Martha Hill Gillette
Across the plains in 1852, then from Salem to Southern Oregon in 1853--along with events of the 1853 Rogue River Indian War. Compare with her sister Mary's account, transcribed here.
Her second-hand war accounts should be read with caution, especially those of the 1855-56 Indian war and the 1873 Modoc War.
Editor, The New American Woman:
I am submitting to you a manuscript dictated to me by my mother, Mrs. Martha Hill Gillette, who is now eighty-two years of age. She was one of the first pioneers to the West, crossing the plains with her parents by ox train in 1852.
The trip was full of difficulties and hardships. The terrible wars with the Indians in the Rogue River Valley in Oregon, the outbreak of cholera on the plains, etc., make the story replete with exciting incident.
This dear mother of mine is a brilliant woman of culture and education. Her eventful life is well known from Portland, Oregon to Los Angeles. Many friends have urged her to write her story. She has dictated it to me and I am submitting it to you for your kind consideration.
Mrs. Leslie Merrick.The New American Woman is glad to publish the story of this pioneer girl, still young at eighty-two.
SynopsisThe story opens with Martha Hill's life in Tennessee and describes the primitive time of eighty years ago. Her adventures across the plains with her parents by ox teams, their exciting escapades, troubles, terrors, siege with cholera, as well as the amusing incidents on the way are vividly told.
She describes the wonderful discovery of gold in '49 in California when her father [Isaac Hill] went out to make his fortune and then returned East for his family.
The Indian wars of '52 and '53 and all the horrors that she lived through at that time; romantic incidents that occurred in the early days in Oregon when she, the first white woman [she was not the first] entered the Indian territory, and the long strides from an unsettled country to its present civilization.
Subscribe for The New American Woman and begin reading this most interesting story beginning in this number.
The New American Woman, February 1917, page 18
THE WOMAN PIONEER ACROSS THE PLAINSShe was seated one afternoon by the window looking out on the beautiful line of hills that surround our home. It was a peaceful scene, and that peace was reflected in her face. As the shadows gathered around her, I thought of her eventful life. One of those heroic women who had braved all the dangers of the pioneers, all the tragedies, joys and adventures of those who crossed the plains in the early days, and helped to build up this great western country of ours, giving us not alone the work of their hands, but sending to posterity, to their children, that spirit of energy and effort which is the great inspiration of America.
By Martha Hill Gillette
This was my mother. Many a time she had told us the story of those early days, and this evening a great desire came over me to get her to tell her story with its happy message for the pleasure of her children who are spreading their energies in other fields of endeavor.
Today as she sits there at the age of 82, she is as full of the joys of life and as interested in every new scheme and invention as if she were on the threshold of youth. "This is the pioneer spirit," she says. "Things have changed from my childhood, but the spirit of America lives in every new movement, especially in the woman's movement, which has the undaunted marks of the pioneers."
"I was born in East Tennessee," began my mother; "in the year of 1833; the night that went down in history for the falling of the stars, and nearly sent all of the negroes into eternity, so terrified were the colored folks over any signs from the heavens. The house I lived in, and which stands today, was built by my grandfather in 1812. He sent all the way to Boston, Mass., for the glass used in the windows, which were about 7 inches square. Our house stood on a high bluff, at the foot of which was a large spring, and all the water used at the house had to be carried up in buckets from the spring. When I think of the ease and almost luxury of work in these days compared with the old times it seems like a romance. At that time we had no electric washing machines and big laundries, but we put our clothes in sacks and carried them down to the spring. We used a big copper kettle that held about fourteen gallons of water for our boiler. This was hung on a pole supported by forked sticks driven into the ground. The tubs were made of cedar wood bound with hickory hoops and were homemade, and as we had no washboard we placed the clothes on the table made for that purpose and pounded them with a paddle about as large as two hands.
"We made soap once a year, never using it until it was one year old. We had a large hopper where we saved our ashes, and in the spring, after the killing of the hogs, the soap making took place.
"After the washing was finished came the hard task of carrying the wet clothes up the steep hill to the house, and as we had no lines we hung them on the bushes.
"When I was a child everyone worked, and the woman's share was none the smallest. The women made all the clothes worn by the men, women and children. After raising the cotton, picking it and sending it to the gin to have the seeds removed, they wove it into sheets, table linen and every bit of cloth used in the house. Sometimes they used flax for the men's shirts and trousers as they considered it wore longer, which was an important factor in those days. If we wanted a plaid dress we colored our warp and filling, as we called it, using indigo for blue, copper for yellow and peach tree leaves for green. The coloring of turkey red was very expensive, so we considered ourselves rich if we had a stripe of red in our plaid.
"Our year's wardrobe consisted of two woolen dresses, which was considered quite sufficient. I wonder what the modern girl would think of this. When I was 14 my father [Isaac Hill] bought me a calico dress which came from England, there being no calico made in the United States at that time. I was as proud that day as any miss of the present century is of a silk embroidered gown."
(Continued in March number)The men's winter clothing were made in the summer time by the women, from wool from our own sheep. After shearing the wool was sent to the gin to be washed and picked and made into rolls ready to be spun. It was colored with walnut bark. The Sunday garments were dyed blue.
The New American Woman, February 1917, pages 25-26
THE WOMAN PIONEER ACROSS THE PLAINS
By Martha Hill Gillette
(Continued from February Number.)
All the sewing was done by hand as sewing machines were unknown. In fact, I was eighteen years old before I saw a sewing machine, and that was a little thing about as large as a plate. It was screwed onto a table to be used. Machines were very expensive and only the rich could afford them. All this work was done by the women, in addition to the housework and cooking for the hired men.
There was no such thing as a shoe store when I was a child. The shoemaker came to our house once a year, making two pair of shoes for each member of the family--a fine pair and a pair for everyday use. The leather was brought from the tannery about two miles away. The shoemaker took up his abode with us, and none dare enter his room unless he were sent for to be measured for shoes. He took his pay in hams and bacons, and corn and other produce from the farm.
The farmers worked twice as hard in those days as they do now to get results. Their plows were small affairs, just about the size now used for cultivating. It took an expert to sow the grain, and it had to be done on a windy day. The sower took a grain sack and hung it from his shoulder, and threw the grain out handsful at a time.
Not long ago I visited my nephew and watched him sowing his grain with the latest machinery, and he did the work of ten men of the olden time. Just think of planting corn, the row miles long, one man plowing the furrow, another dropping, and another covering up with a hoe. Nowadays, a man goes forth with his machinery and horses as if on pleasure bent, and soon the whole thing is done.
When harvest time came and the grain was ripe for cutting, how often I have heard the foreman say: "To the north field tomorrow," and then every available man was pressed into service. As there was no money with which to pay the men, the neighbors "swapped" hands, and as the fields ripened, helped each the other. The ripening depended largely upon the location of the field.
I often think of the good fellowship that existed between the farmers then, and how happily they went about their work. No grinding the men and urging them to work faster, but every man doing his best each day. As a child I loved to watch the men start off to work, and those who carried the scythes were my heroes. They were followed by others, to "bind," "shock" and "cap," for everything had to be done as quickly as possible, for fear the rain might spoil all. When the wheat was hauled into the barn for the threshing, it was placed on an immense threshing floor about 100 feet square, then horses were led around in a circle over it until the heads of the wheat were all tramped off. The straw was then thrown aside and the wheat replenished, and so on, until all was finished. In this way it took about a week to thresh a hundred bushels of wheat. The fan mill was then rolled in. It required two men to run it, one to feed and the other to turn it. This acted as a separator, the wheat running to the floor on one side and the chaff on the other. The wheat was then placed in a cedar granary to keep out the weevils.
When flour was required, the wheat was sacked and a man would place the sack behind his saddle and ride to the mill on horseback. He would have to wait his turn at the mill if he wanted flour or corn meal, and there was a great deal of corn meal used in those days. The miller took his pay or toll in flour or meal.
I remember hearing my father tell of passing a house late at night that the neighbors said was haunted. On this occasion my father's horse refused to pass the neighbor's house, as there was something white lying in the roadway. My father jumped from his horse and went to investigate. He found a bag of flour spilled on the ground where some frightened farmer had dropped it.
In this day of baking powder one can hardly realize how we baked bread. When my grandmother wanted to make bread or cake, she would take corncobs and put them in a Dutch oven and let them smolder until they became ashes. These would be her soda to mix with her sour milk. The greatest time in the country was the husking time. Then it was the corn was hauled in from the field and dumped in two large piles on the ground in front of the corn crib, ready for the husking. To this husking the whole countryside was invited.
The women folks busied themselves for weeks previous, while the men prepared huge barrels of cider for the happy occasion. On the night of the husking, two men were chosen as leaders, and to determine who should have first choice, a round stick was used and the men played at "choosing up." Hands were placed at the bottom of the stick, and alternately were placed hand over hand to the top. The man whose hand came out on top was the lucky man, and then the fun would begin!
Everything in readiness, the work was begun after supper, and when the corn was all husked, another big meal was served. Fires of huge pine knots illuminated the place, making it as light as day. Great fun and shouting went on all through the evening, each side claiming to be ahead of the other. As the corn was husked several men threw it into the barn; others stood on the inside to keep the way clear. You can understand how everyone looked forward to the husking as the gala time of the year. Everyone helped everyone else, the men and women going from farm to farm until all the corn in the neighborhood was husked.
Another busy time of the year was the hog killing season. My father killed about 100 hogs at a time. The meat was salted down in large tanks, the hams, shoulders and sides each being kept by themselves. They remained in these tanks until they were thoroughly salted ready for the smoking, then they were lifted out and hung in the smokehouse. We also made great quantities of sausage, putting it into small sacks and hanging it up with the other meat to be smoked. An immense furnace was built in the middle of this air-tight smokehouse, and in this furnace a fire of hickory wood was built each day until the meat was cured.
Large hickory barrels with air-tight lids were filled with lard and placed on the floor along the walls of the smokehouse, and in another corner we placed a year's supply of soap.
People didn't live in paper bags and tin pails in those days, and such a thing as using cottonseed oil for lard was unknown. This practically ended the year's work for the men, but the stock raising and feeding and a hundred and one other things that would appear very much like work to us in these days kept them very busy the whole year round. The wood, for instance, had to be hauled and chopped, as hand saws were unknown. In those days everyone attended church, whether from religious convictions or for the reason that there was nothing else to do on the Sabbath, I cannot tell. The wealthier classes rode in barouches, with a big liveried negro coachman sitting in a high seat in front. Those of more moderate means would go in a carriage, and the poorer class rode in what is known as the carryall, but whether rich or poor, all had good horses.
The young people usually rode on horseback, and if a young man happened to ride home with a girl, he never thought of going into the house, as there was no visiting on the Sabbath day.
Just see the progress that has been made in one short lifetime. Railroads, steamboats, automobiles and airships! For amusement, we had husking matches, quilting parties, spelling and singing schools, and last but not least, the regular yearly camp meetings. These camp meetings were looked forward to with great interest; all business was suspended and everyone in the whole country, including children, attended. Each denomination would hold their meetings at different places and different times in the fall of the year. As my people were Baptists, we were with the deep water people. I remember very clearly the arrangement of the baptismal pools on the bank of Pond Creek, one for the women and another for the men.
Beeves were killed and corned, and flour and all the necessary foodstuffs were hauled to the camp ground which was located in the woods, a place being cleared for this purpose. A big pavilion was built that would hold thousands of people. Sleeping quarters were built about 100 feet long, and beds were built into the wall the whole length of the room, a similar room being built for the men. Bed ticks filled with straw served as a mattress, and everyone brought their feather beds and pillows.
There were only three denominations at that time--the Presbyterians, Methodists and Baptists. I can remember so well when a man named Campbell seceded from the Baptist Church and he and his followers were called Campbellites. Later that organization became known as the Christian Church.
(Continued in April Number.)I well remember how one fellow got religion in one of the camp meetings. I heard him praying in the men's quarters, and as the partition was only about six feet high, I, in my childish curiosity, wanted to see him, and was piling pillows up to stand upon in order to look over when he began to shout. I ran to the meeting place to tell my mother. The fact that service was going on made no difference to me. I began to yell at the top of my lungs, "Jabe Taylor's got religion! Jabe Taylor's got religion!" My mother, who was a very dignified woman, arose and placing her hand over my mouth led me away to the place where the switches grew!
The New American Woman, March 1917, pages 13-25
THE WOMAN PIONEER ACROSS THE PLAINS
By Martha Hill Gillette
(Continued from March Number)
From Tennessee to MissouriI must tell my readers of a trip my parents made when I was a child. They decided to leave Tennessee and go west to Missouri to make a home (Missouri was considered far west at that time), so they packed all their belongings in one big wagon, and we started on the long journey. Wagons in those days were big clumsy affairs, without springs or brakes. Instead of a brake, a chain was fastened around the spoke of the wheel to lock it. All went well until we reached the Cumberland Mountains. The team traveled so slowly my mother took me in her arms and started on horseback, leaving the two other children with my father and the hired man. She reached the top of the mountain in safety and found shelter with a family living there. Darkness came on and the folks had not yet put in an appearance, so Mother left me with the woman and started back down the mountain on foot--forgetting all about the wild animals lurking everywhere along the way, and feeling only for the safety of husband and children. After going about two miles she heard the children crying and presently she came upon the party, trudging up the heavy grade. My father told her the terrible fate that had overtaken them--that the horses had become tired and unmanageable, and had backed down the mountain. Father had barely time to rescue the little boys from the wagon, when horses, wagon and all went crashing down the mountainside into an immense canyon five hundred feet below. He must have stood spellbound as he saw all of his worldly goods disappear in the twinkling of an eye.
Slowly together my parents climbed the mountain, thankful at least that the children were saved from an untimely death.
After resting a few days, my father started back to the old home in East Tennessee, Monroe County, to get food supplies and horses and wagon and return to his family on the top of the mountain where he had left us and carry us back to the place we had left but a few weeks before, expecting to find a better home in the far West.
