HISTORY OF A PIONEER FAMILY
Written by Florence (Courtney) Melton 1857-1926
signed by her 24 February 1923 and later donated to
Garfield Co, WA Historical Museum in Pomeroy, WA
[green text = text I added]
Every family has a certain amount of family history, some more interesting than others; still there are always traditions that those who come after have a curiosity to know - some of the characteristics, the virtues and failings of their ancestors. The history of our family is exclusively around my mother's family, as little is known of my father's. His mother's maiden name was Carter, Susan Carter. She came to America from Ireland with her parents when she was fourteen years old, married John Courtney, and Englishman, when fifteen (year not known). My father was born January 13, 1811; he was the oldest of eight children, names not known.
[John and Susannah (Carter) Courtney; their children and my connection to this family.]
Grandmother Courtney was a pretty woman; she had a fair complexion, and having a musical voice was called a sweet singer. My father had her complexion and blue eyes, light brown hair, and was very neat in appearance. He was born in Venango County, Pennsylvania. His folks moved to Ohio when he was three years old and live in the small town of Devertown. He early learned to work in wood and became a chairmaker. Several chairs are in use at the present day to prove his ability to do honest work. He suffered greatly from indigestion, and in January of '49 or '50 he was stricken with epilepsy. Although everything possible was done to cure him, there was nothing that ever helped him. He had those spasms for thirty-five years and he died the seventh of July 1885.
Ours was a family of pioneers, always going west. My mother's grandfather was a Holland Dutchman. He, or his father, was a captain of a sailing ship that sailed on Chesepeake Bay, and other coastal points. He married and Englishwoman. They settled in Maryland not far from Chesepeake Bay. There was constant war with the Indians. Each was determined to annihilate the other. In one of their skirmishes, our ancestor, with others, was taken prisoner by the Indians. It was customary with that tribe, where any of their braves were killed in battle, their nearest of kin had a right to choose from the prisoners [someone] to take his place. One aged squaw had lost her only son. The prisoners were lined up for her to take her choice. She chose my great grandfather. He had a wife and two babies, so he was careful to make good to his old Indian mother. All the other prisoners were put to death. He helped her carry her loads, cut her wood, and treated her like he was accustomed to seeing white women treated. He could not eat some of the dishes as prepared by the Indians. His civilized stomach revolted; he would throw up and the braves would laugh with great glee, but the old Indian mother would cook something especially for him. The men laughed to see him doing squaw work, but kindness will usually win out, and his squaw mother was very fond of him. Before the white settlers got knowledge that he was alive and got strength enough to win any concessions from the Indians, more than a year had elapsed. He was finally redeemed by the colonists and nearly two years had passed when he was united with his family. His Indian mother wept bitterly when parted from him.
My grandfather was born after his father's Indian adventure. Grandfather, who's name was Jacob Ashbaugh, which in English is Ashbrook, was born in Maryland some time in 1700, date not known. He lived at home until he was nineteen. Then he took his earthly possessions in a bundle and started to make his way in the world, vowing he was going where men were free, as he abhorred slavery. He came to western Pennsylvania and settled among the Scotch on the western reserve. There he met a Scotch lassie with flashing black eyes. He fell in love with Mary Boyd and when she was eighteen years old they were married [about 1802].
They started housekeeping with one horse and what they could carry and pack on the horse. They lived in Pennsylvania a number of years. My mother was the seventh child and there were several younger when the left Beaver County emigrated to Perry County, Ohio. There the started to grub out a farm in the timber. Grandmother Ashbaugh had fourteen children; there names were Andrew, Sarah, Margaret, Hanna, Robert, Jacob, Mary, John, Comfort, Jane, Nancy, Simeon, Lizzie or Elizabeth, and Joseph. John and Jacob died in infancy. Hanna and Margaret died in young womanhood. All the rest raised families and lived to old age. One of grandfather's sisters followed him to Pennsylvania and married a young Scot by the name of John Young. She was my mother's favorite Aunt Rachel. John Young came to Ohio and lived close to Grandfather in Perry County; their children grew up together.
The children went to school in paths through the timber. They were always in danger of being hurt by wild animals and cross cattle. When cattle ran at large in the timber they often become cross, especially bulls. There was no law to make the owners take care of their stock. One red bull in particular became a terror. If children were late in coming home from school, older members of the family would go in search of them. One morning the children, my mother included, were awakened by Uncle John Young's cheery voice saying he had been hunting a red squirrel. Grandmother told them to say nothing about their uncle's having been at their house and on no account were they to repeat to anyone anything he had said. They could understand when it was known that someone had shot the bull. The owner offered a reward for the perpetrator of the "foul" deed.
