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VOL. XIIL, No. 3 JULY, 1922
OTagfjington Jlistorical ©uarterlp
CROSSING THE PLAINS*
At this late day it seems strange that any man in his right
mind, who owned a good home in or near Princeton, Illinois, should
leave it to encounter all the dangers, hardships and privations of a
five-months' journey, when every day brought something of annoy-
ance, of anxiety, and when the journey was ended he had to begin
life anew among strangers where the conditions were altogether dif-
ferent from what he had always been accustomed.
Princeton is on a level plain surrounded by level plains a hun-
dred miles in every direction from Lake Michigan to the Missis-
sippi River. In the early days there were groves all over that region
of oak, ash, maple, walnut, hickory, butternut, elm, wild plum and
many other deciduous trees, with but few evergreens, though I can
still remember the scent of the red cedar which was quite common
and of no more value than the other woods. Little streams and
larger rivers traversed the country bordered by trees and shrubbery
of many kinds. Wild plums, grapes, crabapples, paw-paws and
nxtts of many varieties were abundant in their season. The lands
were rich and crops abundant with no droughts nor plagues of
grasshoppers or other insects that in later years broke the hearts
of the farmers of the Middle West.
The dark side of the picture was the prevalence of malarial
diseases and lack of means to get the crops to market. The level
lands, in the springtime, were covered with water, the drainage
was poor and the hot sun soon covered vast areas with stagnant
•Note: — The paper following, gWing an account of the trip across "Tlie Plains,"
wag prepared for my children und grandchildren, who hav,e long liecn urging me to do
this wori£ that they might have a permanent record of the experience of their parents
and grandparents in that arduous imdertaking. Ours was "Bethel Company," and it may
also properly l>e called a "Seat.jc Company," for more than half Its members came to
this city to live not long after their crossing and most of those have died here. Only
three members of the original party survive and all live in Seattle. Tliese are Mrs. Susie
Mercer Graham, Mrs. Alice Mercer Bagley and the writer. — Clarence B. Bagiey.
164 Clarence B. Bagley
ponds. Ague, (chills and fever) was almost universal, and in those
days nearly eveiy summer, cholera was prevalent as no efforts were
made to prevent its spread; in fact no one knew it could be kept
from spreading all over the land.
Railroads had only just begun construction — a short line ran
out of Chicago a few miles toward the Northwest; a short canal
from La Salle had been cut to Chicago. Wheat was twenty-five
cents to fifty cents a bushel, oats ten to twenty-five cents, corn five
cents, a good cow ten to fifteen dollars, a good horse fifty to sixty
dollars, a man's day wage fifty cents and for a good harvester
seventy-five cents. In the summer one could take a load of wheat
to Chicago and get a better price but it took a week for the round
trip. About all a healthy man could do was to make a bare Uving
with the torrid heat in summer and arctic cold in the winter.
To escape these almost intolerable conditions was the impelling
motive for most of those who then went to Oregon.
Father had a sufficient reason, however, for his migration.
In the spring of 1850 father and mother and I went by the
Great Lakes to Erie, in Pennsylvania, thence by canal to Con-
neautville within a few miles from the Whipples, Bagleys, Smiths,
Fishes, Carrs, Amidons and a large number of families who were
more or less intermarried. Leaving mother and me with "Grandma
Whipple" father and Uncle Whipple went by way of Pittsburg
lo Washington and Baltimore. Father's chief errand was to attend
the Annual Conference of the Methodist Protestant Church. Dur-
ing its session, the matter of establishing that Church in Oregon
was canvassed and a determination on father's part to become a
"Missionary" was fairly settled but not until the following year,
1851, were the necessary arrangements made between him and the
national organization of that Church that made it possible for him
to begin preparations for the momentous departure, which went
on carefully for months.
During this period others had also decided on going to Oregon.
From those who had returned from California and Oregon intending
emigrants had the benefit of good and intelligent counsel and in-
structions for their guidance on the way. They learned the char-
acter of vehicles required and the kind of foodstuffs best suited
for the trip. What was equally important, thev were told that sen-
timent must give way to prosaic necessity. Books, keepsakes.
