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Over 400,000 people travel West to start a new life and claim new land along the Oregon Trail, including Lucinda Brown. One-hundred seventy years later, one of her descendants sees a kettle from her journey for the first time.
Why Did People Move West on the Oregon Trail?
While settlers traveled west along the Oregon Trail for a variety of reasons, most were motivated either by land or gold. Various land acts in Oregon provided free land to pioneers, while the start of the California Gold Rush in 1848 lured thousands more. Less famous but equally exciting at the time were other reports of gold being found in Oregon, Idaho, Colorado and other western states.
Emigrants moved in part due to the widespread economic depression of the 1830s and '40s, while others were fleeing the political turmoil of the Civil War. Missionaries were a common sight. As more and more people settled in the west, travelers set out to join their families. Great Britain also had claims in the Northwest and Mexico in the Southwest the Bureau of Land Management hypothesizes that some settlers may have been motivated by patriotism to claim land for America.
Though the first emigrants to use the Oregon Trail arrived in 1836, the first large-scale mass migration did not occur until 1843 when an estimated 1,000 pioneers set out together. The Oregon Trail was the only land route for settlers seeking to move west and took approximately four to six months, in contrast to the sea route which could take up to a full year.
Travel west on the Oregon Trail began at several towns on the Missouri River, from Independence to Council Bluffs, and then followed routes west on both sides of the Platte River. Companies of wagons formed, emigrants purchased supplies, and the group followed the developing ruts west. James Miller’s 1848 diary entry describes a typical small company: “We had our outfit, teams [three wagons, two ox teams, one horse team] and necessary provisions for the trip, which consisted of 200 pounds of flour for each person (10 of us), 100 pounds of bacon for each person, a proportion of corn meal, dried apples and peaches, beans, salt, pepper, rice, tea, coffee, sugar and many smaller articles for such a trip also a medicine chest, plenty of caps, powder and lead. Our company was made up of David O'Neill, one wagon, two boys two Catholic priests [Rev. J. Lionet and Fr. Lampfrit] and their servant David Huntington and wife, three children David Stone and wife, two children George Hedger and William Smith, George A. Barnes and wife, L.D. Purdeau, Lawrence Burns, James Costello, Jacob Conser and wife, two children George Wallace, Joseph Miller and wife, three sons and daughter. ”
Most groups tried to set out by mid-April. Their goal was to reach Fort Kearny, founded in 1848 near present-day Kearny, Nebraska, by May 15 Fort Laramie in present-day Wyoming by mid-June South Pass on the Fourth of July and Oregon by mid-September. Wagon trains could average from twelve to fifteen miles per travel day, but most had to pause because of conditions and some did not travel on Sundays. In many sections, the trail spread across miles of terrain, as successive emigrants sought easier transit. Sources of water and forage for animals often determined camping locations.
Stream and river crossings, steep descents and ascents, violent storms, and the persistent threat of disease among large groups of travelers were the most common challenges. Disease was the greatest threat on the trail, especially cholera, which struck wagon trains in years of heavy travel. Most deaths from disease occurred east of Fort Laramie. Accidents were the second most frequent cause of death on the trail. Indians killed about 400 emigrants before 1860, but emigrants killed more Indians, and no Indians or emigrants died from violence until 1845.
Wagon trains organized their members through consensual agreement to rules of order, behavior, property security, and work responsibilities written into constitutions that also identified officers and their specific duties. Constitutions and bylaws prevailed until 1850, after which most groups preferred to operate using ad hoc agreements. Many wagon trains organized tribunals to mete out punishments for property crimes, assaults, and activities that jeopardized security. The most common punishments were assignment of extra guard duty and expulsion. Whippings were rare, and executions took place only after a legal proceeding and a jury verdict.
African Americans traveled the Oregon Trail, making up perhaps as many as three percent of overlanders before 1860. Some traveled as the slave property of white travelers, but many were free people. George Bush, for example, traveled in the Simmons-Gilliam wagon train in 1844 as a free man, hiding some $2,000 in silver coins, which he loaned to cash-strapped travelers. For many free Blacks, emigration west offered hope for a better life with fewer social obstacles, and in many cases that proved to be true.
The trail experience for men and women differed considerably. Their roles and duties followed nineteenth-century norms, with women responsible for children, cooking, laundry, and personal gear. Women walked, as did men, but they did not stand guard and were not expected to work ox teams or repair wagons. Men held most, if not all, leadership positions.
Pioneers across what became the Western United States in the 19th century had the choice of several routes. Some of the earliest were those of the Mexicans in the southwest. American trade with Northern Mexico created the Santa Fe Trail between St. Louis and Santa Fe following an 18th-century route pioneered by the Spanish Empire. From Santa Fe, American traders followed the old El Camino Real de Tierra Adentro southward to Chihuahua by way of El Paso del Norte. The Old Spanish Trail from Santa Fe, in Mexican New Mexico Territory to Los Angeles, in Mexican Alta California, developed in 1829-1830 to support the trade of New Mexican wool products for California horses and mules and carried parties of fur traders and emigrants from New Mexico to Southern California.
Following the trails pioneered by fur traders, the Oregon Trail from Independence, Missouri to the Oregon Territory developed crossing the central Great Plains, Rocky Mountains and northern Great Basin. Branching off from that route, some pioneers traveled southwestward on the California Trail from Fort Hall, Oregon Territory to Sutters Fort, in Mexican Alta California. Also branching off to the south was the Mormon Trail from Nauvoo, Illinois to Salt Lake City, Utah Territory. During the twenty-five years 1841–1866, 250,000 to 650,000 people "pulled up stakes," and headed west along these trails. About one-third immigrated to Oregon, one-third to California and one-third to Utah, Colorado, and Montana.
Although it is often stated that the Northern trails began in certain cities on the Missouri River, pioneers following any of the three trails typically left from one of three "jumping off" points on the Missouri's steamboat serviced river ports: Independence, Missouri or Saint Joseph, Missouri, or Council Bluffs, Iowa. (Once known as Kanesville, Iowa until 1852 after river dredging in the early 1850s, the latter town at the Missouri-Platte confluence became the most common departure point since it was close in proximity to the River Platte—along which the eastern trails ascend to South Pass above Fort Laramie. ) The trails from these cities (and several others) converged in the mostly empty flatlands of central Nebraska near present-day Kearney, in the vicinity of Fort Kearney. From their confluence there the combined trails followed in succession the Platte, North Platte, and Sweetwater rivers westward across the full widths of Nebraska and Wyoming, and crossed the continental divide south of the Wind River Range through South Pass in southwestern Wyoming.
The most common vehicle for Oregon and California-bound pioneers was a covered wagon pulled by a team of oxen or mules (which were greatly preferred for their endurance and strength over horses) in the dry semi-arid terrain common to the high plains in the heat of summer. In later years, following the advice of Brigham Young, many Mormon emigrants made the crossing to Utah with handcarts. For all pioneers, the scarcity of potable water and fuel for fires was a common brutal challenge on the trip, which was exacerbated by the wide ranging temperature changes common to the mountain highlands and high plains where a daylight reading in the eighties or nineties can drop precipitously to a frigid seeming nighttime temperature in the low 40s. In many treeless areas, buffalo chips were the most common source of fuel.
During the Mexican–American War, the wagon to California road known as Cooke's Wagon Road, or Sonora Road, was built across Nuevo Mexico, Sonora and Alta California from Santa Fe, New Mexico to San Diego. It crossed what was then the northernmost part of Mexico. During the California Gold Rush the routes to California used were increased by the Siskiyou Trail from Oregon. In the south the forty-niners used the Cooke Wagon Road, until some found a short cut, the Tucson Cutoff. This route, not closed to travel in winter, permitted travelers coming to New Mexico Territory on the Santa Fe Trail or on the San Antonio-El Paso Road developed in 1849, across West Texas to El Paso where it followed the El Camino Real de Tierra Adentro north to link up to the Cooke's Wagon Road/Southern Emigrant Trail at the cutoff through the San Diego Crossing. In 1856, as part of an improvement of the route as a military road, a cutoff was built to Cooke's Spring from Mesilla, (part of Mexico until 1853). From Cooke's Spring the road ran to the Yuma Crossing into California and on to Los Angeles. This route became the Southern Emigrant Trail. From Los Angeles the goldfields could be reached by land over the two routes north, the old El Camino Viejo or by what became the Stockton – Los Angeles Road. During the Gold Rush era it was these routes by which many herds of sheep and cattle were driven to California and the goldfields.
With the passes of the Sierras and the Rocky Mountains blocked in winter, another winter route, the Mormon Road between Salt Lake City and Los Angeles was developed by a Mormon expedition from their new settlements at and around Salt Lake City, and by some Mormon Battalion soldiers returning to Utah in 1847–48. The first significant use of the route was by parties of Forty-Niners late in 1849, and by some Mormon trains, to avoid crossing the snow bound Sierra Nevada Mountains by linking up with the Old Spanish Trail in southern Utah and closely following it, with alterations to the route of the mule trails only to allow wagons to traverse it for the first time. Soon afterward it was the route Mormon colonists followed to settle southwestern Utah, a mission in Las Vegas and a colony in San Bernardino, California. This wagon route, also called by some of its early travelers the Southern Route, of the California Trail, remained a minor migration route and in the early 1850s a mail route. After some alterations of the route between Cajon Pass and the border of California and in southern Utah, in 1855, it became a significant seasonal trade route between California and Utah, until 1869, when the transcontinental railroad ended Utah's winter isolation.
Up to 50,000 people, or one-tenth of the emigrants who attempted the crossing continent, died during the trip, most from infectious disease such as cholera, spread by poor sanitation: with thousands traveling along or near the same watercourses each summer, downstream travelers were susceptible to ingesting upstream wastewater including bodily waste. Hostile confrontations with Native Americans, although often feared by the colonists, were comparatively rare, prior to the American Civil War. Most colonists traveled in large parties or "trains" of up to several hundred wagons led by a wagon master. In 1859 the government published a guidebook called The Prairie Traveler, in order to help emigrants prepare for the journey. 
The Santa Fe Trail was a 19th-century transportation route through central North America that connected Independence, Missouri with Santa Fe, New Mexico. Pioneered in 1821 by William Becknell, it served as a vital commercial highway until the introduction of the railroad to Santa Fe in 1880. Santa Fe was near the end of the El Camino Real de Tierra Adentro which carried trade from Mexico City.
The route skirted the northern edge and crossed the north-western corner of Comancheria, the territory of the Comanches, who demanded compensation for granting passage to the trail, and represented another market for American traders. Comanche raiding farther south in Mexico isolated New Mexico, making it more dependent on the American trade, and provided the Comanches with a steady supply of horses for sale. By the 1840s trail traffic along the Arkansas Valley was so heavy that bison herds could not reach important seasonal grazing land, contributing to their collapse which in turn hastened the decline of Comanche power in the region. The Trail was used as the 1846 U.S. invasion route of New Mexico during the Mexican–American War.
After the U.S. acquisition of the Southwest ending the Mexican–American War, the trail helped open the region to U.S. economic development and colonization, playing a vital role in the expansion of the U.S. into the lands it had acquired. The road route is commemorated today by the National Park Service as the Santa Fe National Historic Trail. A highway route that roughly follows the trail's path through the entire length of Kansas, the southeast corner of Colorado and northern New Mexico has been designated as the Santa Fe Trail National Scenic Byw.
The Old Spanish Trail witnessed a brief but furious heyday between 1830 and 1848 as a trade route linking Santa Fe, New Mexico and Los Angeles, California. The Trail left Santa Fe and split into two routes. The South or Main Branch headed northwest past Colorado's San Juan mountains to near Green River, Utah. The North Branch proceeded due north into Colorado's San Luis Valley and crossed west over Cochetepa Pass to follow the Gunnison and Colorado rivers to meet the Southern Branch near Green River. From central Utah the trail trended southwest to an area now shared by Utah, Nevada and Arizona. It crossed southern Nevada and passed through the Mojave Desert to San Gabriel Mission and Los Angeles.
The Oregon Trail, the longest of the overland routes used in the westward expansion of the United States, was first traced by colonizers and fur traders for traveling to the Oregon Country. The main route of the Oregon Trail stopped at the Hudson's Bay Company Fort Hall, a major resupply route along the trail near present-day Pocatello and where the California Trail split off to the south. Then the Oregon Trail crossed the Snake River Plain of present-day southern Idaho and the Blue Mountains of northeastern Oregon before reaching the Willamette Valley. It was the only practical way for colonizers in wagons without tools, livestock, or supplies to cross the mountains and usually thought critical to the colonization of the American West. Some of the first to travel the Oregon Trail were Christian missionaries, members of the Methodist Episcopal Church who established the Methodist Mission in 1834. Even though they didn't make many converts, they were impressed by the short amount of time needed to reach the Pacific Coast. Rumors about how the sun always shone there and wheat grew as tall as a man attracted American colonizers. The journey to the west was pleasant, but there were dangers and challenges along the route. There were diseases: cholera, measles, smallpox, and dysentery. Children were crushed under the covered wagon wheels, people drowned in rivers, were lost, starved, killed by Native Americans (very few colonizers), froze to death, trampled by buffalo, or shot by accident. With these accidents, many colonizers died. About 20,000 to 30,000 died on the Oregon Trail along the way in 40 years.
American colonizers began following the trail in 1841, with the first recorded colonist wagon traingroup being the 1843 "Great Migration" of about 900 colonists, led in part by Marcus Whitman.   The Provisional Government of Oregon was established by such colonists in 1843, generally limited to the Willamette Valley. The Oregon Treaty of 1846 divided the Oregon Country between Great Britain and the United States, mostly along the 49th parallel. The Territory of Oregon was established shortly afterward, in 1848, and over 12,000 American colonists made the journey there during the decade.
