Passages from “Historic Oregon” Textbook

When you come across an Oregon history book, look in the index for our family names.    Here is a long excerpt from a 1937 textbook, but even small mentions give some idea of how our family fit into broader contexts.  Please contribute any that you find.  And please comment on the content of this article.


Passages from “Historic Oregon” by Philip H. Parrish, ©1937 by the Macmillan company.

(Page 134-140) “On the other hand, there was more mystery for the first train.  The first pioneers did not know what dangers they would meet.  One of the members of this train (Daniel Waldo, for whom the Waldo Hills of Oregon are named) thought the chances were one hundred to one against their getting through.  He would not have started except that he and his family were sick with the ague, and his wife said, “We might as well go and be scalped by the Indians as stay here and be shaken to death.”  The women were as brave as the men in these migrations. In the train of 1843, two thirds of the people were women and children.


  1.  1843. The best ways of organizing a wagon train were already well known at this time.  Traders had been taking trains over the Santa Fe Trail and into the northern Rockies for years past.  The people of 1843 merely chose a committee at their meeting at Fitzhugh’s mill to put the usual organization into effect.  They also hired a Mountain Man, Captain Gantt, to guide them.

The travelers were very lighthearted in the days before the start, perhaps to hide their worry.  At night there were dancing, singing, and sometimes gambling around fifty great campfires scattered over the prairie.  The music of the violin, flute, and accordion could be heard.

Before daybreak of May 22, young “Jim” Wayne, who had been named aide-de-camp, rode up and down blowing his bugle and calling upon the people to start.  There was much confusion this first day.  The wagons got only a few miles out on the rolling prairies before sunset.  The cattle had not yet learned that they must keep going ahead.  They wanted to wander in search of grass.

Growing Accustomed to the Road. The wagons passed through the country of the Kansa Indians, who had taken to framing. The travelers had their first experience of letting wagons down creek banks by means of ropes.

They reached the Kansas River, which was swollen with flood waters.  An old Frenchman had a boat there as a ferry.  Some of the people were angry with the Frenchman because his charge was so high.  Some started building a raft set upon two canoes; others paid the Frenchman’s price.  The Frenchman’s boat went under when too heavily laden with women, children, and household goods.  The women and children were all hauled from the river.  Cattle and horses were forced to swim across. Finally, everyone was over.  Here the company paused to elect Peter Burnett as Captain and J.S. Nesmith as sergeant-at-arms.

Also, a count was made, which showed 892 people, of whom 260 were men over sixteen, while 130 were women and 602 were children.

For several days travel was easy.  On the afternoon of June 6 the company came to the west fork of the Blue River and got across by propping up the wagon beds and fording.  Camp was made on the far side and the people were merry.

But at ten o’clock that night the sky turned utterly black and the air heavy.  The guards wakened the camp to make things fast.  A terrific storm struck.  The wind rose to the strength of a hurricane.  Rain poured down.  Some of the people were knocked off their feet by the bolts of lightning.  Some of the women hid under mattresses, hugging their children to protect them.  Some of the tents were carried away.  Lightning flashed all around and the thunder was a continuous roar.  In the morning it was found that the stream which had been crossed so easily the day before had now overflowed its banks for a quarter of a mile on either side and had become too deep to pass.

Rains continued for several days.  The people were depressed as they struggled through the mire.  Those who had no cattle, or few cattle, began to quarrel with those who had many, charging that the cattle were holding everybody back.

Burnett resigned as captain.  Then the company was divided.  Jesse Applegate became captain of the “cow column” and William Martin became captain of the cowless column.


 Into Nebraska. After that things were better, because the rains let up.  The hunters began to bring in buffalo and antelope meat.  More Indians were met, some with fresh scalps hanging from their belts.

By this time the fording of streams had become easier because the people had learned how to go about it.  Now the trains were making considerably more than the ten miles a day which had been the average at the start.

On June 18 the main body crossed from the valley of the Kansas to the valley of the Platte in the Nebraska country.  That morning young Jim Wayne aroused the camp with his bugle and with his shouting, “Hurrah for the Platte!  We must reach the Platte today!”  They traveled hard all day over rough country “and just as the sun was going down behind the bleak sandhills caught the first view of the wide and beautiful valley.”  They had to eat a cold super. There was no fuel.

Day after day they pushed westward up the south bank of the Platte, sometimes in storm, sometimes in burning heat.  All the buffalo paths led down to the river.  They were deep and crossing them jarred some of the wagons to pieces.  The hunters were bringing in more buffaloes.

The emigrants passed the place where the North Platte and the South Platte come together.  They traveled eighty-five miles up the south branch before they decided to cross.  The river was high.  They built boats by stretching two buffalo hides around each wagon box and letting the hides dry.  The hides were rubbed with tallow and ashes to make them watertight.  Each boat was manned by about six men.  Other men swam alongside or pulled from ahead with ropes.  The crossing took a week.  There was constant danger from quicksands.  When it was over, there was a night dance on the sands to the music of violins.


