To Oregon On The Trail

The Start Across the Plains April 7, 1854

Father and mother with seven youngest children, James H., Frank M., Henry, Lewis B., William E., Jasper N., and Sarah E., ranging in age form one to seventeen years, started from Iowa on the long trip across the "plains" April 7, 1854. They arrive at Eugene, September 12, having been enroute five months and five days.

Lewis Rinehart Elected Captain of Oregon Train Leaving Omaha

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 hence forth known as the Rinehart train. Thomas Edwards and George Duncan, husbands of my two sisters, Barbara and Lousia, with their families were in our train.

Train Organization to Protect Against Indians

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.

Route of Travel

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 "Devil's 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 divide on account of dust.

Little Sickness and Indian Trouble

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.

Indian Demands and Threats

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 desperate 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.

Old Emigrant Road from Malheur to Willamette

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.

We Follow New Trail

Our train, at that time, consisted of four wagons and thirteen persons, counting all ages, which is considered an unlucky number now days, 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, Sarilda and Emma, making thirteen in all.

Up the Malheur

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. A long covered wagon suddenly pull out from the line of our train and make for a small grove on the bank near nearby. Just as the sun was disappearing along the western hills the lone 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, then and there they named him Warren Malheur Duncan.

Indians Fear White Man

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 400 miles. They were numerous all through that country at that time, but they as yet were unacquainted with fire-arms and were afraid of their paleface brother.

Over Lava Rocks

We followed one branch of the Malheur to its source and after crossing the divide we often had to travel long distances on the 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 ahead of us.

Letters from Leading Train

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 letters 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.

Steep Hills

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.

Across the Desert

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.

Over the Cascades to Eugene

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 colored gentleman of African decent.

Writer not known