About one-sixth of the following account was published in the History of Union County in 1861. However, since it is one of the few rather detailed stories of the trip across the plains that has been prepared by members of the family who had first-hand information, we think it should be preserved for future generations by printing in the annual of the Union County Historical Society. – Bernal D. Hug, President, Union County Historical Society.
By James Woodell
On April 10, 1830, just 100 years ago, the first covered wagon left St. Louis for the west over the Oregon Trail route. On December 29 of that year, just 100 years ago next December, Ezra Meeker, the pioneer who devoted his later life to marking the Old Oregon Trail, was born. By act of Congress and proclamation of President Hoover, the period from April 10, 1930 to December 29, 1930 has been set aside as “The Covered Wagon Centennial”, in honor of the dauntless men and women who laid the foundation for the great development of this western country.
Howard R. Diggs of New York, president of the Old Oregon Trail Association says, after a trip across this famous old trail, that in the passing of Ezra Meeker, the work he started is bequeathed to the descendants of the pioneers – that work of gathering the stories of this march across the continent. He says that along the trail historical societies are being formed, famous stopping places are being bought up and dedicated as historical shrines.
Union County is not behind in this movement. Gangloff Park, with its monument is dedicated to the pioneers and agroup of interested people met in July at the home of ex governor and Mrs. Walter M. Pierce and started the organization of an historical society which they hope to perfect next month.
The Woodell family is one of the pioneer families of this valley, so, it is fitting at this reunion, we honor the memory of those who crossed the plains, especially the two who are with us today, (Uncle Jim Woodell and Mrs. Mary Oliver). So this story is dedicated to them.
The spring of 1862 saw such times as will never be forgotten in American history. Abraham Lincoln had just taken office as President of the United States. The question, “Would the South cecede?” vied with talk of the great migration to the west, in every Iowa town. Excitement stirred in the farming country, three quarters of a mile from Bladensburg in Wapelo County, Iowa, when it became known that James Woodell and all of his family were going west. Busy times followed. Covered wagons must be gotten ready, out-fitted for the long, six months drive. Clothes, not store clothes, but homemade jeans and linsey spun and woven from flax in the home. The mother had been dead for a number of years and all this work of spinning, weaving and making clothes was done by the two married daughters, Mary Margaret and Eliza. As the time drew near to start Margaret and her husband, William German, decided they would not go, but would live on the old home place.
On April 9, 1862, the start was made. This was the day before Fort Sumpter had been fired on, but Iowa was a long ways from Washington then, and our travellers did not know until they reached Council Bluffs, many miles on their way.
Can you see them in your mind? The light spring wagon took the lead, double-decked it was, with the lower part filed with provisions; barrels of flour and sugar, sides and sides of bacon, grain and corn for seed, a few cherished flower seeds. The upper deck was crowded to the bursting point with bedding and other equipment – large curving bows covered with gleaming white canvas, pulled by a gray and a bay mare, stepping so lively, and on the seat were two young men, the moving spirits of this great adventure. Bill was just past 21 and Joe, 19. Their guns were by their sides for they were to be the hunters of the party and many a deer, bear, antelope and buffalo, to say nothing of birds they brought into camp on that long trail.
Just behind them the stolid ox-team stood ready to move. Six big yoke of oxen in the wheel and in the lead, four milch cows. Father Woodell stood beside the wheel oxen, his long whip in his hand and at the head stood his son-in-law, John Wallsinger. Each found, by necessity, his work outlined for him. A tall, slim young man with a keen sense of direction, a tireless walker, he soon became the scout of the party, walking long miles ahead of the slow moving oxen, scouting out camping places, for a creek must be found for the night camp, the noon one was so often a dry camp. This latter wagon, like the other, was filled to the brim, but on the upper deck, one bed was left unrolled and the tent was always put in the easiest place to get at for there were children in this wagon.