Crossing the Plains 165
household furniture and bedding must be kept down to the mini-
mum. It was emphasized that nothing that would not be worth a
"dollar a pound" when it reached Oregon should be taken. The
soundness of this advice became apparent, months later, when the
grazing for the animals became scanty and the ribs of the draft
animals stuck out like hoops on a barrel. We did not need to
lighten our loads by throwing away cumbersome and heavy articles,
and not an animal in our train was lost on the trip except one horse
belonging to Aaron Mercer that died from snakebite or eating some
Another reason for getting along so well with our stock I have
always attributed to the fact that we did not travel on Sundays or
overdrive at any time unless it was absolutely necessary on account
of food or water for them at the end of the usual drive. I have
not been a rigid observer of the Sabbath on religious grounds but
I have always believed human beings, work animals and even ma-
chinery needed frequent and regular periods of rest. When I
carried on a large printing business it was my rule not to have work
done on Sundays except in rare instances when a lack of employees
made it necessary for those in the office to work longer hours than
Father bought two good mules for $120 ; two good horses for
$120, and two choice mares for $125. One wagon cost him $60
and a coach with springs at $125. The mules drew the wagon and
the four horses drew the coach. The outfit cost him about $550
and when he got to Oregon he sold it for more than $1,000, thus
realizing profit enough to pay the other expenses of the trip across
the plains. The coach was used for many years as a stage carrying
passengers and mails. The reverse of this glowing picture was when
we had to pay $100 for a cow, $60 for a stove that had lost some of
its more unimportant parts, in Salem, soon after our arrival. Also
that winter, which was quite severe, we had to pay four dollars per
bushel for potatoes and for flour $25 per barrel.
All through the upper Mississippi Valley the roads were im-
passable in those days after the frost left the ground until the earth
had "settled". We held back the time of starting until the roads
about Princeton were fairly good but the trip from that place
through Illinois and Iowa to Council Bluffs or Kanesville took us
from April 20th to May 22d. The roads were horrible. A wagon
166 Clarence B. Bagley
would settle down to the hubs in the mud, then extra teams would
be hitched to it and the men would use rails or poles cut for the
purpose and pry it out, perhaps having to do the same with the
next one, though if we were where we could get out of the road on
the grass the horse and wagons could secure fairly good footing.
In the timber there was no escape; but there was but little timber
along the road.
We crossed the Mississippi River not far from Davenport, on
a horse ferry boat. In those days there was a sort of treadmill
attachment in common use whereby a horse would turn a revolving
platform from which power was transmitted to the motive power
of a hddX, threshing machine or other machinery.
Our route lay through Oskaloosa and Des Moines in Iowa, and
we reached the Missouri River on May 22, 1852, at or just below
the old Mormon town of Kanesville. On the opposite banks of the
river were hills then termed Council Bluffs, I believe from the fact
that it had often happened that treaties and "councils" with the
Indians had been made there.
It took us all day to cross as there were many other wagons to
be taken over and all of ours did not have the right of way at
the same time. My recollection is that this ferryboat was operated
We were now at the westerly limit of civilization. On the east
bank of the river were a few small trading villages but on the west-
erly bank the Indian country began. There were thousands of
Indians camping on the river bottom and on the bluffs where Omaha
now stands. We waited here over one day, Sunday, May 23, 1852,
to get all ready for our real start for Oregon.
The migration of 1852 was the heaviest of any to Oregon and
California. It was then and always has been estimated that it
reached fully 50,000. On all our part of the trip we had no fear of
ihe Indians except to protect ourselves from the pilfering of articles
about camp and from stealing our horses at night.
Among Father Mercer's papers I found, several years ago,
his original list of the night patrol of sentries that went on guard
each night with the stock as most of the time they had to be taken
quite a distance from camp in order that they might have sufficient
grass to feed upon. This was a serious handicap all along the
Crossing the Plains 167
route and became much worse after the migration on the south of
the Platte crossed over to the north side, somewhere near Fort
Laramie, I believe.
Bethel Company as it started from Princeton, consisted of the
Thomas and Nancy Mercer and daughters Mary, Eliza, Susie
and Alice. Mr. Mercer in the fall of 1852 came to Seattle and
selected his Donation Claim that extended from what is now High-
land Drive to Mercer Street and from First Avenue North to Lake
Union. Mercer Street, Mercer Island and Mercer Slough all bear
the family name.
Daniel and Susannah Bagley and son Clarence whose activities
have been presented in other publications.
Dexter Horton and wife and daughter Rebecca. Mr. Horton
achieved a fortune in merchandising here and helped to found the
great banking institution that bears his name.
