Pioneer History by Richard C. Schmal

Lowell Area Pioneers on the Oregon Trail, 1853
Part Two

(from the Jan. 28, 2003, Lowell Tribune, page 110)

The December 2002 "Pioneer History" column featured the first part of the story about two area families who left their Indiana homes in the early spring of 1853 on a long and perilous journey to find their fortunes in Oregon. The Dinwiddie family wagon train left March 18, 1853. The Belshaw group left on March 23, 1853, and followed a similar trail west, all lured by the prospects of fertile land, lofty forests, lush meadows, sparkling springs and a healthy climate.

George Belshaw, Jr., captain of the family wagon train, Maria Parsons Belshaw, and David Dinwiddie all wrote logs or diaries as they traveled on the rugged trail west. At the end of last month's story, David Dinwiddie wrote that they were resting near Rawhide Creek. The Belshaw wagon train reported seeing "Chimney Rock" on June 11.

Their interesting stories continue:

George Belshaw -- June 12: "Alkali ponds all around us. Heavy gusts of wind came just as we turned out. Some chained their wagons together." [The alkali water in many places was poison to both humans and cattle.]

Maria Parsons Belshaw -- June 12: "Opposite Chimney Rock. Passed five graves, two from this spring. Hard windstorm this afternoon. Oh, Father, keep us safe this night."

David Dinwiddie -- June 12: "Blow in evening. Indians came into camp. Stout looking fellows. They are of the Sue tribe. Seem friendly."

George -- June 14: "Cattle is getting lame. Have to shoe them with leather. An object 20 miles off looks like one in lake five miles off [mirage?]. Indians in camp. [George traded three bread cakes for a pair of 'mockasens'] -- saw lots of 'squas' and 'poopusus.'"

Maria -- June 14: "Came to see Scotts Bluff, as romantic place as I ever saw. Our sick a little better. Saw 50 Indians and squaws."

Dinwiddie: "Very high rocky peaks. Passed a grave of a man who died the day before."

George -- June 22: "Drove 12 miles over rough mountainous country. Stephen Martin's boy got lost. All turned out to find him. Did not find him until night, 14 miles off."

Maria: "Charles Martin, age 7, took wrong road while out getting a horse. What agony did his parents endure. At sunset a man came with the news that the boy was safe at another camp several miles from us. Our Heavenly Father rules all things just and right."

Dinwiddie: "We crossed Prospect Hill where we had a fine view of the range of Sweet River Mountains. Poor grass. No weeds. Country covered with wild wormwood."

George -- June 25: "Drove 16 miles today. On one of the steepest hills I have seen. Killed first antelope today. Very fine meat. Four of the teams took another stampede. Our team is doing well, everyone wants to get ahead in a rush."

Maria -- June 25: "Antelope made a feast for us. Plenty timber. Father Parson's team ran away today. No one injured. Mrs. Campbell no better. Rest of the sick better."

Dinwiddie: "There has been very poor grass since we left the Platte [River], about 80 miles back."

George -- July 1: "Passed near Devil's Gate 5 miles from Independence Rock. Camped on Sweet Water. Good grass. Plenty wood."

Maria: "Rocky Mountains in front of us. Devil's Gate is a beautiful site. Names are engraved on it."

Dinwiddie: "Perfect desert, sand and sage. Near Dry Sandy Creek. Fine view of snow in the mountains. At junction of Great Salt Lake and Fort Hall Roads. Saw 15 dead cattle today."

Maria: "Good roads. Crossed Little Sandy this morning. Traveled 18 miles."

Dinwiddie: "Visited by Indians, Snake Tribe, wanted to trade. Near Ham's fork of Green River. Fine grass."

George -- July 12: "Many Snake Indians around. Called out two set of watches [guards with guns]. Ferry expensive, $2.00 for wagon, 50 cents for cattle and horses. Swam most of the cattle across very swift mountain stream, hard time."

Maria: "Steep hills, came to Green River. Man drowned on 10th swimming his cattle. I thought that there was wickedness carried on at the Missouri Ferry, it was nothing compared to this -- peel after peel of oaths. It chilled my blood to hear them."

Dinwiddie: "Near Thomas Fork of Bear River. Ten cents for wagon to cross bridge."