Eliza Woodell Wallsinger sat on the high seat with her three-weeks old baby Sallie and four-year old Maggie in a bright pink calico sunbonnet bobbing around on the seat beside her. The little Woodell brothers, Julius, or Doon as he was called, nine, and James, Jr., 13, hanging to the back of the wagon ready to climb aboard when the slow moving oxen got in motion.
Neighbors and friends were standing around; good-byes and good wishes were being said. Mrs. Thompson, the nearest neighbor, gathered little Jimmy into her arms, tears running down her cheeks, “Jimmy, I just can’t see you go away out west – you have seemed just like my own little boy since your ma died.”
Just a little of the glamour of going out west faded as a lump came in Jimmy’s throat and the tears came to his eyes as he said good-by to Lew, the young Thompson lad who had been his best friends, then crawled up in the back of the wagon. They were off!
The first few stops were a picnic. Liza and Margaret baked loaves and loaves of bread, dozens and dozens of cookies and made jars of jam. But when these were gone, just think of night after night when the long march was done, no place to buy even a loaf of bread, this frail little woman cooked great pots of beans, coffee, dried fruit and baked loaves and loaves of salt rising bread whenever a day’s stop was made. There was her husband, her father, four big husky boys, with a growing boys’ appetite, whetted by out-of-doors living. There were big washings and the care of her little tots. Do you see how she ever made it?
At Council Bluffs, six or seven other wagons joined the Woodell wagons. One night just as camp was made, a terrible commotion broke loose under the big Woodell wagon. Little Doon was bawling at the top of his voice and howling for “Papa.” No one ever knew what did happen but father came running and pulled Jimmy out by the heels and paddled him good for picking on his little brother. Jimmy felt that he was in the right for pasting him in the nose, so he gathered up his coat and hit the back trail for Iowa. He’d just go back and live with the Thompsons. He did not hear when his father called, so gathering up a large sagebrush switch, father took the back track too. It was a merry chase while it lasted, but in the end, Jimmy decided that he would go on to Oregon.
As they neared Devil’s Gap on the Sweetwater in western Nebraska, they met up with a number of other wagons headed west. As camp was being made, swarms and swarms of mosquitoes arrived too, settling down in the weary travellers. They were not the little annoying Iowa kind, but those big blood-thirsty western kind. The stock just went wild and the men had to drive them a mile or two to higher ground. Liza was trying to get supper and was carrying the tiny baby in her arms. “Maggie, you come here and keep the skeeters off of little sister.” But Maggie had found that if she got a big sagebrush and went switching it around her little legs around and around in the smoke of the camp fire, the skeeters would not bother her, so she did not hear.
But thoughtful little Jimmy did. He went to the wagon, got a sheet from the bed and spread it on the ground. Then he said, “Give me the baby, sis.” He took her in his arms and rolled over and over till they were completely hid from the skeeters. When the men came back, the supper was ready, but Jimmy and the baby were sound asleep.
Among the new folks who joined the train at this place (Devil’s Gap), was the Hasty family. They had a little blind boy named Ephraim, a year younger than Jimmy. The way had been so long for this little lad who could not see to walk, but had to sit all day long in the wagon. A boy of his own age was a God-send to him and they became fast friends. For miles and miles, sometimes ahead and sometimes behind in the dust, Jimmy led little blind Eph Hasty by the hand, and if anyone shot a new kind of animal or bird, Jimmy must take him to see it. Slowly his sensitive fingers would move over the animal’s body – and he had seen it.
In Eastern Utah, they were getting into hostile Indian country. Now new wagons were joining them every day. When they stopped at a small creek, the women washed and baked and the men organized a real train and elected a captain. Among the new people was one little girl, who from then on was the pest of the camp. Her mother never kept her at home, while the other children were kept rather close to their own wagons.
Liza had her big batch of salt-rising bread all made and set in pans to raise, around on the ground in her tent, while she washed and kept the fire up to heat the dutch oven. When she came in from hanging her clothes on the bushes, this naughty little girl had been in her tent and stepped a bare, dusty foot into every one of the loaves of bread which were ready to bake. Tired and worn as she was, it just seemed more than she could stand.