We were hospitably treated by the people who lived in a little log cabin on the mountaintop, the only house within miles around. It took my father over two weeks to make the trip, and as the only clothes we had were the ones on our backs, Mother had to wash and dry them as we slept. Think of the sleepless nights she must have put in, thinking of my father and his second fearful trip up the mountain. At last we got back to dear old Tennessee and I know my mother sighed with relief when we were safely at home again.
My father's next adventure was to go to Alabama--at that time an unsettled country, more like a wilderness--and homestead a farm. The first year we spent in building a cabin and clearing the land, so that towards spring we found the supply of provisions getting low. Tennessee was the nearest place where provisions could be obtained, so my father had to go back there again to replenish our stock of supplies, also to get seeds to sow on the Alabama land. As he was returning, he was overtaken by a great storm which swelled the streams and made them impassable. There were no bridges or crossings in those days, and the only means was to ford the streams, so he had to wait until it was safe to attempt to cross. This delayed him for many days, and things began to look desperate for us.
By this time we were entirely without food, except the milk from one cow, and no human being within a radius of several miles. Luckily for us, however, one lonesome man happened to ride by. Mother asked him if she could borrow some corn meal of him, and would he please bring it to us. He did so the next day, but that night the cow failed to come up, and we were left without any food until noon the next day. How well I remember when my mother went out to milk! I was so hungry I could not wait until she had finished milking, so I asked my brother to get my little tin cup down from off the shelf. (I can yet see that row of shining cups). He did so, and I started on the run to Mother to ask her to please give me just a little milk. Instead she broke a switch from a nearby tree and very quickly I was persuaded to return to the cabin. Mother was afraid that I would frighten the cow away again and then we would all be without milk, for we had no corral to keep or feed our cow in, and naturally she had to forage for herself.
In a few days Father returned and all our troubles were at an end so far as food was concerned. The next year we raised all we wanted on the farm. We lived in Alabama for about a year and a half, when my grandfather on Father's side, who had moved to Missouri, began to sow seeds of discontent in my father's mind. He kept urging us to come to Missouri, so Father, having the pioneer spirit, finally decided to try once more to build a home out West, as it was then called.
We all returned to the home of my mother's father, John Fine, in Sweetwater, East Tennessee, and Father and my oldest brother, then about 16 years old, went forth with hearts full of courage to build a nest for his loved ones. When they arrived in Missouri, Father homesteaded a place and he and brother worked hard building a cabin and clearing the land. To add to his income, Father started a singing school, where all the neighborhood for miles around would gather at the schoolhouse .and spend the evening in singing. He had a beautiful tenor voice, so he was the teacher. He set no stipulated price. The neighbors paid him what they could, and soon his fame reached out to other neighborhoods and other classes were formed until he became very well known throughout the whole country.
A Wonderful DiscoveryAbout this time (the year of '49) came the wonderful news of the discovery of gold in California. My father soon caught the fever. He sold all his belongings at a sacrifice, and in company with his sister and her husband, Mr. and Mrs. Kelly and their son, Isham Keith, and my brother, and other immigrants, started across the plains toward this wonderful land of gold. In the long tiresome months of weary travel the lure of gold softened the hardships. What dreams were dreamed, and what air castles built as they lay down at night in the open beneath the stars!
Nothing daunted them, and on they went through sand storms and heat, and each day crept a little nearer toward their goal.
They took what was called the northern route, that being considered the safest at that time. Oregon was reached late in the fall of '50. There was no road open through to California in the winter, so my father and brother got work building a saw mill at Clatsop Plains, on the Columbia River.
(Continued in May Number.)How their restless spirits must have chafed over the delay in their plans, which calls to mind the old adage, "The best laid plans o' mice and men--." Finally, spring came, and with it renewed vigor and hope. My father and his company, stocked with a year's provision, mining implements and a camp outfit all packed on their mules, started once more toward the land of their desire. They slowly traveled the length of the beautiful state of Oregon. They traveled through what is known as the Rogue River country, deriving its name from the Indians in that region. My father decided it was the garden spot for a home for his family after he had made his fortune.
The New American Woman, April 1917, pages 12-13
THE WOMAN PIONEER ACROSS THE PLAINS
By Martha Hill Gillette
(Continued from April Number.)
At last they reached Yreka, California. Go with me in imagination as they entered this town. Red-shirted, heavy-booted miners filled the one street of the town. (called Miner's Street to this day.) Great excitement prevailed for fear of not striking the right location for gold; each was telling of his wonderful experiences. Looking out over the Yreka flats and seeing hundreds of men at work, Father was undecided where to go, but learning of a place called "Humbug" (so named by some of the miners who had not succeeded there) he went out to look things over, leaving his sister and her husband in Yreka--she being the first and only woman there. [Like most "firsts," this distinction is disputed.]
To show how plentiful gold was, I need but tell you what my sister-in-law accomplished the first summer she was in Yreka. When she left Salem, Oregon, she took with her a cow, a rooster and one hen, and surely it was the hen that laid the golden egg, for Sister sold eggs for $1 apiece. She had a few dried applies left from her trip across the plains. These she made into pies and sold each one quarter for $1, or $4 per pie. She had brought with her some tin pans, some holding pints, some quarts. Into these pans night and morning she poured the milk from her cow and set them into the shed at her back door, where the miners would come and take what they needed, leaving gold dust in payment. Sometimes they weighed it, but oftener they just poured it into a little bowl she provided for that purpose. One day she made $50 on milk alone.
Mrs. Kelly was held in very high esteem by all the miners. She was never too busy to help them. She was an excellent cook and when they fell ill, she prepared many dainty dishes and rendered many kindly services which only a woman knows how to perform. Later she received a letter from many of them, acknowledging their gratitude, as follows:
"Written by John Lanwick, appointed by the friends of William Bowden, deceased, as a committee to present a gold bracelet to Mrs. Kelly, of Yreka, California, December 25, 1851, for her kindness to the deceased during his last illness. Madam: It has fallen to my lot to discharge a most pleasant and agreeable duty, to bear witness on behalf of myself and companions to those superior and excellent qualities of the heart common to your sex, but which have been manifested in so eminent a degree by yourself to our deceased companion and friend, William Bowden, in his last illness. To die under any circumstances is a solemn thing, but the mind recoils with horror from the idea of dying in a distant land deprived of all those kind attentions which are associated in our minds with our loved ones. The poor, weak invalid who has to depend exclusively upon the rough sympathy and indifferent attention of men alone can justly appreciate what it must have meant to our friend to have a woman smooth his dying pillow. Accept, Lady, this bracelet, as a feeble mark of our respect and esteem. It is made from the virgin gold of our valley and in its purity is only excelled by those purer qualities of your heart. May there still be in store for you many years of happiness and usefulness and may you not want those delicate attentions which you are so ready to bestow upon others. Signed, John Lanwick, on behalf of the committee."
On arriving at "Humbug," my father and brother staked a claim and went to work with a will. They found the place no humbug for them, but struck it very rich, and stayed there taking out gold until late in the fall of the same year.
Father's great desire now was to bring his family out and locate in the beautiful Rogue River Valley in Oregon. So he prepared for his trip with a hundred other men who were going back East by pack mules, riding one and packing the other with their gold and with blankets and provisions enough to last them until they reached Salt Lake, for this time they took the southern route.
Two years before this the Mormons had been driven out of Nauvoo, Missouri, for they had been very free to help themselves to other people's belongings, so the settlers resented such action, and drove the Mormons across the Missouri River. My aunt, who lived at Nauvoo at that time, told us afterwards of an incident that will convey the idea of how the Mormons obtained a livelihood. Her husband had a big beef in the barn ready to be butchered for the winter meat supply. One day two men on horseback approached the barn, opened the door and drove out the beef. When my aunt ran out to question them and remonstrate, they told her the Lord had need of it, and as her husband was away from home, she was powerless to stop the thieves. This band of Mormons went on to Salt Lake and settled a colony there, and from them my father got his second supply of provisions, enough to last until he arrived in Iowa. Think of the good fellowship and confidence that existed among these men as they journeyed along many months together.
(Continued in June Number.)The pioneers had thousands of dollars in gold dust in their possession; their fear was not of robbery, but of the Indians that infested the country. And perhaps the only thing that saved them was the fear the Indians had of the guns carried by our travelers, as they could "speak" a greater distance than could the bow and arrow. My father arrived safely in Keokuk, Iowa, rested a few days with his sister Mrs. Duty, then pushed on to St. Louis to take his gold dust to the United States Mint. While in St. Louis, he ordered his wagons made for his return trip with his family. He also had long-distance guns made that were a wonder to all who saw them. Instead of bullets, he used slugs, which went with such force that they would pass clear through one animal and kill another within range. I remember one day after we had started to this country my sisters and I were walking ahead of the wagon when we saw a herd of antelope grazing on a hill about 300 yards away. We had been told that antelope would not take flight if we would stand still, so we remained motionless while one of my sisters returned to the wagon for Father, who came with his gun and killed two with one shot. I insert this incident simply to show the power and range of the guns.
The New American Woman, May 1917, pages 21
THE WOMAN PIONEER ACROSS THE PLAINS
By Martha Hill Gillette
(Continued from May Number)
The wagons were built for great comfort and convenience. In the bed of the wagon he arranged boxes that fitted tight together and were flat on top. These contained bacon, hams, syrup, flour, a keg each of pickles, brandy and lard, also a medicine chest, in fact enough of everything to last for the entire trip across the plains. This was necessary as there was no chance to obtain food after leaving the Missouri River. Until we reached Oregon City, Oregon, the only inhabitants of this vast domain were wild Indians and herds of buffalo.
My father upon his return home was called upon many times to relate his experiences of his wonderful trip, he being very well known among the people of the South. His father, Caleb Hill, was a noted Baptist minister of Tennessee. His mother came from the well-known family of Lanes. My mother's people were the Fines of Sweetwater, Tennessee, and were among the first people of the South. The word of a Fine was considered as good as a banknote. They were of English descent. My grandmother on my mother's side was a Lee; the great Fitzhugh Lee of Southern fame was of the same family. She was one of the heirs of the great Jennings estate of London, England. About the year of 1843, all the Jennings of the United States were called to Washington, D.C., to decide who were the legal heirs of this vast estate, and my grandmother's family were given full right to the property. Grandmother's brother, who was a Jennings, was chosen to go back and claim the estate, so he sailed from New York on a sailboat, there being no steamboats at that time. We think nothing of crossing the ocean now, but in those days it took months of slow, hard travel. The boat on which he sailed encountered so many storms and was so long delayed that Mr. Jennings sickened and died, which so dampened the enthusiasm of the ones left behind that no other attempt was made to gain possession of the estate until about 25 or 30 years ago when some of the Jennings relatives who still retain their coat of arms, living in Portland. Oregon, sent a lawyer back to investigate the matter. About this time a friend of ours by the name of Pratt was sent to England as an ambassador from this country. While there he looked into the estate on our behalf and found a flourishing bank and a beautiful castle, but all were in the chancery court of England. This court was never opened at any stipulated time and someone had to be there to put in their claim when it was in session, so we have never been able to secure it.
To return to our plans for our long journey across the plains. On the 15th day of April, 1852, we were all packed ready to move forward. I will never forget the last night we spent in old Tennessee. Our friends gathered at our home for miles around to bid us goodbye. In those days one room in my father's house was as large as the whole floor space of a modern bungalow. In this room was built an immense fireplace, in which on this particular night great crackling fires threw a warm glow all over the room and made the light from the tallow candles, which was our only means of lighting, dim by comparison. In one of the rooms, the old folks were visiting, while in another were gathered the young folks playing such games as drop the handkerchief, and hunt the goose. Our guests did not depart until after midnight--a very unusual thing. There was not much sleeping done that night, as we had to be up early the next morning to catch a boat on the Tennessee River. This boat took us up to Kingston on the Ohio River where we were transferred to the old boat Kate Kearney, bound for St. Louis.
One of the interesting events that took place along the Mississippi as we entered St. Louis, was a boat race between Kate Kearney and a rival boat. A bet was on as to who would get into the harbor first. Naturally all the spectators on the shore took sides and the excitement ran high as we began to gain. In order to create a hotter fire in the furnace they threw on bacon. I remember there was one woman on board who was noted for her stinginess, but she became so excited that she forgot the cost of bacon and cried, "Throw on my bacon, throw on my bacon." It is needless to say that old Kate Kearney won the race. At last about the first of May, all things were ready. We started from the northern part of Iowa with 500 head of cattle, 3 wagons, each drawn by 4 oxen. As my father had made the trip before, hundreds of people from Iowa and Missouri wanted to join his train and promised to meet him at the Missouri River. When we arrived at the river great excitement prevailed, as everyone wanted to cross first, but my father had registered with the ferryman before, so he was served at once, which caused much anger among the others. I remember one Dutchman was going to kill my father because his wagon was removed from the ferry. The only means of crossing the river was by two flat row boats, one long enough to carry two wagons and about 30 people. The other was made with railings around it and used for the stock. We had the great misfortune here to lose a dear brother. He had charge of loading the stock. He had made several successful trips across the river and had the boat loaded for another one. It being about the noon hour so many men wanted to cross the river to get their dinner they jumped on the stock boat already loaded to its capacity and down went men, stock and all. The river was a very swift, muddy stream, and one had to be an expert swimmer to keep from going down. As there were no skiffs or small boats of any kind to send to their assistance, the only help that could be given them was throwing ropes from the shore as they were only a short distance out when they sank. All were saved but my brother. Imagine if you can our grief and helplessness as he disappeared from view never to be seen again by our mortal eyes. We felt we could not leave the place without him. Men were sent for many miles down the river, but after many days of anxious watching and waiting we were compelled to move on and leave our dear brother to his fate. Father left his address with the ferry man, also sent notices to all the Iowa papers regarding my brother's untimely end. After more than a year (for all mail had to come around the Horn in sailing vessels) we heard from friends that his body had been found almost 20 miles from the place he went down, and he had been laid to rest among their loved ones. We were consoled in the belief that he had gone to his reward in heaven.