Grandfather planted apple and peach seeds. All the fence rows were lined with peach trees and they soon had plenty of fruit. They made their own sugar and syrup from the maple trees that grew on their farm. They made apple butter by the barrel. They made butter and cheese. They kept geese and made feather beds and pillows. Each child took a good bed with him or her when a new home was founded. The kept sheep and raised flax and made their own clothes. At one time there were six women and five men all able to do an adult's work. Think what a force that was and the amount they could accomplish. They began their labors with the first streak of dawn. On the Sabbath the arose as early as through the week. Grandmother said it was not showing due respect to the Lord to dawdle time in bed when if it were a work day they would be up and working. As much as possible the Sabbath meals were prepared on Saturday. Coffee was made fresh, the rest was warmed up. All members of the family went to church and Sunday school. The afternoon was spent in reading the Bible or some religious book. My grandfather was quite well-to-do as wealth was counted in those days. But the greatest good the did for the world was the family of sturdy men and women they sent forth. Not one "black sheep" in the lot - no breath of scandal about a single one. My grandmother was a distant relative of President James Buchanan, but she did not sanction his politics. One of her nephews was the founder of the American Lye Company of Dubuque, Iowa, and he amassed a fortune.
My mother's brothers and sisters married and settled in Ohio, but the pioneer spirit conquered. They finally drifted West. My father and mother were married October 23, 1833, in Perry County. From this period on, my history all centers around my mother. They went to housekeeping in a small village and lived there about a year. Jacob Hiram was born there December 10, 1839. Shortly after, they moved to New Lexington, Perry County. Grandfather's farm was in Perry County. Sarah Jane, Mary Elizabeth, and Levi Baxter were all born in this town. I think they lived there nine years, then moved to Marysville, Union County. A boy was born there. He was very fair and had blue eyes. He died of brain fever when ten months and ten days old. His name was William Lawrence [Courtney].
[Levi and Mary Anne (Ashbaugh) Courtney and their children]
In 1849 or 1850, Father was stricken with epilepsy. They spent everything they could make in an effort to cure him, but all to no avail. Some of their medical friends advised them to change climate. There was quite a rush for the new territory in Minnesota. So the fall of 1854 found our folks full of zeal equipping themselves for the journey. Grandfather had died, so Grandmother Ashbaugh with her sons Robert and Joseph with their families, and Jane Patterson, Comfort Patton, and Mother, with their families started overland for the great Northwest.
[Moving to Minnesota]
My folks had one team. Mother took a dozen chickens. I think that was all the livestock. The children were not well. Mary had a chill every other day. She was much opposed to leaving her pretty bedroom. She made so much fuss that Aunt Comfort lost patience with her. She said, "You little dunce, if you stayed here you would die." Mary said, "I don't care. I would have a nice little room to die in." When they began traveling they all felt better.
Uncle William Patton was a drinking man. He carried a bottle with him all the time. He ran out before they got to another town to stock up, one time. They thought of Mother's bottle she always kept to use as medicine. He got very sick and had Aunt Comfort ask for a little whisky for William. He was taken with pain in his stomach. Mother fixed a dose of some whisky about half whisky and half of the hottest colic medicine known. He drank it down without stopping but when he could speak he said, "I was a damn fool to think I could fool Mary." They never came to Mother again for whisky.
They traveled across Indiana and Illinois and took the boat at Galena, Illinois. They went to St. Paul. They they camped until the men located claims. Uncle Robert and Robert Patterson settled in Wisconsin. A distressing accident occurred while they were camped in St. Paul. Robert Patterson's oldest son went swimming in the Mississippi and sank within a rod from shore in water twenty feet deep. He was about fourteen years old. Uncle Robert was an odd fellow. He was soon surrounded by friends. Everything was done for their comfort that could be done. This may have been the cause of their going to Wisconsin. The rest of the party kept together and took up claims nine miles south of Shakopee, county seat of Scott County. It was dense timber. Indians were as numerous as the squirrels. There was a lake about a mile from our claim. Uncle Will and Uncle Joe took claims at the lake. Grandmother stayed with them most of the time.
It was September when the got started to work on their houses. They camped on the ground and the nights were quite cool. A neighbor who lived almost a quarter of a mile away had his cabin built. He offered to let the little girls sleep in his house. Mother used to take one boy with her and the girls. After they were tucked in bed, she would go back to the wagon where the other brother was watching Father. She did this for three weeks. She gave directions about the cabin. The roof was covered with clapboards with logs to weight them down. There was a big fireplace at one end of the room; a small window by the door. The floor was made of small ash trees hewn on both sides and laid side by side; it was called a puncheon floor. Father took the adz and smoothed it; then went over it with a plane until is
This is an example of an adz.
was almost as planed boards. Mother always said it was the whitest floor she ever owned. They had no cook stoves, so she wanted a Dutch oven built of stone or brick out in the yard. There wasn't a man who could build one, so Mother told them to haul some stones and she would build it herself. Uncle William Patton was always ready to help her. He got the rocks and she bossed the job. They built an oven and they used it as long as the lived in Minnesota (six years). The built some kind of shed for the horses; by that time winter was at hand.
