white potatoes, some weighing three or more pounds. Similarly his red cabbage was “solid” and his garden had also yielded “nice” specimens of beets. One year his fields yielded 30 bushels of peas and 600 bushels of Irish potatoes. Another year it took him two trips to Fort Nisqually to deliver his bounty of peas. He was a walking advertisement for farming on the prairie.
The Columbian, ever ready to add superlatives to an event that could be remotely tied to increasing settlement in the region, concluded,
In a country possessing soil capable of producing vegetables unsurpassed in any respect, by any in the world-where wheat arrives at unsurpassed perfection-a climate of the most inviting character-a land of unequaled healthfulness, with a noble and generous population-soon may be completely settled-become an independent territory and a sovereign state.
Thus, John Edgar’s beets and cabbage played a part in the Washington Territory becoming a state some 37 years later.
John Edgar was not only a producer for the frontier economy; he was also a consumer. He had open accounts at the Hudson’s Bay Company at Ft. Nisqually as well as Allen and Co. and the Bettman Brothers in Olympia, among others. In the spring of 1855 he rode to Olympia and visited Allen and Co. to get nails, molasses, salt, twine, and canvas. In July 1855, he made the trip to the fort on two separate occasions, probably using the ferry down at Packwood’s place to cross the Nisqually River. He picked up necessities like gunpowder, nails, sugar, and tobacco, as well as luxuries like soap. Off-the-shelf clothing always caught his attention. He bought Beavertown trousers, corduroy trousers, Guernsey frocks, and shirts for himself. For Betsy there were new shoes. Edgar also bought all types of cloth, intended for further trading or for homemade clothing. During that July, records show him leaving with yards of calico, gingham, flannel, damask, and cotton prints. On his shopping spree on July 19th he purchased some moleskin and 3 pt. blankets. To help balance his account with the HBC, Edgar dropped off 43 lbs. of butter, 840 lbs. of beef, some lamb, and 313 lbs. of wool. In August, he made the trip to Olympia at least three times. He picked up lumber at Clanrick Crosby’s mill in Tumwater and had John Shelton drive the wagon load back to the farm. He also employed Shelton for five days to thrash his wheat. Day laborers cost $1.50 per day or $40 per month.
Edgar was a congenial fellow, but a little slow on taking care of his financial liabilities. In July 1855 Shirley Ensign felt obligated to have the court force Edgar to settle accounts for work Ensign had done for him. Back in 1854 Ensign had cleared land for Edgar. The former claimed to have hewn timber for the construction of a barn. He had hauled lumber and shingles for the project. In the barn he had installed mangers and stalls. He had even taken time to break two horses that Edgar had acquired. In return, Ensign had received ten dollars in cash, and a deduction from his pay for having borrowed one of Edgar’s horses for a time. Ensign wanted the more than $200 owed to him by his employer, Edgar. It would take more than a year to settle accounts.
A round-trip to Olympia was a forty mile trek, so sometimes Edgar stayed the night in town. He would leave his horse at Edmund Sylvester’s stable. There he would have his mount checked for horseshoe needs. To pay for some of his Olympia purchases Edgar plunked down over 150 lbs. of meat. That fall he bought shoes for his delighted children. The tea and brown sugar he bought were also a big hit. Then, with winter approaching, Edgar brought home three gallons of whiskey for those long, rainy, winter nights on the Yelm Prairie.
By Ed Bergh
Introduction: Bridget and James Hughes were born in Ireland, migrated to Massachusetts were they met and married, then headed to the northwest where they settled on the Yelm Prairie for a short while. The fighting the 1850’s inspired them to relocate in Steillacoom, which seemed safer than the prairie. The following is from Bridget’s obituary in 1902 and describes her exit from Yelm.
Mrs. Hughes, who was a native of Ireland, came to Washington territory with her husband in 1849. They took up a farm on Yelm prairie, in Thurston County, and prospered there until one day in 1853 [sic] . . . a squaw, to whom Mrs. Hughes had been kind, came to the house with the startling message that is the white woman wished to save her life and the lives of her children she had better set out for Steillacoom instantly, as the Indians were on the war path. Hurrying into the pasture, Mrs. Hughes caught a mare, and, with her four children, set out of a thirty-five-mile ride to Steillacoom. Before the little group were out of sight of their home a red flare showed that the Indians had already set fire to the house and grain stacks.
Introduction: James Longmire left an account of his famlily’s trek west from Indiana. Written decades after the trip it follows their experience through the Indian fighting in the 1850’s
As I am one of the pioneers of Washington, in her territorial days, I will fall in line with the many who have already written, and attempt a description of our trip across the plains, and subsequent events. It may not be out of place to remind the newcomers of today that they have little cause for complaint of hardships and suffering as compared with those who made that long tiresome journey thirty-nine and more years ago. Through unbroken forests, over swollen streams, unknown and dangerous, over the dessert with its scorching sun and blistering sands, exposed to warlike and hostile Indians, disease, and many other perils which you will doubtless perceive before the close of my narrative. I started from our home in Shuwme Prairie, Fountain County, Indiana, on the 6th of March 1853, with my wife and four children, Elcaine, David, John and Tibatha. John, the youngest, was not able to walk when we started, but learned his first steps with the help of the tongue of our ox wagon while crossing the plains, holding to it for support, and walking from end to end while in camp evenings.John B. Moyer, a very finished young man who had studied for the ministry, but who was at that time teaching our district school, went with us; also Joseph Day, a son of our neighbors. I got a neighbor to drive us to Athicia, the nearest town, where we took passage on the U.S. Aiel, a little streamer running on the Wabash River. Evansville at that time was 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. The U.S. Aiel took the poor mangled creatures aboard and carried them to Evansville, where they were met by grief-stricken, who had sighted the signal of morning displayed by our steamer.
From Evansville, we tool the streamer Sparrow Hawk for St. Louis, thence by the Polar Star up the Mississippi River to St. Joseph. We were now upward of 2,000 miles on our westward journey. There I bought eight yoke of oxen and a large quantity of supplies and proceeded in wagons along the river to Cainsville, now Council Bluffs, and camped. As it was yet too early to start on our long journey, the grass not grown sufficient to feed our oxen along the routes we decided to remain for several weeks and make some preparations for another start. I bought a carriage and span of horses for $250, which Mrs. Longmire and the children were to use as far as the road would permit. I also got a sheet-iron stove, which with utensils for cooking, only weighed twenty-five pounds, but which proved a real luxury, as we were thus able to have warm biscuits for breakfast whenever we chose, besides many other delicacies which we could not have by camp fires. For the stove, I paid $12, though to us it proved almost invaluable. At Cainsville, 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 when I finished the feeding of my cattle, so 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, judging by his voice, and told him that was my name, whereupon he introduced himself as John Lane. A man of whom I had often heard, but never had seen a tall man, well-built, 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 his brother-in-law, Arthur Sargent, and his family. After some conversation, we made arrangements to continue our journey together. While here, we met a young man by the name of Iven Watt, who was anxious to cross the plains. I engaged him to drive one of my ox teams, and found him an excellent help at various times when obstacles met us which seemed hard to overcome. His friend, William Claflin, hired to Mr. Sargent to assist his son and Van Ogle with Sargent’s ox team.
The time had now come when we decided that there was grass for the cattle on the way and we moved twelve miles below Council Bluffs to a ferry, where we crossed the Missouri river, making our final start fir Puget Sound on the 10th 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, a friend of John Lane’s. Nothing occurred worthy of note until two days afterward when we reached the Elk Horn river, where we found a ferry with only one boat, and so many emigrants ahead of us that we must wait for two or three weeks to be ferried over. A party of emigrants was 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 over the river. Here occurred an accident, which proved disastrous, and spoiled, in a measure, the harmony existing in our little company of emigrants.
John Lane had started with some fine stock, among which was a thoroughbred mare of great beauty and very valuable, which he would not allow to swim with the rest of our stock safely across the stream. But with a rope around her neck, held by Sargent and myself on one side the river and by himself and E. A. Light on the other side, would tow her across, which we did, but alas, dead. We landed the beautiful creature, after following Lane’s instructions, and tried to revive her, but she was dead. 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 we 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 its banks bordered by graceful waving willows, cool and green.
