Our Trip Across the Plains by W.J. Duncan


Duncan research files of
Mary Ann (Duncan) Dobson
the Genealogy Bug

July 1, 2000

by W. J. Duncan of Waitsburg, Washington

McDonough County, Illinois
March 22, 1864

      Our party was Charles Duncan and wife and six children, and Harry Hungate and wife and three children, Cleland Ward and wife and two children, Johnty Wilson and wife and four children. Besides Robert Wilson, Lefler Bowen, Coffman Crickett, Lock Hungate, Miller Lovett and two boys by the name of Charter, we picked up on the road, which made thirty-three in all.

      Part of the outfit met at Mr. Hungate's father's the first night. When we lined up in the morning to start, our friends were there to bid goodbye. It was a sad time to leave fathers and mothers, brothers and sisters, not knowing what our destination would be, traveling two thousand miles through a wilderness, which was inhabited by savages and not knowing when some of us might be taken down with some lingering fever or meet with accident. We camped the second night after a short days drive near Beatford at the Crenshaw place. There was where the train was made up. It consisted of nine wagons and twenty-nine head of horses and mules. Our wagons were light. All the load consisted of was our grub, beds and wearing apparel.

      The second day out we crossed the Mississippi River at Burlington, Iowa and from there we traveled through the southern tiers of counties bordering on the State of Missouri. We passed the town of Ottumwa, Fairfield. It being early in the Spring, we found lots of mud and rain. The country was not settled very thick and roads didn't seem to be worked much. It was during war times. We got through allright, still there was quite a grade just over the line over in Misouria. We came to a place called Fishers Grove, not far from a small town called Clarinda. There we laid over two or three days to lay in a supply of feed. Went over on a stream called Ishna Batton and bought corn for fifteen cents per bushel and shelled it by hand and laid in quite a supply of eggs at ten cents per dozen. The country then was not settled very much. We saw some deer in there. Some places the grass was high as a horses' back. No doubt that land today is laid out in fine farms and very valuable. During our lay over, the boys killed a number of squirrels and prairie chickens. It rained most all the time we were there.

      Our next place of importance was Nebraska City where we crossed the Mousaria river. We laid in some supplies that being our last town we would strike. We were then to travel in an unsettled country so we took the old Emigrant road that struck in a northwestern direction on the stage road running out by Fort Kerney. We traveled several days over nice smooth plains without seeing a house. I think the second day from the river we came to a small stream and there was reminded of being in the Indian country by seeing large rolls of buffalo hides fastened up in the trees and quite a number by the roadside, where they had set poles in the ground and tied sticks across and put their dead in buffalo hides and placed them fifteen or twenty feet above the ground. If I'm not mistaken it was the Pawnee tribe. I don't think the whites ever molested them.

      Well, we were getting out in the buffalo country, getting over near South Platte river. At this time of the year buffalo were ranging farther south. It was too early in the spring and made grass too short for them. So we did not see any on that account as it was too early for them to pass through the country to the north. The next thing of importance was Chimney Rock, which is located not far from the South Platte river. It seems that when we came over the hill it was only a mile or so from the road, so I think three of the boys concluded to take in Courthouse Rock, not thinking of one of those hurry hail storms that strike that country in very short time. Those with the wagons just had time to throw our wagons in a circle and get the stock inside to prohibit a stampede. It lasted perhaps twenty minutes until the ground was covered with some large ones.

      One of the sightseers got to camp and the other two came in next morning in good time for breakfast. But wiser on distance. I think it was the following day the writer of this trip had his first experience in a runaway which consisted of four mules. The driver fell back to the rear of the wagon train. Perhaps three hundred yards, myself and driver and one more man. We were traveling on a hard, smooth road when the driver dropped one of his lead lines which fell straddle of the tongue and the mules a kicking at him; knowing that there was a large cottonwood log fastened under the wagon which was the way we had to carry our campwood. Knowing that he was in a place where he was up against it, still the other man and myself had no way of helping. So we jumped to save ourselves. About that time the driver caught hold of one of the mules and gave a jump and fractured one of his legs. By that time they had gone up to the head wagons and the men headed them off and caught them. All the damage that was done was a tire twisted off a wheel. We soon built a fire and with the heat drove it on and was traveling in a short time. Mr. Bowen the man that was hurt, took the stagecoach and went to his home in Illinois. We were near Grand Island on the South Platte which followed the Platt river until we got to Julesburg before crossing.

      So we started early in the morning to prepare for crossing. We would raise our wagon boxes up and put four one gallon kegs under the box. Then tie it fast to the running gears of the wagon hitch. Six animals to one wagon. But a man on each horse. The near side of the water was swift which took about two or three to ride the upper side to keep the current from turning it over and a man to go ahead on horseback to pilot them across to keep them from drifting down the river. We were successful in getting across.

      There were three eight-mule teams belonging to Uncle Sam crossing at the same time we were crossing that had plenty of trouble. They got down in the quick sand and got their mules all tangled up. So several of us went to their aid to help them out. It was here the wagon master of our train, Robert Wilson met with an accident he never got over. Going out on horseback to assist those government wagons, he got in the quick sand. The horse struggling to get out struck him. Well, here was where we ran across our first Indians. We crossed to the North bank. They were crossing to the South. Boy! Talk about Indians. They were the Shyoni tribe, if my memory is right. They were peacable Indians. Now the way they travel was with lots of ponies. The bucks rode in the lead and the squaws followed up and the dogs brought up the rear. The squaws had poles lashed on each side of the ponies, then a buffalo hide tied across to each pole with the ends of the poles dragging on the ground. It made a conveyance which they carried their papooses and dogs that were not large enough to travel.

