The journal of Ezekial Brooks Owens, Part Four

This week Ezekiel Owens’ westward journey is traveling through western Nebraska. He mentions such sights as Chimney Rock and Scott’s Bluff, both now national monuments along the famous Oregon Trail. This journey basically follows that trail, including bypassing the Mormon Trail cut-off. This is a fascinating journey through American history of the westward movement. The weather varies because it is still early June 1850.

<strong>Diary of Ezekial Brooke Owens</strong>

Sunday 9th – Traveled ten miles and struck the north prong of the Platte. Passed through a very rugged country three or four miles before we struck the river. Came down Ash Hollow. Passed a town of Sioux Indians living in wigwams, twenty-five or thirty families. Traveled up the north prong eight miles and camped. The bottom is twenty yards to one mile wide. A high range of hills on the southwest side. The whole valley is spotted with tents and stock. Passed one new grave and one dead ox. There is some Cedar and Ash on the road leading down Ash Hollow. Some of the islands on the north prong opposite Ash Hollow are covered with cedar. There is nothing but grass on the islands at this point. No timber in sight. (The cedar and ash were obviously further down the river, but still visible.) The Indians are miserable looking. Been quite cool all day. Cousin James is quite well. Will soon be ready for business again. Grass tolerably good. Water very bad. A good deal of diarrhea among the emigrants up the river, so report says. Road very heavy this morning on account of loose sand. Sund (dug) a well for water, got plenty. There are no weeds or vegetables up here that I have any knowledge of ever having seen before with the exceptions of Lamb’s Quarter and that, I think, is different. There was a man who died last night three hundred yards from our camp from cholera, so is said.

Monday 10th – Traveled up the valley. The bottom is one-half to one mile wide, the river three-quarters to one mile. Passed an Indian grave on a scaffold. There were four poles tied together at the top and let out at the bottom. Four uprights on which there were some poles laid across and a buffalo hide laid on them. The Indian was wrapped up in a Mexican blanket and laid on the buffalo robe about seven or eight feet from the ground. There was a tether bag up over her (for it was said to be a squaw) that would hold about a gallon. Do not know what it contained. Grass tolerable at noon halt. Very cool this morning. High bluffs on the south side of the river. Met several Mormon wagons coming in from the Salt Lakes. (Freight wagons?) Our road was very heavy this morning on account of sand. Crossed a number of sand ridges. The ridges run to the river. Saw a grove of Pine trees to the left of our camp. Passed one new grave. Three of our wagons withdrew from the train, leaving six. Passed another town of Sioux Indians. Grass poor. Very much fatigued from our hard day’s walk through the sand. All well. (Often travelers walked by the wagons to lessen the team’s burden – especially through sand.)

11th – Some sand this morning. Traveled ten miles, made noon halt. Grass poor, Twenty-five or thirty Sioux Indians traveled with us till noon. They are moving up the river. (Most Plains Indians were nomadic, following the buffalo herds.) Quite cool this morning. Mr. Faulk quite sick. Passed three graves, all side by side, buried last year. Crossed a running creek this morning, second since we struck Platte valley. Geared up and drove ten miles–camped in a large bottom. First rate grass. Crossed another running creek this evening. There is a high mound of rock south of us resembling the ruins of an ancient castle. Passed another Indian town, twenty or thirty wigwams. Most of the inhabitants very badly clad. Six or eight trains camped in sight. High wind. Came to wild sage today. Myriads of small grasshoppers.

Wednesday 12th -  Traveled up the valley. Made our noon above the Chimney Rock. This rock is situated at the south of the valley and is at least five-hundred feet high, and is one of the curiosities of nature. We saw it twenty miles before we reached it. Scott’s Bluff, nineteen and one-half miles above (north of) the Chimney Rock, is in full view, and has been for the last ten miles. Passed another Indian town and several wagons camped with them belonging to the American Fur Company, for the purpose of trading with them. The valley opposite the Chimney Rock is at least ten miles wide. Clear, sun warm, wind cool. I walked from breakfast to dinner and did not perspire enough to dampen my shirt under the arms. High bluff south of valley. Some Cedar or dwarf Pine on them. Quite warm this evening. Passed one new grave; one dead ox. Came up with W. Crow’s train. Eight hundred head loose cattle. (These may have been private stock or stock being driven to gold camps. There was a lucrative trade in food goods for the minors.) Camped one-half mile from the river. Cooked with buffalo chips. Very much fatigued from our hard day’s work. Traveled twenty-five miles this day.

Thurs. 13th – Left the river this morning and crossed a big valley or second bottom ten miles wide, and crossed a high ridge at the foot of which was a fine spring and blacksmith shop. (The blacksmith may have broken down there and decided to stay, or may have reasoned he could make a tidy sum servicing travelers without having to take chances crossing the Rockies.) Several Indian wigwams and four or five Indian houses, the first we have seen in the Sioux nation. This is the most numerous nation of Indians on the continent. Grass very poor at noon halt. Had a magnificent view of the surrounding country from the top of a high hill. The sides of the bluff are covered with Cedar. Some of them thirty feet through; twenty-five to forty feet high. I forgot to mention that we left Scott’s Bluff a little to the right as we left the river. These bluffs are three hundred to three hundred and fifty feet above the river and in Latitude 41 degrees- 50 degrees 52” – Longitude 103degrees20’. After grazing our stock we proceeded on and struck the valley at camping time. Passed one dead horse. The best road I ever saw. Crossed Horse Creek and camped in the valley. Grass tolerable. Dug a well for water. Got plenty. Twenty-two different encampments in sight and I judge that there are over six-thousand head of stock. Traveled twenty-five miles this day. Quite weary. Some rain this evening. Water still very bad. Cooked with buffalo chips.

Fri. 14th – A small bunch of Indians met us today, moving down the river. Passed a number of ox-wagons. Made our noon halt. Grass very poor. There is more timber at this point than we have seen for many miles. Many islands in the river covered with cottonwood and willow bushes. Passed a trading house belonging to the American Fur Company, several Indian wigwams. Traveled twenty-seven miles and camped. Grass very poor.

I found the Indian burial description particularly interesting as well as his other observations of the Sioux and the mountain men of the American Fur Company. You can almost get a feel for the masses of people going west at this time in history. The gold rush began a westward movement that lasted into the next century.

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