THE JAMES LONGMIRE ACCOUNT
"The Narrative of James Longmire," Washington Historical Quarterly XXIII (JANUARY,1932) and XXIII (APRIL, 1932), ppgs. 47-60,138-141.
I started from our home on Shawnee Prairie, Fountain County, Indiana with my wife and four children, Elcaine, David, Tillatha, and John on the 6th day of March 1853. My youngest child was not able to walk when we started but spent his evenings while on the trip in learning, which he did by supporting himself by holding to the tongue of the ox wagon while in camp. John B. Moyer, a very fine young man who had studied for the ministry, but who at that time was teaching our district school, went with us, also Joseph Day, a son of one of our neighbors.
I got a neighbor to drive us to Attica, the nearest town, where we took passage on the U.S. Ariel, a little steamer running on the Wabash River, as far south as Evansville, at that time a flourishing town of four or five thousand inhabitants.
A shocking incident of our first start was the bursting of the boiler of the steamer Bee, twelve miles from Evansville, which caused the death of every person on board. Our steamer took the poor, mangled creatures aboard and carried them to Evansville, where they were met by sorrowing friends who had sighted the signal of mourning displayed by our steamer.
From Evansville we took the steamer Sparrow Hawk for St. Louis, thence by the Polar Star up the Mississippi and Missouri Rivers to St. Joseph. We were now upwards of two thousand miles on our westward journey.
Here I bought eight yoke of oxen and a large quantity of supplies, and traveled in wagons along the river to Kanesville, now Council Bluffs, where we camped, as it was yet too early to start on our long journey, the grass not having grown so that it would afford food for our cattle along the route; so we decided to remain for several weeks and make some preparations for another start. I bought a carriage and a span of horses for two hundred fifty dollars which my wife and children were to use as far as the road would permit.
I also got a sheet-iron stove which, with cooking utensils, only weighed twenty-five pounds, but which proved a real luxury as we were able to have warm biscuits for breakfast whenever we chose, besides many other delicacies which we could not have had by a camp fire. I only paid twelve dollars for this stove but it proved invaluable to me.
At Kanesville I stood guard at night for the first time in my life in company with Van Ogle, who was also camped here preparatory to going to Puget Sound. It was dark one evening as I finished feeding my cattle so that I could not see the person who spoke in a fine childish voice, saying, "Is there a man here by the name of Longmire?"
I thought it must be a boy by the voice and answered that that was my name when he introduced himself as John Lane, a man of whom I had often heard but had never seen. He was a tall, well built man with a smooth boyish face and fine squeaking voice much out of keeping with his great body.
He invited me to his camp nearby where I met Asher Sargent and his family, Sargent being his brother-in-law, and after some conversation we made arrangements to continue our journey together. While here we met a young man by the name of Ivan Watt who was anxious to cross the plains, so I arranged with him to drive one of my ox teams, and found him excellent help at various times when we met obstacles that were hard to overcome. His friend, William, Sargent's two sons, Wilson and Francis Marion, and Van Ogle drove the others.
The time had come when we decided the grass was sufficient to feed our cattle on the way, and we moved twelve miles below Council Bluffs to a ferry where we made our final start for Puget Sound on the 10th day of May, 1853. We camped for the night about one mile from the ferry where we were joined by E. A. Light, now of Steilacoom, who was a friend of John Lane's.
Nothing occurred worthy of note until two days afterwards when we reached the Elkhorn River where we found a ferry with only one boat and so many emigrants ahead of us that we must wait two or three weeks to be ferried across the river. A party of emigrants were lucky enough to get three canoes and while they were crossing we all went to work and made one more. By this time they were across so we bought their canoes and with our own proceeded to ferry our goods to the other side. Here occurred an accident which proved disastrous and spoiled in a measure the harmony existing up to this time in our little company of emigrants.
John Lane had started with some fine stock among them a thoroughbred mare of great beauty and very valuable which he would not allow to swim with the rest of our stock safely across the stream. With a rope around her neck held by Sargent and myself on one side of the river, and by himself and E. A. Light on the other side, we towed her across, but alas, dead. We landed her according to Lane's instructions and tried to revive the beautiful creature but failed.
Poor Sargent had to bear the blame, unjustly, I think, and only escaped blows from Lane, whose rage knew no bounds, by my interference. But he left our party, after begging me to go with him and in company with E. A. Light, Samuel and William Ray, and a man by the name of Mitchell, continued his journey. We regretted the loss of his beautiful mare, and the unpleasantness between him and Sargent, which caused him to leave our party, for friends were few and far from home consequently much dearer. But these friends were to meet again, which we little expected when we parted.
Two hundred miles farther on we came to Rawhide Creek, a pretty stream with banks bordered with graceful, waving willows, cool and green, and the last that we were to see. In fact, not another tree or shrub for two hundred miles. Here we stopped to rest our thoroughly tired, foot-sore oxen and do our washing which was not done always on Monday to the annoyance of our excellent housekeepers who at home had been accustomed to thus honoring "blue Monday."
We had killed a few antelopes along the road, which furnished the camp with what we thought the best steak we had ever eaten, and were fired with the resolve to secure a still greater luxury, in which we had not yet indulged. We had already seen several small bands of buffalo, but had no opportunity of capturing any of them so I selected Ivan Watt, a crack shot, by the way, as my companion, and with bright hopes and spirits high we started to bring in some buffalo meat and thus further prove our skill as hunters from the Hoosier State.
We left Moyer and Day to guard the camp, assist the women in the washing, and kill jackrabbits, game too small for us. We rode about fifteen miles north, whence we came upon two buffaloes quietly feeding upon a little slope of ground. We dismounted, picketed our horses and on all fours crept toward them till barely within range of our muzzle-loading rifles when they saw us.
We ran for our horses which we luckily reached and lost no time in mounting which the buffalo turned and ran from us across the level plain. Going on a little further we came to a ridge or elevation which afforded us protection for our horses which we once more picketed and walked about a hundred yards, commencing firing into a herd of the coveted game, which we came upon suddenly, selecting for our target a large bull.
we fired nine shots apiece but our game did not fall but would snort loudly and whirl around as if dazed, not knowing from where the bullets came and not seeing us from the ridge of ground where we were hid from view. Seeing that our shots did not bring the game to the ground I told Watt we were aiming too high, and reloading, we took aim and fired together, but lower, and to our great joy the huge creature fell, as we thought dead.
Rushing back to our horses we mounted and hurried to secure our prize which lay on the ground only wounded and upon seeing us staggered to his feet and ran about a hundred yards and fell again.
The rest of the herd, frightened at seeing us, ran wildly across the plain with uplifted tails and were soon out of sight. Seeing that our buffalo could not run I sprang from my horse and taking fair aim at his head fired and killed him, much to my surprise as I had heard a theory that a buffalo could not be killed by a shot in the head.
Again we secured our horses and began to strip our game of his smooth coat selecting the hind quarters for our share, judging these to be the choice of cuts, which we were to put into a bag which we had carried for this purpose. Little did we know of the life and customs of the plains. In about fifteen minutes after we began our work we were surprised, yes, perfectly horrified, to see about thirty big, hungry grey wolves coming rapidly towards us attracted no doubt by the scent of blood from the dead buffalo.
Nearer and nearer they came till, hearing a noise, we looked in the direction of our horses, we saw them running in wildest fright to the north, in a directly opposite course from our camp. We hurriedly left our game to the wolves, most willingly, having no wish to contest their claim to it, and went in pursuit of our rapidly fleeing horses.
We had intended to be in camp with our meat in time for dinner and had set out in the morning without a morsel of food in our pockets. So nightfall found us hungry, tired, afoot and miles, how many we knew not, from camp and friends, our horses gone and hardly knowing which way to turn.
It was a starlight night and fixing my eye on one bright star, I told Watt that we must take that star for our guide and go on as far as we could that night. We went on, Watt complaining of hunger very often until the sky became cloudy and we could no longer see our guide, when we sat down and placed our guns on the ground pointing towards the star that had been to us so far a welcome guide. The time we could not tell, as neither of us carried a watch, but it must have been far in the night.
From the time of leaving camp, the many mishaps of the day, and our extreme fatigue, it seemed an age. Soon all trouble was forgotten in the deep sleep from which we awoke to find the sky clear and our late guide ready to light us on our weary journey. We arose and started at once neither stopping for an instant or turning aside for rock, bush, bramble, but keeping as nearly as possible in a straight line never forgetting our star till it grew dim before the coming daylight.
Thus we went, still fasting, over the beautiful rolling country till nine or ten o'clock in the morning when we climbed a steep bluff and below us saw the Platte River Valley through which slowly passed a few straggly emigrant wagons. The very sight of them brought joy to our hearts, and also relief to Watt's empty stomach for the first thing he did on reaching the wagons was to ask for food which was freely given.
I inquired the way to Rawhide Creek, which the emigrants told us was two miles behind them, welcome news to us in our tired and almost famished condition. But as we were so near our own camp, I did not ask for anything to eat. Wall, however, insisted on sharing his portion with me, which I accepted and must say relished after my night's fast. We hurried back to camp where I found my wife almost crazed with grief at our long absence thinking, of course, we had been killed by Indians. My friend Sargent was thinking of continuing the journey the next day if we did not return; but my wife was thinking of some way by which she could return to our home on the banks of the Wabash. However, when we told them of our danger, and narrow escape, even with the loss of our horses and game, grief turned to joy and peace reigned once more in our camp.
After resting the remainder of the day we prepared not for a buffalo hunt, but for a hunt for our horses the next morning. Mr. Sargent loaned us two of his horses which we rode and in case we did not return that evening he was to put two other of his horses to my carriage and proceed, with Moyer, Day, and my family and goods, the next morning. We were to overtake them somewhere along the line.
After making this arrangement we went back to the scene of our disaster where we found large herds of wild horses but no track of our own which being shod were easily tracked. We hunted until sundown when we came to a mound or hill from one hundred to one hundred fifty feet above the level with a circular depression or basin on the top of it which we selected for our camp.
