Williams, Velina Stearns

From Lane Co Oregon

Velina A. Williams was the sister of Charlotte Emily Pengra.

April 7, 1853 - Mrs. Velina A. Williams "arrived at our present encampment (in Illinois) about dark, very tired and not a little fretful. Hope our patience may increase with the toils of our journey."

April 9, 1853 - Mrs. Velina A. Williams and her party arrived at the Mississippi River, stopping "at a good camping ground about half a mile from Fulton. . .(which) was on the east side and (the village) of Lyons on the west side. The river here was over a mile wide and quite clear."

April 10 - "The waters glided gently and peacefully along; they seemed to reproach us for disturbing them on this holy day."

April 13 - Mrs. Velina A. Williams "Crossed the Wapsepinnica (in Iowa) in a small flatboat; swam all the cattle, but one yoke of oxen attached to each wagon."

April 17 - This Sabbath Mrs. Velina A. Williams "laid by our things in the bottom of the box; quite damp; took them out and aired them; packed them all over; baked two loaves of bread and some cake."

April 28 - "A woman near was taken sick and sent to our camp for assistance," wrote Mrs. Velina A. Williams. "Fidelia, Dorcas and Charlotte went," she reported, and "found her in hard convulsions; administered such remedies as suggested themselves to them." "F. returned," she continued, "leaving her somewhat relieved. I went to take her place as watch with C. for the night. Applied mustard to her stomach and feet. In the course of an hour she became quite easy. We returned to the camp."

April 29 - "Hoyts and Bynons started first; all off in good season" Mrs. Velina A. Williams (1853) noted in her diary, concluding the entry with the worrisome comment "Have seen nothing of Hoyt's and Bynon's teams and fear we shall not till we get to the bluffs." In fact, they were not seen again during the remainder of the journey for they took the Soda Springs-Fort Hall route while the others took the route into Northern California and Southern Oregon. It was nearly a year before the families once again learned of each other's whereabouts.

May 2 - Two days beyond the Des Moines River, the party with which Mrs. Velina A. Williams (1853) was traveling "Concluded to remain at our present encampment today and let the cattle graze while the men hunt up corn to take along, as report says that it is almost impossible to obtain it a few miles ahead, even at exorbitant prices."

May 4 - "This morning we were wakened by the pattering of the rain upon our wagon covers." As a result, Mrs. Velina A. Williams (1853) "Remained in camp; rained all day."

May 10 - "While laying in wood", one of the men in the train of Mrs. Velina A. Williams (1853) "found a yoke of oxen, probably strayed from some emigrant."

May 11 - Just before reaching the Nishnabotna River, "The owner of the cattle came this morning and, having identified them, David bought them" according to Mrs. Velina A. Williams (1853). "Our way today has been over some as beautiful country as I have ever beheld" she continued, "Who can blame the red men for striving ever to retain these beautiful hunting grounds."

May 20 - On this day Mrs. Velina A. Williams (1853) "Crossed the Missouri River on a steam ferry boat and set our feet on the Indian soil. My feelings on entering this benighted land and look upon its inhabitants, sunken in the depths of heathenism, were those of unformed pity, my heart6 yearning after a knowledge of their language that I may converse with them and communicate some light to their darkened minds."

May 24 - "Night before last," wrote Mrs. Velina A. Williams (1853) in her diary, "some of the tribe (Pawnees) killed four oxen and badly wounded the fifth, belonging to some emigrants. They no doubt gave the Indians some cause for committing the outrage." She went on to note having passed a "newly-dug grave this morning, to which the remains of a young lady were to be consigned, her disease, consumption, of 15 months" standing, a warning that we, too, are mortal"

May 30 - Mrs. Velina A. Williams' party "Traveled about 17 miles to the ford, where we expect to cross the Loup Fork. Some of the men have examined the ford and find it quicksand bottom. They feel that it will be hardly prudent to attempt to cross tonight."

July 3 - It was the opinion of Mrs. Velina A. Williams (1853), given two days after passing Fort Laramie, that "To attempt a description of the country and roads over which we have passed today would be useless. One must pass over the black Hills to form any idea of their wild, barren ruggedness."

July 14 - As she "passed Avenue Rocks", Mrs. Velina A. Williams (1853) expressed some concern "as it is uncertain about finding grass again before we reach Sweetwater." But other provisions were in hand since "Our men killed a buffalo today and we have a good supply of beef."

July 15 - Mrs. Velina A. Williams (1853): "Traveled four miles to a clear spring creek, thence three miles to Willow Springs, thence passed over Prospect Hill, from the top of which we had a most beautiful view of the surrounding country."

