« PreviousContinue »
relieving him in a great degree from the labors of the school, are, perhaps, circumstances which will render possibility probable that in five (three) years one man without funds for such purposes, without other aid in that business than that of a fellow missionary at short intervals, should fence, plow, build, plant an orchard, and do all the other laborious acts of opening a plantation on the face of that distant wilderness; learn an Indian language, and do the duties, meanwhile, of a physician to the associate stations on the Clearwater and the Spokane.
Professor Turner has commented upon the significance of that mission as follows:
Two years later (1836) came Dr. Marcus Whitman and another company of missionaries with their wives; they brought a wagon through South Pass and over the moun. tains to the Snake River, and began an agricultural colony. Thus the old story of the sequence of fur trader, missionary, and settler was repeated. The possession of Oregon by the British fur trader was challenged by the American farmer.?
The demand for teachers was so strong that the missionary board sent others to assist. The Whitman mission was reinforced by other missionaries. In 1838, Rev. Cushing Eells, Rev. Elkanah Walker, Rev. A. B. Smith, and Mr. W. H. Gray, each with his wife, joined the group. M. C. Rogers, unmarried, was in the party. Nearly all of these names have become distinguished in northwest history and education.
Spalding and the Nez Perces.-In 1837, Spalding pushed on to Lapwai at the confluence of Lapwai Creek with the Clearwater River and established a mission post among the Nez Perces. Here he preached and taught the rudiments of agriculture and organized a school. Crude irrigation ditches increased their crops. They built rude mills to grind their corn and wheat. A printing press was secured from Hawaii, the first to be brought to the Northwest. The school was unusually prosperous. The high type of Indians eagerly sought educa. tion and religion. The school enrolled 230, among them chiefs as well as children. This school is described more fully in chapter III.
While the missions made an important contribution, within half a decade dissensions arose among the different groups and
many Indians became dissatisfied and hostile. The missionary board planned to abandon the missions. Dr. Whitman returned East to plead their cause. That ride amid hardships has become one of the epics of northwest history and will not be recounted here. Whitman interested many in the East, among them Horace Greeley, who published a series of articles on the West and also a sympathetic editorial. The board decided to continue the missions. On the return trip Whitman
Meany, Edmond S. History of the State of Wasbington, p. 116. Ibid., p. 117.
rendered valuable aid to the caravan of 1843 in helping to find favorable routes across the mountains.
In 1847 an epidemic of measles broke out at the Walla Walla mission, attacking Indians as well as whites. Dr. Whitman treated all, giving himself unstintedly without recompense. Most of the whites recov. ered, but because of unhygienic living conditions great mortality occurred among the Indians. These latter were suspicious that he was poisoning them and the Cayuses determined to kill him. On November 29, 1847, Dr. Whitman, his wife, and 12 others were murdered. About 50 women and children were made captives. These were later ransomed by Peter Spence Ogden, of the Hudson's Bay Com pany, from Vancouver.
Governor Abernethy of Oregon Territory declared war against the Indians, sending troops who punished them severely, capturing and hanging the ringleaders of the massacre. Space will not permit the recital of the details of those distressing events or an evaluation of their significance. Volumes have been written which are easily accessible.
The tragic manner of his elimination together with many dramatic incidents of his life of devotion to the cause have served to make Marcus Whitman a great heroic figure in the Walla Walla Valley. An imposing monument has been erected about 6 miles from Walla Walla at the site of the mission. Whitman College is named in his honor and commemorates his life. The most imposing hotel in Walla Walla and an adjoining county bear his name.
2. Migrations Over the Oregon Trail Causes of emigration to the Oregon country.—With the wonderful resources surrounding these hardy frontiersmen in the "New Eldo rado", one would expect them to become permanently rooted in the then new Northwest of the Mississippi Valley. Black loam 200 feet deep without stump or obstruction was ready for the plow to upturn and produce the crops that later gave rise to the slogan "Corn is King!" Forests were within reach, coal in abundance scarcely covered by the soil, never failing rainfall, seasons of sunshine to ripen the crops, navigable rivers, railways a reality to the eastern banks of the Father of Waters, healthful bracing climate and, in fact, every material necessity for health and happiness.
But it was not long before caravans of the older pioneers and their adolescent sons and daughters were again on the trail. Several contributory causes served to set them on the way to new frontiers and new adventures. The foreshadowing clouds of slavery were gather ing. The Missouri Compromise of 1820 settled nothing, but served only to stir up sectional feeling. “Many persons in the southwestern States", says Schafer, 8 "were beginning to feel very keenly the evils of slavery, which was causing violent agitation throughout the country, and were anxious to remove their families beyond the reach of its influence."
The hard times" with low prices for all kinds of produce made them wish to move on to the Oregon country where they had heard there were wonderful resources and ready markets made possible by the ocean ports and waterways to foreign lands. Of course, in that they were mistaken. The fur trade was, however, a reality. Many intrepid trappers and coureur de bois brought tales of fabulous wealth made by some of the fur traders. Some of them brought visible evidence in the peltries, ferried down the Missouri from its headwaters to St. Louis, then and for a hundred years later the center of the world's fur trade.
Above all other motives, according to Schaefer, “was a distinctly American love of adventure, the product of generations of pioneeringthe stories of Boone, Kenton, Clark, and scores of others were still recited around frontier firesides by old men and women who spoke out of their own vivid recollections of these border heroes. Such tales fired the imaginations of the young, and prepared a generation of men for a new feat of pioneering, more arduous in some respects than that of 70 years before. But it was an alluring prospect, this journey of 2,000 miles through an uninhabited wilderness. The combination of vast plains, great rivers, and mountains enticed the dweller in the peaceful, but unpoetic valleys of the interior, while the vision of a farm directly tributary to the western ocean seemed to him to promise a larger measure of economic bliss than he could hope to achieve at home.
