In Their Own Words
Compiled by Prof. Jim Tompkins
Disclaimer: Prof. Jim Tompkins has compiled the following information for classes he has taught. He has kindly contributed them for general use. This information has been gathered from a variety of sources and, while it is free to use, copyright infringements may make it unsuitable for commercial purposes.
It is very hard to have to get up so early after sleeping on the soft ground. While the animals are feeding we get our breakfast in a hurry and eat it by this time the word catch up -- catch up rings throu’ the camp for moveing we are ready to start usually at six travel till eleven encamp rest and feed start again about two travel until six then encamp for the night.
- Narcissa PrentissWhitman, 1836
Evening we come to water and grass and plenty of wood. Everyone seems hungry and we make fires and soon have supper fit for a king. I will make the first call and have a table and it has a clean white cloth on. I have my chair out. George piles in the ox yokes for him a seat and Jessie has the wash-tub turned up side down and will stand on his knees. Supper over and I fix the bed. The stock have all been looked after and are quietly chewing their quids. Some men take bedding and will sleep out to see that none of the stock will get up and scatter off. [Next morning] All astir bright and early; breakfast is soon over; some of the men
have gone to relieve the night watch. My work is all done up, lunch prepared for noon and all in its proper place. Here comes the oxen; our team is soon ready. Our wagon is in the lead today; will be behind tomorrow. It is a fine spring morning.
- Keturah Belknap, 1848
12th. Poor grass and water. 24th. Good grass but poor wood. 26th. Grass very poor. 27th. Wood and water plenty and grass good. 28th. Wood and water middling. 29th. We were obliged to use buffalo chips for fuel. 30th. Water but no wood, except the buffalo chips which are very plenty. - William Porter, 1848
The wagons were placed in position to form a corral, or circular inclosure, and picket-pins or stakes were driven down in the center, to tie our horses to after they had done grazing. After our supper was over and it was fairly dark, all the horses were brought in from their grazing ground and tied and doubly tied to the picket-pins and stakes inside the corral. The wagons were then securely fastened together, to form a solid barrier against a stampede, and every precaution was adopted that would increase our safety. - Margaret Ann Frink, 1850
Encamped in a circle as it is our custom. Put out guards and retired to rest. We have plenty of music with the flute and violin and some dancing. - Elizabeth Dixon Smith, 1847
The first encampments were a great pleasure to us children. There were several musical instruments among the emigrants, and these sounded clearly on the evening air when camp was made and merry talk and laughter resounded from almost every camp-fire. - Catherine Sager, 1844
We are a merry crowd, while I am journalizeing one of the company is playing the violin which sounds delightful way out here. My accordian is also good, as I carry it in the carriage and play as we travel. - Amelia Hadley, 1851
Music, singing and merrymaking can be heard in all directions. At one camp they are dancing after the inspired strains of the violin. At the adjoining camp they are holding a religious meeting and still another many families are seated around a large campfire for a special evening chat. Everybody seemingly happy. - Enoch Conyers, 1852
This is the first day of summer, beautiful day. The prairie is covered with beautiful little flowers whose fragrance surpassed any garden flowers. There is a modest little white flower which peeps up among the green grass which particularly strikes my fancy. I call it the Prairie Flower. Autumn sun will bring the more gorgeous flowers. There are frogs in the ponds that talk a different language from our common ones. - Harriett Buckingham, 1851
What a beautiful morning. The sun shines bright, but not too hot. The birds sing and the flowers bloom just the way they did at home. Today I am 21 years of age. No one congratulates me or anything, and I am glad of it. It is evening, and no one knows how strange one feels out here on a birthday. - Agnes Stewart, 1853
In making our monotonous journey up the smooth valley, through the warm, genial sunshine of summer, the feeling of drowsiness was so great that it was extremely difficult to keep awake during the day. Drivers went to sleep on the road, sitting in the front of their wagons; and the oxen, being about as sleepy, would stop until the drivers were aroused from their slumbers.
