A TRIP BY WAGON IN THE EARLY EIGHTIES by M. T. F. ROSENBURG March, 1956 Early on a bright June morning in 1883 my mother, father and my grandfather (Thomas Regan) left Deadwood, South Dakota on a pioneering trip to the Pacific Northwest. They traveled in a high covered Conestoga wagon, drawn by a span of Missouri mules. They carried provisions for a three months trip. They averaged twenty miles a day when the going was good. In those days there were no paved highways, and they were very happy to have a dirt road which many times was not more than a trail. Some of the grades were so steep and rough that it was all the mules could do to get the wagon over them. They traveled out of Deadwood on such a road until they came to the Belle Fourche River and followed it a long way, striking across the Northeast corner of Wyoming. They traveled through cattle country and wandering bands of Indians until they arrived at the Powder River. They followed it north many miles, then turned west and followed the Yellowstone River to Billings, Montana. Traveling old freight-wagon trails which were very dusty and full of holes and ruts, many days they would travel without seeing any habitation or human being. There was a great plenty of game in this part of Montana, especially prairie chickens which are a kind of grouse. They enjoyed them very much. Following freight-wagon trails traveled on to Livingston, then on to Bozeman and then on to Butte, and over the Bitter Root Mountains through One-eyed Gap into Missoula, Montana. These last four towns were typical frontier towns with cowboys and miners in the majority. They passed large farms, mostly in wheat, also many large cattle ranches. The people were friendly and wanted them to stop and take up land and settle there, but they were determined to go to Seattle, so on they went. There were many grim reminders along the wagon trail to keep them always alert. One day as they were traveling through a very sparsely settled part of Montana about fifty miles above the Wyoming border they came upon a scene of devastation. There before them scattered over the prairie were the remains of what appeared to be of two wagons with all the contents burnt and destroyed beyond repair. Of the occupants there was no visible sign. I want to state here that they were following part of a wagon train that was freighting supplies to Miles City. They never did hear what had become of the people whose wagon had been destroyed. The wagon boss of the train that they were with told them that anyone traveling in small parties was in danger of attack, not only from roving bands of Indians, but also from desperados who hid in the hills. This news and the scene on the prairie gave them great worry. They were very lucky as the only Indians they saw were in small numbers. They did not see any Desperados at all. In passing through Montana there were many things which stood out in regard to this trip. One night when they made camp along the Musselshell River some cowboys rode into their camp and advised them to move to higher ground because of flash floods which were common at this time of year. My folks heeded this advice and packed up and moved about a mile above where they were. There was another family camping near the banks of the Musselshell who would not move. During the night a terrific rainstorm occurred and they did have a flash flood that took everything before it, including the family who did not move to higher ground. They lost everything including their lives. Another thing that impressed them was a large wheat field. They could see the wheat waving, but feel no wind. While they were watching the field a man rode up on horseback. After asking about it, he informed them that the waving was caused by very short Indians harvesting wheat. The wheat was so high that the Indians could not be seen as they were only about four feet tall. Between Livingston and Butte, Montana they ran into very bad weather in the form of a cloudburst. The rain started coming down hard in the afternoon and as they were passing a prosperous looking ranch, they stopped and the good people insisted on them staying the night with them. This was the first night they had had a roof over their heads since they had left Deadwood. As the rainstorm was getting worse they were very glad to stay there. During the evening a man and a boy of about eighteen years old arrived, and said they were heading for Butte. They were mounted and each led a pack horse. They said they were going to work in the mines in Butte. The people at the ranch gave them something to eat and told them they could find feed for their horses in the barn and would find a dry place to sleep there also. They were very grateful and did as the farmer suggested. The next morning when my folks got up the man and boy were gone. The farmer said that they left at daybreak. Not long after my folks were on their way, having spent a very restful night. The farmer seemed to be ill at ease as though something were troubling him. On questioning him he told about the horse stealing going on around those parts, and said that if the Vigilantes caught up with the two who had spent the night there it would go bad with them. They would not be given a chance but would be hung to the first tree unless they had positive proof that they owned their horses, especially the two that they led. The farmer decided to ride ahead of my folks to see if the rains did much damage, and also to see if the two men were out of danger. He told them he would ride until noon and then turn back. He started out and they followed. Soon he was out of sight. About four hours later they saw a clump of trees in the distance, and there seemed to be a number of men and horses gathered there. Upon approaching there were the two men, also the farmer and eight other tough-looking men. My folks stopped and there before their eyes were two ropes hanging from a limb of a tree. This was a Vigilante committee. Many horses had been stolen that week and they were out to put a stop to it. So coming upon these two, they decided that they were the ones they were after. The farmer put in a strong plea for them and persuaded them to remove the ropes from their necks until my folks arrived, saying that my folks could vouch that they had stayed at the farmers house the previous night, which was a long way from the district in which the horse stealing had been going on. My folks were glad to do this. After considerable talk the Committee agreed that if the two suspects could produce credentials that were satisfactory they could go free. This should have been done in the first place. The prisoners thought that this band of horsemen riding down on them were desperados, and they tried to outrun them but were soon caught. They protested their innocence, but if the farmer had not arrived when he did they would have been hung pronto. On examining their credentials everything turned out all right. The man had a letter from a big mining man in Butte to come there as superintendent of his mine. The boy was his son, and they were from Colorado. Everything was settled to everyones satisfaction. The