Nineveh Ford

Nineveh Ford was interviewed in 1878 about his role in western expansion. He was the brother of John Ford, and uncle of Ephraim Ford.

Nineveh Ford (brother of John Ford, uncle of Ephraim Worth Ford)
Salem, Oregon 1878
Nineveh Ford's narrative
Time & Place: Room 8 Chemeheta Hotel, Salem, Oregon

Monday June 17th 1878
Present: Ford & the writer. AB

Mr. Ford said: I was born in North Carolina on July 15th 1815. Emigrated to Missouri in 1840, and from Missouri to Oregon in 1843. My attention was directed to Oregon by reading Lewis and Clark's journal. The scenery described in that took my fancy; and a desire to see that and to explore the country and return home to North Carolina in 3 years induced me to start. From information from traders and trappers I was confirmed in my intentions.

In the spring of 1843 Peter H. Burnett of Platte County Missouri and other prominent men were making up a company to go [2] to Oregon. It was in my neighborhood in Platte City. I was acquainted with the parties. There was another object: One grand objective we had was the prospect of obtaining a donation of land if the country was worth staying in. That was the object of Burnett and others to come and colonize this country, to take possession of the United States domain west of the Rocky Mountains. It was not at that time settled to belong to the United States. The controversy was up and there was some influence got to bear to induce people to colonize. The question was agitated in relation to the right and title of the United States to the country. I never heard that the government desired to colonize. It was all a private movement and we came on our own responsibility. We hat not any assurance that the Government would assist or protect us in any manner. Freemont Company which fell in after us I understood was [3] employed by the Government. But we did not travel together and we knew nothing of their going when we were making up a company. We rendezvoused at West Port west of Independence Jackson County Missouri. We Started from there in April. There were between 500 & 700 souls in the party and 113 wagons. Our Captain was Peter H. Burnett. He was chosen Captain at West Port. We had as additional officers Nesmith for ordirly (?) sergeant, he kept the roll of the emigrants, list of wagons and so forth. I do not recollect of any other officers. Our Pilot was John Gannt(?). He was a Mountaineer (?) and had been as far as Fort Hall. He engaged to pilot us as far as Fort Hall. I kept a Journal but my house burnt down and it was destroyed. We were not molested by the Indians beyond horse stealing and driving off cattle and having to pay to get them returned. They were friendly generally. We saw but few. They appeared to be wild and shy and afraid of the [4] wagons. Ours were the first wagons they ever saw, and the first that ever crossed the plains from Missouri with the exception of eleven wagons that came out in 1842 to Fort Hall and there stopped. The persons in that train packed through from Fort Hall. We came to the Buffalo Country on the Platte and there we made boats of beef and buffalo hides - putting them around wagon beds; and for some we made frames. We swam our animals from bar to bar where we could get a footing until we could get across.

At Fort Larimie there was a post - there were American traders. There we crossed through the Black Hills to Fort Bridger. There were American traders there. There we crossed the mountains to Fort Hall. It was occupied by the Hudson's Bay Co. I think it was Grant that had charge of that.

All those forts were made of adobe walls like the wall around a lot and inside of [5] that wall were adobe buildings, generally small. The wall around the lot was 6 or 8 feet high, and about 18 inches thick. It could have been knocked down very easily, but the Indians had nothing but arrows and could not shoot through it. They had a few guns but very few at that time.

