Crossing The Plains in 1853

Reminiscences of Martha Ann Tuttle McClain
From Iowa to Oregon, via the Applegate Trail

*NOTES: Martha Ann Tuttle, daughter of Nathan Tuttle and Rosanna Faircluff (or Faircloth), was born 23 December 1826 in North Carolina, probably Pasquotank or Camden County. She married William Jackson McClain on 2 July 1846 at Knoxville, Marion County, Iowa. William Jackson McClain was born 22 August 1823 at Boone County, Kentucky. He was a son of Phillip Bailey McClain and his first wife Mary "Polly" Edmiston (not Rachel Jenkins, as asserted by Martha in her writing -- Rachel was a second wife.)

Martha, with husband and three small children, came to Oregon with her sister, Caroline Rosanna Tuttle, and her husband John Slaughterback. This couple was married at Knoxville, Iowa on 20 March 1853, just shortly before the trip to Oregon commenced. Caroline was born in March 1834, probably in Virginia (their parents started out in North Carolina, spent time in Virginia, and finally settled in Ohio.) The Slaughterbacks eventually made their home in Portland, Oregon where both died.

There was at least one other sister to Martha and Caroline, who is unidentified to date. The "only brother" that Martha mentions may have been Charles T. Tuttle who married Mary Ann Garrison; he eventually settled in Broughton, Kansas where he died in 1920.

Martha's reminiscence ends with the beginning of the Indian wars in Jackson County. Shortly thereafter, William McClain took his wife and children and went to Forest Grove, Oregon where they lived until about 1870. They then moved to Columbus (now Maryhill), Klickitat County, Washington where they retired. William McClain died in 1898 and Martha died in 1919. Both were buried at the peaceful little Maryhill Cemetery in Klickitat County, on a hillside overlooking the Columbia River Gorge.

Martha's Introduction:

Columbus, Wash.
Dec. the 15

I hope you will not expect verry much from one of my age, for i shal be 76 the 23rd of this present month if I live that long. But my own children and many friends have asked me so often to write I have made up my mind I will do the best I can, hoping you will over look the imperfections and take it in the spirit it is given.

yours verry truly
your mother
Martha Ann McClain

Martha's Narrative

Now to commence back as far as I know. Both of my grandfathers fell in the war of the Revolution. My grandfather on my Father's side was Nathan H. Tuttle of english descent, Borne in England, on my Mother's side german. His name was Edward Faircluff. My Father[s] name was Nathan Tuttle for his own Father. My Mother's name was Rosanna FairCluff. My Father and Mother were married about the year 1820 in the state of North Carolina. They emigrated to verginia whin I was an infant. My Father was imployed as overseer on the plantation of Blacks for some years then moved to the beautiful state of Ohio where I was raised to wamanhood. My Mother died in the State of Ohio in the year of 1840. I then came with my married sister and Brother in law to Iowa. My Father came out to Iowa after I had been there a year. It so happened that my Father's farm and that of a neighbour joined. Of course there was a young man in the neighbor's family and a young girl in my father's. So like other your people we agreed to make one house do for both of us so in the year of 1846 on the 2nd of july we were married. Mr. William Jackson McClain to Miss Martha Ann Tuttle of Knoxville, Marian Co., Iowa. My Husband was a Kentuckian by birth. His Father's name was Philip McClain, his mother Rachel Jinkens* by name.

Now I'm coming to the shady part. Crossing the Plains in the 50s in the winter of 53. There happened to be a company making up to try their luck in the faraway land of gold in California. As we happened to be down there (here Martha does not say where "down there" is) on a Christmast visit my husband became enthused with the spirit of adventure. On coming to dinner at his father's he remarked that he had a notion to go with the rest of the boys and try his luck. His father remarked "if you do i'll give you a horse to start on." Well, next day we went home and in less than two months he had sold our farm and every thing else that we did not want to bring with us eaven my loom and was ready to start with the rest. The Father, true to promice, the day before we started he sent a nice large bey horse to my husband.

