Mileposts Along The Oregon Trail

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.

MISSOURI

Mile 0.0 Independence Court House Square - Independence Route 

Victor Tixier, 1840 - We stopped at the best hotel in Independence. We were led to a poorly enclosed dormitory where eight large beds were strewn about so as to accommodate sixteen travelers.”

 

Overton Johnson, 1843 - Independence, a small town ... situated six miles South of the Missouri River, and twelve miles from the Western line of the state, and now the principal starting point for all the companies engaged in the Western and New Mexican trade, and place of general rendezvous of persons from all parts of the United States.”

 

James Clyman, May 14, 1844 - “1844 of May the 14th Left Independence & proceeded on to Westport Roads extremely bad owing to the Leate greate rains.”

 

William Barlow, 1845 - “Went up on the south side all the way to Independence, where the grand start was to be made. There we lost one yoke of oxen, strayed or stolen, we never knew which, but they were the only animals we lost on the whole trip.”

 

Benjamin Franklin Bonney, 1845 - Independence was merely a trading post. There were several stores in Independence, a number of blacksmith shops and wagon shops as well as livery stables and hotels. At Independence, we joined the Barlow wagon train.”

 

Francis Parkman, 1846 - “The last arrival of emigrants came down the street with about twenty waggons.... What is remarkable, this body, as well as a very large portion of the emigrants were from the extreme western states - N. England send but a small proportion, but they are better furnished than the rest. ...one remarkably pretty little girl was seated on horseback, holding a parasol over her head to keep off the rain ... as I passed their waggons I observed three old men, with their whips in their hands, discussing some point of theology - which is hardly the disposition of the mess of the emigrants.”

 

Loren B. Hastings, 1847 - “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.”

 

William G. Johnston, March, 1849 - “... noise and confusion reigned supreme. Traders, trappers and emigrants filled the streets and stores. All were in a hurry, jostling one another, and impatient to get through with their business.... Mules and oxen strove for the right of way. ‘Whoa’ and ‘haw’ resounded on every side; while the loud cracking of ox goads, squeaking of wheels and rattling of chains, mingled with the oaths of teamsters, produced a din indescribable.”

 

James A. Pritchard, April 22, 1849 - “Indipendence is a handsome flourishing town with a high situation.... The Emegrants were encamped in every direction for miles around the place awaiting the time to come for their departure. Such were the crowded condition of the Streets of Ind by long trains of Ox teams mule teams men with stock for Sale and men there to purchase stock that it was all most impossible to pass along....”

 

Jared Fox, 1852 - “At Independence the tents had hardly been set up and the women had just got about their cooking when we were visited by a dozen or more Kansas Indians.... There were the wretched Kansans only half covered with their greasy, torn blankets; Shawnees, decked out in calicoes and fanciful stuff; Foxes with their shaved heads and painted faces; and here and there a Cheyenne sporting his war bonnet of feathers.”

 

Mile 0.3 Independence Spring - Independence Route

The St. Louis Reveille, May 25, 1846 - “The first five miles of the road leading from Independence to the Trace, we found in very bad condition for wagons. We have passed several emigrants and two large Santa Fe wagons badly stalled.... This may prove another reason for Westport being made the point of rendezvous hereafter, unless the evil be remedied pretty soon.”

 

Mile 13.0 Westport - Westport Route

Francis Parkman, 1846 - “...full of Indians, whose little shaggy ponies were tied by dozens along the houses and fences. Sacs and Foxes, with shaved heads and painted faces, Shawanoes and Delawares, fluttering in calico frocks and turbans, Wyandots dressed like white men, and a few wretched Kanza wrapped in old blankets, were strolling about the streets, or lounging in and out of the shops and houses.”

 

Mile 15.1 Blue Mills - Independence Route

Virgil Pringle, May 5-6, 1846 - “Got under headway for Blue Mills. Went ahead with my wagons and commenced loading in my flour.... The Blue Mills the best water mills I have seen in the state. Make flour that passes the Boston market....”

 

Mile 15.2 Blue River Crossing - Independence Route

Virgil Pringle, May 8-9, 1846 - “Went 12 miles to the Blue and encamped, it being to high to cross. Another wagon capsized.... Crossed the Blue soon in the morning....”

 

Kansas
 

Mile 15.0 Shawnee Indian Mission (Methodist) - Westport Route

John Boardman, May 29, 1843 - “Passed the Indian mission.”

 

James Clyman, May 23, 1844 - “We have been passing through lands sofar belonging to the Shawnee nation or Tribe of Indians nearly all of which Tribe have quit hunting and gone into a half civilized manner of living cultivating small Lots of ground in corn Beans Potatoes and grains and vegetables their country is almost intierly striped of all kinds of game but is fine and Productive in grains and Stock both horses and cattle Timber is scarce but finely watered in part the trail passes through”

 

Celinda Hines, May 6-7, 1853 - “6th friday ... Some cattle of Mr. Leonard’s & one of our mules gone. ... Mr. Stateler who by the way is a missionary at West Port & brother in law of Mr Leonard - and his wife having come so far with us & Mr S’ horse having gone off with the mule ... 7th saturday ... no news yet. [Uncle H] went back with pa’s breakfast and with the intention should not the mule be found to go back to the Shawnee mission & purchase another but during his absence the indian White Crow had brought him back. ... A very intelligent Delaware chief came to the camp. He wore a beautiful wampum belt exceeding every thing I had ever seen of the kind. He advised us to take the divide route instead of the government road by Ft Leavenworth [both short cuts to the Oregon Trail] as it is they say a better road.”

