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The passing of one of Wallowa’s pioneers occurred Tuesday morning July 9th, when Aunt Mary Wright died at her home in Enterprise after an illness of several months. She and her husband homesteaded on Alder slope among the very first settlers in the county. Had she lived until December would have 89 years.
Three sons are living in this city: George, Layfayette and Tom Wright. One son, Henry Wright lives in Portland and a daughter, Mrs. H. A. Owenby at Oregon City. The funeral is this afternoon at 2 p.m. at the Alder church, Rev. Sibley officiating.
Wallowa County Reporter Wednesday July 10, 1918
Aunt Mary Wright Called To Last Rest
Pioneer Woman Gone to Last Home Leaving a Record of a Long and Useful Life
Mrs. Mary Wright, one of the oldest residents of Wallowa county, died at her home in Enterprise, early Tuesday morning, July 9. Funeral services were held yesterday at the Alder church, conducted by Rev. F.R. Sibley. The church were the services were held was on ground given by Mr. and Mrs. Wright from their homestead. Five children remain: Mrs. I. J. Ownbey, George W. Lafayette and Thomas of Enterprise, and Henry of Portland. “Aunt Mary” as she was familiarly called came to this county in 1872 and has resided here continuously. To her many old friends and to later residents the following sketch of her trip across the country from Kansas, and her early experience here, will prove of interest.
Aunt Mary Wright was born December 28, 1830, in Randolph county, Indiana, and was a daughter of Mrs. And Mrs. Solomon Knight, also natives of Indiana. She was married to Reese R. Wright in Randolph county in 1849, and they went to housekeeping on a farm there. In a few years they removed to Iowa and lived on a frontier prairie farm. One child, Sarah Jane (Mrs. A.J. Ownbey of Oregon City) accompanied her parents to Iowa. The trip from Indiana to Iowa was made with a team of horses.
In 1855 they moved to Kansas and took up a claim on an Indian reservation. The trip to Kansas was made by ox team. While they were on the farm in Kansas the oxen found their principle source of food in acorns. A species of small tree – a sort of elm- grew there and Mr. Wright would cut them down and feed the twigs and branches to the oxen.
The cabin which they built the first winter was of logs, no doors, only heavy blankets over the openings, and with only a ground floor, and a fireplace such as were built by all the pioneers of eastern Kansas. Buffalo roamed the plains there, but they had to go some distance for them.
In 1862 they traded their claim for some cows and oxen and in April of that year they started for Oregon on the trail via Salt Lake city, Utah, known as the Oregon trail. About fifteen families composed the immigrant party, the wagons being drawn by oxen and mules. The oxen stood the trip well but the mules could not stand the alkali and other hardships, and died.
Aunt Mary took along a herd of cattle, as did nearly all the rest of the party, with the difference that four of hers were milk cows which supplied milk all the way to Oregon. On this trip, three children came along. Sarah Jane, Marietta (later married to R. W. Bloom and died on Alder Slope in 1887) and William R. who died a few years ago. Both of these children are buried in the Alder cemetery.
The overland journey was full of hardships and vicissitudes. No Indians were troublesome until after the Platte river was crossed. Capt. A. C. Smith, the well known pioneer, who died here in 1911, was a member of this immigrant party. Another man named Smith was guide to the party. At one time he conceived the notion to take a short cut and communicated the idea to the party. Capt. Smith refused to join in it and he and his partner went straight ahead with their outfit-one wagon. The others followed the guide- the other Smith -and were lost and their rations got short. Finally they wound up at the starting place and followed the more or less beaten regular trail.
Thru out the trip game was shot at times, rabbits, deer and antelope. The members of the party severely criticized the guide for taking the cut-off which nearly led to destruction. At no time did the party have any fight with Indians. They looked with envious eyes on the oxen, coming close to the party at times, hiding behind rocks and calling loudly “Wa-ha!” their lingo for oxen. One time about twenty Indians came into the camp, placed caps in their old flint rifles and asked members of the party if any guns were in the camp. One of the immigrants, Ham Hayworth, blandly pointed to one of the wagons and informed the Indians that it was full of rifles and ammunition. The Indians left without investigating any further.
