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BARNETT SIMPSON

                                    12/29/1836 To ?

Barnett was the youngest brother of Benjamin Simpson.  The following is a newspaper article from the Oregon Daily Journal, from Portland, Oregon, published on March 18, 1925, about his experiences crossing the plains in a covered wagon on their journey to Oregon in 1846.

 

This newspaper article was one of three printed in serial form. I   was unable to find copies of the other two articles.  However, in early 2004, at Champoeg State Park, just south of Portland, Oregon, I came across the book below that contained Barnett's entire account of the crossing of the Oregon Trail in 1846.

 

 

 

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From Ric Costales we received another account of the same trip west written by J. T. Simpson, Benjamin Simpson's son by his first wife Elzira.

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From ˇ°Conversations with Pioneer Menˇ± by Fred Lockley, compiled by Mike Helm, Published by Rainy Day Press, 1996.

 

                Barnet Simpson

                Pioneer of 1846

               Portland , Oregon

 

     "I'm  not  figuring  on getting married or running

for   office,   so   1   might   as   well  tell  you  the  exact

truth   about   my  age  and  anything  else  you  care

to   ask  me   about.      I   was   born   in  Platte   County ,

Missouri ,  December  29,  1836 ,  and  was  the  youngest

child  of  a  family  of  11.    So  as not to give  a one-

sided  picture,  I  am  going  to  tell  you  the  things

that   are  not   creditable  about  myself  as  well  as

the things that are.

 

     "For  example,  I  might  tell  you  my  most  vivid

recollection  of  our  trip  across  the  plains  in  1846.

I  was  going  on  ten  when  we  crossed  the  plains

to   the   Willamette    Valley.       We   crossed   the   river

at  St.   Joe  and  camped  for  a  few  days  to  let  the

emigrants  gather  and  to  organize  the  wagon  train.

 

     "My  oldest  sister,  Eleanor,  married  a  man

named  John  Anderson.    Her  son  John  was  a  year

and  a  half older than I,  in spite of the fact that

1  was  his  uncle.    My  father told me to look up

a bridle that had been mislaid,  so John and I started

to   look   for   it.      While   looking   under  one  of  the

wagons  John  saw  a  stone  jug.    He pulled out the

cork  and  smelled  it,  and  said,   'This  is  whiskey.

Did you ever drink any corn liquor, Barnet?'

 

     "My  father  was  a  Primitive  Baptist  preacher

and  was  very  strict,  so 1 had never tasted liquor.

I  confessed  that  I  had  never  drunk  any  whiskey

and  was  curious  as  to  its  taste.    John  tipped  up

the  lug  and  took  a  swallow  and  handed  it  to  me.

I  didn't  like  to be  a  quitter,  so  I took a swallow.

It   nearly   strangled   me,   but   I   pronounced  it   mighty

good.

 

     "John  thought  it  would  be  funny  if  he  could

get  me  drunk,  so  he  suggested  that  we  drink  some

more.    We  took  a  generous  drink  and then  resumed

our  search  for  the  bridle.    We  found  the  jug  in

the  middle  of  the  afternoon,   and  by  5  o'clock   we

had  pretty  finished  what  whiskey  there  had  been

in  it.     We  went  back  every  few  minutes  to  take

another drink.  John would tip the jug up and pretend

to  take  a  big  drink,  and  would  pass  it  to  me  and

urge me to drink  heartily.    By 5 o'clock I couldn't

walk.  1 fell in a stupor.

 

     "John  had  drunk  enough  to  make  him  drowsy.

He  sat  by  the  camp  fire.    He  had  a  new  hunting

coat  my  sister  had  made  for  him.    A  spark  jumped

out  on  the  tail  of  his  new  hunting  coat  and  he

was  so  fuddled  he  didn't  notice  it  till  someone

saw  the  smoke,  and  by  that  time  the  whole  back

of the coat was burned off.

 

     "They  saw  he  was  drunk  and  they  knew  I

had been with  him,  so they began  to look for me.

