News of Jackson County and the "Applegate Trail"--the southern emigrant route.
Mines, Ho?Oregon Spectator, Oregon City, February 8, 1849, page 2
With the view of inducing inquiry and reflection, we ask those of our readers who are preparing to go to the mines to consider well as to the proper time of going. Many of you are better acquainted with the character of the country over which the road to California passes than we are, yet a little further inquiry and reflection in these times of general excitement may prove serviceable. It is said by good men now in California, who went with wagons, that wagons cannot be taken through into the California mines until July; the same opinion is entertained by some intelligent men here who have an extensive knowledge of the country--if this be true, farmers who intend going to the mines with wagons would do far better to drive business upon their farms until August, before commencing their journey.
Traveling from Oregon to California with wagons was never attempted before last fall, when it resulted well, and it would prove equally advantageous again in the same season of the year. An arrival in the mines between June and September would be very likely to prostrate persons from Oregon with sickness. One thing is true; many more of those who packed through last fall were sick than of those who went with wagons; now, although this may be attributable in part to the greater exposure of the packers, yet it was probably mainly owing to the fact that the packers reached the mines earlier than the wagoners. We believe that an ox team will pass over ground with a wagon containing a load of one thousand pounds where a horse bearing one hundred and fifty pounds burden cannot go, but horses can sometimes avoid ground that wagons must pass over. Suppose that you reach the immediate neighborhood of the Sacramento with horses and wagons by the first of May (which is as early as you can well hope), will not that be during high water, and on the verge of the sickly season? and will not the great fatigue of the journey so early in the season exhaust the energies of the body and render it more than otherwise liable to successful attack from the diseases of the country? If so, then both interest and prudence would dictate that rather than undertake the journey so early in the season with wagons and horses, it would be more wise to wait until a time when the roads are known to be good, and the more sickly portion of the season will have passed. By August another crop can be grown, harvested and secured. By leaving here on the first of August the mines can be easily reached by the middle of September, and by going into the mines at that time such such conveniences as can be taken with wagons, with plenty of provisions and good health, a man might entertain a reasonable hope of retaining his health through the fall and winter. The foregoing suggestions are thrown out more with the view of eliciting inquiry among our fellow citizens as to what their true interests are than by way of advice.
Loss of the Pilot Boat Hackstaff--Sufferings of the Passengers, &c.
Correspondence of the N.Y. Tribune
Astoria, Oregon Ter., Sept. 23I left the San Francisco Bay on the 23rd of July, in the pilot boat Hackstaff. Had a gale for 9 days and a calm 8 days succeeding.We got out of water and attempted to run into Rogue River, on the coast, to get a supply, after the Captain had sounded the bar. We had 24 passengers on board, and water was all-important. In entering the river on the 7th of August, the vessel struck the bar and went upon the point in sight of us. From the 7th to the 27th of August we were in the mountains, suffering considerable from fatigue and hunger and progressing scarcely 5 miles a day in a straight line.
We reached the wagon road in the Umpqua Valley after a journey of 19 days in the mountains, and in two days after we procured horses and rode to Oregon City, about 140 miles from where we were wrecked. I came 110 miles in a canoe from Oregon City to this place, and am now waiting for a chance to return to California. Capt. White (who has not yet come down here) has some idea of piloting on the bar here. He has been over to Vancouver to see the Quartermaster in relation to the subject. There is a fine opening here for the business, and if I were to stay in the country five years, I would do the same. As to California. I have no hesitation in saying that it is the best country under the sun to make money in, except Oregon, although the gold regions have many drawbacks which I might enumerate. For a poor young man, who is willing to work for from $5 to $20 per day, California is just the place. The great trouble is, we expect too much. We heard of the prizes in mining, but nothing was said of the blanks.
Yours truly, A. HUGHES.Albany Evening Journal, Albany, New York, December 12, 1849, page 2
Loss of the Schooner Hackstaff off Rogue River.
Perils and Hardships Undergone by Passengers and Crew
in an Overland Journey to the Willamette Valley.
(Written for the Sunday Oregonian.)