In all, there were 30 or 35 wagons gathered together and a Mr. Manville was chosen as captain as he had traveled this same trail twice before and he was a very able man. They were never sorry of their choice and from then on his word was law. He said the Indians seldom attacked the larger tarins, it was the smaller ones, but of course the larger trains moved more slowly.
At Green River, in Wyoming, came the most thrilling episode of the whole journey. It was now July, and Green River was at its highest. A crude ferry crossed the raging stream, which ran like a mill race. Only one wagon or yoke of oxen could be taken at a time, so from daylight until dusk, wagon after wagon was taken across. When the Woodell wagon was about halfway across, little Maggie, sitting on the bed with her two small uncles, got scared at the water all around them. “Jimmy, how are we going to get out?” she cried. “Oh, we aren’t going to, we are going to stay right here,” he said, and to this day, that wagon, entirely surrounded by water, is the most vivid picture of her memory.
By nine, all the wagons were safely across, and by ten the camp was still. At midnight a messenger came in haste, waking Captain Manville, and wanting him to move camp at once as their company of nine wagons, camped on Clearwater ten miles away, had been attacked by the Indians – one man had been killed and all of their stock had been driven off. All was excitement. Captain Manville called all his men together saying he knew the Indians and that it was the stock they wanted and not scalps. They would not be attacked again, but the train would move at daybreak. No one slept the rest of that night, and in the gray dawn they got under way – scouts in front and an armed guard behind.
About 2:00 in the afternoon, they came to the camp on the Clearwater. The people had seen nothing more of the Indians, but they still knew they were not far away. The horses, which knew and inhaled the Indian smell, were nervous and afraid, even the stolid oxen were little better. After holding a brief service, the man who had been killed was buried and a wagon bow put over the grave to mark the place. They then prepared for the night. The wagons were drawn up in the usual circle, the stock penned inside and three tiers of armed guards around the outside of them. This was another night when no one slept. Toward morning, the Indians fired from the bluffs some distance away, hoping to stampede the stock. They were afraid to attack so large a train. They were answered by shots from all the guards and they did not fire again.
When moving time came, what extra stock the train had was gathered up, two wagons outfitted, all food and necessary clothes and bedding of the stranded people loaded in, the women and children found places to ride in other wagons of the train, and the weary march began again. As no more Indians were seen, gradually the tension loosened.
One hot afternoon, thunder clouds hung low in the west, toward evening, heavy thunder and lightning came, crash after crash. Captain Manville called a halt, but the storm was too swift for them. Before the oxen could be unyoked, it struck, and oh, what a hail storm. Hail stones as big as hen eggs, great jagged pieces of ice that cut the horses. They snorted and broke loose from the wagons. Oxen bellowed and dragging their yokes, went dashing away across the rolling plains. Liza, with the help of Jimmy, was trying to pitch the tent, when the wind caught it and tore it out of their hands. Grabbing the baby and little Maggie, one in each arm, she threw a quilt over them and dived under the wagon. All the next day was spent in gathering up the stock and mending the equipment.
It was August now. One monotonous day followed another – dust and heat, sage-brush and sand across Nevada and Idaho. Travelling in the dust behind the wagons, Jimmy said to little Eph, “How I hate the sage brush, all you can see, all you can smell, all you can taste, is sage brush. Wish I was back home.”
Next day when they were ready to go, Jimmy did not come for him, and the next morning, little Eph came feeling his way along the Woodell wagons. “Mrs. Wallsinger, where is Jimmy?” he asked. “Jimmy is lying on the bed, he’s sick,” she said. Jimmy heard Eph ask about him, but he was too sick to care. Lonely little Eph felt his way back to his father’s wagon, reporting that Jimmy was sick. All day Jimmy tossed on the bed in the wagon and at night when the tent was up, Liza put cold cloths on his head before she started supper. The children were cross; things were out of tune; Jimmy was sick. As they neared Fort Hall, father Woodell told Captain Manville they would have to stop as the boy was a pretty sick lad. He was afraid he was not going to pull through. Then came Mrs. McCormick from the wagon just behind the Hasty’s saying she would like to take Jimmy in their wagon as she had had some experience in nursing and maybe she could pull him through.
