From the writings of James H Rinehart
Father and mother with the seven youngest children, James H., Frank M., Henry, Lewis B., William E., Jasper N. and Sarah E., ranging in age from one to seventeen years, started from Iowa on the long trip across the "plains" April 7, 1854. They arrived at Eugene, September 12, having been enrooted five months and five days.
Our train on leaving Omaha consisted of thirty-one wagons. Twenty-five were pulled by ox teams, and six by horses. My father, Lewis Rinehart, was elected captain of the train which was hence forth known as the Rinehart train. Thomas Edwards and George Duncan, husbands of my two sisters, Barbara and Louisa, with their families were in our train.
In those days a train usually consisted of from ten to fifty wagons. The owners electing a captain and banding themselves together for mutual protection, against the Indians who often created great disturbance. Often stock would be stolen and driven away at night, and at times war was made by day and night against the weary travelers. Their raids sometimes resulted in the massacre of a part or even the whole of a train, and the bones of man and beast would be left to bleach upon the prairie.
Our principle route of travel was up the north side of the Platte River and up the Sweetwater, through the present state of Nebraska and Wyoming, past the Independence Rock, and by way of the Devils Gate", over the South Pass of the Rocky Mountains, by way of Soda Springs, where we were July 4th, across the Bear River Valley and down the Snake River, through the present state of Idaho, by the Salmon Falls and American Falls, continuing on the south side of the Snake at all times until we arrived at the Malheur River where the town of Vale now stands. Before reaching this place, our train had divided on account of dust.
There was very little sickness in our train, and we had but little trouble with the Indians. Many persons in the Ward train were massacred that year by the Snake Indians on the Snake River east of the present site of Boise. The last trains each year always suffered the most, as the Indians knew that these could not be reinforced from behind.
One day in the Sioux Country we made a dry camp on a level plain country to rest an hour at noon. While eating our dinners, ten large, brave-looking Sioux Indians came to our camp and made signs that they wanted two big cows as toll for allowing us to cross their country. Our train being full handed, we refused to turn the cows over to them. The braves looked desperately mad and made signs that they would shoot, but later, probably through respect to our force, they went away from the road about a hundred yards and held a council. We moved on and felt much relieved when they were out of sight. When we had traveled about three miles, a messenger came up to us at full speed and asked us to send back help to relieve his train of four wagons and eight men as the Indians had attacked them and shot down some of their loose cattle. Then and there we had our first Indian scare and prospect of battle with the redskins. The time was about three o'clock in the afternoon and as we were near a camping ground where there was water, the order was given to strike camp immediately. Our thirty-one wagons were placed in a half circle for two purposes. First, they served as a protection against possible attacks from the Indians, and, second, it served as an enclosure in which we could guard and hold our cattle at night, when there was great danger of the Indians creating a stampede by a sudden approach in the dark.
Immediately on the arrival of the messenger, ten men were detailed to go back and assist the attacked train. All others were ordered to remain in camp to protect our stock and families. Everything was excitement. Men were busy hunting their guns and ammunition. Our weapons were colt's revolvers and single barrel rifles, all muzzle loaders and many of them flint locks, and Bowie knife. We used the powder horn with the charger to measure the powder, and melted bars of lead to mould our bullets by hand.
Of the relief party, six men started on horseback and four on foot, all anxious to kill Indians. All were in disorder and confusion. The first ready started first and soon the ten men were strung out in a train half a mile long. When a mile out on the trail two of the footmen lost their enthusiasm and thirst for redman's blood and returned to camp. When about two miles from camp our six horsemen met the unfortunate train coming up the road and about a mile beyond they could see out on the broad, level prairie, the ten Indians skinning the cattle they hay killed. Three of the train men were detailed to move the wagons along to our camp, and the other five men on horse-back with our six horsemen and the two remaining footmen, now in sight, decided to give those Indians a big scare. They all started in a full run, and the Indians seeing them coming, quit their beef skinning and ran at all speed at right angles to the road, our boys after them. After running about a mile over the level prairie, and when almost in gunshot, the Indians disappeared over a bluff. When our boys arrived at the place where the redmen had disappeared, they looked down into a valley and saw a village of about one hundred "teepees" or more.
At the same time there seemed to be at least a hundred warriors issuing from their habitations. Dropping their blankets, and with guns and other weapons in hand, they started for the eleven horsemen on the bluff sending forth a deafening "war-whoop" as they went. The scale was now turned. The horsemen retreated at full speed, the Indians pursuing on foot. Our two foot soldiers, when they had seen the ten braves retreating and our cavalry giving full chase, had taken a short cut across the country that they might be in at the finish to mingle in the sport. When they saw the horsemen turn tail with at least a hundred Indians in hot chase, they, without even stopping for a council of war to decide on future plans, also made tracks toward camp. One of the horsemen on passing them took one on his horse and they easily made their escape. But the now lone footman, a boy of nineteen years, was soon over taken and surrounded by Indians.