Taking our horses into the basin we made them secure by hobbling them, took our supper without drinks and cold. Here we witnessed from our elevated position a grand buffalo show, fully five thousand scattered over vast plains, many of them quite near to the mound on which we stood; but we had not the least temptation to hunt buffalo although it seemed to be one vast herd as far as the eye could reach. We arose the next morning and continued our hunt till the middle of the afternoon, when we gave up all hope of finding the lost horses and taking a westerly course, set out to overtake the wagons which had stopped for the night for our benefit.
A buffalo hunt proved a source of joy as well as sorrow to our party for soon after camping for the night Moyer saw two men, buffalo hunters who, like Watt, and myself, had been lost, riding our lost horses leisurely along the road. Going to them Moyer said the horses belonged to our camp.
They told him that they had seen the horses on the plains and knowing that they had escaped from some emigrant train caught them and gladly rode them into camp. They declined the five dollar reward that Moyer and my wife wished them to accept for the great service which they had done us. The previous day my wife had ridden in the ox wagon leaving our carriage at the service of Mrs. Sargent and family in part payment for the borrowed horses but the next day she gladly gave up the cushions and comfort of the ox wagon for those of the carriage which was again drawn by the lost horses.
Nothing further happened except the occasional killing of an antelope or stray buffalo, my desire for buffalo hunting not being fully satisfied although I had vowed, after my late adventure, never to hunt buffalo again.
Sargent and I killed one about this time that weighed fully five thousand pounds whose meat was so tough we could not use it, he evidently being the patriarch of the vast herd. We crossed the Rocky Mountains at South Pass according to the instructions given in "Horns Guide for Emigrants" which we had carefully observed during our trip. It gave minute instructions as to proper camps, roads, and where to find good water and grass, the crossing of streams, and other information which we found of great value as our experience afterwards in regard to grass and water proved.
Some days after crossing the mountains our party was increased by the families of Tyrus Himes, father of George H. Himes, of Portland, Oregon, and Judson Himes, Mrs. W. H. Ruddell, and Mrs. Nathan Eaton, of Elma, Washington, and Mrs. John Dodge, the first of whom settled on their arrival here on a place five miles east of Olympia, and the last on Mima Prairie.
Accompanying Mr. Himes were Joel Ridson and son Henry, C. Ruben Fitch, Frederick Burnett, James and Charles Biles and family, "Bat" and Elijah Baker with families, two Woolery families, William Downey and family, Kincaid and family, Peter Judson and family, beside a number of single men, all told numbering somewhere near one hundred persons.
All went smoothly until we crossed Bear River Mountains when feeling some confidence in our own judgement we had grown somewhat careless about consulting our handbook, often selecting our camp without reference to it. One of these camps we had good reason to remember. I had gone ahead to find a camp for noon which I did on a pretty stream with abundance of grass for our horses and cattle. which greatly surprised us as grass had been such a scarce article in many of our camps. Soon after dinner we noticed some of our cattle began to lag and seem tired and others began to vomit. We realized with horror that our cattle had been poisoned; so we camped at the first stream we came to, which was Ham's Fork of Bear Creek River, to cure, if possible, our sick cattle.
Here we were eighty miles or a hundred miles from Salt Lake, the nearest settlement, in such a dilemma. We looked for relief bacon and grease were the only antidotes for poison that our stores contained, so we cut slices of bacon and forced them down the throats of the sick oxen who after once tasting the bacon ate it eagerly thereby saving their lives, as those that did not eat it died the next day.
The cows we could spare better than the oxen. None of the horses were sick. Had we consulted our guide book before instead of after camping at that pretty spot we would have been spared all this trouble as it warned travelers of the poison existing there. This event ran our stock of bacon so low we were obliged to buy more, for which we paid seventy-five cents per pound and fifty cents per pound for butter, which we bought of Mr. Melville, one of our party.
We were joined at Salmon falls by a Mr. Hutchinson and his family. Here we crossed the Snake river for the first time, a quarter of a mile above the falls. Hutchinson had a fine lot of horses and cattle which caused him much anxiety as he feared they might drown while crossing the river.
There were many Indians here of the Snake tribe, and he tried to hire one of them to swim his stock, for which he offered him money without making the least impression on the stolid creature. Finally taking off his shirt, a calico garment, Hutchinson offered it to him, which, to our surprise, he took, this was the coveted prize. He swam four horses safely and drowned one; when he reached the opposite side of the river he quietly mounted one of the best horses and rode rapidly away over the hills, leaving us to the difficult task of crossing the river which we did without further accident. We paid, however, four dollars, for every wagon towed across.
For two hundred miles we wended our weary way on to Fort Boise, a Hudson's Bay Company's trading post kept by an Englishman and his Indian wife, he being the only white person at the post. Here we had to cross the Snake River again which at this place was a quarter of a mile wide, with poor prospects for a crossing as the agent kept the ferry and demanded eight dollars per wagon, just twice what we had paid at other points.
I tried to get an Indian to swim our cattle, but failing, Watt proposed to go with them if I would, which seemed a fair proposition and as they would not go without someone to drive them we started across. Watt carried a long stick in one hand, with the other he held to the tail of old "Lube" a great raw-boned ox who had done faithful service on our long and toilsome journey.
I threw my stick away and went in a little below Watt but found the current very strong and which drifted me down stream. Thinking I should be drowned I shouted at Watt, "I'm gone." He with great presence of mind reached his stick to me, which I grasped with the last hope of saving my life and by this means bore up till I swam to Watt, who caught on to the tail of the nearest ox thus giving me a hold on old "Lube's" tail, welcome hold, too, and one which carried me safely to shore. Only for Watt's coolness and bravery I would have lost my life at the very spot where Mr. Melville's men were drowned the previous evening.
At Grande Ronde a happy surprise awaited us. Nelson Sargent whose father was in our party, had met John Lane who had arrived in advance of us, with the welcome news that a party of workmen had started out from Olympia and Steilacoom to make a road for us through Naches Pass over the Cascades, our being the first party of emigrants to attempt a crossing of the Columbia north of The Dalles. Lane waited at Grand Ronde while Nelson Sargent pushed ahead to meet his aged parents.
Our party was reunited at Grand Ronde, E. A. Light, John Lane and others who had left us at Elk Horn River met us here and continued the journey with us across the Cascades. We went fifty miles further to the Umatilla trail and with thirty-six wagons we rested two days and made preparations for the remainder of the trip. Lest our provisions run short I bought at a trading post here one hundred pounds of flour for which I paid forty dollars in gold coin, unbolted flour it was, too.
We left the emigrant trail at Umatilla and with thirty-six wagons struck out for Fort Walla Walla, a trading post fifty miles further on, kept by an agent of the Hudson's Bay Company, of whom we bought lumber, driftwood from the Columbia River, of which we made a flatboat on which to ferry our goods across the river, afterwards selling or trading the boat to the agent in payment for the lumber.
On the 8th of September, at two o'clock in the afternoon, our boat was finished, and the task of crossing commenced, not a pleasing one, but by working all night everything was safely landed by sunrise the next morning, except our horses and cattle, and these we wanted the Indians to take across for us.
Nelson Sargent was the only man in the crowd that could speak Chinook, but not well enough to make a bargain with the Indians. So we got the agent to hire them to swim our stock, but before they would commence work they must be paid. We gave them eighteen dollars and they brought up twenty-five canoes, forming them in line below the crossing.
We drove our stock into the river and they swam to the opposite shore in safety. Next came the horses. When they were in the middle of the stream, the treacherous Indians laid down their oars and made signs which I understood to mean more money. Meanwhile our horses were drifting downstream where high bluffs were on either side, and it would be impossible for them to land. I took out my purse and offered them more money. They took up their oars and paddled across, landing our horses safely.
The Chief of the Walla Wallas was Peu-Peu-Mox-Mox or Yellow Serpent, a very important person who rode, with the dignity of a king, a large American horse, a beautiful bay, with holsters on his saddle, and a pair of navy revolvers. He was a fine looking Indian fully aware of his power as chief, well demonstrated when we were weighing some beef bought of him, cut in pieces from ten to twenty pounds, but it must be weighed.
The chief went to Mr. Melville, the only man in our party who had scales and taking them in hand examined them carefully, although he could not tell one figure from another. Then he came to me and gave me the scales with a sign that I do the weighing. I weighed, Lane was standing by with a book and pencil in hand to tally. Every time a piece was weighed the chief would spring up, examine the scales closely, give a grunt which meant Yes, and sit down. He continued this until the last piece was weighed.
Our guide, who made a horse trade with Mr. Melville in which he considered himself cheated, grew indignant and deserted us. We were left in a strange country without a landmark, a compass, or guide, nothing to help us. We traveled on, however, to the Yakima River which we crossed.
Here we lost by death one of our party, Mr. McCullough, a relative of Mrs. Woolery. Until this sad event, Mrs. Woolery was the life, the sunshine of the party. Everyone loved Aunt Pop, as she was familiarly called, but this occurrence cast a shadow over her bright face and made the remainder of the journey gloomy when we thought of the lonely grave on the banks of the Yakima.
Our next obstacle was a canyon at Wells Springs, which it seemed impossible to cross. From the Yakima River we had been followed by a band of Indians, who had kept our wives and children in perfect terror, but they chatted and laughed as they rode along with us, the - Tyees or big men being dressed in buckskin leggings handsomely embroidered and breech-clouts made of cedar bark.
The squaws were dressed much the same all with painted faces. The squaws carried the papooses done up in proper Indian fashion and hung to the horns of the saddles, where they bobbed up and down in no easy fashion, especially when the ponies were in full gallop, as they were most of the time.
At Wells Springs, we sent out men to find a better road, as we thought we were lost. The Indians, knowing from this move that we were lost got off their ponies, cleared a small piece of ground, and marked two roads, one leading to the northwest and the other to the northeast, making dots at intervals along each road, the latter having fewer dots than the former. One of them, motioning his hand in an upward and curving line, pointed with the other one to the dots, saying at each one, "Sleeps, sleeps," and at the end of the road, "Soldiers" the only words we could understand and really all the English they could speak.