 

Mile 16.0 Fitzhugh’s Mill - Independence Route

James Nesmith, 1843 - “Thursday, May 18, 1843 - The Oregon Company met at the grove west of Fitzhugh’s mill. Mr. Burnett, or, as he was familiarly designated, ‘Pete,’ was called upon for a speech. Mounting a log, the glib-tongued orator delivered a glowing, florid address.”

 

Mile 32.0 Lone Elm Campground - Independence Route

Rufus Sage, Fall, 1841 -“About sundown we reached a small creek known as Elm Grove, and encamped. Timber proved quite scarce in this vicinity, and it was with great difficulty we procured sufficient for cooking.”

 

Peter Burnett, May 22, 1843 - “We reached Elm Grove, about fifteen miles [from camp on the Blue River]. This grove had but two trees, both elms, and a few dogwood bushes. The small elm was most beautiful in the wild and lonely prairie; and the large one had all its branches trimmed off for firewood.”

 

Jesse Applegate, 1843 - “Before a tent 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 lamet; 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.”

 

Catherine Sager, 1844 - “Soon everything went smooth and our train made steady headway. The weather was fine and we enjoyed the journey pleasantly. 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. ... The motion of the wagon made us all sick, and it was weeks before we got used to the seasick motion. Rain came down and required us to tie down the wagon covers, and so increased our sickness by confining the air we breathed. ... Soon after starting Indians raided our camp one night and drove off a number of cattle. They were pursued, but never recovered.”

 

Lucy Jane Hall (Burnett), 1845 - “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.”

 

Virgil Pringle, May 9, 1846 - “Went 16 miles over prairie ... encamped at the lone tree, no wood but green willows....”

 

James A. Pritchard, May 3, 1849 - “... we reached the noted lone Elm, where we encamped for the night. This lone tree stands on the bank of a small stream, with no other tree in sight, all the branches have been cut from it by traders & Emegrants for the purpos of fuel....”

 

Mile 35.0 Fort Leavenworth

James Wilkins, May 6, 1849 - [In Weston, the “Little Switzerland” across from Leavenworth] “Sunday morning. Rainy, dismal cold chilly ... difficulties multiply as we proceed. A wagon with four yoke of exen was stalled ... a mile from town ... a bad start....”

 

Capt. Howard Stansbury, May 1852 - “Before leaving Fort Leavenworth we were joined by a small party of emigrants for california, who desired to travel in our company for the sake of protection.... My party consisted principally of experienced voyageurs, who had spent the best part of their lives among the wilds of the Rocky Mounatins.... We followed the ‘emigration road’.... Over a rolling prairie, fringed on the south with trees....”

 

William and Lavina McCormick, 1859 - At the end of the first days travel the only mishap of trip occurred. One of the wheels of a wagon, belonging to Enos Hodson, broke and the family had to stop at Leavenworth while the rest of the party continued on their way for a mile or more before setting up their camp for the night.

 

Mile 39.4 Trail Junction

Virgil Pringle, May 10, 1846 - “... about 9 miles ... Then left the Santa Fe road....”

 

James A. Pritchard, May 4, 1849 - “... came to where the Santa Fe road leaves the old Oregon trail.”

 

Samuel Clark McKeeby, May 26, 1850 - “The road on our side of the river for miles ahead are lined with teams and from our camp to the missouri behind us is one continuous line of wagons.”

 

Mile 50.0 St. Joseph

M. Thompson, 1849 - “Independence is what is called in the west an old town. It is indebted to, and still depends entirely upon the Santa Fe trade for its prosperity and support.... St. Joseph is a new town, not yet six years old. Its situation is far superior to any town on the river....”

 

Dr. Israel Lord, 1849 - “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.”

 

Ralph Ringwood, May 6, 1850 - “Just across the Missouri - almost within a stone’s throw of us - there is now in the midst of the wilderness the hum and bustle of a great city. Not less than 10,000 emigrants are encamped in the woods on the opposite bank. The poor Kickapoos and Pottawatomies ... gaze upon the crowd and their doings with wonderment.”

 

Jefferson Drake, May 8, 1850 - “ To see persons selling there outfits at auction daily since my stay here, it would seem that thousands were returning home.... Many have come here and gambled away their money ... others have run short of funds to procure feed for their teams from the high rates they have been compelled to pay, and are forced to sell and return home."

 

John Hawkins Clark, 1852 - “The Missouri River has to be crossed to-day. ... In this, however, our progress was very slow for as we got one mule on board and our attention directed to another the first one would jump overboard and swim ashore, to the great delight of the many who were looking on. After several turns of the kind, and finding that we gained but slowly in our endeavor to freight the boat by the single additions, we concluded to drive them all on together. In this we suceeded admirably, for on they went and we put up the railing to keep them there. A shout of victory followed the putting up of the bars; a victory was gained over the frisky mule and the order given to ‘cast-off,’ but before the order could be obeyed the fiends in mule shapetook it into their heads to look over the same side of the boat and all at the same time.

Result, the dipping of the boat to the water’s edge on one side, which frightened the little brutes themselves and they all, as with common consent, leaped overboard again. Three times, three cheers were given by the crowd on the shore.... We had so much trouble with the mules that it was reasonable to expect a quiet time with our oxen; in this, however, we were mistaken for they seemed to have caught contrariness from the mules and were, if possible, more stubborn than the

mules themselves ... we camped for the day to ‘fix up’ things. Here is a general camping ground, and as it is on the verge of civilization anything forgotten can be obtained by recrossing the river.”