      We camped on the bank near where those Indians were crossing the river. It was quite a sight to watch them - two or three hundred with all they have tied on those ponies. Those were our first Indians we encountered and was quite a sight for most of the train had never seen one before. A squaw had a one day old papoose which she carried in a rabbit skin fastened to a split stick. She took him out stark naked and exhibited him to the crowd, which caused quite a laugh. He was surely a real Indian and of the reddest type.

      It was amusing to see those squaws. They would be riding their ponies in the river that was hauling their load and some times the ponies would go down in the quick sand and the whole business would go under the water and spill them out. The squaw would invariably pick up the dogies first then the papooses. Well, we realized in about two days that we had camped on the same ground the Indians had occupied. We were not long finding out that we had some of those Indian pets prowling around on our shirt collars. The real old gray backs. So to get rid of them we had to lay over several times and wash and boil our clothes to get rid of them.

      After leaving South Platte river we traveled through a wilder country than we had traveled. Mostly through a level country where we found plenty of grass and water. We traveled down what was called Pole Creek. We were in the territory of the Cheyenne Indians which were said to be very hostile and treacherous to emigrants. We had a little experience with them. We were camped for the night. We made a dry camp on a rolling prairie. The wagon boss and myself were standing guard in the after part of the night, about two o'clock. We had our horses bunched up close together about three hundred yards from the wagons. We noticed the horses acting restless. They were quite a few lying down. A horse will feed until after midnight then lay down and he will be up feeding again. So the stars were shining bright. We were at the head of a small gulch. Our attention was drawn that way by the horses looking that way and snorting. By moving that way cautiously, my eyes caught an object as it raised up out of the draw not over sixty feet away. I had my six shooter in my hand and cut loose at him. As he turned to, he had some kind of a hide for the purpose of stampeding our stock. So we sent a couple of more shots after him, while he was losing no time getting away from there. About that time there was a commotion in camp. Hearing the shots, they lost no time getting their guns. Some of them being so excited they shot in the air to see if their guns were loaded. Some of the men came out and learned the particulars, reported back to camp; so we had a double guard on until morning. We hitched up and pulled out early for there were premiums on white mens' scalps in that country. Our outfit could not have made much of a defense for our weapons consisted of only about three or four small rifles and one old Mississippi rifle and I think we had about seven or eight forty-four Colt revolvers. This consisted of our artillery. We had traveled several days through a very rough country and came to Fort Laramie and camped. The Indians came to the camp. The women could hardly cook without stepping on them.

      The second night out from Kerney we camped near Plumb Creek, forty miles west of Fort Kerney where our horses stampeded. The man that was on guard was ordered to turn them loose about three o'clock in the morning to feed. In place of leaving one or two tied up, he let them all loose, the ground being dry and sandy and the wind blowing a gale. When the man went to look for them they were gone. So he came back and reported at camp the horses were gone. So we started out to see if we could locate the direction they had gone. Two of the men struck the tracks about three miles from camp, bearing in the direction of the Republican River. Their general direction was southeast. The two men followed all day. Some of the horses were dragging their stake ropes, which made it so they could see how to track them by turning over buffalo chips. Where the ground was so sandy, the wind would fill the tracks. When night came, they gathered buffalo chips and built a fire but their bill of fare was limited to a small quantity of cheese and crackers. So they lay down by the fire they built close to a sand bank to protect them from the wind. Next morning they were out of anything to eat and had to return to camp. We learned when they got in camp two men had hired ponies at a stage stand and had started to get on the trail but they came back the same day without finding the trail or any sign of the horses. That evening there came in an emigrant train and we purchased a span of horses from them. Next morning three of the men with the horses struck out to pick up the trail they had left two days before. They went back and camped at the place they camped the second night from where they turned back when they were afoot.

      Our camp was in a deep gully. Two of the men, H. Hungate and Wilson occupied the blankets while the third man, C. Ward, was holding the horses close by where there was some grass. In the night sometime, he called to the men sleeping if they were in bed. They answered "yes" and in an instant he fired his revolver at some wild animal just above them on the bank. From the way it screamed, they were sure of it being a mountain lion. It wasn't a very pleasant place to camp; it rained most of the night.

      At day break they left the camp and went straight to the camp they left three days before, where they left the trail in the sandhills. It rained all night and obliterated the tracks. They were not able to find any sign of the horses so we took south in the direction of the Republican River. After striking the river down several miles until they struck a large stream entering the river. They did not know why it was called Beaver Creek unless it was because of being so many beavers. They had built their dams so thick. We took our course up the stream watching closely for signs of tracks along the banks of the streams.

      We followed up near the head it came in a northerly direction. We found no signs during the day so we camped for the night near a bunch of willows. That was where we saw our first jackrabbit. We thought he was wobbling off on three legs and he might easily be caught. So we gave him a chase but came to the conclusion that we were disappointed in Mr. Rabbit. Next morning we took our course by a compass in a northwesterly direction and followed that course all day until we struck Little Blue. We followed up the river five or six miles and camped for the night. This being the fourth night since leaving and had not seen a human being since leaving camp. The next morning we decided our provisions were running low and we decided two of us would go ahead and let one go back to camp. After separating the men went ahead that had the two horses and struck a wagon road running from Fort Kerney to a town called Alexandre. They followed quite a distance and came to a small store. Through a man there at the store we learned that our horses were down on the Platte River. A freighter came along while we were laying in a supply of grub and told us where our horses were. He said they were over on the Platt River. We found when we got to Dogtown only part of our horses were there and part twenty-three miles below. So we struck out down the river after the bunch that they had down there. We found the place and the horses.

