Tales of the Wild West: Pioneers by Rick Steber by Rick Steber - Read Online

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Tales of the Wild West - Rick Steber

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The mountain men, following Indian and game trails, discovered the route across the North American continent that would one day become the Oregon Trail. Upon returning to civilization the mountain men, as well as the missionaries who followed them, described the far side of the continent, praising the mild climate, healthful conditions and the deep, fertile soil.

These glowing reports attracted a group of one thousand land-hungry pioneers who, early in the spring of 1843, assembled at Elm Grove, Missouri. They drove 120 wagons and 5,000 head of cattle westward and opened travel over the Oregon Trail. Some of their wagons were abandoned along the way but others were brought to the Columbia River where flat-bottomed boats were built and the wagons floated through the dangerous rapids of the Columbia Gorge to the Willamette Valley.

By the time the pioneers arrived, winter was close at hand. They quickly built log cabin shelters. That first winter they subsisted on wild game and fish, as well as the generosity of their Indian neighbors. When spring arrived the pioneers cleared ground, tilled the virgin soil and planted crops.

The heyday of the Oregon Trail occurred after gold was discovered in California in 1848. It is estimated that 250,000 wagon emigrants used this overland route until, in the early 1900s, the advent of the automobile and a system of roads made wagon travel and the Oregon Trail obsolete.

The Crossing

I tell you it was nearly as difficult reaching the west side of the Missouri River, the jumping off spot for the Oregon Trail, as was the entire two thousand-mile trip from there to the Willamette Valley, related Al Hawk.

"To begin with, our journey through Indiana and Illinois was not pleasant, the weather being cold and snow plentiful. When we reached the Mississippi River we were forced to lay over in order to rest our teams. Thankfully, corn was plentiful and cheap.

"We had planned to cross the river at this point but it proved impossible due to ice. We made the decision to travel downstream but our progress was slow on account of the river being high. We were constantly forced to skirt around marshy spots.

"Eventually a suitable crossing was located at Fort Madison. We were ferried over and immediately got underway for the Missouri River, discovering traveling across Iowa was just as bad as it could be. It was hard wheeling on account of the mud, and very tiresome walking because the mud stuck to our shoes.

"We arrived at Cainsville, on the east side of the Missouri River, the latter part of April and found two thousand emigrants already there, waiting their turn to cross. Many a squabble, from fistfights to worse, occurred there.

On the 5th day of May, 1852, our turn came. We loaded our possessions on a flat boat and, without incident, were landed on the opposite side. Finally, our trip west over the Oregon Trail could begin.

The Pawnee

In 1852 Alanson Pomeroy signed on to drive an oxen-drawn wagon over the Oregon Trail. Not long after crossing the Missouri River a large band of Pawnee Indians appeared and rode parallel to the wagons. The Indians wore blankets or buffalo robes around their shoulders.

Alanson was a Plainsman and had experience dealing with Indians. When asked what he thought about the situation he replied, We need to hold council, see what the Indians want. Rest assured, beneath their blankets and robes they are armed with bows, arrows, rifles and knives. If they request payment, we must pay.

Council was held and the Pawnee demanded two cows for allowing the wagons to pass through their land. Payment was made. The wagons