Families usually began their journey at Independence, Missouri, near the Missouri River with the best time to travel is from April to September. The journey to cross the entire Oregon Trail in a covered wagon took from four to six months, following a winding trail 2,000 miles (3,200 km) through prairies, deserts, and across mountains to the Pacific Northwest. The journey was a severe test of strength and endurance so travelers often joined wagon trains traveling about 12–15 miles (19–24 km) per day. Colonists often had to cross flooded rivers. Indians attacked the wagon trains however, of the 10,000 deaths that occurred from 1835 to 1855, only 4 percent resulted from Indian attacks. Cholera, smallpox, and firearms accidents were the chief causes of death on the trail. Food, water, and wood were always scarce, and the colonizers often encountered contaminated water holes. During summer, the trail was crowded with wagon trains, army units, missionaries, hunting parties, traders, and even sightseeing tours. Some colonists complained that they sometimes had to start early in the day in order to find a good campsite ahead of the crowd. Others spoke of the need to wear masks for protection against the dust kicked up by the heavy traffic.
The main route of the California Trail branched from the Oregon Trail west of Fort Hall, as immigrants went on forward going southwestward into present-day Nevada, then down along the Humboldt River to the Sierra Nevada. The California Trail came into heavy use after the California Gold Rush enticed over 250,000 gold-seekers and farmers to travel overland the gold fields and rich farmlands of California during the 1840s and 1850s. Today, over 1,000 miles of trail ruts and traces can still be seen in the vast undeveloped lands between Capers Wyoming and the West Coast.
The Mormon Trail was created by colonist members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, called "Mormons," who settled in what is now the Great Salt Lake in Utah. The Mormon Trail followed part of the Oregon Trail and then branched off at the fur trading post called Fort Bridger, founded by famed mountain man Jim Bridger. Heading south and following river valleys southwestward to the valley of the Great Salt Lake, Brigham Young led the first Mormons into present-day Utah during 1847. The Mormon Trail is 1,300 miles long and extends from Nauvoo, Illinois to Salt Lake City, Utah. The Mormon Trail was used for more than 20 years after the Mormons used it and has been reserved for sightseeing. The initial movement of the Mormons from Nauvoo, Illinois to the Valley of the Great Salt Lake occurred in two segments: one in 1846 and one in 1847. The first segment, across Iowa to the Missouri River, covered around 265 miles. The second segment, from the Missouri River to the Valley of the Great Salt Lake, covered about 1,032 miles.
From 1846 to 1869, more than 4,600 Mormons died traveling along an integral part of the road west, the Mormon Pioneer Trail. The trail started in Nauvoo, Illinois, traveled across Iowa, connected with the Great Platte River Road at the Missouri River, and ended near the Great Salt Lake in Utah. Generally following pre-existing routes, the trail carried tens of thousands of Mormon colonists to a new home and refuge in the Great Basin. From their labors arose the State of Deseret, later to become the Utah Territory, and finally the State of Utah.
The Mormon colonists shared similar experiences with others traveling west: the drudgery of walking hundreds of miles, suffocating dust, violent thunderstorms, mud, temperature extremes, bad water, poor forage, sickness, and death. They recorded their experiences in journals, diaries, and letters. The Mormons, however, were a unique part of this migration. Their move to the Valley of the Great Salt Lake was a response to their violent expulsion from Missouri and Illinois. As it was also motivated by a desire to maintain a religious and cultural identity it was necessary to find an isolated area where they could permanently settle and practice their religion in peace.
The Southern Emigrant Trail was a major land route for immigration into California from the eastern United States that followed the Santa Fe Trail to New Mexico during the California Gold Rush. Unlike the more northern routes, pioneer wagons could travel this route year-round, as the mountain passes were not blocked by snows. But, the trail had the disadvantage of high summer heat and lack of water in the desert regions of New Mexico Territory and the Colorado Desert of California. It was used anyway as a route of travel and commerce between the eastern United States and California. In addition, ranchers drove many herds of cattle and sheep along this route to new markets.
The San Antonio-San Diego Mail Line, operating in 1857–1858, largely followed this route, as did the Butterfield Overland Mail from 1858–1861.
Tied in with the Santa Fe Trail and the San Antonio-El Paso Road, by the El Camino Real de Tierra Adentro the Southern Emigrant Trail route in 1849 ran westward from the El Camino Real to San Diego Crossing. After 1855 it ran from Mesilla, New Mexico, westward to Tucson, Arizona, then followed the Gila River to ferries on the Colorado River near what became Fort Yuma. It crossed the Colorado Desert to Vallecito, then up to Warner's Ranch. From Warner's the road split to run either northwest to Los Angeles or west southwest to San Diego.   
From either of these towns, the traveler could continue north by land to the goldfields on the coast, via the El Camino Real, or over the Tejon Pass into the San Joaquin Valley by what would become the Stockton – Los Angeles Road or El Camino Viejo. Alternatively, they could take ships to San Francisco from San Diego or San Pedro.
Go West: Imagining the Oregon Trail
A 2,000-mile trek across a continent-with no idea what awaits you on the other side. Tell your students to put on their traveling shoes and prepare for the journey of their lives! In this lesson, students compare imagined travel experiences of their own with the actual experiences of 19th-century pioneers. After writing stories about contemporary cross-country journeys, students learn about the experiences of the emigrants who traveled on the Oregon Trail. They then create works of historical fiction in the form of picture books or letters, drawing upon the information they have learned.
What was it like to travel west on the Oregon Trail?
How has the experience of travel changed since the time of the Oregon Trail?
Understand the way people experienced the Oregon Trail.
Compare and contraste modern-day travel experiences with travel experiences of the 19th century.
Synthesize historical data through creative writing.
A More Perfect Union
History & Social Studies
Lesson Plan Details
Before the lesson, explore what students already know about pioneers. Who were they? With what period in history are they associated? Where did they come from? Where did they go, and why?
Explain to students that they are now going to imagine themselves as modern-day pioneers. On a map of the United States, show students a state far away from their homestate. A large selection of maps is available at National Geographic's Westward Expansion Resource Library.
Tell students to imagine that they are going to move to this distant state one month from now. Have students brainstorm a list of questions about the trip (e.g., How will I get there? With whom will I travel? How long will it take to get there? What can I take with me? How will I feel about going on this trip?). Compile all of their questions in a master list save the list so that students may refer to it later.
The Oregon Trail
The publication of the Lewis and Clark journals in 1814 fostered national interest in Oregon country. "Oregon country" consisted of what is known presently as the northwestern states of Idaho, Washington, Oregon, and parts of Montana and Wyoming. Various individuals and groups traveled part of the distance west on what would become the Oregon Trail. Fur trappers such as Jedediah Smith, David Jackson, and William Sublette were the first group to leave wagon tracks on the Oregon Trail. In 1830, they traveled from St Louis, MO to the head of Wind River (Wyoming) to gather furs. The company noted that the Southern Pass would allow easy passage to wagons wishing to cross the Rocky Mountains. In addition, religious revivals in the east caused many churches to send missionaries to Oregon to convert the natives. Dr. Marcus Whitman and his wife, Narcissa, established a protestant mission near Fort Walla Walla in 1836, inspiring other eastern families to move west (Olson and Naugle 1997:53).
News of abundant fertile agricultural land reached the east and by the end of the 1830s many Americans had the Oregon fever. In 1841, the first group of settlers, the Bidwell-Bartleson party led by Thomas Fitzpatrick, left Missouri for the west. They traveled across the Platte River Valley and divided at Soda Springs, some heading for Oregon and others to California (Olson and Naugle 1997:54). By 1843, migration on the Oregon Trail began in earnest. More than a thousand pioneers traversed the trail in 1843, followed by increasing numbers in the succeeding years.
The trail originally began at Independence, Missouri, crossed the present states of Kansas, Nebraska, Wyoming, Idaho, and ended in Oregon City, Oregon. However, various other towns along the Missouri River became jumping off points such as St. Joseph, MO, Nebraska City, Plattsmouth, and Omaha, NE, and Council Bluffs, IA (National Park Service). The main route of the trail departed Independence cutting across northeast Kansas and entering southern Nebraska. The trail continued north westerly to the Platte River Valley at which point in followed the southern bank of the river to Fort Laramie. The route continued west to South Pass, a twelve mile corridor through the Rocky Mountains. From South Pass, the trail passed Soda Springs, Fort Hall, and led finally to Oregon.
The Oregon Trail was not one single path, but rather a multitude of variant wagon roads. Many departed the more heavily used trail to avoid getting stuck in deep mud furrows and to find suitable grazing grass for their livestock (Kimball 1988:121). As westward expansion continued, new routes became part of the Oregon Trail system, such as the Nebraska City/Fort Kearney Cut-off, the Oxbow trail, and the Oketo cut-off.
Early emigrants blazed the 2,170 mile stretch of trail seeking passage from Missouri to Oregon. The trip was arduous and took most settlers five months to complete (National Park Service). The pioneers had to face inclement weather conditions, rough, often impassable terrain, hunger, thirst, fatal epidemics, hostile attacks, injuries, deaths of loved ones, and a number of other depredations. Harriett Sherrill Ward, a California-bound emigrant, commented after reaching the west side of the Missouri River, "Nebraska is a miserable, unpleasant place indeed, and can never be inhabited except by Red men" (Dary 2004:257). Sopia Goodridge, a Mormon pioneer, more positively noted the plight of her company on the plains in her diary: June 29. Our company all in good spirits this morning and I feel grateful of my Heavenly Father of his kindness in preserving us from accidents and dangers of all kinds. We traveled eight miles and camped on the open prairie without wood or water, except what we brought with us. There is nothing to see but one boundless sea of grass, waving like the waves of the sea, and now and then a tree. We had a very heavy thunder-shower this morning (Dary 2004:233).
Edwin Bryant, a former editor for the Louisville Courier, wrote about the plight of those traveling west in 1846. Being an educated individual, Bryant was entreated by some pioneers to act as a physician for an injured boy. The boy's legs had been run over by a wagon several days previous, but had not been treated in any way. Bryant related: In this condition the child had remained, without any dressing of his wounded limb, until last night, when he called to his mother, and told her that he could feel worms crawling in his leg! An examination of the wound for the first time was made, and it was discovered that gangrene had taken place, and the limb of the child was swarming with maggots! They then immediately dispatched their messengers for me. [The boy] was so much enfeebled by his sufferings that death was stamped upon his countenance, and I was satisfied that he could not live twenty-four hours, much less survive an operation. But this could not satisfy the mother's affection. She could not thus yield her offspring to the cold embrace of death, and a tomb in the wilderness.
A Canadian Frenchman, who had been a surgeon's assistant, offered to perform the amputation on the young boy if Mr. Bryant declined. The sorrowing mother consented and the crude operation commenced. Predicting the inevitable outcome of such "butchery," Bryant continued: During these demonstrations the boy never uttered a groan or a complaint, but I saw from the change in his countenance, that he was dying. The operator, without noticing this, proceeded to sever the leg above the knee. A few drops of blood only oozed from the stump the child was dead—his miseries were over. The scene of weeping and distress which succeeded this tragedy cannot be described.
That same day, Bryant attended the boy's funeral, a wedding, and heard about a birth in a nearby wagon train. He reflected: I could not but reflect upon the singular concurrence of the events of the day. A death and funeral, a wedding and a birth, had occurred in this wilderness, within a diameter of two miles, and within two hours' time and tomorrow, the places where these events had taken place, would be deserted and unmarked, except by the grave of the unfortunate boy deceased!" (Dary 2004:156).
The hundreds of unmarked graves along the Oregon Trail attest to the hardships faced by the pioneers. Despite such afflictions, thousands took their chances across the plains in search of their dreams in the west. Samuel Peppard, presumably following an idea from the Lewis and Clark expedition, developed a wagon powered by sails for crossing the plains. In May of 1860, Peppard's crew sailed the windwagon to Fort Kearney and then on to the Kansas goldfields. The speed of the wagon varied according to the wind, but Peppard stated that its best time had been two miles in four minutes. Unfortunately, the grand invention was short lived when the wagon was destroyed by a dust devil just fifty miles northeast of Denver. Peppard and his crew, having survived the crash, traveled to Denver with a passing wagon train. Despite their misfortune, Peppard's crew had traveled over five hundred miles of the Oregon Trail in the windwagon (Dary 2004:276).
The Oregon Trail was heavily traveled from 1841 to 1869 by Oregon settlers, missionaries, Mormons, gold-seekers, the Overland Stage line, and the Pony Express. The exact numbers remain a mystery, but researchers estimate that over 300,000 emigrants crossed the western frontier on the Oregon Trail. In response to the mass migration, Corporal F. Longfield wrote a letter from Ft. Kearney on August 6, 1852 stating, "The great emigration of the present season is past and gone. The mighty throng that crowded the roads from east to west is not longer seen, the murmuring of voices, the rattling of chains and wagons, the lowing of thirsty oxen, that daily passed our garrison, are heard no more" (Dary 2004:256). While migration to the west continued into the 20th century, intensive use of the trail ended by 1869 with the introduction of the railroad (National Park Service).
2004 The Oregon Trail. New York: Alfred A. Knopf.
Olson, James C. and Ronald C. Naugle
1997 History of Nebraska. Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press.
Kimball, Stanley B.
1988 Historic Sites and Markers Along the Mormon and Other Great Western Trails. Chicago: University of Illinois Press.
The Emigrants’ Guide to Lansford Hastings
California was the “Promised Land” in the mythos of the American West. In the mid-nineteenth century, reports of its beautiful open lands and precious metals captivated would-be settlers seeking prosperity and renewal. From 1846 to 1854, the non-native population swelled from 8,000 to 300,000. After 1848, gold mania was the largest contributor to the boom, but in earlier years, the catalyst was a single individual: young Ohio-born lawyer Lansford W. Hastings.
Prior to 1846, Oregon, not California, was the apple of the pioneer’s eye. The Oregon territory, then disputed by Britain and the United States, was popularized by the famed Oregon Trail and considered to be a more stable alternative to Mexican rule in California. Hastings abandoned his old life and career for Western adventure just as earnest debate over the relative merit of the two regions was beginning. The young newcomer led overland expeditions into both Oregon (1842) and California (1843), reinventing himself as a trusted authority on western migration.
