Chapter Seven: Iowa City to Red Buttes
“We…Started for Council Bluffs with Hand Carts”
Ye saints who dwell on Europe’s shore,
Prepare yourselves for many more
To leave behind your native land,
For sure God’s judgments are at hand.
For you must cross the raging main
Before the promised land you gain,
And with the faithful make a start
To cross the plains with your handcart.
(chorus) For some must push and some must pull
As we go marching up the hill;
So merrily on the way we go
Until we reach the Valley-o!
As on the roads the carts were pull’d,
‘Twould very much surprise the world
To see the old and feeble dame
Thus lend a hand to pull the same!
And maidens fair will dance and sing,
Young men more happy than a king,
And children too will laugh and play;
Their strength increasing day by day.
And long before the valley’s gained,
We will be met upon the plains
With music sweet and friends so dear
And fresh supplies our hearts to cheer.
And then with music and with song
How cheerfully we’ll march along
And thank the day we made a start
To the plains with our handcart.
“The Handcart Song” written by J.D.T. McAllister (Hafen and Hafen)
“We…Started for Council Bluffs with Hand Carts”
Ye saints who dwell on Europe’s shore,
Prepare yourselves for many more
To leave behind your native land,
For sure God’s judgments are at hand.
For you must cross the raging main
Before the promised land you gain,
And with the faithful make a start
To cross the plains with your handcart.
(chorus) For some must push and some must pull
As we go marching up the hill;
So merrily on the way we go
Until we reach the Valley-o!
As on the roads the carts were pull’d,
‘Twould very much surprise the world
To see the old and feeble dame
Thus lend a hand to pull the same!
And maidens fair will dance and sing,
Young men more happy than a king,
And children too will laugh and play;
Their strength increasing day by day.
And long before the valley’s gained,
We will be met upon the plains
With music sweet and friends so dear
And fresh supplies our hearts to cheer.
And then with music and with song
How cheerfully we’ll march along
And thank the day we made a start
To the plains with our handcart.
“The Handcart Song” written by J.D.T. McAllister (Hafen and Hafen)
Isaac traveled the Mormon Trail with the Martin Handcart Company of 1856. For some reason his name is not on the official roster sent to Salt Lake City of those traveling with the handcart company. (See Deseret News, CH) However he was a part of the company. He is included in the official roster for the Ship Horizon.
The Mormon Trail, known to immigrants as “the road” or “the emigrant road” started north of the Platt River, and stayed north until crossing the river near Fort Laramie. For the handcart company, because of the decision to take the northern route, (instead of through New Orleans, and steam boat up the Mississippi and Missouri rivers as the previous year) the road would start at Iowa City, 300 miles before the Missouri River, with a trek across half the state of Iowa. Frederick Piercy described Iowa, “The surface of Iowa is generally composed of rolling prairies, having nothing within its limits which approaches a mountain in elevation.” (Piercy p 78) The Oregon and California Trails, which started south of the Platte, stayed south. At Fort Laramie the trails merged. They would stay together until they separated near Fort Bridger with the Mormon Trail going to Salt Lake City and the others to Fort Hall and then on the Oregon or California:
Emigrants who left from Missouri stayed south of the Platte River, on the Oregon Trail through Nebraska, while those starting from Council Bluffs, Iowa, remained north of the river. The South Platte route was the main trail for those going to Oregon and California. Brigham Young and his followers mostly used the North Platte route, so it became known as the Mormon Trail. The two trails merged near Fort Laramie… Farther west the trails separated again. The main route to Oregon veered north, while the Mormon Trail… continued southwest… (Kimball)
The Platte River was an interesting river, very shallow and wide. It was described by pioneers as “a mile wide and six inches deep, too thick to drink, too thin to plow, hard to cross because of quicksand, impossible to navigate, too yellow to wash in, and too pale to paint with." (DUP)
The river also contributed to disease. Keith Meldahl, geologist, wrote of the California trail, talking of the hardships, and deaths on the trail:
In addition to timing, preparation, planning, and pluck, a successful overland journey took some luck, and many people did not bring enough. Roughly 20,000 (15,000-30,000 in the notes) died on the overland trails to California between 1842 and 1859—an average of 10 graves per mile. They died mostly of disease, particularly cholera from contaminated water along the Platte and North Platte rivers. Poor sanitation and the burial of infected bodies near watercourses helped spread the disease. Cholera worked quickly, killing by dehydration. Accounts tell of people waking at dawn feeling fine and lying dead by sundown. They also died of dysentery, tuberculosis, smallpox, mumps, pneumonia, and “mountain fever: (probably a tick related disease). About twice as many emigrants fell from disease as died from all other causes of death combined. But even if you escaped disease, there were plenty of ways to die on the road west, including accidental gunshot, trampling or kicking by animals, and being crushed under wagon wheels. Many drowned on river crossings. The Platte, North Platte, and Green rivers claimed the most victims, but some even drowned on smaller rivers like the Humboldt. Some were killed by Indians. Others were shot, stabbed, or bludgeoned to death in fights with other emigrants.
