Friday, January 10, 2020

The Oregon Trail from MIssouri

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 slaveholder 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 warpath.  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 what 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.

 Great-grandmother Olive (Ollie) 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

Monday, November 11, 2019

Pierre's Warfare

Pierre’s Warfare
By Bob West
Feb. 1, 2001

My military career started one cold January morning in 1943 when I and seven other young men from this community boarded a bus for Spokane. We were the first of many that were called into military service after the draft age was lowered to 18. Our destination was the Armory where we joined many other draftees from Washington and Idaho. About 7:30 that night we were bussed to the train station to board a train for Ft. DouglasUtah, to be inducted into the army of the United States of America.
Once there we were issued Army clothing and given a GI haircut, which took all of three minutes, using clippers only. Some of the guys actually cried when they saw their curly locks lying on the ground. After several days of total confusion, orders, indoctrinations, training films, and a hundred immunization shots (well, almost!), we were separated into companies and shipped to camps or forts all over the country. My company was sent to Camp PolkLouisiana for basic training. It was at this point of my military service I witnessed my first of many, many SNAFU’s (Situation Normal, All Fouled Up). There was no room for us – there were no sleeping barracks. We spent the first night at camp sleeping in the aisles and under the tables in the mess hall. The next morning, 8-man squad tents were erected around the perimeter of a drill field. Each tent was assigned a barracks for showering and sanitary needs. This was to be our home for several months.
My tent was lucky #13. All but one of us was in this young age group. Pierre was the old man of the tent, all of 25 years of age. He was about 30 pounds overweight and soon had the nickname Porky. He was a happy-go-lucky guy, always in a good mood, and a real comedian. At first, we all wanted to be his friend, but this changed a little later when we found he had one major fault.
For many of us young men, this was the first time we had been away from home for any length of time, and we were extremely homesick. During the day they kept us so busy we didn’t have time to think of our loved ones back home. Nighttime was different. After we showered and ate our evening mess we had several hours of leisure time. Most of us used this time to write letters to our friends and loved ones. When the order, “Lights Out” came, and “Taps” was played, homesickness really set in. I think most of us cried a little, I did. As tired as we were, it was hard to fall asleep. There were so many strange and weird sounds we were not used to – groaning, coughing, sneezing, snoring, just to name a few. Because of our eating habits and the change in our diet, we all suffered from irritations of the lower digestive tract. Soon after we retired, it sounded as if our tent was involved in a small-arms firefight. Pierre brought in the heavy artillery. He had a severe case of chronic flatulence. His was not the nighttime only variety, but the 24-hour, every 10 or 15-minute variety. None of us wanted to sit at the same mess table with him. When we got passes to go to town, we avoided getting in the same bus with him. He was excused from close-order drill (marching) because he drowned out the drill instructor’s orders and cadence count.
After we completed our basic training we were sent to Camp ChaffeeArkansas to begin training for combat duty with the 16th armored division. In late September a bulletin was sent to all units informing us that on the following Saturday a special ceremony was being held to celebrate the induction of the division into the active fighting service of the United State ground forces. This was to be a very formal affair with several Army generals and big wig officials from the nation’s capitol in attendance. The memo stated we were all to be on our best behavior (meaning, no SNAFUs). Perpetrators would be severely dealt with.
Arkansas is very hot and humid this time of year. By noon of the day of the big event, the temperature was over the 100-degree mark. To add to our miseries our uniform of the day was ODs (woolen olive drab), no jacket but shirt collar buttoned with a tie. By the time we marched 12 blocks to the field where the affair was held, our uniforms were wet with perspiration. Marching that far in this heat was bad enough but standing at parade rest until all the troops were assembled was worse. I heard later that over 200 troops suffered from heat prostration and had to be carried off the field. Although all the troops were sweating it out, I think our company, especially members of Tent 13, were doing more sweating. Pierre had not been heard from. I will give him credit, he tried to be good, but there were forces he could not control and it finally happened. Even those of us who knew what he was capable of were astounded. I truly believe that if this could have been recorded, and there was a record for this event, his would be on the top of the list for its longevity and the record high on the decibel scale in the Guinness Book of Records. At first, we were so shocked we failed to react, but someone snickered, setting off a chain reaction of laughter in our section of the area. The guilty ones spent the next week confined to our company area, doing KP, washing windows, scrubbing barracks floors and other company duties.
I admit this event did not capture worldwide attention as “the shot heard around the world” at the Concord Bridge during the Revolutionary War did, but the shot on the drill field at Camp Chaffee did attract attention on the base for several weeks.