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Heroines of the Rocky Mountains - Page 4

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Wagon TrainAmong the most authentic histories of these bands of early pioneers which undertook to make the passage of this region thirty years since, when it involved such difficulties and dangers, is the following:

 

In the year 1846, soon after the commencement of the Mexican War, a party of emigrants undertook to cross the Continent, with the intention of settling on the Pacific coast. The party consisted of J. F. Reed, wife, and four children; Jacob Donner, wife, and seven children; William Pike, wife, and two children; William Foster, wife, and one child; Lewis Kiesburg; wife, and one child; Mrs. Murphy, a widow woman, and five children; William McCutcheon, wife, and one child; W. H. Eddy, wife, and two children; W. Graves, wife, and eight children; Jay Fosdicks, and his wife; John Denton, Noah James, Patrick Dolan, Samuel Shoemaker, C. F. Stanton, Milton Elliot, James Smith, Joseph Rianhard, Augustus Spized, John Baptiste, Antoine, Walter Herring, Luke Hallerin, Charles Burger, and Baylie Williams, making a total of sixty-five souls, of whom ten were women, and thirty-one were children.

 

Having supplied themselves with wagons, horses, cattle, provisions, arms, ammunition, and other articles requisite for their enterprise, they set out on their journey from the Mississippi, and, after a toilsome march of many weeks across the prairies, they reached, late in the summer of that year, the foot-hills of the Rocky Mountains. Resting for a few days in a grassy valley, and, gazing with wistful eyes on the mighty peaks which towered beyond them, they girded up their loins for the novel toils and perils they were soon to encounter, and pushed on, expecting to follow the great military route which would conduct them, before the winter snows, to the sunny slopes which are fanned by the breezes of the peaceful ocean.

They reached the Sweet-Water River, on the eastern side of the mountains, late in August. While in camp there, they were induced, by the representations of one Lansford W. Hastings, to take a new route to the Pacific coast. Relying on the truth of these statements, and full of hope that they would thus shorten their journey, they left the beaten track and started onward through an unknown region. Long before they had reached the valley of the Great Salt Lake, they began to encounter the greatest difficulties. At one time they found themselves in a dense forest, and, seeing no outlet or passage, were forced to cut their way through, making only forty miles progress in thirty days.

In September, they were passing through the Utah Valley, since occupied by the Mormons. Here death invaded their ranks, and removed Mr. Hallerin. This and an accident to one of the wagons, detained them two days.

Pursuing their march, they were next forced to travel across a desert tract without grass or water, and lost many cattle.

At this point of the journey, the gloomiest forebodings seized the stoutest heart. They were in a rugged and desolate region, far from all hope of succor, surrounded by hostile Indians, their cattle dying, and their stock of provisions lessening rapidly, with the sad conviction hourly forcing itself upon their minds, that they had been betrayed by one of their own countrymen.

Some of the families had already been completely ruined by the loss of their cattle and by being forced to abandon their goods and property. They were in complete darkness as to the character of the road before them. To retreat across the desert to Bridger, was impossible. There was no way left to them but to advance; and this they now regarded as perilous in the extreme.

 

The cattle that survived were exhausted and broken down; but to remain there was to die. Some of the men, broken by their toils and sufferings, lay down and declared they might as well die there as further on; others cursed the deception of which they had been the victims; others uttered silent prayers, and then sought to raise the drooping spirits of their comrades, and encourage them to press forward. Of these last were the females of the party--wives, who never faltered in these hours of trial, but sustained their husbands in their dark moods; and mothers, who fought the dreadful battle, thinking more of their children than of themselves.

 

 

 

 

Fort Bridger, Wyoming

Fort Bridger, Wyoming

Once more the party resumed their journey, but only to meet fresh disasters. "Thirty-six head of working cattle were lost, and the oxen that survived were greatly injured. One of Mr. Reed's wagons was brought to camp; and two, with all they contained, were buried in the plain. George Donner lost one wagon. Kiesburg also lost a wagon. The atmosphere was so dry upon the plain, that the wood-work of all the wagons shrank to a degree that made it next to impossible to get any of them through.

