View of Rogue Valley from Wagner Butte

Grace J. Simpson's Pioneer Story by Addie Skeeters Martin

LINCOLN COUNTY TIMES, Waldport, Oregon, May 28, 1959, Page Five
MY PIONEER MOTHER'S STORY, by Addie N. Martin (nee: Addie Skee­ters)
      Mrs. Addie Martin and Mrs. Charles Vachal recently attended a luncheon at the Beach Club at Newport given by the Ladies of the Sacred Heart Altar Society. Mrs. Martin, wearing a copy of her mother's wedding dress, gave a very interesting talk on the history of her mother coming to Oregon.
Following is the story as she told it:
Francis I. Simpson and his wife Sarah, crossed the plains in 1853, they were my grandparents. My mother, age 14, kept a diary while en route on this memorable trek which was six months long. She celebrated her 15th birthday while en route, this was August 27th, 1853.
     The Simpsons, together with 14 other wagons, drawn by oxen and horses, left Missouri May 1st, 1853, and began the long trek over what was later called the "Oregon Trail." They composed many happy families. My grandfather was the leader, the Captain of his train. Ordinarily they made camp at 4 P.M. thus providing ample time to cook their meals and prepare for the night. Also in the evening they would be entertained by singing. Grandfather would play the violin (fiddle, he called it) and my mother would play the Guitar. Occasionally Indians would visit their camp and would be interested, later thrilled with the music. They would circle around the train, which had formed the circle for protec­tion, as was the custom for wagon trains. They then would dismount and dance to the rhythm of the music, we were astounded by their sense of rhythm. Grandfather often said that our lives were saved several times, for, very often the Indian raiding party resolved itself into a dancing party, of course the Indians always had "heap plenty to eat." We saw evidence of other immi­grants trains which had suffered the cruel fate of the Indian raids and there were many graves along the trail, also many burned wagons and other debris resulting from the raids. They tried to maintain a daily trek of 20 miles, however, this was not always accomplished. We enjoyed fairly good health in our wagon train, and many amusing incidents occurred, also some very trying. Of the former I wish to relate my mother's harrowing experience with a young Indian Chief who admired her beautiful dark brown hair. She wore her hair in two long braids, and it was admired by everyone. This Indian, who had visited the train on previous occasions, approached my mother's wagon at a time when she was alone, he motioned for her to mount his horse behind him, she became frightened and ran to her father who was in the center of a group of members of his train, the young Indian, however, came to her father and offered his pony and promised many more ponies, blankets and many other things, but he wanted my mother. Grandfather refused the Indian's offer, of course, but the Indian Chief was not easily put off, they placated him with offers of sugar, salt and other provisions. As a result of this instance we feared some trouble with the Indians, and while we increased our guard we were not molested by the Indians, from this episode. Another experience dealt with a man and wife, afoot, whom they had overtaken on the road. They asked that they might join the train. Grandfather reluctantly agreed as they had nothing, neither clothing nor provisions, and would be a drain on the Train.
Most of the men walked or rode horses. My mother rode a small pony called "Buckskin," it was a great pet and mother had taught it many things, and it was very fond of her, following her with out a halter and "nuzzeling" her at every opportunity. One night, after a ride, she tied Buckskin to a wagon wheel, and next morning he was gone, we surmised the Indians had stolen him. Mother grieved for her beloved pony a long time afterward.
At another time Grandmother visited all the wagons and gathered up all their tin pie pans, took them to her camp and made 15 dried apple pies, one for each wagon. She set them out to cool, the pies were hardly cold, until the Indians came along and carried them all away, pans and all.
      Several days later they found several chairs stacked along the roadside, and tied to one of these chairs was a note reques­ting the next wagon train to please take the bundle to Grand Ronde, as it belonged to a small boy that had gone on ahead. Several hours later they overtook a couple, man and wife, who were a afoot, the man carrying the little boy on his shoulder, the package belonged to the little boy. Their name was Younger. Grandfather placed the little boy in the wagon and the man and wife walked with his family.
There were nine of the Simpson children who started out with the wagon train from Missouri, however, a son, the eldest started ahead with another train, but the eight remaining stayed with the train until its final destination. The youngest was Narcissus Maria, she was four years old. She always rode in the front seat of the wagon. One day the oxen became frightened at something and ran away. The little girl thought it a lot of fun to see the oxen running, she clapped her hands and laughed, and jumped around until she fell out over the side of the wagon. There was a great excitement in the camp about this time, but the little girl was not hurt badly, and the oxen were subdued and all ended well.
My mother always said that there was one thing that she detested doing, that was picking up dried "buffalo chips" which were used for fuel, however, this disagreeable task was shared with all the other children of the train, so her misery was shared together with the others. Fuel was a very important necessity on the plains, there was no wood and only in a few spots were dried grasses to be found.
      Mother often spoke of the Hot Springs they encountered on the trek. Where they did their laundry with the hot water and rinse in the cold, also with the improvised "bath room" a blanket held up to insure privacy. Also the cold water was put into the large canvas bags which accompanied each wagon.
