Famous Western Frontier Generals / Crook and Miles

A Western Frontier General

The Indian Wars are what thousands of books have been written about, both nonfiction historical accounts and dime novels. Fighting Indians is also what we remember most about the famous frontier generals of the period but in reality many were involved in civilian matters as well.

General George Crook House

General George Crook House

Visit the General George Crook House

The General George Crook House is located in the Miller Park neighborhood of North Omaha Nebraska. It’s on the U.S. Register of Historic Places and it would makes a good trip stop when visiting Omaha. The Crook House was used as the headquarters for the Department of the Platte during the general’s tenure and also for later commanders.

The Crook House was visited by both Ulysses S. Grant and Rutherford B. Hayes. The house was eventually  taken over by the Douglas County Historical Society and was refurbished in the 1980’s. It’s open for both tours and special events.

The Expeditions of General George Crook

General George Crook was involved in many events on the western U.S. frontier, being part of the Sioux Indian Wars of the mid 1870’s as well as Comanche campaigns among others.

battle of slim buttes march

General Crook's Expedition after the Battle of the Little Bighorn

Crook was also involved in matters not strictly military in nature and with nothing to do with fighting Indians or western pioneers. This was a part of frontier military duty that probably hasn’t been heavily written about in history books.

The Posse Comitatus Act

During the very early Civil War reconstruction period, Congress passed the Posse Comitatus Act which really was an extension of an Act passed in 1807.

The Posse Comitatus Act put a limit the military’s potential involvement in civilian affairs. In other words, it’s intent was to keep the army from being a domestic police force. Local and state law enforcement was charged with that duty.

This law was actually one of the founding principles of our government. Being passed in 1867, the act went into effect at about the peak time of westward expansion. Towns were springing up almost every day and when the transcontinental railroad was completed, in 1869 the emigration westward reached even new heights. To be sure, the U.S. Army had it’s hands full trying to protect settlers and keeping trails open. At about this time the army was also attempting to write treaties and relocate Indians to reservations.

great train robbery

Actor in 1903 film The Great Train Robbery

The Army Goes After Train Robbers

One interesting story concerns the army’s role in chasing after train robbers.

A Union Pacific train was robbed at Big Springs Nebraska on September 18, 1877. The  robbers netted personal items from the passengers and about $60,000 in gold coins. This certainly was one of the great robberies of the time. After the robbery the outlaws split up into two groups and headed south. The Union Pacific offered a $10,000 reward mostly due to the amount of gold coins stolen which was enormous for the time.

Civilian posse’s headed out after the robbers which was normal. What was different in this case was that General George Crook ordered troops dispatched from both Fort Robinson and Fort McPherson to join the pursuit. Eleven of his troops joined Sheriff George W. Bardsley of Hayes City Kansas and a short time later confronted two of the bandits near Buffalo Station Kansas. A shootout ensued and two of the robbers were killed.

george crook statue fort omaha

General George Crook bronze statue, Fort Omaha

Reward Money

If it sounded like a good outcome, it really wasn’t. There was a legal battle over the reward money and a few years later Bardsley collected $2,250 and the eleven soldiers had to split a total of $1,002. The tale is that Sheriff Bardsley claimed all the credit. While General Crook was known to have a liberal interpretation of Posse Comitatus, in most cases when the army involved itself in civilian affairs it drew loud criticism.

The army’s dilemma was that the relatively new settlements in the west often times had inadequate law enforcement but at the same time the army had to act in some capacity when high profile trouble erupted and a $60,000 train robbery qualified as high profile.

Regardless of the controversy generated, General Crook was known to have ordered his soldiers into civilian matters on several occasions. You can just imagine the political infighting that ensued trying to interpret the Posse Comitatus Act. Today we have much clearer lines of jurisdiction but in the wild west of the late 1800’s with local law enforcement somewhat sketchy this line was blurred at best.

pullman car interior

Pullman Car Exhibit at Texas Transportation Museum, San Antonio

Labor Trouble and the Pullman Strike

Another high profile civilian incident that ended up involving the army was the 1894 Pullman Strike in Chicago. While Chicago isn’t really the western frontier, the story is revealing as to how military intervention can turn political.

The period after the Civil War saw it’s share of labor unrest. Immigrants had arrived by the thousands searching for work. Regarding labor unions, The Knights of Labor reached it’s zenith in the 1880’s and had it’s greatest victory with the Union Pacific Railroad strike.