On the 18 day of April 1853 we took up our march, bidding adue to friends to face we knew not what. Many friends assembled on the big prarie west of Knoxville, Iowa to take a last farewell look as we moved away. My only brother a boy of 15 dropped back and waved his handkerchief in token of a last farewell. We travailed all day through mud almost hub deep as any one knows that has ever seen an April break up in the middle states.

That night we came to White (crest?) usually a little stream but now bank full. Well, we had to lay over a few days. They managed by cutting down trees to make a bridge for the women and children to cross on also to carry most of the goods over on. But the oxen had to pull the wagons over and we all felt like we had gained a great victory, not knowing what to look for next. So it went on. After a time we arrived at Council Bluffs at the crossing of the Misouri River. You can only imagine the number of teams already there waiting to cross.

The River was verry high and the boat could not in safety be overloaded, so we had to take it by turns like going to mill. Although the Boat was a large steam ferry we had to wait several days before our turn came. After a time we were over I say we for we felt like one family now that we had left civilation behind. We drove out a few miles and camped for the first night in the Indian territory. For a day or two nothing unusual happened. But one afternoon we spied in the distance coming toward us the white Plumes of a band of warriors coming back from a battle with the Soux. They were all painted up in good shape. As I had never seen an Indian before I felt I could go no farther. I begged my Husband to turn back, but no, there was no cowardice in him while I was a natural coward. Well the old redskins each one looked into the front of our wagons, gave a big whoop, and away they went. We drove on to what was called Ash creek by our guide Book and formed a correll. This was done by placing the wagons in the shape of a horseshoe leaving the open side to be guarded by two men or more if necessary. That night after those Indians had passed us while we were all sleeping soundly without the least fear of an enemy nigh, our whole herd of cattle jumped to their feet as suddenly as ever a flock of Black Birds left the barnyard, and away they ran. This was done by Indians creeping up so as to get among the cattle then sudenly jumping up, giving their blankets a shake or two, and making off again. The horses, having ben tied up for an imergency, was easy gotten hold of so the men were close at the heels of the stock but could not get them back into the Correll. By the way one of the guards was ran over by the cattle and badly hurt. But we were ready for any imergency, having a Doctor along who soon patched him up again. So we were not detained long on account of our stampeed. When we started from our native town there happened to be an invaliad with us that was trying to elude the [feldistrayer? this word is totally illegible.] death, She having consumption. She drove the horses into camp holding the lines in her own hands one evening, and about midnight the camp was aroused by the Scream of her mother that she was dead. True enough she was. So we prepared to render the last sad rights (rites) to the dead by taking of (off?) our boxes what we had made a rude Coffin and laid her to rest on the lonely plains of Platt River. It was not like laying our loved ones away in a nice Cemetery where we can go and strew their graves with flowers, but where you must take a last sad look of the fresh-made mound then move on. Well we were on the Platt river proper on the north bank fording deep streams almost daily. Our company elected a Captain before starting on this long journey, one that said he had already crossed the continent twice. When we came to the ferry on Platt River there was hundreds of wagons waiting to be ferried over which would cause a week of delay. So our captain throught best we should keep up on the north side of the River. All day long we had noticed the distant rumbling of thunder with an occasional shower. When we reaced the ford of Loop fork of the Platte we found it rising so the orders was to cross as many wagons that evening as possible. The men went to work with a will. They forded about one half of the wagons over that night then drove all the cattle over for the grass was better on the other side of the River. During the night there came up a terrific storm of rain & wind, blew all our tents down. The men had to run the wagons side by side as close as possible to keep them from turning over. While the storm raged the women & children were in the wagons expecting to be rolled over and over. But in the morning the storm was over but we had a rushing River before us. What next. We had kept some of the horses on our sid[e] so as our captain thought best. The captain with some others rode over to a large timber Island in this streem, brought back a good report that by diving (driving) onto that Island we would have but a small stream to contend with but our oxen were on the other side. But here comes som[e] more deluded emigrants and to the Island they went loaned us their cattle and on we went but Oh horrors the stream kept on rising until our little Island was laced by streams running in every way. Well after 9 days of suspence there was a rumor of lynching if something was not done. Well as we had plenty of Tar along it was proposed to take of[f] the best wagon beds and cork and Tar them to prevent leaking. So at it they went and by the 11(th?) night we were all safely over. Well right here i must say that i wached every load with a throbbing heart knowing my turn must soon come. Bye and by i took my three little children, took my seat with a norwegian man at the oars. When nearly half way out struck one of those trees that bob up and down, broke one oar. There was no other way then but let the thing drift back to the same side. Well we landed on the verry lower end of the Sand beach. But they soon had another oar and we were off again with no accident this time. Well we are all safe accross and each heart beats lighter. While on this Island we had such grand view of heards of Buffalo the verry earth shook by reason of their number. We again take up the line of march, days of ploughing through sun & sand, crossing deep streams. One day we heard a deep rumbling noise, our captain called a halt. In a few minute[s] looking in the direction of the noise we saw the Buffalo coming. They always travail in a short gallop never turning for any thing. The heard passed in less than a quarter of a mile. The men thought to have a little fun, they would take their guns a[nd] shoot among them but seeing a better thing a calf had fallen behind the heard so they shot it down and that gave the women and children a chance to see how a Buffalo did look. Then they dressed it and all had plenty of Buffalo beef to do for days. I think it was the best meat i have ever tasted. Well for days it was verry monotinous, plenty of sand and hot winds. Once we ran a little risk of our lives, this was on what was marked deep crick. It was verry narrow but oh so deep, it being where the crick emtied in to Platt River. There was no bridge so the men cut down small cottonwood trees and made a bridge by laying the long ones for stringers and piling the brush crosswise. They would run the wagons down on this by hand and the teamster was ready with oxen and a long chain in hand ready to hook in the steaple in the end of the wagon tong[ue] to pull it over. Now this was my personal experiance. When the wagon was down on this frail bridge the teamster was fifty yards away at a little canvas tent drinking whisky. My husband seeing the situation ran that distance, got the cattle, but by this time the water was in the wagon bed. They hitched on but the wagon had settled until the brush all slipped before the wheels, but we got out safe. Now don't think i am all the one that had an experiance, but its my own i am writing.

