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   Chapter 25 OREGON

54-40 or Fight By Emerson Hough Characters: 5497

Updated: 2017-11-30 00:04


The spell and the light of each path we pursue-

If woman be there, there is happiness too.

-Moore.

Twenty miles a day, week in and week out, we edged westward up the Platte, in heat and dust part of the time, often plagued at night by clouds of mosquitoes. Our men endured the penalties of the journey without comment. I do not recall that I ever heard even the weakest woman complain. Thus at last we reached the South Pass of the Rockies, not yet half done our journey, and entered upon that portion of the trail west of the Rockies, which had still two mountain ranges to cross, and which was even more apt to be infested by the hostile Indians. Even when we reached the ragged trading post, Fort Hall, we had still more than six hundred miles to go.

By this time our forces had wasted as though under assault of arms. Far back on the trail, many had been forced to leave prized belongings, relics, heirlooms, implements, machinery, all conveniences. The finest of mahogany blistered in the sun, abandoned and unheeded. Our trail might have been followed by discarded implements of agriculture, and by whitened bones as well. Our footsore teams, gaunt and weakened, began to faint and fall. Horses and oxen died in the harness or under the yoke, and were perforce abandoned where they fell. Each pound of superfluous weight was cast away as our motive power thus lessened. Wagons were abandoned, goods were packed on horses, oxen and cows. We put cows into the yoke now, and used women instead of men on the drivers' seats, and boys who started riding finished afoot. Our herds were sadly lessened by theft of the Indians, by death, by strayings which our guards had not time to follow up. If a wagon lagged it was sawed shorter to lessen its weight Sometimes the hind wheels were abandoned, and the reduced personal belongings were packed on the cart thus made, which nevertheless traveled on, painfully, slowly, yet always going ahead. In the deserts beyond Fort Hall, wagons disintegrated by the heat. Wheels would fall apart, couplings break under the straining teams. Still more here was the trail lined with boxes, vehicles, furniture, all the flotsam and jetsam of the long, long Oregon Trail.

The grass was burned to its roots, the streams were reduced to ribbons, the mirages of the desert mocked us desperately. Rain came seldom now, and the sage-brush of the desert was white with bitter dust, which in vast clouds rose sometimes in the wind to make our journey the harder. In autumn, as we approached the second range of mountains, we could see the taller peaks whitened with snow. Our leaders looked anxiously ahead, dreading the storms which must ere long overtake us. Still, gaunt now and haggard, weakened in body

but not in soul, we pressed on across. That was the way to Oregon.

Gaunt and brown and savage, hungry and grim, ragged, hatless, shoeless, our cavalcade closed up and came on, and so at last came through. Ere autumn had yellowed all the foliage back east in gentler climes, we crossed the shoulders of the Blue Mountains and came into the Valley of the Walla Walla; and so passed thence down the Columbia to the Valley of the Willamette, three hundred miles yet farther, where there were then some slight centers of our civilization which had gone forward the year before.

Here were some few Americans. At Champoeg, at the little American missions, at Oregon City, and other scattered points, we met them, we hailed and were hailed by them. They were Americans. Women and plows were with them. There were churches and schools already started, and a beginning had been made in government. Faces and hands and ways and customs and laws of our own people greeted us. Yes. It was America.

Messengers spread abroad the news of the arrival of our wagon train. Messengers, too, came down from the Hudson Bay posts to scan our equipment and estimate our numbers. There was no word obtainable from these of any Canadian column of occupation to the northward which had crossed at the head of the Peace River or the Saskatchewan, or which lay ready at the head waters of the Fraser or the Columbia to come down to the lower settlements for the purpose of bringing to an issue, or making more difficult, this question of the joint occupancy of Oregon. As a matter of fact, ultimately we won that transcontinental race so decidedly that there never was admitted to have been a second.

As for our people, they knew how neither to hesitate nor to dread. They unhooked their oxen from the wagons and put them to the plows. The fruit trees, which had crossed three ranges of mountains and two thousand miles of unsettled country, now found new rooting. Streams which had borne no fruit save that of the beaver traps now were made to give tribute to little fields and gardens, or asked to transport wheat instead of furs. The forests which had blocked our way were now made into roofs and walls and fences. Whatever the future might bring, those who had come so far and dared so much feared that future no more than they had feared the troubles which in detail they had overcome in their vast pilgrimage.

So we took Oregon by the only law of right. Our broken and weakened cavalcade asked renewal from the soil itself. We ruffled no drum, fluttered no flag, to take possession of the land. But the canvas covers of our wagons gave way to permanent roofs. Where we had known a hundred camp-fires, now we lighted the fires of many hundred homes.

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