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Letters from Oregon to Iowa Weekly Observer.
Salem, August 25, 1852.
Remarks.—The writers of the letters from which I take the following extracts, emigrated, with others, from near Salem, Iowa, in the spring of 1852 to Oregon Territory. In these desultory remarks I need not again relate the incidents of their many privations, sufferings, sickness and deaths that afflicted them on their long and perilous journey across the mighty plains of the Nebraska, during last season, that filled their cup of sorrow full, as I have on more occasion alluded to them through the medium of the press. Suffice it to say, that the history of their migration thither is the history in miniature of that of many others that crossed the plains in ’52, when the destroying angel, hovering on the raven wings of the pestilence, swept along the mighty train and breathed disease and death among the thousands as they wended their toilsome and adventurous way to Oregon and California.
Perhaps no place on the verdant earth has a greater variety of scenery than Oregon. There Nature has done her work on a grand and imposing scale. The numerous rivers of Oregon, leaping from the Rocky Mountains and flowing many hundred miles westward, uniting and forcing their way through mountain gorges, flow on in majestic beauty and grandeur, and pour their waters into that boundless reservoir of the great deep, the Pacific Ocean.
There, too, are extensive prairies, and also hills and dales, with almost a countless variety of timber, vegetables and flowers of almost every hue, all tending to impart interest and variety to that romantic country. As yet, Oregon is principally inhabited by numerous tribes of Indians, who are gradually retiring before the march of civilization, which has ever been baleful to this unhappy race, since the discovery of America by Columbus. Their council fires cease to burn and their wigwams, or "wickiups," disappear to give place to the tenements of the adventurous pioneers who lead in the van of civilization, as westward the course of empire tends its untiring course.
Who does not pity the "poor Indian" as he is forced to leave the graves of his fathers, and his childhood’s once happy home, to make room for the white man and his children? Contemplate the grandeur and glory of the towering forests of Oregon, in the green of primeval beauty! Then view her lofty mountains that rise to the region of the clouds, where the lightnings flash and the thunders roll in mad confusion, as the storms borne on the wings of the wind sweep along and are impeded or stopped in their swift career! How the lover of nature or the poet would exult at the opportunity of beholding far away in the distance on the verge of the horizon, the hoary peaks of those ‘everlasting mountains,’ clad in the cold drapery of eternal snows; whose sides are clothed in the rich perennial verdure and evergreen, where the eagle builds her nest and feeds her young in proud security; where the chamois and mountain sheep exult and feed among the craggy steeps unharmed. There in wild beauty, "Full many a flower is born to blush unseen, And waste its sweetness on the mountain air." J. R.
The following letter was written by Caleb and Alice Richey, in 1853, to relatives in Iowa. They were new settlers in Portland, and their letter gives vividly the conditions of the early day in the present metropolis of the Northwest:
Portland, Or., January 12, 1853.
Dear Brother: I trust it is with a degree of gratitude that I can state to you that we are all well at present and hope that this may find you all enjoying the same blessing.
I presume it is not necessary for me to state to you our many misfortunes since I saw you, as I wrote to father stating the deaths, except James Akin’s. Alice wrote to Frances since, stating that he died November 8. When I wrote to father I stated that he was sick, but that he was on the recovery: "he seemed very desirous to live to see his children settled, but their loss doubtless was his gain. His son James has taken a claim near James Ingram’s has put up a cabin and talks of moving to it—is almost 12 miles from here on the east side of the river. They are living in this place and are well. Stuart and children are well. Joseph Mace and David Rhode have gone to Puget Sound; John Herald has also gone there. William Howe has gone to the country; I have not heard from him since. Tell his sister he was well when he left.
I received your letter of August 7, also Lafayette’s of the 15th of the same month, stating you were all well, health was good in general, crops prosperous, which was very gratifying to me.
I have not selected a location, as the Winter has been very bad. We have had a deep snow and a great deal of rain, but think of looking at Puget Sound, as it is represented to be a good country, possessing many advantages.
John Thomas Stuart and James Nicholson have gone to the Sound. I received two letters from James Mace; he was well.
Owing to misfortune of the road, hard winter, high prices for provisions, many of the emigrants have become dissatisfied and long for their old home, but like myself, have not had the opportunity of looking at the country. Stuart seems to be much dissatisfied—wages are low and not much to do.