There comes to me this bit of pioneer history. It reads like a story. It is a story. It is one, however, in which there is not a phrase of fiction, not a word but what is fact. Doubtless an omission of a few of the details and a pencil stroke or two to polish the striking incidents would make it more thrilling, but the object is to record only what happened and in the way it happened; to state the actual, not the fictitious. The name given of the schooner is the name she bore; the names given of the captain, crew and passengers are their own names; the incidents related are real incidents, qualified with this word of explanation: memories are treacherous. Thirty-seven years have passed since the incidents occurred, and it is but natural that in narrating them the actors should give slightly different versions; that there should not be entire agreement as to the order of their occurrence or the time. But taken in any version they form an entertaining chapter of Oregon's history. It is a chapter worth relating; it is worth preserving. And here it is:
About the 22nd of July, 1849, the schooner W. L. Hackstaff, Captain William White, sailed from San Francisco for the Columbia River. She was a small vessel, registering only about ninety tons, but she could ride the billows of the ocean like a duck rides the ripples of a river. A short time before this she had arrived from New York, in the waters of whose harbor she had for years been doing service as a pilot vessel. No pilot who threaded those waters knew the indentations of the neighboring coast, the landmarks, the shoals, the rocks better than did White, but he was a pilot, not a captain. Navigation in its broader sense he knew not. But when in imagination the owners of the schooner saw the very sky that overhung California hued with gold, Pilot White was made Capt. White and given a commission to seek the ocean of Balboa's finding, and to proceed northward until the star in the west seemed to stand still over the spot where the golden child lay. Having one, two or more sailing masters aboard, the Hackstaff in due time anchored in San Francisco Bay. It being then found that there was little use for such a craft in California waters, her agents ordered her to the mouth of the Columbia River to perform her wonted service of piloting.
A merry company had she as passengers as she sailed up the coast. Twenty-four they were in number, and all Oregonians. Their names, as far as can be recalled by the four first named passengers, and from whom the within facts are gleaned, are Lester Hulin, Cornelius J. Hills, Charnel Mulligan, James M. Chapin, Jason Wheeler and Leonard Wheeler (brothers), Wm. Shively, James Leabo, John Ellenburg, two men by the name of Walker (father and son) and four others, Churchill, Sexton, Vickers and Watson, whose Christian names are not known. There are, therefore, nine of whom neither Christian nor surname can be recalled. These, with the ship's crew, numbering seven men, making a total of thirty-one, was the complement of humanity on board the schooner. The passengers had been in California only a few months; some of them only a few weeks. But that state did not hold for them the charms that Oregon held. The novelty of sifting earth for gold had vanished. The metal was too plentiful to be appreciated. Thinking, therefore, that they could return whenever they chose and secure any amount they wanted, they flung their bags of gold dust over their shoulders and buckled them around their bodies and decided to return to a cooler climate, to lovelier vales and valleys, to return home. They therefore hailed with joy the sailing of the Hackstaff, and paid their passage of $100 each without a murmur. So light a value was placed on money that before embarking one or more of them left several hundred dollars with acquaintances in San Francisco, saying: "Take this and keep it for me, will you? I may return for it someday," and left with not a line of writing to show the deposit.
Soon after passing out of Golden Gate strong headwinds were encountered. "I will put out to sea to escape these winds," said the captain. "At this rate our progress will be backward," and out to sea he went. The schooner was headed northwest and for eight days her general course was not changed. The second day she passed out of sight of land, but the storm did not abate. There was no rain. It was a strong, never-ceasing, relentless wind. At times it transformed the ocean into foam. Wave after wave swept over the deck of the schooner and apparently drowned her for a time, but so lightly and trimly was she built that to her this was but a frolic.
The lighter billows often afforded amusement. Occasionally there would be hours at a time when the sea was fairly smooth. The passengers would then recline on the deck as seals bask on a rock. One of the company was in the habit of dropping asleep almost as soon as he came within the sun's rays, and as he was not a favorite with a few of the passengers; whenever a wave would curl over the edge of the vessel and break upon his body they considered it great sport. One afternoon while he was asleep, a giant wave was seen to approach. His comrades who were on deck winked at one another as they clung to the rigging. The wave came and completely enveloped the ship. A few moments afterward Mr. Morpheus was found to be clutching at the false bulwarks as if the earth was being deluged and the schooner Hackstaff was Noah's ark. Thereafter when he slept he went below. When night came it was the custom of the officers to lash the lever of the rudder, which extended forward over the afterdeck, in one position and let it remain thus for hours, occasionally until morning. This was a novel proceeding to the Oregonians and they humorously referred to it as "staking the vessel out."
About the ninth day the captain changed his course to northeast. He had expected to make the voyage to Astoria in five or six days and now feared that if he longer kept out to sea his supply of fresh water would become exhausted. Thenceforth a small quantity was daily issued to each passenger, the allowance growing smaller as days came and went. Nine, ten, eleven, twelve, thirteen days passed and still no land was to be seen. The force of the headwinds had lessened, but they had been so fierce that the captain declared the schooner had made no progress northward, and if anything was then below the latitude of San Francisco. On the fourteenth or fifteenth land was descried. No river, bay or other indentation appearing, they continued to sail up the coast, thinking they might soon reach their starting point--Golden Gate. At last the supply of fresh water ran so low that the passengers told the captain that he must either put them ashore or manage to fill his casks. He now took another observation by the sun and pronounced his position to be twelve miles below Monterey. Soon afterward a dead calm settled upon the vessel. As the tide came in there was danger of her being washed on the rocks along the beach, and as there was no breeze to fill her sails the crew and passengers, in order to save the ship and possibly their lives, resorted to oars, of which, fortunately, there were four long ones on board.
During the delay caused by the calm, Sexton, Mulligan, Hulin and three sailors took a small boat and rowed shoreward, hoping to find fresh water and to determine at what point on the California coast they were. Nearing land they beheld Indians. They then rested their oars, and looked steadily. They were familiar with the small California Indians, but these were to them as snow peaks to hillocks. Slowly the boat neared the shore. Slowly and stately passed the Indians upon the beach. Seventy-five or a hundred of them there were, all fine, stalwart fellows. The little clothing they had on consisted of skins of animals. Bows and quivers of arrows hung upon their sides. They were bedecked with feathers, their faces stained, and every movement betokened the primitive savage.
"Hold on, boys," suddenly cried Sexton. "Those red devils are not California Indians. Let's look at them. One thing is certain, if we go ashore we must fight."
They ceased rowing and held a conference. They looked at the Indians, at the beach, and the headlands. They could not detect a familiar object. "Where are we?" was the question each man asked himself, the others. Soon they reached a conclusion, and action immediately followed. The bow of the boat was turned toward the schooner. At this the poor sailors could have cried with joy, for having seen so few Indians each individual brave was in their eyes as mighty as Goliath of Gath, and as thirsty for human blood as an African cannibal.
Reaching the schooner, the men were surrounded by the comrades, anxious to hear the result of observations. "It is our opinion that the captain has lost his reckoning," said the trio.
"Where are we, then?" asked a voice.
"Either on the coast of Northern California or Southern Oregon."
"We are not," said the captain.
A wind now springing up, the schooner continued up the coast. The captain scanned every indentation, hoping to spy the crescent beach of Monterey Bay or the Spanish buildings that form her aged city. To him figures were more conclusive than surmises. With instruments and computations he had determined this to be his latitude, and he knew it was correct. With this view Charley, the second officer, coincided. The passengers were divided in their opinions, but all eyes were turned toward the coast. The feeling of being lost at sea while in sight of land was painfully unpleasant. Who knew but what these shores were those of Mexico or the Sandwich Islands?
Of the passengers who scanned the coast, none did so more closely than Chapin. He had been in Southern Oregon the previous year, and was now looking for familiar landmarks. After a time he fancied that he could recognize them; later his fancies merged into belief; at last to his satisfaction at least, the schooner's position was known and he named an inlet that came in view as the mouth of a certain river. But the majority of the passengers were still incredulous. They sided with the captain. Chapin was a pioneer, hardy, brave and intelligent, and on land where he was acquainted they would have yielded to his judgment. But they were yet on the ocean.
When opposite the mouth of the inlet, being eighteen or twenty miles north of the spot where the first boat put toward shore, Capt. White anchored. With a small boat he rowed shoreward and carefully sounded the channel. Returning he reported fresh water in abundance and the channel so deep that he could run directly into the mouth of the river to fill his casks. He then weighed anchor and headed the schooner eastward. For a time she plowed the waves gracefully, then seemed to stop. A new tack was taken. Still there was no movement. The Hackstaff was aground. Rapidly the tide went out and before the passengers fully awoke to their situation she was high and dry upon the sands.
The startling discovery was now made that on board there was provision enough for little more than one day. Why the captain, steward and cook had kept the passengers in ignorance of this was not and never has been explained, but the latter were so incensed at the discovery that they decided to quit the vessel and attempt to reach settlements overland. It being impossible for the captain and crew to float her off the sands without the assistance of the passengers, they all disembarked. Each man had a trunk filled with clothing, tools or other articles, but nothing was taken except what he could carry on his back. Shively and Hughes, who were would-be merchants, had small stocks of merchandise, among which was some sugar and raisins. This, with the little flour and pickled pork belonging to the schooner, was parceled among the thirty-one men, and lifting their packs, guns and gold dust, they strode toward the mountains.
