By request of my pioneer friends I will endeavor to write a short sketch of our perilous journey across the plains in 1852.
I was only a lad of eleven years at that time, but incidents of those days are vivid to my mind than many things that have happened in later years. The motives that prompted my parents to make that adventurous trip were letters they received from friends and neighbors who had preceded them. Among those worthy pioneers I will name for instance James Heatherly and Dan Waldo.
They gave my parents glowing accounts, of the fertility of the soil that would bear 49 bushels of wheat to the acre and said the climate was unequaled anywhere. They stated that stock of all kinds would winter on the range and come off fat in the spring. These glowing accounts of the country excited my parents and grandparents to a pitch that they resolved to make the venture. They accordingly sold their homes and belongings at great sacrifice to make the trip. You will understand that people of moderate means were not able in those days to fit out for the long journey.
Several of our neighbors also sold out to make the same trip with us. All preparations being made we met at my grandfather Abbott's place on April 11, 1852 So we took our final leave of our home in Osage County, Missouri. There were about 10 families, and would average two teams to the family. My grandfather hired four men to do the teaming and look after his interest for my father was the only son and he had a family of his own. On the day mentioned the people from all around congregated to bid us a long and affectionate farewell.
Our old country minister was on hand to offer prayers to Almighty God for our safe deliverance in the promise land. About 10 o'clock we bid goodbye to neighbors, friends and relatives. The caravan moved westward on its long and tiresome journey. It fell to my lot to help drive the loose stock and it suited me very much for I was very fond of horseback riding.
Everybody enjoyed themselves fine. They congregated around the camp fires of evenings and sang songs, told stories, played the violin and talked of the promised land. We crossed the western boundary line of Missouri at a small town called West Point. Here we entered the Indian country. There was not a single permanent white settler between there and where is now The Dalles, Oregon, except a few Mormons at Salt Lake. Our train had increased by other emigrants joining us, to 40 wagons and 60 ablebodied men, all well armed.
The men held a consultation and organized by electing my maternal grandfather John Gearheart, captain. He was a veteran of the war of 1812, and had fought Indians on the frontier till he knew all the tactics of war, he was cool and considerate and a man of good judgement.
We now resumed our journey over the prairies and rolling hills covered with luxuriant grass. We arrived at the Little Blue River in what is now Nebraska. We were traveling along and all at once, we saw a man coming on horseback as fast as his horse could possibly carry him. The horse was white with foam. He was so excited he could hardly speak. He finally said the Indians had stampeded a train one mile ahead of us. They upset the wagons, and crippled several women and children.
My grandfather told him not to fear for there were not Pawnees enough this side of purgatory to stampede our train. The captain gave orders to form a corral at once. This was done by forming a circle of all the wagons. The women and children were all placed inside the corrall. No sooner was this done, when we looked up the road and saw the painted warriors coming about 300 strong. They were waving their blankets and buffalo robes and yelling like coyotes. My granfather gave strict orders to the men to be ready, but under no circumstances to fire until he gave the command. He warned the women and children to keep quiet.
A Brave Reception
On the red devils came, all painted and ready for war. They were armed with bows and arrows. When they got within about 20 steps of us our captain stepped out in front of them and beckoned with his hand for the Indians to move on. They were evidently puzzled by the bold appearance of our men, all armed to the teeth, standing in line like a stone wall, eager for the fray.
They immediately obeyed the command of the captain so we moved on about a mile and came to the train that had been stampeded. We rendered some assistance by forming their wagons into shape. We traveled on up the Little Blue and cholera, the fatal disease, attacked the train. My father was the first victim. He only lived a few hours. We laid him to rest where the old emigrant road leaves the Little Blue.
The next day we arrived at Fort Kearney. The banks of the Platte River were white with tents and the cholera was raging at a fearful rate and the people dying on every hand. One of our companions died that night, a young man named Shockly. We buried him the next morning and journey on.
Dread Cholera Ravages
For many miles up the Platte river this dreadful disease raged with fury. Ablebodied men, women, and children died by the score. We lost 30 percent of our train. We had a good doctor and it is safe to say that many people now living owe their existence to him. Many trains lost 50 per cent of their people and others were almost annihilated. The road was lined with dead cattle and horses. By the loss of their teams people were compelled to lighten their loads. You could see new wagons, carpenter and blacksmith tools, featherbeds, pillows, wearing apparel, valuable libraries, ox yokes, log chains and many other things of value, cast away. After getting out of the cholera belt we moved up a creek about 10 miles setting our wagon tires and shoeing our sore footed oxen.
Here was the home of the buffalos. You could see them in every direction and I can truthfully say that I saw 10,000 at one time. It afforded great sport for our men to kill them. Besides it supplied us with abundance of fresh meat. We also dried a large quantity to take with us. We passed Fort Laramie, Independence Rock and the Black Hills without hindrance. Game was very plentiful, such as antelopes, mountain sheep and smaller game.
Go Different Ways
We arrived at the forks of the road leading to California and about one quarter of our train bid us adieu, among them our faithful and beloved doctor. At Green river the men had to raise our wagon boxes to keep the water from coming in. I will mention a circumstance that took place near Salt Lake. A Mormon trader had a post established on the road and our people bought many articles of him. He was anxious to exchange silver for gold. As a matter of accomadation our people let him have $60 in gold.
