Laura Hawn Patterson (1835-1921)

Laura Hawn Patterson

Laura Hawn Patterson

Laura A. Hawn Patterson’s untitled memoir

I was born in Wisconsin near Green Bay Sept 1, 1835. These are my recollections of our trip to Oregon when I was 8 years old.

My parents lived in Franklin Co. Mo. They started to Oregon on the 10th of May 1843. They traveled by boat four days and laid over at Independence, Mo. They bought our oxen there.

The company all gathered there—300-all told and started on the 18th of May. Jesse Applegate was selected captain. We started on their way. We traveled by the compass—due west—a happy lot of people, all of one mind to go to a new country called Oregon. We had nothing to fear, we had plenty of grass for the stock. At night, they would drive the teams in a circle and make a corral of the wagons; the stock was turned out to feed until after supper. The camps were on the outside, and the stock was put in the corral for the night.

The people would spend their evenings around the camp fires visiting, telling stories, singing and often dancing. Often the strains of a violin could be heard. We had no sickness or fear of Indians, all was well and happy. We had men hunting for game so had plenty of meat.

When we came to buffalo country, we had trouble with loose stock. They would have two men with guns go ahead of the wagons on horse back to look out for buffalo, if they were coming towards our wagon train; the signal was to come back post-haste with handkerchiefs tied to their guns. Then the teams would circle and the stock put inside the corral. The men would shoot at the buffalo to get the herd to avoid our stockades. Sometimes one or more of the buffalo would be killed. At one time they nearly ran over the train as the buffalo turned toward our wagons.

The company kept men out hunting every day to keep us supplied with meat. When they killed a buffalo, it was divided with every family and the hides were cut in strips and wrapped around the running gear of the wagons if that was needed. Some of the hides were kept whole which came in handy later on. There were thousands of buffalo; it would look like the prairie was covered with them.

As we got further west, the grass became scarce, so the Captain divided the company—putting all those that had loose stock one day behind the other group. When we can to the Platte River, it was full banks.

The Indians found a ford for the teams, but the wagons were all fastened together by tying each team to the hind end of the next wagon. Before crossing, they took out their entire load except the heavy irons such as chains and kettles. We lost many things during the crossing and others fared the same. Some of the wagons were taken off their wheels and boats were made to ferry the families and their freight. The buffalo hides were sewn together and put over the wagon beds to make them water tight. A man would swim ahead of the wagon with a rope and two men would swim behind and push. It took two or three days to get all of the families across the river. The last boat sank close to shore. With the help of the Indians, all was saved.

Through the country the prairie was bare except small sage brush and rag weed. The ground was white like ashes. The buffalo trails were several inches deep and it seemed we traveled diagonally across them for days. At night, camp would be by a stream. There was scarcely anything to burn. We would gather buffalo chips, and those & rage weed would make the fire to bake our bread and cook our meals. The old men and women would light their pipes with the chips.

After we got through the country, we came to large streams and plenty of timberland grass. We crossed one desert by driving at night. We could see Chimney Rock to our left. The Rock was used as a guide for weeks. It was ahead of a wide plain with little small streams at long distances apart. It did look no larger than a small chimney. The group stopped to go out to see it. Some of the men on foot turned back as it was much further away than it looked. My father and several of the men went on to it. It was 40 or 50 feet high with ledges that were wide enough to walk on. They went up part way but it was hard climbing. They found mountain sheep on a shelf 20 or more feet from the ground. The sheep jumped off when they saw the men. The rock was very fine grained. My father brought a piece of it to Oregon and it made a fine whetstone. He also found a mountain sheep horn which he also took on to Oregon.

There were only 2 forts on the trail. Each had a few soldiers. They were Fort Laramie and Fort Hall. By the time we reached the first fort, the company was running short for something to eat. We traded with the Indians for dried meat, dried salmon and a few small potatoes. Then we came to the high sage brush country. The next morning the Captain would single out the next wagon ahead until all the train had a turn to go to the front of the procession.