      The old gentleman was an Englishman. His son, about fifteen, went out and brought the horses in. We told him we had no money to pay him so he would have to take us up to where the other horses were for us to make an agreement to settle our bill. We got the horses together but could not come to any agreement. They wanted fifteen a head and we offered them five. So by this time the man they left afoot had heard of the horses being in there came in and getting word to camp from a stage driver, two more men came in that day. That made five of us so we could not make a settlement in regard to the price they wanted. They wanted fifteen dollars per head. We did not have this money so we took the horses over on an island on the river and three of us held them over there. That night Hungate and Wilson went to Fort Kerney to see the commander at the fort. So he sent a captain and twelve soldiers early next morning to bring the horses to the fort. They rode over to the Island, took the halters off their horses and we put them on our horses as far as they would go and started for the Fort. Those men followed us up. The Presiding Officer was there and he held court and heard their complaint and allowed them five dollars for taking them up. That was the law in that State, and three dollars a head for feed, which made eight dollars per head. So we paid it and started for our camp forty miles up the river. Got in at two o'clock in the morning. The writer is sixty-eight years old and have seen many ups and downs, but the morning we got in the camp was the climax. The old and young broke down and wept with joy. They could not express their feelings towards the men that had followed the horses and brought them back and delivered them out of the wilderness where we had laid twelve days eating up our provisions that was to carry us through.

      There were a few scattered ranches up the river that were owned by Frenchmen, principally for hay and stock. We met the U.S. Mail once a day and occasionally a freight train. The first settlement we came to was a small adobe town inhabited by French. Not a very desirable place to stop. We had some trouble with them you will see in this write-up later on. We were then ten miles of Old Fort Kerney which contained a Commanding Officer, about three or four company of soldiers, buildings built up of adobe. The Fort was close to South Platte River and on the old Emigrant road.

      We made a start once again after our stampede from Plum Creek. The grass had grown until our stock had pretty fair feed. We were in a country where timber ceased to be. There were a few willows grown on the islands of the river. We tried to ride in and get fuel to cook with but we found quick sand that mired the horses down so did not make a success at that. So we had to watch and pick up buffalo chips to do our cooking with. I don't see but what the bacon and bread tasted just as good, or a little better, than it does now on these fine ranges. We were making good time considering our stock were getting in fair shape. We found that we were in a locality where prairie dogs were by the thousands and those small owls that lived in their dens and rattle snakes make their homes, which made quite a family. We arrived Julesburg where we crossed the South Platt River. There was an adobe house which was occupied by two or three men who were making a business hauling emigrants and wagons across the river at five dollars a wagon. They used three yoke of cows. We did not employ them, the river being a quarter of a mile wide and plenty of quick sand made it treacherous to cross.

      Fort Laramie River very high. We had to ford it by raising our wagon boxes up and put water kegs under them to keep the water from running in. There were several companies of soldiers there at the Fort for the protection of the emigrants, that being where the tribe of Laramia Indians lived. They were big, tall fellows and real saucy. They were around in our way when we camped, sitting on the wagon tongues. Their style of dress was a breach cloth and a blanket. The squaws were not wearing high heel shoes them days. Our road lead up the river. We began to strike rough country. The formation of the hill was a kind of a sand rock. The grass was scarce. About the only living thing we could see were a few coyotes, jackrabbits and prairie dogs and cactus.

      We found names cut in the walls of rock that had been done in the fifties of our friends. One special one was Uncle Dan Duncan, dated in 1852, but he never reached his destination as he died with the cholera on the plains, which killed a great many emigrants and lots of Indians. The roads were getting bad and the emigrants were overloaded and began throwing stuff away. They got along without such things as stoves, trunks and all kinds of stuff. Some maybe lost an animal out of their team. Left wagons, ox yokes, chains. I saw a whole corral built out of log chains where they had to throw them away on the road. It was because their teams were getting weak and the feed getting scarce. We kept in good cheer; we would meet a government outfit of freighters hauling supplies to the fort that was established on the plains.

      I remember we camped close to a U.S. train. They had two or three darkies and we had a violin and we got those darkies to dance by taking out our endgates from our wagons for them to dance on. So it made quite enjoyable for our train for we had not seen much amusement out in the Western wilds. We traveled on until we came to a nice little valley with a good size stream. We found five or six soldiers stopping for the protection of the emigrants and this is the way they did it. They built a small bridge across the stream close to their adobe house and dragged the road that led down to the ford three hundred yards below. Then put it up to us that we would have to pay four bits and cross the bridge. Some of the men went down to the crossing and riding across found the crossing fine. They came back to the train and reported the crossing was alright. The soldier told us to drive over the bridge, it would save them the job of sweeping our track out, but we did not cross the bridge. We made them some more tracks to sweep out, so we crossed without any trouble. I think the stream was called the Sweet Water. No doubt today it is settled up with nice farms.

