Deadman pass
OTCC Interpretive Kiosk

Hard TimesHard Times

Oregon Trail emigrants labored for days to cross the Blue Mountains on a road that P. V. Crawford , emigrant of 1851, described as "very sidling, rough and stony." Maria Parsons Belshaw, emigrant of 1853, exclaimed, "I never saw as crooked a road in my life." The trail through these mountains was indeed arduous, but emigrants like Samuel Dexter Francis in 1861 were not the only ones affected by climbing "the hills, up and down," the Blues also took their toll on exhausted livestock and worn-out wagons.

"Hard times. many catttle are failing and all are very poor and a good nmany get lost among the thick timber. Agood many wagons are left, some broken and some good and aound because the cattle are not able to take them along." Cecilia Adams and Parthenia Blank; October 4-7, 1852

Brow of the MountainBrow of the Mountain

Missionary emigrant Honore-Timothee Lempfrit stood on a hill near this site in 1848 and observed, "we had a new horizon. It seemed as though we saw a vast expanse of sea in the distance, for the scorched prairies give the landscape a bluish hue." Unlike Rev. Lempfrit, however, most emigrants cast their eyes beyond the valley below toward what many believed was the last great obstacle between them and the Willamette Valley--the snow-capped volcanic peaks of the Cascade mountains. The dry and dusty Columbia Plateau, however, was soon to prove no average adventure for weary emigrants.

"From the brow of the Mountain, we had a fine view of the Cascade range, fifty miles distant, forming the Western boundary of the valley, stretching far to the North and South, with its lofty peaks of eternal snow rising among the clouds."
Overton Johnson and William Winter; September 1843

A Fine EscapeA Fine Escape

Oregon Trail emigrants generally crossed the Blue Mountains during the months of August, September, and October. Emigrants traveling ear;y in the year often had to clear the trail of debris left in the wake of winter storms, and those reaching the Blues by autumn faced the threat of snow. snow buried the already scarce grazing for livestock, it made difficult hills impossible to climb, and the cold was almost certain death for sick emigrants.

"this morning we saw some packers from the back companies. they say the snow is nearly knee deep and they are camped there. Most deplorable, indeed. We made a fine exscape, for which we thank God."
Edward Evans Parrish; Oct 23, 1844

The long Road DownThe Long Road Down

     Oregon Trail emigrants typically reached Deadman Pass, then known as Crawford Hill, after three days travel over what Edward Evans Parrish, emigrant of 1844, called "the worst road yet." the descent from this site to the banks of the Umatilla River, noted George N. Taylor in 1853, was "steep but not sideling." Once down the hill, emigrants camped along the Umatilla  River, and many like Cecelia Adams and Parthenia Blank, emigrants of 1852, found the valley "literally dotted with ponies."

  "this day got an early start; in a few miles we came through the thick timber and came to large pines. the road smoother and not so hilly directly we came out of the pines and went down a long hill into the Umatilla Valley; the bottom and bluffs covered with Indian ponies and horses, too. came to the Umatilla river and camped."  Loren B. Hastings; October 8, 1847

Wagon RutsWagon Ruts

      More than 50,000 emigrants traveled west on the Oregon Trail between 1840 and 1850 the constant stream of wagons and livestock charted the course of Oregon's future, and in some places indelibly etched the landscape with stark evidence of the great emigrant adventure--wagon ruts!
       Contrary to popular belief, the Oregon Trail was not a single set of parallel ruts leading from Missouri to the Willamette Valley. In valley and plains emigrants often traveled abreast sometimes widening the trail to several miles. Wagon wheels and oxen hooves carved trenches into the earth and churned up tremendous clouds of choking dust; "a nuff to stifel man and beast," according to Absalom B. Harden, emigrant of 1847. In the mountains emigrants were constantly attempting shortcuts and looking for easier grades.

Although much physical evidence of the trail has been destroyed by road construction, logging, and agricultural practices, it is still possible to find wagon scars. The most common scars are trenches, little wider than a wagon, which have been eroded by the elements. Two parallel wagon trenches indicating the emigrant route down this edge of the Blue Mountains may be seen near this site.

Guides, Pilots & CaptainsGuides, Pilots and Captains

Prior to 1840 only mountain-men, fur traders and missionaries traveled overland to the Pacific Coast. Early emigrants and missionaries traveled under the protection of fur-trade caravans. the decline of the fur-trade found many mountain-men eager to hire-on as guides or pilots--the experienced fur-trader John Gantt was hired by the first large emigration in 1843 to pilot as farr as fort Hall, wher Dr. Marcus whitman assumed the task. by the early 1850s there were many experienced overland travelers, well established routes and published guidebooks for emigrants to follow. Instead of employing mountain-men as guides, pilots or captains were often selected from among the veteran emigrants, and wagon trains were generally organized with strict military discipline. the captain's responsibility was tremendous and often the need to impart trail discipline to greenhorn emigrants was met with resentment.

"The captain wanted us to carry on further. We had three waggons with us, all the rest had lagged behind. An unusual stratagem for preventing the Captain from pushing on was conceived by the people in the waggons behind us. All of a sudden one of their guides came galloping up and reported to the Captain that one of their waggons had overturned as it was going down the hill. Two men had been crushed under the weight of the vehicle. Can you imagine such agonizing news! At once I spurred my horse and we all went to the help of these unfortunate men. Soon however we learned that it was only a ruse to make us go back. It was a false alarm!" Honore-Timothee Lempfrit; September 9-10, 1848

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