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Wednesday, May 4, 2016

Gray Matters: Pioneer's Journal

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

A couple of history enthusiasts at the Reed Center recently asked me if I would write more about some of our early settlers. To oblige, I started sorting through some old clippings and found an amazing story.

It was a copy of the journal, which a man named John McQueen had kept of his journey to California between 1849 and 1832. McQueen's grandson, the late Charlie Miller, had published it locally, more than twenty years ago. It reads like a script for a good Western movie.

John McQueen was born in Scotland in 1817. He came to the US in 1840. As his sister, Catherine, and her husband James Fairweather, were living in Galena, Ill., that was his destination. He settled there and eight years later, in September of 1848, he married Phoebe Poole. The following April he set out on his journey. His journal follows:

"Left Iowa April 1849 for San F. Floated down the river on boat as far as St. Louis. From here my friend and I joined up with 25 other gold seekers. We bought wagons, oxen and provisions.

When we left, we went north to the old Mormon trail. This led us across Nebr. The wagons were constructed in such a manner as to serve the purpose of a boat. The box was waterproof and the wheels were bolted to the box. In the crossing of Nebr., we hit the Platte at flood stage.

At the place where we crossed, it was six miles wide. Five to eight oxen were in front of every wagon. From here on to Salt Lake City were events of little importance.We had little trouble with the Indians, as we had rifles and they only had their bow and arrow. I might mention a few words on our rifles.

They were called carbines and carried a load about the size of the end of your thumb. It used a powerful lot of powder, and had quite a kick to it. In this area, the buffalo were thick. It seemed we were never out of sight of a large herd.

The herds consisted of as many as 100 to 150 and some larger. I recall one night while we were camped, a herd of buffalo stampeded our camp, upsetting some of our wagons and taking all our oxen with them. It took us three days to round them all up again.

"We was always in a good supply of meat. Whenever we got low of meat, a hunting party would go out and shoot a couple of buffalo. To show the power of our rifles, shooting a buffalo from the side, the shot would go through both breast bones and out the other side. It was close to impossible to shoot a buffalo in the head as they start to run, they put their heads to the ground."

Now I will have to ask you to be patient and return to these pages next week for the conclusion of this fascinating journal of a man who was actually involved in the fabled California Gold Rush of the mid-1800's.