|THE COVERED WAGON
--by Mary Kate Price, Mrs. Horace A. Powell (1867-1948)
Early in March in the year 1851, a train of covered wagons drawn by ox-teams, left Danville, Vermillion Co., IL, for the long trip across the plains to Oregon. It was a company of eighty people. The train was captained by David Froman, the uncle of my mother, whose maiden name was America Froman.
On the train were Nathan Morgan and his sister Drusilla Morgan (widow of John James Price). Nathan and Drusilla were the children of James Morgan who was the son of Zackquill Morgan. Nathan was a middle-aged bachelor. Drusilla was a widow; her husband had died in an accident a few years before. With the Widow Price were all of her living children; it is nearer to truth to say she came with them, for this journey required the vision of youth to conceive it. Her children were (1) her elder daughter, Mary Poly Price with her husband, Martin Payne and their children [Martin being the son of John Payne, Sr., and Hannah Earle]; (2) her elder son, Nimrod Price, with his wife, America Froman, and their two infant sons [Nimrod and America being the parents of the author]; (3) Matilda Price (unmarried); (4) Dallas Price (unmarried); (5) Amanda Price (unmarried); and (6) Oliver Price. Also in the train was Drusillas niece, Levina Morgan and her husband, Paul Kellar. Levina was the daughter of Katy and John H. Morgan.
All the members of this party reached the Willamette Valley near the west coast of Oregon, on September 9, 1851. They settled there in Linn Co. near the town of Albany.
The most fervid recollection of the trip across the plains, among the younger people, is that they walked all the way. Now and then one asserts that he walked every step of the way. The wagons were filled with provisions for months of travel: A few precious articles of household equipment; spare parts for the repair of wagons and ox-yokes; arms and ammunition for hunting game and for defense from savage Indians; and the women with little children. The drivers walked by the side of the oxen as they were guided mainly by exhortation and the crack of the rawhide whip. A few horses were ridden, and others were driven in droves with other loose stock by the young men. Each man sought to reach the new land with at least one brood mare. The one my father [Nimrod Price] brought was the mother and grandmother of all the horses used on his farm for more than twenty years. But the oxen bore the brunt of the long journey.
It must have required a stock of patience and courage on the part of these pioneers to cross the prairie and the Middle West, the Great American desert, the Rocky Mountains, and the last steep slopes of the coast range with teams whose rate of progress was from twelve to twenty miles a day. But, as one pioneer woman clearly put it, It was the only way to get there.
While the journey was filled with hardship, there was no real disaster in this train. There was no serious illness, no conflict with the Indians, and no death. They had always to watch the Indians to protect their stock from depredations. Once, a band of Indians followed them all day and watched all night for a chance to steal their horses, while the men stood guard. They were fortunate enough, early in the journey, to find a guidebook on the trail, lost by some luckless train ahead of them, so they never wandered far from the right road.
The real hardships were the natural ones: The slow progress, the dangerous river crossings, and the mountains. The climb over the Rockies was so gradual that the Barlow Pass was not remembered as hard, but the steep Blue Mountains and the Cascades were trials of strength and nerve. The oxen were worn and some had died, thus reducing the teams. Food supplies were low, and the fall rains had begun. The crossing of the Snake River was especially dangerous. The wagons were ferried over, and the women and children were taken across in small boats -- mere skiffs. In the middle of the stream, one frightened girl sprang to her feet and almost capsized the boat. She had to be threatened with a blow from the oar to make her resume her seat. To cross some streams, the wheels were taken off the wagons, and the wagon beds were lashed to cottonwood logs and made into rafts. These rafts were then polled across. My mother crossed one small but dangerous stream on a log, while she carried a child on each arm. My father watched with bated breath, as a misstep or a turn of the log would have plunged them all into the torrent below.
The descent of Laurel Hill was perhaps the most difficult single experience of the whole journey. It was unbelievingly steep. The fall rain made the narrow roadbed a watercourse with a heavy stream at the bottom of the hill. The wagon wheels were locked with chains, with trunks and branches of trees. The drivers waded in mud and water striving to keep the oxen in the road. The women carried their babies for hours through the heavy rain as the train moved up and down the hill. But these people were of true pioneer blood, men and women to match the mountains, and they won through the dangers and difficulties of the long, long Oregon Trail at last.
There were compensations for the trials of the journey, even as there are today. They were in the open air for six months. There were myriads of wild flowers to enjoy, many of them strange and new varieties. There was a new and vast country to explore. The fish and game resources of the country west of the Mississippi River were almost untouched. For months the herds of antelope, deer, and buffalo supplied them with fresh meats. At one camp near a stream, a little Indian boy of eight or nine years wistfully watched my mother mixing bread. He offered, if she would loan him a pin to bend into a hook, to catch her enough fish for a meal, if she would give him a biscuit of white bread for his mother who was ill and longed for a bite of white bread. He took the pin and went to the stream. In half an hour he returned with a fine string of fish and departed happy with his biscuits, one for good measure, even though flour was hoarded like gold.
Sometimes the whole train was stopped for a buffalo hunt, and meat was laid in for weeks of travel. One train crossing in the same year was literally stopped by the buffalo themselves. A vast herd was seen approaching, and the wagons were hastily formed into a circle with the oxen in the center to prevent a stampede. The herd divided as it reached the train and passed on both sides -- two moving seas of buffalo, as far as the eye could see. Incredible as it now seems, the moving stream of animals continued all day and all night, and no one dare to venture outside that circle of safety until the last buffalo had passed.
I think none of these pioneers whom I knew ever regretted the move to the west. What was the lure? The answer was "climate and free land." Mixed with this was the love of adventure and pride in helping to found a new commonwealth for out of this vast Oregon country were later carved three great states. They found all they sought and more.
When the first of these trains started in March of 1851, the United States government offered a donation land claim to each new settler and his wife of 640 acres for the couple. When they got to Oregon this had been cut in half: 160 acres for the husband and 160 acres for the wife. The donation land law directed the Surveyor General to designate the part inuring to the husband and that to his wife. Jurists point out that a married womans right to hold property, so generally recognized now but rarely allowed in any civilized country then, was thus in early Oregons history established by law.
The author was Mary Kate Price, Mrs.
Horace A. Powell. She was born 24-Aug-1867 in Linn Co.,
OR, and died 30-Jan-1948. She did not make the journey
but grew up hearing the stories of those who did make the
journey. She was the eleventh of twelve children of
Nimrod Price and his wife, America Froman. Nimrod Price
took Donation Land Claim #984, two sections from that of
Martin Payne's land claim, #983. Both were just east of
what is now Albany, OR.
To read a diary of another traveler on the Oregon Trail, check this site on the internet, Coon Oregon Trail Diary.
email Alice Marie Beard