Flour $20 a hundred pounds, beef 15 cents to 20 cents a pound, pork 25 cents a pound, lard 40 cents, butter $1 a pound, eggs #1.25 a dozen, potatoes $2.50 per bushel.
Owing to sickness I left my cattle at the Cascades, on the Columbia, and have not heard from them since. I fear they, with thousands of others, have fared badly, owing to the hard winter.
Owing to the many difficulties attending emigration I would not induce anybody to come, but as to myself, as far as I have heard, seen or felt, I am satisfied with the country. There has not been a day so cold but I had to take my coat off to work.
The high prices for provisions that dissatisfies many, was as it should have ben, one of the strongest inducements for the cultivation of the soil. Alice has her health better than she has had it for seven years. My health is better than it has been for years. I weigh heavier now than I ever did. Alice is making from $2 to $3 a day with the needle. Edward Albright is living in this place and is a member of the M. E. Church and is a Son of Temperance, and is getting rich.
The Willamette is higher than it has ever been known by white men.
A splendid steamer, the "Lot Whitcomb," the best boat on the waters of the Columbia, struck a rock and sank near Milwaukie.
The Willamette is near the size of the Ohio.
The Methodists have as fine a church in Portland* as there is in Iowa, with a first-rate preacher; also a large seminary.
The election of General Pierce to the Presidential chair was announced to the people here on the 23rd of December by the firing of cannon. The news seemed to give almost general rejoicing.
We received the news of the death of Webster on the 10th of December, his zeal for the Union has made him many friends. Talk of a man’s best deeds always after he is dead; be it so with Webster:
The Booming gun told of the fearful work that death had done.
Causing each Union heart with softened grief to swell,
Each eye the bitter tear unchecked to shed.
For him now numbered with the mighty dead.
I wrote to you in a letter to father to sell my land if you please, and I will send a deed, and when you get the money, if you want to come to Oregon, and if the money will be of any advantage to you in coming, use it, if not, deposit it or have it sent with the Adams & Co., St. Louis, and take a draft on Adams & Co., Portland, Or., and send it. They will cash it. Don’t be particular about the price, for $00 will bring in more than $500 in Iowa.
Since writing the above, I have received a letter from James Mace, dated December 17, he was well, but business was dull.
Well, I suppose I might say something about the road, as there are a great many desirous of hearing something about it.
Now, I with others, will give you a little of my opinion. First, get a good mule team and leave the Missouri in April with a good light wagon, 150 pounds of flour to the person, 60 pounds of bacon, 40 pounds of sugar, 25 pounds dried fruit, 10 pounds of rice and plenty of pickles and vinegar, tea, coffee, etc. do not hunt by the way; bring a gun to scare the Indians with, treat them civilly and if they don’t behave use the ox gad freely. They are now tamed and cowardly. Take care the Indians don’t steal your team; drink no water from the wells or holes dug in the ground, squander no time by the way for the front part of the emigration this season had but little sickness, their teams stood it well; they got through before the grass dried up or the streams became impure. Cross the Snake or Lewis river at Salmon Falls and come down the north side to Fort Boise; cross the Cascades if you get there in time, which you can do; and don’t stop at The Dalles, for they will extort off you without conscience.
Dr. Nelson, brother-in-law to E. Kilpatrick, of Mount Pleasant, lives in Portland. He and his wife came to see me shortly after my arrival here. Wesley Hull lives in this place and is getting rich fast.
Since writing the above, Stuart received a letter from James W. Mace giving the mournful intelligence of the death of father, the many exposures he underwent and the feeble state of his health. I was glad to hear he died in the triumph of a living faith, and doubtless at rest. My prayer that our last may be like his.
No more at present. Give our love to all inquiring friends and accept the same yourself.
CALEB AND ALICE RICHEY.
To James Richey.
Portland, O. T., November 26, 1853.
