In Their Own Words


Teenagers On The 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.


Different emigrant family members had different perspectives on the trail to Oregon. It was like everyone was looking in different directions. Some were looking ahead, some were looking back and others were looking around.


Pa had his sights set on Oregon and nothing was going to stop him from getting there. Ma endured the pain of a trip she did not want to take in the first place. Her eyes were focused back on who and what was left behind, home, friends, relatives. But it was Ma’s strength that made it possible for Pa to reach his goal of the new Eden. Then there were the children, the kids too young

to grasp the meaning of what was going on. To them the trip was one enormous adventure. There was another group of emigrants, people too young to have the wealth of adult experiences, yet old enough to understand the enormity of the situation. These were children [laced in adult shoes by fate. If they had remained back home they would still be playing like kids or

courting their friends, oblivious to the world around them. These are the teenagers and they lost their innocence to the Oregon Trail. This work looks at the Oregon Trail experience from the perspective of the teenagers and expresses it in their own words. {Quotes edited only for spelling}


The Decision To Go

A strange fever, Oregon Fever, infected the country. The government was offering cheap or free land to pioneers hardy enough to brave the trail. Father had a decision to make. The choice to go to Oregon was never that of the child, or for that matter the mother, either. Wives followed their husbands decisions, sometimes in tight-lipped protest. Seldom were teenagers consulted. The

decision affected their lives from that point forward.


Martha Gay was age 13 in 1851 when her father announced they were going to Oregon: Father got the Western fever. He had talked about Oregon for many years and wanted to go there. He wanted to take his nine sons where they could get land. The government promised to give homes to all who would go to Oregon. Mother was not willing to go. She did not want to undertake the long and dangerous journey with a large family of small children. To cross the plains in those days with ox teams was

a fearful undertaking and a tiresome one too. She begged father to give up the notion, but he could not. Mother finally, reluctantly consented to go. Father at once set about making arrangements for the journey. He explained the hardships and dangers, the sufferings and the dreary long days we would journey before we would reach Oregon. He then asked if we wanted to go. We rather thought we wanted to stay with our school friends. But children were expected to do as their parents said in those days and father said we must come. Lovers, sweethearts and associates were all left behind and we came with our father and mother to Oregon.


Preparations For The Trip

All fall and winter was spent preparing for the trip to Oregon. Old homes and farms had to be sold. Teens joined their parents in laying in supplies they would use. Finally the time came to depart. Then came the tearful goodbyes.


Henry Garrison was age 13 in 1845 as his father tried to sell the farm: During that this fall father, began to make his arrangements to start the next spring for Oregon, but he had to find a buyer for his farm before he could leave, he asked fifteen hundred dollars for all his land, by Christmas he offered it for twelve hundred and about the middle of March he sold it to a Mr Pemberton for eight hundred dollars, he said, he could not think of staying in that sickly country another summer.


Catherine (Kit) Scott was age 13 in 1852 as preparations were being made: Through all the winter preceding the April morning when the final start was made, the fingers of the women and girls were busy providing additional stores of bedding and blankets, of stockings and sunbonnets, of hickory shirts and gingham aprons. Ah! the tears that fell upon these garments, fashioned with trembling fingers by the flaring light of tallow candles; the heartaches that were stitched and knitted and woven into them, through the brief winter afternoons, as relatives that were to be left behind and friends of a lifetime dropped in to lend a hand in the

awesome undertaking of getting ready for a journey that promised no return. Memory paints a picture of moving wagons, of whips flourished with many a resounding snap, of men walking beside them with a forced show of indifference, though now and then the back of a brawny hand was drawn hurriedly over the eyes; of silently weeping women and sobbing children, and of an aged grandfather standing at his gate as the wagons filed past. “Good-by, goodby!” say us children with flushed, tear-stained faces, grouped at the openings in the wagon covers.


Sallie Hester was age 14 in 1849 as they left for Oregon: The last hours were spent in bidding good bye to old friends. My mother is heartbroken over this separation of relatives and friends. Giving up old associations for what? Good health,  perhaps. The last good bye has been said - the last glimpse of our old home on the hill, and wave a hand at the old Academy, with a good bye to kind teachers and schoolmates, and we are off.


Martha Gay was age 13 in 1851 as they left for Oregon: We waited for our sister-in-law. Her parents and kin folks had coaxed her to stay, telling her if she would not go, her husband would stay with her. But when they saw him take his whip

and start his team out, they gave up the idea. The saddest parting of all was when my mother took leave of her aged and sorrowing mother, knowing full well that they would never meet again on earth.