At Fort Hall we changed our Captain. We got a man by the name of Wm. Martin to pilot us and he acted as Captain a piece. He turned off on the California road with Childs. Dr. Whitman then volunteered to pilot the emigration through to Walla Walla. He lived in Walla Walla. He said he would pilot us there but he could not stay with us. He would leave notices with us how we should travel and we followed those notices till we came to Grande Rounde he went through and sent an Indian back to pilot us through from Grande Rounde to Walla Walla. We had no trouble from Fort Hall [6] to Grande Rounde Valley. It was open country. Sometimes we had to climb mountains and get on the divides and select the main divide that looked in the direction we were going. But in the main it was often enough to drive along without making roads. We came to Snake River. Dr. Whitman was with us there and he advised us to fasten our teams together, the whole train with the exception of my own team. I had a strong carriage and I thought I could drive through separately. I fell in behind and the wagons and teams being angling (?) in the current raised the current on the bank side (?) probably some 2 feet or 18 inches higher than the usual height and it pressed so hard against my team that I was about to go over the shoal where several persons had gone over and drowned before that, the animals they rode over themselves too. Seeing that there was a danger of going over I sprung (?) out of the carriage and ran [7] to the team and pressed myself against the team and held the lead ox to his place until the train went on and the water lowered. I remained in that situation till the whole train got across on the land. Dr. Whitman rode back on a large gray horse and threw a rope to me and told me to put it on the near (?) ox's horns. I did so and he put it around the horse's saddle and he then led the way across and I got into the carriage and drove across. The Doctor towed the team across with his rope. I learned afterwards that one of the oxen which were temporally in the wagon instead of mules was a weak ox. I consider that Dr. Whitman saved my life, and I remembered it when he was massacred. I remembered it in the Cayuse war where I endeavored to redress his wrongs. We all got across safely. There was a Mr. Ayres (?) an Englishman who had a family in his care who came on his mule. He was riding a mule and went over [8] that shallows and into the deep water and drowned he and his mule. This was near the American Falls, the first crossing of the Snake [River]. The second crossing was at Fort Boise. We then blocked our wagon beds up six inches inside of the standards and forded the river - a thing I have never heard of being done before or since. It was a very dangerous way because if we had got into deep water the bodies would have floated off. We succeed in getting across safely, but we considered it very hazardous.

The first salmon we found on our route was at the first crossing of Snake River below Fort Hall. We found a very open country to Burnt River, Powder River, and Grande Rounde Valley. Then we struck the mountains where there was timber.

From Fort Hall to this point there was no road. Doctor Whitman used to put up notices directing us from one notice to another. We traveled by these notices from [9] place to place. We found no tracks. In some places we found an Indian trail and in other places not. The Indians would take a straight course up and down where wagons could not go. We had to go around to get on to divides which we could travel from one place to another. We seldom followed the trail. It was better traveling out of it than in it, it confused our teams. We travelled over a great deal of sage brush which was very hard to get over. We could not stop to chop it out. The wagons would bend it down but the ground was sandy and the wagons would sink deep into the sand and then rise high on the sage brush. The foremost wagons would mash it down. It tired the foremost teams very much. We had to change the foremost teams back every day, and use the strongest teams and the strongest wagons to mash the sage brush down. We could do it however so that the next wagon [10] could follow more easily. Frequently there would be a horseman ahead who rode where the wagons ought to go. If they found any obstacle in the way they would turn back and notify the train and turn them in [the] right direction where they should go.

At Grande Rounde there was a party with the instruction as to whether we had better stop there or not. It was a beautiful country. They would have stopped and colonized it if we had had provisions. We did not regard the Indians at all. Peter H. Burnett was in favor of stopping and locating there but having no supplies we travelled on for the Blue Mountains cutting our way through the fallen timber. We camped many times in sight of our former night's camp. We found it very laborious and very hard cutting that ?????? timber with our dull axes that we had not ground since we left Missouri having no grind stone to grind them & our hands being [11] very tender cutting those dry sticks which shruing (?) the skin loose on our hands. But it was getting late in the season, and it devolved on some 40 persons to make that road. The lazy ones dropped back, not for the purpose of screening themselves, but to rest their cattle, so they stated, but we imputed it to an thin diffidence in regard to the work. It devolved on the 40 persevering men to drive the wagons and cut the roads.

The women frequently would drive the teams and the men would do the work. The most of them had axes. We had shovels but it was rarely that we used them. I recollect we had to dig down the banks to get across the Grande Rounde River. When we crossed the Grande Rounde River the snow had fallen to a depth of two inches but did not lay long. I think it was in September it was an early snow. We travelled under the guidance of an Indian [12] pilot that Dr. Whitman had sent back. Wherever he directed us to go there we went, without searching for any other route since they have changed the road in many places. He found us a pretty fair route for getting through. The Indian did not look about much, he was familiar with the ground. He proved to be a faithful Indian. If I recollect right - he was the very Indian that afterwards killed Dr. Whitman.

