My 3rd great aunt, Lydia Leaming was the youngest daughter of Judah Leaming, Jr. and his second wife, Rosanna Shippee. She was born January 1, 1839 in LaPorte County, Indiana and died in March, 1939 in Dallas, Oregon at the age of 100.
Lydia married William W. Miller on Oct 18 1857 in Dallas Co., Iowa at the home of her parents. Below is Lydia's semi-autobiographical, Migrating to Oregon in '66, her recollections of her journey from Iowa to Oregon as she related them to her daughter, Lois (Miller) Van Vleck. Her daughter used this as the basis for a paper she wrote for Freshman English Comp, Willamette University, Salem, Oregon in 1933.
I am an old lady in my 95th year and I crossed the plains from Iowa in 1866. Although many years have passed by the events of the trip are still fresh in my mind. I had never been robust in health, and at this time had been given up by the doctors to die. For many months we'd been receiving word from relatives in Oregon telling of its wonderful climate and opportunities, and urging us to come "west", so my husband sold his business and property and began to make preparations for the trip.
First it was necessary that we find families to organize a train large enough to make our journey across the plains safe. We were able to get only a dozen wagons to go, and although we realized this would not be sufficient, we decided to start with the hope of falling in with others along the way. My husband purchased two wagons, one for the family and one for provisions. The provision wagon we shared with my brother-in-law, John Miller, and his family. We also bought two teams of horses. Our family team cost us $490 and was as fine a team as could be found around the country. Of course we had to outfit our wagons with bedding, cooking utensils and all the other articles, as far as possible only the bare necessities, that we would need for a long and tedious journey.
We left Adel, Iowa on May 4. The hardest part of the entire journey to me was the leaving of friends and relatives. It wasn't so hard for William for he was going to join many relatives in Oregon, but to me who was leaving everything I'd loved from childhood, my father, mother, sisters and brothers to embark on a new and strange undertaking of which even the outcome was doubtful, it was indeed a sad time.
We didn't travel far the first day for with the picking up of families at various points, and really getting started, we didn't cover much territory, and it was not until the morning of the second day that we got into uninhabited territory. (This shows that Dallas county was really the frontier in those times.) About noon of that day we met two men on horseback who were out scouting for additions to their train of twelve wagons which was ahead. The men told us they would go on until they could find water, then camp and wait for us.
We hurried all afternoon, and about sundown came to a small stream but found no sign of the wagons. We went on until it was almost dark and still finding no wagons we pulled off and camped by a small slough. It was the general belief that we had been decoyed, and we expected an attack from the Indians any minute. We were so camped that we could have been attacked on three sides. That night is so vivid in my memory. It was a bright moonlit night. Off to the right of us we could see the many fires of the Indian camps on the river. Our camp was the scene of disorder and great consternation. Nobody slept, some cried, others quarreled. As for me, I cried all night and wondered why I had ever been persuaded to leave my home.
As soon as the next day dawned, two of the men climbed onto a wagon and reported they could see some black specks far ahead of us. They got on horses and said they'd ride ahead and make sure they were wagons. How happy we were when they returned with the good news they'd found the wagons. We reached them about noon and stopped long enough to elect a captain and to organize the train. Captain Cox, a member of the other train, was selected for captain. This was his second trip across the plains so we had confidence in his ability as a leader. We now had about two dozen wagons.
The first weeks were like an outing to me and to the others as well. The weather couldn't have been better had it been made to order. The camp was awake and astir very soon after dawn. As soon as breakfast had been cooked and eaten - it was cooked on an outdoor oven heated over a campfire - we were on our way. We stopped at noon only long enough to prepare a hasty meal, and then drove until evening. Our captain had an emigrant's guidebook which told us where we could camp and find plenty of water and grass. When we made camp for the night the wagons formed into a circle. The horses were corralled inside, and all of the cooking was done within the circle. At night the guard was stationed outside, and in this way the people were protected from attacks as much as could be possible under the circumstances.