…Emigrants had a saying for intense hardship. They called it “seeing the elephant.” Almost everyone saw the elephant somewhere along the overland trail—perhaps in the Black Hills (the foothills of the Laramie Range), or on the Sublette Cutoff, or the rough ridges of the Overthrust Belt. (Meldahl, pp 14-16)
Howard Driggs, pioneer historian echoed these sentiments:
Death took its heavy toll during these crowded years. Thousands of men, women and children, unable to endure the strain, or seized with some dread scourge like the cholera, went into their graves all along the painful way. Most of their resting places are unmarked, for the simple reason that there were few lasting materials on the prairie lands with which to erect enduring monuments, and precious little time while the trains were in the mountain lands to carve lasting inscriptions on any stone that might be set at a grave.
…Education of a lasting kind was gained through this frontier experience. The pioneer trail tested the mettle of every one, young or old, that dared to follow it. It brought out the best and the worst in human nature. Weaklings usually went down; wickedness was generally brought to swift and certain punishment. Only strength of body and of character stood the test and came through strengthened and trained for the conquest that lay ahead. (Driggs pp 34-35)
Besides the differences in the trail of the Mormon travelers, and those traveling to California or Oregon, there were also differences in the make-up of the companies:
Most Mormon companies were larger than those of their contemporaries on the Oregon or California Trail… More than half [of the Mormon companies] numbered from two to four hundred; only eight were smaller than one hundred; and seventeen exceeded five hundred. These companies included far more women, children and old people than did those on their way to the goldfields. Their numbers lacked the toughness of American farmer or country craftsmen; and they reached the Missouri, not direct from work in their own homes, but after a long journey by ship, steamboat and train, with little opportunity for taking hardening exercise. Coming, as most of them did, from British towns, they were far less familiar with oxen, wagons, firearms, and all the routine of open-air life… Finally, it was not enough for their leaders to ensure their physical survival: they had to bring them to Utah as effective and loyal members of what was both a pioneer community and a Church. (Taylor, P.A.M. p 219)
The handcart pioneers resembled this description. They had been worn down by months of travel to reach Iowa. There were older members, younger members, pregnant woman and babes in arms. Wallace Stegner offered this description of the handcart pioneers:
In all its history, the American West never saw a more unlikely band of pioneers than the four hundred-odd who were camped on the bank of the Iowa River at Iowa City in early June, 1856. They were not colorful—only improbable. Looking for the brown and resolute and weather-seasoned among them, you would have seen instead starved cheeks, pale skins, bad teeth, thin chests, all the stigmata of unhealthy work and inadequate diet. There were more women than men, more children under fifteen than either. One in every ten was past fifty, the oldest a woman of seventy-eight; there were widows and widowers with six or seven children. They looked more like the population of the poor farm on a picnic than like pioneers about to cross the plains.
Most of them, until they were herded from the crowded immigrant ship and loaded into the cars and rushed to the end of the Rock Island Line and dumped here at the brink of the West, had never pitched a tent, slept on the ground, cooked outdoors, built a campfire. They had not even the rudimentary skills that make frontiersmen. But as it turned out, they had some of the stuff that makes heroes.
