Isaac Mossman Pioneer * Page Two
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After securing my discharge I walked from Salem to Yoncolla, in the Umpqua Valley, where, finding my claim jumped, I walked back to Corvallis and secured a position carrying the U.S.mail between Lafayette and Oakland. My route was one hundred and fifty miles long; the round trip was to be made each week, rain or shine. Half the time, during the winter season, I had to swim most of the streams and my clothes would be wet for a week. It was a hard way to serve the Lord, but the hardships attendant on mail carrying was not exceptional in those days. I held my job from May, 1856, until May, 1858. The latter summer I was running around considerable with a light wagon, delivering medicines for Drs. Hutchings and Poppleton of Lafayette.
In the fall of 1858 I returned to The Dalles and opened a livery stable, going broke in the business. I stayed at The Dalles until the month of August, 1859.
In August, 1859, I went as cook with surveyors to Umatilla Valley to survey all the country lying between Willow Creek and the foot of the Blue Mountains. I cooked for twelve men for two or three months. I believe some of the men are still alive. Mr. D.P. Thompson is I know. On the second night out from The Dalles we camped at the mouth of Rock Creek on John Day River. It was very late when we stopped, and after supper, staking out our mules, we spread our blankets and turned in. About 10 o'clock we smelled rattlesnakes. Thirty or forty fell victims to our on-slaught, but the most of them escaped by retreating into a cliff or rocks into the rear of our camp.
The work began at Butter Creek. D.P. Thompson ran one compass, and his brother, Allen, the other. As the weather was very warm, it was necessary to get an early start in the morning, consequently I had to hustle out in the morning before daylight to get breakfast. Mr. D.P. Thompson was at that time a great walker. He could catch an antelope easy. Some days he would meander so far from the camp that it would require double the time to get back. He was never leg weary, but always fresh as a daisy. There is one little incident of that trip which I shall never forget. Our bread was made of sour dough and Sally-Ann [better known by tenderfeet as soda], and I kept a supply on hand constantly. After a meal it was necessary to mix the dough in a large tin pan and place it in the sun to rise. The dough being mixed and placed in the sun, as usual, I spread a newspaper over the top, laid a stick of wood on top of that, and, mounting a mule, started to a ranch five miles off, to purchase some butter. When I came in sight of camp on my return, my eyes encountered a wonderful sight. A magpie had taken a notion to eat my dough, and mixed himself up in it, and twisted and turned around until he had completely buried himself. I was hostile, and took Mr. Magpie out and chopped him all up. The dough, being full of feathers, was discarded, and with no small undertaking I made ready another batch of yeast-cake bread to feed my twelve hungry boarders that night. I have never liked a magpie since.
Mr. Thompson surveyed and sectionized that entire country between the Umatilla and the Columbia.
At times we had trouble procuring water. One day while camped on the Umatilla River, we packed the water kegs on the mules and proceeded with the men to do some surveying between the Umatilla and the Columbia.
With two mules we took four water kegs half way to the Columbia, where the twelve men filled their canteens and commenced work, while I started back to camp with the mules. It was an exceedingly warm day, the temperature being 100 degrees in the shade. I had ten miles to go and had not provided myself with water. I suffered terribly with thirst, and when I got to the Umatilla River, I just laid down and drank water until I could hold no more, then I rolled over and went to sleep and let my mules take care of themselves. That night the supper call sounded after bed time. After Mr. Thompson finished his contract, we came back to The Dalles, where I stopped that fall and winter.
Charley White was sheriff of Wasco County, and appointed me one of his deputies. This county then reached from the Cascade Mountains clear to the Rockies, and took all the country over to the Utah line. Since then fourteen counties have been hatched out of it, and there are eggs enough for two or three more. The Dalles was a wide-open little town with plenty of sporting men, among whom was Bill Nixen, Jim Chandsey, Rub Short, Buckskin Bill, Jack Harris, Johnie Moran, Duff Neill, Joe and Jack Brab, and Vic Trevitt; W. Isaacs had a store, Fielding Brown had a big saloon, and Charlie Mansfield was postmaster.