Chapin was the only man who professed to be acquainted with the locality. Many of the passengers still doubted his seeming knowledge. After marching a few paces, being in the lead, he stopped and said: "You see that bend in the river? As we pass around it we will see in the channel a large rock. Opposite the rock we will find signs of a campfire, a fire I built one year ago."
"I have ten dollars that says there is neither rock nor campfire there," sharply spoke Mulligan, who had again become a doubting Thomas.
"Ten dollars it is," coolly replied Chapin.
And on they marched.
When they rounded the bend they beheld the rock. When they came opposite the rock they found old firebrands. Chapin was right. Every man was now convinced. They had stranded on the Oregon coast. The river they were on was Rogue River.
"Here is your gold," said Mulligan to Chapin.
"Keep it, man; I wouldn't carry it for it," was the reply.
They soon camped. This was the seventeenth or eighteenth day after leaving San Francisco and therefore about August 8. The supper they prepared was light, consisting for the most part of a bit of pork about an inch square boiled in water in which was stirred later a spoonful or two of flour.
Supper over, preparation was made for the night. The men organized themselves into a company, Vickers being chosen captain and Chapin guide. Sentries were picked to stand guard during the night, for the movements of the Indians betokened hostility. In the morning of the day when Hulin and companions returned from their boat ride toward the shore the Indians kindled great fires on the beach as if signaling brother braves wherever they might be. Fires then sprang up along the coast as the schooner sailed northward, and from the actions of the Indians at the mouth of Rogue River it was evident that a number of them were those seen in the morning or else had been apprised by signals of the approach of the vessel and her condition.
On the morning of August 9 the company moved onward. The Indians had shown themselves at intervals during the night, but not an arrow had been shot into camp. Just then they were more interested in plundering the vessel than in shedding blood. And a rich plunder they found. Cornelius Hills left clothing and carpenter's tools valued at $400, while others left goods varying in value from a hundred to several thousand dollars. They all took the trouble, however, to bring their gold dust, of which each man carried from five to fifteen pounds, a pound being worth about $200. They handled this dust as they handled their blankets. When they camped they flung the bags containing it among their packs, went out to hunt or explore, never fearing that a comrade would think of transferring a few ounces from their bags to his own.
The route of march decided on was up the north side of Rogue River, for several days travel thence across the mountains in a northerly direction to the head of Umpqua Valley, this being the route taken by Chapin and party the preceding year. One, two, three and four days passed without any game of consequence being killed. The third and fourth days they had grown so weak from fatigue and hunger that traveling was slow and painful. One by one articles that composed their packs were thrown aside. A few men threw away their last blanket. Every berry and nutritious root along the trail was greedily eaten. Deer were occasionally seen, but the tramp of an army of men through the timber and tangled wildwood so frightened the animals that they were out of sight before a shot could be fired. On the morning of the fifth day the half-starved men decided to move very slowly, cautiously, and hunt. Leabo, being the surest shot, was placed in the lead. After marching a short distance they spied a deer, but it was lost in a thicket almost instantly. Calling a halt they sent Leabo ahead, with the injunction that if he killed a deer he must halloo. Anxiously they awaited the sound of the rifle. At last it came. They strained their ears to catch the hunter's shout. It came not. A few more moments of silent waiting and the rifle's thunder again woke the hills. Another listening for a shout, which came not. The rifle was heard the third time, but still no outcry.
"Jim Leabo never shot three times without bringing his game. Let's find it," cried a voice, and at the word these half-famished men tore through the brush like Indians. They found Leabo's tracks; they found Leabo, and, oh, joy! Each shot had brought a deer.
It took but a moment for knives to pierce the animals' throats, and while the hot blood spurted forth the men stooped to drink it or bended their knees to lick it up as it oozed into the ground. All parts of the animals were eaten. Even the hides and ears, after the hair had been singed therefrom, served as food. But three deer for ten times that number of men did little more than furnish a supper and breakfast, when they marched on.
The ninth day they left Rogue River and took a northerly course across the mountains, it being Chapin's intention to strike over on the Coquille River. During the four days preceding this no large game had been killed, and consequently hunger was bordering on voraciousness. But on the evening of this day good fortune overtook them. They happened on a band of elk and succeeded in killing nine or ten noble animals, and now they feasted. For three nights they camped there, and did nothing but eat and dry elk meat. So famished were they that several of the company could not restrain their appetites, and sickness was the result.
On the morning of the twelfth day, or about the 20th of August, they resumed their march. The country had now become so shrouded with smoke that Chapin could not see the landmarks on which he depended to guide him, and it was not long before it dawned on the party that they were lost in the mountains. Having a compass, however, they were enabled to keep a general direction. Traveling was slow, not only on account of the faintness of the men, but also the dense timber and brambles through which they were obliged to pass. At times not over four miles a day were made.
