On The Oregon Trail
in 1847
For Line of Descent, see
the Missouri Fulkersons
History of the Oregon Trail, 1842-1847:
1842 - Dr. Elijah White's party of 200 makes the crossing. Members produce several guidebooks for later emigrants. Some of these were useful; at least one failed to include vital information and would lead to later tragedies on the Trail.

1843 - Nearly a thousand make the first large-scale passage of the Trail.

1844 - Four separate wagon trains bring more than 2,000 emigrants to Oregon. A last hurdle remains where the Trail meets the Columbia River. The impassable Cascade Range forces emigrants to abandon their wagons for boats, or attempt to raft the wagons through the rapids and whirlpools of the Columbia, many times with disastrous results.

1845 - 5,000 emigrants brave the now well-known hardships of the Trail.

1846 - Only 1,000 emigrants traveled to California and Oregon, including the ill-fated Donner Party who became snowbound in the Sierra Nevada and resorted to cannibalism to survive. Oregon-bound travelers open a new route that permits the wagons to be hauled and dragged across the Cascades.

1847 - Just 2,000 souls had the nerve to make the journey on the Oregon Trail. Among these were Brigham Young and his Mormon Brigade, bound for Utah. Among the hundreds more who journeyed beyond Utah and completed the last 700 or so miles of Trail were some Fulkersons from Missouri.

ON THE TRAIL - copyright © 2000 Robert Fulkerson

James Monroe FULKERSON, grandson of Revolutionary War veteran Abraham Fulkerson, was born in Lee County, Virginia, on 28 August 1803. His family emigrated westward to Tennessee by wagon train in 1807, and then went with several other families to Missouri in 1817. During this second journey they lost several members of their party at the Wabash River crossing. It was not the last tragedy James would experience on a westward
James Monroe Fulkerson
James Monroe FULKERSON
CLICK HERE for larger image

  James grew up in Cole County, Missouri, and married Mary Ramsey MILLER by the time he was 20. He went on to a position of prominence in the community, as a county judge, member of the Missouri state legislature, member of the Missouri Constitutional Convention of 1845-46, and a deacon of the Baptist Church. James and Mary had ten children, three of whom died young.

  James inherited his ancestors' spirit for wander and adventure, which emerged in his 43rd year. With his wife and six of seven children, he decided to join a group from the Old Florence Baptist Church (near Jefferson City, Missouri) and make the journey to the new "promised land" in Oregon. There were 300 members in this congregation, who vowed to stay together and help one other in crossing the prairies, mountains and deserts that lie before them. They gathered in late April, 1847 at St. Joseph, Missouri to begin the westward trek. Joining them were two of James' sisters, Elizabeth HINES and Nancy MILLER, and their husbands and families.

The diary of C W. COOKE, an emigrant of 1847, describes some of their early experiences along the Trail:

Wednesday, April 28  Left St. Joseph Wednesday evening. Came to Cameron's Ferry 4-1/2 miles up the river, encamped on the eastern bank.

Thursday, Apr. 29  crossed the river, arose the bluff, and encamped on the western hill, with a fine view of the river on the East, and the Indian Territory spread out like an immense map on the west. The weather was fine, the air pure, and the prospect truly delightful. [The ferry took them across to northeast Kansas, where they would cover 130 miles in the next 13 days.]

Friday Apr 30  this morning when we arose about half our cattle were gone owing to the carelessness of some of the company who thought it useless to stand guard. Twas late when we got off and we travelled 3 miles and encamped on Mistletoe creek.....here an old dead Indian warrior wrapped in his rug, and sitting high up in an oak tree was a striking example of the peculiar mode of interment, as well as character of these singular people.

Saturday May 1  Travelled 10 miles, 5 to Wolf River and 5 to Indian Agency where we encamped.

Friday May 2  travelled 10 miles. Camped on a little stream to the left of the road, wood and water.

Monday. May 3  travelled 3 miles to another little stream, wood and water.

Tuesday May 4  travelled 8 miles over beautiful prairie to a little stream, wood and water.

Wednesday May 5  We have had but eleven wagons previously, today Curl and MILLER overtook us with 31 more and 200 cattle, the prairie level as a sea far as your eye can reach. Travelled 12 miles and encamped. This evening we organized and elected James CURL Captain or genl.. Superintendent with powers and prerogatives subject to the direction of a Board of trustees, or committee of 3, the train having started from the 3 different counties, each division appointed a Commissioner. Those from Nodaway chose FULKERSON and MILLER, those from Holt, Judge KIMSEY, those from Buchanan, C. W. COOKE. [The group calling itself "The Plains Baptist Church" was co-captained by James Fulkerson and the Reverend Richard Miller, who was Mary Fulkerson's brother and the husband of Nancy Leeper Fulkerson, a sister of James Fulkerson. James' 16-year-old daughter Margaret would later marry Caleb Curl.]

Thursday evening. May 6  Council met and after taking the strength of the company and finding it to be 48 men capable of bearing arms, divided them off in the companies of six with a sergeant at the head of each...Divided the night into 4 watches of 2-1/2 hours each...4 watches each night...8 sergeant companies..makes a man stand 2-1/2 hours every second night...traveled 12 miles today...passed 2 companies, hundreds of Oregon migrants. Encamped on the Nimahaw.