 

Harriett Scott, April, 1852 - “We stopped at St, Joseph, Missouri, to get more provisions. We had never before seen Negroes, and all along this state we saw many negro huts, and went into one to see some little negro babies. My remembrance of the state was muddy roads, muddy water and a sort of general poverty....”

 

Abigail Jane Scott, May 10, 1852 - “My sister and I ascended to the summit of a hill and with the aid of a spy-glass took a farewell view of St. Joe. and the United States”

 

Agnes Stewart, April 5 - May 3, 1853 - “April 5th. Arrived at St. Joseph today. Was quite disappointed at the appearance of this place. I had expected to find log houses and frame shanties, but instead I find bricj houses, and plenty of whiskey. Every man I meet looks like an ale cask himself. To my opinion St. Joseph would rise a great deal faster if the people here did not take so much advantage of the emigrants.   May 3. We will leave this place today and glad to get away. I cannot like St. Joseph. ... The last load to cross the river in the evening which consisted of four men and one yoke of oxen met with trouble. The ferry ran onto a root of a tree in the water and upset. All the men were drowned, and the cattle, although yoked together, swam out and were recovered next morning. The men had been drinking too much and were reckless.”

 

Mile 53.0 Savannah Crossing - Missouri River

Sarah Bird Sprenger, May, 1852 - “At Savannah we had to cross the river by way of one small ferry boat, which was pulled across by a hand-operated pulley. Father had dreamt three nights in succession that the family would attempt to cross in that boat and that the oxen being rather wild, would run to one side, causing the boat to sink. In his dream he was told that none of his family would drown. Though Father didn't believe in such things, after dreaming the same dream three nights in a row, he tried to get the boatman to take the family over alone and make another trip for the oxen. But the boatman refused, as so many other people were waiting to be ferried over; so we had to go with our wagon. When we reached the middle of the river, the oxen ran to one side and the boat began to fill with water, until just a tiny bit of the wagon cover was above the water. The oxen swam off; the boatman held my baby brother above the water, Father

held Mother up on a wheel of the wagon while my sister Abbie and brother Jacob kept Nicholas and me from drowning by holding on to us and to the wagon. My oldest sister held to the wagon on a wheel. My brothers Isaac and Charles, one on each side of the river were crazy to come to us, but that was impossible as the river was too full of sand and eddies to swim in. There was not even a skiff to come to our rescue, and my brothers had to run a mile to get a boat. Archie Rusk, a

friend of ours who was going with us to Oregon, jumped off the boat to try to get help, though I pleaded with him not to. He was drowned. At last the boys got to us with a boat and we were pulled out. Mother looked around and called out, "Where are Maria and Henry?" A voice from the wagon said, "Here we are!" and the wagon cover was pulled off and they were dragged out. As the water had risen in the wagon, Maria had put the big family Bible on the beds which happened to be left in that wagon that morning, along with the dishpan and every other thing she could find to pile up. That left her just

room enough to stand and hold their heads above water, with a few inches between the top of the water and the cover of the wagon to breathe in. We stayed at Savannah a week trying to find the body of our young friend and to replace the

clothing that we had lost. The people of the town told Father there was no use trying to get Archie's body, for it would have been buried in the sand in a few hours. But they tried for a week, and when we left, Father left word that if his body could be found and sent home, the finder could keep the remainder of the five hundred dollars in gold that had been in the young

man's belt.”

 

Sarah Davis, May 30-31, 1850 - “we crost creek to whare their had bin a man robed and six had to be killed it is about one hundred miles from st joseph ... we crost the blue river whare their was a man droned and one died and to turned back to go home....”

 

Susan Amelia Cranston, May 11, 1851 - “The country thus far that is between the Missourie and Weeping water, Weeping Watter and Salt creek presents an extensive prairie which is very rolling. The eye scans the open distance in vain to find an object upon which it may rest at times the eye is employed in scanning the coursing of a stream which may be seen from ten to fifteen miles according to the hight of the hill from which you look except the scattering trees upon the banks of the streams there is scarcely a stick large enough for a riding whip nothing but the rolling prairie one hill has not ended before another is begun....”

 

John Hawkins Clark, May 6-7, 1852 - “...we began to fix things up ... appoint each man to do a certain duty, for a period of time. The man who cooked for two weeks, was to drive oxen for the next two weeks, and the man who had been driving oxen was to take his place. Teamsters, guards, and all concerned, were to change places every two weeks....

There are many musicians belonging to the different encampments surrounding us, and after supper all commenced to practise the sweet tunes that were to enliven us while sitting around the camp fire on the far plains. Never shall I forget the hoarse bellow of the portly frog or the sharp twang of the wee ones, mingled as they were with soft strains of instrumental music.... This concert lasted until near midnight, when all was hushed except the crackling of the log fires as they were every now and then replaced by the watchful sentinel as he kept watch and ward over the sleeping multitude.... May 7. - ... We are twenty persons in number, mostly young men, and all from Cinncinnati except two Canadians who joined the company while coming up the river.”

