Reminiscence of Emma Ruth Ross Slavin

Pioneer of 1847

contributed by Joan Aldrich


(This is what I have, and it is already yellow and much faded although I wrote it myself about 32 years ago and got it directly from Grandman Emma Ruth Ross Slavin.  To my various relatives who receive these carbon copies.  These are simple accounts, but they are true and they are our own people.  It is now August 1947, a hundred years or nearly so since they crossed the plains and should be of at least a little sentimental interest to their descendants if not of any real historical value.  Let's hope there is at least one child in each line of descent that cares enough to preserve family records---Ardis Ghilham Olsen)

Exact copy of the Reminiscences of Emma Ruth Ross.  Written for the Pioneer Reunion when near her seventieth year.

"On April 15, 1847, a family consisting of Israel Mitchell, his wife and five children (Sarah Ann, Linas, Edward Carpenter, Emma Ruth Ross, children of Mary Arnold Ross Mitchell and Carrie Mitchell, their step sister) four of whom were his step-children and sons and daughters of Luther and Mary Arnold Ross, started on the long and perilous journey to Oregon, our goal being Portland with a reward of a section of land apiece for each child.

We started near Cedar Rapids, Iowa.  After traveling six miles were detained by a snow storm

Resuming our journey passed through Iowa City intending to go by way of Council Bluffs, Town, but owing to rumors of Indian troubles in that vicinity had to go farther south through Mo. crossing the Nu river at Nodaway.  That was the last stream that we ferried over, all others being forded.

About this time the people collecting from all quarters formed themselves into a company, electing Mr. White as Capt.  We were known as Capt. W. Co consisting of 42 wagons and ox teams and perhaps hundreds of loose stock.

Every man had to take turns in standing guard at night, I believe two men at a time.  The wagons were placed in such a way as to form a corral, viz: tongue of one wagon resting on the inside of the hindwheel of the preceding wagon.  Also each family had its place in the train.  The one in front today takes his place in the rear tomorrow.  The stock after grazing until bedtime was put in the corral for safety.  The tents were inside the corral.

The ox team was almost universally used, and it took from one to three teams to fit a householder out.  Ours consisted of two wagons and teams, we had five guns to guard against attack from the Indians--well, about those guns, some were long, some were short, we hauled them to the Grand Ronde when they began to trade them for Indian ponies.  It was just as well for I believe they were only dangerous used as a club.

Mr. Luelling had a wagon with a nursery of fruit trees planted in it, also an arrangement for the wheel to measure distances, ever so many resolutions of the wheel making a mile.  At night by consulting it we would know how far we had traveled.

After crossing the Missouri River we were in Indian grounds.  The Indians being unsociable, travel in single file, riding or walking so there are frequently seen in their country deep paths, six inches and sometimes a foot deep.

The first incident that made an impression on my mind was about the Indians.  The train had to make long circuits, sometimes up a creek and down the other side to find the best road for heavily laden teams and Indian trails much shorter (cut-offs).  My sister Sarah (10) and I (11) were walking and coming to one of these trails, took it.  We had never had any trouble on this account and being behind the train thought to gain time by taking the trail.  The train bearing to the right to cross a canyon and come down on the opposite side, we kept straight, ahead and down hill to a low place dotted here and there with trees and Behold! some two or three hundred yards in front of us were several Indians.  They seemsed to be tending their ponies and did not seem to see us.  Fear lent wings to our feat and we sped back until we came to the wagon road which we followed miles, it seemed, until `evening shades were falling', and we, exhausted, came to camp.  What was our chagrin to have gained notoriety as persons, almost strangers came to our wagon, looked in and asked, `Are you the children who were lost?'

While in the Pawnee country, 40 braves came to our camp one morning.  Some of the company were scared nearly out of their wits.  One man, Mr. K., could scarcely load his gun his hand shook so.  Some of his family live near here.  Father Mitchell, who had been in the Black Hawk War, was somewhat acquainted with Indian ways, picked a little twig and he and some others went to meet them, shook hands, gave them presents, vermillion, small looking glasses, provisions, etc.

This was on the Platte river.  They left us in peace going two or three miles to another camp of emigrants.  The latter were not quite so fortunate.  Two of their men were off a short distance hunting game.  The Indians saw their opportunity and improved it, stripped them and took their guns, and ammunition except powder which the men emptied into the sand.  The men were allowed to return to camp in the costume of a Greek slave.

The Platte River was on our right and a range of hills on our left the hills or bluffs assuming different shapes as Chimney Rock, the Meeting House, The Castle, etc.

