We Who Survived - 6 Susan Kimball and Elizabeth Sager
Having received Susan Wirt's address from Catherine Pringle, I wrote to her, telling of my book writing project and also of the possibility of meeting up with Oscar Canfield and his brother
in late July. Here is her reply.
Clapsop House Inn
May 20, 1880
Dear Mr. Young,
I do think I remember you, even though we would only have seen you for those few weeks at the end. It would be very nice to meet up with you and your family again – as well as members of
Mr. Canfield's family. I would like to make a suggestion. Both my sister and I are involved in the hotel business, so we can easily arrange to put you and your family and Mr. Canfield's relatives up
here. My brother Nathan would also wish to be included in the reunion. It means that we can continue with having our normal guests, as it would be very difficult for us to be away during the summer season. And when the ship docks in Portland, perhaps Mr. Canfield can arrange for his bags to be stored temporarily. My brother-in-law, Joel, runs a riverboat service. He can pick you all up in Portland harbor and bring you here, and take you back there again. I hope that will be satisfactory to you. Please let me know the exact dates as soon as you can, so I can make all the necessary arrangements.
I won't write any more now about my memories of those long ago days, as it will be easier to talk of it when we are all together face to face.
Mrs. Susan Wirt
I wrote back to Mrs. Wirt saying that I thought her offer was most excellent, and when I heard back from Mr. Canfield again, he was very happy with the arrangement.
In the meantime, I received back a letter from another of the Sager girls, Elizabeth.
May 25, 1880
Dear Mr. Young,
I do remember you and your family and am glad to know that you are well. It is interesting that you are going to write up a story of your life. I think we all feel like doing that as we had such an experience in our childhood that most could not believe. However, I do not have time to write out a long history of my experiences, but I will send you a copy of the letter that I sent to my Uncle which tells the story. Could I ask you please to return it to me when you have finished reading and copying from it whatever you want.
My sister thinks that you will probably be coming in this direction to visit us, and I look forward to that. I have spoken to Mary Cason and she would be interested in seeing you again too.
Mrs. Elizabeth Sager Helm (pictured above)
Jan. 17, 1855.
There is something so novel in writing to you, my unknown friend, that I hardly know how to commence. I was greatly surprised in getting a letter from my relatives after so great a lapse of time. Brother John used to take me on his knee and tell over the names of my Uncles and I distinctly remember Uncle Frederick's name. And as I have now heard of you I will give you a short history of our lives.
We started on our road to Oregon in the year 1844. If I mistake not it was in the month of April. Mother was not well when we started. She said she would not live to get through. Father gave her a choice to come to Oregon or go back to Indiana and she said she would rather come to Oregon. In May after we started she had a little baby. She was sick from that time on till she died. When we got to Fort Laramie we met with a sad misfortune; sister Catherine fell out of the wagon and shivered her leg all to pieces. She went to get out of the wagon and her dress caught on the ax handle and she fell and the fore wheel run right over her leg and back fortunately it did not injure the back any. It went very hard with mother. Father set the leg himself. He would not trust the case to any of the doctors. It healed her without even making her lame. Father was taken sick I think on Platt River; he caused his sickness by chasing some buffalo on a very hot day. Just as we crossed Green River he died. Sister Catherine was sick at the same time with her leg. A few days before he died he laid his hand on her head and said, "poor child what will become of you when your father dies" and these were the last words he ever spoke to her. Mother just lived 21 days after father died. She left us in the care of an old Dutch doctor and told him to take us to the first mission. He promised her faithfully with the tears running down his cheeks that he would take care of us as if we were his own children. He was very kind to us and kept his promise.
We arrived at Dr. Whitman's station on the 17th day of October and here the doctor left us. There were seven children of all of us. First there was John 14 years of age, Francis 12, Catherine 9, Elizabeth 7, Matilda 5, Louisa 3, and Henrietta which was the babe born on the road, 5 months. This was quite a large and helpless family for one man to take. He adopted us all and treated us
as if we were his own children. We always called them father and mother. They had no children of their own. The boys were going to come on down with the emigration and live in the valley until they
were old enough to hold claim, then they were going to send for us girls and take care of us themselves, but Dr. Whitman persuaded them to give up the idea and live with him. He said he would not have the girls unless he could have the boys too. We lived three years very happily. When on the fatal 29th of November, 1847, we were doomed to witness what I pray I may never behold again, the murder of my beloved brothers and adopted father and mother and eleven emigrants.
It makes my blood cold to think of it.
We were all sick with the measles at the time. Louisa and Henrietta were not expected to live from one hour to another. The massacre commenced at one o'clock in the day on a Monday. I had gone from the kitchen into the dining room when all at once I heard a great firing in the room I had just left. Mrs. Whitman threw up her hands and exclaimed, the Indians are killing us.
