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PLATTE RIVER, SOUTH SIDE, Six days above the Fort Larimys Fork, near the foot of the Rocky Mountains. June 27, 1836
DEAR BROTHER AND SISTER WHITMAN Husband told you in one of his letters that I was a little selfish in not writing to our friends in Rushville. If I could prevail on him to write one letter, even, to Angelica, I should have more time to write to his relatives. As it is this will make the third while he has written only one hasty letter to Father and Mother. I have no disposition to complain however for he has been pressed above measure with care, labours, and anxieties, aLL the way.
We were in perplexity when we left Liberty but it has been overruled for good. I wrote Mother Loomis from the Otoe Agency. We were in a still greater perplexity there. While crossing our baggage, husband became so completely exhausted with swimming the river on Thurs. May 19th that it was with difficulty he made the shore the last time swiming it. Mr. S. was sick; our two hired men were good for nothing. We could obtain not much assistance from the Otoes for they had gone away from the village -- had but one canoe and that partly eaten up by the dogs the night before. Got them all over by Friday night.
We did not get ready to start untill Sat afternoon [May 21]. By this time the Com Had 4½ days the advance of us. It seemed scarcely possible for us to overtake them, we having two more difficult streams to pass, before they would pass the Pawnee villages. Beyond there we dare not venture more than one day. We were at a stand. But with the advice of Brethren Merrill and Dunbar after a concert of prayer on the subject, we concluded to start and go as far as it would be provident for us. Brother Dunbar kindly consented to become our pilot untill we could get another one. He started with us and came as far as the Elk Horn river -- there the man Maj. Dougherty sent for, for us, came up and Mr. Dunbar returned. We had passed the river Monday Morn and taken down the rope when our pilot and his Indian came up. It was with difficulty we crossed him and returned Bro Dunbar. While on the opposite shore, just ready to leave us, he called to us to receive his parting advice with a word of caution which will never be forgotten. Our visit with him and Br Merrill's family was indeed refreshing to our thirsty spirits -- kindred spirits rejoicing in self denials and labours of a missionary life. Sat in the morn we met a large party of the Pawnees going to the fort to receive their annuities. Some of the principle men in each tribe. We stopped, shook hands with some of them, told them who we were and where we were going etc. They seemed very much surprised and pleased to see white females, many of them had never seen any before. They are a noble Indian -- large, athletic frames, dignified countenances bespeaking an immortale exhistance [sic] within. They did not detain us long. When we had said what we wished, we took our leave of them and hurryed on and arrived at the Elk Horn in time to cross all our effects. Here I must tell you how much good Richard, John, and Samuel did us. They did the work of driving the cattle and loose horses principally. Occasionally Husband and myself would ride with them for company and encouragement. They came up to the river before us, and seeing a skin canoe on the opposite side, they striped themselves, wound their shirts round their heads and swam over and back again with the canoe by the time we came up -- did not have much difficulty in crossing -- stretched a rope across the river and pulled the goods over in the canoe.
Monday and Tuesday we made hard drives, Tuesday especially. We attempted to reach the Loup Fork that night and did succeed. Part of us, those in the waggons, drove there by eleven o'clock but it was too much for the cattle. There was no water nor fuel short of that. We rode with Richard and John untill nine o'clock -- we were all very much fatigued. Rich proposed to us to go on and he and John would stay in the prairie with the cattle and drive them in in the morn. We did not like to leave them and so we concluded to stay. Husb. had a cup tied to his saddle in which he milked what we wished to drink -this was our supper. Our blankets upon our saddles with our Indian rubber cloaks was all we wished for a bed, having spread them upon the ground and offering up our thanksgiving for the blessings of the day and seeking protection for the night, we committed ourselves to rest.
We awoke in the morn much refreshed and rode into camp before breakfast, five miles. The Fur Com was on the opposite side of the river. We forded it, and without unloading our waggon much, and were ready to move again about noon. We wished to be with the Com when they passed the Pawnee villages. This obliged us to make a day's drive of the camp in a half-day. This was too hard for our horses after crossing the river twice. We did not reach them untill one o'clock at night. The next day we passed all their villages. We especially were visited by them both at noon and night. We ladies were such a curiosity to them, they would come and stand around our tent -- peep in and grin in their astonishment to see such looking objects.