After leaving the Missouri River we traveled through the country where now are the states of Nebraska, Wyoming, Idaho and about 300 miles into the state of Oregon without meeting any white person, nor seeing one house. We traveled for miles without seeing a tree. Sagebrush was plentiful and there were many wild animals. Everywhere we encountered friendly Indians. I would like to say something about the little prairie dogs. They lived in little dog villages about 100 together. They had sentinels out watching and as someone approached these sentinels stood up on their hind legs and barked very much like a dog, and all the little fellows would scamper to cover. Many times my sisters and I have tried to slip up on them, but without success. I think the sentinel must have had eyes all around his head, as he always seemed to see us.
Speaking of Indians, I must tell you how frightened I was the first one I ever saw. During the night a little calf had strayed away from the rest of the cattle, and next morning my cousin and I volunteered to go back and find it, as we rode on horseback. After riding for about an hour we found the missing calf, and in starting back came to a bridge across a small gulch. At the end of the bridge stood an Indian and demanded the calf as toll. I was so frightened that I would gladly have given up the calf, but not so my cousin. She told the Indian that toll had been paid once by our wagons, and she struck the calf with her whip, and we dashed across the bridge before the astonished Indian could stop us. I soon lost all fear of them, as we never made camp without a few of them around. I remember one night after we struck the Platte River, and had stopped for the night, my uncle was pitching his tent and an old Indian stood directly in the way. Uncle asked him to move but he only gave a big grunt, so as he was delaying things, my uncle pushed him aside. The Indian and his followers jumped on their ponies and dashed away and were promptly forgotten by my uncle, until later in the evening when he saw about 100 of them coming at full speed across the plains.
Uncle called to Father and told him of the incident with the Indian and Father told him the only way to appease them was by gifts. At first the Indians wanted cattle as a peace offering, but at last went away happy with a few strings of bright beads brought along for that purpose.
We traveled up the Platte River about 300 miles, and the only things of interest we saw were Chimney Rock and an Indian graveyard. Holes had been dug in the side of the hill large enough to hold the dead body and all his belongings. The body was placed at the back of the hole in a sitting position, and the one I remember in particular even had his hat on, and in front of him were placed his blankets, cooking utensils, bow and arrows, and everything he owned.
About this time the cholera broke out on the west side of Platte River, and to escape it great companies came across to the east side of the river where we were, which almost caused a panic in our train, many begging Father to push on without delay, but at that time it was very warm weather and our ox teams were worked to their limit each day, but many who were not encumbered with cattle left us and went on. My father had cholera medicine, and sent word throughout his train for all those who had the first symptoms to come to him for help, so he saved many lives. Great difficulty was encountered by those who crossed the Platte, on account of the treacherous quicksands. I remember seeing one family fording across, who had their wagon blocked up about 3 feet high, and when in the middle of the stream the oxen struck the quicksands, and if it had not been for the ready aid of the men on horseback, the wagon and the family in it would have been pulled into the quicksand from which it is almost impossible to escape. My mother was the first one in our train to succumb to the cholera. Father took entire charge of her and warned us to keep away from the wagon where she lay (No one thought of stopping for sickness), but after a few days my mother was well again, for with the cholera sickness you were either well or dead in a few days. One such sad case came to our notice--that of a young man burying his bride of a few months. He came within calling distance of our camp, and told Father he was leaving behind his wagon well provisioned, also his wife's trunk filled with beautiful clothes, and would Father give the things to his girls. Such a longing went up from our hearts for the beautiful things, but my father soon squelched them when he asked us which we wanted, fine clothes or the cholera. Such an experience as that young man went through must have left scars that a whole lifetime could not efface. Another case was a woman dying lying on some boards in the wagon, and about a mile ahead we saw men digging her grave. I am sure she could not have been dead but a short time when she too was left behind in an unmarked grave. Another time we saw a man lying under some willow trees. Father called to him asking if he could help him, and the poor fellow pleaded so to be taken along that our hearts were wrung in pity for him, but we could not take him as it would endanger the whole train, so he was left there to die alone. I am telling these few cases to show the extreme need of pushing on, as the train must stay together for fear of Indian attacks, but the cholera proved a protection to us, as we saw no more Indians while we stayed on the Platte River.
(Continued in July Number)Every day about an hour before camping time men were sent on ahead on horseback to select a good spot for our night quarters. Feed for the stock was the main thing to be considered. When we arrived, the cattle were put out to feed on the grass until dark, then they were brought in and placed in a temporary corral made of the wagons placed close together; the tongue of each wagon was run under the bed of the wagon nearest it until about 100 wagons were placed together, in this way making a round corral. The stove my father had made to cook on was about 4 feet long with tin reflectors for baking on each side of it. All the dishes used for the table and for cooking were of tin, as breakable dishes were out of the question. Rough roads soon make short work of crockery. My mother thought she could not drink water from a tin cup, so she started out with a glass, but the wagon wheels ran into deep chuckholes and it was soon broken. I remember one time as camp was being made, I was near another camp and heard a woman say, as my mother climbed down from the wagon with her glass in her hand: "Just look at Mrs. Hill, she looks as if she had just stepped out of a bandbox, even to her clean handkerchief tucked in her belt."
The New American Woman, June 1917, pages 17-19
THE WOMAN PIONEER ACROSS THE PLAINS
By Martha Hill Gillette
(Continued from June Issue.)
The fuel we used for cooking was "buffalo chips" and it was most surprising that there was neither odor nor smoke from them, but they made a very hot fire.
Each of us girls had our regular work to do. My sister Mary always made the biscuits, filling great baking pans made to fit the reflector. My father had a place fixed in the back of the wagon with everything convenient for making bread, but it was no small task to bake bread for 15 people three times a day. I did all the cooking on the stove and tended the fires. Our meals consisted of ham or bacon, rice or beans, bread and butter and fruit. Father had brought with him hundreds of pounds of dried fruit, and each meal I cooked great quantities of it, which was eagerly devoured by the men. Canned goods of any kind at that time were a thing unknown. Father had a churn built in the back of the wagon and each night and morning we placed the richest of the milk from the cows in this churn, and as we jogged along the motion of the wagon made the butter. My youngest sister Haseltine set the tables and brought the water. This routine of work we went through every day for months and months, the only difference was that we had cold biscuits for lunch. And here I would like to say that not one word of complaint did I hear from one soul, the whole length of the long trip across the plains. When we started from home Father had a man hired to do the cooking, but he was so dirty and wasteful that we girls had to take things into our own hands. We had never done such work before as we were just out of school, but it shows what one can do when necessity calls. I think so often what a manager my father must have been. Deprived by drowning of his oldest son, how he and my youngest brother Cicero worked to keep things moving. No words of praise can overstate his high courage, patience and determination.
After we left the Platte River, we traveled over a beautiful country and it seemed to put new life into the whole train of people. There were little streams of water running everywhere and plenty of grass for the stock. We went through this country of valleys and hills until we came to the Bighorn Mountains where we encountered real hardships. One place we were out of water and had to travel all night. Hundreds of wagons were ahead of us and had worn chuckholes in the bad, narrow road. The only way we could travel this night was for men to go on ahead with lanterns. When they came to a bad place they would call out "chuckhole," when the driver would take hold of the head of the oxen so they would go slowly and let the wagon pass over the bad place as easily as he could. It was with great discomfort that we kept our places in the wagons at all. It would have gone badly with us if we had fallen out, only to roll down the mountainside or be trodden under the feet of the oxen; much of the time it was so dark we could not see ten feet ahead of us. After we left the Bighorn Mountains we traveled up the most beautiful river I have ever seen. It was called Sweetwater. That name sounded particularly good to us, as it was the name of our home river. One of the sights here was what is called the Devil's Gate, rising about 15 feet high [sic--it's much higher] on either side of the river. It looked as if the water had cut the rock in two; it was so narrow at the top that it looked as if one might easily step across [could Gillette be remembering a different rock formation?]. Some of our men climbed to the top of the rock and there found in a corked bottle a warning forbidding anyone to try to cross, saying that one of their party who was a good athlete had tried the feat and had lost his life in the waters below, the distance being so much greater than it looked.
Another wonderful sight on this river was the Steamboat Springs. Our father had told us of this sight, so as soon as we heard the roar of it we all walked ahead, as the train did not stop. If we wanted to take any side trips we did so at the risk of keeping the wagons in sight. This spring derived its name from sounding like a steamboat; as the water came from a flat rock it would whistle and boom and throw a spray for yards around. We all stood so near the rock that before we knew what had happened we were all baptized. Further up the river the water was so clear that we could see the beautiful fish swimming around but could not stop to catch them.
Our ox teams were getting very poor by this time and we girls walked as much as we could, especially if the pulling was hard. I remember one incident in particular. We were passing around a big gulch and my sisters decided to walk a ways. They stood on a little knoll and saw other wagons about three miles ahead and concluded they would take a shortcut; we often did this and saved ourselves many miles. So they slid down the bank of this gulch, but soon saw their mistake, for sliding down and climbing up were two different things. In this gulch they saw the bones of all kinds of animals, both large and small. [They might have stumbled upon a buffalo jump.] My blood curdled with horror when my sisters told me of the experience they had gone through, for they did not know what moment some wild animal would spring upon them.
They were three hours in the gulch before they could find a place where they could climb up. There was no living thing in sight. The bones they saw must have been of animals fallen over the sides of the gulch and died for want of food and water. They were disheveled, torn and worn girls that joined the wagons at dark.
I am surprised now when I think back how little attention was given to us girls. We would go on ahead of the wagons sometimes for miles, just we three alone--for we made no friends among the whole train of people. We were Southern born and bred and we did not consider it good taste to speak without being first introduced. We did not even speak to the man who worked for Father. I know now that I was a very snobbish person, for I felt myself very much superior to anyone in our party except my own family.
I remember one young man who came all the way from home with us wrote me a note asking me if I would marry him when we arrived in Oregon, and I was so angry at his audacity that I tore the note in little bits and that night when he came to supper I threw the scraps in his face. I guess he was as good as I was, and he surely showed a better disposition. Of course, we had no time to visit as we went along and at night we were too busy and tired. Each day now we neared the Rocky Mountains. We had gone over so many mountains where the road was bad that we rather dreaded the Rockies, but the ascent was so gradual that we hardly knew just when we did start up. As we neared the mountains, we came to a little stream, which we were told was the head of the Mississippi [sic] River. We could scarcely believe it to be the beginning of the large river that we had traveled in the big steamboats to St. Louis. As we went up the mountain, near the road was a gulch filled with snow, and right on the bank near at hand little "Johnny Jump Ups" were growing. I picked flowers with one hand, and laid the other on the snow. I pressed these flowers and sent them back home to a girlfriend, but all the thanks I got for my trouble was a reply like this, "You are telling me an untruth, for no flowers will grow so near the snow."
We were about three days in reaching the top of the mountain; we stood on the summit and in every direction we looked we could see spread out before us a panorama of hills, valleys and rivers. We had all been so anxious to get to the top and start down the other side. One man came to Father and said, "Well, Mr. Hill, we are now on the other side of the mountain" but Father keeping a straight face said, "No, we are on this side" and it was some time before the man saw the joke was on him. After we descended the Rockies we had only one more state to pass through until we came to Oregon, where Father had decided was the garden spot for our home.
How good the name of home sounded to our ears, after the long months of continuous travel. Often when going through some beautiful country filled with timber and lovely streams, we would plead with our father to stop and build our home there, but nothing compared in his mind to the Rogue River Valley in Oregon.
One day when the noon hour came we stopped near a clear mountain stream where a great misfortune befell me. When we left our home in the South, my father gave me a beautiful saddle horse named Kate. In the weary days of travel how many times I whispered in her ear alone my weariness and homesickness, and [in] some way she seemed to understand and comfort me. This day we had had a hard ride, and when we stopped for lunch, I took her saddle off; she laid down to roll in the sand, and was bitten by a scorpion. I was busy preparing our meal when old Kate came up to me and tried to tell me about it by rubbing her head on my shoulder. I thought she was thirsty, and led her to the water, but as she did not drink, I looked her over, and to my dismay, found her neck was beginning to swell. I called Father, who guessed at once the trouble, and applied indigo and brandy on the place affected, also gave her something internally, but without success, and soon a bullet ended her misery, but not mine, as I mourned her loss for many days. Father called to the men to drive the stock away at once, for he now remembered being warned against Scorpion Gulch.
Our stock were now suffering from the lack of green food, for it was very, very warm, and the preceding trains with their stock had either eaten or trampled down all the grass that the sun had not dried out, so Father decided to cross the river, thinking he might [find] better conditions, which he did. As this was the last place we could get water for several days, all the water barrels were filled to their capacity. Water was a greater problem to Father in crossing the plains than the Indians were. It was about the fourth day after we had left the river that Father told us that the water was getting so low that we must use no more, only for drinking purposes, until we got a fresh supply. I will never forget how the cattle suffered those few days without water, and in the heat, it being especially hard on the oxen drawing the wagons. One day when lunch time came, and sister Mary was using some of the water from our scant supply to wash her hands before making the biscuits, and after she was through using the same water again and again, my other sister took it, dough and all, and saved the life of one of her pet calves.
At last all the water was gone, and we girls while walking ahead of the wagons sighted what we thought were willows, and we knew if willows, then water. We were so tired, hot and thirsty, the very thought of water lured us on and on, until we had walked about four miles, when we came to a beautiful river, and to our horror, a band of Indians. My sisters ran down the bank to the water, regardless of danger; as they were in advance of me, I called to them they must not go, but they called back to me saying they would as soon be killed by the Indians as to die of thirst, so on they went to the water and lay down and drank. My thoughts flew fast as to the best course to pursue; I looked back and saw the wagons a mere speck in the distance. I knew that help from that quarter was impossible, so I rushed down the bank to join my sisters, not knowing what our fate would be.
The Indians were taken by surprise, and seemed undecided just what to do. They started toward where my sisters lay drinking--and I am sure water never tasted so good--then stopped, jabbered together and pointed to the hill in the direction we had come from. I think they wondered if more were coming, for as I have said before they stood in awe of the white man's guns. One young buck seemed particularly anxious to advance toward us, but wiser heads held him back. I think that the only thing that saved us that day from captivity was the fearless way in which we passed them.