- Peter Burnett, 1843
Our people were too sleepy for wise precaution. After the first few miles scarce a woman or a child would be seen outside of the wagons, and as the sun beat hotter, the men also sought the friendly cover of the wagons. The drivers stalked limberly and lonesomely by the sides of their ruminating teams, but as the sun beat upon that tireless plain, bathing the sweltering landscape with glimmering heat, the crack of the whip became less frequent and the drivers would crowd between the oxen’s heels and the wagon wheel and take a sidewise seat on the wagon tongue, and nodding, drive. At intervals the driver would wave his long whip and drowsily drawl out “Get up thar,” and relapse into silence. There was sort of a rhythmical sequence in these somniferous “Get ups,” which at regular times welled out from that slow line of dusty teams and sleepy drivers. When one driver would call out “Get up,” “Go along,” each companion would repeat the admonition to his sluggish charge. Thus in sleepy dreaminess the train would wend along for hours. - George B. Currey, 1853
A storm came up in the afternoon, and the rain fell where we were, very rapidly for about one hour when it ceased and left the atmosphere quite pleasant but the musquitoes are so troublesome and annoying us so much that it quite hard to keep one's patience. - Abigail Jane Scott, 1852
Sage, sage, nothing but sage, seems one endless sage plains. Here we camped, poor grass. Grashoppers, myriads of grasshoppers. - David Dinwiddie, 1853
Had an unusual allowance of dust to the mile today, but got the most of it off before night. The girls have as dirty faces as anybody. Thanks be to the rewarder of troubles, 460 miles more will get us dirty-faced boys and girls out of this dirty faced kingdom. - John Tully Kerns, 1852
Of the fortitude of the women one cannot say too much. Embarrassed at the start by the follies of fashion, they soon rose to the occasion and cast false modesty aside. Long dresses were quickly discarded and the bloomer donned. What a picture. Elderly matrons dressed almost like little girls. The younger women were rather shy in accepting the inevitable but finally fell into the procession, and we soon had a community of women wearing bloomers. - Ezra Meeker, 1852
Last night my clothes got out of the wagon & the oxen eat them up & I consider I have met with a great loss as it was my wollen dress. - Cecelia Adams, 1852
I carried a little motherless babe five hundred miles, whose mother had died, and when we would camp I would go from camp to camp in search of some good, kind motherly women to let it nurse, and no one ever refused. - Margaret Inman, 1852
Food and Meals
Although there is not much to cook, the difficulty and inconvenience in doing it, amounts to a great deal -- so by the time one has squatted around the fire, and cooked bread and bacon, and made several dozen trips to and from the wagon -- washed the dishes (with no place to drain them) and gotten things ready for an early breakfast, some of the others already have their night caps on.
- Helen Carpenter, 1857
We took our dinner here, which consisted of bread, crackers, chip beef, cheese and cold fried meat. This we held in our hands and sat on logs, stumps, etc., to partake of it. Many would look upon this as a most awkward way of eating, but I think it really pleasant. The sky above you clearly seen, not kept from your sight by any obstructing roof. The trees looking fresh & happy around you, and flowers peeping up from the bright grass, as though desirous of taking notes of your proceedings. Who would then not prefer this to a table profusely covered with dishes filled with dainties of every kind, shut up in a house, the work of art!
Give me rather fair Nature’s beauties shed abroad to my view, and twill lend a charm to everything. - Eugenia Zieber, 1851
Aunt Rachel had a big dinner all cooked and ready for us. Someone had killed a bufalo and aunt had a great pan of juicy steaks all broiled and piping hot. We were terribly hungry and after the steaks were eaten, we found that they had been broiled over buffalo “chips.” Mrs. Burnett was not altogether happy about it. She even said that she would have “starved before she would have eaten anything cooked on them if she had known it.” I guess that was not altogether true, for a few mornings later, the Hon. Peter H. was surprised when he had gone out about daylight to gather a good supply before other people were up. The boys said he
was gathering them in a big white table cloth. Dry fuel of any kind was very scarce, so even the finicky ones were compelled to use them, and after a time, used them in preference, when other fuel was plentiful. They were good tinder and made beautiful coals that held heat for a long time. - Charlotte Matheny, 1843
Wood is now scarce, but “Buffalo chips” are excellent - they kindle quick and retain heat surprisingly. We had this evening Buffalo steaks broiled upon them that had the same flavor they would have had on hickory coals. - Tamsen Donner, 1846
We see thousands of buffalo and have to use their dung for fuel. A man will gather a bushel in a minute, 3 bushels makes a good fire. - Elizabeth Dixon Smith, 1847
I will briefly explain using buffalo chips as fuel along the Platte. Selecting a spot a short distance from the steep river bank, a hole about six inches in diameter and eight to twelve inches deep was excavated. An air tunnel was then formed by forcing a ram rod horizontally from the river bank to the bottom of the cavity, giving the oven the required draught. In making a fire a wisp of dry grass was lighted and placed at the bottom of the oven, opposite the air tunnel, feeding the flame with finely pulverized dry chips, which readily ignited after filling the fireplace with broken chips and placing around the oven two or three small rocks on which to rest the cooking utensils, we had a combiantion which at first gave us a grand surprise, as but a little smoke and only slight odor emitted from the fire, and we found, after having eaten our first meal cooked in this manner, that the prejudice previously entertained against buffalo chips as a fuel had vanished into thin air. - Rueben Cole Shaw, 1849
