Today, the Oregon Trail Commemorative Silver Half Dollar Coin remembers the early October diary entries of Joel Palmer on his wilderness travels begun in 1845.
From the Journal of Travels over the Rocky Mountains, to the Mouth of the Columbia River; Made During the Years 1845 and 1846 by Joel Palmer, published in 1847:
The author of Journal of Travels was born October 4, 1810 in Ontario, Canada of American Quaker parents who returned to New York state shortly afterwards at the outbreak of the War of 1812.
In 1830 he married Catherine Coffee and following her death in 1836 he married a second time to Sarah Ann Derbyshire.
In his early manhood he was engaged as a contractor on canals in Indiana. He was a state representative in Indiana for two terms from 1843 to 1845.
In early 1845 he started for Oregon, keeping a diary on the way which he published after his return the next year.
This account, because of its completeness and unadorned sincerity, was a much-used, practical guidebook for future emigrants to Oregon.
October 1. At four o’clock, P.M. everything was ready for our departure, and we pursued our way over the ridge, in a southern course. The country was very rolling, and principally prairie. We found excellent grazing. Our camp was pitched on a small spring branch.
October 2. This day we made about ten miles, crossing several ravines, many of which had running water in them; the country, like that of yesterday’s travel, proved to be very rolling; our camp was situated on a small spring branch, having its source in the mountain.
October 3. This morning I started on horseback in advance of the company, accompanied by one of its members. Our course led us south over a rolling, grassy plain; portions of the road were very stony.
After a travel of fourteen miles, we arrived at a long and steep declivity, which we descended, and after crossing the creek at its base, ascended a bluff; in the bottom are seen several small enclosures, where the Indians have cultivated the soil; a few Indian huts may be seen along this stream.
Meek’s company crossed Deshute’s River near the mouth of this stream, which is five miles distant.
After ascending, we turned to the right, directing our course over a level grassy plain for some five miles or more, when we crossed a running branch; five miles brought us to Stony Branch, and to scattering yellow pine timber.
Here we found Barham’s company of seven wagons. Barham was absent at the time, having with three others started into the mountain two days before. We remained with them all night.
October 4. This morning myself and companion, with a scanty supply of provisions for a two days’ journey, started on a westerly course into the mountains.
From the open ground we could see Mount Hood. Our object was to go south and near to this peak.
For five miles the country was alternately prairie and yellow pine; we then ascended a ridge, which ascended gradually to the west. This we followed for ten miles.
After the crossing of a little brushy bottom, we took over another ridge for four of five miles, very heavily timbered and densely covered with undergrowth. We descended the ridge for a short distance, and traveled a level bench for four miles; this is covered with very large and tall fir timber; we then descended the mountain, traveling westward for one and a half miles; we then came to a small branch, which we named Rock Creek.
After crossing the creek, we ascended a hill for one fourth of a mile, then bore to the left around the hill, through a dense forest of spruce pine.
After five miles travel from Rock creek we came to a marshy cedar swamp; we turned to the left, and there found a suitable place for crossing.
Here is a stream of from five to six yards in width, when confined to one channel; but in many places it runs over a bottom of two rods in width, strewed with old moss covered logs and roots. The water was extremely clear and cold.
Four miles brought us to the top of the bluff of a deep gulf; we turned our course northward for two miles, when darkness overtook us, forcing us to encamp. A little grass was discernible on the mountain sides, which afforded our jaded horses a scanty supply.
October 5. At an early hour this morning, I proceeded down the mountain to the stream at its base. I found the descent very abrupt and difficult; the distance was one half mile.
The water was running very rapid; it had the same appearance as the water of the Missouri, being filled with white sand.
I followed this stream up for some distance, and ascertained that its source was in Mount Hood; and from the appearance of the banks, it seems that its waters swell during the night, overflowing its banks, and subside again by day.
It empties into Deshute’s river, having a sandy bottom of from two rods to half a mile wide, covered with scrubby pines, and sometimes a slough of alder bushes, with a little grass and rushes.
We then ascended the mountain, and as our stock of provisions was barely sufficient to last us through the day, it was found necessary to return to camp.
We retraced our steps to where we had struck the bluff, and followed down a short distance where we found the mountain of sufficiently gradual descent to admit of the passage of teams.
We could then follow up the bottom towards Mount Hood, and as we supposed that this peak was the dividing ridge, we had reasonable grounds to hope that we could get through.
We then took our trail in the direction of the camp; and late in the evening, tired and hungry, we arrived at Rock creek, where we found our company encamped.
Barham had not yet returned, but we resolved to push forward.
October 6. We remained in camp. As the grazing was poor in the timber, and our loose cattle much trouble to us, we determined to send a party with them to the settlement.
The Indians had informed us that there was a trail to the north, which ran over Mount Hood, and thence to Oregon City.
This party was to proceed up one of the ridges until they struck this train, and then follow it to the settlement.
Two families decided upon going with this party, and as I expected to have no further use for my horses, I sent him with them.
They were to procure provisions and assistance, and meet us on the way.
We had forwarded, by a company of cattle-drivers from the Dalles, which started for the settlement on the first of the month, a request that they would send us provisions and assistance; but as we know nothing of their whereabouts, we had little hope of being benefited by them.
The day was spent in making the necessary arrangements for the cattle-drivers, and for working the road.
In the afternoon, Barham and his party returned. They had taken nearly the same route that we had; they had followed up the bluff of this branch of the De Shutes, to within twelve or fifteen miles of Mount Hood, where they supposed they had seen Willamette valley.
They had then taken the Indian trail spoken of, and followed it to one of the ridges leading down to the river De Shutes; this they followed, and came out near our camp. We now jointly adopted measures for the prosecution of the work before us.
The Oregon Trail Commemorative Silver Half Dollar Coin shows with an artist’s image of one of the areas Joel Palmer traveled in 1845.