Anson Sterling Cone (wagon train to Oregon 1846)

Oregon Historical Quarterly - Volume 4, No. 3 (Sept. 1903)

Anson Sterling Cone, who came to Oregon in 1846, and is now ¡ª February, 1900,¡ª living upon his donation claim a mile and a half from Butteville, on one portion of French Prairie, is a native of Indiana, having been born in Shelby County of that State in 1827. At the age of seventy-three he is still in good health, and of good memory. He is carrying on a large farm, and, together with his wife, is supporting the family of his brother's daughter, as his own. He is a man of medium size, of rather sandy complexion, with hair and beard now white. He is plain and straightforward in manuer, and remembers distinctly many details of his early experiences in Oregon. Some of the most interesting features of his narrative are his meeting with Whitman; his service as juror on the trial of the Indian murderers of Whitman; and his trip overland to California in the first wagon train to the mines. His story, however, will be given as he relates it, and the reader may then use his own judgment as to the relative importance of his recollections.

With his father's family, who removed for a short residence from Shelby to La Porte County, Indiana, he went as a mere lad to Iowa. The farm occupied by his father was alongside one of the main roads, and there, year after year, he saw the emigrants in their great wagons on the way to Oregon. In the course of time he took the fever to go with them to that enchanted country. The opportunity was not long withheld.

In 1846 a well-to-do neighbor, Edward Trimble, made up a party, in which an older brother of Anson's, Aaron Cone, was to go. Obtaining permission of his father, Anson, then but a youth of eighteen, assisted in helping the train off, and drove with the party for some distance. When the time arrived for him to return home (his dejected appearance probably indicating his longing to go on with the emigrants) Trimble said to him: "Anson, I don't advise or ask you to go to Oregon; but if you are bound to, you may go with me." "I have no outfit," said the young man. "I have $1,000," answered Trimble; "and as long us that lasts you shall have your share of it."

Anson went. His patron, however, never reached Oregon. Trimble was one of the comparatively few who fell a victim to the treachery of the Indians. He was killed by the Pawnees, on the Platte River, near the big island. He had been selected captain of the company of forty-three wagons which was made up at Saint Joe, where the train crossed the Missouri, and took the route south of the Platte.

At a point opposite the big island, as then known, the cattle were stampeded by the Pawnees, and driven away, so that the train was left entirely without teams. Trimble started out to hunt the animals; but his wife, seeing that he had no arms, said to him, "Edward, you had better take your rifle." He answered, "I do not need it; I am only going to look for the trail." But reaching a knoll and finding the trail of the lost stock, which led to the river, he and a man named Harris rode on without stopping, .until they discovered the cattle on the island. Going down to the river side, however, they were suddenly confronted by a party of armed Pawnees, who had secreted themselves under the steep bank. Harris then, in his excitement, left his horse, and Trimble delaying for him was shot by the Indians. His body was not recovered but arrows stained with blood were found, which had probably been shot through his body. These were preserved by Mrs. Trimble, and it is thought that they are still in possession of the family; a daughter of Trimble, having become Mrs. Pomeroy, of Pomeroy, Washington.

By the men of the train who saw the affair, Harris was rescued, and the most of the oxen, though in a sad state of demoralization, were recovered. A considerable number were never found, and on accouut of this seven wagons were compelled to return to Saint Joe, with just enough cattle to draw them. But the mischief was also played with the oxen that went forward. After one thorough stampede such animals are always unreliable. Mr. Cone remembers one serious stampede later, of the whole train on the road, which was started only by a jack rabbit driven by the dogs under a wagon. "It was a pretty hard sight," he says, "to see the wagon hauled off, with oxen on the run. But they had to stop at last; some fell down and were dragged along. Many an old ox lost his horns. There were horns flying then ¡ª let one catch his tip in the ground and it was gone!"

However, though under unusual strain from this unlucky incident with the rascally Pawnees, the plains and mountains were crossed at last. Fort Bridger, Fort Hall, and the Grande Ronde and Blue Mountains were passed in due order, and about the middle of October the wagons descended upon the Umatilla.

Here the two young men, Anson and his brother Aaron, thought it advisable to leave the train and push on to the Willamette. To accomplish this they went over to the Walla Walla, with the idea of working for Whitman long enough to pay for a pack horse. At Waiilatpu they found the doctor at home, and made known their intention. "Boys," replied the Old Man (A. S. C), "you had better take Bob there, and all the provisions you need, and go at once. At the end of the season there will be those coming who will have to stay here anyhow, and I had better save the work for them. I will be down in the Willamette country next summer, and you can pay me then." The young men accordingly took "Bob," a trusty old white cayuse horse and a good pack animal, who had somehow lost his tail, all except a short stump, just sufficient to hold the crupper.

