By Walter Croffard Weaver 1949
Edited and annotated by Lyndelle McCoy 1997
If one should plan a 2000 mile trip across several states in 1949, he would probably want a very good auto, a road map, and very little else. Food, lodging, fuel and repairs would be found close at hand wherever he might wish to stop or be forced to stop. Roadmarkers would probably make a road map unnecessary. Paved roads or hard surface roads would be a matter of choice only.
But in 1897, when we decided to take the trip from the Indian Territory to the Pacific, none of these conveniences were available. Then it was a different world entirely -- no paved road, few bridges, and settlements 20 to 100 miles distant. One day's travel was 15 to 20 miles.
After having lost all future prospects of recovery from disaster brought on by two successive crop failures (1891-1892), I decided that the I.T. was no place for profit or pleasure. A white man could only rent or lease, and usually for one year at a time where I was located. Talk of statehood had been talked for several years, but was always defeated, and the statehood bill in 1896 looked to me a long way in the future.
So I saw an ad of Portland, Oregon Chamber of Commerce, and wrote for a booklet. It set forth vivid descriptions of localities, opportunities, wild life, and great wealth and undisturbed happiness and contentment in the Pacific Northwest. I found it all true -- but it depends on you.
After passing the Chamber of Commerce booklet around, five families agreed to assemble at Uncle Nate's home for departure on or about March 15, 1897.
Many others wanted to go, but were too much in debt, or could not equip to make the trip. I paid a debt for one F.T., and took his note so he could come with us -- agreed to renew the note if he could not pay at the end of the year.
It was some chore to get ready. Each family had to have a wagon and horses, a chuck box on the rear end of the wagon box with a let-down lid that served as a table, a 5 or 10 gallon keg fixed on the side of the wagon box to carry water. No water bags were known then to us, and we traveled many weeks before we saw one.
Those assembled were: Nathan Bullard and wife with 2 children, Frank Townsend and wife, with 4 children, Mrs. Young, a widow, with 1 son, Mr. Vineyard, a widower, with 4 children, 3 girls and 1 boy (a stepson).
All these I had known for many years, except the widow, her son, and a stranger, whom I will call Williams. A few days before starting time, he came to Uncle Nate and begged to go along on any terms. So I decided to allow him to go with me to take care of chores, as I had an almost baby to look after.
Mr. Vineyard came to our house often on winter days to talk with 2Grandfather, and whittle soft wood on the hearth of our open fireplace when I was four and five years old.Once I remember he brought his wife, Martha, to our well to do her washing, and she had a tiny baby with her. She thought to please me by allowing me to hold the baby a little while, and I remember how relieved I was when she came and took it. I didn't hang around the wash anymore. That baby was now the eldest of the three girls Mr. Vineyard had with him. Her name is Allie.
December 23, 1885 Sunrise 0723 hours Sunset 1710 hours Full Moonrise 1940 hours
I dropped corn for Uncle Nate and Uncle Alf, and hoed corn. I didn't spend one cent that I made during the year. Saved it to buy me a single barrel shot gun. Grandfather and these two uncles went to Fort Smith two days before Christmas, and I gave my ten dollars to Uncle Nate to get my gun. They had not got back by bedtime the second day, which was Christmas Eve. It took two days to make the trip of about sixty miles.
When I woke on Christmas morn, they were home. I found a rake and hoe with handles two feet long on my bed. They didn't interest me one bit, and I ran to find Uncle Nate. I met him coming from the barn. He said, "I couldn't find any single barrel shot guns.", and he gave me my ten dollars.
I was hurt deeply, but tried not to show it. I didn't cry, but made up my mind right then to save my ten dollars and all I made next year and have enough to get a gun and a saddle for my pony.
The next year I got my gun, a box of cap, some shot and powder, but didn't have enough money for the saddle. I was then eleven years old. I had an idea they thought I was too young the year before to have a gun.
I can remember a few Christmases before these two. Once an Uncle made me a wagon with wheels sawed from a round pole. Another a pack of fire crackers. Another time stick candy, and still another time a cap pistol. With this I had an awful disaster. It was a cold Christmas day when I went out to shoot bears and panthers, and on my first shot, the hammer broke off.