Along the trail, we saw buffaloes wallowing in their mudholes, and many antelope. Once in a while the boys would kill an antelope, which made delicious meat. We found that buffalo meat was too coarse, and bear meat too greasy to eat much, but that prairie hens were a real delicacy. 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 maid to do the hard work. When our cow gave
plenty of milk, we put the milk in a large, tin can and hung this can on the wagon, where the jolting would churn the milk to butter. - Sarah Sprenger, 1852
Carrie built a fire in the Russian iron camp stove while Mother was peeling potatoes and parsnips. Soon they were steaming in iron pots on the stove, and some of our wild crab apples were simmering in the brass kettle. Mother made biscuits which baked beautifully in the oven of our wonderful new stove, and fried bacon and prepared gravy. How good it all smelled. With the stove Mother could stand up to cook instead of having to bend over a campfire with her face in the smoke. When I watched some of the other women, choking in the fumes of the fires, their backs bent until they must have felt ready to break, I often thought,
“I'm glad my mother doesn't have to cook that way.” Our stove, too, burned very little wood, and on the treeless prairies, that was a great advantage. - Philura Vanderburgh, 1864
It rained all night. There was one young lady who showed herself worthy of the bravest undaunted pioneer of the west, for after having kneaded her dough she watched and nursed the fire and held an umbrella over the fire and her skillit with great composure for near 2 hours and baked bread enough to give us a very plentiful supper. - James Clyman, 1844
We fished and hunted today, caught nothing, killed two jack rabbits. - Nancy Coon, 1847
This is a lovely morning. Conclude to stay here and recruit our team. Parthenia done some washing and I baked bread and pumpkin and apple pies, cooked beans and meat, stewed apples and baked suckeyes in quantitys sufficient to last some time, besides making dutch cheese. - Cecelia Adams, 1852
I tried my hand at making corn dodgers and the mess said I had succeeded very well. I cooked turtle soup but scorched it so much that is was not very good. Bean soup was the order of the day, and I begin to think myself quite an expert in its manufacture. I proceeded to cook breakfast, which was made up of buffalo steak, batter cakes, ham, coffee and sea bread. Yesterday at noon we found our bread damp and took it out and dried it. - Dr. Charles Boyle, 1849
To make fried cakes take a little flour & water & make some dough, roll it thin, cut it into square blocks, then take some beef fat & fry them. You need not put either salt or pearl ash in your dough. - Narcissa Whitman, 1836
We have fun making pop corn candy. Margaret is baking cookies, but the boys steal them as fast as she can bake them. Plenty of trout and other fish. The boys fished awhile and then took a ramble around the country. - Eliza Ann McAuley, 1852
This morning of the glorious fourth, we breakfasted at six upon Trout Strawberries & cream. - Harriett Buckingham, 1851
Just as we were ready to sit down to supper Joe Meek and his posse of men rode into camp. They were going to Washington, D.C. to get the government to send soldiers to protect the settlers in Oregon and they told us all about the Indian Massacre at Walla Walla called the “Whitman Massacre.” They had traveled all winter and some of their men had died and they had got out of food and had to eat mule meat so we gave them all their supper and breakfast. They made way with most all my stuff I had cooked up. - Keturah Belknap, 1848
The water is so bad here, and the milk from our cows so strongly impregnated with alkali, that I have substituted coffee as a beverage. - Elizabeth Wood, 1851
Dinner is over and I am hartly glad of it for I never did like to cook. Poultice for a stomach ache. Mix four parts of flour to one of mustard. Stir in sufficient water to make paste. It might burn, but it gets results. - America Rollins Butler, 1853
Buffalo and Other Animals
We saw a great many buffaloes, in fact it was seldom that they were out of our sight. - Henry Garrison, 1846
I am reminded of the many ways travelers can put the buffalo hide to useful purposes. Sometimes a spoke is broken out of a wheel which may let the wheel down. We find and fit a piece of timber next to the broken spoke and wrap it with fresh hide, the hairs in, and take a hot iron and dry the hide around the stick. When perfectly dry the hide holds tight and is nearly as strong as hoop iron. We treat a broken tongue, sometimes replace a broken link of chain with hide. Horses become sorefooted until blood appears. We shoe them with buffalo hide. We put the horse’s foot in the hide, draw up the outer edge around the hoof with the lace which holds, as the hoof is smaller at top than bottom. This sort of horse shoe will last four or five days depending on the gravel on the road and the amount of travel. Oxen shod with dry hide cut to fit the claw and put on with tacks. This is to be done often as most oxen have a twist to their hoofs in walking and the hide wears rapidly. - Lewis Bissell Dougherty, 1848
The means of communication with the trains in front was the “Bone Express.” The road was strewn with bones, mostly buffaloes. On these white bones the passing pilgrim would pencil his message, and place it in a conspicuous place by the roadside, an open letter to all to read. Sometimes the lack-luster skull would inform John and Mary was all right, or a shoulderblade would inform Polly that James was going to take the California road, assuring her that wood and water were better on that route. Information about the Indians was also conveyed. - George B. Currey, 1853
The Souix complain that the Buffaloes has all left from near the road. They have to go 30 miles for their subsistence.