In time we came to timber and large streams. We had very little to eat by this time. What little we had we shared until there was nothing to divide. One night we camped by a creek that was lined with choke cherries. Everyone ate cherries. One woman had been sick for several days and was just feeling better; filled up on the cherries and died in the night. This was the only death we had in our company. The people by this time were eating anything they could get. Those that had tallow candles did well. The first family that came eating candles had a thousand dollars with them but couldn’t eat it. They used the rawhide that was wrapped around the wheels and the running gear of the wagons; they would scrape it and boil it. Our family had some dried salmon yet and gave our rawhide to those that had none. About this time we can to Fort Hall. Father bought flour at 50 cents per pint and coffee for the same price. We would boil raw hide and make soup of it with the flour and some dried salmon. We had no bread for three weeks.

There was a train of horse teams one day ahead of us that was better supplied than ours. The children would run ahead of our train to where the horse train had camped the night before. We’d pick up scraps of bread—if one child got more than one piece, he would divide. At night the families would camp off to themselves to keep the children from teasing for what others might have.

All these months, no one got discourage. The men were out hunting for game—often they would get an antelope or small game. Two men went out and got lost and had nothing to eat but the moccasins on their feet. They overtook our train on the third day—they were nearly starved!

You may be wondering why we didn’t kill our stock to eat—we could not spare them. We had two yoke of oxen, two horses and one cow. If the oxen gave out, the horses were put in their place and the next day the oxen would go back to their routine after a day of rest. The milk we had to have for the small children. Three of them were younger than me. The youngest was 20 days old when we started our trip.

When we came to different tribes the people bought what ever they could for food. We had plenty of money in the train but the Indians did not know the value of it. They would trade old clothes or some trinket for commodities.

When we came to Soda Springs, we stayed over four days to rest the stock. When we came to the hot and cold springs, we stayed over one day and every body did their washing. It was boiling hot. After the springs was the crossing of the rocky mountains. It took five days crossing with the men cutting timber and clearing the road and the women driving the teams. We crossed over where the town of Meacham now is. This was the Nez Perce Indian country. They were good to the “Lentens” as they called the white people. We brought stuff to trade.

There was a white man by the name of Smith or “Peg Leg Smith” with his Indian family. He had two hundred Nez Perce Indians (dressed in buckskin suits trimmed with bells and bead and their horses had bells and beads all over their saddles and bridles) come out to meet us. They marched two abreast until they came to the end of the train and then divided in single file each side of the wagons until we came to the river where we camped for the night. We came to the Snake River we traveled down the river, crossing it three times. We were by Steam Boat Springs close to the river. We stopped by a lone tree. It was a very large tree standing on a high knoll. We had watched it for miles and it had looked small.

The Nez Perce Indians went to Dr. Whitman’s and told him “The Boston Man had no muck a muck”—meaning that he had nothing to eat. Dr. Whitman had been to Washington D.C. to intercede for the country and had gotten home before our immigration.

The Hudson Bay Company tried to keep the Americans from crossing the mountains. Our trains were the first wagons to cross in what became “The Great Migration.” Dr. Whitman sent an Indian to meet the train and tell us to turn into his place near Fort Walla Walla. He had plenty of wheat and beef and the use of a garden. The people at the Whitman mission ground wheat in a large mill—like a coffee mill. The Doctor came around and said to grind a little at a time so as to give everybody a chance. The Doctor soon found out that my father was a millwright and he asked father to trim up the stones and fix the mission’s mill. In a few days, father had it going by horse power by having a horse pull a sweep. Our stock was turned out to grass on the prairie. We stayed there four days.

Doctor Whitman supplied us with provisions and we journeyed on until we came to the Columbia River. Most of the families were taken down the river. Wagons and livestock were taken over the Cascade Mountains.

Forty miles above what is called the Celilo Falls, the emigrants made rafts of logs to bring the families and baggage. Some of the wagons were brought along also. We were 8 days coming 40 miles. Near the falls we bought Chinook canoes from the Indians that lived along the river. We started down the river—staying mostly on the Washington side and passing through The Dalles rapids—or Dalles as it was called at that time. The women and children would walk around the rough places; then we would get in the canoes again. We passed the Indian village where the City of The Dalles now stands. The Mission was on the hill near the Old Fort Garrison. We camped on the Washington side. We were soaked as it rained all day so we built fires to dry out our clothes. Our supper consisted of the last of our flour that we brought from Dr. Whitman’s and a small piece of bacon for breakfast. We had a small piece of bacon about a pound for eight persons, we went on down the river, we met a Hudson Bay ***** [trader?] fetching from **** for the emigrants. Father hailed them, wanted them to let him have some provisions, they answered “go ahead, you will get to Vancouver soon.