 

Abigail Jane Scott, May 14-16, 1852 - “We have passed 7 new graves to-day. passed a place, where some folks were busied consigning to its last resting place the remains of a young man who had died with the measles The family had emigrated from Pennsylvania, had lost three of their company in St. Joe, and with a wish to overcome evry obstacle, they determined to push ahead little knowing that the extent of their ambition would be to come this far on their journey,

only to lay the remains of a son in the ocean like and seemingly boundless plains They have become entirely discouraged and when we left them, they were making preparations to go back to the home of their natvity.    May 15th ... Crossed the big Nemaha a dangerous stream and encamped for the night upon its shores Broke two ox yokes in ascending the bank of the stream May16th Sabbath day: 'Tis well that we crossed the Nemaha last evening for it is rapidly rising. The cold wind blows very hard and very disagreeably, and the atmosphere, is cold enough for a drear November morning”

 

Randolph B. Marcy, 1857 - “In crossing rivers where the water is so high as to come into the wagon beds, but is not above a fording stage, the contents of the wagons may be kept dry by raising the beds between the uprights, and retaining them in that position with blocks of wood placed at each corner, between the rockers and the bottom of the wagon-beds. When rivers are wide, with a swift current, they should always, if possible, be forded obliquely down stream, as the action of the water against the wagons, assists very materially in carrying them across.... When it becomes necessary, with loaded wagons, to cross a stream of this character against the current, I would recommend that teams be doubled, the leading animals led, a horseman placed on each side with whips to assist the driver....”

 

Mile 54.3 Blue Jacket Crossing - Wakarusa River

Rufus Sage, September 7, 1841 - “To the Wakarousha, a considerable tributary of the Kansas. The remainder of the day was occupied in crossing the creek - a task by no means easy, - its banks being so precipitous we were compelled to lower our wagons by means of ropes. In so doing it required the utmost caution to prevent them from oversetting or becoming broken in the abrupt descent.”

 

Mathew Field, May 1843 - “Encamped upon the Wahkaroosi, or Big Elk ... only some sixty miles beyond Westport.”

 

James Nesmith, 1843 - The Doctor [Whitman] spent much time in hunting out the best route for the wagons, and would plunge into streams in search of practicable fords, regardless of the depth or temperature of water....”

 

James Clyman, May 24, 1844 - It rained all night by day our teams ware moving to the river which we had been expecting [to] fall but which began to rise again ... with the utmost exertion we crssed over 20 waggons by about 10 o’clock when the waters became too deep to cross and in about an hour it rose so as to swim a horse. ...there was one young Lady which

showed herself worthy of the bravest undaunted poieneer 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 the great composure for near 2 hours and baked bread enough to give us a verry plentifull supper.”

 

Virgil Pringle, May 11, 1846 - “... the Wakarusa ... between a creek and river in size.... About half of the emigration missed the road and crossed about 4 miles above.”

 

Albert D. Richardson, 1867 - “... first town in Kansas.... Pleased with the name, they gave it to their nascent city. Their first Herald of Freedom - for a newspaper is mothers milk to an infant town - bears the date ‘Wakarusa, Kansas Territory, October 21, 1854.’ But the settlers soon learned this romantic legend of the origin and significance of the name: Many moons ago, before white men ever saw these prairies, there was a great freshet. While the waters were rising, an Indian girl on horseback came to the stream and began fording it. Her steed went in deeper and deeper, until as she sat upon him she was half immersed. Surprised and affrighted she ejaculated ‘Way-ka-ru-sa!’ (hip deep). ... On reflection, the settlers decided not to perpetuate the story, and changed the name of their town to Lawrence, in honor of one of its most generous patrons, Amos Lawrence of Boston.”

 

Mile 56.0 Blue Mound

A favorite spot for skylarking emigrants, and many of them climbed to the top for a view “clear to Oregon.”

 

John Bidwell, May 13, 1841 - “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.”

 

Lansford Hastings, 1842 - “The wife and child of Mr. Lancaster become very ill. The child dies in camp. Mr. Lancaster returns to the States. No mention is made of the fate of Mrs. Lancaster.”

 

John C. Frémont, 1843 - placed a prearranged signal on its summit to summon his Indian hunters.

 

John Minto, May 1844 - “The Blue Mound, the famous Blue Mound. I made a very thorough examination of the Blue Mound and, if it had not been such an immense mass, should have left it believing that it was the work of man.”

 

Mile 87.7 Pappan Ferry - Lower Kansas River Crossing

Pappen Ferry was operated by two half-breed brothers, Joseph and Lewis Pappan, or Papin, from 1844 into the 1850s.

 

Frederick Wislizenus, MD, 1839 - “We reached the Kanzas, or, as it is commonly called, Ka [or Kaw] River, not deep, but rather broad and swift. Its course is from west to east.... Some miles from us, on the same side of the river, was a vilage of the Kas, or kanzas Indians; across the river, somewhat farther off, were two villages of the same tribe. Near the first village there is a trading house, a smith, and a Methodist mission. The Kas formerly lived forty miles to the west; but in 1826 in pursuance of treaties, the United States Government assigned them the district which they now inhabit; and has set apart for them for twenty years the annual sum of $3,500 ... which is given to them principally in kind. ... The whole tribe is said to number 1,500 souls. The attempt to civilize the Kas and lead them to agriculture as yet has had little success. The government has sent them some mechanics, has established a sort of model farm, and furnishes them yearly a number of cattle and swine. But they usually burn the fencing of the farm in winter and slaughter the animals. In other respects, they live, like the rest of the Indians, from hunting; and as their country, though containing some deer, and elk, has no buffalo, they go twice a year some hundreds of miles away on a buffalo hunt, and bring the dried meat back with them. A tendency toward civilization, on the other hand, is indicated by their permanent residence in villages....”

 

Mathew Field, May 27, 1843 - “We crossed the Kansas upon a pirogue, a species of water craft understood here as a raft constructed on two canoes. Vehicles and their contents were floated over, where the stream was about two hundred yards wide, with a rapid, turbid and deep current, then then the animals were made to swim across.”

