Letter By One of the Immigrants of 1843

"Told By The Pioneers"

Washington Historical Society Vol I

This letter from Jesse Looney to his brother-in-law, Major James C. Bond in Warren County, IL was sent via Lt. Fremont who was returning from his expedition of the new territory.  It was almost a year later before it reached its destination.  

Waillatpu, Oregon Terr.
Oct. 27, 1843       

Dear Sir:
   I embrace the opportunity of writing to you from this far western country, afforded me by the return of Lieut. Fremont to the states this winter.  He thinks he will be at Independence, Missouri by January next, which will be in time for those who intend coming next season to this country to get some information about the necessary preparations to be made for the journey.
   It is a long tiresome trip from the states to this country, but the company of emigrants came through safely this season--to the number of one thousand persons, with something over one hundred wagons--to this place, which is 250 miles east of the Willamette Valley and, with the exception of myself and a few others, they have all gone on down, intending to go through this winter if possible.
   About half of them have traded off their stock at Walla Walla, 25 miles below here, and are going by water; the balance went on by land to the Methodist Mission, 175 miles below this, intending to take water there.  I have stopped here in the Walla Walla Valley to spend the winter in order to save my stock.  This is a fine valley of land, excellent water, good climate, and the finest kind of timber on the surrounding mountains; and above all a first rate range for stock both winter and summer.  The Indians are friendly and have plenty of grain and potatoes, and a good many hogs and cattle.
   The missionaries are this and the other Missions have raised fine crops of wheat, corn, potatoes, etc., so that provisions can be procured here upon as good or better terms than in the lower settlements at present.
   Cattle are valuable here, especially American cattle.  Things induced me to stop here for the winter, save my stock and take them down in the spring.
   In preparing for the journey across the mountains, you cannot be too particular in the choice of a wagon--it should be strong in every part, and yet it should not be very heavy.  The large size two horse Yankee wagons are the most suitable wagons that I have seen on this trip.  You should have nothing but your clothing, bedding and provisions.  Goods are cheaper here than in the states.  Let your load be your provisions--flour and bacon.  Put in about as much loading as one yoke of cattle can draw handily, and then put on three yoke of cattle and take an extra yoke for a change in case of failure from lameness or sore necks, and you can come without any difficulty.  The road is good, much better than we expected, but is long.  Bring all the loose cattle you can get, especially milch cows and heifers.  Do not attempt to bring calves--they will not come through and by losing them you will be in danger of losing their mothers.  I cannot urge you too strongly to be sure of plenty of provisions--do not depend on the game.  You may get some, or you may not, it is uncertain.
   We were about five months on the road to this place, and I had plenty of flour, etc., to do me, but most of the company were out long before they got here, and there is little or nothing to be had in the way of provisions at the forts on the way.  I would advise you to lay in plenty for at least five months, for if you get out on the way, you have trouble to get any until you get here.
   I would advise you to start as soon as the grass will admit of, we might have started a month sooner than we did, and then we would have been here to have gone through with our cattle this winter.  We left Independence the 22d of May, and we are just about a month too late.
   Myself and family were sick when we left and continued so until we left Blue River and the rains and mud, but when we struck the high land along the Platte we began to mend and continued to do so until we are all well.  My own health is better than it has been for many years, and as far as I have seen this country I think it very healthful.
   There was some sickness on the road, thought not more than might have been expected in so large a company.  There were five or six deaths on the road, some by sickness and some by accident, and there were some eight or ten births on the road.  There was little or no sickness amongst them when they got here.
   Upon the whole we fared much better than expected.  We found water every night but one, thought it was sometimes not very good and we always found something to make a fire, but not always good wood.
   We had no interruption from the Indians, unless, indeed, they might have stolen a horse now and then to get a little something for bringing him in.  Our greatest difficulty was in crossing the rivers, but we got over safely, except one man drowned, and he did not cross with the main company, having quit the company and gotten behind.
   Mrs. Looney says prepare yourselves with good strong clothing for the road or the wild sage will trip you.  This shrub is very plentiful and hard on our teams, especially those that went before, but it will not be so bad on those that come next year, for we have left a plain well beaten road all the way.
   I will have a better opportunity of giving you an account of this country next spring, and want you to write the first change, No more.
           Your brother until death,

                                                (signed) Jesse Looney


In later years a bio on Jesse Looney contained the following additional information:
"Jesse Looney showed his good business judgment in fitting out his family wagons.  There were three.  One was built like a boat, with tight bottom, so as to ford the streams with their effects and get them over dry.  One was called the "fiddle" because of its peculiar construction.  In these wagons they had packed everything they could think of that they would need in the new country.  Mr. Looney was comfortable and well-to-do, so he had the advantage in this way of those not so well able.  Clothing of all sorts, much provision for his own family and some to give to the less fortunate, garden seed, and tools, really everything with which to start the new home in the west.
   Mr. Looney even had much foodstuff left after the long journey.  He brought a young man along, to do the cooking and camp work for his board and a chance to be in the party, thus relieving Mrs. Looney of this hard part of camp life.  She was often heard to remark that she had a very easy time crossing the plains.  Of course, to her fell the lot of looking after the six children--a job in itself.
   Along with the three strong wagons, Mr. Looney brought twenty head of choice cows, four brood mares and extra oxen to relieve the several span attached to each wagon, in case they developed sore feet." Book of Remembrance by Steeves 


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