Malinda Morton Saling

Taken from:
Up-To-The-Times Magazine, 1929,
“Chats With Pioneers”
Copyright 1929 by Annette Van Winkle

It was on Easter morning, 1852, that a covered wagon, loaded with provisions, puller away from a small farm home near Belleville, Ill., leaving behind it a group of loving friends who had just bid farewell to the small family within who, with hopeful hearts and much courage, was ready to face the unknown of unknowns – the West.

There were other wagons, some drawn by oxen, others by mules – all headed toward St. Louis, where only the most rugged were to be in the train to be organized under the leadership of William Johnson, veteran plainsman who knew the game well enough to know that he must select his party with care in order to assure the “survival of the fittest.”  Twenty wagons were to make up the train and it was a full month before the expedition crossed the Mississippi – headed West.

About half-way in this particular train was the wagon that left Belleville Easter morning, and, seated at the front, eagerly watching progress being made and perhaps wondering what the future would bring to her, was a young girl of 13 years.  Malinda Morton little thought at that time that 77 years from that date would find her sitting in her comfortable home in Weston, Oregon, relating her story of crossing the plains from Illinois to the “Oregon Country”, that she would live to see the rolling hills and dry waste lands conquered by the pioneers and transformed into a prosperous land of plenty.

But fate willed it that way and today Malinda Morton is “Grandma” Saling, proud mother of ten children – eight of whom are still living.  This pioneer celebrated her ninetieth birthday February 7 of this year, having been born in Virginia in 1839, the second of 10 children in the Morton family.  With a keen memory for one of her years, and a merry twinkle of the eye that has endeared her to both young and old, “Grandma” takes much pleasure in sitting before the cozy fire in her living-room and telling of her first great adventure that helped to make history for the territory west of the Rockies.

“When we left our home in Illinois we left with a felling that it was all a lark, that we had big things to do and could soon have our friends follow us, never dreaming of the privation and hardships that we would encounter,” declared that pioneer in remember in reminiscence of bygone days.  “If we could have looked into the future, I am afraid that we would have turned back ere we reached the Mississippi,” she continued.

“An immigrant train on the move was a novel ……. four yoke of oxen to each wagon and the wagons were covered with white sheeting, drawn over hickory bows standing high.  The sheet was drawn at the rear by a heavy cord until only a small look-out was left.  The front was open. Soon our long train was making daily drives of fifteen to twenty miles per day, varying according to conditions for encampment.

“We took the northern route from the Mississippi river the Old Emigrant Road – the Oregon Trail, over the great plains where there was nothing but horizon was to break the view – plains, plains, grassy hills and prairies; now and then a stream straggling through cottonwoods and willows.  There were no bridges so the teams were forced into the water ahead of the wagons – then men lowered the wagons which held women and children, into the water by means of ropes,  After the first wagon had crossed, carrying with it a long rope, it was much easier for those remaining to be pulled straight to the other side without being washed downstream.

“Plenty of ammunition and guns were strapped to the wagon sides under the sheeting to keep them dry.  Fear of Indians kept a look-out ever on guard, but we were fortunate enough not to be attacked.  This was attributed to the savage’s fear of disease, for cholera was prevalent among the immigrants, and the fact that we were in the center of the immigration.  Those having gone before suffered more from Indians, and it was said that the train following us was attacked, robbed and many killed.  At short intervals we found bulletins posted on trees or on sticks stuck into the ground telling news of those who had gone before and whether or not there were Indians near.

“A camp scene was an impressive sight, when the wagons were circled around tents and fires.  With mules and oxen feeding separately but nearby, and cares of the day dismissed from our minds, the evening was spent around the campfire, telling stories, speculating on the future, or singing.  The young folks with a violin or two to furnish music would linger, sing songs of childhood, some would dance and close generally with an old favorite such as “The Girl I left Behind Me.”

“Sorrow and hardships came without warning, however, with a breaking out of cholera, from which it is said that there were five thousand deaths on the Plains in 1852.  None died from the disease in our party, thanks to the kind ministrations of an old woman doctor, and mother of William Johnson, captain of our train.  My mother became afflicted and it was a heartbreaking time for my father and me, I being just old enough to realize the seriousness of the situation.  My mother was soon to be confined, and I remember Mrs. Johnson telling my father that she wanted to give her a certain medicine – but, due to the seriousness of the sick woman’s condition, it might kill her instead of help her.  Father said that if there was a chance of her recovering by its administration to give it to her.  Mother straightaway became improved in condition and was soon on her way to recovery.

“A bit of fate was shown in the death of a certain young rich man who had had tuberculosis before starting on the trip, but who was willing to take the chance to restore his health.  Lumber for a casket was carried in a false bottom of his wagon, for he could not bear the thought of being in the wilds without protection for his remains.  Together with the ravages of cholera and tuberculosis, he did not live to see the land where he might regain strength.  He knew the end was near and superintended the making of his casket and laid out a fine black broadcloth suit in which to be buried.  He lies somewhere between the Mississippi and the Rockies.