Friday. May 7  travelled 12 miles the cattle wandering so much evening and morning, after the guard comes off and before they go on have caused us to lose more cattle than any other difficulty..There being some 4 old men and 12 or 15 boys in camp the former unoccupied and the latter in mischief and indolence.. The council met and appointed the old men captains over the Boys to guard the stock of evenings...From the time we stop till night and of mornings from the time the regular guards come off till we start...the old men to manage the boys alternately...Resolved also that the last sergeant at daylight in the morning have a trumpet sounded when every cow must be milked and every ox yoked before the guard is released or the cattle turned out to graze.

Saturday May 8  travelled 25 miles and encamped to the left of the road, good wood and fine water.

Sunday May 9  travelled 6 miles, crossed the east Branch of the Blue Earth river and encamped on its western Bank...joined today by 17 wagons from Illinois.

Monday May 10  travelled 15 miles, encamped the night off the road, wood and water...we struck the Independence trail today. [The trail from Independence, Missouri met the trail from St. Joseph near Hanover, Kansas.]

Tuesday May 11  travelled 20 miles over broken prairie.. encamped to the right of road, without wood. [By day's end they had crossed into Nebraska, southeast of Fairbury.]

Wednesday May 12  travelled 20 miles encamped to the right of the road, wood and water.

Thursday May 13  travelled 12 miles and encamped on the north bank of the Little Blue Earth river...Buffalo sign today the first we have seen one large dead one being by the road side..met 2 Delaware Indians...first and only Indians since we left Wolf River 20 miles from the states. [The last comment is striking - they really felt they were leaving American soil and civilization behind.]

Friday May l4  last night had a kind of disturbance in our organization. Saturday it rained all day. We had a sick lady and could not travel.

Sunday May l6  travelled 10 miles up the Blue River and encamped on its bank. Blew up the old arrangement and organized anew this morning. [Interestingly, an 1846 emigrant had warned that, "When you start over these wide plains, let no one leave dependent on his best friend for anything; for if your do, you will certainly have a blow-out before you get far."]

Monday May 17  rested again waiting for our sick lady.

Tuesday May 18  traveled up Blue and left it - distance 20. [The Trail left the Little Blue River near Hastings, Nebraska.]

Wednesday May 18  traveled 25 miles and encamped at the grand island on the main Platte river. [At this point they were a little north and east of the regular Trail route, which joined the Platte River to the southwest at Lowell, Nebraska.]

Thursday May 20  traveled 22 miles up the immense Platte river bottom

Friday May 21  continued up the bottom 20 miles [The Army would establish Fort Kearny in this vicinity during the following year. The 1847 immigrants had virtually no military protection along the Trail.]

Saturday May 22  travelled 22 miles roads continue as level as a sea

Sunday May 23  traveled 18 miles about midnight there rose a heavy storm and the cattle and sheep scattered in every direction

Monday May 24  was spent in getting up the cattle all of them was saved but 4 head of oxen and the loss of 20 head of sheep. Killed a buffalo and some antelope et.

Tuesday May 25  struck up our line of march to ascend Platte river to the crossing ..traveled 20 miles...

Wednesday May 26  This morning captain CURL with 17 wagons left our camp. The remainder traveled 25 miles

Thursday May 27  Prairie very rolling for the distance of 8 miles then into the level land again...traveled 25 miles...

Friday May 28  Crossed the south fork of Platte River the distance main and south Platte 158, nearly all one immense vast level plain. [The forks of the Platte meet at North Platte, Nebraska. The emigrants followed the South Platte southwestward to a crossing point at Brule, Nebraska.]

Saturday May 29  left south fork and traveled northwest direction over rolling prairie ... in the evening our road led us down in between some of the most crazy hills that this road certainly produced. ...We struck north Platte River in the evening at the 4 miles ...foot of the valley...traveled 20 miles. [They were at Ash Hollow. An abundance of wood, water and grass made this a favorite stopping point on the Trail. The Mormon wagon train passed here nine days earlier. A member of that expedition wrote: "We have passed a good deal of rock bluff on both sides of the river, & some on the south side of the river was formed into natural terrices, rotundas, squairs &c, 50 or 100 feet high... They resemble the work of art & look like the old castles of England & Scotland..."]

Sunday May 30  We started to ascend the river ...Our road led over deep sand. Traveled 10 miles.

Monday May 31  Stop with a sick gentleman (C. W. COOKE) a quantity of Sioux Indians came into camp and our men made a general business of swapping horses with them.

Tuesday the 1st day of June  We struck up our line of march 8 miles brought us up to a large band of Sioux Indians that had spread themselves across the road demanding some presents which was soon complied with and passed on. traveled 20 miles.

Wednesday June 2  this day travel brought over two beautiful running streams ...distance 22 miles.

Thursday June 3  We passed an Indian village of about 25 wigwams. Distance 12 miles. Camped at Chimney Rock. We have now traveled two days in sight of the solitary tower.

