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Accounts of travelling
down the Oregon Trail

The Applegates 1843



Catherine Sagar 1844



Donner and Reed 1846



Francis Parkman 1846



The Mormons 1846-7



Ralph Geer 1847



William Porter 1848



Phoebe Judson 1853



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1840s Emigrants
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Journey along the Oregon Trail
1853 Phoebe Goodell Judson

they followed the Sweetwater River and camped near Independence Rock. Since it was July 4, they stayed an extra day and had a picnic. From there, they journeyed through the Wind River Mountains, the highest point in their trip. It was cold and snowy. The landscape on the other side was quite barren and the animals had a difficult time finding adequate forage.


Sweetwater River

Sweetwater River, followed by Phoebe's group

Journey along the Oregon Trail 1853 Phoebe Goodell Judson

SOURCE: "A Pioneer's Search for an Ideal Home," by Phoebe Goodell Judson, Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 1984, originally published 1926

Phoebe Goodell grew up in Vermillion, Ohio on Lake Erie. She married Holden Allen Judson in 1850. They went west to start their own homestead with cheap land promised by the government. They left Ohio on March 1, 1853, with their two year old daughter Annie.

The first portion of the journey was easy. They rode a wagon to Sandusky, where they caught a train to Cincinnati. From there they rode a steamer down the Ohio, upper the Mississippi a short way, then up the Missouri. They disembarked at Kansas City to begin their overland route. They stayed there five weeks getting their wagon ready and finding draft animals. They joined Gustavus Hines, a Methodist missionary, who had written a book on Oregon history. He and his brother Harvey, another brother Jedidiah, and their families were headed back west.

They left around the first of May. They were lucky to have Gustavus to lead them as he had been on the route before and could find the best camping areas for water and grass for the animals. He also insisted on observance of the Sabbath Day. Phoebe was impatient at the delay but admitted the rest was much needed, especially for the animals.

They were delayed several days at the Big Blue River, in which several wagon trains waited to be ferried across. Another delay of half a day was caused by a wagon that lost a wheel. Throughout this area they were not bothered by the Delaware, Shawnee, and Potawotami Indians, who were friendly. But they had to be vigilant in Pawnee territory. The Pawnee did manage to stampede the stock once, but the pioneers caught them in the act of trying it again and chased them away.

When they reached the Platte River valley, there were long stretches with no wood. If they had not gathered enough from other camps this would have meant no hot food. The area was also very muddy and boggy, which was very difficult for the animals to drag the wagons. They were able to bag some buffalo to supplement their monotonous diet. Eventually they crossed the Platte. On the other side, she noticed the large number of graves they encountered, most dying of cholera.

Shortly afterward, they reached Chimney Rock, which they all knew was a famous landmark. They also passed by several Sioux villages. The Indians did not bother them at all. On June 26, Phoebe gave birth to a son the named Charles La Bonta, after the place he was born. A few days later, they followed the Sweetwater River and camped near Independence Rock. Since it was July 4, they stayed an extra day and had a picnic. From there, they journeyed through the Wind River Mountains, the highest point in their trip. It was cold and snowy. The landscape on the other side was quite barren and the animals had a difficult time finding adequate forage. There was more grass in the Bear River valley though there were still few trees but willow to use for fuel.

They followed the Snake River across Idaho, the most barren terrain they had yet seen. They kept a keen eye out for the treacherous Snake Indians, but fortunately were not bothered by them. This area was very hard on the oxen as they frequently had little to eat. They lost a lot of weight. The Judsons abandoned a heavy table, a rocking chair, and a trunk to try to lighten the load for the oxen. They were also low on foodstuffs and had very little variation in diet. Finally, they reached Fort Boise where they could buy supplies. It was while crossing the Boise River, that they suffered their only casualty, when a man fell and drowned in the river.

They continued northwest through the future state of Oregon, crossing the Malheur River, the Powder River, and the Grande Ronde River. They met some friendly Nez Perce Indians in this area who helped guide them and gave them food. When they reached the Umatilla River, they met some more friendly Indians with whom they traded. They were on the homestretch, but it was some of the roughest country they had traveled. It was rocky, dry, and dusty with many narrow canyons and steep cliffs. When they reached The Dalles, the wagons were floated down the Columbia River. The men drove the livestock to a meeting place on the west side of the Cascade Mountains. Up to this point, their trip had taken seven months.

The Judsons then left the wagon train so that they may visit Phoebe's sister in the Willamette Valley. They stayed a few days before going on to Portland. From there they rode a ferry across the Columbia River. They hired Indians to ferry them up the Cowlitz River where they met Phoebe's brother. He lead them the rest of the way. From there, the Judsons headed north to her mother's house north of Chehalis. Here they set up their own homestead. Mr. Judson built a 16 x 18 foot log cabin

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Chris Smallbone Sept 2006