That first winter was very long and lonesome. My father soon found he could not stand the cold weather. He and brother Jake froze their feet every time they tried to work, but Baxter and Mary played out of doors with "Old Sorrel" and a jumper sleigh. The runners made shafts and cross pieces held it together. A seat was fastened on. They played for hours, many a day, with the thermometer 20° below zero. The Indians taught the boys how to fish by cutting a hole in the ice and gigging fish. They could get necessary supplies at Shakopee, as it was a trading post established by the fur company. Shakopee is a Sioux Indian name that signifies six. The fur company had build six little cabins, hence the name. There was a company of soldiers who came up on the boat our folks came on; the were stationed at Fort Snelling [?] as protection to the settlers.
The long winter came to an end. All was bustle and stir, clearing land, getting ready to plant a garden. Mother worked with the boys. Either that spring or the next, Baxter though he could cut down trees equal to any man. He cut off one toe of one foot, and soon after cut three toes from the other foot. One toe hung by a thread of skin, the others were clear gone. Mother raised the scissors to clip it off, but he began to beg for it and cried. He said, "Don't take them all away." She said, "All right, I'll see if I can mend it." She fixed some splints and set it; it grew together as good as ever - never a thought of a doctor. She was the doctor for miles around - put the first clothes on all the little ones who came to the homes of the settlers. Also the Indians soon found they could come to her and she would help if she could. In March of 1856 (I believe) Cotapantopo, the chief of the Shakopee band, brought his squaw and papoose, a boy of two years, to Mother. He was very sick. She knew at a glance he had the mumps so she helped them care for him. They spread their blankets in a corner by the fireplace. They stayed there three days and nights. The old chief would try to get the baby to eat. He would smack his lips, and say, "Chehumpa" (sugar), but the baby's throat was too badly swollen. Mother fixed some soft food for him. They seemed very grateful, and many a mess of fish and venison were brought to us in return.
When they had been there a short time, in Minnesota, Baxter and Mary grew very enthusiastic about teaching an Indian to speak English. He would say over after them in English after telling them in Sioux. He had played with them for an hour or longer when they ran and put their arms on Old Sorrel and said, "Horse." He said in perfect English, "It isn't a horse at all; it's a mare." And then he laughed at them. They never gave any more lessons. The Indians would not speak English unless compelled to. One came once and asked for something to eat. He could not make Mother understand, so he said, "Mrs. Courtney, I wish you would give me a bite to eat, I am very hungry." They were just like other folks; they would conform to the rules if they gained by it. I think the fall after the mumps episode my brothers and sisters all took the mumps from the papoose.
My mother was topping turnips to bury in the root cellar for stock food through the winter. A band of Indians came along, stopped and began eating turnips. She had a small pile of the most perfect ones for seed. One Indian wouldn't take any from the large pile. She told him, "NO!", jerked the turnip out of his hand, threw it down. Father saw there was something wrong. He came to the door of the shop, hand axe in hand. The Indian raised his gun to shoot, but Mother struck the gun down. She called Father to go back in the shop, then turned to the Indians and told them to "pockochee", which is Sioux for "go home!". The other Indians took no part in the squabble. Some of the neighbors thought we would be massacred, but no notice was ever taken of it. Mother was kind to the Indians but she was the master; they had to come to her terms. In looking over the timber on the farm, several sugar maple trees were found, so it was a regular job every spring making maple syrup and sugar.
The severe winters proved too much for Father's health. They both longed for their Ohio friends. On the thirtieth of September, 1857, I was born. The other children were so near grown that I was hailed with delight. No doubt I was a fund of pleasure during the long cold winter. To illustrate what the winters were like, the thermometer froze up the six winters we lived there, with the exception of one.
Sarah was seventeen the twenty-third of November, 1858. They had a dinner and invited friends. The guests came in sleds and drove over a stake and ridered fence in safety. When she married [Jacob Houk] the eleventh of March, 1859, the same snow was on the ground, and the still drove over the fences, and it snowed so hard the day of the wedding that some of the guests had a narrow escape from being lost. The family became more dissatisfied with the cold and snow. They had an opportunity to sell the farm, and September 1860 saw us bound for Iowa.
[Moving to Iowa]
It was a sorrowful parting. Grandmother stayed with Uncle Joseph. I remember well how hard Mother wept and had to be carried almost to the wagon. I sat in the wagon waiting and was in a hurry to get started. I couldn't see why they were all crying. We finally started about four o'clock in the afternoon. We had two wagons, one ox team, one horse team. Mary drove the horses. A family by the name of Geer had one wagon and an ox team. There were some loose stock, both cattle and horses. Each family had a dog. Geer's was just plain cur. For fear our Cuff would fight their dogs, we kept our dog tied under the wagon. All went well for several days until we came to a wide stream of water easily forded, but too deep to wade. The loose stock got in the middle and concluded to camp. They tried to send their dogs in but the wouldn't go. So they had to untie Cuff. He jumped at each dog and sent him howling to his wagon. Then he jumped in the stream, drove the cattle out, and came back looking wise. Molly let him ride with her the rest of the day. It seemed that Geer held vengeance in store for our dog. One morning Mother had fed him his breakfast. While he was eating, Geer came up with a big wooden pin, something used about the wagon. Mother saw him as he had it poised ready to brain the dog. It would have been instant death. She sprang forward, jerked it backward out of his hand. "No, you don't, John Geer! Lay a hand on our dog if you dare!"
