Sunday, March 13, 2011

Sundays with Steve - Crossing the Plains

These Sunday's segments are written by my husband, Mr. Jenny. Here's what he has to say about his posts:

Since I’ve started writing “Sundays with Steve”, I’ve been thinking about vignettes of my life growing up in North Idaho. I realize the town where I grew up and the life I lived with my family is really a classic, all-American story. Perhaps you will recognize some of your childhood in these writings. And perhaps you will recognize the town you grew up in along with some of the characters you knew. Mrs. Steve has encouraged me to write these attempts of “creative writing” as opposed to the more factual journalistic style I was trained in and practiced in my early career many years ago. So my apologies if I stumble a bit here and there trying to blend the two styles together.

This is a continuation of Crossing the Plains, a fascinating tale of a covered wagon trip from Missouri to the Washington Territory in the post-Civil War period when the U.S. population poured to the West. It was written by a distant great great aunt, Barbara Jane Matlock McRae in 1939, when she was 81. This story will occupy this space for the next several weeks, as it is a fascinating peek into what we often consider the pioneer days.

Part 7

We campt at north plat for near a week. There were no way to cross, onley by a little ferry boat run by some half bread indians and french. The ferry boat was onley a small afair just large enough to barely carry one wagon at a time without the team. We had to push the wagon on the boat by hand. It cost four dollars a wagon to cross. We were their almost a week before all the emigrants were a cross. The men we were traveling with swam there horses and oxen a cross, and onley had there wagons and equipment ferred a cross. Some of their horses and oxen almost drowned. The stream was swift and deep, they washed down stream a long ways. The landing spot was steep and they couldent get out. The men had to throw a rope a round their necks and pull and pull the animals out.

We youngsters with a lot of other youngsters were restles so we decided we would climb one of the mountains. We started out one morning. We told our parents we was going for a walk. We climed up and up, and when we got to what we thought was the top, there was another mountain just as high. We climed that one, and when we got on top, we thought a gain there was another one seemingly just as high. It was in the after noon so we decided we had climed enough for one day, we beter try and get down. So we started and missed the way we came up. We traveled all after noon trying to find our way down. We had one auful time. We slid down crivises in the rock and the steep mountain sides. We thought we would never find our way. There were snow peaks all around us. We came a cross some sand stone flats, and each of us scraached our name in the sand stone while we rested there.

We came to a kind of shelf where some one or indians had been shooting a gainst the wall of rocks. We found flatened bulets. We felt uneasy and a fraid. We started on and had a hard time to find a place to slide down. We helped each other down and over the rocks and brush. When we got a bout half down we could see the camp miles a way in the distence. We finely got to the botom of the mountain a scratched and torn and tired bunch. We had to walk a bout three miles to camp ariving their a bout dark, famished for food and water. Our parents were geting very ancious a bout us. There were a bout twelve of us. We all staid together on the mountain trip.

Those too half bread indians coined money at north plat with that dinky boat. We all got a cross without accident, and lined out a gain through a rough sage brush country. In that part of the trip we came to a place where their were some springs of fine cold water. There were a row of several log cabbins with stout corrells with horses round, and lots of cow boy looking men with long hair and big mustachs that was the make up the men wore in those days. The men rode out among the emigrants horses and looked them over. We could never figurer them out unless they were a bunch of horse thieves. Four of our men stood guard that night. We thought they dident try to do us harm that night because of the crowd of men that campted with us. We were all glad when we puled out the next morning. Those men dident travel very much farther with us. We came to a trail turning off from the one we were traveling, and they bid us good by and turned off. They said they were going where no white man had ever been, or lived.

We traveled on through a baren alkali coutry where water and feed was scarce. When we would come to a place where the water was good, we had containers to carry water for our selves and for the mules. Lots of times there were no water, we had to make a dry camp and just use a little water as possible. We traveled for days in that alkaly country. There were in some places mud springs. I believe they call them musjegs (muskeg), you couldent see any thing diferent from the rest of the ground. But if an animal steped in one of them, they would sink clear down over there backs and up to their heads, and it would be a hard struggle for them to keep their head out of the slime and mud. The more the animals would strugle, the deeper they would go.