In some places the timber was very thick, so that you could not ride a horse through without cutting. After we got on the top of the mountain the timber got lighter and more scattered and we got down the mountain comparatively easy. We got out of the timber when we got pretty nearly down. Went to Umatilla and then across to Walla Walla and to Whitman's station where he had established a mission. It is some 25 miles from Wallula [13] and 5 miles from Walla Walla City down on Mill Creek. At Whitman's station we stopped only a few days.

We went immediately on down the Columbia River. We were 6 months on the road from Platte City to Oregon City. Part of the emigration made canoes on the Walla Walla River above Wallula - ?????? called Applegate's company. Jesse Applegate was Captain; they just placed (?) loads (?) in the canoes and travelled down the Columbia River to The Dalles. They had an Indian pilot and they ran that fleet of canoes into The Dalles, and into those falls and capsized most of the canoes and drowned, I think 5 or 4 persons. They lost the most of their stuff. Some were thrown on the rocks and some went down through the rapids. One man named Doak who could not swim, he was thrown on a feather bed and flung on a rock. He remarked afterwards that he always liked feather beds.[14] They were heavy unmanageable cottonwood canoes. If they had had Indian canoes they would not have had any mishap. They all attempted to go through the rapids. The Indian who piloted them got through. The others did not know what they were going into.

"Dalles" is an Indian name signifying whirls or table rock I don't know which. They were going to all go down towards the Cascades 50 miles below that. I think they got their canoes and made their way down.

I was with the wagons. My wagon was in front of the caravan when it got to The Dalles. The first wagon that landed at The Dalles. There the country would not admit any further travel by wagon. The Cascade Mountains separated us from Willamette Valley. Several of us went into the pine forest there and got dry pine trees and hauled them to the river with our oxen and made rafts of logs; six or eight, one foot to 18 inches diameter, and [15] 20 feet long lashed together. We took our wagons apart and put the bodies on first and put the running gear on the top pieces and the baggage and stuff on top of that and lashed it on. Some would reserved a wagon bed with a cover on for a kind of a cabin for the women and children to sleep in. On one of these rafts there was a wagon with a cover on for that purpose a family occupying it and a woman was confined and delivered a child in the daytime, and the crew that were on the raft knew nothing of the circumstance till it was all over. It was to their great surprise that they heard the cry of an infant. Everything went on finely. They landed at the Cascades all cheerful, the mother and child included. There were some big rocks in the river and not knowing which way to steer our craft we would steer right straight for those big rocks. We did [16] this (?) is that when we got near the main current would carry us to the right side. But if we happened to steer to the wrong side the stronger current might have carried us on the other side and dashed us on the rocks. We went clear and got safely to the Cascades. There we had no more use for our rafts. We landed our things and spent two weeks in making a wagon road around the Cascades to get our wagons around. I had a cousin that brought the long boat of The Peacock. He had packed across in 1842 and heard that we were coming. There were women and children that had no mode of conveyance or transportation and were waiting for some means of getting away. And I prevailed on my cousin to take them. They were strangers to me and in distress and suffering while I could stand it better than they could. I told[17] him I would find my way down by some means. I had made my calculation to buy Indian canoes below the Cascades. I succeeded in doing that and my cousin brought the boat and as many as could get in the boat down. I made a raft of 4 canoes lashing them side by side, taking the wagon beds of 5 wagons to pieces making a platform on top of the canoes, and then taking the running gear apart and putting them on top of the platform; and the baggage on top of the running gears. I lashed it all on securely and hoisted a mast in the center of the craft with a wagon sheet for a sail.

With two Indians and two white men besides myself we set sail for Vancouver. Those were the first wagons brought down the river below the Cascades. It attracted a great deal of attention from the emigrants and others at [18] the time - my fixing such a craft. Some thought it would not bear the trip with 5 wagons and their load of passengers. I have confidence in it myself, and I managed the thing myself, and we sailed quite successfully down to Vancouver. They saw the sail. It seemed to them a very odd craft on the river, and they could not distinguish what kind of craft it was. It was not a canoe; it was not a batteau (?); and they were satisfied it was not a Man of War because they could not see any guns - so they told us after we landed. Many comical remarks were made about the craft when we landed. Dr. McLaughlin the chief factor at Vancouver was on the shore with quite a company of persons that saw the craft coming. Some 75 or 100 persons of the Hudson Bay Co. and round about came to the shore to see our craft landing.[19] Dr. McLaughlin was the first man that met me when I stepped ashore. He introduced himself to me; and he complemented me very much for my perseverance (?). He complimented the Bostons for being so persevering. He said it appeared they had a spirit to travel as far as the could by land; and then invented some way for traveling still further on by water; that they beat army people for perseverance and enterprise that he ever saw or heard of.