Mainly Englishmen from the depressed collieries and mill towns… they were the casualties of the industrial revolution, life’s discards, to whom Mormonism had brought its irresistible double promise of a new start on earth and a guaranteed Hereafter. They did not differ in any essential, unless perhaps in their greater poverty, from hundreds and thousand who had started for Zion before them. But their intention was more brash—was so impudent it was almost sublime. Propertyless, ill-equipped, untried and untrained, they were not only going to Zion, they were gong to walk there, nearly fourteen hundred miles, having their belongings on handcarts. (Stegner 1, p)
Stegner was actually describing the earlier handcart companies. If he had been describing the Martin Company his description may have been even more severe. In describing the job of Edward Martin as the captain of the company, David Roberts added this description, “…He certainly had the hardest job of all, for the Martin Company not only contained an unwieldy multitude of emigrants, pushing the most dilapidated handcarts, but fully three-quarters of their number were women, children and old people. President Richards, who would see them off from Florence, admitted that ‘They have a great proportion of crippled and old gray-headed men.” (Roberts p 153) Another description was provided by Gustive Larson. “As they emerged from the dust clouds it was noticeable that able-bodied men were a minority among large numbers of aged and children.” (Larson p 206) Isaac, a young man of 20 was much needed and frequently served others on the trail.
President Richards later gave this description of the later handcart companies:
The aged; the infirm and bowed down, and those who have been lame from their birth, are coming along upon their crutches; and they think it is a good job if they can walk the most of the way through the day, and avoid riding all they can.
Indeed persons of nearly all ages and conditions are coming. There are also delicate ladies, those who have been brought up tenderly from their youth, and used to going to school and teaching school, playing music, &c.; but when they received the gospel they had to bid good bye to fathers, and mothers, and were turned out of doors; that taught them the first principles of gathering up to Zion. And the idea that there was a place here that could be truly called home inspired them to go along, to the astonishment of their friends, and kindred and that of the gentiles on the way.
… Many of those now back are poor, and had not enough to get away from their homes with, and now they have scarcely a change of clothing. (Richards, CH)
However there was another characteristic of these men of the Martin Handcart Company. That is despite their being poor, many of them had shown themselves faithful to the Church over a long period of time. Brigham Young had asked President Richards to give preference to those “who have proven themselves by long continuance in the Church.” (MS xvii 1855 p 184)
Frederick Piercy had traveled the trail by wagon in 1853, with the intent of publishing his sketches and story of the trail. As to clothing he suggested any old clothes, a felt hat, top boots and a beard for the men. He also suggested goggles. For the women he suggested dresses not quite so long, rubber galoshes and a very large sun-bonnet. (Piercy p 80-81) A bandana or kerchief would have to serve as a poor man’s goggles.
The method of organizing the western migration had been given to Brigham Young in revelation. “The Word and Will of the Lord concerning the Camp of Israel in their journeyings to the West: Let all the people.…and those who journey with them, be organized into companies. …Let the companies be organized with captains of hundreds, captains of fifties and captains of tens, with a president and his two counselors at their head.” (D&C 136) The Martin Company was organized in this fashion. “The companies were divided into hundreds and tens, with their respective captains, as usual with the "Mormon" emigration of those days.” (Jacques, CH)
“Heart Throbs of the West”, citing Joseph Argyle Jr. (of the first handcart company) described the organization in this fashion.