In 1845, Hastings published one of the earliest overland guide books, The Emigrants’ Guide to Oregon and California. To cover publication costs, he traveled across the Midwest giving temperance lectures, one of many testaments to his astounding knack for travelling. Hastings ultimately “chose” California as the place he recommended personally to travelers beginning their journeys on the Missouri frontier. According to one Western historian, Hastings and his guidebook “had focused attention upon California as no one had before.” The result was the “overland exodus of 1846,” the first mass migration since 1841 to focus exclusively on California.
Bringing up the rear of the 1846 wagon train was a small group headed by the families Donner and Reed. Because of a series of delays after setting out from Fort Bridger, Wyoming in late July, the pioneers became trapped by winter snowfall in the high Sierra Nevada mountains. Before their rescue the following March, many of the group resorted to cannibalism. Lansford Hastings’s supposed role in this tragedy villainized him to the point where even persuasive attempts at rehabilitating his character have been ignored by recent historians.
It was not uncommon for California and Oregon emigrants to carry Hastings’ guidebook among their belongings. Jacob Donner (who died in the ordeal) was said to have kept a marked-up copy in his saddlebag, though the item was never recovered by rescuers. Storytellers continue to assert that the Donners fell behind because they took a disastrous shortcut “promoted” by the book. This so-called “Hastings Cutoff” directed emigrants to leave the main California Trail at Fort Bridger and travel southwest around the Great Salt Lake, saving 400 miles of journey.
The claim of the guidebook’s influence is based on weak evidence. Only one sentence in the text references a Salt Lake shortcut, and represents only the author’s speculation, not his personal experience: “The most direct route, for the California emigrants, would be to leave the Oregon route, about two hundred miles east from Fort Hall thence bearing west southwest, to the Salt Lake and thence continuing down to the Bay of San Francisco.” Vague references to a “route via Salt Lake” were common in American travel literature during the time.
That spring, after learning that military officer John C. Frémont had actually explored a viable Salt Lake cutoff, Hastings resolved to personally guide wagons from Fort Bridger through this alternate route. Under his leadership, the Harlen-Young party painstakingly trail-blazed a real “Hastings Cutoff” and pushed into California. The Donners, however, arrived a week too late to travel with Hastings. The explorer pinned notes to rocks and trees to advise the stragglers, but the party fell more and more behind amidst the grueling and unsafe terrain of the Wasatch Range and the western Utah salt flats.
It is said that surviving members of the Donner Party cursed Hastings’ name when they emerged traumatized from the mountains the following spring, despite the fact that several others (including famed mountain man Jim Bridger) had also encouraged the party to take the shortcut. The vitriol has continued into the present day: Frank McLynn, author of Wagons West: The Epic Story of America’s Overland Trails (2002), calls Hastings an “irresponsible liar and fantasist.” He has also been dubbed “the Baron Munchausen of travelers” and “the Sam Houston of California.” The latter charge originates from a single hearsay account that Hastings met with Sam Houston in Texas for advice on how to establish California as an independent republic under his own rule. In 1970, historian Thomas F. Andrews proved that it was extremely unlikely Hastings and Houston conspired together, but the rumor persists in current accounts. In depicting Hastings as a man who put ambition before safety, Donner Party storytellers have a convenient scapegoat for “the most bizarre and spectacular tragedy in Californian history.”
Western history’s obsession with the Donner Party has distracted almost everyone from the actual consequences of Lansford Hastings’ existence. His role in directing significant pre-Gold Rush settlement to California marked a turning point in Western migration, and his maligned cutoff was eventually used again by early Mormon pioneers, permanently swaying the social demographics of the region. Yet the misconceptions do not always correct in his favor. Hastings was also an opportunist, a contrarian, and a scoundrel, but for far more interesting reasons than are commonly parroted in Donner Party accounts. Later in his life, Hastings became one of American history’s strangest enigmas: the non-Southern Confederate.
In 1864, Hastings, born a “Northern Yankee” and friend of some of the West’s staunchest Unionists, traveled to Richmond, Virginia to meet with Confederate president Jefferson Davis. The “schemes” that the explorer could be acquitted of in the 1840s were now a real ambition: he hoped to capture “the most valuable agricultural and grazing lands” of the California and Arizona territories and annex them into the Confederacy under his leadership. The War Department never granted funds for the plot, but Hastings was commissioned as a major in the Confederate army as consolation.
The war ended just a year later, but Hastings surprisingly stuck to the “Lost Cause” for which he had no natural or coherent attachment. In 1866, with the permission of Emperor Dom Pedro II, Hastings recruited disgruntled Southerners to migrate to Brazil and set up new communities. The explorer chose Santarém, Para, near the Amazon River, as his personal domain for the new “Confederados.” He then returned to the United States to publish a new book: The Emigrants Guide to Brazil. Under Hastings and others like him, 20,000 ex-Confederates sailed to various settlements in the South American rainforest to start anew. Hastings attempted a second voyage in 1870, but died of a fever at sea.
Hastings’ plan for Brazilian migration directly mirrored the one for California two decades earlier, down to the identical titles for his guidebooks. As in California, Hastings’ followers lingered at their new land. In 1940, a writer was able to track down three of the original Santarém emigrants. Thousands of descendants there and at other “Confederado” settlements remain today. All have assimilated completely into Brazilian culture except for one thing: an affection for the Confederate battle flag. At Santarém, and more famously, a town called Americana, bars and homes proudly display it.
Once in a while, a character surfaces in history who almost needs to be seen to be believed. Lansford Hastings was one of these riddles, and the lesser-known aspects of his life are arguably more fascinating, impactful, and even sinister. Critics of Hastings continue to misplace their attentions on the Donner Party incident when rendering judgment on his character. This judgment, even if near the mark, cannot be made without an examination of the fuller picture.
Thomas F. Andrews, “The Ambitions of Lansford W. Hastings: A Study in Western Myth-Making,” Pacific Historical Review, 39:4 (1970), 473-491
Thomas F. Andrews, “Lansford W. Hastings and the Promotion of the Salt Lake Desert Cutoff: A Reappraisal,” Western Historical Quarterly, 4:2 (1973), 133-150
Cyrus B. Dawsey and James M. Dawsey, eds., The Confederados: Old South Immigrants in Brazil (University of Alabama Press, 1995)
Frank McLynn, Wagons West: The Epic Story of America’s Overland Trails (New York: Grove Press, 2002)
Oregon Trail preparedness: What supplies did the settlers carry?
The year was 1834, a year that didn’t really stand out as all that particularly important in American history. But like any other year, it had its share of firsts. The first railroad tunnel was completed in Pennsylvania and the United States Senate censured President Jackson for taking federal deposits from the bank of the U.S. In 1834, sandpaper and the hard-hat diving suit were patented, as was the first mechanical reaper. Congress created the Indian Territory in what was later to become the state of Oklahoma. A young lawyer by the name of Abraham Lincoln was elected to the Illinois State Legislature.
And in 1834, a merchant from New England named Nathaniel Wyeth and an Episcopalian missionary named Jason Lee led 80 people from Missouri to Oregon. They became the first group of settlers to make the 2,170-mile trip along what would soon thereafter become known as the Oregon Trail.
While they may have been the first, they certainly weren’t the last. By the end of the 1860s, an estimated 500,000 pioneers had traveled overland from the settled East to the uncertain West in search of a new life, new land, and golden treasure. To make the journey, these pioneers gave up nearly everything they possessed, left behind family and friends they might never see again, and walked across half a continent through seemingly endless prairie, high deserts, and snow-covered mountains. On the journey, they would pass through territories that would later become Missouri, Kansas, Nebraska, Wyoming, Idaho, and Oregon.
Not all those who started the journey completed it. By some estimates, as many as 10 percent of travelers died en route, usually from disease or accidents. Some of those who wrote about the Oregon Trail and its ancillary branches declared it the longest cemetery in the world. Considering the number of deaths on the trail, an even spacing would create a grave every 50 yards, stretching from the Missouri River to Oregon City.
So who were these crazy people, and why did they place their lives and fortunes in jeopardy to reach a land none of them had ever seen?
By the end of the 1860s, an estimated 500,000 pioneers had traveled to the west in search of a new life, new land, and golden treasure.
The rationale of pioneers
The emigrants who kept journals of their travels gave many reasons for making the journey. Some were escaping frequent outbreaks of diseases like malaria and dysentery in the crowded Eastern states. Many were the children of pioneers who themselves had homesteaded in Indiana, Illinois, and the Michigan territories. These “youngsters” were forced to move further west because all the best river-bottom land for farming had already been claimed, and the competition for even the less-desirable farmland was growing. In 1830, the U.S. Census determined the population of the settled U.S. was nearly 13 million. By 1840, that population had grown to more than 17 million — an increase of almost 33 percent.
Estimates based on the preserved diaries of the travelers suggest as many as 70 percent of the Western immigrants were farmers by trade. Based on history and experience, many of these farmers realized that sooner or later the U.S. Congress would get around to ceding land in the Western territories to settlers. In 1850, Congress did just that — granting a square mile of land to each married couple. The travelers knew those who got there soonest would get the best land. And those who married and had children would get a lot of it.
“… there was much talk and excitement over the news of the great gold discoveries in California — and equally there was much talk concerning the wonderful fertile valleys of Oregon Territory — an act of Congress giving to actual settlers 640 acres of land. My father, John Tucker Scott, with much of the pioneer spirit in his blood, became so interested that he decided to ‘Go West.’” — Harriet Scott Palmer, 1852
There were other reasons for migrating. In 1849, many folks began the journey as “49ers,” heading for the newly-discovered gold fields of the Sierra foothills of California. Others who left the East for the West in the 1860s did so to escape the looming Civil War. But no matter the reason, there was one underlying sentiment shared by nearly every pioneer: the concept of Manifest Destiny, a belief that the growth of the United States was divinely preordained.
This painting by John Gast illustrates the pioneer’s concept of Manifest Destiny: a belief that the growth of the United States was divinely preordained.
With a few exceptions, all the major Western emigrant trails started in the vicinity of the (aptly-named) frontier town of Independence, Missouri. From Independence or at various branches further to the west, the traveler could head southwest on the Santa Fe Trail, west to Sacramento on the California Trail, or continue northwest to Oregon. The Mormon Trail, which lead to Salt Lake City, began in the town of Nauvoo, Illinois and crossed the Missouri river north of Independence at Council Bluff, eventually joining up with the Oregon Trail near Fort Laramie, Wyoming.
The timing of departure from Independence was critical. Sufficiently available grass for the livestock meant leaving no earlier than mid-April. But leaving too late meant the possibility of encountering fall snows in the mountains — a June departure might well end in disaster. But leaving in the spring meant encountering rivers swollen with melt waters, violent spring prairie thunderstorms, and blistering mid-summer heat while crossing the deserts of southern Wyoming, Idaho, and eastern Oregon.
With a few exceptions, all the major Western emigrant trails started in the vicinity of the (aptly-named) frontier town of Independence, Missouri.
Going around the Horn
Not everyone with a hankering to reach the West traveled by trail. The very first immigrants to Oregon from the United States came by ship around Cape Horn or by sailing to Panama, crossing the isthmus to the Pacific side, and then taking another ship north.
But making the ocean journey was not a popular choice for most of the pioneers. For one thing, traveling to the West Coast by sea was expensive. In 1849, a single fare in cabin space from New York to San Francisco could cost over $500. For a few hundred dollars more, a family of four could be completely (if sparsely) equipped for the journey by trail and arrive there with enough tools and supplies to begin a homestead. Additionally, the voyage by sea had its own dangers and might take as long as a year to complete, far longer than the four to six months usually required to reach the Oregon territories by wagon.
The first thing any potential Westerner acquired were copies of the dozens of travel guidebooks that came out shortly after the Oregon Trail was opened. The Emmigrant’s Guide to Oregon and California, written by Lansford Hastings, was one of the earliest and most popular. But all of the travel guides — which varied considerably in quality — still provided commonly-known details on many of the same things: travel distances, river crossings, relatively current costs of food and equipment, warnings of potentially dangerous situations, and other important locality-related information.
Many of the guidebooks also instructed potential trail travelers in the specific amounts and types of supplies that they would need to make the journey safely, as well as the most efficient wagon designs and the best draft animals for a successful wagon journey. Oxen were much preferred over horses or mules by experienced travelers.
“We fully tested the ox and mule teams, and we found the ox teams greatly superior. One ox will pull as much as two mules, and, in mud, as much as four. They are more easily managed, are not so subject to be lost or broken down on the way, cost less at the start, and are worth four times as much [in Oregon]…” — Peter Hardeman Burnett, pioneer and first Governor of California, 1843
There was another major advantage in using oxen over any other draft animals. In the end, and if absolutely necessary, you could always eat the ox.
Most of the Western movies we watched as kids showed pioneer families perched on a seat high at the front end of a large, slope-sided wagon Dad and Mom singing frontier songs with the kids in the back, all part of a long train of similar wagons. But the wagons used in those movies shared little in common with the wagons that traveled the Oregon Trail. Those movie wagons were Conestoga wagons, large freight-moving vessels that were far too heavy and unwieldy for navigating open prairie, muddy river crossings, and mountain passes.
The most common wagon used by the pioneers was the “prairie schooner.” On average, a prairie schooner was four feet wide and ten feet long. They had vertical or slightly canted sides with waterproofed canvas covers supported by bent-wood ribbing. The typical prairie schooner was capable of carrying a maximum of 2,500 pounds of supplies.
Prairie schooners were built light and strong, and the boxes were often waterproofed so they could be used as a temporary barge to float across rivers and streams too deep to ford. Because the wagons were so heavily laden, adding the additional weight of passengers was unwise. Rather than ride, it was far more likely that the family walked alongside, guiding the oxen. The only riders were usually those too ill to walk. Riding in the wagons was simply too dusty, too rough, and too hard on the livestock.
