1923 Interview with Maud Cole, Oregon Trail

Donated to the Union County site by Mona Pomraning
Copyright 2000

The following is a transcription of a 1923, interview of Maud Cole, who is my 2nd great grandmother, where Maud tells of one week of her journey. The Perry family mentioned in the article is the Berry family. - Mona

On the Oregon Trail, by Vina Burn, published, Walla Walla Union, Walla Walla Washington, June 11, 1923.

It was the second day of the Old Settlers meeting and Mrs. Cole [Maud R. Burnap] had been scheduled for a Story, but when her name was called she hesitatingly responded with an apology to be excused, but it would not be accepted. The friends called out, No, No, We know you crossed the Plains in a wagon, and can give us something interesting. So with a sigh of acquiescence she began:
I was born in Illinois, but at the time this story begins we were living in the town of Lamar, the county seat of Barton County, Missouri. I was just past my 16th birthday when father decided to go to Oregon and on the 14th of May in 1885, we bade good bye to our friends at the farewell dinner they gave us and started on our long journey to Oregon more than 2000 mils away. Our equipment consisted of two wagons well loaded and amply supplied with the necessities for camping such an outfit would require.

Father, mother, little baby sister and myself occupied the front wagon which was drawn by a pair of handsome bay mares of Kentucky blood, while my four brothers ranging from 6 to 14 years followed in a rear wagon, with a span of good Missouri mules, strong and able to make the trip to Alaska if need be.

It was really interesting to see how quickly those mules fell in with the steady mode of traveling, and readily assumed all the duties required of them. If it were deep mud or steep rocky hill, they never swerved of faltered in there pace but kept bravely up with the wagon ahead.

If a swollen stream with ugly rough banks had to be crossed, and our mares went through, you may depend, Jack and Pet plunged forward with - but little guidance from brother and always came out in good order.

When we reached Great Bend, Kansas, we stopped a few days to make a last visit and bid goodbye to dear old grandfather and grandmother; and which indeed proved to be a last goodbye to the kind loving old man who was so overcome with grief at the parting he could not command his voice to say the last sad word but waved his hand as a token of what he felt, and alas! We never met again.

We had been traveling about a month when we fell in company with a family from Arkansas, by the name of Perry [actually Berry]. They too, were traveling alone and were going to Oregon about the same locality we were, so we readily gave each other the glad hand of friendship, which continued for many weeks.

They were also driving mules and the teams became warmly attached to each other as well as we folks, and served us a happy good turn before we reached the end of our journey, as my story will attest before I get through.

Their family consisted of a daughter [Gussie] about my own age, a boy, a pair of twins in age and size to my oldest brother and a younger son be sides Mr. And Mrs. Perry [Berry].

In passing through Wyoming we camped one night at Antelope Springs and finding good water and fine grazing for the stock we decided to remain a few days to rest the teams, and do up the inevitable washing that accumulated in doubles and thribles on such a journey; but Mr. Perry [Berry] discovered that they were out of some much needed supplies, and though it best to drive on to Green River City and there await our arrival which would probably be but a day or two. But when we reached the city we learned from a merchant who had been delegated to give up the news, that not finding grazing or a good camp ground they had crossed the river and would halt at the first good place hey found and would await our arrival.

It was late in the afternoon when we finally succeeded in getting started after crossing the river, and the sun was verging low in the west when we entered a dense woods. The road was rough and hilly and a dark moonless night coming on found us in bad shape for traveling in a strange country.

Finally father gave me the lines and said he should lead the way with a lantern which I must strictly follow in driving. We got along comparatively well for some time and were nearing the edge of the forest. Catching a glimpses of the sky overhead, and never a more welcome sight met my eager gaze; when old July our most trusted and reliable animal became quite insistent on turning to the left. It was with the greatest difficulty I could keep her in the right course.