We needed supplies and he gave us all the supplies we asked for. If we had money to pay for it he accepted it, and if we had not we got it without a word. He was very generous and kind; and from my acquaintance afterwards, in all my life I never have seen a man who was more noble and more generous and high minded in my judgment than Dr. McLaughlin. Some of the emigrants went to California after that and failed to pay him. [20] Those who remained in Oregon generally paid him, and not withstanding some mistreating him he still was generous to persons who wanted favors. He would let them have seed wheat to sow and would wait for his pay till they could raise it.

Then we sailed down the Columbia to the mouth of the Willamette. After we got into the Willamette there came up a gale of strong wind up the river in the direction we were going and that endangered our craft it finally raised the waves six feet high and they would slush over the entire craft and cargo and over our heads. It required two Indians and two white men to bale out the canoes, a man to each canoe. They found that they could bale it out as fast as it would slush in. I kept the craft as near in the middle of the river because it was smoother there than it was near the shore. Our craft ran very [21] rapidly up the stream until we got to the rapids below Oregon City. There the wind slacked up and we tied up for the night. In the morning we towed the craft over the rapids with ropes 4 men and myself and we got to Oregon City. It was the first cargo of wagons that ever was landed at Oregon City by land or sea. They were landed on the 10th day of November 1843.

At the Cascades there was a Negro woman, and there was a canoe tied up on the shore. The Negro woman went out into the canoe to dip up some water, and the canoe sheered from under her and she fell in and disappeared. She was never seen again. She had been a servant attached I think to Burnett or his brother-in-law's family.

At Fort Hall General McCarver started out ahead of the train towards the Salmon Falls with a few packers, and on approaching Fort Boise on the Boise River, there/they (?)[22] discovered some Indians and he saw a red flag hoisted. He formed his men for battle. They marched up towards the Indians believing that they meant [to] fight. When he got near enough he discovered that the red flag was a salmon split open and spread out as a sign to the packers that they had salmon for sale. So they marched up and bought some salmon. They had a good deal of fun with McCarver because he had agreed to insure the lives of all that had gone ahead with him for a coon skin that they would get there safely.

There were not over a dozen houses at Oregon City when we got there. It was mostly round about near the falls. There were but few people & they were very kind and generous. There was a Missionary store there, there were some packers that had come there with their animals over the Cascade Mountains on the trail, but they lost their animals [23] repeatedly through the Indians and had to buy them back. Some of them had to give the Indians their shirts to have the animals brought back; so that when they got in they had not any shirts themselves - only their coats on. It was a very narrow trail and a rough road to travel. Those that had teams and stock came down the Columbia swam their animals at the Cascades and came down on the north side below the Cascades to opposite the mouth of the Sandy; there they crossed back to the south side. From there they drove them along the shore to Oregon City over a level country. Among those of our party who came over the Cascades by the trail were General McCarver and a man by the name of Chase, two Doughty's and perhaps a dozen others. After we arrived at Vancouver with our wagons, we sent up for the balance of the wagons.

Another party behind me got wind bound behind Cape Horn. [24]???They remained weather bound in a canoe on the rocks for some days and got out of provisions.??? They had raw hide on the boat. They boiled that at times and used it for rations until they used that up. A man by the name of Delaney had a boxful of hemp seed. He ate all that, a small quantity daily to sustain life. One man who remembered that on their way up they had taken breakfast at the same place when he was about famishing thought he could find something that they had dropped. He got down on his knees and hunted in the snow for crumbs that they might have dropped when they went up. They had been to Vancouver and went back to get the balance of their stuff. He wept bitterly at the situation because they thought they would have to perish. Dr. McLaughlin knowing the time that they would be due and satisfied that they were in distress somewhere, [and] sent [and] a boat and a canoe of provisions to them and saved them.. They got [25] there just in time to safe [sic] them from perishing.

