The Dalles Oregon

The Dalles Oregon is in one of the most beautiful parts of the Columbia River Gorge Scenic Area. History tells is the The Dalles received it’s name from the early French trappers working for the North West Company. The trappers named the area “Les Dalles‘ which translates to “The Sluice” or “The Flagstone“. This may refer to the basalt rock found in and around the Columbia River.

columbia river

The Columbia River with Washington State on far side

The Settlement of the Missionaries

Before the massive emigration along the Oregon Trail, the area which today is the city of The Dalles was inhabited by missionaries who were sent west to Christianize the native Americans of the region. The original missionary party comprised seventy people.The newly organized Methodist Episcopal Missionary Society sent Rev Jason Lee, along with his nephew Rev. Daniel Lee, lay missionary Cyrus Shepard and two assistants, P.L. Edwards and C.M. Walker and others, to Oregon to build the mission. The group set up their mission in the Willamette Valley but the area was considered to be “malarial” and Daniel Lee and others became sick. Daniel Lee ended up journeying to Hawaii to try to restore his health and the leadership of the group fell to Rev. Jason Lee.

Eventually, Jason Lee and others traveled back up the Columbia in March 1838 with the help of Indian guides to the area of The Dalles. There they were greeted by a group of Wascopam Indians. That summer the group constructed the Wascopam Mission.

the dalles dam

The Dalles Dam located 2 miles east of the city

Rev. Jason Lee made a return trip to the east and was very active in urging migration to the Oregon region. He may very well been the very earliest of pioneers touting the area as ideal for settlement. There is no doubt that he was successful in urging a good number of people to make the long journey.

Results of the Missionary Work

The success of the Wascopam missionaries was mixed. At first they had great attendance at their revivals and meetings with the Indians who came from a wide variety of tribes. The Dalles happened to be at a location where many different tribes gathered. After a few years the attendance decreased and eventually the church leaders in the east became dissatisfied with the number on converts versus their expenditures to support the mission. In a large way this was shortsightedness because the Native Americans had thousands of years of tradition not to mention a variety of different languages. To completely change this ingrained tradition in a matter of a few years was asking quite a lot. The missionaries working in Oregon felt largely that the eastern board really didn’t understand how particularly hard their task was.

the dalles downtown area

The Dalles downtown district

Rev. Jason Lee was recalled in 1843 and surprisingly his replacement resigned after a very short time. Yet another reverend was sent west to Oregon and the Wascopam Mission. Eventually, in 1846 an offer was received from a Dr. Marcus Whitman, a missionary outside Walla Walla, to purchase the Wascopam Mission on behalf of the Presbyterian American board. The deal was about to be consummated when Dr. Whitman, his wife and nine others were massacred at their mission by a band of Cayuse Indians. A large group of mostly women and children were also kidnapped during the massacre. The Whitman Massacre is an interesting and tragic story and reinforces just how dangerous missionary work in the far west could be in the 1840’s.

See our article on the Whitman Mission Tragedy.

Because of the Whitman Mission tragedy, the purchase by the Presbyterians never materialized. In 1848 the mission land was taken over by the city of The Dalles, as per the recently enacted U.S. Land Claim Act, and their takeover was supported by the U.S. Supreme Court.

the dalles mural

A mural in The Dalles

Oregon Trail Days and The Dalles

When the Oregon Trail pioneers reached The Dalles it was decision time. The destination for most of the pioneers was the fertile Willamette Valley to the west. Specifically, many were headed to Oregon City on the Willamette River just a few miles south of present day Portland Oregon. There were two ways to journey there from The Dalles. One was to raft down the treacherous Columbia River. This was of course before the series of dams built on the river during the twentieth century. The river looked a lot different than it does today. The second option was to travel overland to Oregon City. This option involved a trail named the Barlow Road which ran southwest from The Dalles and around the southern slope of Mount Hood. The Barlow Road had been completed in 1846.

See our Trips Into History article on the Diaries of Oregon Trail Pioneers.

