ANDREW SUBLETTE AND THE COMPANY OF CATHOLICS
by Morris W. Werner
A number of 'firsts' were achieved by the emigrants of 1844. The Cornelius Gilliam Co. was the first to leave from St. Joseph. The Stephens-Murphy train was the first to travel the north side of the Platte River from Bellevue, Nebraska, and the party led by Andrew Sublette from Westport, Missouri was the first group motivated entirely by health considerations.
Andrew was a brother of William, Milton, and Solomon Sublette, and his leadership role consisted in guiding a small party of 20 Catholics from St. Louis as far as Ft. Laramie. Their spiritual leader was a Jesuit priest whose name is not recorded. The names of his parishioners are also unidentified, except for the four who died at the beginning of the journey.
No member of the group left a diary. Almost the entire record is based on information reported by Andrew Sublette during the journey to James Clyman of Nathaniel Ford's party, and to E. E. Parrish of the Cornelius Gilliam Company. Some of this information is confirmed or supplemented by travelers who followed the trail in 1845 and 1849, but some of this evidence is circumstantial.
The four deaths are established by Rev. E. E. Parrish's journal for July 13, which states that, "Mr. Sublette came up this afternoon with a company of sick folks going to the mountains for their health. They have had four deaths in this company since they left St. Louis." In fact, the four deaths had occurred since leaving Westport, three of them in Kansas.
The first to die was James H. Marshall on June 27, who was buried on the bluffs northwest of the Black Vermillion crossing. James Clyman's diary entry for June 27: "Mr. Sublett and party arrived on the opposite side (of Big Blue River). Mr. Sublett's party consists of 20 men 11 of whom are sick and traveling for health one of which died and was buried this morning about 15 miles east of this (place). Poor fellow, Marshall by name his fair companion accompanied him from St. Louis and tenderly watched over him to Independence where they separated Kind companion her worst fears are realized her Husbands bones rest Quietly forever on the bluffs of oak creek where no noise disturbs his rest but the carrol of summer wild birds and the nightly howl of the lonely wolf."
Five years later on May 29, 1849, Bernard Reid, a passenger on the Pioneer Line, confirms the grave location as follows: "(Black) Vermillion very steep on east side but otherwise not difficult to ford. Encamped on prairie on west bank. Grave of James H. Marshall, of St. Louis, with a cross--died in 1844--surmounting a beautiful and commanding eminence--at sunset against the sky."
The second death was a man named Ketchum on June 28?, 1844. Again, Clyman's journal is the main source of information. On July 3, about 13 miles beyond Rock Creek, Nebraska, he states: "Mr. Sublett again came up having buried one more of his invalids Mr. Ketchup (sic) by name three days since (June 30?) at his camp called by him Ketchums grave 10 miles West of Blue River. Mr. Ketchum was (a) young man his Brother came with him and attended him to his grave in this greate wilderness of Prairie which stretches in all most all directions beyond the field of vision."
There is a conflict regarding the date of death or the distance from Big Blue River. On June 26, E. E. Parrish wrote in his journal, "Camp got off by six o'clock (from Big Blue). Had a hard day--some rain and much mud but made a good day's drive. Crossed the sideling bridge and camped in the forks of the branch." This camp, about 10 miles from the Big Blue, is probably the place Sublette camped two days later. The trail as recorded in 1857 by the Public Lands Survey follows the divide east of Walnut Creek, but campers turned off to the west in S5 T3S R6E, crossing a branch of Walnut Creek. An existing road winds through the center of section 5, which is probably a surviving portion of the original trail. This site meets all the physical qualifications for Ketchum's Creek or Ten Mile Branch, but Ketchum's grave cannot be identified.
At this point, one should consult the map and journal of Capt. Howard Stansbury in 1849. Capt. Stansbury followed the Military Road from Ft. Leavenworth as it then existed, crossing Big Blue River near present Marysville. His map identifies "Ten Mile Branch" just beyond the intersection of the Independence and Ft. Leavenworth roads. This may be the stream known as Cottonwood Creek within a few years. His journal for June 11, 1849, says "Ketcham's Creek sometimes known as Ten Mile Branch." Although Cottonwood Creek is about 10 miles from the Big Blue by the route Stansbury followed, it is 14 miles from the Big Blue crossing used by Sublette.
The third death was "I. P. W. Chutheson of St. Louis, d. June 29, 1844." This grave was identified by William Findley who started West with the Abraham Hackleman Company, the last emigrant train from St. Joseph, in 1845. Mr. Findley crossed the Big Blue on May 31 before intercepting the Independence Road, so he must have been following Col. S. W. Kearny's trail of a week or so earlier. Mr. Chutheson's death is not directly mentioned by Clyman or Parrish, but the date of death and place of origin are compelling evidence that he was a member of Sublette's party.
The fourth death occurred on July 6, 1844, on the Little Blue River some 58 miles beyond Rock Creek, Nebraska according to Clyman's journal. His entries for July 6 and 7 state that, "Mr. Sublett's party passed us today (6th) and we are now in the rear of all the different parties traveling over the western praries....2 miles Brot us up to Mr. Sublett's party of invalids whane they had just finished intering Mr. Browning who left this troublesome world last night at 11 o'clock."
Much remains a mystery regarding the emigration of 1844-45. There are no diaries from Richard Woodcock's division of Gilliam's Company, and no record of deaths, unless the two graves identified by Maj. Wharton and Lt. Carleton in August 1844 east of the South Fork of Big Nemaha were members of his party. They were not mentioned by Parrish, Minto, Crockett, or any of the other members of Gilliam's Company who left memoirs.
On May 18, 1845, Lt. J. Henry Carleton, a member of Col. S. W. Kearny's expedition wrote, "There is another branch of the Oregon Road that leaves St. Joseph, Mo. But from the great bend it is obliged to make to the south, in order to avoid the difficult affluents of the Nemaha, and to arrive at the present intersection of the Independence Trace--which is below the crossing of the Blue River--it subjects those who go upon it to a great deal of unnecessary travel....Heretofore no direct road has been marked out from Ft. Leavenworth westward to the most suitable point, where it should fall in to the one already made from Independence; but this year the commanding officer intends to take the column through the very route recommended." Clearly, Carleton assumed that the 1845 overlanders, most of whom were already on the trail, would follow Gilliam's trace from St. Joseph. At least seven members of the 1845 emigration from St. Joseph left accounts of their journey, but there is very sketchy information about the route traveled in Kansas.
Perhaps 225 wagons and 1000 persons drove west from St. Joseph in 1845. Only Hackleman's company was in Kearny's rear, and Findley's diary suggests that he followed Kearny's trail. It also indicates that there was a division in Hackleman's party. This division may have been due to a disagreement as to which route to follow, or because Abner (Abraham) Hackleman refused to travel on Sunday. For whatever reason, Hackleman was several weeks behind the group which followed Stephen H. L. Meek on his ill-fated cutoff in Central Oregon on Aug. 25, 1845. Meek's party suffered starvation and death second only to the Donner Party of the following year, before finding their way to the Columbia River.