The family of John and Mary (COPP) McCULLY made four overland trips from Henry County, Iowa, to the West Coast between 1849 and 1853. In 1849, David and Asa McCully joined a group from DesMoines and Henry counties bound for the California gold fields (the "Ikenberry" party, link above). According to family tradition, they did rather well there [perhaps making as much money selling supplies to the other gold miners,as they did from the results of their mining], and were back home in Iowa by February 1850 (having made the return trip via theIsthmus of Panama). In 1851, John Wilmer McCully (a younger brother of David and Asa) and his wife Jane (Mason) joined a wagon train bound for Oregon (Johnson wagon train, link above). In 1852 the rest of the family, except for sister Mary Jane and her new husband John D. Love, set off along the Oregon Trail, in company with other relatives and friends. Having arrived in Oregon's Willamette Valley in August 1852 and quickly seeing the desirability of establishing a mercantile store in the new community of Harrisburg, Asa McCully almost immediately set sail for Panama, then on across the Gulf of Mexico to the East. In New York City, he arranged for a load of goods to be shipped around the Horn to Oregon. He returned to Henry County, Iowa, gathered up his sister and her husband, a large herd of cattle, some cattle herders and a few families intent on heading overland, and by April 1853 was once again on his way west to Oregon (Asa McCully wagon train, link above).

  Although the McCullys themselves seem not to have kept journals (at least, none appear to have survived), the 1852 Oregon Trail trip is well documented. A previously unpublished first-hand account has been found, prepared by John S. McKiernan,one of the McCully "hired hands". Also found was a second-hand account of the trip that was prepared by someone who probably had interviewed Asa or David McCully, and who seems to have had access to some original documents (that apparently have not survived over time). Finally, a number of reminiscences from wagon train participants have been found, prepared during their later lives in Oregon. Together, these documents present a rather complete view of one particular wagon train traveling the Oregon Trail at the height of the overland movement.

  We gathered all the above references together, added biographical/genealogical notes on the people participating on this westward trip, and published them all as "The McCully Train: Iowa to Oregon 1852" (Symbios Books, 2000). You can purchase copies on our book sales webpages (, or find it in various libraries. We've given a synopsis of it, below.



  The 1852 Oregon Trail crossing by the McCully wagon train was by no means unique. That year was reportedly the second busiest on the overland trails, with some 50,000 travelers crossing the plains to Oregon, California, and other western points. At least five other wagon trains are known to have started from within 75 miles of the McCully train’s departure point. Close to 100 journals and other documents describing the journey that year have been archived.

    In most ways, the McCully train appears typical of the groups traveling westward. Origins, membership, and trip details - as gleaned from the various documents describing the trip - are summarized below.


Why They Went - The wagon train was apparently the idea of brothers David McCully and Asa A. McCully, and was principally organized as the means for getting their family to the West. Thirty-three of the 60 known members of the party were McCullys or close relatives of the McCullys. Most of the rest of the party were either friends and neighbors of the McCullys, or men hired to help enroute with the wagons and livestock.

    For most of the party, the reason for going was probably no more complicated than “everyone was doing it.” David and Asa McCully had already been West in 1849, as had their brother-in-law John Starkey (whose family was on the trip), Thomas Angell, and others. John Starkey and John Wilmer McCully, David and Asa’s younger brother, were already in Oregon, having traveled there by wagon train in 1851. For the younger men with no particular ties and a yen to wander,  an organized wagon train was a relatively safe and cheap way to continue that wandering. Gold, land, opportunity, and “change” were the names on strong magnets, all of which were located somewhere WEST.

    Deciding to go to Oregon was probably not spontaneous, but it was probably not a long-term plan, either. The McCullys were successful businessmen in Henry County, Iowa, and had started up a new mercantile business and a stage line after returning from California in 1850. They had bought more land near New London, Iowa, in May 185l, and had not started selling their principal land holdings until February 1852. In fact, they had to leave some of their lands and business dealings in the hands of others (through a power-of-attorney) when the wagon train departed New London in March 1852.

   Perhaps some decisions were made in the spring of 1851 when John and Jane (Mason) McCully, and John Starkey, left New London for Oregon. Starkey left his business dealings in the hands of Asa McCully, and his wife and daughters remained behind in New London. It may have been planned that he would get settled in Oregon, and await his family’s arrival with the McCullys the next year. Planned or not, that’s the way it worked out.