Northern Iowa was very sparsely settled at the time we passed through there. The reason may have been that it was prairie, no fuel. There was nothing for a family to make themselves comfortable with. We came to a little farm about four one afternoon; the man came out and asked us to drive as far as we could before camping for the night, so our stock would not find the way back to his field. It was all he had to keep his family through the winter. They watered the stock there, then traveled until very late, made a dry camp, and ate a cold supper. They went to bed to wait until morning when they could find wood. Everyone was cold. Father had two hard spasms that night. Mother held his feet in her arms to warm them. I was a child of three but it stands out in my memory as the worst night I ever put in. I was three the day we "nooned" where the town of Grinnell now stands. There was nothing much then but a flowering mill. The ground was rich thereabouts, and to be taken up everywhere, but Mother had a sister and her family living in the southern part of the state, so they kept on and landed in Lucus County about the tenth of October, 1860. They hired their stock cared for, and they rented a house in Chariton and lived there until spring. Everything was excitement over the prospect of war. I heard a fife and drum for the first time that winter.
We bought the first coal oil lamp that winter. It was a small No. 1 burner glass lamp. It gave a wonderful light compared to candles. I had to tip-toe across the room on the far side. We all watched it all evening. When it didn't explode or run off in the night, Mother concluded to keep it. It was such a brilliant light to read by; but in general people were rather doubtful if the use of such lights were not too hard on the eyes.
The next spring my folks rented a farm, sold our yoke of cattle and bought another horse. At the first call for volunteers, my brother Jacob enlisted. Those were sad days for my mother. They bought some raw prairie land, and five acres of timber for firewood. They hauled logs and again my mother had a house built around her. The sod was turned for a garden, but she missed the rich soil of Minnesota. The soil of that section of Iowa was poor. Wheat was a very poor crop, corn being the principal crop the cultivated. Everything was high. Flour went to $20 a barrel. No one tried to keep coffee. Everyone used a substitute of one kind or another. Some people claimed the really like cornbread, but I have always thought their veracity or sanity was at fault. It was hard to raise enough to put our stock through the winter. We had three horses, two cows, some fifteen or twenty head of sheep, enough hogs for our meat besides having seven mouths to feed. Every family had a few sheep. They had to work the wool up into clothing. It was very common to hear the women ask, "What color are you going to make your flannel this year?" Baxter helped shear the sheep and wash the wool. We picked it, then sent it to the carding machine. It came back in beautiful rolls about four feet long. Then Mother's work began in earnest. She had it all too spin and color, to send to the weaver. All odd minutes were put in knitting. Her garden did not turn out well. Baxter was the one she leaned on to help her make the home.
In the summer of 1861, [Jacob] Houk enlisted; also George French, Mary's intended husband. Baxter was not old enough to enlist. That was all that kept him at home. Mother worked in the house and outside, and she cried a great deal. She would read the papers until midnight. My two sisters taught school. Mother kept Frank Houk. [Note: Baxter Franklin Houk was the first of Jacob's son's. He was born 28 JAN 1860 in nr Shakopee, Scott Co., MN.] The spring of 1863 some of the boys came home on furlough, and Mary and Mr. French were married in April. I believe the twentieth. [Note: my record have 31 MAR 1864] That summer he was wounded in the battle of Chattanooga and died some time later at Rome, Georgia. Brother Jake was taken prisoner about this time but was held for only a few months. In 1864 Baxter enlisted. Mother's cup of sorrow was running over. [Jacob] Houk was a prisoner and hadn't been heard from for months. George French was dead. Her two boys were gone. Baxter was only eighteen. Father could not be trusted to go in the field nor anywhere alone. One day, I remember well, Father lay down to rest a few minutes and had one of those spasms. It was on his mind to go to the field, and go he would. Mother was washing; she had to go with him. He was out of his head. She told me to stay at the house and take care of Frank until she came back. I think I was seven. We stayed alone all that afternoon. It was near sundown when she came back.
[Jacob] Houk was a prisoner thirteen months lacking two days. He was in Salsbury two months. Then he was taken to Libby Prison and was kept there five months. Then he was taken to Andersonville stockade and was there six month lacking two days. He was carried out to the operating table three times to have his leg amputated. A quarrel among the surgeons saved him his leg. He lost one toe. The treatment the soldiers endured was terrible to think of. It took a Prussian officer, Captain [Henry] Wirtz, to devise such fiendish rules. At first several thousand men were penned up on fifteen acres. A stream ran through it. Part of it was clear, but part was muddy. They had to use the muddy part. Guards were stationed on the top of the stockade to shoot anyone who was seen dipping the clear water. Houk said the sweetest morsel of meat he ever tasted was a Norway rat, killed, cocked and eaten while there. Another article of food they drew as a ration was a pint of buggy peas. They would put them on in cold water. When the bugs would come to the surface, they would skim them out, and cook the peas and eat them.