The general face of the country appeared to me as if it was not acceptable (?) for the habitation of white people. The country that we passed over, the Walla Walla Country and Eastern Oregon has proved to be a different country entirely from what it appeared to the emigrants at that time. They considered it a desert gotten up expressly for the Indians, suitable for them and nobody else - fit for a wild race of people. That same country has since proved to be one of the finest wheat countries known in the world. It looked barren although it was covered with fine grass, bunch grass with thousands of Indian horses. The Indians were numerous. I was raised in a timber country and this being bare of timber it looked like a barren desert to me. It was only suitably apparently for grazing Indian ponies and for hunting it did not appear [26] delightful (?) to me with the exception of the Grande Rounde Country. I have been back to the Centennial and travelled eleven thousand miles in the United States, and after residing 19 years in Eastern Oregon I find no country that seems to me prettier nor no country that is so fertile nor that I would swap this for. It is the finest land for garden vegetables fruit apples pears plums and peaches and is only surpassed for grapes by California. In Umatilla and the Walla Walla Valley I raised an apple measuring 16 1/2 inches in circumference and weighing 46 ounces avoirdupois. At the Centennial at Philadelphia it was claimed by the showbill as the World Beater (?), the next size at the Centennial was an apple weighing 42 ounces. It is the largest apple on record.

Western Oregon I thought a fine country; it satisfied me when I got there. Aside from Eastern Oregon I know no other such anywhere. This valley was a very desirable country to look at [27] from the first most beautifully diversified with prairie and timber adjacent to each other that I ever saw.

Cal Steptoe first laid off the town of Walla Walla. The troops came there in 1856 or 57. He was the one that was surrounded with Yakima Country and started the Yakima war. They killed the Indian Agent there mid 1855 and Steptoe went out to see about it. There was nothing at the town of Walla Walla then. He camped in (?) the wide prairie. The troops concentrated there after he had made his campaign in to the Spokane Country in 1856. Then they moved down below where Walla Walla is and established what is called Fort Walla Walla. Walla Walla is the great center of Eastern Oregon. It is convenient of access from all points and a fine grazing district. Another thing was that the Indians camped there. We generally found where the Indians camped in the winter was the mildest place in [28] the country. They found the Indians camped there in winter and for that reason concluded it was the best place for white people to camp.

They located the second time a mile lower down on an elevated ridge; a flat ridge having room for the buildings and barracks with water on each side. The first location was torn down. Then at this first camp where there were a few people Steptoe laid out a town. It was called "Steptoe" first. Then they located the County Seat there and called it Walla Walla City. The Fort consisted of dwellings and quarters for the soldiers. They had no palisades (?) nor walls nor log houses. They were plank houses. There is no fort there it is barracks. At the time this was located the Hudson Bay people had all abandoned their forts. Walla Walla was their nearest point as formerly that was (formerly) called Walla Walla, [29] the old Hudson Bay Fort Walla Walla, at the mouth of Walla Walla River. When the Hudson Bay people abandoned that Steptoe established another fort in Walla Walla Valley and called it the same name. The Hudson Bay people having abandoned their fort the owner of the place or the man who kept possession Kane broached the name of Wallulla. There was a man by the name of Ransom Carr (?) who was one of the earlier settlers in that vicinity. He settled there after the troops went there. Then there was Mr. Russell, he settled there to supply the troops. Both these settled there in 1856 or 57. Walter Davis also is an early settler and Sergeant Smith. There is a mile square of reservation laid off with the fort in the center. The town lots of Walla Walla City came down to the line. Between the town and the fort there is about half a mile. While it was Steptoe City I do not think there was a lot laid off. In 1859 it was [30] opened for settlement by Col. Wright. It commenced building up then with canvas houses and shacks (?) and some log houses. There was no saw mill there to get lumber. The settlers coming in farmers stock raisers and traders started the town there. There was no knowledge of gold mining there at the time. In a short time they organized that section into counties. A quarter section was laid off into a town; the Roberts had a quarter section. There is Gaines addition and Roberts addition and still another quarter section Reeses addition. They are all connected now and there is quite a large section of country there two miles which is laid into town lots. The country was settled up by farmers and stock raisers. Merchants went in with stock and supplies. Then when the mines took out the merchants increased their stock of goats and sent them out from there and miners would come to get {31] their supplies.

