Gold rush 49ers, from the Missouri to the Platte

A Sac and a Fox Indian

Only a day or two after crossing the Missouri from St. Joseph the first Indians galloped around the wagons and caused quite a stir among the emigrants. These were the Sac who lived on a reservation nearby with the Fox. But the first real threat would come from the Pawnee who had long been in western Kansas and were known to steal animals. If travelers lost mules or oxen they would have no choice but to return to the east.

Big Blue River

The country was mostly rolling prairie with some bottom land and woods, and filled with wildflowers, prairie hens and plover, but already a lack of good water was troubling. They forded the Vermillion River and Turkey Creek, and filled their canteens, but the water was muddy and sometimes salty. They had little choice so they drank it anyway. It was about this time that the vast openness of the plains began to wear on the farmers and shopkeepers from the east. Wind would blow hard across the grass, unbroken by trees or buildings. Storms could be seen rolling in from miles away and the only salvation was their India rubber rain gear. Rain was a constant problem in the early part of the journey as the spring of 1849 was one of the wettest ever. Even hardy men, facing 2000 miles of hardship, began to question whether they wanted to continue. Many turned back.

Pronghorn Antelope

At the Little Blue River they veered north and followed the stream for about 50 miles. Here antelope bounded through the prairie and the emigrants took advantage of the opportunity to add fresh meat to their diet. As they neared the Platte stories of Cheyenne arose. The Cheyenne were not as civil as the Sac or the Pawnee and had been rumored to fire arrows at army convoys along the trail.

After leaving the Blue there were 22 miles of waterless prairie between them and the Platte River. But when they crossed through a range of hills and descended into the Platte River Valley they were greeted by swarms of fierce mosquitoes that tormented man and beast alike. The wagons followed the river westward, along a flat valley four to six miles wide flanked by the sand hills 30 to 100 feet high, and after a long day of travel the 49ers finally arrived at Fort Kearney.

 

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