Occasionally, a wagon might be set up in such a way that the family could sleep inside at night with a temporary board floor and bedding placed over the supplies but most of the pioneers used tents for passing the night, or slept under the stars. Storage space was far more important than living space.
A complete wagon, three yoke of oxen (meaning two oxen to a yoke, or six in total), food for a family of five, appropriate clothing, tools, and firearms could be acquired for a minimum of $600 (the equivalent of $15,000 today). But $600 was a small fortune to many of the cash-poor farmers preparing to make the journey.
“During that this fall, father began to make his arrangements to start the next spring for Oregon, but he had to find a buyer for his farm before he could leave, he asked fifteen hundred dollars for all his land, by Christmas he offered it for twelve hundred and about the middle of March he sold it to a Mr. Pemberton for eight hundred dollars, he said, he could not think of staying in that sickly country another summer.” — Abraham Henry Garrison, 1846
For those who were determined to make the trip west but did not have the necessary funds, one option was to accept loans or gifts from family and friends. Another option often used by bankrupt farmers was to sell “subscriptions” (a share of future profits from the new farm in the west) to their creditors, who had little chance of recovering the debts owed to them in any other way. For the truly destitute, another option was to hire on with other more prosperous pioneers as trail helpers in exchange for food and transportation.
The most common wagon used by the pioneers was the “prairie schooner.”
Food on the Oregon Trail
Joel Palmer, a pioneer who made his first trip west in 1845, wrote a popular travel guide titled Journal of Travels Over the Rocky Mountains in 1847. In it, he recommended the following list of supplies for each adult: “…Two hundred pounds of flour, thirty pounds of pilot bread, seventy-five pounds of bacon, ten pounds of rice, five pounds of coffee, two pounds of tea, twenty-five pounds of sugar, half a bushel of dried beans, one bushel of dried fruit, two pounds of saleratus, ten pounds of salt, half a bushel of corn meal and it is well to have half a bushel of corn, parched and ground a small keg of vinegar should also be taken.”
While other guides varied to some degree in weight-per-item suggestions, Mr. Palmer’s recommendations were pretty typical.
Flour was always first on everyone’s list. But flour in the 19th century was not the bleached and enriched flour available today. In the mid-1800s, the trail pioneer had to choose between three types of flour: shorts, middlings, and superfine.
“Shorts” was a coarse-ground flour somewhere between wheat bran and whole wheat. It was poorly sifted and retained a high degree of impurities. Shorts flour was often the least-expensive option and varied considerably in quality, depending on the mill.
“Middlings” flour was a remainder product formed during the separation of bran from white flour. It was very high in gluten. In the separation process, middlings became a waste product for many mills and were often sold by those mills as inexpensive flour without further refinement.
“Superfine” flour was as close to modern white flour as was possible for the mid-19th-century mills to produce. It wasn’t all that white, but it was a far better quality of wheat than other options. It was often recommended for desserts such as cakes and pastries. It was also considerably more expensive than shorts or middlings.
Baking bread was a daily necessity on the trail. Whether you were baking in small sheet-iron ovens, Dutch ovens, or frying biscuits on a skillet, finding the necessary materials to make a fire — especially on the large stretches of prairie — was problematic. Carrying large amounts of firewood was simply not possible. Fortunately, there was (at least in the early years) a ready source of fuel during much of the journey: millions of small piles of dried buffalo “chips” that littered the plains. When stopping for a meal or for the night, an evening chore for children was to collect the chips. Buffalo dung made a surprisingly steady-burning and low-odor fire for baking or frying. When the chips were in short supply, the pioneers discovered that sage brush burned quite hot, although it added a certain flavor to the meal.
“Often we had to cook with grease wood or sagebrush. We had iron pots and teakettles for cooking, and did our baking in a Dutch oven with coals under it and over it. It was difficult for my Mother and sisters to work and cook this way, as we had been used to a large house, a cook stove and brick oven, and a maid to do the hard work.” — Sarah Bird Sprenger, 1852
Any bakers reading this might notice Palmer’s guide made no mention of yeast. There’s a simple explanation for this: no commercially-available yeast of the time could survive the trail.
Bread yeasts in the mid-19th century were caked or “wet” yeasts available in large part from beer breweries. Caked yeasts of that time simply had no shelf life, and needed to be used within days of delivery to the bakers. The only way to extend their longevity was to keep them refrigerated at temperatures below 45° F, which was impossible to do in a wagon on the hot plains.
Sourdough starter was also available to the pioneers, but it had its own problems. While more robust than baker’s yeast, it required time — sometimes a great deal of time — to make bread rise. Additionally, rising breads and pastries require a stable platform to avoid “falling,” an impossible condition in a jolting and shaking wagon.
The answer to this lack of leavening was saleratus (a precursor to our modern baking soda), which was discovered by chemists in the late 1700s. Saleratus was a form of bicarbonate of soda that, when enfolded in the dough for baked or fried bread, released carbon dioxide upon heating, causing the bread to rise.
While the initial saleratus carried by the prairie travelers came from chemists, the pioneers quickly found a natural source providentially located along the Oregon Trail near Independence Rock, Wyoming.
Only a few miles from the Sweetwater River, pioneers discovered a number of small lakes with no natural outflow, where mineral salts washed down from the nearby mountains were concentrated by evaporation, leaving hard white crusts of nearly pure saleratus. With the pioneer practice of prosaic place-naming, the largest of these bodies of water became known as Saleratus Lake, a name it still bears today.
“Fortunately, a young man from the valley, who had come out to meet friends, came past. He had a little flour to spare, which he gave us, with a tinful of rice, for which he would take nothing. We were very thankful for it, but we had neither salt nor saleratus, nor anything to bake in. Mr. H. went to a camp near and got a little of each with a skillet to bake in. I made up the dough, kneaded it in a cloth and baked it. It looks good, for all it had nothing but water, salt and saleratus in it.” — Esther Belle Hanna, 1852
Saleratus was enfolded in the dough for baked or fried bread. While being baked, it released carbon dioxide, causing the bread to rise.
The other staple of trail life was bacon. In fact, the most common meal on the Oregon Trail was bacon and bread. As one pioneer dryly put it: “But then one does like a change and about the only change we have from bread and bacon is, bacon and bread.” — Helen Carpenter, 1857
As with flour, the bacon of the mid-1800s was not the bacon of today’s modern meat departments. Back then, “bacon” was defined as any pig meat from the sides, hams, or shoulders that had received a salt-cure. Despite its inclusion in practically every travel guide, bacon rarely made it through the entire journey because of its high fat content. As one waggish traveler put it: “It began to exhibit more signs of life than we had bargained for. It became necessary to scrape and smoke it, in order to get rid of its tendency to walk in insect form.”
Less “mobile” bacon could often be purchased along the trail at the various forts, or from entrepreneurial traveling vendors, at much higher prices. Unlike salt pork or beef (which was kept barreled in a brine solution), bacon was stored dry in bug-proof bags or boxes. In hot climates, bacon was buried in bran, which supposedly kept the fat from melting (or at least absorbed it).
Parched corn (corn whose kernels had been sun-dried or roasted in an oven) was very popular with the pioneers, if for no other reason than because it did not spoil easily. It was usually ground into a rough flour and cooked as a mush, which was served with milk from the traveler’s cows.
Desiccated or dried vegetables
Dried fruits were a staple, not only amongst the pioneers, but for practically everyone in 19th century America. But dried vegetables were initially less common in the larders of the pioneers.
That changed upon the publication of Randolph Marcy’s The Prairie Traveler: A Handbook for Overland Expeditions in 1859. Marcy suggested each traveler should avail themselves of a product used extensively in the Crimean War called “desiccated vegetables.”
Marcy wrote of how these vegetables were made: “They are prepared by cutting the fresh vegetables into thin slices and subjecting them to a very powerful press, which removes the juice and leaves a solid cake, which, after having been thoroughly dried in an oven becomes almost as hard as a rock. A small piece of this about half the size of a man’s hand, when boiled, swells up so as to fill a vegetable dish, and is sufficient for four men.” Depending on the source, the vegetables in question were a mixture of potatoes, cabbage, turnip, carrots, parsnips, beets, tomatoes, onions, peas, beans, lentils, and celery.
While many raved about the quality of these primitive dehydrated vegetables, others were less impressed. A member of the Third Iowa Cavalry Regiment wrote, “We have boiled, baked, fried, stewed, pickled, sweetened, salted it and tried it in puddings, cakes and pies but it sets all modes of cooking in defiance, so the boys break it up and smoke it in their pipes!”
Coffee was not just a staple on the trail, it was often the only thing left near the end of the journey.
“We still had coffee, and making a huge pot of this fragrant beverage, we gathered round the crackling camp fire — our last in the Cascade Mountains — and, sipping the nectar from rusty cups and eating salal berries gathered during the day, pitied folks who had no coffee.”
— Catherine “Kit” Scott, 1852
The coffee on the trail was transported as green (unroasted) beans, because roasted or ground coffee traveled poorly and rapidly lost its flavor. The beans were roasted in a skillet over a fire, then ground in the ubiquitous coffee grinder.
Palmer’s food list consisted of only the basics. Many pioneers brought additional items along to suit their own tastes, including such treats as dried meat, hard candies, chocolate, and various types of hard cheese. For those who brought the lactating family cow, butter was available, churned daily by the bouncing wagon. Nearly everyone brought lard for cooking, as well as tobacco in some form.
For medicinal purposes
Disease was the big killer on the trail. With so many people traveling along the same routes at the same time with far too little understanding of basic sanitation, this meant human waste, animal waste, and animal carcasses were often in close proximity to the available water supplies. As a result, cholera — a bacterial disease usually caused by ingesting feces-tainted water — was the greatest cause of death on the Oregon Trail. Typhoid (or as it was called, mountain fever), diphtheria, dysentery, malaria, food poisoning, and even scurvy were also diseases affecting the pioneers. And, of course, childbirth was made more dangerous simply as a result of the primitive conditions on the trail.
In the mid-19th century, effective medical supplies were limited. Marcy recommended a fairly sparse first-aid kit for the travelers containing “a little blue mass (a mercury-based nostrum recommended for varied complaints such as tuberculosis, constipation, toothache, parasitic infestations and childbirth pains), quinine, opium and some cathartic medicine (for constipation).”
Not included in Marcy’s list was one of the more popular medications of the day, often described as “medicinal spirits.” Fortunately this omission was remedied by his faithful readers, and there was hardly a wagon that didn’t carry at least one or more five-gallon drums of “medicinal spirits,” usually in the conveniently available form of whiskey, brandy, or rum.
“The brandy and whiskey we brought for medicinal purposes, but indulged in a little as we had just started on our journey. The first day, the cork came out of the whiskey bottle and spilled more than half to Mr. Tootle’s great disappointment. Indeed I don’t believe he has recovered from it yet.” — Ellen Tootle, 1862
Every wagon carried firearms. While fears of frequent and deadly clashes with Native Americans were exaggerated in the popular press, the reality of such confrontations was considerably different. In his book The Plains Across, John Uruh estimated 362 emigrants and 426 Native Americans died because of conflict during migrations between 1840 and 1860.
Most of the travelers were equipped with muzzle-loading long guns, either muskets or (occasionally) rifles. Cartridge firearms did not become mainstream until the mid-1870s. Pistols were fairly rare, as they were expensive and not suited to the principle use of firearms on the trail (adding fresh meat to the dinner menu). Practically every wagon was equipped with gunpowder, shot molds, and lead for casting rifle balls.
“We stopped at Omaha several days for outfitting and the gathering of more emigrants as the Sioux Indians were on the warpath that summer and it was not safe for a few people to venture alone on the trip. Many emigrants arrived daily and when we were ready to start there were more than 100 wagons in our train and twice that many men, all armed, mostly with single shot, muzzle loading rifles. Some, however, had Henry rifles and Colt revolvers.” — Charles Oliver, 1864
Several more articles could be written just on the clothing, camping supplies, day-to-day tools, and livestock supplies needed by the emigrants while traveling the trail. More could be said about those who brought cherished family heirlooms that had to be left discarded along the trail to lighten the wagon load for struggling oxen or mules. Farmers brought plow blades and precious seed. Skilled craftsmen making the trip often had to bring one or more additional wagons just to haul the tools of their trades, necessitating the hiring of drovers and adding more food to feed them. Emigrants brought books, Bibles, trail guides, and writing materials. Roughly one person in 200 kept a diary.
The end of the trail
With the exception of the very early years, travelers on the trail were rarely alone. Everyone jumped off from Independence at roughly the same time. Each delay caused by a swollen river or a slope failure across the road created a bottleneck that backed up the pioneers until the delay was overcome. Travelers grouped together while camping and moved together for protection. Items carried by one wagon would often be traded or sold to another. Hunting parties made up from several different families would scour the area around the trail for game to share at the evening meals. And romances, break-ups, and marriages were common.
A mishap, like getting off the trail and getting a wagon stuck in the mud, often meant waiting for help by the next wagon to come along. And help they did. No one was left behind, because anyone could become the next person in trouble. Everyone on the trail felt a kinship for their fellow travelers. They celebrated each other’s’ successes and consoled each other’s losses. No one was left behind.
Even upon arriving in Oregon or California, the travelers-turned-homesteaders were not left to fend for themselves. Many of the emigrants arrived starving, with no provisions left. Others had a bit of preserved food, but were sick and worn out from the journey. And many had spent their last dollar just making ends meet on the trail itself.