One eavening we campted near Rock Springs Wyoming and never noticed one of these places near the camp. The boys turned the mules out to grase for a spell and one of our mules ran into one of those places and began to strugle and flounderto get out. The more she floundered the deeper she went till she was all under but her head. The boys tried shoveling in dry dirt around her, but it did not good. She was a bout ten feet from the shore so they got a good stout rope and threw a noose over her head, and hitched the other team to the rope, and draged her out by the neck. They were a fraid it would kill her, but it never hurt her. As soon as the rope began to tighten a round her neck, she began to try to help herself out.

Their was a deep rocky stream to cross at this place, and an old pole bridge had been bult in eary times, but father thought it not safe so we fordedthe stream. It was hard to do because the boulders were so large.

There were large mountains covered with snow. One eavening when we campted the boys took a bucket and started up to a snow pack to get some snow. They walked and walked and climed gradualy, and got no nearer. Then they turned back to camp. They had walked a bout three miles.

Traveling over these mountains were gradual till we got near the top and turned down, then it was very rough and steep and sliding. I remember one place the men had to tie ropes to the upper side of the wagons and hold them to keep them from turning or sliding off the trail. When we got on top the rocky mountain and campted it was cold and snowed on us. It was the 4th of July, 1875. Looing down through the purple hase to the timber line and rocks below, and diferent color schemes of the timber in red and yellow and gold and a blewish clouds that hung over the snow peaks in the distance, was not soon to be forgoten.

One our way down the mountain we would come to little streams of ice cold water, perhaps a little medow where we could camp for the night. Father always had his fishing tackle ready and would cast his hook and nearly always would get a sting of specled trout for our eavening meal. We wound our way down over a rough rocky trail and struck a wide alkli flat country.

We were traveling toward Green River, Wyoming. We huried all we could because my baby sister was sick and we wanted to get to Green River we thought their might be a docter there, but the baby got better before we got their. That alkly country was terable. We couldent drink the water or cook very good with it either. When we got to Green River we were begining to think we were geting out of the danger of indians atact. We pushed on toward the west till we came to the forks of the road, one going to California, the other going to Oregon and Washington and idaho. Hear we made a halt and bid all our friends good by. We traveled on toward Salt Lake over rough coutry when we arived at Ogden, Utah. Some of the emigrants going to Salt Lake turned here. We came to the Bear Lake valley country. The Bear Lake valley country at that time was settled with mormons mostly, who seamed to be quite prospers. There was some timber in that country and all of them had log houses, and all men had five or six wives. They had farms and stock, all had cows. We could buy milk and butter and fresh vegetables and eggs, the first we had all sumer.


(c) 2010 Stephen J. Matlock
This publication is the exclusive property of Stephen J. Matlock and is protected
under the US Copyright Act of 1976 and all other applicable international, federal, state and local laws. The contents of this post/story may not be reproduced as a whole or in part, by any means whatsoever, without consent of the author, Stephen J. Matlock. All rights reserved.


Donnie said...

It's funny how I watch for each installment now. Her story just draws me in and definitely makes me thankful for all the brave families from the past.

Bits-n-Pieces said...


Bits-n-Pieces said...
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Maude Lynn said...

What a fascinating and precious record!

Ames said...

I think I was holding my breath a few times during this installment. I worried the men and the livestock would be swept away forging the swift river crossings. I worried the children would be lost, the loyal mule would die, and the wild looking cowboys would rustle their horses. It took grit to settle this wild country. The image of her father in my mind is that of a true leader. What was his name? Was there anything wrtten down in history about him? Other than in her story?
I look forward to next Sunday's installmant Steve!~Ames

Judie said...

Steve, this just keeps getting more and more interesting! You have made my Sunday!!

Serline said...

I know so little about those days and that part of the US, so thanks for sharing a glimpse!

jabblog said...

What intrepid travellers these people were. I could almost capture the accent of the writer from the way she spelt certain words. This is a fascinating eyewitness piece of history. Are you using these writings to create a book? I hope so!

Karen said...

This week was especially interesting as I'm familiar with the part of the country the settlers were traveling through. I can't imagine letting my kids go exploring for a day, like these kids did!

Pondside said...

Talk about grit! These people had it. I wonder which of us would be daring enough to sell all and cross the unknown like they did? This is SO good.

Bonnie said...

I follow Jenny's blog but haven't kept up with Story time Tuesday or Sundays with Steve because I just don't seem to have time but you have me hooked now! I'm looking forward to going back and catching up!

Your great great aunt must have been something special!

H said...

They had so much to contend with! What a struggle! They were pretty amazing!