By Mrs. Mary E. (Bonney) Shorey
This little story is just the memories of an eight-year-old-girl with some incidents which she heard her parents relate of how emigrants happened to come west and how they lived on the way, and what, as pioneers, were their experiences in a new country. In the main most emigrants had the same experience; varied only by family conditions and the locality in which they settled. They all encountered dangers and hardships.
The history which my brother [William Pierce Bonney] has written will cover some interesting things of which I have memories, but all I have endeavored to do is to give the reader a few memories of a little girl who came across the plains to Pierce County and lived through the Indian War of 1855-1856:
The gold excitement of '49 and the glowing stories of the West, where climate was so mild and soil was so fertile, impelled many to cross the continent to the almost uninhabited country, where they hoped to better themselves. I remember how my father used to take me on his knee and tell me of the gold and riches we would have when we reached Oregon, until my childish imagination pictured people picking up gold from the ground anywhere. My mother did not share his enthusiasm but felt that the journey would be too long and hard for little children, and was reluctant to start.
However, in 1852 my father, Timothy Bonney, his wife and four children; father's brother, Sherwood Bonney, with his wife and six children, joined a train of covered wagons. Each family furnished its own conveyance, drawn by oxen with sometimes a horse hitched in front to lead. My brother rode the horse, though sometimes I did. On the journey our wagon, fitted to meet all our needs, served as day coach, diner, baggage car, all in one. The long wagon box had a chest across each end, the one in the rear being used for pots, pans, dishes, etc.; the one in front for food for daily needs. The bulk of the supplies (flour, sugar, beans, hard-tack, etc.) was stored in the wagon, for enough of such non-perishable food had to be provided for the entire trip.
The bows over which the canvas was stretched were high enough for a short person to stand erect under them. Many articles of clothing were hung from these bows. The sun bonnets which the women and children wore with pasteboard slats run in the tucks, were easily rolled and slipped into pockets on the canvas cover. With such limited space, "a place for everything and everything in its place" was the only way to avoid confusion.
There were cows along, for milk was a necessity for the small children. The men procured fish from the streams and game of various kinds, so with staple articles a fairly varied menu was enjoyed. In a unique way butter was frequently obtained - by hanging a covered can of milk under the wagon and the steady motion churned it) quite a bit of butter being obtained in this way.
We older children enjoyed our hardtack (a very hard biscuit) with a little new butter and a sprinkling of brown sugar over the top. It was very toothsome. Many times I went to bed without my supper rather than eat just plain hardtack with water. It would not have been so bad had mother left out the red pepper, which she thought was a necessary addition to prevent sickness. The cooking, of course, had to be done in the open over a campfire or in a Dutch oven, which is one of the most useful utensils. It was a heavy, round, flat bottom iron kettle with an iron lid which had a handle on top, and with a hook provided for this purpose the lid could be readily removed.
When baking bread, meats or stewing prairie chicken (which we had occasionally) a fire of coals was placed under the kettle and also on the lid, making a complete oven which baked well, if properly controlled. If too hot, ashes could be spread over the lid, if not hot enough more coals could be added. With careful attention a nicely browned loaf of bread could be turned out of this oven. This useful bake kettle I saw my mother use in cooking for a long time after we were settled in a home. It was placed on the hearth in front of the fireplace with coals used in the same manner as described above.
Six months were consumed in making the trip. Twenty-five wagons usually traveled together, as it was necessary to unite for protection. The Indians were hostile and would drive off cattle if they were not guarded at night, so the wagons were arranged to form a circle, inside of which the cattle were placed, and men with guns took turns guarding the improvised corral at night. As dust over part of the way was very bad, each wagon was given its turn leading the train, so that all might share alike in the "coveted place." One night my mother made a bed under a wagon tongue, put a canvas cover over it, forming a tent, and tucked my little sister and myself in bed for a cozy night's sleep. After she had finished a wolf jumped over the bed, and mother speedily transferred us into the wagon. Our way lay across parched deserts, rugged mountains, trackless forests, with rivers to cross and danger from hostile Indians and wild beasts always present; but no obstacle was too great to be overcome. When a river could not be forded, the wagon box was used as a ferryboat. It was a slow process, taking the wagon to pieces, and then only small loads could be ferried at a time. Mothers and their children were passengers in these scow-like boats.
The tedious trip and numerous trials could have been borne had not fatal illness overtaken so many. My father was the first in our family to succumb to the dread disease, cholera; then my two-year-old sister passed away the same day. When anyone was laid away, the train had to move on at once, for the mountains must be crossed before winter. As my mother had no one now to drive the team, she had to decide immediately what to do. She could not turn back, for the train had been traveling since the 7th of April and it was now the 8th of August. My father's brother's family, numbering eight, just about filled his wagon, but by crowding, mother and we three children were put into his conveyance. She left her wagon and everything except what she was obliged to have. My aunt and cousin were the next victims. They too, were wrapped in blankets and left with graves unmarked, to prevent Indians from plundering.
