The Oregon Trail through Pottawatomie County -- part two
(page 6 continued)


  Below are mentioned some of the folk songs of the western pioneers, as well as those songs and parodies sung around the camp fires of the forty-niners.

  "A generation ago our popular literature was filled with tales of scouts, plainsmen and pioneers from the time of Daniel Boone down to that of Kit

page 3The Oregon Trail.

Carson and Buffalo Bill. We read of immigration trains, of frontier camps, of lone prospectors. There were plenty of bowie knives and revolvers, many buffalo hunts, much Indian fighting and the lifting of scalps. But I do not remember that any great stress was laid on singing," wrote R. W. Gordon in the New York Times Magazine.

  It would seem that the pioneers and the forty-niners had very little time for song, yet this is not absolutely true. Those who have read "The Covered Wagon" or seen the moving picture of it will remember the song "Oh, Susannah!" The forty-niners had another sang which was similar to "Oh, Susannah." A company from Salem, Mass., who traveled the trail in 1849 had the following parody of this song:

I came from Salem City
   With my washbowl on my knee,
I'm going to California
   The gold dust for to see.
It seemed all night the day I left,
   The weather it was dry.
The sun so hot I froze to death;
   Oh, brothers, don't you cry.


Oh! California,
   That's the land for me.
I'm going to Sacramento,
   With my washbowl on my knee.
I soon shall be in Francisco,
   And then I'll look around,
And when I see the gold lumps there
   I'll pick them off the ground.
I'll scrape the mountains clean
   I'll drain the rivers dry.
A pocket full of rocks bring home,
   So, brothers, don't you cry.

  Another favored song of the forty-niners was "Joe Bowers," of which I quote the last stanza.

It said my Sal was fickle,
  That her love for me had fled;
That she'd married with a butcher
  whose hair was awful red!
It told me more than that --
  Oh! it's enough to make one swear!
It said Sally had a baby,
  And the baby had red hair.

  But if you want to arouse the emotions of a group of real old timers, let them hear the refrain, "The days of old, the days of gold, the days of '49." For want of space I quote only the last stanza.

There was New York Jake, a butcher boy,
  So fond of getting tight,
And whenever he got on a spree
  He was spoiling for a fight.
One night he ran against a knife
  In the hands of old Bob Kline,
And over Jake we held a wake
  In the days of forty-nine.

  There were many other songs sung by the pioneers and the forty-niners.

page 8Kansas State Historical Society.


  But at the time of the first great tragedy of the trail in Pottawatomie county there was no singing or merriment there. It was in the huge caravan which was camped around the Louie Vieux ford in the northwest quarter of section 24, in Louisville township, on the Vermillion. And it was in May of the year 1849. This spot was the first great camping ground on the Oregon Trail in Pottawatomie county. It was close to plenty of good water, good grazing, and good timber.

  In May, 1849, the dread scourge of Asiatic cholera2 came up the Missouri river with the immigrants and followed West over the trail, taking its toll from among the travelers. Of all the many tragedies that occurred throughout the course of the old Oregon Trail in its infancy, the one that happened on the east bank of the Red Vermillion, in what is now Pottawatomie county, Kansas, seems the most cruel and disheartening.

  These were brave men who, in their anxiety to reap the harvest of gold awaiting them at the end of their journey, had schooled themselves in the best methods of fighting off the lurking bands of Indians that might beset them throughout the course of the long trail ahead of them. They had prepared themselves to battle with the elements, the drought and scarcity of water in the Great Plains region they were soon to traverse. And in the event that their journey's end should not be reached before the snows of winter filled the passes of the Sierra Nevadas, they were prepared to face cold and hardship. But they were not prepared for the messenger of death that overtook them on the banks of the Red Vermillion in the form of Asiatic cholera. With hopes high, head erect, and the eye steadily gazing toward the setting sun, the little caravan had slowly trudged its way to the point on the Oregon Trail on the east bank of the Vermillion. It was some three-quarters of a mile east of where the trail from Fort Leavenworth to Fort Riley left the Oregon Trail, bearing to the southwest. The Oregon Trail bore to the north and west.