There were many freight trains hauling from The Dalles to Celilo. Humason and Johnson were the principal freighters.
The soldiers would come down from the garrison every night and have a few fights with the boys, and very often the ambulance would come down in the morning and pick up a dead soldier and haul him back to the garrison. Cutting and shooting was the order of the day.
In April while out riding, my horse fell and broke my leg in two places, and I was laid up nine months.
In February, 1861, I went to Walla Walla and stopped with Mr. W.S. Gilliam, who lived on Dry Creek about ten miles from that city. I remained there until April, when I started a pony express to the Oro Fino mines, Captain Pierce and Marion Moore having discovered gold there in 1860.
With only one pony and $5 in money and one pair of blankets, but with plenty of grit, I left Walla Walla about the fifth of April, and started for the diggings. My route was past Dry Creek to Coppel, Whiskey Creek, and on to Touchet, then up the Pattit and the Whetstone Hollow on to the Tucannon where a Frenchman lived with his Indian wife. From there over to the Pataha, where a man lived by the name of Funer. He was married to an Indian woman, known as Queen, the daughter of the old Cayuse chief Winip-Snoot. From there my route was over to Alpowa Creek, and down it to its mouth. Then I crossed Snake River at Silcott's Ferry, near the junction of Clearwater and Snake River. Thence followed up the Clearwater past the Lapwai Indian Agency of Nez Perce Indians. I went to what was then known as Whiskey Flat, at the foot of the Bitter-root Mountains, where I caught up with a pack train bound for the mines, and stopped four days to help them shovel the snow so they could proceed. The snow for some distance was from three to four feet deep. We finally worked our way through and found thirty or forty miners at the camp, called Pierce City, after Captain Pierce. I stayed there two days and received a lot of letters to carry back to Walla Walla, at fifty cents each. This trip proved very hard on me, as there were few houses or stopping places between Walla Walla and the mines.
Where Dayton, Washington, now stands, at the crossing of the Touchet, two men by the name of Schuebly had a log house, and kept a stopping place. Another man by the name of Ping had a ranch near them. Jesse and Henry Day each had a ranch nearby. These were the last houses until reaching the Tucannon. The next house was John Turner's, at the head of Pataha, so I had to carry some cold lunch with me which consisted of raw bacon, raw onions and crackers. I slept where night overtook me.
Realizing only five dollars out of my first trip, I gegan to feel blue, but had no intention of giving up. My next trip paid me ten dollars over my expenses, and from that time on business was good. On my third trip down I found a small steamer tied up to the bank of the Clearwater, at the foot of the rapids above the Indian Agency. A man by the name of S.S. Slater was on board with a stock of goods. His first intention was to start a trading post where he had tied up, but changed his mind, dropped back tothe junction of the Snake and Clearwater rivers, and unloaded his goods, and opened up the first store where Lewiston now stands. I think Mr. Slater is now dead. He was a man well known in Portland in the early sixties.
After Lewiston was started, a man by the name of Jacob Schultz started a ferry across Snake River near there and he took in a bushel of money. In 1861-2-3 Lewiston grew like a mushroom. However, it was a city of tents mostly, the first summer. Hill Beachy built a large hotel, and saloons multiplied daily. No one seeing Lewiston now for the first time, can realize what it was in June, 1860. It was not only a lively town, but a tough one, a bad lot of toughts arriving there from California and Nevada.