You have already guessed we were very poor, but we were better situated than any of our neighbors, and a neighborhood extended as far as one could ride horseback and return home the same day.
We raised what we ate, and what we didn't grow, we didn't eat. We had wheat and corn to take to the mill and brought back flour and corn meal. We had bacon and lard to sell at ten cents a pound, yams at twenty cents a bushel, turnips at ten cents a bushel, seedwheat, barley, corn and rye at fifty cents a bushel. Neighbors bought these items from us on credit, no money. Many never got able to pay. When Grandfather moved further west, he had lots of notes that were never paid.
3Except for going to the same school with Allie when she was about 7 years old, and again when she was about 10, I had not seen her until they arrived at our starting place.She was now 17.
Since I already had an extra pony, I decided to get another one, and a top buggy for myself and baby. This set-up completed all our preparations, and everyone was eager to start. We had already exhausted all our imaginations - talks about what a fine time we would have, and how we would catch fish and shoot game and loaf in beauty spots while our teams grazed on green pastures. Well, it was lucky for us that we had all this pleasure before starting.
If any one of the company enjoyed the trip after the first few camps, it was a personal secret as far as I was able to observe. Everybody's thoughts were, "How far will we go today?", "Will there be wood and water?", "Where and how far to the next place we can buy groceries and horse feed?". We had heard old timers tell how wagons had been taken apart and let down cliffs, and how wagons with teams had slid into canyons -- Indian attacks -- starvation -- burials along road-sides. But in spite of all the tales fed to us, we all felt self-sufficient and secure.
Our first day out, we had to ford the Canadian River, known for its treacherous quicksand bottom. It had been forded only a few days before we got there for the first time this spring. We looked it over carefully, and could see fresh wagon tracks down to the water. My rig was in the lead, and made a good, quick crossing, and pulled up the steep muddy bank on the far side. Frank came after me, and when he hit the bank, Mr. Vineyard drove in. But Frank's team could not pull the steep bank, and let the hind wheels run back into the water. They began to settle at once. Mr. Vineyard laid the whip to his mules, and managed to drive around Frank and pull up on the level. He took his mules loose from his wagon, rushed back and hooked on to Frank's wagon tongue and hauled him to safety. The rear end of Frank's wagon box was down in the water by this time, and his chuck box and some bedding was soaked. Uncle Nate remained on the opposite bank during the excitement, then crossed without any trouble.
Here we made our first camp, less than 10 miles from our starting point. We could have gone a few miles more - it was early - but Frank wanted to spread and dry bedding and chuck box, and we all wanted to scrape off mud. We all felt happy and relieved to be on the other side of the Canadian River, and anticipated a good morrow's drive, with no more trouble.
But early before noon, we were crosssing a little branch of clear water. I was second in the convoy, and was using a saddle pony for one of my buggy team. She tried to jump the stream as she would have if under a saddle. Result - one broken singletree. There we stood in the road until a new one could be cut from the woods and hewed out, the irons from the old one put on. This day we made about 15 miles, and camped in sight of an Indian hut, about 1/4 mile off the road on a hill.
We had met a white man earlier, who told us an Indian boy had died in the settlement that day. Just before dark, an Indian came down from the hut and told us a boy was dead and asked us to come to their tribal ceremonial. None wanted to go. Soon darkness came. We heard the ceremony begin, with some kind of drum and metallic sounds mixed with singing. The only words we could understand were, "We have no more boy!". The ceremony continued through the whole night, and all was silence at daybreak.
This little experience gave us all a feeling that we did not want to discuss with each other, but could not get off our minds for some time. I think all of us now living will recall that night once in a while during his or her whole life.
4Our company consisted of 19 persons, all of whom have passed on as far as I know, except 4 persons. Esther Bullard, Cynth Vineyard, Allie and myself.
Next morning, we were unusually silent, and moved out of camp on the long road ahead with less conversation than could be imagined in a group of 19 people starting out on along trip that was thought to be one of joy and adventure.
That day a terrific wind storm and buckets of rain struck us about 4 miles from Shawnee, where I had agreed to teach a class first year French and German at some new college, the name of which I cannot now remember. It was in December 1896 the offer was made to me and accepted. But in January, I wrote them I could not be on hand March 1st, the date agreed on.
