Oregon Historical Quarterly/Volume 7/Recollections of an Oregon Pioneer of 1843

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By Samuel Penter.

I wish to state concerning some of the past. In 1813 my father was drafted to fight the English. In 1814 I was born on Reeds Creek in Blount County, East Tennessee. I knew but little of Tennessee. In 1820 we moved to Arkansas. Now, concerning the trip: my father, grandfather, R. Bates, and William Tate bought a keel boat at Henry's Mill on Little River in which we shipped for Arkansas. Very little was known about the navigation by any of the company. We started from Henry's Mill on Little River in the spring; we voyaged down Little River to Tennessee River. There we stopped at the Mussel shoals.[1] My father made a fine canoe; it was stolen that night from the boat. We voyaged down Tennessee River to Ohio River and to Mississippi River and stopped at Memphis at the mouth of the Wolf River. We stayed there three weeks while my father and uncle went across to see the country. In the mean time a negro caught a large catfish. He tried to sell it but its belly was so large everybody was afraid it had swallowed an infant. The negro said, "You not buy; I eat him myself." He opened the fish and found, tied in a handkerchief, three hundred dollars. The negro was in luck, don't you think?

Well, the men returned well pleased with the country. Then we loosed from Wolf River to navigate down to the mouth of White River at Montgomery Point. Now comes the hardest of it. Up White River four hundred miles to Laffer Creek, and took a place in White River bottom which was covered with native cane and much good timber of various kinds. It was hard clearing. When we got settled my father and uncle, Sam Hess, went hunting in the mountains. They came back with three horses loaded with buffalo meat—the last buffalo found in that country.

Arkansas was just settling when we got there. Game was very plenty and also fish in abundance. The first two years we secured wild meat in plenty—bear and deer and wild turkeys. My father was a good hunter and killed bear enough to fill the smokehouse. I was too young to know or do much. If it had not been for the game, we would have been hard pressed to have a good living. After two years we had enough cleared so that we were almost independent. We raised cotton to pay the store bills; cotton was our best crop to make money. When I was twenty-one I enlisted in the army in the time of the Seminole war. We had no trouble with the Indians.

In 1836 I was married to M. C. Keizur. In the fall of 1842 I moved to Missouri to get ready to emigrate to Oregon. Wintered in Bates County, went early in the spring to Fisher's Mill. There we laid in our supplies for the trip. We started the 20th of May.

I started with two horses and a small wagon and one cow that gave us milk all the way. We got along wonderfully well, till we came to Kaw River, where we came up with the company ahead of us. They made two large dugouts of which they made a ferryboat to cross wagons. My father-in-law had a fine horse he hired an Indian to swim across the river. He failed to get him in the water. I proposed to get a man on each side and one behind, but the Indian was afraid. "Take the Indian off and I will swim the horse over the river." I got on him. "Now get a man on each side and one behind him with poles and force him in the water!" And in he went. When he struck the water I washed off, but held on to the bridle. They said from the shore "Don't pull the bridle!" I knew just what to do and the horse went over all right. The Indian said "White man cumtux!"

When we were across the river the company that made the boat had organized, and decided that no one man should have more than ten head of cattle. There were some of the company that had thirty or forty cattle, so we formed another company with Jesse Applegate for captain. We moved on finely until we got across Little and Big Blues. We had just got over the two streams and camped when a rain storm came up and blew down all the tents, and ran one wagon twenty feet. The next morning Big Blue River was over its banks. We learned that John Ford was behind with his wife and baby with Daniel Waldo. Bennett O'Neil, William H. Wilson, and myself were sent back to meet them. We made a raft and got across Big Blue. When we got to Little Blue we found it was over its banks and Waldo was on the other side. We had to swim to get over. The river was down next day, and Waldos camped, but John Ford, his wife and baby, crossed the river in a bark canoe that John Ford had made. When we got back to Big Blue our raft was water soaked; it would only hold up one. They gave me the raft and they swam over. O'Neil was nearly drowned but we all got safe to camp and resumed our march. While we lay by one day to rest and wash, I went hunting and I killed an antelope. While getting it ready to put on the horse I heard a noise on the hill above me; I thought "Indian," but I got my game fixed for carrying, skinned each side in the middle and broke the back and laid it on the saddle, then made tracks for camp. I dressed and roasted one shoulder and invited Doctor[2] to help eat it. The Doctor said it was the best roasted meat he ever ate.