 

Overton Johnson, May 1843 - “Kanzas River ... not being fordable ... constructed two large canoes ... platform of round poles ... placed wagons by hand, and ferried ... cattle and horses made to swim.”

 

John Boardman, June 3, 1843 - “passed Caw on a raft, half canoe and half raft.”

 

Jesse Applegate, 1843 - “We came up on the south side of the Caw [Kansas] River and camped below and near an Indian town of the Caw tribe. There were huts and cabins ranging along the river on either side of a street. It was said those Indians grew corn, beans, and pumpkins. I admired several of the Indian men I saw there. They were more than six feet tall,

straight, and moved with a proud step; wore blankets drawn around their shoulders, and leggins. Their hair was shorn to the scalp, except something like a rooster’s comb on top of the head, colored red. I noticed that the Indians did not swim like white men, but with an overhanded stroke, ‘dog-fashion,’ they said. These Indians were friendly and accommodating. They told us we would soon reach the country of the Cheyennes and Pawnees, and that they were bad Indians.”

 

Edward Henry Lenox, 1843 - “William Vaughan was swimming the river, leading some stock when he was suddenly seized with cramps, in the middle of the stream, and with a quick cry for help, went down. J.W. [Nesmith] brought him up, but Vaughan after the manner of drowning men, clutched his rescuer so that Nesmith himself was in danger of being strangled. To this day, I can seem to hear Nesmith cry, ‘Let me go and I will save you!’ But Nesmith was compelled to release himself by diving again. This time with the help of Stewart, he brought the now unconscious Vaughan to the shore. Nesmith called for a keg. I remembered there was one in father’s tent, and brought it as quickly as a boy’s legs could carry me. Vaughan was laid over the kep and the water rolled out of him, while Stewart and I were kept busy pumping his arms. Even with these vigorous measures, Nesmith was on the point of giving up, for the man seemed to be utterly dead, but some almost imperceptible, convulsive motions gave him courage, and at length consciousness was restored to Vaughan.”

 

Virgil Pringle, May 15, 1846 - “...crossed the ferry, which consisted of two flat boats owned by a Shawnee Indian whose name is Fish”

 

William G. Johnston, 1849 - “By means of a rope, one end of which was coiled around a tree, the wagons were let down the steep banks of the river, and placed in the boat. Two wagons and 12 mules were taken over at a time, the boat being propelled by poles. A Frenchman and his two sons, half-breed Kaws, own and work the ferry. Their charge is $4. for each wagon, 25¢ for a mule, and 10¢ each man. Double teams are required to haul the wagons up the northern bank, and through the deep sands extending 1/4 mile back from the river. Fist fight came off this evening between two members of Captain Kirkuff’s mess. [The man who] provoked the quarrel ... was rearded with rings around his eyes bearing a strong resemblance to ebony goggles.”

 

James A. Pritchard, May 7, 1849 - “We had to travel 16 miles to upper ferry or 3 to the lower ferry [Pappan’s] ... as nearly all the Emegrants were going to the lower ferry, we took the upper one.”

 

Mile 106.2 Union Ferry - Upper Kansas River Crossing

Crossing used by fur traders, missionaries and early emigrants. A commercial ferry came in 1846.

 

Rufus Sage, September 9, 1841 - “Early in the forenoon we came to the Kansas, and were employed till nearly night in effecting a ford. This proved rather difficult, as the water was deep and the bottom sandy; - the course, bearing directly across, till near midway of the river, follows the current for six or eight hundred yards, and then turns abroptly to the opposite shore. The Kansas, at the crossing, was not far from six hundred yards wide, with steep banks of clay and sand.”

 

Charles Pruess, June 18, 1842 - “Continued up the Kansas. Met a few Delaware Indians in their tent. They were engaged in drying their game on a fire to make it ready for transportation.”

 

Samuel Penter, 1843 - “Kaw River ... They [the party ahead] made two large dugouts of which they made a ferryboat to cross wagons.”

 

James Nesmith, May 26, 1843 - “Kansas. Crossed the river on a platform made of two canoes.”

 

Jesse Applegate, 1843 - I had lived on the Osage River and I saw that the Caw River looked to be hardly half as wide. The current was slow and the water I thought was very deep. The men in some way made the wagon boxes water tight and used them . as boats. In crossing the river the Indians assisted our people in swimming our cattle and horses.”

 

Edward Lenox, 1843 - [The kansas River] was considerably swollen on account of recent rains. ...a Frenchman in the neighborhood had three dugouts made of logs. These my father secured the next morning and with them made a platform, fastening the dugouts about four feet apart, and on this very primitive raft, the wagons were one by one ferried across. The better part of two days was spent in crossing the river.”

 

George McKinstry, May 20, 1846 - “...we crossed the Kansas ... with two flat boats owned by a half-breed Frenchman charging one dollar for each wagon the oxen & horses were swum over the river....”

 

James A. Pritchard, May 7, 1849 - “... to upper ferry ... what we lost on this side by travelling to the upper ferry we gained on the other ... one mile before strikeing the Kansas river is a mission and trading post called Potiwatimi ... a hault of an hour or such a matter in the town and let the boys trade a little.... There was 2 ferryboats, one Kept by a half breed Indian (Michegan) & the other by a white man. This river is about 120 yards wide, with a strong bold current; the water is rather turbed.”

