Resources > The Lost Wagon Train & Oregon Trail Cutoff Fever

Welcome to our first online exhibit. We hope you enjoy learning about this harrowing journey "west.”

Masons & The Lost Wagon Train

Hang the Guide!

Elijah Elliot photo

It was now mid-September. They were running out of food. It was unbearably hot. Water was scarce. The lakes so often seen ahead were mirages. The lakes they did find contained undrinkable brackish water. Years later John McClure, then age 8, would write verse that captures the plight of the beleaguered party on the hot desert:

The people suffering with hunger and thirst Brooded o’er their troubles till their anger burst on the guide who had brought them to this place they resolved to hang him and their grievance efface.

Legend confirms that they came close to hanging the guide, Elijah Elliott. They relented only when Elliott’s wife interceded, pleading that the Elliott family was suffering equally with the rest of the party.

—from Ken Metzler, The Lost Wagon Train: Oregon’s Premier Rescue Mission, Lane County Historical Society, 2006

The Elliott Cutoff

The road is the worst we have found on this side of the Missouri and the worst I ever saw. I think that we have not traveled over one hundred feet of level ground today and the hills are covered with large stones... Mr. Elliott is thought to be about twenty miles ahead and seems to follow as nearly as possible the footsteps of Meeks. The road is said to have been surveyed across the Cascades is the only assurance.

—Journal of Andrew McClure, September 7, 1853

The Rescuers

Pleasant Hill. O.T., Nov. 9, 1853

W.W.Bristow MR. EDITOR: —The immigration on the new road has got safely into the valley. Their stock is all in good condition, in fact better than it generally is for the lateness of the season, on the other route. A good many cattle have been left in the mountains that wandered into the brush from their owners. I have conversed with a great many who came in, and from what they say, Mr. Elliot stands fair with a majority of the immigration. They exculpate him from all blame in coming this way, and say if they had followed his advice they would not have been lost in the desert and would have saved distance, time and much suffering, as some of the Oregonians overruled him and turned them south, when he wished to turn them towards the north, which proved afterwards to be the correct way.

I find the first news we received of their suffering was considerably exaggerated. The news that a band of sheep was on the new road was incorrect.

Yours, c.
W.W. Bristow

A pioneer of 1850, Mahlon H. Harlow over-wintered in Salt Lake City and settled in Lane County shortly after it was established in the fall of 1851. Born in Kentucky, he emigrated from Missouri and was forty years old when he settled on the Forks of the Willamette River, 2 ½ miles from Eugene City. He acquired his farm by trading for 320 acres with an old pistol and a five dollar gold piece! He was married to Frances Tandy Harlow and together they raised eight children. His Oregon Trail diary is part of the collections of the Lane County Historical Society and Museum.

The Mahlon Hall Harlow Family circa 1888 By spring 1852 Mr. Harlow was practicing the carpenter’s trade in Eugene and his home was functioning as Eugene’s first church, the Willamette Forks Baptist Church of Jesus Christ. Lane County’s first county clerk, he was one of two future Masons participating in the rescue of the Elliott Cutoff party, frequently referred to as the “Lost Wagon Train.” Mr. Harlow helped to build the first Lane County Courthouse (1855-56) and became county assessor in 1864. He was a successful farmer and joined the local Masonic Lodge shortly after it was established (1856) and remained a member in good standing for forty years. He is buried in Eugene’s Masonic Cemetery. Harlow Road takes its name from his family.
(Mahlon Hall Harlow is seated in the the front row, second from the left)

William W. Bristow, a pioneer of 1848, joined his father, family patriarch Elijah Bristow, from Illinois at Pleasant Hill. Lane County’s earliest settler, Elijah had arrived two years earlier. The train, which included the Bristow womenfolk, also included 15 children. It swelled the Lane County population to 150!

W.W. Bristow went to California with the Gold Rush in 1849, taught school at the county’s first school (in Pleasant Hill), and became a justice of the peace and postmaster. He also responded to the emergency posed by the Lost Wagon Train emigrants as a rescuer. An early defender the train’s much-maligned guide, Elijah Elliott , he subsequently stayed out of the controversy over the condition of the Free Emigrant Road and its promotion.

When Oregon’s 1857 state constitutional convention met in Salem, William was a delegate. He moved to Eugene in 1865, served as a state senator, engaged in the mercantile business (he held a part interest in Bristow and Company). He married three ladies and helped raise three daughters: Iola, Edith, and Addie. A Mason from the local lodge’s 1856 beginnings, he died in 1874 and is buried in Eugene’s Masonic Cemetery.

The Rescued

Martin Blanding Found near Butte Disappointment on October 16, 1853, young Martin Blanding was seventeen years old when rescued. He is the poster boy for the Lost Wagon Train because he was the first member of the party to be rescued and brought word of the straitened conditions of the emigrants to the Lane County families near Pleasant Hill.

Martin went on to become a schoolmaster and Lane County’s first school superintendent. Later he became a partner in Goldsmith and Blanding, a mercantile store, as well as one of the investors in the Springfield Woolen Factory. Admitted to the local Masonic Lodge in 1858, he had attained high degree by 1870.

Although the date of his marriage to German immigrant Caroline A.F. Blanding is not clear, they had a son and daughter during the 1860s (Francis and Emma). Martin’s health failed during the late 1860s and he died of “consumption” (tuberculosis) in 1870.

Joseph Matlock and Elizabeth Rutledge Matlock At age fourteen, Tennessee native and future two-term mayor of Eugene, Joseph D. Matlock, accompanying his parent’s six or seven wagons, drove his family’s cattle from Dade County, Missouri to Oregon. His family took up land near Goshen and young Joseph attended schools in Goshen and Eugene, even attending ill-fated Columbia College until it burned. The year 1862 found both he and his dad working in the Florence mines. During the same year he married his first wife, Elizabeth Rutledge, and farmed for two years. Following his wife’s death, he taught school, becoming the county superintendent of instruction. He then went back to farming and stock raising near Pleasant Hill for fifteen years, and was quite successful.