After holding a little "pow-wow" they took the boy's coat, vest, and neck-tie and after relieving his pockets of a little cash, and all his ammunition they let him go. In his hurried flight he had dropped his old flint lock gun, but an old Indian, after him in the chase had picked it up and after firing it off, returned it to the lad.
This boy had been ordered to remain in camp on that day, and not to go on the Indian chase on account of his youth, but go he must, and go he did. After that it took very little persuasion to cause him to remain in camp when there was an Indian scare at hand.
The Sioux were not making a great deal of trouble for the immigrants at that time, but they apparently wanted to levy a little tariff for tramping on the grass in their territory.
That night all the cattle, about 250 head were guarded in the half circle formed by the wagons, and our tents were set on the outside of this circle and the horses were staked outside the tents. A double guard was placed on duty that night within the circle to guard the cattle and pickets were put outside to prevent a surprise by the Indians.
All excepting those on guard had retired by 9:30. The night was dark and rain was falling. Lightning was flashing from all points of the compass. The cattle were quiet and were lying down to rest at about 10:30. Suddenly every animal of the cow kind was on its feet and away. A regular stampede was now on, and the cry from every tent was, "Save you horses, boys, mount and follow the cattle, the Indians are upon us".
By the time a dozen of us were in our saddles, we could hear a distant rumble made by the hoofs of those 250 head of cattle. It sounded above the roar of thunder as they raced over the Platte River hills. We followed the sound and the lightning flashes helped to guide us on our way. But for the lightning the night was of the darkest kind. After speeding a few miles in the course of the rumbling sound, we passed a few head of our cattle revealed by the flashes, that had apparently gotten over their scare. We followed on, and soon we passes a small bunch that was trailing slowly. Still we raced on, guided by the noise of the fleeting hoofs of the main herd. Gradually we gained until we finally came up with the leaders that were yet pressing forward with all the power within them. Slowly we checked them and turned them back upon the trail by which they came, picking up the tired stragglers as we returned. At sunrise in the morning we arrived in camp after our long chase, and strange to relate, not an ox was missing. No Indians molested the camp that night, and to this day we do not know what caused those cattle to stampede. We presume that the scent of Indians was carried to them on the storm, or there may have been a few prowling in the near vicinity under cover of the darkness.
It often happened in the Platte River country that whole teams and even whole trains of foot-sore emigrant cattle would catch the scent of Indians and would stampede and run away even in the daytime.
The old emigrant road went from Vale to Huntington. Thence through the Powder River Valley and over the divide to the mouth of the Ladd Canyon. Then it led through the Grande Ronde Valley, by way of La Grande, on through Meacham and Pendleton. It crossed the John Day River below Rock Creek and lead thence by way of the "Foster Road" across the Cascades and down Laurel Hill and by the way of the Big Sandy River to the Willamette Valley.
We did not take this regular route. When we arrived at Vale on the Malheur, we were informed by what we called a "squaw man", that Thomas D. Edwards, my brother-in-law and a part of our original train, consisting of twenty wagons, had been met there by a man by the name of Key, who had proposed to pilot them through the Harney Valley, over the Ocheco country and down the Willamette River to Eugene. A year before, in 1853, a train had trusted a pilot to lead them by the way of the "cut-off" as it was called. On reaching the Harney Valley even the pilot, with all the train was lost and they wandered hundreds of miles over crooked ways going entirely off their intended route. They got out of provisions and lived for six weeks on blue immigrant beef without salt, finally reaching the Willamette Valley after great privation and suffering, and some loss of life. William Shaw, a pioneer of Summerville, was in that train.
The Edwards train, in 1854, decided to trust to the pilot who had met them at Vale and their journey was over an unknown country. The valleys and streams between the Malheur and Deschutes Rivers were not named at the time. Thomas D. Edwards, when he had decided to follow the pilot and "mash sage brush" for four or five hundred miles, had left a letter with the "squaw man" stating his intentions asking us to follow if we chose to do so. The letter was handed to father when our train arrived at the Malheur and we soon decided to follow the other train.
Our train, at that time, consisted of four wagons and thirteen persons, counting all ages, which is considered an unlucky number nowadays, but we were not so schooled at that time. There were father and mother and seven children of whom I, then in my eighteenth year, was the oldest, and George Duncan and wife, and two children, Surrilda and Emma, making thirteen in all.
We started on the new trail about the 20th of July, just two days behind the Edwards train. For five weeks we never saw a human being on the way, not even an Indian, and not until we arrived at the Deschutes where we over took the advance train resting after crossing a forty mile desert without water.