The next day they discovered the silver they got was counterfeit. They talked the matter over and decided to send four of our young men back to get the gold. They saddled up our best horses and took two days rations, some blankets and the spurious coin and departed. In two days they overtook us. I never knew what happened at the trading post but I will say the boys got the gold.
In a few days we had five or six of our best horses stolen. Thefts of this kind happened every few days. It was generally laid to the Indians, but our people thought it was white men.
A Plucky Rescue
There was nothing to hinder our progress until we reached Snake river. Grass was getting short. One evening we camped on the bank of Snake river opposite an island, that afforded splendid grass so we decided to swim our cattle over to the island. The next morning a young man named Smith was sent over on a horse to drive the cattle back. The river was very wide at this place and by some mishap the horse reared up and went over backwards into the river. Horse and man went under; when they came up they were 30 feet apart. The horse swam back to shore and a young man named Barnes jumped on the horse and went to the resuce. When he got to the drowining boy, he was almost lifeless. He brought him to shore and with great difficulty they restored him to consciousness. I will omit several incidents that occurred on our way down Snake river. Shortly after passing Fort Hall, my mother was taken ill with the mountain fever, a disease that prevailed at that time among the emigrants. She died and was buried on the banks of Powder river, a few miles below where Baker City now stands. Myself and brothers and sisters were left in charge of our grandparents. The next day we reached the Grand Ronde valley. There was not a house in the valley at that time.
Beef Tasted Good
A man named Lot Whitcom from Willamette valley, had a stock of provisions there, selling them to the emigrants. We procured such articles as we needed and crossed the Blue mountains and arrived at the Umatilla rover where Pendleton now stands. There was a half breed Indian named McKy, butchering fat cattle and selling them. Our people pronounced it the best beef they had ever eaten.
He tried to persuade our train to change their course and go to the Walla Walla valley. He said the soil was good and the climate better than the Willamette. There was not a white settler in the Walla Walla valley at that time. He told us of Marcus Whitman raising wheat, potatoes, etc., in abundance. We would no doubt have taken his advice had it not been that my grandfather Gearheart and my baby sister were sick with mountain fever and we were anxious to get to civilization and procure medical aid. We finally reached the John Day river. By this time our outfit consisted of two yoke of oxen, one yoke of cows and six or seven two year old heifers and one horse.
At The River
There was a man named Miller stationed here buying cattle from the emigrants. My grandfather sold our entire outfit to him with the understanding he was to take fresh oxen and take us to The Dalles. We arrived at The Dalles about October 1. There was only one log house, used for a store. My grandfather Abbott had several blooded brood mares and some cattle. He left them all with a man to winter them, but they all died that winter.
There was not a steamboat on the Columbia river above the Cascade Falls at that time. Everything was transported by large scows. We embarked in one. They called it "The North America." The captain's name was Baines. When night came we would pull in to shore and camp. The first night out a young man delirious with fever, got up in the night, unnoticed by his mother, and walked into the river and was drowned. The campers were awakened by the screams of his mother. They procured torch lights and searched for the boy till daylight. They found his tracks where he walked into the river. The men dragged the river but to no avail. The next night my grandfather Gearhart died. He was buried on the north side of the river a few miles above the Cascade falls. The portage at that time was on the north side of the river.
The First Railway
There was a wooden railway. The car was drawn by one old mule. My baby sister, 14 months old, died while we were here and was buried at the cemetery at that place. In a few days we landed in Portland. We pitched our tent on the banks of the river where Front street is now. Many of that brave and noble band of adventureres who staked their fortunes and lives, had passed over the cold river and the residue was in a strange land, among strangers but we found friends that were able and willing to lend a helping hand. I will mention one in particular, A.J. Hembree of Yamhill county. He was afterward killed by the yakima Indians near the present site of North Yakima on April 10, 1856. The village of Portland, at that time consisted of some 300 people and the streets were knee deep in mud. There were three steamboats on the river, "The Lot Whitcom," "The Multnomah" and "The Eagle" Above the falls at Oregon City were the "Shoal Water" "The Hoosier" and 'The Beaver." I will mention the names of the surviviors of that expedition that landed at Portland at that time.
Of The Survivors
My father has three sisters living. They are Mrs. Lewis Hayes, Grants Pass, Oregon; Mrs. James Trimball, Sisson, California; Mrs. W.L. Higgins, Crescent City, California. I have two sisters and two brothes living. They are Mrs. T.J. Holland, Wattinson, Ore., Mrs. Dr. M. Canoday of the same place; Samuel Abbott, Eugene Ore., W.S. Abbott, Humboldt county, Cal. There are three others besides your humble servant: Mrs. Oscar Lindley, Humboldt county, Cal.; Asbery Smith, Umatilla county, Oregon, and H.C. Perkins, Grants Pass, Ore. These are the only survivors of that noble bank of brave pioneers who left Osage Mo. on April 11, 1852. I want to say in conclusion, that I claim no credit whatever for my self for these bold adventures for I was to young to realize the dangers that confronted us, but I will say that to much praise cannot be given the brave men and women that crossed the plains in these days.
"John G. Abbott"
Source: The Evening Stateman, Walla Walla Washington, November 10, 1906