This was the last tree or shrub we were destined to see for 200 miles. Here we stopped to rest our now thoroughly tired, foot-sore oxen, and do our washing, which was not done always on Monday, much to the annoyance of our excellent housekeepers who, at home, had been accustomed to thus honoring blue Monday. We had killed a few antelope along the road, which furnished our camp with what we thought the best steak we had ever eaten, and were fired with a resolve to secure a still greater luxury, in which we had not yet indulged. We had seen several small bands of buffalo, but with no opportunity of capturing any of them. So I selected Iven Watt, a crack shot, by the way, as my companion, and with our rifles on our shoulders, mounted my carriage horses, and with bright hopes and spirits high, started out to bring in some buffalo meat and thus further prove our skill as hunters from the Hoosier state. We left Mayer 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 to the north, when 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 fired without hitting either of them, and they started toward 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 protection for our horses, which we once more picketed, and walking about a hundred yards came upon a herd of the coveted game, from which we selected a large bull, and commenced firing upon him. We fired nine shots apiece, but still our game did not fall. He would snort loudly, and whirl round as if dazed, not knowing from whence came the bullets, and not seeing us from our hiding place in the ridge of ground. Seeing our shots did not bring our game, I told Watts we were firing too high, and reloading we took aim and fired at the same time, but lower and with effect. To our great joy the huge creature fell. Rushing back to our horses we mounted and hurried to secure our prize, which lay on the ground only wounded. Upon seeing us, he staggered to his feet and ran about a hundred yards, when he fell again. The rest of the herd, frightened at our approach, ran wildly across the plain with uplifted tails, and were soon out of sight. Seeing our buffalo could not run, I sprang from my horse, and taking fair aim at his head, fired and killed him, contrary to a theory I had heard 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, taking the hindquarters for our share, judging this to be the choicest cut, which we were to put in a bag which we carried for the purpose.
Little we know of life and customs on the plains. In about fifteen minutes after we began our work we were surprised — yes, perfectly horror-stricken – to see about thirty big, hungry gray wolves coming rapidly towards us, attracted by the scent of blood from the dead buffalo. Nearer and nearer they came, till hearing a noise we looked toward our horses, only to see them running in the wildest affright, on, on to the north, in a directly opposite course from camp. We left our game to the wolves willingly, having no wish to contest their claim to it, and went in pursuit of our horses. We had intended to be in camp with our buffalo meat in time f or 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 said to Watt that we must take that star for our guide and go as far as we could that night. We went on, Watt 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 toward 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 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, hill or bramble, but kept 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 a beautiful rolling country, till about 9 or 10 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 straggling emigrant wagons. The very sight of them brought joy to our hearts, and also relief to Watt’s empty stomach, for the first thing he did on reaching the wagon was to ask for food, which was freely given. I inquired the way to Rawhide creek, which the emigrants had left two miles behind them. Being so near our own camp I did not ask for food, but Watt insisted on sharing his portion with me, which I accepted, and must say relished after my long fast. We hurried back to the camp, where I found my wife almost frantic with grief at our long absence, thinking of course, we had been killed by hostile Indians. Our friend Sargent was intending to continue his journey the next day if we did not return, but my wife was thinking of some plan by which she could return to our old home on the banks of the Wabash.
However, when we told them of our 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, the next morning, not for a buffalo hunt but for a hunt for our lost horses. Mr. Sargent loaned us two of his horses, which we rode, and in case we did not return that evening he was to put two of his other horses to my carriage and proceed with Mayer, Day, my family and goods the next morning. We were to overtake them somewhere along the line. After making this arrangement we went back to the scene of our late adventure, where we found large herds of wild horses but never a track of our own, which, being shod, were easily tracked. We hunted till sundown when we came to a mound or hill, perhaps 100 or 150 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 this basin we made them secure by hobbling them, took our supper, consisting of a cold lunch minus drink of any kind. We witnessed from our elevated position a grand buffalo show – fully 5,000 scatted over that vast plain, many of them quite near the mound on which we stood. It seemed almost as far as we could see to be one vast herd of buffalo. We arose 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, Mayer saw two men, buffalo hunters, who, like Watt and myself, had been lost, riding our lost horses leisurely along the road. Going to them Mayer told them that the horses belonged in our camp. They said they had seen the horses on the plains, and knowing they had escaped from some emigrant train, caught them and gladly rode them into camp. They declined the $5 reward my wife and Mayer pressed upon them for the great service rendered. The previous day my wife and children had ridden in the ox wagon leaving our carriage to Mrs. Sargent and family in part payment for the borrowed horses. But the next day on resuming our journey she gladly gave up the cushions and comforts of the ox wagon for those of the carriage, which was once more 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, which weighed fully 2,500 pounds, whose meat was so tough we could not use it. He was evidently the patriarch of a large herd.
We crossed the Rocky Mountains at South Pass, according to instructions given in Horn’s guidebook for emigrants, which we had carefully observed during our trip. It gave minute instructions as to proper camps, roads, the crossing of streams, where to find good water and grass, and other information which we found of great value, as our experience afterward proved. Some days after crossing the mountains our party was increased by the families of Tyrus Himes, father of George Himes of Portland, Oregon, and Judson Himes of Elma, and Mr. Dodge, who settled, on their arrival here, on Mima prairie. All went smoothly till we crossed Bear River mountains, and, feeling some confidence in our camp judgment, we had grown somewhat careless about consulting our guide book, often selecting our camp without reference to it. One of these camps we had good cause to remember. I had gone ahead to find a camp for noon, which was on a pretty stream with abundance of grass for our horses and cattle, which greatly surprised us, as grass had been a scarce article in many of our camps. Soon after dinner, we noticed some of our cattle beginning to lag and seem tired and some of them began to vomit. We realized with horror that our cattle were poisoned, so we camped at the first stream we came to, which was Ham’s fork of Bear river, to cure if possible our poor sick cattle. Here we were eighty 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, which our stores contained. We cut bacon in slices and forced a few slices down the throats of the sick oxen, but after once tasting it the poor creatures ate it eagerly, thereby saving their lives, as those that did not eat it (cows we could spare better than our oxen) died next day. The horses were none of them sick. Had we consulted our guide before, instead of after camping at the pretty spot, we would have been spared all this trouble, as it warned travelers of the poison existing there. This event run 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 family. Here we crossed Snake River 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 was afraid they would drown while crossing the river. There were a great many Indians here of the Snake tribe, and he tried to hire one of them to swim his stock, offering him money, which he stubbornly refused to do. Finally Hutchinson took off his overshirt, a calico garment, and offered it to him. This was the coveted prize. He took it, swam four horses safely, drowned one, then when he reached the opposite side quietly mounted one of the best horses and rode rapidly away over the hills, leaving us to the difficult task of crossing, which we did without further accident. We paid $4 for every wagon towed across the river. For 200 miles, we wended our weary way, on to Fort Boise, a Hudson Bay trading post, kept by an Englishman and his Indian wife, the former being the only white person at the post. Here we had to cross Snake River again, which at this point was a quarter of a mile wide. The agent kept a ferry and would not take our wagons over for less than $8 apiece, which was as much again as we had been paying at other crossings. I tried to get an Indian to swim our cattle over, 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, holding by the other to the tail of old Lube, a great rawboned ox who had done faithful service on our long, toilsome journey. I threw my stick away and went in a little below Watt, but found the current very strong, which drifted me down stream. I thought I should be drowned and shouted to Watt, “I’m gone.” With great presence of mind he reached his stick toward me, which I grasped with a last hope of saving my life, and by this means bore up till I swam to Watt, who caught on the tail of the nearest ox. Thus giving me a welcome hold on old Lube’s tail, who carried me safely to the shore. Only for Watt’s coolness and bravery, I should have lost my life at the same spot where one of Mr. Melville’s men was drowned on the previous evening.
At Grande Ronde, a happy surprise awaited us. Nelson Sargent, whose father was in our party, met John Lane, who 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 Natchez pass over the Cascade Mountains. Ours being the first party of emigrant to attempt a crossing north of The Dalles, on the Columbia River. Lane waited at Grande Ronde while Nelson Sargent pushed ahead to meet his aged parents. Our party was reunited at Grande Ronde. E. A. Light, John Lane and others, who had left us at the Elkhorn River, met us and continued the journey with us across the Cascade Mountains. We went fifty miles further to the Umatilla River, where we rested two days and made preparations for the rest of our trip. Lest our provisions run short, I bought, at a trading post here, 100 pounds of flour, for which I paid $40 in gold coin, unbolted flour too.