Henry Garrison was age 11 in 1843 when his uncles left for Oregon: Well do I remember the parting between my Uncles and their Mother, she was old in years, and they realized it was their last parting, that this was their last good-by. My GrandMother

was very religious, and Oh how she hung on their necks and exhorted them to be faithful to God, and to try to build up Gods cause in the far-away heathen land to which they were going. When GrandMother learned the next morning that they were then on their way, she went out to the Road to see if she could see their tracks, after looking at the wagon-tracks for a while, she kneeled down and prayed that God would guard and protect them on their perilous journey.


Sometimes the pressure to move west or to acquire new land necessitated early marriages. Reasons to marry were accelerated. Reasons not to marry were eliminated. Some of those newlyweds had the Oregon Trail experience as their honeymoon.


Keturah Penton was age 19 in 1845 when she married George Belknap and began the first leg of the trip that eventually ended in Oregon: George Belknap and Keturah Penton were married October 3, both of Allen County, Ohio. On October 17th we gathered up our earthly possessions and put them in a wagon and started to find us a home in the far west. We camped out every night, took our flour and meat with us; every night cooked our suppers and slept in our wagon. We had a dutch oven and skillet,

teakettle and coffee pot. When we camped I made salt rising and set it on the warm ground and it would be up about midnight. I’d get up and put it to sponge and in the morning the first thing I did was to mix the dough and put it in the oven. By the time we had breakfast it would be ready to bake; then we had nice coals and by the time I got things washed up and packed up and the animals

were ready the bread would be done and we would go on our way rejoicing.


Sights Along The Trail

The Oregon Trail could be a fascinating new experience for everyone who took it. Teenagers were able to be enthusiastic about what they were passing, unlike their parents who were too focused on survival to take note of the scenery. There were new sights to see, things teenagers back home did not have the opportunity to experience.


Abigail Jane (Jenny) Scott was age 17 in 1852 when she made these observations about what the emigrants called the Nebraska Court House and Chimney Rock: We have seen the wildest and consequently the most romantic scenery today that I have seen since we started; columns above columns of sand and sandstone formed in massive bluffs shaped by the hard winds of this region into rude appearances of images which the traveler gazes at and is forcibly reminded of the histories of the renowned ruins of magnificent structures of the Old World.


Henry Garrison was age 14 in 1846 when he stopped at Chimney Rock: About this time we passed Chimney rock, we camped near it, and I thought {I would} go and take a look at it, it looked to be close by, but it took me an hour to reach it, the rock stood

entirely separated from all others. My recollection of it is, the base covered about an acre, maybe not so much, from the ground to the chimney proper I should judge it be 50 or 75 feet, there is loose shale, that is very hard to climb. I have heard it said that no one had ever climbed to the chimney proper, that it could {not} be reached on account of the loose rock. I undertook to reach

the chimney and succeeded in my effort, though I found that it took hard work, I inscribed my name on the East side of the rock, or at least my initials A.H.G. and the date of the month and year.


Martha Gay was age 13 in 1851 when she saw the same locations: There are many objects of wonder on the plains. We camped near Chimney Rock one night. We thought it was only two or three miles away, but it must have been twenty. Things seem to enlarge and draw near us on the plains. One morning father saw some black objects in the road ahead some distance he thought were Indians. We moved on and kept an eye on the supposed Indians. We were very much surprised to see those Indians arise and fly away. They proved to be crows magnified by the fine air and elevation. The mirage was really the most magnificent of all sights to those who were fortunate enough to witness it. Lovely lakes would appear, green groves and shady vales. Splendid scenes were looked upon with wonder and awe, then they would slowly float away, leaving plains spreading out as far as eye could see. One day the men were walking along and imagined the earth moved under their feet as though it would sink. They dug down and found ice. They brought a lot of it and melted it for drinking water.


New Friends and New Adversaries

Old friends were left back home, as well as old enemies. But the wagon trains were like little communities on wheels. It was an opportunity to make new friends, and enemies.


Martha Gay was age 13 in 1851:

We visited around the camps to see the young girls who were to be our company. We found several who became our friends, but often thought of those we left behind.Our long journey was not altogether devoid of pleasures. We spent many happy hours

visiting our neighbors in camp, talking and singing, telling stories, guessing riddles. There were some very amusing incidents.