Aaron Mercer and wife. Mrs. Mercer died soon after reaching
Oregon and he married again. In the early 'sixties they came here
William H. Shoudy, brother of Mrs. Horton. He married in
Oregon and about 1863 they came here to live, he going into the
store as a clerk for Mr. Horton. Several years later he and Henry
A. Atkins bought out the store. In 1886, Mr. Shoudy was elected
Mayor of this City. John A. Shoudy, another brother, was the
founder of Ellensburg.
John Pike. Mrs. Pike and son Harvey later joined Mr. Pike
and they lived for many years in Seattle. He was an architect and
builder. The plans and specifications of the first University build-
ing were his work. He also did much carpentry work on that
structure. Pike Street bears his name. The son Harvey took a
claim that included the land between Lakes Washington and Union
and he undertook to cut the first canal, using pick and shovel and a
John Rosnacle, a blacksmith, who took care of shoeing the
horses and mending the wagons. Sometime in the 'seventies he
came to Seattle, bought him a home in South Seattle and many
years later died there.
William F. West and Jane, his wife and my mother's sister.
They had a son bom to them at old Fort Boise on the Snake River
168 Clarence B. Bagley
near the mouth of Boise River. The boy was named Fort Boise
in recognition of the place of his birth. Dr. Ossian J. West and
Mrs. Myra Ingraham, children of Mr. and Mrs, West, and born
in Oregon, now live in Seattle.
Edna Whipple, my mother's sister, who was of our immediate
party and who became the wife of George F. Colbert not long
after reaching the Willamette Valley.
Four brothers Warren, named Frank, George, Phinneas and
Daniel, all of whom settled on the Columbia River and later en-
gaged in the salmon industry and became quite wealthy.
Ashby West, a young Englishman, a brother of William F.
West, and who always lived with them while on the farm near
Jefferson and later in that town.
Daniel Drake, who drove our team into Oregon, but of whom
I remember little.
Prior to our reaching the Missouri River a family, named
Gould, consisting of husband and wife and grown son, joined our
company. Mrs. Gould died of cholera on the Platte River, the
only death in our party.
Giles Hunter, who became a friend of the family and with
whom we kept up correspondence for ten or twelve years. The
last time we met him was in San Francisco in 1864.
Isaac Depew, S. Minard, A. P. Turner, George Taylor, Albert
Long and Daniel Truett joined the company somewhere on the
trip. The latter came through to Oregon with us. The others I do
At Council Bluffs, Thomas Mercer was elected captain of the
company and directed its movements across the plains. It was a
nesecsaiy custom to select a captain of each party, who directed the
movements of the train about stopping for the night and starting
in the morning, about "Laying over," on Sunday or any other time
it was thought best. Otherwise there would have been frequent
disputes and disagreements about the movements of the company.
The trip was one to bring out all the good qualities and the bad
ones, as well, but I do not remember any serious disputes along the
whole of the route.
After resting over one day, we made our real start "across the
Crossing the Plains 169
plains" on the 24th of May, 1852. This proved to be a compara-
tively early start as thousands came after us. We found better
grazing in consequence and less dust, no small item in an alkaline
country. About twetny miles out we had to cross a narrow, deep
sluggish stream, called The Elkhorn. Here we had our only dis-
pute with the Indians. A band of Pawnees had constructed of
rushes a floating pontoon or bridge that would hold up a wagon and
team. They demanded for each team and wagon five dollars. This
our people felt was exorbitant and they offered to pay one dollar
instead which in turn was refused. Our men got out their rifles
and told the Indians that it meant a fight unless the lower offer
was accepted. After a lot of loud talk matters quieted down and
the Indians agreed upon the dollar and we came on our way.
All through May and June we drove on up the Platte and its
tributaries. For hundreds of miles the road was so level that but
for the Platte running eastward no one could have told we were
gradually ascending toward the Rocky Mountains. In one stretch
of two hundred miles we saw but one lone tree, a Balm of Gilead
on an island in the river. Our fuel was called "buffalo chips",
though I am sure that much of it was from the cattle that had
preceded us, instead of buffalo. That year the migration was so
large and close together that the buffalo were frightened away
from our vicinity and we never saw one on the trip.
