Reminiscences of 1844
by T. C. Shaw

Pioneer Life--Early Pioneer Life in Oregon--Reminiscence of 1844--No 1 by T.C. Shaw--Ed. Statesman:--I will try and give you a few of the incidents that happened to our trains in the early part of our journey in crossing the plains in the year 1844.

The greater part of Gen. Gilliam's train was made up from the northwest part of Missouri and Iowa, though there were a few families from farther east. There was quite a number of our immigration that crossed the Missouri river about the middle of April, and camped on the bank of the river, waiting until our trains should be made up and we became ready to start on our journey. Here a man from St. Louis came up to our rendezvous with a large wagon and four yoke of large, fine, fat oxen; the wagon was loaded to the brim with articles of trade, such as were suited for the Rocky Mountain trade. His name was Andrew Bishop, a person that perhaps some of the immigration of 1842 may remember, for he had crossed the plains that year, and returned to St. Louis in 1843 by way of the Sandwich Islands. He was then out here in search of health, and should have remained if he had taken the second thought and brought with him his effects, for he had gained his health perfectly by the time he arrived in Oregon, but just as soon as he returned to his old home his old complaint returned on him, and he was again necessitated, as he thought, to go to the mountains, or, in other words, to Oregon. It was noticed, as soon as he came among us, that he was quite sick and feeble, and a great many of us had grave doubts about his being able to make the trip, but he was a brave man, and had, as he told us, made the trip in 1842, when he thought he was worse off than at this time.

About the 10th day of May, 1884, we broke up camp, and moved west toward the Wolf River Indian Agency. Most of the train passed over Wolf creek or river that night, but some of us were detained, and had to camp on the east bank, and there came a heavy rain and thunder storm that night, such a one as no Webfooter ever saw in this country; yet they were frequent and quite common all over the Western and Middle States. So in the morning we were greatly chagrined to learn that the river was up, and it was not possible to cross without a ferry boat, which we had to overcome by using our wagon beds for a boat; but before we got through we had to construct or dig two canoes, and fasten them together by pinning timbers across the bow and stern. In this way we could succeed easily, but just before we had commenced the work of ferrying our goods over, we learned to our sorrow that our friend Bishop had died during the night, leaving us in possession of his property and effects. So we sent a runner to the mission or agency to see the agent, who kindly took charge of the body and effects, and as we learned sent the body and property back to St. Louis, where his family resided.

With great exertion and hard labor we crossed the river or creek, and made our way to the agency, where we overtook the rest of our train, who had camped and were waiting for us, or rather for the weather to moderate, for it had rained all the time day and night for now almost a week, and the ground was perfectly full of water and the mud was consequently past any reasonable calculation, and no one knew how deep it was until he had measured it with his wagon and team. We however rested one day here, and then moved on west, on the dividing ridge between the little and big Nimashaw, streams putting into the Missouri river. We had great difficulty in getting along, owing to the deep mud, but on the second night we came to a suitable place to camp at the head of one of those streams, and struck camp on a beautiful little prairie, and turned our stock out to grass.

Everything went right, as far as we knew, during the night, but on driving up the cattle next morning we found that there wer some of them missing, so we hunted around for awhile and finally found their trail going back towards the agency, with some small horse tracks following theirs, and by close examination we found that they were being driven off by Indians; so we hastened to camp and reported what we had discovered. Gen. Gilliam called a council, and it was unanimously agreed that John Inyard should take a company of thirty men and proceed to capture the stock and Indians if possible; so the company was immediately made up, and they were off in hot pursuit. In about thirty minutes we came to the trail, and following at a sweeping gallop, fearing that they would do just what they did do-- kill the cattle before we could overtake them. Just as we expected, they had it all barbecued when we came in sight of their camp. As soon as they saw us coming they took to the woods and made their escape to the agency, but we tracked them up and were determined to have them and pay for our cattle besides. As soon as we arrived, the agent, Mr. Richardson, called a council of Indians. As soon as the council was convened our captain told me to keep our guns in good shape, ready for use in case of necessity, so we stood guard over the council. We demanded a like number of oxen as they had taken off and killed, and the perpetrators of this bold act to be taken back to our company for our commander in chief to say what penalty should be meted out to them. After a long and boisterous pow-wow among the chiefs and braves, our terms were accepted and we immediately started on our journey homeward, and arrived there about dark the same day. We had eight oxen, the number they had stolen, and thirteen Indians accompanied by their agent and one or two of the principal chiefs. They were kept under guard all night and next morning, after being brought before our officers, and after receiving a heavy reprimand, they were discharged, and returned to the agency wiser, if not better Indians. When asked by our commander why they took the cattle, they simply said they thought we had so many we could not miss them. They took them to have a big time on." [Weekly Oregon Statesman, May 22, 1885 p.1]

