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Weaver tells crossing the Plains

By Jan Lawrence

Susan Manerva Weaver, the granddaughter of John and Elizabeth Biffle Weaver, married John Wesley McAbee on August 19, 1852, when she was twenty-one. She and her husband started across the Plains by ox team and wagon to California the following spring. The account of their trip was dictated to Susan’s granddaughter Zephaniah Rawls Michelson with additions by another granddaughter Marguerite McBee Metzler. This is Susan’s story.

“There were three teams that started to California from Henry County, Missouri, in May 1853: my husband (John Wesley McAbee), John L. Crow and Rankin Crow, John L.’s father. John L. and Mac’s sister Jane were engaged to be married when the (wagon) train started. But we were only one day out when they decided to go back to be married and catch the train further out. They were not able to overtake us, however, or so they said until we were about three weeks out. It was at the Caw River, now known as the Kansas River that they came up.

When we were about two weeks out, a family by the name of Brown joined us. Brown was driving three thousand head of sheep across the Plains.
We knew it to be dangerous to travel in such small numbers and we were more than anxious about John L. and Jane, as we knew the Indians were about and had some slight difficulty with them about a week before John L. and Jane caught up with us at Caw River. One morning just before we crossed the Caw, the Indians stole thirty-nine head of Mac’s cattle. Brown and Mac were loath to let the cattle go without an attempt at recovery, at least. So they tracked the cattle and Indians by the disturbed dew on the grass. The younger boys from the Brown family struck out by themselves, quite outdistancing Brown and Mac, who proceeded with guns and caution.

The young ones found the cattle just as the Indians found them.
The cattle had been herded into a narrow riverbed or enclosure of some sort so they could be held against a possible attack. The Indians frightened the boys out of their senses. They danced around them, shouted and harangued at a great rate. They stripped them of everything possible: rings, tobacco, money, knives…everything…but signified to the boys to drive the cattle back.

I never understood this. Perhaps those particular Indians were in a playful mood that day, or perhaps the fact that the boys were young and unarmed appealed to their sense of native chivalry. Perhaps they were but a small hunting party far from their own village in an enemy country and afraid the white men would follow and attack them. However that may be, we were glad enough to get the boys back, unharmed, and we didn’t want to lose the cattle either at so near the beginning of our journey.

Sentinels were placed that night a mile and a half east of the Caw river crossing. The banks of the River were thick with wagons that had gathered here awaiting to be ferried across. Brown was forced to shoot an Indian that night as he was attempting to steal cattle. Mac heard the shot and ran to Brown’s assistance. They both gave chase but could not overtake them.
The next morning the chief and some gorgeous warriors came to the ferry, wanting the man that had ‘killed Indian.’ Mac told the ferryman who the man was and why it had happened. The ferryman assumed great anger toward the Indians and told the chief to get out of the woods and take his Indians or the White Man would kill every Indian. They went, riding their ponies like mad.

The trains waiting at the Caw were all crossed in due time, but from this point on, while they continued under their own immediate leader, all trains traveled nearer together by common consent for the sake of protection. We continued this way until we reached One Hundred and Ten. One Hundred and Ten is where the Santa Fe Train came together. It started from the Saint Joe River in Missouri and came south. There were about fifteen or twenty wagons in the Santa Fe Train that passed us. I do not know positively, but I think the Santa Fe Train went on to some fort south on the Kansas River.”

Submitted by Jan Lawrence, Chair of Dry Ridge Historical Museum. For access to Family Histories housed at the Satellite location of the museum, call 828-658-3934

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Clint Parker

Publisher & Editor Weaverville Tribune

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