- Rachel Fisher, 1847
Stopped to kill a buffalo. Saw hundreds of prairie dogs barking about. They are about as large as a grey gopher. Killed 3 buffaloes. Their flesh is generly coarser and dryer than beef but a fat buffalo heifer is as good meat as I would wish to taste of.
- Elizabeth Dixon Smith, 1847
I saw a so-called prairie-dog village. Here we had a whole colony before us. The animal digs itself holes underground. Such dwellings, at moderate space from each other, can be spread over an area of several acres, or even miles. At a man’s approach they raise a fiercer cry, wagging their short tails withal, as if prepared for serious combat. - Dr. Frederick A. Wislizenus, 1839
Cattle are very much afraid of snakes. I had a confirmation of this fact. As a driver was using his whip, it became detached from the handle and fell across the road over which the oxen had to pass. Our ox, seeing the whip, which resembled a snake, jumped all four feet off the ground, gave an unusual bawl, and the whole train in a twinkling was on the run. It required great effort to quiet the cattle. Very little damage was done, two or three spokes were broken out of the wheels. - Lewis Bissell Dougherty, 1848
Today a rattlesnake measuring about four feet in length was killed near the camp. But little occurred to mar the monotony of camp life today. Last night during my watch (from 11 till 12 p m.) I had the pleasure of marching to music, and such music! It was nothing more nor less than the howling of a pack of hungry wolves. - Dr. Charles Boyle, 1849
One night, my oldest sister and I were going from one wagon to another one and a big wolf came up. We didn't stay to see what he wanted! - Sarah Sprenger, 1852
Romance and Humor
Near the river a violin makes lively music, and some youths and maidens have improvised a dance upon the green. But time passes; the flute has whispered its last lament; the violin is silent, and the dancers have dispersed; enamoured youth have whispered a tender “good night” in the ear of blushing maidens, or stolen a kiss from the lips of some future bride - for Cupid here, as elsewhere, has been busy bringing together congenial hearts, and among these simple people he alone is consulted in forming the marriage tie. - Jesse Applegate, 1843
The moon, I think must have been near the full ... we leveled off a space and one man played the fiddle and we danced into the night. - John Minto, 1844
This week some of our company left us, all young men. They were jolly, merry fellows and gave life to our lonely evenings. We all miss them very much. Some had violins, others guitars, and some had fine voices, and they always had a good audience. They were anxious to hurry on without the Sunday stops. - Sallie Hester, 1849
The Linn County Company camped close by. They gave us a splendid serenade. Afer the singing the men felt like walking twenty miles and concluded to have a French Four with Cotillion, formed a ring and chose their partners. The way the prairie grass suffered was a sight. - Bryan Dennis, 1850
The emigrants had a ball in the fort the other night. Such belles! One woman, of more than suspected chastity, is left at the Fort; and chief trader Bordeaux is fool enough to receive her. - Francis Parkman, 1846
Last night we were awakened by serenaders. Five horsemen circled around the carriage, singing Araby’s Daughter. It was a beautiful night. It seemd as though we were transplanted into Arabia. They were beautiful singers from Oregon. Said they were exiles from home. They sing Sweet Home and several others. Invited us to stay and celebrate the 4th. Said they would make us a barbecue, but we were anxious to get on. - Lucia Williams, 1851
When we walked past their wagons I noticed that they had no tents. One man was playing jig tunes on a fiddle and another was telling a story that I very much wanted to hear. They seemed a happy party. During the whole trip that group of young men with their songs and stories and fiddles was an extremely popular section of the train. Many a difficulty they turned into a mere laughing matter. - Philura Vanderburgh, 1864
Imagine to yourself a biped five feet four inches high, with big whiskers, red mustachios, steeple-crowned hat, buckskin-coat, done up with hedge-hog quills, belt, pistol, hatchet, bullet pouch, bowie knife 20 inches long, red shirt and five-inch spurs. It seems to me that the boys take pains to make themselves ridiculous. - Dr. Israel Lord, 1849
A wedding occurred in our company. The bride’s cake was made with turtle eggs found in the creek. The event was celebrated by a dance on the grass under the stars. - Lucy Hall, 1845
I took my rifle and walked out in the deep ravine to guard a beautiful covey of young ladies & misses while they gathered wild currants & choke cherries which grow in great profusion in this region and of the finest kind. - James Clyman, 1844
We visited around the camps to see the young girls who were to be our company. We found several who became our friends, but often thought of those we left behind. Our long journey was not altogether devoid of pleasures. We spent many happy hours visiting our neighbors in camp, talking and singing, telling stories, guessing riddles. There were some very amusing incidents.