[note: paragraphs have been inserted for ease of reading. There were none in the original article] "Reminiscence of 1844--Number 2--Before I commence with my narrative I will say that while we were gone in pursuit of the Indian thieves that had stolen our cattle, the companies had been called together and organized by electing Cornelius Gilliam general and chief commander of all the trains that had started from our part of the country that year. M.T. Simmons was elected Colonel--Benjamin Nicholas Major, John Enyard Adjutant. Wilson Morrison and Wm. Shaw were elected Captains of the two companies that was organized at this time and place.

Thus organized, we moved forward the same morning after dismissing our Indian thieves, through rain and mud and every ill convience that man could experience, there being no road and the mud being so deep it was necessary to keep on the highest ground so that wo could go at all; so by keeping on the dividing ridges between the streams we were enabled to reach the trail made by the emigration of 1843, the year before. Here we camped for the night, and the next morning early the companies were called together for counsel in reference to sending a dispatch back to Col. N. Ford, who was coming by this road, he having sent a dispatch while we were encamped on the Missouri river at Caple's ferry, requesting us to communicate with him when we reached Burnett's Trail.

After several speeches by our leading men it was determined to send such dispatch, and our secretary, Charles Saxton, soon had the instrument signed and ready to be sent, and as you are aware, gentle reader, that there was no such means at our hands as a telegraph office, we had therefore to send our communication or dispatch by the pony express, that being the best we could do, and as it was thought that it would be a little dangerous for one man to make this trip in a country where there were plenty of the roving red men of the forest who we supposed were only waiting for an opportunity to lift the scalp from our unprotected brow, so our chiefs called on the young men for volunteers, which was responded to as follows: Daniel Clark, Bennett Osborn, William McDonald, Jesse Gage, and T.C. Shaw. We were all young and in the bloom of life, and ready for almost any emergency.

We were all ready in about one hour with our horses, blankets, and guns and sufficient provisions for about one day. We, however, struck out as soon as we got ready, and took the wagon road back toward Kansas, or Caw river, as it was called then. We had good horses, and rode at a sweeping gait all day until the sun seemed to be about an hour high.

We had just had to swim a rather large creek, and came up on the bank of the stream and had not gone far until we came out in full view of a large camp of Caw Indians, who, as soon as they saw us, raised the whoop and came toward us in full tilt on horseback, and you may be sure that our nerves were somewhat unsettled at their appearance. We stood our ground but not without some misgivings; yet we soon found that they were all friendly and came out to us to trade rather than do us any harm; as we moved on and about dark came to another deep creek, after looking around and trying the depth of the water we concluded to not risk our lives trying to pass over the stream. So we went back for a few hundred yards and turned off the road and traveled several hundred yards and camped in as secure a place as we could find for the night.

We were up early next morning, and by looking around we found a place and forded the creek, and were soon on the road traveling at a rapid rate for about ten miles. We came in sight of Col. Ford's camp on the Kansas river; we soon rode up to the camp and delivered our message, which was kindly received, and we were taken care of in first rate style.

