Letter Written by Oscar Fitzallen Wilson an Emigrant of 1853
Contributed by Hazel Kerr Wilson
To Michael Daugherty, West Alexander, PA.
Mr M Daugherty, Dear friend,
I received your letter dated December the 25. on the 24 day March 1854. so you see that it only lacked one day of being three months from the time it was written until I received. It afforded me a great deal of pleasure to have a letter from you and to hear from the land of my nativity. You said I must excuse you for writing to me I do it with all my heart and should be happy to hear from you again I dont think there was any apology needed on your part you also said you would not let it be known to anyone that you heard from me if I would write to you now I have taken you at your word and I want you to remember your promise if you have any respect for me at all, and when you answer this letter I want you to mail it where you said you would I also want you to write me a full account of every thing that has transpired in my native town since I left I want to know how my property was disposed of and if it brought enough money to satisfy any creditors I want you tell all just as it is the best & the worst, for I am prepared to hear the worst of it and I do not think it will be any worse than I anticipate, I left my gold watch in posession of Miss M.H...that is the only thing I left behind me that I regret please try and see if you can find out any thing about it and if by any means you could get it for me & have it shipped to me you would confer a lasting favor upon me I will tell you before I close this letter how you can send it if you should get it
As you well recolect it was the 15th day of April 1854 (sic) that I bid adieu to the land of my nativity and started to parts unknown either to myself or others I suppose you well remember that I went to the city of Wheeling in I. Dowdels hack when I started in the morning I did not intend to leave then for a few days though my mind was about made up not to stay there many days longer but when I was in the city I told Dowdol I was going down to my uncles and if I did not get back in time not to wait on me, but I did not go to my uncles for I stoped to attend to some business and was detained longer than I expected, when I came back to the hotel the hack was gone so I started to walk home. Got as far as Fulton and commenced raining verry hard but I still walked and thought when the evening stage came along I would get on and ride but they would not take me on so I went out as far as the dutch tavern. It was then dark and still raining so I stoped and stayed all night, and then and there all alone in that tavern I made up my mind to leave that part of the world. So I started early the next morning for the city. Took a boat that was laying at the warf she only went as far as Parkersville VA. I got there about ten o- clock that night. Had not been there more than an hour when the packet came along bound for Cincinnati Ohio. I got aboard of her and sailed for the above named place I cannot recolect the day of the month that I got there I only staid there one day, from there I took a boat bound for St Louis. We stopped at a great many little towns on the river and some verry large ones. I stoped in the town where Bukey was about one hour but did not see him. [Bukey was the brother of Oscar] I stoped at Louisville nearly half a day. That is a verry fine place. Well I suppose you would like to know where I went to from St Louis Well I staid one whole day there and was about to take a steamer for Burlington Iowa when I got in company with a family that was emigrating from Pa. to a small town in Pike county Ill known by the name of Barry. That was the first place that I kicked for a job and of course I did not get one I found that it was not the place that it was reccommended to be by my new acquaintences It was late in the day when I arrived there and I left as soon as possible the next morning It was 16 miles to the next town and no way to get there but to walk so I shouldered my napsack and made the best of my way to Pittsfield in the same county met with the same success as before from there I directed my steps to Griggsville and no job for me there. From Griggsville, to Perry and from Perry to Versailles there I staid two weeks and worked one and tramped because the boss got out of stock and cash both at the same time Then went to Mt Sterling Brown county Ill stoped there six weeks I then took the back track to Griggsville where I got a good job worked there 6 months and made money fast when I quit there I went to Perry and worked two months then went back to Griggsville to make ready for my trip across the plains to this great country Oregon.
On the first day of April 1853 at one o clock P.M. I shouldered my ox whip and started my team for the land of gold and in leaving this pleasant village where I had formed so many pleasant acquaintences it was no easy matter to keep my spirit up but I soon forgot those things, for I did not have time to think of any thing ..??...
It took us 28 days to go from Griggsville to St Joseph here we crossed the Missouri river, on the first day of May 1853. We were landed beyond the bounds of civilization in a country inhabited by the red men of the forest only our first and 2nd days drive was short as we only went 3 miles each day we then stoped two days to repack our wagons and wash our dirty clothes so that we could make a good start on our long journey I was in with a man that had a family. It consisted of himself & wife two girls and two boys our company consisted of 8 wagons 59 head of cattle 5 horses and 38 person on the 3 of May we organised ourselfs in a company elected a captain and on the morning of the 4th we were a moveing on our journey towards our future homes in the far west. To give you a full account of journey is more than I can do at present for must recolect that the distance from St Joe to Oregon City by the wagon road is two thousand miles. We still kept moving on day after day as fast as our cattle could stand it and in the early part of June we arrived at Fort Kearney here we found quite a nice place in the wilderness there was several houses here and a small squad of soldiers stationed there to protect the emigrants from the indians there was one store and a post office.