Mother now took care of uncle's children for her transportation until they reached The Dalles, Oregon, where she took passage down the Columbia River to Portland. Sherwood Bonney camped at The Dalles for a time, then brought his family to Portland. The two families moved up the Willamette Valley to French Prairie, near Salem. Uncle prevailed on my mother to become his wife, so with his five children and her three the family numbered ten. They spent the winter near Salem, then during 1853 traveled to Puget Sound in the same old prairie schooner, with all their worldly possessions, which consisted mostly of children.
As we neared our destination, the oxen trudging along in a drenching rain through the timber on the shore of Puget Sound, we came to the little village of Steilacoom. We came to a halt in front of a log house with shake covered porches. How inviting it looked! My stepfather called at the door and asked the privilege of shelter on the porch. The lady's husband being away, the problem of taking in a family of ten strangers seemed more than she cared to undertake. She wished to await the return of the husband before deciding. It was raining hard and the shadows of evening were falling when the Reverend John F. DeVore returned and welcomed us to this new land; throwing open his front door and bidding us right into the house instead of having us just occupy the porch. There was no house to be had in which to live. Mother was given the privilege of using the kitchen, and also a warm room in which to make down her beds, and this kind hospitality was accepted by her until other shelter could be procured.
Mrs. DeVore's sister, Miss Eveline Babb, was teaching Josie DeVore, a girl about my age, to read and spell, and kindly offered to teach me, too. Well do I remember my chagrin when I failed to spell "why" and Josie was able to spell it. The hospitality extended to the family of Sherwood Bonney by Rev. DeVore and his wife was characteristic of pioneers. There were no charity organizations or general benevolent clubs in those days, so neighbors would share with each other their last crust or Sunday bonnet if need be.
We children attended the Methodist Sunday School, where Rev DeVore offered a Bible as a prize to the one who would commit the largest number of Bible verses. My brother, Lyman, and I were the two highest and were each given a Bible. Many of the verses I remember today and probably would have had more truth stored in memory, had Lyman and I spent less time hunting for short verses and been more diligent in memorizing. There was in process of construction a building intended to be used for a general merchandise store. Father secured the upper part, which was one large unfurnished room with an exit through the store.
There was not a cook stove in the town that could be purchased, so the cooking had to be done over an outdoor fire beside a big stump, in what was a public thoroughfare. Often while mother was preparing a meal a dozen hungry and scantily clad Indians would come around and beg for “supalil” (something to eat). One room was inadequate for so many so I was left at the log house to stay with a Mrs. Brown, who roomed there. Our next move was into a two-room house, to accommodate ten people, instead of a ten-room house for two persons, as is often the modern situation.
The luxury of a stove, homemade bedstead, tables, stools and a few chairs was indeed an improvement over the old canvas covered wagon and the campfire. Mother gave the place a homelike appearance by putting white muslin draperies at the windows and around her bed.
Winter had come. Provisions were high; flour sold for twenty dollars a barrel, and was full of weevils, and could not be used until thoroughly sifted. Our clothes were just leftovers, or what could be obtained with very little money. I had reached my tenth birthday, and was passed about, living with the neighbors who could make me comfortable. In January 1854, I returned home one morning, to find a surprise in mother's bed, a little baby sister. There were eight of us children to love her, but none loved her more than I.
A house of five rooms-more rooms than could be furnished-made our next home.
About this time people thought there should be a school started; and mother was asked to be the teacher. After considering how it could be managed, she decided to undertake it. She was duly examined and passed satisfactorily.
The unfurnished room in our house was used for the schoolroom. The furnishings consisted of benches and mother's kitchen table, which served as a desk for anyone that had writing to do. This was the first school in Steilacoom. Mother taught through the months of July, August and September then Miss Eveline Babb took over the school, and it was moved into the church and was continued through the months of October, November and December.
Father and mother took advantage of the "Oregon Donation Land Law" and filed on 320 acres of land bordering on American Lake, one of the beauty spots of Pierce County, three miles from Steilacoom. It was a veritable park - the shores of the lake being fringed with wild roses, and underneath the spreading oak trees the violets and buttercups made a carpet dainty and beautiful. A good six-room house was built with two fireplaces, in which a fire of oak logs blazed cheerfully, as needed.
Having several teams of oxen, father and the older boys did much work for the neighbors, thus earning funds to help provide for the large family. During the summer of 1855 the Indians began to show their dislike towards the white people; settlers in the outlying districts were molested in various ways, their stock was driven off, insulting actions were indulged in and even murders were committed of lone travelers that chanced to be caught unawares. Sometimes the Indians would ride by our home singing their war songs, and mother decided it was unsafe to be alone with only small children; so she put the baby [Lucy Elizabeth Bonney] in a home-made cart, and told Sammy and me to take her into Steilacoom, saying that she would gather a few things and soon follow with the other children.
