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Accounts of travelling
down the Oregon Trail

The Applegates 1843

Catherine Sagar 1844

Donner and Reed 1846

Francis Parkman 1846

The Mormons 1846-7

Ralph Geer 1847

William Porter 1848

Phoebe Judson 1853

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1840s Emigrants
cross the Great Plains


The Emigration of 1847
Ralph C Geer

We struck the Platte River on the first day of June. We saw the first buffalo the day we passed Grand Island. They were on the north side of main Platte. Some of them were lying down, others were apparently feeding, and others traveling about. I was raised near the Darby Plains in Ohio, where they had immense herds of cattle, but I never saw so large a herd as that was; it extended for miles

Scott's Bluff

Scott's Bluff, where Geer saw "finest sight I ever saw "
wagons stretched out" as far as the eye could reach each way"


The emigration of 1847, like all former emigrations, was composed of men and women that were willing to brave all manner of hardships for the purpose of finding a better country to live in. I sold my farm in Knox County, Illinois, bid farewell to civilization, as everybody thought at that time, and started to cross the “great American desert.”……..

We left the Missouri River the 6th of June, and when we got to Wolf creek we organized by electing Joel Palmer captain, and the usual officers that belong to such organizations.

When I left Knox County, Illinois, (I was given) a small wrought-iron cannon, it could be heard 15 or 20 miles, and old mountaineers said that if were fired that every night after we camped, Indians would not trouble us. And I think it was true, for we adopted that plan and no stealing only when we neglected to let her bark.

We traveled that way until we crossed Big Blue River. There William Graham’s son was so sick we concluded to lay by a day or two. The camp was the finest camp of pioneers I ever saw. It contained 99 wagons, about 400 men, women and children, from six days to 60 years of age; representing nearly all the professions, trades and occupations. I think that camp was a good average of the pioneers of 1847. We had preachers with their bibles and psalm books, doctors with their medicine chests, lawyers with their law books, school teachers, anxious to teach the young idea how to shoot, merchants with their goods, nurserymen with their trees and seeds, stockmen with their fine horses and cattle, millers, millmen, millwrights, wheelwrights, carpenters, cabinet makers with their chest of tools, blacksmiths with anvils, bellows, hammers and tongs ready and willing to do all kinds of repairing at any time and place, gunsmiths and silversmiths with their fine tools, tailors with their gooses or geese (which is it?) shoemakers with the lasts, awls, hammers and bristles, saddlers with their tools, dressmakers and milliners with their needles, thimbles and patterns, a lumberman with his heavy log wagon, and last, though not least, farmers with and without families. The men all well armed and plenty of ammunition; all determined to go to Oregon and develop its resources.

The child getting no better the second day after we stopped, 50 wagons drove on and left. Captain Palmer said he would not leave a fellow-traveler.

49 wagons remained with Captain Palmer. At first Ralph Geer’s father went with the 50 wagons, but changed his mind so his 7 wagons stopped and rejoined Captain Palmer when he caught up.

The boy had died, and the train started on the morning we started back.

When father and his little band of seven wagons stopped, forty-three wagons went on and we never overtook them. When we (the forty-nine wagons and our seven) all got together again, we were as happy a company of pioneers as ever crossed the plains, and we stayed together nearly all the way to Oregon City.

One evening, on Little Blue, we had a grand stampede as we were going into camp for the last time on Little Blue. I did not see it, but those who did said it was terrible. No person hurt; one of my wagons went into camp on three wheels and one of S. Coffin’s oxen on three legs. I was out on my last wild turkey hunt and missed the exciting time. We were delayed one day by the “stampede.”

We struck the Platte River on the first day of June. We saw the first buffalo the day we passed Grand Island. They were on the north side of main Platte. Some of them were lying down, others were apparently feeding, and others traveling about. I was raised near the Darby Plains in Ohio, where they had immense herds of cattle, but I never saw so large a herd as that was; it extended for miles

At Ash Hollow, on the North Platte, we stopped a day for washing, there being plenty of wood and water. Our oxen and cows began to get footsore and we had to leave some of them on the way, which were generally killed and eaten by the wolves. I, with several others, visited the grand towers, from the tops of which we could see the emigrant road from Ash Hollow to Scott’s Bluff, and I think it was the finest sight I ever saw. The long trains of covered wagons one after another just as far as the eye could reach each way, with their loads of brave pioneers silently wending their way towards the setting sun; it appeared to me that there were 1,000 wagons in sight.

We reached Fort Laramie just as the Indians had returned from a successful raid on the Pawnees, and were encamped at the mouth of Laramie River on both sides of both rivers. The officers at the Fort told me that this camp contained 1,500 lodges. We stopped one day at Laramie to set wagon tires and trade our lame stock for sound ones, giving two and sometimes three for one. There our lumberman left his log wagon, which he was advised to leave at St. Joe. At Box Elder Creek we saw the graves of several of the Woodside family, who, it was said, were poisoned by eating fruit that had been cooked and allowed to stand in brass kettles. We crossed the Platte on the last day of June on a raft, and Captain Palmer swam his horses … across the river after sunset.

