Benjamin Allston, 1833-1900, was an Episcopal clergyman and colonel in the Confederate army, the son of Robert Francis Withers and Adele (Petigru) Allston. His father was a graduate of West Point military academy in 1821, surveyor general of South Carolina and governor of that state 1856-57.
Allston entered West Point at the age of sixteen and graduated June 1853. He was assigned to the cavalry corps, served in Southern Oregon in 1855; resigned in April 1858, and engaged in rice planting.
His family owned over 600 slaves.
Camp 150 miles from the cityDear Sister
May 17th 1855
I received, with letters from Father and Mother, yours. I have long been promising to myself to write to you, and although here at the eleventh hour I take up my pen I hope that it will not be unacceptable to my dear sister Adele. I received a letter from Mother dated March 9th (the latest date received) in which she gives me an account of your illness. I was very much grieved to learn that you had been subjected to such an attack. You must be very careful of yourself lest it become a permanent thing. Such things don't happen often in cases like the present, but yet they may, if I judge aright of your malady from Mother's letter. But by her letter you were recovering, which fills me with joy. And ere this you will have become quite well I hope. You and Bessie at school at Mme. Toyno's! Well, how does Bess like it? As much as you? When I come home again after having served out in the West as a dragoon officer (being as Uncle emphatically termed it no better than "an assistant in a livery stable or a common horse jockey) I suppose I will, and expect to, be totally unable to converse with you and Bess. You will have learned to talk so elegantly and to conduct yourselves so nicely that you will not be able to put up with my rough and rude exterior. My dear Adele, happy, rejoiced will I be indeed to find you and Bess cultivated and refined in the mind and soul. Let not the cultivation of one portion of the system proceed without a corresponding advance of the other. Let not the body, the physical properties, be cultivated without at the same time improving in the same measure the mind, the moral qualities. These latter are by far the brighter, give more luster and brilliancy to the person than the others. The one is "of heaven, heavenly," the other "of earth, earthy." I am afraid that I will bore you very much by this good advice which I have been giving you, all of which you know already, and you will wonder whether Brother in his simpleness forgets that you were fifteen and ought to be able to judge of these things yourself without his sticking in his advice and counsel unasked and unheeded. You won't think this, Adele, will you? I don't believe you will, but if you do give it to Bess for me. She may not think so, not being as old as you. But, my sister, the only child next to myself will not think thus harshly of her absent though loving brother. You have heard all of my letters, I suppose, that I write to Mother, and they tell as much as I can well tell about G.S.L. [Great Salt Lake] City and the country. We are on our march to California. It will not now be long before I will separate from the rest and proceed with my small commd. to Oregon, after which I will go down to San Francisco, and in all probability start for the States about the first or middle of August. I am I believe attached to a new regiment, and will of course join as soon as practicable. I will however endeavor to get a leave and see you all for a short time, and then be off again, to "waste my youth in follies," as Uncle says. You can tell him what I say. He will recollect it; if not he has a very bad memory, and such an one a lawyer ought never to possess. I wonder what he will think of me talking this way of him. Ask him to forgive me. I forgive but never forget. One is in the power, the other is beyond the power of man. Else what is the fable of the River Lethe worth, why did the Ancients have any such river if they could cast away from them memory--that gall of wormwood to some, and the honey of the wild bee to others. Do you recollect Manfred's reply to the spirits whom he assembled, and they asked him what he wished with them--Oblivion--Forgetfulness. Read it.
Speaking of this reminds me of a question of Mother's which you must answer for me. Tell her that I have read several plays of Mr. Shakespeare this winter and was very much pleased with them, especially Henry 4th & 5th, Manfred, Sardanapalus and King Lear. Others I have read, but these I liked the most. Tell her also that my reading, this last winter, and I did more than I had done before, though not very extensive, was quite various, and if I could only remember all that I had read I think I might be reckoned quite a wise man.