Recruiting - There does not appear to have been any formalized call for participants. Half the party were McCullys, and all the others that we have identified were living in or near New London, Iowa, at the time. We checked the local newspapers for either formal announcements or stories about the intended trip, but did not find any. Probably the news spread quite adequately by word of mouth, and people were accepted because they were neighbors or because they were available to be hired on as drivers and drovers.


The Participants - When the McCully train reached the Missouri River, John McKiernan wrote in his journal that the party consisted of 33 men, 11 women, and 18 children. We have been able to put names on (but not always definitely identify) 32 men, 9 women, and 17 children (plus one child born on the trip, who would not have been counted by McKiernan). Seven family groups included all                                             the children, eight of the nine women, six married men, and two single men traveling with their in-laws’ families. One single woman traveled with her unmarried brother. Of the remaining 24 men, two were known to be married men traveling without their families, and 12 were known to be single. Most of the remaining ten men were likely unmarried.

    The oldest member of the party was 64-years old Mary (Copp) McCully, matriarch of the McCully family. The youngest (not counting a baby born on the way) was three-month old Sarah Margaret Angell. The married men ranged from 23 to 42 years of age; the married women from 20 to 35 years. Most of the hired men were in their older ‘teens and twenties.

    Occupationally, the trip participants were a cross-section of the population living in and around New London, Iowa, in 1852. Of those whose livelihood we have been able to identify, seven were farmers; two were carpenters; two were merchants; one was a miller; one was a tailor; and one was a clerk. Probably most of the “hired hands” were laborers or farm workers.

   The make-up of the party changed little from leave-taking in Henry County, Iowa, until they reached the northern slopes of the Blue Mountains in eastern Oregon. One family (the Millers) appear to have traveled only a short distance with the train.


The Physical Plant - At the Missouri River crossing, John McKiernan wrote in his journal that the train consisted of 15 ox wagons, five carriages (presumably pulled by horses or mules), 65 yoke of oxen, 22 “loose” cattle (i.e., not used for hauling the wagons), 15 horses, and six mules. Three of the wagons were loaded with corn, and were intended to be discarded as soon as the corn had been used by their livestock.  At least some of the “loose” cattle were milk cows; some of the others may have been brought to supply meat along the way (although not confirmed in any of the narratives), or as the hoped-for nucleus of new herds in Oregon.

   Family tradition is that the McCully women traveled “in style,” in horse-drawn carriages that provided a ride more comfortable than that provided by the standard ox wagons. Susan Angell  remembered that their family equipment consisted of a light wagon drawn by mules, in which they rode, and a larger ox wagon for the rest of their supplies.


The Route West - David McCully and Asa McCully had been overland to California in 1849, and it appears that they planned to follow their previous route as far as the junction of the California Trail in Idaho. The train made its way southwest through southern Iowa and northern Missouri until almost to the “official” start of the Oregon Trail at St. Joseph, Missouri. At that point (and for reasons unknown to us), the McCullys appeared to “change their mind,” and spent over a week traveling north up the east side of the Missouri River to a crossing near present-day Nebraska City, Nebraska. The route from there led northwest over what has been called the Ox Bow Cut-off, reaching the Platte River again west of present-day Columbus, Nebraska, then traveling up the Platte to intersect the main Oregon Trail east of Kearney, Nebraska. They followed south of the Platte River to California Hill, then went north to  Ash Hollow, where they intersected the trail along the north side of the river. From Ash Hollow they generally followed the most-used trail over South Pass to the Green River in Wyoming. Instead of continuing south to Fort Bridger, they took the “Sublette Cut-off” west to Bear River. They stayed south of the Snake River all the way to eastern Oregon, even though that route was generally considered rougher than the northern route. At the Cascade Mountains in Oregon, they took the Barlow Road over the flanks of Mt. Hood, rather than continuing down the Columbia River to Portland. The train more or less “officially” broke up at Salem, Oregon, although the McCullys and others traveled farther south to the vicinity of Albany and Harrisburg, Oregon.