We left the emigrant trail at Umatilla and with thirty-one wagons struck out for Fort Walla Walla now Wallula. Fifty miles further on was a trading post kept by an agent of the Hudson Bay company. Of him we bought lumber — driftwood from the Columbia river — of which we made a flatboat on which to tow our goods across, afterward selling it, or trading its to the agent in payment for the lumber. On the 8th of September, at 2 o’clock in the afternoon, our boat was finished, and the task of crossing commenced. It was not a pleasant task, but by working all night, everything was safely launched by sunrise next morning except our cattle and horses. These we wanted the Indians to take across for us. Sargent was the only man who could speak Chinook, but not well enough to make a bargain with the Indians, so we got the agent to hire them to swim our stock. Before they would commence the work, they must be paid. We gave them $18, and they brought up twenty-five canoes, formed in line below the crossing, and we drove our cattle in the stream, and they swam to shore safely. Next came the horses. When they were about the middle of the river the treacherous Indians laid down their oars and made signs, which I understood to mean more money. Meanwhile our horses were drifting down stream, where high bluffs rose on either side, and they could not possibly land. Taking out my purse, I offered them more money and they at once took up the oars and paddled across, landing our horses safely. The chief of the Walla Wallas was Pupi Pupu Muxmux, or Yellow Serpent, a very important person who rode, with the dignity of a king, a large American horse, a beautiful bay, with holsters on his saddle, and a pair of navy revolvers. He was a large, fine looking Indian, fully aware of his power as a chief, which was well demonstrated when we divided among our party some beef we had bought of him. It was cut in pieces varying from ten to twenty pounds, but it must be weighed. The chief ‘Went to Mr. Melville, the only man in our party who had scales for weighing, and taking them in his hand examined them closely, although he could not tell one figure from another. Then, looking carefully at the many faces around him, seeming satisfied with the scrutiny, he came to me, gave me the scales with a sign that I do the weighing, at the same time seating himself flat on the ground amongst us. I weighed, Lane standing by with book and pencil to tally. Every time a piece was weighed Pupi Pupu Muxmux would spring up, examined the scales closely, give a grunt which meant yes, and sit down; and so on until the last piece was weighed, Lane making settlement with him for our party. Pupi Pupu Muxmux was killed at the battle of Walla Walla during a four-day engagement in the spring of 1856 while trying to make his escape from the volunteers. Who held him as a friendly Indian, to join his tribe, which he had represented as friendly, but who were really waging bitter warfare against the white settlers. A brother of this chief was hired to guide us to the Natchez pass.
I must not forget to tell you that at Walla Walla we saw the home of the noble Marcus Whitman. A log house covered with straw held on by poles laid across the roof. A little garden and orchard were enclosed near the house, and a little further on we saw the graves of Whitman, his wife, and heroic little band who were massacred by the Indians some time before our arrival.
Our guide made a horse trade with Mr. Melville, in which he considered himself cheated, grew indignant and deserted us, and we were left in that strange country without a landmark, a compass, or guide nothing to help us. We traveled on, however, to the Yakima River, which we crossed, and here lost by death one of our party, Mrs. McCullough, a relative of Mrs. Woolery, now one of Puyallup’s esteemed citizens. Until this sad event, she was the life, the sunshine of our party. Everyone loved “Aunt Pop,” as she was familiarly called, but the death of her friend cast a shadow over her bright face, and made the remainder of our journey gloomy when we thought of the lonely grave by the Yakima. Our next obstacle was a canyon at Well Springs, which seemed impossible to cross. From the Yakima River we had been followed by a band of Indians, who had kept our wives and children in perfect terror, but laughed and chatted gaily as they rode along. The tyees or big men were dressed in buckskin leggings, handsomely beaded, and breech-clouts, made of cedar bark. The squaws were dressed very similarly. Men and squaws all had painted faces. The squaws always carried the papooses done up in proper Indian fashion and hung to the horn of the saddle, which bobbed up and down in no very easy manner when the ponies were in full gallop. At Well Springs, we sent out men to find a better road, as we thought we were lost. The Indians, knowing from this move that we were lost got off their ponies, cleared a small piece of ground and marked two roads, one heading northeast, the other northwest, making dots at intervals along each road, the former having fewer dots than the latter. One of them, motioning his head in an upward and curving line, pointed with the other hand to the dots, saying at each one, “sleeps, sleeps,” and at the end of the road, “soldiers,” the only words we could understand, and really all the English they could speak. Lane said to me: “What shall we do?” I replied, “Let us take the road which has the fewest ‘sleeps,”‘ which we did, going northeast one or two days, when we knew we had taken the wrong road. We had no compass, and would have known but little more if we had had one. We saw before us almost a perpendicular bluff, seemingly 1,000 feet high, extending far away to the mountains. This we learned later was White Bluffs, on the Columbia River. Here we camped for the night, ordering the Indians to camp at a respectful distance from us, which they did. We placed a double guard out, as we suspected they had led us to this trap in order to massacre our whole party. I really believe now that their intentions were good, if they could have told us, so we could have understood them. The next day we retraced our way to Well Springs, where we had left our proper course. In due time we learned that our Indian escort meant to conduct us to Fort Colville, an English trading post, for the winter, thinking the snow on the Cascades would prevent our reaching Fort Steilacoom, where United States soldiers were stationed. Upon reaching Well Springs, our followers left us, much to our relief. We were further encouraged the same night by the return of Nelson Sargent, who with others had gone in advance to look out a good road, with the glad news that after crossing the canyon a good road lay before us. Further, that they had struck the trail which the Steilacoom and Olympia Company had blazed for the coming emigrants.
On the 18th of September, as well as I remember, we crossed the canyon, or rather traversed its length about a mile, which was the roughest traveling I ever saw, and came out on a beautiful plain. We traveled along Coal creek for two days when we came to Selah Valley on the upper Yakima, which we crossed. Taking our course along Wenas creek, about ten miles, when we came to a garden, now the farm owned by David Longmire, which was kept by Indians of whom we bought thirteen bushels of potatoes. The first vegetables we had had since leaving the Rocky mountains a real feast, though, boiled in their jackets, a bucketful making one meal for us.
Following Wenas creek to its source, we crossed over to the Natchez River, which we followed for four days, crossing and recrossing fifty-two times. Then left it and started for the summit of the Cascade Mountains, north of Mount Tacoma, which we reached in three days, finding fine grass and good water. Here we stopped for two days, giving our tired oxen a good rest and plenty of food, which they badly needed, for the rest of our journey. Three miles further on we came to Summit Hill, where we spliced ropes and prepared for the steep descent, which we saw before us. One end of the rope was fastened to the axles of the wagon, the other thrown around a large tree and held by several men and thus, one at a time, the wagons were lowered gradually a distance of 300 yards. When the ropes were loosened, and the wagons drawn a quarter of a mile further with locked wheels, when we reached Greenwater. All the wagons were lowered safely but the one belonging to Mr. Lane, now a resident of Puyallup, which was crushed to pieces by the breaking of one of our ropes, causing him and his family to finish the trip on horseback. At Summit Hill my wife and Mrs. E. A. Light went ahead of the wagon with their children, taking a circuitous trail which brought them around to the train of wagons, for which we made a road as we went. As they walked along the narrow trail, my wife before, they were surprised to meet a white man, the first they had seen aside from those in our party, since leaving Walla Walla. It proved to be Andy Burge, who had been sent out from Fort Steilacoom with supplies for the roadmakers, who had already given up the job for want of food, which arrived too late for them, but in time for us, whose stores had grown alarmingly low. No less surprised was Burge at meeting two lone women in the wilderness, who greeted them with: “My God, women, where in the world did you come from?” A greeting rough, but friendly in its roughness to the two women who shrank against the trees and shrubbery to allow him and his pack animal to pass them in the trail, which was barely wide enough for one person. From them he learned of our whereabouts, and came to us, trying to persuade us to return to where there was grass and water for our stock, telling us we could not possibly make the trip over the country before us. Failing in this, he set to work and distributed his supplies amongst us, and returned to Fort Steilacoom, blazing trees as he went, and leaving notes tacked to them, giving us what encouragement he could, and preparing us, in a measure, for what was before us. For instance, “The road is a shade better;” a little further on “a shade worse,” then again, ”a shade better, and so on, until we were over the bad roads. We crossed Greenwater River sixteen times, and followed that stream until we came to White River, which we crossed six times. Then left it for a dreary pull over Wind Mountain, which was covered with heavy fir and cedar trees, but destitute of grass, with a few vine maples, on whose leaves our poor oxen and horses lived for seven days, not having a blade of grass during that time. I must not forget to mention the fact that in these dark days – seven of them – we and our half-starved cattle worked the road every day. We bridged large logs which lay before us, by cutting others and laying alongside, making a bridge wide enough for the oxen to draw our wagons across. Then all, except John Lane, E. A. Light and myself, left their wagons on account of their failing oxen, which they drove before them to Boise Creek prairie, where there was good grass. Lane, Light, and I arrived first; the rest soon followed with their cattle and horses. Four miles further we reached Porter’s prairie, where Allan Porter, now of Hillburst, had taken a claim, but who was at that time in Olympia. We again crossed White River, making the seventh time, and pushed on to Connell’s prairie, thence to the Puyallup River, to the present site of Van Ogle’s hop farm. Little did Van think then that he would ever raise, bale, and sell hops on that piece of ground. We found the river low and filled with humpback salmon. We armed ourselves with various weapons, clubs, axes and whatever we could get and went fishing. Every man who could strike a blow got a fish, and such a feast we had not enjoyed since we had potatoes boiled in the jackets, but fish was far ahead of potatoes. John Mayer declared they were the best fish he had ever eaten. We had a royal feast. Some of our party was up all night cooking and eating fish. All relished them but Mrs. Longmire, who was feeling indisposed, but she fortunately got a delicacy – rare to her – a pheasant, which she bought from an Indian – her first purchase on Puget Sound.