Presently  they  found  me,  lying  where  I  had  fallen.

They  carried  me  to  our  wagon  and  worked  over

me  all  night.  I  foamed  at the mouth and had con-

vulsions  and  they  thought  I  was  going  to  die.  The

first   thing   I   remember  was   along   about  9  o'clock

the  next  morning.  I  heard  my  brother  Thomas,  who

was  not  going  to cross  the  plains  with  us,  telling

Mother  goodbye  and  saying,   'Don't  worry.  Mother.

Barnet  is  going  to  pull  through  all  right.  Give

him  a  tablespoon  of  whiskey  every  couple  of  hours

till he  sobers  up.'

 

     "I  rolled  over  toward  him  and  said,   'I  have

had  plenty.  I  don't  want  any  more.  As  Iong  as

I   live,   never   another   drop   of  whiskey  will   ever

go  down  my  throat.'    That  was  nearly  80  years

ago,  and  from  that  day  to  this  I  have never tasted

liquor of any kind or description.

 

     "My  father,   William  Simpson,   was  born  in

North  Carolina .     My  mother,   whose  maiden  name

was  Mary  Kimsey,  was  born  in Tennessee .   I don't

remember  what  year  my  father  and  mother  were

married,   but  Ben  was  their  first  child,  and  he

was  born  in  Tennessee   in  l8l8,  when  my  mother

was  21.    Mother  was  born  in  1797  and  Father  in

1793.     Father  was  53  when  he  started  across  the

plains  and  Mother  was  49.     They  were  considered

old  people.    They  called  Father  'Uncle  Billy',  and

Mother,   'Aunt  Polly'.     My  brother  Ben,  who  was

28  when  we  started  for  Oregon ,  was  elected  captain

of the  wagon  train.    Ben  married  Elzirah Jane Wisdom

in  1839,  when  he  was  21.    They  had  one  son,  John

T.  Simpson.    She  died  not  long  after  her  baby  was

born.     My  brother  married  Nancy  Cooper  in  1843.

When  we  crossed  the  plains  in  1846,  to  Ben  and

his   second  wife,   two  more  boys  had  been   born-

Sylvester C.  and Samuel L.   Sam was a baby, having

been  born  about  six  months  before  we  started  for

Oregon .    Sam,  my  nephew,  was  the  author  of  the

book  of  poems  entitled  The  Gold-Gated  West.     I

guess his "Beautiful Willamette" is his best known.

 

     "Our  whole  family  came  to  Oregon   in  1846

except  my  brother  Thomas,  who  did  not  cross  the

plains  till  1852.     Tom  married  Rosena  Buff  back

in  Missouri    and   decided   to   let   us   come  out  and

 see  if  we  like  it  and  if  we  did  he  would  sell  out

 and come.

 

     "When  we  started  across  the  plains  all  our

neighbors   told   Mother  what   a  dangerous  trip  it

was  and  how we were sure to be killed by Indians

or  drowned  or  die  of  cholera  or  be  run  over  by

buffaloes.    Mother,  who  had  heard  how  they  buried

people  who  died  while  crossing  the  plains,   in  a

blanket  by  the  side  of the  road,  decided she  would

be  forehanded,   so  the  winter  before  we  left  she

carded  and  spun  and  wove  a  lot  of  cloth,  dyed

it    and   cut    it   up   and   made   a   shroud   apiece   for

everyone  in  the  family.    No,  we  didn't get to use

a  single  one  of  them.     I  think  she  cut  them  up

after  we  got  to  Oregon  and  made  clothes  out  of

them.     I  was  more  interested  in  the  hunting  shirt

she made for me than I was in my shroud.

 

     "It   will   be   80   years   ago   next   spring  that

we  started  with  our  ox  teams  and  covered  wagons

for  Oregon .     We  didn't  have  any  particular  trouble

on  our  six  months'  trip  across  the  plains.    My

brother  Ben  was  captain  of  the  train  and  he  was

the right man in the right place.

 

     "The only fatality   we had was one man killed.