Sallie Hester was age 14 in 1849 when she described these true 49ers: This week some of our company left us, all young men. They were jolly, merry fellows and gave life to our lonely evenings. We all miss them very much. Some had violins, others

guitars, and some had fine voices, and they always had a good audience. They were anxious to hurry on without the Sunday stops.


Births On The Trail

A joy to any community is the joy of a new baby in the family.


Martha Gay, age 13 in 1851,

would have been just as excited to have a baby in a house among the fields of the Missouri River Valley as in a moving wagon train high in the Rockies: Early in the morning I was awakened from a nervous sleep by the wailing of an infant. I asked mother whose baby was crying so. She said it was hers. I said not a word for some time, fearing I might have to welcome another brother. I already had nine brothers. I was so anxious to know I asked, “Is it a little brother?” Imagine my joy when she said it was a little sister. Then I hastily dressed and wanted to see it. I thought it surely was the cutest and sweetest little sister in all the wide world. Her eyes were like the blue sky after an April shower. She was soon the pet of the company. Everyone came around to see “Pink,” saying it was a joy after a long day’s journey.


Sallie Hester was age 15 and in Oregon in 1850 when she described this practice called “chivaree” - a tradition designed to make one’s wedding night as eventful as possible: I am invited out so much that I am beginning to feel quite like a young lady. Girls are scarce; I presume that is the reason. Young men are plenty. There was a wedding here a few days ago. Had one of those old-fashioned serenades - tin pans, gongs, horns and everything else that could be drummed up to make a noise. It was dreadful. I am too young for beaux, but the young men don’t seem to think so.


Henry Garrison was age 14 in 1846 when this incident occurred among friends: About this time we came to a large Creek called Cottonwood it was about thirty yards across, and the water about fifteen inches deep, I was then driving the loose stock, (at that

time we had a good hard {job} to look after the teams,) on coming to the Creek, I took {off} my mocahsins and socks, to wade the stream. Israel Wood, our old neighbors son about 18 years old wanted me to carry him across, he said I should carry him across or he would lick me, knowing he was able to do that I thought the best thing for me to do was to comply with his request, so taking him on my back I started to cross with him. When about midway of the stream Perry Durban, who was watching us from the far side made motions for me to dunk him, thinking that he would see me through all right I thought I would have some fun, I was holding his legs, I gripped them tight and fell backward, as we were falling he let go of his hold on me and tried keep out of the water by putting his hands on the bottom of the creek, of course I got dunked as well as he, I jumped up and ran for the shore he after me swearing he would lick H___ out of me, Durban met him at the edge of the water and told him if he laid his hands on me, he would thrash him till his best girl would not know him, so the matter ended.


Henry Garrison also found himself in the company of a boy who would become his mortal enemy: There was quite an excitement raised among the women on account of a fight that occurred between two boy's, one by the name David Inglish who will {appear} at intervals in the memoirs, he was a bully among the boys, always ready for a fight. My first acquaitance with him

was at our rendezvous, he introduced himself emptying the water out of my buckets as fast as I could fill them and set them over a fence that was built around the spring from which we got water for camp use. It was a little unpleasant for both of us before it ended. The other boys name was Caleb Carriger, they got into a dispute near the wagons when Inglish passed the lie, Carriger

invited him to go out of sight of camp and settle the matter. We was a little surprised at the challe{ng}ing he knowing Irish to be a bully, and much larger than he was, we all went to see the fun, there was a River bottom about two hundred yards below camp, we went to this place and formed a ring, the two boys stripped and stepped inside the ring, they spent no time in shaking hands, but went for each other in good style, Inglish was too much for the little fellow at knocking so Carriger jumped and caught Inglish by the hair and jerked him to the ground, he placed one of his knees on his head and with one hand had him by the hair, he pounded him in the ear until the blood flew in every direction as the licks were bestowed we was waiting for Inglish to call enough, but we found out afterwards, he had left that word out of his catalog, he never cheeped. At this time, it looked like every woman in camp came running on the battle ground, Mrs. Inglish was in the lead crying out, "they are killing my son", of course, on the appearance of the women the fight stopped. Mrs. I seeing me give Carriger his clothes said, "Henry Garrison you are to blame for this", I told her, maybe I was. The dispute originated about, whether I had been caught or not while playing baste, I had taken no part in the dispute. This fight was the topic of conversation for the next three days.


Kids Will Be Kids

Just because home was a thousand miles away, in either direction, that was no reason not to behave like youngsters. After all, kids will be kids.


