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.

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.

 

Bodie California / A Visit to the Most Famous of Gold Mining Ghost Towns

California gold mining which started with the great Gold Rush of 1849 is what the history of California is all about. Ironically, the discovery of gold at Sutters Fort is what started the rush and it happened at just the time that Alta California was being handed over to the U.S. government as a result of the Mexican American War in 1848.bodie california state park

There is one old California gold mining town which probably is the best example of what an early mining camp was like. In addition to that, the site is now preserved by the California State parks system which means that it will remain there for both tourists and historians to enjoy. The town, which is now officially a ghost town, is Bodie California. Bodie is located high in the Sierra Nevada mountains on the east slop towards the state of Nevada. It’s not one of those tourist stops you’re going to just drive by. When you arrive at Bodie State Historic Park it means that you’ve purposely driven there. The area is just a few miles north of Mono Lake California, itself an interesting tourist side trip.

In the late 1850’s, a man by the name of W.S. Bodey and two partners were prospecting for gold. It was near the present day ghost town where Bodey did indeed find gold while sifting through dirt. Although W.S. Bodey knew there would be more gold to find in the surrounding hills, nothing similar to a gold rush occurred. At the time, prospectors were more interested in both Virginia City Nevada to the north and the nearby camp of Aurora. Bodie, being as remote as it was most likely had something to do with the lack of enthusiasm from outsiders. As for W.S. Bodey, he died just a year later in 1859 while lost in a blizzard while trekking back to camp with supplies bought near Mono Lake.

Prospecting continued for the next several years. The area didn’t really take off until 1876 when the Standard Company discovered a profitable deposit of gold ore. This one event more than anything transformed Bodie from an isolated gold mining camp with only a few people to a bustling gold town. The Standard Mine was the major employer by the late 1870’s. At one time Bodie had over sixty saloons and a sizable Chinese population.

 

The photo at right is of Bodie California circa 1890.

The area at first took on the name of Bodey’s Camp. That bodie california in 1890spelling didn’t last for long. The story of how the town ended up being spelled Bodie even though it’s name was in honor of W.S. Bodey, is tale that could only have happened in the 1800’s Calfiornia gold era. It seems that a man who owned a stable in nearby Aurora California was having a sign painted for him.

Some twenty years after W.S. Bodey found that first gold in the Sierra foothills and ten thousand people made the area it’s home. This was primarily due to the gold found by the Standard Company. Sentiment finally arrived for the founder of the camp. Nobody really had a good idea however just where the founders remains were buried. In 1871 by sheer chance his grave was located when a person was looking for a lost horse. Nothing was done until 1879, when because interest in the founder came forefront, it was decided to exhume the body. When this was completed it was somehow determined that this indeed was the body of W.S. and plans were made to rebury the body. This was planned with quite some ceremony under the direction of a group named the Pacific Coast Pioneers of Bodie. During this time of town pride, a fund of some $500 was established to commission a sculpture commemorating both the town and W.S. Bodey.

What happened next is a one of a kind story. perhaps something that coulcalifornia jubilee half dollard only have happened in a remote California gold mining town of the late 1800’s. At about this same time, news of President Garfield’s death by assassination reached Bodie. Emotions and sentiment were such that all agreed that a special inscription be placed on the new monument for the town’s founder. On the monument erected for W.S. Bodey reads the inscription, ” Erected to the Memory of James A. Garfield”. The monument with this inscription however is not on the gravesite of W.S. Bodey. The gravesite for Bodey is on a hill up above it overgrown with sagebrush. The wild west gold mining town of Bodie California therefore has the distinction of being spelled a bit different than the founders name and the monument paid for by the funds earmarked for his grave honors one of our nation’s fallen presidents.

 

 

It’s a true story and certainly so strange that it couldn’t possibly have been made up. By the year 1881, Bodie’s mine production reached $3.1 million. The gold was shipped by armed guard to the mints in Virginia City Nevada as well as the mint in San Francisco. A narrow gauge railroad was built in 1881 called the Bodie Railway & Lumber Company. The rail cars brought lumber, cord wood, and mine timbers to the mining district from Mono Mills just south of Mono Lake. In the latter part of the 1880’s many prospectors were lured away to other promising sites in Tombstone Arizona and Butte Montana. During the 1890’s, while on the decline from the peak years, Bodie was aided by advances in mining techiques but by about 1910 the town was on the final decline. During that year the population was estimated to be just under 700. The people who remained were those that decided to make Bodie their home regardless of the mining decline.

Today, Bodie California is a true ghost town by every sense of the word. By the same token we are fortunate to have it as part of the California State Parks system. While Bodie never seemed to receive the same publicity of other California mining camps, it is probably the best authentic example to visit. What remains of Bodie ghost town is now protected by being a California State Historic Park. Visitors can tour the old town site and really get a glimpse of what a roaring gold town was really like. When you see the location, it’s surprising to know that at one time some 10,000 people called it home. There is a museum and guided tours are available. All in all it’s an excellent learning experience and a great stop for the entire family.

Bodie California is located about 90 miles southeast of lake Tahoe, about 5 miles from the Nevada state line and about 10 miles north of Mono Lake California.

(Photos and images are in public domain)

 

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.