By this kindness and confidence of Whitman Mr. Cone was greatly impressed. "He was a good man," he says, "he had a heart like an ox!" According to his recollections Whitman was about six feet tall, straight as an Indian and of fine presence. His face was florid, his hair chestnut, and not noticeably gray. In manner he was quick "for a big man," and " always in for anything that had life"¡ªsociable, and a good joker. The horse and provisions, taken from the doctor's door, amounted to about $25 worth; "and the next summer," says Mr. Cone, "when I heard that the Old Man was at Oregon City, didn't I rustle around to have the money ready for him!"

Young Cone arrived at Oregon City on November 6th, his nineteenth birthday. He began almost immediately to look about the country, and taking the road to Tualatin Plains, was surprised, but greatly pleased, to meet on the wav ¡ª at the house of Mr. Masters, near the present town of Reedville ¡ª an old friend, whom he had known at the East. This was T. G. Naylor, long a well known resident of Forest Grove. By this hospitable friend Cone was invited to spend the winter on the farm on Gale's Creek, and actually spent two months, managing to find eight working days between showers, out of that time ¡ª which indicates that the climate, even then, was rainy. However the young immigrant had good health, enjoyed life, and grew fat. For his eight days of work he received an order for eight bushels of wheat, and being in great need of new clothes, went back to Oregon City, and obtaining work at rail splitting, he succeeded in mending his fortunes sufficiently to procure new garments. He also found work afterwards in the sawmills. "Many a day," he says, "I worked alongside the Kanakas." There was at that time a considerable number of these native Sandwich Islanders in Oregon. They were good workmen, says Mr. Cone, being especially useful in work about the water. They had their own quarters, which they kept themselves, and provided their own sustenance quite independently.

During the dry season of 1847 the two brothers having decided to return East across the Plains, made a long tour of the Willamette Valley, in order to tell all about Oregon, with which, however, they were not fully satisfied as a permanent home; but their preparations not being complete they were delayed until late in the next season.

It was in August of that year that the Cayuse Indian murderers were brought down from the upper country, and were tried and hanged at Oregon City [ Mr. Cone was evidently confused in this part of his recollections as the Cayuse Indian murderers did not give themselves up until April 1850; and were tried later in that year.¡ªEditor.] The Indians had the benefit of counsel, and the usual motions were made for acquittal. Among others was rejection of many jurymen, on the ground of prejudice. As it began to seem that no jury could be found, Cone, who was present as a spectator at the trial, whispered to a companion, "Come, let's go ; they will be getting us on the jury!"

They quietly slipped out, therefore, and retiring to a big rock on the bluff, were engaged chatting. A young man soon approached, however, whom they took to be another like themselves, but they recognized that he was after them and a deputy sheriff, when he proceeded to summon them to the jury box. They were accordingly impaneled, with the necessary number, and listened to the evidence. The case was entirely clear, the prosecution simply presenting evidence to show that the accused were the Indians who had committed the crime.

As to the motive of the murder, or the causes back of it, Mr. Cone inclines to the opinion very prevalent at the time, that it was due to religious differences; "there was another church there, and this I know, that none of the other church were hurt." He'mentions particularly Joe Stanbough, who was not injured, yet was a full-blood white man. This is mentioned here, and indeed is given very cautiously by Mr. Cone, not as any brand for present sectarian differences, but as a true reflection of opinion at the time. The precise justice of that opinion is not discussed here.

Very soon after the trial Cone was told by General Lovejoy, at Oregon City, of the discovery of gold in California. "If I were you," said Lovejoy, " I would go as soon as possible." By this advice Cone and his brother were led to get together three wagons and join the overland company. This was a most eventful journey and illustrates the capacity of the trained Oregon men.

According to Mr. Cone's recollections there were forty one wagons; though Peter Burnett says, in " An Old Pioneer," that there were fifty and one hundred and fifty men. There was but one family in the train, the name of which Mr. Cone has forgotten. In this he coincides with Burnett. Cone also recalls Thomas McKay very distinctly as the guide and virtual leader; who said that he could take them through to the Sacramento River without trouble; "and there is only one place that I am afraid of; that is going down the mountain into the Sacramento Valley. You may have to let your wagons down with ropes there."

Burnett, in his vivid sketch of this journey ,"says that he went to Doctor McLoughlin for advice, and was directed by him to employ McKay, as this intrepid son of the unfortunate Alexander McKay was acquainted with every foot of the way and was especially efficient in dealing with the Indians.- But Mr. Cone recollects nothing of Burnett.