Those who had arrived earlier organized relief associations. These relief groups often sent regularly-scheduled pack trains back along the trail to help stragglers in need. This kind of assistance didn’t cease at the end of the trail. Most of the new settlers arrived in the late fall or early winter, far too late to put in a crop or do more than hastily construct winter quarters. But neighbors, churches, and civic committees worked together to keep the new arrivals alive, at least long enough for the settlers to get in a crop and “prove-up” their homesteads. Some referred to this as altruism at its best. Other (more pragmatic) folks considered that to have thousands of new neighbors both armed and starving was in no one’s best interest. Whatever the motive (and I can see no reason why both sentiments couldn’t coexist happily), those who were willing to work were given employment, even if the pay for their labors was in food rather than gold.
The immigrants became homesteaders, and the Western territories received the benefits of an influx of people who were willing to take the risks of seeking the unknown in hopes of a better future for themselves and their posterity.
I’ve been a modern backwoods homesteader for more than 25 years now. I’m here to report the community spirit is still alive and well amongst my neighbors and fellow modern-day pioneers.
Oregon Trail Timeline 1841-1843
Historian Charles Mattes calls the BIDWELL-BARTLESON PARTY "the first emigrant party. for Oregon." Thomas Fitzpatrick led this caravan of 36 men and families from Westport Landing on the Kansas River to Oregon. Some of the party turned off onto the trail for California at Ft. Hall. Also this year, an undetermined number of trappers, French Canadians, and Hudson Bay Company employees left their former occupations to settle in the Willamette Valley.
In January, Louise WALKER was born to Mary and Joel Walker near Salem. The Walkers, who arrived in the late summer of 1840, were the first non-missionary settler family to Oregon from the States. On January 18, 1841, missionaries H.K.W. and Elvira Johnson PERKINS had their second child, a daughter.
In February 1841, two more of the 1840 arrivals on the ship Lausanne got married: David CARTER and Orpha LANKTON. In June the couple visited the Dalles and by November returned to the Willamette Valley.
A NEW MISSION ON THE CLATSOP PLAINS (about 7 miles from the Fort George near the mouth of the Columbia River) was ready for occupancy in February 1841. Mrs.W.W. KONE had been so ill that she needed to be carried to her new mission post. The William Kones and J. H. FROST families stayed at Ft. George (Astoria) while the mission was constructed with the help of former fur trappers Solomon SMITH, Calvin TIBBETS, and an African American sailor named WALLACE.
WALLER, BABCOCK and LESLIE transported the ailing Mrs. Kone to Ft. Vancouver in February 1841. On April 18, she gave birth to a son.
A discussion after EWING YOUNG's funeral during the winter of 1840-41, led to plans for a meeting about ORGANIZING A GOVERNMENT IN THE WILLAMETTE VALLEY. The first meeting was held on February 17, 1841 at the Methodist Mission with Gustavus Hines as secretary (Sydney Smith also took notes) and Jason Lee presiding. At this meeting George LeBreton was named to chair the "committee of arrangement" and it was recommended that a committee of 7 be elected to draft a constitution and code of laws to govern settlements south of the Columbia River.
On February 18, the settlers met again with David Leslie presiding in place of Lee, and with Hines and Smith elected as secretaries. The attendees elected a constitutional committee (Rev. F.N. Blanchet, Rev. Jason Lee, David DonPierre, Gustavus Hines, Mr. Charlevon (or Chanlevo), Robert Moore, J.L. Parrish, Etienne Lucier, and William Johnson) and several acting officers (LeBreton as Court Clerk/Recorder, Ira L. Babcock as Supreme Judge, William Johnson as High Sheriff, and, as Constables, Xavier Landeroot, Pierre Billique, and William McCarty).
CHEMEKETA METHODIST MISSION also opened in 1841, a new Methodist Episcopal mission not too far from the Old Mission at Salem.
Daniel and Maria Ware LEE had a son, Wilbur Fisk Lee, born 3/23/1841
Ex-trapper Robert "Doc" NEWELL's WAGON arrived by boat in the Willamette Valley in April 1841. This wagon will be touted as the first wagon to come overland from the States past Ft. Hall. A missionary party brought it to Fort Hall in 1840 and gave it to Newell as payment for guiding them. In Fall of 1840, Newell drove this wagon--or at east the bare chassis--over the Blue Mountains and through the sage brush as far as Whitmans' Mission at Waiilatpu.
On May 2, 1841, the U.S. ship Vincennes under Lieutenant CHARLES WILKES anchored at Discovery Bay. It was met by a large canoe carrying English-speaking coastal Native Americans who asked if the sailors are Boston or King George (American or British).
US EXPLORING EXPEDITION: The Vincennes was the flagship of a six-vessel squadron, which left Virginia for a voyage in 1839. Its two-fold mission was to make the first military circumnavigation of the globe under the US flag and to explore the Northwest country. In May, the U.S. ship Vincennes under Lieutenant Charles Wilkes anchored at Discovery Bay.
During the summer the Expedition visited missions at Lapwaii, Waiilatpu, and the Willamette Valley as well as a number of farms and settlements. It made extensive reports on Hudson's Bay Company activities and American prospects. [The Beinecke Collection at Yale University contains the diaries of Silas HOLMES (of the US Peacock) and of Lt. George Foster EMMONS (of the overland US Exploring Expedition)]
According to Wilkes: ". the missionary field was over-crowded. the missionary field was but small, and insufficient for the expenses which have been lavished on it. [other] various characters settled there [the Valley]. They generally consist of those who have been hunters in the mountains, and were still full of the recklessness of that breed. Many of them, although they have taken farms and built log houses, cannot be classed among the permanent settlers"
In early May, Narcissa WHITMAN reported that the LITTLEJOHNs were mulling over a return to the States by ship. The HBC caravan began its yearly eastward trek from Ft. Vancouver. Missionary Asahel MUNGER (who had become too mentally ill to continue since his arrival in 1839) and his family journeyed with them hoping to find an eastbound American caravan at the traditional Rendezvous on the Green River. (But, by 1841, the fur trade had collapsed and there was no American Rendezvous.)
The H.B. BREWERs daughter Susan was born 5/8/1841. Mary Kinney (Mrs. David) LESLIE died giving birth to a healthy child in mid-May. A child was born on May 23, 1841 to Rev.W.W. and Mrs. RAYMOND of the Clatsop Methodist Mission and the LITTLEJOHNs also had a baby in mid-May.
A funeral was held for P.C. PAMBRUN, the HBC's commander at Ft. Walla Walla on May 16, 1841 he had died four days after a fall from a horse. The widow Pambrun, CATHERINE HUMPHERVILLE PAMBRUN, and her nine children sheltered for a time at Waiilatpu Mission after her husband's death. She took the family to the Willamette Valley by the end of 1841 and left HARRIET PAMBRUN, the youngest, in Narcissa WHITMAN's care.
OVERLAND PARTIES OF THE US EXPLORING EXPEDITION traveled south in May and reached the HBC establishment at Astoria. By late May, a party under Wilkes reached Ft. Vancouver and received a friendly welcome from Dr. MCLOUGHLIN of the HBC.
Governor George SIMPSON, head of Hudson Bay Company operations in North America, came by ship to Ft. Vancouver in 1841 before the arrival of the U.S. Exploring Expedition at the fort. Neither Britain nor the U.S. had deliberately timed the visits of their agents to coincide.
William H. and Chloe WILLSON's newborn died in 1841 and the next month the Willsons were reassigned to the Willamette Methodist mission (near present day Salem).
On May 30, HBC officer Francis ERMATINGER left Vancouver for Ft. Hall, 3 weeks behind the Mungers and the main body of the HBC.
The group of settlers which had considered OREGON GOVERNMENT in February, met again on June 1, 1841 this time at the newly built Methodist Mission at Chemetka. BLANCHET requested to be excused from the Constitutional committee and William J. BAILEY was elected as his replacement. The committee was advised to confer with Lt. Wilkes, commander of the U.S. Exploring Expedition, and with Dr. John McLoughlin, commander of Ft. Vancouver. On the first Monday of August the settlers were to meet in order to prepare recommendations which would be presented to a meeting at large on the first Thursday of October, 1841. [There are no records of meetings after June 1, 1841]
On June 4, 1841 Wilkes and company set off up the Willamette in a boat provided by McLoughlin. Wilkes encountered a group of young men building a boat. The boatwrights, discouraged about finding a livelihood and white brides in Oregon, hoped to head south. Their boat would be the first sailing vessel manufactured in Oregon THE OREGON STAR sailed the next year with all its builders except for Henry WOOD including Felix HATHAWAY, Joseph GALE, R.L. KILBORNE, Pleasant ARMSTRONG, George DAVIS, Charles MATTS and John GREEN.
During 1841, James DOUGLAS established a post at Yerba Buena (San Francisco) for the Hudson Bay Company.
The US Exploring Expedition visited Lapwaii on June 25.
In late June/early July, Marcus and Narcissa Whitman spent six weeks with the Eells at Tshimiakan. While they were gone, W.H. Gray harvested the wheat and began work on his own adobe house at Waiilatpu. Iatin, a Waiilatpu Indian, told Gray he must pay for lumber and firewood Iatin said that during a visit to the Willamette he had learned how owners don't allow others to use their land.
In July, after the wheat harvest was in but while the corn and potatoes were still in the ground, some Cayuse trampled the Whitman's field with their horses
In July, Calvin TIBBETTS, Solomon SMITH, and TAYLOR (described as "an old sailor") made a round trip cattle drive from the coast near Clatsop to the Willamette Valley. A "sailor boy"-- a young man (name not recorded) who arrived on the ship Wave (HBC Capt. More)--went with them. He returned to become a helper at Clatsop mission and to take an Indian wife.
On July 18, 1841 the SHIP PEACOCK, part of the US Exploring Expedition, wrecked at the mouth of the Columbia.
Henry ELD, with a party of the US Exploring Expedition landed at Baker Bay and reached Ft. Vancouver by the end of the month of August.
ON THE TRAIL FROM CANADA TO OREGON, JUNE 5 THROUGH OCTOBER 12, 1841:
The PUGET SOUND AGRICULTURAL COMPANY, under the aegis of the HBC, imported to the Northwest 21 families of experienced British Canadian farmers and herders along with superior breeds of sheep and swine. Despite good capitalization, the attempt to found an agricultural colony promptly failed. The "colonists" simply headed south to establish their own farms on free land. A total of 121 arrivals (19 households) went to two stations in 1841: Cowlitz river landing on the Columbia and another near Ft. Nisqually (both in present-day Washington State).
James DOUGLAS, who had warned Gov. Simpson that Nisqually was poor farm land, scouted for a site and assigned families to their parcels in November 1841. William BALDRA, John JOHNSON, and Thomas OTCHINS (earlier Oregon arrivals) transferred from the HBC to the Puget Sound AC. Angus MCDONALD, a HBC chief trader, was placed in charge of the operation. A few French Canadians were already settled in the region (Simon PLAMANDON, Francis FRAGINENET, Michel COGNOIR, and Joseph ROCHBRUNNE).
James SINCLAIR led the immigration from the Red River Country (Manitoba) to the Nisqually and Puget Sound region. The new emigrants to Oregon Country included the David FLETTs, the Charles MCKAYs, and the three Bird sisters, daughters of Gov. James Bird. Traveling via Ft. Ellice, Ft. Carlton, Edmonton, Banff, and the Whitman Pass, the emigrants reached the upper Columbia River by August 12 and Ft. Walla Walla by Oct 4.
Most of the newcomers abandoned the Puget Sound Agricultural Company. All but the BIRSTONs, the CALDERs, one FLETT brother, the TAITs, and the JOYELLEs had left the Puget Sound area by late 1842 to make homes on the Tulatin Plains or the Willamette Valley. Joe KLYNE left to join the HBC's California brigade and one family had stayed in the Kutenai region.
IN THE MOUNTAINS AND ON THE TRAIL TO OREGON:
In March 1841, Joseph WALKER (Joel's brother), Henry FRAEB, and other mountain men reached Brown's Hole (Ft. Crockett), where Joe had left his Shoshone wife and children. In June or July, the company headed for the Southwest
In Spring of 1841, the BIDWELL-BARTLESON PARTY departed for Oregon from Missouri. With them were Father Pierre J. DESMET, his aide, Father Nicholas POINT, and Methodist preacher, JOSEPH WILLIAMS. Although missionary fervor motivated some emigrants this year, most travelers on the trail from this year forward came for land and a new life. Many of the long-term mountain men and trailblazers switched to occupations as buffalo hunters, guides, and trail trade-post operators during and after 1841.
During this year, Jim BRIDGER and Louis VASQUEZ, former trapper/traders, built a trading post on the Black Fork of the Green River. The post opened in time for the 1842 travel season.
Thomas FITZPATRICK led the Bidwell-Bartlson caravan of 36 men and families from Westport Landing on the Kansas River to Oregon, with some of the party turning off for California at Ft. Hall. Rufus B. SAGE, a trail journalist like Bidwell, traveled with fur traders from Westport to Ft. Platte.
In early May, the eastbound Hudson Bay Company brigade left Ft. Vancouver for the usual journey for trade at the RENDEZVOUS on the Green River. Missionary Asahel MUNGER and his family traveled with them hoping return to the States with an eastbound American caravan after Rendezvous. HBC leader Francis Ermatinger also came to Rendezvous, leaving Ft. Vancouver on May 30, about three weeks after the main HBC brigade.
During summer on the trail, Joseph WALKER met the overlanders with a herd of horses and mules brought from California.
William SHOTWELL became the first trail emigrant to die of an accidental gun shot such accidents became frequent among the inexperienced and heavily armed travelers on the Oregon Trail.
Joseph WILLIAMS recorded the building of adobe-walled FT. JOHN (at the site of Ft. William/Laramie).
James JOHN, who had been traveling with Joseph Chiles and Weaver, left the main caravan at Bear River (between Ft. Bonneville and Ft. Hall).
After Fort Hall, John BIDWELL and General John BARTLESON led a large number of the travelers on to the trail for California. With a few traveling ahead, the rest continued to Oregon led by Fitzpatrick.