But here I must stop this string of words and sentences, for in a few moments I will be obliged to write by starlight, not very bright at that. Give my love to uncles & aunts one and all who are as you say most too numerous to mention. Give my love to Bessie and kiss her many times for me and tell her to return the favor to you for me. Adieu ma chère soeur (about all of my French that I remember; don't laugh), and may we live (by the kind Providence) to see each other before very long. And believe me
Ever as always your veryP.S. I thank you kindly for your flowers. They were quite fragrant. Regards to Madame in whose care I address this.
Affectionate and loving
Brother Ben Allston
Benjamin Allston Papers, Military and Personal Correspondence 12/17/3, South Carolina Historical Society
Fort Lane O.T.My dear Mother
July 30th 1855
I again take up my pen to write you. I have been here now over three weeks, and I must say that I am getting tired of the quiescent state of existence led here. The weather is quite warm, as I told you in my last letter, and there is nothing to do but drill twice a day. The officers generally play cards at night when it is cool and pleasant, and sleep most of the day. The time lies very heavily upon my hands, having nothing to do which interests me much and the weather being too hot for study, besides which you must understand that I never was addicted to that as a pastime. I have procured me some Spanish books, however, and will manage I hope to gain some slight knowledge of that beautiful language. There are no books here that I care about reading, and I have not sent for any because I expect to remain here so short a time. I have sent for Tennyson though and I expect to derive much satisfaction from its perusal. I have as yet received no letters. Whatever letters there may be for me are in Benicia, and they have not reached me from there yet. I am waiting most anxiously for them and hope that I may be gratified next Sunday by their arrival. I am expecting a perfect budget, but I am afraid that I will be disappointed. I have heard that Dr. Hayne has married Julia Dean. This I suppose will or has given rise to a great deal of talk and gossip among the bon ton of Charleston. You I am expecting, though, will give me a full description of it in your letters when I receive them. I have heard also that Miss Hayne, with whom I came so near being smitten, has been married. Is this so? You must not get alarmed, my dear Mother because I ask if it is so, for you must know that I was not exposed sufficiently long to her charms for them to exert a very powerful effect on me, and now I think I can safely say that I consider myself doubly mail proofed against any darts that Cupid may discharge at me. What do you think of that avowal? Oh!? Does it not make you rejoice to hear that I am not to be wounded in that quarter. I am sure it makes me feel very happy because I feel so secure. The idea that none of the little charms can catch me and turn my brain is very pleasant to reflect upon. I must not however allow my feeling of security put me off of my guard, for then I would be certain to be caught. But enough of this nonsense, you will say, why does Ben write me such trash! Well, truly, Mother, I do not know; don't be angry though. I was just writing down my thoughts as they entered my head, imagining that I was talking to you. But I will try and change the subject, and give you something that will be more palatable--if I can! but everything here is so much the same from one day into another that I know not, besides you know no one here about whom I can write to you. By the by, you recollect Eliza Dean, do you not, the girl (begging her pardon) whom you met in the hotel at Carlisle, and who nearly frightened you by her demonstrations of tenderness and affection, which you did not precisely understand until she out with a likeness (a very good one too) of your darling boy, and then you nearly fainted, scarcely suppressing a cry of astonishment and horror & the exclamation of "No it can't be, you are not r--eally en--gaged to Ben." Well, you recollect her--the same one--yes, the same Eliza to whom "on dit" ["it is said"] I was engaged. She recollects her darling Benny as [she] did me the honor to call me at Governor's Island. Well, this same identical Eliza, whom I left in St. Louis, employing all her wits to get the ceremony performed between herself and someone else, has set foot upon the golden pavements of San Francisco and is now somewhere in California, where I hope she may meet with better success than she did at home. Why, the poor unfortunate, if she had stayed much longer in St. Louis I think you would have seen an advertisement in the Republican: "Wanted--A Husband" with sundry little comments and few qualifications, winding up with "the Eastern & Southern papers please copy." Would not that have been amusing. She will not have to resort to any such expedient here, though I think but rather the contrary--the advertisements running in this way more: "Wanted--Wives--$500.00 reward for any virtuous and respectable female shipped to this market." Now you see she can take advantage of any such opportunity that occurs, and I would advise her to do so, taking care at the same time to state that I never advertised. How shockingly tired you will get over this letter unless I can bring myself to talk of lighter subjects with a grave air, but I'll try and do it, Mother dear, just to please you though there is nothing here to talk or tell about, except that which you will not like to hear. The Indians a night or two since killed eighteen whites about 50 or 80 miles south of this, and it is thought that we will have to go in search of them. Major Fitzgerald and myself were to have started this morn, but it has been postponed until daylight tomorrow, when we will mount and proceed on our way. Now do not be alarmed, my dear mother, for I do not apprehend any very serious danger.