[Note: Many of the Union prisoners released from Andersonville died aboard the SULTANA when it blew up on the Mississippi River at 2 A.M., April 27, 1865.]
Well, the war came to an end. The boys came home. Baxter was brought home with a southern malaria. No one thought he would live, but Mother. Brother Jake went to Missouri and bought a load of apples. Why he was gone our folks had a run of typhoid fever. Sarah and Father were sick at one time, and lay for weeks. The nursing depended on Mother and Mary. Houk had to ride for the doctor and supplies. Baxter recovered enough so that he could do some of the chores, and tried to gather corn. About the time the first ones could sit up, Mother and Mary took the fever. Houk and I were the only ones to escape. Frank took it, and Mary cared for him until she got so sick she had to go to bed herself. I had to practically live out of doors. If the sick folks even saw me they were sure I was making noise that disturbed them. So I stayed out of door and picked chips and carried wood to the door. I ate tomatoes from morning until night. There were quantities of them going to waste in the garden. The neighbors all had sick of their own - hardly enough well ones to care for the sick. Late that fall Houk completed the house he had began in August. They moved to their own home the last of November. It was very hard for the boys to settle down after four years in the south. They farmed 1866 and 1887. The winter of 1867 was very cold.
[Moving to Oregon]
I don't know who proposed it. It was decided to come west to Oregon. They sold their homes. We fitted two wagons. Houk fitted one wagon and had three horses. Mary had one horse. Ahira Morse had a horse. He drove one wagon. We furnished a span of mules. So that made one four horse team. Baxter drove the other team. We had three horses, but drove two most of the time. Uncle Holbrook made a sale. We sent our surplus stock and plunder there. It was sold, and as I remember, they didn't get much out of the sale. Everyone knew we could not take everything with us, so why pay much for it. Mother had moved her bureau and bookcase from Ohio. She knew she could not move it farther. She gave them to Jacob, our married brother. His daughter cherishes the bureau yet as he most precious heirloom of her grandmother she was named for but never saw. They had so many books. It was quite a struggle to pack in a box two feet square all your treasures and cast aside others seemingly so dear. As long as Mother lived she would wish for books left in Iowa. The was one keepsake, however, she would not part with. That was Grandfather Ashbaugh's copper kettle, It held twenty gallons, and he bought it about the year 1834, when their orchard came in to bearing. Mother boiled apple butter by the barrel in this kettle. (It is in my cellar now.) The winter of 1867-68 was a busy time for everyone. They kept the teams up and rolled the corn to them. The man who bought our farm moved in the last of March to get settled in time to begin work when the weather would permit. There were nine in their family and six in ours. It is safe to say we were somewhat crowded. It was a late spring. I don't think they had plowed any or very little when we left.
We started at four o'clock May first, 1868 for the great West. I don't think any one of the party had any regrets for leaving Iowa, or indulged in a moment's longing for it ever after. We were on our way to the great unknown. We expected it to be wild, lots of Indians, but that had no terrors for Mother. She declared she would go until she found a place where she could raise fruit. Several men had visited us that last winter who had been out to Washington and Oregon. They were loud in praise of the Willamette Valley; it's possibilities as a great fruit country. We left Iowa with Albany as our destination, but Uncle Holbrook thought if he could get to Wally Wallee, it would be near enough to Paradise for him. One man came to see us who had been a soldier stationed on the plains. After telling Indian stories for two hours, he reached over and took hold of a bunch of my hair and said, "Well, Sis, when the Indians scalp you, they will get a pretty head of hair." I gave a scream and nearly fainted. He told one yarn I never forgot. When they were in a sod fort, the ground was covered with a light fall of snow. They had butchered a beef and hung the haunch up on a post so the coyotes would come within shooting distance. A Dutchman had to stand guard that night. He saw the haunch, and looking out over the snow enough bushes showed that it looked like Indians creeping up to surprise the fort. He began shooting and calling for more amonish, more amonish. The haunch was riddled, but no Indians killed.
The first night we stayed at Ahira Morse's mother's. We ate our own provisions and slept in our wagons. We cooked on their stove. Oh, how it rained! Just like Iowa can rain! I thought it dreadful to go to bed in the rain. I complained to Molly. She said she was tired enough to sleep any place. "You will get used to worse than this before you are through with it." I was ten years old, and the idea of the rain pouring down with only a wagonsheet for protection did no appeal to me.