Lane said to me, "What shall we do?" I replied, "Let us take the road with the fewest sleeps."
Which we did, going northeast for one or two days, when we discovered that we had taken the wrong road. We had no compass and we could have known little more if we had one. We saw before us a perpendicular bluff, which to us looked a thousand feet high, extending far away into the mountains and which we later learned was White Bluffs on the Columbia River.
Here we camped for the night, ordering the Indians to keep a respectful distance, which they did, much to our surprise. However, we placed a double guard out, as we supposed they had led us into this trap in order to massacre our whole party. But I really believe now that their intentions were good, if they had only been able to make us understand them.
The next day we retraced our steps. Upon reaching Wells Springs, the Indians left us, much to our relief. We were further encouraged the same night by the return of Nelson Sargent, who, with others, had gone in advance to look out a good road, with the glad news that after crossing the canyon a good road lay before us; and still better news that they had struck a trail which the Steilacoom and Olympia Company had blazed for the coming emigrants. On the 18th of September, as well as I remember, we crossed the canyon, or rather traversed it, for about a mile of the roughest travel I ever experienced, and came out on a beautiful plain.
We traveled along Coal Creek for two days when we came to Selah Valley on the upper Yakima, which we crossed, taking our course along Wenas Creek. Here we came to a garden kept by Indians of whom we bought thirteen bushels of potatoes, a real feast, though boiled in their jackets.
Following Wenas Creek to its source we crossed the Naches River which we followed for four days, crossing and recrossing it sixty-eight times. Then we left it and started for the summit of the Cascade Mountains, twenty-five miles north of Mount Rainier, which we reached in three days finding fine grass and good water. Here we stopped for a two day rest, giving our tired oxen plenty of food, which they needed for the rest of the trip.
Three miles farther on we came to Summit Hill, where we spliced rope and prepared for the steep descent which we saw before us. One end of the rope was fastened to the axles of the wagons and the other end was thrown around a tree and held by our men. Thus, one by one, the wagons were lowered gradually a distance of three hundred yards when the ropes were loosened and the wagons were drawn a quarter of a mile further with locked wheels.
Here we reached the Greenwater River. All the wagons were lowered safely except the one belonging to Mr. Lane which was crushed to pieces by the breaking of one of the ropes, causing him and his family to make the rest of the trip to the Sound on horseback.
At the top of Summit Hill, my wife and Mrs. E. A. Light had gone ahead of the wagons with their children, taking the circuitous trail which brought them around to the wagon train, for which we were making the road as we went along. As they walked thus, my wife ahead, they were surprised to meet a white man. They had not seen one, except those of our party, since leaving Walla Walla, and little expected to find one in this almost inaccessible place, but were more than pleased by his rude welcome "My God, women, where in the world did you come from?"
The two women shrank against the trees and shrubbery to give him room to pass them with his packhorses, the trail being barely wide enough for one person.
This man was Andrew Burge, sent out from Fort Steilacoom, with supplies for the road-makers who had already given up the job for want of food, which arrived too late for them but in time for us, as our stores were becoming alarmingly low. From these two lone women in the wilderness he learned of our whereabouts, and came at once to persuade us to return to where there was grass and water for our stock, telling us it was impossible for us to make our way over the country before us.
Failing to convince us of this, he set to work to distribute his supplies among us, and returned to Fort Steilacoom, blazing trees as he went and leaving notes tacked up, giving what encouragement he could, and preparing us in a measure for what was before us.
For instance, he said, "The road is a shade better, " A little farther, "A shade worse." Then again, "A shade better." And so on till we were over the bad roads.
We crossed the Greenwater sixteen times, and followed it until we came to the White River which we crossed six times. Then we left it and made a dreary pull over Wind Mountain, which was covered with heavy fir and cedar trees but destitute of grass, with a few vine maples, on whose long leaves our poor oxen and horses had to live for seven days, hot having a blade of grass during that time.
I must not forget to mention that in these dark days, seven of them, we and our half-starved cattle worked the roads every day. We bridged large logs, which already lay on the ground, but cutting others and laying alongside them till we had a bridge wide enough for the oxen to draw our wagons across.
Then all, except John Lane, E. A. Light and myself left our wagons on account of their failing oxen, which they drove before them to Boise Creek Prairie, where there was good grass. Lane, Light and I arrived first, the rest following soon afterwards with their cattle and horses. Four miles farther on we reached Porters Prairie. We again crossed the White River, which made the seventh time, and pushed on to Connell's Prairie, thence to the Puyallup River.
We found the river low and filled with hump-backed salmon. We armed ourselves with various weapons, clubs, axes, and whatever we could get, and all went fishing. Every man who could strike a blow got a fish and such a feast as we had not enjoyed since we had potatoes boiled in their jackets, only fish was far ahead of potatoes. John Meyers declared they were the best fish that he had ever eaten.
Some of the party stayed up all night cooking and eating fish. All relished them but my wife, who was indisposed, but she was fortunate enough in finding an Indian who had just killed a pheasant, which she bought, her first purchase on Puget Sound, and which caused merriment in our party, as the Indian was a perfect nude.
We moved on to Nisqually Plains and camped on Clover Creek, some three hundred yards from the home of Mrs. Mahan. On the 9th day of October, the day after we camped at Clover Creek, the men all went to Fort Steilacoom to see Puget Sound, leaving the women to keep camp.
During their absence Mrs. Mahan took the ladies to her house, where she had prepared dinner which to these tired sisters, after their toilsome journey, was like a royal banquet. After months of camp life to sit once more at a table, presided over by a friend in this faraway land where we thought only to meet strangers was truly an event never to be forgotten.
Before proceeding with my narrative, I will mention the fact of my arrival in this country with torn and ragged pants and coat, my cap tattered and torn, and with one boot on, the other foot covered with an improvised moccasin made from a piece of cowhide from one of the animals we had killed a few days previous.
In this garb I was to meet a party of well-dressed gentlemen from Olympia, who had heard of us from Andrew Burge and who came out to welcome the first party of emigrants direct from the east over the Cascade Mountains north of The Dalles. My dress was a fair sample of that of the rest of the party. When together we felt pretty well, all being in the same fashion, but when brought face to face with well-dressed men I must confess I felt somewhat embarrassed. But our new friends were equal to the emergency. Our embarrassment was soon dispelled, while answering questions amid handshaking, hearty and genial.
On the 10th of October, Mr. Tolmie, chief factor of the Hudson's Bay Company at Fort Nisqually, paid a visit, asking us numerous questions about our long journey and arrival and treating us in a very friendly manner, but soon left after bidding us a polite farewell.
In about three hours he returned with a man driving an ox cart which was loaded with beef, just killed and dressed, which he presented to us, saying, "It is a present to you."
Leaving our families in camp, E. A. Light and John Lane and I started out to look for homes, after having received due notice from the Hudson's Bay Company not to settle on any land north of the Nisqually River. We crossed the river and went to Yelm prairie. I bought a house from Martin Shelton, but no land, as it was yet unsurveyed, and returned for my family.
When I returned to camp, Bill Harmon, who had a logging camp on Puget Sound, was waiting for me. He wanted my boys to work for him and offered them eighty-five dollars per month. They declined until they saw me. I told them to go along, which they did, soon after getting an advance in salary to one hundred dollars per month.
We started to our new home, my wife and children in one wagon drawn by three yoke of oxen, which she drove. I went ahead with another wagon with four yoke of oxen.
Our carriage had long before been left on Burnt River, also the harness, which we saw afterwards with a pair of mules driven past us while on the emigrant trail.
Arriving at home, we found a large number of Indians camped nearby. About thirty of them came the first night to examine things new to them, expressing surprise or satisfaction by grunts and guttural sounds which were Greek to us.
The following winter I took a donation claim in a portion of the farm on which I have since lived. We found but three white families as neighbors, George Braile, a bachelor, and Mr. and Mrs. Levi Shelton, and Mrs. and Mrs. James Hughes, the latter a long time resident of Steilacoom.
James Longmire."The Narrative of James Longmire," Washington Historical Quarterly, XXII(January,1932), and XXIII(April, 1932), ppgs. 47-60, 138-141.
THE ERASTUS LIGHT ACCOUNT
Reminiscences of Erastus Light of his journey across the Plains with the Longmire-Byles Wagon Train of 1853. Published in the Tacoma Ledger, June 19, 1892.
In the fall of 1852, I sold out, mostly on time. On the 1st of April 1853, I found myself ready to continue my journey to the far west. The party consisted of my wife, with a weak, sickly baby two years old, Charles Hadley, John Reagon, two young men who had worked for me a long time, and myself. We had five yoke of oxen, two cows, one Canadian pony, one heavy two horse wagon and one heavy one horse wagon.
We crossed the river and at night found ourselves on a broad prairie without a house in sight. We went on the next morning and as we struck traveled roads at Cedar Rapids, we fell in with two men and their families by the name of Cook, who were on their way to California. I had known the men before, and we decided to travel with them as far as consistent. We found they were very agreeable and were sorry when the parting came. They tried to induce me to change my mind and go to California, but I had started for Puget Sound and nothing could have changed my determination.
One afternoon a driving ran struck us. We were near a house and we laid over until the next day. The people were very hospitable and that night insisted on my wife and I occupying a bed in their house, which we did. It was the last house we slept in for more than six months.
The next day we came to a stream where a bridge or boat was necessary in order to reach the opposite shore. We concluded to make a bridge as a fine grove of poplars stood close by and in a very short time we were landed safely on the other side. We passed one, crossing the Des Moines River where the city of Des Moines stands. Near here we saw a farm house near which was a herd of tame elk.
We journeyed through vast quantities of mud and water until we reached the bottom lands of the Missouri River, where we rested our animals about a week. We then arranged to cross. One morning early at Surprise ferry, below Council Bluffs, while we were camped at the ferry, so as to be on hand early in the morning, I saw John Lane and Sam Ray, acquaintances of mine going on the ferry with a train. I knew they had started for Puget Sound, so I made haste to find them, after crossing the river and made arrangement to travel on their train. Here we reluctantly bid the Cook families good-by and started with the train bound for the Puget Sound.