The Indians about here are the best-looking Indians and adopt the habits and customs of the whites more readily than any others that I have seen. They dress exactly like white and appear very well in the attire, which upon some Indians looks awkward and clumsy. They have very good horses and quite a fine wheat field, appear to be industrious and well disposed, and if the whites would only not molest them and endeavor to their insatiable cupidity natural tot he white man to cheat them, they would live peaceably together. All of the troubles with these Rogue River Indians have been caused by the whites themselves, and a great many of them admit it. The Indians who committed this last offense are not the Rogue River Indians but the Klamath Indians. They live on the Klamath in California.
We are obliged to travel with packs; there is no other way of getting out of these mountains to the south and west. There is no wagon road, and it is impracticable for wagons, and in many places very dangerous for animals. There are places here, I am told, where the road, or rather, trail, runs along a ledge of rock scarcely a yard wide for miles, and where having once got on the way you cannot turn back; neither can you dismount if you are mounted for fear of either pushing your animal down the precipice or of going yourself. This is a pleasant way for traveling, is it not. The country is the most broken up and rugged region I have ever seen. I will be able to tell you more about it after I return from this trip. The valleys here are shut entirely up to high and precipitous mountains, and the streams break through them in frightful chasms and rents, displaying the force and power of nature. It is thought that Major Fitzgerald's company, to which I am attached for the time, will be ordered to Columbia Bks. [Columbia Barracks--Fort Vancouver] soon, in which case I shall apply to go with it. I am going up there sometime before I leave the Pacific. I may never again return to it, at least for a long time.
What do you think of my refusing the appointment in the cavalry regiment. I am now 3rd for promotion in my own regiment. If they had put me in the new regt. higher than I would have been in the old I might have accepted. I hope I may be a 1st Lieut. when I see you again. I shall indeed be happy then insofar as that can make me happy. How do the political and domestic affairs stand at home, dear Mother. I think that I must be very egotistical; here have I been in all this letter talking about myself or concerning myself, and I expect it is the same in all my letters. Self--Ego. I never noticed it before, Mother; forgive me for it. Think not that I think less of the "loved ones at home," because I have talked of nothing but myself. I am anxious, very anxious, to hear from you. I wish to know who are with you, what neighbors, the state of the political world of So. Ca. [South Carolina] and Father's intentions and feelings with regard to them. Is he going to run for Governor? I would like particularly to know. Give me my best love to Adele and the others of the family. I hope and trust they are all doing well. Tomorrow is the last of July. Now you [are] commencing on the apples and peaches &c., watermelons &c. Four years ago I was with you and now I am across the continent. Where will I [be] in this time four years hence and what changes will then have taken place. We cannot tell. The unveiled future is alone before us and we cannot raise the veil; why should we wish to do so. Let us remain content in that which we have. Page, Bacon & Co. you know have failed entirely here, and I am afraid that I have lost or nearly lost $888.81 which I had on them. I shall dislike to do so, but I am afraid that it is inevitable. Mr. Perry's note. Ha! Ha! he will hear from me someday. The grasshoppers here are very bad and are destroying everything. Green corn stands no chance at all, and all of the other vegetables and even the fruit trees all become a prey to their insatiable appetite. They were very thick in Utah when we left there, and I have seen it stated that they were putting a new crop into the ground. I saw them there in spots on the ground one upon the other an inch deep, while they were yet not as large as my fingernail. Imagine then what they will be when they become grown and when they are all hatched out. Almost entire destruction awaits the crops there, I am afraid. If such should be the case, great will be the suffering there, for it was far greater last year than anyone had any idea of when they had a plenty of grain. They have much more land under cultivation this year than they did last, and if at all successful will raise a very abundant supply. I see that rice is at a high price in San Francisco on account of the want of breadstuffs in the Crimea and the diminished supply of rice in China. I hope that Father's crop is good, and bids fair to yield a prime and abundant harvest. This has been an excessively dry season this year, and I am afraid that the drought has been severe in the country. There was little or no snow in Utah last winter (comparatively), and I hear farmers there say that they were much afraid that there would not be water enough to raise their grain by.