My little girl, Eliza Ann, departed this life September 9th. She was sick eight days of a fever. She told me when she was sick that she was going to die, and said it with much sorrow. This is a hard task to write, though I intend to try it, after so long a time. I hope this may find you all in good health and alive. I assure you that we are all in the enjoyment of it, and we still have hard times. We were during the month of October distressed with sickness, sorrow, pain, and death. It is of no use for me to tell you of our troubles, for words would fail. These are the names of the dead, viz., Louisa Richey, Eliza Akin, James Akin, Sen., Elva Ingram, Miranda Jane Richey, Eliza Ann Richey and Mary Ann Akin. The four last names are children.—J. R.)
James Akin, Sen., died 8th of November of malarial fever. His children and mine are living together at Portland. Elizabeth and John Akin are slowly on the mend. Caleb is mending slowly. I have a bad cough. It has rained three weeks out of the last four. James Akin, Jr., and I have been looking for a claim. We have not found one yet. The Willamette Valley is all claimed that is worth having.
The Puget Sound country is making a big stir here. It is said that it contains three times the good land that the Willamette, Umpqua and Rogue River valleys do. It has the advantage of all the rest of Oregon, in the timber trade. The fishing contains abundance of salmon trout, oysters, clams, whale, etc. that country commenced 100 miles north of this, and is hard to get to, attended with great expense. We were within a few hours of starting there from the Cascades—sickness prevented. I think of going there yet. It is a better place than old Ireland ever was from what a number of men that have been there and have lived there say. It is very reasonable there and it beats south Oregon and California for vegetables. The prairie there are so covered with a rich growth of clover two feet high. So you are there is a better place ahead. We used to wonder what The Dalles was. It is a little town filled up with traders, who take the last dimes you have. There they sell you fresh beef for 16 to 25 cents per pound, pickled pork 40 cents per lb., sugar 40 cents and flour 20 or 25 cents per lb., potatoes for $4 or $5 per bushel.
Some troops are stationed there. We drove our teams 16 miles below The Dalles, built a raft, corked our wagon beds, and went to the Cascade Falls. The boys drove the cattle down the pack trail 40 miles from The Dalles to the Cascades. Here most all were sick, except me and my children. So we got a Mr. B—— to keep our cattle three months for $1.50 a head per month. Here we took the railroad three miles, a perfect wooden machine, propelled by two men and another mule. It takes one and a half hours to make a trip. They charge all sorts of prices, $5.00 for a sick man and his bed, so we finally reached the boat landing. We went on the steamer Menowell for 8 hours travel. J. Akin and I paid $107 which landed us at Portland. I will tell you a little of the journey to this place, which had I known, it would have saved me much trouble.
I say, don’t bring cattle of any description. Take your bundles on your backs rather than drive an ox team. I would say to my relatives that will come, bring good mule or horse teams and such wagons as the one I got from Mr. S——, as it proved to be a good one. Don’t fetch anything but provisions. There is everything here that you will need, dry goods and groceries of all kinds. There is an immense amount of merchandise here. Start two weeks sooner than we did, or not at all, take good care of your horses and mules, lose no time, for a few days loss in the start makes many in the outcome. I left Kanesville with 10 sacks of flour, 100 lbs. Each, sold 300 lbs. 33 miles below Salmon Falls, and with 500 lbs. bacon, sold 100 lbs., had a-plenty to The Dalles. Don’t bring an ox. I tell you agin, for it will make you two months later, which makes so much sickness and death. When you get to Platt river, drink its water and no other. Don’t forget this. We found it out too late. You can come all the way by land; do it, as there was a great number badly sniped (deceived) by trying to boat down Lewis or Snake river in their wagon beds.
I have seen but little of the country I don’t like here. Portland is a pretty town, one mile long and half a mile broad, with some fine large buildings, and a large number of wholesale stores. Where this town is, three years ago was a thick fir forest. The steamship Columbia brings the mail every two weeks.
There are several steamboats in the Willamette, also a number of brigs, schooners and barks here that run to San Francisco. Pork 20 cents per lb., beef 10 to 20 cents, onions 10, potatoes $1.50 per bu., eggs $1.00 per doz., chickens $1.00 apiece. I should like to see you all very much, but I dread your coming. I tell you again, start early or not at all, and do not bring cattle. I saw hundreds of dead cattle and only five mules and about 12 horses dead by the way. There were a great many horse and mule teams on the road. Mr. Coulter is here. He is getting well. He was the best hand that ever crossed the "sage path" to Oregon.
To James Richey, Sen., Salem, Iowa.