Aunt Mary had a churn and supplied the wagon train with butter. Whenever churning time came plenty of eager hands were ready to do the work – they all wanted butter milk to drink. When Mr. Wright stood guard at night Aunt Mary would drive the ox team the following day. Whenever a piece of wood was seen along the trail she would jump off the seat, pick it up and store it away in the wagon. In that way she always had kindling and fire wood for quick cooking. The old shovel used by Aunt Mary in her camp fires was still in her possession. The shovel is an heirloom of the family, having been her mother’s,. Aunt Mary used it when a child in Indiana in the old fireplace. It is more than one hundred years old, and was made by a blacksmith. The old coffee mill which ground all the coffee for the emigrants, was also among her keepsakes. Aunt Mary would grind her coffee in the early morning and then pass the mill along and it would return to her at night. Some of the emigrants mixed barley with the coffee which made it hard to clean the mill.
Aunt Mary took with her from Kansas two sacks of corn meal, which served well on the trip as a variation from camp biscuits.
On several occasions the Indians succeeded in driving off some of the oxen of the emigrant train. Then the ones who had more than one yoke shared with the unfortunate ones. On one occasion Indians took one of Aunt Mary’s milk cows. During the night the cow broke away from its captors and returned to the wagon train.
While the emigrant train was at rest for a short time in Salt Lake City one of the residents of that then frontier town, claimed one of Mr. Wright’s oxen. He stated he had raised the animal in Kansas and insisted that it be handed over. Mr. Wright said it had his brand on the horn and refused to surrender it. The man followed about two miles but finally gave up.
The entire trip of this train was made without military protection. At one place, the old camp of a troop of cavalry was located where they met another train. The soldiers thought all the parties were together and escorted them to the Grande Ronde valley.
On arriving in the grand Ronde valley in the autumn of 1862, the party split up. Some of them remaining there and some went to the Willamette valley. The Wright family intended to go to the Willamette, but never got there. Instead they engaged in farming in the Grande Ronde and stayed there until 1872, and in that year came by oxen team to this county. The trip over Smith mountain proved arduous. Two wheels were pulled up at a time, half the supplies tied on the gearing. When all was on top the wagons were connected. Water was packed up by Mr. Wright and camp made for the night. William Wright was then 12 years old and drove the cattle on this trip while Mr. Wright drove the ox team.
The trip to this county was made in November and in Yokum gulch a frightful snow storm was encountered. It turned very cold and the family suffered a great deal.
When the family lived in the Grande Ronde valley there were not towns, and no railroads. The old town of La Grande consisted of a few houses and a store or two. For flour and supplies – the settlers went to Walla Walla with pack horses and packed it back across the Blue mountains. After a while a flour mill was started in what is now the town of Cove.
When the family arrived here Mr. Wright took up a homestead, what is now known as the Hugh Laird place, and proved up on it. When they came to this section no towns were in existence and no roads but Indian trails. In 1872 there were only about three cabins in the Wallowa valley. One was below Lostine (now) known as the James Masterson place; another was the old Bramlet ranch, about five miles below what is now Wallowa. Another small cabin stood on the site of the homestead taken by Mr. Wright. Some hunter had erected it. Indians were numerous, grazing thousands of ponies in the valley, and making it a hunting and fishing resort. Flour and other supplies for the family were brought from the Grande Ronde valley. A stock of supplies for the first winter had been brought in by Mr. Wright and his son Will during the summer of 1872. Wide boards were used to make wagon beds for each trip. These boards were used in the erection of the cabin on the site of the homestead.
Mr. Wright and his family were the oldest pioneers in this part of the county. During the Nez Perce war the family had no actual trouble with the Indians but on several occasions they took refuge to the stockade on Prairie creek and in the stockade on Alder Slope. At one time a number of neighbors had met at the Wright home. The Indians appeared in War paint, dismounted and surrounded the crowd of whites, demanding the surrender of a white man who had incurred their especial displeasure. The Indians were talked out of it; had they wished to take the man they could have massacred the entire white crowd.
When the excitement in 1878 reached an acute stage the family went to the Grande Ronde for several months. Provisions and household goods were left in the house and when the family returned the Indians had molested nothing. As a matter of fact, the Indians during all this excitement never practiced wanton destruction of property.
Mr. Wright kept the old homestead as a hay and stock ranch for many years. In 1900 he left the ranch and moved to Enterprise, where he died February 13, 1901, and is laid to rest in Alder Slope cemetery.
Enterprise Record Chieftain, Thursday, July 11, 1918