- Martha Gay, 1851
July 4th. Scarcely any person expects to have a little more than usual today, while we are going on our weary journey. They are playing the fiddles and dancing, and I can shut my eyes and think I am at some gathering just like I used to be. It recalls old times to me. We finished the Fourth of July by dancing. After Helen and I sitting on the hill and moralizing so serious we came down and cut capers like a parcel of fools. - Agnes Stewart, 1853
This night we have the sound of the violin but not much dancing. “Woe unto the wicked; for they shall have their reward.” Our company is composed mostly of Universalists and deists. At night I tried to preach to the deists and swearers. Some of them seemed angry, but I thought I cleared my conscience. Such swearing I never heard in my life before. Our new Captain Armington is a very profane man, which seems to give fresh spring to our swearers. The first night we staid at Fort Bois I lay on the bank o the river, where I could scarcely sleep for the Indians, who sung all night in a very curious manner. This is their practice when they are gambling. The salmon also kept a great noise, jumping and splashing about in the water. - Rev Joseph Williams, 1841
The woman rode with one foot on one side of her pony and the other foot on the other side. This is the greatest curiosity I have ever seen, it knocks everything else into the shade. - Loren B. Hastings, 1847
Fremont is roaming through the mountains collecting rocks and is keeping us waiting for lunch. I am hungry as a wolf. That fellow knows nothing about mineralogy or botany. Yet he collects every trifle in order to have it interpreted later in Washington and rag about it in his report. Let him collect as much as he wants - if he would only not make us wait for our meal.
- Charles Pruess, 1842
Bridger had had, within four years, two quiversfull of arrows in his body. Being asked if the wounds had been long suppurating [festering], he answered humorously “in the Mountains meat never spoils.” - Father Pierre-Jean DeSmet, 1852
Then we reached Laurel Hill. My aunt Martha lost one of her remaining shoes, it rolled down the mountainside. I can hear her now as she called out in her despair, “Oh, me shoe, me shoe! How can I ever get along?” So she wore one shoe and one moccasin the rest of the journey. - Harriet Scott, 1852
Here for the first time on the journey, our right of way was challenged. As we drove through the gate an old billy goat disputed our right to pass. He looked so absurd, dancing about, his head nodding up and down as he threatened the big horses, that we all had to laugh. Evidently he did not like our appearance. Finally, rather than be driven over, he edged to the side of the road and we left him and his little band of goats behind, and headed for Barlow Pass. - Philura Vanderburgh, 1864
We children were much surprised and delighted to find beads, generally small and white in color. The ground was white with them, and looking up discovered that we were under a broad platform thickly strewn with corpses of dead Indians. After this ghastly find we did not tarry long, for the shades of evening were now creeping along the ground.
- Jesse (son of Lindsay) Applegate, 1843
We halted and to our inexpressible joy, met Mr Lawson Scott, an immigrant of 1847, and John and Foster Johnson of 1850, who brought a quarter of beef, some flour, and one of them a bottle of “Oh, Be Joyful” thus horrifying our teetotaler crowd. It was little wonder that a relative, whom my father was bringing to Oregon to reform him, got gloriously tipsy, and engaged in a carnival of drunken songs, much to the diversion of the children, to whom it was all very funny. - Abigail Jane Scott, 1852
Mataney [Henry Matheny] was about six and a half feet tall, and when he was on his donkey, his feet nearly touched the ground. To him the boys would say, “Get off that rabbit and carry him!” Presently, J.W. Nesmith bought the jack for five hundred dollars, mounted him, and rode off without paying for him, so Mataney sued Nesmith. The company appointed Burnett as Judge. A trial was held at night. Nesmith pleaded non-jurisdiction, and won the case. The next day Nesmith rode the jack, and Mataney walked and knew not what to do, but along toward night, Nesmith having had his fill of the fun, got off, saying, “Here Mataney take this rabbit, I wouldn’t have such a thing.” Mataney mounted the little creature, and was happy once more. - Edward Lenox, 1843
We boys were at the place where the oxen had been killed, and found the stomach or paunch lying there on the ground. The weather being warm, it was swollen to the size of a large barrel. The sport consisted in running and butting our heads against the paunch and being bounced back. There was a boy by the name of Andy Baker, much taller than I was. He was slender, had a long neck, and his hair was cut very near to the scalp. This boy was ambitious to excell all the others, and he backed off much farther than anyone had before and then lowering his small head, charged the paunch at the top of his speed, and when within a
couple of yards of the target, leaped from the ground, the boys yelling, “give her goss, Andy!” and came down like a pile driver against the paunch, but he did not bound back. We gathered around to see what the matter was, and discovered Andy had thrust his head into the stomach, which had closed so tightly around his neck that he could not withdraw his head. We took hold of his legs and pulled him out. “Give her goss, Andy,” was a favorite joke among the boys long after.