One day each week we laid by to do our washing and to let the horses rest. When we were about two weeks travel from Ft. Laramie we began to encounter hardships. The first came upon us suddenly. We were traveling along peacefully one warm afternoon, with only the creaking of the wagons and the dull thud of the horses' hooves on the ground to be heard, when suddenly there was a great commotion at the rear end of the train, and two riders came galloping madly forward with the cry, "Indians, we are attacked!" The men grabbed their guns, and with the exception of a few who stayed to guard the front, all ran to the scene of attack. A few minutes later, however, they were back with the report that it had been a false alarm. The Indians were there but they had made no unfriendly advances except a demand for food. This was the first we'd seen of the Indians, and although it proved to be only a scare, it put us more on the lookout for danger. Several times soon after that we could see Indians looking at us, but for some reason unknown we were not attacked.
I recall one incident which occurred not long after this and which gave the crowd considerable amusement at my expense. One evening, soon after we had made camp, an old lady came to my wagon and asked if I would give her some whiskey for her stomach trouble. I hesitated in giving her any, for I detested the stuff and loathed having to use it even for illness. I hadn't wanted to bring it in the first place, but in those days people thought a household should never be without some whiskey for medicinal purposes, and so William had insisted that we bring it. The lady complained, however, so loudly and sincerely of her ailments that I finally gave her some whiskey. I was really chagrined to find out the next day this was a trick of hers to get liquor.
When we approached Scotts Bluff the trail left the river (Platt) and passed through a gap in the rear of the bluffs. Then we began to ascend toward the summit. When near the top such a beautiful view lay before us. There, far to the west we could see the peaks of the Rockies. Our guide pointed out to us Laramie Peak, at the foot of which lay Ft. Laramie which would be our first contact with civilization.
We had one more big scare before we reach Ft. Laramie. At Horse Creek there were signs of a terrible battle. The grass was beaten down and the ground torn by bullets. There were a number of freshly-dug graves, and lying near were blood-soaked pieces of clothing. It was a horrible sight and we hated to stay there over night, but our guide book showed us there were no more places for miles. I don't believe many of us slept that night, and the next morning before it was daylight we had broken camp and were on our way.
Although we were very glad to come into the white settlement we stayed just long enough to replenish our provision wagons and attend to several other matters. Before we were allowed to leave, the government officials inspected the train to see if we were capable of defending ourselves. After inspection the they told us that we were the best equipped train that had passed through Ft. Laramie for a long time.
At this time 600 Sioux Indians were camped here making a treaty with the government. One evening, several of us women walked by an Indian camp and saw a little white girl, about 2 years old, with a group of squaws. She was the cutest little thing, wearing a pink sunbonnet, and we figured she probably had been taken during a battle with the whites. Although the Indians were making a treaty, we were advised to hurry out of the Sioux territory as quickly as possible. They said to Captain Cox, "Get these people out of here as fast as you can. Stop only long enough for breakfast and supper." The captain surely knew how to follow orders. We cooked only two meals, breakfast and supper. We didn't stop from the time we broke camp in the morning until night, and continued this way for six weeks. In all that time we weren't even able to wash our clothes. It certainly was terrible.
To add to our misery of those six weeks we ran into a swam of buffalo gnats. We had previously met a train of people whose faces looked as though they had the smallpox. We soon found out it was not the smallpox but the buffalo gnat bites. After I had received several bites I had to cover my head with a blanket till we had passed the swarm for the gnats were so poisonous that each bite raised a large boil on my face and made me very ill.
During those six weeks we were constantly reminded of our danger by the Indians themselves. Although they didn't give us any real trouble, except in one instance they were plenty sassy. They would ride around our wagons jabbering among themselves, but would then ride away, while every night we could see the campfires which seemed to be so near. But for some reason we were spared an attack. The one instance I spoke of caused us considerable trouble and delay. One night some Indians slipped a horse into our corral. It was covered with queer looking skins, and of course our horses stampeded. After quite a long chase they were recovered.
We had hardly got out of the danger zone when we began to have troubles of a different nature. We were getting into alkali country, and a number of the train became ill from drinking the alkali water. Grass for the horses was scarce and they suffered terribly. For about a week we had no fuel except a tall, odd weed which we discovered substituted fairly well for weed.
We were not in this country long before we took a different route and traveled toward Green River, with the hope of finding more grass and better water. We came to the river called Ham's Fork. There was no bridge and the river was very swift and seemed almost impossible to cross. Some of our party refused to attempt a crossing, saying we could not possibly get across alive. They left us there and followed the river up north. Later we learned they were all killed by the Indians. Those of the train who stayed at the Fork went to work at building rafts. All of the provisions and people were taken across on the rafts and the young men swam the horses. One young man was very nearly drowned. His horse collapsed when about two thirds of the way across, but by quick action of one of our men in throwing a rope to the lad, he was rescued before the swift current swept him down stream.
Our journey through the Rocky Mountains was not as difficult as we had expected it would be, and we certainly enjoyed the beautiful scenery. To us who had been raised on the plains of the middle west, this was a great pleasure.
Our first impression of the Mormons whom we met soon after crossing the Rockies was not very favorable. We had brought with us packed butter which was really excellent but we felt that some fresh would taste very good. So we asked some Mormon women if they had good fresh butter. "Oh, yes, we have very good butter," they said, and so we offered to trade a few camp chairs for some. We took the butter to our camps, thinking what a pleasant surprise we would have for our men. Well, one taste was enough. It was so terrible that we had to throw it all out and eat our packed butter after all.
When we came to the Snake River we followed its course until we got to Fort Boise. At Fort Boise we had to cross the river. There was an old ferry there, but just the day before it had broken loose and been carried away down stream a considerable distance before being rescued. Consequently, our people were afraid to cross on it and swam their horses instead. We, however, had a horse which was very high spirited and afraid, and so William said he would have to risk the ferry. He laughed at me for being afraid and said there was no danger, but just as soon as we reached the other side the boatman said to him, "Get that woman and baby off of here as fast as you can." So evidently I wasn't unreasonable in my fears.
In the Malheur River district people were in the middle of harvesting, and our hired man decided he could make more money here, and so deserted us. Now that he was gone I had to take up the reins of the family team. I'd never in my life driven a team, but in spite of my fears I got along pretty well. My wagon followed behind the provision wagon and so it was easier to keep the horses in rein. My only trouble came when we were going through The Dalles. A train came up behind us and whistled, and one of my horses squatted clear to the ground and then lunged. I hung on to the reins and soon had the frightened mare under control. I even grew so bold in handling the horses that while the men were loading the ship (we came from there to Portland on the river) I stood and held four horses on the bank of the Columbia.
There were with us now only about half of the families. Many had settled near The Dalles, and of those who were still with us when we reached Portland, only four families continued to Dallas, our destination. On August 18, after a four day trip from Portland, we reached Dallas. We were glad to see relatives and grateful to God for a safe journey.
A Dallas, Oregon newspaper article, published December 31, 1938, celebrated Lydia's 100th birthday:
Mrs. Lydia Miller who was born Jan. 1st 1839 will celebrate her 100th Anniversary at Dallas tomorrow. Mrs. Miller, a native of Indiana who crossed the plains by team in 1866, has lived in Dallas 64 years, and is recognized as the town's oldest resident. "I give the Lord all the praise," this Polk County centenarian replied when asked how she accounted for her advanced age. She then explained that she left her home in the Mideast on account of poor health, but completely regained her health in Oregon. Sunday Mrs. Miller's 100th Birthday will be honored at the Dallas Methodist Church. On Monday a family reunion will honor the event and about 100 relatives will be present. Besides her daughters, Mrs. Chloe Butz and Mrs. Lucretia Holman of Dallas, and a son, W. P. Miller of Valsete, 10 grandchildren, 17 great-grandchildren and 2 great, great grandchildren will attend.
At left: 4 Generations. Deena Lucretia Butz McDonald (Chloe's daughter); Mare Evelyn McDonald Robinson (Deena's daughter); My 3rd Great Aunt Lydia Leaming Miller; Chloe Lucinda Miller Butz (Lydia's daughter).
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Read about the emigrant, Christopher Leaming
Read about Jeremiah Leaming
Read about Matthias Leaming
Read about Judah Leaming
Read about Judah Leaming, the 2nd
Read the Diary Kept By Aaron Leaming
Read the Autobiography of Martha (Mattie) Caroline Rogers Leaming
Read the Biography of Dessie Elizabeth Hayter Leaming
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