The Souvenir of Western Women/Pioneer Days of Mrs. Matilda Frost
Pioneer Days of Mrs. Matilda Frost
From notes furnished MRS. ELEANOR C. STEAVENSON
MY FAMILY and myself crossed the plains in the year of 1862. We were on the road six months. We went to California by the old Carson road. The train comprised eight wagons and fifteen men. A large train of 100 wagons and 300 men dropped in with us for a few days while we were on the Sweetwater in Wyoming. In this region there was danger from the Indians. From there we took the Carson route and the large train left us. The day we parted from them they were attacked by the Indians and fought for three days and nights without unhitching their animals. All that the emigrants ate during this time was a little flour and raw bacon. At the close of the third day this brave company overpowered the Indians. The train turned back over the same route and overtook us. The emigrants were overjoyed to find us alive. The Indians were stealing all the stock they could get and killing the people. Many of the small trains of emigrants were destroyed.
This large company traveled with us until we reached the Humboldt River. From there they went to Oregon. Our little train went on unmolested through the Carson desert, a journey of two days and nights. I had a funny little experience while on the desert. The second night the teams were very weary and nearly dead, so it was necessary to make some changes to get the animals through alive. My husband asked me if I could drive a yoke of steers, as my horses were needed to relieve another team. I said I would try. A long stick was given me to guide them with. I was told to say "gee" and "haw." I sat in the front of my wagon and, carrying out these directions, got along well till after midnight, when my "yoke of oxen began to bellow, and started on a run out over the rocks and sage brush with me yelling as loud as my womanly voice would admit. Whatever caused them to act so no one could tell. I drove my own team across the plains, and rather enjoyed it.
After many hardships we landed in the foothills near Red Bluffs, California. The next fall we went to Honey Lake Valley. But few people were living in this valley and the Indians were hostile. Myself and two little children were alone in this dreary valley much of the time. Every minute I expected to be killed. Shortly after we left a family of eight were massacred by the Indians. In '64 we heard of the gold excitement in Idaho, and in May we set out for the Eldorado. Several days after starting we camped at an old stone building, at one time a station for soldiers. Five men had been living there. The Indians captured them, burned four at the stake and one in the house. The soldiers heard of it. They came and buried the ashes, all that remained of these poor men.
Two young men who were traveling with us were in a great hurry to get to the gold fields at Bannock City, so they started on ahead, saying that they had no fear of trouble. The second night after they left us one of them was standing guard over their horses and the other was in camp asleep. The latter was shot and killed by the Indians, but the other, under the cover of friendly darkness, mounted his horse and escaped. We camped at the same place the next night and found there a circus train of about sixty men and a few women on their way to Portland, Oregon. Such frightened people I never saw before.
At the summit of Steen's Mountain I was taken quite sick, and we had to make camp there. That night the men tied four horses to my wagon. About midnight I heard some one untying the horses and I spoke to the men who were asleep on the ground. They jumped up quickly, with guns in their hands, and this frightened the Indians away. When the men went to drive in the loose cattle they found sticking in them arrows shot by the Indians.
In a few days we arrived at Boise, a place of about a dozen houses. The stores were tiny rooms, mostly in the dwellings. My first calico dress cost 50 cents a yard; I bought ticking for my feather bed, and paid $20 for twenty yards. A lady friend was shopping with me. At lunch time we wished to get something to eat. We bought a pie and paid $1 for it, and our cup of tea cost 25 cents. Our first supply of provisions cost us as follows: Flour, $40 per 100 lbs.; bacon, 75 cents per lb.; sugar, 75 cents per lb.; butter, $1 per lb.; syrup, $15 per gallon, and everything else equally expensive. Gold dust was the only kind of money we saw. Most of it came from Idaho City, which had the richest placer mines known in the world at that time.
Mr. Frost had brought from California a mower, and he cut the wild grass which grew in great abundance in the natural meadows. This he sold for $150 per ton.
As there was no lumber, my house was made of native timber, which was very small. My new home was 12 by 12 feet.
The Indians were troublesome all through this country until after the war in 1878. In that year the settlers near where we lived built a fort, and twice we were so frightened that the women and children stayed in it two days. A few miles from the fort thirty emigrants were killed. Only one, a boy of 16, escaped. During the terrific fight of that one night his hair turned white. A beautiful field of clover now covers the graves where these poor people were buried.
Our pioneers who helped to build up this desolate country are indeed getting scarce, and will soon be forgotten. As for myself, no words can tell what I experienced in those pioneer days, raising my family of nine children.