Sarah L. Byrd was born in Iowa in 1843. WPA worker Sara Wrenn conducted an oral history interview with Mrs. Byrd in Portland, Oregon, on February 28, 1939. Since Mrs. Byrd herself admits that she was quite young during her overland journey, how reliable do you think her testimony is?
View the entire interview with Sarah Byrd from American Life Histories: Manuscripts from the Federal Writers' Project, 1936-1940. Use your browser's Back Button to return to this point.
I ain't no hand for dates, so don't bother me about 'em. I do remember though when we came to Oregon. We came from I-O-WAY in 1848. That's a long time ago, ain't it? Joe Watt was captain of our train. Bein' so little, I don't remember how many wuz in the train, but I've heard 'em say it wuz a big one. Every night when we camped the wagons wuz pulled in a circle an' hooked together with chains an' oxen yokes. The folks camped inside that circle, an' close along-side wuz the stock, an' a guard wuz set up for the night.
Yes, it must hev ban an awful job cookin'. I wuz too little to do anything. 'Course they hed to cook on the open fire, an' on the plains, most o' the time ther wuz nothin' to burn but buffalo chips. I guess they got us'd to it, but I wouldn't like to.
The Indians wuz peaceable when we cum across. We didn't hev eny trouble o' any kind. Oh, once, I b'lieve the Indians stole a cow or somethin'. But the biggest excitement I c'n remember is a herd of stampedin' buffalo thet almost got us. It was dusk, an' we'd gone into camp, when, all at once, 'way off in the distance we see a big cloud o' dust. It cum near'r an' near'r, an' perty soon somebody yelled, "It's buffalo -- looks like a million of 'em, an' they're comin' this way." Mebbe ther wuzn't a fuss then. Everbody wuz shoutin' to everbody else, an' givin' orders, an' rushin' 'round like crazy people. Some o' the men got out on horses, an' some way or 'nother, what with ther yellin' an' wavin' whatever they cud get hold of, they kept the buffalo from comin' thru the camp. I c'n remember it all ez plain ez day, seein' them buffalo tear by, with their tails up an' ther heads close to the ground. Ther must 've ben a hunderd or more. That's a long way from a million, but the ground jest shook as they went by. Some o' the men got some good shots, an' we had plenty o' buffalo meat for awhile.
Bein' so little I can't remember very much about crossin' the plains. When we first got here we went to Oregon City an' stayed for a while. When we started from I-o-way father meant to go to Californy, but when they got to wher the roads parted to Oregon an' Californy, he came to Oregon. . . . We went up the Skipanon River frum Astoria, wher father settled an a squatter's claim. It wuzn't surveyed then. They jest had squatter's claims. We jest camped at first, an' then father built a log cabin with shake roof, an' a fireplace made o' sticks an' mud. It hed a floor too, sort o' what you'd call a puncheon floor I guess -- logs hewed flat on all sides an' put together. We'd brought two chairs across the plains thet father'd made in I-o-way. They hed cowhide seats in 'em. Later on. here in Oregon, he put rockers on 'em, an' they wuz al'ays father an' mother's chairs. . . .
They wuz lots o' elk down in thet country in them days, an' we got salt an' pervisions from the Hudson's Bay Co. No, we never used salt from that ol' salt cairn. Mother brought all kinds o' garden seed from I-o-way, an' the next year we had a good garden. Before the gold excitement wuz over in Californy we wuz sendin' butter down on the boats to the miners. I remember hearin' the folks say they got a dollar a pound fer butter, an' $5.00 a barrel for potatoes. I guess folks'd like to get thet much now fer butter an' potatoes.
'Course we us'd to make our own lights then. They wuz wick candles. The way we made 'em wuz to take wicking out the length of a candle, an' through a loop made at each end o' the wicking we'd put a stick. Then, holdin' 'em by the stick at each end -- mebbe there'd be half a dozen or more wicks -- we'd dip 'em in melted tallow. As soon as they'd harden we'd dip 'em again, doin' it over an' over 'til the candles wuz big enough to use. My! but didn't coal oil lamps seem wonderful when we got to usin' 'em. An' wuzn't I glad, 'cause I al'ays hed to help make the candles, soon as I wuz big enough. No, them candles wuzn't very good light, but ev'rybody went to bed early then -- an' got up early too. Ev'rybody hed chores an' work to do - an' ther wuz plenty o' work I can tell you. All the cookin' o' course wuz done at the fireplace. Meat wuz roasted by putting a big piece o' tin in front o' the fire. It wuz a sort o' reflector; the meat wuz put between it an' the fire, an' you never tasted anythin' better then meat roasted that way. Bread an' pies and cake all wuz baked in the dutch oven, a big iron, round kettle that sat on short legs an' hed a long handle, an' a lid thet curved up 'round the edges. The kettle wuz set on coals, an' coals an' ashes wuz heaped on the lid. . . .
No, we didn't hev much amusement when I wuz a young girl. It wuz wicked to do most anythin' in them days. My father thought cards an' dancin' wuz the devil's own. Down on Clatsop Plains wuz where the Presbyterians built their mission, you know, I don't remember much about that. I think a Mr. Lewis Thompson started that. But I remember how good everybody wuz. I us'd to hear about a boy that went fishin' one Sunday to a place called Stanley Point. He caught a salmon, an' he had to pass the church goin' home with it an' his folks wuz there an' they scolded him terrible.
View the entire interview with Sara Byrd from American Life Histories: Manuscripts from the Federal Writers' Project, 1936-1940. Use your browser's Back Button to return to this point.