Sangamon County
Family Letters



NEWSOM FAMILY
Extract of a letter from David Newsom late of Springfield, Illinois, to his brother Lewis Newsom of this place:

Salem, Marion County,
Oregon Territory, November 19, '51
I wrote to you from the South Pass, the very day we passed the dividing lands between the waters of the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans, and promised, when we arrived at the place of destination, to write again. As we are at our Eldorado, I now sit down to give you a short sketch of the latter part of our journey.
The greatest dilemma we encountered was an attack on our train, by a band of Pawnees, Boonack and Snake Indians, who were flushed with the prospect of routing us and possessing themselves of our valuables, consisting of stock of every kind, money, &c(etc). A regular onset was made, and after a hard fought battle we found twenty-five of their number killed and ten wounded; on our side we lost ten of our bravest men killed and six wounded. Victory was on our side, and from thence forward we travelled unmolested. But as a great drawback, from the time of entering the Indian country until we passed through, they stole from all the trains eighteen thousand dollars worth of stock at first cost.
On the Western descent we travelled 500 miles over a volcanie desert, without timeber, except that of a dwarf species, known as the sage shrub, which served a valuable purpose for cooking; then for two hundred miles the country was a perfect desert, and our reliance for fuel for culinary purposes was upon the buffalo "chips".
While on this dreary but interesting route to me, we were cheered with the presence of droves of buffalo, elk and deer. By the prowess of our young Nimrods, we were often regaled with a repast of buffalo meat or other wild game. If we encountered hardships we were somewhat compensated by the wild scenery and other objects of novelty.
While on the way our train was blessed with the births of six children, all of whom are doing well and will be entitled to donation rights of land in Oregon.
We had general good health, no cholera. I arrived safe with all my family, seven wagons and seventy-two head of horses and cattle, which would readily command $5,000 here. Our train consisted of one hundred and forty wagons. From the best account I could obtain from all sources, there were about one thousand wagons, passed Fort Laramie; of this number about 150 branched off to Salt Lake and California, and the balance were for Oregon; the number of persons in all about 3200, besides about 400 came over in pack horse trains.---The total loss of persons of our train from all causes, was twenty-two.
When we arrived at the Dalles of the Columbia, I got my family on the brig Henry, and went to the mouth of the Willamette, and had my stock drove along the bank of the river, and on to Portland, on the Willamette river. We ascended the Willamette to Portland in a steamboat, where we stopped two weeks, from thence we ascended that river to Oregon City, in a steamboat, which is some sixty miles from the Columbia river, and I now own 640 acres of the best land in the whole world, just nine miles from the seat of Government, Oregon City. Within sight of my cabin is the Cascade mountain, white with snow, while I breathe the salubrious air of the Willamette Valley, which is 75 miles wide and 150 long, and now covered with a luxuriant coat of green grass. My stock was immediately turned out, and never did I see such improvement. Although I am located in latitude 44 35 min N, yet the country is not visited by those rigarous winters so prevalent in the same latitude in the eastern slope of the Rocky mountain. I am informed stock is never fed here, but subsists on the exuberant pastures of this delightful valley. On casting about for a location and suitable lands, I found a man who had selected a section of land, which he had held on to a number of years, without complying with the conditions of the donation law of Congress, and well knowing his right would be contested, offered me his claim for $400, which I readily paid down and at once installed my family in comfortable quarters. I have as much prairie as I desire, the other part is covered with a growth of fir, cedar, pine and other timber, not surpassed in height by those of any other part of the world. We are now fencing forty-five acres of prairie, which will be sown in wheat this fall. The wheat crop usually yields from 20 to 40 bushels per acre.
When I was settling preliminaries for going to Oregon, I began to imagine what advantages of location would suit me, and among others I desired to own an extensive tract of land, such as I am entitled to by the donation laws, with a good mill site, plenty of durable running water, land rich and mellow, nearly level, timber in abundance and tall, with a due portion of rich prairie, no swamps, no deep gullies, near a navigable stream, and a good market, near the seat of Government, not far from the ocean, mild winters, a good country for fruit, sufficiency of mills, a society of enterprize and industry, anxious and willing to join in the establishment of schools and churches. And I now feel grateful that my wishes are fully realized. From Springfield, Illinois, the expenses of my family, hired men, stock, &c(etc)., cost me $2,375, and had it doubled the sum I would say it would have been a profitable investment.
I now desire to be a nucleus, around which I hope to see a large number of the enterprising young men of our relations gathering together, for the mutual aid and benefit of each other. Should any of my friends and acquaintances think of coming to Oregon, they had better come by New Orleans, Chagres, Panama, San Francisco, Astoria, to Oregon City.
When I last heard of Lewis, my son, he was engaged in the service of the Government, surveying the public lands in Texas. I wish you would write to brother Nathan, in Alabama, to ascertain his whereabouts, and write to him and let him know that the public surveyors here get $12 per mile for surveying on contract, also that none but solar compasses are used. The advantages he would avail himself of by my location here, would enable him to possess himself of some of the best lands in the territory. If he will come he must be here early in the spring, as the surveying in the Willamette Valley will then be renewed. The maridian and base lines are established, and many of the township lines; the principal ones to be run are the sections and their subdivisions.
You would be surprised if you were here to see the advanc of trade. Cash is paid for agricultural products, and at full prices, while all the manufactured articles of the Eastern portion of the United States, are offered for sale in abundance, and at as cheap rates as they were in Illinois. Vancouver, Portland and Oregon City are now depots for an immense inland trade; steamboats line the wharfs like Cincinnati and St. Louis with highly improved wharfs, warehouses, and other buildings used in commercial transactions.
The distance between me and my friends seems to forbid reciprocal visiting, but it does not forbid them coming to Oregon, to a land susceptible of becoming the fairest and best portion of North America. I am located near the great Methodist missionary station or institute, where we can at once enjoy the privileges of preaching and well regulated schools.
I will write to you again in a few weeks, in the meantime I intend to take a little ride up the Willamette Valley, and shall then be enabled to amuse you with a description of the country, society, local advantages and such things as I may deem worthy of your notice.
[Source: "Gallipolis Journal (Gallipolis, Oh.)" Thursday, January 29, 1852 - Sub. by Kathy McDaniel]



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