Open the barrels, at that time all was put in barrels, and all the ships came around the horn.

We went on, there was a high wind and we were blowed ashore near a small stream falling over the bluff in the Columbia. Made a fire, then father says “I am going to get something to eat dead or alive.” He sharpened a stick [and] he went to this small stream. The salmon run up it until their backs were out of the water, he killed two. He named it salmon falls. They were so long and big he had to drag them on the ground. We ate salmon straight roasted on a log fire without salt or pepper and no bread. We went on in the morning going through the cascade rapids, going mostly on the Washington side. Mother would have to bail out the water out of the canoe all the time to keep from swamping. The roughest we walked around at one place towed the canoe around with a rope, then we would get in again. There were trees standing in the river all the way across scattered as far as the rapids was rough. They were red cedar perfectly round: the bark had peeled off and most of the limbs was off. The outside so white they would glisten in the sun. The Indians said long ago the mountain was across the sun. Father chipped some of them out with a hatchet taking the chips with us in this time.

Dr. Whitman had sent out an Indian to Vancouver to tell McLaughlin thee was a man coming down the river that could build mills and to stop him, sending his name that was the way news was carried, writing and sending by an Indian. We got to Vancouver about nine o’clock that night, run in shore the night was intensely dark, so we nearly swamping our canoe on the cable of a sloop laying in near the landing. Just then there a man hailed us, “who comes there?”

By this time father was out of humor. He says “it is none of your business.”

Then [the man] says “I am fixed to stand to here and hail any man that comes along” said he “waiting for a man that could build mills.”

Father told him his name.

“Come right in shore,” this man says. “I have stood here four days” says “my job is done.”

By this time there was some Frenchman came down to the landing, unloaded our canoe, stowing our things away, carrying the children up to the old fort. Supper was ready, the first whole mean we had for weeks, so our hardships was ended.

Started for Oregon City next morning. Doctor McLaughlin supplied us with provisions. Went up the Willamette opening by where Portland now stands, there was a man building a cabin in the timber there, and cutting timber. He called to father to come ashore. He says “here is the Port, come to the Clackamas River, walked around the rapids.” Getting to Oregon City on the nineteenth of November 1843.

There was six dwelling houses, three of logs, with the bark on one for a Methodist church, a hued timber frame mill, split boards for weatherboarding, and split shakes for the roof, split boards for doors. This was one of the stations of the missionaries. There was a Catholic church and a school for the Indians. We went to school to Waller, one of the missionaries. The school was built of split boards, stood up end ways. There [was also the] mission store and Hudson Bay store. The ministers that were here at Oregon City were Reverends Gustaves Hindes, Wilson and Gray.

Some of the men went on ahead of the wagons with pack horse and were burning down timber to clear the land and to build houses for the families when they came down the river. A great many scattered out through the country and took up land had a hard time to get along that first winter, them that had stock had plenty of meat, and milk and butter. Flour was scarce, would buy wheat and boil it to eat. There was plenty of wild game and salmon. Father went right to work hewing out timbers for the mill. The Dr. hired men to build father a house to live in. [The Doctor also] hired men to work… sent for the millstones and other material for the mill. [Father and the men] worked all winter. Got the frame [up] with some were splitting shingles, others were sawing siding with a whipsaw, while others were splitting timbers for floors, got it in closed during the winter, had the binsin. The Dr. then gave a party free to every body. Every thing was brought from Vancouver for the entertainment. Every body seem[ed] to be there [and] danced all night in their homemade clothes.

Father finished the mill, it was painted white, called the White mill. The next year [father] built the Island Mill, finished in 1845. At the present time, the Island Mill has been torn down, the white mill has been turned into an electric power house. In 1846 in the Fall [we] moved to north Yamhill [where father] built a saw mill. [He] built the old Newby gristmill where the McMinnville ?????, and a great many others. Built the first ***** in Jarvis, call[ed] the Jarvis mill where the town by that name stands, and different others in the country besides a great many bridges.

This written by Uncle Jake’s daughter

Laura A. Patterson nee Hawn.

Written in *** 1906​