When we got to Fort Laramie,[3] Platte River had to be ferried. We got some boats, tied them together and got all the barrels we could and lashed by the sides of the boats to help hold them up. We crossed one wagon at a time till all were over. At the next river, North Platte, we tied all the wagons together. Some one had a long rope which was tied to the ring of the first wagon and men on the other side helped the train to cross. We made a good crossing except that McHaley's wagon broke loose and washed off. At Laramie[3] I got a pair of moccasins for a pint bottle from an Indian woman, a white man's wife.

We traveled up Sweet Water till we got to Independence Rock; the train stopped there. Hiram Straight, Bob Smith, and myself went hunting and were out all night. In the morning we killed a fine fat buffalo cow, and started to get ahead of the wagons. We got on top of the Black Hills where we could see the wagons; we then unpacked our horses and let them graze, while we roasted buffalo meat and ate without bread or salt, then went on to meet the train. So that ends the hunt for that time.

We headed Sweet Water and camped at a lake on the divide. There James White struck his wife. Bob Smith wanted to whip him, but Olinger thought he served her right for abusing his little girls. I will have to go back to the other side of Platte where three of us went hunting, Hiram Straight, Jo Hess, and myself. We killed a fine buffalo. I was riding Patterson's young skittish horse by his request; nobody could manage him. I got one load on, and in getting on another I made a blunder, the horse jumped and broke the girth. He was held with the end of a long rope. He kept jumping till he got loose, then went off with rope and bridle for good and always. Hess carried my saddle to camp, so I was out nothing but rope and bridle. The next day I wanted to go back with the boys to look for him but the company would not agree. I was a good hand in the water. We always thought if I had gone I would have got the horse. He was a noble horse. While I was helping get the goods over the river, the wagons crossed and lost my rifle, but I had another left.

We went from the lake on the summit to Sandy; there we had an increase of an infant by Mrs. Hembree. From there to Green River. Green River was deep fording. We propped up the wagon boxes and got over dry. Not much occurred from there to Fort Hall. There we found the wagons of the emigrants of 1842. Mr. Keizur got a wagon Vardmand Bennett had left. I left my horse-wagon, put my goods in Ben Young's old wagon, and drove his ox team to the dalles. Applegate got a boat to carry their goods down through the dalles with McClenden to steer the boat. He got scared, made for shore, capsized the boat and three were drowned, McClenden and two Applegate boys. Bill Wilson saved one boy, got him on the boat oars and swam to shore. Corny Stringer was in a canoe, got scared, jumped out and drowned. That made four drowned at the dalles. The Methodists had a mission at the dalles, and were very clever to the emigrants. I stopped with them a while and they gave me work. I was very near destitute. John Ford and I got a boat and went down the Columbia River to Vancouver. Dave Weston met us with a boat and helped us to Oregon City. We all got together below the city. Nimrod Ford saw two deer as he came up with the cattle close to camp. We got our guns. I had an old fiintlock gun and put in new powder. I espied the deer, and shot one down in his tracks; nothing ever came in better play. I got a little work for a few days, then Joseph Hess and I got a large Indian canoe and with our families went up the Willamette to the mouth of Yamhill River and got claims in Chehalem Valley.

  1. Now given on maps as "Muscle Shoals" which strongly suggests corruption from what was probably the right name given by Mr. Penter—Ed.
  2. Mr. Penter fails to give the name of the "doctor." As Dr. Marcus Whitman is always mentioned in connection with any medical service performed during this migration he is probably the person referred to.—Ed.
  3. 3.0 3.1 The flight of years has evidently confused the author slightly on minor points of the geography of the incidents of the trip, but this does not impair the value of his account—Ed.