Since we came up with the Com. I have rode in the waggons the most of the way to the Black Hills. It is astonishing how [well we] get along with our waggons where there are no roads. I think I may say [it is] easier traveling here than on any turnpike in the [States] . . . have no spring seats simply sit upon some . . . baggage and are as well suited as if in the s . . . [On the] way to the Buffalo country we had to bake br . . . a day for ten persons, it was difficulty at f[irst as] we did not understand working out of doors we [became accustomed to it,] so that [it] became quite easy. We passed the [forks of the] Platte on the second of June. It has not been [necessary] to kill but one of our calves for our own use . . . Com quite out of provisions, they wished . . . to repay us again at the fort. June found [us ready to receive our first] taste of Buffalo, since that time I ha[ve had but little] to do with cooking, not one in our num[ber relishes] Buffalo meat as well as my husband and [I be]lieve Mother Loomis would give up to [him if] she was here, he has a different way for every different piece of meat. We have had no bread since. We have meat and tea in the morn and tea and meat at noon. All our variety consists in the different ways of cooking. I relish it well and it agrees with me, my health is excellent, so long as I have buffalo meat I do not wish any thing else. Sister S. is affected by it considerably, has been quite sick.
We feel that the Lord has prospered us in our journey beyond our most sanguine expectations. We wish our friends at home to unite with us in thanksgiving and praise for his great mercies to us. We are a month earlier this year than husband was last and the Com wish to be at rendezvous by the fourth of July. We have just crossed the river and shall leave here tomorow morning.
[Back page] Now Sister Julia, between you and me, I just want to tell you how much trouble I have had with Marcus two or three weeks past. He was under the impression that we had too much baggage and could not think of anything so easy to be dispensed with as his own wearing apparel, those shirts the Ladies made him just before we left home, his black suit and overcoat, these were the condemned articles, sell them he must as soon as he got to the fort. At first I could not believe him in earnest. All the reasons I could bring were of no avail, he still said he would get rid of them. I told him to sell all of mine too, I could do without them better than he could -- indeed I did not wish to dress unless he could. I had already mended and repaired the coat he wears untill it seemed it would not stay on him untill we could get to our journey's end. I finally said to him that I would write and get Sister Julia to plead for me for I knew you would not like to have him sell them better than I should. This was enough; he knew it would not do to act against or contrary to her wishes -- he said no more about it.
JULY 16th. When I wrote this letter I expected an opportunity to send it immediately but we did not meet the party we expected and have had no opportunity since. We are now west of the Rocky Mountains at the encampment of Messrs. McLeod and McCay [ McKay] expecting to leave here Monday morn for Walla Walla. It seems a special favour of Providence that that Company has come to Rendezvous . . . this season for we [otherwise would have had] to have gone with the Indians, a difficult rou[te, and so] slow that we should have been late at Walla Walla and [not had] the time we wanted for making preparations for winter. Hus[band has] written the particulars concerning our arrival, meeting [the] Indians, etc. to Brother Henry. One particular I will mention which he did not. As soon as I alighted from my horse, I was met by a company of native women, one after the other, shaking hands and salluting me with a most hearty kiss. This was unexpected and affected me very much. They gave Sister Spaulding the same salutation. After we had been seated awhile in the midst of the gazing throng, one of the Chiefs whom we had seen before came with his wife and very politely introduced her to us. They say they all like us and that we have come to live with them. It was truly pleasing to see the meeting of Richard and John with their friends. Richard was affected to tears, his father is not here but several of his band and Brothers. When they met each took off his hat and shook hands as respectful as in civilized life. Richard does not give up the idea of seeing again Rushville.
I must close for want of room. Please give my love to Deborah and Harriet and all other friends. I hope you will all write us now as Husband has given directions how to send. Remember me affectionaly to Sister Alice -- tell her to write us immediately. We want to hear from you all.
Your affectionate sister, NARCISSA WHITMAN
- Narcissa Prentiss