The Barlow Road was a private trail set up by Sam Barlow as a toll road. Pioneers paid $5 per wagon and 10 cents per head for livestock and cattle. The Barlow Road, even though it cost money to travel on was the preferred way by many, not all however, to make the final leg of the 2,000 mile Oregon Trail journey. While taking the Columbia River route didn’t mean sure disaster, there were enough accidents and fatalities to make the Barlow Road a solid alternative.

Visiting The Dalles

One of the best things about driving to The Dalles from Portland Oregon is that you have the opportunity to travel along the banks of the Columbia River on the Columbia River Scenic Highway. The Dalles is located about 85 miles east of Portland. On your way to The Dalles you’ll pass the Bonneville Dam which has a fantastic visitor center that showcases everything about the Columbia River including an underwater viewing of their Fish Ladder. Also along the way are several beautiful waterfall sites such as the Multnomah Falls and the Wahkeena Falls along the Columbia River Scenic Highway.

When you visit The Dalles, you also want to see The Dalles Dam which is one of the several dams now along the Columbia River.

(Photos from author’s private collection)





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.


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.


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.


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?


The Whitman Mission Tragedy of 1847

If you’re planning a Washington state vacation or side trip there is a National Monument outside of Walla Walla Washington that chronicles the bravery and hardships of some of the very earliest pioneers to the region. The site is the Whitman Mission which is now a National Historic Site located seven miles outside of Walla Walla.

narcissa whitmanThe site also chronicles the Whitman’s journey and mission activities with interesting exhibits. This historic site was put under the direction of the National Park Service by President Franklin Roosevelt in 1936. The site offers one a very good background of what it was like to be missionaries in such a remote and hostile area during the 1840’s. This site was also a place of tragedy for both Narcissa Whitman (image shown above) and her physician husband while trying to administer to the needs of the local native American population as well helping fellow pioneers traveling west.

A Mission for the Indians

Narcissa Prentiss Whitman journeyed  to the area of Walla Walla Washington in 1835 with her husband Dr. Marcus Whitman and a Reverend Samuel Parker. At that time there were very few white settlers anywhere in the region. Fur trappers and traders made up most of the population.The Whitman group traveled to this Oregon territory region with fur traders. The traders and trappers knew the trails. The goal of mr. and Mrs. Whitman was fairly simple. They wanted to establish missions in the area to help convert the Indian population to Christianity. The journey was filled with danger. Not only were the Native Americans in the area suspicious of any white settlers but the journey itself was rigorous. The Native Americans in this particular area of the northwest included the Cayuse and Nez Perce tribes. The Whitmans (image of Marcus Whitman below) never really were able to establish a good relationship with the Natives even though they offered both medical attention and educational opportunities. Remember, this was an era before the Indian Wars which were to come decades later and the northwest was very much under the control of Great Britain with some British military in the area but spread out very thin. At the same time, there was no U.S. military presence in that area during those early years.

marcus whitmanA fact which I think has been very under reported was the health effect of the two races, Native American and European, mingling together. The Natives did not have the immune system built up to fight the European diseases brought west by the settlers and missionaries. The diseases which Native Americans were exposed to included measles, typhus, cholera, chicken pox, scarlet fever and several others. It’s a fact that these diseases went on to decimate the Indian population in North America. History shows that the most lethal disease affecting Native Americans was probably small pox. In the  western part of North America, the Spanish expeditions beginning with Coronado in the year 1540 most likely introduced the Indians in the southwest to many of the infectious diseases brought over from Europe with the Conquistadors. The native Americans in the eastern part of North America faced a similar situation when the English explored and colonized along the eastern seaboard. The very same health problem for indigenous tribes resulted the Spanish explorers entered South America.

