Tuesday, July 31, 2012

conclusion, transcript of Olive West's letter, traveling west

Mother had a real heartbreaking time when she finally was united with her folks, the Hulberts. Messages between the two families were few and far between, so she hadn’t heard that her mother had died and her father had remarried. Her youngest sister Emily had also died.  She saw for the first time her sister Ellen Blue.  Mother was grief stricken, but the pioneers were made of stern stuff. She could not take time out to grieve, for winter was coming and they had to settle into a farm that father had rented. They put the children in school and the next two years were busy ones.
It was about this time that I was born.  Two years later another boy, James was born. Mother was then 42 years old.
Father then bought a 300 acre farm nine miles north of Eugene and when I was three weeks old we moved in. I lived on that farm for 21 years. My mother Miriah made all my father’s clothes, even his coats and pants and knit all the sock for the family, including the boys’ until they grew up big enough to rebel and get their “boughten” clothes themselves.  She ground all our coffee, made all the soap from ashes taken from the fireplace and mixed with lard.  We girls were taught to wash dishes at seven years old and to churn butter and cook and sew.  We had to do most everything around the house, as mother became a semi-invalid after she was 50 years old. She raised nine children to adulthood except the boy who died in Missouri.  Many of these children became pioneers of the Palouse country. A number of their descendants still live there.  She died an old woman at72, and father at 77. She is buried in the Palouse cemetery plot with her daughter Louise.
Well my story is done. When you read this and see some mistakes I have made please remember that today is the 18 of April 1952 and I am 85 years of age.

Olive McConnell West

Walter Kirk, captain of the wagon train. His son, Crocket Kirk, married Molly McConnell

Monday, July 30, 2012

way west, continued

It was a hard trip for the older people, but the young folks seemed to enjoy every bit of it. In the evening when the day was done, and the cattle had all been corralled and supper was over, the young men would bring out their violins and banjos and make music and they would sing  songs, some of which I still hear on the radio.  And they would dance by the light of the moon and the campfires.  They courted and made love to the girls. My Aunt Mollie was 16 at the time.  Two years later she married the captain’s son.
It was growing late in the summer.  Everyone was getting short of temper.  The oxen were slow and plodding.  They were growing weary, and needed constant urging with the bull whip.  The men swore long and loud.  They forgot all about being gentlemen and that there were ladies present.  They called a spade a spade if you know what I mean.  Fuel for the fires became scarce.  Fall was in the air and the long train that had stayed together through thick and thin began breaking up and going in different directions.
My folks were headed for the Oregon valley and they began taking short cuts. At one place they loaded their wagons and oxen on railroad flatcars and went through country so rugged there were no wagon trails.  They went over steep mountains and deep canyons and my poor mother was terrified.  They finally reached Walla Walla. There, Father sold his oxen and bought horses and went down the Columbia River on a steamboat and camped near Portland.  To them the valley was Paradise.  As they drove south to Corvallis they passed farmers with loads of fruit and at night when they camped the farmers would come to visit them and bring them fruit and potatoes and other produce and not charge them a cent. How good everything tasted after bacon and pancakes for so long.

Thursday, July 26, 2012

continued/McConnell story

                All of the cooking was done over the camp fires, but as the long train moved westward fuel to cook with became harder to find so they used buffalo chips which were plentiful, and worked quite well.  Once my mother, looking ahead to supper time gathered a huge basket of the buffalo chips and put it on the wagon. The Englishman was driving. He became very angry and kicked it off his wagon, saying he wasn’t hauling any you know what. Mother was insulted but she didn’t insist.
As summer wore on the water became harder to find.  There came a night when they had to make dry camp.  They were up very early the next morning, on their way trudging along in the heat and clouds of dust, when the oxen began to act uneasy, tossing their heads and sniffing the air.  At once the whole wagon train was stampeded as the oxen had smelled water. Everything was in a panic as the men tried to control the oxen.  They herded them along the best they could until they came to a river. They managed to get the oxen loose from the wagons and into the water.  Many of the wagons and most of the gear was badly smashed, so they camped there for several days while they repaired the damage. At least the oxen got a good drink plus a good rest.
Some rivers they could ford but others were too deep, so they lashed logs to the wagon wheels and swam the oxen across; the men swam with their horses and guided them in the right direction.  The women and children huddled together in the covered wagons, and I expect the women did lots of praying. Some places where the rivers were very wide, it would take several days to get everyone and everything across, but I never heard of but one man who was drowned.
The river Platte was about the largest, and some enterprising man built a ferry boat and was getting rich charging fares.  This time he got everyone across except the stock, and he overloaded the ferry and it tipped over.  The stock and men were all in the river together. My uncle Perry was a boy of 13 and was helping his father, when he saw the boat was going to capsize. He jumped overboard and swam ashore.  He knew Father couldn't swim and was wondering what happened to him when the saw Father sitting on the bank. Father had gone under when they first went into the river but had managed to grab the yoke of the oxen and they swam ashore with Father hanging on to the yoke. It was then that Perry confessed to how he had been going down to the mill pond in Missouri and the men at the mill had taught him to swim.  It was a lucky thing for him or he would never have seen Oregon.