Our course was up the Malheur and its tributaries for several days. One day while yet along this river, about mid-day, I saw a lone covered wagon suddenly pull out from the line of our train and make for a small grove on the bank of the stream nearby. Then I noticed that the oxen were unhitched from the wagon and allowed to graze on the beautiful bunch grass. Just then father instructed us to drive on a distance of about four miles and camp for the night. He and mother then went to the lone wagon at the grove where they remained for about five hours, and during those fleeting precious moments I was captain of the advance fraction of our train, with all the rights, power and privileges pertaining thereto, and as was customary for one holding that important office, I rode on ahead to select a camping place, which I found along the banks of a beautiful mountain stream fringed with willows and alders. Just as the sun was disappearing along the western hills the one covered wagon arrived in camp and when the roll was called that evening the thirteen superstition could no longer be applicable. Number fourteen had arrived, and then and there they named him Warren Malheur Duncan.
We were traveling through the land of Indians who were unacquainted with the white man, and though we saw many moccasin and barefoot tracks in the dusty road made by the train ahead of us, we never saw an Indian between the Malheur River and the summit of the Cascade Mountains. A distance of about 400 miles. They were numerous all through that country at the time, but they as yet were unacquainted with fire-arms and were afraid of their pale-face brothers.
We followed one branch of the Malheur to its source and after crossing the divide we often had to travel long distances on lava rocks where wagon tires failed to make a mark that could be seen. Sometimes we lost our way for a while, but soon someone would call out "here it is" and again there would be sufficient marks to enable us to follow the trail of the train ahead of us.
Those ahead would often leave letters at their camps with information for those that might follow them, telling distances between watering places ahead and other facts of value to the traveler. These instructions they gained from their pilot who was quite well acquainted with the country through which they were passing. A stick would be driven into the ground near the camp-fire and the letter would be clamped in a split at the top. These letters were often of much value to me and saved us from much suffering on the dry parched prairies.
After leaving the table lands we descended into the Harney Valley and in one day's drive about ten miles, we came to the edge of the lake, which was to our left. We traveled for about six miles along the margin of the lake and in leaving it crossed a beautiful silvery stream. After this we saw no more lakes but we ascended many long and very high hills for many miles. Then we descended many steep hills where we had to chop down small trees and tie them to the wagons to hold back in the steep places. We descended to a small stream down which we traveled for many miles. Sometimes we would cross it twenty times in an hour or two sometimes we traveled in the bed of the stream for hundreds of yards only to come out on the same side as that from which we entered. I have since been told that this was the Crooked River.
We again passed over a high and hilly country for a long way. The we came to a long down-grade where again we had to tie trees to our wagons to hold them back. This time we descended into a deep canyon where a small amount of timber grew in the side gulches. I am told that this stream is what is now known as Bear Creek. We found water there and plenty of wood for camp use. We also found another letter in a "split stick" stating that it was forty miles to the next water, the Deschutes River.
Our train started from Bear Creek at seven in the morning, climbed a steep side gulch for about a mile and then traveled over a nearly level plain to the Deschutes. At midnight the train rested four hours and then started again on the weary journey, arriving at the river at eleven o'clock the next morning. The time between the two watering places was twenty-eight hours. Here we came up with the advance portion of our train resting in camp.
As we left Bear Creek one of our best horses, running loose, got strayed from the bunch, and scenting the trail of the other train two days ahead of us, started up the canyon on a run. We could hear him at intervals as he thundered up the gulch. As our train started from camp, I was detailed to try to overtake an catch the runaway. With a half gallon canteen of water secured to the horn of my saddle, and with two biscuits in my pocket, I started on the trail. I was riding a poor emigrant horse, so I doubted my ability to catch the loose animal in a short run. Accordingly, I said to mother as I started that if I could not catch the horse within a reasonable distance, I would go directly across to the Deschutes alone, and if I overtook the leading train there I would send back fresh water to them. I reached the other camp at seven o'clock in the evening after a twelve hour ride and that night at midnight three man started on the back trail with canteens full of fresh cool water from the Deschutes River, for the dry and weary people in our train.
From here the entire train followed up the Deschutes and its tributaries to the summit of the Cascade Mountains. Then we went down the Willamette River to Eugene where we arrived, without further incident worthy of mention, on September 12, 1854.
To me the whole trip across the plains was very interesting and entertaining. I was as I have mentioned in my eighteenth year, strong, healthy and full of life. Here I got my first experience in culinary work. I was detailed at the start to assist my mother in cooking on the journey. When a man has cooked for five months, often without wood and sometimes without water, he is fitted to meet any emergency in the culinary line. To eat off a table cloth spread on the ground and with nothing but ox yokes for seats, and not enough of those to go around, would seem quite unpleasant to a traveling man nowadays, who is accustomed to ride in a Pullman car and take his meals in a diner, and to being waited on by a colored gentleman of African descent.
Copy as written.
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