Father grew impatient and chided me for what he called my awkward and careless driving. In vain I tried to keep her following him correctly. At last I said July is getting unruly and will not obey me but seems determined to go to the left. A young man who was riding with the boys came forward and volunteered to drive for me, and he too, soon discovered it was indeed the good old mare’s fault and suggested there might be something wrong with the briddle or harness. Father stopped and they gave the bits and the harness a thorough examination, but finding everything in order decided it must be some strange willfulness that had suddenly taken possession of her.

We started on again, but had gone a short distance when she veered completely out of the track giving the wagons a decided jolt. Just then a faint but familiar sound, apparently from quite a distance came to our ears, which was instantly taken up by Jack and Pet in a vociferous bray and quickly responded to from the distance.
Mr. Perrys [Berry] camp gleefully shouted my brothers, and we soon realized the fact by responsive sounds from both teams of mules and even old July gave a glad whinny of recognition to which Prin added her voice also. Father began to search for a trail in the direction of the sound but found nothing but a trackless prairie. He came back to us saying; I can’t find any road in that direction and I dislike to leave this one not knowing how to get there. Just then my brothers called out See the light, see the light. And sure enough the faintest little glimmer like a distant star, could be discerned fully half a mile away and in the same direction the intelligent old mare had been trying to lead us, and soon the young man who was riding with us said, that means, straight ahead, this way. Well said father if it’s straight ahead that way I reckon we can make it somehow. And we found no difficulty for the prairie was level and unbroken and the noisy trumpeters from both teams of mules kept us in a good cheer. Old July as if forgetting the weariness of the day’s travel struck a brisk pace and instinctively like the proverbial bee line lead us straight into camp.

Mr. Perry’s [Berry] had given us up for the day and gone to bed but when their mules brayed and they heard ours answer they know we were near and fearing we would not find their camp, it being so far from the road, Everett [Berry, age 14] climbed a tree and signaled with a lantern hoping we might see and understand.

It was nearly midnight but soon the camp was all astir and greetings were exchanged with hearty good will not the least of which was the darling baby who came in for her share of kisses and caresses, accepting them with wide open eyes and happy coos of recognition and glad reunion as if our separation had been for weeks, instead of only a few days.

The next day was Sunday and we enjoyed a good rest and felt much refreshed upon resuming our journey Monday morning. Our next point was Granger where we found nice fresh vegetables and stored up a good supply as they we quite a rare treat and were growing hungry, starving as the children said, especially for new potatoes.

We were yet many hundred miles from the point of our destination and the month of August was passing, increasing its dry dusty trails and withering days of scorching sun and wind and making us extremely weary, and decidedly anxious to reach the end of our journey.

When we came to the beautiful valley of Boise, Idaho, with its refreshing irrigating system and bountiful crop of alfalfa, at that time being harvested; it was temptingly inviting to cur the Oregon country off our scheduled route, but as we had friends in eastern Oregon Union County who were expecting us we continued our course through the sparsely settled country of Baker County only stopping over night in the beautiful town of Baker City an the next day reached he Grande valley which we though justified its name La Grande as the finest we had seen in the state.

Mr. Perry [Berry] journey ended there and he remained with relatives who resided in the town, but we pushed on the 100 miles further through the only deep 9-mile canyon of the Wallowa river, and settled in the fine fertile valley of Wallowa as we had intended, and from which General O.O. Howard had but recently driven Chief Joseph and his brave band of sturdy warriors, but who was later honored by having his name given to the first and principle town in the valley, and which is situated near the famous pool of water, known as Wallowa Lake, noted for its healthful and inspiring qualities, and also as the spewing ground of the king of fishes, the delicious salmon.

Thus ended our long journey which marked 115 days for us since starting.

When Mrs. Cole [Maud R. Burnap, wife of Robert Linford Cole] ceased speaking she was greeted with a heart round of applause and many responsive congratulations from the friends and Old Settlers who always told a specially true and affectionate cordiality for each other.

The above is a transcription of a 1923, interview of Maud Cole, who is my 2nd great grandmother, where Maud tells of one week of her journey. The Perry family mentioned in the article is the Berry family. - Mona