The Oregon Dragoons

And here at Fort Davy Crockett Wislizenus and the two expilgrims cut the trail of the other group of innocents who had started to settle Oregon this year and were helping the first group fix the type. The Oregon Dragoons.

In fact, the new type had expressed itself even more completely with the Oregon Dragoons, achieving full luxuriance on first appearance. On May 21, 1839, seventeen citizens of Peoria, Illinois, arrived at Independence. Two others of like mind joined them there. The historian of these greenhorn-pilgrims is Thomas Jefferson Farnham, under whose leadership they had traveled from Peoria. Their authors, however, were the Reverend Jason Lee and the Chinook boy whom he had named William Brooks. The Chinook, ‘a true Flathead,’ had spent the winter at Peoria and had spent it talking about his country, Oregon, as the earthly Paradise. So seventeen Peorians, ranging in age from the early twenties to an astonishing fifty-six, had formed an Oregon emigrating society – and the mad dream of Hall J. Kelley was not so crazy after all.

It was Farnham who christened them the Oregon Dragoons and they carried a guidon inscribed ‘Oregon or the Grave.’ None of them made the grave, whereas at least nine and perhaps ten made Oregon. The new type, the saltation, was equipped with nervous system and instincts on first appearance. Instinct, fidelity to the thousands who were to come, made these first specimens organize themselves as both a society and a joint-stock company. The society held a town meeting and reaffirmed Farnham as captain. At Independence they bought a little wagon and a gorgeous big tent and wasted their money on greenhorn stuff. But May 21 made it late for the Platte route (Harris had jumped off more than a month earlier) and Andrew Sublette, who had already reached Independence on the return trip from his holdings, advised them to travel by the Santa Fe Trail – to make better time perhaps and to detour so small a party round the Sioux and the Cheyennes, who were on the prod this year. They attached themselves to a Santa Fe freight caravan and started out.

They had already been quarreling and they kept it up. They were further establishing the type – denying the authority of their elected officers, questioning decisions, disputing routes, rejecting all trail-discipline, bellyaching about alleged fraud and alleged tyranny and alleged or real stupidity, asserting with fists and endless oratory the freeborn American’s right to cleave unto his own property in all circumstances and to commit any damned idiocy his whim might suggest. Type-character: already at the Osage River three had had enough and turned back to the now greatly magnified comforts of Peoria. Another: at the crossing of the Arkansas three others would travel no farther with such fools and grumblers as their companions, would not even travel toward Oregon, but slanted off toward New Mexico. (In return, however, the vision was vouchsafed to a member of the Santa Fe wagon train and he joined up for Oregon.) Another: at Bent’s Fort they deposed Farnham from his captaincy for incompetence and fraud and wastefulness and strong drink and all the other grievances with which captains were to be charged from now on, then excommunicated him and four of his supporters and broke up. The larger party,