Those Indians followed our train, keeping behind the hills, with the patience and perserverance worthy of a better cause, they were finally rewarded by finding our guard napping and took two valuable mares, one the captains and the other, Father M's (Mitchell).  

During this time another adventure occurred in which Sarah was the actor.  She with some six or eight other young people started one evening for the hills.  The country being level it proved farther than they thought and while viewing the surrounding country they saw Indians with blankets which they shook at them. The young folks started for the camp with a girl between two boys, all holding hands and helping the girls best they could until all were safe.  What was their anger to find it was two young men from the camp who had simulated Indians.  They were shunned by many afterwards.

In preparing to cross a stream, it so deep as to reach a wagon bed one or more persons would go on horseback taking sacks to carry large wooden blocks from the opposite shore to raise the bed out of danger from water.  Those blocks were left there by former emigrants and we left them there for those following.

On July Fourth, some of the men took pails to a near snow field and brought some snow to us.  That was near Independence Rock and Sweetwater.

We took Greenwood's Cut-off, a stretch of forty miles.  It was a dry drive, i.e. no water.  We were all day and nearly all night.  We took enough for family use.  The stock nearly perished for water.  At one time, one of our teams seeing a small pond, ran to it and drank some.  It proved to be alkali.  Two oxen dropped dean in the team two hours later.

A Mr. Koone started to swim Snake River with a horse to take a rope across to make a ferry to take over women and children in a wagon bed.  The teams to ford the river two or three miles farther downstream.  As I said, Mr. K., was swimming when it was supposed the horse struck him with his foot; at any rate he sank in the treacherous stream in the presence of his wife and four small children.  Another young man of our Co. was drowned while taking stock across the Snake to grass.

There was one marriage in our Co.  After bride and groom retired to their wagon a party of men and boys hauled the wagon 1/2 mile from camp and left it there.

Some evenings we had dancing and a much gayer time than some might imagine.  At one time in the Grand Round valley, the Indians joined also, it was a comical sight.

We visited Forts Laramie, Hall, and I believe, Bridges.  On account of the weakened state of our teams father wrote Dr. Whitman for a position as teacher at the Mission.  When we came to Umatilla some 25 miles from Whitman station an Indian came bringing a letter from Dr. (Whitman).  Mother objected to stopping so we continued our journey to The Dalles.  (Mary Brown Lewis and Mary Slavin Prince each told me that `mother' had her last percious change of stockings stolen by an Indian who entered her tent while she was bathing her feet--one personal rite (or right) that she had clung to all all costs.  This was the reason she refused to stay where she would have to spend the winter among that sort of Indian.  They continued down the river and found when they reached Vancouver that news of the Whitman Massacre had reached there before them.  That is how near this `line' came to being extinguished.)  At the latter place (The Dalles) there were no houses except the Methodist Mission.

Our Co. was detained some six weeks making flat boats.  The men sawing lumber with a whipsaw borrowed from the mission.  It was so late in the season we could not cross the Cascade Mts. with safety so came by water in our flatboat.  This was before railroads and steamboats were here.  Seven families were on the boat with us.

Before reaching the Cascades we were windbound for ten days or two weeks, and the rainy season was upon us.  Intaking our boat over the Cascade Falls it went to pieces.  We came in a bateau as far as Switzler's opposite Vancouver, on the Oregon side.  After waiting a few weeks for our stock which came down a trail near the Columbia's bank, resumed our journey by way of flatboat, landing at the J.B. Steven's place, now East Portland and from there moved into a bachelor's (Beldon Murray) cabin, the last day of the year 1847.

We were a week coming from Vancouver, men rowing the boat, to the cabin.  It seemed like a Providential intervention that we did not stop at Whitman's for himself and wife and some seventeen others were massacred by the treacherous Cayuses in the November following.  We met several parties returning to the `states'.  I only remember the names of Mr. and Mrs. Littlejohn, all being on horseback, some one of the party told us that our beautiful river was not the `Willamette' but the `Willammet".  Of the names of our fellow travelers I remember Capt. White, Israel Mitchell, Beal, Becks, Bell, Tupper, Tony, Tuttle, Watts, Warren, Ross, Briggs, Hastings, Hill, Carter, Patton, Leabo, Gates, Wells, Long, Richardson, Williamson, Graham, Lamphere, Finley, Willis, Apperson, Reese, Luelling, Olmstead, VanAllman, Wilcox, Chatfield, Kingery, Davis, Beagle, Knighton, Polk, Cullen, Crump, Remie, Koonse, Hacket, Caruthers, Coffin, Ford, Capt. Lot Whitcomb.