I stayed with my little express, and as fast as I came in, bought more horses, and by July augmented my train to ten good saddle poinies. They were scattered along the route at convenient distances, so I could change two or three times a day. In the meantime, Tracy & Co., consisting of Ned, Tracy, Ned, James and Ned. Norton had started an express to Oro Fino, employed some of the best riders to be had - one was Billy Albright, another was George Reynolds [better known as Cayuse George] - and many a hard race I had with him between Oro Fino and Walla Walla. On two different occassions we raced from Oro Fino to Walla Walla, one hundred and eighty miles, without sleep, and made stops only to change tired horses for fresh ones. On one of my racing trips my canteen was broke and a buckskin bag containing eight hundred dollars in gold dust was lost from it. I was in the lead and would have won allright, but missing the bag of dust, gave up the race and suffered George to go on ahead. I dismounted and led my horse by the halter back almost a mile where I found the purse of gold in the road. We had a "hot old time" on our next trip down. First one and then the other in the lead. On Dry Creek, ten miles out of Walla Walla, I changed horses at Aldridge's place, and George changed one mile below, at Doc. Bonney's place. When we got on the flat between Walla Walla and Dry Creek, we were about one mile apaprt, each doing his best from there in, as there was a bet up of $500 on us. Henry Milney had $500 up on me, and Fred Patterson had $500 up on george, but I had the best horse on the last ten mile heat, so I won by half a jmile. There was a great deal of excitement when I crossed Mill Creek into Walla Walla.
Tracy & Co. had an idea they could run me off the route, but they did not succeed. I offered to sell out but they were not on the buy.
Sometime in the month of July when the news of the Civil War was eagerly sought after, Tracy & Co. had a pack of horses loaded with newspapers, and I had a similarly equipped animal with a good lot of papers on board. We each recognized the fact that the one entering the mining camp first would sell his papers, and the last man get scooped. When I reached Tom Bell's Ferry on the Clearwater, he told me that Cayuse George and Billy Albright were a half hour ahead of me; but, said Tom, "they will be sure to stop at Texas Ranch to gin up." Discretion here meant financial success, as I did a little hard work. I rode very quietly. When near the old Texas Ranch I saw a light and heard the boys talking. I skipped along like a skulking coyote in the darkness of night, until I was at least a half a mile on the other side, and rode like the devil himself or a band of Commanches were after me, arriving at Oro Fino about midnight, and, selling all my papers, I went to bed at four o'clock. Next morning George and Billy came in like tornadoes, yelling like Indians, and shouting the latest news; but the boys gave them the "horse laugh" and told them the news was there four hours ahead of them. I had made a scoop worthy of a New York newspaper reporter.
Oro Fino had by this time become a lively town, with five thousand inhabitants. In the place Captain Ankeney, George E. Cole and D.M. Jessee had a store, J.H. Lappeus had a big saloon.
A little man by the name of Button went in there with his wife. They had one cow, and baked bread and made pies. They sold their pies for $1 each, and milk for 25 cents a pint. They cleaned up $2,000 by fall, and left the diggings. Once in August I left Oro Fino for Walla Walla after sunset to escape the warm day's ride. I was carrying seventyfive pounds of gold dust and a lot of letters. About three miles from town a thick piece of timber along the road obscured the moonlight and it became very dark. All at once I observed a man coming towards me with a gun in his hand, I pulled my pistol and yelled for him to throw up his hands which he did, when I rode up and found it was a miner returning from a hunting. It was hard to tell who was the most scared, him or me. That same night I camped in the pine timber near the Clearwater. About two o'clock in the morning myhorse began to snort, and raising my head I saw two great mountain wolves trying to reach the animals. I fired at them with my pistol and they left, but there was no more sleep for me that night.
I continued in the business previously mentioned until October, 1861, when C. Hiner Miller, now known as Joaquin Miller, met me at Walla Walla with a letter of introduction to me from his uncle, Colonel W.W. Chapman. Miller wanted to join me in the express business. He had one little pony, and $5 in cash, but he could ride well and was a hustler. I had at that time eighteen head of good saddle horses, so I gave him an interest in the business. Soon after that the Salmon River mines were discovered, and I put Miller on the route from Lewiston to Florence City, in the Salmon River mines, while I rode between Walla Walla, Lewiston and the Oro Fino.