The companies were organized with about five persons to a handcart, and approximately twenty individuals to a tent. The occupants of each tent were under the duty of the company captain was to look after everything in general to see that the company was provided with all the provisions that they were able to carry and assist in all that would aid the betterment of the company. The tent captain was expected to give all his time and attention to his company, to make sure that all allotments of one pint of flour for each person were given every twenty-four hours and to equalize as nearly as possible all labor. (Carter, Kate B. as quoted in Hafen and Hafen p 59)
John Chislett, of the Willie Company, provided some insight to the organization, which would have been similar to the Martin Company:
To each hundred there were five round tents, with twenty persons to a tent; twenty hand-carts, or one to every five persons; and one Chicago wagon, drawn by three yoke of oxen, to haul provisions and tents. Each person was limited to seventeen pounds of clothing and bedding, making eighty-five pounds of luggage to each cart. To this were added such cooking utensils as the little mess of five required. But their cuisine being scanty, not many articles were needed, and I presume the average would not exceed fifteen to twenty pounds, making in all a little over a hundred pounds on each cart. The carts being so poorly made, could not be laden heavily, even had the people been able to haul them.
The strength of the company was equalized as much as possible by distributing the young men among the different families to help them. Several carts were drawn by young girls exclusively; and two tents were occupied by them and such females as had no male companions. The other tents were occupied by families and some young men; all ages and conditions being found in one tent. Having been thrown closely together on shipboard, all seemed to adapt themselves to this mode of tent-life without any marked repugnance. (Chislett, CH)
Isaac may not have been officially called to a position of leadership, although he was likely the leader of his handcart group, and very likely the captain of his tent as he was responsible for putting it up in the evening. Later, in a letter to Isaac, Langley Bailey would comment, “You did stake our tent down strong and firm My dear Brother.” (Bailey)
P.A.M. Taylor described the followers and leaders:
The leaders were men who had already held positions of authority in the Church’s main centres. They were priests as well as officers; and obedience to them had become habitual. Those they commanded were not a casual assemblage of adventurers, but a band of volunteers adhering to a new faith, men and women whose bodies might be soft and their skills few, but whose willingness to obey and endure had already been tested in Britain, on the ocean, and in the eastern United States. (Taylor, P.A.M. p 226)
In 1856 the pioneers would be tested again and again. A migrating company in 1849 drew up rules, which were typical of other migrating companies: restrictions on leaving the company without permission of the Captain, the Captains of Tens would instruct their men “to attend to their family prayers,” that there would be a duty to guard the camp, that the camp would get up with the sounding of the horn, that the camp be ready to depart at the appointed hour, that camp members be in their tents by the appointed hour, that company members be obedient to their leaders. (Taylor, P.A.M. p 232) Similar rules would have applied to the Martin Company.
The Leaders of Ten behaved in a fashion similar to home teachers today. They would have been the communication conduit to let leaders know of any problems.
Off from Iowa City
Gustive Larson described the scene as the pioneers left on their trek.
They formed a colorful spectacle as the winding train of vehicles, drawn by men and women moved forward between occasional supply wagons and small herds of milk cows. Many of the carts were tastefully painted to suit the fancy of the owners, while here and there appeared inscriptions such as “Truth will Prevail,” “Zion’s Express,” “Blessings Follow Sacrifice,” and “Merry Mormons.” Snatches of the marching song, “Some must push and some must pull” served to lighten the monotony of the daily routine. (Larson p 207)
Joseph Beecroft offered this description of the first day:
We arrose soon after five and endevoured to get my hand cart fit up and got on my coade [coat]and waited for the command to move. we were ordered in lines with our carts and when the word was given to Strike tents away we went to work and soon had our tents down and in the Mule Waggon, and soon were ordered to move on when a very exciting sceen took place. It took a little time to get into place or order, and then we moved round the hill and then struck out for the main road[.] went about a half a mile and then struck in the prarie[,] brought our Carts into 2 lines, and then turned shaft to shaft of those on the opposite line and side to side of those in our line. We soon had our tents up, and fires lited for food which we felt to need very bad. It took us the day out to reload, refit up our tents and carts, and about half past 9 we framed for rest, amidst thunder[,] lightning and rain. About 11 I was called up for guard and prepared for a wet night, and just as I got out of tent it came on very wet, while the lightning was awful. When I got to the Captain he said he had got a man in my place so I had to go to bed[.] The night was very wet, but I slept pretty well[.] We were rather desturbed by those in the other tent[.] A sick sister was groaning under the same while other was taulking and laughing and all in confusion. (Beecroft, CH)
What would become the Martin Handcart Company, started from Iowa City as two groups. Isaac traveled with the Haven, Toone group that left Iowa City July 24, four days before the Martin group. The temperature was 108 degrees in the tents the day they marched away from the Iowa camp. (Haven, CH) I have concluded that Isaac was with the Jesse Haven group, from a couple of things in the Langley Bailey account. When he needed a blessing his mother went to John Toone, a Captain of 100 with the Haven group. Langley also talked about being rained upon and getting very wet. “We encountered thunderstorms. We were wet through many times.” (Bailey, BYU) A young man with the Hodgetts Company described the Iowa rain storms. “At times dark clouds would arrive and in a short time the thunder would roar and light<en>ing flash, and down came the rain in torrents.” (Bond CH) There was an incident with the Haven group, when they were separated from their tents, and had to endure a thunderstorm without shelter.