The primary goal of the Knights was the eight hour workday. Alkso miners as a group called many strikes involving both pay and working conditions. In the second decade of the 20th century one of the most bloodiest labor uprisings took place in Ludlow Colorado when coal miners struck and were attacked by the Colorado Militia. This incident also eventually drew in federal troops to stop the bloodshed.

Several economic downturns  from the 1870’s onward aggravated the labor situation and in this case it involved the Pullman strike in Chicago.

pullman company chicago

Pullman Company circa 1900

During an economic downturn the Pullman Palace Car Company lowered worker’s pay 25% while leaving corporate manager’s pay the same. Union activists and avowed socialists entered the picture. Tempers flared and violence was inevitable. George Pullman stuck to his guns. He wasn’t going to bargain with his workers and he wasn’t going to even speak with the strikers.

General Nelson Appleton Miles, another big figure from the Indian Wars both on the plains and in Arizona (Geronimo surrendered to Miles) and a Civil War veteran, was sent in with 12,000 troops augmented by U.S. Marshals on orders of President Grover Cleveland to end the strike. Miles had one of the more colorful army careers and eventually in 1895 was elevated to the post of Commanding General of the U.S. Army.

general nelson miles

Early photo of Nelson Appleton Miles

The use of force against civilians by federal troops was a very controversial topic at the time. During the confrontation several strikers were killed in the and that in itself led to further violence. The situation spiraled out of control. A tremendous amount of property damage occurred. During the strike Eugene Debs, the socialist organizer, was arrested and tried for inciting violence and destroying private railroad property. Debs, after two trials and being represented by Clarence Darrow was found guilty of a lesser charge and actually served six months in jail.

See the Trips Into History article on the links below…

A Visit to Fort Sill Oklahoma

The Last Days of the California Stagecoach

Garryowen and George Armstrong Custer

When the Pullman Strike was over the army took a great deal of criticism. The criticism was that Nelson Miles was getting too close with George Pullman and kept his troops in Chicago longer than necessary. In situations like these the army is wide open for accusations of taking sides.

Regardless of this incident, Nelson Miles was considered one of the frontier’s more successful army generals. The town of Miles City Montana was named in the General’s honor. Pullman himself was criticized for his “company town” philosophy whereas workers were dependent on his company for their homes, groceries, everything. They lived in homes within Pullman’s own town outside Chicago.

pullman strikers

Pullman strikers in Chicago

Many historians have pointed out the irony of having rank and file troops used to subdue the nation’s labor force. If anything, the typical non commissioned soldier had much more in common with the labor unions of the late 1800’s made up mostly of newly arrived immigrants than he did with the industrial tycoons of that period. Many U.S. Army troops were themselves immigrants.

As a memorial to the 1894 Pullman strikers, a rose and herb garden was planted in Chicago in the 1980’s to commemorate the strike. It’s location is 11111 S. Forestville Ave.

Recommended books on the subject of the western frontier generals and 1800’s labor unrest include General Crook and the Western Frontier by author Charles M. Robinson III…My Life on the Plains: Or, Personal Experiences with Indians by George Armstrong Custer…The Pullman Strike : The Story of a Unique Experiment and of a Great Labor Upheaval by Almont Lindsey.

(Article copyright Trips Into History. Photos and images in the public domain)

Studebaker’s Frontier Wagons

When we hear the name Studebaker the first thing we may think of are those unique automobiles with the front end bullet shaped noses.

studebaker frontier wagon

Studebaker farm wagon

Those automobiles of the early 1950’s were produced by a company that started into business 100 years previously in South Bend Indiana from ancestors who had immigrated to America from Germany. The family’s name had been changed from Stutenbecker to Studebaker.

The Studebaker brothers, Henry and Clement, began in business as horse drawn wagon makers and achieved a great deal of success. The Studebaker Brothers Manufacturing Company, established in 1852, built horse drawn wagons for a population that was on the move.

Pioneers and Prospectors Head West

The 1850’s were a time of great western expansion and there were many of the Studebaker brother’s products that made the trek over the popular Overland Trail. In a big way the California Gold Rush and it’s demand for transportation launched to Studebaker brothers into the wagon building business.

studebaker horseless carriage

Studebaker Brothers wagon

The Studebakers just like many others realized there was a good deal of money to be made by supplying the needs of prospectors rather than searching for gold.

The story is that a Studebaker brother journeyed to California to search for gold. On his way he was fleeced by gamblers and arrived in California with no money to buy prospecting supplies. Instead, he built sturdy wheelbarrows to sell to prospectors. When he reported back to his brothers the demand for wagons the Studebaker wagon building soon commenced.