      We had fine grass for our horses and mules. Some of the emigrants would take advantage of places and lay over a few days to rest their stock. We would pass trains maybe in week's time. They would repass us. We would lay over once a week to give the women a chance to wash our clothes, for it was often we would drive in camp late in the evening near water, and camp on the same ground the Indians had camped in a few nights before. So we would get lousy as an Indian and they were surely some lousy. I saw a squaw pick them off the papoose's head and eat them with a craven appetite. I had an incidence of an Indian life. I took my gun one morning after the train got started and struck out to kill an antelope. I traveled along in sight of the train quite a ways. I went over a ridge and ran on a bunch of antelope. They seemed to me there were fifty or more getting up out of the grass. I shot at one with my rifle and missed. They ran in a circle around me and I emptied my six shooter at them. I guess I must had the buck ague. I know I was shaking and got no antelope. So I struck out to catch the train which was still out of sight. I must have traveled two or three miles with no train in sight. As I came over a ridge behold, I had run in to an Indian town. How that took all the shake out of me, seeing about fifty of those Indians dogs coming for me. They were crossed with coyote and made them look more vicious. I made up my mind not to run. There was a yell came from camp from an Indian that stopped the dogs right there. I hesitated then summoned up all the bravery that was in me for I knew we were in a hostile tribe and knew they would get me either way. So I made up my mind I would go in camp and not sneak off like a coward. I was received by one Indian who had on his belt three scalps off some whites. He could talk a little English. He met me with the word "how". He made by motions he wanted something. He would point to my powder horn and his hand. So I poured out some powder in his hand. That pleased him. Now to repay me for my favor he pulled out a buckskin sack from under his belt and then ran his dirty hand in the sack and brought out a handful of muck-a-muck and insisted on me eating it. As soon as I saw what it was composed of it was pine nuts, crickets and grasshoppers. I could see their eyes and legs of those luxuries in his hand. I got away by making signs that I was not hungry. There were only a few old Indians in camp. The young bucks were out on the war path or on a hunt. Well, I bid my friend goodbye and struck out to find my train.

      It was along in the afternoon that I reached the wagon road, thirsty and hungry. I made the best of it and followed on until I came up to the train that had camped for the night. Well, they joshed me awhile and they said they were getting ready to start out to hunt me up. That broke me from taking anymore hunting trips. I was nineteen years old that summer. Sometimes we would camp where the grass was good and occasionally would have to take our stock back two or three miles to find grass for them that would take four men. Two would stand guard in the forepart of the night and two in the afterpart. I remember we camped one evening and there was no grass. There was an Indian came to camp and made signs that he would go with us and show us where we could find good grass for our stock. He wanted a shirt for his trouble. So we made a trade with him to turn the shirt over to him in the morning. So there were four of us went with him. I judge about three miles through sagebrush and sand through a level country until we came to hills and big rocks with a good many juniper trees scattered around. We got discouraged before we got there, thinking the Indian was leading us into a trap to get our stock. But we found plenty of fine grass just as the Indian said by signs. My father and I came on guard in the after part of the night at twelve o'clock. We were awakened by the other guards near midnight. The Indian had set fire to half a dozen of those juniper trees and they burnt like a torch. Had the whole country around lighted up. It was a signal to the Indians which they answered by doing the same.

      We could see lights in different directions. I and my father hunted Mr. Indian and stopped him from setting any more trees afire; took matches we had given him away from him and wanted to know if all the horses and mules were still there. He counted them on his fingers and motioned that they were all there and by the light we soon saw they were all there. So we got in camp about daylight and to our surprise there must have been one hundred in camp. Dirty, naked, hungry, sore eyes and their teeth wore down to their gums. With pick over their faces and hands and their hair looked like a magpie nest. We gave him his shirt. It was one the boys had ready to throw away. He slipped it on and was a proud Indian. Those he had signaled to come in camp to beg anything we might choose to give them. There is a difference in tribes. This tribe I think they called the "Go Shoots" - I don't think they had any ponies. They lived principally on roots, pine nuts and those big black crickets that came through that country in great droves. They were nearly as large as your thumb. Some of the tribes had ponies and wore good blankets.

      The Cheyennes and Sioux and other tribes were the ones you wanted to look out for. Some of them carried guns and rode good horses. They were sassy devils. All they wanted was a chance to get your horses or your scalp. I recollect we came to a stage stand that was burnt down and still smoking. The Indians had killed the man that was taking care of the stand and stole the horses. The Government had those stands about every thirty miles, which they used for carrying the U.S. mail. We were told that the soldiers got word soon and came in on those Indians and that they had a battle in a canyon that we passed through a short time after. We found soldiers' graves where they had been rolled up in blankets and rolled into shallow graves. The wild animals had dug them partly out. Arms and legs laying uncovered. We put them back and carried rocks and piled them on the best we could. We saw no dead Indians. They were above the soldiers on a bluff but the soldiers finally ran them out.

      We were getting close to the Rocky Mountains. We met two families that were being escorted out of Salt Lake by a dozen soldiers with a captain in command. The soldiers were from Fort Douglas. These families said the Mormons had not used them right and they were making their way back to Missouri. The soldiers left them and came back and overtook us and traveled with our train several days. There were a great many Gentiles that had been brought there to take up the Mormon belief of their church. Were dissatisfied but could not get away - but times have changed in fifty-two years.

      We arrived in Salt Lake in the afternoon. The first thing our attention was drawn to was a company or two of Mormon soldiers which came out of a dugout from a side hill. They had no uniforms. Kind of plain clothes, all sizes and of all ages. I suppose they were out for a drill. We went on and camped in close to the city limits. We did some trading there and two or three of us boys went to the theater that night. Brigham Young was living then and he and two of his wives occupied a box where we got a good view of them.