Events Along the Way - Family tradition is that the McCully train was the first to reach Oregon in 1852; Susan Angell remembered them as being the second arrivals in the Willamette Valley, being beaten only by a train of wagons pulled by horses, not oxen. Whether either remembrance is precisely true, there is no question that the McCully train started early, and arrived early. They were crossing the Missouri River 21 April (and had actually reached the river  over a week earlier), before a number of other wagon trains were starting out from eastern Iowa. They reached Salem, Oregon, on 17 August; most trains that year arrived in September and October.

   Weather was generally favorable; at least, most of it was unremarkable. A snow storm in Missouri forced the party to lay over a day. Also in Missouri, one of the party was struck by lightning, but was reportedly not seriously hurt. A major hail storm in Nebraska damaged wagons, scattered livestock, caused some injuries, and caused a day’s delay while stock was rounded up and repairs made.

   Cholera caused many deaths on the Oregon Trail in 1852, but the McCully train was unaffected by it. The party was forced to lay over several days on the Bear River in Idaho, when several people were severely afflicted with “mountain fever.”

    There was one birth on the train, and two accidental deaths. A son of David McCully, Joseph Henry McCully, died  from severe injuries suffered when he was thrown and dragged by a frightened mule. One of the Roberts brothers drowned when he tried to swim Bear River to retrieve a hunting trophy.

    In later life, trip participants “remembered” tense moments with some of the Indians over whose land they were passing. John McKiernan’s journal records only one instance of trouble, with a Pawnee band in Nebraska. David McCully, whose reminiscences appear to be the most reliable of latter-day recall,  failed to mention any tribal interactions. It appears that the amount of contact was minor.

    Crime on the overland trail was seldom reported, so the McCully train involvement in a murder trial at Ham’s Fork of Green River, Wyoming, is of special interest. Both John McKiernan and David McCully give detailed accounts of the event, which resulted in the firing squad execution of the party found guilty.


What Happened in Oregon - The McCully train began to break up after crossing the Blue Mountains in eastern Oregon. In his journal, John McKiernan reported this happened by mutual consent (and there is nothing in writing to specifically refute his allegation). However, the train was still several weeks away from its final destination, and the loss of a number of the hired men must have put some strain on the families remaining. From McKiernan’s writings, it is clear that some of the younger men (including McKiernan, himself) were chafing under the discipline of the train, and (now that the need for the security of the train was mostly behind them) were eager to make their own way at their own speed.

    Even after the breakup of the train, most (perhaps, all) of the participants continued on to Salem, Oregon, where the McCully train “officially” disbanded. It appears that most of the travelers elected to stay in the Salem area, at least for the first winter. The McCullys and a few others camped for a day at Salem, then continued south up the Willamette Valley for another 50 miles to the area around present-day Harrisburg, Oregon.


After the Trip - The majority of those who came on the McCully train in family units remained in Oregon for several generations. The Willamette Valley proved a lasting attraction to many, while others gradually dispersed to the gold fields of southern Oregon, the livestock country of eastern Oregon, or to the newly developing communities in southeastern Washington. Some names (Hendershott, McCully, Starkey) became well-known in the business and political circles of the second half of the Nineteenth Century.

    Some of those who came west as hired help stayed on. David Busey married and became a successful farmer at Harrisburg, Oregon. Eathan and Homer Linn wandered the gold fields of northern California and Idaho for awhile, but eventually settled into the livestock and livery business in eastern Washington. Most of the unattached men, however, quickly  disappeared from the Oregon record. John McKiernan returned to his native Pennsylvania, and Benjamin Yeomans went back to Iowa. We suspect that others gravitated to the California and Idaho gold country, but the evidence is inconclusive.


Below are the names of all people recorded as having traveled with the 1852 McCully family wagon train. Included in the book are biographical and genealogical sketches of all that have been positively identified. Clues are given to the identities of those not positively located.