Eliza Ann McAuley was age 17 in 1852 as her party camped in what is now southern Idaho: Camped on Bear River. Here is splendid feed, the cattle are wading in wild oats up to their eyes, while we have fun making pop corn candy. Margaret is baking cookies, but the boys steal them as fast as she can bake them. Plenty of trout and other fish. The boys fished awhile and then took a ramble around the country. While the McAuley girls were looking for new varieties of plants, the boys were befriending

the animals.


Eliza McAuley, age 17 in 1852, wrote these various entries in her diary: {April 20} Today the boys went out hunting and brought in a little squirrel for a pet. {May 27} Tom and Slater went out hunting and shot an antelope but did not get it. They found some prickly pear and a prairie dog village. They brought in a prairie dog, the first we have seen.

{June 6} These hills are quite barren and support neither animal or vegetable life, except a little sand lizard. While out with the cattle the boys caught a little antelope and brought it to camp.

{June 10} Our antelope, Jenny, is a great pet in camp and is equally fond of Margaret and me. She bleats and cries if either one is away from her.

{July 4} We came near losing our pet antelope this evening. As she was frisking about camp, a man from another camp was about to shoot her, thinking she was a wild one. She ran to another camp where a woman got hold of her and held her. Finally she got away and came bounding to me and followed me home.

{July 21} We have met with a sad loss today. Our pet antelope, Jennie, was playing around the camp and the dogs belonging to a large camp of Indians gave chase. The Indians tried to rescue her, but could not. They then offered to pay for it in skins and robes. We told them it was an accident and they were not to blame.

{August 13} Two or three little birds have followed us all morning and when we camped came chirping fearlessly about the camp.



Realizing that teenagers were still children, it was the responsibility of the adults to watch over them and punish them if necessary. If the parents were not available then the wagon master had to punish.


Henry Garrison, age 14 in 1846:

We still found friends, (who had until {we got} on the Road had been strangers) to help us along. The Captain was a big hearted man, every evening and morning he would call to see if he could render any assistance, every morning he would come to to know if our stock was all right, often helping me to yoke our oxen and help hitch them to the wagon, Brother David could not {be} strong enough to handle the yokes, and it kept me busy to get our teams ready for a start by the time the rest of the train would be ready for a start, but it was not often that I was behind time.


Sallie Hester, age 14 in 1849:

Passed Independence Rock. This rock is covered with names. With great difficulty I found a place to cut mine. Twelve miles from this is Devil’s Gate. It’s an opening in the mountain through which the Sweetwater River flows. Several of us climbed this mountain - somewhat perilous for youngsters not over fourteen. We made our way to the very edge of the cliff and looked

down. We could hear the water dashing, splashing and roaring as if angry at the small space through which it was forced to pass. We were gone so long that the train was stopped and men sent out in search of us. We made all sorts of promises to remain in sight in the future.


Henry Garrison, age 14 in 1846:

I think it was about the 12th of July when we arrived at Independence Rock. This is simply a ledge, or mountain of rock that runs down to within a short distance of the stream. We remained here one day to give the teams a chance to rest. Hoover, Brother David and myself climbed to the top of the rock, my recollection is, the rocky ledge was five or six hundred feet high, on top, it was quite level, after looking around as long as we wished, we started to return to camp. After getting a part of the way down, we discovered a crevice that seemed to go to the bottom, as we could see a glimmer of light in the distance. We concluded to venture down, Martin Hoover first, and David next, we had a hard time of it after going quite aways down the crevice, we would have been glad to have been on-top again, but considering it more dangerous to try to return than to keep on down, we kept, some places, the chasm was so narrow, that we could scarcely squeeze through. I think we must have been two hundred feet high when we started to down the crevice. When we got to where it was light enough, we left our names engraved on the rocks, but I doubt not to this day, Jan 12th 1903, that there is any names in that crevice than those of Martin Hoover, David Garrison, and A.H. Garrison. When we returned to camp, and it had become known what we had done, we got two free lectures, one from Captain Gragg, and one from Father, we was more frightened after hearing of the dangers the lectures cited than we was while creeping down the crevice.



Sometimes the punishments that were reserved for children did not apply when they were acting like adults. And then there was always that gray area in between.