We traveled through Iowa slowly. The roads were almost bottomless. It took several days to get our loads adjusted so we could ride with any degree of comfort. Uncle Holbrook's wagon got started ten days sooner than we did. It was known that the rendezvous was to be Fort Kearney at the edge of a settlement where there was an abundance of grass. There were people from all of the middle states. I think they waited a day or two as Holbrooks knew we were on the way. That evening the men held council, elected a captain. The next day was taken up in getting the trains in shape. There was a train of seventy wagons drawn by ox teams. They went themselves. The horse and mule teams went together. One man had a freak team made up of a couple of red cows and a roan horse. He drove in the lead. He contended his cows could travel with any horse. He soon traded them off for a horse to a family that was going to Denver. As the wagons were moving into position, one went by "Pikes Peak of Bust". Everyone laughed. The owner was William Cluster.
I imagine Iowa is a pretty rolling prairie, but not enough hills to make a brake of any use to a wagon. Council Bluff were the first hills I ever saw. The Indians must have been able to signal their friends for many miles. We camped right at the foot of the Bluff for the night. The next morning we drove down to the ferry. There were several boats on the river. A steam ferry came whistling up. We drove all three wagons and two that were traveling with us and two or three local teams. Then we were whisked to the other side. A steam ferry - the first and last I ever saw. We drove off the ferry in a new town and a new state. Omaha - it must have sprung up in the night. I remember reading the experiences of Pete Gerhardt when he crossed the plains in 1865. He said the left the Missouri River where Omaha now stands. We drove down the business section and there laid in our supplies of flour, bacon, etc. to last until we could get supplies in the West. While sitting there, I counted several buildings (made of brick) ten stories high. Lots of building was going on. Mother said it was the largest town she had seen since she was in Chicago and that was 1868 (meaning when in Omaha). Mother bought some calico with pink polka dot in it and made herself some ties to wear around her neck so she would look clean.
That day or evening we came to Fort Kearney. That was a town of tents. Soldiers were there; also covered wagons everywhere. We were told the safest route we could go was to cross the Platte River and travel up the north side. So the first thing, everyone had to put flour and everything that the water would spoil - on top of the load. The wagon boxes were set on blocks of wood or wooden buckets and tied to running gear to keep them from floating off. The river was a mile wide and the bottom was covered with quicksand. Only a few teams could go in at a time. They had to keep moving or they would sink. The water was so muddy one could not see the bottom of a bucketful. The river had no banks to speak of. One man led his team down to drink. One stepped into the water and went clear out of sight and had to swim to a place where he could get out. All that day was taken up crossing the river. That day and part of the next was spent in drying clothes and bedding. The morning of the third [day] we were on the road by six o'clock on our line of march "bound for the Oregon shore". It was desolate country, level, but no sign of civilization. About the first time they laid over was on Bittercreek. The water was so strong with alkali no one could drink it. It was just like lye. We all drank cold coffee. There was nothing of importance occurred to mark one day from the next.
I think after we crossed the Platte to the south side, we traveled along the Union Pacific route. The only sign of civilization was the construction train which came past every day. The stage was established with stations along the way, where bachelors lived alone. While we were traveling along the road as level as a floor, lambsquarter grew thick. Lots of persons gathered quantities of it and had greens for supper every evening. Baxter saw a stalk of wheat growing wild. It was headed. He said he thought we were traveling over some fine wheat land; if it would grow as fine wheat as that wild, it would certainly raise fine crops when cultivated.
The first thing of interest was Pike's Peak. I thought it the most beautiful sight I ever saw, and mountains have thrilled me ever since. Not long after we came in sight of it, we came to the road which turned to Colorado. I think fifteen wagons left our train there. All through Nebraska wood was scarce. Father always began in the morning to pick up everything in the shape of wood if only a chip until he had enough to cook our two meals. We had a small emigrant stove of sheet iron that was a great convenience.
We had been out about a week and perhaps were near some fort. Some soldiers came to where our train was camped and took the names of every member of each family, where we were from, where we were going, who of our friends were to be notified in case we were attacked by Indians. I think everyone went to bed feeling pretty sober. There was a guard around the wagons, also several went every night with the stock. They were never left alone for a minute. The first excitement I remember was when we came upon an Indian village unexpectedly. Several hundred squaws, papooses, and old men. One old man in our train who had lost several friends in a Minnesota massacre thought he would fire into the bunch to have revenge. The men took his gun from him and told him if he harmed an Indian the would deliver him to the Indians and they could deal with him as they saw fit. The captain of our train requested everyone who could speak Sioux to get out and talk to the Indians. Houk, Baxter and Mary could talk better than anyone else. They talked to all. Mary laughed and talked until one old chief would have been willing to have kept her. We went on a mile and went into camp. Lots of them followed us and begged hoape (bread). The old chief hunted up Molly and talked until we drove, and then he bade her goodbye. They joked he lots about having such a stand-in with the Indians. We had no trouble with the Indians nor no serious trouble among ourselves. Of course we were under government protection. They would give us so long to reach a certain point. If we didn't get there on time a scouting party was sent out to see what was the matter.