Next day they came to Fort Hall, and Captain Manville announced they would stay there till they saw how it went with Jim Woodell’s boy. Some of the train were impatient; they were headed for the Willamette Valley, summer was passing; but Captain Manville would not move on that day. Said Mrs. McCormick, “Mr. Woodell, don’t undress tonight, I might need you. I think the crisis will come before morning.” Near dawn she called as little Jimmy was so white and still, but the fever was gone and he had ceased muttering of home and Lew. He knew his father’s face and smiled a wan little smile, as he bent over him.
Next day, Mrs. McCormick, thinking he could be moved, the train got under way again. In a few days, Jimy was able to take blind little Eph by the hand and fare forth ahead of the train. “You was awfully sick, wasn’t you, Jimmy?” “Uh-huh.” “Wish I could see you with my eyes.” “Wish you could.”
And so across Idaho and into the Baker Valley – Oregon at last. Two weeks they stopped and looked the country over, but no one wanted to stay. It was now late in September when they came out on the hill where Ladd Canyon opens out into the valley of the Grande Ronde. How good the waving bunch grass looked after miles and miles of sage. Father Woodell said, “Here I think I’ll want to stay.” So a council was held on the brow of the hill. The two big boys, Bill and Joe, were determined to go on with the train, most of them were going to the Willamette Valley or to Walla Walla. Liza wanted to go on to the Willamette for there were settlers and she wanted to see cultivated fields and fruit trees again. But John, her husband, agreed with his father-in-law that winter was coming on and they had better stop here. Not coming to any decision, they pushed on, passing a few log cabins where LaGrande is now, and camped on the river where the Preobstal bridge is now.
Next morning they came to a decision. They would stop for the winter and if they didn’t like it, would move on in the spring. But they had reached their destination. No one ever said: “Move on.”
How different were the looks of the party camped on the banks of the Grande Ronde, from the party which six months before had left Bladensburg. The wagons were dust-stained and old. The once gleaming white canvas covers were tattered and torn. Maggie’s little pink calico sunbonnet, a dingy rag, flapped from one of the wagon bows. But the little three-week old baby whom all the Bladensburg folks said Liza would never reach her destination with – that little baby was so fat and brown, you could almost take her for an Indian papoose. Just remember, four milch cows were in the lead of that second wagon.
Sixty-eight years have passed and a third James Woodell now lives on that farm in the shadow of Mt. Emily. Their children are married and gone, but grandchildren fill the old home with happy voices now. We count six generations from Grandfather Woodell down to little Danny Oliver, our Aunt Margaret’s great grandson – she’s the little Maggie of the pink sunbonnet. And what of little Jimmy who trudged barefooted in the dust of the covered wagons? A frail old man with a long white beard, did you say? Why no. He’s hale and hearty, straight as an Indian chief, the head of the Woodell clan!
More Pictures Of Our Pioneers
It was the 12th day of September, 1862, when we left the Woodell-Wallsinger family camped on the bank of the Grande Ronde, all the other wagons going on to the Willamette Valley or to Walla Walla. The young men, Bill and Joe, you will remember, wanted to push on to the Willamette, but it was decided to stay in the Grande Ronde until spring, then, if not satisfied, to move on. Joe had made friends in the train who were headed for Walla Walla, and when this decision was made, he decided to go with them. It was two years before he returned.
The few log cabins nestled against the hillside in old LaGrande, then called “Browntown”, with the Nesleys, Charles Goodnough and John Caviness, who had claims staked all along the river, were all the settlers in that part of the valley. There were a few people wintered up along Catherine Creek and a few settlers at Forest Cove on the other side of the valley.