      The next morning we fell in with a man by the name of Drake. He had four wagons and a large family. He had two grown boys and three grown girls. He had crossed the plains once before. They were going to Oregon when he got to Salt Lake his two hired men had quit him. So the girls had to drive a team and took in a couple of Jews who had come to Salt Lake and bought all the eggs that a team of white mules could pull. They were afraid of the Indians and wanted to travel in our train for protection. They surely made amusement for our train. Well, we traveled slowly on through deserts of burning sand and when we would camp at noon day, the women would have to get out and cook in the broiling hot sun over a sagebrush fire. Bake flap jacks for a hungry lot of men and children. It reminded me in years after of an uncle came out to California on a visit and we were harvesting with headers. I asked my uncle what he thought of our way of harvesting. He said it must be hard on the women cooks and mules. He didn't see the men doing nothing but riding around. So it made me think of the women and the mules on the plains. Us men surely had something to do on the plains. There were night herding and wood and water to get, besides other things to look after. We had storms and heavy rains to contend with. Our Jew friends got along fine until we came to a very long, steep hill to go down. The emigrants had been cutting down trees and tying behind their wagons to get down the hill at the bottom where there were perhaps two or three acres of ground covered with trees that had been used for brakes coming down the hill.

      They were in the lead of the train. They did not stop for any advise but put on their brakes and kept going. The train stopped at the top of the hill and watched the Jews go. Presently their brakes broke and the mules could not hold the wagon. So they ran off the grade and upset their wagon, rolling over several times. Several of us men ran down to help them out of their trouble. We first got the Jews out from under the wagon, found Levy with about a yard of skin knocked off his nose and Jacob had his shins badly skinned. We got the mules up and then we left them until we got our train down the hill alright. That was about nine o'clock in the morning. There was a good spring at the foot of the hill and plenty of grass and we were to lay over that day and travel that night for there was a dessert to cross forty miles with no water or feed. Well, we went back up the hill to help Levy and Jacob out. We took buckets and pans - every available thing we had to carry down those broken eggs in. We found them sitting on a rock - no smiles on their faces but they looked like a couple of lost Israelites. Well, we told them we would get them fixed up and down to camp for all the broken eggs we could carry. Jacob said to Levy "I don't see where the profit comes in", but we made a trade with them and filled our vessels and got them to camp. Perhaps they had a third of their eggs that were not broken. We shortly had a feast that day. We hadn't seen an egg for weeks and they tasted mighty fine.

      We prepared that day to cross the desert that night by filling our water kegs and the women cooking our midnight lunch. It was slow traveling through sand and alkali. We stopped at midnight to let our stock rest and to divide what little water we had with us. We gave each animal about a gallon. It wasn't as much as they wanted. We rested there perhaps a couple of hours then pulled out and made stop next morning about nine o'clock. We gave our horses a small amount of water and a little flour mixed with the water and the kegs were empty. We only made a short stop until we were going again. Our teams were getting weak and could hardly pull the empty wagons, so everybody had to walk through the burning sand. Our shoes had become worn out and let the sand in and burned our feet. There were telegraph poles about every eight steps apart. We would line up in the shade of a pole and shake the hot sand out of our shoes and run for the next pole. Once in awhile run over a lizard or a horny toad. Then were would be some yelling. We traveled slowly without water until the middle of the afternoon.

      We came to a lake with high tules all around the edge. We got pails and ran ahead of the train to procure water. When we got to the lake the water had a thick scum over it with dead flies floating on top. We waded out waist deep and knocked the scum off with our pails and dipped down deep in it. It was so strong with alkali, dead fish and worms we could not drink it so we moved on about two miles and to a good spring. Twenty-four hours was a good stretch for a night without food and water. We were all pretty nearly worn out. And our supplies were getting short and our teams getting poor and weak. But we traveled on through sand. We camped one evening for the night. There was camped there some emigrants from Iowa. Their train was only one wagon. There was an old gentleman and wife and his son and wife and two small children. Their team consisted of a small yoke of steers and a yoke of little cows, looked to be about two years old.

      Well, the old gentleman came over to visit our camp and find out where we hailed from and how the Civil War was going. Seemed to be a Union man, and our train was mostly Northern Democrats and the boys commenced to josh the old man and told him that we were all Rebels and made him mad and called him Loyalty and some train had dropped them out. We pulled out next morning and left them. He said he would rather be killed by the Indians than travel with a Secesh train and the boys bid him goodbye and told him they wished him success. Well, we traveled several days and had camped for the night and the boys began to holler "there comes old Loyalty" and sure enough they drove on passed. His object was to get ahead of us and report us at a Fort. He made a success of it when we got a half mile of the Fort where the road turned in to the Fort, there was a commander and a dozen privates. The commander said "You fellows are wanted out at the Fort". We knew Loyalty had been there. So we obeyed the command and took the road for the Fort. You will see it turned out to be a lucky streak for us. Mr. Hungate was walking beside his wagon and a little green paper had blown around a small sagebrush. He picked it up and to his surprise it was a twenty dollar greenback. I tell you in good times they were a scarce article in our train. We arrived at the Fort and the commander came out and asked for the boss of the train. Mr. Robert Wilson was our boss. He was asked what State we were from. He told him our train started from McDonough County, Illinois, March 24, 1864. That we were not from a Rebel State as had been reported. We told him our destination was California. He said that was all he wanted to know. If we had any sick in the train - I and a small boy were sick. He had the hospital doctor come to our wagons to see us. Our fever was high and he pronounced it mountain fever. He gave medicine to which soon broke our fever. The commander wanted to know how our food supply was. We told him we were about out of everything. So he told us to drive around to the Sutlers Store and they laid us in a good supply of bacon, flour, sugar and coffee and other necessary articles. We thanked them for what they had done for without money or price. We never did catch up with old Loyalty to thank him for what he did for us. We went on our way rejoicing.