An Indian had called the doctor out in the kitchen just a little before, under a pretense of wanting medicine, and the firing was at him. Brother John was in there winding a ball of twine at the time. When next I saw him he was a lifeless corpse. When the firing ceased Mrs. Whitman stepped into
the kitchen and dragged father into the dining room and asked him if she could do anything for him; he whispered no and it was the last words he ever spoke. As she was passing into the parlor to get some ashes to put on his mangled head to stop the blood she stepped to the window to see what was going on, an Indian raised his gun and a ball went right through her right side. I was standing by her at the time. It seemed almost a miracle that it did not go right through my head. Mother dropped where she was standing and did not think of herself, for her prayer was, "Oh my dear children what will become of you." How I pitied her: I could not cry, I could not move.
Presently I was aroused by the crashing of the windows and Mother exclaimed, "take them upstairs." Mr. Rodgers, the teacher, although he was wounded very bad, motioned for all of us to run upstairs while he gathered the sick children to bring them up, and when he got them up he went back for mother. An Indian came and called for them to come downstairs, that they were
going to set the house on fire. But they did not go down, so the Indian came upstairs. He told mother he was her firm friend and not to fear anything, to come down immediately for they were going to burn the house so they went, myself and several of the women went with them. When we got down mother was laid on a settee to be taken over to the other house where the emigrants stayed. Mr. Rodgers and a half breed man by the name of Joe Lewis, each took one end of the
settee. The Indians came in and shook their blankets saying "we have no guns, you need not be afraid." We stepped into the kitchen and saw the lifeless body of brother John lying on his face
in the door. We had to step over him as we passed out. When we got on the front steps I looked around and saw a row of Indians along the wall ready to fire as soon as their victims should appear; I turned and ran upstairs as fast as I could. I slipped in the blood as I went; there was blood all over the wall by brother John. The Indian told us he fought desperately for his life. We children staid
upstairs till the next day. The Indian that got mother and Mr. Rodgers to go down told us that Francis had run away; that they did not kill him. Just as we were passing through the room there lay
Francis dead in the door. Sister Kate was afraid to go on; she said the Indians were going to kill us as they had mother last night. I did not feel afraid somehow; I felt they would not touch us. I was
frightened more when the Catholic priest came, as he said to see that they were buried decently. I felt more afraid of him than of the Indians. The bodies laid out in the yard for three days before they
were buried. I went over with the priest and took a last look at my brothers. Five days after Dr Whitman was killed Louisa died. I went to see her buried, though the women tried hard to keep me from going. We were prisoners for eight weeks when Mr. Ogden came and bought us from them.
I expect you will think this not a very good description of the massacre, but when I write again I will give you all the particulars. Matilda knows more about it than I do. I will write you her evidence next time I write to you. When I came into the valley I went to live with a man by the name of Robb. I lived with him for two years when he wanted to take his family to California. I did not want to go so I went to live with a man by the name of Wilson. I lived there a year but they were so unkind to me that I would not stay there any longer. So I went to live with Mr. Parrish. His wife made a great fuss one day because I wanted to go and see my sister Matilda. Sister Catherine was going and wanted me to go with her. We had not seen her but once in four years, and you may be sure that I wanted to see her very much. Sister Catherine had just been married a few months to a man named Clark Pringle. When we came back from the plains Mrs. Parrish told me I could not live with her any
more, so brother Clark took me to live with them. I have lived with them three years now. I support myself by teaching school, that is I get my own clothes. Sister Catherine has one little girl. Her name is Kate Vergelia. Henrietta lives with Clark too. Matilda lives with Mr. Geiger at the Tualatin plains fifty miles from us. I have not seen her but three times since we came from Dr. Whitman's. She wrote me that she would be married sometime in February to a Mr Haylett, who is thirty while she is only fifteen. I expect you will think this a funny match, but it's nothing in Oregon.
I have a great many questions to ask you and some of them I expect you will think very silly, but I have such a curiosity to know everything. When you write to me I want you to answer all of
them if you can. I want to know if you are a married man and if so who you married: if you have any children and what their names are; how many brothers my father had and their wives names as they are married, and what my grandmother's name was before she was married, also what grandfathers other two wives names were. I want to know what my fathers age would have been had he lived, also mothers age. What state they were born in and in what month and on what day. If have it please send a lock of fathers and mothers hair; also of your own and of dear grandfather. Sister Catherine wrote you a letter on the 24th of December. She gave you more particulars than I can as she
was older than I and can remember more than I do. She sent you a lock of all our hair. Could you send grandfathers daguerreotype? we would prize it as highly as if it was grandpa himself. I always thought he was dead and was very much surprised when you wrote to us he was alive yet. I will send you three pieces of my hair. Please give one locket to grandfather and tell him to keep it to remember his little granddaughter; give one of the other locks to your oldest daughter if you have any, if not keep it yourself. Give the other lock to some of my cousins if I have any. Write to me as soon as you get this letter if you please and give me all the particulars.
Elizabeth M. Sager