 

Benjamin Franklin Owen, May 6-7, 1853 - “... camped near a little Potowatomy Village called Union Town, where there were Frenchmen living with Indian wives, Who were Genteel nice looking women having much the appearance of civilization. ... We came about 10 O'clock & as soon as it came to our turn, we had our wagon, & one yoke of our Oxen- taken over in the Boat, for which we paid $6.00. We made all the rest of our stock swim the River, Turning them in half, - a mile below the Ferry. There was a man at the Ferry Boat, - Swimming Stock across the River, - for pay, & that day he must have swam the River back, & forth no less than 50 or 60 times, where it was no less than 75 yds wide, but he was a very stout, muscular man, very fair, with golden hair, Weight not less that 200 lbs.”

 

Mile 109.6 St. Mary’s Mission

James A. Pritchard, May 8, 1849 - “... a Catholic mission, surrounded with a number of Indian Wigwams.”

 

Celinda Hines, May 16, 1853 - “Passed the catholic mission of the Pottawatamies Found there to our surprise quite a pleasant looking village there.”

 

Mile 120.0 Red (Little) Vermillion Creek

Site of largest American elm tree in the United States. This site would have a ferry operated by Louis Vieux, Sr. in 1847.

 

William E. Smith, 1850 - “... emigrants forded the Red Vermillion river at this point for many years. After Mr. Vieux had constructed his log cabin, near this ford, he built a toll bridge.... Louis Vieux sometimes sometimes made as much as $300 a day revenue from the toll bridge ... charged only $1 for each outfit that crossed. He furnished hay and grain to travelers.... He was of French descent, a big man among the Pottawatomie Indians - business agent for the tribe, interpreter and named a chief.... Here some fifty pioneers succumbed to the cholera. They were all buried on the east bank of the Red Vermillion in the shadow of the hill a short distance to the east. It was where Louis Vieux ... now lies buried....”

 

Celinda Hines, May 17, 1853 - “Crossed the Vermillion bridged.... Camped in a delightful place near which was a grave The bones have been dug up. H.A. Blinn Michigan died [?] 27 1852....”

 

Mile 152.5 Black (Big) Vermillion Creek

Rufus Sage, Sept. 14, 1841 - “We passed the 14th encamped at Big Vermillion, for the purpose of procuring a quantity of hickory for gun sticks and bow-timbers, this being the last place on the route affording it.”

 

John Minto, 1844 - Party held up by high water.

 

George McKinstry, May 25, 1846 - “...crossed the ‘big Virmillion’ a large creek with a steep bank on the east side....”

 

Capt. Howard Stansbury, June 1-9, 1852 - “Friday, June 1 ... In the course of the afternoon we passed the travelling train of Mr. Allen, consisting of about twenty-five ox-teams.... They had been on the spot several days, detained by sickness. One of the party had died but the day before of cholera, and two more were then down with the same disease. In the morning early, we had met four men from the same camp, returning on foot, with their effects on their backs, frightened at the danger, and disgusted already with the trip. It was here that we saw first a train ‘corralled’.   June 7 - ... Met a Mr. Brulet, a French trader, from Fort Laramie, with a large train of wagons, laden with packs of buffalo robes, bound for St. Louis. He had been forty days on the road, and had met not less than four thousand wagons, averaging four persons to a wagon. This number of emigrants appeared to him to be getting along rather badly, from their want of experience....A small party, with a single wagon drove into camp just as we were leaving the ground. They had formed part of a company from St. Louis, had proceeded within sixty miles of Fort Kearney, but had quarrelled, and became disgusted with the trip and with each other, and had separated. These persons were on their return to St. Louis. They gave discouraging accounts of matters ahead. Wagons, they said, could be bought upon the route of emigration, for from ten to fifteen dollars apiece, and provisions for almost noting at all.   June 9 - We crossed the Big Vermillion.... We found the trees and stumps on its banks carved all over with the names of hundreds of emigrants who had preceeded us, the dates of their passage, the state of their health and spirits, together with an occasional message for their friends who were expected to follow.... Just ahead of us was a wagon with a small party of emigrants. They had lost most of their cattle on the journey; and the father of three of them having died on the road, they, in conformity with his dying wishes, were now on their return to the settlements....”

 

Mile 165.1 Alcove Spring

Many emigrants left a record of their presence on adjacent rocks in this unusual rock formation area on the east bank of the Big Blue River.

 

Dr. Ferdinando Stith, 1844 - “Cholera, taken in the premonitory stage, is a mild and manageable disease; but requires vigilance and prudence to prevent it from running into confirmed cholera. These symptoms are a mild looseness, with indigestion, and attended with little or no pain; of longer or shorter duration.—Commonly preceding an attack from one to three or four days. In this mild form, stage of the disease, the patient should take from fifteen to twenty drops of laudanum [opium], four or five times a day, to check, and to hold in check, this looseness of the bowels; they should, at the same time, be attentive to diet and to exercise, avoiding all imprudences and excesses.   “But sometimes the attacks come on more violently, without giving any previous notice; so that, in an hour or two, the patient is cmpletely prostrated, and the disease assumes all its characteristic features—such as the rice-water, and the milk-and-water-like discharges, either from stomach and bowels, or both, accompanied with partial or general spasm. In all such cases, I gave from sixty to eighty drops of laudanum, with fifteen or twenty drops of essence of peppermint, in a good portion of strong toddy; or, if the pepper-mint was not at hand, in its place I used a tea-spoonful of the tincture of camphor, or two or three table-spoonfuls of strong, red-pepper tea; sometimes, also, a tea-spoonful of the tincture of kino [an astringent, to arrest hemorrhage]. It should be always borne in mind, that if the dose of medicine is cast up by puking, it should be repeated so soon as the stomach becomes a little settled.”

