fb pixel

Log In

Reset Password

Barneburgs came here twice over Oregon Trail

German-born Frederick "Fritz" Barneburg and Georg Wilhelm "Bill" Barneburg were young men when they headed west on the Oregon Trail in 1853.

Fritz, then 18, was hired on to drive a herd of cows to the Oregon Territory. Bill drove a wagon and his wife, Sarah, did the cooking.

Fritz Barneburg's recollections of life on the trail and early-day Oregon are noted in his book, "Pacific Trail Camp Fires," published in 1928.

"Buffalo chips? We never used them for cooking, but made guard fires," he wrote of traveling west. "They'd keep warm, but made no blaze nor much coal."

Members of the train would collect the dried chips in bags along the way, he noted.

Shortly after reaching the Snake River, he filled a "horse" pistol with buckshot, intending to shoot a pheasant. Unable to find any game, he returned to camp and laid down to rest, placing the pistol close at hand.

A short time later a young boy, excited about Indians visiting the camp, grabbed the pistol.

"I guess he didn't think it was loaded, for he cocked and swung it around again, this time towards Bill, and just at the place to hit him it went off and he fell," Fritz wrote. "He (Bill) wasn't killed, but an eye was out, and the cheek gashed, one shot hitting the tongue."

He noted later that "shot kept working out of his face every once in a while and finally he lost two teeth." Yet his brother survived the trip.

By the time the train reached Salem, the biggest city in the territory in 1853, Fritz Barneburg described himself as "a bundle of rags and barefoot."

"Then I hurried off to find some work, for stark nakedness was looking after me pretty sharp, while Bill was unfit to work, and his wife was — well — beginning to be very anxious," he wrote.

He was referring to the fact she was pregnant with her first child, who would be born in February 1854.

He found work for $3 a week, which paid for a small rental house in Salem. He later got a job that paid $2.50 a day. As Bill recovered, the two brothers began cutting wood for a living.

Fritz Barneburg talked of becoming homesick, along with Bill's wife. "(But Bill) kept in first-rate spirits, saw everything at the brightest and tried hard to make us both cheerful and hopeful," Fritz wrote.

The brothers made enough money to purchase five horses and supplies, and headed south to the Rogue Valley in spring 1854. They found grass so high that stock could hide in it. A feeding cow could gain 3 pounds a day, Fritz Barneburg observed.

Bill Barneburg settled on a piece of property on the west side of what is now known as Roxy Ann Peak while Fritz began working on a spread owned by a fellow he referred to as a "drunken preacher."

He also found time for one of his favorite pastimes. Bear Creek had long, deep pools filled with clear water and lots of fish, he said.

"Why, I could at any time ... catch all the eighteen-inch trout I could carry," he wrote of the stream. He sold the fish and waterfowl taken from the stream to the U.S. Hotel in Jacksonville.

But the brothers were homesick for Iowa. Bill Barneburg sold his ranch and joined his younger brother, who had $2,300 in gold pieces hidden in his money belt for the trip. By this time, Bill and his wife had four children, the youngest born early that year.

They bought several sturdy mules and prepared to leave Oregon for good. Others joined them, and the train headed east, taking the Applegate Trail to link up with the Oregon Trail.

But Iowa was not as they remembered it. They found only widespread unemployment back in New London.

"I saw that the 'Pacific' was then a lot better than Iowa, and it really wasn't two weeks till I decided to go back to Oregon," Fritz wrote. "I could have bought and paid for a pretty good farm, but the homesickness was all gone and I couldn't stand the cold."

The rest of the family as well as neighbors caught the westward fever. The family's next migration headed out April 1, 1860, bound for the Rogue Valley.

Fritz Barneburg took time out from his travels to get hitched to schoolteacher Electa Norton. With his new wife, he bought provisions for the final trip west.

"I got oxen, wagon and provisions for almost a song," he wrote. "Tough times they was sure!"

Fritz Barneburg, after surviving two arduous treks along the Oregon Trail, drowned in the Rogue River on July 9, 1907, near what is now TouVelle State Park.

Reach reporter Paul Fattig at 776-4496 or e-mail him at pfattig@mailtribune.com.

The Furry family is shown in this undated photo from the late 19th century. From left, they are Fred, Samuel, Edmona, Arthur, Amelia and Donna. - Southern Oregon Historical Society / No. 2026