People are alike the world over. Some lay by necessities in case of an emergency; others live only by the day. The more judicious of the company ate sparingly of their dried elk meat, but many of them munched it as they marched, and in four or five days their supply was exhausted. Such persons received little sympathy, for when the elk were killed the distribution had been equal. After the manner of mountaineers the company had formed itself into five or six divisions, each division being called a mess. When, therefore, game was killed it was cut up and placed in as many equal piles as there were messes. In order, however, to distribute it more impartially, one of the men was then requested to turn his face from the game, when, pointing to any pile, someone would ask to whose mess it should go. The chosen judge would give a name, and this would be continued until all the meat was allotted. Each mess would then distribute their allotment among themselves or prepare it in common, as they chose.
There was one man in particular whose allowance was soonest eaten, and he paid for it bitterly. For two or three days he lived mostly on roots, leaves and grasses. He was wont to carry a tuft of grass tied in a buttonhole of his coat, and nibble on it as he walked, jokingly saying that if Nebuchadnezzar lived on grass he thought he could. But, poor man, he found little life strength in herbs. Before the journey was ended a vacant stomach made a vacant mind and it became necessary to watch him to prevent him from wandering into bypaths.
On the morning of the seventeenth day after leaving the schooner the wanderers found themselves descending into a canyon which afterwards proved to be that of Cow Creek. Peering into the stream for fish, they noticed large quantities of crawfish. They stood not on ceremony but plunged their hands into the water, drew forth the crustaceans and ate them raw. It made a novel sight. The legs of the crawfish, like the tail of a snake after being severed from its body, live on. The men chewed the fleshy part of the legs while the claws at the other end nipped at their shaggy whiskers, or their cheeks and lips, from which they often drew blood. When, however, their hunger was partly appeased they kindled a fire and, more after the manner of human beings, roasted a bushel or more of their newfound game. That afternoon about 4 o'clock, despairing of finding deer in the canyon, they climbed a ridge to the east where they were fortunate enough to kill three or four deer at a spring. Here they camped. During the evening one of the party discovered a trail over which had lately passed a body of Indians, most of them, from the signs, having been horsemen. Joy now filled every heart. The wanderers knew the trail led into the Umpqua Valley, and so on the following morning, bright and early, they were on the march. They now separated into two divisions. Ten or twelve of the hardiest men, among them being Hulin and Jason Wheeler, took the lead and that night succeeded in reaching a spot near where Riddle now stands. In searching for game Hulin met two friendly Indians, from whom he tried to buy venison. He offered them gold, but they refused it. Various means were then employed to secure the meat, but without success. Finally he bethought himself of matches, and striking one, showed them how quickly a fire could be kindled. This took their fancy. To them a match was worth more than a pound of gold, and for a few matches five pounds of venison were secured. This, with one squirrel, served the company for the night. The rear division killed one deer.
The next morning the men in the lead reached Myrtle Creek, being then in the emigrant road leading from Oregon to California. Hulin had passed over this road twice before and knew it well. He told his comrades that in a grove hard by were squirrels, and suggested that they stop to hunt. They all stopped, but when an hour or more later he emerged, not a man of his company was in sight. Picking up a squirrel that he had killed he walked hastily on to overtake them, but learning from an Indian whom he met that they were far in advance, he slackened speed. When he reached Roberts Hill he stopped and roasted his squirrel. As he today recalls it, he thinks that in his hunger he simply singed the hair from its skin, without removing the entrails. At any rate he relished it.
Finding that his companions had kept the road winding over the hill, he took a shorter trail leading along the bank of the South Umpqua River, and after rounding the hill, seeing from signs in the road that they were behind him he decided to push onward to a point near where Roseburg now stands before night. He reached his destination weary, hungry and footsore, having walked that day nearly thirty miles. Soon after camping two Indians came up and proceeded to prepare themselves a meal. This for the most part consisted of a deer's paunch, which they had filled with blood and which they at once placed in front of the fire to roast. Every few minutes they would prick holes in the paunch to let the gas escape and roll it over in order to roast the contents evenly. When roasted they graciously offered Hulin a portion, which, with bits of venison and squirrel, formed his supper. The Indians manifested no great friendliness, and that night Hulin hugged his gun. He was not molested, however, and on the following morning pushed on to the North Umpqua River, where lived two white men, Thomas Smith and John Akin, and there awaited the arrival of his companions.