At that time there were millions of them roaming over a vast
region between the Missouri and the Rocky Mountains. They had
mostly disappeared west of that range. It is one of the tragedies
of the west that they should have been so remorselessly slaughtered,
mostly for their horns and hides. Until the Union Pacific Railroad
was constructed no great inroads upon their numbers had been made
but, with the repeating rifle and ease of access to the country, it
was not long before they began to dissappear from much of the
region where they had been so numerous. About 1876, they had
been mostly killed off so that the problem of food for the Indians
had become a serious one. In my childhood, as father and mother
drove across the broad Illinois praries without regard to roads,
deep paths were common, almost like trenches from twelve to
eighteen inches deep. Father told me these were buffalo trails made
many years before when immense herds of those animals frequented
the great plains on the east side of the Mississippi. Even at that
time deer, wild turkeys and wolves were plentiful.
170 Clarence B. Bagley
On the plains we saw lots of antelopes, wolves, prairie dogs
and rattelsnakes, the latter of several varieties. In the mountain
regions the latter were longer and not so thick through the middle
as those common in Illinois and they were much more active. On
the west side of the Rockies, scorpions became plentiful and much
care had to be exercised in shaking one's clothing and shoes before
putting them on in the morning. I saw mother shake one big one
out of her stocking one morning.
Our drinking water was taken out of the Platte River. We had
been forewarned against using water from springs along the bank
of that stream because of the presence of alkali and other min-
eral salts that were poisonous. The river was from the distant
mountains and was pure except for the silt it carried in solution.
One could not see through a glassful of it when first taken from the
stream. If we had time we could stir a teacup full of commeal
in a bucketful and let it settle fifteen or twenty minutes when it
became reasonably clear and the bottom of the bucket would be
covered with half an inch of mud. If we did not have time we
drank it plain, mud and all. It was a common saying that while
crossing the plains every one had to eat a peck of dirt. We also
had provided a large quantity of acetic acid and quite often a
lemonade was made from it that served to make the water more
We carried "reflectors" and "bakeovens" to bake our bread in
and for other cooking purposes. The latter were big iron pots
from twelve to twenty-four inches across the top, which was flat
with turned-up edges, thus making a big iron plate. The oven
was set on a bed of coals and coals heaped on its top and it did
not take long to bake the bread which was wonderfully sweet and
palatable. Of course we did not long have butter after leaving
Iowa but we had meat in plenty and made plenty of gravy. I do
not remember that any shortage of food occured at any time. Also,
we had no difficulty in getting flour from other trains which had
started with more than they needed or from families that had lost
so many of its members that those remaining had to sell it or throw
The Platte River was and is a remarkable stream. Rising in
the Rocky Mountains, of course the small streams are rapid and
run through gorges and carry immense quantities of soil with them.
Crossing the Plains 171
When we got to the upper reaches of the stream the route was
rough and at times the scenery was wild and beautiful, especially
to us who had never seen a real mountain. When it becomes a
large stream the adjacent ground is comparatively level and it flows
slowly over a shifting bottom, quite often quicksand, Where we
first saw it and for hundreds of miles as we followed its banks
the water was shallow and a mile or more acfross. The men often
waded across, and one time they let me go along and I also had no
difficulty in getting across.
For hundreds of miles we saw a constant procession of wagons
on the south bank as well as on our own north side. We came to
recognize some of the trains on the further side and of course on
our own side. Years later I often heard father addressed by some-
one in Oregon who told of meeting our train on the Platte or on
the Snake River. Along the Platte the most notable feature of
natural scenery was "Chimney Rock", that was shaped like an
immense circular chimney set on a hill. It was on the south side
of the river, a few miles away from it. Its formation was of a
soft rock or indurated clay that in that arid climate was subject
to slight erosion. It has been an object of frequent note for one
hundred years, and in the years since we saw it has shown but
little change in shape or height.
We forded several streams that were so deep that blocks were
put under the beds of the wagons so that the water would not dam-
age articles in them. One of the large branches of the Platte, Loup
Fork, was the most notable of these. It was necessary to drive
very rapidly to avoid sinking in the quicksands all the way across,
yet the wagons rattled and jolted as though the bottom was broken
rock instead of sand. It greatly excited my curiosity at the time
and I never have understood the peculiar formation that would
let a wagon or animal settle in it and soon engulf it and yet seem
like rock when driven across. We took the precaution to have
our horses drink all the water they would before driving into the
stream that they might not try to stop on the way across. All
little details of our every day life had to be carefully thought out
to avoid unnecessary delays and difficulties.