Henry Garrison, age 13 in 1846, following yet another ambush and fight with David English: Father, during learned that I had been fighting sent for Captain Gragg and wanted him to punish me for fighting, the Capt. told him he would do no such thing, Father said he would get someone else to punish me if he would not do it, this was the only time I had seen the Capt.vexed with my Father, the captain told him that I had a hard time, that he had an eye on me all the time, and that he knew that I was always busy looking after our stock, and the things in general, that I had to take a mans place, he said to Father, you cant be up looking after your interests, and because Henry has to do it, there are some of the boys that are jealous of him and my nephew, Dave Inglish is one of them, he said to him if Henry don't take his part, that the boys would give him no peace. Father said, but I don't allow him to fight, {Gragg} then said, see here Garrison, you are unreasonable, and the man that tries to whip Henry will have me to whip and left the wagon.


It’s Hard To Act Like Kids

As much as teenagers may have wished to remain children, circumstances did not allow that wish. The wagons had to get through and it meant taking on responsibilities rarely given children back home. Boys as young as fourteen were allowed to vote in camp councils, a privilege denied to women, even in democratic wagon trains.


Abigail Jane (Jenny) Scott, age 17 in 1852. The irony of this situation is that her 14 year old brother Harvey Scott went on to become the leading defender of men’s rights in the capacity of editor of the Morning Oregonian. His chief opponent was his older sister Jenny who worked for and won the right for women to vote, including writing letters to the editor under her married name

Abigail Scott Duniway. she won the honor of being the first woman to vote in Oregon. In 1852 she recorded this list of family duties:

Mary Frances or Fanny, age 19, assigned to cook.

Abigail Jane or Jenny, age 17, assigned to keep the journal.

Margaret Ann or Mag, age 15, assigned to help with the cooking and writing of the journal.

Harvey Whitefield or Harve, age 14, drove “mother’s wagon” until it was abandoned.

Catherine Amanda or Kit, age 13, was responsible for the care of the two youngest children.

Harriet Louise or Duck or Etty, age 11, drove the loose stock riding her old mare “Shuttleback.”

John Henry or Henry, Jerry, or Sonny, age 9, helped drive “mother’s wagon.”

Sarah Maria or Maria or Chat, age 5.

William Neill or Willie, age 3.


Eliza Ann McAuley, age 17 in 1852, traveling with Ezra Meeker and his wife, discovered that the trail itself could prevent the merriment of youth: A very disagreeable day. A cold west wind blew all day. In making camp this evening, we placed the wagons so as to break the wind, and then by fastening each corner of the tent to a wagon wheel and putting an ox yoke and chain to each tent pin, we managed to keep it standing. The Meekers not having any tent as yet, are camping with us tonight. One of their steers got snakebitten on the nose this evening. It swelled very fast and gave the animal much pain, but an application of tobacco and whiskey soon relieved him. That is the only use our party makes of those articles.


Catherine Amanda (Kit) Scott, age 13 in 1852, found it hard to act like a child when there is not enough food to go around: Rations grew shorter and shorter. One meal was prepared by boiling an antiquated ham bone and adding to the liquid in which it was boiled the few scrapings from the dough pan in which the biscuit from our last measure of flour - which, by the way, was both musty and sour - had been mixed. We still had coffee and by making a huge pot of this fragrant beverage, we gathered round the crackling campfire - our last in the Cascade Mountains - and, sipping the nectar from rusty cups and eating salal berries gathered during the day, pitied folks who had no coffee. At Barlow Gate the Scotts complained bitterly of having to pay $5 a wagon to use the road. On the Zig Zag River there is not a peep of complaint about paying $15 for enough sour flour for one meal. In her memoirs Etty Scott recalls at Foster Farm father bought two pounds of butter but before the six smallest children could get any, it was all eaten and they did not even get a taste. She carried that bitter memory about her aunts and uncles into her old age.


Virginia Reed, age 13 in 1846, with the Donner-Reed Party discovered problems were just as bad on the road to California. She shares them in a letter to her cousin Mary: We laid down on the ground. We spread one shawl down. We laid down on it and spread another over us and then put the dogs on top. It was the coldest night you must ever saw. The wind blew and if it hadn’t been for the dogs we would have frozen. We had nothing to eat but ox hides. Oh, Mary I would cry and wish I had what you all

wasted. We had to kill little Cash the dog and eat him. We lived on little Cash a week. Oh, my Dear Cousin you don’t know what trouble is. The terrain the emigrants crossed presented physical and emotional challenges. With only fifty miles to go, the worst segment of the entire trail was encountered - Laurel Hill.