Before arriving at the Elkhorn River, Lane picked out a camping ground and Sergeant, his brother-in-law chose another. When we came to the place of choosing Lane turned to his place and with seven young men and two wagons following him. The others all went with Sergeant. We started for the ferry early the next morning and found enough wagons waiting to be ferried as to keep the ferry busy for a week. We also noticed some people crossing in dugouts that some emigrants had made.
We bought the canoes but had to wait a day for our turn to come. While watching the men operating the canoes, we saw them when empty coming back for another load run them under the current and the men had to swim for dear life.
We at once made up our minds that there ought to be a deeper canoe. On the upper side of the river we saw a tree out of which we could make one, and all hands put to and by the time we could use it we had it ready.
Lane, the seven young men and myself had all our effects safely across in a short time, with the exception of a loss to Lane of a valuable mare. He had tied a rope to the animal and took the end across the river. He then had the mare pushed into the current and between the mare at the end of the rope and the swift current running over the rope, the mare's head was dragged under water and she was drowned. It was a sore loss to our friend for the mare was a valuable one.
Lane struck out, leaving Sergeant, and the seven young men and myself followed. We had a train of six wagons. It was about four months before we again saw Sergeant and his party.
We guarded our stock well all the way up the Platte River, as we were in constant fear of the Indians. The hunters of the party procured more or less fresh meat. We noted several exciting races after the buffalo.
After we had passed some four hundred miles up the Platte River, just for a change in the monotony, we were treated to a genuine hailstorm, which came upon us without warning. I told Reagon to go on the pony with the cattle which had all run in a huddle and I doubled my three yoke of oxen that were on the big wagon and Hadly brought the big oxen and little wagon on the other side so we had our oxen between us, and we made them stand and take the storm.
The wagons sheltered us a good deal, however. The other men unhitched their teams, and some of the oxen ran away, with their yokes on dragging their chains after them. Some had got the bow off the near ox, and the off ox ran away with the rest of the yoke. When the storm was over, they had great trouble in gathering up their paraphernalia.
After the rain and storm were over some of the cattle were found three miles away. We soon got gathered together and pushed on again. This storm and several succeeding ones forced us to ferry some streams in my wagon box, which I had prepared for this purpose before starting out from home.
We soon began gathering firewood, as we were about to enter a stretch of country about two hundred miles wide where there was no wood to be had. We in time had covered this uninviting strip of country and had camped by good water and a nice grove of trees and laid over for washing.
While here, a hail storm came upon us. The most of the men were out on a hunting expedition at the time. I hurried nearly all the cattle to the center of the grove, and the others ran in themselves. When the hail began to pelt them I tied the lariats of the horses to the first tree I came to. The storm in its fury was soon fully upon us and a large herd of cattle from neighboring camps came rushing by us, passing near the horses, but the lariats being strong kept the horses and the cattle, with a little persuasion from myself and another man who had come to my assistance, decided the best thing to do was to stay where they were.
They wriggled about a little, but we managed to keep them within the grove, notwithstanding the severity of the storm, which proved to be much worse than the first one we experienced. The cattle from the neighboring camps that had rushed by us went on, and when they reached the Platte River, they plunged into it pell-mell and began swimming in a circle in the swift current. Some of them floated on down the river and gained the bank but a great many were drowned.
There was a family camped in a sort of a ravine when the torrents came rushing down the sides of the hill, sweeping their yokes, and wagon, and everything with it down the ravine. The family barely escaped drowning. Most of their things, except their provisions were recovered as they had lodged in some brush a little way down the stream.
A few days after this we were treated to some genuine fun. On the opposite side of the Platte River we saw two men in hot pursuit of a buffalo. When the animal reached the river he plunged in and swam across. His pursuers sent several bullets after him, but missed their mark. Our hunters grabbed their rifles and ran down to welcome the buffalo as he ascended the bank of the river. He scorned their acquaintance and kept at long range and the contents of their rifles did no more good than those of the hunters on the other side of the river, now casting wishful eyes toward their escaping prey.
Lane was on horseback and got quite close, but the buffalo refused to wait for him. In the melee I had become somewhat excited and grabbed my double-barreled shotgun, which was loaded with buckshot, and ran ahead, thinking I might intercept the animal as he left the road, but I failed to connect.
Lane called for me to "come on," as if I could keep pace with him and his game. While Lane stopped to load his gun, I kept a close watch on the game, and noticed that he turned a right angle back toward the road some distance ahead. I saw that Lane had lost his game, and motioned to him where the buffalo had gone. He started in pursuit and soon had him in view, and was close on him, when he again crossed the road, and going up close to an emigrant's camp, stopped and sat down on his haunches not ten feet from him. The man fired his pistol at him and shot him several times and he dropped over dead. The man's wife had fainted and was lying apparently dead. She revived, however, and soon all hands were busy dressing the buffalo. My trip after the animal on foot was the subject of many a hearty laugh.
In a few days after this we were at Fort Laramie. After passing this point some distance, we one day met about one hundred Sioux Indians, all mounted on horses, sitting as straight as so many cobs. Some of them could talk a little English, and relieved somewhat of our fears. We then fully realized how utterly helpless we would be if we were attacked by these people. We felt that providence was on our side however, and that we should all be safe on Puget Sound.
We soon saw the Platte River for the last time. We left the Black Hills behind us and were passing ponds of alkali water near the Sweetwater River. Near the crossing of this river is located the famous Independence Rock, which is nearly covered with the names of travelers. Up the river a mile or so is the noted Devil's pass, where the Sweetwater river cuts a narrow channel through the mountains of rock and forms nearly perpendicular walls, up which lunatics have crawled to incredible heights to inscribe their names.
We agreed that we could get along very well without the light wagon, and a few days after crossing the Sweetwater we left it standing on our old camping place. We left it in good condition, cover and everything else complete. We favored our cattle in every way we could. To the light wagon we had yoked the finest yoke of oxen we had seen on the plains. A few days later after we abandoned the wagon, it passed us with a span of mules drawing it.
The principal game in this section was antelope and jack rabbits, of which we got our share.
In going through the South pass of the Rocky mountains, there was a gale of wind that we could scarcely make our animals face. It kept the sand and gravel rolling and some of the lighter pebbles were picked up by the wind and blown with such force that they left a stinging sensation if they hit anything that had the sense of feeling.
When we reached Big Sandy river we found we were on a road which we didn't care to travel, so before crossing we struck down to the right losing about a day's travel. On reaching the Green river we found several of our party indisposed. Some of them did not regain their health until we reached the Bear River mountains, where we rested a couple of days.
After our rest we went down into the valley of Bear River where we arrived in the evening. The mosquitoes were so thick it was almost impossible to breathe. Our stock suffered terribly. From this river we caught some trout.
In this valley the big black crickets were so thick for miles that they nearly covered the ground. The Indians gathered them, fried them and used them for food so we were told. The night we arrived at Soda Springs we didn't much like the actions of some Indians we noticed prowling around, and we had extra guards out, and there was not much sleeping done among us. We drank from these springs, which had a very pleasant taste.
Here we parted with the seven young men who had been members of our party. They were going to California and had accompanied us as far as practicable for them. We regretted to lose them from our train, for they were all educated, enterprising, civil young men, and hailed from New York.
Lane and his people, with our three wagons, turned into the road that led to Puget Sound and made very good progress to Fort Hall and American Falls on the Snake River. We passed on down the Snake River to Salmon Falls, above which we crossed to the other side. We swam our cattle and horses and ferried our wagons. These falls are nothing more than steep rapids, or water rushing and foaming over rocks about half mile, while the American is a perpendicular fall of the whole river.
The morning we left Salmon Falls we saw a drove of cattle, several hundred of them going over the falls. The leaders got turned down the stream and the balance followed, and nothing could have stopped them. Some of the men barely escaped drowning. It was a terrible sight to see them rolling and tumbling over the rocks. All were badly injured and many killed outright.
While on the north side of the Platte river, our cattle got poisoned and three of my oxen died. Lane also lost several cattle. When on our way down Boise river we bought some red meated salmon from some Indians. It was the first we had ever seen. We decided unanimously that it was the best fish we had eaten.
When we were almost ready to cross the Boise River, we were encamped one evening expecting to cross the next day, when suddenly there was a noise as if bedlam had been thrown open, and the occupants were exerting themselves in celebrating the occasion. The brush between us and the place where the noise evidently originated obstructed our view, but knowing that the Indians were the cause of the proceedings we were very anxious. We were badly frightened and pulled a little distance away by a patch of brush where we camped without any fire, and with the open prairie around us.
All hands stood guard that night, but we saw no Indians. In the morning we found that one of their number had died and that they had been working all night for his benefit by shouting and hammering on boards, which noise was supposed to frighten the devil away. Whether or not their demonstrations succeeded in keeping that dignitary at a distance I do not know, but they certainly kept us pretty well stirred up.
After crossing the Boise River we were soon at Fort Boise, and here we ferried back across the Snake River to the south side. Two men and myself had crossed the river and tried to induce the cattle to make a good landing. One of my large oxen had been poisoned and was barely able to make his way, and we decided to keep him back and cross him in some other way. He was driven to one side and the other cattle pushed into the stream. They made a good and safe landing.
The sick ox had seen the cattle make the landing and had entered the stream, and to our surprise came to the bank where he would have died if we had not had ropes and some way of getting him on dry ground and on his feet. He improved from this time on and did me a good winter's work and in the spring I sold the yoke to the honorable Henry Roder of Whatcom for three hundred fifty dollars.
We tramped on to the Malheur River where we saw scalding hot water gushing out of the bank at the edge of the stream. We thought we must be pretty close to a hot place we had read about and moved on. In a few days we laid by to do our washing and we had to heat our water. We soon discovered that the stream by which we were camped had plenty of salmon in it. I had a fine five tined steel spear with me, but the fish kept out of reach in deep water.