After leaving Iowa the first white settlement we saw was at
Fort Laramie. We did not visit the place as it was on the south
side of the river, and our supplies were still plentiful. This station
172 Clarence B. Bagley
was a notable one and afterward became an outlying post of the
United States Army. It was on the easterly slope of the Black
Hills, near their foot, at the junction of Laramie Fork with the
Platte and between the two streams, about five hundred miles west
of Council Bluffs and about one hundred miles west of Chimney
The Black Hills are a spur of the Rocky Mountains and they
gave us our first experience of hill and mountain travel. In fact
they were higher by far than any land thousands of the emigrants
had ever seen. Their dark blue appearance was the same as our own
mountains but were new to those who gave them their name. A
scrubby growth of evergreens covered them, among the rest red
cedar, and here we had unlimited supplies of wood for fuel for the
first time since leaving Iowa. The scent of the wood of a cedar
pencil often recalls the campfires of my childhood on the road to
In this region was about the first time we had use for the
brakes on our wagons. All of them had been fitted out with chains
fastened about one-third of their length securely to the wagon box,
and when the brake was used the longer end was passed between
the spokes and securely fastened by a hook or toggle joint thus
preventing the wheel from turning. We had them on both sides of
our wagons but not often had to use more than one at a time.
From Fort Laramie to the 'South Pass" the road was full of
interest and most of the time quite rough. When we reached the
North Fork of the Platte we traveled up it to a beautiful affluent
called the Sweetwater. At times this stream passed through rocky
defiles and became deep and turbulent. On its banks was and is
"Independence Rock", a mass of rock lying detached and covering,
as I remember about ten acres. It was about 900 feet long and
perhaps 100 feet high and its top was accessible only in a few places.
It was the great directory of those who had gone that way for many
years and had thousands of names marked on it, some in chalk,
some and mostly in tar and here and there one chisled in the rock.
I am told that many of these are still legible after seventy to a hun-
dred years of exposure to wind and weather.
There were nine crossings of the Sweetwater, by which time
it became a small stream, little more than a rivulet.
July 4th, 1852, we reached the "South Pass", which is still
Crossing the Plains 173
considered the most favorable of any in the whole range for a
wagon road although the "Oregon Short Line" crosses the range
about thirty miles further south. Here we had our first experience
of finding beautiful spring flowers all about and only a few feet
away big snow banks many feet deep. I have not recently consulted
reference books but I believe the pass is about 7,000 feet above sea
level. Here, within a few feet of each other, little rivulets started
for the Gulf of Mexico and the Pacific Ocean.
For many days the heat was excessive while the sun shone
but at night we could not keep warm as water froze in our buckets.
I went barefoot most of the time and I still remember how cold
my little feet became as we started on the road in the early morn-
Soon after leaving the Pass father became seriously ill with
"mountain fever," which was common in that region. My recol-
lection is that we had to remain in camp for several days to let
him recover so that it was safe for him to travel.
We had now reached 'OREGON." Old Oregon as we now
call it. At that time the Territory of Oregon reached from the
Pacific Ocean to the summit of the Rocky Mountains and from
British Columbia to California. Since then Oregon, Washington,
Idaho and parts of Montana and Wyoming have been formed out
Heretofore each day had brought to the workers of the com-
pany long hours and tiresome nights and days but they had been
accustomed to similar work all their lives and thought but little of it,
but from that time on the hard work began. Long drives had to be
made from one watering place to another. Most of the good water
was in the streams that flowed down from the mountains, the rest
of it was full of minerals of many kinds. Mountains had to be
crossed between these streams. Little and often no grass was
found for long distances. Soil, volcanic ash, that was light as
thistle down filled the air at the least disturbance and there was no
escaping it. If the leading wagon was far enough to escape the dust
of some other train all the rest of our own had to endure it hour
after hour. The road ahead would look perfectly level and smooth
but the wagons sank into it oftentimes to the hubs.
Going westward we forded a number of beautiful streams,
often having to block up the beds, but when Green River was
174 Clarence B. Bagley
reached we had to pay five dollars a wagon to the Mormons who
owned the ferry and who were glad to levy tribute from the Gen-
tiles. About the middle of July we reached "Soda Springs", a re-
gion full of all sorts of strange things. In fact it seemed to our
people just one remove from Tophet. Boiling springs were every-
where. Sulphur springs, soda springs, soap springs — occasionally
a spring of good, cold water. At this place "Steamboat Spring"
was the most notable. We had heard of it before leaving home and
often on the way across. I got down into it when the water was
not flowing and found it little larger than my body. It would be
quiet for a time, then the water would begin to flow, gradually
increasing in volume and power until it would make a roaring noise
similar to the exhaust of a high-power steamboat that could be
heard a half mile, or even a mile if the breeze should be in the
right direction. It was on the bank of Bear River, and within one
hundred feet of it was one cold spring and not far from that an-
other so hot that one could not hold one's hand in it.