The rear party, numbering twenty-one men, had but little food from the evening of the eighteenth day until the evening of the twentieth. That day they overtook the nine of Hulin's division, and while ascending Roberts Hill they met a dog in the road. "Hurrah for dog meat for supper," shouted Hills, but before they had decided to kill it an emigrant train bound for California came in sight. They asked the captain for food. He told them settlements were near, and that he could ill spare provisions.
"You must give us food, or we will shoot an ox," said a voice.
"Better not attempt that," was the captain's gruff reply.
"Very well. An ox or emigrant blood; take your choice. We are strong in number, crazed by hunger, and most of us armed to the teeth," were either the words or thoughts of many of the men.
He looked at the company, growing stronger as the stragglers came up, then said: "Follow us to the foot of the hill."
They followed, were given supper and breakfast, for which they paid $1 a meal each. Marching forward the following morning they reached the North Umpqua, near which they camped. Here they met Hulin and thence proceeded together to the Willamette Valley. The next night--the twenty-second from the vessel and thirty-ninth from San Francisco--they camped at Cowan's, near Yoncalla; the fortieth at Ira Wells', near Cottage Grove; the forty-first, which was about the 1st of September, reached Pleasant Hill and the vicinity of Eugene. To those who proceeded further journeying was easy, for they were among settlements. Their sufferings were over. The pilgrimage proper was ended.
Speaking the other day to a member of the company about the hardships encountered, he replied: "Hardships? Yes, lots of them, piled thick and deep they were, but I never had more sport on any trip of my life."
----A word as an addendum. It has been stated that Capt. White lost his reckoning. He did, but it should also be stated that on the ocean he suffered from the ague, which in a measure rendered him unfit for duty. By most of the passengers he was held in high esteem, although they were temporarily angered when they found that the schooner's provisions had run so low. Soon after reaching Portland he returned to San Francisco and by the agents of the Hackstaff was again sent to the mouth of the Columbia River, where a few months later Hulin chanced to meet him in charge of a pilot vessel, the Mary Taylor. He or his son, John Cornelius White, may be in Astoria today. Hulin is a retired farmer, residing in Eugene. Although his life has been active and laborious, owing to temperate habits he is today a well-preserved man. Hills occupies the land on the middle fork of Willamette River that he selected as a homestead in 1847, and has had the satisfaction of seeing his sons and daughters settle around him. Mulligan lives three miles east of Eugene, near Springfield, and from appearances is contented and happy. Chapin lives near Latham, on the line of the O.&C. Railroad, is hale and hearty, and, to use his expression, is "in the market yet," meaning that he has never renounced the vows of bachelorhood. These four men are a quartet to themselves. They crossed the plains together; all went from Oregon to California; were together on the Hackstaff; messed together in the mountains; all settled in Lane County, and all are alive. Jason Wheeler, of Albany, known the Willamette Valley over, is now Indian agent at Warm Springs. His brother Leonard died many years ago. Leabo lived in or near Oregon City, as did also Vickers and Hughes. The latter was one of the officers of the schooner. Ellenburg made his home near Brownsville, Sexton near Jefferson and Watson on Tualatin Plains. The two Walkers located near Salem. Shively was last heard of at Astoria, while Churchill is said to have died years since. Often do the four comrades in Lane County rehearse to one another or their friends the tale of this memorable journey. Often have they wished to know the fate and fortune of fellow comrades. If these lines should meet the eye of any unknown survivor, will he not kindly make his whereabouts known, either by personal letter or through the columns of the Oregonian?
T. C. JUDKINS.Oregonian, October 24, 1886, page 2 This article was reprinted (with peculiar omissions) in the Oregonian of April 18, 1891, on page 10.
A Vessel Bearing Oregonians Wrecked at the Entrance to Rogue River.
The Wreck Abandoned to the Indians, and the Passengers and Crew
Tramp Through the Wilderness to the Settlements.
(Written for the Sunday Oregonian.)
Mr. Churchill, of Salem, who was a pioneer of the forties, tells an interesting story of the wreck of the Hackstaff, in the summer of 1849, on her voyage from San Francisco to the Columbia.
The Hackstaff had been a New York pilot boat, and was then owned by Capt. White, who was bringing her to the Columbia to engage in pilotage there. This was the same Capt. White who was long afterwards well known in connection with Oregon pilotage. A company of Oregonians, when water failed in the mines, engaged passage on this craft, and with thirty passengers she started for the Columbia River.
