Jessie Applegate was born in Kentucky on 5th July, 1811. After studying mathematics at the Rock Spring Seminary he worked as a schoolteacher before becoming the deputy surveyor of Missouri.
In 1843, along with his brothers, Charles and Lindsey, he joined a party that travelled to Oregon. As he had one of the largest herds, Applegate was elected captain of the cow column, and therefore was seen as one of the pioneers of the Oregon Trail.
He purchased a farm in the Willamette Valley but continued to work as a surveyor. He also helped to open a southern road to Fort Hall, Idaho, by the way of the Rogue River and the Humboldt River (the Applegate Trial).
He also became involved in politics and became a member of Oregon's provisional government in 1845. Applegate was also an influential support of Abraham Lincoln when he campaigned to become president in 1860.
Applegate published his book, A Day on the Oregon Trial, in 1877.
Jessie Applegate died on 22nd April, 1888.
The migrating body numbered over 1,000 souls, with about 120 wagons, drawn by six ox teams, averaging about six yokes to the team, and several thousand loose horses and cattle.
The emigrants first organized and attempted to travel in one body, but it was soon found that no progress could be made with a body so cumbrous, and as yet so averse to all discipline. And at the crossing of the "Big Blue" it divided into two columns, which traveled in supporting distance of each other as far as Independence Rock, on the Sweet Water.
From this point, all danger from Indians being over, the emigrants separated into small parties better suited to the narrow mountain paths and small pastures in their front. Before the division on the Blue River there was some just cause for discontent in respect to loose cattle. Some of the emigrants had only their teams, while others had large herds in addition which must share the pastures and be guarded and driven by the whole body.
This discontent had its effect in the division on the Blue, those not encumbered with or having but few loose cattle attached themselves to the light column; those having more than four or five cows had of necessity to join the heavy, or cow, column. Hence the cow column, being much larger than the other and encumbered with its large herds, had to use greater exertion and observe a more rigid discipline to keep pace with the more agile consort. It is with the cow, or more clumsy, column that I propose to journey with the reader for a single day.
It is 4 a.m.; the sentinels on duty have discharged their rifles - the signal that the hours of sleep are over; and every wagon and tent is pouring forth its night tenants, and slow-kindling smokes begin largely to rise and float away on the morning air. Sixty men start from the corral, spreading as they make through the vast herd of cattle and horses that form a semicircle around the encampment, the most distant perhaps two miles away.
The herders pass to the extreme verge and carefully examine for trails beyond, to see that none of the animals have strayed or been stolen during the night. This morning no trails lead beyond the outside animals in sight, and by 5 o'clock the herders begin to contract the great moving circle and the well-trained animals move slowly toward camp, clipping here and there a thistle or tempting bunch of grass on the way. In about an hour, 5,000 animals are close up to the encampment, and the teamsters are busy selecting their teams and driving them inside the "corral" to be yoked. The corral is a circle 100 yards deep, formed with wagons connected strongly with each other, the wagon in the rear being connected with the wagon in front by its tongue and ox chains. It is a strong barrier that the most vicious ox cannot break, and in case of an attack of the Sioux would be no contemptible entrenchment.
From 6 to 7 o'clock is a busy time; breakfast is to be eaten, the tents struck, the wagons loaded, and the teams yoked and brought up in readiness to be attached to their respective wagons. All know when, at 7 o'clock, the signal to march sounds that those not ready to take their proper places - in the line of march must fall into the dusty rear for the day.
There are sixty wagons. They have been divided into fifteen divisions, or platoons, of four wagons each, and each platoon is entitled to lead in its turn. The leading platoon of today will be the rear one tomorrow and will bring up the rear unless some teamster, through indolence or negligence, has lost his place in the line and is condemned to that uncomfortable post. It is within ten minutes of 7; the corral but now a strong barricade is everywhere broken, the teams being attached to the wagons. The women and children have taken their places in them. The pilot (a borderer who has passed his life on the verge of civilization and has been chosen to the post of leader from his knowledge of the savage and his experience in travel through roadless wastes) stands ready, in the midst of his pioneers and aids, to mount and lead the way. Ten or fifteen young men, not today on duty, form another cluster. They are ready to start on a buffalo hunt, are well mounted, and well armed as they need be, for the unfriendly Sioux have driven the buffalo out of the Platte, and the hunters must ride fifteen or twenty miles to reach them. The cow drivers are hastening, as they get ready, to the
rear of their charge to collect and prepare them for the day's march.
It is on the stroke of 7; the rushing to and fro, the cracking of the whips, the loud command to oxen, and what seems to be the inextricable confusion of the last ten minutes has ceased. Fortunately everyone has been found, and every teamster is at his post. The clear notes of the trumpet sound in the front; the pilot and his guards mount their horses, the leading division of wagons moves out of the encampment, and takes up the line of march, the rest fall into their places with the precision of clockwork, until the spot so lately full of life sinks back into that solitude that seems to reign over the broad plain and rushing river as the caravan draws its lazy length toward the distant El Dorado.
It is with the hunters we will briskly canter toward the bold but smooth and grassy bluffs that bound the broad valley, for we are not yet in sight of the grander but less beautiful scenery (of the Chimney Rock, Courthouse, and other bluffs, so nearly resembling giant castles and palaces) made by the passage of the Platte through the Highlands near Laramie. We have been traveling briskly for more than an hour. We have reached the top of the bluff and now have turned to view the wonderful panorama spread before us. To those who have not been on the Platte, my powers of description are wholly inadequate to convey an idea of the vast extent and grandeur of the picture and the rare beauty and distinctness of its detail. No haze or fog obscures objects in the pure transparent atmosphere of this lofty region.
The migration of a large body of men, women, and children across the Continent to Oregon was, in the year 1843, strictly an experiment not only in respect to the numbers, but to the outfit of the migrating party.
Before that date two or three missionaries had performed the journey on horseback, driving a few cows with them. Three or four wagons drawn by oxen had reached Fort Hall, on Snake river, but it was the honest opinion of most of those who had traveled the route down Snake river that no large number of cattle could be subsisted on its scanty pasturage, or wagons taken over a route so rugged and mountainous.
The emigrants were also assured that the Sioux would be much opposed to the passage of so large a body through their country, and would probably resist it on account of the emigrants destroying and frightening away the buffaloes, which were then diminishing in numbers.
The migrating body numbered over one thousand souls, with about one hundred and twenty wagons, drawn by six ox teams, averaging about six yokes to the team, and several thousand loose horses and cattle.
The emigrants first organized and attempted to travel in one body, but it was soon found that no progress could be made with a body so cumbrous, and as yet so averse to all discipline. And at the crossing of the "Big Blue," it divided into two columns, which traveled in supporting distance of each other as far as Independence Rock, on the Sweet Water.
From this point, all danger from Indians being over, the emigrants separated into small parties better suited to the narrow mountain paths and small pastures in their front.