Near Wasco in Sherman County, Oregon — The American West (Northwest)
Deschutes River Crossing Oregon Trail Kiosk
Oregon Trail emigrants reached the Columbia River after an arduous trek across the dry and dusty Columbia Plateau, where Harriet A. Loughary, emigrant of 1864, noted "nothing indicates life except an occasional Juniper tree." Weary emigrants found little comfort on the plateau: water, firewood, and browse for livestock was scarce. Honore-Timothee Lempfrit, emigrant of 1848, descended the bluffs to the Columbia River and exclaimed, "Our poor animals were exhausted by fatigue and were at the point of collapse from inanition." Some emigrants reached this site and were forced to lighten their loads before crossing the river.
When we finally reached the Des Chutes region we were obliged to do exactly what those before us had done, doubtless with no lighter hearts than ours. We cast aside every article that we could possibly spare. One wagon was shaved and whittled down as much as was consistent with strength and safety. All of our belongings were then put into this one, and the other perfectly good wagon left standing disconsolately beside the road. Oh, it was truly heart-breaking! But it had to be done. There was no use repining.
Early Oregon Trail emigrants floated down the Columbia River or followed its south bank from Fort Walla Walla. In the 1840s travelers established an alternate route from the Umatilla River to The Dalles across the Columbia Plateau. The new route, 4 to 12 miles south of the river, shortened the journey to the Willamette Valley, but as William J. Watson noted in '49, emigrants found the road "very dusty" and traveled long distances "without water or wood," Emigrants reached the Columbia River a few miles to the east near Biggs, and some were disappointed by what they found.
About midnight we reached the longed for Columbia River, but alas! what a disappointment. We had thought that we would find the Promised Land, we had set our hopes on a new Eden! Not so! We found a dry and arid land where there was not a piece of wood, not even a stick, and where a violent wind carried clouds of dust with it. That was it, that was all we found there.
Oregon Trail emigrants traveling across the Columbia Plateau caught their first view of what William J. Watson, emigrant of 1849, called the "long - looked for Columbia" from the crest of a hill near Biggs. With Mt. Hood towering majestically to the southwest and the Columbia River below, the day was fast approaching when emigrants would part company to become settlers. Relief near journey's end was surely offset by melancholy.
This morning our party is separated after months of toil and hardships, dangers and difficulties freely helping to bear each others burden, begets a friendship not easily severed. All of the wagons go over the mountains except our own. We start alone toward The Dalles... -- Harriet A. Loughary; August 24, 1864
After crossing the Deschutes most Oregon Trail emigrants traveled south of the Columbia and did not see the large Indian villages at nearby Celilo Falls. Indians were not scarce at this river crossing, however, Elizabeth Dixon Smith, emigrant
"That Indian, whose untutored mind
Sees God in the clouds, or hears him in the wind--
Whose soul, proud science never taught to stray"
Far as the glittering sun, or other orbs of day,
Lives far retird -- a kanion deep, a solitary dell,
A gloomy shade -- 'tis there he deigns to dwell.
What is his food, when naught but rocks around
Are seen? No fields of plenty there to clothe the ground.
His Raiment, also scant, to shield his naked form,
No robes of beasts, nor pelts, nor furs, to guard from the storm.
And when with food he chance to break his fast,
He finds no wood to cook his limited repast.
Alas, what then? The salmon and the salmon trout,
In that mad stream are seen to gambol about.
By him prepared upon the rocks, or hung on slender poles,
Not far above, on steep decline, where furious water rolls,
He dries his food, and thus 'tis savd from future harm...
