pennebaker Migration to oregon

Visalia, California to Ashland, Oregon. 1879.
by G. W. Pennebaker


My father was an extensive farmer in the San Joaquin Valley, and in the summer of 1879 he seeded among other things one hundred and fifty acres of wheat. In those days we sometimes had droughts and that year it did not rain enough to sprout the wheat. Our ranch was southeast of Visalia, Calif. four miles. There were few irrigation ditches, and not enough water, and the people quarreled over what they did have. At that time they did not realize that there was an ocean of water 35 or 40 feet under the ground. It would not have helped much if they did because they had no electric power in those days, not even electric lights.

My father was so discouraged when his wheat did not sprout that he said he was going to move to where it rained. So in the Spring of 1879 he decided to go north and look the territory over and see where he wanted to settle. He wrote to his friend, John Searle, in San Francisco, to engage him passage on the steamship "Brother Jonothan" and planned his time so as to arrive in San Francisco in time to sail on it. It seems however that the "Brother Jonothan" had been condemned, and John Searle had the feeling that it would not get through that trip. He, therefore, made reservations on another ship leaving two days afterwards. On the way north his ship later passed the "Brother Jonothan" sinking near Point Mendocino.

While father was gone on this trip I was very ill. My cousin, Frank Peck, was out from Visalia helping with the horses. We were driving them from water and mine started to buck. The saddle fell off and I had a bad fall and was unconscious. Cousin would not leave me to go for help. My horse ran home and brother John came out and carried me on a horse in front of him. My back was badly hurt, one ear drum was broken and my breast bone was broken and since that time has always protruded some in front. I was ill for a long time and even when my father came home I was not well enough to understand much of his report of the country to the north.

After landing in Portland and looking over the country, m father decided to settle in the Willamette Valley. There he saw some grain which had not been harvested the previous year, and the kernels were sprouting and growing right in the ear. He decided that there would be enough rain there and returned to Visalia to make plans for the moving.

The farm was sold, as was most of the livestock and part of the furniture. A six horse team was kept to haul the freight and what furniture we took with us, and a two horse team for hauling the wagon of bedding, food, and other perafanalia. There was also a covered wagon that my father and the women folks rode in. These vehicles were all freshly painted for the trip with red wheels and blue wagon boxes, and with the white canvas schooner tops these made quite a sight. My sister, Della, gave it the name of "The Northern Bound Blue Caravan Train."

Our party consisted of my father and mother, two sisters and we three brothers. There was one young man who had worked for my father for years. He wanted to go along, so he drove the six horse team. Another young man who wanted to go to Oregon helped drive the loose horses. My yyounger brother, Edwin, was only 8 years old and so rode with our parents. When it was necessary at times for my father to be with the big team, my sister, Dela drove the family carriage. My sister, Mae, 10 years of age, usually rode with the family, but occasionally relieved a brother, riding horseback.

Although being only 12 years old, it stands in my memory as if our departure had taken place just recently. The neighbors from miles around came in the day we left with a big basket dinner. After bidding them all goodbye, we took the route through the state of California over the old Jack Tone road, which went through Visalia and north twenty miles east of Fresno and ten miles east of Stockton. The roads in those days were very sandy and unkept and before we got near Fresno father discovered he had too much load on the big wagon, so turned off at Centerville and drove west to Fresno.

Fresno was a small town then. The big wagon was driven up by the side of a small board and batten freight depot and unloaded. some of the goods was shipped from there to Portland, Oregon. It went as far as San Francisco by train and from there on by boat.

My father took forty head of unbroken horses, intending to raise mules and sell them to the government, which he later did. One incident that remains particularly in my memory is that when we drove over into Stockton we drove the loose horses through town. As we came to Mormon Slough some of the horses were contrary, and instead of crossing the bridge, undertook to wade across the slough. The water was so thick with mud that they could scarcely get through, but they finally did. The mud dried on the horses and they were a queer-looking sight. Some of that mud clung to them until they got to Oregon three months later.

From Stockton we went to Sacramento. This was the last town of any importance we would pass through, so we laid in a stock of food and clothing. The big department store then was Winestock and Lubin, which store still exists.

From there we went on to the north, going over the ferries and toll roads until we reached Red Bluff. We had great difficulty getting the wild horses on the ferries and keeping them on until we reached the other shore.

