Of course it came to politics. Yes, Texas had been annexed, somehow, not by regular vote of the Senate. There was some hitch about that. My leader reckoned there was no regular treaty. It had just been done by joint resolution of the House—done by Tyler and Calhoun, just in time to take the feather out of old Polk’s cap! The treaty of annexation—why, yes, it was ratified by Congress, and everything signed up March third, just one day before Polk’s inaugural! Polk was on the warpath, according to my gaunt leader. There was going to be war as sure as shooting, unless we got all of Oregon. We had offered Great Britain a fair show, and in return she had claimed everything south to the Columbia, so now we had withdrawn all soft talk. It looked like war with Mexico and England both. Never mind, in that case we would whip them both!
“Do you see that writin’ on my wagon top?” asked the captain. “Fifty-four Forty or Fight. That’s us!”
And so they went on to tell us how this cry was spreading, South and West, and over the North as well; although the Whigs did not dare cry it quite so loudly.
“They want the land, just the same,” said the captain. “We all want it, an’, by God! we’re goin’ to git it!”
And so at last we parted, each the better for the information gained, each to resume what would to-day seem practically an endless journey. Our farewells were as careless, as confident, as had been our greetings. Thousands of miles of unsettled country lay east and west of us, and all around us, our empire, not then won.
History tells how that wagon train went through, and how its settlers scattered all along the Willamette and the Columbia and the Walla Walla, and helped us to hold Oregon. For myself, the chapter of accidents continued. I was detained at Fort Hall, and again east of there. I met straggling immigrants coming on across the South Pass to winter at Bridger’s post; but finally I lost all word of Meek’s party, and could only suppose that they had got over the mountains.
I made the journey across the South Pass, the snow being now beaten down on the trails more than usual by the west-bound animals and vehicles. Of all these now coming on, none would get farther west than Fort Hall that year. Our own party, although over the Rockies, had yet the Plains to cross. I was glad enough when we staggered into old Fort Laramie in the midst of a blinding snow-storm. Winter had caught us fair and full. I had lost the race!
Here, then, I must winter. Yet I learned that Joe Meek had outfitted at Laramie almost a month earlier, with new animals; had bought a little grain, and, under escort of a cavalry troop which had come west with the wagon train, had started east in time, perhaps, to make it through to the Missouri. In a race of one thousand miles, the baroness had already beaten me almost by a month! Further word was, of course, now unobtainable, for no trains or wagons would come west so late, and there were then no stages carrying mail across the great Plains. There was nothing for me to do except to wait and eat out my heart at old Fort Laramie, in the society of Indians and trappers, half-breeds and traders. The winter seemed years in length, so gladly I make its story brief.