The Hill Family in 1852 and 1853

Ann H. Hill Russell

The following was written out long hand in pencil on "foolscap" by my great grandmother when she was about 86 years old.  I could edit it as she would have if she'd had the time, but she was busy to the end of her 94 years. I've left it as much like she wrote it as I can read it.  Elsewhere I hope to find more complete recollections of the crossing of the plains.

  The Hill Family in 1852 and 1853

 by Ann Haseltine (Hill) Russell

 Isaac & Elizabeth (Fine) Hill, with 6 children, (3 boys & 3 daughters) in family are Pioneers, in every sense of Oregon Territory of 1849 & 1852.  Isaac Hill & oldest son Lagrand Henderson Hill crossed the plains in 1849 to dig gold in Cal. but coming the northern route, came to Oregon & spent that winter in Astoria & Clatsop Plains working on a mill at Clark River, wages $8 per day & board. (Lodging, being their own blankets on Mother Earth)  Early in the year as traveling thru mud permitted Father started horse-back for gold digging to Yreka Cal. where his sister Mrs. Kelley had gone the fall before, leaving Lagrand at Astoria (in the settlements where a boy should be).  After prospecting in Yreka diggings some days, crossed over to Humbug Creek, with his brother George Hill & nephew Isham Keith & 2 other men.  located claims on Humbug Creek where they dug virgin gold averaging $50 per day to each of the co. of 5 men.
 But Father had passed throu Rogue River Valley, not dareing to have his gun out of his hand fearing an attact of Indians, still the Rogue R.V. was so impressed on his vision of a home in the beautiful valley, that he left gold diging in 1851 & recrossed the Plains to bring his family from Tenn. to settle as near his ideal valley as was safe to live by the tretirious RR indians, which had held at bay all setters, intending to secure one of the first Donations Claims of 1 mile square, when it could be settled by white men, so having a buck-skins vest to fit his body, full of pockets to hold gold dust, which he wore under his shirt, he started with 2 mules for "the States" going the southern route by Salt Lake arriving in St. Louis Mo. in the fall. he had his gold coined, ordered wagons made to order for crossing the plains (one bed in the shape of a boat to use crossing over ferryless rivers) he makeing further arrangements for the 6 mo. journey of continual wilderness camping.  he came on to Tenn. to spend the winter and get his family ready to go to Oregon early in the year & such a geting ready to go to the "jumping off place of the World"  Father & brother John & Cicero made light boxes of popular, the length to fit wagon boxes, to dig sassasafras roots & peel off bark & dry. (a large flour sack full) & all other things unmenshionable while mother & us 3 girls made heavy canvass sacks, same length of boxes to fill with dried peaches & apples (4 of each kind) "as it would be the last we might ever see." then sunbonets and aprons "never tare" dresses, stocking & socks knitting, filling boxes with takeable things, giving friends untakebles.  Entertaning Oregon questioners, comeing for Father tell over & over of Oregons future developement &ct. O the joy of it!  then the friend sympathizers needed entertaining while handkercheifs to dry tears were in demand.  but Feb. 1852 turned the joyous father's face Oregon ward, his wife & others not viewing prospects as he saw it.  only put our kercheifs in our pockets & started.  loaded wagons leading the 13 miles to Tenn. river, where we boarded a steam boat to take us N. Mo. where father's sister lived & where we spent a mo. freezing in southern clothes & father & boys out buying cattle & horses.  then we went into town to a brother's of Father, Claiborn Hill, where the wagons had been brought from St. Louis, tent makeing for both families, wagon covers &ct of the heavest duck, for 10 wagons began.  but you must imagin, (it cant be discribed) what sewing by hand on the 100s of yards of that heavy stiff duck meant to feminine fingers: but again, the starting day did come, amid another tear shower of my aunt and cousens, mingled with their friends & a no. shed behind the house by a reminder of the past, who was starting to the "jumping off Pacific Coast" on her 14th Birth-day, which was only remembered by herself.  I see that procession starting yet, a little nook in my brain has retained it.  the awkward of drivers, learning to use the long 8 or 10 ft. whips to guide or propel the unbroken oxen.  Father dodging here & there adviseing all at same time, my cousin Lizzie & me siting together in a wagon watching for fun, saw plenty, but was mingled with dread of being a victim to jump out quick if our team acted up.  Now imagine again the Iowa mud. a croud of friends in tears.  feet planted to shoe tops in mud - the long whips cracking the gee-haws & pardon faint voises of men  the "Betsy, you ride here."  "Polly this is your wagon, a soft seat for you."  "Hass behave or you will be left." & "well John, I want to be."  then Mothers heart jumps as father leads off amid good bys & backward last glances of an old family home.  can you see it?  was Oregon worth it?  Oh, did I heare some late comer say Yes?  That was the starting, the gatereing the cattle on the way, bought by brother John & put in pastures on the road side.  camping and cooking in the mud on our way to the Mo. river may have been fun to read about, the camping on that river bank with over 1000 others waiting for 3 flat bottom row boats to cross us over.  was not fun for us to experiance, which ended by us leaving my dearest brother John's body in its roleing sandy bottom.  to be covered there from our sight for ever.  John drowned when the boat load of cattle sank.  with holding to its railing, they called to him to "cling to the boat."  from the shore knowing he could not swim & expecting the boat to float when the weight of the cattle was off.  but it sank to the bottom.  John went with arms around the railing.  could you have left him there?  after fruitless efforts to drag the river & find him and us all on this side?  we had to go on .  cattle was scattering, many already lost, we left him & the river, but not our heart aches & tears wet our pillows many nights.  wakeful long lonely nights.  the sight of a river gave me a chill, as we journeyed farther & farther from that fated spot.  & when it was nessesary to lift the wagon bed a foot, I always felt I was my Mothers nurse.  I saw how heart-broken & prostrated she was & tried to console her by repeating fathers vision of this grand valley in the "by & by."  Mother only saw her 3 young daughters in a wild country & Indian neighbors ½ mile away & mountains all around us - thousand miles from any friends & I had to retreat out of sight behind the cabin  to shed silent tears myself.  The Hill Butte looked so near & looked like it might tople over on me as the siting sun light crawled up to its racky crown.  I felt so burried and no use to complain (which I never did, but just laught at the rediculess things that hapened - to make it seem better for poor mother.  Father's vision of to-days development would have kept him joyous if mother's vision could seen past savage Indian camps.  us girls lived in expectation of returneing to Salem to school in the fall - but disappointed in that - was our one united regret of us sisters - but none of us allowed our parents to know of our counsells together siting by our cousens new made grave.  the brave boy the Indians shot down while aiming to save the life of a comrad in battle.  I think of the name of Isham P. Keith deserves honor classed with herows to him.  however was given the first honorable Soldiers burial in S. Oregon - Virgin soil broken in the Hill cemetery.  only armed soldiers & comrads ventered to witness the sad rites - as danger of being attact by Indians prevented his aunts & cousens to dare attend or his heart broken mother comeing over the Siskiyou trail from Yreka - today the moss covered tombs honor the first marked grave in Rogue River Valley - and 70 years later was visited by 90 relatives who feels it a priviledge now to visit the sacred spot where the Donors of land also lay.  Issac & Elisabeth Hill.  17 other Indian victims lay in there in unmarked graves save 2 - but of late are cared for by Pioneer friends & their children.
No books to read, no papers to get the news since leaving Salem.  My Kirkham grammer & a New Testament Grandfather Fine gave me, was my only treasured books that crossed the Plains.  Thoughts or Things in my head - surely worked fast in those days, longing for a friend's face - no photos those days, old deguereotypes were very rare - not one in our family.  Oil painted liknesses, requiring days of sitting still, was the expensive & tiresome style.  Do you wonder that I was so hungry to hear a Church  Bell in S. Oregon that instead of $5.00 to start a subscription to buy a bell, I would gladly have paid $500.00 then to have its call to "come, come, come and worship with us?"  as the bell is calling to service, our Pioneer bell, so are my thoughts, are of a "thank you" of a merciful God, that led us through the perils on the Plains, through 2 Indian wars & gave me strength & willingness to help Oregon become a good place for white folks to live - a place for schools, for churches & a place where apples grow big & red & luscious - where peace reigns.  no fear of blizzards. nor quakes. nor fears.