The Indians were aware that they were being exposed to disease brought west by the settlers. Regardless of the poor reception the Whitmans received after building their mission, they continued their work and at various times took in orphans and attended to the sick and needy and this included the Indians. The subject of diseases brought west by the white pioneers was not unique to the Northwest region. Native American tribes suffered this  everywhere. The image below is of the Nez Perce during the Nez Perce War of 1877.

nez perce tribeA Crisis in 1847

In 1847, while the local Indian population was hoping that all white settlers, including the Whitmans  the Whitmans would leave, a large measles epidemic occurred. The white settlers were affected were much better equipped by their immune system to fight the disease. The Indians with  no immunity built up suffered a very large death toll. This measles outbreak just added to the tension. The Whitmans of course, and Marcus Whitman being a physician,  tried to help the Indians in any way possible but during the 1840’s in this very remote region there was not much that could be done. The hostile Indians accused the Whitmans of caring only for the white settlers afflicted with the measles outbreak which wasn’t true. In addition to that, the Indians had the custom of killing the medicine man whose patient died. With the native death toll rising all of these circumstances led to a climax. It was the trigger point of tragedy.

An Attack of Revenge

On November 29, 1847 the Indians attacked the mission killing both of the Whitmans. In all, about a dozen others were slain in this violent attack and some 54 women and children were also taken hostage. One month after the attack, an official of the Hudson Bay Company arranged ransom to obtain freedom for the surviving hostages.The ransom included about everything. Clothes, tobacco, blankets, rifles and ammunition. The ransom payment did free forty-nine surviving hostages.

The Cry for Justice

According to the Oregon State Archives, about twenty-nine months after the fatal attack on the Whitman Mission, the new governor of the Oregon Territory, partially due to a lot of pressure from settlers, issued indictments and ordered the arrest of five members of the Cayuse tribe. The Cayuse chief was surprised in as much as a war with the whites after the massacre had killed many of his warriors. he thought the issue was settled but obviously it wasn’t. After the accused were located and arrested they were transported some 200 miles to Oregon City where they were tried in U.S. District Court.

It’s interesting to note that during the trial, two witnesses, one Native American and the other a white doctor, testified that it was Indian custom to kill the “medicine men” whose patients died. Regardless, the trial went on for four days and the jury came back with a guilty verdict. The five convicted Cayuse tribe members were sentenced to death and were executed publicly on June 3, 1850.

As with many cultural clashes that occurred in the western pioneer days, there were accusations made and much second guessing. The accusations were that the trial was tainted because the daughter of the Territorial Marshal, who was very involved in the trial, was killed in the attack. Some other accusations involved witness lying and even some had the opinion that perhaps the missionary work itself brought on the animosity of the Native tribes

The Whitmans are buried in a mass grave at the Whitman National Historic Site.

Frontier Women

The American Frontier Woman

I think it can be said that the vast majority of stories about our American West have been written from the perspective of the male. A journey to and inside the old American frontier west was filled with dangers and perhaps because the male was considered the protector and usually the provider, the stories were a reflection of those challenges.

One of the most significant dangers faced by white settlers during the days of the old west was the Indian menace. This again was the responsibility of the male to protect against. Certainly the stories of Indian Wars and buffalo hunting are what popular western novels and historic pieces are made of, but the contribution of females on the western frontier, although very under publicized, were equally important in many aspects. In most cases the women traveled to the frontier after the males, such as the first gold prospectors in California and the fur traders before that, but they did emigrate there and in greater numbers with the among the Oregon Trail wagon trains. Some historians contend that true civilization didn’t come to the western frontier until the pioneer women made their presence. On top of all the other duties of a pioneer woman, there is no doubt that the pioneer women cooks changed the living standards much to the better. The image below is of Narcissa Whitman, a missionary who was massacred with her husband by Indians after an disease outbreak in the year 1847 near present day Walla Walla Washington.

The contributions that women made to the frontier are as complex as those of the male. Just like with the male, the women pioneer came from all backgrounds and with many different goals. Some frontier women displayed extreme bravery in the face of danger. Some helped provide for their frontier family as much as their male partner. On the other hand, some women of the west were filled with as much mischief as the Likewise, there were some women who matched the males in mischief and criminal activity.The painting below is of a Nebraska wagon train by C.C.A. Christensen now in the public domain.

I think it’s safe to say that history books have publicized the women bent on mischief and thievery somewhat more than the woman of virtue. The reason might simply be that it makes for more colorful copy and sells more books. For the most part characters such as Belle Starr, Calamity Jane and Pearl Hart seem to garner more copy than perhaps the hard working frontier woman trying to care for her family while on a six month journey over the Oregon Trail from Missouri to California.