As to Indian troubles, Cone says that there was only one Indian killed. This was in the Umpqua Valley, and the deed was without provocation, and by an irresponsible young man, of the kind that hung on to almost every party. McKay read the young man a severe lesson, and complained to the company, endeavoring to show how reckless such actions were. The young man made the saucy reply that he must be still, or else there would be another Indian killed ¡ª alluding to McKay's Indian blood. However, there were no other natives disturbed, and the way was through the country of the Klamaths, the Modocs, and the Pitt River Indians. Burnett mentions meeting a very few natives near the end of the journey, but says there was no trouble whatever.

In the Pitt River Valley the Oregon wagon train came upon the track of the California immigrants, whom Peter Lawsen ¡ª or Lassen, as Burnett spells the name ¡ª was guiding to his great ranch on the Upper Sacramento. When at last overtaken they were found to be in great destitution, and so exasperated at Lassen, who had lost the way, and was wandering in the Sierra Nevadas, trying to find a practicable way down their stupendous western declivities, that he seemed in danger of his life. A practicable descent was found at last, however, and then began the race to see who would be first into the valley. This was near Lassen's Peak, which is so high as to be spotted with old snow, even to late autumn.

Here Mr. Cone describes "the maddest man he ever saw." This was the pioneer, Job McNemee, of Portland. With an extra good team and high determination of his own he had declared that he would be first in the valley. He was well on the way to success, having got and held the lead; but halfway down the "mountain side, in his wild career, he ran his wheel against a protruding bowlder, by which the heavy wagon was upset, and there it lay, while the other wagons, nine in number, of that particular section of the train, went bouncing by. But at last, in spite of all accidents, men and animals reached Lassen's ranch, and were there treated with royal hospitality. The vaqueros were directed to slaughter beef, and the Oregon men, as well as the California party, were invited to the barbecue. The Oregonians, however, were not likely to wait long. It was now late in November, and though some went first up to Redding's ranch, all soon struck out for Coloma. Although not an active participant in the Indian troubles there, these are recalled by Mr. Cone. He remembers the murder of the party of Oregon men, recalling the circumstance, however, that the number killed was five, and that one of the six escaped. The Indians, as he remembers, were tracked to their camp on the river, and attacked and punished.

His memory was more deeply impressed, however, with the enormous price of provisions; as, for instance, going down one day to Sacramento, and seeing some nice little hams, he had a mind to purchase one. On asking the price he was told four dollars a pound. He concluded he did not want any. That was late in the season of '48 or early '49. Vast quantities of stores were shipped in soon, and prices fell. Misfortunes robbed Mr. Cone of the results of his adventure. His brother was taken sick and died. He was himself attacked by scurvy, and finally being unable to work longer, sought passage home on a sailing vessel, which crossed the Columbia bar late in the fall of '49, a very smoky season, and of long drouth, the vessel being becalmed for days together.

Mr. Cone remembers many amusing incidents of the mining life; one of which was the shooting of Weimer's pig by his partner¡ª the animal being a nuisance around camp, yet of great value. One morning the partner of Cone said: "Load the gun and I'll shoot the sow.

To run the bluff, Cone did so, and not to be backed off, the partner shot and killed. Then to hide their trespass the carcass was hidden in the brush; but upon returning at evening from their rockers the young men found that the ravens had taken care of the pork.

In 1850 Mr. Cone, having recovered his health, located a claim on French Prairie. His father arrived in Oregon in 1851. His brothers, Oscar and G. A., Jr., came in 1847. Three other brothers also became Oregonians, Oliver, Francis Marian, and Philander Johnson. All found claims near each other on French Prairie, or just across the river. Anson and Oscar are the only ones now iving.

Of the old father, G. A. Cone, there are eighteen grandchildren and thirty-seven great-grandchildren.

Anson Cone was married in 1866 to Sarah A., the widow of his brother Oliver, whose maiden name was Wade, and who is herself a pioneer of '53.¡¡

Anson Sterling Cone ( Nov. 6, 1827 - Apr. 6, 1914 ) Came to Oregon in 1846 from Shelbyville,Indiana. Anson Sterling Cone, and his brother Aaron arrived at the Whitman mission about the middle of October and, being in need of a pack horse, proposed to Whitman that they be allowed to work out the price of a horse. ¡°Boys,¡± replied Whitman, ¡°you had better take ¡®Bob¡¯ there and all the provisions you need and go at once. At the end of the season, there will be those coming who will have to stay here anyhow and I had better have work for them.¡± So the Cone brothers took the horse, a trusty white Cayuse pony, and the next summer paid Whitman $25.00 for it and for the provisions received. Anson Cone remembered the doctor as being ¡°sociable and a good joker.¡± Later he served on the jury which convicted the five Cayuses for their part in the Whitman massacre.

[ Home ]