Two men went in together to come to Oregon .   They

pooled  their  resources  and  bought  a  wagon,  a couple

of  yoke  of  oxen  and  supplies  for  the  trip.     They

didn't  get along any too well.   One night the driver

of  the   outfit   lagged   behind.      They  camped  about

three  miles  from  the  rest  of  the  train.    The  next

day the driver caught up with us.   When they asked

him  where  his  partner  was  he  said,  'The  Indians

must  have  killed  him  during  the  night.    I  buried

him this morning by the side of the road.'

 

     "We  had not  had any trouble with the Indians,

so  most  of  the  folks  in  the  train  thought  he  had

killed   his   partner   for   his   share   in   the   outfit.

No,   we  didn't  do  anything  about  it.     There  was

nothing  we  could  do.    We  were  in  a hurry to press

on  to  Oregon,  and  even  if we  had  turned  back  and

dug  his  partner  up  we  couldn't  have  proved  that

some  prowling  Indian  hadn't  shot  him,  so  we  went

on,   but   the   man   whose   partner  had  been  wiped

out  so  mysteriously  wasn't  very  popular  with  the

rest of the folks in the wagon train.

 

     "The  last  man  to  join  our  train  before  we

pulled out  for the long trip westward from the rendez-

vous  across  from  St.  Joe  was  Uncle  Ben  Munkers.

The  train  rarely  had  the  same  number  of  wagons

in   it   two   days   together.      It   averaged   about   100

wagons.    Sometimes  some  of ;-he  party would straggle

and  drop  back  with  another  train,  or  hurry  up

and  get  ahead,  later  dropping  back  to  join  us.

Lots  of  folks  crossing  the  plains  imagined  the  train

ahead  or  the  train  back  of  the  one  they  were  in

must   have  more  considerate  and  congenial  people

in it.     They  usually  found  out  they  were  mistaken

 

when  they  dropped  back  or  forged  ahead  to  join

the  other  train.  Some folks always have good neigh-

bors.  Others always complain about having  bad neighbors.

I  guess  it  is  the  people  themselves  more

than the neighbors that are at fault.

 

       "One  incident of the trip that I greatly enjoyed

 was having  a  band  of  several  hundred  Indians

 draw  up  across  the  road  and  refuse  to let  us  co

 on  unless  we  would  pay  for  passing  through  their

 country     They  were  nearly  naked  and  all-painted

 up.    They danced and whooped and scared the women

 and  the  little  children  half to death.    My  brother

 Ben  gave  the  word for every man  able to bear arms

 to  get  his  gun  and  march  toward  the  Indians  ready

 to  shoot  if  they  made  any  hostile  move.    They  gave

 way and let us through, for they saw our men meant

 business.

 

      "The  chief,   who  spoke  some  English,   said,

You  scare  all  our  game  away.    Won't  each  man

 give  us  a  present  of  a  charge  of  powder  apiece

 to   prove   you   are  our  friends?'      My  brother  told

 the  men  to  pour  out  enough  powder  from  their  horns

for a charge for each of the Indians.

 

     "While  they  were  doing  this  an  antelope  ran

by.    Half  a  dozen  of  the  Indians  leaped  on  their

horses  and  took  after  it.    They  dropped  it  within

100  yards.     They  shot  it  with  arrows.     Most  of

the  band  were  armed  with  bows,  though  some  had

guns.

 

     "Did  we  have  any  fights  on  the  plains?    I

saw only one.   A woman claimed that another woman

in   the   train   was   trying   to   vamp   her   husband.

The  lady  who  was  doing  the  vamping  had  very

abundant  and  beautiful  hair,  so  the  wife  of  the

man  who  was  more  or  less  willing  to be  vamped

sailed  into  her.     It  was  a  lively  fight  while  it

lasted.     They  pulled  hair,   scratched,   yelled,   and

cried  and  fought  like  a  couple  of  cats.    The  lady

with  the  beautiful  hair  had  a  lot  less  of  it  when

the fight was declared a draw.

