Posted by: Democratic Thinker | September 18, 2014

Weekly Story: A Day on the Oregon Trail

Weekly Story

Enoch W. Conyers—early settler of Clatskanie, Oregon—describes in his diary a day of travel along the Oregon Trail.

This circumstance is only one of the many that has happened this season in crossing the continent.



A Day on the Oregon Trail.


August 23 [1852]—Monday.—We started at 8 a. m.

TRAVELING over a very rocky ridge for one and a half miles brought us to Burnt River again. This stream we crossed and traveled on seven miles over a very rough, dusty road, crossing this same stream twice more. Here we stopped for lunch.

After lunch we traveled three miles—very hilly—to a cold mountain stream of water. Three miles and a half more brought us to another cold spring of water.

Just below this last spring we found a family, consisting of husband, wife and four small children, whose cattle, as we supposed, had given out and died. They were here all alone and no wagon or cattle in sight, the husband sick and scarcely able to raise his head from the pillow, lying by the roadside in the shade of some small bushes to protect them from the burning rays of the sun.

Several of our train stopped to talk with the family for a few minutes, endeavoring to find out the cause of their misfortune, but on that subject they were very reticent.

We came on a short distance to Burnt River and camped.

Our company held an informal meeting and immediately sent a committee of four back to confer with the distressed family and make all necessary arrangements to care for them during the remainder of their trip, for we were determined to do all in our power that they should not be left alone to suffer and perish by the roadside.

After we made known the cause of our visit, the lady said in part:

“The man to whom the team belonged seemed, before we started from home, to be one of the most generous, kind-hearted Christian men in the world. Having plenty of money, he fitted up several more teams than were needed for his own family use. These teams he let his neighbors and friends have to haul their provisions and their little ones across the plains, with this understanding, that the teams and wagons were to be turned over to him as his property when they arrived at their destination.

“Everything went along all right until my husband took sick and unable to walk, and then everything went wrong. I tried to do the very best I could under these trying circumstances. I took the whip and drove our team and made my sick husband as comfortable as possible in the wagon, with our four little children, praying God to give me strength that I might be able to hold out and save my sick husband and little ones alive to our journey’s end.

“But the owner of the team, Mr.—————, became very cross and irritable, and said a great many hard things, and did not want me to let my little children ride in the wagon, saying: ‘The cattle and wagon belongs to me, and if you let them young ones ride the cattle will very soon give out and die.’

“I tried to reason with him, and told him that my husband was too sick and weak to walk, and my little children were not able to walk all of the time. But to all this he turned a deaf ear, declaring that the children should not ride.

“We had already thrown away every thing that we possibly could spare so as to lighten our load and favor the cattle to satisfy him; I even carried my youngest child in my arms part of the time and drove my team and made the other children walk, and yet he was not satisfied, but threatened to set our things out and take the team and wagon from us.

“What to do, more than I had already done, I did not know, for my husband was too sick to walk even for a few steps, and yesterday he carried his threats into execution.”

“Do you see this?” Here she exhibited her feet and those of her four little children.

We were indeed surprised and horrified at the sight which met our eyes when that poor, grief-stricken mother tenderly removed the rags from those little feet and also those from her own.

It would have softened even the savage heart of Dionysius, the tyrant of Sicily.

The sole of each little foot was covered with sores, and swollen to nearly twice their natural size, caused by their long and continued walk over the rocks and hot sands of the plains.

Their shoes having given out, the mother had swathed their little feet in rags, and also her own feet, to protect them as much as possible from the sharp rocks and burning sand.

A very poor substitute indeed for shoes.

But all this did not soften the heart of the brute who claims to be one of the human family.

“He became so enraged that he took what few things we had and set them out by the roadside and left us here as you found us, with only two days’ provisions.”

We informed them that we would not leave them here to suffer and die, but would come back with our wagon and take them along with us, and would make them as comfortable as we possibly could under the circumstances.

For a few minutes all were too full to utter a word.

Finally that brave and loving mother broke the silence, whilst the tears ran down the cheeks of every one present.

She said: “We thank you, gentlemen, with all our heart, and may God reward you for your kind offer in this hour of our grief and want. We do not wish to become a charge and burden to any one, but this seems like God, in His mercy, had sent His angel to provide and protect us.”

“Vengeance is mine; I will repay, sayeth the Lord.”

Our committee started to return for a wagon, when the mother inquired if we had seen or heard of a Presbyterian minister on the road by the name of ————— Yantis.

We informed her that we had seen the wagons that had the name of Yantis written on their covers, and they were about one day back of our train.

On hearing this the family concluded to remain where they were until the Rev. Mr. Yantis came along with his train, saying: “Mr. Yantis is an old friend and neighbor of ours, and has plenty of room, and we are confident he will provide for us.”

This circumstance is only one of the many that has happened this season in crossing the continent.

If there is any meanness in a man, it makes no difference how well he has it covered, the plains is the place that will bring it out.

Such is life on the plains.

Diary of E. W. Conyers, A Pioneer of 1852.