The Souvenir of Western Women/Reminiscences of a Trip Across the Plains
Reminiscences of a Trip Across the Plains in '45
By MRS. BURNETT (nee LUCY JANE HALL)
MY FATHER, Lawrence Hall, was elected captain of our train, and we started on our way with thirty wagons and about fifty men. A wedding occurred in our company. The bride's cake was made with turtle eggs found in the creek. The event was celebrated by a dance on the grass under the stars.
Near Ft. Boise the Indians made an attempt to attack our train and stampede the stock, but failed through the prompt action of my father, who ordered the teams unhitched and the wagons formed in a circle with the tongues of each run under the wagon just forward, making a strong barricade. The oxen were put inside, each driver standing by his own team. The women and children were also inside by the wagons. All the available men were outside standing with guns drawn. The captain walked out alone toward the Indians with his gun in one hand and a white flag in the other. He motioned the Indians not to come any nearer or his men would fire upon them. The Indians turned and ran away as fast as their horses could go. They had fine horses. The men were nude and painted.
Our most serious troubles began when we took the Stephen Meek cutoff. He represented that this route was much shorter than the other, and that there was no danger from the Indians, as this way did not lead through the Snake River Indians' territory. By vote it was decided to follow Mr. Meek. A contract was signed to pay him for his services, and he agreed to pilot the company safely through in thirty days, or, as was written in his own words, give his head for a football. All were to take turns hauling his goods. He and his wife were on horseback.
One day, after three weeks' travel on our new route, our guide suddenly and excitedly exclaimed, "My God, we are lost." Alarmed, but not dismayed, we moved on till night. There was neither grass nor water to be found. All night the men sat by the dim camp fires listening for reports from those who had gone in search of water. If any was found a signal of three shots was to be fired in quick succession; if not three shots at intervals. At sunrise no sound had been heard. The train was soon moving on through sage brush and across dry creek beds which mocked our thirst. So we journeyed till noon, when hark! a shot, but not the three in quick succession, but at intervals; like a death knell they sounded. The men stood in groups talking over the situation, the mothers, pale and haggard, sat in the wagons with their little ones around them. With a determination that knows not defeat the party moved on. About night in quick succession shots were heard, which proclaimed that water had been found. All pushed forward with renewed energy. When in sight of the water the thirsty oxen broke into a run and rushed into the water and drank iintil they had to be driven out.
"We are saved, we are saved! Thank God!" cried Stephen Meek, "for now I know the way." He could locate the trail to The Dalles from this stream. Men, women and children were laughing and crying in turn.
The teams were in such a bad condition that we had to lay by here three weeks. Many were sick and some died and were laid to rest in this camp. Mr. Meek would certainly have given his head for a football, had not he and his wife made their timely escape. When we reached the Deschutes the Indians there made us understand that a man and woman had crossed the river a short time before. The man swam the river, leading his horse, and an Indian swam over with the woman on his back. Other Indians tied her clothes on their heads and swam across. We did not hear of the Meeks for more than a year after this.
We were lost in the mountains six weeks. The way was rough beyond description. The women and children walked most of the way.
On reaching The Dalles Meek told the missionaries there that a party of emigrants were in the mountains. A white man and two Indians were at once sent in search of our company. When found we people were on the verge of starvation. But for the provisions brought by the scouts many, if not all, would have perished, as it took a week more to reach The Dalles when guided by these men.