 

"Having yoked some loose cows, as a team for Mr. Reed, they broke up their camp, on the morning of September 16th, and resumed their toilsome journey, with feelings which can be appreciated by those only who have traveled the road under somewhat similar circumstances. On this day they traveled six miles, encountering a very severe snow storm. About three o'clock in the afternoon, they met Milton Elliot and William Graves, returning from a fruitless effort to find some cattle that had strayed away. They informed them that they were in the immediate vicinity of a spring."

 

This spring they succeeded in reaching, and there they encamped for the night. At the early dawn, on September 17th, they resumed their journey, and, at four o'clock A. M. of the 18th, they arrived at water and grass, some of their cattle having meanwhile perished, and the teams which survived being in a very enfeebled condition. Here the most of the little property which Mr. Reed still had was burned, or cached, together with that of others. Mr. Eddy now proposed putting his team on Mr. Reed's wagon, and letting Mr. Pike have his wagon so that the three families could be taken on. This was done. They remained in camp during the day of the  8th, to complete these arrangements, and to recruit their exhausted cattle.

 

The journey was continued, with scarcely any interruption or accident, until the first of October, when some Indians stole a yoke of oxen from Mr. Graves. Other thefts followed, and it became evident that the party would suffer severely from the hostility of the Indians.

Beautiful Kachina ScarvesA large number of cattle were stolen or shot by the merciless marauders. The women were kept in a perpetual state of alarm by the proximity of the savages. Maternal love and anxiety for those thirty-one innocent children now exposed to captivity and death at the hands of the prowling redskins, made the lives of those unfortunate matrons one long, sad vigil. They could meet death locked in the fastnesses of the mountains, or in the desolate plain; they could even lay the remains of those dear to them, far from home, in the darkest cañon of those terrible mountains, but the thought of seeing their children torn from their embrace and borne into a barbarous captivity, was too much for their woman's natures. The camp was the scene of tears and mourning from an apprehension more dreadful even than real sufferings.

The fear of starvation, also, at this stage in their journey, began to be felt. An account was taken of their stock of provisions, and it was found that they would last only a few weeks longer, and that only by putting the party on allowances.

Here, again, the self-sacrificing spirit that woman always shows in hours of trial, shone out with surpassing brightness. Often did those devoted wives and mothers take from their own scanty portion to satisfy the cravings of  their husbands and children.

For some weeks after the 19th of October, 1846, the forlorn band moved slowly on their course through those terrible mountains. Sometimes climbing steeps which the foot of white man had never before scaled, sometimes descending yawning cañons, where a single misstep would have plunged them into the abyss hundreds of feet below. The winter fairly commenced in October. The snow was piled up by the winds into drifts in some places forty feet deep, through which they had to burrow or dig their way. A sudden rise in the temperature converted the snow into slush, and forced them to wade waist deep through it, or lie drenched to the skin in their wretched camp.

One by one their cattle had given out, and their only supply of meat was from the chance game which crossed their track. At last their entire stock of provisions was exhausted, and they stood face to face with the grim specter of starvation. They had now encamped in the mountains, burrowing in the deep snow, or building rude cabins, which poorly sufficed to ward off the biting blast, and every day their condition was growing more pitiable.

The Donner party stranded in the Sierra Nevada Range, 1847On the 4th of January, 1847, Mr. Eddy, seeing that all would soon perish unless food were quickly obtained, resolved to take his gun and press forward alone. He informed the party of his purpose. They besought him not to leave them. But some of the women, recognizing the necessity of his expedition, and excited by the feeble wails of their perishing children, bade him God-speed. One of them, Mary Graves, who had shown an iron nerve and endurance all through their awful march, insisted that she would accompany him or perish. The two accordingly set forward. Mr. Eddy soon afterwards had the good fortune to shoot a deer, and the couple made a hearty meal on the entrails of the animal.

The next day several of the party came up with them, and feasted on the carcass of the deer. Their number during the preceding night had again been lessened by the death of Jay Fosdicks. The survivors, somewhat refreshed, returned to their camp on the following day.

The Indians Lewis and Salvadore, being threatened with death by the famished emigrants, had some days before stolen away. After the deer had been consumed, and while Mr. Eddy's party were returning to camp, they fell upon the tracks of these fugitives; Foster, who was at times insane through his sufferings, followed the trail and overtook and killed them both. He cut the flesh from their bones and dried it for future use. Mr. Eddy and a few of the party, in their wanderings, at length reached an Indian village, where their immediate sufferings were relieved.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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