A another good example of these businessmen were the merchants of early Sacramento California who ended up establshing the Central Pacific Railroad.

The Studebaker’s who had also been involved in blacksmithing earlier on quickly achieved a reputation for building quality wagons that could take a lot of punishment. Their first covered wagon was built in 1857.

Studebaker wagon iron suspension

Wagons For The Union Army

At the time of the American Civil War the Studebaker brothers were operating the country’s leading horse drawn wagon manufacturer. They had actually supplied wagons to the Union in 1858 prior to the war. Their wagons were well known for their durability and as a result, and their location in the Union town of South Bend Indiana, the Studebaker Brothers Manufacturing Company was called upon to supply wagons to the Union Army. The fact was, it took tens of thousands of wagons to keep an army on the move. This was a key event that helped solidify the company as America’s premiere wagon builder.

Expansion After the Civil War

When the Civil War came to an end, the brothers has a factory in South Bend and the capital necessary to expand further. The Studebaker’s were building all types of wagons from simple farm wagons to elaborately built closed carriages.Some of these wagon models were named the Phaeton, the Victoria and the Brougham. Interestingly enough, these same model names were used by various automobile makers during the 1900’s.

As a side note, the tale of the first chuckwagon also has a Studebaker connection. The legendary Texas rancher and developer of the chuckwagon, Charles Goodnight, modified and used an old Studebaker military ambulance wagon in 1866 as the first chuckwagon for his cattle drives to the northern rail heads. These surplus wagons, and there were many after the war, had steel axles and iron springs and Goodnight felt comfortable they could handle the rigors of a trail drive.

In 1878 the Studebaker wagons won awards at the Paris Exposition and in 1888 President Harrison chose Studebaker wagons for the White House. The Studebaker name gained such a strong reputation for quality that sales continued to grow and they were the first to standardize production methods and build interchangeable parts. With standardized production, the Studebaker company was able to build 500 wagons in about a day and a half for the Spanish American War effort. When World War One began the Studebakers built thousands of wagons for England.

studebaker brothers

Five Studebaker Brothers of the Studebaker Corporation

The Automotive Business

Studebaker’s experiments on a horseless carriage had started as early as 1895.

The Studebaker Brothers Corporation entered the automotive business with electric powered horseless carriages from 1902 to 1911. .At the same time they were involved in body building for other upstart manufacturers. Studebaker manufactured it’s last automobile in December 1963.

Two additional Trips Into History articles you may enjoy are on the links below…

Santa Fe Trail Wagon Ruts Visible Today

The Chuckwagon

The Studebaker National Museum

The Wells Fargo Stagecoach / Photos and History

One of the most thorough books regarding Studebaker is Studebaker: The Complete History by author Patrick R. Foster.

Today there are several places to view models of Studebaker wagons.

The wagon shown in this article is exhibited at the Pioneer Museum in Corsicana Texas just south of Dallas. Another venue you may want to add to your trip planner is the Studebaker National Museum in South Bend Indiana. For those in northern California, the museum at the Empire Mine State Historic Park exhibits several Studebaker wagons used during the Gold Rush era. This park is located in Grass Valley California, east of Sacramento in the Sierra Nevada foothills.

(Article and photos of Studebaker wagon copyright 2013 Trips Into History. Studebaker Brothers photo from the public domain)

 

The Buffalo Bill Show / Cody Tours Europe

Buffalo Bills Wild West Goes To Europe

Buffalo Bill Cody’s Wild West was probably the greatest show on earth. During the latter part of the 1800’s the majority of the population was east of the Mississippi River. Newspaper accounts of course supplied the eastern populace with news stories of the Indian Wars and the ongoing westward migration. Mostly because of the news accounts, people in the East were eager to learn more about the American West. What was it really like? Who were these mountain men and Native American warriors we heard so much about? What was it like to be under attack by hostiles? These questions and more were answered by William Cody and his performers. When you look at old pictures of the Wild West you can see how William Cody was a promotional genius in his era.

annie oakley photo

Sharpshooter Annie Oakley

The Wild West shows played to packed audiences in the United States before venturing overseas to Europe. The Europeans, some might say, even more than some Americans were absolutely captivated by stories of the American West. Books and dime novels were quite popular in Europe. One of the most popular acts in the Wild West was the sharpshooter Annie Oakley. Annie and her husband and business manager, sharpshooter Frank Butler, toured all the venues in Europe and thrilled the crowds.