The next day we moved on to Nisqually plains and camped at Clover creek, some 300 yards from the home of Mrs. Mahan, who, I believe, still lives there, and whose kindness the ladies of our party will never forget. On the 9th of October, the day after we camped at Clover creek, the men all went out to Fort Steilacoom to see Puget Sound, and during our absence Mrs. Mahan made a raid on our camp and took my wife, Mrs. E. A. Light, Mrs. Woolery and other ladies whose names I do not remember, to her home, where she had prepared a dinner which to these tired sisters, after their toilsome journey, was like a royal banquet. After months of camp life, to sit once more at a table presided over by a friend in this far-away land, where we thought to meet only strangers, was truly an event never to be forgotten, and one to which my wife often refers as a bright spot on memory’s page.
Before proceeding with my narrative I must mention the fact that I arrived in this country with torn and ragged pants and coat, my cap battered, with only one boot, my other foot covered with an improvised moccasin made of a portion of a cow’s hide which we had killed a few days before. In this garb I was to meet a party of well dressed gentlemen from Olympia, who had heard of us from Andy Burge, led by Mr. Hurd, who had come out to welcome the first party of emigrants direct from the East over the Cascade mountains north of The Dalles. My garb was a sample of those of the other men, and when we were together felt pretty well, all being in the same fashion; but when brought face to face with well dressed men we felt somewhat embarrassed. But our new friends were equal to the emergency and our embarrassment was soon dispelled by copious draughts of “good old bourbon,” to which we did full justice, while answering questions amidst introductions and hearty handshaking. This was on the 8th day of October.
On the 10th of October Dr. Tolmie, chief factor of Hudson Bay Company, stationed at Fort Nisqually, paid us a visit, asked us numerous questions about our long journey and arrival treated us in a very friendly manner, but soon left, 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, “Distribute this to suit yourselves.” Not understanding it to be a present we offered to pay him, which he firmly but politely refused, saying, “it is a present to you,” and it was a present most welcome to us at that time, and for which we expressed heartfelt thank to the generous giver. Leaving our families in camp, E. A. Light, John Lane and I started out to look for homes. Having received due notice from the Hudson Bay company not to settle on any lands 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 bordered with shrubs and tall trees, flowing through it, and the majestic mountain standing guard over all, in its snowy coat, it was a scene fit for an artist. Herds of deer wandered at leisure through the tall grass. It was good enough for me and I bought a house from Martin Shelton, but bought no land, as it was unsurveyed as yet and returned for my family. Hill Harmon was in camp waiting for my return. He had a logging camp on the Sound and wanted to hire my boys, John Mooyer, Iven Watt and Will Claffin, (the last name had joined us at Fort Hall) who declined his terms, $85 per month, until they knew I could get along without them. Knowing the boys were needy, I told them to go, which they did, soon, getting an advance in salary to $100 per month. We started for our new home, my wife and children in one wagon drawn by three yoke of oxen, which she drove. I went ahead with another wagon and four yoke of oxen. Our carriage had long ago been left on Burnt river, also the harness which we saw afterward on a pair of mules driven past us on the emigrant trail. Arrived “at home” we found a large number of Indians camped near by. About thirty of them came in to see us the first night to examine things new to them, which they did, expressing their surprise by grunts and guttural sounds which were Greek to us. We found but three white families for neighbors, Mr. Braile, a bachelor, Mr. and Mrs. Levi Shelton and Mr. and Mrs. Hughes, the latter now a citizen of Steilacoom. The following winter I took a donation claim, a portion of the farm on which I have since resided.
Late in the fall of 1853 Isaac Stevens, the first governor of Washington territory, arrived from across the plains in such sorry garb that Frank R. Jackson, a pioneer, was loath to believe he was the newly appointed governor. A doubt which he openly expressed, and which the governor alluded to in later years laughingly, taking it as a better joke on himself than on Mr. Jackson. Governor Stevens also held the office of superintendent of Indian affairs, with instructions to make treaties with the Indians. I will write more particularly of the Nisqually tribes, whose chiefs were Leschi and Quiemuth, this being the tribe I was associated with more than the others. Matters went smoothly till the treaty in the fall of 1854. A council was held at Medicine creek, at the mouth of the Nisqually River, the terms of which are well known to every pioneer of the State of Washington. From day to day, they met till the treaty was made by which the Indians were to retain lands of their own choice, reserved from the public domain for them and their children as long as the tribe should exist. This seemed satisfactory for awhile, but emigrants coming in larger numbers the Indians grew jealous, incited, too, by persons unfriendly to the settlers, and began to appear less friendly toward us, frequently telling the Klickitats were getting ready for war upon the whites, but assuring us the Nisquallys would never join them, would always be friends to the whites. In July following the completion of the treaty, Quiemuth and Slugyi came to me complaining that the settlers did not give them enough for their work, saying in Chinook that the “Bostons” were bad people, but the King George men were good; that the latter had been here a long time and never stole land. Now the “Bostons” come and were fencing and stealing the land from the Indians. Slugyi, who could speak English, interpreted what I could not understand, which was nearly all of Quiemuth’s Chinook. They finished by giving me the worst bemeaning I ever got. I tried to reason with them, saying the common people were not to blame, that “tyees” had bought their land, the officials had made the treaty and they had agreed to it. Finding them unreasonable, I quietly took their abuse. When they had finished they got on their ponies and rode off. I saw Quiemuth once after this, when he was still growling about the “Bostons,” but still called himself the “Boston’s Tillicum.” Notwithstanding these friendly assurances, we were greatly alarmed, but at a loss what move to make, as we did not want to leave our home unprotected, neither risk our own and children’s lives by staying at home.
On the 10th of October, while my boys, Elcaine and David, myself and John Mollhigh, an Indian who often helped me with my work, were putting in rye about a half-a-mile from my house, where Mrs. Longmire and the two younger children were alone. At least thirty Indians rode up in company with old Stub, an Indian who had supplied our table with wild game since we first came on the prairie, a first-rate hunter, and an Indian who was friendly and honest, got off their horses, walked in the house with their guns and arranged themselves around the fireplace, crowding my wife and children to the back part of the room, the latter crying with fright, while their mother sat in deadly fear, not knowing what moment they would strike the fatal blow. Stub sat in the corner taking little part in conversation, which lasted about an hour. They made a demand for food in a rude impudent way, which was denied. They then got on their horses, after telling my wife in Chinook they were going to the Bald Hills on a hunt, and rode away, leaving Stub in his corner by the fire. After they were gone, my wife gave him some food in a tin plate, the best we had, which he ate in silence. Having finished his meal, he arose, went to my wife, laid his hand on her head and began to talk in a sad, mournful way. Not one word could she understand. Then he laid his hand on his own breast, then on the heads of the two frightened children, all the time taking and, as my wife thought, warning her of the fate of the white settlers and the horrible intentions of the Indians. He left silently, and this was the last time he ever came to our house. He went to the hostile Indians, was captured with Utsalawah, or Chuck-Nose, as the settlers called him about two months after the opening of the Indian War, taken to Olympia, put in prison in chains, where he killed himself by tying a strip of his blanket tightly around his throat. His companion was released later on, and lived till the summer of 1886 when he was laid to rest with his “tillicums” in a little burying ground about 300 yards from where my house now stands. The spot he had begged of me from year to year for his last resting-place – almost since I had known him.
On the 1lth of October 1855, the day after the Indians came to my house, I started with my family to Olympia, as we now knew there was no safety for us in our own home, which had already been under guard for two weeks. Our bachelor neighbors McLean Chambers, Frank Goodwin and Mr. Perkins, the two former now living near Roy, in Pierce County, the latter at rest long since, came to our house for mutual protection, and kindly stood guard, taking turns, whose kindness we shall never forget. Arrived at Olympia I rented a house for my wife and children, put the two boys in school, and returned to my farm, intending, with the help of John Mollhigh, to finish my fall work.
