WILLIAM PORTER'S LETTER HOME
[Note: paragraphs have been inserted for ease of reading. They were not in the original document.] Crossing of the North Fork of Platte
June 24, 1848

Dear Father, Mother, Brothers and Sisters,

I wrote a few lines to you a few days ago, but lest they should not reach
you, I will write as though I had not written at all. We are all well,
and getting on as well as common. Some of our company are a little
discouraged on account of fatigues of the journey and the reports in
reference to the Indians in Oregon. I have felt a little discouraged,
sometimes, about the scarcity of grass, though our cattle look well.

As a general thing, there is no difficulty in finding good camping places
till you get to Laramie, thence to this place there is but one or two good
camps. Grass is not as good this season as it commonly is.

I will make a few suggestions from experience, which you may profit by
should you ever travel this road. In reference to wagons, oxen, etc: I
would say bring wagons made of the best materials and thoroughly seasoned
and then have some black-smith's tongs and harness for setting tires.
You can get tires cut and set at Laramie but you will frequently have
occasion to set them on the road. The most common way is to nail
a thin hoop on the felloe or part of its circumference and heat the
tire and put it on. Another way is to take off the tire, raise or
open the felloe, take pieces of good firm sole leather, cut round holes
in them, split into the hole, and slip it on to the spoke, and two
or three pieces, according to circumstances, between the felloes and
put on the tire. I have put on several this way, which seem to do well.

Well made, stout active cattle, of the common kind of
scrub stock should only be brought and about four yoke, or three at least
for each wagon; and be sure to bring none except such as you work in the
teams. All in our company who have loose cattle regret having started with
them, and some sold their loose cattle at Laramie. Be careful to get
an industrious, careful hand to drive your team and one that will not leave
his post at any time.

I would advise to bring no horses. Mules for working
or riding do well. Get a good Mexican saddle. A common saddle, whether
rode or not, will be of little value, even after coming this far.

Bring plenty of good strong rope, five or six hundred feet will
not be too much. There is a great deal of windy weather and rains are
generally accompanied with high winds.

You should therefore, have your wagon covers of very
strong material. Good bed-ticking is good. Let the wagon bows be strong
and well turned; and the cover should be fixed as to entirely shelter the
hind and front end of the wagons when necessary. The wagon bed should be
fixed so rain could not drive in on the floor, either at the sides or ends.

A good tent is very necessary. Common domestic is not fit for a tent. Tent
poles should be ironed and the pins should be made of iron or buck horns.
A light cook-stove will be found very convenient to set at the mouth of the
tent. Have a stake to hold up the pipe.

A small dog or two will be useful
till you cross the Missouri river after which they are more than useless.
They have caused our company to divide. They have caused Walker and Bristow's
companies' teams to run away twice, and ours once. It is a remarkable
thing that teams, especially on the Platte are apt to become frightened
very easily and run off. Walker and Bristow's company had 24 teams to run
at once, killing some oxen and crippling others, besides other damage.
Our company had 19 teams (all except Purvines' 5 wagons) to run. Isaac
Ball of St. Charles Co, Mo. had his thigh broken. He is doing well.
It is a frightening sight to see so many teams running. When you stop for
dinner or any cause loose the cattle from the wagon. If there is about to
be a general runaway turn your oxen from the road and give them a fair start
and stick to the wagon; otherwise you will be liable to be run over and
wrecked. The cattle will run about 200 yards and stop.

Our company consists of 24 wagons, belonging to Hooker and Purvine of
Scott and Morgan Counties: Tucker, Holmes, Lewis and Stephen and
William Porter of Pike County, Ill and J. Ball of St. Charles Co., Mo.
We organized by selecting John Purvine Captain and William Porter Lieutenant.
We divided our company into six messes or divisions,
each one takes his turn to lead. We have
divided our men into seven guards or watches, three of which come on each
night to guard the cattle and wagons. This division operates equally upon
all.

We are also into nine divisions to herd the cattle, morning and evenings.
Every evening we drive our wagons, half to the right and half to the left
forming a carel. The form of a horse-shoe makes a good carel. At night
bring the mules and horses if any into the carel and the cattle near its
mouth and guard them.

I thought I would give a particular account of the
road to this point but will not have time nor space. Procure Palmers' book
and Freemont's map which will be very useful. If you have a man in company
who has been the route it will be well; otherwise you ought generally to
send some two or three in advance to select camping places. For the first
200 miles you will generally have to camp off the road. Wood is very
scarce on Platte till you get near Laramie. Plenty of buffalo chips on
Platte till you cross the south fork which are preferable to green cottonwood.
When you have an opportunity of getting good wook on Platte better lay in
two or three day's supply. At Scotts Bluffs, lay in one days supply of
wood after which it is not necessary to haul wood up to this place.

Lay in a few good whip stocks of hickory poles. Let all your nailing about
the wagons be with wrought nails.

This is the fourth day we have been
here waiting to cross the Platte. A small company of Mormon from Salt
Lake are here with a canoe boat to cross the immigrants. They charge
$1.50 per wagon. It will be two days yet till we can cross. Yesterday
a company of Mormons arrived here with their wagons and teams to assist
their friends now on the road to Salt Lake. There is now a company in
our camp from Oregon, just arrived. They say grass is very scarce on the
route from this on, and it will be very difficult getting there. They came
the southern route in consequence of the war with the Indians, some seen
to think it very dangerous to go either route. Andrew Rodgers was killed
with the Whitmans' family. It is thought the war will be brought to a close
this year. You will hear later news before spring.

We have been traveling with Walker and Bristow's Company for some time,
but for convenience will separate here till necessity calls us to join again.
If thought best, you may have this letter published, and I hope this
may suffice for a letter to all whom I promised to write to, and all
interested.

I promised to write a letter for Samuel Tucker today, but the company
is in such hast to leave I shall not have time. He says to tell all
his relations and friends that he is well, and all the family have been
well and are in good spirits considering the circumstances. Mr. Coffey
and wife, together with their family wish to be remembered. Give my
regards to all my relations and friends, and tell all who may intend
to take this trip to be sure to have a good wagon and team and plenty
of provisions.

One thing I forgot to mention in its proper place and which I will consider
of importance: make use of rosin and tallow to grease wagons. Black lead
will do but is very inconvenient to haul. It will black everything.

In hopes of seeing you again, I am, William Porter.

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