Harriet Louise (Etty) Scott, age 11 in 1852, describes this incident including her Aunt Martha, her mother’s sister

who was married to her father’s 1st cousin, Uncle Levi: We reached Laurel Hill in the Cascade mountains. Oh, that steep road! I know it was fully a mile long. We had to chain the wagon wheels, and slide the wagons down the rutty and rocky road. My aunt Martha lost one of her remaining shoes; it rolled down the mountain side. I can hear her now as she called out in her despair, “Oh, me shoe, me shoe! How can I ever get along?” She wore one shoe and one moccasin the rest of the journey. As we started down the road my father said: “Jump on the wheel and hang on Fanny!” It was an awful dangerous thing and he didn’t realize what he was telling her to do. Poor sister Margaret fell and rolled down and down. When she picked herself up Uncle Levi was there with his humor, “You swore and I am going to tell your father.”


The Worst Hardships

The worst hardships the trail had to offer were the deaths it imposed. The trail took one of every ten emigrants. Sometimes they seemed to be random and senseless. It was hard to lose a friend or acquaintance as witnessed twice by


Eliza Ann McAuley, age 17 in 1852: In coming down a steep hill, a woman attempted to jump from the wagon with a child in

her arms. Her dress caught in the wheel and she was drawn under and crushed to death. Here we came up with the Yoemans again. Their child died about daylight and they were just preparing a grave for it. We stopped and remained with them until after the burial.


Virginia Reed, age 13 in 1846, shows it was harder still to lose a relative: In the mean time Gramma died. We buried her very decent. We made a neat coffin and buried her under a tree. We had a head stone and had her name cut on it, and the date and year very nice. At the head of the grave was a tree. We cut some letters on it. The young men sodded it all over and put flowers on it. We miss her very much. Every time we come in the wagon we look up at the bed for her.


Abigail Jane (Jenny) Scott, age 17 in 1852, shows it is hardest to lose a parent: Sabbath Day: How mysterious are the works of an all wise and overruling Providence! We little thought when last Sabbath’s pleasant sun shed upon us his congenial rays that when the next should come it would find us mourning over the sickness and death of our beloved Mother! Our mother was taken about two o”clock this morning with violent cramping. She, however, aroused no one until daylight. Everything was done, which we possibly could do, to save her life, but her constitution long impaired by disease was unable to withstand the attack. This afternoon between four and five o’clock her wearied spirit took its flight. She now rests in peace. The place of her interment is a romantic one and one which seems fitted for the last resting place of a lover of rural scenery as she always delighted in. The

grave overlooks a ravine covered with small pine and cedar trees. In about the center of this ravine there wells forth a spring of icy coldness, clear as crystal. In the outskirts of this basin clusters of wild roses and various other wild flowers grow in abundance. Here reposes the last earthly remains of my mother. Jenny had just recovered from a four day bout with cholera. Several family members in their memoirs describe the grave near Laramie Peak as being heaped with rocks to prevent animals from disturbing it. Later the family went back to find and mark it. No one was ever able to locate it. Jenny was even more moved with yet another family death to report: Two months and seven days this morning since our beloved mother was called to bid this world adieu, and the ruthless monster death not yet content has once more entered our fold and taken in his icy grip the treasure of our hearts! Last night our darling Willie was called from earth, to vie with angels around the throne of God. He was buried today upon an elevated point, one hundred and fifty feet above the plain in a spot of sweet seclusion, where his peaceful remains will sleep in undisturbed repose. A beautiful juniper waves its wide spread branches over his tomb, and here beneath its shade I have wandered in remote seclusion to be alone with Willie and his God. Jenny sat under that juniper tree high above the Burnt River canyon and composed a poem into her journal. The wagon train then moved on. Harvey Scott later returned to the spot and removed the bark from the tree which had been inscribed WILLIE and took it back to his father.


Henry Garrison, age 14 in 1846, saw afflictions hit both his father and his seven year old brother Enoch: Father was taken to the wagon with Inflammatory Rheumatism, and before this had become entirely helpless, and as I was the oldest of the family, I had everything to look after. When I saw the {man} coming I became alarmed, for he was riding very fast, when he met me, he told me that my brother Enoch had his leg broken. The train had stopped less than a mile ahead, I got there as quick as the horse carry me. As I was on my way to the wagon the thought came to me, what was to be done for the boy, I then pledged myself, that if he got well, that if it was necessary, I would deprive myself of an education and stay at {home} and work, so that he might acquire one. The first words Father said when I came up, was, Oh Henry, what shall we, do, I told him that we would do the very best we could. At that time Father was not able to move a joint about him from his neck down, he was propped up in the wagon so he could see what was being done. The accident had happened in this way. Foss, our help had on several occasions given the