It was July, when northerly winds prevail and sailing northward is slow work. The Hackstaff made such slow progress that the water supply ran short, and it became necessary to refill their casks. They endeavored to enter Rogue River for that purpose, but the ship grounded on the sands in the river, and Capt. White saw that without the appliances necessary it would be impossible to save his vessel. He was not a man to waste time uselessly, so he determined to abandon the voyage. All hands then went to work to equip for the long land journey that lay before them. Nearly all had rifles and took them along. They carried only such clothing as was needed for summer use, and had to depend on their rifles for a food supply. It was their intention to push their way through the mountains, to reach the trail traveled between Oregon and California, but they had little idea of the tedious journey involved in this attempt. But they were pioneers, all brave men, in life's prime, and did not hesitate to go wherever the way to Oregon led them.
The Indians that were near the wreck watched with great interest to see what the shipwrecked crew would do, and were delighted beyond measure when they saw them preparing to abandon the vessel. They went on board as the whites left it, and were so overjoyed at the great variety of plunder left behind for their use that they did not dispute the men's possession of what they carried off.
It may be imagined that they felt the hazard and danger that was before them in thus starting into a mountain wilderness, but many of them had wives and families in Oregon, and nearly all had homes there. All had some pounds of gold dust they had made great sacrifices to win, and hoped to invest on lands they had already laid claim to.
They had no leader, and strange to say no time ever came when they needed one. All the long and tedious journey, so abounding in hardships, passed without a single disagreeable occurrence or unpleasant incident. Men who had crossed the continent and lived years in Oregon, had made the overland journey to California, and had graduated in the mines, were neither apt to wish to impose on their fellows or to stand imposition; so they were good fellows and made the best of their unfortunate circumstances.
THE JOURNEY.When all had selected the road proposed, and were equipped for the journey, they started boldly eastward into as dense a wilderness as is easily met with. Capt. White was a high private, as he was no land pilot. As every man was thoroughly armed, the Indians gave them the right of way in a very liberal manner. They carried all the food they could, and trusting that Providence would send their rifles game, they pushed into the wilderness of the coast ranges.
It was summer, and the weather along the coast was delightful. With three dozen rifles always on guard, the Indians were not dangerous. It is seldom that a company so compact and harmonious is ever left to shift for themselves. They soon found that they could trust Providence and their trusty rifles while in the coast mountains.
Soon after their journey began a very remarkable incident occurred. One day they saw signs of "big game," and from the foremost of the party rifle shots were heard. Before long this turned into an irregular fusillade, and rifles were cracking in different directions. They were good marksmen, and were among a great band of elk, as was soon discovered. The great beasts were so demoralized that they could not run, but stood bewildered and trembling in their tracks. No one ever knew how many were killed, but they stayed there several days, making a camp long enough to cut the elk hams into strips and make jerked meat for future use. They ate all they could and carried away all they could, and long before they reached civilization they remembered with hungry stomachs and suggestive appetites the great battle they had on the journey's start. Such abundance was not always at hand.
VENISON FOR SUPPER AND BREAKFAST.Their food supply was uncertain, but they had a good country to hunt in and managed to keep up strength, though sometimes it was rather long between meals.One of the longest of these fasting spells ended in a feast that our old friend Churchill describes with great humor. Towards evening one day, as they were crossing from the Rogue River country into the Umpqua Valley, someone passed word to the hungry train that he saw a deer on ahead. So a halt was called, and they sent Jim Leabo on to try for a shot, thinking he was as likely to bring down game as the next best. Jim took his old twisted bore and went on, while his friends waited and wished he might succeed. Churchill says: "After awhile I heard a shot, and it made me feel good, for I knew Jim was handy with a gun. Pretty soon I heard another shot as quick as he could reload, and I thought to myself: Leabo has wounded his game and it took another shot to settle it, and that made me feel very good. Soon after--as soon as a man could load up again--we heard a third shot, and Jim halloed for us to come. That made me feel good all over, and sure enough when we got to him Jim had three deer down. He had bagged a deer at every shot and had hardly left his tracks to do it." They made camp and dressed their game and all had a hearty meal, so hearty that when breakfast was over they had only a small mess left to carry with them for dinner. The hungriest one was the Chinook Indian from Astoria, who ate so heartily that he got sick. He was more afraid of Rogue River Indians than anyone else, and never would turn in at night until he had made a safe thing of it that there were no Indian signs nearby.
So they went on towards Oregon, and in due time, though in very straggling shape, they reached the Umpqua, and found someone keeping a ferry on that river to accommodate California travel. Every man who returned from the mines in those times possessed more or less "filthy lucre," and the men who abandoned the Hackstaff were not exceptions. Every man carried his purse of "dust," and it made it hard to carry much else when we had a fair lot of "precious metal." But their treasure was not much needed when they reached white men's homes and told their story. Everyone made them welcome to all they could afford and refused pay. They said: "You have had a hard time and are freely welcome to anything we can do for you." This generous reception was agreeable to their feelings and some compensation for their "grievous pains."
