Saturday, March 17, 2012

The Way West Part 1

West Family history part 1
My dad gave me some family history from his side of the family. These are taken from compilation of articles written my grandfather, John Burnace West that were published in Palouse’s hometown newspaper, the Boomerang.  I have revised them somewhat but for the most part they are in his words.

Article 74
By J.B. West
June 8, 1973

 My grandfather, William McConnell was born in Virginia on July 12, 1819, the youngest of four children. He did not remember his mother at all because she died when he was very small. He only had a faint remembrance of his father, his three older brothers, and an older sister. At the age of four he was adopted by another family and never heard from his own folks again. His foster parents raised him as one of their own, but could provide him with but one year of schooling. As was the custom in those days when he became 21 they gave him a wagon and a team of horses and set out to make his way. He went to Missouri and by the time he was 30 had acquired a farm and married Mariah Hurlbert.
After Mariah’s marriage her parents, with their six young children began their journey to Oregon. On the way, they had another daughter born on the banks of the Blue River. They named her Ellen Blue. The family settled near Corvallis.  Ellen died in her teens.
Meanwhile back in Missouri, the McConnells, William and Mariah, prospered until the Civil War began. Missouri was a slave state. Grandfather used slaves on the farm and in the house but he hired them and paid wages to their owners. Missouri did not secede from  the Union, but was a buffer state between the North and the South. Raiding parties from both sides often came through and helped themselves to anything they wanted. It was hard to tell the friends from the enemies so Grandfather spent many a night in hiding. The Civil War took its toll and the country became impoverished, the living conditions intolerable. By this time there were six children in the family, all under the age of 15. None of them went to school because there were no schools.
The exchange of letters between the two families was infrequent but Hurlberts wrote from Oregon describing the mild climate, the plentiful water, wood, and land that was available and cheap. There was a school for the children as well. Grandfather, at the age of 46 decided to pull up roots and to go west to Oregon. There was no market for the Missouri farm, but an adjoining neighbor agreed to rent it and then buy it as soon as possible, which he did several years later for about half its worth.
The preparations began for the journey west. Grandfather bought three wagons; one for the family, the second for farm equipment, and the third for food provisions for the trip which was to take more than six months. He cured quantities of bacon and prepared dried fruits and honey. He sold corn and purchased wheat flour and sold all his mules and all his horses except for two which he kept for riding. He purchased six oxen, a team of two for each of the wagons. He also bought a milk cow which provided milk for the long journey.
            These preparations took months, and then there was yet another delay because a wagon train had to be organized for safety. After the war the Indians had become hostile and would attack small wagon trains. A wagon train of 300 was considered a sufficient number to discourage an attack.
            Tragedy struck during the winter when a cholera epidemic swept the area. Six year old Johnny recovered fully but three year old Wallace died and was buried in the family orchard. Finally, in February, 1865, the trip west began.

John McConnell, son of William and Mariah: