Reminiscences of 1844


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." Oregon Statesman, May 22, 1885

[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." Oregon Statesman, Jun 12, 1885 [note: a search for further reminiscences turned up no evidence that this series was continued]


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