Add to all this the belief, which many held, that their going to Oregon would benefit the United States in its contest with Great Britain over territorial rights and we have a combination of motives powerful enough to set hundreds of pioneers in motion."
The emigrant trains on the trail.—Ezra Meeker writing of the emi. gration of 1843, which occurred 9 years before his own journey over the same route, said:
Sixty-three years ago (1843) a company numbering nearly one thousand strong, of men, women, and children, with over five thousand cattle, guided by such intrepid
* Schafer, op. cit., p. 144.
Schafer, op. cit., pp. 144, 145.
men as Peter Burnett (afterwards first Governor of California), Jesse Applegate, always a first citizen in the community where he had cast his lot, and James W. Nesbitt, afterward one of the first Senators from Ore made their way with ox and cow teams toilsomely up the Platte Valley, up the Sweetwater, through the South Pass of the Rocky Mountains, and across rivers to Fort Hall on the upper waters of Snake River. This far there had been a few traders' wagons and the track had been partially broken for this thousand-mile stretch. Not so far the remainder of their journey of near eight bundred miles. Not a wheel bad been turned west of this post (then the abiding place for the “watch dogs" of the British, the Hudson's Bay Company, who cast a covetous eye upon the great Oregon country), except the Whitman cart, packed a part of the way, but finally stalled at Fort Boise, a few hundred miles to the
west. " 10
To emphasize the idea of that unexampled trek across the plains recourse will be had to an intensely vivid and dramatic recital by one who helped to blaze the old Oregon Trail—Ezra Meeker. He wrote in 1922, 70 years later, at 91 years of age, the following:
During the ox-team days a mighty army of pioneers went West. In the year that we crossed (1852), when the migration was at its height, this army made an unbroken column fully five hundred miles long. We knew by the inscribed dates found on Inde. pendence Rock and elsewhere that there were wagons three hundred miles ahead of us, and the throng continued crossing the river for more than a month after we had crossed it.
How many people this army comprised cannot be known; the roll was never called. History has no record of a greater number of emigrants ever making so long a journey as did these pioneers. There must have been three hundred and fifty thousand in the years of the great rush overland, from 1843 to 1857. Careful estimates of the total migration westward from 1843 to 1869, when the first railroad (the Union Pacific) across the continent was completed, make the number nearly half a million.
The animals driven over the Plains during these years were legion. Besides those that labored under the yoke, in harness, and under saddle, there was a vast herd of loose stock. A conservative estimate would be not less than six animals to the wagon, and surely there were three loose animals to each one in the teams. Sixteen hundred wagons passed us while we waited for Oliver (brother) to recover. With these teams must have been nearly ten thousand beasts of burden and thirty thousand head of loose stock.
Is it any wonder that the old trail was worn so deep that even now in places it looks like a great canal? At one point near Split Rock, Wyoming, I found the road cut so deep in the solid sandstone that the kingbolt of my wagon dragged on the high center. The pioneer army was a moving mass of human beings and dumb brutes, at times mixed in inextricable confusion, a hundred feet wide or more. Sometimes two columns of wagons, traveling on parallel lines and near each other, would serve as a barrier to prevent loose stock from crossing; but usually there would be a confused mass of cows, young cattle, horses, and men afoot moving along the outskirts. Here and there would be the drivers of loose stock, some on foot and some on horseback; a young girl maybe, riding astride and with a younger child behind her, going here and there after an intractable cow, while the mother could be seen in the confusion lending a helping hand. As in a thronged city street, no one seemed to look to the right or to the left, or to pay much attention, if any, to others, all being bent only on accomplishing the task in hand.
2. Meeker, Esra. The Or-Team, or the Old Oregon Trail. p. 49.
The dust was intolerable. In calm weather it would rise so thick at times that the lead team of oxen could not be seen from the wagon. Like a London fog, it seemed thick enough to cut. Then, again, the steady flow of wind through the South Pass would hurl the dust and sand like fine hail, sometimes with force enough to sting the face and hands. Sometimes we had trying storms that would wet us to the skin in no time. 11
Cholera took a heavy toll. Meeker estimated that 5,000 died on the Oregon Trail in 1852.
3. The End of the Crusader's Trail
Where did this vast cavalcade of half a million crusaders settle in the frontier country during that epochal decade of 1843–53? Exact records were not kept. Diaries were meager and irregularly inscribed. Such accounts as were recorded were scattered here and there, coming to light decades hence or destined to become cobwebbed in pioneers' cabins, most of which have tumbled into decay or have been erased by flames.
Many wagon trains on reaching Bear River near Fort Hall and not far from the present city of Pocatello, Idaho, turned their oxen southward on the trail to California, much better known at that time than Oregon. Thousands went that way in 1848-49 during the gold rush.
Consus statistics of population. Unfortunately Federal census records are altogether too infrequent to reveal exact data of popula. tion shifting, growth, or decline. Census records are not very highly reliable, especially in sparsely settled and pioneer territory. However, with all the inadequacies, the census figures do afford much valuable knowledge concerning tendencies.
An examination of table 1 and table 2 shows no returns earlier than 1860. In 1853, at the time of admission as a territory a census was taken, probably locally and roughly, but those figures do not appear in the Federal census. Table 1 indicates a population of 11,594 in 1860, and 23,955 in 1870. Evidently less than 10,000 of the army of half a million who came over the Oregon Trail came into Washington.
11 Meeker, Ezra. Ox-Team Days on the Oregon Trail, revised by Driggs, Howard R., p. 38.