 

     "We  had  to  stop  one  day  to  let  a  herd  of

buffaloes  go  by  along  the  Platte .    Two  miles  before

they came  to  us  we could  hear  a  subdued roar  like

the  sound  of  the  surf  at  Newport .     They  fairly

shook  the  ground.    There  were  thousands  of  them.

They  ran  along  paying  no  attention  to  our  wagon

train,   though   our   oxen   were   mighty   restless   at

the smell, the sound, and the sight of them.

 

     "All  I  need  to  do  today,  nearly  80  years  later,

is   to   shut   my   eyes  and   I   can  see  the  vast,   empty

plains  with  their  rolling  land  waves.     I  can  see

the  wagons  come  to  a  stop,   see  the  children  pile

out  of  the  wagons  while  the  men  folks  unyoke  the

oxen  and all the women scatter as soon as the train

 comes to a stop,  to gather their aprons full of sun-

 dried buffalo chips to cook the coffee and bacon.

 

      "What  did  we  eat  for  supper?    Bread cooked

 in  a  Dutch  oven,   or  cornbread  with  coffee,  bacon,

 beans,  and  dried  peaches  or  apples.    We  had  some

 cows  along,  so  we  usually  had  milk.     Sometimes

 we  had buffalo  or antelope meat in place of bacon.

 Sometimes   the   women   folks   rustled   sagebrush   or

 willow wood  in  place  of buffalo chips,  but the chips

 made a quick, hot fire, and proved very satisfactory.

 

      "I  told  you  I  saw  only  one  fight  while crossing

the   plains.      Well,   I'll   stick   to  that  statement,

 

 but  there  were  a  lot of fights  I was in,  but I was

 too   busy   fighting   to   stop   and   be   an  eye-witness

 to  them.     The  Burnett  boy  was  a  year  older  than

 I,    but    I    was    a   mite   larger.       My   father,    being

 a   Primitive   Baptist   preacher,   had  taught  me  to

 turn  the  other ' cheek.   My mother had also impressed

 upon me that boys who expect to be gentlemen don't

 settle  their  differences  with  their  fists.    The  Burnett

 boy  found  he  could  lick me,  so hardly a day went

by that he didn't make my life a burden.   I could

 hardly  call  my  soul  my  own.    He generally caught

me  where  my  folks  wouldn't  see  us  fighting.    I

put  up  a  half-hearted  fight,  usually  trying  to avoid

punishment more than to try to hurt him.

 

     "One  day  my  mother  saw  him  licking  me.

She  pulled  him  off of  me  and  said to me,  'The time

has  come  for  you  to  take  your  own  part.    I  want

you  to  thrash  this  boy,  and  do  a  thorough  job.'

 

 I  could  hardly  believe  my  ears.    I  hesitated,  and

she  said,   'You  can  take  your  choice.    Either  you

whip  this  bully  within  an  inch  of  his  life  or  I

will  give  you  a  worse  licking  than  he  ever  gave

you.'

 

     "I  knew  my  mother  was  a  woman  of  her  word,

so  I  waded  in,   and  what  I  did  to  that  boy  was

plenty.     After  that  all  I  had  to  do  was  double

up  my  fists  and  scowl  at  him  and  he  would  beat

it.

 

     "One  of  the  things  I  remember  very  distinctly

is   our   stopping   at   Independence   Rock.       The   men

and  women  gathered  around  the  rock  and  read  the

names  of  the  emigrants  who  had  registered  during

the preceding two or three years.   Then they scratched

their  own   names  on  the  rock.     Some  of  the  men

painted  their  names  on with tar from the tar buckets

that   hung   from   the   back   axles   of   the   wagons.

1  doubt  if  there  are  many  left  of  those  who wrote

their   names   on   Independence   Rock   79  years   ago.

There  are a  few  of  us  left,  but  when  1  call  the

roll  of  my  former  campmates  who  crossed  the  plains

 with  me  in  1846,  not  many  are  here  to  answer  the

 roll call.

