Back When in Benton County

Part 5

Shooting the Columbia Rapids

by Kenneth Munford

Getting over or through the Cascade Range was the hardest part of the 2,000-mile cross-country journey for the covered-wagon immigrants.

When the King family arrived at The Dalles on the Columbia early in October 1845, another party let by Samuel Barlow and Joel Palmer had just left to blaze a wagon road over the mountain range south of Mt. Hood.  Having suffered on Stephen Meek's trappers' trail through central Oregon, the Kings wanted no part of another so-called "short-cut."

Like many other immigrants of 1845, they built rafts, took their wagons apart, and loaded wagon box, wheels, and equipment on the rafts in hopes of getting through the rapids in that way.  It was a life-and-death struggle.  In a wagon box on one raft on October 22, Malinda Crabtree (later a Linn County resident) gave birth to twin sons.  Four days later, the eldest King son, John, his wife, Susan, their three-year-old Electra, and an eight-month old son were thrown into the water and drowned.  Their five-year-old Luther survived.

We do not have a record of how the Kings completed the journey.  They may have stopped at Fort Vancouver, as many immigrants did, to enjoy the hot food and medical attention Dr. McLoughlin had prepared for them.  They finally reached Linnton, a town Peter Burnett had founded two years before on the Willamette below Portland.  There, we assume, they gathered their horses and stock which had been driven on a rough trail along the south bank of the Columbia.

From Linnton they climbed up over the Tualatin Mountains and made their way across the Tualatin Plains to their western edge.  On Gales Creek they found a measure of hospitality from notable Joseph Gale, an adventurous trapper, ship builder, and sea captain, who had helped form the Provisional Government two years before.  Now he was building a grist mill on the beautiful, clear stream at the foot of Gales Peak.

Here the remaining 20 of the 25 members of the King family who had left Missouri in May spent their first winter in Oregon.

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