On the 20th of October Quiemuth paid a visit to Secretary Mason, who was acting governor in the absence of Governor Stevens. Who had gone east of the Cascades to make treaties with those tribes, which seemed to be leaders in the rebellious movements, which we began to fear would end in a general massacre of the white settlers. Quiemuth assured Mason again and again of the friendship of his tribe, whereupon Mason told him to get his half brother, Leschi, and with their families, come to Olympia, where he would give them food and shelter. This Quiemuth agreed to do and returned to Yelm prairie for that purpose, but he had forgotten both his promise and his friendship long before his arrival, for no sooner did he meet Leschi than they took their families and moved as fast as they could to Puyallup. As the chief did not come the following day, Mason feeling somewhat alarmed for the safety of the white settlers appointed Charles Eaton and twelve men. Among them, Connell McAllister and George McAllister, son of the latter, and a man named Wallace, to go to Puyallup and invite the chiefs to come to Olympia. I was to have gone but as I was four miles from the main road, they hurried on without me. Crossing the Puyallup River, they went to where Van Ogle’s farm now is, and sent a friendly Indian who had come with them from Olympia, to learn the whereabouts of the Indians. Upon his return he reported about 200 Indians having collected further on, with the two chiefs, Quiemuth and Leschi; also the Puyallup tribe. Hearing this, Eaton said it would never do to go further, for that meant war. McAllister and Connell ridiculed the idea, saying they knew those Indians well, and would go and have a friendly talk with them. Eaton replied that if they did go it was contrary to orders. Confident of success, they laid down their guns and, after buckling on their revolvers, started on what they meant as a friendly errand, with the two friendly Indians, but which proved their death, for in about twenty minutes Eaton and his little band heard the firing of guns, when Eaton said the men were killed and they must get ready for defense at once. They took refuge in a cabin, which stood near, and fastened their saddle blankets over the open spaces between the logs, and filled a barrel full of water, in case the hostile Indians should fire the building. They then hid their horses close as possible to the cabin and declared themselves ready for battle, which began just before dark, a large band of Indians opening fire on Eaton and his ten men; one, a friendly Indian who had returned with news of the sad fate of McAllister and Connell, the other Indian having gone with the hostile tribes who were now fighting, sending bullet after bullet into the little cabin. One bullet struck Wallace, who, with the exception of being stunned, received no permanent injury except losing the upper part of one ear. The Indians tried to fire the cabin, but Eaton’s band kept up such a constant fire they dared not approach near enough for the purpose, so set fire to a pen filled with wheat, which stood near, greatly helping Eaton by the bright light to see the Indians and take fair aim. Toward daylight, the Indians drew off, taking their dead and wounded, also every horse belonging to Eaton’s band. Assuring himself that quiet reigned once more, Eaton ventured forth with his men, crossed the Puyallup, left the main road, climbed a high bluff and made their way through the woods to the Nisqually plains, ten miles distant, thence to Olympia, leaving the bodies of McAllister and Connell where they fell.
On the same day the 28th of October, before sunrise, two Indians came to my house on horses dripping with sweat, and told Mollhigh of the terrible massacre on White river and the fate of McAllister and Connell, which Mollhigh afterward told me when I visited him. Mollhigh’s wife and mother were camped near my house, but came at once on hearing of the massacre, and began to weep and wring their hands, and told me in Chinook to go at once or the Indians would kill me, which I did not understand. Mollhigh’s wife told Mrs. Longmire afterward that I was the biggest fool she ever saw. During this excitement, Mollhigh continued this work, talking to the Indians, who were trying to persuade him to go and fight the whites. I noticed their excitement, which was greatly increased, when the thirty braves who had gone to the Bald Hills a few days before, arrived with their squaws, who were crying bitterly, which convinced me the news of the massacre had been sent them, and that I must get ready to leave, as the Indians were already grinding their knives and tomahawks on my grindstone, while they talked wildly and the squaws continued to cry. I fastened on my revolver but left my gun in the house while I went after my horse. While looking for my horse from a high point which commanded a view of the prairie, I heard the sound of horses’ feet, and stepping behind a tree I saw passing the two Indians who had brought news of the massacre, as I supposed, returning to Puyallup. Not finding my horse, I started home, but stopped at McLean Chambers’ who lived where my house now stands, and who had already heard of the massacre. He begged me not to go back to my home, but I had left my gun and felt that I must have it. Find I would go, he said I must take his horse, which I did, but while we were talking the same Indians I had seen while looking for my horse rode up, talked a few minutes and passed on. I believed I was the man they were hunting. Shortly I took McLean’s horse and rode quietly home, to find it broken into, everything of value gone, every stitch of my clothing only what I wore, also my gun, which I looked for fist on going into the house.
Things of no value to the Indians were scattered over the yard, but not and Indian in sight – not even my trusted Mollhigh, who afterwards told me he went only to save my life. He told the Indians Longmire was a “cultus tillicum,” and had always been good to the Indians, and not to kill him, but kill the “Tyees,” the big men. They answered his pleading by saying if he did not come with them and help to fight they would kill him and “Longmire too,” but if he would help them they would not kill Longmire. After long persuasion, poor Mollhigh yielded, thinking this the only means to save either one of us, and went with the hostiles. He was true to me though, for after the war he came back and lived with me for years, always claiming that he saved my life. Coming out of my house, I looked carefully on all sides, with my revolver drawn and ready to fire at a minute’s notice. I looked carefully around on all sides, then mounted my horse, which I put to a lively run, till I reached McLean Chambers, who at once took him and started for Olympia. The Indians had stolen my last horse, and I must now make my way to Olympia, twenty-five miles, on foot, which was not a pleasant trip alone. I walked over to Brail’s, where T. M. Chambers now lives; to find his house deserted. He had left on first hearing of the massacre. I now concluded to go to Hughes, and get him to go with me, but dark came on, and hearing horses coming I dropped behind a pile of rails, which hid me from view. Soon I heard the peculiar hissing sound like “shee, shee,” with which Indians always drive stock, and I knew they were stealing the last horses from the white settlers on the prairies. Arrived at Hughes’ he and his family had taken flight. I hardly knew which way to turn, but finally decided to go to George Edward’s, a former employee of the Hudson Bay company, an Englishman who still lives at Yelm station. I thought if he was gone I must take to the woods. Fortunately for me he and his wife, one of the Nisqually tribe, were at home, but thought it unsafe to remain in the house, so we went to the barn and spent the night. In the morning we started for Olympia, Edwards and I. I rode a horse belonging to the Hudson Bay company, known as old Roosh. Half an hour before our arrival word had reached Olympia from Dr. Tolmie, through Mollhigh’s wife, that I was killed by the Indians the evening before. Much to my relief, my family had not heard the news when I arrived at home. I met Charley Eaton, who was organizing a company of volunteers to go in pursuit of the Indians; bent on killing them all, else bring them to subjection. About sixty-seven men joined him, but on being sworn refused to take the oath, and deserted our ranks till only eighteen or twenty men remained in the company, which was called the Puget Sound Rangers. Charles Eaton was captain, James Tullis first lieutenant. The other officers’ names I have forgotten. I enlisted and we started at once to scour the northeastern part of Thurston County and all of Pierce for hostile Indians and learn where they were collected. For several days not an Indian could be found, most of them having gone to White river to make a grand stand at Connell’s prairie, where Qualchin met them with about 300 Klickitats from east of the Cascade mountains. Qualchin was the son of Auhi, chief of the Klickitats, whom he led to battle. Quiemuth led the Nisquallies, assisted by Leachi, and Kitsap the Puyallups. They were met here by companies commanded by Captains Henness, Gilmore, Hayes, White and Swindle; also one by Isaac Hayes. These were all volunteer companies. The Indians fought all the morning in ambush, the volunteers failing to draw them out into open battle. In the afternoon, the volunteers, finding they could gain nothing by this method of warfare, resorted to strategy. One company was ordered to lie down on the ground, the rest to flee in confusion. The Indians, looking only at the fleeing volunteers and thinking the day was theirs, rushed madly forward with beating drums and wild war whoops till they came within fifty yards of the prostrate volunteers, who suddenly rose and opened fire, the fleeing volunteers returning, firing as they came. A panic seized the Indians, who flung their drums and ran wildly not forgetting their dead and, wounded, pell mell into the Puyallup river, swam to the other side, the volunteers following to the river bank, killing many as they tried to escape by swimming. Qualchin not accustomed to fighting in the woods on foot, left for Yakima in disgust. The rest, left without a leader, and much reduced in numbers, scattered in small bands all over the country, stealing, burning houses and barns, killing the settlers and spreading terror everywhere.
The Puget Sound rangers in the meantime were attempting to hunt down fugitive Indians, all to no purpose, however, for not an Indian could be found. We became convinced they were getting information and assistance from friends, and so reported to Governor Stevens, who ordered the arrest of all persons suspected of rendering them assistance. Arrests were made of all men whom we suspected of harboring Indians. They were taken to Fort Steilacoom and tried, but nothing could be proven against them, so they were released. After this, the volunteers began to find Indians in small bands all over the country, whom they killed or captured, whenever found. However, depredations continued, and several more arrests were made, when Governor Stevens proclaimed martial law, to prevent persons suspected of aiding the Indians from returning to their homes, holding them as prisoners at Fort Steilacoom. Shortly after this move on the part of our worthy governor, some of the Indians surrendered and were placed in charge of the Indian Agent on the reservation. The Puget Sound rangers were now discharged, and I made preparations to move back to Yelm prairie with my family, taking with me a friendly Indian named Peallo and his family, who camped, near our house. We did not feel safe in our home and Peallo and I took turns standing guard at nights; working with our guns beside us during the day.
