Antoine of Oregon - James Otis

An Army of Emigrants

That evening, while every man was working for the relief of the oxen, three companies of emigrants, one after another, came up and encamped within half a mile of us, until we had close under our eyes, belonging to these strangers, more than a hundred wagons.

There were in the first company fifty-two wagons, each drawn by four yoke of cattle; the smallest company had thirteen wagons in its train, therefore you can understand that we were almost an army.

Now John Mitchell and Susan understood why I had protested against joining forces with any of the companies we came across, for at this place the grass was scanty indeed, with many animals to feed upon it, and we had the greatest difficulty to find for our beasts as much food as they were needing.

I insisted on gulling out at an early hour next morning, in order to get ahead of this army of emigrants, and we traveled all day without finding better food for the cattle, encamping at night, after having journeyed twelve miles, with the knowledge that every beast we owned was sadly in need of something to eat.

One train of the emigrants which we had left behind, numbering forty-three wagons, came within sight of our camp that night just at sunset and, finding the grass poor where we had halted, continued on; but I knew full well there were not hours enough of daylight remaining for them to find better pasturage.

When another day dawned the rain was falling heavily, and even John Mitchell proposed that we remain in camp, rather than attempt to bush on; but when I reminded him that the oxen and cows were straying here and there, striving eagerly to pick up a few scanty blades of grass, he held his peace.

We continued the journey while floods of water came down from the clouds, an hour on the way every one, save the women and children, who were protected by the wagon covers, was drenched.

[Illustration] from Antoine of Oregon by James Otis

After traveling fifteen miles, we encamped where the ground was so sodden that our feet sank into the soil two inches or more; however, we gained such shelter as we could under the wagon bodies or beneath the wagon coverings, striving to sleep while the wind drove the rain in upon us like a shower bath.

We could not well put up the tents in such mire, and it was more comfortable pacing to and fro as if doing sentry duty, than lying at full length in a veritable swamp.

Again we set out with the rain coming down as ii it would never cease, passing village after village of prairie dogs; but the children and the women showed no desire to spend any time looking at them, for all our company were in such discomfort that it would have needed something more than an ordinary animal to entice them out of their way a dozen paces.

Not until we arrived at the lower crossing of the Platte River did the storm of rain subside, and white we were striving to get the wagons across, the sun came out with full strength, making matters quite as uncomfortable for us who labored, as when the torrents of water were pouring down upon our bodies.