It may have been that we were the first white girls that they had ever seen. We took our lives in our hands that day, for no one knew where we were, and if the Indians had taken us captive, then God help us. By this time I had no fear of the Indians killing us, but the fear of the whole trip across the plains to me was the possibility of being taken a captive. These Indians were drying fish. They had wooden forks driven in the ground, over which hung a long pole where hundreds of fish were hanging, being dried for the winter. I will never forget as I stood on the bank of the river, even in my fear, just how savory those fish were to our olfactories.
As quickly as we could we passed on down the river, where we encountered great difficulties, passing over fallen trees and climbing over big rocks, not knowing what moment we would encounter another band of Indians.
We walked for about three hours. The sun had gone down, and it was dusk. We sighted fires ahead of us, but not knowing whether it was Indians or white people, we approached very cautiously. To our great joy, we found it to be some of the train of emigrants.
Of course we were very tired, but we never thought of sitting down to wait for the coming of the wagons, but began gathering wood for the fires for the evening meal, and it was well that we did, for it was after dark when Father's wagons arrived.
We never told any of our experiences to our mother until after we arrived at our destination, for she was a very nervous woman, and as she rode in the front wagon with Father, she never knew where we were half the time, and seemed to think we were able to take care of ourselves, but I am sure the good Lord watched over us and saved us from many dangers we knew not of.
We traveled along the banks of this river for about a week; as there was plenty of food for the stock, and as the country was level, we were able to travel much faster than ever before.
Many times we saw such quantities of fish, and wished we could catch them, for we were getting very tired of ham and bacon, so Father promised us when we came to a certain place on this Salmon River (so called from the beautiful fish found in it), that we could have all the fish we wanted. A rare treat indeed was in store for us. Father sent two of his men ahead to select a good camping place, and to catch fish for our evening meal. And right here I would like to tell my "fish story." All fish stories are not to be depended on I know, but this may be.
When we arrived at the camping place, the men had great quantities of fish caught, and were cleaning them, and laying them aside on the grass. It seemed to me that there were enough fish for a hundred people, but the men said they were hungry, and would I please cook them all. As soon as the stove was up I began frying, and by the time the table was set, and all the other things ready, I had a large dish pan full of delicately browned fried fish.
I have never told about the setting of our table, which was as big as all outdoors. We had a white oilcloth about four yards long which was always cleaned after each meal and rolled on a pole made for that purpose. My sister Haseltine, whose duty it was to arrange the table, often had great difficulty in finding a level place to spread the cloth. When all was ready I placed the pan of fish in the center and called the men to supper, and this night they did not need to be called twice but kicked up so much dust kneeling in their places around the table that I think that the old adage about eating a peck of dirt was fulfilled right there.
Now comes the "red letter day" of the whole trip across the plains to me. And after all these years have passed it seems to me but yesterday, it is so vivid in my memory. We had journeyed the entire length of what is now the state of Idaho. We arrived in the northwestern part where the Salmon River empties into the Snake River. And there we found a large "rancheria" of Indians drying their supply of winter fish. We camped about a quarter of a mile below the Indians--as Father decided this would be the better place to cross over the Snake River. The banks were so low here that it would lighten the work of loading the boats. The next morning we heard a very strange noise coming from the direction of the Indian camp, so one of our men went up to investigate. He soon came back and told us girls to come quickly and view the burial performance of a squaw that had just died. We needed no urging, as so many of our days went colorlessly by, and anything exciting or amusing seldom came our way. We hurried along, only stopping a moment as our mother called out a warning not to stand too close, for she might have died with some contagious disease. The squaw was lying on the ground in her wigwam around which were gathered her friends who were making the most gruesome noise I ever heard. We learned afterward that they called it singing. It was the tradition of this particular tribe for each one of the dead squaw's family to throw themselves upon her dead body, then run and jump in the river, swim around for a while and then show themselves on the bank, presumably free from the evil spirits. After all the older members of the family had gone through this strange performance, they brought the dead squaw's little babe and laid it on its mother's breast; then a man, I suppose it was its father, took it in his arms and went under the water several times. As the babe was very young we felt sure it would soon join its mother in the "happy hunting ground."
When we returned to camp after seeing the strange Indian performance, all was in confusion getting things in shape to cross the river. My brother Cicero now had charge of the stock. In crossing great care must be given in the selection of a place, and if possible to cross where there were "shoals," for there the river would be wider, but not so deep. Our stock were so poor now that they would often drift up against a rock, and men on horseback would have to use ropes to pull them back into the river, thus making a very long tedious task, and when finished men and stock would both be almost exhausted.
When we came to a river too deep to ford we used a boat that Father had had made in St. Louis, which served both as a wagon bed and a boat. This boat was both caulked and pitched on the bottom making it water tight.
I often think now of the patience and hard work it took to get our things across, for every wagon had to be taken apart, and all the things unpacked and repacked, but through it all I heard no word of grumbling or discontent. My mother and youngest sister went over on the first boatload so they could guard the things on that side, for the Indians would steal them if left unprotected, and sister Mary and I were left on the other side to protect our things there; of course there were other people there, but all looked after their own things.
Sister Mary had not been well since she had had the cholera, and this day she had a return attack. I waited on her all day giving her medicine as often as I dared, for the cholera medicine had laudanum in it, and it was dangerous to give it too often. As the afternoon wore on we found ourselves the only ones of our party left on that side of the river. I will never forget as we were waiting there by the running gears of the last wagon to be taken over, a couple of men came up and one of them said, "This is a good wagon; I will sell it to you," and as sick as my sister was, she jumped to her feet and said, "This is my father's wagon and he is now coming for it."
The man just smiled and said, "Well, I guess this isn't mine either."
We heard afterward that he claimed all the wagons left on that side of the river and sold them as his own. Wagons would often be left behind as oxen would either die or become too poor to haul them, and as we were getting nearer to our destination each day, people with small families would put all their belongings in one wagon and cast the other one aside.
Father soon came for us, and as he was putting the wheels of the wagon in the boat I told him to fix as comfortable a place as he could for Sister, as she was now too sick to sit up. So he put the two wheels together and rolled her in a blanket and in that way she crossed the river. I am afraid we would not think such a bed very comfortable now, but in times like those necessity mothered many an invention. As we started across the wind began to blow, making it very hard to row the boat. When we were about in the middle of the river, Father was taken with cramps in his legs; as he had made so many trips across that day he was just about worn out. It was some time before he could help the man row the boat, and as the river was very swift at this point our boat drifted down the stream for about a mile before Father could take his place at the oars again. By this time it was almost dark. The wind would catch the oars at every stroke, making it very hard to control the boat at all, besides throwing water into the boat until I was afraid we would sink, we were so heavily loaded. I began bailing out the water with a tin wash dish, but it seemed to be gaining on me, and Sister, realizing the situation, asked me to hand her the tin drinking cup and she would help me. I can see her yet as she lay there too sick to lift her head, slowly lifting the cup back and forth, often spilling the little she had, in her effort to get it over the side of the boat. I tell you those were trying times we were going through which earned for us those words so full of meaning, "Pioneers of Oregon."
We had drifted so far from the regular landing place that it was hard to get the boat to the opposite shore, but Father spied a tree fallen from the bank into the water, and rowed his boat there, for he knew it would form an eddy and greatly assist him in landing. By this time it was very dark, and as Father and his man had to haul the boat up on the bank to dry, Sister and I started on, our only guide being the fires burning in camp about a mile or more away. Our way was strewn with fallen logs, over which I assisted my sister the best I could, often tearing our dresses on the low thick brush. At times Sister begged me to go on and leave her as she could not go a step farther, and then we would sit down on some old log and rest; thus by slow degrees we reached the camp to find our mother half sick with fright over our delay, but we were so thankful we were alive, and that our mother had been spared the hardships we had just passed through.
Our men had not come in yet, so after making my sister comfortable in bed, I helped my mother prepare the supper.
Go with me please in your imagination as we gathered around our evening meal. One would almost picture despair written on all our faces after the strenuous day we had all passed through, but not so. My brother was a great factor in keeping everyone in good spirits, and this night he had jokes to tell on all the men, which sent them off to bed with peals of laughter. When one could see the funny side even to hardships he must indeed have a God-given sense of humor.
We were now in the state of Oregon, but we had about three hundred miles of hard travel to go, over mountains and rivers before we reached our destination. We traveled about fifty miles after leaving Snake River before we came to the Blue Mountains, and these we found to be the steepest we had yet encountered. We had to tie trees on the back of the wagons to keep them from turning over on the oxen, as in places it was almost perpendicular, and just one wagon could go down these steep places at a time. Needless to say no one rode in the wagons, as we all felt safer on foot. I remember there was one man who refused to cut trees for his wagon, and Father told him he must. He was a very stubborn man and finally consented to get one small one, and if some of the men had not been there to help him he would have lost wagon, oxen and all over the steep cliff--and just for his own foolhardiness. He came to our camp that night and humbly apologized to Father for his actions.
I shall never forget as we stood on the top of the Blue Mountains and looked down into the beautiful Grande Ronde Valley. That night Father told us the story of how Dr. Whitman, a missionary from this valley, had gone back to Washington in the winter of 1843, to save Oregon from the grasp of the English, and to urge the government at Washington to assert the claims of the United States to that region. Dr. Whitman made this perilous journey on horseback over the Lewis and Clark trail (the way we had just come). As Father was telling us I could not imagine anyone passing over the Rockies in the wintertime, as we could see snow there even in the summertime as we passed through.
Upon arrival in Washington the doctor went at once before Congress, as he feared delay would cost him his chance to present his cause. He must have created a sensation as he walked down the hall in his buffalo coat with head hood, heavy fur leggings and boot moccasins, with the stain of travel still upon him. As soon as there was a lull he rose to his feet to present the message dearest to his heart. After apologizing for his appearance he delivered his message with such earnestness and fervor that the Congressmen were carried off their feet, and the hall rang with greater applause than had been heard for years. As we descended into this Grande Ronde Valley we saw the first marks of civilization since leaving the Missouri River, for here we could see the hand of Dr. Whitman's work among the Indians, and had it not been for the huts they lived in, we could almost fancy ourselves in a white settlement, for the lands were cultivated and fruit trees growing everywhere.
When we camped that night the Indians swarmed around us as usual, but so different from the others we had seen, for here they dressed as the white man; the squaws wore calico dresses instead of the proverbial blankets. Here the Indians worked hard raising vegetables and fruits, and tilling the soil under the direction of Dr. Whitman until the whole valley was one verdant bloom.
There was a Frenchman living here from whom Father bought a beef, and with the fruit and vegetables the Indians brought us we had a feast which seemed to us fit for the gods. We stayed in this place for several days to have the meat smoked and jerked for us to take with us on our journey. I shall never forget the picture this Frenchman made when he came to call on us with his wife who was a squaw. She had on a white satin dress with pink rosebuds on it, with a hat to match. The dress was made in the prevailing style of the day, and she had not been in our presence very long before she informed us it had been made by the best dressmaker in Salem. The dress was beautiful, but the figure in it surely presented a queer spectacle.
Everywhere we heard the praises sung of Dr. Whitman and his work among the Indians, curing them in time of sickness, for he was a medical missionary, and served them from 1802 to 1847--at last meeting his death at the hand of a "redskin," when two tribes were warring with each other.
This valley made a lasting impression on my mind, for it looked an Eden after the barren country we had passed through.
One day as we were traveling up the John Day River we saw a man coming toward us on horseback; this was a very unusual thing, for we had never passed anyone before on the whole trip. As he drew near, my father gave one shout--it was my brother whom he had left behind in Oregon. We girls did not recognize him although it had been only three years since we had seen him, for he had grown a beard.
(Continued in August Number)Oh, how glad we were to see my brother! We had not heard from him but once since Father left him to return East for us. He brought with him a mule packed with rice, beans, flour and potatoes, and that night we cooked for supper potatoes with the "jackets" on and never did anything taste so good! I took one and went away by myself, and with a pinch of salt I had the treat of my life.
The New American Woman, July 1917, pages 8-17
THE WOMAN PIONEER ACROSS THE PLAINS
By Martha Hill Gillette
(Continued from July issue)
From now on we made better time, for the stock had had plenty of good food and water and could travel faster, and then Brother knew the good places to camp and somehow his coming seemed to give us courage to keep on, for we were all becoming so tired of traveling.
The next place we came to of any interest was the Columbia River which we traveled along until we came to the Dalles, where we found a great company of immigrants who had preceded us. Excitement ran high as the company were divided in their opinions; some wanted to go down the river in their wagon boats, for that would have been a quick way to reach the settlements, while others wanted to cross the Cascade Mountains at the foot of Mt. Hood. While Father was deciding the better course to take, an accident occurred which settled the way of the river in my mother's mind.
A family started down the river from the landing in their wagon boat, and as the river was very swift their boat was soon caught in the current and capsized and all the family but two were drowned.
Many Indians were hired to help the men get their stock down the trail on the east side of Mt. Hood. Brother told us of a funny thing that happened to a family who had hired Indians for this purpose. It seemed that when supper time came, bread was served to the Indians that was not as light as the wife generally made, and while the Indians were eating it they said "Klose muck-a-muck" (meaning "good food"), but the man thought they were casting a slur on the bread and said, "Damn you, it is good enough for you even if it is close," but he had a good laugh when told the Indians were praising the food.
We were several days in reaching the top of the Cascade Mountains, but how we did enjoy the trip! The scenery was so beautiful, and the air blowing through the heavy-timbered forest on all sides--it seems as if I can smell the odors of the pine and spruce trees yet. We landed at the top one afternoon about three o'clock, and Father decided to camp there for the night, for it was such a lovely spot and there was good grass for the stock. To our delight Father told us we could find huckleberries here, so sister Mary and I started out to gather some, when Sister saw some snow and said she just must have some. I urged her not to go but she was off like the wind; so after filling my basket with the berries I went back to camp. Father asked me where Sister was and I told him she had gone to get a snowball. He grew very white and said the mountains were full of grizzly bears, so he caught up his gun and was off in a hurry in the direction she had gone. Imagine his horror when he saw her coming down the mountain about a mile away, slowly winding in and out among the deer brush, and between them stood a big grizzly bear on his hind legs eating huckleberries from a bush. Father's thoughts flew fast as to the best thing to do; he was afraid to shoot for fear of hitting Sister, for she was coming on unconscious of any danger. We had an understood signal among us, that if we saw a white flag we knew it was danger. So Father tied his handkerchief to his gun and waved it, and to his great joy Sister saw it and stopped; but to his dismay the bear saw Sister at the same time and made for her. Father shot and hit the bear, but that only seemed to enrage it the more, and had it not been for the timely aid of the two men whom my mother sent to follow my father, the escapade would have had a far different ending. Father's long-distance guns certainly saved my sister's life, for the grizzly bear is the hardest of all animals to kill. My sister felt she had paid a high price for the coveted snowball.