There is many things could be said such as seeing the long black hair of women and the bones of people that had ben burried, then dug up by the kyotes and the flesh knawed clean from the bones. Well our last camp on Platte River is now reached and we all lay over and celebrate the 4[th] of July. We are leaving Fort Larima (Laramie) in the distance behind, travailing over rough sandy country, steering for sweet water (Sweetwater), a small stream, at last we reach it, traval for days along its banks crossing & recrossing it. Nothing unusual, there is plenty of Deer, Antelope, Kiotes and Indians on the way now. No lack of good fresh meat. We pass the Independent rock (Independence Rock) on Sweet Water. At last we are at the Devels gate (Devil's Gate) on Sweet water. Here we leave one of our wagons. Here two families climb into one wagon and on we go. There is many things to be learned on a trip like this: every one will show his or her true character. We seem to partake of the wild nature of every thing. We are now in the great mormon country, Utah Territory.

Here Martha must have laid aside her writing for several months to a year, because she begins again as follows:

Now this writing is renewed this the first day of our Lord 1905. There are many things that i shal omit having grown dim in my mind. We have never seen a house since crossing the Missouri River but now we come to where for the love of gain the Salt Lake people keep us well supplied with fresh sweet vegetables as we ever picked from our own gardens for which we were thankful. Their little cloth tents were dotted along the way for at least 200 miles.