The soda springs were very numerous and seemed to spring out
of solid rock, but the fact was the waters were so heavily mineralized
that they gradually formed mounds, conical in shape, around them.
Most of these springs were intermittent, but there was no regu-
larity of time between the eruptions of water. Some of them were
aerated as they came out and by mixing in some acetic acid and
sugar were quite palatable to most folks. Conditions similar to
these were so common for two or three hundred miles along the
road that they soon lost their novelty.
A few miles beyond these springs, coming westward, the roads
to California and Oregon separated, the latter turning sharply to
the right and northward. Going over a range of mountains, we
reached the valley of the Port Neuf which stream empties into the
Snake River about fifteen miles below Fort Hall.
It is my recollection that as we drove down this valley newly
made graves became so frequent that Susie and I agreed to count
them, she taking one side of the road and I the other. Our count
reached one hundred twenty for the day. All these were in sight
of the road and doubtless there were many we did not see. Most
of these deaths were caused by cholera, which by this time was
making frightful inroads upon the emigrants. Careful considera-
tion and comparison of figures made then and later generally
Crossing the Plains 175
agreed that fully five thousand lost their lives on the plains that
year from a total of fifty thousand going to California and Oregon.
Father and Father Mercer had been accustomed to treat suffer-
ers from this epidemic for years in Illinois. A medicine com-
pounded of a lot of barks and roots, all full of fire and bitterness,
was generally used and if taken early after an attack was quite
generally a cure for it. They had made up large quantities of the
medicine before leaving Princeton and when cholera became a con-
stant visitor they were called upon night and day to attend those
suffering from it. Those who could do so paid something but no
one was refused and the no-paying outnumbered the others by
far; yet both- of them received considerable money that served to
help pay expenses. For years afterward it was not uncommon
for someone to exclaim, "Hello, Doctor," to father and then explain
where some sick person had received treatment.
So far as I have ever known, there was only one diary kept
of our trip, and that by Aunt Edna Whipple. After her death I
wrote to her daughter near Brownsville, Oregon, about it and re-
ceived reply that she had never seen it ; therefore I have no doubt
Aunt destroyed it. For this reason I have no sure knowledge of
the dates of reaching different points except in a few instances.
However I am sure we reached Fort Hall about the 20th of July.
This was one of the notable features of interest along the
route. Its walls were of "adobes" or sundried bricks with roof of
poles covered with sod. An American trader (Wyeth) built it in
1834 but his trading ventures in Oregon were unsuccessful and in
a year or so he sold out to the Hudson's Bay Company who con-
tinued to occupy it for a third of a century.
At this point the evidences of the hardships, misfortunes, and
general demoralization that had nearly overwhelmed a large part
of the migration became painfully visible. Death of stock, break-
down of wagons, families who had lost the father and often the
mother, all combined in necessity to lessen the loads. Wagons were
cut down to carts; oxen and cows were yoked together and not
unusual was the sight of an ox and a horse, both so poor they could
hardly put one foot before the other, fastened together and drawing
a scanty-load that could almost have been transported in a wheel-
barrow. I heard it said at that time that the wagons, yokes, furniture,
crockery, books, ironware, looking glasses and impedimenta of all
176 Clarence B. Bagley
kinds covered a space of ten acres at least. This was often con-
firmed in later years. Any of this stuff was free to anyone who
wished to take it. If one found a better wagon than the one he
was using, he drove away with it leaving his own for the next one.
Our people bought a few supplies here and drove on. Our route
from that point was almost the same that is now covered by the
Oregon Short Line through Idaho.
We passed American Falls and went on down the south side
of the Snake River some distance below Salmon Falls. At the
latter place we got our first salmon. This was a notable point for the
catching of these fish by the Indians who came there from many
miles in every direction to catch and dry the salmon for their win-
ter's food. All sorts of trades were made for the fish. The Indians
had no use for money but were glad to exchange for clothing and
particularly for ammunition. The emigrants were strangely
thoughtless or indifferent in thus supplying the Indians with am-
munition, and doubtless many white men and women were killed
by the Indians with the bullets white men gave them at this place.