July 20 - Passing Ice Springs, Mrs. Velina A. Williams (1853) "Saw the main chain of the Rocky mountains to the north, with their snow-clad tops towering to a great height. The sight is truly grand and worth a journey across the plains."

July 22 - This day Mrs. Velina A. Williams (1853) "gathered snow from a snow bank a short distance from and road and a few yards from the bank, saw strawberries in bloom. Tonight Samuel brought a bunch of flowers and a string of ripe strawberries in one hand and snowball in the other, gathered from opposite sides of the stream near our camp, it is as cold as November tonight."

July 23 - "Killed a rattlesnake, which is the first snake of any kind we have seen on the waters of Collumbia." Thus wrote Henry Allyn on July 23, Saturday, 1853. The same year, about a month and a half earlier, Mrs. Velina A. Williams "crossed some steep ravines about 2 o'clock and made our camp early on the bank of a small stream" near Elm Creek in Nebraska. "Just as we were making our way to the camp," she wrote in her diary that night, "and I was walking along examining the ground, stooping to look into a hole, I found myself standing on a copperhead snake. He was coiled and my foot was across the coil so that the head was fortunately too nearly under my foot to injure me."

August 3 - Quite a different type of story comes from the "rendezvous country" of the early mountain men, western Wyoming. The wagon train to which Mrs. Velina A. Williams and her nephew O.A. Stearns belonged passed through this country in the summer of 1853. On August 3, Mrs. Williams noted in her diary that on that day they had "Passed 'Quaking Asp Grove' and three miles farther a fir and pine grove, where we met a crazy man who asked for food. . ."

Her nephew, a boy at the time of the trip, added his adult recollections of this encounter years later. "The crazy man was a very ragged, dirty-looking person," he wrote, who "had a sort of bag or sack in which he deposited the food and other articles given him by members of the train." Although the man could and did make sounds, "No intelligent reply could be elicited from him." Curious, Stearns and his equally youthful companions followed the "crazy man" when "he started off into the woods at right angles to the road." The recipient of the wagon train's largesse "did not go far; when coming to an opening among the trees he paced back and forth from one end of the open space to the other, alternately eating from his sack and talking to himself gesticulating the while as though addressing an audience." "Of his fare or how he came to be in that condition we never hears," Stearns concluded, but "His was doubtless one of the many tragedies of the plains." What would have driven a man to such extremes? Might he have one day "come out of it" and lived a normal life or did he die alone and alienated in the wilderness. I wonder?

August 16 - Mrs. Velina A. Williams "Traveled about 14 miles; camped on the west branch of Raft River." According to her nephew, O.A. Stearns, "Uncle Avery caught a mess of fine trout here." The party also acquired a "dark brindle dog" who accompanied them as a watch dog for the remainder of the journey "to Oregon, where for many years he was a faithful servant."

August 25 - Mrs. Velina A. Williams (1853) reported that "A reunion of companies took place this morning, having been separated in reality but four days. All quite please, as their society was very agreeable."

September 30 - Mrs. Velina A. Williams' diary ends on September 30 at "our camp on Clear Lake" in southern Oregon.


O.A. Stearn, who accompanied his aunt Mrs. Velina A. Williams west in 1853, composed the following description of one of the many buffalo herds in existence at the time. After noting that "This whole Platte region is subject to frequent, sudden and frightful thunderstorms. . .generally accompanied or preceded by violet windstorms," Stearn observed that "the distant gathering of clouds on the horizon and the faint rumble of distant thunder. . .were sufficient warning to enable the trains to get ready to withstand their shock." On one such occasion Stearn's party, observing a gathering cloud and hearing a distant rumble "to the south of west on the opposite side of the river", made ready for a storm. But there was no lightning accompanying this storm, and the thunder "seemed more continuous . . .while increasing in volume" rather than being intermittent as was usually the case. Furthermore, the cloud "that at first seemed to be coming directly towards us was now seen to be following a course parallel to the river. . .". The mystery was soon solved, for as the cloud approached withing three or four miles of the train, "the ground seemed to fairly tremble" with the hoofbeats of buffalo.

Soon the dust cloud was opposite us, when a gust of wind from down river lifted the cloud for awhile, and we beheld a compact black mass, extending beyond farther than we could see and coming in unbroken masses from the rear. The quaking of the earth and the rumble of the rushing torrent continued for a long time, many estimated the herd to be from four to eight miles long and of unknown width. Surely many, many thousands of those animals.

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