We made a sort of a barrack out of brush and tied it firmly together and put a rope on each end and dragged the stream. I placed myself so as to catch the fish as they came down the stream, but they were so frantic in trying to escape the brush that was hurrying them on that they stranded on the sand at the banks of the river and the men kicked them out on dry land, and in a short time we had more than we could take care of for want of salt. We had great sport, and felt happy that we were journeying on toward the land of fish and clams.
We passed over the hills and entered the Burnt River valley and on down into the Grande Ronde valley where we met Nelson Sergeant of Olympia who was on the way to meet his father's family and conduct them over the Naches Pass in the Cascades. We told him we would camp there until he came back and we waited ten days. The Indians were numerous. We had some interviews with them by means of gesticulations. We found trout in the stream nearby and had a good time in general, or as good as we could whilst in a place where we were surrounded by Indians.
Finally our old friends we had left at Elkhorn river rolled into camp and we had a genuine old love feast, relating our experiences since we had last traveled together. The next morning we started on our journey over the Blue Mountains, crossed Wild Horse Creek valley and the valley of the Walla Walla, crossing the latter river at the point where Dr. Whitman's home was at the time he and his family were massacred. In due time we reached Wallula on the great river of the great northwest, where we were delayed a week waiting for the ferry boat to be completed.
One afternoon the Indians put into a corral a band of wild horses. They would lasso one, blindfold him, array him with one of their primitive saddle horse gearings, then they would worry him away from the yard when an Indian would mount him and pull a surcingle up across his knees which would effectively tie him to the horse, which would naturally make some wild breaks for liberty. After becoming pretty well tired out the rider would pull the blind up from the horse's eyes after which followed a great exhibition of leaping, jumping and floundering around, extraordinary in the extreme, and generally ended in a run which continued until the horse was quieted.
Lane and myself again differed from Sergeant and his people about the best time and place to swim our cattle across the Columbia. We thought it best to cross where we were and to do so early in the morning before the sun would be in our cattle's eyes. Although the river was wider here than further up, the current was not so swift.
We made a bargain with Pew-Pew-Mox-Mox to have a number of Indian canoes accompany our cattle and make them cross as straight as possible. The cattle reached the shore in good shape. The remaining cattle and horses were taken further up the river to the foot of an island and successfully crossed over.
We ferried everything across that could not swim. The Indians, after getting the stock half way across the river, ceased their efforts and refused to go farther without additional pay. There was no alternative but to pay them what they demanded as the sun was then shining in the cattle's eyes and they were turning and going with the current. More pay, however, induced the Indians to make further efforts and they succeeded in landing all the stock, but some of them quite a distance down the river.
I went after the stock and while on the trip I came across a rattlesnake. I had not yet learned to love these reptiles, and I quickly dispatched him. This was the only venomous reptile I ever saw in this state.
We proceeded up the Yakima river following an Indian trail, and crossed the river where the town of Prosser is now located Pew-Pew-Mox-Mox had gone on before us and had a beef dressed for us, waiting near where the trail left the river and went around and through some small mountains. The beef was a good one and was bought at a reasonable price.
At this point we dug a grave and buried a man by the name of James McCulloch, the only one of our company that died on the journey. The funeral services were lonely and solemn and the occasion was particularly sad. I carved his name on a board and placed it at the head of his grave. We had seen a great number of graves one and two years old on the way, especially on the north side of the Snake River where these lonely marks of former travelers were quite numerous.
However, the whole road was a succession of graves. Probably no year had been more exempt from sickness and trouble with the Indians since emigration had begun than in the year 1853.
After completing the sad rite of this morning we continued on our journey on the Indian trail, reaching a pool of water where we camped until the next morning. After traveling some miles we reached a place in the trail which we concluded was impassable. It was unanimously agreed that it was best that Mr. Sergeant should go on and find out for certainty whether or not the emigrants of Puget Sound had opened a road by way of the Natchez River.
We went back to the place where we had camped the night before and camped again. I climbed to the top of a mountain and took a look over the valley. Below me lay the valley where the Yakima cities are now situated, then barren of civilization.
Upon my return to camp I learned that some Indians had been there and had succeeded in making the members of the party believe that we should have taken a right hand trail. The majority seemed to favor going that way and accordingly the next morning we set off on the right hand trail. After a hard days tramp we found ourselves in a small valley on the banks of the Columbia River, where we camped for the night. I had seen the Columbia River from the top of the mountains and knew we would reach it soon, but did not know that the trail followed a rocky bluff along which no wagon could go, which proved to be the case.
The women of the party generally believed it was a scheme on the part of the Indians to get us into this place and murder us, and consequently we spent the night in anything but a happy mood. Early the next morning we were on the move again, returning to our pool of water.
When we reached that place Mr. Sergeant soon put in an appearance and reported that the road was cut up the Natchez River, which resulted in livening our spirits somewhat, and we determined to work our way through someway or other following the ravines and gulches. We had first thought it impossible but came to the conclusion that "...where there is a will there is a way." We retraveled our route and passed on overcoming all obstacles by putting on more strength, rough-locking the wheels, etc. as the case required.
We soon found ourselves fording the Yakima river the second time, and after following it a few miles we crossed Wenas Creek and followed it for some distance. Rough-locking all the wheels, we let ourselves down the side of the mountain into the Natchez River which in following we forded sixty-two times over a rocky bottom.
This accomplished we left the terrible stream for such we had come to regard it, and traveled through heavily timbered lands on quite an easy grade, passing up to the summit of the Natchez Pass. In this place I measured one fir tree that measured more than ten feet in diameter and one hundred feet to the first limb, and which retained its full size well. On the summit of this pass I picked my first whortleberries.
The next morning early we started down the western slope, and after safely descending two steep slopes we reached a third, to look down which was enough to take the starch out of any living being except a pioneer. Our team could not go down the first few hundred feet in yokes, but unyoking them, we took them around singly on a sort of a trail. We then rough-locked all the wheels and fastened a long rope to the hind axeltree, the further end of which rope was wound several times around a tree, and by letting the rope out a little by little, the wagons reached the place where it was level enough to again hitch the oxen to them.
When my turn came I announced my determination of passing my team and wagon down without unhitching, whereupon there were many expressions as to my sanity. I also was called many undeserving pet names and especially by an old woman who was in the train who seemed to think she had a peculiar right to give vent to her surprise and indignation.
I had the men who were tending the rope wound round the tree take particular precaution about letting the rope out, and told them to keep the rope tight enough to allow the oxen to lean their weight in the yoke. After making everything secure, I started over the precipice, reaching the lower level safely, where I hitched my cattle, that had been taken down before to the wagon and moved on down the mountain out of the way of those who were to follow.
The remaining ones on the top of the mountain decided to follow my lead and all moved down the side of the hill like clock work, nothing happening until when Lane started down the precipice. From some mismanagement his wagon got away from him and went crashing down the mountain, where he left it until the next season. He packed his goods on his horses and we again took up the journey.
The Greenwater river was soon reached where we camped, and where we had nothing but fir and cedar brush for our cattle to eat. The next morning we moved down the Greenwater river which stream we forded fifteen times, on a bottom of rolling boulders.
On this tortuous route all our people preferred walking as bruises and bumped heads had taught them that there was no certainty of the wagons always being the right side up, the wheels passing over logs, roots, and knolls made a seat in the wagon quite uncomfortable. On foot they followed the trail over some spurs of the mountain and thus avoided some of the crossings of the river, which certainly was not regretted.
On arriving at White River, we struck an open spot of gravel prairie at the foot of Mount Latate, a rock several hundred feet in height, with the form of a person's head on the top of it. The name Latate is the Indian word meaning head.
At this point we were met with a second supply of provisions from the Sound, which was timely indeed, for some of our people had begun to feel the pangs of hunger. The obstructions and delays by rains in the mountains, together with the work that had to be done, had nearly worn our people out, and the meeting with these good Samaritans with their hospitable donations gave us good cheer and renewed our ambitions and we started on feeling much better for the meeting.
In passing down the White River, which we crossed seven times, we encountered a fire which had felled much of the timber which was a great detriment to us as we had to remove it from our way, causing us considerable delay, besides being exceedingly dangerous from the falling trees and limbs.
The crossing of the White River was the most dangerous of any stream we had encountered, on account of the milky appearance of the water, probably caused by the continual grinding of the glaciers on the rocky, chalky, clayey surface of Mount Tacoma. We could not see hidden rocks, and we were in constant danger while crossing the stream.
Our cattle had fared badly without grass and before we were all across Mud Mountain, some of the teams gave out and had to be taken on to where grass could be found, and after being refreshed with something to eat returned for the wagons.
In ascending this mountain many of the teams were not able to take their wagons up all the way. Some were taken up by means of a pole, some chains and some elbow grease applied at the small end of the pole. This was done by placing the butt end of a long pole on the upper side of a small tree, the end projecting beyond the tree some four or five feet to the end of which was attached a chain. At the same distance from the tree on the long end of the pole was fastened another chain. The ends of these two chains were fastened to a single leading chain which was attached to the wagon.
Several men would take the long end of the pole back and forth up and down the hill, some one being on hand to hit the two chains alternately as they bent loose. Each motion of the pole back and forth took the wagon up the side of the hill. While this operation may seem a little tedious, the reader will understand that we were then on our way to the far west.
The honorable James Longmire, John Lane and myself had better teams than most of the other members of our train, and we moved on, crossed Boise creek and camped on the prairie a day ahead of the rest. The following night we camped on Connell's prairie and the next on the Puyallup River bank.
While in the latter camp we put my spear to good use catching hump backed salmon which made us a luscious feast, and which we all enjoyed. The next time we camped was on Nisqually Plains, near Christopher Mahan's place from where we went to Steilacoom with one team, returning to camp on the 10th day of October, 1853 and for the first time saw a branch of the briny ocean.
