So we marched, mingled, and, as some might have said, motley in our personnel—sons of some of the best families in the South, men from the Carolinas and Virginia, Georgia and Louisiana, men from Pennsylvania and Ohio; Roundhead and Cavalier, Easterner and Westerner, Germans, Yankees, Scotch-Irish—all Americans. We marched, I say, under a form of government; yet each took his original marching orders from his own soul. We marched across an America not yet won. Below us lay the Spanish civilization—Mexico, possibly soon to be led by Britain, as some thought. North of us was Canada, now fully alarmed and surely led by Britain. West of us, all around us, lay the Indian tribes. Behind, never again to be seen by most of us who marched, lay the homes of an earlier generation. But we marched, each obeying the orders of his own soul. Some day the song of this may be sung; some day, perhaps, its canvas may be painted.
The spell and the light of each
path we pursue—
If woman be there, there is happiness too.
Twenty miles a day, week in and week out, we edged westward up the Platte, in heat and dust part of the time, often plagued at night by clouds of mosquitoes. Our men endured the penalties of the journey without comment. I do not recall that I ever heard even the weakest woman complain. Thus at last we reached the South Pass of the Rockies, not yet half done our journey, and entered upon that portion of the trail west of the Rockies, which had still two mountain ranges to cross, and which was even more apt to be infested by the hostile Indians. Even when we reached the ragged trading post, Fort Hall, we had still more than six hundred miles to go.
By this time our forces had wasted as though under assault of arms. Far back on the trail, many had been forced to leave prized belongings, relies, heirlooms, implements, machinery, all conveniences. The finest of mahogany blistered in the sun, abandoned and unheeded. Our trail might have been followed by discarded implements of agriculture, and by whitened bones as well. Our footsore teams, gaunt and weakened, began to faint and fall. Horses and oxen died in the harness or under the yoke, and were perforce abandoned where they fell. Each pound of superfluous weight was cast away as our motive power thus lessened. Wagons were abandoned, goods were packed on horses, oxen and cows. We put cows into the yoke now, and used women instead of men on the drivers’ seats, and boys who started riding finished afoot. Our herds were sadly lessened by theft of the Indians, by death, by strayings which our guards had not time to follow up. If a wagon lagged it was sawed shorter to lessen its weight Sometimes the hind wheels were abandoned, and the reduced personal belongings were packed on the cart thus made, which nevertheless traveled on, painfully, slowly, yet always going ahead. In the deserts beyond Fort Hall, wagons disintegrated by the heat. Wheels would fall apart, couplings break under the straining teams. Still more here was the trail lined with boxes, vehicles, furniture, all the flotsam and jetsam of the long, long Oregon Trail.