By this time our horses were somewhat jaded, and we concluded to remain with the company to-day at least, and as soon as they all got ferried over the river they moved camp and advancing on to the creek that we had passed that morning, the whole train camped on the east bank, which was a great error where they had ample time to cross that night but they did not, and the result was they they were detained for several days on account of rain and high water. The next morning when we arose we found that the creek had raised so it was impossible to cross the same, so we did not start home as we had intended but remained in camp." [Weekly Oregon Statesman, Jun 12, 1885]

"Across The Plains--Recollections of a Pioneer who 'Came the Plains Across' in 1844--Reminiscence No 3--Editor Statement: In my article of June 1885, I left my readers at a small stream about ten miles north of the old ferry on the Kansas river, where the emigrant road then crossed said river.  This creek was rather a small one ordinarily, but on the night after we arrived at this place the rain came down in torrents all night, and when we arose from our bed the next morning expecting to return to our trains, we found this creek full from bank to bank, and in fact over-flowing the bottom land so that we could not cross the stream without a ferry boat which we had not.  So we were compelled to remain here, there being no other road that we were aware of by which we could return to our train.  While here we put in our time visiting among the young folks in the train, of which there were a great many, who furnished us with the very best accommodations that a camp life could desire; yet after all this were were not content, but getting more anxious every day to return to our coamp, for we were not certain that they would wait for us, and in case they had gone on, which they might have done, we would have been left in rather a bad box and evidently would have had to suffer considerable privation and trouble before we could overtaken our train.  We remained here about four days without the least abatement of the high waters, and on the fifth day at an early hour we saddled up our horses, and after bidding farewell to our hosts we struck out in a northerly direction, intending to head the creek that we were camped on and to make our camp in any way we could.  There was no road that led in the direction that we desired to go, so we had not traveled far before we found our trip was to be an arduous one, for we found the ground to be full of water and so soft that it would not bear up the weight of our horse, and besides this every branch we had to cross was so deep and muddy that we soon found ourselves traveling at a rather a soft rate; but fefore dark or after dark we came to a high piece of land and plenty of good wood and we camped for the night in a strange country.  Not knowing what would be the result of our effort to get back to our camp, we built up a large fire and endeavored to dry our clothes and blankets, which were as wet as water could make them, for it had rained on us during the entire day.  We picketed out our horses as best we could so as not to let them escape from us, this being our freatest fear.  This being done, we prepared our supper (the material of which had been furnished us before we left Col. Ford's camp that morning), of which we are sparingly for we had no idea how long we would be out.

This I must say was the worst night that I ever passed during our whole journey across the plains.  It was as dark as a stack of black cats and rained the whle night, coming down in perfect torrents, so we were perfectly drenched with rain, and when we arose next morning it was rather a hard matter to get a fire started, yet we succeeded after a while and prepared a hasty meal and were off on our journey before sunrise.  We had not proceeded far until we encountered a large creek, which we knew we had to cross, and now the question arose as to how we should proceed in order to cross this stream.  After consultation we agreed to proceed up the stream until it became smalled and then ford or swim it with ou horse.  We moved on again and had not proceeded more than two miles until we discovered a large tree that had fallen across this stream in such a way as to afford us a crossing, so we stopped our horses and carried our saddles, guns and blankets across the stream to safety.  Now the question was how to get the horses over.  After looking around a short time we found a place just below our log where we concluded to turn them i, so two of us went over to the side where our traps were in order to catch the horses as soon as they got over the stream; for we were not willing to test them to get out without we had some way that we could control them.  The horses were turned in and made their way over, wading sometimes and swimming at other times.  Three of them came out and up the bank and were caught and tied up, but two of them became frightened and tood down stream, swimming at times and wading at others.  About one hundred yards below this log that we had used a a bridge there was a drift of considerable dimensions under which we expected the horses would go without a doubt, so the men on the side from whhich we came made for this drift as fast as possible in hopes to be able to save them from going under.  The men were none too soon in getting there.  The horses had already arrived at this drift and their hind parts were being drawn under by the force of water, which was here flowing very swift, when two of the men got to them and prevented them from going under the drift by main force.  We immediately threw a strong rope or cord across to the men with the horses, which was made fast to the strangling animals and by force we drew them to the shore and up a very steep bank.  This done and we felt very much relieved, for some of us had by this time concluded that it was among the probabilities that two of our little company would have to foot it the remainder of our journey.  However, we all found ourselves possessed of a good horse again, and we lost no time in getting ready for another long march through the rain and mud.  We mounted our horses and with a loud whoop put spurs to them and off we went with bouyant hopes of arriving at our camp in a short time.  After we started we struck our wagon trail and turned at short angles to the west and in a few miles we came to fresh cattle tracks, which was evidence enough to us that our train was waiting for us.  We hurried along as fast as we could and arrived at camp about dark and found our company had only moved about two miles since we left and was camping on the east side at Big Burr Oak creek, which was still out of the banks so that no one could cross it without boats or canoes.  We found our frieds all well and rather ancious tohear our report, which we made as soon as we could.  Upon examination we found all the tents in our train had been ditched around to prevent the water from coming in, which was a wise measure, for we were detained here a whole month before we could cross this stream, which at low water was thirty or forty feet wide.  Now it was fifty or seventy yards wide and rather swift and a dangerous stream to cross, but nothing to compare with many we had to cross before we arrived in Oregon.  During this delay we put in our time in digging out two large canoes, which we launched and fastened together by timbers prepared for that purpose. 

