Biography of Mrs. Sarah H. Jeffers

MRS. SARAH H. JEFFERS. – The following reminiscences of the journey across the plains, prepared by the above venerable lady, will prove of very great interest to all our readers, giving details of the journey not always distinctly remembered or related.

At the request of Elijah C. Jeffers, of Clatsop county, his mother, Mrs. Sarah H. Jeffers, writes the following history and incidents of travel across the then wild and uninhabited region of country, from the point of rendezvous near Saint Joseph, and on the west shore of the Missouri river, to the territory of Oregon:

“On the 6th of March, 1847, my husband, Mr. Joseph Jeffers, and I, with our family of three children, left Burlington, Iowa, for the aforesaid rendezvous to join the company of emigrants to be organized and escorted under the direction of a young man by the name of Albert Davis, who had before traveled the said road to Oregon and the Pacific coast. For the sake of protection from the depredation and savage barbarity of the Indians on the way, the company, consisting of forty-two wagons and attendants, drawn by teams of oxen, was systematically organized; and, being thus arranged for travel, who took up the line of march from the place of rendezvous, and with oxen speed wended our way westerward to the point of destination, – camping in circle at night, the cattle being turned loose to graze and rest, and guards being stationed around the camp to protect the cattle and the camp from the hostilities of the savages. These were relieved by others at midnight. All having rested for the night, and taken their morning repast, we resumed the tedious journey.

“Traveling and camping thus each succeeding day for four or six weeks, we came to Fort Laramie, being a distance of about five hundred miles traveled from the point of egress. There was nothing remarkable or worthy of note at this point, except that it was occupied by a white man associated with an Indian squaw for a companion, and hence raising a family of half-breeds. After resting for two days, we resumed the line of march from this point on the North Platte river, and traveled thence up the rough and rugged Black Hills or Laramie Range until attaining the Wind River Range about the last of June, where was exhibited the remarkable and beautiful feature in nature of a snow-clad mountain, and at its base beautiful and fragrant flowers with green grass, upon which all of us, for the time being luxuriated, – the teams upon the grass, and the men and women upon the snow and flowers, as we camped at a creek near by named Sandy.

“On the following morning, the 1st of July, we resumed the toilsome way, the company dividing, a portion going by the way of Fort Bridger and the others taking what was called the Greenwood cut-off. We, taking the latter, experienced the terribleness of that cut-off. characterized by a continuous travel day and night without wood, grass or water, and through a dense cloud of dust, the teams becoming well-nigh famished, and the company suffering from great thirst. In the morning, coming in sight of Green river, for some time before reaching it the teams became so frantic that they were scarcely manageable; and, such was the intensity of their anguish, that on reaching the river it was exceedingly difficult to release them ere they plunged with all into the water, and then had to be closely followed and guarded to prevent drowning. Having surmounted the dreary scene and wilderness desolation, and reached this point on the Green river the 2d of July, 1847, and being refreshed by its cooling waters and the usual repast and rest, the next question to be determined or devised was the means of transit to employ for the safe ferriage of the company and their effects to the opposite shore. A raft of logs was constructed; but, the rapid stream being too strong for those in custody, it was swept away, they barely escaping from its dangers. The next means employed was the calking and pitching of one of the wagon beds; and by this means all, in detached and small quantity, were in due time safely crossed.

“At this point on the 3rd day of July, and while the men were engaged in providing the means for crossing the river, the women, inspired by the feelings of nationality engendered by the near approach of the day of our national anniversary, as they might not be able to do so on the Fourth, prepared a special dinner for all, in honor and celebration of the day of our national independence. This work and celebration occurred on the Sabbath, a seeming violation of the injunction to “Remember the Sabbath day to keep it holy;’ but, being now observed by the entire line of emigrants, the circumstances compelling constant labor and travel were pleaded in extenuation therefor.