This is probably the reason that the grasshoppers are so numerous. They thrive best in a dry climate, and winter kills them. Give my best love to Father, Adele and Bessie, Charles & Jane. I am now ready to start in the morning. We are only taking ten days provisions. Remember me kindly to all of my friends and relatives. Where is Joe now? Has he yet returned home? Give him & Will my best love and brotherly affection.
Hoping to hear from you soon, and good newsAdele Petigru Allston Papers, 12/13/21, South Carolina Historical Society
at that, and that this may reach you
in health and safety--trusting all
in Providence I remain as always
my most beloved Mother
your affectionate son
Fort Lane, O.T.My dear Mother
Nov. 6th 1855
I wrote about two weeks since to Father, telling him about the Indian difficulties here. I must now continue the same painful subject. I started out the morning after I wrote my letter, with Major Fitzgerald. We were gone some time and had established ourselves at one of the principal houses on the road. Nothing had occurred to excite our fears, and the Major intended to return to the post, when early one morning an express messenger came in and brought the Major a note from Lt. Kautz. Lt. Kautz was on his way from Port Orford to this post, exploring for a wagon road, and when about 45 miles from here he suddenly found himself in the rancheria of Indians, who immediately fired on him. He endeavored to get his men up to him and show fight, but two of them were instantly killed and he himself was knocked down by a ball which would have killed him but for his memorandum books, which were in the right pocket of his shirt, and the ball struck the lower edge of them, ranging along their breadth. The thickness of the paper and the yielding of the body alone saved his life. They then immediately made a rapid retreat, leaving their mules (7) and all of their things behind, and arrived at about 2 o'clock in the morning at a house on the road. The Major sent the note on to Capt. Smith at the post and started himself with the company for the assistance of Lt. Kautz, about 20 miles distant. Arrived there the next morning, we started out for the ground. It is on the top of a mountain ridge and very hard traveling to get there. When we arrived there the Indians had left, but we could see their stock on the opposite ridge. We buried the two men who were killed, and it being late we started for the house. When we arrived after dark we found Captain Smith there with some more men, and volunteers were collecting. The Major went in the next morning and sent out Lt. Gibson, and some more men and volunteer companies were continually coming in & on Tuesday Oct. 30th we had over 400 men at Grave Creek House. We started that night, the plan being to attack them at daylight, having surrounded them in the night. We were to walk. We had to walk six or eight miles before we reached the base of the spur and then we had to walk up that for 2 or 3 miles. Oh! it was very hard; it nearly finished me.
We reached the top where Kautz had been attacked just after daylight and we stopped there to rest a little. By some oversight some of the men kindled a fire; they were cold and tired. As soon as the fire rose the Indians, who until that time were entirely ignorant of our proximity or intentions, immediately took the alarm and made preparations for defense.
I was left with some men at this point with the packs and animals. I was able to go no further, and the others rushed down the mountainside, about 1500 or 2000 feet, and then right up again to the summit where the Indians were. The consequence was that when they reached the point they were so much exhausted as not to be able to do anything scarcely. The Indians were in the brush and behind trees and could not be seen; the only way to do then was to chase them. A charge was ordered by the Captain. Our poor fellows obeyed and charged about 50 or 60 yards, but they could do no more; the brush was thick and high and they were tired. The Indians were dislodged from their position, however, and driven some little distance down the hill, but they only took up another equally as good.