England in 1887

In 1887 the Wild West toured England to sell out crowds. Queen Victoria, the Prince of Wales and many other society figures came out to see the Wild West. The show played in London, Birmingham and Manchester England. The story of the wild west was just as the English anticipated and they loved the show. Among the features were real Indians attacking a stagecoach and driven off. A reenactment of the Battle of the Little Bighorn was performed with a bit of a different outcome. Most historians seem to agree that Wild Bill Cody embellished some of the scenes for entertainment value. Nevertheless, it was enthusiastically accepted by the audience. When Europeans wanted to see the wild west Buffalo Bill Cody brought it to their doorstep.

cody's wild west in 1890

Cody's Wild West, 1890

Wild West in Italy

In 1889 Cody’s show returned to Europe including a tour in Italy. While in Rome where they were invited to the Vatican to attend the celebration of the tenth anniversary of the coronation of Pope Leo XIII. A very publicized event while the Wild West was in Italy was a bronco-busting challenge between Buffalo Bill’s cowboys and true working cowhands from the Maremma region in central Italy. These men spent much of their time working with the Cajetan breed of horse, the wildest most untamed in Italy. The Prince of Teano challenged Cody’s men to break the Cajetans. Twenty thousand spectators saw the contest. There were mixed reports on the contest’s outcome. Most reports however were that the Maremma cowboys were only marginally to moderately successful at trying to duplicate that feat on Cody’s horses.

Many people assume that the Wild West was performed in Rome’s historic Coliseum. The fact was that there were too many stones and debris in the arena and the Wild West simply posed at the Coliseum for pictures. Tents were erected there but because of the debris and lack of sufficient space the performances couldn’t be staged at the very historic site.

william cody and sitting bull

Studio photo of William Cody and Chief Sitting Bull

The Wild West performed for eight days in Bologna. In Bologna there were congested streets and oversold arenas. It was in Bologna that American popcorn was introduced to audiences giving them a good sample of American culture. It’s interesting to observe that during 1890 the Indian Wars had subsided but had not disappeared entirely. The Wounded Knee Massacre of Sioux in 1890 is an example. In 1890 the Census Bureau officially declared the end of the frontier. That was somewhat true and the Indian Wars died down but there were still many Native American issues unresolved.

Nobody in Italy considered the Wild West show to be merely a circus. It was more of a display of current events in a way. At least that was the feelings of both William Cody and his Italian audiences. A good example of the realness of the Wild West were the Indians themselves. These were not professional actors.They were real Native Americans and some of them were believed to have participated in the Battle of the Little Big Horn against Custer.  

Some of Cody’s warriors had actually been in custody because of earlier uprisings and only released to Buffalo Bill to tour with his troupe. For the people of today who became acquainted with the 1800’s wild west via movies and television, they would have a hard time understanding what it was like for Europeans, including the Italians, to see a live display of this kind.There has been nothing like it since and probably never will be. Bear in mind that in the late 1800’s, media was nothing like it was now. People attained their knowledge of current events through printed means such as newspapers, books and magazines. Live plays typically didn’t involve current or somewhat recent events. Buffalo Bill brought the live action to the audiences with authentic performers and it was hugely successful. Many people believe that the 20th century movie makers drew their interpretation of the wild west from William Cody’s productions.

wilhelm II of germany

The Wild West played in Germany with Wilhelm II in attendance

When the Wild West show went to Florence for a three day engagement, the reception was the same. The whole town turned out. An estimated 10,000 people daily attended the performances. Newspapers at the time reported that the act the Florentines enjoyed the best was the Indian attack on the Deadwood stagecoach. The Indians looked like they had the upper hand but at the last minute the cavalry appeared to rescue the stage and it’s passengers. Ironically, it wasn’t that many years since these events actually happened in real life. This is just another reason why the show was regarded as much as a news event rather than only entertainment.

Two additional articles with photos you’ll be interested in are Annie Oakley and Frank Butler and the story of the Wild West Touring Paris.

The Wild West Remains Popular

Stories of Buffalo Bill were popular many European countries in the early 20th century, The Nerbini publishing company in Florence started publishing in an illustrated format the adventures of “Buffalo Bill, The Hero of the Wild West“. Historians have long debated and discussed the meaning of the Wild West performances, especially the enormous drawing power they enjoyed. As an example, a newspaper in Florence while the show was performing there, pointed out that the Wild West really was a story of a dying race. The paper further pointed out to history students in the area to make certain to meet the Indian performers since they represented a people who would vanish from the earth. The paper was pointing out that the story of the disappearing Native American was actually a side theme of most of the acts.