      Part of our train had left us. They had taken an emigrant road that took them to Oregon. Their names were Drake. They were nice people to travel with. We camped close to where there were a half dozen soldiers trooping in a small barricade close to the spring. And before we started we took our water kegs over to the spring and filled them up. We hitched up and part of the wagons went on. This man Drake drove around to the spring and three or four wagons lined up to get our kegs and the soldiers had swiped Drake's ten gallon keg and would not give it up. So they had a few words. I had got to the wagon and got in and Drake's wagon was just ahead of me. He came running to his wagon, jumped in and grabbed his gun and was pointing right over my head. Well, I did not have to be told to sit down. Drake sent one of his boys to stop the train and have the men come back with their guns and take the keg by force. But the men sent word back to let them keep it for if we got in trouble with them or got the best of them, they might get the Indians to give us trouble; there being plenty of Indians around there. So we drove off and left them the keg.

      I judge we drove about three miles and came to where the fine timber was thick and someone in the train happened to look up on the side hill and some Indians stuck their heads up over a log. The train boss ordered the wagons thrown in a circle and prepare for defense. The women and children were put in behind the wagons. Men got their guns and were ready for business. Myself and a young man by the name of Charter said we would go up and see what they wanted. They pled for us not to go. We would be killed. But we went, started in around them. We climbed the hill so we could see them and behold, there were three or four old squaws and about as many dogs lying behind a big log. They had been gathering pine nuts. They had laid there through fear of us so they followed us down to the wagons. By that time the scare had been quieted down. They threw pieces of bread on the ground to see the squaws and dogs make a dive for it to see which would get it. If the dog got it, the squaw would choke it until he would drop it and she then eat it herself.

      Well, we hitched on and thanked the good Lord that we didn't lose our scalps. They were scary times them days. We were not to be blamed for getting scared at times. We found water scarce at times. Would have to make dry camps and depend on hauling water in small kegs for cooking and our horses and mules would have to go without until we could pick up early in the morning and drive until we came to water. Sometimes we would drive a long ways before we came to water. Our kegs sometimes would be empty and we would suffer for water on these long drives. We were too early to see any buffalo. We passed through country where their range was, but we were too early in the season. They were down south and had not started on their journey north. We saw hundreds of buffalo carcasses lying along the road that had been shot down by white men for their hides. The country was cut up with buffalo trails all going south and north. Their bones were gathered up several years after and hauled to the railroads after the roads were built across the continent. They were ground up and used as a fertilizer.

      We traveled a country that was covered with cactus where there were thousands of acres of it. It was a hard looking country but occasionally we would strike some nice valleys but scarcely any timber. We saw Mexicans carrying wood off the mountains on burrows down to the mines. Looked like they would put on their backs one fourth of a cord and come over those rocky trails. They had a real pack train of them carrying wood. We saw a train of camels. They were using them for packing over those deserts to mines. Their backs were sore from carrying great loads of freight and they looked tired and worn out. Were now in the territory of Nevada and began to see a little civilization. Us men amused ourselves on the road shooting jackrabbits with pistols. I remember one day I was out quite aways from the train hunting rabbits in the sagebrush that was nearly as high as my head. I came to a small opening. I saw out about the center of the opening a funnel shapped thing about three feet high and two feet through at the bottom. It came to a sharp point at the top. It was pegged down at the bottom so my curiosity was to see what was under the thing. So I took hold of the top and gave it a hard jerk and pulled the thing over and behold - there was a dead Indian toppled over towards me. I could imagine he was saying "What are you doing here bothering me?" His legs were drawn up to his body and tied with rawhide strings to get him as small a bunch as possible. I left him lay and got out of there in a hurry. I knew if a white man molested their dead and they caught them at it, they would not give him time to say his prayers so I hurried back to the train but I did not report my find for a day or so and could not tell them whether it was a buck or a squaw. I wasn't hunting curiosities after that.

      We had jackrabbit stew with dough dumplings for a change about ever day. The country was thinly settled for several miles from Austin. A small mining town that I think was on the Carson river. I recollect we stopped at a shack for water. The inhabitants was a Chinaman with an Indian squaw for a wife. They had a papoose about a year old. It was quite a curiosity that being the first Chinaman we had ever seen. He had a small garden where he had cleaned off the sagebrush and was carrying water in two five gallon cans irrigating it.

      We found quite a few settlers all along the valley. Some had stock and some had ranches. The money they used on the Pacific Coast was gold and silver. Nothing smaller than two bits would go except you could buy stamps with five and ten cent pieces and our green backs were only worth fifty cents on the dollar, which made things very high for things we had to buy with our little supply of green backs.

      We finally reached Dayton, Nevada, quite a mining town. They had a large quartz mill running and seemed to be lots of work going on. So the biggest part of our train stopped and got jobs. Wages were high. My father and family and H. H. Hungate pulled on after bidding our friends good bye and went to Carson City. We had run out of funds so we drove out about three or four miles from Carson City to Washo Lake. It was right at the foot of the Sierra Nevada mountains. There were big pines, yellow pine trees and a saw mill or two close in. So we pitched our tent for to recruit up a little. Some went to work at what we could get to do. My father kept a span of mules and Mr. Hungate kept a team and the balance we took off to pasture. There was quite a band of Indians camped close to our camp. We had to watch them close for they would surely steal. I recollect our women folks had washed one day and put out on some bushes to dry. My sister, eleven years old, saw three or four squaws slipping up to where the clothes were. She watched them and saw a squaw grab a shirt. She grabbed a club and made for her and made her drop it. We surely had quite a time with them clothes.