Friday June 4  20 miles today camped at a delicious spring of water in Scott's Bluffs. Wood plenty. [After three more days, Cooke discontinued his diary entries.]

The emigrants pushed westward from Scott's Bluffs, entering Wyoming near Torrington. They would have passed through Fort Laramie (which was near Guernsey in eastern Wyoming, and nowhere near the present city of Laramie). The route continued west to Casper, Wyoming, where the Mormons had established a ferry to take wagons across the Platte River. The Fulkerson party arrived here about the 22nd of June.

  Frederick Richard Fulkerson, the fourth child and oldest son of James and Mary, was born October 11, 1829. A granddaughter of James and Mary later wrote: "When crossing the Platte River [Frederick] swam the river below the crossing to ford the stock over, as the river was so swift it tended to wash them downstream. He became so chilled and exhausted..." James continued on for four days, with his son lying ill in the wagon, to a place near Devil's Gate called Rattlesnake Pass. Here he and two other families remained for five days to tend to the sick boy. A traveler in 1849 found an inscription on a large granite boulder near their campsite: "J.M. Fulkerson, June 26, '47"

  Young Frederick died in the camp on the First of July, 1847, and was buried at the foot of the boulder. An epitaph was painted on the face of the rock headstone, "FREDERIC RICHARD, SON OF JAMES M. & MARY FULKERSON, DIED JULY 1, 1847, AGED 18 Years"
1849 sketch of the Frederick Richard FULKERSON grave marker.
Image provided by Carrie McPeak.

  Two weeks later, on July 14th, James' wife Mary died of Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever. She was buried atop Names Hill on the Green River crossing of the Sublette Cutoff, 25 miles north of Kemmerer, Wyoming. Later pioneers saw the engraving on a sandstone slab above the grave: "Mary, consort of J.M. Fulkerson, Died July 14, 1847" [The site of Mary Fulkerson's grave became a burial ground for other victims of the trail and eventually developed into a pioneer cemetery. The cemetery was destroyed by a pipeline project in the 1930's.]

  The Fulkerson emigrants pushed on through Wyoming and northern Utah, and into the barren southern Idaho plain. At the Emigrant Crossing (Three Island Crossing) on the Snake River, near Glenns Ferry, Idaho, illness took a third victim. James' brother-in-law, William T. HINES, the husband of Elizabeth Fulkerson HINES, died of spotted fever. His death left her with eight children - two of whom were less than ten years old. Their 20-year-old daughter Margaret took her father's place as teamster, driving the wagon across Idaho and on to their destination in Oregon.

There is a possibly implausible story that his family knocked together a rude coffin, and took the body with them [reported in "Sense of Place: American Regional Cultures" by Thomas J. Schlereth, University Press of Kentucky, 1992] to Oregon. Elizabeth remarried to Elijah DODSON (ca. 1787- March 1860) who owned land at Pike, Yamhill County, OR (named after Pike, Missouri). They had one daughter, Leona Ruth DODSON (27 Jun 1849-20 Feb 1856). When Elizabeth died in 1854 she was listed with her first husband William under a single marker in Pike Cemetery ("IOOF"). Whether William was actually buried there may be eternally debated among researchers.
2010 picture of Emigrant Crossing on the Snake River, and a sign posted on the overlooking bluff.

  Two other members of the wagon train died at Emigrant Crossing while trying to get their wagons across the river. One of them may have been Hiram DORRIS, James' son-in-law, husband of his daughter Elizabeth, who was the fourth member of the family who died during the journey. When they reached the Columbia River, Indians "attempted to rob them" and they had to keep men continually on guard to keep them out of the emigrant's camp. The journey was finally completed when their wagon train arrived in the Willamette Valley of Oregon on the 1st of October, 1847.

Route of Fulkersons in 1847Route of the Fulkersons in 1847

  James settled in Polk County, about 10 miles west of Oregon's state capital at Salem. Here he became one of the constituent members of the Willamette Association of 1848 and a member of the Oregon territorial legislature. James also served in the new territory as a judge and continued his work in the church, becoming licensed as a minister in 1856 and helping to found the LaCreole Baptist Church at Rickreall, OR. He was one of the founders of McMinnville College, southwest of Portland, and a member of the college's Board of Trustees for many years. In 1848 he remarried to Catherine CROWLEY, who had lost most of her family on the Oregon Trail in 1846. James died on 3 May 1884 at Fulkerson Gap, Polk Co., OR (named in his honor) and was buried at Etna Cemetery, on the grounds of the the LaCreole Baptist Church. [One of his great-grandsons through his eldest daughter Elizabeth, Glenn Jackson, continued James' legacy of govenment service as head of Oregon's highway commission and wielded considerable influence in related areas of Oregon's politics and development. Today the Glenn Jackson Bridge, more than two miles long, carries I-205 across the Columbia River at Portland.]

Roster of Fulkersons/Fulkerson Descendants on the Oregon Trail, 1847:

NOTE: James Monroe FULKERSON's daughter Sarah Amanda FULKERSON married Ambrose CAIN in Nodaway Co., MO, in 1845 and remained "in the States". They finally came to Oregon by train in 1880 and made their residence in Polk Co.