An Oregon Trail traveler named FOWLER, the Josiah and/or Samuel KELSEY family, David ROSS, David HILL, OLD (Joseph?) WILLIAMS, and CARROLL passed through the Dalles on the way to the Willamette Valley in early September of 1841, slightly ahead of the other 1841 overland travelers.
Rev. Joseph WILLIAMS and his family, a member of the Methodist missions, arrived at the Dalles September 24, 1841.
The MUNGERS returned to Waiilatpu on October 1 disappointed in their search to find Rendezvous and eastbound travelers. They were soon followed by the westbound overlanders: "2 families from Missouri and 12 Jesuits from New Orleans," and the company under Fitzpatrick.
By October 6, twenty-four settlers had passed through Waiilatpu on their way to the Willamette. Mary Ann BRIDGER, the six year old daughter of Jim Bridger, came to live with the Whitmans sometime in 1841, perhaps arriving with a group of overlanders.
Narcissa WHITMAN wrote "Doubtless every year will bring more & more into this country. These emigrants are nearly destitute of every kind of food when they arrive here & we were under the necessity of giving them provisions to help them on. Our little place is a resting spot for many a weary, way-worn traveler and will be as long as we live here. If we can do good that way, perhaps it is as important as some other things we are doing."
IN OREGON AGAIN:
In September 1841, American Board missionaries--the John S. GRIFFINs--and all the independent missionaries who had arrived in Oregon in 1840--the Harvey CLARKs, the Philo LITTLEJOHNs, and the Alvin T. SMITHs--left the Presbyterian missions at Kamiah, Waiilatpu, and Lapwaii to move to the Willamette Valley. By the end of December, the independents formally dissolved their mission and became settlers. The Littlejohns later returned to Lapwaii mission to continue as assistants to Rev. Spalding.
Father Pierre DeSmet, the FIRST AMERICAN CATHOLIC PRIEST in the Northwest, dedicated St. Mary's on the Bitteroot River (Flathead mission) in September 1841.
In September, the US EXPLORING EXPEDITION LEFT FOR CALIFORNIA overland and by ship. Three families and 4 or 5 single men, originally emigrants to Oregon, left with Lt. Emmons's party traveling overland. Men with Emmons included: Midshipmen Eld and Colvoressis Assistant Surgeon Dr. Whittle T.R. Peale, naturalist W. Rich, botanist Brackenridge, assistant botanist J.D. Dana, geologist A.T. Agate, artist Seamen Doughty, Merzer, Waltham, and Sutton Sgt. Stearns Cpl. Hughs Privates Marsh and Smith and Baptist Guardipii, guide.
Departing Oregon with his family was Joel WALKER, "who came from Missouri with all his family last year : he did not like the country and wished to go to California by earliest convenience. His principle objection he told me [Eld] was to the climate, which was too wet for business."
The US Exploring Expedition caravan reached Sutters Mill on the Sacramento on October 19. The Walkers and several other former Oregonians returned within 2 or 3 years.
In October, Umtippe, a Waiilatpu area chief, died of illness. His brothers, Waptashtomakt (Red Cloak) and Ichishkaiskais, demanded payment from the Whitmans for the use of Waiilatpu mission.
Also in early October, Peopeomoxmox entered the Waiilatpu mission house and was told by W.H. Gray that he must leave. Insulted, Peopeomoxmox put his rope on a mission horse and Gray cut the rope. The Cayuse returned in the afternoon and took the horse in front of Whitman who then asked him if he wished to make himself a thief. Sakiaph (brother of PeopeoMoxmox) then threatened to kill the cattle and Whitman said he had shown his true heart.
Later Tilauak, a relative of Peopeomoxmox, came with a group of young men and ordered Gray to leave Waiilatpu, berated Whitman for taking Gray's side, and said they labored in vain on Gray's new house. After more argument, Tilauak pulled Whitman's ear and hit his chest several times without reaction from the missionary. Whitman also simply put his hat back on his head when Tilauak threw it in the mud several times. Tilauak left in disgust after Whitman asked, "perhaps you are playing." An Indian named McKay then told all his tribesmen to stop working at Waiilatpu.
At Ft. Walla Walla, HBC commander McKinlay sent word through an interpreter that he thought these Indians were behaving like dogs. On his own, the interpreter added a threat that Governor Simpson and a party in Cowlitz had removed their cattle to safety in readiness to retaliate for Black's murder. That evening, Palaistiwat brandished a hammer at the Waiilatpu house window and Sakiaph forced the door. Whitman disarmed the Indians of their hammer and ax, but was beaten by fists in the process. Narcissa Whitman and Gray took the weapons up stairs.
Sakiaph returned with a club and challenged Whitman and made a similar display with a gun asking him if he was afraid to die. Tilaukaik finally said it was impossible to bully Whitman into a fight. Waptashtamakt during this argument told Whitman that J. Gray (a part-Iroquis at Grande Ronde) had told them how the Iroquois killed until they were paid for their land. Whitman sent Rogers to Ft. Walla Walla to warn McKinlay that the Indians had threatened to go to the fort.
Few came to worship at Waiilatpu the next day and someone broke windows at the house. The Indians set off armed to the fort but the following day met peacefully with McKinlay, Ft. Walla Walla's commander. The Cayuse, in a group including Waptashtakmakt and Tilaukaik, heard McKinlay say that the fort needed no extra troops but that he would send for more from Ft. Vancouver to protect Whitman if necessary. All vowed peace.
On October 5, 1841, Whitman, with an interpreter from the Walla Walla, met with the Cayuse. Waptashtamakt (brother of Ichishkaiskais) still demanded cattle as payment for Waiilatpu. Tilaukaik said that now a payment would be more like extortion than a proper tribute. Kamashpahi also counseled to forget the matter. The meet ended in a feast also attended by Ichishkaiskais.
In late October FT. WALLA WALLA accidentally burned destroying all the stored goods brought overland by the independent missionaries in 1840.
Cornelius Rogers, disappointed in seeking the hand of Pambrun's daughter, returned the inheritance Pambrun had left him Rogers then left the mission at Waiilatpu to go to the Willamette Valley.
The Oregon Star arrived at Astoria from the Willamette with supplies for the new mission in October 1841. In November, Solomon Smith left the mission (near Point Adams) to make a home on the Clatsop plains.
Duflot DE MOFRAS, an attaché of the French embassy, arrived in Oregon on the ship Cowlitz from Hawaii in October 1841. He was dispatched from Madrid in 1839 and charged with gathering information for France on northwestern Mexico, California, and Oregon. By chance, the timing for this official visit was the same as for the United State's first official Exploring Expedition to Oregon (and at the same time as an official inspection by the Hudson Bay Company commander, Gov. George SIMPSON from Canada). DeMofras wrote later that he hoped the French Canadians of the Northwest would throw off English rule and establish their own province or a sovereign state within the United States. [Exploration du Territoire de l'Oregon: 1844, Paris]
November 3, the Columbia set sail from Astoria for Hawaii. Aboard were the William W. KONEs who resigned from the mission at Clatsop, the A.B. SMITHs who had resigned from Kamiah mission in September to go to Ft. Vancouver, and Mary OWYHEE whose husband had died the previous August at Waiilatpu.
Narcissa and Marcus Whitman were alone in their Waiilatpu home with the girls, Helen Mar Meek and Mary Ann Bridger. Missionary-assistant Mungo Mevway had gone from Waiilatpu to the Eells at Tshimiakan Mission. The Packett family remained at Waiilatpu Mission only while Mr. Packett was too ill to return to Tshimiakan.
French attaché DeMofras left in late November 1841 on the same ship for San Francisco that carried HBC Governor George SIMPSON, the HBC's Dr. John McLoughlin, and MCLOUGHLIN's daughter, Maria (Mrs. Glenn) RAE. Weather delayed the ship Cowlitz along the Columbia River until Dec. 21, 1841 and it finally reached Hawaii on March 1, 1842.
In the winter of 1841 John MCLOUGHLIN JR. was murdered at Ft. Stikeen. Donald MANSON replaced him as commander. Edward RODGERS wintered with the Whitmans at Waiilatpu.
Rev. Asahel MUNGER, who came to Oregon with the American Board missionaries in 1839, committed suicide in December 1841. His widow married widower Henry Buxton, a former member of the Puget Sound Agricultural Company, in Twality in 1843. (Buxton's wife, Frances, had died during the fall of 1841-42 she never recovered from a fall from her horse during the 1841 journey to Oregon country).
At the eastern end of the Trail, Francois X. MATTHIEU and a party of trappers returned from Santa Fe to Ft. Laramie in 1841.
In the autumn of 1842, an immigration of 112-140 [there are varying estimates] persons, chiefly men with their families, arrived in the Willamette Valley, a large portion of whom found their winter's residence at or near the mission establishment, at what is now Salem. A considerable portion of the overland immigrants of 1842 left Oregon for California with Lansford W. HASTINGS in the late spring of 1843.
IN THE EAST:
Methodist Missionary Rev. ELIJA WHITE had left Oregon in 1840 on the ship Lausanne after a bitter dispute with Rev. Jason Lee. The owners of the Lausanne, Fry and Farnam, and its captain, Spaulding, urged White to travel to Washington D.C. and introduced him to government contacts. In January 1842, Congress appointed Elija White as sub-Indian Agent, meaning he had authority but only a partial salary (plus his expenses) until Oregon became an official U.S. Territory. Ironically (in view of White's disagreement with Jason Lee) White's sponsors had been convinced of the need for a government agent in Oregon by a letter that Lee wrote to the Cushing shipping family. Throughout his stay in the States, White promoted emigration to Oregon and made a last minute pitch to potential emigrants in Platte and Jackson counties in Missouri just before departure on the Oregon Trail.
By treaty, the United States and Britain set the border between Maine and Canada on August 9, 1842. Similar discussions about a border in the Northwest had failed.
Thomas D. KEIZUR and family emigrated from Arkansas to Missouri hoping to join the emigrants to Oregon they arrived too late at the frontier and spent a year in Missouri before joining the next year's wagon train. James W. NESMITH also arrived too late for the 1842 train he came as far west as Jefferson County, Iowa in 1842, spent a year as a carpenter on the construction of FT. SCOTT, and joined the 1843 emigration from Independence, Missouri.
ON THE OREGON TRAIL:
A caravan of emigrants, mostly from Missouri, Illinois and Arkansas, gathered for the traditional travel season near the town of Independence, Missouri. Elija WHITE, for a while over-all leader, and Lansford W. HASTINGS (later replacing White as leader over most of the company) led the WAGON TRAIN FROM MISSOURI on May 14, 1842.
Lt. John C. FREMONT left Missouri shortly after the caravan of emigrants, leading a troop of 21 men on an exploring expedition. This expedition, much less extensive than the one he would lead in 1843, traveled only as far as Ft. Laramie and the Wind River Mountains. Fremont's company included Kit CARSON, Lucien MAXWELL, and Charles PRUESS, an artist and map-maker.
James COATES piloted the emigrant wagon train to Ft. Laramie (under commander BISSONETTE), the furthest extent of his familiarity with the route. Here the travelers fortuitously met Jim BRIDGER and Thomas FITZPATRICK on their way east with pelts for the fur trade. Bridger continued to the States while Fitzpatrick guided the caravan west to Ft. Hall.
The wagon train--actually a collection of open wagons, carts, horse-riders and pack animals, with herds of cattle and horses-- attracted new members along the way:
Steven MEEK and his companion Andrew BISHOP joined at South Fork. At Ft. Laramie, Francois X. MATTHIEU, Paul OJET, Peter GAUTHIER, and about three other French Canadians joined the caravan to Oregon.
A man named BAILEY was accidentally shot when he passed behind a wagon just as the owner drew a blanket from the front causing the gun to go off Bailey was buried near Independence Rock.
A.L. LOVEJOY and L.W. HASTINGS were captured passing through Sioux territory. (They had laid down their rifles while carving their names on Independence Rock.) Their Sioux captors released them for a ransom of tobacco and a few trinkets. The Sioux continued to harass the 1842 wagon train until a peace parley and gift exchange was held at the Sweetwater River.
The caravan rarely traveled as one huge company. At the Sweetwater River, White, Fitzpatrick and about a dozen others traveled ahead of the main group through South Pass in the Wind River Mountains. At Green River, the slower-moving company under Hastings further split into a faster horse troop and a group with wagons.
The caravan reunited at Ft. Hall, but White and his companions, now piloted by (probably Angus) MCDONALD, pushed far ahead after Hall.
Osborne RUSSELL and Elbridge TRASK, American fur trappers, joined the caravan on August 22, 1842.
Traveling by way of Burnt River and a more direct route to Ft. Walla Walla, White and company arrived at Ft. Vancouver on September 20, 1842 about a month ahead of the Hastings caravan.
Hastings kept south of the Snake River until near Ft. Boise and arrived at Waiilatpu (45 miles from Walla Walla) in mid- to late-September.
At Waiilatpu, A.L. LOVEJOY parted company with the caravan and Hastings. He decided to join Marcus WHITMAN for a return journey on the trail to the east. Whitman and Lovejoy headed for the States on October 3, 1842.
The main body of the caravan with Hastings reached the Willamette Valley on October 5, 1842.
IN THE WILLAMETTE VALLEY DURING 1842:
During 1842, after the sale of his own ship in Hawaii, Capt. John H. COUCH sailed back to Oregon to begin the trade negotiated by Jason Lee and King Kamehameha III. Aboard with Couch were A.E. WILSON and Andre LEBRETON who managed the Cushing store in Oregon City.
This same year, James DOUGLAS and a crew sent by the Hudson Bay Company explored the coast of Vancouver Island.
In 1842 Miss PHILLIPS and Mr. and Mrs. W. RAYMOND were posted to the Methodist mission at Clatsop Plains.
Father J.B. BODUC, a Catholic priest, arrived at Ft. Vancouver by ship from Canada.
Beginning in January 1842, the Methodist Mission selected trustees and organized the college that would later become Willamette University. THE OREGON INSTITUTE opened on Wallace Prairie, just south of Salem, in October 1842.