The "diggings" at Florence proved to be very rich. There was a great rush to them, and by December there were many hundreds of men in there at work, and gold dust was plentiful. About the 10th of December I got Miller to change off with me one trip, and I went to Florence, while he went to Walla Walla. I had fifty of the Sacramento Unions with me and expected to get a good price for them. When I arrived at Slate Creek at the foot of the Salmon River Mountains, I found quite a camp of miners and packers. The notorious Mat Bledso had just shot and killed a packer named Harmon, better known as Pike. Bledso was taken to Walla Walla, where he had a preliminary examination before a justice and was discharged. He afterwards killed two other men, was in the penitentiary for several years, was pardoned out and was finally killed in Arizona over a game of cards.
Arriving at Florence I sold mynewspapers for $2.50 each as fast as I could hand them out. I kept my horse under a shed two nights and one day, and fed him thirty pounds of oats, and when ready to leave, my bill was only $30 - $1 a pound for oats.
I was away from Walla Walla that trip sixteen days and cleared up $400. Between Lewiston and Walla Walla I met hundreds of men on their way to Florence, a great many of them with hand sleds loaded with grub and picks and blankets. Many men were frozen to death that winter. Bewildered in a snow storm, they would lose the trail, and then flounder about in the blinding snow and die.
I found a dead man in March between Pataha and the Snake River that had perished in the snow storm. He had a gold watch and $40 in money on his person. Letters and papers on him showed that his name was W.J. Boardman, from Sacramento, California. I sent his watch and money to his sister there. The remains of several miners were found near Camas Prairie, where they had lost the trail and perished in the snow.
At Walla Walla that winter there was very severe and much suffering, and many cattle were frozen to death. On Dry Creek the cattle were piled up in the willows, where they had crowded to get water, by the hundreds.
In Walla Walla, wood was so scarce that the French settlers hauled their rails in from their ranches and sold them for $30 a load and cut new rails in the spring to replace the old ones.
Times were so hard that many men lived on the pickings from the swill barrels of the hotels. Flour sold for $50 per 100 pounds; apples sold for $1 apiece; board and lodging was from $15 to $20 a week. The business houses were well represented by Dusenbury Bros., Cy and Dick Jacobs, Baldwin & Whitman, Boyer & Baker, Kyger & Reese, Kohlauff & Guischard, Kady & Howard, Schwabacker Bros. Co., Neil and James MdcAulliff. Saloons were numerous. The largest was kept by Ball, and one by Mostinchy, where gambling tables were kept going day and night. Sporting men were numerous, and many thousands of dollars changed hands that winter. Early in the winter of 1861-2, J.B. Robins opened a theater, his daughter, Sue, being the star attraction. One night the theater was packed full of citizens and soldiers when a fight started, and revolvers cracked lively for awhile. Two soldiers were killed and two or three citizens were wounded. One of the citizens wounded was Dick Phillips, of Amity, Oregon.
Miller and I were together until the spring of 1862, when he decided to quit business to go to Port Orford, Oregon, and be married. He was to marry a lady known as Minnie Myrtle, but whose correct name was Minnie Dyer. So I paid him $600 over and above his profits, and presented him with a fine horse, saddled and bridled. He went to Portland and from there to Port Orford, where he was married.
I wish to say here, in justice to myself, that in all Joaquin Miller's writings he has never mentioned my name in connection with the express business, but has always taken the credit to himself of doing it all. In his writings he calls Florence, Idaho, Milleysbury, but no one of the old cradle-rockers of that day will recognize the place by that name, and all of the old-timers at Walla Walla and Lewiston know who was the pioneer expressman in that country.
The company was generally known as Mossman's Express, although for a short time it was actually Mossman & Miller's Express. When Miller left, I took in as partners J.C. Franklin, Thomas Paulson, Put Smith and one John McBride. We did a good business. For some time Franklin stayed in Portland, bought gold dust and spent money freely on himself and wife. McBride rode as messenger between Florence and Lewiston. One night he gambled off $2,000 of the company's money and then skipped to Montana. One disaster after another overtook me, and in June, 1863, George E. Cole ran for delegate to congress, and as it required a long time to secure the returns from outside counties, he employed me to go to Fort Colville, in Stevens County, and bring in the official returns. He paid me $5 a day and expenses, and furnished me with a good horse. I carried the mail bag also to Fort Colville, as the regular mail was only carried once a month. As houses along my route were few and far between, I "toted" a pair of blankets with me. It was 250 miles to Colville, and my time to make the trip was limited to six days. I left Walla Walla at 1 o'clock in the afternoon, went to McWhik's Ferry on Snake River and stayed over night, leaving there early the next morning with a cold lunch in my pocket, and riding out to Cow Creek Valley, where I stopped to bait my horse and eat a bite. As my horse was very warm, I pulled the saddle off, and he lay down to roll on the grass, as horses always do. While rolling over he was bitten by a big rattlesnake, and as I had no medicine with me I saddled up as quickly as possible and started ahead to find help. I knew a man by the name of Hosteter had left Snake River a half day ahead of me with a wagon. I kept on going until late at night without seeing a soul. By that time my poor horse was swollen up so badly that he could travel no farther, and I had to leave him by the roadside to die. I took off my saddle and blankets and left them by the roadside, too. With my mail bag over my shoulder I started on to overtake the wagon ahead of me. I was suffering badly from thirst, and, though traveling in sight of Medical Lake, could not drink its bitter waters. About 11 o'clock at night, when completely exhausted, I overtook the man camped at some springs. He gave me some water, but only a little at a time; then he prepared something to eat, which he dealt out to me very sparingly at first. The next morning he let me have one of his horses and I went back where I had left mine. Finding the latter dead, I secured my saddle and blankets and returned to my friend, and went forward with him to the ferry on the Spokane River, where I hired a horse and proceeded to Colville, secured the election returns and started back. When I had returned as far as Walker's Prairie I saw a large corral full ofhorses and eight or ten men standing around among them. Among the band I recognized two horses that had been stolen from me at Walla Walla two months previous. I rode up to the corral and spoke to the men pleasantly, and told them that I saw "two of my horses among their stock which had 'strayed' away from Walla Walla." They replied, with an oath, that they "owned all of the horses", but after a long palaver they concluded to give me a pony worth about $25. As my horses had cost me $100 each, I did not want to accept any such a proposition, but an argument supported by only one gun against a dozen could not be expected to avail very much, and fearing that they would change their minds and not giveme anything, I accepted the offer with a profusion of thanks.
I left the horse I had hired at the ferry and by traveling day and night arrived back on time with the election returns, and the Hon. George E. Cole was elected delegate to congress from Washington Territory. After resting a few days at my home, one mile from Walla Walla, John F. Abbott, the pioneer stage proprietor of Walla Walla, employed me to drive one of his stages to Boise City, Idaho, until we should meet one of his other stages coming down. Abbott had agreed to take sixteen gamblers and "toughs" to Boise City, and had to send two stages, eight men and their baggage for each stage. They paid him $50 each, and they were to board themselves, he taking their provisions along. We left Walla Walla after dinner and drove to the Umtilla crossing, near where the town of Pendleton is now located. We camped there, and it would have made a wooden Indian smile to see those gamblers try to cook their first meal. Instead of forming into a mess and cooking at two fires, each man had a fire of his own, and the cuss words they used were fearful. Myself and the other driver had provided ourselves with a lunch, and were eating it quietly when one big tough ordered us to help cook. We told him we were hired as stage drivers, not as cooks. He then tried to run a bluff, but it would not work. Next morning we drove to Meacham's Station, where I was well acquainted, getting there at noon, and as the fellows had some money, we stayed there all night. The next day we proceeded as far as La Grande, and here the toughs hired a woman to cook supper and breakfast. After eating the latter we hitched up and drove on to the Powder River, where we stopped for lunch and to feed our horses. It happened that there was a flock of ducks on the river and our passengers were shooting at them, but without effect. I carried an old Colt's pistol along that had not been fired in six months, but I walked out among them and said: "Look here, boys, I will show you how to kill a duck." I aimed with a sort of elegance, and fired, cutting a duck's head. I was more surprised than they were when I saw the execution I had made. In fact, I was not sure I aimed at the duck I killed, but I never let on but what such shooting was common. It was one shot in a thousand, and after that those fellows were very nice to me. We went on as far as Brownlie's Ferry on Snake River, where we met the other stages, exchanged passengers, and then returned to Walla Walla.
In the Blue Mountains between La Grande and the Grand Ronde River we had a narrow escape in descending a long hill. The Jacob's staff on the Concord coach I was driving broke, and the heavy coach ran against the horses. All that could be done was to give the horses the whip and keep them on the run until we reached the bottom of the hill, a half mile ahead. When we struck the level of the ground we were "running away". After another half mile, however, the team was brought under control. We camped one night under some pine trees not far from where Baker City is now located, and there was plenty of fine looking quartz scattered around, so we discussed the question of locating a ledge there, but having no tools, our resolutions ended in nothing done. That fall the celebrated Virtue mine was located at this same spot, and millions of dollars have been taken out of it since. We arrived at Walla Walla two days later. That fall I moved to Albany and lived there six months, and went to Salem in 1864, and the September following I bought out a hotel, which I ran until June, 1867. From there I moved to Olympia, Washington.
During my career as a mail-carrier in Oregon the country was thinly settled and the stores were few and far between, and as the mail-carrier was supposed to be accommodating, the commissions he had to look after were numerous. Old ladies would come from both sides of my route to have errands done. One would want a paper of pins, another a flatiron, another a broom. One wanted a pair of shoes, another a pair of hose ["stockings" they called them]. Sometimes an old lady would stop me to ask the day of the month or what day of the week it was. Of course, I had to be polite and answer all of these questions, but it was rather trying at times when I was hurrying to make up lost time.
One hot day while driving along in the timber upon the Long Tom country I was overtaken by a horseless carriage. It was a man and his wife in a wagon drawn by a yoke of cattle. He and his wife were on the seat of the wagon and the woman held a baby in her lap, and the wagon box was half full of straw on which were six little white-headed children, from two to seven years of age, all of them bareheaded. One of the hind wheels of the wagon had dropped into a chuckhole, and one of the kids rolled out in the dust, but the man did not miss him, and drove on totally unconcerned as to what had happened. I yelled to him that he had lost one of his children. He stopped his oxen and got out and picked it up. Then the old lady opened up on him. She said: "Bill Jones, you dod gasted old fool, you wil jist lose half of these yongins before we get home." I drove on and left them settling it in their own way.
The Long Tom country in those days was a "wild and wooly west". One family would own 640 acres of land and from 50 to 200 head of cattle, with no butter in the house, and hardly ever a bite of fresh beef; bacon, bacon all the time. All the victuals would swim in grease. Plenty of fiddlers and hound dogs, but no fresh meat. At every house a dance? Well, I should say so. A dance would start at 4 in the afternoon and last until 10 the next day. Plenty of grub and lots of whiskey. Every fellow would try to see how hard he could dance and how high he could swing his partner. Buckskin suits and blue jeans were the costumes for the men. A dandy who came to one of the dances dressed in broadcloth was in great demand. One young matron told a young girl sitting by to "hold my baby while I take a turn with that 'hoss' with the store clothes on."
The people were all free-hearted, and nothing was too good for a stranger. He was always welcome to the best in the house, free of charge.
There are no 640-acre farms now; all are divided up.
We laugh at many incidents of the old-timers, but way down in the corner of our hearts there is a soft spot for those old-timers, whose open-handed hospitality may have been equaled, but never excelled anywhere in the world, not even by the knights of the table round.
Isaac V. Mossman
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