While here an occurrence took place that had to be dealt with in order to show that we had some decipline, if we were not under the laws of the general government.  It was as follows: A young man about 18 years of age drew a long dangerous looking knofe and attempted to slay one of our best companions and was only prevented from doing so by other parties interfering.  This trouble created a great commotion and our Solons were called together to see what had better be done with the case.  After hearing the case this young man was found guilty of an assault with a dangerous weapon, and now came up the question 'What shall we do with him.'  It was determined by the court that as a punishment for his intended crime he should be taken out about 150 yards from the camp and be guarded by persons selected for that purpose.  I believe this sentence was for three days, but the court relented on the second day and the young man was discharged on his promising that he would behave himself better in the future, which promise he took good care to keep all the way across the plains.  This little episode was the only one that took place at this camp calculated to mar the peace and good will of our companies during our long stay at this place." [Weekly Oregon Statesman, Salem, Oregon, January 26, 1886 p3 1-2]

"Across The Plains--Reminiscences of the Journey Across the Plains to Oregon in 1844 No 4--Editor Statement: By your permission I will continue my narrative; before I commence however I must say that I think that our officers commited a great mistake by striking P. H. Burnett's road at this point for the reason that it was too far to the south, which point we did not learn until we reached a point more than one hundred miles farther west on the Platte river.  I am not certain had we turned west at the camp that I described in my reminiscence of 1844 No. 1, where the Indians stole our stock, we would have had a much better road and reached the Platte river before we became water bound; but this we did not know and consequently made a great mistake by taking the south road, which led us into a low flat country and where the streams were much larger and consequently harder to cross.  Burr oak creek (Black vermillion as it was called by some) was a tributary of the Big Blue river, a large stream that flows south-west into the Cow or Kansas river.  After remaining here at this famp for over a month we at last got ready and commenced to ferry our wagons across, first having swam our stock over with but little trouble, and as soon as we got a wagon over the river hitched a strong team of oxen to it and hauled it out on to solid ground, which was a very difficult matter, for the ground was so soft that we had to double and thribble our teams in manyinstances in order to get them through the very deep mud, our wagons at many times going down to the bed, which were dragged along on the top of the ground sometimes for 25 or 30 yards.  Sometimes when a wagon would get stuck in the mud the largest log chain would be snapped into pieces in an instant, as if it had been no stronger than a common pipe stem.  Thus we were engaged from day to day for almost a week before we got everything over and out on firm ground so we could move on our journey.  The road was almost impassable, and we had to leave it in many places and go as we could in order to get through the very deep mud.  Thus we moved on and made our way to Big Blue, which we found to be up level with its banks.  So, our only chance to get over this stream was to make a ferry boat as we had before; so it was not long after we arrived at this place until we had our workmen at work on two large canoes, which were completed and ready for use in about three days.  While this was going on our young men were busily engaged in swimming our stock over the stream.  This however, was a rather difficult matter and one of our party came near losing his life.  It happened in this way; the cattle became unmanageable out in the middle of the river, and began to swim around in a circle as they will invariably do when they become confused by not being able to see the landing or place of going out.  The men had a canoe with several persons in it with which they were trying to break up the confusion and get the cattle to swim towards the other shore.  In their great excitement one man jumped overboard and swam in among the cattle and in one instance was crowded down underneath them and was thought be be drowned, but in a moment he came up belodw the cattle and struck out for the shore instead of calling on the men in the canoe for help. He swam high in the water and so fast that the canoe nor none of the men could catch him until he reached the shore in safety.  His name was John Lousignont, a Frenchman from St. Joseph, Mo.  He came to Oregon and settled in Washington county and raised a large family of children.  But a few years ago he passed over the dark river from whence no traveler has ever returned. 