- Jesse (son of Lindsay) Applegate, 1843
One of our company, R.L. Doyle, made a wager that he could stop the flow of water from this spring by setting on the crevice. He waited until the water began to recede, then took off his pants and seated himself on the crevice. Doyle soon began bobbing up and down at a fearful rate. At this stage of the fun several of the boys took hold of Doyle and tried to hold him on the crevice, but in this they failed, for the more weight they added to Doyle the more power the spring seemed to have, and Doyle kept on bobbing up and down like a cork. Finally Doyle cried out. “Boys there’s no use trying to hold the Devil down. It can’t be did. I am now, pounded into a beefsteak.” - Enoch Conyers, 1852
Hardships, Accidents, and Weather
We find our cattle growing lame and are occupied in attempting to remedy the lameness. The prairie having been burnt dry, sharp stubs of grass remain, which are very hard, and wear and irritate the feet of the cattle. The foot becomes dry and feverish, and cracks in the opening of the hoof. In this opening the rough blades of grass and dirt collect, and the foot generally festers, and swells much. Our mode of treating it was, to wash the foot with strong soap suds, scrape or cut away all the diseased flesh, and then pour boiling pitch or tar upon the sore. If applied early this remedy will cure. Should the heel become worn out, apply tar or
pitch, and singe with a hot iron. - Joel Palmer, 1845
From the South Pass the nature of our journeying changed, and assumed the character of a retreat, a disastrous, ruinous retreat. Oxen and horses began to parish in large numbers; often falling dead in their yokes in the road. The heat-dried wagon, striking on rocks or banks, would fall to pieces. As the beasts of burden grew weaker ... teams began to be doubled and wagons abandoned. ... Every thing of weight not absolutely necessary must be abandoned. - George B. Currey, 1853
There ought to be a Heaven for all ox that perish under the yoke, where they could roam in the fields of sweet clover and timothy. - Kirk Anderson, 1858
The oxen were worn out, and the wagons were in poor condition to cross the mountains. Some wagons had to be left; some of the oxen were poisoned eating mountain laurel. - Harriet Scott, 1852
We passed today the nearly consumed fragments of about a dozen wagons that had been broken up and burned by their owners: and near them was piled up, in one heap, from six to eight hundred weight of bacon, thrown away for want of means to transport it further. Boxes, bonnets, trunks, wagon wheels, whole wagon bodies, cooking utensils, and, in fact, almost every article of household furniture, were found. - Capt Howard Stansbury, 1852
Dear Harriet the little trunk you gave me has come so far & now I must leave it here alone. Poor little trunk, I am sorry to leave thee. Thou must abide here alone & no more by they presence remind me of my Dear Harriet. This shall be thy place of rest. Farewell little Trunk. The hills are so steep rocky that Husband thought it best to lighten the wagon as much as possible & take nothing but the wheels, leaving the box with my trunk. If I were to make this journey again I would make quite different preparations. - Narcissa Prentiss Whitman, 1836
Found here a company that got into a fight among themselves. Burnt fragments of wagons, stoves, axes, etc., with a great quantity of harness cut to pieces; and with a quantity of torn shirts, coats, hats all besmeared by blood. - James Evans, 1850
Young shot Scott dead. The company had a trial and found him quilty. They gave him a choice to be hung or shot. He preferred being shot, and was forthwith. - Charles Gould, 1849
Horace Dolly killed Charles Botsford yesterday by shooting for which the company killed said Dolly today, by hanging. Said Dolly had a wife and two children. - John Dalton, 1852
We today passed seven graves. Two were placed tolerably near each other one bearing the inscription "Charles Botsford murdered June 28th 1852; The murderer lies in the next grave": The other bears the inscription of "Horace Dolley hung June 29th 1852"
- Abigail Jane Scott, 1852
Tonight Mrs. Burns made bread from the last of our flour; also, at this meal we consume the last of our meat, and, in fact, we are about out of everything eatable. We live in the hope that there will be plenty for all when we arrive at our destination. My! Oh, my! what a hungry crowd the people of Oregon will have to feed during the coming winter, and the great majority of them have no money to buy with. - Enoch Conyers, 1852
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
Rations grew shorter and shorter. One meal was prepared by boiling an antiquated ham bone and adding to the liquid in which it was boiled the few scrapings from the dough pan in which the biscuit from our last measure of flour - which, by the way, was both musty and sour - had been mixed. We still had coffee and by making a huge pot of this fragrant beverage, we gathered round the crackling campfire - 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 Scott, 1852
Our provisions ran out. Mr. Noland had a pony. We might kill her and all eat her together. Proceeded to kill and butcher the pony. It took but a short time for all hands to get her ready for use. But we had no salt and she made very poor beef. We took all the flesh we could conveniently get off the bones which we made into Jerk for convenient packing. Killed a large mallard duck, which was a nice addition to our dry pony rations. - Benjamin Franklin Owen, 1853
In the meantime gramma died. We buried her very decent. We made a neat coffin and buried her under a tree. The young men sodded it all over and put flowers on it. We miss her very much. - Virginia Reed, 1846