Now we leave them no more fresh vegetables but sand & Indians. We come now to the Bear River country travail for weeks among the Siox (Sioux) tribe of indians. They were verry friendly. We now come to the 70 mile desert to Green River. Now we are coming into the rough country of the Rockies, travail over patches of Snow in midsummer, over hills and valeys for hundreds of miles. Have many stampeeds of the stock by Indians, one i will mention. Our stock took fright at night, started with all Speed for the mountains, the night watch keeping in hearing of the bells for miles, all at once the bells ceased and [they] waited until morning. When day dawned they (the stock) were on the side of a mountain that overlooked a beautiful little valey, there the stock all stood with not a soul in sight. After the boys got the cattle started back over the road they had just pased over in the dark, they almost shuddered to think what a misstep would have done for them. Only an Indian trail far up on the side of a shetrock (sheer rock?) mountain. They got back with all the stock, now for a half days drive. Tonight they go again, this time they jump them off a bank 10 or 15 feet high into a small stream and hold them there until late in the day. The men got onto their track found where they had rushed them over the bank, there they were in the water and the Indians lying in the grass keeping them in there. The boys said some of the reds jumped six feet in the air never to drive another lot of emigrats (sic) cattle off. Another half days drive.

Now I must tel you what brought all this about. You know that the Indians are great beggars if you know any thing of their trait of character. Our captain became exasperated at them so when he saw some coming he let his large bulldog loose from his chain and one bound and he had torn a piece of skin from the Indians thigh as large as ones hand. They left muttering revenge so we all had to bear the blame of the Indian blood and suffer alike.

Here there is another pause in Martha's writing. She commences:

Aug. 13th 1905

I will try again to renew my narritive of the Plains. We are leaving many hundred[s] of miles behind us. We are nearing the Humbolt (Humboldt) country with not much variation. Plenty of Sagebrush & Sand. After miles of travail we leave Humbolt, part of the train keeping down the River, the rest of us coming to Oregon. Here comes a sad farewell, many of us had started together from our native home, here to say the sadest of words -- farewell.

Now each take their way, some for California, some for Oregon. Water is verry scarce now. At last we are nearing the Sirena evada (Sierra Nevada) mountains. At the foot of the mountain we camped on Tula Lake (Tule Lake), plenty of water and good grass. This night our Cattle was turned on the Lake to range with but few herders. The Indians seeing their opportunity lost no time. The Stock was ran of up into a cove of the mountain and 13 head of our best oxen killed and cut up nicely. In the morning our men took horses and carried to camp as much of the best of the meat as they thought could possibly be used so we had plenty of beef for many days, but I pity the Indian that eat a bite of the meat that was left. (I'm not sure what Martha means here. Did the men poison the remaining meat?)

Now how were we to move, cant with 13 of our Cattle gone. Well we all divided up our teems until we moved out. This brought us to the crossing of the Sirena Mt. (Sierra Nevada Mountains). It took all day to get over. The men would take as many wagons as they could find teems for up the summit, then come down and get dinner, hitch on to the remainder and go to the top. It was a lovely spot on the top of this mountain. You could see the Goose Lake at its foot seemingly but a mile away, but we came down the mountain and made our camp at its foot. The next day we travailed over juniper ridges all day. At night came to the beautiful waters of Goose Lake. Here is a Babe Born to be laid away on the outlet of this beautiful Lake. But no time to lay bye for sickness so we travailed on for days when our hearts were made glad one day to see a company of white[s] coming to meet us. They proved to be a relief company sent out by California & Oregon with provision for any that might be destitute. Here was a Dr. with his services for the sick who kept this poor Lady and her family until the volenteers came in that fall, but only to get her into civilation to bury her. We are now travailing over the high range of the Siscue (Siskiyou) mountains. While eating breakfast one morning a huge black Bear trotted by our camp and seemed surprised to see people away out there. We are now out of sight of Klameth (Klamath) Lake in the heart of the mountain but right here we had rogues.