      The women had ironed them and put them in the wagon on a box. My father came in late from hauling a load of wood to Carson. He tied the mules to the hind part of the wagon and fed them grain but had no hay. They ate the grain then reached in and pulled out the clothes and my oldest sister had laid her dress back where they got hold of it. They chewed them and trampled and tore them. You could hardly recognize what a garment was after they got through with them. My sister had to borrow a dress from Mrs. Hungate before she could get out in the morning. We seemed to be unfortunate. We were fortunate in one way. Most of us had earned a few dollars by that time. Hungate and my father rented a house close to where we were camped. Both families moved in the house. Mr. Hungate worked at a saw mill. I got a job from a Mr. Crooks driving four yoke of cattle, hauling big timbers from the saw mills to Silver City and Virginia City and he drove three yoke. Some of the timber was forty feet long so we had to couple our wagons out about thirty feet, make a trip in two days. I recollect we started out one morning and got two miles on our road and I broke an ox yoke. So I had to go back and get one and carry it on my shoulder. Got back and rigged up and started out. My boss had gone on so it made me late. So he left word at the hotel for them to fix my dinner for I would be late.

      It seemed to be an unlucky day. I ate my dinner and started. I probably got three hundred yards and there was a two seated covered carriage drove up to the hotel and drove up to the water trough to water their horses. One of the horses rubbed his bridle off and here there came running a man and two women and a little girl. They turned out and passed me over the rocks. The carriage tongue dropped down and ran in the ground, turned the carriage over. The horses came loose. I stopped my team and ran to them. The little girl had her arm broken and the rest of them badly shaken up. I stayed with them until the people came from the hotel. So I hurried on for I was late. I had a long grade to go down. Just before I got to Silver City I got to the top of the grade. It was getting a little dark. I put my brake on and got on the offside of my team up close to my leaders to keep them on the grade. I judge I had got half way down and I heard a man holler back close to the hind part of my wagon. Then my team started to run. I let them go and ran back to the man. He lay there with both legs broken above the knees. He had undertaken to drive his horse and cart between the bank and the wagon and there was a big rock stuck out and his horse reared up and threw him under the wheel. As soon as the wagon passed the rock, the horse run by the cattle and started. Well, I pulled the man out of the road and I ran down to the hotel where I had been stopping and told the men there was a man up on the grade with both legs broken and for them to get a blanket and we would go and bring him down. So five or six men came with me and we carried him down to the hotel. It was about three hundred yards we had to go. I then went to look for my team. They had run down to the feed yard and the boss happened to be there and had unyoked them and fed them. So we went to the hotel and I was eating my supper and the man that was hurt sent for me to come to his room. He said he did not lay any blame on me at all. He ran in between the bank and wagon at his own risk. The poor fellow died that night. He was the head man of a telegraph company and lived at Carson City. He had a wife and a grown daughter.

      So next morning the boss had to go to Virginia City and left me seven yoke of cattle and two of those long coupled wagons; all together made a string of a hundred and forty feet. Well, I got along fine until I came to a long grade to go down. I saw when I got to the top of the grade a darky about half way up. He had on his wagon about two cords of wood. He had two cayuses and a mule in the lead and a yoke of oxen on the tongue. When I started down the grade, he stopped his team and came up next to the bank to scare my team over the grade so they would not run in to him. As soon as my leaders passed him, they pulled for the bank so that pulled my wagon in and caught on to the darky's wagon. I think they turned over about three times. My team was running. It scattered things down that hill for fifty yards. That darky surely had a license for cussing. I felt sorry for the man but he did it himself. If he had stayed at his wagon he would have been alright. My team stopped running when I got to the foot of the hill and so I made it in to camp all o.k. for roads were lined with big teams hauling freight to the mines from California. Think nothing of meeting ten or twelve mules hitched to two and three wagons hitched together that had come over the Sierra Nevadas from Sacramento and Stockton, California. They would be a road house ever five or six miles for the accommodation of travel. They had large water troughs pumped full of water and gave meals and a saloon. They surely made money. Meals fifty cents and drinks twenty-five. Everybody carried six shooters and all disputes were settled with a gun.

      I saw a sample of that tried while I was in Nevada. I was passing through a small mining town that was built up with canvas houses or tents. As I had occasion to pass through this camp I think one fourth of the tents were saloons. I saw a man come out of one of these saloons in a lively gait and looking back. He had gotten seventy yards and I saw the second man come out of the saloon. He just went a short distance till he opened on the first man. So he returned the shot. I watched until both men were down and still a shooting. I don't suppose there was an officer in town to make an arrest if the whole town had been shot up. We passed on and never learned how the duel came out. It was nearly a daily occurrence for someone to be killed around those saloons and gambling houses. Money was plentiful and wages were high. I worked a month hauling timbers for Mr. Crooks. He paid me one hundred and twenty dollars for the month I worked for him, in gold. I thought that was good for the last month I worked in Illinois I got thirteen dollars for a months' work in greenbacks.