Such a panorama as our eyes beheld as we traveled down these mountains! We could see the beautiful Willamette Valley spread out like a green velvet carpet below us. How it gladdened our hearts to know we were nearing the settlements, where we could once more live like civilized beings!
At the foot of this Cascade Range we came to a place where a man had built him a home, and had all sorts of eatables for sale, which the immigrants were so eager to buy. We stayed at this place for about an hour, for all the men in the train were eager to buy a full supply. We bought butter--the first we had had for several months, for our cows had all gone dry. We also got beef and vegetables of all kinds. When Father went in to do his buying he found he knew the proprietor, as he had met him at Clatsop Plains on the Columbia River on his first trip. This man had a son who had just returned from New York were he had been attending school. I will never forget how civilized this young man looked to us, for he was dressed in the latest New York fashion. He was so much of a curiosity that some of the girls of the train so far forgot themselves that they climbed a rail fence and sat on the top of it in order to get a better view of him. My sisters and I remained in the wagon and were mortified to death at their actions.
Great was our consternation when we saw Father bringing him out to our wagon to meet his family. I rather think Father wanted to let him know that it was not his girls that were on the fence top. We pushed Mother to the front, for we felt that we presented a queer spectacle in our dust-covered dresses and sunbonnets. As he talked with Mother one of our oxen laid down and the young man put his foot on its side, and kept peering into the wagon at us girls, but I am afraid all he saw did not tend to satisfy his curiosity.
We had still about fifty miles to travel before we came to the settlements at Oregon City, where Father left us and went back to meet the men who were bringing the stock down the Columbia River. After a few days the men arrived with the stock, and as they were being driven through Oregon City a man met Father and offered him ten thousand dollars for the whole band. I happened to hear the conversation and begged Father to accept the offer and then take us back home, for I was so homesick that I would have started back that very night if Father had been willing, but he said "No, Daughter, I expect this stock to make for me many times that amount."
My brother knew of a place called Waldo Hills where the stock could have good food through the winter, for the days were now getting short, as it was now nearing the fall of the year and the rains would soon begin; so Father left us in camp at Oregon City, and started with men to drive the stock to the Waldo Hills.
As he went through Salem he was on the lookout for a house for us to live in through the winter. He saw a large building with the lower half completed which would someday be a big hotel. On inquiring the owner told him he had stopped the work on the house for the winter, but if Father would give him a cow he could move his whole train of people in and stay throughout the winter, as there were about fifty rooms already completed, and a well of water all ready for the using. So Father came back to Oregon City and we prepared to move to Salem and once more be domiciled in a house.
No one will ever know how hard it was to walk on a floor after seven month's walking on Mother Earth. Our family occupied the kitchen and dining room, using the kitchen for cooking and eating, and the dining room for our sleeping apartments.
We had now traveled 1400 miles with ox teams, and this was the first house we had set foot in. We were better prepared for hardships in crossing the plains than a great many in our train, still, the inconveniences we had to put up with were quite aplenty. When we did our washing we had to hang it on the top ribs of the wagon, where the wind passing through would dry it.
One day while we were in Oregon City I thought I would take my clothes down by the river and try to wash some of the yellow out of them, and as we had no way of heating water to boil our clothes, this was no small task. I am sure if we had been in civilization we would have been quarantined for "smallpox" as they could easily mistake my washing for the yellow flag. As I was hanging my clothes on the bushes to dry, I was greatly mortified to see a woman come into view. She had heard some immigrants had arrived and had come to call, but whether out of courtesy or curiosity I never found out; however, I was anything but delighted to have her view my washing.
We thought when we moved into the house at Salem we would have time to rest from our long hard trip, but no such good luck was in store for us. My youngest sister had not been well for a long time, and the day we moved to Salem she was stricken down with malarial fever, and everything was in such a state of confusion it was hard to give her the needed attention. She soon became delirious and in her feverish ravings she was always trying to keep the oxen from straying into the deer brush that infested the mountainside. When we were going down the Blue Mountains Father thought he could do better with just one yoke of oxen, and we girls tried to make the loose ones follow, and sometimes this was rather hard work as they would often become unruly wanting to stop and eat, which would make them lag behind, and Sister was living it all over again in her delirium.
As soon as he could Father bought bedsteads, stove and dishes and things to make us as comfortable as possible, but the terrible strain of managing the whole train across the plains was taking heavy toll upon his health, and before we were hardly settled, he too came down with the same fever my sister had and both of them were confined to their beds under the doctor's care for three months.
Before Father was taken sick he opened a big box of bedding we had brought with us. In this box were quilts, bedspreads, sheets and pillow cases, table linens and towels, all made out of linen and cotton which had been spun and woven by ourselves before we left home. Each of us three girls had a bedspread of our own made from the cotton we had raised and woven the summer before, of which we were very proud. We also made this same year all the clothes that were worn by the men and ourselves across the plains, and enough besides to last us for a year.
No one will ever know how good those things looked to us as Father unpacked them and how proud we were of our clean white beds when people came to see our sick ones.
One day a man came in to see Father and he asked my mother if she had bought our bedding in Salem, for he knew if she had it had cost her a small fortune.
This winter of '52 went down in history as the hardest winter Oregon and northern California had known for years. The snow began falling about the first of December and laid on the ground until spring. Our men were snowbound out in the Waldo Hills where they had taken the stock, and we passed many an anxious hour in fear for their safety, as they only had the tents and wagons we had crossed with. The worry over his men and fine stock kept Father from getting well, for he knew they were unprepared to battle with such conditions. It was the middle of February before we heard a word from them, when my brother came out and reported that the men were all well but there had been a great loss of stock.
We were not used to cold weather and suffered from the many inconveniences in consequence. Our wood was kept several yards from the house and Sister and I had to carry in enough to keep the fire burning day and night. The water we used for all purposes had to be drawn from the well. We did not know that we should sweep the snow away from the well as it fell, so it soon became a cake of ice, which made the drawing of the water a real burden. We had to wash every day for our sick folks. We dried our clothes in the ballroom on the second floor where ropes had been stretched, and as the glass had not been put in the windows the wind passing through dried them.
The snow came so much earlier this season than usual that it caught a great many miners in Oregon and northern California unprepared, and many would have starved to death had it not been for their trusty rifles, which they always carried as a protection from the Indians, for deer roamed the hills in great herds. One man told us, who had been stormbound on Scotts Bar in northern California with one hundred other miners, that the only thing they had to eat was deer meat without salt or bread, and they had grown so tired of it that sometimes their stomachs went on a rampage and refused to retain it. Toward spring a man broke the trail, and brought in on a sled flour, salt, sugar and coffee for which the miners paid fabulous prices, and for once salt was worth its weight in gold, for in the miners' little scales they put salt in one side and gold dust in the other.
The miners had been so long without anything besides the unsalted deer meat that they took the flour where it had stuck to the side of the sack when he brought it through the snow, and scraped off every little speck and cooked it up with other things, they were so hungry for the taste of it; and of course one sled full of provisions divided among a hundred men did not give a very large proportion to each one, but the winter soon broke so the men could come out on snowshoes, and then their troubles were over.
My Aunt and Uncle Kelly, whom Father had left in Yreka, California, when he went back to Tennessee for us, decided to make us a visit and get their supplies at the same time. So they came on horseback with a pack train, for they had to come in companies as the Indians were hostile in the Rogue River Valley. Mrs. Kelly was a very small woman, weighing not quite a hundred pounds, but she came in the fall of the year riding over mountains and fording streams and in danger of raids by the Indians--the only woman among a hundred men, but she considered these things as trifles compared to the joy of seeing her brothers again, one of whom she had not seen for several years. This brother, Claiborne Hill, had left us and had settled at Brownsville, which Mr. and Mrs. Kelly reached before the big snow storm came. They remained there for several months, but we did not know they were near us until they walked in our door one evening. Our joy at seeing them was great indeed, and we noticed soon after they came a decided improvement in Father's condition; they seemed to rouse him from the stupor the fever had left him with. They began to tell him about the great improvements in Yreka, and that there were settlers already in his "wonder land," the Rogue River Valley, which seemed to stir his blood and send it coursing through his veins with such a desire for action that he wanted to start at once.
I shall never forget the smile that spread over his face as they were telling him all this, and then how it faded as he said, "Oh, if it wasn't for those hostile Rogue River Indians all would be well," for he knew to quell them would be no small task, and he seemed to see in his mind's eye all that this task would cost him. This valley was filled with different tribes of Indians that looked upon the white man as their bitterest enemy. Aunt and Uncle Kelly were such jolly people that they seemed to create a different atmosphere in our house, and filled us all with the desire to be up and doing. I was so anxious to hear all they had to say that I even begrudged the time it took for the cooking, but the "inner man" had to be appeased.
About the middle of February a warm rain set in, swelling the banks of the Willamette to overflowing. We would go up to the ballroom on the second floor and watch the river as it rose higher and higher. We had enjoyed the falls at Oregon City so much that we wished we could see them now with the river so high.
I wrote home to my friends in the sunny South that we only saw the sun once through the whole winter, and afterward whenever I would write about the beauties of Southern Oregon they would write back to me, "Not for them," for they must live where "Old Sol showed his face oftener than once a year!"
Before we left Salem we had to lay in our year's supply of provisions, for there was no other point where they could be secured. Mother in her wisdom bought many useful things for the new cabin Father had planned to build. Among them was a bolt of calico to be used for curtains around our beds, for we were only to have one room in our cabin.
After the warm rains came and washed the snow off the ground, there was plenty of green grass for the stock, and by the time we were ready to start they were in better condition than at any time since we left home.
Our sick ones were now much better, and as Father grew stronger he became so restless to push on, and then Aunt and Uncle had left their son in charge of their things at home in Yreka, and they too were anxious to start homeward. Uncle Kelly was a great help to Father, as the trail had to be "blazed" for the wagons as we went along.
We left Salem in April, 1853, for the place that was to be our home, and which has been my home ever since--over 63 years. My sisters, who are still living, and I are called "the women pioneers of Oregon."
When we came to the Calapooya Mountains my oldest brother, who had been over the road before, persuaded my mother to forsake the wagon and ride on horseback, the road was so rough, and the teams made such slow progress--for they would often have to remove big trees and rocks from their path. So my sister who had been ill took Mother's place in the wagon with Father. As they went along Sister got so tired of the jolting of the wagon she thought she would walk for a little way.
She had not been gone long when one of the wheels of the wagon came off, breaking some of the spokes. Sister kept on walking, thinking every moment Father would come; she never thought of an accident to the wagon, for we had come all the way across the plains without one of any kind, and Father thought, when Sister did not come back, that of course she had caught up with the other part of the train of people. So Sister was alone without protection of any kind, and with nothing to eat all day often getting so tired she would lay down to rest by the way; as she was far from well she soon became so weary she could not go any further, so she found a hollow tree and climbed up into it but she was afraid she would drop off to sleep and Father would pass her by. And, too, the mountain was full of wild animals and Indians. As Sister passed this day alone in the mountains so infested and came through it unhurt, we felt that night as we lay down to rest and heard the howling of the hungry wolves, that God had watched over her, and thankful prayers ascended to the Throne above for His protection over Sister this day.
Father worked with the wagon until he grew so weary he felt he must give it up for the night; so he took the horse that always followed the wagon, and spread on it all the bedding and provisions for our evening meal. As he came along he picked up Sister from her place in the hollow log, and set her on top of the whole thing. How that horse walked without getting tangled up in the bedding is more than I can tell, for most of it was dragging and all you could see of the horse was his head.
Father and Sister went to bed as soon as places could be made ready for them, for we feared they would suffer a relapse from their experience but next morning they were both as well as usual.
About noon the next day things were ready to start and sister Mary and I thought we would walk on and gather some flowers as we saw so many different varieties, and as we had studied botany at school, we were anxious to analyze them. We got so interested in the flowers we lost all thought of the wagons. When we left the camp the dogs, who were in a box in the back of one of the wagons, whined to go with us, so we took them along. Each flower in the distance looked prettier than the ones in our hands, until we were far from the road where the wagons passed. With some difficulty we found the road and followed it until we came to a creek that was too deep to wade and no bridge. Here was a puzzle for older heads than ours to solve. We went downstream for a ways and there found a small tree that had fallen across the creek, that we thought was our salvation. Sister took a dog under each arm and started across calling to me to stay where I was until she came back, for she knew I always grew dizzy if I tried to walk over water. But I sat astride the tree and hunched my way along until I got to about the middle of the stream, when Sister thought she would come back and help me. She had put the dogs down, and had almost reached me, when before she knew it both dogs were after her, and the small tree was bending down into the water with its burden, so that my feet were in the water. I clung on for dear life while Sister picked up the dogs and started back. She was almost across when snap went the end of the tree she was on, but I was up in the air with no means of getting across at all. As I was pondering what to do I heard someone laugh, and to our utter amazement three young men appeared in sight. They certainly came as a "bolt from the blue." We had as yet seen no signs of a house, but we learned that these young men lived near the place of our disaster. They soon extricated me from my position on the tree, and it was no wonder they laughed, for we must have been sights to behold, especially Sister, for she had been in the creek and had been carrying the wet dirty dogs. In after years we grew to know these young men very well, for they were the sons of Joseph Lane, the first Governor of Oregon, and they never tired of telling of the rescue they had made.