As we drove through Shawnee the next day, in a blowing rain, I tried to locate the college, but failed to see it. I had a very good friend attending a teacher's course there. We had both taught National Schools in the Chickshaw Nation, and met at a teacher's convention first assembly. It was the first teacher's assembly ever organized in the I.T., and was called International Teacher's Institute. I was elected its first President, but was not present at the 1896 session. My friend, Mr. Swafford, at the Shawnee College, and I corresponded often, while I was in college in Arkansas. We did it in shorthand and on postals. It is remarkable how much one can put on a postal that way.
Our next town was Oklahoma, now Oklahoma City. Frank decided that someone might get snake bit further on, so he and Williams went into town and came back with a bottle. That was the only time I know of that anyone bought whiskey. They alone "took a swallow" and I never saw the bottle again. However, I did buy a flask of whisky when recovering from Mountain Fever. Mr. Vineyard had been suggesting for several days that it would help out and give strength. At that time we were alone, and had just got to the point on top of the Rocky Mountains where the water was going toward the Pacific.
From Oklahoma City, we hit low level sandy plain country. Could hear the grind of wheels in the sand, and they left no mark. It was impossible to tell if anyone had ever traveled a road. We had whole days' travel on such roads, and then again for only a mile or more.
When we hit the sand, every person's spirits drooped. The children got out and walked. Sometimes the drivers walked, and we could hardly walk in the sand. It was harder on a team on level road than any hill climbing we had yet seen. You felt like a big fat parasite of some kind to sit up in a spring seat, and see your team clawing in the sand, and listening to the tires grind in the sand like the rustling of sand paper. Everyone was anxious to hit the Rockies, and everyone was getting more cranky and unsociable all the time.
At first we agreed to take turns in taking the lead each day, but in this sand, this kind of sand, it was no different if an army had preceded on the road, or if it had never been traveled, so one morning, someone whose lead it wasn't, drove out in the lead, and that gave the others another grouch. Soon everyone was breaking the rule, and I gobbled up the whole thing a little later, because I could get ready sooner than the others.
At noon, they began to suggest that I pick a good place to camp for the night, and for a time I heard no more. Then we got to where there was no good place the whole day, and I saw no one to ask, so driving until almost dark, I waited for them to catch up. We were carrying water now, so made camp, and I got the blame for selecting it, although there was none better behind us. Here we emptied our water containers in the morning to give our teams a taste.
Then again we found many good camp places during the day, and yet at day's end had a poor place to camp. Then the ideas went around in grapevine fashion why I did not stop back there. I could not comprehend how anyone but a "ninny" could expect me to know what was ahead when I had not been there and had met no one to ask.
Then I started a plan to wait up for them in the afternoon drive, when I found water and feed, and ask if they wanted to make camp there. They did not. One said "too early", another "we ought to make more miles today.". Another said, "We will find a better place.", and when we did not, I was still the goat. So I got so I paid little attention to anyone but Mr. Vineyard. He had not complained.
I began to drive like no one else was along, stop, unharness the horses, and go about making my camp, whether it was early or late. And when it was too early, I almost wished they would drive on by me, but they never did. They would pile out, and only look like they disapproved.
5Fort Sill, we had better roads, more water, and better feed. One night I came to a good camp with wood, water and feed, and when they came up, they all lined their wagons up close to me, except Frank Townsend. He drove back into the woods quite a distance upcreek. I made some remark to Mr. Vineyard, and he said they might have a "frolic" tonight. Both Mrs. Bullard and Mrs. Townsend were his daughters.
After supper, Mrs. Bullard and Mrs. Young went over to Frank's camp, and all the others went to bed. And that was all I knew or heard until I got out of bed the next morning. Then Mr. Vineyard told me, "Sallie has a baby girl, and her name is Roada." He also said we would have to lay over for 3 or 4 days.
Here I began to ransack my brain for an excuse to go alone. I did not feel like I could endure a lay-over. So after serious thought, I decided that I was out of bacon and could wait up at the next town or store. But he knocked that objection. He had plenty, and I could have all I needed. Then my horse feed was too short to last and so was theirs. So I won the argument with Mr. Vineyard.
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