Additonal comments by Ardis Gilham Olsen:
Emma Ross Slavin died Sep 10, 1913.
The sampler which I possess has been framed.  It is of coarsely woven linen as if a child had woven it, and worked in cross stitch are the alphabet, numerals, and `Mary Arnold Sampler, Dec. 10, 1821'.  I also have some Godey's Lady books, the Family Record that was framed and hung on sitting room wall.  Two or three other objects stored away.  Most of these I rescued from Grandma's woodbox one day when I came home and found she was burning them all up.  I think anything of historical value should be given to the Oregon Historical museum, especially if none of the descendants take an interest in them.  So many things are lost by fire or neglect.  The record is in rags.  An interior decorator stole the colored illus. from the Lady's books.  

Mary Arnold Ross--the young widow of Luther Ross took her four little children west to her mother-in-law, Mary Extell Ross at Cedar Spring, Iowa.  She married Judge Mitchell, a civil engineer there or in Illinois.  Before the Ross-Mitchell family left Iowa to cross the plains in 1847 Sarah Ross made a `Hair book'--a sort of memory book.  Mary Lewis has this book, a homemade pamphlet of several pages of soft old ivory paper (100 years old now) sewed together or fastened together with ribbon.  Fastened to these pages were locks of hair also tied with bows of narrow ribbon with the names of the ownders of the locks and the dates--pages for friends, pages for relatives.  There were locks of Olive's, Samuel, Mahlon, Cyrus, Darius, William Ross and `Grandma's hair,died 1846' tied in a bit of her shroud.  This would be the mother-in-law, Mary Axtell Ross.

The family record is as follows: (note that this is an old photocopy and extremely difficult to read.  The information is my best interpretation. SLF, webmaster)

Wm. Slavin d. 1847
Frances Woods d. Feb. 11, 1836

Luther Ross b. Nov 26, 1811  m'd Sep 1831
Mary Arnold b. July 23, 1812  d. Jan 8, 1858 d/o Stephen and Ruth (Colver) Arnold
(We are said to have descended from Jacob Arnold of New Jersey, related to both Governor Arnold and General Arnold, both named Benedict and that was a common name in the family until the general's disgrace.  I asked Grandma Emma Ross about this when I read the tale in history in grammar school.  She told me that she was `afraid' we were related to the general but were not descended from him.  Jacob Arnold's son was a Presbyterian minster, Stephen, and his daughter was Mary Arnold who married Luther Ross.  The Rosses were first heard of in Pennsylvania.  Sarah and Linas were born in Mercer Co, PA.  They moved to Delaware, Ohio where Emma Ruth and Edward Carpenter were born.  Luther Ross was a very fine cabinet maker, fell in a mill and died of the injuries at the age of 28 leaving Mary Arnold Ross with four little children.  Instead of returning to her father, Stephen, she went west to her mother-in-law, Mary (Extell) Ross, who was living at Cedar Springs, Linn Co, Iowa, now Cedar Rapids.  Luther Ross's father was Edward Carpenter Ross.  His father was Edward Ross who married Phoebe Carpenter.  Luther had five brothers-- Samuel, Mahlon, Cyrus, Darius and William.
     Mary Lewis tells this story about William.  He came west to work in the mine after the Mitchell-Ross family came and were settled on their donation claim.  The little girls, Mary and Lillie were on their way to or from school down the hill to Fulton, SW Portland when they met a `wild looking' man.  It was a lonely trail but no `rough characters' were known in the country town and the worst adventure the children had was when they looked up and saw a wild cat on a limb ready to spring on them.  This man wore shabby clothes and had a long beard and long hair.  Lillie said to him, saucily `Go away you dirty old beggar.'  This little incident caused her great embarrasment when she arrived home and found this `dirty beggar' was `Uncle William Ross' from Cedar Rapids, Iowa.  It was common and necessary in those days for men to wear heavy rough clothing on surveying, hunting or mining trips, and to let their hair and beard grow.  This Uncle William had a son who was later a teacher at Stanford University.)
John Addison Slavin b. May 9, 1826 m'd Dec. 30, 1852 d. Jan 13, 1908
Emma R. Ross b. Feb. 12, 1835  d. Sep 10, 1913 d/o Luther and Mary (Arnold) Ross