There of course were exceptions such as the many stories of the famed Annie Oakley but Annie Oakley’s fame really surfaced during the late 1800′s and early 1900′s, many years after the days of the wagon train and the great Indian Wars of the West.

Traveling on the American western frontier presented new challenges for the female who really saw her role change dramatically. In many cases she had to take on many of the tasks a man would solely assume back east during the era. While traveling overland it was more important to get things done than spend time deciding who would do it. A woman might have to drive a team of mules while her husband was busy with another task. A woman might have to learn to shoot a gun where this might have been unheard of back home. A woman on the frontier had been placed in what many thought to be a man’s world. Learning new skills was a necessity more than a choice.

There are some excellent locations where you can learn more about the pioneer womans history in helping to civilize the American western frontier. One in particular is the Pioneer Woman Museum located in Ponca City Oklahoma. The address is 701 Monument Road. Ponca City is in far north Oklahoma. The location is at the intersection of U.S.-77 and Highland, 22 miles east of Interstate-35. The museum is now 10,000 sq ft and showcases the contributions made by women to the state of Oklahoma and the nation as a whole.

Another interesting article we have on our Western trips site is the story about the famous female California stagecoach driver Charley Parkhurst.

There is another interesting historic site near Barlow’s Pass Oregon. The site is named Pioneer Woman’s Grave, pictured at left. It has been established as a memorial gravesite to all those who lost their lives enroute to Oregon. A survey crew discovered the grave site in 1924. The site is on the Barlow Hiking Trail. Pioneer Woman’s Grave is off of Hwy 35 a little under one mile past the intersection of Hwy 26 and Hwy 35 on FS Road 3531.

A third excellent location to learn more about the pioneer woman is the Autry National Center of the American West in Los Angeles California. In 2002 the Women of the West Museum merged with the Autry National Center. The site offers programs, exhibitions, collections, research, and education about women’s experiences in the American West. According to the museum their goal is to gain a new understanding, not simply of what women have done but of why it matters for the West—past, present, and future. The Autry Center is located in the Griffith Park area of Los Angeles.

Many of the stories from common hard working pioneer women are now found in diaries of the era. It’s quite amazing that there was time to keep a diary under the circumstances but they did. Many of the diaries tell the story of hardship, much of it having to do with sickness along the trail. This was a time before antibiotics and of course a doctor would have been hard to find. Many were lost to epidemics along the way and a good deal of this is chronicled in diaries kept by the pioneer women. Following is an excerpt from the diary of Samantha Jane Emmons Dillard published by her great grandson John Christopher Stone. This excerpt concerns part of the journey west near Fort Kearney Nebraska which was the last fort before the much more perilous journey westward. Their journey was from Illinois to Oregon.

“Our next main stop was at Ft. Kearney, Nebraska, where we were held until a sufficient number of emigrants had arrived to make up a train to start our journey across the plains. We had traveled alone until we reached here and It had rained almost all of the time and the water was high. Here we were joined by enough emigrants to make up a train of twenty-two wagons, as it was necessary to have this many in the train in order to make a corral. There were four wagons pulled by oxen and the rest by horses. Since the ox teams traveled a good deal slower than the horses all hands In the morning would get the ox teams started ahead first and of course during the day we would pass them and go on ahead and when camping time came we would have things ready for the ox teams when they arrived. Our Captain had been across the plains before and knew just what to do, so at night we would all drive our wagons in a big circle and make a big corral and our stock was all put inside this corral and we would keep fires burning all night, and two men stood guard every night. When It came my father’s turn to stand guard, the next day I would have to drive our four horse team and wagon. I was thirteen years old then and small for my age. Our Captain knew where all the watering places were and the distance between these places largely determined the number of miles traveled each day by the train, which averaged from ten to twenty-five miles per day..”

I think it’s safe to say that the pioneer woman possessed a lot of bravery to travel over the frontier west looking for a new and better life. The bravery and sacrifice of the ordinary settler compares equally to any of the more famed characters and celebrities during the frontier and wild west days.