“After months of slow progress, our train passed about Independence Rock – Sweetwater – and two weeks later we were at the summit of the Rocky Mountains.  At the south pass, elevation was a full eight feet, but we had ascended to gradually that it was hard to realize that we were at the top of the highest range on the continent.  Eastward we could see the great plains cut by valleys and rivers; to the west, the Salt lake Valley bordered by jagged mountains.

“We crossed the Snake river by swimming the cattle and horses, ourselves being carried in our wagon boxes.  From Snake River over to Burnt River; across Powder River; on through the beautiful Grande Ronde; over the Blue Mountains, down the Umatilla, and on down the Columbia to the Deschutes came our train through much hardship and suffering for our teams and provisions were giving out.

“When we reached Celilo our party was almost destitute.  Out of money, out of food and but scant courage to hearten us, we bargained with friendly Indians and settlers for fish eggs which we boiled or stewed to keep away starvation.  My mother was in a serious condition, having just given birth to a new baby.  Although only 13 years of age, it became my job to take charge of the cooking, but my efforts were not rewarded by delectable dishes since fish eggs were my only store of provision.

“September 22, we reached The Dalles, then a mere trading post, in the midst of a big storm.  Here we stayed for two nights while arrangements were being made to float our wagon team downstream on flat boats.  A new flat boat had been built to accommodate all of the wagons, so it was a huddled, uncomfortable, almost heartless crowd that was grouped together fearless lest the whirling, threatening water should hurl us into its depths.  A woman, suffering from exposure and lack of proper care, died while on the flatboat.  Then we were caught on a sandbar on what is now the Washington side of the Columbia.  Our wagons were unloaded while men pried and hoisted, trying to free our flatboat from the grip from the grip of the bar.  Two more women died of exposure and exhaustion and were buried in the nearby timber.

“After seeing the impossibility of releasing the flatboat, plans were begun to remove our teams from the boat and to continue our way on down the river on the Washington side.  It took weeks to beat our trail through the heavy timber, over what looked an impossible journey to Vancouver.  It was during the rainy season, and it was indeed a happy day for us when we saw the trading post in the distance.  We crossed the Columbia at Vancouver to Portland.

“The Portland of 1852 was greatly in contrast to that thriving city of electric lights, street cars, thoroughfares and business of today.  There were only a few houses and stores on the river bank, since few immigrants cared to remain in the desolate spot, most of them seeing new fields to conquer farther in the Willamette valley.  Father’s mules served as our God-send while in Portland, earing enough to feed us and to buy clothing to keep us warm during the winter.  We were urged to remain there so father might help build up the city through the labor of his team, as there were few teams to be found worth keeping after the spirit and body-breaking trip West.

“We stayed here a month, during which time father made the acquaintance of on old Dutch peddler by the name of Berry, who had come in from what is now McMinnville with his yoke of oxen, carrying produce which he sold at the trading post.  In exchange he received calico, tobacco and provisions which had been ordered by his fellow-settlers.  ‘Dutch’ Berry, as he was called, made a proposition to father that was to shape our entire future.  That was, if father would consent to come out to Lafayette, or McMinnville, and would, with the use of his mule team, seed wheat on the Dutchman’s land, berry would give us half of the crop.

“We went to the McMinnville country late in the year of 1852, where father tilled the soil an my brothers and I dug potatoes ‘on shares.’  We boiled wheat over the open fire in our crude log cabin, and when served with syrup, which the Dutchman had purchased by the barrel, we thought it a luxury after the privation of the last few months.  It is said that our friend ‘Dutch’ Berry lived to be over a hundred years old.

“In McMinnville, I met my future husband, Emory Saling. Who had come to visit a brother, after settling the Rogue River valley.  We were married October 19, 1856 and went to live on a little farm near my former home, where my first two children were born, Anna May, who died at two years, and Cora, now Mrs. Cora Worthington, of Portland.

“In 1859 we left McMinnville, after selling our little farm and buying cattle.  Mr. Saling had not used his donation rights, so after Indian hostilities had subsided, we gathered our household effects into our covered wagon, were joined by relatives in our new venture, and started behind our drove of 200 cattle for the Walla Walla valley.  In our party besides myself were John Saling, William Hammond, I. T. Reese, Martha Saling, my husband and seven month old daughter.

“It was a hard and tedious journey driving our cattle across the mountains after they swam the Willamette but we felt repaid when we came to the place where we could look out at the beautiful Walla Walla valley – out new home!

“We took up our claim between Russell creek and Cottonwood where my brother-in-law, John Saling took the neighboring lot.  My husband built our crude log cabin of small bark-covered logs.  It had no floor, the doors were made of clapboard, as was also the table and three-legged chairs, and we had but bare necessities of life to see us through the winter ahead.  The second year we built a hewed log house and it was barely finished when the terrible winter of 1861-1862 came upon us shortly after the birth of my third child Martha Jane, now Mrs. Bulfinch, who makes her home with me.

“Snow began falling on Christmas day – then, after it had snowed until we could no longer see the fence tops, it rained and froze a heavy coat of ice over the snow.  It was agonizing to the cattle for their legs and bodies were cut and bleeding.  No food could be reached by them and they died of starvation and cold.  We lost our entire herd during that winter, for the snow lay under the grip of ice until March.