At the head of the Willamette Valley they met with a company of Canadian Frenchmen going to California, and bought of them horses to ride the rest of the way. They paid $50 apiece for outfits, and after that got along comfortably. Most of them were former settlers coming back to their families and homes in the lower valley. Capt. White carried out his intention to be a pilot at the lower Columbia and soon became very useful there. It is said that he it was who proved for the first time that there were two ship channels at the ocean entrance. His vessel could probably have been saved if the appliances needed could have been had, but there were no such means at command, and he abandoned the wreck rather than waste time and money.
Oregonian, December 19, 1886, page 1
CAYUSE WAR CLAIMS.
The Commissioner on "Cayuse war claims" will commence his first session at Oregon City, on the first Monday of November next, for the investigation of claims against the late provisional government growing out of the Cayuse war.
A. A. SKINNER,Oregon City, Oct. 18, 1849.
Oregon Spectator, Oregon City, December 13, 1849, page 3
GOLD IN SOUTHERN OREGON.
Well-Known Pioneer Tells of Discoveries in 1849.
NORTH YAMHILL, Or., Jan. 20.--(To the Editor.)--I notice in a letter published in yesterday's Daily Oregonian, copied from the Ashland Tidings, that someone, in giving an account of the first discovery of gold in Southern Oregon, places the time in the fall of 1851. I am quite sure that gold was known to exist in the Rogue River at least two years earlier than the fall of 1851. In the latter part of August or first part of September, 1849, a party, with pack animals, left the Willamette Valley to go over the trail to the California gold mines, the writer, then a lad 10 years old, being one of the party. We proceeded up the Willamette Valley and through the Umpqua Valley to the north end of what was then called "the canyon." Here we laid over, waiting for additions to our party, as it was considered unsafe at that time, on account of the hostility of the Rogue River Indians, to attempt to pass through their country in small parties. We laid over a few days until our party had increased to the number of 28, when we proceeded on our journey, fording the Rogue River at what was called Perkins' ferry. Proceeding up Rogue River we camped one night a mile or two below what was then called "Point of Rocks," but now I think known as Rock Point. This was considered the most dangerous place on the trail for attacks from Indians.
After passing Point of Rocks, next morning, we concluded to stop and prospect on the Rogue River. Turning to the left, leaving the trail, we went up the river toward Table Rock, two or three miles, camped and laid over that day, and some of our party prospected on the bars of the river and found gold. We never thought of stopping there to mine, as we had started for the gold mines of California, and the next morning we proceeded on our journey. Previous to this, on our way up the South Umpqua, we had prospected for gold on the river bars, and had also found it there, I think somewhere near the mouth of Myrtle Creek.
Now, after the lapse of more than 50 years, I recall the names of a number of persons who were in the party, as follows: From Tualatin County (Washington), Norman Martin, Norman Smith and Martin Bridgefarmer. From Yamhill County, T. B. Hutt, Kendrel Dobbins, A. McBuck, James Mills ---- Comegys, H. H. Hyde, Dan Craft, J. H. Hawley and Jephtha Walling. From Polk County, Perry Smith, Ira Townsend, John Pigg and William Pigg. From Linn County, Mr. Neil, Mr. Montgomery and Mr. Wright.
If any of the persons above named are still living, they will no doubt readily recall the facts as I have here stated them.
LEE LAUGHLIN.Oregonian, Portland, January 21, 1900, page 5
In the spring of 1849 a party of 13 decided to make a trip from Portland to the Missouri River on horseback, a distance of over 2000 miles. Mr. [James] Field was selected captain of the company. The Indians were very aggressive on the Oregon Trail, and it was decided to go south through the Willamette Valley and the Rogue River Valley, then to cross the Cascade Mountains and avoid the Indians. They had serious trouble with Indians in the Rogue River Valley and were compelled to build a fort, under cover of which they built a boat and crossed the river. During the whole trip half the party were obliged to do picket duty while the others slept. The party was under orders that at no time should anyone be out of reach of his rifle, and, for fear of treachery, no Indians should be allowed to come near them. In the Rogue River Valley they met a party from Sutter's Fort, Cal., who reported having been hard pressed with Indians.
Port Chester Daily Record, May 11, 1903, quoted in "Pioneer of Oregon Dies," Morning Oregonian, Portland, May 19, 1903, page 7
Last revised September 28, 2017