Wagon Train Caravan

About Wagon Trains

The following information was composed by Mr. Freeman A. Thomas on the 20th day of April, 1921. This was 71 years after the event took place. It was presented at the annual Jordan Reunion.

We have assembled here today to honor the memory of our forefathers who crossed the plains in a wagon train from Red River, Texas, to California in the year 1850 by the southern route. Today we honor them all, but more especially do we honor our renowned and honored grandfather, John Jordan, the leader of the train. John Jordan was born in Illinois on February 5, 1807, and he drowned in the Kern River on May 22, 1862. His wife, Eliza Jane Jordan, was born in Pennsylvania on February 24, 1814, and died near Exeter November 29, 1909, being at the time of her death, 95 years, 9 months and 5 days of age.

The Jordan family was one of sixty families who made this trip in a wagon train across the plains from Texas to California. These some two hundred pioneers, who composed the wagon train which made this journey, left Red River, Texas on March 12, 1850 and arrived in San Diego County, California on August 20, 1850. At the beginning of this daring journey everything went well for a few days, but soon hardships began to be encountered. Click here for map

John Jordan was selected captain of the train and Alney T. McGee was chosen wagonmaster. It is often been said that no other person except those endured to hardships and reared on the frontier could have conducted such a large train of teams and people, cattle and horses over wild and rough desert country infested by Indians of the most hostile nature. There were about sixty teams of oxen, each team consisting of seven yoke of cattle to each wagon. In all, there were about 840 work cattle, 200 head of stock cattle, and a large number of horses. More than two hundred men and women and many children were entrusted to the guidance and care of these two pioneers.

As was the custom of all pioneers of that day when traveling by wagon train and it was feared that an attack by hostile Indians was approaching, the wagonmaster ordered the train to form a corral. This was done in the following manner. The lead wagon of the train halted, then the following wagons in succession passed slightly inside and ahead of the preceding wagon thus forming a circle. The stock and all members of the train were ordered inside so that they might be better protected from the attack of Indians. On such occasions, all of the grown people, both men and women and young boys, prepared for battle.

Captain Jordan's Train was never attacked during the journey and no fighting was experienced. At one time, they were surrounded by many Indians, however, the experience of Captain Jordan gained by long years of frontier life stood him well in hand and he was never found off his guard. During the whole journey he always camped in the most protected places and, if possible, in places which afforded the train the best defense from such attacks.

At the place where a large tribe of Indians was met, Mary Ann Jordan, Lamanda Harris, and another girl had ridden ahead of the train on horseback. They stopped to wait for the train under a mesquite bush and went to sleep. The train was slowly moving on. The last wagon had just passed by when suddenly an Indian warrior in all his war regalia sprang from behind some rocks in an effort to capture one of the girls. Fortunately, they saw him in time and ran screaming for the rear wagon. Their screams attracted the attention of Amzi Cortner who was driving the last team. He jumped off his wagon and ran back for the girls just as the warrior was grabbing for the girl's hair, which was worn in long braids down her back. Cortner struck the Indian with the butt of his bull whip, knocking him unconscious. The Indian was captured. After the incident, Captain Jordan ordered the train corralled and a council was held to decide what to do with the captured Indian. Though some of the men were for shooting the warrior, Captain Jordan feared that if they killed him, the Indians would surely attack the train and wishing to avoid any trouble with them, if possible, he ordered the warrior turned loose.