The grave was dug in such a place that the wagons when leaving camp might pass over it. In digging the grave, those who have it in charge was careful to cut and lift the sod in squares so they could be replaced when the grave was filled. Before commencing the grave, bed-quilts were spread on the ground to receive the dirt as it was thrown from the grave. Of course he was buried the evening of his death, as the train had to move on the next morning. After the grave was filled up, the sods were carefully replaced, the remaining dirt was carried and thrown in the River. Rev Cornwall conducted the funeral services. When we broke camp
next morning, the wagons 74 in number passed over the grave. Fathers wagons was driven to one side and did not pass over the grave. - Henry Garrison, 1846
7th mo 2th 1847 Dear Parents. I will again endeavor to prepare a letter for you not withstanding the anguish and bitter mourning it exites when I recall the past, think of the present, and imagine the future. John still continued sick, some times better and then worse until the 7th of 6th mo he appear worse and the 5th the company stopped before night for he still grew worse. 6th I had to bid him farewell and see him breathe the last breath of Earthly Life without a struggle or groan, appearing to fall into a sweet sleep of eternity. - Rachel Fisher, 1847
You may think I had seen trouble before, but my trouble in Iowa [where she lost 3 of her four children] was nothing to what I have experienced since I left there, being deprived of one of the two objects which I held more dear then any other earthly object, on the Platte river [her husband, John Fisher], I then thought that little [2 year old] Angeline was more dear to me then anything ever had been, she being the last one of my family. But alas the day was soon to come when I would see her laid in her silent grave. I discovered her sickness the 11th of the 8th mo. She appeared well and very playful in the morning. When we stopped to
eat dinner she was lame but still very playful & ate her dinner apparently about as usual. Soon after eating she became feverish which increased very rapidly her lameness (which we soon found to be in her thigh just above the knee). It became very painful, getting worse through the night. The following morning she commenced having fits and died about noon. The disease seemed strange but it was not more so then it was distressing. A mortification appeared to taken place before her death.
- Rachel Fisher, 1847
Our dear little “Willie” is not expected to live 12 hours as he evidently has Dropsy in the brain. The Doctor tells us it is in vain to administer any medicine as he must surely die. This to us is heart rending, but gods “ways are not our ways neither is his thoughts our thoughts”! O! may we bow with submission to his will one of our young men is also verry ill. Two months and seven days this morning since our beloved mother was called to bid this world adieu, and the ruthless monster death not yet content has once more entered our fold & taken in his icy grip the treasure of our hearts! A beautiful cedar waves its wide spread branches over
his tomb, and here beneath its shade I have wandered in remote seclusion to be alone with Wille and his God and while I reflect that he is now beyond the reach of mortal suffering, in my heart I praise the Lord, who gave and who has taken away.
- Abigail Jane Scott, 1852
A mournful accident. A young man by the name of James Shotwell, while in the act of taking a gun out of the wagon, drew it with the muzzle towards him in such a manner that it went off and shot him near the heart. He lived about an hour and died in full possession of his senses. - John Bidwell, 1841
We buried a small boy this morning that died from a wagon having passed over the abdomen. - Dr. Marcus Whitman, 1843
A very bad road. Joel J. Hembree’s son Joel fell off the wagon & both wheels run over him. Lay by. Joel Hembree departed this life about 2 o’clock. We buried the youth & engraved his name on the head stone. - William Newby, 1843
I came on ahead with Captain Gantt. At noon came up to a fresh grave with stones piled over it, and a note tied on a stick, informing us that it was the grave of Joel J. Hembree, aged six years, who was killed by a wagon running over its body. At the head of the grave stood a stone containing the name of the child, the first death on the expedition. - James Nesmith, 1843
A wagon wheel went over a boy’s head; and he came very near losing his life. The Elders administered to him and he got better. The wagon wheel went over my foot. I took some oil and anointed my foot, and in a short time it was all right.
- John Johnson Davies, 1850
In coming down a hill my little brother five years old, fell over the front gate of my wagon to the ground. I picked him up fearing that he was killed, but his life was spared. Sad to say, it happened otherwise with G.T. Naler’s little boy who also fell over the front end of the wagon during the journey. In his case the great wheels rolled over the child’s head, crushing it to pieces.
- Edward Lenox, 1843
William Vaughan was swimming the river when he was suddenly seized with cramps and with a quick cry for help, went down. J.W. Nesmith brought him up, but Vaughan clutched his rescuer so that Nesmith himself was in danger of being strangled. To this day, I can hear Nesmith cry, “Let me go and I will save you!” With the help of Stewart, he brought the now unconscious Vaughan to the shore. Nesmith called for a keg. I brought it as quickly as a boy’s legs could carry me. Vaughan was laid over the keg and the water rolled out of him, while Stewart and I were kept busy pumping his arms. At length consciousness was restored to
Vaughan. - Edward Lenox, 1843
The old mountaineer, - “Peg Leg Smith,” came into camp. He has a cabin and trades with cattle, whiskey, &c. His leg was injured and he took out his knife & amputated it himself, and afterward dressed it, and fortunately recovered.