But even this feeble effort of ours would have been far more successful had the volunteers supported the dragoons.
But no, these valiant gentlemen had no such intention. The most of them would be very brave and courageous and ferocious were the Indians all surrounded and laid down their arms or were tied to a tree or in any other helpless condition, then there would not be a braver set of men on the face of earth than these same men, and none murder or do curse and abuse the Indians as much as these. All of which they have been known to do. There were a great many of these creatures on the ground; about ¾ of the commd. were volunteers, and there were only a few of them, some 40 or 60, who did anything like fighting and charged with our men; the rest remained on the top of the hill or elsewhere and some of them shot down below where both Indians and white men were in the brush, and to my knowledge wounded and killed some of their own men. Was there ever such dastardly and cowardly conduct heard of? Certainly I never did hear of anything like it. The Indians are considered by all to be comparatively small in number, though no one can positively tell how many there were, but 80 or 90 would I think be a large estimate, and there were over three hundred (300) of our men.
The fight commenced at sunrise in the morning and continued until sundown, when the Indians drew off and the dead and wounded men were collected, and the Captain moved down on the side hill where there were a few small springs. There they remained for the night without anything to eat and without blankets. We were defeated and the Indians felt it and knew it. That day there were three soldiers killed and seven wounded; the killed and wounded of the volunteers I do not know, although I know that there were some. Early the next morning the Indians attacked the camp. This alone will show you how successful they considered themselves, but they retired having three killed. These are the only three Indians that are known to have been killed. The evening before the Captain had sent over to me for blankets and again for some pack mules; these which I had to send by men from my camp diminished my numbers a good deal, and I had only 13 men in camp and 3 volunteers, and myself. There were many animals, blankets and provisions, and I was exceedingly fearful lest the Indians, knowing as they did that there were animals &c. there might find out the smallness of our force and attack us during the night, but they did not. The Captain was told that some men from one of the volunteer co.s would come on and remain there, otherwise he would have sent over some men to me. But the volunteers came [to] get something to eat and then put out as fast as they could for Grave Creek. You may judge that I was under these circumstances pretty wakeful during the night and before day dawned I was up and moving around. I expected to hear from the Captain very early that morning, but failing to do so I determined to go over to him, and taking two men and a citizen we started, the men and myself, each with [a] bag of bread on our backs. Just then we heard the firing and we stopped to ascertain about where the Indians were. This we soon found out; they were between the Captain and us.
There was a very heavy fog hanging that morning and we thought best to wait awhile where we were, as the Indians were evidently retreating, and being only four we did not wish to run directly into them without knowing their position.
Finally we started again as soon as the firing nearest to us had ceased and arrived in camp just as everyone was about moving off. Lt. Gibson was wounded in the thigh this morning and was the only one wounded.