The war had been going on now for nearly a year, and the settlers were tired and discouraged, and many of them living in blockhouses. One night when Peallo was standing guard he came to the door saying: “Mesatchee tillicums choco” (the bad Indians are coming). I got up, took my gun and went outside, when Peallo came to me, saying in Chinook, “If they do come I die with you.” He lay down putting his ear close to the ground, and listened a few minutes, but got up, saying he was mistaken. “It was the spirits, not Indians.” But he was not mistaken, as examination next morning showed that horses had been fastened about a half mile from my house, on the edge of a swamp, apparently all night, the riders probably prowling near my house. When Peallo saw this, he begged me to go to the blockhouse, saying we were not safe in our house. I told him I was not afraid. He then went to my wife and begged her to talk to me and get me to go to the blockhouse and not let her and the children be killed. On the second day after this, we moved to the blockhouse, where we found Levi Shelton and family and Thomas Chambers, Sr., and family besides five men to guard the commissary store, which was kept there. About this time, Governor Curry of Oregon sent a company of troops to our assistance under Captain Miller. Indians were still stealing horses and killing cattle. A band of these robbers were followed by Captain Maxon to the Mashel River where the last one was killed.
Quiemuth and Leschi now separated, for what cause I never knew. The former grew tired of fighting and come to Ozha, a Frenchmen, who lived on the Nisqually near the crossing of the Northern Pacific railroad bridge, and asked him to see me and learn if I could take him to Governor Stevens, as he wanted to surrender, and would risk his life with the governor, I told Ozha to bring Quiemuth to me after dark for if he were seen some one would surely kill him. I was glad he had surrendered as he was the only chief left on our side of the river whom we feared, but I hardly know why he came to me unless he thought as I was a friend of Governor Stevens it would make his sentence lighter. It was early in the summer of 1856 when he came one night with Ozha into my house unarmed, shaking hands with me and my wife as friendly as if he had not been fighting us and our friends for months and months. I got my horse and taking Van Ogle, George Brail Ozha and Betsey Edgar, a squaw and friend of Ozha’s, we started for Olympia, Quiemuth riding close to me, talking freely all the way, telling me if the governor did not kill him he would show me where there was lots of gold, as he knew where it was. It was a gloomy ride that night through the rain, and when we reached Olympia between 2 and 3 o’clock in the morning, we were wet, muddy and tired. I awoke Governor Stevens and told him I had Quiemuth, who wanted to see him. He got up, invited us in, and ordered lunch, of which we partook heartily, being hungry as well as tired. Ozha, Van Ogle and George Brail went to put our horses in the stable, while I remained with Quiemuth. The governor handed our prisoner a pipe of tobacco, which he smoked a few minutes telling me between whiffs he through the governor was a good man and would not hurt him; and that he was a good “tillicum.” Governor Stevens offered me a bed, which I declined, as I was wet and muddy, and told him if he would give me a blanket I would lay down by the fire in the office. Blankets were brought for me and Quiemuth, and we lay down, one on either side of the fireplace, I being nearest the door. In the meantime, news of the chief’s surrender must have been circulated, although I had intended it should be kept secret. Governor Stevens left lights burning in the office, bade us good-night, and once more retired, and I was soon in a deep sleep, from which I was aroused by a great noise, I hardly knew what. I sprang up to hear the sound as of persons running out of the house, and to find the lights blown out. I saw by the dim firelight a man fall and heard a deep groan. I ran to the falling man and found it was Quiemuth, speechless and dying. At this moment the governor rushed in, saying as he saw the dead chief: “Who in —– has done this?” I replied did not know. “In my office, too,” he added, “this is a club for General Wool.” General Wool had opposed the policy of Stevens, and Governor Curry of Oregon, in the prosecution of the Indian war. Before the Governor reached the office I ran to the door, and by the dim morning light saw eighteen or twenty men outside the door. Never in my long and intimate acquaintance with Governor Stevens did I ever see him so enraged as he was that night, and justly, too, it seems to me, for even after all these years it kindles my wrath when I think of the cowardly deed. It was almost daylight, and the body of Quiemuth was left on the carpeted floor of the office till the coroner’s inquest was held, which brought out the fact that Quiemuth had been shot with a pistol, the ball taking effect in the right arm and right side, which Dr. Willard, Sr., declared never could have killed any man. On closer examination he found the chief had been stabbed with a very fine blade, which had penetrated the heart, causing instant death. One, Joe Bustin, had been arrested during the inquest on suspicion. Elwood Evans, now of Tacoma, then a young lawyer of Olympia, conducted the prosecution, B. F. Kindall the defense, which resulted in the acquittal of Bustin, though many persons believed him to be the guilty party.
Quiemuth now being dead, Leschi was soon captured and sentenced to hang, but the execution was stayed, and Leschi returned to prison. Court again convened when he was sentenced and executed near Fort Steilacoom. This ended the Indian War.
I must here mention that many prominent men condemned Governor Stevens strongly for proclaiming martial law, but his course was ably defended in the legislature, where the debates were long and stormy. I represented my county at that time, and approved our governor’s action. Peace once more restored; the settlers returned to their homes to begin life anew, having been robbed of everything. My last horse was gone, but a few cattle were left. But with willing hands and bright hopes, the blessings of health and peace in our home, my wife and I took up our burden, and prosperity met us. So that when old age comes on we may rest in peace, waiting for the summons which calls us all to the better land. James Longmire,
Introduction: James Burns cae from British Isles and settled in Michigan with his parents. Eventually he came down with “gold fever” and headed to California. Souring on that experience he headed for the northwest, settling on the Yelm prairie. He lived alone in the Bald Hills and developed a reputation of being a wee bit anti-social. The followingaccount is one of incidents that contributed to this image.
James Burns and the Case of the Wounded Cow
In 1859 the Yelm Prairie contained only a dozen or so families, the Indian troubles having concluded only a few years earlier. It was a time before fences defined property and hogs, sheep, horses, and cattle roamed at will through the forests and prairies of the area. On Smith Prairie, two and a half miles southeast of Yelm, forty plus acres of two foot tall bunchgrass beckoned herdsmen as they moved their animals looking for more promising grazing. Often they stopped on unclaimed land. This saved their own from the wear and tear of their hoofed beasts.
R. B. D. Shelton, Levi’s brother, owned a place on the eastern edge of Yelm Prairie, but with a herd of over 60 head he liked to take them to Smith Prairie to graze. Living close to Smith Prairie was James Burns. Unmarried, he kept to himself. Some thought he was a squatter, but he constantly reiterated that he had a pre-emption claim. In early November 1859, Shelton had his herd up on Smith Prairie, paying a fellow to keep an eye on them. Shelton saw Burns at that time, but they did not speak. A few days later Burns rode to Shelton’s farm and told him, in no uncertain terms, to get his cows away from his land. Shelton did not act on the request. Shortly after this meeting Shelton returned to Smith Prairie to check on his animals. It was then he noticed one cow and one steer bleeding. They had been shot. Burns, he thought, as he rode to George Brail’s place. He wanted Brail, who people respected as an expert on animals, to take a look at the bullet wounds. It had to be Burns.
Before the week was over Shelton had circulated through the neighborhood to solicit the testimony of his neighbors regarding his suspect. With his ducks in order Shelton rode into Olympia, where he filed a formal complaint against James Burns for shooting his cows. The court took his word for it and issued a warrant for James Burns. He was arrested at his place and taken to town where he was charged with “Maliciously injuring two head of cattle.” Bail was set at $200. At the same time, subpoenas were issued for James Longmire, Henry Kandle, Louis Leblanc, George Bray [Brail], David Shelton, and Charles Wheeler, they were to provide testimony to help adjudicate the matter. Burns, for his part, hired B. F. Kendell to represent him, but his counsel called no witnesses.
The trial was delayed a day because the Yelm contingent was slow in getting to town, but once the trial began, the circumstantial evidence against Burns accumulated. Shelton told about how he had driven his cattle to Smith’s Prairie and his confrontation with Burns. He maintained that he, Shelton, his hired man, and Burns were the only ones on the prairie on the day of the shooting. George Brail added that the wounds in the cattle came from a small bore piece, like a pistol, and what appeared to be a rifle shot. Louis LeBlanc swore he had seen Burns with a revolver and gun before the incident. Another witness, David Shelton maintained that he knew that Burns owned a United States Rifle and a Navy Revolver. That would explain the different size gunshot wounds. In addition, he heard Burns claim, “He intended to shoot them [the cattle] down.” Kandle corroborated Shelton’s description of the value of the cattle, $80. It was now up to the jury. Burns didn’t have chance. He was ordered to pay court costs and restitution.