 

     "You  can't  spend  six  months  with  a  couple

of  yoke  of  oxen  in  a  covered  wagon  crossing  the

plains  without   having   lots  of  peculiar  adventures

and  misadventures  that  stick  in  your  mind.    My

father  and  Uncle  Ben  Munkers  were  the  oldest  men

in   the   wagon   train.      My  brother   Ben,   who  was

captain  of  the  wagon  train,  let  them  take  turns

leading the train with their wagons,  so they wouldn't

have to  swallow  so much  dust.    If there  was  any

wind the drivers of the wagons in the back swallowed

their  share  of  dust,   for  the  oxen  kicked  up  the

fine  alkali  dust  till  the  wagons  were  in  a  heavy

fog.

 

     "One  day  when  my  father's  wagon  was  in

the  lead  a  couple  of  young  Indians  met  us  and

one  of them  threw  up  his  hand  quickly  as  a  signal

for us  to  stop.     This  scared  our  oxen,  and  they

bolted.     They  ran  down  the  hill,  turned  into  the

river,   and   splashed   through   to   the   other   side.

The  Munkers  oxen  also  became  panic-stricken  and

followed  our  wagon.     Mrs.  Munkers,  with  her  son

Jimmy,  six  years  old,  was  riding on the front  seat

when the oxen bolted.   She was a cripple.   Wherever

she  went  she  had  to  carry  her  chair  and,  also,

hobble  on  crutches.     She  was  so  frightened  that

she  grabbed  Jimmy  up  under one  arm,  reached back

and  got  her  camp  chair  under  the  other,  jumped

out  of  the  wagon,  as  it  was  going  full  tilt,  ran

as  hard  as  she  could  to  a  hundred  yards  or  so,

and  then,  realizing  that  she  was  a  cripple  and

couldn't  walk,   she  put  down  the  chair  and  sat

down.

 

     "The  oxen  tried  to  climb  the  bank  on  the

other  side  of  the  river,  but  the  wagon  turned  over,

so  they  got  over  their  scare  and  waited  for  the

men to come and fix things.

 

     "Coming  across  the  plains  I  usually  rode  one

horse  and  led  another,   or  rode  and  herded  the

stock.  One  day  I  was  riding  a  big  American  mare

and  leading  her  mate.    I  went  on  ahead  of  the

train,   but   finally  decided   I   had  better  backtrack

and  join  it.    I rode back 12 or 15 miles without

seeing  any  sight  of  the  train.    I  finally  came  to

another  train  and  asked  what  had  become  of  the

Simpson  train.    The captain told me Simpson's train

was about 10 miles ahead of them and I had better

hurry  if  I  wanted  to  get  there  before  night.    It

was  growing  cold,  so  he  loaned  me  a  big  coat,

for   I   was   in   shirtsleeves.   I  retraced  my  way  till

I  saw  where  our  wagon  train  had  left  the  road

 

to  camp  on   a  small  stream  some  distance  from  the

road.    It was  about  dusk.   My mother was spreading

the  table  cloth  on the  ground ready to  serve  supper.

She  said,  'Where  have  you  been,  Barnet?   I  haven't

seen  you  since  breakfast  time.'     My  brother  Ben

had  missed  me  and,  being  afraid  something  had

happened  to me,  he and three other men had struck

out  to  look  for  me.    They  didn't  get back  till  long

after midnight .

 

     "When we  came  to the  Sweetwater,  Ben  decided

to   have   the   train   lay  over   Friday,   Saturday   and

Sunday  for  washing  clothes,  repairing  wagons  and

drying  out  supplies  that  had  got  wet.    We  had

three  preachers  in  our  train.     My  father  was  a

Primitive  Baptist,  Elder  McBride  was  a  Campbellite,

and  I  have  forgotten  what  the other  preacher was,

but  each  of  them  preached  while  we  laid  over  on

the Sweetwater.

 

     "The  ox  drivers  decided  to  get  a  little  of

the dust off,  so they made up a crowd to go swimming.

