Sunday, April 3, 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 10

After the Indian excitement in July, our harvest came on. We had a good crop on this rented place. They had no machinery to harvest with. They cradled the wheat and bound it by hand, and shocked it. There was a man that brought an old horse power thrashing machine from down about Walla Walla, and my dad got him to thrash for him. It was such an old machine, and with delays on account of rain and break downs, they finely got the wheat and flax thrashed. Then they had to haul it by teams down to the Snake River and ship it down river, as that was the onley way it could be got to market.

On the 8th of October, 1877, my baby sister was born, making eleven children in our family. My mother’s health was never good after that. And she onley lived three years and a half after that.

In July of 1878 another Indian excitment broke out. Indians were on the war path, just to the south of us. The Nezperses and Hangman Creek Indians, and Old Joseph of the Wallowa country. General Nelson Miles was sent after them, and he succeeeded in 1879 in capturing old Joseph and his whole tribe. They were sent to the Cherry Key Nation and was never aloud to return, bad as he wanted to come back to his belovid country. Old Joseph was a cuning and mean old Indian. After his death in later years there were a rough stone monument built at Wallowa Lake in memory of Old Joseph.

During the spring and summer of 1878 the excitement was so great that the settlers decided the familys had beter be sent to Fort Walla Walla for protection, so my father fixed up too teams and we had a couple of jentle indian poneys to ride, and the family started for Fort Walla Walla.

With several other familys, my father staid at home to take care of the garden and pigs and chickens, and to keep the stock out of the grain fields. We turned the ten or twelve cows and calves out on the range together. My father found a place way up on the cliff back of the house in a shelter from sight. He took his bed up there and would sleep in this kind of a cave during the months of July and August that we were gone. During this time troups had been sent after the Indians. The soldiers had to have suplies sent to them so the Government rented pack trains of 150 mules in a long train to carry suplies to the soldlers over the rough mountain trails of Idaho and Montana, to the east of us. I remember a man by the name of Decker who owned a big mine in Kootney and owed 150 mules he rented to the Government for several months.

During the Indian uprising the fiew setlers thought that if the Indians did brake out they could get across the Snake River onto the Walla Walla side and they could surely make it to Fort Walla Walla safely. We went across the Snake River at Central Ferry. There were too other ferrys so that some of the settlers crossed at one and some at the other. Some of the stock men gatherd up their horses and took them across the Snake River. In those days the range was good every where. Some took large bands of sheep. One old man that my brother was hearding for started down across that rattle snake infested country in the hot sun and dust. Their drinking water they were caring in their cantenes gave out. The old man became very thirsty, so that he almost famished. My brother saw his condition and he got on his poney and started to try find water. He went several miles and then came to a place where some willows grew and he found an old well. He cut a hole in each side of his hat brim and tied his lass rope to it. He tied his knift to sink it, and he let down the well. The first hat full he drew up a dead hawk. He tried again and got a hat full of water. He satisfied his own thirst, he said he never tasted such good water. He drew up another hat full and got on his poney, and went back to meet the old man. When he found him, his tongue and mouth was so dry and swelen he could not speak. He drank so much, that the old man got verry sick for a while. He told my brother that he saved his life. They dident take the sheep across the river. They campted on a spring branch and herded them in the hills.

Our family and several others never got to Fort Walla Walla. We got as far as the Toocanion on the touchet near Walla Walla and campted there until the excitement was over. Horse back riders came through every fiew days and reported the news. We had to go to Dayton to get suplies. I and my brother would ride over to Dayton nearly every week. My oldest brother John was herding sheep way down on the Palouse River right among the Palouse Indians who was a friendly tribe, as much afraid of the upriseing as the whites. We were away nearly too months and was all glad to get back home. The men had harvested the crop and began to get everything ready for the long winter. My father and oldest brother made the trip to Walla Walla to buy supplies for the winter.

Every Christmas after 1877, my father and mother had given a big dance and supper. We had the largest house with more room than any one around in that part of the country. People would come for miles to the dances. In the spring and summer the circuite riders would come and hold meetings at our house, sometimes for an entire week. They usually came through about once a month in the summer time. People came to the meetings, they were coming in the country or traveling through, or sometimes stock men, and oftimes miners going back and forth to the Kootney mines and to Montana. They all traveled on horse back with pack horses. In the fall of the year the rich miners would come down before winter would set in to bring their contenises full of gold dust. They usually went to Victoria to spend the winter and come back in the spring as soon as they could get through the mountains. They always made it to our place to stay over night. Staying places were fiew and far between in those days. After leaving our place going toward Walla Walla, the next place was 42 miles, that was along ways with a team or horseback with pack horses.

The Palouse Indians were always a friendly tribe. I remember one good old man who was a misenary among them. They called him father Eels. He was the founder of Whitman College at Walla Walla in later years. One of his sons was one of the circuit riders that often preached at our house. There was one othe that also preached at our house named Mark Bailey. They often came together. I remember one Sunday Mark Bailey and young Mr. Eels were holding servise at our house.
Whitman College at Walla Walla in later years. One of his sons was one of the circuit riders that often preached at our house. There was one othe that also preached at our house named Mark Bailey. They often came together. I remember one Sunday Mark Bailey and young Mr. Eels were holding servise at our house.


(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.


La Petite Gallery said...

Jenny, This is very interesting, Ghees! staying in a cave and the rattle snakes, How did they ever survive, Those people were more than brave.


Susan Anderson said...

Fascinating story, and I love reading it in the original form. Thanks for sharing it!


Pondside said...

Imagine my surprise to see my city named here - but there are still stories of the wild prospectors, explorers and adventurers that came through here in the early days.

Unknown said...

Wonderful tidbits of history. I found this fascinating.

Ames said...

How sad that her mom passed on, and leaving behind so many young ones to are for. I guess that happened a lot with larger families back then. My husband has eleven siblings and his mother was so sick and frail after the last two,set of twins, were born. She must have been like a mother to her own siglings.

I also wondered if the cattle barrons up in Washington, Idaho and Montana were that accepting of the sheep herders.
I enjoyed this. See ya next Sunday Steve!~Ames

Donnie said...

It is always so fascinating to read the next "installment". Sure makes me appreciate what I have.

Karen said...

Being so isolated would be the hardest part for me, as a mom. They must have greatly anticipated the gatherings when they occurred. Looking forward to the next installment!

Judie said...

Getting better and better, Steve!!

Pat said...

It is becoming clear why those pioneers were so strong and willing to head into the unknown...choosing a word like "excitement" to convey a situation which we would no doubt view as "terrifying" in our pampered 21st century world. And the phrase "staying places," - what a charming combination of words.
This continues to be just fascinating - thanks so much!

Nezzy (Cow Patty Surprise) said...

What a great historical write!!! Thanks for sharin'!

God bless ya and have an incredible day!!! :o)

Anonymous said...

After reading this I will be more thankful than ever for the water I drink and will think of that dead hawk in her brother's hat. Our ancestors went through very hard times paving the way for us. What a treasure you have Steve in this writing. Hugs

H said...

Drinking the well water after pulling up the dead hawk showed how desperate he was! And to think I am irked by having to haul water when we camp!