As soon as the oxen had rested for a day or two, Bill took three yoke of the best oxen and the big wagon and went to The Dalles for the winter’s supply of food. On his way down, he traveled with several wagons headed for the Willamette valley, but the trip back, he made alone. As soon as he had started, father Woodell started on foot along the foot-hill country to spy out a location for the winter. A little after noon he came upon the camp of a man named Reaves, under some large pine trees near what is called the Wade spring, and which is now the water supply for the N.K. West ranch.
In talking to Mr. Reaves, he told him he was so pleased by the lay of the land a few miles back, if he could have only found a spring. Mr. Reaves said he could show him a dandy spring and they started back. On the place now owned by William Bull, long known as the Conrad place, the spring was found and father Woodell said, “This just suits me. That’s good land running to the south and east.” “I’ve found the place,” he reported that evening on his return to camp.
Next morning commenced the moving. They just had the small two-horse wagons to move with, and several trips were made before they could get all their belongings down to a camp under the big pines, near the Reaves camp, where the logs were to be gotten out for the new home. The first log cabin stood about halfway between the spring and where Mr. Bull’s house now stands. When father Woodell took out his claim, he said, “I’ll have the house face south and the road go between those two pans of rock.” Later the land and road were surveyed and the road still goes between these points of rocks.
In about ten days, Bill returned from The Dalles and found te camp a busy place. Father Woodell and Jimmy had mowed with a scythe, the tall ripe grass growing in the swale, south of where the house was to be, making a big stack for winter’s feed for the stock. Then they began cutting the logs for the house. It was October now and the chill of the nights told that winter was soon to come.
Mr. Reaves had told them of a road to Walla Walla, turning north about where the town of Meacham is now. As soon as Bill got back from The Dalles with the flour, he took the three rested yoke of oxen and went to Walla Walla, bringing back a load of potatoes, about seven bushels of wheat and four ears of corn. In the meantime, the cabin walls were going up.
Liza was anxious to see how the new house was progressing and suggested they move camp to that end of the operations. This plan did not meet with the approval of anyone but Jimmy, who was always left at camp to help her. She told him he was to stay at camp and mind the children while she went up to say just where the new camp would be. But while watching a big log being put in place, a rope broke letting one end down, nearly catching her underneath it. She decide right then and there, much to the relief of the men folks, that she would stay right where she was until that house was finished.
But Jimmy did get his chance to help. Mr. Raves had loaned them a frow and John had cut a big fir tree down from which he made the shakes to cover the roof. They were three feet long and four to six inches wide. When they were ready to put on, John said Jimmy might go along and pass up the shakes for him to nail on. One thing young Bill had brought from The Dalles were the nails with which to put on the roof.
At last it was done, and happy as kings, they moved in. It would not be much of a house to us today – just one large log room, the cracks chinked with mud. At the east end was a big stone fire place, a crude door to the west, just one small window in the south wall, covered with muslin. Two long boards from the upper deck of the wagon bed served for a table and rude benches at each side, several home-made stools in front of the fireplace, a few boards laid on pegs driven in the wall, made the cupboard for the dishes. Their beds were crude bunks nailed to the sides of the cabin wall, filled with hay on which were laid the feather beds and blankets. When the mud chalking fell out, the snow drifted in. There was no floor, just the hard trampled dirt and a bunch of pine boughs tied together made a broom. But it was a house, a home after all those weary, weary months of travel; making a hasty camp at night, breaking camp early in the morning, going a few miles and camping again.
And as the days passed, thoughts of moving on in the spring, grew dim. So dim in fact, that Bill made a second trip to Walla Walla late in the fall, this time with a pack horse. He went across an Indian trail just north of their camp, where a number of years later the Thomas and Ruckle Roads were built. He went for the iron parts of a breaking plow for they had decided they were going to stay and put in a crop in the spring.
James Pyle, for whom Pyle’s Canyon was later named, drove in a band of cattle from the Willamette Valley late in the fall, and the Woodells agreed to look after them through the winter. Among the bunch were three fresh cows, so they had milk that first winter. Their own cows which they had driven across the plains were now dry.