      Well, we had got a little money ahead so we wanted to look us up a home. So Mr. Hungate and myself and the man I worked for and another man took one of Mr. Hungate's teams and wagon and loaded our beds and grub and the five of us started for Surprise Valley, California. We supplied ourselves with guns and plenty of ammunition. Went by way of Honey Lake through a desert country, through a sandy sagebrush country. There had been some travel on the road until we got to the lake. There being a few settlers around the lake, mostly cattle men. There was a store and a postoffice. They told us that there were two men went out on the lake in a boat and they never were heard from. They said the tide came in and out just the same as the ocean. It was supposed they went down in a subterranean channel in an outgoing tide. From where we struck the lake to the upper end was a good days travel. The mosquitoes and gnats kept us good company. The Sierra Nevada mountains to our left and a desert to the northeast as far as the eye could see and it was the last part of Agust and the weather was very warm. So our road stopped at the head of the lake. We took our bearing from the mountains and started across the desert. Not even a trail to follow and the sand was deep and we had to walk most of the time. One afternoon we followed down a draw for three or four miles. It kept getting deeper and narrower. We came where the walls of rock came so close together we found we were not able to get our wagon through and there was no way of getting out. So we took our wagon apart and carried it through just wide enough to lead our horses through. We saw no game only jackrabbits and coyotes. We made good use of those young rabbits. We would have a mulligan stew about every day.

      We had been on the road about a week. We had to haul our water sometimes we would make a ten gallon keg last us two days for our horses and ourselves. It would get so warm we would make it in coffee and use that to drink. Late in the afternoon we came to the lower end of the valley and camped on a small stream. It was a fine looking valley. I don't think I ever saw finer grass grow. A kind of a blue joint. It was higher than my head. We found a good place to camp and stake our horses out and cooked our evening meal. We noticed as we came in the valley there was a lot of ground staked off up on a little hill. We were wondering what the object was. Well, we were up early next morning. I took a stroll up the creek while the boys were getting breakfast. Perhaps I went two hundred yards and saw a little smoke coming out of a bunch of willows. I stopped and dropped down to take observation. I crawled up to within about fifty feet of my object. I could see a man but what kind of a man he was! No Indian, he looked more like a wild animal than he did a man. I watched him a few moments. I could see he was cooking something. His hair was long and bushy. I should judge his beard was three or four inches long and stuck straight out. He had no hat and part of an old shirt and a pair of overalls. No shoes. He hadn't got sight of me yet. So I raised up and said "hello". He jumped up and when he saw me he came towards me walking fast. When he approached I set my gun down and shook hands with him. He invited me over to his camp fire. He wanted me to have breakfast with him. I said "no", he had a third of a sack of flour and he mixed his dough in the sack and had an old frying pan to cook it in. That consisted of all he had. He had pulled some grass and made himself a bed. I asked him where he stayed when it got cold. He pointed to a cliff of rock and said there was a cave he lived in. So he went with me to where the boys were. They gave him some coffee to drink and he kept talking about the town he was going to build. The man was crazy. We asked him if he was not afraid of the Indians. He said "no". We thought he had been a squaw man. So we gave him a little grub and pulled out and left him.

      It was about thirty miles to the head of the lake to the nearest settler. It had only been about three weeks that the first white settler had been in the valley. We traveled up the valley. It was named right. It was a surprise valley, fine grass and plenty of water, hot and cold water running out of the rocks. I noticed in one place where hot water and cold water ran out of the rocks less than a foot apart. We saw some prairie chickens that day; the first we had seen since leaving Iowa. The mountains came close to the valley and quite a big lake showed up. As we got closer to the head of the valley and we came to where there was some large pine trees growing down on the level on a small creek called Plum Creek. Here was where we met all the inhabitants of the valley. Were about sixty in all. Well it was everybody's business to hunt a home. The first place was to protect ourselves from the Indians. So we got together and organized a company and selected our captain and subordinates. For a bunch of the citizens had a fight with the Indians just two days before we got in the valley. They had it about two miles up in the mountains from where we were camped. The cause of the fight was that two brothers had built a house out of small rocks and chinked it with mud and built them a chimney with sticks and mud and took a squatter homestead. They had their cabin completed. So one morning they went in the hills to work and locked the door and left a big mastiff dog tied in front. When the boys came in at noon their dog was killed. The chimney torn down and everything carried away from the house by Indians.

      They raised about thirty men that evening and followed up in the mountains and camped in a deep canyon. So they divided in two bunches and crawled opposite where the Indians were lying asleep. The order was not to shoot until it got light enough. Just at the peep of day a buck jumped up and put a hat he stole from the cabin. The owner of the hat shot him down and as they jumped up to run, they shot quite a lot of them. The balance that got away left everything behind. The boys piled up and burnt everything but a few keepsakes. One or two were valuable. One arrowhead was a twenty dollar gold piece that had been hammered out and one piece was made and shapened in an arrowhead. So that put us on the lookout for it was only 20 or 30 miles over to the Lake where there were plenty of Indians. We picked us out a squatter's right but did not make improvements on them as it would be late in the fall before we could move in.


NOTE by Mary Ann (Duncan) Dobson, great-granddaughter of Charles Duncan: This manuscript was written by William J. Duncan, according to his grandson Donald Duncan who shared a copy with me in 1990. It was apparently written about 1912, since William Duncan was born in 1844. The manuscript is typed, and has handwritten at the top of the front page "From McDonough County, Ill., March 24, 1864"; and "Please Return. J. B. Duncan." Jesse B. Duncan was the son of William J. Duncan and the father of Donald Duncan.


Return to Charles Duncan, in Section I, 8.5.3., of "Some Duncan Families of Eastern Tennessee Before 1800"

Return to the Table of Contents of "Some Duncan Families of Eastern Tennessee Before 1800"

Return to The Genealogy Bug's Home Page