George -- July 18: "Today we divided equal 8 wagons in each company for speedy traveling in mountains. I am still Captain. Near Bear River."

Maria: "It makes me feel lonely, for all my friends, but a husband dear, are in the other company. Oh, God wilt Thou keep us safe that we might meet our friends again."

Dinwiddie: "In a midst of a world of mountains. Away to the northwest can be seen the Tetons, the highest peaks of the Rocky Mountains. Walls of rocks on each side of us."

George: "August 1 -- near Goose Creek -- saw snow today. Poor country. Wild sage and rocks."

Maria: "Crossed Goose Creek at noon. Muddy. Passed 4 graves and more dead cattle. Poor feed. Traveled 18 miles."

Dinwiddie: "Hard sand hills, roads very deep in dust. Put wagon wheels in river at night."

As George Belshaw, Jr., was writing his journal, he also wrote a guide for future emigrants to follow on the dangerous trail. He told where there was safe water and where wood and grass were found; he warned about the Indian areas and the general condition of the trail.

George: "August 9, deep dust, like hot ashes, dried out wagon wheels. We have to keep them wet. Rested stock on an island."

Maria: "Rock and sand roads. Saw hot and cold springs. Near Rock Creek."

Dinwiddie: "High volcanic cliffs. Still dusty roads. Desolate country. Pleasant evening."

George: "August 13, Drove 14 miles, good roads but dusty, disagreeable for man or beast. Poor desolate country as I ever saw. Passed 30 dead cattle today. We are near Blue Mountain Creek -- I named it myself. The dust was said to be 'leg deep' down the trail."

Maria: "Near Desert Spring. Saw 5 more graves and many dead cattle."

Dinwiddie: "We came to Wolf Creek. Very warm today. Good grass for stock."

George: "August 16. Near a warm spring, hot enough to boil eggs, saw 31 dead cattle. Expect to be in Fort Boise soon. I understand that Indians killed three men.

"Saw 25 dead cattle. I am on guard with my gun on my shoulder and my revolver buckled around me watching the live stock."

Maria: "Sister Mary very sick. Mr. Belshaw lost an ox today, poisoning at a spring. Henry Parsons lost an ox at Rock Bluff." Dinwiddie: "Traveled 16 miles during the night, because of the shortage of water. We came to Malheur River."

George: "Saw new grave. Man shot by white man. The road now leaves Snake River."

George had a cow go back to Sulphur Springs, went back to get her, but could not catch up with the wagon train. Tied his pony and the cow together, and slept under a sage bush. Air cool at night. A large emigration, many cattle died. [Maria was too busy with the sick to write that day.]

Dinwiddie: "Steep hill, lost four more cattle."

George: "August 20 -- Near where a fort used to be. Snake River swam it all away last spring. Nothing here but a trading post now."

Maria: We are at Fort Boise, no soldiers here. Fur Company has complete charge. Saw one grave. Oh, Father help us to feel a dependance on you."

Dinwiddie: "Crossed same stream three times in nine miles. I noticed current today, choke cherry and service bushes, aspen along river. Near Snake River."

George: "August 29. Had to stop. Samuel [Belshaw, brother of George] very sick with the fever. Near Powder River. Bought first salmon fish, they were very good."

The wagon train moved slowly for a few days on account of the sickness. They came to a 'round' valley with good grass and water in the Blue Mountains, covered with large pine and fir trees. Indians were selling ponies, potatoes, and peas. They passed the grave of a man who was shot.

Maria: "Aug. 29 -- Good roads and grass, poor water. Samuel Belshaw and brother Henry Parsons very sick today. Traveled 15 miles."

Dinwiddie: "August 29, passed through valley owned by the Nez Pierce Indians. Passed the grave of man shot 27th August. Came to Grand Round River, saw handsome pine timber. Ascended very steep mountain."

George: "September 5. Drove 15 miles, good roads. Saw Cayuse village near the river. Many ponies."

Maria: "Struck Umatilla River, saw three graves, dead cattle. Sick better."

Dinwiddie: "Rolling prairie, hilly roads, drove 15 miles to willow Creek. Better grass now."

George: "September 14, came to small town, several stores, some farmers back of town.