- J. Goldsborough Bruff, 1849
The thunder seemed almost incessant, and the lightning was so brilliant you could read by its flashes. The men chained the oxen so they would not stampede, though they were very restive. Our tents were blown down as were the covers off our prairie schooners and in less than five minutes we were wet as drowned rats. You have no idea of the confusion resulting with the oxen bellowing, the children crying and the men shouting, the thunder rolling like a constant salvo of artillery; with everything as light as day from the lightning flashes and the next second as black as depth of the pit. - Benjamin Franklin Bonney, 1845
Such sharp and incessant flashes of lightning, such stunning and continuous thunder, I had never known before. The woods were completely obscured by the diagonal sheets of rain that fell with a heavy roar, and rose in spray from the ground. The storm ceased as suddenly as it began. The thunder here is not like the tame thunder of the Atlantic coast. Bursting with a terrific crash directly above our heads, it roared over the boundless waste of the prairie, seeming to roll around the whole circle of the firmament with a peculiar and awful reverberation. The lightning flashed all night. - Francis Parkman, 1846
We have a dreadful storm of rain and hail last night and very sharp lightning. It killed two oxen. The wind was so high I thought it would tear the wagons to pieces. Nothing but the stoutest covers could stand it. The rain beat into the wagons so that everything was wet. In less than 2 hours the water was a foot deep all over our camp grounds. As we could have no tents pitched, all had to crowd into the wagons and sleep in wet beds, with their wet clothes on, without supper. - Amelia Stewart Knight, 1853
We had several wind storms and terrific thunder storms along the Platte River, mostly at night. Tents blew down, wagon covers were blown to ribbons, rain fell in torrents, and everything was soaked. Then we would have to lay over for a day to dry out.
- Charles Oliver, 1864
We did not meet any sickness nor see any fresh graves until we came in on the road from St Joseph. From that out there was scarsely a day but we met six and not less than two fresh graves. - Elizabeth Keegan, 1852
Scarcely out of sight of grave diggers. - Abraham Sortore, 1850
As we traveled, we met a great many people who were sick and dying. Often there was nothing to dig a grave with, and the dead had to be wrapped in quilts and blankets, and laid on the ground with stones piled over them. In spite of these precautions we saw many graves that had been invaded by wolves. - Sarah Sprenger, 1852
The dead lay sometimes in rows of fifties or more. People were continually hurrying past us in their desperate haste to escape the dreadful epidemic. - Ezra Meeker, 1852
Five of our comrades had previously become the prey of this dread disease, and yet, like a sleuth-hound, it was still pursuing us. Medical treatment, sympathy and brotherly care proved of no avail. Both patients passed into a state of collapse before midnight and died early next morning. Their bodies were laid out in clean clothes, after which they were sewed up in their blankets and at twelve buried in one grave. We erected a neat and substantial cairn burning all the clothing in which they had died. That both should be stricken with cholera at the same time within a few minutes of each other was beyond our comprehension.
- Reuben Cole Shaw, 1849
I would mention the sickness we have had and I am sorry to say the deaths. First of all Francis Freel died June 4 and Maria Freel followed the 6th, next came Polly Freel Casner who died the 8th and Amos Freel the next, he died the 9th and LaFayette Freel soon followed, he died the 10th, Elizabeth Freel, wife of Amos died the 11th, and her baby died the 17th. So you see we have had a sad affliction on our short journey. You see we have lost 7 persons in a few short days, all died of Cholera. Do not, as you value your lives, ever drink water out of springs and sunken wells on the side of the road or anywhere else. Always use the Platte River water and you will have no sickness. Even if you have to go a mile or two miles, do it rather than to drink out of those cursed pitholes of death. For it is nothing less than that caused all our sickness. - George Kisor, 1852
How mysterious are the works of an all wise and overruling Providence! We little thought when last Sabbath's pleasant sun shed upon us his congenial rays that when the next should come it would find us mourning over the sickness and death of our beloved Mother! But it has been even so; our mother was taken about two o'clock this morning with a violent dierrehea attended with cramping She however aroused no one until daylight, when everything was done which we possibly could do to save her life; but her constitution long impaired by disease was unable to withstand the attack and this afternoon between four and five o'clock her wearied spirit took its flight and then we realized that we were bereaved indeed. - Abigail Jane Scott, 1852
My name is Stephenie Flora. Thanks for stopping by. Return to [ Home Page ] All [ Comments and Inquiries ] are welcome.