|The Continental Crossing
Peter H. Burnett
Linnton, Oregon Territory
January 18, 1844
James G. Bennett, Esq.
Dear Sir: Having arrived safely in this beautiful country, and having seen, at least, its main
features, I propose to give you some concise description of the same, as well as a short history
of our trip. I reached the rendezvous, twenty miles from Independence, on the seventeenth of
May, and found a large body of emigrants there, waiting for the company to start. On the 18th
we held a meeting, and appointed a committee to see Doctor Whitman, for the purpose of
obtaining information in regard to the practicability of the trip. Other committees were also
appointed, and the meeting adjourned to meet again, at the Big Spring, on the 20th. On the
20th, all the emigrants, with few exceptions, were there, as well as several from the western
part of Missouri. The object of the meeting was to organize, by adopting some rules for our
government. The emigrants were from various places, unacquainted with each other, and
there were among them many persons emulous of distinction, and anxious to wear the honors
of the company. A great difference of opinion existed as to the proper mode of organization,
and many strange propositions were made. I was much amused at some of them. A robust
gentleman, who had, as he said, a great deal of "beatherlusian," whose name was McHealy,
proposed that the company, by contribution, should purchase two wagons and teams for the
purpose of hauling two large boats, to be taken all the way with us, that we might be able to
cross the streams. A red-faced gentleman from east Tennessee state, high up on the Big
Pidgeon, near Kit Bullard's Mill, whose name was Dulany, generally styled "Captain," most
seriously proposed that the meeting should adopt the criminal laws of Missouri or Tennessee,
for the government of the company. This proposition he supported by an able speech, and
several speeches were made in reply. Some one privately suggested that we should also take
along a penitentiary, if Captain Dulany's proposition should pass. These two propositions were
voted for by the movers alone. A set of rules were adopted, a copy of which I send you. Capt.
John Grant [Gant?] was employed as our pilot, and a general understanding that we should
start on the 22nd.
The following are the rules and regulations for the government of the Oregon Emigrating
Resolved, Whereas we deem it necessary for the government of all societies, either civil or
military, to adopt certain rules and regulations for their government, for the purpose of
keeping good order and promoting civil and military discipline. In order to insure union and
safety, we deem it necessary to adopt the following rules and regulations for the government
of the said company:
Rule 1. Every male person of the age of sixteen, or upward, shall be considered a legal voter
in all affairs relating to the company.
Rule 2. There shall be nine men elected by a majority of the company, who shall form a
council, whose duty it shall be to settle all disputes arising between individuals, and to try and
pass sentence on all persons for any act for which they may be guilty, which is subversive of
good order and military discipline. They shall take especial cognizance of all sentinels and
members of the guard, who may be guilty of neglect of duty, or sleeping on post. Such persons
shall be tried, and sentence passed upon them at the discretion of the council. A majority of
two thirds of the council shall decide all questions that may come before them, subject to the
approval or disapproval of the captain. If the captain disapproves of the decision of the council,
he shall state to them his reasons, when they shall again pass upon the question, and if the
same decision is again made by the same majority, it shall be final.
Rule 3. There shall be a captain elected who shall have supreme military command of the
company. It shall be the duty of the captain to maintain good order and strict discipline, and
as far as practicable, to enforce all rules and regulations adopted by the company. Any man
who shall be guilty of disobedience of orders shall be tried and sentenced at the discretion of
the council, which may extend to expulsion from the company. The captain shall appoint the
necessary number of duty sergeants, one of whom shall take charge of every guard, and who
shall hold their offices at the pleasure of the captain.
Rule 4. There shall be an orderly sergeant elected by the company, whose duty it shall be to
keep a regular roll, arranged in alphabetical order, of every person subject to guard duty in the
company; and shall make out his guard details by commencing at the top of the roll and
proceeding to the bottom, thus giving every man an equal tour of guard duty. He shall also
give the member of every guard notice when he is detailed for duty. He shall also parade
every guard, call the roll, and inspect the same at the time of mounting. He shall also visit the
guards at least once every night, and see that the guards are doing strict military duty and
may at any time give them the necessary instructions respecting their duty, and shall
regularly make report to the captain every morning, and be considered second in command.
Rule 5. The captain, orderly sergeant, and members of the council shall hold their offices at
the pleasure of the company, and it shall be the duty of the council, upon the application of one
third or more of the company, to order a new election for either captain, orderly sergeant, or
new member or members of the council, or for all or any of them, as the case may be.
Rule 6. The election of officers shall not take place until the company meet at Kansas River.
Rule 7. No family shall be allowed to take more than three loose cattle to every male
member of the family of the age of sixteen and upward.
Peter H. Burnett (1807 - 1895) was a member of the "Great Migration"
to Oregon in 1843. He wrote the above letter to a friend in the East,
summarizing from a journal that he kept en route the experiences
of the Continental Crossing. He eventually moved to California,
where he became the first governor of that state in 1850.
|Taken from "The Frontier Experience: Readings in the Trans-Mississippi West"
by Edwin Bingham and Robert Hine.