Erastus Light, Steilacoom, Washington. The Sunday Ledger, Tacoma, Washington, June 19, 1892.
THE VAN OGLE ACCOUNT
Van Ogle's Memory of Pioneer Days, Washington Historical Quarterly, XIII (October,1922), ppgs. 269-272. by Van Ogle.
It was in 1853 I came to Washington territory, leaving my home in Newtown, Indiana with the family of Mr. Asher Sarjent I was to have all my expenses paid if I would assist them on the seven months and ten days journey across the plains.
We joined others at Council Bluffs, then a small place, built of logs and not half the present size of Waterville. Not more than one hundred people live there and those nearly all Mormons.
About twenty-five wagons left there with us and many others joined as we journeyed on, so that, looking back for a distance of ten miles on the plains, the long line of wagons seemed always in evidence. Only those who feared the Indians or got away into the nearby places for extra feed for teams were apt to get into trouble with them.
At Green River we had trouble with the Mormons, who had eleven ferry boats and demanded five dollars per wagon for taking us over, the teams were to swim. We were going down the river to ford, when one of them offered to take us over for two dollars and fifty cents. We got one wagon over when the other Mormons came down and tried to stop us. So we had to get out our rifles and stood by until every wagon had crossed or we would have shot the intruders. It was a very exciting time for the Fourth of July.
Three or four days later we arrived at Bear River where another mishap occurred. We turned our oxen out to feed on the nice looking grass for a couple of hours and forty head of them got poisoned and would have died but for the prompt administration of melted grease, by which many were saved.
Camping at Soda Springs, we rested them again before leaving the California Road and going north toward the Snake River. Crossing it and journeying on for a week we recrossed and came into the Powder River Country, thence to the Grande Ronde. Crossing the Blue Mountains we left the Oregon Road and came to the present site of Walla Walla, proceeded to Wallula on the Columbia River, halting at an old Hudson's Bay Company fort.
There we whip-sawed lumber, constructed a boat from it and driftwood and crossed the Columbia River, swimming the cattle. Up this on the west side until coming to the outlet of the Yakima River and crossing on the north side. One day's journey and our Indian guide, whom we had hired on the Columbia left us.
It was very smokey indeed and unwise to go forward but some insisted so we travelled a whole day, to return for water. Other Indians appeared and volunteered to Pilot us to the western crossing of the Yakima. They took the wrong trail on coming to a forked crossing and we found ourselves down the Columbia below Priest Rapids, a high bluff preventing our ascent. Returning, we dispensed with the Indians, took the other trail, and in three days came to the Yakima at our intended crossing.
After killing a beef and resting awhile, we travelled up the Wenas River to the Naches, arriving on the 21st of September, my birthday. We were a week getting to the summit of the Cascades, this being the hardest part of our journey.
Provisions were running low; all were tired and many discouraged, when it seemed advisable to send two of the men ahead to Steilacoom, one hundred and twenty-five miles. Roads were partly in shape as the Government had appropriated fifty thousand dollars for their construction. The Army Post at Steilacoom sent packhorses well laden with supplies, Olympia assisting in ministering to our needs and sorely pressed we were.
Leaving the summit, we went about six miles on a backbone, steep slopes on each side to the jumping off place. Mr. Lane was in the lead that day. He had a team of four horses. We rough-locked all the wheels of his wagon with chains.
He started down with two men to hold the tongue of his wagon, the horses being taken off and a rope around a tree behind his wagon. The distance of the steep grade was one hundred eighty feet. It was too steep for a footing. The wagon swung around, broke the coupling and tongue and upset.
They could not hold it back or steady it. My team was next in line. I drove for Mr. Sarjent, so I had to follow. I was driving four yoke of oxen. I took off three yoke, leaving only the tongue yoke. All the wheels were rough-locked with chains.
One hundred and eighty feet of rope was attached to the hind axle of the wagon and passed around a stout tree. Two men gradually let out the rope. The oxen braced their feet and slid straight down hill the length of the rope without lifting a foot.
Mr. Sarjent had brought this rope with him, coiled up and fastened to the under side of the wagon box of one of his wagons. He thought he might need it. We had sent Mr. Lane ahead with his horses to get food for us. Then I drove a quarter of a mile with the wheels roughlocked and the other oxen pulling. All the teams came down this way, the loose cattle went over Indian trails.
Thirty-eight wagons came over that hill in that way. Lane's wagon was left behind. About a year later he went back and got it. Then we were seven days until we got to Boise Creek, across the river from where Buckley is now. We left wagons up in the mountains and had to go back after them. There were no oxen killed for skins at all. I was twenty-eight years old and I saw everything that was going on.
Van Ogle, "Van Ogle's Memory of Pioneer Days," Washington Historical Quarterly XIII (October, 1922), ppgs. 269-272.
Mr. Van Ogle was born in Adams County, Ohio on September 21, 1825 and died at Orting, Washington on February 15, 1919.
THE HIMES ACCOUNT
An account of crossing the plains in 1853 and the first trip by immigrants through the Cascade Mountains via Natchess Pass by George H. Himes. Transactions of the Thirty-Fifth Annual Session of the Oregon Pioneer Association. Portland, Oregon, June 19,1907, ppgs. 139-152.
My father was greatly disappointed in not being able to start in 1852, but he was ready the following year and left Lafayette, Stark County, Illinois, on March 21, 4:00 o'clock P.M. with his wife and four children, three hired men, and one boy, the son of one of the men; also John Dodge, wife and five children, three of them adults.
It may seem curious that my father should begin such a journey as crossing the plains at such an hour. The reason was this: Several weeks prior he had set Monday, March 21, 1853, as the day he proposed to start for Oregon, and start he would, even though it might be at "early candle lighting. "We traveled six miles and camped on the edge of a small village. Soon two men came around the camp, apparently impelled by curiosity. Father spoke to them kindly, saying (pointing to our dog), "You are welcome to look around the camp as much as you like, but if you touch anything without my permission that dog will bite you."
The men jeered at him, and one said, "We'll touch things if we want to, dog or no dog. If you know what's good for the brute, you'll tie him up. "Father saw that the men were slightly intoxicated and straightway called the attention of the constable, requesting him to take care of them.
The request was not heeded, however, and inside of an hour, as they became more intoxicated, they began meddling while my father was absent for a little while, and both were badly bitten. An attempt was made to kill the dog, but father resolutely stood guard over the faithful animal with rifle in hand until the drunken men and their friends were disposed of.
Nothing occurred outside of the ordinary routine of the emigrant's daily experience until we reached Council Bluffs. There we had to wait several days before crossing the Missouri, the ferry-boat, having been washed away. At length a steamboat hove in sight, bound up stream, and was hailed and the captain appealed to to take us across the river. This he refused to do, but said that he would return within two days, and that if there were five hundred wagons ready to cross he would stop and ferry them over.
The two days passed and on the morning of the third day a dim column of smoke was observed by the lookout, indicating that a steamboat was coming down.
Everybody was on the tiptoe of expectancy. A courier was dispatched to the landing and all arrangements were made for crossing. The price was two and one half dollars for each wagon and one dollar for each span of horses or yoke of cattle. We had two wagons, five yoke of oxen and two span of horses, hence our bill for ferriage was twelve dollars.
The day passed and the night was far spent before the last of the emigrants were transferred from Iowa soil to the then eastern edge of the Indian country. It was the good fortune of our own little company to have had our turn on the ferry about the middle of the afternoon, hence we drove out two miles or more from the river to a small stream for the first night's camp.
As we ascended the bluff from the river, near what is now the present site of Omaha, Mr. Dodge and father were riding on horseback. I was walking alongside the road in the tangled grass, and the teams were a little way ahead. Among other things, Mr. Dodge, said, "Himes, do you think this country will ever be settled up?"
Father replied at once by saying, "Yes, I think it will be, I should not be surprised to see a fine city here inside of twenty-five years."
Dodge, in reply, said, "Well, if I thought that I'd not travel West another mile." Father then said, "Well, if I knew it beyond a doubt I would not stay here. I started to Oregon in 1846, but was taken sick in Illinois, and had to stay there nearly six years; but now I have got started again and I am going through to that country if I live."
We narrowly escaped having trouble during our first night in camp after crossing the Missouri. A number of Pawnee Indians came about, to see what was going on, and one of their number, bent on pilfering, was badly bitten by our dog Frank, a thoroughly trained watchdog, one that would not molest anyone, not even an Indian unless he tried to steal. The other Indians threatened to shoot the dog, being armed with bows and arrows, but father stood guard and saved the dog's life.
A similar experience occurred when we were about two hundred miles out on the Platte one day at the noon camp. At this time twenty or more Sioux Indians, with a lot of squaws and papooses, rode up and offered to trade buffalo robes for tobacco and beads. While the barter was going on a stalwart young Indian stealthily slipped around to the rear of our freight wagon, and removed a cup from the top of a can of milk which was standing there. Instantly the dog jumped upon the Indian and bore him to the ground.
As he went down he yelled fearfully, and his companions drew their bows and were about to let their arrows fly at the dog, whereupon father grabbed his rifle from the wagon bows, and with finger on the trigger, aimed at the foremost Indians, not more than thirty feet distant, who had his bow drawn taut, and with his eye gleaming along the barrel gave the savage to understand that if he let his arrow fly at the dog he would be shot instantly.
The result was that the Indians, upon a signal from their leader, unstrung their bows. Then father called the dog off, and the tin cup rolled out from under the Indian's blanket, indicating that the dog knew what he was about. The Indians then sullenly mounted their horses and rode away.
After this incident nothing occurred out of the ordinary course until the latter part of June, perhaps four or five days before Fort Laramie was reached. Then one night we were overtaken by a terrific thunder storm, followed by a cloudburst, which came near wiping our little company of sixteen persons, nine adults and seven children, out of existence.
The condition of our company on the morning after this disaster cannot be adequately described. The night before we had camped in a broad, most beautiful valley, where wood and water were abundant, with luxuriant grass for the animals. About ten o'clock it began raining with increased violence, as the night advanced, and by midnight was accompanied by lightning until it seemed as if the heavens were on fire and the rapid peals of ear splitting thunder made the earth fairly tremble.