Passing on from this place, the train had not traveled several days until it reached a desert and water was very scarce. Thinking they would surely arrive at a river on ahead, the train pushed on into the desert country. They made a long drive, but no water was encountered and the stock was about to perish. Drinking water for the people and animals was reduced to a very small quantity. The way was rough, over desert and unknown trails, but still they kept going, feeling sure that water was somewhere to be found ahead of them. At last, they came to a range of hills and as the situation had become desperate, Captain Jordan halted the train and called aside twenty of his best men. He was going to find water if it was within miles of the train on any side. Starting from the point where they stood, he ordered each man to take a course radiating from that point outward, as the spokes of a wagon wheel radiates from the axle. Lamanda Harris, is speaking of the incident to me, said, "I stood where I could see Uncle John (as she called him when she was a girl, for he had raised her from a small child) when he began walking up the mountain side, and watched him until he went out of sight. In a short time, I saw him climbing up a cliff, high up on the mountain. He drew his pistol from his holster and fired a shot which was the signal that he had found water. In a very short time, the entire command was there with tubs and buckets to secure water. As the spring was in a rough canyon and overhung by rocks, the stock could not get to it, and a line of men was formed to relay the water from the canyon to where the stock could reach it. For three days, the train camped at this place which was in Old Mexico. They rested up and did their washing following their long trip across the desert."

On leaving southern Arizona, Captain Jordan advanced ahead of his train to meet the Pima Chief of the tribe of Indians who were engaged in farming. On his arrival at the Pima Village, the chief met Captain Jordan in a very friendly manner and assured him that he and his train would be cared for and protected. Upon the arrival of the train, the chief placed herders with their stock and cared for them three days without charge. In order to show his appreciation of their treatment at the hands of the chief, Captain Jordan ordered every person to buy some vegetables, melons, and supplies that the Indians had for sale. The old chief walked around with Captain Jordan, patting himself on the chest and saying in a very proud manner, "Me Big Capitan--You Big Capitan." When the time came to leave this friendly village, the chief gave Captain Jordan a pass to the next tribe, known as the Maricopa Tribe. This chief was also friendly and expressed his good will in many friendly acts. He told Captain Jordan to be careful after leaving his village by way of Tucson and the Gila River and to take every precaution in crossing this territory as the Indians there, know as the Apaches, were unfriendly and on the warpath.

Eighty miles northwest of Tucson is the Gila River and between Tucson and this river, the train experienced nothing but hot desert. It was so hot that many of the working cattle slipped their hoofs and had to be killed. Many of the oxen were replaced with cows. The water supply became very low and most of the stock surely would have perished but for a summer storm which is common in this country. The rain fell in torrents and many of the cooking utensils were lost. The men and women replenished every barrel and anything that would hold water.

When the train arrived at the Gila River it was late in the afternoon. As the Indians had been spying on them the past two days and getting bolder, Captain Jordan decided to make the crossing before dawn the next day and they worked on up into the night. The only means of crossing was with one wagon bed made into a boat and carried all along the trip. By the use of this one boat, all wagons and freight and people were put across the river and were ready to move by daylight the next morning. The stock was taken across last and during this operation, the Indians began to collect. They were very saucy and as the pioneers were swimming the cattle across the river, the Indians swam into the river and drowned five head of cattle. As was only natural, the trainsmen wanted to shoot the Indians, but Captain Jordan would not listen to that as he said it would only enrage the rest of the Indians and be the cause of further trouble. When they stopped to consider the possibility of a fight, they chose this course not because they were afraid of the Indians, but because they desired their friendship, if such were possible. Near the Gila River, Captain Jordan lost one of his sons, Levi H. Jordan. A mound of rock was constructed, and even today the grave is cared for by the people residing there out of respect for the emigrants who crossed the plains.

After leaving the crossing of the Gila and down the north side of the Gila River and to the Colorado River, they met General Crooks with a small command of cavalry from Fort Yuma going to Gila Bend. It seemed that the Indians had been marauding that part of the country and General Crooks was on his way to chastise them. Twenty-five or thirty of the train boys volunteered to go back with the general and help him to control the Apaches. The boys went back with the general and after the Indians were quieted and scattered, they overtook the train rejoicing the fact that they had the opportunity to square things with some of the Indians who had given them so much trouble when they were crossing the Gila.

Nearing the Colorado River, they came upon the Yuma Indians who were friendly. The date of crossing the Colorado River was August 10, 1850, which was in Old Mexico just south of the California border. After crossing the Colorado, the remaining part of the trip to the west coast of California was devoid of any unusual experiences and the train arrived safely in San Diego on the 20th day of August, 1850