On February 26, 1842, Lucyanna Maria LEE was born. Lucy Thomas Lee (the second Mrs. Jason Lee) died shortly after. The Gustavus HINES took in Lucyanna Lee after the death of her mother. In 1843, the Hines, Lucyanna , and Jason Lee sailed for Hawaii hoping to find a ship bound for the States.
March 12, 1842, a baby was born to the W.H. GRAYs at Waiilatpu Mission. A Hawaiian named Nina, a man named Cook, and 2 children were with the Grays at that time. On March 16, a son was born to the Elkana WALKERs at Tshimiakan and named Marcus Whitman Walker.
June 1842, Jason LEE, the ABERNETHYs, and the PARRISHes arrived at Clatsop Mission. W.W. RAYMOND also arrived about this time and dismantled the Kones' (river) mission house to move it to the Clatsop Plains.
Trouble was reported in the Clatsop region due to liquor sales to the Indians. An American ex-seaman made threats against Lee and offered 5 blankets as a bounty on his head.
Early in 1842 the Nez Perces had fined Indians of the Red River School for the death of a Nez Perce who had died in their care. Marcus Whitman reproved them for this act and convinced the mother of the deceased to return the property. Between February 12 and 14, a group of Indians led by Apashwakaikin and Himinilipilip came to Waiilatpu to confront Marcus Whitman, angered that he had interfered. The confrontation was heated--PACKETT and 2 others came to Whitman's assistance--but ended without violence.
On March 23, while Whitman was away, Apashwakaikin confronted Narcissa Whitman in a rage. He went away to sulk and expressed no more interest in the plough he had asked for. After Whitman's return, probably during the summer, Tilkaniak and Iatin were also hostile to Whitman. Iatin was enraged when Whitman docked his son's pay for neglecting the mission cattle. Iatin told others in Whitman's family and people at his own camp that he would burn the mill.
Tilkaniak purposely trampled the unharvested corn. He said he had no servants and needed a place to pen his horses besides, the corn was a growth of Tilkaniak's own land. Whitman admitted he had never paid for the land but stated that he had been invited to Waiilatpu by other chiefs.
Tilkaniak hit Whitman twice on the chest and told Narcissa Whitman to shut up. He threatened to whip the Indians Whitman had told to drive Tikaniak's horses away. Another chief intervened and defused the incident.
In the fall and winter of 1842, the OREGON LYCEUM debated the issue of forming a provisional government immediately or waiting for the extension of U.S. jurisdiction those who wished to wait until Oregon became a U.S. territory (if this happened within four years) won the debate.
In Spring of 1842, five travelers of a party with Father Pierre DeSmet drowned in the Willamette River when their canoe overturned. At the time of the accident, DeSmet and others of his party were making a portage on shore on the way to Ft. Vancouver.
On May 23, 1842 a child was born to John P. and America (Talley) RICHMOND.
The Oregon Star, the first ship built in Oregon, set sail June 1842 and reached the Pacific Ocean in September 1842. On board were a group of young men who hoped to find white brides and better opportunities in California: Felix HATHAWAY, Joseph GALE, R.L. KILBORNE , Pleasant ARMSTRONG, George DAVIS, Charles MATTS and John GREEN.
In August 1842, American priest Father Pierre DeSmet set out from Oregon for the Missouri border to request reinforcements for the Catholic missions of the Northwest. During his absence, Father Nicolas POINT founded Sacred Heart Church at Coeurs D'Alene (Idaho).
Henry BLACK, who had gone to California with the US Exploring Expedition from Oregon in 1841, returned to Oregon with a herd of cattle. He married August 7, 1842 to the widow Mrs. Lisette WARFIELD (the name "Warfield" also appeared on the roster of civilian families bound for California with the Exploring Expedition in 1841).
Alvan F. WALLER had established a Methodist Episcopal mission at the Willamette Falls with the help of Dr. McLaughlin in 1840. When Steven MEEK, an arrival of 1842, attempted to build on an island near the Falls, Waller said that the Methodist mission claimed a mile square of the land around the Falls. Meek left, but MCLOUGHLIN became concerned about his own land claim that he thought included this island.
A son, Lewis B. JUDSON, was born to Lewis H. and Almira (Roberts) Judson in 1842. A son was born to the BREWERs at the Dalles mission in July, and the Daniel LEE's second son was born September 7.
Calvin TIBBETTS, a former mountain man who lived on the Clatsop Plains, and others went to California for cattle and returned in September 1842. A least one man, Peter BRAINARD, emigrated from California to Oregon by joining the cattle herders on the return trip. Trapper Philip F. THOMPSON also returned to Oregon from California in 1842.
Widower Rev. David LESLIE planned to take all 5 of his daughters back to the States in 1842, but at the last minute the eldest, Satira Leslie age 15, married Cornelius ROGERS on the deck of the brig Chenamus. The newlywed Rogers took the two youngest, Aurelia Leslie and the baby, into their care in the Willamette Valley.
Leslie and the two next-to-eldest daughters sailed to Hawaii in September 1842. The brig Chenamus, captained by John Couch, also carried Susan and Joseph WHITCOMB, John and America RICHMOND, and Margaret and William J. BAILEY away from Oregon. Another Leslie daughter died of illness in Hawaii.
The OREGON STAR arrived in San Francisco September 17, 1842. The ship was sold in San Francisco in exchange for a herd of cattle. In 1842, some of the Star's ex-sailors returned to Oregon along with some former Oregonians now dissatisfied with California. The sailors came back overland with a party of 42 men [this story is in Transactions of the Oregon Pioneers, 1891]
On September 23, 1842, Elija WHITE announced to a meeting at Champoeg his appointment as official U.S. Indian agent to Oregon and shared news about Washington D.C.'s interest in the Oregon country.
In October 1842, the Methodist missionaries and some settlers established the Island Milling Company to operate a mill on an island near the Willamette Falls. This launched a long and acrimonious land dispute with Dr. John McLoughlin.
Alvin T. SMITH and Harvey CLARK, former missionaries, opened an elementary school on Tualatin Plains in November 1842 this later became PACIFIC UNIVERSITY.
On October 3, 1842, Marcus WHITMAN and Asa L. LOVEJOY began a journey eastward to the States.
On the night of October 6, with Marcus Whitman recently departed from Waiilatpu to journey to the States, an Indian attempted to break into Narcissa Whitman's bedroom. She struggled with him over the door and called out for John (who was actually no where near). The intruder fled.
Mungo MEVWAY and his wife arrived at Waiilatpu the morning of Oct. 7. Mevway left his wife with Narcissa and went to Ft. Walla Walla. W.H. Gray and McKinlay wrote back from Walla Walla that Narcissa should take refuge with them. When Mevway gave her this message, Narcissa belittled the whole incident and returned to normal life at Waiilatpu with the Mevways, John, Feathercap and his wife, Pitiitosh's wife, and Indian McKay. Ellis paid Waiilatpu a visit from Lapwaii.
On October 12, however, Narcissa Whitman agreed to go with Mr. and Mrs. McKinlay to stay at Ft. Walla Walla. Lapwaii also had trouble with nearby Indians and the Spaldings came for refuge at Ft. Walla Walla on Oct. 22. Shortly after, Narcissa Whitman left Ft. Walla Walla for more comfortable accommodations at Wascopam Mission down-river at the Dalles.
On November 11, 1842, Elija WHITE, Thomas MCKAY, interpreters Cornelius ROGERS and Baptiste DORION, went to investigate the Indian troubles at Waiilatpu and Lapwaii. Philo LITTLEJOHN and William GEIGER, on their way from the Willamette Valley to Waiilatpu and Lapwaii, joined them for the journey. Archibald MCKINLAY joined them at Ft. Walla Walla. Traveling with six armed men the party reached Lapwaii on December 3. There and at Waiilatpu, discussions with the Cayuse calmed down the hostilities. The party returned to the Dalles on Christmas Day 1842.
According to Daniel Lee and Elija White, writing in later histories, the Nez Perces and the Cayuses codified laws at this time and agreed to elect over-all leaders. (Writing at Wascopam at the time, Daniel Lee mentioned Narcissa's visit as well as White and the other travelers but mentioned no Indian troubles.) According to Narcissa Whitman very few Indians remained in the region at this time, most having abandoned the mill-less Waiilatpu and others having gone to traditional winter lodges. Narcissa wrote that she didn't "think much of the new Indian agent" and that White's threats of troops had upset the Cayuse. His interpreter Dorion also apparently had told them that Marcus Whitman would return with American troops. Another meeting with the Indians was scheduled for May 1843.
Sometime during December 1842, the SPALDINGs and the LITTLEJOHNs returned to Lapwaii mission. Shortly after they passed through Waiilatpu along the way, the mill at Waiilatpu burned--Narcissa surmised that this was an accident because the Cayuse Indians (most of whom grew wheat) seemed genuinely upset at the loss of the mill.
In winter of 1842, Marcus WHITMAN and Asa L. LOVEJOY were about two weeks' travel beyond Taos on their journey from Oregon to the States. Whitman struck out alone at this point hoping to reach an eastbound company of trappers at Bent's Fort in time to join them. Instead, Whitman lost his way, wandered, and arrived at Bent's long after Lovejoy. Meanwhile, Lovejoy had implored the trappers to wait for Whitman while he searched for him. Whitman parted from Lovejoy at Bent's Fort and headed east with the trappers arriving in St. Louis in February 1843.
Mount St. Helens erupted December 12, 1842. In Oregon, the winter of 1842-43 was exceptionally cold ice blocked the Columbia River until March 13, 1843.
IN THE EAST:
In February 1843, Marcus WHITMAN, head of American Board Missions in Oregon, arrived at St. Louis after a winter journey from Oregon with Asa LOVEJOY. Lovejoy, who had parted company with Whitman at Bent's Fort (Colorado) made his way westward to Ft. Hall during the early part of 1843. Meanwhile, Whitman continued east to New England and visited Washington D.C. and Boston.
ON THE OREGON TRAIL:
In April and May 1843, emigrants gathered in the Independence, Missouri region they came from throughout Missouri and various nearby states, traveling in groups under independent leadership and without an over-all organization for a wagon train beyond the Missouri border.
In mid-May, the groups united into one large wagon train. THE WAGONS AND EMIGRANTS SET OUT from Independence, Missouri, on June 1, 1843. Marcus WHITMAN hurried to catch up with the wagon train and joined them AT THE PLATTE. (He had arrived in St Louis from Oregon in February of 1843 and then traveled to Washington D.C and Boston. He was at the Shawnee Mission on May 28)
Capt. John GANTT was hired in Independence as the caravan's pilot to Ft. Hall. AT THE KANSAS RIVER, the overlanders chose leadership for the troop of 700 to 900 people and around 120 wagons: Peter H. BURNETT as captain, J.W. NESMITH as sergeant and nine men as councilors. William MARTIN became the leader when Burnett resigned about 7 days into the march.
A party of several lay brothers with Fathers Peter DEVOS and Adrian HOEKEN had been dispatched by the Catholic Church from St. Louis slightly ahead of the 1843 wagon train. The caravan with Burnett caught up with them at the Kansas River crossing.
They divided into the Cow Column and Light Column AT THE BIG BLUE RIVER. Jesse APPLEGATE took command of the wagons, herders, and slower moving travelers.
Early in the journey, the wife of John HOBSON, an Oregon-bound settler, died of illness and Marcus Whitman promised to take in the two small Hobson daughters at Waiilatpu Mission in Oregon.
John C. FREMONT (1813-1890, a lieutenant in the engineer corps) led his second EXPLORING EXPEDITION during 1843. His troops left the Missouri and Kansas rivers junction on May 2, traveling slightly behind the 1843 wagon train. They turned off the emigrant road at Soda Springs to explore the Great Salt Lake.
Mishaps along the Trail: Mary FURLONG, a small girl traveling with the Applegate party, was frightened by the sight of an Indian and fell into the campfire badly burned, she was wrapped by her mother in a sheet of tar. Joel HEMBREE, age approximately six, was run over by a wagon. A young man named Edward STEVENSON drowned in the Big Sandy River (a tributary of the Green River) on August 9.
The civilian caravan from Missouri reached Ft. Hall by late August. GRANT, the HBC commander in charge of Ft. Hall, advised the emigrants about the Trail ahead of them. They rejected REMEAU of the HBC's offer to guide them, preferring Marcus Whitman. On his way east, he had left a letter of travel directions at Green River. A.L. LOVEJOY (who went east with Whitman in the winter of 1842-43) met the wagon train in 1843 AT FT. HALL and returned to Oregon.
Near the vicinity of the AMERICAN FALLS ON THE SNAKE River, William J. MARTIN with John GANTT led a portion of the emigrants ONTO THE TRAIL FOR CALIFORNIA. STICCUS, a Cayuse leader sent by the then-ailing H.H.Spalding from Lapwaii, piloted the rest of the travelers from the Blue Mountains into the Columbia River region.
Further west along the trail from Ft. Hall, at the Malheur River, Joseph B. CHILES and Pierson B. READING split from the caravan to go to Sutter's Fort in California.
Marcus Whitman, often traveling ahead of the main party, piloted the emigrants to Oregon after Ft. Hall. The company reached FT. BOISE (commanded by Payette) on September 20.
Meeting STICCUS along the way (before Sticcus had reached the main caravan of travelers), Whitman traveled far ahead with a small party.
Mrs. RUBEY died of illness and was buried at Grand Ronde on October 1, 1843.
By this point on the trail, many of the travelers were destitute. James WATERS, with the vanguard of the 1843 trail travelers, rushed ahead to Ft. Vancouver. He returned to the main body of the caravan with much needed supplies, provided by Waters and Dr. John McLoughlin on credit.
Other travelers, rather than traveling directly to Ft. Walla Walla, took a 90-mile detour to the mission at Waiilatpu. The 1843 trail emigrants nearly depleted the Whitmans' store of food.