By Ed Bergh
Introduction: Little is known about George Brail. His stay on the prairie was short and he left no paper trail after he moved away in the 1860’s.
Among the first settlers to move onto the Yelm Prairie was George Brail (1810 – after 1860). On his application for a Donation land claim, Brail wrote that he arrived in Olympia on January 1, 1847. This suggests that he might have arrived by boat or came up from the Ft. Vancouver or the Willamette Valley settlements. There were certainly no wagon trains coming over the Cascade Mountains that winter. In contrast to his prairie neighbors, Brail was not from some eastern part of the United States, nor the British Isles. He had been born in Napoleon Bonaparte’s France, circa 1810. When he and/or his family came to this country is unknown. How he got the northwest is a similar dead end for the modern researcher. Brail remains one of the most elusive of the early settlers. His name appears on the 1850 and 1860 censuses, but in few other places. His is a story that has no prologue, no coda. Yet he was connected to some other place. In January 1854, the Washington Pioneer listed “Geo Brail” as one of the men with a letter for them being held at the Olympia Post Office. It is a tantalizing fact. Was it a communication from some other Brail, likewise a resident of the United States? Or was it from someone he had met as he headed west from his initial Atlantic landfall. Less tantalizing is the fact that it might have been from a former Thurston County neighbor, now making a go of it in some other, more hopeful, place.
In order to get some cash in his, but more likely to earn some store credit at Ft. Nisqually, George Brail became part of the economic globalization of the Pacific Northwest. The HBC was trafficking shingles as far away as the Sandwich (Hawaiian) Islands. Along with a number of Olympia area residents he began cutting and shaving cedar shake shingles. At $3 per thousand, the shingle trade became a money maker for people just starting to carve out their corner of the territory.
The only other settlers on the prairie at that time were Betsy and John Edgar. Brail chose land that bordered a creek and not far from the Edgar claim. For a long time, before it became known as Yelm Creek, that stream which cut through the prairie was known as Brail Creek. Records indicate that Brail owned 640 acres which would only have been possible with wife who was similarly eligible for 320 as promised by the Donation Land Act. The authors of Yelm Pioneers and Followers said his Indian wife’s name was Mary. Yet, there is no record of this mystery woman in either the 1850 or 1860 census, or a list of any children in either of those enumerations.
After a couple of years Brail had 40 acres of land under cultivation. Besides the usually array of produce consumed at the Brail cabin, he harvested 600 pounds of potatoes and small amounts of beans and wheat. He had a small sampling of livestock, a horse, some milch cows and cattle, a pair of oxen. Agents recording such matters listed his livestock as valued at, roughly, $400. John Edgar’s valuation was six times that amount, $2,400. Without children of his own Brail undoubtedly traded sweat equity with his neighbor Edgar, or hired local Indians in exchange for sundries.
George Brail and his neighbors were a long way from the United States. Just like settlers learned to do with out, their communities were also on their own. As a territory much of the authority and financing for Washington was held in the hands of the “other” Washington. Communication with the national government was slow and seldom satisfactory. Settlers, however, took charge. When word spread that immigrants were coming over the Naches Pass, the settler of the Steilacoom and Olympia area sprang into action. Money was raised, in lieu of federal dollars, to hire men and outfit them, so forest paths could be widened so wagons could cross the Cascade Mountains a little more easily. George Brail pledged his financial support. John Edgar served as guide for the work party. Betsy Edgar’s cousin Quiemuth supplied pack horses.
When fighting broke out in the Washington Territory in the fall of 1855 Brail was not among those men volunteering to for service in the militia. He did, however, join the exodus from the prairie; a fact attested to by James Longmire’s visit to the empty Brail cabin in October 1855.
New Years 1856 was a somber time in which to be hopeful for the coming months. Some settlers had drifted back to the prairie. Edgar, of course, was dead and sorely missed. People were pleased to see a blockhouse going up along Brail Creek. Soldiers seemed like a wise addition to the scenery. Still, not long after soldiers were stationed at Ft. Stevens, Indians moved at will in and out of Thurston County. In late February and early March, two men, William Northcraft and William White were killed just west of Yelm.
In late March 1856 a group of Indians forded the Nisqually River and rode on to the Yelm Prairie. Crossing Yelm Creek they came across Brail’s place. Moving quickly they drove off six of his horses and seven cows. Three of the cows wandered off, but they drove the rest before them. Passing by Thomas Chambers’ claim they added another eight horses. Continuing east they headed past Longmire’s cabin and picked up another horse. The Pioneer and Democrat labeled the incident as the “Robbery at the Yelm Prairie.” The Indians guided the cows and horses towards the Mashel River where the Pioneer and Democrat reported a large encampment of old men, women, and children. The paper concluded they were slaughtering livestock, drying the meat, and stockpiling it for the warring Indians in the area. The latter, reported the paper, were waiting for more ammunition from east of the Cascades.
As the Indians headed east word of the raid traveled west. Responding immediately, Gov. Stevens sent a twenty man detachment to catch up with the raiders.
George Brail went back to his place in the summer of 1856. Events of the previous year were explained away. The raid which had driven off Brail livestock was now three months past, it was safer now. After all, a man had to feed his himself. One night Brail was called to the door. There in the rain was James Longmire, Betsy Edgar, the Frenchman Ozha, and Van Ogle. Then stepping into the light was Quiemuth. He was tired of running and hiding and had decided to place his future into the hands of the territorial governor. Longmire asked Brail to join their party and help deliver Quiemuth to the governor.
The party set off for Olympia. After exiting the trees west of the prairie the road divided. Taking the left fork, they passed where White and Northcraft’s bodies had been found. The rain continued, but did not seem to dampen the spirit of Quiemuth who was enjoying himself talking with Longmire, regaling the latter with tales of gold and future alliances. Brail, Longmire, Quiemuth and the rest rode into Olympia at some time after two in the morning. They stopped at Gov. Stevens’ house and Longmire roused the governor. The tired, muddy, and wet sojourners were renewed by the governor’s hospitality. With food in their stomachs Brail, Ozha, and Van Ogle returned outside and took the horses to the nearest stable. That was the last time Brail saw Quiemuth alive.
Before the morning’s light, Quiemuth had been killed. Murdered in the governor’s office. He had been shot, then stabbed. Brail must have wondered how such a crime had happened. Quiemuth had, essentially, surrendered, then died while under the protection of the government. How could Longmire have slept through this tragedy? Brail returned home where life slowly resumed without the fear of violence. Later, he was pleased to know there was a system to claim damages from the war and obtain compensation
With the death of John Edgar, George Brail became the man to see when it came to animals and their maintenance. On one occasion in 1859 he was called out to Smith Prairie to take a look at a steer and a cow of Robert Shelton’s, both having been shot. Later he testified at the trial in which his not too distant neighbor, James Burns, was being tried for “Maliciously injuring two head of cattle.”
By 1860 Brail had recovered from his loses of livestock from the Indian troubles of the previous decade. His herd of cattle now numbered forty, his horses more than a half dozen. In addition he claimed seven of the swine which nosed the prairie. He had by then “improved” 320 acres of the prairie. Native grasses, medicinal plants and herbs, were turned over and replaced with oats, wheat, and hay. The latter came in handy in the latter days of the rainy season when nibbled stalks were slow to regenerate. To make matters worse in the winter and spring, the trampling of plants by the hoofed grazers buried greenery in the sodden soil. Hay was a back-up. Brail was by then, one of the most prosperous farmers on the prairie.
People gathered at James Longmire’s for a July 4, 1860 picnic. Possibly Brail was among the celebrants. He was by then an American citizen for seven years. Maybe a more playful neighbor enticed him to shout out “Viv ’Etats Unis!” It was an election year and there was a lot to talk about. The Republican Party was bound to nominate Abe Lincoln, not a very well known commodity. But it looked like the Democrats were going to fall apart and Brail, like everyone else on the prairie, was a Democrat. There were rumblings of secession. It was all far away, still it worried them. The Indian wars were only a few years back. Immigrants had started to show up again. Merchants smiled at their new clients, landowners imagined their property would become more valuable. Now that was cast into under cloud of uncertainty. If war came, the federal government would lower its already attention to and presence in the region. Migration would slow down again. John Brown’s raid the preceding year bode ill for the nation, including the Washington Territory.
Abraham Lincoln was elected president in November 1860. Not long after threats of secession became the reality of the Confederacy. Brail was upset with the turn of events. He was not alone. Among his neighbors, James Longmire and Levi Shelton were equally concerned about what was happening back east. In March they organized a Mass Meeting in Olympia. There they and their allies stated they were “attached to our General Government under its present structure and decidedly opposed to a Pacific Confederacy (should such a dogma be entertained by any portion of our people.)” Though they disliked Republican politics, they loved their nation more.