About three o'clock in the morning Joel Risdon, one of our men, who was near the door of the family tent, said, "Something has broken loose in the direction of the hills, I hear an awful roaring." A few minutes later he again said, "This is an awful night. That roaring is surely more distinct! Surely something must have broken loose! "And then looking toward the hills from the tent, he said, "I see something white coming this way! Get up" and we all sprang to our feet and a wave of water more than two feet deep, filled with hailstones as large as good-sized cherries swept through our camp.
Guided by the lightning we sought refuge in our wagons. My sister, six years old, was missed, and father sprang out into the flood to find her if possible and she was recovered by the aid of the faithful dog.
Thus we awaited the approach of daylight, and then a scene beggaring description appeared. Not a blade of grass, not an animal in sight. Every person was chilled to the marrow, and not a splinter of wood of any kind to be had to build a fire; and father had a severe attack of pleurisy, caused by exposure during the night.
The men decided that probably the animals had taken to the foothills, apparently three or four miles distant, and accordingly went in that direction and luckily found them in a few hours. By four o'clock the teams were ready to move, and we traveled about four miles and camped near a large company of people, who, seeing our distressed condition vied with each other in affording relief, and it was not long before we were enjoying the luxury of a warm meal as a result of the neighborliness of a number of Kentucky, Indiana, and Missouri families.
Upon examination, it was found that several sacks of flour, and a considerable quantity of sugar and salt had been damaged by the flood of the night before.
From the place where these families were joined under the circumstances described, and on westward to the Umatilla River, they traveled together for the most part in the main under the leadership of James Biles, although C. B. Baker, William R. Downey, William M. Kincaid and my father were often counseled with whenever especially difficult conditions were encountered, and these were of frequent occurrence.
In due time the Grand Ronde Valley was reached. This was early in August. Here we were met by E. N. Sarjent, who came from Puget Sound to meet his father's family, who were in our train. He urged all to go to Northern Oregon (Puget Sound), the conditions being better there for settlement than in the Willamette Valley, according to his judgement; and he said as an additional inducement to go thither that a wagon road was being made by the settlers of Puget Sound to the Columbia by way of the Natchess Pass.
While it had been the intention of the greater number of this company to settle in the Willamette Valley, the conditions portrayed by Mr. Sarjent were so alluring that most of the company decided to go thither. In the case of our family there was urgent need that we should go with some one or more persons upon whom we could depend for supplies in case of an emergency, as loss of stock and other untoward circumstances had caused delays which had not been contemplated, hence there was a prospect that our supplies might give out.
Mr. James Biles, learning of the condition of our family, said to my father, "I have decided to go to Puget Sound, if you will go along I will see you safely through, and you can pay me when you get ready. "Such an offer, under existing conditions, would not be passed by lightly; hence, after due consideration, it was accepted. The company pressed on over the Blue mountains and reached the Umatilla River about August 15, 1853. Two days later one hundred and fifty-five persons, with thirty-six wagons, left the Umatilla, a little ways below the site of the present City of Pendleton, the place was called Swift's Crossing, and drove direct to old Fort Walla Walla on the Columbia River.
We expected to find a Hudson's Bay Company flatboat at this place, but did not and therefore had to stop to whipsaw plank out of the driftwood to build a boat. After crossing the Columbia River, we made for the Yakima River, followed up that stream for some distance and crossed it eight times.
Then we struck out for the point where the Natchess River emerges from the mountains, and after a number of toilsome days' marching through sagebrush as high as the top of a covered wagon, it frequently had to be cut out of the way, we arrived at the edge of the timber bordering the mountains about September 17th or 18th. While going through the Yakima country, one of our number, a Mr. McCullough, died, leaving a widow with two little girls, the eldest perhaps eight years old, and the youngest only a babe, having been born on the westward journey. The former afterwards became the wife of N. S. Porter, a well known lawyer of Olympia and the latter for many years has been connected with the Providence Academy, Vancouver, Washington.
Among those who came over the mountains from Thurston County to assist the immigrants in getting in was a bachelor named Benjamin Gordon. He thus became acquainted with Mrs. McCullough, and was able to assist her a good deal, and in due time married her. The death and birth were all that occurred in this immigrant company, and considering the number, it was considered a most remarkable record.
At the last camp on the Blue Mountains before reaching the Umatilla River, an incident happened which I will mention. While preparations for the evening meal were under way a number of Indians rode up, all well mounted on a number of the most beautiful ponies that I ever saw up to that time, all dressed in gay costume with feathers and fringes abounding.
One of the Indians, the leader of the rest, whom we afterwards found out was the noted Walla Walla chief, Peu-Peu-Mox-Mox, came near our camp and seemed especially interested in my baby sister, then ten months old, who had beautiful golden hair. I was taking care of the little girl at the time and noticed that the Indian eagerly watched every movement I made in trying to amuse the child.
Nothing was thought of the Indian's visit that night, but the next morning, in some accountable way, hundreds of Indian ponies were found grazing near the camp. What this meant no one knew at first, but the mystery was soon solved. Sarjent, who was out early that morning looking after his father's team, discovered that the Indians were driving the ponies towards the camp under orders from Chief Peu-Peu-Mox-Mox, who proposed to trade them for the little red-haired girl.
This information was conveyed to my mother by Mr. Sarjent, and the offer of the great chief was respectfully declined much to his apparent sorrow, as he rode away following by his bodyguard, meanwhile striking his breast and saying, "Ni-ka tum-tum wake skoo-kum!" Meaning that his heart was very sick.
After the first night's camp in the pine timber at the edge of the Cascade Range, we began to realize that all previous experiences in crossing mountain ranges were insignificant as compared with those which we were about to encounter. The road which we expected to find was scarcely more than an Indian trail, but there we were, and the idea of retracing our steps could not be thought of for a moment.
We must go forward; there was no other course to follow. Sarjent himself was disappointed. He knew the settlers had started to make a road across the mountains and was at a loss to understand why it was not finished; and since his relatives were in our company it was clear that he did not intend to deceive us. But now was the time for action.
Hence we pushed on as best we could, following the bed of the stream part of the time, first on one bank and then on the other. Frequently we came to impassable places and then recourse was had to high ground, where we cut our way through the dense timber, frequently not advancing more than three miles a day. Altogether the Natchess River was crossed sixty eight times.
On this journey there was a stretch of fifty miles without a blade of grass, the sole subsistence of the horses and cattle being browse from alder and maple trees, not very nutritious, to say the least. Every person, from ten years old and upwards, including the women, assisted in making the excuse for a road more passable. It certainly was a trying time for the women of the company, and much speculation was indulged in as to the probability of reaching the settlements. One woman with two children, Mrs. Abraham Woolery, "Aunt Pop" as she was called, would break down and shed tears every little while; but frequently in the midst of her weeping she would rally and with some quaint remark or funny story, cause everybody to laugh and forget their troubles, in spite of their misery.
At length Summit Prairie was reached. We were in sight of Mount Rainier, that mighty peak looming up only twenty-five miles south of us. Here we spent the night and it was bitter cold, the time being about October 1st, and snow abounding in all directions, although there was none in our immediate vicinity.
The next morning an early start was made and in less than an hour the company halted. My mother, the young children and I were somewhat in the rear at this time, and as we came close to discover the cause of the delay, she exclaimed: "Well, I guess we have come to the jumping-off place at last!"
And no wonder, for there we were confronted by a bluff fully thirty feet high, almost perpendicular, and for a thousand feet farther it was so steep that an animal could scarcely stand up, and there was no other way to go, as careful examination demonstrated.
It was soon decided that the wagons should be lowered with ropes, and the teams driven single file by a circuitous trail to the foot of the mountain. Accordingly a long rope was stretch down the hill, but it was not long enough to lower a wagon to a place where it would stand up. Then James Biles said, "Kill one of the poorest of my steers, make a rope of his hide and see if that will be long enough; if not, kill another. "Three animals were killed before the length of rope required was secured.
After each wagon was lowered to the end of the rope, a yoke of oxen was hitched to the wagon, and by rough locking, and attaching small logs with projecting limbs to the rear, it was taken down about a quarter of a mile and across Greenwater River, where we camped that night. It required almost two days to make this descent. Two of the thirty-six wagons were hopelessly wrecked on the hill, and a small quantity of provisions lost.
The loss of the wagons did not matter, but not so with the provisions, as the company suffered for want of food before supplies could be secured at Connell's Prairie, probably forty or fifty miles southwest of the present city of Tacoma.
After leaving camp at Greenwater River, evidences of road work were a little more apparent, and hence better progress was made. Complaints were rarely heard, for the main reason that growling over our forlorn condition was unprofitable and made bad matters worse. The teams suffered dreadfully, however, for want of food, and not a day passed but that some of the animals dropped in their tracks, and were left to die alongside the rugged trail.
Pathetic indeed, were these experiences in being compelled to leave faithful beasts in the wilderness to starve. But there was no help for it, grievous as it might seem, and the animals were shot to end their misery.
The C. B. Baker family had a blooded Kentucky mare, which became so exhausted as to be unable to get up one morning, and it was decided that she would have to be left behind. To this Mrs. Baker objected, the animal being one that she thought a great deal of; and she told her husband to go on, that she would work with the mare a while, and would catch up with the teams in due time.
So she gathered leaves, fed the beast, gave her water, talked to her encouragingly, finally got her on her feet, started for the wagons and caught up with them at the noon camp. A little later this animal got down the second time, and was about to be abandoned to her fate, but the love, patience and determination of Mrs. Baker, Aunt Fanny, as she was known by all, triumphed and the mare was saved to become the dam of some of the best running horses known in the early days of Washington and Oregon.
The last day's journey before reaching Connell's prairie cannot be forgotten. It came near having a tragic ending. Several days before, the teams being so jaded, it was decided that it would be good policy to drive to the prairie and let them recruit on the luxuriant bunch grass. This was done and the women and children and wagons were left in camp.