"Potatoes 10 cents pound, butter 25 cents, pork, 40 cents, flour, $15 dollars for 100 pounds. Fort Drum near here with soldiers. First time since I left Council Bluff that I heard the supper bell at a tavern. Saw first frame house and first log house at De Chutes River, then a second log house. White traders and Indians does their trading packing provisions on ponies." The following day he decided to put his wagons aboard a boat [Columbia River] and to send his cattle over the Cascade Mountains.

Maria: "September 14. Calm this morning, crossed river on a ford. Good crossing if you have a careful driver."

Dinwiddie: "Mount Hood buried in storm clouds of a very dark color. We are close to Barlow's Gate."

George: "September 18, floated downstream, saw Mt. Hood, came to village of Cascades, rough looking place. Potatoes 5 cents pound, beef 20 cents, bread 20 cents. Friendly Indians were catching salmon" -- George went up the pack trail to meet the 'boys' and helped to drive the cattle to the landing. Cattle were sore from the rough trip over the mountains. His family went aboard a steamer and he continued down the pack trail to the Big Sandy River then to the Willamette Valley and camped.

Maria: "September 18. Sailed into Cascades Harbor at 4 this afternoon. One store, boarding and gambling all in one. We hear the oaths, people shudder to hear."

Dinwiddie -- Sept. 18: He described the beauty as he saw Mt. Hood, Mt. Jefferson, Mt. St. Helen and Mt. Rainier. His wagon train commenced the ascent of the dreaded Cascade Mountain Range. It seems that the Belshaw Train passed the Dinwiddie group somewhere in that area.

George: "Sept. 27. I drove the stock to the ferry boat. I got to the wagons where my family was about noon. We drove to good grass on the Columbia River bottom and camped in the Willamette Valley, Oregon. This ends our travels from Indiana to Oregon in the year 1853 and arriving in the Willamette Valley, Oregon, September 27, 1853."

Maria Parsons Belshaw continued writing almost daily until October 11, 1853. Going back to the 20th of Sept., she wrote, "Mother no better. Mrs. George Belshaw gave birth to a daughter 4 o'clock this morning.

"Sept. 21st. I saw a garden today and a dwelling house. It reminded me of my quiet little home I shall never see again perhaps.

"Sept. 26. Some moving in -- some moving out.

"Sept. 28th: All well but the baby.

"Oct. 1st. Came across Molalla Prairie. We have been traveling with many wagons, now all alone, how dreary it seems. Oh. Father, keep us safe this night.

"Oct. 3rd. Traveling on we know not where. Now in sight of Salem.

"Oct. 4th. Waiting for George Belshaw."

Oct. 6: "Beautiful country. Came but a short distance on account of George Belshaw losing his infant daughter [Gertrude]. She died at 9 a.m. of cancer of the stomach."

The following day the wagon train went on to Marysville, where she liked what she saw and wrote that the men were out looking for claims.

Her last words in her diary on Oct. 11, 1853: "Gray and cloudy this morning. Has the appearance of rainy season, old timers tell us. We will trust for strength and grace."

David Dinwiddie ended his log on the 1st of October, 1853: "Traveling over open country to Small Creek. Two more miles to Molalley River. The train went on to Linn Country."

David T. Dinwiddie and his wife, Elsie Hildreth Dinwiddie, settled on a farm with their three young children east of Harrisburg, Oregon (about 30 miles north of Eugene), where he became a successful farmer.

The new emigrants, the former Indiana pioneers of the Belshaw and Dinwiddie families, scattered to various localities in the Willamette Valley and many other parts of Oregon and Washington States. They became well-known and prosperous citizens. Records show that their descendants also contributed their part in the development of that area and that they were "industrious, enterprising and patriotic members of their communities."

With the help of modern electronics, the Old Timer found a photo of the "Belshaw-Condon House" (French Empire style) built in 1872 at Eugene, Oregon, by Thomas and Maria Belshaw. Thomas was an early druggist and musician. Their mansard-roofed mansion was moved and is now in the campus of the University of Oregon.

Listed as members of the Lane County (Oregon) Pioneer Historical Association in 1883 are Mrs. Charles Belshaw, George Belshaw, Mrs. Maria Belshaw and Thomas Belshaw. George is listed as a successful farmer in the 'Irving area.'

Last updated on February 1, 2003.

Return to Lowell History
Return to the "Pioneer History" A to Z Index Page