 

George McKinstry, May 29-30, 1846 - “Mrs. Keyes the mother of the wife of Mr. Reed of Illinois died of consumption aged ... 70 had been sick for a long time has been blind and deaf for some time past ... [traveling] to meet an only son from Oregon. The funeral took place this evening at 2 o’clock which was attended by every member of the company Mr. Cornwall one of our party and a Presbyterian clergiman conducted the burial and delivered a sensible sermon at the grave taking his text from Thessilonians ‘Trouble yourselves not about those that sleep’ the grave is under an Oak tree beside the Oregon road about 1/4 mile [east] of the Blue earth river. [May 30] ...about a half mile from Camp up the spring branch on the right hand fork is a most beautiful spring and a fall of water of 12 feet Mr Bryant of our party [a newspaper reporter sending back articles about the trip] has named it the ‘Alcove Spring’ the water is of the most excellent kind the spring is surrounded with Ash Cotton wood & Cedar trees it is an excellent place to camp for a day or two to wash, recruit the cattle &c I this day cut the name of the spring in the rock on Table at the top of the falls....”

 

Virginia Reed, 1846 - [letter home written from Independence Rock] “We came to the blue - the Water was so hye we had to stay thare 4 days - in the mean time gramma died. she became spechless the day before she died. We buried her verry decent We made a nete coffin and buried her under a tree we had a head stone and her name cutonit, and the date and yere verry nice, and at the head of the grave was a tree we cut some letters on it the young men soded it all ofer and

put Flores on it We miss her verry much evry time we come in the wagon we look up at the bed for her.”

 

Celinda Hines, May 19, 1853 - “... as we were going down the bank the wagon tipped over none were much hurt.... Some Californians were near & assisted us. The wagon was injured a little The contents of the provision chest were mostly emptyed into the stream. But on the whole but little damage was done The wagon was reloaded & we proceeded Camped near the Blue Made the acquaintance of a Mr Ferguson a Santa Fe trader who had lived ten years in Mexico & crossed the plains six times.”

 

Mile 165.4 Independence Crossing - Big Blue River

Rufus Sage, 1841 - “Leaving Big Vermillion, we travelled rapidly the two days subsequent, and arrived at the North Fork of the Blue, - a large and deep stream, tributary to the Kansas. We were here detained till the 24th - the creek being impassable on account of high water.”

 

Jesse Applegate, 1843 - “We met a war party of caws, marching afoot, about a hundred of them painted and feathered and armed with bows, spears, war-clubs, tomahawks, and knives. Some were wounded and limping. Some with blood on their faces, arms in slings, and bandages around their heads. ...seemed to be tired and in a hurry. They told us they had been out on a buffalo hunt and had been attacked by a war party of the Pawnees and had a fight with them.”

 

Overton Johnson, 1843 - “This is the middle ground between the Kanzas and Pawnee Indians. The day before we crossed the Big Blue River, we met a war party of Kaus (Kanzas), returning from the Pawnee country. They told us they had seen the Pawnees, and had beaten them in a battle; but we learned afterwards, from a more creditable source that it was exactly the other way. They had one or two fresh scalps and as many wounded men, and were leaving the world behind them as fast as possible. We saw their battleground afterwards, and found on it two or three dead bodies.”

 

John Minto, 1844 - Describes his experience with high water.

 

Samuel Hancock, 1845 - “We established for the time being a sort of fury converting our wagon beds into boats for transportation, having before started proved ourselves with those, which would answer the double purpose of both land and water craft.”

 

Virgil Pringle, May 20-23, 1846 - “Pushed ahead for Blue River, the foremost of the caravan reached in time to cross; found it rising fast ... Occupied this day crossing the Blue River by fording; raised our wagons by placing blocks between the beds and bolsters and went over dry.”

 

Francis Parkman, 1846 - “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; and the streams rose so rapidly that we could hardly ford them. Toward sunset, however, 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.”

 

George McKinstry, May 31, 1846 - “...commenced crossing this morning immediately after breakfast in the canoes the river fell but 7 inches last night we crosed 5 wagons pr hour....” Dr. Charles E. Boyle, May 6, 1849 - “Today we traveled on slowly until about 3 p.m. when we arrived at the bank of a beautiful stream, the largest we have yet had to encounter. The stream was about 30 yards in width, 4 feet deep and very clear. It is called Big Blue River. We were engaged some time on the banks preparing to foot the river. Some raised their wagon beds, some raised their loading merely while others carried their provisions across upon their backs. These preparations were necessary to prevent the provisions from becoming wet and spoiled. Tommy Davis officiated as wade master general and was completely water soaked by the time his transportation was completed. Walton's mess lost part of their coffee in carrying it across.  Along the margin of the stream I found an abundance of an suculent root much resembling the sweet potato. During my watch I cooked turtle soup but scorched it so much that is was not very good. On the eastern bank of the stream was a newly made grave with a cross at the head. On the cross was the simple inscription "Nicholas Boimenties." How he died and further who he was could not be ascertained.”

 

James A. Pritchard, May 10, 1849 - “... we came to the big Blue. ... We had here to lower our wagons down with ropes, which consumed the balance of the evening....”