In order to avoid so many toll roads and bridges my father decided on leaving Red Bluff to go over what was then known as the Tamarack Road. On this road we reached a height of 8,000 feet above sea level. We often saw antelope, hundreds of them to one band, running through the hills in this district. This road took us past Mount Lassen and over the Pitt River and through Fall River Valley.

Here we came to country where the Indians were numerous. The Fall River Indians did not give us any trouble but were a great nuisance getting into our wagons and taking things out of them. They did not seem to think this was any harm, and would take things right before our eyes. There was one word the indians seemed to have much respect for "clat-a-waugh", which meant "get out" and they always left at once when it was used. The first wild goose I ever killed was at Birney Falls.

At Fall River they told us that the stream was 25 miles long, and that it never rose or fell a foot. You could not see the river run. Unless you threw a chip on it, you could not tell that it was flowing. I learned to drive a skiff on this river. It is very sluggish and the banks are perpendicular - 3 or 4 ft. down to the water. The horses had made cuts down to the water to drink. We did not know what to expect, and let all our horses go to drink at once. The ones in the rear pushed the others forward into these cuts until they were forced out into the stream. Before we realized it a good many of these horses were swimming in the deep river and could not get out as other horses filled the cuts. We kept along the banks and held the horses heads above water until help could be summoned.

From there on we passed through the Pitt River Indians and the Modoc Indians, and on through what was called the Modoc Lava Beds, coming out at Tule Lake, on the east side of the lake. Tule Lake had no inlet and no visible outlet. It was thought that the water passed under the mountains and fed into the Fall River, which was what kept that river at is uniform level.

We then passed through Klamath County and came in touch with the Klamath Indians and the Yaneck Indians. These tribes were peaceful then, although a few years afterward when the government withdrew the soldiers from Fort Klamath and the indians were allowed to go back to their familiar haunts they became ugly and caused the settlers a great deal of worry. They would go in bands over the country, and if they needed a fresh horse they did not hesitate to go into people's barns and help themselves. The settlers took the matter up with the government and were advised not to shoot or cause any more excitement than possible, and it was not long before the indians were taken care of again by the government. This all happened about two years after we went through.

We came to Klamath Falls next and then turned west to cross the Cascade mountains. Soon after leaving Klamath Falls we met the Yaneck Tribe of indians coming out of with their winter's supplies which they had secured in the Rogue River Valley. We had quite an experience with them. It was customary with the indians that when they broke a hind wheel of a wagon they put a pole under the axle, letting the other end drag on the ground at the rear of the wagon. This held the wagon up. However this group of indians which we met had broken the front wheel of the first wagon in their train. They had used this same arrangement, turning the wagon around and transferring the tongue to the other end of the wagon. Unfrotunately this inteferred with the steering, and the wagon had run off the grade. My father ordered his teamster to hitch onto this wagon and pull it up over the top of the hill for them, so we could get by. After doing this, the leaders of our team were so afraid of the indians that they got away and ran down the mountain about a mile before we could get them. They did not stop until they passed all the Indian's wagons. There is something abut the smell of indians that horses do not like, unless they are raised with them.

We next came into the Dead Indian country. This district would seem to be a spot set aside by the Almighty for a hunting and fishing grounds for man. The way it received its name of Dead Indian is as follows: it seems a band of Indians made a raid on a settlement in Rogue River valley and drove away a lot of stock. A posse of settlers followed them into this section. There they came upon an indian camp which was deserted. There were, however, two dead indians lying near a big fire, over which an ox was being cooked. It is supposed that what really happened was that the settlers had surpised the indians, killed two, and the others had fled. From this incident the country was named Dead Indian.

Our party came into Ashland and stayed all night there. The next day we went on into Jacksonville, which was then the county seat. Here it started raining. This was the first rain we had struck. It did not stop raining for ten days. One morning my father got up and looked out of the tent into the rain and said, "I guess we have gone far enough."

And so we located in the Rogue River Valley where father bought a farm between Ashland and Medford near the little town now known as Talent.

We had been three months reaching our destination. It seems a good while when we looked at in the light of today when it could be made in less than two days. However, we did not hurry, often stopping over a week or ten days in some interesting spot. At these stops the women folks usually did up their baking, washing, ironing, etc., and the men folks mended the wagons, put shoes on the horses that were in need of them and did other chores.