There were queer characters; some quarrelsome, some boastful. There were seven families from one neighborhood in Missouri. They quarreled among themselves. One case, the most pathetic I ever saw: one family had five little children; the youngest, a baby nat a year old. The mother had a felon [inflammation of the nail] on each thumb. She couldn't dress herself or the children. Everything depended on the man. The oldest, a girl of seven, had to help dress the younger ones. He took care of his team, then made a fire and cooked. One of their friends used to make some bread for them. I don't know which was the most patient. I never heard any quarreling among them. The man was always ready to start. The train never varied but a few minutes from six o'clock of starting. An hour at noon, and where grass and water were plentiful six o'clock was camping time. The captain had been over the road five times and knew the camping places pretty well.
The Hannibal boys were a jolly lot. A party of seven young business men from Hannibal, Missouri cast their fortunes together and were going to California. One fellow cooked and paid his way that way. They had the most up-to-date kitchen in the train. It took two to set it in and out of the wagon. This cook had big blue eyes and was always making faces at me. I was always watching him make bread. One of them played the violin very nicely.
We saw a lot of old sod forts. Nothing else that looked as though anyone had ever lived there. We saw great droves of antelope. We saw elk at a distance once. We never saw buffalo, nor any other game. They caught fish whenever we camped by a stream. All the wild fruit was currents and gooseberries. Those found in the Black Hills were a yellow color. The Black Hills were of a curious formation; the rocks looked as if they had a coating of asphalt, and all the vegetation looked like it had passed through a fire.
We spent the 4th of July in Wyoming. The sagebrush was in great big clumps twelve or fifteen feet high. They laid by till afternoon. The teams needed a rest. There was more or less cooking done. My own folks tried their skill at a cake. Mother used the last of the eggs which were packed in salt when she started from home. The cake wasn't a howling success, but the horses got the salt, which made their flour more palatable. Grain was too bulky to haul so far. So the teams were fed one feed a day of flour. They did very well. Almost at all times the grass was good. All through Nebraska we had lots of rain. Every real warm day was followed by a shower of rain. A small cloud about the size of a man's hat in the southeast; everyone would rush around to get things put away before the rain, but usually failed. I remember one night we were about ready to go to bed, when the storm struck with a terrible wind. Our wagon was right for the storm to come in the front. Baxter and Ahira had all they could do to keep Mother's wagon from blowing over. The tent blew down and our bed was drenched. You could have wrung water out of everything. There was nothing to do but lie down. The next morning our bed was steaming like one of Aunt Comfort's packs. Everyone else had fared the same, but no one was made sick or had a cold that I can remember.
The only towns I can remember passing through after leaving Omaha were Julesburg and Cheyenne. The latter was quite a pretty place. It was on a plain and I imagine when shade trees were growing it would relieve the bleak look it had then. We came the south pass through the Rocky Mountains. We crossed one pontoon bridge. I know this has been disputed, but I am honest in believing that I am right. I think in looking over the route it must have been the Raft River. We camped about an eighth of a mile from the bridge. I cuddled down beside Mother. She said, "Don't go to sleep, Sis. You want to see the bridge." Which of course I did, but I went to sleep and never wakened until they were forming a corral for noon. Mother thought she would see how long I would sleep. I have often wished she hadn't so resolved that particular time, for I have never seen a pontoon bridge. The next river of any size that I remember was Green River. The Union Pacific was completed that far that year - 1868. There was quite a town there, but nearly all the buildings were of canvas. The river was narrow and deep. They had a rickety ferry boat. Something was wrong with the rigging. It would cross but refused to go back without a loss of time, so the tied a long rope to the boat. The ones to be ferried would pull it back. They let the rope get out of their hands and Will Cluster swam the river and carried the rope back. Nothing showed but his head. He was the first person I ever saw swim. (I'm sure I am right.)
One place we came to a small stream that was easily forded. A couple of men lived there. They fixed a temporary bridge made of poles. It showed that it had been recently built. They were going to charge a toll of one dollar per wagon. The train men said they would not pay such a price and would ford it. Accordingly they found a place a few rods from the bridge where they would allow the wagon to drop three or feet down then hitch the teams to the end of the tongue. Men with ropes would help pull the wagons across. They asked the men what they charged for walking over the bridge. They said nothing, so word was quietly passed for all the women and children to go over and stay. When they began passing the wagons over they saw the wisdom of having the families out of the way. Not so with Mother. She had a few hundred things packed in baskets that had to be held, kept right side up, if the heavens dropped. She saw them tumbling in her mind's eye, so I was dispatched back across the bridge to get in the wagon to keep the baskets and coffee mill from going out. I put the mill down in front, put one in my lap to hold with my knees, took a basket handle on each arm, then caught the bow of each side of the wagon and sown we went "kizip". The water came in over the wagon box. All seemed to thing I was pretty brave. But the idea of carting baskets 3000 miles!!! Some of the men stayed in the water all the time. Uncle Will Cluster was one that was in the water and joked all the time.
