Alexander Blevins' Reminiscence of 1843 Emigration


Published in

The Valley Review
Lodi, San Joaquin Co, CA
Saturday, Marcy 29, 1879

"An Interesting Interview with An Aged Couple, Who Were With the First Train which Crossed the Rocky Mountains from the East--As we pass through the fertile valleys of our golden State, and mark the improvements, consisting in part of well tilled grainfields, thrifty orchards, commondious farm houses, pastures filled with herds of domestic animals; when we pass through our densely populated cities, with their palatial dwellings, magnificent brick or granite blocks, with all the modern improvements of street cars, gas and electric light; when we see our streams covered with boats and steamers, our bays and ocean literally alive with ships from every land and clime, heavily laden with the commerce of this and other countries; when we go into the (?) mountains to find the busy miner with his stores of mineral wealth; when we pause to watch the steam engines speeding by like the wind, bearing alike the traveler surrounded by comfort and plenty, and the messages of love, friendship and news which each mail car contains; when we note all these improvements, it is hard to realize that less than two score years ago these pleasant valleys were the pasturage of the deer, the elk, the buffalo; that our rich mineral land was the haunt of the bear, the tiger, the lion, the panther, with roving bands of savages on our river banks and their crude canoes alone broke the surface of the waters of our bays.  A few missionaries with their forts and schools were located in their different places along our western coast, but the tide of immigration had not as yet opened up a path through the Rocky Mountains from the East.  Having learned that an aged couple who now reside in Lodi were with the first emigrant train which crossed the Rocky Mountains, we decided to interview them, and to give our readers as neas as possible the story of their long and perilous journey.

Mr. Alexander Blevins was born in Kentucky in 1809, and his wife, Levina Vanderpool, was born in Tennessee, 1821.  In the spring of `43 a company was organized in Missouri to "cross the plains," and to accept the liberal offer where the government gave to actual settlers a mile square to every man with a family and a half a mile square, or 160 acres, to a single male adult.  The reports sent out by the Missionaries in Oregon of the rich agricultural land to be found in that territory, induced them to decide upon Tualiton plains, a place not far from Portland, as their destination.  Accordingly a company consisting of eighty emigrant wagons, and about four hundred people, men, women and children, organized under the name of Bennett Applegate Company, left Independence, Mo., on the 1st of April, `43.  At that early day these emigrants, fired with amibition and and hope, knew no fears of hardship and danger, and strange to say not one word of regret was heard from a member of the company during their long, eight-month's journey. It is impossible for us to chronicle every incident of interest told us by this worthy couple, or to enter into a description of the varied scenery, of the long march through the alkali deserts, of their invading the almost limitless prairies, which was alike fragrant and dazzling with the great variety of party-colored wild flowers, of their picking a road through the unbroken forests, of their dangerous ride through the Black Hills and their descent of the Snake and Columbia rivers. Their wagons were drawn by oxen. A few saddle horses were taken in the train, but these all died ere the new El Dorado was reached. Various modes were adopted to cross the several rivers which were too deep to be forded. To cross the Crow they dug out canoes of black walnut and lashed them together to form a raft. On this the wagons were put and ferried over. The Zachery family when near the western bank had the misfortune to have the raft sink, immersing the whole family as well as their provisions and all in the water. There were crowds of peaceable Indians on the shore who boldly plunged into the water to their rescue. A little boy about six years old was sitting on an ox-yoke which, being light, floated off with him. The river ran very rapid at this place and the little fellow perched on his frail raft hung on without a cry of fear. Several savages fleet offoot ran down the bank, and after getting a few rods ahead of the boy, went out and brought the young Moses ashore.

At the South Platt river they killed buffalo and made rafts out of their hides. This was done by forming canoes with willow rims and ribs, and these were lashed together to form a raft. At Fort Laramie they made rafts and then used their five gallon water casks lashed together for buoys on either side of the rafts.

At Fort Hall, a distance of eighty miles from Salt Lake, the company separated. A part of the company struck out westward for California,while the Bennett Company took a route in a northwesterly direction to Oregon, passing through the Blue Mountains and through a pass in the north of the Black Hills 'till they reached the head waters ofthe Snake river. The Indians were at that time very friendly, and looked with wonderment upon the white settlers. There was a war, however, going on between the Crows and another tribe of Indians,and they saw fifteen hundred Crow warriors who were on the warpath. At Grand Rounds, a pleasant valley in the Blue Mountains, one of their number, a woman, with a family of small children, died, and was buried with an armful of limbs spread over the body for a coffin, over which the native soil was filled up to a shapely mound. A band of Indians, who watched the interment, set up their mournful, savage lamentations.
At Fort Hall their provisions gave out, and from that place until they reached the Missouri at Fort Walla Walla, they lived on wildmeat. After a perilous descent of the Columbia river to the mouth of the Willamette, they ascended the last named river to Oregon City,which they reached the 1st of December, having been eight months on their journey. Here they built a rude log hut, using cedar boards for shingles which Mr. B. split out of logs. The rain set in before their new house was completed, and to protect the three little children from the elements they were placed under the trunk of a fallen tree. The emigrants could buy, in small quantities, groceries or clothing from the Hudson Bay Company and from the Missionaries. Once when in search of some muslin for shirts the Missionaries sold him a number of pillow cases which had been sent to the heathen, and they were soon shaped into very serviceable shirts by the busy housewife. Here they were surrounded by ferocious wild animals, the gray wolf being extremely bold and dangerous. It was some time after this before there was any trouble with the Indians. Still they had many hardships to endure and many deprivations which we little think of at the present day. It was five long years before they received a message from their old home in Missouri. It is with feelings akin to pain that we are compelled to say that not one out of twenty of those bold pioneers,who have done so much to develop the resources of the Coast States, today own a quarter section of land or have laid by a sufficiency of this world's goods to be in comfortable circumstances, in their old age, but they earn their daily bread by the sweat of their brow."

My name is Stephenie Flora. Thanks for stopping by
. Return to [ Home Page ] All [ Comments and Inquiries ] are welcome.