 Up the North Platte.  Once across the South Platte and following up the north branch, travel was much more rapid, about sixteen miles a day.  The company passed such famous landmarks as “Cedar Grove,” “Solitary Tower,” the “Chimney,” and “Scott’s Bluff.”

In mid-July the wagons were at Fort Laramie.  The people did not like Fort Laramie.  They were charged one dollar a pint for flour.

For several days the way led on up the Platte.  Then that river had to be crossed.  One part of the company got over by lashing canoes together and tying watertight barrels at the sides for “bobbers.”  Then the wagons were placed aboard.

Here good-by was said to the Platte and the company went westward up its branch, the Sweetwater, to the most famous of all landmarks of the plains, Independence Rock.  At the Rock they camped and some carved their names.  A stop of several days was made to hunt buffalo, since none would be found beyond the continental divide, which they were now nearing.


 Over the Hump.  One of the travelers wrote:


At last we came into view, on the afternoon of the 30th, of the eternal snows of the Rocky mountains.  So we “wound up the line” two hours earlier than usual.  Hunters had brought in some fine antelope and two fat young buffalo, so we had a feast.  Bright stars in a blue vault.  Not a breath of air.  Campfires, streaming up from the plain, flooded the tents with mellow light and made the tops of the quadrangular barricade of wagons look like a fortification of molten gold.

Jim Wayne fiddled.  Set after set danced on the sward.  Green, Gantt, and others told stories.  Revel until a late hour.


The crossing of the mountains at this point (South Pass) was so easy that it did not seem like a crossing at all.  The pass was wide and almost flat.  But suddenly the slope was westward and the streams all ran toward the Pacific.

West of the divide the company swung a little south to follow the Green River to the trading post of an old Mountain Man, Jim Bridger.  From his post they followed the Bear River.  They met Indians who were astonished at the size of the wagon trains and who asked, “Are there still any whites remaining where you came from?”  Soda Springs, so often mentioned in stories of the Oregon Trail, was passed late in August.  A few days later they approached the Snake River and the Hudson’s Bay trading post called Fort Hall.  Jim Wayne played “Yankee Doodle,” “Hail Columbia,” and the “Star Spangle Banner” on his bugle.  The people rejoiced.


Down the Western Slope.  The men at the fort could not believe their eyes at the sight of wagons approaching out of the Portneuf River Valley.  They said they were doubtful whether the wagons could get through to the Columbia.  But Marcus Whitman, who was with the train, declared they could.  Apparently the immigrants never had a thought of abandoning the wagons.  They headed on into the sagebrush plains of Idaho.  They had no fear of the Indians from now on, and the company became wholly disorganized.  Only friends and family clung together.  The rest made their way as they could, alone or in small groups.

They had to cross to the right bank of the Snake River, and then back again to the left bank at Fort Boise, near the border of the present Oregon.  From there they drove their oxen up the narrow and log-strewn valley of Burnt River and down into the valley of the Powder River.  Then another divide had to be crossed into the valley of the Grande Ronde.

This was almost the end, but a bad stretch was ahead – the Blue Mountains.  By this time Whitman had ridden ahead, and the principal guide was an old Indian of the Cayuse tribe, Stickus by name, recommended by Whitman.  Stickus pointed the way and the wagons lumbered up out of the Grande Ronde.  Huge trees barred the trail.  A party of fifty men went ahead.  The sound of their axes came ringing back.  As the wagons reached the crest, the first snows of winter began to fall.  The wagons rumbled down the slopes into the valley of the Umatilla.  They were just in time.


Into the Willamette.  Some of the weary travelers built boats near where the Walla Walla flows into the Columbia and in these boats floated down the Columbia.  Others followed the south bank of the Columbia as far as the mission station at The Dalles.

At The Dalles nearly all took to the river.  There was no road to follow over the Cascades.  They floated down to the Cascades from The Dalles on all manner of rafts and crafts.  They had to carry their goods around the Cascades.  Below the Cascades they went on to Fort Vancouver by whatever means they could find.  Most of them made those last few miles of river in boats lent by Dr. John McLoughlin.  He had heard of the sorrows of the immigrants, and though he stood at the head of a company which wanted settlers kept out, he was not one to see his fellow humans drowned or caught by the winter storms and starved to death.



Oregon’s population was at least doubled by the immigration of 1843.  And it was more than doubled in vigor.  The wagon train of ’43 contained a dozen strong men who “made over” the settlement and its government to suit themselves.

Of course, the newcomers were too wet and cold and tired to do much in the autumn of that first year, just after their arrival.  They had to rustle for shelter and earn food for their families.  They had to search for the farmlands which they wanted to claim.  But as soon as possible, such men as the Applegate Brothers, Burnett, Lovejoy, McCarver, Nesmith, Matheny, Waldo, Hembree, Keiser, and others turned their attention to what the “founders” had done in the way of setting up a government. They did not like it very well.  (To be continued.)

One Response to “Passages from “Historic Oregon” Textbook”

  1. Barbara says:

    To comment on this article, join us at our HMC Family page on
    If you don’t do Facebook, you can email your comments to and we will post them for you.

Leave a Reply

You must be logged in to post a comment.