Tuesday, March 20, 2012

West History continued


Article #75
June 15, 1973
By J.B. West

            The first month was a stormy one and the new travelers suffered in the cold, damp weather, but they did not mind. They had been eager to make the start.  Spring was coming and they would be at their destination in time to be settled before winter.
            The distance traveled each day was governed by the need to make camp near water. At night the wagons would be driven into a circle for protection and to form a corral for the stock. The stock had to live off the land, so at day’s end it would be turned out to grass and herded by horseback rider for several hours, then be driven inside the circle for the night. Guards were posted outside as the Indians were not far away and were always a menace.
            A Mr. Kirk was elected as Captain, a title he bore the rest of his life. Rules were made and strictly enforced. Wagon trains of this size drew emigrants from far and wide. Among them were emigrants from Europe, who could not speak English. They could not understand the necessity to stay inside the circle and had to be ordered in for their own protection.
            During the first part of the journey, water was plentiful, and there was always wood for their campfires.  At their homes in Missouri, cooking was done at the fireplace. Their big cast iron kettle, with its heavy lid, was brought along.  It had four in c legs, and it would be set in the hot coals to head for cooking. When cooking bread or biscuits, soda or cream of tartar would be added to the flour. The loaves or biscuits would be dropped into the hot kettle, the heavy lid placed on top and the kettle buried in the hot coals.  The bread or biscuits would come out light and fluffy, and with hone was a real treat to anyone who had always eaten cornbread.
            After the wagon train entered the open prairie there was no wood for the campfires but there were plenty of buffalo chips so these were used. they made a good fire but left no coals so there was no way to bake bread. The flour had to go into hotcakes which probably was not so bad three times a day with honey, bacon, and stewed dried fruit.  They did go over big with the people who had never eaten them before.
            Grandmother made it a point to gather buffalo chips along the way to make sure there were plenty for the campfire when they stopped at night. She and the children would fill a basket and set it on the rear of the implement wagon.  This wagon was driven by a young English emigrant who had worked briefly for the McConnell’s in Missouri and had decided to go along as a driver.
            One day he discovered the basket on his wagon and for some reason it insulted his dignity and he kicked it off with the remark he was not going to haul manure. He probably changed his mind when Grandfather heard about it.
            The stock thrived in that buffalo country, but the water became a problem.  One day the wagon train drove far into the night and then had to make a dry camp. The next morning an early start was made hoping to reach water before the day became warm. The oxen, which were becoming thirsty, sensed that there was water ahead, and became unmanageable. AS they neared the stream they stampeded.
             No one was hurt but many of the wagons were damaged. It was a good stopping pace with water, wood and grass, so they stayed there nearly a week while repairs were made. Everyone had a god rest and the animals grew fat.
            The woman fretted and fumed at the delay. They were becoming tire of this kind of living and wanted to get on to Oregon.
            Some streams were easy to cross, but other presented problems. When a river was deep but not too wide for the oxen to swim and tow the wagons, logs would be bound to the wheels so they would float. Horseback riders swam their horses alongside to guide the oxen.  When they came to the Platte River, which was both wide and deep, there was a ferry in operation. A charge of $3.00 per wagon was made and an additional charge for the stock.  It took three days to ferry the whole train across.
            Grandfather and Perry, who was 12, boarded the ferry with the stock. Partway across the ferry capsized and dumped the stock and the men into the water.  Perry swam out but knowing his father could not swim, fear he had drowned. Walking along the shore he saw that his father was safe. He told Perry that he had come up between to o oxen yoked together and he came ashore with them. He though Perry could not swim and asked him no he had got across. Perry told him he had swim out. Then he had to confess that he had disobeyed his father’s orders to never go near the old millpond at home, but had gone anyway, and the mill hands had taught him to swim.

Crockett Kirk(son of Captain Kirk the wagon master) and his family: