Tuesday, August 1, 2017

Perseverance from the Pioneers

As we say our farewells to summer and look ahead to a new academic year and fall season filled with possibilities and promise, there always seems to be a bitter-sweet mix of sadness and joyful anticipation. Sadness for putting lazy, carefree days behind us and joyful anticipation of new opportunities for learning and growth. And with the joyful anticipation comes lots of newfound energy that takes us through the first stages of hard work. But once the novelty of starting a new project wears off, the day-in-day-out drudgery can be a bit overwhelming and we must rely on sheer determination and perseverance. During those moments, it is good to learn from those who have gone before us for words of wisdom and hope; it is during those lulls that we can turn to The Oregon Trail pioneers and lean on their courage and experience. Here are just three examples of the fortitude, strength, and perseverance exhibited over 150 years ago.

From Lucinda Spencer’s remembrances of her 1847 journey across The Oregon Trail:

Up to this time…all was going well. The distance [remaining] was only 60 miles, but there was more suffering and hardships to be endured…than in the entire journey. The first day the weather was pleasant but cloudy; at night, the rain began to descend in torrents and the next morning it was succeeded by a cold, driving sleet and snow.  The road became a quagmire through which the teams and teamsters floundered until Summit Prairie was reached. The storm increased in fury and in the morning, it was found that ¾ of the stock had perished, leaving only enough to haul 3 or 4 wagons; into these the provisions, bedding and children were placed while the men and women heroically waded along in the mud.

On the 16th day of October 1847, the teams were unhitched for the last time at Salem, Oregon and the long journey was finished, being eight months and sixteen days from the time we left Wilmington, Illinois.[1]

Ezra Meeker retells the final steps of his 1852 journey (the first of several trips across The Oregon Trail): 

And yet, the dress and appearance of this assemblage were as varied as the human countenance and as unique as the great mountain scenery before them.  Some were clad in scanty attire…Here a matronly dame with clean apparel would be without shoes, or there, perhaps, the husband without the hat; the youngsters of all ages, making no pretensions to genteel clothing other than to cover their nakedness. We were like an army that had burned the bridges behind them. Here we were, more than 2,000 miles from home. Go ahead we must. Many were on the verge of collapse. Some were sick from lack of food and hard work. Such were the feelings as the motley crowd of 60 persons slowly neared that wonderful crevice through which the great river flows from the Cascade mountain range.[2]

And George Frederic Young describes the ability to laugh in the face of danger: 

What wretched conditions we endured:  Whortleberry swamps that we had to wade through; horses mired with the least load put upon them. We could only make 3-5 miles a day.  A snowstorm covered the ground with a foot of snow, leaving nothing for the horses to eat but “laurel” bushes. One horse died; they cut out the hams and saved them for an emergency. 

Laughter appeared in the midst of our fear of “double-dying” –  from starvation and cold!  But we were in the midst of plenty:  plenty of snow, plenty of wood to melt it, plenty of horse meat, plenty of dog meat.

One family had rolled up a feather bed & packed it on one of the oxen. The animal objected to the unusual load & bolted through the woods.  The feather bed was snagged on some low-lying limbs, scattering feathers in all directions, like a miniature snow storm![3]

These stories put my struggles in perspective!  As we move through the new season and the newness of the year wears off let’s persevere with the joy, fortitude, ingenuity, and determination that those who have gone before us exhibited.

Happy new school year and fall to one and all!

[1] Spencer, Lucinda. Transactions of the Oregon Pioneer Association, Fifteenth Annual Reunion. Press of Geo. H. Himes, Portland, Oregon, 1887.
[2] Meeker, Ezra. 1906. Ox Team Days. Applewood Books.
[3] Young, Frederic George, ed. The Quarterly of the Oregon Historical Society, Vol III, March 1902-December 1902. (W. H. Leeds, State Printer, Salem Oregon).