boy the ox whip, and let him stand on the wagon tongue and drive the team. Father had only this morning remonstrate with him about the matter, for fear that an accident might occur. Well that morning, it was the 9th of June, when the wagons left camp and had got in the main Road, he gave the whip again to the boy. The wagon wheel dropped into a rut and threw the boy from the wagon tongue and both wheels passed over his leg between the ankle and knee, mashing down into a rut eight inches deep, mashing them into small pieces. The Doctor was at work fixing the splint and bandages to set the leg. After seeing the condition of the leg, I wanted the Doctor to amputate it at the time, I told him that considering its mashed condition, and the fact that he would have to be hauled in the wagon, and the weather being so warm, that mortification would be sure to set in. He scolded me, said I was nothing but a boy, I went to Father, he said he guess the Doctor knew best. We carried him for five day, Father and him laying side by side in the same wagon. From the time of the accident I never left the wagon until his death, he would not allow me out of his sight, he said that {no one} was so careful in driving as I was. The morning if the 15th the Doctor said his leg would have to be amputated, we had taken him into the tent the night before, after he was moved to the tent, he told me he wanted someone to sing and pray. Quite a number of songs were sung and prayers were offered up for both Father and son. By sunrise the next morning all preparations were made to take the limb off. Enoch poor boy had not slept for the last thirty hours. The old Hospital Steward had to do the work as {Dr. Wood} knew nothing about Surgery, the first attempt was made just below the knee, but when the knife was inserted it was fount that mortification had set in, the limb was then taken off above the knee, when the saw was applied to the bone, it was found out that the thigh bone was broken just below the hip joint. When the operation was over, he wanted to see his leg, the Doctor told to wait just a few minutes and he should see it, he saw his Mother standing by his side, he gave her his hand and said, Good by Mother I am going to Heaven, she said not yet, he said yes, then he gave me his hand {and} could just articulate good by, tell Pa and rest {good by} and his {soul} winged its way to where there is no more broken limbs, neither is there any more suffering. Yes he was at peace. It was reported that the Indians was in the habit of opening graves for the purpose of getting shrouding, to prevent this, the grave was dug in such a place that the wagons when leaving camp might pass over it. In digging the grave, those who have it in charge was careful to cut and lift the sod in squares so they could be replaced when the {grave} was filled, before commencing the grave, bed-quilts were spread on the ground to receive the dirt as it was thrown from the grave. Of course he was buried the evening of his death, as the train had {to} move on the next morning,

after the grave was filled up, the sods were carefully replaced, the remaining dirt was carried and thrown in the River. Rev Mr Cornwall conducted the funeral services. When we broke camp next morning, the wagons 74 in number passed over the grave. Fathers wagons was driven to one side and did not pass over the grave.


Conditions In Oregon

Arriving in Oregon did not mean an end to all of the hardships of the trail. A farm had to be hacked out of the wilderness. And one could not always count on having parents around to do it for you.


Henry Garrison, aged 17 in 1849, attests:

I remained at home while Father was gone to the Indian wars. Before starting he had sown about forty acres of wheat, but it was not fenced in, the rails to make the fence was all made, but was laying in the woods where they {were} made, and the first thing for me to do was to haul the rails from the woods, and build the fence, of course it was a big winter job for a Seventeen year old

boy, but it must be done, there was about four thousand rails to haul, the ground was full of water, and soft, and about twenty five rails made a good load, the days were short, and four loads was a good days work. It took me until about the middle {of} March to get the fence {finished}, when the {fence} was done, there was about 25 acres of unbroken land, that was inside the enclosure. As soon as the fence was completed, I put the oxen to the plow and went to turning over this unbroken land. The

plow beam, was fastened to a truck, so that it did not require a hand to hold the plow, by the middle of April I had the 25 acres all plowed, then came the tug of war, this was new sod, and I wanted to sow it to oats. I don't suppose there was an iron or steel tooth harrow in the county, so my Uncle Enoch made me a harrow, with wooden teeth, as I was driving three yoke of oxen the

harrow was made very heavy, and the teeth were about twenty inches long, and when I put it on that fresh sod Oh how it jumped.... I never saw a better crop than grew on that ground. After the crop was in, I went to work to grub out a place for a orchard, the oak bush was not more than a foot high, but still they had big roots, the tops had been kept back by fire, it took me nearly a month to get the grubbing done. Schooling was necessary, but schools and school systems had yet to be created in Oregon.