Father took the shirt off his back in exchange for a big fish and
I cannot now remember of ever in my life enjoying food with a
Below American Falls the Snake River flows in a deep canyon
most of the way until it reaches the Columbia. There was no pos-
sibility of driving along its banks. The road followed along the
bluffs from 5(X) to 800 feet above the stream. The horses were
watered by leading them down long, steep paths to the river and
the water for cooking and camp purposes was painfully carried up
the same paths.
Our company decided to cross to the north side of the stream
and at a point that later became known as "Payne's Ferry", we
ferried over in our wagon beds that had been made with such
close joints that a good packing with candle wicking and fragments
of clothing made them so nearly water tight that by putting two
of them together and laying the tongues and other poles across they
held up quite a load. The men stripped entirely naked and directed
the horses across and also towed the improvised boats as well. It
was dangerous and slow process but all hands had become accus-
tomed to meet difficulties and dangers bravely and efficiently.
From there we drove across the highlands to the Boise River,
Crossing the Plains \77
going down the hill into the valley at a point that is now well
within the limits of Boise. I visited my old friend, Christopher W.
Moore, in 1893, at that city, and from his beautiful home in the
outskirts he pointed out to me the place where we camped for the
night. His train came to Oregon the year we did and they took the
same route from Fort Hall. He also confirmed my childhood's
recollection of places and events along our route. At the time I
was there several irrigation projects had been carried out or were
well under way and now the highlands that were mostly covered
with sagebrush are producing the finest crops in the world. Boise
is about 2500 feet above the sea and its winters are cold but al-
falfa grows luxuriantly and they cut three crops in a season.
Here we had our one considerable excitement on account of In-
dians. As I have said earlier, night watches were kept all along
the route. This night Daniel Warren was one of the guards. It was
the custom to keep the animals picketed with long ropes so they
might readily get their feed but could not stray. Sometime during
the night Dan saw Father Mercer's Tib moving in a direction that
aroused his suspicion and he soon saw that she was following her
rope. He was armed with a revolver of a kind known as "Allen's
Pepper Boxes," and he immediately began firing in the direction
of the further end of the rope. He heard the whiz of an arrow as
the Indian who was leading the mare dropped the rope and ran.
Of course the firing and outcry aroused the camp and a consider-
able uproar ensued. However, when it was found the animals
were all safe and no damage done, matters soon quieted down.
Tib was a valuable animal and the Indians had several times
tried to trade for her. Father Mercer brought her to Seattle and
she gave him valuable service for many years. I believe she was
thirty years old when she died.
Our route contined down the valley of the Boise to old Fort
Boise which was on the bank of Snake River near the mouth of
the Boise. Here we were delayed several days by the advent of a
son born to my Aunt Jane (Mrs. West) on the 15th of August.
I believe we were ferried across the river here by men engaged
in that business. In the valleys of the Malheur, Burnt and Powder
Rivers we found excellent feed for our horses, but the crossing
over of high hills or mountains between the streams made it very
hard on the animals and everybody else as all who could possibly
178 Clarence B. Bagley
Ao so had to walk uphill and down as well. The crossing of the
Blue Mountains was particularly difficult as most of the road was
rough and steep. In going down into the Grand Ronde Valley the
rnen doublelocked the wheels and tied ropes to the tops of the
wagons and several men walked along on the upper side of the road
and by main strength kept the wagons from upsetting.
In the Grand Ronde Valley was an Indian Reservation where
the natives had begun to live like white men. They were raising
vegetables and other crops and here we got our first new potatoes
and garden vegetables.
' We continued on down the valley of the Umatilla and on the
south side of the Columbia to The Dalles, crossing the John Day's
iind Descuttes Rivers, most of the time in sight of the Columbia
but so far up on the hills that we rarely could get down to it.
We reached The Dalles on September 3d, 1852. Here we
reached civilization. The United States army had a regimental
post here ; missionaries had established stations ; several stores well
stocked with goods suitable for white men's trade as well as the
Indian. Altogether it was a considerable frontier town.