We passed Independence Rock, on Sweetwater, on the 4th day of July, and hoisted the Stars and Stripes and fired the cannon on top of said rock at 12 o’clock that day; met the first company returning from Oregon that night; heard good news from Oregon, and also heard that the emigrants in front were getting along finely, which cheered the despairing ones, if any, in our company.

Our Captain told us we might expect sickness in our camp on Sweetwater, and we did have it, but no one died, although many were sick and some nigh unto death. to old Missouri what I can have corn bread, bacon and honey.”

In going from Pacific Springs to Bear River, half the company went by Fort Bridges, and half by the desert, but the half that went by the cut off had the worst of it. Three days travel before we got to the Soda Springs, we passed the grave of Elias Brown, who died June 17th, 1847, of Mountain Fever, father of J. Henry Brown, our efficient Secretary, the first grave of the company that left on Little Blue that we had seen, and the only one we did see.

At the Soda Springs all the sick were healed; and on the first day of August we camped on Snake River. At what was called Bluff camp, a few miles below the great falls of Snake River, part of the cattle swam across Snake River, and in the morning the Captain and Hi. Simpkins swam over and tried to make them swim back, but all their efforts were in vain. The boys finding it impossible to force them into the water called for help, Judge Grim, J. Whitney and Wallace Foster swam over and helped them. John Whitney caught hold of an ox’s tail and was ferried back, and the others swam back. The Captain and Simpkins had been in the hot sun under the bluff so long trying to make the cattle take water, that they were perfectly sunburnt, and the next day they were two as sick men as I ever saw. They both shed their skin like snakes.

At Salmon Falls, we laid in such a supply of salmon that we had to throw away two-thirds of it before we traveled far. We crossed Snake River at the Three Islands. We rested our teams on day before crossing, and on that day we lost a fine young man by the name of Elijah Weeks. He and others went into the river to bathe, and, although an excellent swimmer, was caught in a whirlpool and drawn in and did not come out while we stayed, but came out and was picked up by a company who knew him and was buried three days after we left.

After leaving the river and traveling about six miles, we struck a bee line for the Hot Springs, and about half way between where we left the road and the Springs, we camped at what we called Palmer’s encampment, on Palmer’s cutoff, at a fine spring and as fine grass and clover as I ever saw. We had three horses stolen at that camp, and the boys said it was because I did not fire the cannon that night.

We saw a notice on a tree one day’s travel this side of Barrel creek, informing us that a man had been shot at that camp a day or two before, and for all emigrants to be on the lookout for the red devils. I fired that (cannon) twice that night, loaded to the muzzle. We saw no Indians that night.

We saw Hiram Buffum’s grave at Goose creek. He was a brother of William Buffum of Yamhill County. We left Snake River the 1st day of September.

On Powder River, James Harpole’s wife died, and in digging her grave they found a great deal of mica, and in 1848, after gold had been found in California and brought to Oregon, the boys that dug the grave said that they knew there was millions of ounces of just exactly such stuff on Powder River, where they buried Mrs. Harpole; and a company went from near Butteville in the winter of 1848-9 to make their fortunes; but they were bitterly disappointed when they found only worthless mica or isinglass. It turned very cold and one young man by the name of Asa Martin, who drove a team across the plains for John W. Grim in 1847, was so frozen that he died soon after returning or on his way home, I have forgotten which.

On the Columbia River the Indians had become very saucy and insolent; would drive off stock and then demand pay for returning it; and some of the boys gave them the end of the whip lash…………The old chief was in the camp with several of his braves, and he blustered around terribly, and wanted me to give him a shirt or blanket. I ………. picked up a tent pole and went for them, and told them that if they did not leave I would sweep them from the face of the earth; or course they left.

The next Sunday evening Dr. Whitman preached to our company on Willow Creek, and complimented us and the young man that gave the Indian the whiplash, by saying if more men would do likewise, instead of giving them presents for their impudence and theft, it would be better for all concerned.

At Rock Creek, we had several head of cattle drowned in a short time after we stopped and we called that creek Drowning Creek.

We crossed the Des Chutes River on two wagon beds lashed together, and arrived at Barlow’s Gate on September 29th, and on the last day of October, we started to cross the Cascade mountains, and right here our trouble began.

When we started into the mountains there had been a continual string of wagons and loose stock passing for one month, and consequently had eaten what little grass there was near the road. On account of the horrible condition of the road and continual rain from the time we started into the mountains, we were thirteen days in reaching the valley, but we all got through with good appetites and found plenty of good substantial food to satisfy any reasonable man, woman or child.

The Pioneers of 1847 found plenty of bread, meat and potatoes and pea-coffee, and certainly had no reasonable right to complain of the prices, and all found work for a reasonable price. For the best information for I am able to obtain, I think the emigration of 1847 numbered 5,000 souls.

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1840s Emigrants cross
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© Chris Smallbone Sept 2006