Lt. Kautz and himself both behaved very gallantly and well, and deserve praise for it. Soon after I arrived there we started back. Got to my camp [where] there was bread and coffee ready for the men, remained there some time, packed up and started back. It must have been quite late when we started and we had to travel very slowly on account of the wounded, and it was 2½ o'clock in the morning when we reached Grave Creek. We were all very tired I can assure you. I had something cooked for me and some hot coffee and then slept until morning, when we made arrangements to start that day and take our wounded into the fort. We started at 12 o'clock; the Captain taking his company and coming ahead left me with the wagons as an escort. We only came 11 miles that day, and starting at sunrise in the morning made the fort by sundown, 25 miles. Now here we are, and I suppose that we will again start in a day or two to retain our honor. Too much blame and censure cannot be given to some of the volunteers for their conduct during this affair. I have before told you that I thought political and private interests were at the bottom of these troubles. I believe so yet, though I do not say that they might or would not have broken out anyhow. You must be all at home by this time, Mother, and looking for me I have no doubt, as I stated that I would be home about this time. But alas all my hopes and expectations have been scattered before this storm. I have been promoted on this coast and I see very little prospect of my going home for some time. As soon as I can be relieved from this post I suppose I will go to Fort Tejon in Southern California. I am told it is a very desirable post. I can tell nothing positively though, for I have not yet received my orders. When I do you shall know. I received Adele's letter from Amsterdam but I believe I mentioned that in my last. I feel extremely grateful to an overruling Providence for my safety thus far in these troubles, and I trust I may weather the storm yet. Goodbye, my dear Mother, with my affectionate regards & love to all the family I remain your aff. son Ben
The Mormons are trying to make me and others abandon our claims in Utah. I do not know how they will succeed. I wish I could go there and see something about it. Kinney has not yet refunded the money that I placed in the firm. I expect to get my order of promotion in about a month. I will then be able to form some idea of my probable whereabouts. Give my love to Father, Joe, Adele and the rest & may God bless you, my dear Mother.
Your affectionateAdele Petigru Allston Papers, 12/13/21, South Carolina Historical Society
Winchester O.T.My dear Mother
Nov. 18th 1855
You will be surprised to see the point from which I date my letter, but I will explain it all. I wrote you last from Fort Lane and mentioned that we had been out against the Indians and were to go again in a day or two and that it was very uncertain how long I might be kept at the fort. How very uncertain is one's life. I had given up all hope of going to the Dalles this year, and yet I am now on my way thither. On the seventh of this month we were all prepared to start in the morning (the eighth) after the Indians again when lo! after supper was over and we were all sitting around the fire and smoking our pipes and talking of the prospect for the ensuing fortnight; then came a rap at the door and in walked a stranger, who handed a letter to the Captain. The Capt. opened it and presently said, "The Genl. orders 'E' Co. to start forthwith for the Dalles." So the campaign after Indians was necessarily postponed, and the Major and myself at once set about getting ready to move the following day (9th) for Fort Vancouver, from which post he expects to learn what will become of him for the winter. On the morning of the ninth after a most hurried preparation we started with a company of 83 men, 3 women and 2 children, 6 wagons and 128 animals, in a drenching rain which has continued with but 3 days excepted until the present time, when it is now raining. The roads are past description miserable, though I believe we have got over the worst of them but with the greatest difficulty, traveling all day, and often making only 5 or 6 miles. This may serve to give you some idea of their condition, though I know that you cannot form a correct idea of them at all, for you must needs see them first to appreciate them. The men have no tents and consequently get wet every night. The Major and myself have taken shelter in a house as yet every night, as we always stop near one when possible in order to get forage for our animals. The distance from Fort Lane to Fort Vancouver is about 300 miles, and we have come 90 and have been out 10 days tomorrow. This is certainly encouraging, especially as after 5 days more will have to buy provisions as well as forage. The presence of the Major's co. at the Dalles is considered as of the first importance, there being no dragoons in that vicinity. What will become of the me when we arrive there it will be impossible for me to say. I have been disappointed so frequently lately that I dare not lay any more plans for the future.
I will write to you from Fort Vancouver when we get there, and I probably will not write before then, although I may. We remain here tomorrow to fix up our harness and recruit our animals a little; after that we start again to plod our way through mud and rain for 200 miles. I presume it will take at least 20 days more to go up unless we transport our baggage and wagons by steamer from the first point we reach. The Umpqua Valley in which we are now traveling is a much prettier and more habitable valley than Rogue River Valley. The Umpqua is filled with comparatively low hills, covered with grass, a few oak groves and no undergrowth. It is quite extensive and the soil is quite rich. The Rogue River Valley is almost the reverse of this; the mountains which surround it are covered with timber and underbrush, and there is not much grass. It is also small when compared with this. The inhabitants of Umpqua too seem to be a better class than those of Rogue River; there is more appearance of civilized life and hospitality than there is in Rogue River. The fact of the matter is that I consider myself well out of Rogue River Valley, and I do not think that I ever will again voluntarily put my foot in it. I do not like the country or the people. They may improve in time, but I do not expect to hear of another name for the valley for many years to come. I think they deserve it [the name "Rogue"] richly enough now too. Time will show me my error if I am [wrong]. I hope I may [be], but if the people in the upper portion of Oregon are more [omission] than those in the south I am undone, as far as Oregon is concerned. You have by this time returned home from Europe and are now anxiously awaiting my arrival, but as I have before told you, you are to be disappointed. I cannot come home yet awhile.