Someone on the the road, while the California group was with us, there was a family bound for California that had one child, a little boy seven or eight years old. He had a pony, and one day it jumped and threw him off and broke his arm between the wrist and elbow. They went into camp right away. The parent were frantic. The father asked everyone if there was a doctor on the train. No one knew of anyone. He said he would give $100 for someone to set his boy's arm. Uncle William Holbrook told him he knew of one person, who laid no claim to being a doctor, but she could set the boy's arm. At first he was skeptical because it was a woman. Uncle brought him around and introduced him to Mother. She went with him and examined the arm, then came back to fix a splint. Mary took some if the till of her trunk. Mother padded it, got something for bandages, and went to work to pull his arm into place. Of course it hurt. He screamed but she kept pulling. The man ordered her to stop hurting the boy. He was very insulting. Mother just stopped and asked him if he knew how to set it. She had plenty to do at her own wagon. He said no, he didn't know anything about it. "Well, just keep still and quit giving orders, if I am to do it." There was a big crowd standing around. They didn't blame here, and they said so. Uncle laughed and said, "I knew Mary would settle him." She too care of the arm until the splints were off. The arm was as straight as the other. The parents never even thanked her. She never charged for anything she ever did for sick folks.
Well I think the Bear River Mountains were crossed after we crossed Green River. We suffered with the cold until we got over to the Snake River. The California crowd had departed by the Ogden Trail. We crossed the Snake River ferry in southern Idaho at the mouth of the Lost River. The canyon was narrow; the approach to the river was not steep; a long hill. The river was very deep. Lost River came tearing its way in from several huge springs. The volume of water as it came out of the ground looked as large as a barrel. They seemed to be less than a quarter of a mile away. The ferry man said they were three miles. It took a long time to ferry the wagons over and was very hot climbing out of the canyon. Everyone who could walked. Mother came near having sunstroke. The hill road was hot and sandy. We touched the river now and then. We came through Pocatello, camped at Soda Springs. The horses all got sick from eating the grass where the soda water ran over it. They acted like they wanted to vomit.
We crossed the Milad River at the falls. Molly and Abbie took off their shoes and stepped across the river right where the water tumbled over. The river was low. There were holes washed as round and deep as a washpan. Somewhere not far from there, we came to the Payette River. I don't remember what the country was like. All I remember is that we bought some butter there and I thought it was the best I ever ate. Southern Idaho looks much the same as the barren parts of Washington. The thing of greatest beauty was the American Falls. They were beautiful. Some (I didn't) saw big salmon trying to jump the falls. Every place near the Snake River is infested with snakes. One place we camped about a mile from the river. The men and boys took the horses and buckets and carried water back for coffee. Very little washing was done that night. The rattlesnakes were so thick they kept up a perfect din. It was a miracle that no one was bitten.
While we were on this high ridge, not far from where the town of Mountain Home now stands, I think - then it was a vast range - we stopped at the head of a rocky gulch one afternoon. We hadn't had any water since early morning. Baxter and several others went to find water. He went down over rim rocks. He got a canteen of water. When he was part way up he found a large Newfoundland dog lying on a shelf of rock. The dog could get neither way. Baxter lifted him up to the rocks above and finally brought him to the wagon. As soon as we came to the river we went to camp. There was one place where there was no bluff to go down to the water. The poor dog drank pan after pan of water. He Ate supper and breakfast with us, but by noon he had gone back on to his owner. The rock gulch was Rock Creek. It waters a famous stock range.
The next place of consequence was the second ferry of the Snake River, not long after we reached the Boise Valley. The harvest was on and there was a scarcity of help. The farmers were after our menfolk. We went into camp on Black's Creek, eighteen miles east of Boise City. Father and we children watched the horses, saw that they came in to water every day and did not stray too far away. The bunch grass had gone to seed and it was like feeding grain. They had nothing to do but eat and drink and rest. The men worked three weeks and were paid three dollars per day, which was a great help as everyone's finances were pretty low. We saw lots of packtrains, mules mostly, going to and from the mines. One of these packtrains belonged to John Agee, who was passing through on his way to the mines. It was interesting to watch them take off the packs. Every mule came to his pack in the morning for his nosebag of grain. There were always two men, sometimes three, to a train. Lots of their stock was whisky for the miners - two five gallon kegs to the mule, sometimes three were put on. Also there were prairie schooners, great high beds; they worked eight and ten mules with a jerk line. We got our first potatoes there. We paid 3¢ a pound which was outrageous we thought. Mother and Aunt Nancy, both frugal souls, got the brilliant idea they would go farther in soup than any other way, so we had potato soup dinner and supper for three weeks. When we wanted a change we were told, "Be thankful you have that much!" But if one can be thankful for potatoes boiled to slop in salted water, seasoned with a few strips of bacon, and dumplings to give flavor for three weeks, he possesses a better brand of gratitude than I.