  Here some fifty of the brave pioneers succumbed to the cholera. They were all buried on the east bank of the Red Vermillion in the shadow of the hill a short distance to the east. It was where Louis Vieux, one of the chiefs and counselors of the Pottawatomie Indians, now lies buried. There, even in that early day, he lived and sheltered and provisioned those who were adventuring beyond the bounds of civilization. From the hillside in the immediate vicinity large slabs of cotton lime rock were carried by the survivors. A stone was erected at the head of each grave, and the name and date of burial carved on each stone.

  Out of all the gravestones so erected only three remain at this date, and only one of the three standing erect, still bears the chiseled lettering. It reads, "T. S. Prather, May 27, 1849." This gravestone stands by a wire fence bordering a winding highway that leads to the north into the hills of Pottawatomie county. And close thereby, and almost level with the top of the

2 "In 1855 Alexander Majors and William H. Russell, both of western Missouri, formed a partnership for freighting across the plains under the name of Majors & Russell. This firm carried all the freight to the posts west of Fort Leavenworth that year. Cholera prevailed on the plains, especially between Fort Leavenworth and Fort Riley. Major A. E. Ogden, quartermaster at Fort Leavenworth, died at Fort Riley of the disease. Many emigrants died of this scourge, which followed all the trails over the plains. The cholera affected the freighting business, but Majors & Russell made profits amounting to three hundred thousand dollars in 1855 and 1856. This will serve as an index to the volume of the freighting done over the Oregon Trail in those years. For there were many other freighting firms in the business over the trail, transporting goods to Utah." -- Connelley's "History of Kansas," vol. I.

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ground, is part of another gravestone which has been broken off and carried away. In the middle of this highway constructed through the very center of this city of the dead stood another gravestone at the foot of a large elm. It was removed when the road was built and the old elm which sheltered the grave for many, many years was grubbed out. The stump of this tree now lies in a small draw or depression leading into the Vermillion, a little north of where it once stood. So men, in order to save a few feet of ground, desecrated this hallowed spot -- the graveyard of these early pioneers -- and removed virtually all of the evidence of their burial place. They left not even a monument or a marker to designate the burial ground, except as this tombstone still standing bears mute evidence of the tragedy that occurred there almost a century ago.

  Passing from the first great camping ground of the immigrants along the Oregon Trail, in section 24, Louisville township, Pottawatomie county, Kansas, the trail took a general direction to the northwest. It left section 5, Louisville township, and entered section 32, Union township; passed across section 32 near its center. Then it ran northwest through the southeast quarter of the northwest quarter; thence northwest, across the southwest corner of the northeast quarter of the northwest quarter, and passed out of section 32 near the northwest corner thereof.

  This trail is very plainly marked on the Lawrence McProud place, in section 32. The father of Mr. McProud came from Delaware county, Indiana, in 1866, and settled near Louisville. Mrs. McProud was a. school teacher for many years in this county.

  The trail crosses a meadow on Mr. McProud's farm and is from 100 to 150 yards wide, represented in places by deep gulleys. Some of these gulleys are grown up with underbrush. The trail crosses a branch of Brush creek called Box Elder creek, near the center of the northwest quarter.

  With one exception the Oregon trail is more plainly marked on the McProud farm than any place I have found in Pottawatomie county. This exception is north of Westmoreland, in Rock Creek township, near the Baldwin creek crossing. After crossing Box Elder the trail is well marked in the northwest quarter of the northwest quarter of section 32. The pictures taken in January, 1928, by the author show the markings of the old trail plainly. Just above the crossing on the east bank of Box Elder creek was found a lone grave. There was a headstone for this grave, and upon it was crudely carved the following. "Henry Roushi, Ill., May 8, 1849."

  Mr. McProud has known of this grave for thirty-two years, and likewise the trail across his farm. He found the grave thirty-two years ago in a plum thicket. The plum thicket has been cleared away and the ground farmed for many years. The stone was removed from the grave many years ago and now lies upon the bank of the creek by a tree. It has been broken, only the "y" of the first name being left. The date, also, is not as plain as formerly, but Mr. McProud assured me that the name and date upon the stone was as I have given it.

  I call attention to the date, May 8, 1849; also to the date of death of Prather, which was May 27, 1849. This is evidence that the Asiatic cholera was demanding toll from many travelers of the trail in May, 1849.

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