Antoine of Oregon - James Otis

A Plague of Wood Ticks

Every member of the party was not only willing, but eager, to set out after our long halt, for we had a most disagreeable experience with wood ticks, little insects much like those that worry sheep. They covered every bush as with a veil and lay like a carpet over the ground as far as one could see.

I have never come upon them in such numbers, and before we lay down to rest I wished a dozen times that I had delayed the halt another day.

These ticks fasten themselves to a person's skin so tightly that, in picking them off, the heads are often left embedded in the flesh, and unless carefully removed, cause most painful sores. It was like one of the Plagues of Egypt such as I have heard my mother read about, and so much did our people suffer that John Mitchell came to me in the middle of the night, urging that we break camp at once rather than remain there to be tortured.

I soon convinced him that we could not hope to drive the cattle in the darkness, without danger of losing one or more, therefore he ceased to urge; but before the sun had risen, all our company were astir making preparations for the day's journey.

Early though it was when we set off, only fourteen miles were traveled, owing to the difficulty in crossing the Big Vermilion River.

[Illustration] from Antoine of Oregon by James Otis

The banks of the stream were steep and the channel muddy, affording such difficult footing for the animals that we were forced to hew down many small trees and lop off large quantities of branches to fill up the bed of the river before the wagons could be hauled across. All this occupied so much time that after arriving at the opposite bank we traveled only one mile before it was necessary to make camp.

On this night we were not troubled by wood ticks, yet I had the camp astir early next morning, knowing that before nightfall we must cross the Bee and the Big Blue Creeks, therefore much time would be spent in making the passages.

The difficulties which I had anticipated in crossing the creeks were not realized. We got over in fairly good shape, being forced on Bee Creek to double up the teams in order to pull the wagons across, and when night came we were two and a half miles west of Big Blue.

There I believed we should make a long halt, for the country was covered with oak, walnut, and hickory trees, and, if I remembered rightly, this would be the last time we could procure timber for wagon tongues, axletrees, and such other things as might be needed in case of accidents.