William Lorton and the “Stampede Company”

William Lorton experienced more than his share of stampedes while on the overland trail. Difficulties with cattle continued to dog his company. On July 19th, while traveling along the Sweetwater river, they experienced three stampedes in one day. At noon he sat down to write in his journal (the spelling is his own):

While I wrote the above [about sage hens, antelope, and hares], sitting in the waggon at noon, a “stampeed” occurred. We halted at dinner upon a high hill. . . . We had all eaten dinner. Some were lying under the waggons assleep. Others set between the wheels & others in the wagons the same as myself. They say a saddle horse belonging to packers frightened them [the oxen]. The hind teams attached to wagons commenced & as quick as electricity they were all dashing down the steep hill.

Capt. Talors little boy was run over by waggon & oxen, another had a hand run over, another knocked in the head, another run over the leg, others knocked down, cattle became entangled in chains and wheels, axels broke, wheels passed over oxen, & 1 ox was dragged way down the hill under the box with feet up. He had a horn broke off & otherwise injured. Broken horns lay all around . . .

Troubadour on the Road to Gold, p. 141

And that wasn’t the end of it.

In less than 2 hours after writing the above we had 2 more “stampedes” 1 was caused by a dead ox laying beside the road. The other was caused by nothing at all. At night while caraling, we could hardly unyoke them & with difficulty & risk of life they could be held from stampeding the approaching teams.

p. 142
Wagons forming a corral by Independence Rock, with cattle going to drink in the Sweetwater

He wasn’t exaggerating when he said that it was “worth your life” to go into the corral. A heavy crazed ox is a danger to life and limb.

The next day the mood was somber.

July 20th. Long faces, under lips, grave faces, sorriful countenances, cross men, moody mannered & discouraged. A great many felt as if a curse had been put upon them. Hundreds of other comp [companies] have not seen a stampeed & nothing appears to frighten them, while our comp. is known along the whole rout by the [name of] the stampeed comp.

p. 142

It was a tough journey, but after this he doesn’t mention any more stampedes, so maybe the oxen settled down.

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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