“Having succeeded in crossing all with safety, and in setting up the wagons, repacking, etc., we resumed the anxious and tedious way, traveling over unknown mountains, the descent of which, in one instance, was so great that it became necessary to take the teams from each wagon and then hitch one yoke of oxen to the rear end of each to prevent too rapid a speed in their descent, the men holding and guiding the wagons, and thus guarding against danger and damage, succeeding in a safe descent to the valley of Ash Hollow, where, finding pleasant camping quarters, we camped near its cooling stream of water, and released our teams to graze upon the abundant grasses for the night and succeeding day and night.

“A feeling, already engendered, foreign to the spirit of love and kindness, was here developed; and it was of such a character that it divided the company into three separate and distinct branches; and each branch, independent of the other, subsequently traveled and camped under their own care and supervision. Leaving this point of encampment, and resuming the tedious way, we finally came to the beautiful plain adorned by those grand and natural developments in architecture known as the Courthouse and Castle, and the Chimney rock, each extending far into the heavens, and of such a character as to command the attention and admiration of all.

“The next objects of interest that came in our way, commanding the attention of the whole company, were the natural Soda, Steamboat and Hot springs. The first was used and enjoyed by appeasing a strong thirst; the second was admired for its tremendous rush and force of waters, which created a sound resembling that of the escapement of a steamboat’s high-pressure engine; and the third provided us with hot water, with which he made the tea for lunch. the next point of special interest was that of Independence rock on the Sweetwater river, where we camped and remained for two days, enjoying its scenery and grazing the teams. This rock is remarkable, not only for its magnitude in size and height, but for its isolated relation to all other peaks or mountains, being entirely surrounded by the Sweetwater plain, hence the name Independence. Upon its surface many names are inscribed; and on its summit is said to be quite a lake of water.

“On leaving the vale of the Sweetwater, my husband, desiring to stop a moment with others to review the scenery, I was intrusted with the lines of the mule-team, consisting of a span attached to the family wagon. This trust resulted greatly to my disadvantage; for while crossing a small stream, the banks of which were precipitous, I placed my foot on the tongue of the wagon for support, which suddenly rose in the ascent and caught my foot between it and the bed of the wagon, putting me to great pain and suffering, and rendering me unable to walk on that foot for some time. I could only move upon my hands and knees while preparing food for six in family; but finally I recovered enough to meet the necessity.

“The next point attained, and of very striking remembrance, was Fort Hall. There we were introduced into a great cloud of most tormenting mosquitoes; and hence we hastened from that encampment with the agility of mule and oxen speed, and next came to Fort Boise, where we obtained and enjoyed the first salmon. On leaving camp, our son, who drove the ox-team, being inspired by a sportive element to hunt and possess the antelope, his father took charge of his team; and I, having had considerable experience since the incident related, which occurred on leaving Sweetwater, again took charge of the mule-team. I did not notice at the time of starting that the lines were entangled with the tongue of the wagon’ and on coming to a point at the head of a very deep and precipitous ravine, where the road made a turn, the mules, by reason of the entanglement, became unmanageable, left the road, and would have rushed to the utter and inevitable destruction of all, but for the kindness of a gentleman, who, seeing our danger, rushed in ahead of the mules, and, disentangled them, turned them into the road. Thus, by a kind and merciful providence, teams, family and all were saved. This put a quietus upon our son’s sportive element.

“We continued our weary way over valleys, plains and mountains, the ascent of which in many instances was of such a character as to require us to double the teams, and then again to detach them from the tongue of the wagon and hitch them to the rear to prevent too rapid a descent, the men guiding, holding and, by the aid of the oxen in the rear, preventing the wagon from toppling or overturning; and thus finally we came to the Cascade Mountains, the climax of our rough and weary travel. We reached the point of our destination in Oregon on the 12th of September, 1847, having been traveling six months and six days since leaving Burlington, in the State of Iowa, now over forty-two years ago.”

These statistics, being made entirely upon the memory of this date, are necessarily imperfect.


Biography, Women,

History of the Pacific Northwest Oregon and Washington. 2 v. Portland, Oregon: North Pacific History Company. 1889.

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