From The Dalles to the Upper Cascades our wagons and their
contents were taken down in "bateaux", a type of boat that had long
been in use on the rivers of the Middle West and on the big streams
west of the Rockies. The wagons had to be taken to pieces for
the trip. Our horses were taken down the river on a fairly good
trail by the single men of the party.
At the Cascades there was a tramroad with wooden rails on
which small cars were drawn by horses and many of the emigrants
had their wagons and goods taken down below the Falls in these
cars but it is my recollection that our people set up their wagons
and drove down, thus saving considerable expense.
We camped not far from the river and also very near to the
point where the main landing for the steamboats plying the river
was later established. Here Mrs. Nancy Mercer was taken ill and
as it was apparent she might not be able to move soon most of us
went on down the river, leaving Mr. Mercer and family to follow,
but her illness soon became serious and within a few days she
died and was buried there.
The rest of us hired a man named Chenoweth to take us down
the big river to the mouth of the "Big Sandy."
Crossing the Plains 179
Chenoweth later became a Judge in Washington Territory.
He then operated a big scow that carried our wagons and goods,
but our horses again were taken down along the bank of the Col-
umbia. In the middle of the scow was a big pile of sand and rocks
and on this we built a fire and cooked as we slowly floated down
We landed at the mouth of the "Big Sandy", a stream that
flows into the Columbia River east of Portland some twenty or
twenty-five miles. The "base line" on which the Government sur-
veys of Oregon and Washington are founded runs directly east
from Portland and intersects the Columbia at the mouth of the
Sandy. I imagine this was intentional on the part of the surveyor
at the time the line was fixed.
Here we again hitched our horses to the wagons and started
on the last miles of our long, long trip. We camped on the bank
of the Clackamas the first night at Cason's farm, a few miles below
Oregon City. As we passed through the latter place we chmbed a
high bluff as the road then ran over a big hill ; now it goes along the
bank of the Willamette. That night we camped on a little prairie
on the bank of Pudding River. The next night on or near Howell
Prairie northeast of Salem, and on September 17th, 1852, we con-
sidered our journey ended as we reached the home of "Uncle Jesse
Parish" near Parish's Gap. There is a range of hills between the
valleys of Mill Creek and the Santiam River and a low point called
the Gap was used for many years as the main road to the south.
It is about four miles from the little town of Jefferson. Uncle West
immediately settled on vacant land adjoining the Parish farm and
lived there for a great many years.
Next day father went to Salem and secured the rental of a
small house not far from the bank of the Willamette and about
the same distance from the north branch of Mill Creek. Uncle
Ossian and Aunt I/Ucie Carr owned a home a couple of blocks from
that house for many years ; in fact until they came to Seattle, finally,
We remained in this house but a short time, as Wiley Chap-
man, who had come to Oregon in 1847 and already had a large home
in Salem, made arrangements with father and mother to move into
it and have Rhoda and Memory live with us that winter while he
and Will and Ed went to the mines in Southern Oregon.
180 Clarence B. Bagley
Here began the intimacy between Mem and me that continued
while he lived. He was the nearest to a brother of anyone of my
boyhood playmates. The following summer father built a small
home for us where we lived until 1856 when we moved out into
the hills south of Salem about six miles. Here we planted a big
orchard and gradually acquired a good herd of cows, several horses
and quite a farm. Father bought the farm adjoining owned by
John Dodge, who moved over to Mimi Prairie near Olympia. This
place had been taken as a Donation Claim by Aaron Mercer who
lived on it about a year and then sold out to Dodge.
We lived there until we came to Seattle in 1860.
Father established several churches in different parts of the
Territory, but after about two years, differences arose between the
churches of the Northern and Southern States, the governing body
was split and the result was that the yearly allowance to father
was not paid and he had to depend upon his own exertions to make
a living. He entered the service of the American Tract Society
and traveled over Oregon selling and distributing their books and
publications. In 1859, he came over to the Sound on that mission
and to Seattle where he found Mr. Mercer and Mr. Horton es-
tablished and he was so well pleased with this region that he
decided to come here to live if mother found it suitable for her to
live in. She was never very strong and it was feared the climate
might not agree with her.
We came over in a buggy drawn by two horses and were nearly
two weeks on the way as we had lots of friends along the route
where we visited and father was urged to preach at several places.
Ours was the first family to come to Seattle by land in our
own vehicle as the road from Puyallup to White River was just
being opened as we drove over it; in fact at one place the work-
men had to remove a few logs out of the road to let us pass through.
Clarence B. Bagley