Oregon Trail Pioneers

When I was a little girl I was obsessed with pioneer stories. I suspect this interest was first piqued with the Little House on the Prairie books. For awhile I read everything I could get my hands on about covered wagons and westward expansion.

Sunbonneted Karla with siblings and cousins on Granddaddy’s farm in Arkansas, circa 1977.

I was a little like Pa and Laura in that I dreamed of going west. But we never did. We moved often during my childhood years, mostly in a strip up and down the central United States from Louisiana and Texas to Michigan and Ohio as well as several states in between.

Then guess what I did? I married a California boy and we have lived in Idaho for most of the past 20 years. So I ended up going west after all.

But I’m not truly “from around here,” much as love it. People still seem to think I have a southern accent. “Where are you from?” they’ll ask.

Well, let’s see… my mother’s people were from Arkansas and Oklahoma and Texas. Dad’s people from Louisiana. And yes, I’ve lived in all those states. Except maybe not Oklahoma. Maybe it just seems like I have since my mother grew up there.

As it turns out, though, I actually do have ancestors who came west on the Oregon Trail.

I’ve long been familiar with the story of Burnet Easley who traveled west with his two brothers in 1850 in hopes of striking gold in California. Sadly, he died along the way from the effects of drinking alkaline water in Utah. His brothers buried him there in the salt flats and built a campfire over his grave to help prevent it from being disturbed.

Poor Grandpa Burnet (for he was my great-great-great grandfather) was only 25 years old. He had left in Arkansas his wife, Dorinda, and two little boys, Francis and Robert.

Dorinda remarried the following year and went on to have several more children with her second husband.

Dorinda (Garrett-Easley) and her second husband, Josiah Blackburn.

The little boy Francis (my great-great grandfather) ended up settling in Oklahoma years later and lived to the ripe old age of 92, dying the year before my mother was born.

What I hadn’t realized until recently was that Dorinda’s father, Robert Moses Garrett, also went to California with the gold rush. I don’t suppose he struck it rich but I guess he liked it well enough that he went back and got his family (his wife and younger children, that is) and they all moved to Oregon via the Oregon Trail in 1853. Dorinda stayed with her new husband in Arkansas so our branch of the family, of course, never was in the west.

Robert Moses Garrett, 1803-1889

I wish we had more details of the Garretts’ trip west. All I’ve been able to discover so far is what is told in their obituaries.

Ashland Tidings, Friday, Dec. 13, 1889: At 8 o’clock Monday morning last, Robert Garrett suddenly departed this life, in his 87th year. Deceased was born in the state of Georgia, March 31st, 1803. His father moved to Illinois when Robert was four years old, and raised his family in that state. In 1850 Mr. Garrett came to California prospecting, thence in 1851 to Northern Oregon, thence back to Illinois for his family, which he moved to Williamette valley in 1853. He afterward came to Rogue River valley, and settled in Ashland in 1868. He lived with his wife of his youth, who still survives him, 62 years. He was the father of eleven children, who are either scattered over the states or gone over death’s river. Only one, his father’s namesake, lives in Ashland. Father Garrett was a faithful Christian and a member of the Baptist church for more than 61 years.

Grandma Jane‘s obituary tells the story slightly differently.

Ashland Tidings, October 31, 1890: Died at her home in Ashland, Wednesday, Oct. 29, 1890, Jane Garrett, relict of the late Robert Garrett, aged 82 years 7 months and 5 days. The funeral services were held at her late residence yesterday at 10 o’clock a.m., and were largely attended by sorrowing relatives and friends of the deceased. “Grandma” Garrett was one of the pioneer women of Oregon, having crossed the plains with her husband in 1853. She was a native of one of the Southern states, and was among the pioneers of America most of her life. Her first western pilgrimage was with her husband to Illinois, thence they moved to Arkansas, where they remained for 15 years. In 1850 Mr. Garrett went to California alone, returning to Arkansas in 1851. In ’53 they came to Oregon, and settled in Benton county, near Corvallis, where they lived till 1867, when they moved to Surprise Valley Modoc county, Cal.; thence they came to Ashland in 1869, and here has since been their home. After their long companionship on earth they were not to be long separated by the gulf that divides time from eternity. The venerable husband and father died last December, and his faithful wife follows after the short interval of ten months. They are sincerely mourned by many friends, and leave behind them the record of brave hearts and honest lives.

A couple weeks ago Lyle and I took a little road trip to Oregon for our anniversary. We made a big loop dipping down into the top of California to visit the redwoods briefly and then up the coast on Highway 101. I asked him if we could work in a visit to the pioneer cemetery in Ashland to see the graves of my great-great-great-great grandparents. Accommodating as always, he made a few minor adjustments to his planned route to make it happen for me.

The cemetery is situated in a lovely grove of oak trees on a hill overlooking a picturesque valley. There were a number of older graves there, including a few wooden markers with names and dates long since worn off. After a bit of wandering around we found the grave we were looking for.

I would have been so interested to see where they lived, but I wasn’t able to discover where that was. Maybe someday I’ll come across more of their story. For now, I’m grateful to have this much.


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.