My brother and I started. One mile was over beautiful prairie, two miles over a road through the timber. If ever two children pulled and kept step together we did; our fear of the red men increasing every moment. We imagined Indians behind every bush, but we reached Steilacoom with the baby safely. A good old Dutch woman gave us some supper of raised biscuit and molasses, which tasted better than anything I have eaten since. She took care of the baby until mother came, which was long after dark. Father came home from Nisqually, where he had been at work with his team, and reported many things which confirmed the rumors that an Indian war was imminent. He immediately took steps to secure a house fit to live in. The DeVore family had moved to Olympia, and the log house where we had first found shelter was vacant, so father secured it as an abiding place.
This house had four large rooms and two shake covered porches; so household goods from the home on American Lake were brought and placed here. The Indians continued their hostilities, killing people, burning homes and driving off stock; many people were forced to abandon everything and flee for their lives. Shortly after we had moved into the log house, a town meeting was held, and it was decided that the house that we occupied could be made the safest in town; so a palisade of logs was set up around the house and it was declared a place of refuge in case the town was attacked. Two heavy gates were hung on wooden hinges, one on the waterside, the other on the landside of this stockade. These were securely fastened at night when everyone was safely inside the enclosure.
A cannon was placed at one of the gates to be in readiness if the Indians did attack the town. Then the question came up how to fire the gun in case the savages did come. It was decided to use the end rod from the old covered wagon to ignite the powder charge; this rod was kept in the stove and kept red hot by a continuous burning fire. It was never necessary to fire the cannon, although there were frequent rumors that the Indians were about to attack. Frequently those who had thought to spend the night at home, would be frightened by some rumor, and then flock to the Block House; this sometimes would occur after the children had gone to bed.
I recall that one night a man rushed into the house bearing a great bundle over his shoulder that proved to be a feather bed full of children. He said, "My wife is coming," dropped his bundle and hastened out. Four small children, panting for breath, looking scared and puzzled, scrambled from the unfolding bedding. Just then their mother came in and reassured her darlings that all was well. On another occasion a man, in great excitement, rushed into the house saying: "Seattle has been attacked; they have called for help; none of the young men will go, so I am going." He took the belt and revolver from his waist, and gave it to his wife, saying: "Here, dear, take this and defend yourself with it."
An agreement had been made that if the Indians attacked the town from the land a rocket was to be sent up from Fort Steilacoom, if attack came by the water, a rocket would be fired from the government boat in the harbor. To test the efficacy of the signal a trial rocket was sent up from the Fort. Some of the residents had not been advised of the experiment; they were badly frightened, rushing to the old log house; and, judging from appearance, the ladies had not spent time in hair dressing nor the men in adjusting collars and ties. "Safety First" was the only thought.
A war vessel lay anchored in the harbor much of the time. It was arranged that if an attack was made on the town, women and children were to go onto the vessel. My mother kept a ten-quart pail filled with food, ready to take with us; we children had selected spots in which to hide our rag dolls and other valuables. The Indians had a wholesome terror of the gunboats. The shots that they fired would shoot a second time after landing and carry destruction without apparent cause. A pioneer family always had room for one more; our family now numbered an even dozen, and was a substantial percentage of the population of the village; a baby boy had arrived in the log house, with hostile Indians all about. This added to the anxiety of our parents - but William was safe. His scalp-lock had not yet made its appearance. During the intervening years it has come and gone, rendering him just as immune at the present time. William grew into a bright-eyed, curly-headed lad, a joy to the family. His eldest sister, Emeline, delighted to teach him his lessons and little recitations, and have him show off at school exhibitions, which was a popular form of entertainment those days. On one of these occasions, when the time arrived he was lifted onto the stage, instead of going up the steps, as he had been trained. This seemed. to disconcert him. He made his bow, but could not seem to open his mouth to say: "The King of France marched up the hill with ten thousand, thousand men and then turned around and marched down again."
While attending school in Seattle William worked evenings and Saturdays in the drug store of his brother-in-law, Gardner Kellogg. He then taught school for a term at Port Ludlow, worked on his father's farm, put in more time in the drug store; then, in 1881, started in the drug business at Tacoma, where he conducted a drug store for many years. For the past twelve years he has been secretary of the Washington State Historical Society.
Only two of the Bonney family, who crossed the plains in 1852, survive, Mrs. Mary E. Shorey and Ransome K. Bonney, both of Seattle. Of those of the same family who lived in the old log house during the Indian war, are the two previously mentioned and Mrs. Lucy E. Harris; of Seattle, and William Pierce Bonney, of Tacoma.
"A Pioneer Story", written by Mrs. Mary E. (Bonney) Shorey, the daughter of Timothy Stone Bonney and Lydia (Wright) Bonney, was published in the book, History of Pierce County (WA), William Pierce Bonney, 1927.