Fino (?) was the nearest mining district. The mining interest of course benefited the farmers and stock raisers and advanced the farming interest. At this time 1860 there were very few boats on the river. In 1859 there were boats below The Dalles but none above except a very little trial enterprise called the Col. Wright. Everything was hauled above in wagons.

I have been up there 19 years. When the mines were opened it created a big trade in freight grain and stock to supply the mines. When the mines failed there was quite a discouragement of the farmers because they had not the market for their surplus. There was no transportation. So there was quite a stagnation in business and in farming. The O.P.N Co. increased the number of their boats and finally commenced shipping the surplus down, only charging what it was worth to move the freight over the portages. They carried freight [32] much cheaper down the river than for taking it up. This encouraged the farmers to produce. Finally the farmers saw that they could make something that way and they enlarged their farms raised more and finally got to producing a great surplus. It has increased for the last 4 or 5 years very rapidly. They are building still more boats. Last fall they carried freight from Walla Walla to Wallula 30 miles at the rate of 140 tons a day and were not able to get it all out.

Wallula consists of a landing. There are two taverns. Only part of the wall of the old Hudson Bay fort remains. Whitman station is 12 miles below Walla Walla and west of the rail road. There is a farm there and a grave yard in which all the persons who were massacred are buried in one grave. The Indians burnt all the wood of the above house of Whitman's station down. Part of the walls are remaining. The walls of the fort have all disappeared.

Oregon Trail In 1843


Early in the spring of 1843 the emigrants bound for Oregon began to pour into Westport and Independence.After the majority were gathered together and just prior to beginning the journey, a meeting was called to forma set of “traveling” rules and to elect a council of nine to mediate any disputes that might erupt. It was decidedthat it would be best to elect officers when the train reached the Kansas River.

On May 22, 1843 the Oregon Emigrating Company departed with John Gantt as guide. Gantt had attained the rank of Captain in the US Army and had made his living in the fur trade and was more than willing to guidethe train to Fort Hall for $1 per person. At Fort Hall it was hoped that assistance could be obtained from Dr.Marcus Whitman and party on as they returned to the Oregon country from the states.

On June 1, after completing the crossing of the Kansas River, elections were held to determine who the officers were to be. Each nominee moved out with his back to the company. Backers of an individual then lined up behind their favorite candidate creating several lines of men stretching out across the prairie. The leaders, in jest, then proceeded to run across the prairie with their lines of supporters following like a long tail. The strange sight was captured in print by a writer passing by with the Sir William Drummond hunting expedition who remarked that, “Running for office is certainly performed in more literal fashion on the prairie …..” After the merriment, the end result was that Peter Burnett became Captain and James Nesmith was elected OrderlySergeant.

As was true of each emigration, the exact numbers varied from person to person. According to an interview with Ninevah Ford in 1878, “We rendezvoused at West Port west of Independence, Jackson County, Missouri.We started from there in April. There were between 500 and 700 souls in the party and 113 wagons…….”.However, John Arthur in 1887 at an address of the Oregon Pioneer Association, stated that “the emigratingbody numbered over one thousand souls, with one hundred and twenty wagons drawn by ox teams and overthree thousand head of loose cattle and horses.”

The company was soon to be involved in several severe storms that left them waterlogged and axle deep inmuddy quagmires. Adding to the complaints, was the dissatisfaction created between those who had cattle andthose who did not. After much dissension, Peter Burnett resigned. William Martin assumed command of thecompany without loose cattle. Jesse Applegate was elected leader of the “Cow Column”, which consisted ofapproximately 60 wagons and a couple of thousand head of cattle.

Following behind was Joseph B. Chiles, a pioneer of 1841, who was returning to California leading a smallgroup of family and friends.

As with emigrations to follow, these rugged pioneers dealt daily with adverse weather conditions, lack ofprovisions, conflict of personalities and illness. To add to their afflictions, they did not have a wagon trail tofollow. For a more comprehensive study of the emigration of 1843, I recommend reading “Blazing A WagonTrail To Oregon, A Weekly Chronicle of the Great Migration of 1843” by Lloyd W. Coffman.