I might resign, but I cannot do that under the present circumstances.
Though I will be at home before a very long time has passed on be assured of this. How long it may be I am not able to conjecture. How is it that Uncle Tom has been dropped from the Navy, as I see he has been by the papers. He must take it rather to heart. I am much grieved at it. Would that it were not so. I am afraid that he has not "walked a chalk line." Depend on that. There is something wrong there. How long I will have to remain in the army remains to be determined by circumstances. I cannot conjecture. I am now a first lieut., which is very rapid promotion. I may have to remain some years longer. You cannot understand what I mean. I do not expect you to, but I expect you to place confidence in me. If I can by any means return home, even for a week, I will do so. Remember me to all of my friends and relations. Say that I return the kindest remembrance of them all. My love to Father, Adele & the others, Joe and Will. Hope Joe's complaint has relaxed. Ask him to write me under the same direction you do. I would write to him if I had time, but I have been moving about from place to place so frequently as to interrupt my correspondence most materially. I may write to you before reaching the Fort Vancouver, but if I do not do [so] do not be surprised. I know not what will be our destination after reaching there. We may go to Fort Dalles at once or we may remain there until spring. So you will please direct to the care of the Asst. Adjt. General, Benicia. With the greatest love and esteem, I remain your affectionate son.
BenExpect to reach Fort Vancouver about the ninth of December.
Adele Petigru Allston Papers, 12/13/21, South Carolina Historical Society
Fort Dalles, O.T.My dearest Mother
Jan. 4th 1856
Here I am, very unexpectedly to myself and others. I should have remained at Fort Vancouver but for some private considerations. The Gen. had told the Major that he might remain at Vancouver, but while the Major was up here on a court of inquiry the Gen. suddenly ordered me with 30 men up here. I had just got fixed in quarters when I was suited out to come up here where I am obliged to have another bed with him. It has been very cold here ever since I came here. I arrived on the night of the 21st and the river has not been open since. The boat that brought me returned but has not yet been able to come up again. The river is closed up with ice 12 inches thick. The Indians about here have driven their horses on the river on the ice and they are constantly going over to the grass.
This is not local, I believe, but extends even to Vancouver since have had no news from there at all.
So you see that for the last fortnight we have been literally encased, enclosed and debarred from any means of communication. I write this letter in the faint hope of an Indian being sent down, express, but even then it [the letter] will not be in time to go by the steamer of the 5th from San Francisco, for it is already the 4th. So you will miss one mail, and that I am afraid will make you uneasy.
After all my hopes and expectations, I am spending my winter at Fort Dalles. I so fondly hoped to come home and spend my Christmas with you once again. But they have detained me here until they cannot let me go. I am expecting now to go to Fort Tejon as I am promoted to that company; when I get there I will tell you. The Dalles you know is situated on the eastern side of the Cascade Mountains. It may be said, and justly too, to be just in the mountains, as there are nothing but mountains to be seen from it.
