Mile 190: George Winslow Grave Site

The George Winslow Grave site is located nine miles northwest of Rock Creek Station and is one of the famous gravesites on the Oregon Trail. Although historians have estimated that 30,000 persons died on the trail between 1842 and 1860 (an average of 15 per mile), the actual number of marked and identified gravesites remaining today is quite limited. Thus each positively identified and marked gravesite which has survived is respectfully honored. The George Winslow grave is one of these. Winslow died on June 8, 1849, and his grave was marked by others of his company. Winslow’s sons returned to Nebraska in 1912 to erect a more permanent monument at the site, and the Winslow family still makes periodic pilgrimages to the grave.

George Winslow wrote a letter to his wife from Independence, MO., May 12, 1849. Mrs. George Winslow gave it to her grandson, Carlton Winslow, in whose name it was presented to the Nebraska State Historical Society, together with an excellent copy of a daguerreotype of George Winslow, taken in 1849. In the letter he writes:

“My dear Wife: We have no further anxiety about forage: millions of buffalo have existed for ages on these vast prairies, and their numbers have been diminished by reason of hunters, and it is absurd to think we will not have sufficient grass for our animals. We have bought forty mules, which cost us $50 apiece. I have been appointed teamster, and had the good luck to draw the best wagon. I never slept better in my life. I always find myself in the morning on my bed, rather-flat as a pancake. As the darn thing leaks just enough to land me on the terra firma by morning, it saves me the trouble of pressing out the wind; so who cares?

My money holds out very well. I have about $15 on hand out of the $25 which I had on leaving. We engaged some Mexicans to break the mules. To harness them they tied their fore-legs together and threw them down. The fellows then got on them and wrung their ears which is the tenderest part. By that time they were docile enough to take the harness. The animals in many respects resemble sheep; they are very timid, and when frightened will kick like thunder. They got six harnessed into a team, when one of the leaders, feeling a little mulish, jumped right straight over the other one’s back.
I do not worry about myself then why do you for me? I do not discover in your letter any anxiety on your account; then let us for the future look on the bright side and indulge in no more useless anxiety. It effects nothing, and is almost universally the bugbear of the imagination.
The reports of the gold region here are as encouraging as they were in Massachusetts. Just imagine to yourself seeing me return with from $10,000 to $1,000,000. I do not wonder that General Taylor was opposed to writing on the field, I am now writing on a low box, and have to ‘stoop to conquer’.
Your Loving Husband, George Winslow.”

On May 16 this company of intrepid men, rash with the courage of youth, set their hearts and faces toward the west and began their long overland journey to California, and by night had crossed “The Line” and were in Indian country. Though slowed by frequent rains and mud they made their way up the Kansas River. With mud sometimes hub deep, and broken wagon-poles as a hinderance they reached the lower ford of the Kansas, just below the Rock Island Bridge at Topeka on May 26th, having accomplished about 50 miles in 10 days. The wagons were driven onto flat boats and poled across by 5 Indians. The road then became dry, and they made rapid progress until the 29th, when George Winslow was suddenly taken violently ill with cholera. Two others of the party also suffered symptoms of the disease. The company remained in camp three days and with the sick seemingly recovered, it was decided to push on. Winslow’s brothers-in-law, David Staples and Bracket Lord, or his uncle, Jesse Winslow, were in attendance of George Winslow, giving him every care possible. His condition improved as they travelled and on June 6th they reached the place where the trail crosses the Nebraska-Kansas state line, Mr, Gould wrote:** “The road over the high rolling prairie was hard and smooth as a plank floor. The prospect was beautiful. About a half-hour before sunset a terrific thunder shower arose, which baffles description, the lightning-flashes dazzling the eyes, and the thunder deafening the ears, and the rain falling in torrents. It was altogether the grandest scene I have ever witnessed. When the rain ceased to fall the sun had set and darkness closed in.” (Their location was just east of Steele City, Jefferson County.)

To this storm is attributed George Winslow’s death. The next morning he appeared as well as could be expected, but by 3 o’clock his condition worsened, and the company encamped on Whiskey Run. He failed rapidly, and at 9 a.m. the 8th of June, 1849 he died. For George Winslow the trail ended here.

The Oregon Trail, Rock Creek Station, Nebraska to Fort Laramie, Wyoming, p. 1-2