Every night we would build big fires, and Aunt and Uncle would keep us laughing over some of their experiences in Northern California, so it was with deep regret that we saw them leave us at Cow Creek Canyon, but they promised to come and see us as soon as we were settled, for Yreka was not far from the place Father had selected for our home.
At the Cow Creek Canyon we found a hotel where most every night there would be a train of packers who came and went to Oregon City for supplies. And here Father left us, for the rains had made the creek so high that it was unsafe for us to travel. He took his men and the stock and went on to the Rogue River Valley. After about two weeks he returned with a pack train for us, leaving most of his men behind to begin work on the cabin. We were surely glad to feel that the next long stop would mean "Home!" When the time came to start I chose a mule to ride on, for we had to ride in the creek bed, as there was no other road.
I soon found I had made a great mistake, for the mule stepped so short, and slipped so much on the wet rocks, that I bounced from side to side, for I was riding on a man's saddle. I saw a deer trail leading up from the creek and turned my mule into it. My sisters chaffed me and told me I would never get him back into the creek bed, but I thought "I would show them," and I must say that I did--but not in the way I had expected to. I came to a log across the path and as my horses had always jumped them I urged my mule to do the same. Well "HE DID"--then stopped so short that I went sailing over his head about ten feet beyond, much to the delight of my sisters. I had to have help to get him back into the creek bed, and although it could rightly be called the "rocky road to Dublin" I felt it to be the safest by a long way.
I have often ridden by this place in a Pullman car, but can never see it without a shudder, thinking over the day we spent trudging over the rocks with our pack train.
When we came to the Rogue River Valley it seemed to our eyes most beautiful indeed, compared to most of the lands we had traveled through, and we did not blame our father for losing his heart to the place. We traveled through this valley for about three days before Father headed his pack train off the regular road, and then we knew we would soon reach the place we had traveled the long distance to see. Mother rode in the front alongside of Father, and soon I heard her crying, "To think that I have brought my daughters to such a place as this." But I said, "Oh, Mother, dry your eyes and see the beautiful spring flowers to bid us welcome, and see the place where the men are building the cabin under the big oak tree!" I felt rather "chokey" myself but in my efforts to help Mother soon forgot my own feelings.
There is a beautiful house standing under those oaks today where our cabin stood. As soon as our train stopped I jumped off my mule and began to gather wildflowers, for I had never seen such a variety before, and although the place looked big and bare, the flowers atoned for a lot that was missing.
Our cabin walls were up and we moved in without floors or roof, but soon the men sawed off trees about the length of shingles, then took a broad ax and chopped them into shape for the roof, but it was some time before we had a floor in our cabin. We put the stove in one corner by a little window, in fact we had three of these so-called windows in our cabin, just an opening covered with muslin, for there was no glass to be had in the country at that time. Our beds were things of art I can assure you; Father cut poles about six feet long which served for bed and curtain poles in one, driving one end of the pole into the ground. He then bored holes in the wall and drove one small piece into it, then nailed the other end to the long pole, etc., until he had the frame for the bed; he then made clapboards the necessary length to serve in place of springs, we then cut wild grass and filled our bed ticks and with our feather beds we thought we had very comfortable beds. Our tables and chairs were made out of clapboards also, the legs used were branches cut from the trees.
Our beds were curtained with the calico that Mother brought with her from Salem, Oregon, and with our white table cloths and spreads for our beds, and other things we brought from home with us, we soon had things quite homelike.
A few months later Father built a shed where we moved our stove, and we did our cooking and eating there, and that gave us more room and made us more comfortable in the cabin.
Our place was very convenient for the packers to stop, and one night they had a great joke on me. There were six who had to sleep on the floor of our cabin, as it was considered a big treat to sleep under a roof, so when we were all tucked in behind our curtains, Father brought the men in. They always carried their own blankets but they had a great time arranging themselves to fit the floor space, so they placed a short man then a tall one in just as they fit best, and as I dropped oft to sleep I was wondering how I could get out the one door of our cabin in the morning to get the breakfast. So in my sleep I cried out, "O, do excuse me, Mr. Kelly, for walking on your feet, and please forgive me, Mr. Washburn, for stepping on your face." Of course everyone heard me as I said it so loud, and it was the cause of great amusement the next morning, much to my discomfort.
There were four men living at a place called the "Mountain House" who told Father they had some cows with young calves he could take to milk, if he would give them a gallon of milk each day. Father was very glad of the chance, for he would have plenty of "fresh" cows the next year. So he built corrals to keep them in so the Indians would not steal them, and now there was plenty of good green grass everywhere.
We were the only ones in the valley who sold butter and cheese, and we got a dollar a pound for both of them and twenty-five cents for skim milk.
These we sold to the Mexicans who plied the pack trains through to Salem for supplies. The first summer we were very prosperous in every way; our garden was growing fine, for Father had brought the seeds with him, and the men were in the woods making rails to fence the fields. So, Father thought he would take the time to lay a floor in our cabin. He went down to Ashland and bought from Mr. A. D. Helman, the founder of Ashland, who had brought with him around the Horn a circular saw about as big around as a center table and was making quite a bit of money sawing boards, and from him Father bought "slabs" at a dollar apiece.
The slab is the first cut from the tree and has the bark on it. Father had so little time that I told him I would plane the bark off and he could lay them; so he fixed me a place and I went to work with a will, for to have a floor in our cabin and begin to live like civilized beings again would surely seem good to us. I am sure I did very crude work, but Father was full of praise for me at any rate.
As Father was taking a slab through the door a big buck Indian stood right in the way, and as he refused to move Father just pushed him aside and came on out in the yard for another slab. I saw the Indian, but paid no attention to it as there were always some of them hanging around. After Father left the house the Indian picked up a whetstone that lay by the door and began whetting his knife and looking at Mother in a way that sent her into a nervous collapse.
The Indians had been quiet for some time so Father trusted them too much, for the saying, "The only good Indian is a dead one," is indeed true.
This one, when Father was farthest away from the house, made one jump into the middle of the room, pulled the curtain from around the bed and reached for the gun, but my sister Mary, who was as quick as a cat in her actions, got there first, grabbed the gun and pointed it at him, and as they never got over their fear of the gun of the white man, he ran at double quick time. We felt sure he would have killed us all if he had been successful in getting hold of the gun.
(Continued in September Number)I did not know what was going on in the house, but kept a sharp lookout on the road, for I did not want anyone to see me planing slabs. I soon saw a man coming down the road who seemed very much excited when he met the Indian running away. As soon as he came within calling distance he asked us what the Indian had been doing; of course we didn't know but soon found out, for Sister began calling for help to restore Mother. The man told us he was the worst Indian in the valley and the chief of his band, and that he had been up to the Mountain House, where there was a United States garrison with a few officers stationed, and had been caught spying around.
The New American Woman, August 1917, pages 7-17
THE WOMAN PIONEER ACROSS THE PLAINS
By Martha Hill Gillette
(Continued from August number.)
Every mile or two all through the valley there were rancherias of Indians. One morning shortly after this, just at daybreak, we were awakened by the Indians yelling and singing their war songs. If you have never heard them, I cannot find words to express the horribleness of those sounds, and how it seems to freeze the very blood in your veins, and grip your heartstrings almost to the breaking point.
Father kept all the men in from the woods that day and had them stay close to the house, for he knew not what moment they would be called into action.
We girls went to washing to get that out of the way, and about ten o'clock we saw a man coming running his horse at full speed and as he came nearer we saw his horse was dripping with foam. He told us to get ready to go to the nearest blockhouse if we had none of our own, for the Indians were on the war path, and had murdered settlers in the lower part of the valley the night before. He said he would go on to the garrison and get the soldiers for our escort, for the nearest blockhouse was about two miles away. We hurriedly threw our clothes and eatables together, and in less than an hour we were behind the thick cabin walls that were the only protection from the Indians in that part of the valley.
These blockhouses were built of thick logs with portholes around them about as high as a man's head, and here two or three men could protect their families from a whole band of renegade Indians. All the men from the garrison and in the neighborhood went to surround the band of Indians near us before they could spread and begin their depredations. As we passed on our way to the blockhouse we could hear the shooting of our men and the terrible yelling of the squaws.
We had only been there a short time when they began to bring in the wounded men, and we knew not how soon some of those nearest and dearest to us would be brought in and laid at our feet never to speak to us again.
But we had no time to brood, for work must be done to relieve the suffering men for there was no doctor near, and we had only the simplest of home remedies to be applied. In about three hours my father, who was at the head of the volunteers (see footnote), came with about 150 Indian prisoners. They did not want to kill the Indians but to keep them from joining the other tribes.
(See Bancroft's History of Oregon, Vol. 2)--38j. [sic--the reference is apparently to the mention of Isaac Hill on page 313 of the 1888 edition]
They took from them their bows and arrows, and with all the rest of their belongings moved them up near the Dunn blockhouse, where they had to be guarded night and day. The feeding of 150 Indians was no small task and worked a great hardship on the men.
In this day of repeating rifles it is hard to realize the process of fighting in the '53 war. Every fighter carried hung from his shoulder a powder horn, which was made from a cow's horn, the big end being made air tight by a piece of wood fitting into it, and the little end stopped with a cork. First the powder was put into the barrel of the gun and packed down tight with a "ramrod," then the bullet wrapped in a strong piece of cloth was pushed down to meet the powder, when the trigger was snapped on a small piece of flint which set the sparks a-flying, caught the cloth around the bullet, ignited the powder and sent the bullet flying on its deadly mission. And this process had to be gone through every time the gun was fired. Another great inconvenience was that no two guns were alike, and bullets had to be molded to fit each gun. The lead came in bars about one foot long--this was put into a ladle over a fire, and when it came to a white heat, was run into bullet molds. [Lead melts at 621.4°F, so a "white heat" (1500-1600°F) is as unlikely as it is unnecessary.]
This is some difference from the modern warfare of today. About two days after we left home, a guarded pack train came along on its way to Northern California. Father took his wagon and us girls and went along with it as far as our home, where he left us and went on to the Mountain House for supplies at the blockhouse. We gathered in our clothes from the line where they had remained undisturbed and tied them in sheets with all the other clothing we had left behind in our haste; also took butter and cheese from the milk house, and everything we thought we could use, for we did not know how long the siege would last.
Father thought we were perfectly safe there by ourselves, for he thought all the Indians in that part of the valley were under guard. The Indians would only fight from ambush and there was no small brush near enough to our house to be reached by their bows and arrows. However, he felt very different about it when he reached the Mountain House and found an arrow in the hip of one of the mules of his pack. We saw him coming on the run, calling as he drew near that Indians were at large and he knew not how many there were. I wanted to get some corned beef from the smokehouse, but Father said we might all be murdered if we delayed a minute. He ran his horses all the way down to the blockhouse. It seemed that the management of the whole affair rested on Father's shoulders, and when he had us safely inside the place of refuge the strain he had passed through proved almost too much for him.
Pack trains could not move from point to point without a guard. Every settlement was threatened and the stock of the farmers was being slaughtered nightly in some parts of the valley. All private dwellings had to be fortified and no one could pass along the road except at the peril of his life. I might tell volumes of the horrors and hardships the white man suffered at the hands of the redskins. [The events of this paragraph actually took place two years later, during the 1855-56 war.] Soon came the news that the Indians had killed two men at the Jewett Ferry on Rogue River and had wounded another during the night, and then proceeding on their way had mortally wounded Isaac Shelton, who was on his way to Yreka. They then came to the house of J. K. Jones, killing him and his wife and after pilfering their home burned it to the ground. They continued on their bloodthirsty way until they came to the King place. Mrs. King was alone in the house with her four-year-old child and both were burned to death as they were unable to escape when the Indians fired their home. Mr. King had left the house just a short time before to escort a temperance lecturer from New York over to Sailor Diggings, and when he returned wife, child and home had all fallen prey to the savage redskins. [The "King" family is unknown. The events described involved the Wagoner family.] They next came to the house of our friend George Harris. He saw them coming as he stood in the doorway but before he could get to safety an arrow had done its deadly work in piercing his side. He fell back but closed and barred the door and as his was a blockhouse he showed his wife how to load and fire the gun through the portholes, and was even able for a while to mold bullets over the coals in the fireplace. [The Harris place was not fortified; Mrs. Harris fired through the gaps between the logs.] Think of the agony she must have passed through when words of encouragement failed to come from the prostrate form on the floor and she knew by the silence that he had been called in death, but she still had her little daughter's life to think of and fight for. When the Indians at daybreak knew they could not pierce through the walls of the blockhouse and that they were defeated, they tried to come down the chimney, but when she heard them she ripped open her feather bed and placed feathers on the smoldering coals in the fireplace making such a smudge that it proved even too much for an Indian. When she was rescued after twenty-four hours of resistance she was so marked with powder and blood that she was hardly recognizable. [Many of the details here of the Harris siege are incorrect or otherwise unknown. J. B. Wagoner only escorted Sarah Pellet, the temperance lecturer, as far as Vannoy's Ferry.]
There were many other heroic women whose brave deeds during these savage wars in Southern Oregon must forever remain unrecorded.
We knew of another family who ran out a secret door when they were attacked at dark and all escaped but a young son about twelve years of age who was captured by the Indians. This mother's heart was wrung with grief, and as I knew her in after years she was always searching in every face she saw for some resemblance of her long lost boy, but at her death the dream of his home coming was still unfulfilled. [This must be a reference to nine-year-old David W. Harris, a victim of the Harris siege, above.]
The next day Captain Goodall came with his company of volunteers from Yreka, and with them was our cousin Isham Keith whose parents, Mr. and Mrs. Kelly, I have spoken of before. Isham insisted that Father move us to Fort Wagner which was about ten miles below the Dunn blockhouse, for he said to Father, "Uncle, just as sure as you live other Indians will come and try to rescue these prisoners you have here."
So under the escort of Capt. Goodall and his company we moved to Fort Wagner, where we stayed for several months.
The walls around this fort covered about an acre of ground and were two feet thick and twelve feet high and had portholes every few feet all around. Inside the wall was a large blockhouse where the Wagner family lived, and the men told all the women and children that in case of an attack to all run into this house, and leave the ground to the full sweep of the men. At each corner of the wall was built a high observation station, where a sharp lookout was kept day and night.