 

John Hawkins Clark, May 16, 1852 - “The wind commenced blowing and the rain to fall just before daylight. It was a tedious journey of six miles from camp to the Big Blur river; the wind and rain from the northwest, as we were going in that direction had to ‘face the music’ of the elements in all their disagreeableness. Six miles in six hours and we are on the banks of the Big Blue. Here we set fire to a pile of driftwood, cooked our dinner and smoked our pipes. On the east bank of this river is located a private post-office, a dramshop, hotel and a ferry, the business all under one roof. If we mail a letter we pay $1; if we take a dram of whiskey, seventy-five cents; a square meal, $1.50; if it is a wagon we want carried over the river, $4, and no grumbling. The proprietor is doing a rushing business. During our stay of two and a half hours he crossed

forty wagons, his clerks were busy handing out whiskey and the cooks getting out the bacon, biscuits and coffee. How many letters he received for transportation during the same time I am unable to say, but our company handed in fifteen or twenty. The boss has a good thing just now; how long he will be able to keep it depends on the overland immigration.

Rather than pay $4 per wagon for being ferried we concluded to ford the river, which we did without much trouble or danger. Took in wood and water and pushed on onto the open prairie.”

 

Mile 180.3 Junction-of-the-Ways

Henry Garrison, May 5-June 6, 1846 - “There were 12 waggons in train, and two hundred head of loose stock, and when on the march, we made a grand appearance. We [stayed] on the same course until we passed beyond the heads of the Namaha's and soon came to the big Blue River, here we waited for twelve wagons that crossed the Missouri River at the Council Bluffs. The first night at this camp we had a terific rain storm, on our reaching the river in the evening, we could have forded it easily with our waggons, the next morning it was a raging torrent. The Captain asked father if he would take some men and see if he could find a ford where we could cross the River, he sent several men up the river, while he and another man swam downstream for about two miles but no ford was found. A council was then held to consider whether we should construct a raft and cross the river, or whether it would not be better to follow the divide until we should strike the Platt River. The conclusion of the council was, that we would not cross the River, but follow the divide.”

 

James Coon, May 23-28, 1847 - “Sun May 23rd. ...Fifty wagons in camp on a branch of the Nimahau. Pleasant. Twenty miles. Mon May 24th Still in camp. Cold rain. Tue May 25th Eighty nine wagons camped on Big Blue River. Chilly. Eighteen miles. Wed May 26th Still in camp on Big Blue River with fifty wagons. Thu May 27th Crossed the Big Blue River and passed the forks of the road to Independence. In camp on a branch of Blue River. Pleasant. Seventeen miles. Fri May 28th Met with an Independence Company of thirty seven wagons in camp on a small ravine to the left of the road. Pleasant. Eighteen miles.”

 

James Fulkerson, May 10, 1847 - “...we struck the Independence trail today.”

 

Elizabeth Dixon Smith, June 3-11, 1847 - “...we are now in Indian territories. June 6 [Sunday] made 18 miles passed 70 oregon waggons as they were encamped. ... June 11 ... crossed the Blue earth river one waggon turned over just at the edge of the water happyly nothing got wet.”

 

William Porter May 13-21, 1848 - “...camped on a middling, large stream of water. this day Denton drove Charley's wagon against a stump, and broke the tongue, and in corssing the river, the wagon upset, and detained us some time with little other detriment. The boys caught some good fish at this place....camped on Blue River, having crossed a barren sandy desert. 19th. ...camped on Blue, having gone up Blue all day. ...stopped on the divide between Blue and Platte

having left Blue about noon. We met a company from the mountains today loaded with robes. Stormed.”

 

Keturah Belknap, May 1848 - “This is the 4th week we have been on the road and now we are among the Pawnee Indians so we must get into larger company so we can guard ourselves and stock from the prowling tribes and renegade whites that are here to keep away from the law. They seem to have their eyes on a good horse and follow for days then if they are caught they will say they got him from the Indians and by paying them something they would give the horse up, then try to make us believe that they were sent out there to protect the emigrants.”

 

Lewis Bissell Dougherty, 1848 - “There are many unexpected hinderances in travel. All is smooth sailing until we reach a spongy crossing at a point which was once a creek. It may be two wagons are driven across safely but when the third one is driven in or on, down it goes to its hubs. You either double the team or unload and haul the empty wagon out. Now it will not do to try another wagon, so every one takes his butcher knife and a blanket, cuts as much grass as he can carry in the blanket, piles it on the marshy draw and tramples it down. Then a wagon is driven on and nearly always over. Sometimes before all the train is over the grass has to be replenished. Sometimes we come to a stretch of sandy road two or three miles long when time is saved by doubling teams to pull half the wagons over and returning for the other half. It is well established that cattle are very much afraid of snakes. I once had a confirmation of this fact in a very simple and scarcely to be believed story. 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. Fortunately, we were on a level road, yet it required great effort to quiet the cattle. Very little damage was done, two or three spokes were broken out of the wheels by one wheel running against another.”

 

James A. Pritchard, May 11, 1849 - “By noone today we came to where the St. Joseph road & Indipendence road came together.”

 

Capt. Howard Stansbury, June 11, 1852 - “... a most violent storm of wind and rain set in, and raged with great fury for three hours.... Several large trees were blown down and one fell across an emigrant close by us. The owners, who had sought refuge in it from the tempest, narrowly escaped with their lives....”

 

Elizabeth Keegan, 1852 - “But I must first tell you something of the route. The first part of it is beautiful and the scenery surpassing anything of the kind I have ever seen large rolling praries stretching as far as your eye can carry you covered with verdue. The grass so green and flowers of every description from violets to geraniums of the richest hue. Then leaving this

beautiful scenery behind, you descend into the woodland which is composed mostly of Oak and interspersed with creeks, some of them very large there was one we crossed called the Big Vermillion whose banks were so steep that our wagons had to be let down by means of ropes. I rode through by horseback and I had a fine opportunity to see and examine everything of note on the way. 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.”

 


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