On the last leg of the journey, in Columbia River rapids near the Dalles, a canoe accident drowned Edward APPLEGATE (son of Jesse and Melinda), Cornelius STRINGER, and MCCLELLAND and crippled Elisha Applegate (son of Linsay and Betsy).
In the region around the Cascades, William MCDANIEL, OTEY, and B. HAGGARD lost the trail and wandered for 20 miles before finding the Columbia River shore.
The 1843 wagon train trickled into the Willamette Valley over a period of weeks: some found a way through the mountains or along the shore with wagons and cattle some went by way of Lapwaii, Waiilatpu and Walla Walla and still others went directly to Ft. Walla Walla where they embarked in canoes down the Columbia River. Most had reached the Willamette Valley by late November 1843.
Meanwhile FREMONT'S EXPEDITION had rejoined the Oregon Trail from their side trip to the Great Salt Lake. At a little bay along the Columbia River just below the Cascades, Fremont encounter a German botanist named LUDER who was working on his own.
The company with Fremont arrived November 4, 1843 at the Dalles, Oregon. Fremont's Expedition continued on to California after purchasing supplies at Ft. Vancouver. They crossed the summit of the Sierra Nevadas in January 1844, on their way to Sutter's Fort, California. Back in the States, Fremont was awarded a presidential nomination as "Pathfinder" he also won a popular reputation as the "discoverer" of Oregon.
Sometime during 1843:
The Hudson Bay Company built FT. VICTORIA on Vancouver Island.
Father J.B. BOLDUC opened the ST. JOSEPH School for boys in Champoeg.
The ship Fama arrived in Oregon with the Francis W. PETTYGROVEs, the Philip FOSTERs, the Peter HATCHes, and Nathan MACK.
Pierre PEPIN, who had boarded at the home of widow Nancy GOODRICH at Ft. Vancouver in 1838, returned to Oregon. In 1843 Pepin fulfilled his vow to marry Nancy Goodrich's daughter Susanne once she was of age.
Edmund SYLVESTER arrived on his brother's ship, the Pallas, which was importing Indian goods to Oregon for Cushing and Company. The Pallas left Oregon with 300-400 barrels of salmon.
On January 2, a daughter was born to the PERKINS at the Dalles. A man named COOPER arrived at the Clatsop Mission area on January 3.
In January 1843, Rev. James OLNEY (one of the Lausanne missionary reinforcement of 1840) drowned. He had worked as a carpenter for the Methodist Mission at Salem.
Mr. and Mrs. Cornelius ROGERS, Nathaniel CROCKER, 2 1/2 year-old, Aurelia LESLIE, and two Clatsop Indians were drowned in the Willamette Falls in February, 1843. The youngest Leslie daughter, an infant, was at that time staying with the W.H. Grays. Narcissa Whitman [letter, 2/7/43] described the accident: "the river was very high, the current frightfully rapid, boiling and whirling.
They had made one portage on foot just above the main fall as far as the trail will admit, and got into the canoe, as is usually done, and the canoe was dropped down to the landing place with a strong rope. All got in except Mr. Raymond and four Indians who had the management of the rope they dropped down to the landing place in safety and Dr. White stepped on a log [going from boat to shore] and instantly the canoe took a sheer out into the current. it shot the canoe into the suction of the falls. at once as to sweep them over the frightful precipice in an instant. Two Indians were saved by plunging into the current. individuals below the falls [saw] the canoe [make] the final plunge, [and] instantly came to their relief. Four were seen swimming for a time but three of them sank almost immediately one of them continued swimming until the boat came within 30 yards of him when he sunk in a whirl 'to rise no more'. This was Brother Rogers."
In February, Elija WHITE operated on Rev. FROST's throat at Clatsop and, February 27, left to return to Ft. Vancouver.
In February 1843, Narcissa Whitman was writing from Wascopam the Perkins had invited her to stay with them after her stay at Walla Walla. By this time, SPALDING had returned to Lapwaii taking the LITTLEJOHNs with him and GEIGER was at Waiilatpu.
On March 31, Narcissa Whitman wrote she had recently heard that the Indians were preparing for war. White's mention of force to keep peace had been taken as a threat. White's interpreter Dorion had also told them that Marcus Whitman would return to Oregon with American troops.
The first government in Oregon independent of the Hudson Bay Company and the missions was born out of the WOLF ORGANIZATION. (Meetings held in 1841 seemed to have produced no permanent organization). The first meeting, on February 2, 1843 gave the loosely affiliated group its name a small group met at the new Oregon Institute to discuss protecting herds of cattle and horses from predators. At the meeting, chaired by I.L. BABCOCK, W.H. Gray moved (and Force seconded) that a committee of six be chosen. As reported by Secretary W.H. WILLSON, the committee included GRAY, BEERS, GERVAIS, WILLSON, BARNABY, and Lucia (LUCIER).
The next meeting was held March 6, 1843 at the home of Joseph Gervais in Champoeg. James O'Neil chaired and George LeBreton was Secretary (Montour declined). W.H.Gray was chosen Treasurer and a panel of 6 were elected to verify claims of hunters who killed predators (Charles McKay, Gervais, Montour, S. Smith, Dougherty, O'Neil, Shortess, and Lucier--Clark and Willson declined). LeBreton and Bridges were to collect a herd-tax in order to pay for these bounties. The committee chosen at the last meeting gave a report. A new committee was appointed to consider civil and military organization (Babcock, chair, White, O'Neil, Shortess, Newell, Lucier, Gervais, Hubbard, McKay, W.H. Gray, and Smith, with G. Gay deleted).
On March 25, 1843, Robert SHORTESS, with A.E. WILSON as secretary, created a strongly-worded petition against the Hudson Bay Company and the British that was signed by 65 settlers at Oregon City, mostly new arrivals in Oregon. Shortess (and/or a courier for the most eastern part of the journey) delivered the petition to William C. SUTTON for delivery to the U.S. Congress (Sutton was at this time already well east on the Trail). Shortess returned to Oregon City with the 1843 westbound wagon train in September.
March through May 1843, more meetings were held about forming a PROVISIONAL GOVERNMENT IN OREGON. The Wolf Organization legislative committee met in the buildings of the newly opened Methodist Oregon Institute. They planned a referendum on creating an independent government in Oregon and selected a slate of candidates.
In April 1843, Rev. FROST arrived from the Clatsop Mission to visit Abernethy and Waller in Oregon City.
Elija WHITE, who had a Congressional appointment as Oregon's Indian Agent, was also acting as a peace officer in early 1843. By April he was holding 8 in the Oregon City jail and had punished two Americans for selling liquor and operating a distillery. In April 1843, there was trouble with Indians living near the mission at the Dalles. Elija WHITE, LEBRETON, and an Indian interpreter went to the Dalles settle the problems. [Note: the "April" date for trouble at the Dalles (taken from a 19th cen. history) does not jibe with the information from N.Whitman's letters listed below.]
On April 3, Grant brought Narcissa WHITMAN from the Dalles to Ft. Walla Walla. HINDS, PERKINS and Elija WHITE joined them. On May 23, 1843 Narcissa WHITMAN attended a huge convocation at Waiilatpu with PEOPEOMOXMOX, ELLIS, and other Cayuses and Nez Perces, to make peace. MCKINLAY brought assurances from Dr. McLoughlin that no war was intended. Narcissa Whitman later wrote that the Walla Walla Valley Indians were now focused on a threat from the Americans and lamented that White was "ignorant of Indian nature."
After the meet, on June 1, McKinlay and Iatin escorted Narcissa to Ft. Vancouver with Iatin returning to the interior with dispatches.
Rev. David LESLIE returned to Salem from Hawaii in late April 1843 on the ship Llama. Margaret Jewett (Smith) BAILEY returned to Oregon from Hawaii on the same ship. Daniel Lee met the ship at Ft. Vancouver.
On May 2, a general meeting was held about forming a PROVISIONAL GOVERNMENT with I.L. Babcock as chair and Willson and LeBreton as secretaries. The report of the legislative committee was refused and the gathering decided to take a vote on the whole notion of forming any government at all. A "great majority" moved to the right side of the room in favor of government and most of the dissenters left the meeting. (The Archives do not support the often repeated story that the measure passed by the slimmest of votes--by only 2 French Canadians who joined the "American side". Newell names more than 2 French Canadians or ex-HBC employees who voted for government Hines list of those opposed to government includes the names of some who were in favor and even some who held office).
A slate of candidates were elected for a later referendum on provisional government. (A.E. Wilson, supreme judge, W.H. Willson, Treasurer, LeBreton, Court Clerk, Meek, Sheriff, Burns, Judson, and A.T. Smith, magistrates, John Howard, Major of Constables, C. McKay, Wm. McCarty, and S.Smith, captains, and, as constables, Ebbert, Bridges, Lewis, Campo, and Matthieu.)
From May 16, 1843 to June 28 the legislative committee, appointed at the May 2 meeting, met to draft the articles of a constitution. The group met in various sub-committees and included Hill, Shortess, Newell, Beers, Hubbard, Gray, O'Neil, Moore, and Dougherty.
L.W. HASTINGS LED A COMPANY TOWARD CALIFORNIA from Champoeg, Oregon, on May 30. Most of these were Oregon Trail travelers of 1842, now bound for California.
Hastings arrived at the Sacramento River with only 16 men, about two-thirds of his original party. Although this party faced Indian attacks at the Shasta mountains and Sacramento River, there had been no fatalities on the way about a third of the company had turned around and headed back to Oregon when they met a NORTH-BOUND GROUP FROM CALIFORNIA.
L.P. LESSE and John MCCLURE led the party who reached the Willamette Valley from California in the summer of 1843. Henry BLACK and Joel WALKER returned with this company to Oregon in 1843, driving a herd of horses and cattle.
The LITTLEJOHNs' only son drowned in the mill-race at Lapwaii in the summer of 1843.
On July 5, 1843, a gathering at CHAMPOEG voted on a GOVERNMENT REFERENDUM and slate of candidates proposed during the earlier meetings of the Wolf Organization. Hines chaired the meeting and Moore read the recommendations of the legislative committee. The voters divided the Valley into four districts, each with a justice of the peace and constables, and elected a triple-executive (three presidents), a supreme judge, a secretary, a treasurer, and the four magistrates with their force of constables under captains and a major. All together the police force numbered about a dozen.
Elected and sworn in July 5, 1843: David Hill, Alanson Beers, and Joseph Gale, the Executive, G.W. LeBreton, Court Clerk/Recorder, Robert Moore, magistrate (in place of Burns), L.H. Judson, magistrate, James A. O'Neil, magistrate of Yam Hill, J.L. Meek, Sheriff, C. Compo, constable, W.H. Willson, Treasurer, and Joel Turnham, constable (in place of Bridges). Others were presumably sworn in later and were likely the same as those nominated on May 2 (However, Amos Cook, not listed on the May slate of candidates, was sworn in as a constable). On September 13, Osborne Russell was appointed Supreme Judge.
After more than a month of treatment at Ft. Vancouver for illness, and visiting in the Willamette for most of July, Narcissa Whitman went to visit the Birnies at Ft. George, Astoria. Daniel Lee and David Leslie escorted her to arrive at the coast August 11. After the visit (made just before some of the Methodist missionaries would sail for Hawaii) Jason Lee escorted her as far as Clatsop and Daniel Lee and Leslie the rest of the way to the Willamette.
Due to ill health, a disorder of his throat, Rev. J. H. FROST resigned from the mission at Clatsop and returned with his family to the States in August 1843. The DANIEL LEEs and the RICHMONDs (formerly of the Nisqually Mission) left on this same ship, the Diamond under Capt. Fowler. Joseph L. and Elizabeth (Winn) PARRISH were posted to the Methodist mission at mouth of Columbia River as replacements for the Frosts.
Lucyanna LEE, the HINES, and Jason Lee also left Oregon for Hawaii in the fall of 1843 hoping to find a ship bound for the States. (They arrived February 1844 in the Islands). Ira BABCOCK, then on his way back to Oregon via Hawaii, told Lee that Lee had been replaced as head of the Methodist mission. Lee left for the States by himself in 1843, and Lucyanna Lee returned to Oregon with the Hines in June of 1844. (This same ship from Hawaii to Oregon in 1844 also carried Lee's replacement, Rev. George GARY and the BABCOCKs. Gary would close most of the Methodist Mission operations in Oregon.)
Marcus WHITMAN, who had arrived at Waiilatpu in early September, had made arrangements for the overlanders at the mission and then made calls as a physician to Lapwaii, Tshimiakan, and the Willamette Valley. During the last week of September 1843, Narcissa and Marcus Whitman were finally reunited. They took the motherless Hobson girls with them from Ft. Walla Walla to Waiilatpu. By late December, Narcissa was so ill she feared death but had recovered by the end of January, 1844.
Late in 1843, Father DEVOS sailed for Europe to recruit more Catholic missionaries. (He returned in 1844 with 5 priests, 6 nuns, and 7 lay brothers.)
Activity 5. Script a scene depicting an imaginary incident
Encourage students to make imaginative use of this research as they work together in their groups to script a scene depicting an incident that could have occurred on the Oregon Trail. To provide them with a framework for their collaboration, create a worksheet based on the outline headings below. (For more technical filmscripting guidelines, visit the Cinema exhibit at the Learner.Org website on EDSITEment.)
- Location: Describe where your scene takes place. (Students can view modern-day pictures of "Historic Sites along the Trail" at The Oregon Trail website. For a more historical view, National Archives Educator Resources provides access to photographs taken by William Henry Jackson in 1870: Heading west from the North Platte River in Wyoming approaching Independence Rock and traveling the plains along the Sweetwater River.)
- Casting: Describe the characters who appear in your scene and the roles they play -- mother, father, children, warrior, caravan leader, etc. -- including "extras" who help provide a backdrop for the action.
- Props: Describe the wagons, animals, and other items that a filmmaker would need to stage your scene.
- Action: Describe what happens in your scene, including any "special effects" and dialogue.