When they arrived at Grand, the first couple that they picked up on the road left camp and started out alone, next morning one of our oxen was missing. It was tracked to the river but no trace of it further. It was presumed that the man stole the ox. The second couple, who had the little boy, offered to pay Grandfather for his kindness, but he would accept nothing. The Youngers were honest people and all liked them.
The fifteen wagons separated at Grand Ronde, the Simpson family, with one ox and a horse forming the team for their wagon by reason of the other ox being stolen, made their way to The Dalles, where they sold their ox and horses, and with their belongings boarded the old Stern Wheeler, the "Fashion," this old boat took them to Sauvies Island, where they arrived October 30th, 1853. Thus ended the trek which took six months in the making.
      Grandmother had a son, by a previous marriage, living on Sauvies Island, named Horace McIntyre. He had married Narcissus Maria Miller, and had taken up a Donation Land Claim of 720 acres. He built a comfortable home on the Island. They had several small children when we arrived and mother enjoyed caring for them and playing with them.             They would gather the wild flowers which grew so abundantly all over the island. Narcissus Maria McIntyre was the daughter of Robert Miller and Sarah Fergu­son.
      In the early summer of 1854 Grandfather Simpson moved to Portland. He bought a strip of land commencing at the North East corner of Third and Washington streets and extending to the Willamette river. The area was fenced and pastured the family cow. My mother, who was named Grace Jane, tended the cow, lead­ing it to water in a small stream which flowed from Portland Heights. She often told me that she led the cow to drink at the place where J. K. Gill's Book Store was formerly located, at Third and Alder streets.
My Grandparents managed a boarding house while they lived in Portland, and as they had three young daughters, my mother, Grace Jane, Catherine Thomas and Margaret Frances, to wait on the tables, they were fairly successful. Little Narcissus Maria would entertain with Ballet dancing.
      At that time there were only three stores in Portland, and one of these was operated by a colored gentleman by the name of Mr. Francis. The next year news came of another big Gold Strike at Jacksonville, in Southern Oregon. The Simpsons traded their boarding house, and land, for a good wagon and team of horses, loaded their belongings and started to the new El Dorado. My Grandmother was delighted with this turn in their careers, as she had many relatives living in Southern Oregon, the Millers and the Bybee's.
     They first went to Sterlingville, a small mining town a few miles South of Jacksonville, and started another boarding house, and where the miners paid their board bills with gold nuggets, and little Narcissus Maria entertained with her beautiful dancing while the miners would reward her by throwing gold nuggets at the conclusion of her dance. She was a great favorite of all who knew her and when she passed away, at the age of 18 years, the entire community was grief stricken. Later the family moved to Jacksonville, where they lived in a home northeast of the Court­house, now the museum. While they lived there my Grandmother planted a grape vine which is still a center of attraction as it so large and old. My mother married Isaac Skeeters. The marriage ceremony, which took place in her home, was performed by Francis I. Simp­son, her own father, who was Justice of the Peace at that time.
Isaac Skeeters was born in Hardin county, Kentucky on Decem­ber 19th, 1825. He was the son of James Skeeters and Lucy Rutlege, (Lucy was the sister of Ann Rutlege, Abraham Lincoln's sweetheart.) Isaac Skeeters was an acquaintance of Abe Lincoln, they were boyhood friends. He grew up to manhood in Montezuma, Indiana, and crossed the plains in 1850, and settled in Jackson­ville, where he operated a general store. He often told of the time when there was a salt famine in camp, that is: there was only a small amount in his store left. Therefore he traded an ounce of salt for an ounce of gold, as long as the supply lasted, until there remained only the empty sack which held the salt. One of the miners asked that the sack be weighed and he would pay for it with gold. This done the miner boiled the sack and Dad remarked that the miner received much more salt than by pur­chasing the pure salt alone, for he had salt water for quite some time.
     Isaac Skeeters was with the Hillman party, the first dis­coverers of Crater Lake, June 12, 1853. There were eleven men in this party who had set out in search of the fabled Lost Cabin mine. They were about out of provisions so decided to hunt for game, and as they ascended a rise to the top of the hill they were spellbound with the sight before them. Hillman, Skeeters and Henry Klippel had dismounted from their mules and stood quite speechless for several seconds, finally Hillman spoke as though addressing someone far distant: "Boys, that's the bluest lake I ever saw," and Skeeters said: "Well, let's name it Deep Blue." Klippel then spoke up: "It's such a mysterious looking Lake, let's call it Lake Mystery."
      It was discovered again about ten years later, at which time the paper containing the names of these three who had wound the paper around a stick and forced it into a crevice of the rock, was found. It was renamed Crater Lake at this latter time.
      My Grandparents are buried in the old Jacksonville Cemetery, among the Blooming Madrona Trees. My parents are buried in the Kerby Cemetery. Of the eleven Skeeters children (I being the tenth child) I am the only one living.