Vigilantes left, and the farmer went home knowing he had done a good deed. The two men stayed with my folks until they reached Butte. I have often thought of that farmer. If he had not taken an interest in the two men and followed it up, they would have been hung, and they were innocent. In writing this account I mention a few experiences in order to show the type of people and a description of the country they were passing through. They had been on the road a little over a month by this time, and it was very warm being about mid-summer. They were enjoying the trip immensely, and everything was going smoothly. On leaving Missoula the road seemed to be climbing --not a direct steep climb but a gradual ascent. They kept plodding on getting into tall timber, something new to them. They went through a gap in the mountains called Kellog Pass, and on August 10th, they drove into Coeur d'Alene, Idaho. They stopped a few days to freshen up and give the mules a much needed rest: then on to Spokane, Washington, a thriving city even in those days. Leaving Spokane, they drove in easy stages over barren windswept country to Pasco, Washington, on the great Columbia River. At this place they made a very bad choice of roads. Leaving Pasco they were directed to take the road to the right where the road forked about five miles out of town. When they came to the fork in the road, the road to the right was such a poor looking road and the road to the left was so much better that they decided to take it. They traveled about ten miles on it and the road just petered out. There they were with the Columbia River on the right and sage brush as high as the wagon all around them, and as far as they could see, nothing but sage brush. They knew they had made a bad mistake, but the worst was yet to come. They did not want to turn back so on they drove going deeper and deeper into sage brush and willows, and just a trail to travel on. They stopped at sundown and made camp. They were tired and discouraged because they didn't know how much further they would have to go through this sage-brush country. The mules were taking a terrific beating and so was the wagon. Many times they wondered if wagon, mules and themselves would get out of this together. They had a good nights rest and got up early to make a fresh start, however, when they went outside (they slept in the wagon) the mules were nowhere to be seen. They were sure in a predicament now, with sage brush as high as their head and a wagon with nothing to pull it and all by themselves. While they were in Pasco the preceding day the town marshal told them to be sure and hobble the mules at night because they had been getting complaints of horse-stealing. Of course as the folks remembered that talk with the marshal it did not help the situation any. They decided that my mother should stay in the wagon while they started out to look for the mules. As their wagon was the only one on the trail they did not have any trouble following the mule tracks which led them right back to Pasco. There they were inside a large corral. The town marshal had picked them up expecting my folks would call for them. In the meantime my mother was very worried (this is putting it mildly). In fact she was so unnerved that she did not eat a bite all day. About four o'clock in the afternoon she thought she heard the men coming back. She climbed up to the front seat of the wagon and sat watching the trail. She sat there five minutes or so when through the sage brush in front of the wagon rode a big buck Indian. And he sat on his horse and looked at her. It could not have been very long but it seemed like hours to her. They had a shotgun strapped to the side of the wagon. My mother reached around, got the gun and put it across her knees, never for a moment taking her eyes off the Indian. They sat staring at each other a little while longer, then the Indian turned his horse around and went back the way he came, for which my mother was very thankful. About a half hour later she heard sounds of horses approaching and she thought the Indian was returning with other Indians. It was the men returning with the two mules. After relating her experiences they had a hasty meal and broke camp, traveling till long past dark. They did not see any more of the Indians and guessed that he was as much surprised to see a woman in a wagon as she was to see him. Following the east bank of the Columbia River they eventually arrived at The Dalles, Oregon. The crossed the river on a ferry: the river being over a mile wide at this place. They were no in the state of Washington again. They started up the longest and steepest grades of their entire trip. After leaving the river it was four days before they saw any form of habitation, and for three days they did not have water either for themselves or the mules. Now and they could catch a glimpse of the river about fifteen miles away but not in the direction they were going, nor was there any way to approach it. In the afternoon of the fourth day there was smoke against the horizon and it proved to be a farm house. The mules were giving them a bad time as they were in desperate straits for want of water. This farm was like an oasis in the desert. The farmer was very friendly and urged them to settle in that locality, but they said they had started out for Seattle so on they went. They arrived at Yakima, Washington where they remained resting for about a week. The people in Yakima informed them that they could not take their wagons over Snoqualmie Pass as there was no road over, only a mule trail which they found to be true. They drove to the end of the read in Snoqualmie Pass and pulled the wagon off the road amount the trees, intending to go back the following year and get it. Them mounting the mules, they rode them into Seattle. It took them five days to reach Seattle from the time they left the wagons. This was September, 1883. My father did go back the following year, but the wagon and everything in it was gone. They liked Seattle as everything was so green and fresh looking, and the weather was very mild. On November, 27th, 1883, my sister Agnes was born just two months after they arrived. On September 28, 1886, a son was born and christened Martin. On October 11, 1889 another son was born and christened John. On March 17, 1890 they took up a homestead in south Snohomish County, about three miles northeast of the city of Bothell, Washington. The homestead proved to be too lonesome. The nearest neighbors were about two miles away, and there was too much back-breaking labor so they sold out everything in 1895 and moved back to Seattle. My mother, Christina Ellen Regan, was born in Minneapolis, June 7, 1863. Her family moved to Deadwood, S.D. in 1869. My mother and father (Henry Rosenburg) were married Dec 5, 1882 (note - April 15, 1883 according to Elizabeth Bowen Gerrish - from information from the Catholic Bishops house in Lead City, S.D.), in a little town named Rosenville, about ten miles from Deadwood, by a Catholic Priest named Father Rosen. Henry Rosenburg was born in Stuttgrad, Germany.
(last updated 11/27/95 9:42 PM)