As soon as our stock was over we commenced to ferry over the wagons and families, which was accomplished without any loss of property or life.  We soon reached the high lands and our roads became more dry and we moved along rather rapidly for a time.  I will here give a little indcident that perhaps may amuse the readers of this article, but I assure you it was not amusing to our camp or any of our company, for there were but few of us that had ever been under fire.  We had arrived at a beautiful camping ground on a little creek that emptied into the Republican fork of the Big Blue.  We had just eaten our supper and were resting around the camp fire.  It had been arranged by the officers to put out a guard unbeknown to many of the company, but the officers had planned this whole matter to see what kind of metal our company was made of.  So as I was saying we were resting around the camp fires conversing about the hardships we had already undergone, when to our great stonishment bang! went a gun and in came the sentinel, and in a breathless and very excited manner recited the fact that he had seen Indians and had ordered them to stop and they made off from him and he fired on them.  This whole thing was well planned and just as well performed and now, gentle reader, you may rest assured that this little matter created no small excitement in our camp, for right here we began to see the weakness of our situation.  We were now in open praried country, where there was no timber to protect us from the attack of our common enemy, the roving red men of the plains.  However, every man in the train was out in a moment with his gun and in readiness for an attack.  The only protection we had was our wagons, which we had corralled as best we could.  Al the fires were instantly extinguished and every person, men, women and childre, were inside the corrall.  We, however, soon found out the whole matter, but we did not soon forget the great excitement of the occasion.  In fact it was one of the grandest lessons that we took in our whole journey across the plains.  Our excitement was quieted by the oficers informing us that this was only a gentle reminder of our situation in camp life.

Our trains moved on the next day up the Republican fork, which seemed to come from the west.  We traveled up this stream for two or three days and came to a beautiful camping ground and camped and lay over in order to celebrate the Fourth of July, which we did by reading of the Declaration of Independence and such other exercises as was considered appropriate on such occasions.  Thus you see gentle reader, that our hearts still beat high with the love of our country, although we were in an Indian country, yet our hearts beat strong for our native land, and at no time in our journey to Oregon would we have listened to any person who would have defamed our birth places with other than feeling of disgust, for we were Americans emigrating to Oregon in order to save this whole western slope of country from the strong grasp of the British Lion, which we did most gloriously  succeed in doing by hoisting the grand old flag over the country in time to be seen and respected by all countries having any knowledge of our beautiful county, which then composed Oregon, Washington, Idaho and perhaps some part of Montana Territory.

We moved on up this stream almost to its head and just before we left it on one of the last trees on the creek we found a bee  tree which we soon cut down and devoured the honey with a relish common to all hungry people.  In crossing the divide to Platte river, I saw the last wild turkey that I have ever seen on this divide we saw the first antelopes and killed several of them and found them good for food.  We camped one night on this ridge or divide and the next day we made our camp on to the Platte river, which we found to be a muddy, dirty looking stream.  In order to get clear water to drink we soon learned to dig wells a little way from the banks of the river, whcih at this point were very low.  The water would soon come into those wells as clear as crystal, and therefore we had good water to drink." [Weekly Oregon Statesman, February 26, 1886 p8 1-2]

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