Our Nation is growing up. Missionaries are following the fur traders. While Andrew Jackson was President, some Indians from Oregon came to St. Louis and asked for missionaries to come and teach them the whiteman's "Book of Heaven," the Bible. They were hearing stories of John, Paul, and Jesus, and being washed in the blood.
In answer to their prayer, the Methodist Church sent out to Oregon the Rev. Jason Lee, accompanied by his wife, his nephew, and several others. The next year the Presbyterian Church sent Dr. Marcus Whitman to build a mission. These two churches were the beginning of the American settlement of Oregon.
Soon, settlers were following the missionaries. After spending a few years in Oregon, Rev. Lee returned to New York and all the way across Illinois, Indiana, and Ohio he spoke to people about the glorious country of Oregon. Lots of farmland, good climate, and beauty everywhere, he described it as "The Garden of Life," pure beauty. The newspapers began to publish stories about Oregon. The movement was all about going west to Oregon. Nearly a hundred emigrants went out west in 1842. None of this land had been explored much, and there were the problems. But the next spring, a great number of settlers collected at Independence, Mo., and were ready to head to Oregon as soon as the snow melted.
Dr. Marcus Whitman had been to New York during the winter on business for his church and was returning in the spring to Oregon. He had already crossed the continent four times, twice each way, and knew the best route. When the leaders of the emigrants learned that he was going to be in Independence in the spring of 1843, they asked him to guide their party.
Dr. Whitman was glad to lead the wagon train, for he wanted to see Oregon settled. He had long believed it was possible to open a wagon trail all the way to Oregon, and here was his chance to do just that. He did it, and the next year a even larger wagon train of settlers went to Oregon, with only covered wagons.
Newspapers and writers were starting to head west to explore and write their stories. Francis Parkman, a great historian and a eloquent writer, once made a trip halfway to Oregon and wrote a book which he called "The Oregon Trail." He told of how the settlers traveled to the Oregon trail and of the various thing that happened on the way.
Parkman got the attention of the reader right from the start. He describes the scene at Independence, Mo., just before the spring "jump off" for Oregon began: "There was a great hammering and banging from a dozen blacksmiths' sheds where the heavy wagons were being repaired and the horses and oxen shod. The streets were filled with men, horses and mules. While I was in town, a train of wagons from Illinois passed through, to join in the camp in the prairie, and stopped in the main street.
"Dozens of children's faces were peeping from under the covers of the wagons. Here and there a girl was seated on horseback, holding over her sunburnt face an old umbrella or a parasol, once gaudy enough but now much faded. The men, very sober looking countrymen, stood about their oxen."
Parkman describes a visit that he received from an old Kansas Indian. The Indian's head was shaved and painted red, and from the tuft of hair remaining on the crown dangled several eagle's feathers and the tail of two or three rattlesnakes. His cheeks. too, were covered with red paint, his ears were adorned with green glass earrings. A collar of grizzly bears' claws hung around his neck, and several large necklaces of wampum hung on his breast.
"Having shaken us by the hand with a grunt, the old man dropping his red blanket from his shoulders, sat down crosslegged on the ground. We offered him a cup of sweetened water, at which he said, 'Good.' He was beginning to tell us how great a man he was, and how many Pawnees he had killed, when a strange looking crowd appeared wading the creek toward us.
"They filed past in rapid succession, men, women, and children: some were on horseback, some on foot. Old squaws, mounted astride of shaggy, thin little ponies, with perhaps one or two snake-eyed children seated behind them, clinging to their tattered blankets; tall, lank young men on foot, with bows and arrows in their hands; and girls that not even the charms of glass beads and scarlet cloth could make pretty, made up the procession. They were the outcasts of the Kansas nation, on a begging trip."
From such Indians there was nothing to fear but thievery, but those the settlers met on the trail were a very different sort.
Emerson Hough (Huff), a storywriter who knew the West and adored it, had written a book called "The Covered Wagon." In his book, he told a story of how at the break of dawn the sleeping camp of settlers was awakened by rifle shots or a bugle call. The cooks began getting breakfast ready, and the night guards brought in the horses, oxen, and cattle. By six o'clock, the teams were hitched and the wagons were packed, ready for the signal of the trail master to go on.
The trail were dusty, hot, and dry. The wagons dragged out into a line sometimes a mile long. Scouts armed with rifles and pistols rode in front and at each side to guard against surprise attacks by the Indians. Hunting parties rode off from time to time and brought in fresh buffalo, deer, or elk meat to vary the regular fare of dried beef, bacon, coffee, and bread.
At night the wagons were parked in a circle to form a barricade, and the camp was pitched within the circle. The animals were hobbled, guards were posted, and the tired settlers slept.
Week after week and month after month they traveled on in this way, while the slow ox wagons creaked and jolted across the prairies of Missouri and Iowa, the plains of Nebraska, and the bleak mountain passes of Wyoming and Idaho into Oregon. They started in May, and with lots of good luck, they might reach the lower Columbia Valley sometime in November.
Dr. John McLoughlin helped the new settlers who came out to Oregon. Many of the settlers were emigrants, and they would have had a hard time before they could raise vegetables and grain, if not for the doctor. He was the manager of the British Hudson's Bay Fur Company in Oregon. He sold the settlers supplies on credit from the company's store houses.
Next week: The fight is on. The United States and England both claim Oregon. I welcome all comments, inquires and suggestions:
firstname.lastname@example.org attn: Ms. Sylvia Evans.