Biography of George Wood Ebbert
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GEORGE WOOD EBBERT. – A life of sixty years in and west of the Rocky Mountains, fifty of which have been passed in the Willamette valley, – this is the pioneer record of Mr. Ebbert. As such it is full of interest; and in its further character, as a career of exceptional activity and adventure, it is of thrilling fascination. Although now eighty years of age, somewhat bent and infirm, the fires of manhood still glow, and the mind is still active.
He was born in Bracken county, Kentucky, in 1810. When a youth he was apprenticed at Louisville to learn the blacksmith trade. The last year of his time he deemed unnecessary, and was next heard of at St. Louis. At this town of Frenchmen and trappers he enlisted for the Rocky Mountains to serve in the company of Smith, Sublette and Meek, also a youth of nineteen. A year of service in the fir country finished the agreement; and, like the most of the other young men, Ebbert bought an equipment and began life as a free trapper. This continued two years, when Wyeth coming across the continent secured him as one of his company to occupy Fort Hall, which he had built.
Life here was not a holiday. On a small stream sixty miles from the fort occurred one of the most desperate fights with the Blackfeet Indians ever had by anybody. Ebbert, Wilkins and three others had a camp on the head of the creek, trapping. It was in a sequestered spot supposed to be hidden from even the prying eyes of the Indians. But one morning just about dawn the boys looked out and saw the lowlands full of the Blackfeet. They were scurrying across the plains, and would be soon upon the fort. Ebbert roused his comrades by shouting; “Get up boys. All the Injuns in the world are coming!” He himself seized his gun and took a run outside of camp to get a look at the situation. But the storm was already upon them; and a sharp sting in the neighborhood of his heel told the daring adventurer to seek cover. The five men in cap, which was well barricaded, now began a fire upon the assailants; and their fusillade was so effective as to check the onslaught. Ebbert got a good porthole to shoot from, and as he emptied his gun would pass it back for another already loaded. His Nez Perce wife was there. He fired seven times, each shot taking effect. The Blackfeet drew off after a time , but not without shooting a vast number of arrows, many of which fell within the fort. These the Nez Perce woman had the thrift to pick up and put the heads into her pack of treasures, such as beads, etc., which she always carried with her. Each arrow head was valuable, worth a dollar at any post.
Although the savages had not carried the little camp, it was useless to stay any longer now that its whereabouts was known; and the more expeditiously the trappers got back to Fort Hall the better. Ebbett discovered after the fight that the shot in his heel had half cut the cord; and in this condition he must walk sixty miles. The retreat was painful and severe. Ebbert’s heel bothered him; his wife’s load of some sixty pounds’ weight was so burdensome as to cause one of her knees to swell so as to make traveling almost impossible; and she begged to be left behind; She could dig roots, she said, and would come on a few days later. The pony was so heavily loaded with beaver skins that it could not make rapid progress. Before the march was over, they suffered terribly from thirst; and one of the men dropped by the way. When at last water was reached it was a mere puddle, fouled by wild animals and full of tadpoles; but, by digging, something fit to drink was obtained. while here the Indian wife came up; and the trappers made a cache of all their goods. taking the pony, the woman went back with water to the man who had given out, and fetched him along. After this she rode. At the Snake river they found the water up to the banks, filled with drift and rushing with a terrific current. But they made a raft and managed to pole and paddle across; and ten miles more brought them to the end of their journey.
In 1833, Ebbert came down to Vancouver as expressman from Lieutenant Thing with messages for Captain Wyeth. He afterwards took service for a time with the Hudson’s Bay Company, and in 1837 and 1838 was at Waiilatpu and at Lapwai as blacksmith for the missionaries. In 1839 he came down the Columbia to make a home for himself, and took up the place upon which he now lives, four miles northeast of Hillsboro. Here he passed his time on the grassy plains, herding cattle, hunting deer, and raising wheat. He lived in a little log cabin, of which his faithful Nez Perce wife was mistress.
In December, 1849, he was called upon once more to take up his gun in the Indian country. This was in the Cayuse war. When the struggle was well along and the way was opened eastward, he joined the company going to Washington, to bear the tidings of the massacre of Whitman. There were some eight who started, in February, 1848; and three, Meek, Leabo and Ebbert, got to the Capital. It was a rough trip in the snow through the Rocky Mountains; and, but for the fortunate meeting with Peg Leg Smith on Bear river, they must have eaten more horse been and mule meat than in point of fact they did do. Ebbert remembers his securing a considerable piece of a mule that must soon have died of starvation, and that a slice from this interposed between two slices of fried pork materially increased the value of the latter. At Washington, the Oregonians met many of the great men of the day; but Ebbert failed to get any part of the appropriation made for Meek and his escort.
Returning to Oregon, Mr. Ebbert felt fully satisfied with his claim on the Tualatin Plains, and has lived there half a century, still maintaining his health. The active affairs of the place he has given over to his son, and to his daughter, Mrs. George Morrow. Mr. Morrow is one of the best farmers in the country, and a man of intelligence and public spirit.