We had been here but a few days when my cousin's prophecy came true. The men who had the prisoners in charge were kind to them and fed them well, so were not looking for any trouble from outsiders. After Father left, John Gibbs was placed in charge, and had such confidence in them that he told my mother that if he had a thousand lives to live he would trust them in old Sambo's hands. They had had the prisoners for about a month and as nothing had happened they had grown careless. One morning just at daybreak the guards foolishly laid down their guns and went to the back of the house to make the fires for breakfast, when the air was rent with terrible yells of the Indians who had laid in ambush all night for the opportunity of rescuing the prisoners. And this same Sambo, whom John Gibbs had trusted so, took Gibbs' own gun, which was loaded, shot and wounded him so that he died soon after. I shall never forget as they were taking Gibbs to Jacksonville for medical attention, they drew up in front of Fort Wagner where Gibbs' sweetheart was and he asked for her to come and kiss him, for he seemed to know he would never see her again; so with eyes blinded with tears she laid her lips against his, and for a few minutes the world held only two people for them. The soldiers and volunteers all stood with uncovered heads, for they too knew their friend and companion would soon take the long journey from which there would be no returning.
Besides Gibbs, William Hodges was killed and Bruce Whitman, A. G. Fordyce and M. B. Morris were wounded. All these men except Gibbs were immigrants who had arrived the night before. They crossed the plains meeting with Indians every day and then when they had reached the land of their desires, to meet their death at the hand of the Indians seemed indeed a cruel fate.
The day before the attack the men had been warned by Thomas Smith, who had had experience with Indians in Texas and knew their ways. He had seen Indian tracks a half mile below where the prisoners were kept, and told the men to put on an extra guard that night, for he knew there was mischief brewing. Gibbs paid no attention to the warning and paid the penalty with his life. There had been communication between the tribes, for the attacking Indians knew exactly where the guns were kept, for they made a dash for them. They secured about twenty, and the white men were powerless to defend themselves.
The Indians had no bullet molds and could not have used the guns had it not been for a man living about two miles below Fort Wagner who was a blacksmith by trade; he was friendly with the Indians and encouraged them in their fighting. He molded bullets to fit the stolen guns, gave them ammunition and taught them how to shoot. [The first sentences of this paragraph may be the story of a blacksmith otherwise lost to history; the remainder of the paragraph is the misremembered story of John Beeson, a figure of the 1855-56 war, two years later.] This man had been writing for an Eastern paper blaming the whites for all the trouble, saying the Indians were a friendly, hospitable race who had been oppressed until forbearance was no virtue, and that the war of '53 was entirely the fault of the whites. About the time the white men found out that he was aiding the Indians, a copy of this paper fell into the hands of one of the men. So they called an indignation meeting outside the fort, which every available man attended. The paper was read and discussed and it was decided to hang this man the next morning at daybreak. This man had a son who was a fine young fellow and belonged to the volunteers, and in some way he got wind of the meeting. He lingered on the outskirts of the crowd and heard the planning to do away with his father early the next morning. He ran to his home with all his might, got his father up out of bed and rushed him to the fort where General Lane had some United States soldiers, and under guard he was taken to Crescent City, where he was put on a steamer and shipped out of the country. The next thing heard of him, he was lecturing all through the East upholding the Indians and blaming the whites; he aided in spreading the prejudice already created against the people of Oregon by writers who had never been there, and possibly never seen an Indian. To this man's efforts were largely due the results that kept the claims of the people of Southern Oregon from being paid.
Many lost heavily by the Indians setting fire to their fields and homes and killing their stock, and had it not have been for gold being discovered in Jacksonville Creek, the people of Southern Oregon would have suffered from hunger. [Gold had been discovered eighteen months before the 1853 war.]
Foodstuffs were brought from Honolulu ships to Crescent City, and from there brought to us by pack train. We paid one dollar per pound for sugar, fifty cents a pound for beans and $30.00 for a fifty-pound sack of flour. This flour had been packed on the mules' backs, and by the time it reached us it was so full of hairs we had great difficulty in using it at all. After all our sieving and straining through a fine cloth, we seldom had a baking without finding a few hairs in it, much to our disgust.
One day we heard there would be sixty men come to Fort Wagner the next morning for breakfast and Father said he would feed twenty of them; so the next morning we were up early and by the time the men arrived we had the white oilcloth we had crossed the plains with spread on the ground and places set for twenty. I guess it looked pretty good to those soldier boys, for they raced around and looked at the other places, and then forty of them came back to our table, two eating off of one plate.
(Continued in October Number)There were battles being fought with the different tribes all through the valley under the direction of the Indian chiefs, but September 6 will always be a marked day in my memory, for it was then we lost our dear cousin Isham Keith. He had gone with Captain Goodall and his volunteers to a conference with Chief John, who said he was tired of fighting and wanted to lay down his arms. On the day agreed upon for the surrender Goodall was the place of rendezvous with his eighty men to receive the Indians and their arms. He waited all day through the rain and the Indians did not put in an appearance. During the night he was visited by two squaws who gave him information that caused him to move his camp to a higher position where he felt more secure. He also under cover of night sent to the regulars for aid. [In these paragraphs Gillette conflates the story of the August 24, 1853 Battle of Table Rock (on upper Evans Creek) with the story of the Table Rock Treaty, signed September 10, 1853.]
The New American Woman, September 1917, pages 9-13
THE WOMAN PIONEER ACROSS THE PLAINS
By Martha Hill Gillette
(Continued from May Number)
The next morning about ten o'clock a party of forty warriors advanced up the eastern slope and signified their wish to deliver their arms to the officer in charge in person. Being warned, Goodall directed them to deposit their arms at a certain place outside the camp. Thus foiled the warriors retreated, casting glowering looks upon a ''howitzer" gun placed so as to sweep that side of the hill. The Indians were wild at their defeat and soon opened up fire on the volunteers, for they were well provided with rifles. The white men repelled them time and time again. Darkness came on and still no relief from the outside, so during the night the men dug pits and fixed such breastworks as they could. Early the next morning the Indians renewed their attacks, and to the other sufferings of the men, both wounded and unwounded, was added that of thirst. There was no water in camp at all, a fact well known to the Indians, who taunted the soldiers with "Mika hias ticka chuck" (you very much want water), or "Halo chuck Boston" (no water white men). About three o'clock the second day of fighting, the volunteers sighted the regulars coming which put new life into them and made them fight like tigers. The Indians knew they outnumbered the white men almost three to one, so were becoming very bold and were climbing the hill on three sides, and had it not been for the timely aid the regulars gave the small band fighting on the hill top would surely have fallen to the treacherous Indians. The Indians had not seen the approach of the regulars who soon killed about 150 warriors. Among the white men killed was our cousin, and it was three days before he was brought in for burial. As there were no boards available for a coffin he was laid away wrapped in his blanket. He was escorted to his last resting place by Captain Goodall and a company of volunteers. Our hearts were wrung with pity over our Aunt's grief, for she could not attend the funeral. It seemed sad indeed that after all Mrs. Kelly had done for others, she was denied the comfort of administering the last loving tribute to her own son. [Isham Keith died at the battle of August 24, 1853--and Goodall was one of the volunteer commanders then--but the details above more closely resemble the Battle of Big Bend in 1856.]
There were no less than 4000 Indians fighting against the white settlers at one time in Oregon, and the only thing that favored the whites was that the Indians had no management or system to their fighting.
Four million four hundred forty-nine thousand nine hundred forty-nine dollars and thirty-three cents was due Oregon as expense for the Indian wars.
At last the Indians were subdued and surrendered their arms to General Lane at Table Rock in the fall of '53, and were sent to a reservation at Klamath Falls and have been there ever since. [They were sent to a reservation on the coast in 1856.] A few years ago I rode by there and saw the Indians tilling the soil with the latest machinery, and saw their pretty houses and gardens that could not have been told from the white man's. I felt it was no wonder that they wanted to own them, for they had asked Uncle Sam to throw open the reservation and let them buy them for their permanent homes, which was done. I tell this to show what civilization has done for them, for now they have their schools and churches. One of their preachers came to my home city and almost outshone some of the white ones.
The next year after the war was a very prosperous one for all the settlers in the valley, for gold was plentiful in Jacksonville, where miners came by the hundreds. But women were very scarce, so were somewhat of a curiosity, my sisters and I being the only girls in the Rogue River Valley. [They may have been the only white girls in the immediate vicinity.]
When Sunday came men visited us by the dozens, and as we had our regular work to do, such as milking, cooking etc., we kept the door of our cabin closed, for if it was opened that was a signal that we were ready and the men could come in. We used to look through a crack in the door and view the men sitting on the top of the fence and would call to each other, "No hurry, girls, there are only five or six out there." We had so few stools that when the cabin would become too crowded we would go out under the beautiful oak trees and do our entertaining if the weather permitted.
One day a man came up from Jacksonville and asked Father if some of the miners could come up the next Sunday for dinner, as it had been so long since they had tasted home cooking. He said they would pay well for it. Father consulted with Mother and us girls and we thought it would be great fun. Father built a big table under the oak trees and benches to sit on. So we prepared for the twenty men. Father killed a beef every Saturday and sold it to the settlers, so we had plenty of fresh meat on hand. We had vegetables, butter and cream in abundance, so it was easy to prepare a good substantial meal. With the table linen we brought from home we managed to make a most inviting display for the hungry miners. The prevailing style of dress for the miners was red flannel shirts, trousers stuffed in the top of heavy boots, wide-brimmed slouch felt hats, and everyone wore long whiskers, as it was too much trouble to bother with shaving. There was one, however, who presented a strange spectacle among them. He was a red-headed, red-faced young fellow and had on a linen suit he had brought with him from the East. I suppose that in the past this suit had fitted him, but he had washed it up for the occasion and it had shrunk until the trousers and socks did not meet and the sleeves were halfway to his elbows. We girls had always had great fun among ourselves in selecting our Sunday beaux for our afternoon walk, and if there was one that was homelier than the rest we all claimed him. As soon as I saw this fellow in the unironed linen suit I said, "Girls, he is mine for the afternoon," and soon the word was passed around among the men who knew us and all were watching to enjoy the fun. When dinner was over I stepped up to this fellow and asked him to take me for a walk. His face grew red, he stammered and would have refused me point blank if I had given him time, but I saw his hesitation and knew that the laugh would be on me if he refused, so 1 took advantage of his confusion by taking his arm and leading him away. I led the way to the steepest hill around there, and when we came to the foot I called to the crowd that was following that we would run them a race to the top. There was a way to reach the top that was not so steep but that way was not for me and my escort. I fell down many times before we reached the top and the young fellow was fairly exhausted by the time we finished the race. The crowd below was convulsed with laughter at my actions for they knew me to be a good climber. The red-faced young man wiped the perspiration from his brow with his coat sleeve until it was both dirty and wet and then my conscience smote me for I knew one more washing would finish that linen suit. At night when the men left they were then profuse in their thanks, but Mother thought that the proof of the pudding was in the eating of it.
Our Aunt Kelly wrote to us asking if we would come to Yreka to spend the Fourth of July if someone would come for us. The result was that three of our friends came for us, and we started for Yreka early the morning of the third as it took some time to travel the distance, it being a good sixty miles from our home. Part of the road was over the Siskiyou Mountains, but when the road was level we ran our horses, for all were good riders and enjoyed the sport. When we were about two miles out from Yreka, my friend said he thought we had better stop by a little stream and refresh ourselves. So we girls took off our little blue satin bonnets, washed our faces, and soon felt quite rested, then mounted our horses and started on. In a short time I saw a man coming toward us on horseback, but when he saw us he turned his horse around and went dashing back. I asked my friend if he thought the man took us for Indians, but he only grinned in rather a sheepish manner, and we soon found out the cause of it all. We saw coming toward us a hayrack filled with men who when they joined us headed their horses back for Yreka. To our utter amazement the air was filled with music, for the men on the hayrack formed the brass band from town, which escorted us through Miner Street and up to our aunt's home. As we passed along the way was lined with red and blue-shirted miners, and to them this was the beginning of the celebration. We were anything but pleased at the display, but our aunt was delighted at our chagrin and thought it a huge joke.
I shall never forget the ball on the night of the Fourth. We danced until four o'clock in the morning and even then did not feel like stopping. We only had the square dance then, and perhaps it was not so tiring as the giddy whirl and hop of today. The music used was anything but musical. They had two fiddlers and a drummer, but if the drummer wanted to dance, the two fiddlers furnished the music. Sometimes they played in tune and sometimes not, but we did not seem to mind it but went laughingly on our way through the quadrille.
Farm life seemed rather dull after so much hilarity, but we lived such busy lives we had no time to dream.
As years passed immigrants came in to our valley thick and fast, for news that the Indians were peaceable did much toward inducing the people to come West.
Neighbor divided with neighbor, and all seemed at peace with the world. How often I have seen Father sending meat around to the people who could not afford to buy it after he had killed a beef, for in those days "fellowship" meant just what the word spells.
As civilization left her footprints through the Rogue River Valley, school houses and churches were built, not like the beautiful houses of God that we worship in today, but just four rough walls that held the children at study through the week, and called the older ones to worship on the Sabbath.
In five years after the '53 Indian war the Rogue River Valley held about 1000 settlers, and waving fields of grain met the eye in every direction. Everyone was at peace with the world, and the outlook on life was bright indeed.
Father had trouble sometimes with the Modocs stealing in at night and driving off his stock, but on the whole we felt we were in a very peaceful valley.
We considered ourselves fortunate indeed when a general merchandise store was opened up in Jacksonville about sixteen miles away, and we had no longer to go to Salem for our supplies. [R. B. Hargadine didn't open Ashland's first store until 1854, but stores had opened in Jacksonville before the Hills' arrival.] This was a great boon to us as both my sisters were married in the year of '55, which meant a great deal of extra buying.