Winter came early that year, and the first big stack of hay, which they had worked so hard to put up, was burned when a fire which had been set to burn the tall grass from around the cabin, got away from their control. Until after the first snow fell, they worked putting up more hay. The snow fell deep along the west side, but across the valley on the east side, it was much lighter. So when the hay was gone, the stock had to be driven to the east slopes.
At last spring came and about six acres, where they had cut off the tall grass for hay, was ready to plow. As soon as the snow was off, they hauled poles and made a shanghai fence around it. About one acre was planted in barley corn, from the four native ears Bill had brought from Walla Walla, with some they had brought from home. Carefully, the eyes of the potatoes were cut out long before they were planted and carefully kept moist. The garden and a few flower seeds Liza had so zealously guarded all winter were put in just as soon as the ground could be made ready. My! How those vegetables did grow in the new ground, and how good they did taste!
While the Grande Ronde has proven to be wheat country, they were not disappointed in that first batch of corn, for in the fall they gathered six or seven sacks and took them to the Isaac and Jacob’s mill at Walla Walla and had the corn ground into corn-meal. The wheat also yielded well and this they threshed out with a flail and ground it themselves in a big coffee mill. Then from the garden there were potatoes, turnips, carrots and cabbage, which they buried in a big pit in the ground.
How they missed fruit that first winter. But not the second, for in the early summer they found wild currants and gooseberries. Then later, and service berries and choke berries. These were mixed in equal parts and made a delicious jam. Gallons and gallons of elderberries, and best of all, huckleberries, were dried for pies and sauce and then in later years, they made a trip each fall to Walla Walla for fruit.
Mountain trout could be caught in the streams, and prairie chickens, ducks and geese nested along the small streams. How many custard and bread puddings were made from the eggs of these wild fowl!
Either the first or second winter, Jimmy went his only term of school, the Iowa Steelement having the first schoolhouse in the valley outside of LaGrande. This little log schoolhouse stood about half a mile from the present Iowa schoolhouse, about where the Hoyt’s round barn now stands. Mr. Heskett, Mrs. John Shaw’s father, was the first teacher. His two boys, Frank and Bud, three Chamberlin children, Jimmy and a young man named George Whittlemire (who was 26 years old) were the first pupils. Every Friday afternoon they had a spelling match from an old McGuffey spellin’ book and it was always nip and tuck between Jimmy and George. When the final match came, it soon narrowed down to Jimmy and George as usual.
“Parteer” pronounced the teacher. It was George’s word.
“P-a-r-t-e-e” spelled George.
“R” shouted Jimmy dancing up and down.
“How’s that?” asked the teacher.
“P-a-r-t-e-e-r” triumphantly spelled Jimmy.
“Right.” Said the teacher.
The next winter was an open winter and fencing could be gotten out until late in the year and as John and Liza had moved to the other side of the valley, Jimmy was chief cook at home. So father Woodell gave Jimmy and Doon their lessons at home in the evenings.
Finding out that first winter, that the fall did not fall as deep on the east slopes as on the west, in the fall of 1863, John and Liza decided to build their home on the east side, so all hand turned out and built their first cabin on the place which has been known for so many years as the Willey place. But the house was not down on the flat as it is now, but up on the bluff where there was a dandy spring. Here looking out over the valley, which was a sea of waving bunch grass and rye grass as tall as a man or horse, Liza spent her second winter in the new land. Little Maggie was nearing six now and baby Sallie was two. In April, another little baby girl, Martha Jane, arrived. Also the rattle snakes, for it seemed the big cool spring was a favorite haunt of theirs. Also, those rocky bluffs were their home. But they had gone into winter quarters when the Wallsingers arrived, so did not contest the place until the next spring.
One day, Liza killed 15 big fellows. They got so they were not so much afraid of them and no one was ever bitten. Liza had brought a few chickens with her from Iowa, and these she prized very highly. Those big rattlers would just swallow the little chickens whole. Whenever she would hear the hens making a fuss, she would say, “Maggie, run out and see if the snakes are after the chickens,” and little Maggie would throw rocks at them until her mother could come and kill them.
Another day, when Doon came over, he suggested to Maggie that they go down to the willows and get some long switches to hit the snakes with. This they did. The switches were about four feet long with a little bunch of leaves left at the end and how those snakes would slither back to the rocks when the children got after them with the switches. Every few days Doon would come over and get Maggie more snake switches.
Second Section Of Pioneer Story
The mines on North Powder river were a good market for all the vegetables the settlers could raise, so John and Eliza planted a big garden that spring. One day as they were working in the garden, a thunder storm came up. Baby Jane was asleep in the house and Eliza told Maggie to take Sallie and go to the house. She was afraid the thunder would waken the baby. Now Magie was afraid of thunder, but she knew she had to mind. When the rain drove Liza in, no children were to be seen, but bumps in the bed told their whereabouts. Someone had said in Maggie’s hearing, that if you got under a feather bed, lightning could not strike you. Baby Jane was almost smothered.
This year of 1863 saw many new families in the valley, and in the fall, David Thompson and a party of surveyors came in and surveyed the valley. That summer, Jimmy made his first big trip as a freighter. Bill, with the big wagon and ox-team, Jimmy with the horses and small wagon, started to Umatilla landing with a load of freight for the mines at Auburn.
All went well until they came to the top of Cayuse Hill, where the road drops from the Blue Mountains to the Umatilla River, near Pendleton. Jimmy was in the lead and just on the brow of the hill, he met a Mexican coming up who had a bright red blanket tied on behind his saddle. The horses took one look, reared up in the air and bolted. Down that hill they went on high, the Mexican following close behind. Bill took one look at little Jimmy bouncing around on the seat of the swaying wagon, unyoked the oxen from the wagon and started on the run after the Mexican. When he got to the bottom, there lay the horses, their legs waving frantically in the air, and the Mexican trying to lift the wagon box off Jimmy’s legs. Together they righted the team and wagon, gathered up the oxen, made a bed for Jimmy in the bed of the wagon, tying his team behind the ox-team and on into Pendleton! There Bill found a doctor who said Jimmy had no bones broken, but was just shaken up and bruised. They stayed there all night and next morning, Jimmy still in a bed in the wagon box, they started for the landing. As luck would have it, the freight boat was three days late, and had been held up somehow at Celilo Falls. When it did come and they got loaded, Jimmy was able to take his place on the seat again, but Bill decreed he should go behind the ox-team. This was the only freighting trip they took that year.
The next year Bill took up a homestead, adjoining his father’s and they built two hewed-log cabins about half a mile apart, just south of the first cabin, in what was always called the swale. More fencing was to be done, more land to be put into crops. The county had settled up quite rapidly in the two years and there were between four and five hundred people there now. In October, 1864, Union County was organized. Before this, the valley had been part of Baker Co
It was not until the summer of 1866 that Jimmy took another freighting trip. He was a strong, tall lad of 16 now and no one, not even Liza called him “Jimmy” any more. From then on he was “Jim.” In the summer of ’66 he hired out to a man named Shroder, who was freighting to Boise. He had one 11, and one 12-yoke team of oxen and five wagons. They followed the old immigrant trail through Ladd canyon, and on the return trip, had no freight, so Mr. Shroder left the outfit in Jim’s hands this side of Baker, somewhere near North Powder, and came on to LaGrande on horseback to see about getting a load of flour for the return trip. Jim was only 16, you remember, and 22 oxen and five wagons was quite an outfit for a boy to bring through the canyon. Mr. Shroder expected him to camp at the head of the canyon, but he came right through and when Mr. Shroder came out to meet him, he was on his way across the valley.
“Well, I got the flour allright,” he said. “Well, you’ll have to hunt another driver,” Jim said, “I’m going home.” “why what’s the matter with you? You’re just a boy, but you’re one of the best drivers I ever had,” said Shroder.