And then the Things in my head said.  "Tell those dear High School girls about how girls of their age 70 years ago did and felt?"  Of course a book not a chapter could not contain all the happenings of interest in a Pioneer life of 72 years in Oregon.  Can the dear High School girls see a green valley. bunch-grass waving like a grain feild, not a road nor fence.  one batchelor's cabin, near the pack trail & the ford of our nameless creek.  and an Indian camp here & there, and Nob Hill an Indian burying-ground.  where braves and "worthless squaws" together with their flint arrows & stone mortars are still being exhumed by us ruthless road pavers!  I know our eyes must help to imagine correctly.  I can only give a "pen picture" of how Ashland once looked, as I saw it.  The cabin of A.D. Helman & Eben Emery stood below the ice plant, where they "batched" neither can you imagine the joy felt when in mid summer we saw 2 women & one carrying a child, lopeing their mules on the road by our house.  next day Father heard they were Mrs. Emery and Mrs. Helman coming to live in the cabin we saw by the creek.  Father also heard that Mrs. Helman was a good musician - which delighted  him he had been a music teacher and loved to sing.  Soon after this the Indian War of 1853 broke out.  which brought the settlers together at Fort Wagner - (Talent).  the evenings were usually spent by gathering into one corner of the Fort and singing songs from memory or from father's hymn book.  Father always led the singing, Mrs. Helman assisting, or singing alone sometimes - but as a rule every body sang.  for we soon became as one family, in spirit - all on a level & all with the same hopes and fears.  Father brought a number of cheeses from home & would cut one & put out for all to help them selves & when it was gone, another one would take its place.  The volunteers could fill their pockets too on starting after the Indians, that were in ambush, killing every white man they saw.  Those brave volunteers fought for our homes so nobly without a thought of recompense from Government.  Only a few ever received any rewards - did not expect any.  only to save this contry for the white setlers.  But after 30 or 40 years & most of them were dead a pension of $8.00 per mo. was given to all who were lucky enough to find living witnesses to prove their volunteer service in Indian Wars.  And some widows were lucky in filling out the yards of "red tape" and receive $12.00 per mo.  Some of the widows of the officers of the Oregon Militia now are allowed $20.00 per mo.  This causes a feeling of rebellion to us who saw those Pioneer men go so bravely to face the foe, to save our lives & homes.  no man could do more than they did, they equipped & furnished their own arms & supplies - (bread and bacon was all)  dropped work any hour & shouldered their gun, jumped on their horses & off to the scene of danger at once.  The volunteers did the fighting while the U.S. Soldiers were waiting for orders from Astoria to come horese-back - to move after Indians who had killed men 10 days before & were 100 miles away perhaps.  that volunteers has driven back & some times fought hard battles & many killed - The U.S. boys were furnished every thing needed & paid & receive $50. & 60.00 Pension who rested in camp at the same time our volunteer men did the fighting.  I am glad they are rewarded - they obeyed orders after receiving them.  But, to us who witnessed those things, I claim those volunters are entitled to the same reward as the regulars are.  If either merits more, it is the Oregon Settlers who raised their own State Military & did most of the fighting in Southern Oregon

Last updated by William P. Russell onSaturday, 08-Sep-2018 09:40:11 MDT