by Kenneth Munford
The Nahum Kings, the Arnold Fullers, and other families who left St. Joseph, Missouri, on May 2, 1845, followed the Oregon Trail across what are now Kansas, Nebraska, Wyoming, and Idaho. At Fort Boise they made a decision they later regretted.
Up to that point, as one of them later wrote, "We had beautiful weather all the way, no rain of any account. We got along fine...The Indians did not disturb us any, except stealing our horses..." But at Fort Boise, Stephen Meek, a trapper-guide, persuaded the Kings and drives of about 200 other wagons to follow him across central Oregon. No wagons had gone that way before. There were no roads. Grass for stock was scarce and water holes hard to find. But Meek promised the cut-off would save them 150 miles.
Sickness also plagued the company. Of the 25 in the King party, all except Anna Maria (Stephen King's wife) and young Solomon had been ill at one time or another. In the Malheur mountains, Sarah King, wife of Roland Chambers, died of what was called "camp fever." A stone marker with "S. Chambers, Sept. 3, 1845" scratched on it was placed over her grave. Located in recent years near the village of Beulah, the marker has now been put on a concrete foundation.
Sarah had four younger, unmarried sisters in the company to look after the two small children she left. The eldest of the four, Lovisa, later married the widower.
A member of one of the parties on this so-called "terrible trail" found a yellow stone and brought it to camp in a blue bucket. No one seemed to know what it was, even after it had been beaten flat on a wagon wheel. But after the discovery of gold in California three years later, the incident was recalled, and legends developed in regard to the lode this gold nugget must have come from. Thousands of people--up to the present day--have spent countless hours searching for the "Blue Bucket Mine."
Hundreds of people flowing Meek's "trappers' trail" ran out of food, not only for their stock but also for themselves. The Kings fared reasonable well; old father Nahum had seen to it that they had brought along an adequate supply of flour and bacon to carry them through.
The wagons finally straggled into The Dalles, the end of the Oregon Trail for wagon travel. The so-called cut-off had taken about a month of valuable time, and the immigrants till had to cross the worst barrier of all--the Cascade Mountains.
Next: Shooting the Columbia Rapids