Medorem Crawford’s 1863 advice to travelers on the Oregon Trail Image

The undersigned, having been for two years past connected with Government Escorts for protection of emigrants on the road to Oregon, and Washington Territory, and being detailed by the Secretary of War for similar service this season, would take this method to advise persons intending to emigrate, as to outfit, time of starting, &c., &c.

None but good, new, medium-sized wagons, with iron axletree or thimble skein, should be used. Mules or oxen should be used for teams. Horses will not do to depend upon for service. The cheapest and best team is medium-sized, active, young oxen. No kind of stock will pay to take over on speculation, and emigrants should avoid taxing themselves with too much labor. An ordinary two-horse wagon, with eighteen hundred weight, good double cover, and three yoke of light, active cattle, are the best outfit a man can have. A few extra animals, in each company, would be an excellent precaution against accidents, and extra shoes and nails should be provided for horses and mules. Plenty of wagon grease should be provided and freely used.

The time required from the Missouri River, to the Settlements, will not vary much from one hundred days, with teams.

Each person should take at least 250 pounds of provisions; one-half of which should be flour, fifty pounds bacon, and the balance in sugar, coffee, tea, rice, dried fruit, &c., &c. There should be at least two men to each wagon, as the labor of driving, and taking proper care of a team and wagon, is more than one man can perform, in addition to other camp labor. Each man should be armed, and keep his gun convenient, and ready for use on the shortest notice. No furniture or extra baggage of any kind should be carried, nothing but what is actually required on the journey.

Before leaving the Settlements, companies should be organized in parties of no less than thirty or more than sixty wagons. One of your number, should be chosen Captain, and one for Train-Master. Your officers should then make a vigilant examination and inspection of every man’s wagon, team, arms, ammunition, provisions &c., and no man should be allowed to join a company unless properly outfitted, otherwise you will have persons in your company unable to keep up, or otherwise deficient, which deficiency will have to be supplied by the company for the persons left destitute on the plains. Your Captain should decide and order when to start, when, and where to camp, and his orders should be implicitly obeyed. He should also decide all questions or disputes arising in your company, and his decision should be final, whether right or wrong.

Your Train Master should travel always with the train, and see that those in the lead do not travel too fast, or those in the rear fall too far behind. He should look for the best crossings of streams and bad places in the road, and give directions for doubling teams at bad hills. By having one thus to direct, if he is promptly obeyed, much time will be saved. At the end of a days’ travel, the Captain, having selected the camp, the Train Master should direct where the herd are to be watered, and where the best grass is to be found. Each driver should see that his team has plenty of water and drive them to the grass as soon as possible after arriving in camp. The Captain and the Train Master should be relieved, at the expense of the company, from giving any special attention to their own teams, while on the march, and from guard duty. For guard duty the men of your company should be equally divided in three divisions or squads, one of which is constantly on duty, under the direction of an officer, selected by the Captain, who for convenience, may be called Sergeant. These squads should be equally divided, and these sub-divisions releave each other during the twenty-four hours they are on duty. The herd should never be left, day or night, without guards, and a guard should also be kept in camp nights. The firing of guns in camp should be strictly prohibited, and the report of a gun or pistol after dark, should be a signal for all hands to reply with arms.

Take no dogs along, for they are a continual source of annoyance, and seldom live to get over the barren country along Snake River.

The escort under my charge will consist of about fifty armed men. I shall leave Omaha about the 20th of May, or as soon after as possible. My route will be up the Platte River, thence up the Street Water, over the Lander Road, leaving that road and crossing Snake River a short distance this side of old Fort Hill. There will doubtless be a ferry established for the convenience of emigrants, in that vicinity. With the road on the north side of Snake River, I am not personally acquainted, but am well satisfied that it is much better than the old route, on the south side, my information being based upon representations of emigrants who traveled that road last season.

This road will lead emigrants directly to the Boisie mines, which will be found about 300 miles from the crossing of Snake River. This road will be preferable as well to those desiring to go to the settled portions of Oregon and Washington Territory as to those going to the mines, as there is a well traveled road from these mines to Walla-Walla.

As friendly Indians often visit Emigrant camps for trade, care should be taken not to encourage too much familiarity. They should not be allowed inside the camp. If you have business with them transact it outside.

After leaving the Platte River no person should leave camp alone and it is dangerous for small parties to be far from the camp or train.

Be sure to drive slow in the start. Your teams should pass the first Eight Hundred miles without losing either flesh or spirits. This escort is intended to protect emigrants, as far as possible, against Indian depredations, but unless emigrants will use the necessary precautions to insure their own safety, they are liable to suffer in spite of any assistance I shall be able to render them.

By organizing in this manner, and observing these simple rules,  you will avoid most, if not all, the difficulties and losses to which emigrants are usually subjected.


Commanding Emigrant Escort