The quarters we live in, a long row of rooms, in which the officers live, so that everything said in your room can be overheard in your neighbor's; this building faces north and the river. Just across the river is a broad valley with no wood in it, surrounded by a mountainous ridge in the form of a bow, coming down to the river at each end. The river is about a mile or more from the post at low water, but it comes almost a quarter of a mile more during the high water. The town of the Dalles is situated very close to the river, and some portion of the town is yearly overflowed by the river. These high waters come generally in the months of June, July & August from the melting of the snows. Everywhere you turn your eyes here there is presented nothing but high white ridges or deep brown and frowning rocks which look as if they had been burnt black by some long-continued and immense fire. Thus you see we cannot boast of scenery at least just yet. The scenery may be very pretty here in the spring, but at the present time it is anything else. Two everlasting snowy peaks are visible from here. Mount Adams with its round domelike summit is almost due north, while Mount Hood shows its conical head to the southwest. Mount Adams cannot be as fairly seen as Mount Hood, neither is it as near. Mount Hood is a beautiful, full mountain, but I think that Shasta Butte is as pretty if not more sublime than it.
The best view I have had of Mount Hood has been from Vancouver, where I caught a glimpse of the giant. Here surrounded and enclosed as we are by mountains, these immense masses do not appear as great as they really are. The day that I came up was quite stormy and disagreeable, but in the intervals of the snow and rain I saw enough of the scenery, of the mountainsides, to make the far-famed scenery of the Hudson dwindle almost into nothingness.
The view from the boat is grand. Sublime to think of the river finding its way through such immense masses of material. I was disappointed in the famous Cascades. The river has undoubtedly an immense fall, but it is not a waterfall; the water simply rushes through a narrow (comparatively) space, filled with fragments of rock great and small, which causes it to boil and surge along with a roar like the ocean's. I remained for a day at the Cascades waiting for a boat to come up, but I confined myself almost entirely to the house on account of the weather. But I had plenty of time to impress upon my mind the scene of the Cascades. I saw the next day the submerged forests so much spoken of. But I did not pass near enough to observe them attentively. They are certainly a curious feature in the river. I am looking very anxiously for a letter from you, as you may imagine. I have not had a letter from you since the 1st of June, when you left New York. Adele's letter from Amsterdam (July) is the only and last account I have had of you from anyone. You may imagine then how anxious I am to hear from you. I have received no letters since I have been here (Indian Oregon); all of my friends doubtless think me by far too much out of the world to write me. I have just finished reading that rich production Monte Cristo. It is the first time I ever read it, and I am very much delighted with it and intend to apply his maxim to myself, "Wait & hope," in which two words he says is included all human wisdom. So when I begin to grow vexed and nervous about my getting home I simply think of that and what has been so often repeated to me at home in early days. Patimore. The time may come when I shall go home, nay even when I may invite you to my home, but it will be a long time hence. I have not yet seen the ocean of oceans. It is yet a mystery to me, and I long to see it. If I can settle down quietly in life it must be somewhere on the seacoast where I can hear and see the vast expanse of waters. I am no fisherman or boatman but still I love the water, the ocean. I love to see the clouds gather to mark the rising tempest and see how the waves lash each other into madness--then to see it gently slumbering. The strong man become the infant. I hope you are all home in safety and in health. How is Joe? Much better, I hope! When you write to me address as usual.
Remember me most kindly to all of my friends. My love to Father, Adele and Joe &c. I long to see you all, but I may be a captain before that comes around if I am promoted as rapidly in the future as I have been thus far.
Just think of it, a 1st lt. in a little over two years. If my captaincy comes as fast as that I shall be very much pleased I assure you. I wrote to Father in my last asking to try and get me appointed on this N.W.B. survey but I am not so anxious now and I don't think that he could if he tried, and I do not wish him to meet with a refusal. So please say to him that he need not try it. If I determined to try and go I must apply here. I think at all events let us wait and see what turns up. I shall still be very glad to go, if I could go as one of their astronomers.
Write to me, Mother, and address as usual. I do not wish Father to meet with a refusal, which I am afraid he would be if he requested any such thing for me. Besides, I should prefer to serve with my company if I can ever get there, as it seems now probable that I shall. Again I say adieu, my dear mother.
Wait & hope. Your affectionate sonPlease address me as Lt. Ben instead of Benjamin.
Adele Petigru Allston Papers, 12/13/21, South Carolina Historical Society
Last revised May 7, 2018