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

The Faint of Heart Turn Back, the Weak Died, only the Strong Survived

            February was a stormy month. They had snow, hail, wind and rain, but spring was on the way and they had started a long journey, no turning back.  Ahead lay the vas plains. They had a saying in those days that the faint hearted turned back, the weak died; only the strong survived. Men realized what they were up against and that their wives and little children were depending on them.  It was a harsh reality and a man had to be a man. But spring came and the plains blossomed, and the grass grew green and lush.  They camped for days and let the oxen graze and rest and grow fat and strong.  The children romped and played.  The wives fumed and fretted at those times, they wanted to be on their way. The oxen were in good shape now and ready for what was to come.
                Indians began showing up. Every man was armed and guarded their stock at all the time while camped. AT night the wagons were driven into a circle to make a corral.  There were all kinds of people in the trains some didn’t speak English and didn’t understand orders; some didn’t want to corral with the rest so they were forced to come inside for their own protection.  There were captains and officers to keep order.  My uncle Crocket Kirk’s father was the train captain and was called Captain Kirk for many years after they settled in Oregon.
                Spring faded into summer. The summer was hot and dry but bunch grass makes good feed even when it gets dry, and that was plentiful. Water was the problem so they would sometimes drive until lat night because they could not camp without water. Evidences of Indians were many.  They found one place where an entire train had been massacred.  The scalps were still there for some time.  There was long fine hair of young women and short golden curls of little children.  It was a gruesome sight.
                One of the young women in the train gave birth along the way. They did the best they could for her but the baby died and the mother soon followed.  They had no time to grieve.  They buried her along the trail, and when the wagons pulled they all drove over the grave to obliterate it, so the Indians would not dig it up for the blankets they were wrapped in. This was common practice.
                At the time my folks left Missouri, my brother little Johnny was just recovering from cholera and was very frail.  He couldn’t eat what the rest ate, but the cow did give mil whenever they could get feed for the stock.  The cow had to work right along with the oxen.
                They were all turned to graze in the evening and herded until they were filled and ready to lie down, they they were driven into the corral of wagons.  They had to live off what pasture they could find.  Everything depended on the oxen keeping strong.  So the cows didn’t fare too badly and gave milk right along. 
                I am putting this down so you can understand how a cow could work like an oxen and still give milk. There is no doubt that the cow is what kept Johnny alive.

Traveling West, my great grandmother's version

part 1 
 My mother, Frances  West transcribed a letter written by my great grandmother, Olive West which  was published in the Boomerang in the fall of 1994 and is an account of my great great grandmother’s family (Mariah Hulbert McConnel) as they journeyed west from Missouri. My mother kept it as close to the original letter as possible.  My grandfather also wrote a series of articles about the McConnells. This is my great grandmother Olive's account:
                My father, William McConnell was a thrifty farmer living in what was then the new state of Missouri, which soon became a slave state. If a man needed help on his farm he went to a big slave holder and hired a slave from his master. The money the slave earned was paid to his master. It was the same with the help in the house.
                At the age of 30 he married my mother Miriah Hulbert. Miriah had four sisters and two brothers, one named Wallace Hulbert, who later became one of the first ministers in Oregon.
               About the time the youngest Hulbert child was born the War Between the States was just over. My grandfather Hulbert didn’t like living in a slave state and after his oldest daughter, Mirah, my mother, married William McConnell he left Missouri taking his other six children.
                He crossed the plains to the new country just opening up….Oregon. Their last child was born on the plains on the banks of the Blue River, and they named her Ellen Blue after the place where she was born.  He settled in the Willamette Valley, about 1851. I am not sure of the exact date, but they were among the first settlers.  They started their new home in the neighborhood of what is now Corvallis.
                Meanwhile, the slaves were set free back in Missouri, and everyone that was able to raise enough to prepare for a long journey across the plans sold out for what they could get and joined wagon trains going west.  Missouri was war torn and living conditions were nearly intolerable. About that time an epidemic of cholera swept the country and many of the little children fell victim.  My mother, (who had remained in Missouri) received a letter from her parents the Hulberts in Oregon telling of the mild climate and the fruits and vegetables they could raise.
                So my parents then began making plans to leave the country and head west for the Oregon valley. Before they could leave their small son Wallace died of cholera and was laid to rest in the orchard of their home.  The home was turned over to a good friend who was remaining in that country, who afterward bought it for half of what it was worth.  But they knew the little grave they left behind would always be respected.
                My father sold all his horses and mules and bought oxen and three big wagons.  One was especially for the family and was made as comfortable as possible.  One was loaded with food consisting of cured bacon, flour, dried fruit and honey enough to last until they were able to raise a crop in the new country.  One wagon was for farm implements and tools.  Now they were ready to start but must wait until there were three hundred wagons ready to go.  Any less was not safe on the plains as the Indians were on the war path.  At the time when the white men fought among themselves the Indians grew dangerous. It was thought the Indians were encouraged by the Europeans but this was not certain.
                When the journal finally began the youngest child was three months old and the oldest was 16 years. They started in February and arrived in the valley in September. What happened along the way would fill a good sized book, but I can only record wheat I heard my parents tell.  The wagons were covered and a young man with a wife and one child drove the wagon of provisions. A young Englishman who had worked for Father decided he would go along and drive the wagon of farm tools.  Each wagon was hauled by six yoke of oxen and they had a milk cow they yoked up with the oxen.  They also had two young horses. Every outfit had a horse or two as the oxen had to be herded when they stopped for grazing.

Grandmother Olive (Ollie) West

to be continued