80. Bryant August 9, 1846

Just as I was crossing Mary's river, Colonel Russell being with me, considerably in advance of the main body of our party, I saw at the distance of about half a mile a party of some ten or fifteen men mounted on horses and mules, marching towards the north. Spurring our animals, we rode with as much speed as we could make, in a direction to intercept them. They soon discovered us, and halted until we approached them. From their costume and color it was impossible, at a distance, to determine to which of the classes of the human race they belonged. But their demeanor was entirely pacific. Their rifles lay quietly on the pommels of their saddles, and they seemed to take advantage of the few moments of stoppage allowed them by our interruption of their progress, to rest in their saddles from the weariness of a long journey. I felt quite confident that they were a party from California, who, probably, had been compelled to leave the country in consequence of the war between the United States and Mexico, and were returning to the Atlantic side of the continent, their original homes. We rode up to them, when they extended their hands and saluted us like brothers who had been long parted, and had met unexpectedly, and under difficult and trying circumstances. We spoke to them in our own language and they answered us in the same dialect, a sound not disagreeable to our ears. We soon learned that they were a party of men from the Wilhamette valley in Oregon, headed by the Messrs. Applegate, who had left their homes on the 10th of May, and since that time had been engaged in exploring a new and more feasible wagon route to Oregon, by descending Mary's river some distance below this point, and from thence striking the head-waters of the Wilhamette river. Having completed their labors, they were now on their way to Fort Hall for the purpose of meeting the emigrant trains bound to Oregon, and guiding them by this route to their destination. Five members of their party had preceded them several days, having been supplied with their best animals, for the purpose of reaching Fort Hall, or meeting the emigrants this side as soon as possible, and returning immediately with supplies for the relief of the main party, they being nearly destitute of all provisions, and having been on very short allowance for several days. Such was their condition in regard to provisions, that they expected to be compelled to slaughter one of their horses for food, unless they met some of the emigrant trains within a day or two. They all manifested great interest in the “Oregon question,” and with much cheerfulness we gave them such information in regard to it as we possessed before leaving our homes. They informed us that there were two emigrant wagons with ten or twelve men, about four or five days in advance of us. It would be difficult to decide which of the two parties, when confronted, presented the most jaded, ragged, and travel-soiled aspect, but I think the Oregonese had a little the advantage of us in this respect. None of us, within the settlements of the United States, would have been recognised by our nearest kindred as civilized and christianized, men. Both parties had been in the wilderness nearly three months, the Oregon party, as we learned, having started on the tenth of May, and our party on the fifth of the same month; they from the shores of the Pacific travelling east, we from the waters of the Missouri travelling west. A singularity of the incident was, that after having travelled across a desert by a new route some three or four hundred miles, we should have met them just at the moment when they were passing the point of our junction with the old trail. Had we been ten minutes later, we should not have seen them. We met them with pleasure, and parted from them with regret, to pursue our long and toilsome journey, which seems to lengthen out as we proceed, - our point of destination, like the blue wall of the arch of the skies, receding from us as we advance. I could not, however, but reflect upon and admire the public spirit and enterprise of the small band of men from whom we had just parted. Our government, doubtless, has been desirous of exploring and pointing out the most favorable routes to the Pacific, and has appropriated large sums of money for this purpose. But whatever has been accomplished in the way of explorations, which is of much practical utility, has resulted from the indomitable energy, the bold daring, and the unconquerable enterprise, in opposition to every discouragement, privation, and danger, of our hardy frontier men and pioneers, unaided directly or remotely by the patronage or even the approving smiles and commendations of the government. To them we are indebted for the originally discovered wagon-route to Oregon and California, and to them we are indebted for all the valuable improvements and cut-offs on this route. To them we are indebted for a good, well-beaten, and plain trail to the Pacific ocean, on the shores of which, in the face of almost insurmountable difficulties, unsupported, they have founded an empire. Let us honor those to whom honor is due.