But Jim insisted he was through, for the oxen are slow-moving creatures, the load had been heavy, they had not made many miles a day and at every camping place, the seasoned freighters had left behind them some of their bed-fellows. These were called “cooties” by our overseas boys, but by the old-time freighters, “graybacks.” Jim was yound and tender and he had acquired a goodly number. To Mr. Shroder’s insisting, he finally blurted out: “I’ve got lice on me. I’m done and I’m going home.” “Oh, that’s nothing, all the freighters have them. I’ll get you a change of clothes and have Mehaffey fix up something at the drug store to put on them.” But nothing doing – Jim had had enough. That ended the freighting business.
Doon had a little Indian pony and with a rope hackamore around his nose, would gallop madly across the valley to Liza’s every few days. One day when he arrived, she had baby Jane in her arms and was just starting down to spend the afternoon with Mrs. Ownsby, who lived on what is now the Gray place. She turned to Maggie and said, “Now don’t you young ones get into the syrup while I’m gone, and keep the snakes away from the chickens.” She had no more than gotten out of sight when Doon said, “Let’s make candy.” “Mother said to keep out of the syrup,” said Maggie.
“Well, how’s she going to know it?” So he built up the fire and made the candy. While he pulled it, Maggie washed up all the dishes. “Muvver’s comin’,” cried little Sallie, standing in the door. Doon hastily stuffed the taffy down the front of his shirt. “You tell Liza we are gouing to get the cows,” he ordered Maggie. “All right,” Liza said, “but don’t be too long.” Away they tramped and as soon as they were out of sight of the house, sat down and ate all their taffy. Maggie was grown before she ever told her mother the taffy story.
After spending two years in the Walla Walla country, Joe came back in the summer of ’64. He was now 21 and so many settlers had come in in the two years, LaGrande was a village with several stores, a postoffice and a blacksmith shop. He decided to stay and homestead 160 acres just east from where the first cabin was built and he and a young Irishman, Pat Reddick, built a log cabin in the southwest corner of what is now the Jim Woodell place. He at once began fencing it and putting in a crop. He lived there for several years and in the fall of 1868, the Wallsingers sold the snake farm to a man by the name of Keys and moved in with him that winter.
The next spring they built the first house to be built on the Sandridge, near a warm spring on what is now the Bill Rickman place. Several large poplar trees mark the place today, just north of the Ruckman home.
The early settlers thought the Sandridge was worthless, that nothing would grow in that sand and it was years before nmuch of it was taken up. This place was near several of the trails used by the Umatilla and Nez Perce tribes on their way to the hunting and fishing grounds in Wallowa county. The Wallsinger children, while not afraid of snakes, were terribly afraid of the Indians, and more than once hid out in the fields but were never molested.
They had a big bulldog which they called “Old Bull.” One night, it was in harvest time, John and Liza had gone to father Woodell’s where the harvesting was to start. Doon was to come over and stay with the children, but for some reason he did not come the first night. The last thing Liza said to Maggie, who was about 11 years old now, was: “You keep Bull sicked on the Imbler cows, and don’t let them get in the garden.”
Along in the night sometime, Maggie heard the bells of the Imbler cows coming. There was one old red cow, which would just stick her horns under the top rail, the rider, it was called, lift it of across the crossed stakes, butt the fence over and walk right in. Maggie routed out little Jane, 5, and taking Bull, she ran those cows clear home. But when they got back, how dark and spooky the house looked, and they were afraid to go in. Opening the door she said, “Indians, Bull, sic ‘em, sic ‘em, Bull,” and in he went, sniffed all around and out he came, wagging his tail, and then they all went in, Bull lying down at the side of the bed, and all were soon fast asleep. But they were mighty glad to see Doon when he came the next night.
Here we are going to leave them until next year.
The two big boys are grown men now; Jim, Doon and little Maggie are fast growing up and in the next few years, there will be five weddings, five new homes started and Mary Margaret German, the sister who stayed in Iowa, and her family will come west.