Mary F. Slavin b. Nov 25, 1853 m'd Feb 2, 1879 d. Jun 23, 1936
Lillie E. Slavin b. Dec 6, 1855 m'd Oct 3, 1877 d. Dec 2, 1912
Puella F. Slavin b.Dec 6, 1857  d. Dec 4, 1863
Adaletta Slavin b. Feb. 29, 1860  d. Dec 13, 1863
Kittie E. Slavin
Adaletts Slavin
 Kittie E. Slavin b. Nov 5, 1862  d. Nov 14, 1868
John Ross Slavin b. July 19, 1866

From Mary (Brown) Lewis (Mrs. Herman) Dec. 30, 1946.  Mrs. (Brown) Lewis is the daughter of Sarah Ross, sister of Emma Ruth.  She lives at 8 NE 97th Portland, Oregon.  Her two sons are Clayton and Dee Alvin.  She is also great granddaughter of Tabitha Brown who founded Pacific University.

The Mitchells lived on the Jimmy Stevens place (or was it the Belden Murray place?) at the east end of the present Ross Island Bridge, in 1848.  It was one of the only two houses on the east side of the Willamette.  The two girls, Sarah and Emma, now 14 and 11, crossed the river to go to school in a small boat, a rough trip in winter winds (they went to the first school in Portland which was in a coop shop.)  The two brothers,  Edward Carpenter and Linas operated a ferry, a small boat for passengers and a flat boat for bigger loads.  The family and George Himes, formerly curator of the Oregon Historical Museum have told me this was the first ferry, but other sources say that there was another earlier ferry a little farther down the river, run by some sort of windless.)

Later the Mitchells moved to Milwaukie, farther down the river.  There they lived in a large, for then beautiful house, until recently still standing.  It had graceful and interesting lines and was covered with old vines and shaded by ancient trees, but I believe it has now been removed.  But mother wanted more ground and Milwaukie was then a very small town.  Father Mitchell did not have a claim because he was not a farmer but a civil engineer, but he bought a place for his family at Woonsylvania (?) near Tigard and Ame's Chapel (now Crescent Grove Cemetery where Mary Arnold and Israel Mitchell are buried).  The place was in three counties and from it Sarah, Emma and Carrie were married to three `young Missourians', Alvin Brown, John A. Slavin and Charles Painter.  Father Mitchell surveyed this whole vicinity, Edward, who was 15, carrying the chain.  They were paid partly with lots in the cemetery.  Edward's wife, Nettie (?), later paid $100.00 for perpetual care of the family graves there and it is said had the old headstones removed and low ones put in their places.  I have looked for those but have not yet located them.

Emma Ruth, married at fifteen and carried home through trails sitting behind her young husband on his horse, lived alone much of the time with her small children in the little house on her husband's claim, as he was away working much of the time.  She had as fairly near neighbors the Kellys and the Warquats, but three of her little children died there.  But in some of these pioneer families--and city families, too--all of the children died when contagious diseases broke out.

It was said that when the Luellings brought their little nursery trees across the plains that they grew so much that the wagons behind could see the waving gree foliage from far in front or behind but that the owners nearly got lynched because they kept the trees alive with water on dry marches that was needed to keep the human beings alive and also the cattle of other fellow travelers.

John A. Slavin was a close friend, until his death, of the first Meier, `A....' who founded Meier and Frank department store.  He was located first at Champoeg where his store burned.  He saved only some milted gold jewelry which he brought to Portland.  Mr. Olsen met him with this wrapped in a bandana handkerchief `all he had in the world', he said with tears in his eyes.

Edward Carpenter Ross married Hattie Boone, a relative of Daniel Boone's.  He was a schoolmate of Harvey Scott's (brother of Abigail Scott Duniway, both famous Oregon historical figures) at Pacific University and studied law with Dolph and Mitchell.  For six years he was editor of the Walla Walla Union.  He died in 1917. (from an interview with Fred Lockley published in the Oregonian.)

Mary Lewis has Mary Arnold Ross Mitchell's Bible, given to her by her father, the Presbyterian minister, Stephen Arnold.  It says `Bought of Mr. W. Laurie, Oct. 23, 1825.'  This old Bible was about 4 x 5 inches and on the next page it says Mary Arnold was born July 23, 1812 and that she was married to Luther Ross in the year of our Lord, 1831, on the 6th day of September.  Next page, children born:
           Sarah Ann Ross, born July 16, AD 1832
           Linas Ross born March 11 AD 1834
           Emma Ruth Ross born February 12, AD 1836
           Edward Carpenter born June 4, AD 1838
Israel Mitchell born January 16, 1795.  Israel Mitchell and Mary Ross (nee Mary Arnold), married Nov. 7, 1840

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