Henry Garrison, age 15 in 1847 explains: Father had laid in a supply of school books before leaving home, and he now taught

school on rainy days, and the evenings was spent by us children studying our book, in fact we put in all our time at studying our books, father hearing us recite of evenings, our light that we used, was from pitchwood. I will state in this connection, that, excepting about six months, all the schooling I ever got was by the fireside, I would, after doing my days work, take my bundle of

pitchwood and sit down in the chimney corner and study until ten O'clock, when father would call out from his bed, that it was time for me to go to bed, then as soon as I would build the {first} fire of a morning, I would be at my studies again. Just because you were in a new location on earth did not mean that social classes and customs had been eliminated.


Elizabeth Keegan was aged 13 in 1852: I have not made any acquaintances so I cannot give you any account of the manners of the people. Society is at a very low ebb though I must say there are some families here of the highest respectability, but they keep no company. One word to young ladies who are aspiring, that if they wish to be comfortable and enjoy society they had better stay where they are. I am one of the nondescripts who neither cares or is cared for, for I do not court society. All I ask is to live

peaceful. I want you to let Kate O’Shea see this letter. Tell her that I would not encourage her to come here. For there is no encouragement for females here unless she were married.


Henry Garrison, age 17 in 1849, would probably disagree with the above: We had but little chance to get as we called them store clothes here, after wearing out what we brought across the plains, we that is the men wore buckskin, and where a young man had

a pare of buckskin pants, with fringe down the outside seams, and a buckskin coat, with fringes on its seams, and a pair of beaded mocasins on, and a wheat straw hat that his mother made, he could go in the best society. Those clothes and an Indian horse, and S{p}anish saddle and spurs, and especially if he was holding 640 acres of land, with a small band of horses and cattle, he was

considered eligible for the best girls in the land, his age was no barrier, such had been my clothing for about two years before Fathers return from the mines. He {brought} home a suit of broadcloth clothes a white shirt a silk necktie a Panama hat

and a pair of calfskin boots, the first Sunday after he came home, I had (by his orders) to rig myself up in the suit, the extra trouble that we were put to in getting into our new rig, made us late in getting to the place of worship, which was at our log schoolhouse, we was so late, that the congregation had assembled before our arrival, our pews, was wooden benches, hewn from fir trees, standing on four wooden legs. The bench against the wall, and fronting the door was where the young ladies sat. As I

entered the door, these young ladies stared at me, as they would have done if a grizzly bear was entering the door. I took possession of {the first vacant seat}, and then I heard them whispering one to another, "Just look at Henry Garrison, oh my ain't he dressed" as if they expected me to be otherwise.... I remained in it to the close of services, not daring to cast a sheeps eye, or a wink at my best girl. As soon as the services closed, I was out of the house, and on my pony, and making tracks for home. But the worst of it was, Sister Martha, invited some of the young ladies home with her for dinner, and to pick wild strawberries, my best girl with them, when they got home ...{I} am dressed in my best clothes, which was my Sunday suit of buckskins. ...we had a good time picking berries, my best girl the largest, and ripest that could be found, she thought them very sweet, I told her, they was not too sweet for her berry lips. Martha Gay settled with her parents in the Eugene area where she became Mrs. Martha Masterson. She moved several times including The Dalles and Tacoma. Her recollections of the trail are widely read. Abraham Henry Garrison, who’s party often shared the trail with the Donner-Reed party, married his best girl and moved to Seattle but later returned to the Willamette Valley near Amity. His great-granddaughter lives in Oregon City today.


Closing notes by Prof. Jim Tompkins:

Eliza Ann McAuley was traveling the trail with the Meeker family. Ezra Meeker traveled the trail many times. In 1906 he promoted the preservation of the trail. I had the honor to study history under Oregon State Archivist David Duniway, grandson of

Abigail Scott Duniway. He wrote her family history. Fanny became a prohibitionist and outlived the entire family. Jenny married Benjamin Duniway at the age of 18, within a year of arriving in Oregon. She became Oregon’s leading women’s rights activist, known nationally. Her little brother Harvey became the first graduate of Pacific University and spent forty years as editor of the

Portland Oregonian fighting against women’s rights. Catherine later in life edited the papers of both Abigail and Harvey. Etty became a spiritualist and medium. Sarah became a musician. Keturah Belknap became my great-great-great-great aunt.


My name is Stephenie Flora. Thanks for stopping by.
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