Looking Back Down an Old Trail
In the year 1852, Mr. and Mrs. James McDougall, my parents, and their infant daughter, Ellen, left Lake County, Illinois, and went to St. Louis, Missouri, and in April of that year started across the plains to California with an ox team. They had a wagon and one yoke of oxen.
When they got to the North Platte River one day, the found very little feed for their stock on the side of the river they were traveling, so something had to be done.
McDougall, being a very good swimmer‹in fact, the only one in the train that could swim‹told the rest of the party he would drive all the oxen across, then swim over himself and herd them until morning, them bring them back.
A man named Pratt wanted to go with him. So they took a board out of the wagon, bored a hole in one end and fastened a short rope to it. They then undressed and tied their clothes to an ox's head, and drove the animals into the river. The oxen swam over.
Then McDougall took the board and put it in the river. He had Pratt lie down on the board, telling him to hang on. Then he took the end of the rope in his teeth and swam across towing the board.
When they came to the opposite side, where the oxen had climbed out, they found their clothes lying in the water, the ox having shook the bundle off. The clothes, of course, were soaking wet.
It was cold and the wind was blowing hard. They wrung their clothes as dry as possible and put them on again.
That was all right as far as it went, but their matches were wet and of course, useless. Couldn't start a fire. Pratt wanted to lie down and go to sleep, but McDougall wouldn't let him, for if he did, Pratt would have frozen to death. So McDougall got a gad (a willow stick, or switch) and whipped Pratt into a run and kept it up all night. That kept them both warm.
In the morning McDougall tied Pratt's hand to an ox's tail and himself took hold of the tail of another ox. In that way they returned across the river to camp.
Thus begins the story told by John McDougall, in 1930, of his long life as a pioneer in Monterey County. His parents arrived at an early date in California, and he was born on the way to the Monterey Peninsula. He grew up along with the fledgling town of Salinas. He worked in all parts of the county, most often as a wrangler or teamster, driving teams of horses and providing the transportation for people and goods, and the motive power for agriculture.
His story is illustrated by Dorothy Smith, and provides an intimate and detailed look at the early days of Monterey County.