With  my  nephew  John  Anderson,  who  was  about  a

year  and  a  half  my  senior,  I  followed  them  and

went  into  the  shallow  water.    When  the  men  had

dressed  and  gone,   John  and  1   decided  to  learn

to   swim.      John   said,   'We  can't   learn  to  swim  in

 shallow water, so we'll go where it's deep.'

"1  said.  'Go  ahead.    I'll  follow  you.    1  don't

care if the water is a thousand feet deep.'

"We  had  hardly  got  out  into  the  current  till

 John  was  washed  into  a  deep  hole.    He  called  out,

 'Give me your hand, quick, or I'll drown.'

      "  I started  toward  him,  but  before I got there

 the  current  had  caught  both  of  us  and  we  were

 washed  downstream.     1  can  remember  yet  seeing

John's   head,   first   under  water   and  then  coming

into   sight   again   as   he   whirled   round   and  round

 in  a  whirlpool.     The  next  thing  I  remember  I  was

 washed  up  on  a  sandbar  and  John  was  climbing

 up the bank to go back to the train and tell Mother

 I  was  drowned.    We  made  a  solemn  compact  not

 to   tell   our   folks   about   our   narrow   escape  till   we

 got to the Willamette Valley .

 

      "When  we  got  to  Fort  Hall,  some  of the  folks

in  the  train  took  the  road  to  Sutter's  Fort  in  Cal-

ifornia.     Among  them  was  my  brother-in-law,   Alva

 

 Kimsey.     He  came  north  to  Oregon   the  following

 year.     When  gold  was  discovered  at  Sutler's  Fort

 he  took  the  back  trail  and  returned,  but  he  didn't

 have much luck.

 

      "At  Fort  Hall  my  father  exchanged  all  of  the

 bacon  and  flour  and  cornmeal  he  could  spare  for

 an  order  on  Dr.  McLoughlin  for  a  similar  amount

 at   Oregon    City.      This   saved  hauling   this   surplus

 across  the  Cascades.    We  came  by  the Barlow  Route ,

 which  had  just  been  opened,  and  it  was  a  terror.

 I guess none of the emigrants who came down Laurel

 Hill  with  men  pulling  on  the  ropes  to keep the wagons

 from  running  over  the  oxen  will  ever  forget  Laurel

 Hill.

 

      "We  wintered  at  North Yamhill .    In the  spring

 Father  leased  a  place  and  put  five  acres  in  wheat.

 We had a big crop.   My brother James and I tramped

 it   out   with   oxen.      In   the   fall   of   1847   Father   took

up  a  donation  land claim  in  the  Waldo Hills .   We

had  18  inches  of  snow  that  winter.    Father  had

no  hay,  so  he  fed  our  cattle  boiled  wheat.    We

lost all of them but one cow and three steers.

 

      "I   went   to   school   in   the   winter  of  1846  to

Herman  Higgins,  a  cooper.    He  was  a  son-in-law

of   Reverend   Vincent   Shelling,   a   Baptist   preacher.

Higgins  taught  school,  as  he  was  a  cripple,  and

this  was  about  his  only  qualification  as  a  teacher.

He  used  to  make  tubs  and  barrels  during  school

hours.     If  we  children  laughed  he  would  look  up

from  his  work  and  say,  'Larn  your  lessons.  Tend

to  business  there  and  larn  your  lessons.'   I  stayed

overnight  once  at  his  home.    They  had  no  dishes

and  no  furniture.    We  sat  on  the  floor,  and when

it   came   time   for   supper   his   wife   stirred   up   some

dough  and  gave  us  each  a  sharp  stick  on  which

we  put  the  dough and held it over the fire in the

fireplace to bake.

 

     "My first teacher in the Waldo Hills was Paul

Darst.    I  was  married  June  12,  1853 .    I  sold  my

150-acre  farm  in  the  Waldo   Hills   for  $600  and moved

to   Salem .      I   was   sexton  of  the  I.O.O.F.   Cemetery

there for 25 years."

 

                      Oregon Journal

                       March 18-20, 1925