In 1865 the Civil War ended. According to tradition he emigrated to Mexico. Considering the French role in that nation this is a plausible bit of history. What is known is that George sold his homestead on the Yelm prairie and disappeared from our view.
By Ed Bergh
Lewis Barnard & the Prairie Environment
By the spring of the next year he was out on the Yelm Prairie befriending George Brail in the process. By June 1851 Lewis Barnard (1825 – February 28, 1875) had filed a Donation claim to 320 acres, some of the land bordering Yelm creek and all of it situated on the prairie northeast of the current town of Yelm. His land was situated between the claims of George Brail and John Edgar smack dab in the middle of the prairie. Soon he got to know all of his prairie neighbors, southerners Levi and Christina Shelton, James Hughes and his Irish wife. Nearby the Englishman George Edwards had a farm.
Lewis Barnard had moved west with the dreams of a farmer. He chose prairie land; it seemed farmer ready. A creek flowed through the property on its way to the Nisqually River. All around him was prairie grass. It grew, in the words of traveler, to the “belly of his horse.” Another outstretched his arms to demonstrate the length of the “macaroni” like grass. William Briskoe visited the area circa 1840 and noted the biological rhythm of the prairie. Briskoe wrote:
Everywhere in this part of the country the prairies, open wide, covered with a low grass of a most nutritious Kind which remains good throughout the year. In September there are slight rains, at which time the grass starts; and in Oct. and November there are a good Coat of green grass, which remains so until the ensuing summer; and about June is ripe in the lower plains, drying without being wet is like made hay; in this state it remains until the autumn rains begin to survive it.
To an itinerate farmer like Barnard a farm with a source of water and seemingly fertile soil could not fail. Life on the prairie, however, would not be that easy. The bunch grass on the prairie had taken thousands of years to adapt to the gravelly, sandy, porous soil that was frequently watered by rain, yet had at least two months with virtually no water at all. Productivity of this prairie land was nothing compared to the land surrounding Vancouver or in the Willamette Valley. To make matters worse, beneath the prairie grass were rocks; an endless eruption of rocks. Smooth surfaced, oval shaped rocks of all sizes from pebble to two man rocks. They were plow slowing rocks. Clearing the rocks seemed fruitless, more welled up to replace them.
Little understood at the time was that the Yelm Prairie environment had been shaped thousands of years before during the last great glacier age. At that time the land had been under a sheet of ice thousands of feet thick. Later named the Vashon lobe, the glacier expanded and contracted according to the seasons, but slowly retreating north. In the process, rock that had been caught in the glacier, slowly ground into oval shapes like in a giant rock tumbler. Then at the edge of the glacier, water, rock, even slabs of ice broke away depositing rocks in all shapes and sizes in what were later termed outwash plains or prairies. The process of deglaciation left the prairies denuded of trees, but which did take root in the nearby hills and river bottoms.
Natives who moved into the area relied on the river to provide much of their food, but they also found dozens of plants on the prairie that served as food or medicine. Eventually the Nisqually people engaged in burning the prairie to kick start plant regeneration for food harvesting and fodder for their growing herds of horses after the 1750s. Consequently trees were kept at bay in the hills, though small stands of oak dotted the prairie. Charles Wilkes passing through the area a decade before Lewis Barnard arrived was captivated by the “most beautiful park scenery.” For Wilkes, it was hard to believe that nature could create such a “perfect landscape.” In a sense he was right. Similarly the authors of the aptly titled The Natural History of Washington territory and Oregon; with much relating to Minnesota, Nebraska, Kansas, Utah, and California between the thirty-sixth and forty ninth parallels of latitude: being those parts of the final reports on the survey of the Northern Pacific Railroad route, relating to the natural history of the regions explored, with full catalogues and descriptions of the plants and animals collected from 1853 to 1860, exclaimed that the land surrounding Lewis Barnard’s cabin “look[ed] like a magnificent park ornamented by the highest skill of the landscape gardener, while to the southeast, and in full view from all parts of it, stands the majestic Mount Rainier forty miles distant, though in appearance not more than five.” The authors of the railroad report were wistful about the future of this magnificent park for although “Nothing seems wanting but the presence of civilized man . . . it must be acknowledged that he oftener mars than improves the lovely face of nature.” Lewis Barnard was now part of that process of marring. Barnard and his neighbors brought new animals to the prairie while killing or driving off the native species. Plant life on the prairie was disrupted by the plow, eaten by increased numbers of grazing animals, and choked out by invasive species. Indians were discouraged from their burning agenda.
The description of the prairie by the above observers was Eden-like. In a sense, the wide open space of the prairie was a dark place. The forests outlining the prairie seemed sometimes to be claustrophobic, unyielding in their solid green façade, never losing leaves in the fall. The sky was often cloudy, thus sunlight seemed set eternally at twilight. Combined with the forests it created a sense of being boxed in.
Rain often seemed a possibility. After a while one became adept at predicting rain or when the gray would burn off, revealing the distant mountain. “The mountain is out today,” was a popular phrase. The rain was little more than the national average, seldom falling in buckets, more often a mist, a drizzle. The worst month was November when one fourth of the yearly average came down. It seemed the darkest month of all, with the sun having less working hours and dark rain clouds combining to form a lumpy gray mass overhead.
At least it did not snow very much. Maybe there would be four inches of snow during a year, but it seldom lasted. Though on occasion, the Nisqually River froze solid, as did some of the surrounding lakes. The rain continued on and off as the winter became spring. By July the weather became hot. In August, the rainfall disappeared, not to return until October. It was during those months that the mountain always caught their attention and popped up in conversation.
Alone in the rainy northwest he dug in and started creating his new life. Shelter must have been his top priority. Help was nearby, Indians and settler boys would work for trade goods. Barnard visited Olympia and Steilacoom to pick necessities and future needs. He settled in.
By Ed Bergh
Introduction: After coming west from Iowa by covered wagon the Wheelers then survived the conflict in the mid-1850’s. Mariah gave birth to one of the firs chidren born on the Yelm Prairie. Below is an account of pregnancy and childbirth on the prairie.
A “time of illness, death and melancholy,” was how the historian Cathy Luchetti once described pregnancy on the frontier. Mariah knew, as that same author concluded, that “maternity,” [often] invited mortality.” As late as the decade of the 1830s one researcher determined that nearly half of children died before the age of five. Couples like the Wheelers, did not know the odds, they knew from observation and later by experience that pregnancy was hard.
To add extra stress to her altered state, fighting had broken out in the territory. Recalling this time of “great excitement” Urban Hicks, a Thurston County resident, described the flight of settlers, as men and women with “blanched faces and terror stricken countenances” fleeing to Olympia where they seemed to fill every house, woodshed and outhouse. That October Mariah and Charles said their good-byes and he rode off to join his company. It was soon
dispatched to find Leschi and other Indians who resisted the terms of the recent treaties. Mariah would spend much of this time without her husband.
Charles was still at home in the summer of 1855 when Mariah began to notice changes. About the same time that Mariah realized she had missed a period, she felt sick to her stomach. It was a feeling of nausea that came and went, yet at the same time Mariah exhibited no other symptoms of illnesses she might have recognized. Her breasts became tender, a fact she probably failed to tell anyone. She became vigorously hungry. What alerted Mariah to her actual pregnant state is not known.
Thousands of miles removed from her mother’s whispered words about pregnancy Mariah turned to others on the prairie for what were truly wives’ tales. Christina Shelton, Betsy Edgar, Bridget Hughes, and Virinda Longmire, were going on the subject to be the experts on pregnancy, limited by personal modesty and familiarity with Mariah. (One of Mariah’s daughters was named Virinda, possibly reflecting a special relationship between Mariah and her Bald Hills neighbor Virinda.) Perhaps she described the changes taking place in her body to her mother-in-law Catherine who drew parallels with memories of her own pregnancies. The closest doctor lived in Olympia, a twenty mile ride away. In the early fall, just when Mariah’s emotional pitch was tinted by a vague anxiety about the future, conflict had broken out in the territory.
What did Mariah know about her changing body and growing child? There were lot of rumors and misconceptions circulating around the frontier at the time. One theory held that sighting a limbless man led to a child’s deformities. A variety of maternal behaviors during the pregnancy were linked babies born with warts, scars, moles, lowered intelligence, and birthmarks. Intercourse during a pregnancy might cause a change of gender in the fetus. In what, for the era approximated pre-natal care certain foods were believed to “mark” the baby. When Mariah became vigorously hungry as her pregnancy extended into the fall and winter, she probably continued eating the seasonal local produce of the area. Whether her neighbors had any special dietary advice to help for a smooth pregnancy is not known.
By Ed Bergh