Historians can and have debated this issue and I feel they are partly right. Right or wrong wasn’t part of the performance. That wasn’t the intent of Cody’s show. The show did an excellent job chronicling the old wild west and it accomplished that with flair. There’s no question that some acts were embellished but such is the norm in show business. News accounts at the time stated that many Florentines wandered the show grounds particularly interested in seeing the Indians close up. The audiences loved the show despite what some single critic might have had to say. The Florentines were awed by the sight of the warriors, especially when they had their war paint and headdresses on and shouted a war cry.

buffalo bill cody in 1903

William "Buffalo Bill" Cody, 1903

Buffalo Bill Cody made a fortune with his Wild West. He didn’t use or like the word “show’, possibly because he thought it had the connotation of being phony or fake. That is the reason the performances were called the “Wild West” without using the word “show” although you do see the word “show” used in some research pieces. Every indication from the research I have seen is that William Cody believed he was presenting a piece of very unique history. William Buffalo Bill Cody died in January 1917 in Denver Colorado. When word of Cody’s passing reached overseas, tributes came in from European leaders all over the continent. That was testament to the lasting mark he made to people from all over the world.

(Photos from the public domain)

 


Oregon Trail Diaries / Would You Have Taken One Family’s Trek Across America?

In the year 1849, would you have taken one family’s trek across North America? The chances are that you could have embarked on the journey, but the real question is “would you have?”. Learning about the trip from Oregon Trail diaries and narratives will help you decide. Hearing about the sacrifices and ordeals of such a journey from someone who made it is the best history narrative available. The Oregon Trail diaries and narratives are invaluable historic artifacts.

Covered Wagon and gear on display at Sutters Fort in Sacramanto California, from author's collection.

In the very enlightening book, Women’s Diaries of the Westward Journey, by author Lillian Schlissel, there is a very vivid description of one family’s travels from Clinton Iowa to Sacramento California. The reason the trip was made were purely economic. There was gold in California. There was plenty of it but not quite the easy pickings that most stories that made it back to the midwest declared.

Why Head West?

One major reason that many families decided to risk a trip through hostile lands was the economic shape of the U.S. at that time. Most historical accounts, not all but most, ignore the real driver of this emigration. That was the Economic Panic of 1837. Just like today, there were economic panics that placed many in rough economic shape. In fact, this economic collapse depressed farm real estate prices well into the 1840’s. It wasn’t a one or two year event. Many merchants lost their businesses or owed a considerable amount to creditors. To say the California Gold Rush was talked about is an understatement. Our history books tells us that it was THE subject being discussed everywhere in America during 1849. People asked their neighbors and friends if they would be making the journey. Advice was given out freely. Some of it good and some of it not so good. You can imagine just how exciting the prospect was for a new start in life and the possibility of riches in a backdrop of national economic weakness. What exactly would it take to make the decision to risk everything for possible riches? Even if the risk didn’t result in riches, which for most it didn’t, would the journey through America’s wilderness in a covered wagon still be worth it? Many people in 1849 thought it was.

The family chronicled in this particular diary and narrative were newlyweds with the husband being a lawyer by trade. They ran into financial difficulty like many others. Also, like many others, they were hearing incredible stories from California. In the case of this particular family, their desire to go to California, which they termed the new El Dorado, was to acquire enough gold to return to Clinton Iowa and pay off their creditors. A return trip to Iowa at some future date was always part of the plan. The Oregon Trail beckoned. It was the shortest way to California from the jumping off towns. Whether for economic reasons or time frame, a voyage to California by ship was not realistic.

Guernsey Lake State Park Wyoming Museum

The majority of the Oregon Trail travelers in 1849 were midwesterners. Those from the eastern seaboard states that wanted to get themselves to California often went by ship whether around Cape Horn or through the isthmus of Panama.