Langley Bailey, who was with the same handcart as Isaac, remembers the company singing “The Handcart Song” as they left Iowa City. “Finally the noble 600 made a start with their handcarts, singing as they went along, ‘Some must push and some must pull as we go marching up the hill,’ etc. Bad roads and storms did not daunt these noble pioneers.” (Bailey, CH 1) I would like to have seen Isaac singing this song as they left Iowa City. If he sang anything like my father it would have had plenty of gusto as he slurred the notes. “Upon the company starting we were in line with our cart and ready. All went well as we joyously sang, "For some must push and some must pull as we go marching up the hill. As merrily on the way we go, until we reach the valley, Oh!" (Housley, CH) The Martin group, similarly sang this song a few days later, leaving Iowa City. “When at the command of Captain Martin and Tyler our caravan started westward, this refrain of the ‘Handcart Song’ was ringing all along the line: "Some must push and some must pull. As we go marching up the hill, as merrily on our way we go. Until we reach the valley, Oh." (Harrison, BYU)
“The Mormon” published a letter talking of the departure of the Haven group from Iowa City. “It would astonish you to see them dragging the hand cart. Away they go, singing and rejoicing…. When Bro. Haven gave them the order to start, you would have been surprised to see them take down their tents and pack up in about twenty minutes, and off they went, without any ceremony.” (Reese, CH)
Music was a part of the handcart trek. They would sing around the campfire, but also there were morning songs, and singing as the pioneers journeyed during the day. “The Handcart Song” (at beginning of this chapter) written by J.D.T. McAllister was a favorite. This was not the only handcart song. They sang others. “We’re going to Zion with our carts And the Spirit of God within our hearts.” (Cameron) Another example is included in the Hafen book:
A Handcart Song; by Lydia D. Alder
Obedient to the Gospel call
We serve our God, the All in All,
We hie away to Zion.
We do not wait to ride all day
But pull our handcarts all the way
And Israel’s God rely on.
(chorus) To Zion pull the handcart
While singing every day
The glorious songs of Zion
That haste the time away.
Our prayers arise to greet the sun
And when his shining course is run
We gather round the camp fire,
To talk of God and all His ways,
His wondrous works of Latterdays
Until the dancing blaze expires.
We climb the hills and far away
Then down where sleeping valleys lay
While still the miles onward roll,
Till Zion rises on our sight
We pull our handcarts with our might
Triumphant reach the goal.