In a week most of the teams returned, greatly strengthened. The next day all started on foot to the prairie, and notwithstanding the fact that but few if any of the party had any breakfast all were jubilant over the prospect of getting out of the wilderness to a place where food could be obtained for man as well as beast. All the food our family had that day consisted of a scanty supply of salal berries picked as we trudged along.
The party generally were short of provisions. At this time our teams had dwindled down to two horses and two yoke of oxen. We had one wagon, the other having been abandoned. Joel Risdon, was our teamster, and his entire load was the bedding, cooking utensils, and a scanty supply of clothing much the worse for wear. Father, having the horses in charge, did not return to camp because the animals were in such a wretched condition.
My duty that day was to assist my mother as best I could in taking care of three younger children, a sister nearly seven years old, a brother three and a half, and the baby, ten months old. I carried the little brother on my back part of the time, and when not so engaged, did what I could to lighten my mother's burden by carrying the baby.
Along the middle of the afternoon one of the crossings of the White River was reached. At that point it was not fordable, and the teams had to make a detour of a mile down stream in order to find a safe crossing; then the route lay upstream to within a short distance of the place where the river was first seen. Here all on foot passed over on a huge tree which had fallen across the stream, reaching from bank to bank, a distance of over one hundred feet, and on the other side it was partially submerged, the current causing it to sway slightly.
It so happened that all were ahead of us, and as we came to the big footlog, mother said she must rest a little before undertaking to cross. So I took my sister, brother and baby to the farther shore, one after the other and then was ready to aid mother.
At length she was ready to start, and after considerable effort to get up on the log she clutched my hand and we began moving. When we were approaching the further shore, the movement of the log by the water caused her to exclaim, "I can't go, it makes me so dizzy." "Cling to me," I said.
When almost across she suddenly exclaimed, "oh, I am gone and fell into the water. Luckily I was in reaching distance of overhanging bushes, which were instinctively grabbed with my left hand, still clutching her left hand with my right. The cold water brought her to consciousness at once, and when she was safe on the land, after wringing out her skirts, we went on perhaps for about two miles, and then, after ascending a steep hill and emerging from the timber, we saw lights a little way off.
By this time mother was utterly exhausted and said I must find father, as she could go no further. I found him in a few minutes and we bore her to the fire, and after some nourishment, only baked potatoes without salt, however, for that night, she began to be herself, and was ready to move on the next day. After that we had a limited supply of provisions and got on fairly well for a time.
And now a word about the wagon road that had been cut through to Greenwater River. There, it seems, an Indian from east of the mountains, going to the Sound, met the road workers, who inquired whether any Boston men were coming. The Indian said no. Believing the Indian to be truthful, the road workers returned home only to be greatly astonished by the appearance two weeks later of a weary, bedraggled, forlorn, and footsore company of people, all rejoicing that after unspeakable trials, they had at last reached the Promised Land.
When the immigrant party came within six miles of Steilacoom it camped. Vegetables were given by two settlers named Lackey and Mahon. Dr. William F. Tolmie, of the Puget Sound Agricultural Company, a branch of the Hudson's Bay Company, gave some beeves. When the meat was sent to camp Dr. Tolmie placed it in charge of Mrs. Mary Ann Woolery, "Aunt Pop." Dr. Tolmie instructed her to keep it until the two oldest men in the company came in, upon whom should devolve the duty of dividing it evenly. Soon a man came with a knife and wanted some meat.
Mrs. Woolery said, "No, sir, you can't have any now." He replied, "I am hungry, and I am going to have some of it, I can't wait." Mrs. Woolery replied, "You will have to wait; I am as hungry as you are, and I expect to wait, So are all the rest hungry; but that man said I was not to allow any one touch it until the two oldest men came into camp, and they would divide it evenly."
The man again said, "I can't wait for that, and will not, either!" "You will have to," she replied. "By what authority?" He questioned. "There is my authority," She said in a defiant tone, shaking her clenched fist (she weighed a hundred pounds then, but her fighting weight was double that), "...and if you touch that meat I'll take that oxbow to you," and suiting the action to the word, she grabbed one and stood between the man and the fresh meat. The man, seeing she meant business, then subsided.
Soon the two oldest men came to camp, the meat was divided according to Dr. Tolmie's instructions, and with the vegetables that had been given by the settlers, the entire party had a good, old fashioned boiled dinner, the first for many a day, and it was a most agreeable and welcome change from salmon skins.
This was the last time that all the company camped together. From this point they went hither and thither, and soon found winter quarters, all the men having families taking donation claims in Pierce and Thurston Counties.
George H. Himes. "An account of Crossing the Plains in 1853, and the first trip by immigrants through the Cascade Mountains, via Natchess Pass," Oregon Pioneer Association Thirty-Fifth Annual Session. Portland, Oregon, June 19, 1907. ppgs. 139-152.
George H. Himes was born at Troy, Pennsylvania May 18, 1844 the son of Tyrus and Emeline Holcombe Himes. He was married on December 24, 1866 to Anna F. Riggs. He was a printer and publisher by trade and died in Portland, Oregon January 6, 1940 at the age of ninety-six.
biographical sketch written by Leslie M. Scott appears in the Oregon Historical Quarterly XLI (March, 1940) p. 1-3.
THE DAVID LONGMIRE ACCOUNT
The first immigrants to Cross the Cascades as told by David Longmire who was nine years old when he accompanied his father James Longmire and the Longmire Byles Wagon Train of 1853 across Naches Pass.
Washington Historical Quarterly VIII(January, 1917). pp.25-27.
The first part of our journey was by water to St. Joseph, Missouri. There father brought eight yoke of oxen and two wagons. We traveled to Cainesville, now Council Bluffs, Iowa, and there we obtained a full supply of provisions, medicine, guns and ammunition for our long journey across the plains.
We travelled down the Missouri River and crossed on a ferry operated by a man named Sarpee, who was part Indian. Where we camped there was not a house at the time but since then Omaha City has risen on the site. At Wood River we crossed the wagons on canoes and swam the stock across. At Luke Fork we crossed by caulking the wagon boxes and making temporary boats of them.
At one of these stream-crossings, a young man of our party, named Van Ogle, rode a horse to head the band, the others being driven after him. When we all started his horse became unmanageable, reared up and threw the rider backwards in front of the swimming steeds. With rare presence of mind, the young man dove to the bottom and remained there until the horses had passed over. He then bobbed to the surface and spouted up water in great glee to amuse the rest of us. Mr. Van Ogle, an Indian war veteran, now lives at Orting, Pierce County, enjoying good health in his ninety-second year, a more honorable man we never had.
We traveled on past Independence Rock where Lewis and Clark spent their Fourth of July in 1805. Indians were numerous but our train was never disturbed by them. However, we were always on the lookout, standing guard over our cattle each night.
We saw many droves of buffalo and some antelope. We encountered many incidents, too numerous to mention. Really we must have been fortunate as we did not encounter the hardships endured by other parties. We crossed the Rocky Mountains with such ease we did not even know when we reached the summit.
We crossed the Snake River twice. At the second crossing one man accidently was drowned. When we crossed the Grande Ronde Valley, we left the Oregon Trail and started for a new route for Puget Sound. We passed by where Doctor Marcus Whitman, his wife, and twelve other white people were massacred by the Indians in 1847.
We reached the Columbia River at Fort Walla Walla (now Wallula), and had to remain there until we could whipsaw lumber with which to construct a scow to ferry our party across. When the scow was completed we placed thereon our wagons, bedding and a very little provision. Then we swam the stock which was very soon completed. Then we tackled the scow. While some were pulling, the others were busy bailing it out to keep it from sinking.
By September 8, 1853, we were ready to begin our march through the sand up the bank of the Columbia to the Yakima River, eighteen miles. There we parted with the head chief of the Walla Walla Indians. He and several of his tribe had been traveling with us for several days. The chief road a fine large American roan horse with one ear slightly cropped. He had two large revolvers fastened to his saddle. He had about one hundred fine cattle, one of which he had butchered and sold to us for fifteen cents a pound as I remember. The Indian chief treated us well.
We crossed the Yakima River, traveling up the east bank and camped for the night. That night Mr. McCullough died. He had been ill for several days. We had no boards to make a box or coffin so he was buried in the ground with some brush covered over him to keep the sand from his body. So far as I know he was the first white man to be buried in the Yakima valley. He left a wife and two little girls.
We travelled towards White Bluffs, then up Coal Creek and turned westward, crossing the Yakima river at Selah. There we met a Catholic priest and understood that there was another priest on the Ahtanum. Those were the only white men in the Yakima country. The next day we arrived in the Wenas Valley and camped on a beautyful spot owned by Chief Owhi. We remained there two nights. The chief was farming and our party bought of him thirteen bushels of potatoes. This was about September 20 and 21. Later we learned that George B. McClellan had camped at the same place the month before.
We followed up the Naches River toward Naches pass. We crossed and recrossed the river about sixty-eight times. When we reached the summit and started down the western slope we came to a very steep place where we were compelled to lower our wagons suspended by the rear axle with a rope fastened to a tree while it was gradually lowered. There were thirty-six wagons to be let down that way.
Our party consisted of about one hundred and seventy-five people, men, women, and children. We made our way very slowly, crossing the Green River eighteen times, and the White River seven times. We wound round, made bridges of logs, rotten wood and bark and got through pretty well. We crossed the Puyallup River and arrived at the Mahan place on the Nisqually Plains at Clover Creek on October 12, 1853. The place is east of Parkland and a monument has since been placed to mark the spot. That is the place where our party broke up and scattered, never to meet together again.
Father took up a donation land claim near Yelm, and that became his home until he found Longmire Springs. He filed a homestead there in 1883 and lived there when seasons permitted until his death in 1897 at the age of seventy-seven. Mother survived him until 1911. She was eighty-two at the time of her death.
David Longmire," The First Immigrants to Cross the Cascades," Washington Historical Quarterly VIII(January,1917), pp. 25-27.