My Husband had a large mare worth $300 if he had got in to the valey with her. Another man in the company had a fine match for her in size & color. It was this mans duty (?) to drive the loose stock and at camping time both of these mares were missing. So in the morning (the?) men stopped back to look for the last horses, but this was the last we ever seen of them. But a year after a friend of ours saw this verry same man in Yreka, California with both of the mares and ours had a fine colt by her side. (This story apparently means that the "rogues" or "rogue" was the man whose job it was to look after the prize horses, and he absconded with them in the night.)

Now we are almost through the Siscue (Siskiyou) mountains, coming on top of a high ridge we saw what gladdened all our heart. The woman (sic) threw their bonnets up in the air for we were in sight of Civilation once more. That night we camped near a house. This place belonged to a man that had came with most of us from the Misouri river. His wife invited some of us to take a walk with her to see (her) garden, it did our eyes good to see a garden growing once more. And when i saw the squashes i told her i would have my husband come in the morning before we left to get one. After he got it (he) asked the price, $1.00, so after that for many years we raised the dollar Squash in Rogue River valey. Well we moved on down Bear creck (Bear Creek) near jacksonville. Here we camped while the men went out to look for land. In a few days they all dame back well pleased and we seperated, each family to take possession of their donation claim. With our family of 3 children we took up our claim 15 miles North of jacksonville. This was in the fall of Fifty 3. And now we must begin life anew. We got a little log house up to live in and the wild grass & clover was good, so we had plenty of milk & Butter. My Husband bought a new Plough and comenced to open a new farm. Now our first seed wheat cost us 5 (?) dollars per bushel so two bushels was all we could get. So in the spring of 54 we sowed that.

During this summer we ploughed ground enough to sow the entire crop from the two bushels. Now our thrasting (threshing?) machine was a rail pen four rails high covered with rails. ON this we laid the wheat, a few bundles at a time, then [took] a long stick and beat it out. When done threshing we took a canvass, put into that a small amount of wheat at a time. Taking this by the four corners we cleaned out the chaff by the wind seperating the wheat from the chaff. In the spring of 55 we sowed our crop and harvested it, threshed it out with horses this time, got a fanning Mill, cleaned it al[l] up, put it in the bin. We thought we were going finely but Oh horrors we had only ben working for the Indians all this time. For on Oct[ober] the 10 1855 the first battle was fought between the whites and indians which has already gone into history. And now my husband being dead i am living off the Pension granted by the goverment for labour done by the Volunteers of Oregon. The end.

ADDITIONAL NOTES: The original of this 40-page handwritten manuscript is located at the Oregon Historical Society Library in Portland, Oregon in the manuscript collection, MSS number 1055. This transcription is from a photocopy of a photocopy. It appears to have been written on ruled paper measuring approximately 6" by 9" punched in two places at the top of each page and tied with yarn.

Punctuation and capitalization (especially at the beginning of a sentence) has been added or corrected as needed for clarity. Martha almost never used any sort of punctuation in her writing and rarely capitalized the beginning of a sentence. Spelling and phrasing remain the same as in the original as far as possible, although some words and letters have been added where needed. Martha did not make much use of paragraphs, so I have tried to keep as close to her style as possible, only inserting paragraphs where she clearly intended them to be. the handwriting is clear and elegant, in a large, old fashioned, firm hand. Martha's spelling is quite creative where she did not know how to spell a word. Only in a few places is it difficult to tell where a certain phrase belongs, or what a word is.

All Italics, parentheses( ), and brackets [ ] are mine.

Nancy S. Shire
Martha McClain's great-great-granddaughter
September 30, 2002
(For additional genealogical background on any of the families mentioned above, please e-mail Nancy Shire. )

According to Oregon DLC Records,
Martha and her husband William Jackson McClain arrived in Oregon on October 6, 1853.

Transcribed from the Oregon Historical Society's manuscript collections.
(1200 SW Park Ave. Portland, OR 97205)
MSS 1055
McClain, Martha Ann (Tuttle)
Recollections, 1903-1905
preservation photocopy

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