Monday, September 3, 2018

Emigrant Elizabeth Porter on the Oregon Trail [otd 9/3]

On Saturday, September 3, 1864, Oregon-bound pioneer Elizabeth (Lee) Porter wrote in her diary, “Morning: 12 head of cattle gone, found 5 head. Hunted all day for the rest but found no cattle. Beautiful valley here and lots of ranches. We are four miles below the city.”

Boise City, established little more than a year earlier, was already a thriving community of over sixteen hundred residents. It was, in fact, by far the largest town they had seen since leaving the vicinity of Omaha. The family – Elizabeth, husband Andrew, and five children – had left their previous home in Iowa in late April.
“Emigrants Crossing the Plains,” Henry Bryan Hall engraving.
Library of Congress.

Porter does not say how many wagons were in the train they were with, but it was apparently rather small. They crossed the Continental Divide in late July, and followed the Lander Cutoff into Idaho in early August. They had better luck than many in southeast Idaho. Shortly after the train crossed the (future) border, she commented, “Good camp here. Plenty of grass.”

After fording the Snake River, the pioneers followed Goodale’s Cut-off (more accurately, the Jeffers-Goodale Cut-off) northwest across the “desert” to the Three Buttes. Porter wrote, “Traveled until midnight over rough roads and lots of sage brush. Roads very bad. Rocks all the way.”

The train then skirted the north side of the lava wastes we now call Craters of the Moon. She said, “Came 15 miles today over the roughest road we have had, very rocky.” Worn down by the ordeal, they chose to lay over for the afternoon. The next day they camped on the Little Wood River near today’s Carey. From there, the train turned west and traversed the southern Camas Prairie. On August 27th, Elizabeth said, “Came two miles and stopped on Little Camas Prairie.”

They reached the plains southeast of Boise City by crossing the final band of high ground, which Porter declared to be “worse than the mountains.” They did find, “Ranches all along here. Vegetables for sale.”

Two years before, when Tim Goodale guided a large emigrant train along the route, only Indians occupied this region. That had changed dramatically when prospectors found gold in the nearby mountains in late 1862 [blog, Oct 7].

After a hard twenty miles with “no grass or water for cattle,” the Porters dropped into the Boise Valley and camped along the river about three miles above the city. Elizabeth said, “No grass of any account here, looks like civilization.” The next day they crossed the river and passed through Boise City. That evening they camped where Porter recorded her observations for September 3rd.

By that time, Boise City’s newspaper, the Idaho Tri-Weekly Statesman was a bit over five weeks old [blog July 26]. Had the emigrants purchased a copy, the main front page article would have reported on the start of the Republican (Union) Party convention at “Packer John’s Ranch.” The conventioneers had to select a candidate for Territorial Delegate to Congress, along with men to run for other offices.

The emigrant party laid over all of Sunday and until noon the following day. The family entered Oregon on September 8, and reached their destination about 10 miles northeast of Corvallis on September 20, 1864. A year later, they claimed a heavily forested tract west of Corvallis. There, Elizabeth became the first teacher for the county school while her husband logged and split fence rails. She died in July 1898.                          
References: [B&W]
"Census of 1864,” Reference Series No. 130, Idaho State Historical Society.
“Goodale’s Cut-off,”  Reference Series No. 51, Idaho State Historical Society.
John Hailey, History of Idaho, Syms-York Company, Boise, Idaho (1910).
Elizabeth Lee Porter, “Iowa to Oregon, 1864,” Covered Wagon Women, Vol. 5, Kenneth L. Homes, David C. Duniway (eds.),  A Bison Book, University of Nebraska Press, Lincoln (1997).

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