Assembling in Council Bluffs Iowa

When the decision was made to head west, the family left with four wagons. Two of the wagons were filled with merchandise that they would sell at enormous profits when once reaching the remote gold fields. The profits were there to be made if only you could reach California. In 1849 there were three main jumping off points as they were called for those heading west. They were Council Bluffs Iowa, St. Joseph Missouri and Independence Missouri. These are the points where people convened to join wagon trains. It was where you might spend some time beforehand acquiring what supplies you hadn’t already. The journey to Council Bluffs of course was the easiest segment. You could camp near farmhouses, easily purchase needed food supplies and the terrain was flat and green. For obvious weather reasons, journeys started in April after the winter snows melted. Understanding that the journey might very well take at least six months, an April start was necessary to avoid the Sierra Nevada snowstorms in the fall. The launching off from Council Bluffs Iowa most likely would begin in May. The diary and narrative excerpts of this 1849 journey were kept by Catherine Haun, who with her husband and five other men and a female cook, set out from Clinton to Council Bluffs Iowa and from there into what was referred to as the wilderness. To an Iowa family in 1849 it was the great unknown.

The notes taken by Mrs. Haun point out that there were certain attributes looked for when joining a wagon train. First was that there was an ample supply of firearms and ammunition. Secondly, that the train’s wagons were not loaded so full that they would hinder travel time. Animals needed to be sturdy whether they were oxen or horses. Oxen were preferred because they were considered less likely to stampede and were less likely to be stolen by Indians. Indians wanted horses, not oxen. Good general health was also a benefit and you didn’t want a caravan with a disproportionate amount of women and children. Of course all the planning in the world could not totally isolate one from the surprises and dangers of the wilderness. When all was said and done, the caravan which included the Haun party consisted of seventy wagons.

Indians

The biggest concern seems to have been the possibility of Indian attack although it was thought of more than spoken about. Mrs. Haun writes that the bucks with their bows and arrows, buckskin garments and feathered headgear followed the wagon train regularly. They were relatively friendly yet were to beg often at mealtimes. She wrote that they seldom molested any of the whites. Catherine Haun does write that throughout their journey the Indian presence still caused anxiety. She was never sure of their friendship and being alert was a necessity. She writes of instances where Indians crept into their camp at night and stole items such as blankets. Mrs. Haun describes how their soft moccasins made it hard to hear their presence. The fact that Indians could enter a campsite undetected was itself alarming to the wagon train party. Compared to what some pioneers endured the Haun caravan seemed fortunate. Mrs. Haun notes in her diary that after the wagon train passed the prairie lands, the Indians appeared to be more treacherous and numerous. At night, for protection, the caravan would draw their wagons in a circle. When they determined where they would spend the night, one wagon would go left, the other to the right and so on and so forth until they had a circle with a good size area in the middle.

Monument near site of Gratton Massacre in 1854. twenty nine soldiers were killed near Fort Laramie

It should be noted that the year the Haun’s journeyed to California was not nearly at the height of Indian trouble on the Oregon Trail. The real trouble appeared to start between 1854 and 1860 when a large number of army troops were sent east to fight the Civil War. At the same time there were disputes between the U.S. government and Indians regarding emigrants and promised annuities. This led to increased Indian attacks throughout the plains and down into Texas. Many times, wagon trains were the targets.

Sickness

Emigrant deaths along the Oregon Trail stemmed from many causes. Accidents, drownings and sickness being the major ones. Indian attacks would not be significant causes. There may have been no larger single cause of death among the Oregon Trail pioneers than cholera. The chief cause of cholera was bad water and the sickness was highly contagious. Catherine Haun points out the enormous number of graves, some fresh, that their wagon train passed along the Oregon Trail. One of the reasons that exact estimates of cholera deaths on the Oregon Trail is hard to determine is that the custom was to bury many people in unmarked graves. This was to avoid having them dug up by Indians or wild animals. Mrs. Haun notes that their caravan passed a grave which had been opened by Indians in order to get at clothes. Many suppose this also caused the Indians to pick up the dreaded disease. It’s been written that cholera may have killed up to 3% of all Oregon Trail travelers during the epidemic years of 1849 to 1855.

Rivers

Wagons could cross rivers on their own if the water was shallow enough. If not, they would be rafted over to the other side but not before removing their wheels so that they would lie flat and not tip over. Not an easy job in any circumstance.

Before trying to drive your wagon pulled by oxen over a river you would need to be sure the bottom wasn’t quicksand. This was a problem with several river crossings and there was more than one wagon lost to the river bottom.

The Mountains

There was a reason the short lived Butterfield Overland Stage Line ran through Texas and the New Mexico Territory in 1858. Less high mountains. Much of the Butterfield Stage route traveled over desert. What mountain passes that were encountered were nothing like the Sierra Nevadas in California. Imagine trying to manage wagons, teams of oxen and horses, not to mention people, over some of the most formidable mountain passes in North America. Everyone was aware of the fate of the Donner Party in the Sierra Nevada winter of 1846.