Venturing into politics, he became a state legislator in 1874, and helped establish the University of Oregon. He was a 10 year veteran of the city council, and served two non-consecutive terms as Eugene mayor, 1895-97 and 1907-1910. In between his terms, he went north to Alaska for the Klondike Gold Rush! During his second term as mayor, Eugene suffered a cholera outbreak due to the unsanitary condition of the water supply. Mayor Matlock was instrumental in pushing for public ownership of the utilities which became today’s Eugene Water and Electric Board (EWEB).

Matlock became a Mason several years prior to launching his three story J.D. Matlock & Co. Dry Goods store at the corner of 8th and Willamette in 1886. For a time head of the local Democratic party, he was an active Mason, participating as a Shriner and Knight Templar, as well as a member of the International Order of Odd Fellows. Married three times (Elizabeth Rutledge, Louisa Rutledge, Mrs. Sarah Durant) with a total of 8 children, he lived until 1921.

The Rescued - Panel II

Abram Patterson was 19 years old when rescued. Some five years later he married Sarah E. Christian (1858). Together they raised three sons. During the same year that he married, Mr. Patterson was elected to the state assembly.

Brumley Store Patterson took over the Brumley Store, which was the first mercantile business in Eugene City (see drawing at left). Beginning in 1869 he served as Eugene City’s postmaster for 15 years. He also eventually owned a ¼ interest in the Eugene City Flouring Mills. In 1881 he became a Mason and two years later became vice-president of the Lane County Pioneer Association, the forerunner of today’s Lane County Historical Society. Abram Patterson was buried in the Masonic Cemetery in 1921.

Pleasant G. Lemley, a member of the Lost Wagon Train, was an adult in his thirties when rescued. Born in Alabama, he apparently became a justice of the peace in Eugene City. Relatives were known to be in the Junction City and Pleasant Hill areas by the time of the Civil War (1861-1865). Mr. Lemley was admitted to the local Masonic lodge in 1860 and transferred lodge membership in 1882.

Little is presently known of Daniel W. Keith. Born in Kentucky about the year 1815, he was a mature adult when he was rescued from the Lost Wagon Train. He later operated one of the many local ferries. By the time of the Rogue Indian War of 1855-56, he became the 1st Lieutenant of Lane County’s Company A, 2nd Regiment, Oregon Mounted Volunteers. By the end of the conflict he was a captain and commanded Company C of the same regiment. He was present at the opening of the local Masonic Lodge in July 1856, but by the time of the 1860 census he was apparently bitten by the gold bug and in Jackson County.

Anderson H. Darneille Isaac Darneille Anderson H. Darneille was an adult and already a Mason when rescued in 1853. He became a founding member of the local Masonic Lodge and took up a land claim near Alvadore. Flooded out in 1863, he moved to Grant’s Pass and disappears from the local records. A relative, Isaac, possibly his son, was with him during the overland trek and was also rescued.

Lost Wagon Train Statistics

615 men | 412 women | Totaling 1,027 persons

215 wagons

Stock: 3,970 cattle | 1,700 sheep | 222 horses | 64 mules

Context and Credits

This exhibit was developed by the Lane County Historical Museum specifically for with Eugene Masonic Lodge 11’s sesquicentennial Cornerstone Celebration. The celebration was held on the Eugene, Oregon Masonic Lodge grounds, July 22-23, 2006 and would not have been possible without the cooperation of Eugene Masonic Lodge 11 members. The exhibit panels were part of a larger tented Oregon Trail display and demonstration area staffed by both the Oregon State Extension Service and Museum. Adjacent to the tent was an award-winning and functional covered wagon provided by Copper Windmill Ranch. Special thanks are due to the efforts of Celebration Chairman Bill R. Givens and Lodge Historian Don R. Micken for making lodge record information accessible to the Museum staff. Special recognition is also due to artist Pete Peterson for permission to republish his excellent map of the Eastern Oregon Wagon Routes. Grateful thanks are also rendered to Pat Hagener, Oregon State Extension Service, for sustenance and liquid refreshment provided during the hottest days of the year!

Unless otherwise noted, all images are from the archives of the Lane County Historical Museum.

1) Pioneer Speaker, Elijah Elliott, 1853 Lost Wagon Train Guide. Catalog Number: GN8684

2) W.W. Bristow, 1853 Lost Wagon Train Rescuer. Catalog Number: GN5432

3) Harlow Family Portrait, Prominent Early Pioneers Ð Catalog Number: GN5048

4) Martin Blanding, 1853 Lost Wagon Train Survivor. Catalog Number: GN4969

5) Joseph Matlock and Wife, 1853 Lost Wagon Train Survivors Catalog Number: GN5422

6) J.L. Brumley Store Drawing Catalog Number: GN4790

7) Anderson Darnielle, left photo, 1853 Lost Wagon Trail Survivor (Courtesy of Eugene Masonic Lodge)

8) Daniel Keith, right photo, 1853 Lost Wagon Trail Survivor (Courtesy of Eugene Masonic Lodge)

Photograph at the top of this page: James B. and Margaret Underwood residence, 419 Willamette Street in Eugene, (later 543 Willamette, on east side of Willamette between 5th and 6th Avenue). Exterior. Front view, with adults and children posed on porch, lawn, and roof. James B. Underwood died in 1882; Margaret Underwood converted home to a boarding house. House built c.1875-1880. c.1910 - Catalog Number: GN770

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