Chapter 9: A Wagon Train Wedding
Chapter 9: A Wagon Train Wedding:
Nancy’s Fort Laramie wedding was quite a spectacle with buckskin clad fur trappers, Indian traders, our wagon train and others, and even some soldiers for an audience. Fort Laramie was an adobe building surrounded by smaller wood and adobe buildings ringing a parade yard. It had been a trading post, but the Army had bought it a year before, and it was growing and developing into a major post, much bigger and more impressive than Fort Kearney was. There were a couple of stables, a blacksmith, numerous trading stores, and above it all, the American flag flying high. It housed three companies of cavalry, and when we stopped, there were about five wagon trains. A couple of wagon trains delayed their start by a day to see the wedding, and it was a large crowd that witnessed the event.
Nancy looked happier than I had ever seen her, wearing Ma’s wedding dress and standing with her bald headed school teacher. The large crowd cheered loudly after the army preacher pronounced them man and wife, and the commander of the fort himself hosted a big reception with a feast and music and dancing.
In Fort Des Moines, and in most of the small towns the wagon train people came from, weddings were a celebration, but never as big and exciting as Nathan and Nancy’s Fort Laramie wedding. To many of the wagon train people, as well as the soldiers, the spring had been rough, and a celebration was due, and the wedding was a perfect reason to let loose.
That night, after the wedding, many of the young men from our wagon train who knew them well marched around the cabin where the newlyweds were staying banging pots and pans, yelling and singing for over an hour. This was called a Chivaree and was a tradition back in the states like Iowa and Illinois where most of us were from.
A Chivaree was a tradition on Wedding nights in small towns, after the bride and groom would go home after the reception. All the young unmarried men of the town would march around the groom’s house, singing, banging pots and pans, and being as distracting as possible. Finally, the groom would come out and provide cigars, snacks, or some sort of bribe that would convince the men to go away and leave him and his bride in peace for their wedding night. Our Chivaree for Nathan and Nancy was probably the most fun night we had on the trail.
We stayed at Fort Laramie three days, repairing wagons and wheels that had warped, resting oxen, and getting ready for the mountains we were going to face. Pa was very busy and John and I both had to help him most of the time we were at the fort. James and Warren reported to us that there were Indian traders all around the fort, and while the four wagon trains before us left, in the time we were there, two more wagon trains came in. There was a lot of construction at the fort, new barracks, more store rooms, and the whole place was bustling. But for us, the memory would always be the wedding.
Many of the Indians at Fort Laramie were quite different than those we’d seen further east. Most coming in with furs were from the mountains, with different clothing and tools than those from the plains.
Some were Crows, people with an amazing ability to steal horses. They did not consider it stealing, they thought it was a sign of manhood to be able to take a well guarded horse without being caught. We kept ours close, but were probably helped more by the fact that our horses were not in great shape and the Crow preferred to steal better ones.
We headed out early on the third morning. The land was soft and the going slow, but soon, we crossed the Platte River for the last time at Mormon Ferry. It took two days to wait our turn to cross, but the river was too deep and too fast to cross without the ferry.
Soon we were at Independence Rock and the Sweetwater River. Mr. Jones explained to us in camp that night that cholera dangers were definitely over now that we had reached the Sweetwater. There were so many wagons after the fort and the river crossing, that we were racing to be ahead of other trains so we wouldn’t have to live in their dust. Our nights, with the camps of many circled wagon trains within sight, were full of stars of campfires as well as stars in the sky.
We were at Independence Rock three days after the 4th of July, so we were running a bit behind. We knew we had to speed up our pace a bit, but we did take the time to carve our names into the rock before we left in the morning. Independence Rock was huge, covered with names, some painted and some carved, and it was hard to find a place to put our own marks. Just past the rock, the water was milky and strange, but soon, the Sweetwater River lived up to its name. We had been relying on sandy brackish water for so long, the clear cold swift moving water was a great treat for us all. It was our first clear water since Ash Hollow, and Ma and many of the other women insisted we stop one day to wash clothing in the clear water, removing the silt and sand of the Platte from our clothing for the last time.
As we climbed higher into the mountains, the path got dryer and there was less grass for the oxen. They were also working harder, and so they were both more tired and had less to eat. Some people began leaving things again to lighten their wagons, but we tried to keep going with our full load, especially since our four oxen were pretty strong. The dust was overwhelming, sometimes, we’d go whole days never clearly seeing the sun through all the dust kicked up by the wagons before us. As we continued to climb, the nights got colder as well. We were all surprised to see ice in our buckets in the mornings when we were near the pass.
The pass was so wide and easy, we didn’t realize we were through it until we noticed the oxen weren’t struggling as much. We couldn’t tell, but the oxen sure could that they were now going slightly downhill. Eventually, we found a river that was running west and we all knew we were through the mountains.
We were getting low on food and supplies, and there were no longer buffalo to hunt. Getting an antelope or elk was more challenging than shooting a big slow buffalo, and the animals were smaller, so the meat did not last as long and we got less of it. We spent a lot more time hunting, which we liked, but there was a lot more pressure on us as well. We were all looking forward to the next fort, called Fort Bridger where the Mormons would turn south and the rest of us, both Oregon and California bound, would turn north to continue towards Oregon.
Soon after we crossed the South Pass and were west of the Continental Divide, we came to the Green River. This river was so fast and deep, that we had to use a ferry to cross. Even with the ferry it was a dangerous crossing. We paid the ferryman for our crossing but had to wait in line again as the wagons crossed. Once, one of the heavier wagons was on the ferry, and they had a hard time steering with the extra weight. The ferry hit some rocks but the wagon made it across without damage. We did have to wait several hours for the ferryman to repair his ferry, but us boys waiting for our turn came upon a herd of elk and got several, allowing us to eat well for over a week. The ferry was outrageously expensive, costing more than the cost of an oxen back home to take just one wagon across. But we had no choice, we could not float this river, and we had to use the overpriced ferries.
We saw Indians save people again, like we had seen the Sioux on the plains save people who crossed the rivers and fell in or tipped, Shoshone Indians helped save people and cattle as they crossed this dangerous river when twice during our wait someone fell during the crossing.
After the Green River, it was pretty smooth travel for the next few days to Fort Bridger. We made up a little of the time we had lost, and had pleasantly uneventful days.