Stampede! — William Lorton’s Journal

William Lorton was a frequent witness of one of the most dangerous events on the prairie — a stampede. Anything could set the cattle off — a carcass, or lightning, or a dog barking — and sometimes it seemed like nothing at all would set them running. Here he is, describing a stampede on June 4th:

3 o’clock P.M., as I am standing or walking by the side of the wagon the cry of men, the noise of prancing cattle meets our startled ears. You turn & look & lo & behold the hind teams running towards us like magic & as quick as lightning the spirit of “stampede” runs along the whole train. I turn as quick as possible & find 4 teams within a few rods of me with scarcely room to escape. I pulled off my hat & succeeded in turning a team coming full split on our near side. They geed off & come come in contact with the hind part of our Ark [i.e., wagon] & [it] knocked them all down in a heap.

Did ever man think cattle could make such speed. All still a minute before & now all confusion, & none can give the cause.

On they come like a mighty avalanch toward us, chains rattling, wheels grating, wagons cracking, piles of oxen upon oxen. Men thrown down, cattle run over, & all in the utmost confusion. Our oxen are not backward in the chase. Takes it [the wagon] as quick as a wink, & the first thing known, they are off. We all run after it, but we might as well stop! for the fleetest steed could not out run these terrified animals.

When it is all over, surprisingly, only one cow was injured and had to be shot. All the rest recovered, animals and men alike, although Lorton says, “women were in some of the wagons & what must have been their feelings.”

Illustration of a Stampede

About nancyleek

Nancy is a retired librarian who lives in Chico, California. She is the author of John Bidwell: The Adventurous Life of a California Pioneer.
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