Here we pause and pose some related questions that will be considered later. In which of these two groups would Dunham Wright have been traveling? (His stories 79 years later were the main source for the controversy about the place of the Goodale crossing of the Boise River!) He wrote in 1923, 61 years later, “Here [unspecified location] our train divided, all but about 15 wagons going on down to old Fort Boise and crossing the Snake River.” That was more than double the seven wagons of the Colorado Train! Wherever that location was at, it seems understood that he was with the fifteen wagons. He did not go down to Fort Boise.
Might this have been a second division of his train downriver after Goodale had left the larger group near Boise? Could part of the group going to the mines have gone down to where Mr. Curtis drowned, and from there gone north to the Payette River? Other writers estimate that the size of the Goodale Train going north and crossing the Payette River near Emmett was sixty wagons, certainly more than fifteen! We will examine all of these possibilities later.
The train the Slater’s were with must have been that with which the Curtis family had come from Colorado. Nellie puts that small train in a camp near an Indian village, maybe the village known to exist near later Middleton, on the evening of Aug. 10. No mileage was given from their separation from the larger train. Then they traveled 4 miles the next morning before the train looked for a place to cross the Boise River. According to her account they tried but did not get across the Boise River because of very high water.
Nellie did not ever indicate any successful Boise River crossing! Considering her primary account alone, they appeared to have traveled all the way to near Fort Boise on August 12th, and Fort Boise was still across the Boise River from her train. That appears to place the train on the south side of the River for the Fort Boise site on the north! (Where was the river channel at that time?) She also wrote that there were several trains that were getting ready to ford the Snake River. These may have been parts of the extremely long train that had divided from each other before the Boise area. Neither in neither Nellie’s account nor in Oliver Slater’s account, his written much later, was there any evidence, if or when, their train got across the Boise River!
Where ever they were then they prepared to ford the Snake River, but did not begin until the 14th. On the 15th the train finished the Snake crossing with the stock, and only on that day did Nellie write, “There was a man-Mr. Curtis-got drowned in the river at the mouth of the Boise below us while crossing on a mule.” That really put his drowning a long way down-river! The Slater/Curtis train went from the Fort Boise site on up the Burnt River in Oregon. All of Nellie’s information was supposedly written on the days identified!
Not until 1915, did Oliver Slater, on the same train with Nellie, write his reminiscences. Concerning the days near and beyond the later Boise site he wrote that, “We traveled on until we reached Boise Valley, on about August 29 [very late?]. We got down to about where Middleton now is and tried to find a crossing at an old ford. But after having one man by the name of Curtis drown, we gave up trying to cross there, and kept going down the south side to the Snake River.” He then, with little more information given, placed the train at the Snake River. He did not indicate that they ever crossed the Boise River. The Slaters must have been with the small train that the Curtis family was in. Both wrote about the drowning! Oliver wrote 53 years later.
In 1919, at age 71, 57 years after the fact, the daughter of Mr. Curtis, Emma Fowler, wrote to the Statesman newspaper in Boise and her letter was published. She had been only 14 years old when the Goodale Train passed through Idaho in 1862. She wrote of a man named White that was Captain of their seven-wagon train from Colorado, and which had been increased to that size near Green River. She gave Tim Goodale’s name too, who was eventually traveling with them. Fowler affirmed that the very long train, formed at Champagne Meadow, now Butte County, ID, had begun separating into smaller trains even before coming to the Boise River.
Then she wrote, all in one long sentence: “When we came to the Boise river we forded it [as though they crossed immediately], but it was very high for that time of year, and my father, William Curtis, was drowned in it while crossing it on a mule’s back, and the place where he was drowned was later the land that John Ross took up for a ranch about 1863.” (Whew!) If this was intended to mean Ross’s later Parma area ranch, as has been stated by some in maintaining that Goodale crossed near there, he had actually moved to that ranch only by 1867! And Fowler’s single sentence, above, actually covers more than 45 miles of the Boise River, and about four days in August-if she was referring to the Ross ranch near Parma!
She wrote that her “father was drowned” on August 11th, the “same day” that they crossed the river. But this was the day after Nellie Slater said they camped near the Indian village, and then the next morning traveled 4 miles and stopped to try to find a place to cross the river.
So it again appears that the Curtis family was in that same train with Nellie-Nellie’s description of the train, from “the Peak,” in Colorado. Daughter, Emma Curtis McKenzie Fowler, had gone on to Auburn, OR, with the train and did not return to the Boise Valley for three years. By then she was only 17, and married to her first husband, Robert McKenzie. The McKenzie family had also been with the Goodale Train. Fifty seven years after the drowning of her father she appeared to remember exactly where he drowned, although she had been only 14 years old and surely unfamiliar with the trail and river west of Boise!
In 1919, she seemed to indicate her father had drowned in 1862, near a ranch on which John Ross did not settle in Canyon County until 1867! His ranch was located one mile south of the present Boise River, on the old channel flowing then, and he received a Homestead Patent only by 1900. Of course this location was close [2 miles SW of Parma and 1 mile south of the Boise River] to the mouth of the Boise River where Nellie Slater had indicated at the time the drowning occurred, much closer than where Oliver indicated many years later that it happened near Middleton!
Fowler’s account of her father drowning after trying to ride a mule across the river seems accurate to other accounts, and she added that he drowned in the same place that the river was crossed by the train. The other accounts seem to indicate that after Curtis, the first to enter the river, drowned the train had continued further downriver on the south side from that place of that drowning. Oliver Slater plainly wrote, “After having one man by the name of Curtis drown, we gave up trying to cross there.”
All the evidence seems to substantiate that William Curtis did drown in the Boise River somewhat west of Boise, though even the first words of Emma Curtis’ account makes it sound as though the crossing was near, if not upstream, from the later Boise town site: “When we came to the Boise river we forded it,” which approach to the river would have been, as Nellie Slater described it, upstream from Boise about 8 miles.
In all of the above accounts there is not one mention of a splitting of a train beyond the Boise area, where Nellie wrote of that division from the larger train.
The big question is complicated by the much later recorded accounts of Dunham Wright: Where did Tim Goodale and/or Dunham, whom it has been supposed but may not have been with the Goodale Train, cross the Boise River? Here another question is posed, did Dunham Wright actually witness the drowning of William Curtis? We will return to that question later.
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