 

Sierra Nevada Mountains from Emigrant Gap California, from author's collection

When the trail reached steep inclines and declines, people had to join in to keep the wagons going uphill, and when they started a descent, ropes behind the wagons needed to be pulled by as many people as possible to keep the wagon from crashing into the oxen in front.

Following is an excerpt on this subject from Catherine Haun..”and oh, such pulling, pushing, tugging it was! I used to pity the drivers as well as the oxen and horses-and the rest of us. The drivers of our ox teams were sturdy young men, all about twenty-two years of age who were driving for their passage to California”.

Passing the Time

It’s a fact that most wagon trains tried to start moving before 6 AM. As a consequence most people didn’t keep late hours. Catherine Haun describes the evening hours…” We did not keep late hours but when not too engrossed with fear of the red enemy or dread of impending danger we enjoyed the hour around the campfire. The menfolk lolling and smoking their pipes and guessing or maybe betting how many miles we covered the day. We listened to readings, story telling, music and songs and the day often ended in laughter and merrymaking”.

The Haun’s wagon train reached the Laramie River on July 4, 1849. Mrs. haun goes on to describe some of things planned for that special day. ” After dinner it was proposed that we celebrate the day and we all heartily joined in. America West was the Goddess of Liberty, Charles Wheeler was orator and Ralph Cushing acted as master of ceremonies. We sang patriotic songs, repeated what little we could of the Declaration of Independence, fired off a gun or two, and gave three cheers for the United States and California Territory in particular!”. (California would gain statehood one year later).

Two related articles regarding the Oregon Trail which you should find interesting are Lake Guernsey State Park Old Wagon Wheel Ruts and Fort Kearney and the Oregon Trail.

Summing Up the Overland Journey

Catherine Haun wrote down her feelings about the after they reached California. She wrote…”Upon the whole I enjoyed the trip, spite of it’s hardships and dangers and the fear and dread that hung as a pall over every hour. As though not so thrilling as were the experiences of many who suffered in reality what we feared, but escaped, I like every other pioneer , love to live over again, in memory those romantic months, and revisit, in fancy, the scenes of the journey.

Inside of Sutters Fort, Sacramento California. The destination for many traveling the Oregon Trail. From author's collection.

As it turned out, the Hauns did not strike it rich in the California gold fields. Someone was calling for a lawyer to help draw up a will. Mr. Haun offered to do it for the man for a fee of $150. With the money Mr. Haun earned he bought lumber to construct a home. After that he dropped any idea of working the gold fields and hung out his lawyer shingle. Mrs. Haun noted that they had gamblers on one side of the house (they gave them the property to build on) and a saloon on the other. She goes on to conclude that she never received more respectful attention than she did from those neighbors.

As mentioned previously, the Hauns were fortunate to have traveled over the Oregon Trail before major problems developed with the plains Indians. Clashed leading to much bloodshed occurred starting in 1854 around Fort Laramie Wyoming and generally escalated with fits and starts into what is commonly referred to as the Plains Indian Wars. They led up to Custer’s Battle of the Little Bighorn and beyond. Most historians believe the Indian Wars ended for good with the Wounded Knee Massacre in 1890. Wagon trains that journeyed over the Oregon Trail and connecting trails after 1854 and especially after 1860 and beyond were regularly attacked. The attacks were also much more violent as opposed to the harassment in the late 1840’s and early 1850’s. The level of warfare between the U.S. Army and particularly the Sioux and Cheyenne bands grew in violence up through George Armstrong Custer’s expedition in 1876.

Again, the question is… knowing, or perhaps not knowing, what the wilderness between Iowa and California had in store during the gold crazed year of 1849, would you have elected to make this journey?

 

A Tour of The Pioneer Museum in Fredericksburg Texas

Fredericksburg Texas, in the beautiful Texas Hill Country, was a major settlement for German immigrants. Located in Gillespie County Texas, Fredericksburg presents an excellent example of early German migration to the state. In fact, there are many towns in the Texas Hill Country with German names such as New Braunfels, Gruene, Boerne and others. The Bavarian government largely discouraged emigration in the 1880’s but nevertheless there was a lot of publicity in Germany regarding Texas. Those who did publicize Texas told about the available land, the topography of the Hill Country and the abundance of wild game. Many Texas Germans arrived in in the state during the German Revolutions of 1848. One thing that is quite remarkable is that the early German settlers developed a good relationship with the Indians. It’s remarkable in the sense that trouble with the Native Comanches is so much a part of Texas history. A few other interesting facts about the Texas Germans was that they actively participated in politics, and by 1846 a German language version of Texas law was in place. Also, Fredericksburg stood out as a bastion of Union support during the American Civil War. Most of the immigrant population was adverse to slavery.