“Not only the animals suffered.  I walked the floor with my baby held close in my arms to keep  her warm. My older child became seriously ill and I called the Post doctor to treat her, since he had been called to see my sister-in-law who was suffering from typhoid fever less than half-a-mile away.  We tore down our fences that we might use the posts for fuel, and even our poor home-made furniture was burned to keep us warm, since it was impossible to get to the timber to cut fuel.

“I shall never forget that terrible time, for it was then that my husband and I, with two small children had to begin anew because of the loss of our cattle, our principal means of livelihood being the sale of milk and butter.

“White flour was being sold in Walla Walla for $10 a sack at the Walla Walla Post because it was being shipped out to miners at Coeur d’Alene.  We ground our limited supply of wheat in a coffee mill and I made mush for my children and coarse wheat bread for husband and myself.  By economy in using our small store of winter vegetables we managed to survive until spring, when we planted garden and cut timber.

“We lived in our hewed cabin about eight years, during which time my sons Frank and Ed were born.  When we built a frame house in which we lived for five years in comfort compared to our experiences in the log cabins.  My daughters Ida May Coffin, of Portland; Rosella, who died in infancy, and Emaline, now Mrs. L. M. Funk, of Walla Walla, were born here.

“My children went to what is now the Maxson school, walking the short distance.  I remember well Evelyn Paul, a Mr. Witt, Mr. Wood and Mr. Kennedy who taught in the school.

“In 1873, we moved to Weston, near the site of my present home, but Weston at that time was certainly in contrast to that of today.  What is now Main street was a poor wagon road, with fields of wheat growing to the creek on the west, and timber growing to the creek on the east.  My husband and I. T. Reese, his brother-in-law, , who married Martha Saling, started the first store in Weston.  Prior to this time, Mr. Reese built and operated the flour mill in Walla Walla that now is owned by the Dement Bros., Company.

“After several years, Mr. Reese started a store in Adams, later moving to Tacoma to enter the wholesale grocery business.

“Our general merchandise store proved quite profitable and it was not long until people came to lay in supplies from as far as La Grande, Umatilla, and Wallula.  We had to freight our merchandise from Wallula by team, where it had been brought by river steamer.

“Weston’s first school house was built on the hill toward Athena, the structure consisting of one room and pupils were taught by one teacher although later another teacher was added.  There were no desks, long benched serving as the only furniture.  L. S. Woods, a Mr. Storey and Miss Hattie Purdington were among the first teachers in out small school.

“All my life I had been horrified at the sight of an Indian, having had to suffer in silence during the time I lived in the mountain cabin because they would peek through the wall cracks and open shutters at me and I dared not move or cry out for fear they would attack me or my children.  But that was nothing to the terrifying suspense and fear I felt during the ‘Indian scare” that we had in about 1876.  Indians were on the warpath and people came from nearby farms to the shelter of town.  Captain Howard, through government appointment and his men were ready to fight back the Indians, the principal menace coming from the Pendleton territory.  Volunteers had gone on before after we got word that the Indians were going to burn Pendleton and be in Weston before morning.  The fighting was so near that we could hear the firing, and perhaps you can imagine the terror of those women and children left behind who lay flat on the floor in fear lest sone spying savage might see them through the windows.

“Old Chief Homely, who professed that he wanted to be friendly, came to the creek back of our house and called to my brother-in-law, Jay Saling, saying he wanted to be friends.  Then he asked how many guns we had and if we were out of ammunition.  Perhaps he did want to help us, but we were so afraid that we thought he wanted to see how much longer we could fight.”

The Indians lost their fight against the soldiers and were driven back across the Umatilla river.  The Yakima Indians, who were coming to their assistance, were held back by men who fired upon them from river steamers plying up and down the Columbia.

“I remember the Glendore De Graw family, who lived up on Butter Creek.  Mr. De Graw had been out herding sheep when a passerby told him of the Indian uprising.  When De Graw hurried to his home he found his wife and family gone so he was crazed with fear that Indians had carried them away.  Starting towards Pendleton, he hid in the brush that night, using his saddle for a pillow.  In Pendleton the next morning he found his family hiding in Byers’ mill. Neighbors, passing in a wagon, had taken the family out of danger.”

With the Indians back on their reservation, the soldiers celebrated by parading the streets and countryside.  A thousand dollars reward was announced for the head of Chief Eagan. Who was a factor in stirring up the late trouble.  Local Indians decoyed him to Mission Station, where they killed him and brought his head to the soldiers.  After that, we had no more serious trouble.

“We built our present brick house 1881 and ‘82.  One man laid the brick and it took him just a year to finish it.  A brick house was quite a luxury at that time so our old house became almost a landmark in the valley.  My sons Herman, of Portland, Ralph, of Weston, and Roy who died in infancy, were born in this house.  My husband died here in January, 1904.”

At that point, “Grandma” Saling insisted that her story was ended – ended yes, but not the memory of the days of blazing the Old Oregon Trail which has remained with her for many years.