And those we left beside the way
To dream where summer breezes play
Saw in the camp fires’ vivid blaze
Fair Zion with her golden skies,
Grand temples there that stately rise
And satisfied, rest always. (Hafen and Hafen p 274)
The Haven group was comparable in size to the Martin group. The groups would be combined later in the trip, perhaps due to the numbers who would drop out, or because Brother Haven was needed in the wagon companies. “There were two companies which contained about five hundred and fifty-six persons. There were one hundred and forty-six handcarts, seven wagons and six mules and horses, fifty milk cows and beef animals. There was one wagon loaded with goods for the Church. To each of these two companies were apportioned a mule team and two wagons hauled by oxen. These were to carry the commissary stores, tents, etc.” (Kingsford, BYU) John Jaques gives the number of pioneers as 600, including both groups. (Jaques, Bell p 118) Also connected with the handcart company was a herd of cattle which the members of the handcart company were herding to Salt Lake. (See Jaques, Bell p 118) “Had som trouble with the cattle most of them being cattle that had not been worked before.” (Haven, CH 1) These cattle may have been church cattle, or may have belonged to Brother Tennant with the Hunt Wagon Company. “The Tennant Cattle driving and guarding.” (Jones, Albert, CH 1)
Josiah Rogerson traveled with the Martin group describes the daily life of the handcart pioneers:
From the date we left Iowa hill, Iowa, July 26, ’56, Brother John Watkins was our bugler, and his cornet was heard every morning to “wake up” between 5 and 6 o’clock. Then again we heard his cornet to “strike tents” and to meeting—not later than 6 or 7 a.m.
These meetings every morning lasted from fifteen minutes to half an hour, when prayer was offered, a verse or two sung from one of our hymns, then a few remarks from Captain Martin, Tyler and the captains of the hundreds as to the health and condition of their companies and suggestions as to facilitating our progress; then our breakfast cooked and partaken of with haste; the tent poles and (about this date) the tents were taken to the four-mule team, [after Florence the tents were on the carts] the bedding rolled up, the cart packed, and we were generally in line in single file and on our journey by 7:30 to 8 a.m. at the latest.
Father George P. Waugh, [He was a counselor aboard the Horizon] then between 65 and 70 years of age, would be seen and heard calling between the tents for his company to muster between 7 and 7:30 a.m. These consisted of all the aged that could walk at all, and not required to pull at the carts; our fathers and mothers from 45 to 86. Away they would start ahead of our seven wagons and the carts, singing and talking and cheering each other with the hallowed reminiscences of the early days of the gospel in the British isles, and the days of Orson Hyde, Parley P. Pratt and Willard Richards. Traveling three to five miles or more in this manner, the mother with the babe in arms and one by the hand, the widow and the aged widower with their walking cane and staff, would rest a few minutes for our coming in sight, then on at it again till noon, but betimes leaving the little ones and the young for their father with the cart to pick up and bring to camp. The oldest and most feeble of this advance guard would be picked up by the wagons as often as possible, and as the loads were lightened by our daily rations.
The able and hardy of this advance guard (Captain Martin would generally ride ahead of us a few miles and locate the noon camp) would be there; the matron and the sire also, with their flour and packs filled with fuel to cook the noon meal.
An hour or two for our noon rest, then were going again, the same aged advance guard ahead of us, with Father Waugh, who was returning from his mission of three years to Scotland, and one of the most devoted Scottish worthies that ever came to Utah. Stopping for noon, we all dropped our carts, single file, in line in our several hundreds.
At nights we made camp in the same manner—the tents in line, one above or below the other, and the carts unloaded at the back or rear of the tent, and a rod or more space between each line of tents, as the location and evenness of the ground would permit.
Our mules were picketed at nights, and over them a very vigilant watch was kept. The oxen and fifty head of cows and some beef cattle were guarded faithfully by Tyler’s platoons nightly. (Rogerson, CH 1)
Evening, when the marching was done for the day, brought different chores:
There was a lot to be done in setting up camp for the night, and everyone helped. Men usually unyoked the animals and pitched the tents, children gathered fuel for the fires, women made the fires and prepared the food. Most companies also dug a latrine ditch. The unwritten rule was “Ladies on the left, gents on the right.” Women and girls used their long skirts as a privacy screen. Cooking was generally done over an open fire of wood, sagebrush, or, most commonly, dried buffalo manure (which didn’t really smell that bad.) (Kimball p 33)
The evening also brought a chance for recreation. Evening camp scenes were similar from party to party. James Brown described the evening of a Mormon Company in 1854, “All is life and activity when cooking, washing, watching, singing, talking, laughing, and little girls and boys running, jumping, and skipping about camp. It is truly a great work and a wonder.” (Kimball quoting James Brown) Another brother wrote in his diary, “We kindled a great fire and set round to warm ourselves as night air is cold, and then begn to talk about our friends in the old country and compared their situation with ours.” (Openshaw, CH) A Mormon trek was more than a camping trip, but had some of these aspects:
Evening brought rest and recreation. Family fires smouldered after supper while the community blaze mounted as a signal for a general gathering. Young folks sang and made merry in impromptu programs. Untamed muscles strained for supremacy in wrestling, jumping, and camp stunts, for the entertainment for the gentler sex. With song and story the older ones, too, joined in the evening’s diversion until the hour for retirement approached.