Thomas ANGELL, Susan Pinney (YEOMANS) ANGELL, Sarah Margaret ANGELL, Dr.Samuel R. BERGEN, "Dr." BISSEL, David S. BUSEY, "Mr. and Miss" CROKER, "Mr." DICKEY, "Mr." ELLSLEY, Jim ESSLINGER, D. FIELDS, James HENDERSHOTT, "Mr." HOUGH, Eathan LINN, Homer LINN, John McCOLLEY, Mary (COPP) McCULLY, Samuel McCULLY, Catherine (DILLON) McCULLY, John Fletcher McCULLY, Mary Ann McCULLY, Delilah Frances McCULLY, William Asa McCULLY, David McCULLY, Mary Ann (SCOTT) McCULLY, Joseph Henry McCULLY, Mary Jane McCULLY, John William McCULLY, Estelle Ann McCULLY, Asa Alfred McCULLY, Hannah Keziah (WATERS) McCULLY, Alice Jane McCULLY, William Hamilton McCULLY, John Nelson McDONALD, Margaret Hamilton (BLODGETT) McDONALD, Benjamin A. McDONALD, Jennie McDONALD, Clara Dillon McDONALD, "Mr." MILLER and family, Jonathan P. O'DONALD, Catherine (WEAVER) O'DONALD, John O'DONALD, William H. O'DONALD, Eugene M. PLAMONDON and family, Sam REED, Lawson/Losington ROBERTS, J. B. "Ben" ROBERTS,  Jane Elizabeth (SCOTT) STARKEY, Armintha Ann STARKEY, Mary Catherine STARKEY, Eliza Ellen STARKEY, Asa TULLY, John TULLY, James TULLY, Andrew J. "Jack" VINCENT, [James?] WATSON, and Benjamin Pinney YEOMANS.


Of those named above, the following have not been definitely identified, either before or after the trip. If anyone can offer any more information or clues, they would be much appreciated. 

BISSEL - David McCully had "Dr. Bissel" as a member of the party, identifying him as a Linn County resident. It is possible that BISSEL was actually on Asa McCully's 1853 wagon train.

CROKER - David McCully's trip list included "Mr. and Miss Croker". The only clue found to their identity is in an 1854 letter from Jordan Cox in El Dorado County, California, to his parents in Henry County, Iowa. He noted that he had seen only a few of "the London boys" [i.e., gold miners from New London, Iowa], among them John and Bill CROCKERS. There was a CROCKER family in Henry County, IA, in 1850, that included sons William and John. It is possible that one or both was on the trip, and continued on to California. The 1850 Henry County census does not identify a daughter who might have been "Miss Croker".

ELLSLEY - Another name from David McCully's list, not placed in either Iowa or Oregon.

ESSLINGER - "Jim" ESSLINGER was reported as a trip member by David McCully. No Esslingers were found in Oregon or California in the 1850s or 1860s, but there were two ESSLINGER households in Henry Co., IA, at the time of the 1850 census. "Jim" was likely associated with one of these.

FIELDS - "D. Fields" was on David McCully's list. The family name was represented in both Iowa and Oregon at appropriate times, but the individual has not been identified.

HOUGH - John McKiernan's journal included a reference to "Hough". There were HOWEs in Henry Co., IA, in 1850, and a John HAUGH in Clackamas Co., OR, in 1860, but none identifiable as "Hough".

MILLER - "Mr. Miller and family" were identifed as being on the trip by John McKiernan. It is possible that they only joined the McCully train for a short time, and may not have reached Oregon at the same time. There were a number of MILLER families in both Iowa and Oregon at that time.

REED - "Sam Reed", a hired hand, was identified in the reminiscences of Delilah Frances [McCully] Hendershott. There were several Sam Reeds in Oregon and California in the 1850s and 1860s.

ROBERTS - There were two "Roberts boys" on the wagon train. One who drowned in Bear River, Idaho, was variously identified as Losington ROBERTS [John McKiernan], Lawson ROBERTS [Susan (Yeomans) Angell], and "Mart" ROBERTS [David McCully]. The other was called J. B. ROBERTS [McKiernan] and "Ben" ROBERTS [David McCully]. There were a number of ROBERTS families in Iowa and Oregon, but none identifiable with these "missing" brothers.

SHANE/SCHANER - The "J. Shane" of McKiernan's journal and the "John Schaner" identified by David McCully were likely the same person. There were both SHANE and SHANER families in Henry Co., IA.

TULLY - Asa TULLY, John TULLY and James TULLY were identified by David McCully as being on this trip. The only clue to their identity is that a "Mr. Tully" had the first blacksmith shop in New London, IA, the town where this wagon train originated. The TULLY name [or any related spelling] does not appear in Iowa or Oregon censuses for the period. Could these men have been named TULL, which was a family name in Iowa at that time?



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