The first tribe of indians that we pass through is made up of Iowas and Delaware...??..but they are verry few in number and verry civil the next tribe is the pawnees they are of a more savage nature and if not watched verry close they will steal what ever they can get their hands on but would rather have horses than any thing else At Fort Kerney we strike the south Platte river we travel up this stream prehaps 200 miles and then cross over this stream where we cross it is one mile wide and varys in depth from 6 inches to 4 feet and runs verry swift We forded it and I rode my horse before and piloted our wagons across we all got safely over our course then lay up north Platte river until we reached fort Laramie nearly 500 miles from fort Kerney
There we crossed the Laramie fork of Platte river up to this time the road that we traveled over is a delightful one and the trip this far is nothing but a pleasure trip. The indians inhabiting this part of the country are known by the name of Sues. Immediately after crossing this stream our course lay over a range of mountains known by the name of the Black hills The distance over these is 80 miles and Isuppose you think you have seen some hills but if you couldjust get a peep at those you would think there was no hill in the country where you live. After we crossed the black hills we struck north Platte again travel up it 30 miles and crossed over on a bridge built by a company from St Louis price for crossing 6 dollars per wagon
Now comes a verry unpleasant piece of road to travel over-but thank the Lord it only takes about 4 day to travel over it. the trouble on this part of the road is that almost all the water that we came to in the 4 days travel is poisinous to man and beast some men have lost every ox they had by letting them drink of this bad water, but fortunately we kept ours from drinking of it and lost no cattle at this place, the next stream was something larger than big Wheeling we crossed this river just below the devils gate. this is a place where the river forces itself through a small passage in a mountain of rock which rises 400 feet above the water we travel up this river several days. we then leave it and in one days travel we come to the south pass on the summit of the rockey mountains and in 3 days more we come to the great American desert it is 50 miles across this to green river. it is a dry sandy plain without water We started out in this desert the 4 day of July 4, 4 o clock A.M. we drove all that night and the next day just about dark we camped within one mile of green river The next place of importance that I will notice is the soda springs. I do not remember the distance from green river to this place Those springs are surely the greatest curiositys in the world it is just as pure soda water as I ever saw and by putting a little acid in it and sweetening it it makes a very pleasant drink.
I must hurry along for my book is more than half full and I am not half way to Oregon Suffice it to say that we got along verry well until we struck Snake river at Salmon falls about 200 miles below fort Hall We than had 1,10 miles travel down Snake river the..?..was verry sandy, and but verry little feed for our cattle and a great of poison water. three of our steers died and we had to leave one of our wagons. Our cattle still continued to die until out of seven yoke that we had when we started there was but 3 yoke left we arrived at the end of the l,10 miles, on the north side of the river from us is fort Bois but we did not go over as we was anxious to get along 3 days more brought us to burnt river there myself and three others concluded we would quit the train and pack through as it was only 3,10 (310?) miles to the Dalles we thought we could pack verry easy that far then we could get a boat to take us from there to Portland by way of the Columbia river, so on the 20th of Aug we packed up provisions enough to last us to the Dalls My pardner and me packed our things on my horse and started off with high hearts and as merry as could be expected, but my horse being poor and weak gave out and I sold him to an emigrant for 16 Dolls.
Now comes the tug of war. We had to throw away everything we had except our provisions and a change of shirt and ourblanket. after disposing of every thing we could my pack weighed 15 lbs my pards 20 lbs. the next morning we packed ourselves instead of the horse started bright and traveled 38 miles that day our living was hard bread and coffee our bed was the ground with one blanket to spread over us to protect us from the cool air, and I assure you I never slept better in my life than I did that night on the hard ground with my boots for a pillow and as I told you before but one blanket to spread over our weary limbs you who have good warm houses and soft feather beds to repose your weary limbs upon think how you would like to be out in this savage country with nothing but the shining heavens above you and nothing but your mother earth for a bed with the wolfs howling around you as though they were bent on haveing you for their breakfast, then to rise as soon as it light enough to see prepare your scanty breakfast of hard bread & coffee Rather a slim breakfast to tramp 35 miles on and carry a pack in the bargain
We continued to travel on at the rate of 30 miles a day on an average When I got to the Dalls where we took the boat I was completely worn out almost tired of life, but on the 6th Sept I arrived in Portland sick and with but one dollar and fifty cents in my pocket I staid there all night and in the morning I was just able to get up and that was all however I got in a wagon and went into the country and stopped at a good farmers where I lay sick for three weeks. he was verry kind to me and when I left he did not charge me any thing for waiting upon me or for any thing else. if my book was as large again as it is I could write it full and I would only be half done then but this is the last leaf of my book so I must close my letter. I am well at present. I do not know how long I will stay here in Oregon I have some notion of taking a trip to the sandwich island but if I should leave before I have time to receive an answer from you I can make arrangements to have your letter sent whereever I go Now I dont want you to put me off with half a letter or a short one I want you to write me a long one if it takes you a whole week to do it then you shall have another one from me sometime or other.