The noise subsided as a circle closed around the smouldering embers. Then with one accord all voices would join in singing those lines which encouraged thousands to go on when enthusiasm lagged. “Come, Come Ye Saints” had been bequeathed by the pioneers of a decade earlier to the thousands who would follow them to the west. It became the common heritage of foreign, as well as native tongues. (Larson p 207) [The song “Come, Come Ye Saints” introduces chapter nine.]
A young man like Isaac would be called upon to do his share of the labor, digging graves, keeping guard at night, setting up tents, etc. Isaac mentions that he helped to bury many who passed away. (Wardle, Isaac 1) Generally the men were expected to do six hours guard duty every other night. (see Orton 2.) Guard duty would begin as soon as they arrived in camp, with those doing guard duty getting their dinner while on guard. They would go until midnight when they would be replaced by another shift. The second shift would serve until morning:
Our night guarding begun as soon as the oxen were unyoked and the mules unharnessed, not later than 6 to 7 p.m. The moment we dropped our cart we had to spring to this arduous duty every other night for six hours. One week, every night as soon as we reached camp, until midnight (our mothers, fathers or sisters bringing us a bite of supper after they got it cooked, and while still on guard), and the next week every other night, roused from our quilts by midnight, and on guard till 6 a.m. when the oxen and mules were ordered to be brought for yoking and harnessing, and one of the most trying and important of our annals right here in place, that the most hardy and sound of body that ever crossed the plains of Nebraska and Wyoming could endure, was six whole nights, straight ahead, guarding one week; pulling the cart every day, twenty to twenty-four miles a day, between Kearney and Laramie, and the only “winks” the writer got in this service was from 6 to 7 a.m., while his mother was cooking him a little breakfast. (Rogerson, CH 1)
Guard duty would take its toll on the men. Isaac would have taken his turn, and been deprived of needed rest. “Our Captains whare hard on us[.] we had to herd at nights and pull hand carts all days and many times I have been kept up until midnight and then stood guard until morning and then start again and it was this everlasting guarding that killed the people.” (Plattt, CH) “After a hard day’s work, men found it an ordeal to stand guard.” ( Taylor, P.A.M. p 234) Guarding took its toll on the men of the company:
Historians and even anthropologists have noted the fact that in all the handcart parties, more men than women died. A chief reason for this is that, on the whole, the men performed the most grueling labors on the trek. One of the most taxing came each night, when guards kept watch over the camp—vigilant not only against Indians, whose attack never materialized), but also against wolves. (Roberts p 195)
There may have been some peace in guarding early in the trip, but after week after week, and month after month, it became drudgery. “We took turns in herding the loose cattle, and all that were able helped stand guard at night….Nights were getting colder and guarding began to be very oppressive.” (Mattinson, CH) A 16-year-old pioneer from a wagon company provided a nostalgic view of guarding. “The moonlight cast an eerie light over the prairies. As I stood my solitary watch, I remember feeling almost overwhelmed by the vast loneliness of my position… I remember feeling an intense awareness of the beauty of the moonlit landscape and the wonder of my being there. (Kimball p 35)
Each morning there would be singing with morning prayers. At times this singing would continue into the day as they pulled their carts. There would have been less recreation at night than a wagon company, because the pioneers were so tired. However on a hot day, when they were close to a river, water recreation would have been too big a draw to pass up. The men and boys would swim, while the girls would “bathe.” (Kimball p 54) [This is the same activity but different names.]