Riley Root; September 2, 1848
...we drove four miles to Des Chutes River, a rapid stream heading in the mountain and one hundred fifty yards wide. The wind being high we could not ferry. We then concluded to ford it. The ferryman declared all would be lost, telling enormous lies to alarm us, but we employed an Indian guide who rode before each wagon, giving us the course to the island, the ford being very crooked; he then rode in front of one team, the rest following in a string, the course being nearly straight across the second channel. We paid him $2 for his services, all being across safe and dry. Our ferriage would have been $15; thus we saved $13 by fording. -- Basil Longworth,; September 17-18, 1853
The Deschutes River drains the eastern slopes of the Cascade Range and flows from Central Oregon to the Columbia River. Here, near its confluence with the Columbia, the Deschutes flows through a chasm that Riley Root, emigrant of 1848, compared to "the valley of Sinbad the sailor." Oregon Trail emigrants usually arrived at this site in the late afternoon, and after a perilous river crossing they ascended the hill immediately to the west, camping at the summit. Amelia Hadley described this ascent in 1851 as "almost insurmountable." The emigrant's route is still visible across the river, particularly in early morning or late evening light.
After we had got across the river we stopped for a few moments to debate whether we should push on further ahead. We were faced with a very steep hill to climb ... the Captain was the first to get up the hill and to do so he had to use our four pairs of oxen as well as his own. Thus he had eight pairs and despite this long string of oxen he had the utmost difficulty in reaching the top of the hill. After this he came down for us and we managed to get up the hill quite well. When we arrived at the summit we found a nice little spot to set up our camp." -- Honore-Timothee Lempfrit; September 22, 1848
Excitement filled the air May 22, 1843 as nearly one thousand Americans left Missouri toward new lives in the Oregon Country. During the next two decades, more than 50,000 people emigrated to a land of abundance. a land that Abigail Scott, emigrant of 1852, called the "Garden of the World." The Oregon Trail was more than two thousand miles through what Riley Root, emigrant of 1848, called "Landscape without soil! River bottoms with scarcely enough grass to support emigrant teams." The fragile landscape's ability to sustain life eroded as numbers of emigrants increased and privation, illness and death became constant companions. Emigrants endured an extremely wearisome road, and by the time they reached this portion of the trail, with the journey's end in sight, many would soon switch their teams from the wagon to the plow.
We lay last night about 3 miles above the mouth of Big Sandy Creek on the opposite of the river, which was out (sic) stopping place. We landed this morning at our destine place and to our great joy found the rest of our company with the mules all safely over the Cascade Mountains. We remained here several days to rest and dry out and counsel where to lay our claims and after retuning our acknowledgements to the Beneficent Being who alone can preserve through the many dangers and difficulties through which we have passed, and having all
Erected by Oregon Trail Coordinating Council (OTCC).
Marker series. This marker is included in the Oregon Trail marker series.
Location. 45° 37.914′ N, 120° 54.522′ W. Marker is near Wasco, Oregon, in Sherman County. Marker can be reached from Biggs-Rufus Highway (Oregon Route 209) near Old Moody Road (County Route 143). Touch for map. Marker is at or near this postal address: 89600 Biggs-Rufus Highway, Wasco OR 97065, United States of America.
Other nearby markers. At least 8 other markers are within 7 miles of this marker, measured as the crow flies. Deschutes River Crossing (approx. ¼ mile away); Ancient Indian Fishing Grounds (approx. 2.8 miles away); Greatest Indian Fishery of the Northwest (approx. 2.8 miles away); The Lewis and Clark Expedition (approx. 2.8 miles away); Celilo Falls Fishing Grounds (approx. 2.8 miles away); First Sight of the Columbia River (approx. 3.9 miles away); Sam Hill Country (approx. 6.3 miles away in Washington); Stonehenge (approx. 6.6 miles away in Washington).
More about this marker. The kiosk is located in Deschutes River Recreation Area, on the left
Categories. • Roads & Vehicles • Settlements & Settlers •
Credits. This page was last revised on December 29, 2017. This page originally submitted on December 29, 2017, by Barry Swackhamer of San Jose, California. This page has been viewed 86 times since then and 23 times this year. Photos: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10. submitted on December 29, 2017, by Barry Swackhamer of San Jose, California.