M Hofferber Books

Ghosts of the Pioneers
A Family Search for the
Independent Oregon Colony of 1844

by Twain Braden
In the early 1840s, Americans east of the Mississippi were beginning to feel crowded. The forests had all been cleared, and farms and small towns covered the countryside such that most usable land between the Atlantic and the Mississippi River was relegated into what might be described as the 19th century’s version of suburban sprawl.

It was during this time, the pre-Gold Rush era, that an ambitious group of some 300 pioneers set off from St. Joseph, Missouri, headed for Oregon’s lush Willamette Valley. This colony of emigrants included several contrasting figures that embody certain American archetypes: a tight group of well-liked and conscientious leaders, and an irascible and reckless set of dreamers and rogues whose carelessness would lead to one of the most notorious tragedies of the western migration. These men and their families were part of the same wagon train, the Independent Oregon Colony, which departed Missouri in 1844 in search for adventure, equality, and opportunity in a new land.

Neal Gilliam, a former slave chaser who started as leader of the expedition, was soon deposed because of his rash temper and incompetent leadership. He met an untimely death in the Territory shortly after his arrival. Emigrant Henry Sager, a charming yet hasty man, was victim to his own folly of heading west into the harsh territories when he wasn't prepared, lacking the basic conservative instincts to keep himself and his family safe. He was defeated by his fatal flaw—an insatiable thirst for adventure—before he even reached the far side of the Rockies. His wife Naomi died soon after, leaving the seven children in care of the surviving families.

Capt. William “Uncle Billy” Shaw and Capt. Robert Wilson Morrison—and their faithful young sidekick John Minto—became the subsequent leaders of the company. They  proved to be supportive and caring to each of the families, ushering them safely west despite extreme personal hardship and sacrifice. Once arriving safely in Oregon, they delivered the Sager children to a mission for adoption by a white family, in accordance with Henry Sager’s dying wishes. Shaw and Morrison went on to lead successful lives in the Territory, establishing lucrative farms and, in the process, forging the state of Oregon out of the egalitarian principles of their visionary leadership.

In the summer of 2006, between terms of law school, author Twain Braden, his wife Leah Day, and their four children retraced the route of these pioneers, following the Oregon trail in search of emigrant ghosts—along the original ruts formed by their wagons more than 150 years before.

Juxtaposing the story of the Independent Oregon Colony’s arduous journey west with his own modern-day trip, Braden presents a moving and illuminating account of how America became what it is today.
Ghosts of the Pioneers
Ghosts of the Pioneers
A Family Search for the Independent Oregon Colony of 1844
by Twain Braden  

The Lyons Press, 2007
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Copyright © 2008 Michael Hofferber. All rights reserved.