In the spring of '56 my Aunt Kelly visited us and begged Father to let me return to Yreka with her. I had a most enjoyable time, for as a courtesy to my aunt the residents were doing their best to make my stay pleasant, when I was suddenly called home. Twelve men were crossing the Siskiyou Mountains with their ox teams taking provisions to Yreka; as they were going up a very steep grade, they were attacked by Indians who were in ambush on either side of the road, killed all the men but one, and he was left for dead. The Indians took all the provisions and oxen and burned the wagons. The man they thought they had killed was shot in the leg at such close range, that it shattered the bone and tore away the ligaments, and in this condition he crawled four miles to the Mountain House; but as there were no women there they brought him on down to our home for Mother to care for. [This appears to be a fanciful retelling of the September 25, 1855 Siskiyou Massacre. No one was shot in the legs or crawled to assistance.]
When Father learned of this, he feared another uprising, so sent my brother posthaste to Yreka for me. We had two very fast Spanish horses, and these my brother took, riding one and leading the other for me to ride home. Father, at the head of as many men as he could call together, went out to rout the Indians and secure the stolen oxen. When brother arrived he said we must start home early the next morning. Now I wanted to stay a little longer, for it was at this time that I met the man of my choice, but I felt that Father knew best, so with promises to return soon again we left Yreka at eight o'clock the next morning and started on our perilous ride, for we too had to cross the mountain where the men had been murdered a few days before. I took my new silk dresses I had had made while there and put them in a carpet bag which I hung across the horn of my saddle. You seldom saw a Southern girl in those days who was not a good horsewoman, so the ride on this fast horse would have been a delight to me had it not been for the reigning terror of the Indians. We arrived at the Klamath River at ten o'clock, and when the ferry men saw us coming they began to cheer, for a woman riding like the wind was to them an uncommon sight. After crossing they said to us, "Over there is a level road, let your horses out," which we did, much to their delight.
When we came to the foot of the mountain Brother said he had better tighten the girth to my saddle, after which we were soon on our way again. When we arrived near the top I noticed to my dismay that the carpet bag, with my precious silk dresses, was gone. Brother left it lying on the ground after tightening the girth. We stopped our horses and Brother said he would go back for it, but for me to stay where I was and to keep a sharp watch on my horse, for if Indians were around he would be the first to discover it. It seemed he had only been gone a short time when I heard the pounding of his horse's hoofs behind me, and at the same time my horse gave evidence of someone coming in the opposite direction, but from his actions I hardly thought it to be the Indians. It was with a heart full of thankfulness I found it be W. W. Beekman [sic], driver of the Pony Express between Jacksonville and Yreka. [C. C. Beekman at the time rode for a lower-case pony express, not the famous transcontinental Pony Express.]
Mr. Beekman died a short time ago in Jacksonville, Oregon, after a useful and happy life, passing many years as president of one of the banks of that city.
We were soon on our way again and reached home unharmed, to the great joy of our mother. We had made the sixty miles, most of it over a rough mountainous road, in less than eight hours.
We had been home but a short time when Father and his volunteers returned with the stolen oxen, bringing with them a man by the name of Keene who had been shot by the Indians, and who died soon after Father reached him.
Father set aside a piece of ground for the dead which is known to this day as the "Hill burying ground." There they laid Mr. Keene wrapped in his blanket, beside the grave of our cousin Isham Keith. We often picked up small bones by our cousin's grave that the squirrels had carried out, and reburied them, for fear our aunt would come and see them, for we knew how badly it would make her feel.
In '61 came the Civil War, and as we were Southern people, we were much alive to the situation. By this time I was married to a Northern man and was rather between two fires. Father was very strong for the South, and although we were far away from the scenes enacted, we devoured every bit of news we could get. Mail came across the plains by "Pony Express." Carriers would run their horses at full speed from one station to another, where the other mounts would be held in waiting. But even at this rate it would be a month before we could get the only paper that reached our coast at all, and that was published by Horace Greeley in New York City. About once a month we got a little bulletin that was published in San Francisco, but it only held very scant news and never any details; for instance, it would read, "Big battle fought at such a place," but we never knew which side were the victors, and it only seemed to raise our tension the more. [East Coast news transmitted by Pony Express was printed in the Jacksonville newspaper six weeks after the fact; the completion of the transcontinental telegraph in mid-1861 cut three weeks off that time.]
How well I remember one day when we were entertaining a friend of my husband, a Northern general who was on his way South, how my family thought I was a traitor to the South. One of my neighbors had borrowed an iron kettle from me, and this day as we were sitting down to lunch, she came to the front door of my home and threw the kettle in and told me I was a disgrace to my father. The kettle went with such force against the table leg that I feared it would break, and my mortification knew no bounds. This was only one of many instances that showed how high the feeling ran.
In the spring of 1871 trouble began with the Modoc Indians which ended in the terrible and bloody war in the Lava Beds. The Modocs were placed on the reservation with the Klamaths, which seemed to be a very bad move, for the Klamath Indians were a bad, overbearing lot and taunted the Modocs, telling them that everything belonged to them, that of course the Modocs could stay there and split rails, etc., but in the end they were their rails; so the Modocs left and went back to their old haunts on Lost River. Twice they were taken back, and twice they refused to stay. The last time they left Captain Jack and fourteen others were camped on the banks of Lost River; among them were Schonchin John, Scarfaced Charlie, Black Jim, Curly Haired Doctor, Boston Charlie, and Hooker Jim. Captain James Jackson and thirty-five soldiers were sent to escort them back to the reservation. The Indians were taken by surprise. Jackson ordered them to lay down their arms; all complied but Scarfaced Charlie, and when a soldier tried to disarm him, Charlie fired a pistol and in an instant all was confusion. The Indians seized their guns again and opened fire on the soldiers. Jackson lost one man and several wounded, so left the place in the possession of the Indians.
Soon after this affair, the State of Oregon called out several companies of volunteers, about four hundred in all, and sent them to the Lava Beds.
The Indian called "Curly Haired Doctor" laughed and said he would make a medicine that would turn the white man's bullets.
On January, 1873, the soldiers advanced, and said they would make short work of Jack and his band of fifty-three warriors. But as they marched down into the Lava Beds, the Indians concealed among the rocks opened such a deadly fire upon them that soldiers fell right and left, and not an Indian could be seen. It seemed as if "Curly Haired Doctor" had been right--"the Great Spirit" was with the Red Man. Such a slaughter could not be endured, so the soldiers retreated.
A few days after this fight a Peace Commission was proposed at Washington, and E. L. Applegate started the Oregon militia. But Captain Jack and his men held sway in the Lava Beds. How to conquer them was a thing that worried the heads at Washington as well as the Commissioners here. Many a bloody skirmish was held but always with the same result--the loss of the whites, for there was only one advance into the Lava Beds, and the Indians held the vantage ground.
Among the whites employed as interpreter was a white man named Riddle and his Modoc wife called Toby. Riddle had traded for his wife from a Modoc chief, but had been married to her for about twelve years at this time.
At last the Modocs sent a messenger with a "truce," saying they wanted peace, but Riddle and Toby thought they were only thirsting for war again, and did not believe them.
Meacham, Canby, and Thomas went to confer with Captain Jack with the returning truce bearer, but could get no satisfaction. Not long afterwards a messenger came saying that Toby was wanted in the Modoc camp. She did not want to go, but Meacham sent word that if a hair of her head was injured, every Modoc would pay the penalty. So she entered the camp and the Indians tried to find out from her the plans of the soldiers but on failing, let her return to the white man's camp uninjured, but, as she left, an Indian hidden behind a rock told her as she passed by, "White man not come to Modoc camp more for Indian kill sure." Toby told the Commissioners, but Canby and Thomas thought they were safe enough, but Meacham knew how treacherous they were and did not want to pass the warning by. Next day the other two men insisted on entering the Modoc camp again and Meacham rather than be called a coward prepared to accompany them. He wrote a note to his wife that "she might be a widow that night, but not a coward's wife." Canby and Thomas went unarmed, but friends persuaded Meacham to carry a revolver, which he slipped in his hip pocket. Upon arrival at the Indian camp Canby passed around cigars and soon all were smoking, apparently at peace with each other. Before Meacham dismounted he removed his overcoat and threw it across the horn of his saddle, so he could reach his hip pocket if need be. Hooker Jim put the overcoat on and said, "Me old man Meacham now," and Meacham said, "Better take my hat too;" Jim said, "kill old man pretty soon." So the men began to feel that they were in a trap. Captain Jack arose and gave the signal, and the Indians uttered their war whoop, and without a moment's warning Canby and Thomas were shot down. The attack was made on Meacham by Schonchin John, but he was so excited he drew his revolver with his left hand, and was slow in firing. Meacham fired but Schonchin dodged, and returned a shot that passed through Meacham's collar and grazed his neck. Toby threw herself before Meacham and tried to save his life, but he soon went down on his face and fell as dead. Boston Charlie came up to take Meacham's scalp, but before he had succeeded in finishing his task, Toby cried out, "The soldiers are coming," and frightened Charlie away. Toby found Meacham still breathing, so called for help and had him moved back to headquarters on a stretcher. [This is apparently a misremembered version of the account in Jeff C. Riddle's book The Indian History of the Modoc War.]
I saw him a few years after and he still carried the scar of Boston Charlie's knife across his forehead.
It was not until 1873 that Captain Jack and five others were put on trial for the murder of Canby and Thomas and the attempted murder of Meacham. The trial lasted about a week and then the prisoners were found guilty and sentenced to be hanged. On the morning of October 3 these bloodthirsty warriors paid the penalty for their crime.
Although scouting parties were kept out for months afterward to protect the immigrants that were coming in, the death of these Indians had a lasting effect upon the other tribes.
So through all these years our valley has had a steady growth until now our whole state blossoms forth like the veritable rose; in fact, Portland raises a rose known all through the West as the "Rose of Oregon."
You often hear the remark, "The best thing raised in Oregon is the umbrella," but not so, for our state produces thousands of feet of lumber each year, and everyone knows of the famous "Hood River apples."
Many an evening as I sit in my peaceful home in Southern Oregon I think of this great Western Coast of ours, and in particular of my home town which I entered as one of the first white women with my mother and sisters in '52. [They arrived in Southern Oregon in 1853.]
It is such a wonderful thing to live through the growth of a city and see it develop from a wigwam to a great center of civilization.
When I look at our beautiful churches standing in all their grandeur and dignity, and think that I was one of the twelve who founded the first little church, the first monument to God in our midst over sixty years ago, I am filled with thanksgiving to my Maker, who has kept me to the age of eighty-three, and has blessed me with the richest of his blessings, good health. Many happy memories cling around the past, and the struggles we twelve had to build the original edifice seem now but a dream, or a great hope realized.
After all, hope brings strength and comfort to our lives. All through the hardships, all through the big efforts of pioneer days, it was the hope of what was to come that kept our souls buoyant. It was the great hope that young men and women brought from the East, more than their store of riches, that built up the country.
I have just returned from a trip to Southern California, and cannot help comparing this magnificent country with the barren wilderness of fifty years ago.
Los Angeles, with its wonderful harbor, now the port for our largest vessels, its fine buildings, factories and lovely homes, the beautiful orange country producing a wealth that is a source of pride to all who live in that earthly paradise.
As I came through the valleys once filled with sagebrush, I felt young again as I looked on the efforts our people had made, and saw what they had accomplished in such a short period.
The Panama Exposition in San Francisco was a revelation to the thousands who visited the Coast in 1915, and will be remembered in history as showing what wonderful strides the West has made, and what wealth and resources have been drawn from the land of sunshine.
The Sacramento River with its golden treasure, the rich Santa Clara Valley, the great raisin country of the San Joaquin Valley the magnificent redwood trees, are among the wonders of the West, but above all are the smiling people rich in the wealth that Mother Earth has given them in return for the toil of their hands.
As I watch the lovely sunsets in my dear home town it sometimes seems like a rare story of adventure to think over the past. Now life is all astir, for the town is celebrating the bringing of the lithia water to the city, which gives Ashland the distinction of having the greatest lithia, sulfur and soda springs in the state. Its resplendent joint farms [sic--fruit farms?] are each year increasing the wealth of the country, and far away on the mountains rich copper mines are being opened up, and they tell me strange stories--if anything is strange to me now--of new veins of gold being found close by.
Very few of those who crossed the Plains are still with us. My sister Haseltine lives not far from me and although eighty years of age carries on an extensive marble works, some of her work winning the prize at the Chicago World's Fair. Another sister, Mary, who lived on the farm most of her life, helped largely to make that fortune which she now enjoys.
Yes, the West was the land of opportunity, and those who came here were the best of our race. They were the most daring, risking their all to secure an outfit with which to cross the Plains. They were generally men of education, often men and women of culture, but above all they had character. Dauntlessly they faced whatever obstacles they met, and this same courage is still, thank God, the spirit of the West.
I have made many observations in my experience of life, and one that has never proven false is that the hard worker lives the longest and usually enjoys the best of health. This health gives me today joy in my surroundings and in all the new efforts of human life around me.
Well may they call this United States of ours the New World. We have a glorious country to praise God for, and we can thank Him too for the strength he has given us to make it what it is.
The New American Woman, October 1917, pages 10-21
An abbreviated transcription of the memoir was published in 1971 under the title Overland to Oregon and in the Indian Wars of 1853, with an introduction by Richard H. Dillon.
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In Rogue River Valley, on Wednesday the 25th ult., at the residence of Mr. Isaac Hill, by the Rev. Mr. Stearns, Mr. A. V. Gillette and Miss Martha L. Hill.
Shasta Courier, Shasta City, California, May 5, 1855, page 2
At Rogue Valley, O.T., Jan. 21st, infant son of A. V. and Martha F. Gillette.
Sacramento Daily Union, February 4, 1859, page 2
George W. Fordyce, an old pioneer of this county, was buried in the Ashland cemetery last Sunday. He made the journey across the plains when but 12 years old, accompanied by his parents. At daylight on the morning after the first night's camp in Rogue River Valley he saw his father shot twice and two traveling companions killed by the Rogue River Indians in the memorable episode at the fort on the Smith and Dunn claims. Mr. Fordyce was in his 45th year.
"Ashland Notes," Oregonian, Portland, January 20, 1885, page 3
Last revised December 3, 2019