Today, Fredericksburg Texas is a fun Hill Country tourist destination with a lot to see and do. There are many things to do in Fredericksburg and one of these is to explore the towns early days of Texas German immigration.

One very historical attraction which goes a long way in explaining and showcasing Fredericksburg’s founding is the Pioneer Museum and village located in the heart of Fredericksburg Texas. The Pioneer Museum which includes many outdoor exhibits is located on three acres of shaded grounds and included many plants that are native to the Texas Hill Country.

Pioneer Museum, Fredericksburg Texas

The early Texas Hill Country was very active with people who emigrated to the area from the German region of Europe. Many towns in this part of Texas have German names.such as Fredericksburg, New Braunfels, Luckenbach, Bergheim, Boerne,and Gruene. The history of these settlements tell the story of the Germanic influence on the early settlement in this part of Texas. The Pioneer Museum does a great job in showcasing all of this early history.

The Dambach-Besier House stood at 515 E. Main Street for 135 years and was moved to 325 West Main Street where it has been reconstructed to form the entrance to the Pioneer Museum and the Fredericksburg Convention and Visitors Bureau Welcome Center. The house was originally built in 1869. According to the museum, In 2005, the owners at that time, Kenneth and JoAnn Kothe, donated the house which was disassembled, moved, and reconstructed with funding from donors to the Gillespie County Historical Society.

Klammah House

The Pioneer Museum also exhibits the Kammlah House. This is another very interesting and historic structure. Originally built in 1849 as a one room structure, it grew considerably in later years to include three kitchens, bedrooms, living areas and a stone patio.  When the Historical Society bought the Kammlah property in 1955, amazingly, four generations of Kammlahs had lived in the house. A barn and smokehouse are part of the original property owned and run by the Kammlah family. A general store was operated on this property between the years 1870 and 1924.

 

Sunday House

While touring the museum grounds you’ll see a small structure called the “Weber Sunday House”. Lots of history here. The Sunday House was utilized as a place to eat and rest when the Weber family made the seven mile trip to town for shopping and church. This type of structure is unique to the Fredericksburg TX area. The Sunday Houses stopped being essential when the roadways in the area improved. Interestingly enough, during World War Two when gas rationing was in effect, Sunday Houses had a kind of rebirth of usefulness. It cut down a lot of driving for people who had access to one.

 

 

Watson Log Cabin

There is a 1880’s log cabin on the museum grounds that was the family home of John and Nancy Walton and their three children. After her husbands death, Nancy married John Smith and they added to the house. When this home was rediscovered in the 1980s, the original cabin had been totally encased by additions to the house. According to the Pioneer Museum, in 1985, it was moved and rebuilt at the Museum by Cox Restoration in memory of Jay Cox.

Fredericksburg is about 80 miles west of Austin and about 70 miles northwest of San Antonio Texas. Founded in 1846 and named after Prince Frederick of Prussia, Fredericksburg is a popular tourist destination in Texas and is well known for it’s unique B & B’s. Fredericksburg Texas lodging choices ar many.

A very well known son of Fredericksburg TX was Admiral Chester Nimitz who commanded Pacific Naval forces during the Second World War. Today, many people travel to the Nimitz Museum of the Pacific War which is in downtown Fredericksburg. The museum has absolutely excellent displays of just about everything related to the war in the Pacific. If you have the opportunity to travel to Fredericksburg, the Nimitz Museum is a must stop.

.Another noted resident from Fredericksburg was Carl Hilmar Guenther, an immigrant from Wiessenfels Germany. Guenther served at one time as Justice of the Peace and established flour mills in Fredericksburg. Eventually and because of a severe drought, he moved his flour mills to San Antonio Texas and they still stand today. The Pioneer Flour Mills grounds in San Antonio are a very popular tourist attraction, a museum and also features an excellent restaurant and bakery. It’s definitely a stop to add to your south Texas vacation planner.

You should find this article link about the Pioneer Flour Mills and Carl Guenther interesting. Good pictures of the Guenther house and grounds.

If you have a chance to visit the town during the holiday season, Fredericksburg is well known for their lights and displays. Some of the best holiday displays in the entire state of Texas.