Sister Camm provides a pleasant description of the early trek. “Each day we increased in miles, and as I thought, journeyed like the Children of Israel, full of good feelings and song.” (Camm, CH 1) As did Sister Clegg. “We were as happy a set of people as ever crossed the plains, till the snow caught us. We would sit around the camp fire and sing and were as happy as larks.” (Clegg, CH) Brother Openshaw provided a description of Iowa in his diary. “We started about seven o’clock this morning and traveled through a beautiful country where we could stand and gaze upon the prairies as far as the eye could carry, even until the prairies themselves seemed to meet the sky on all sides, without being able to see a house.´ (Openshaw, CH)
The incident with the Haven group when they were separated from their tents, and had to endure a thunderstorm without shelter was within a week of their having started. “Brother Haven recorded in his journal July 26, “Left one wagon[,] the tents were in it[,] sent after it but it came on raining and it was very dark so we could not get it up which left the Saints without tents exposed to the rain.” (Haven, CH) Brother Southwell provided this description:
…One of the most horrible electric storms I ever saw fell upon us accompanied with hail and rain. It proved a perfect deluge. In this flat clay soil in the space of ten minutes the roads became almost impassable and oh what a scene to behold. Four hundred men, women and children struggling to keep their feet. Here was no sign of a shelter. Our tents were rolled up in the wagons. After everyone was drenched and many were unable to move out of their tracks the captain gave orders to pitch camp and set up the tents the best they could in the mud and quick as possible this was done. It proved a temporary shelter for the old people and children. They were protected from the rain but they were still ankle keep [deep] in the mud. At this stage of the game the younger men displayed their heroism. Near our intended camp ground was a large patch of young willows and they attacked the willow patch with ax and pocket knives and in as short a time as possible they had enough ground covered on which we raised our tents, spread down the bedding, and then a good old farmer living in the distance gave us wood from a pile of dry willows which was soon piled up and a fire built. (Southwell, CH)
I am sure Isaac was pitching in gathering willows as a ground cover, using eithing an ax or knife as he had means. The next day being Sunday, Brother Haven and Brother Toone both talked to the Saints about grumbling. “I told them if they did not scese [cease] their groumbling [grumbling] that sickness would get into their midst and they would die off like rotten sheep, but if they would be humble and keep united, the blessings of the Lord should attend them.” (ibid)
If the rain didn’t discourage the pioneers, the heat and dust should have. “While traveling through the state of Iowa with six hundred immigrants with hand-carts and dust of harvest weather four or five inches deep, the sun pouring down on our heads and the perspiration and wet dust streaming down our faces and in our throats, choking us so we could hardly breath…” (Watkins, CH)
There was a meeting every morning. The bugler blew a half hour before morning meeting and prayers, and then at the appointed time. And then at night the same process would take place, the bugler would sound for prayers again. The company Bugler, describing his duties, gives some idea of the daily routine for the handcart company.
“I was bugler for the company. My duty was to call then [them] up in the morning, to come to prayers, when to march, pitch tents and go to bed.” (Watkins, CH)
Others pioneers described the bugler function in positive light and others negative:
Cornet-a-piation was blown about 5 o'clock a m for the emigrants to arouse, make their fires, cook and eat their breakfast. About 6 o'clock, cornet blown for public prayers, which everybody in camp was expected to attend. About 7 o'clock, cornet blew to strike tents, break up camp, and start. Sometime in the middle of the day, cornet blew for halt to bait. In an hour or two, cornet blew to resume march. Usually sometime before dark, occasionally after, cornet blew to halt, pitch tents, get wood or buffalo chips and water, make fires, cook and eat supper, and do anything else deemed necessary. About 8 o'clock, cornet blew for public prayers. About 10 o'clock, cornet blew for fires and light to be put out and everybody but the guards to go to bed. The undeviating regularity of all this for so long a time grew to be wearyingly and worryingly monotonous. How some of the emigrants did long for the time to come when they could be freed from the odious and relentless tyranny of those unfailing cornet calls, and be left to enjoy a little rest and quiet! Some found that rest long before the journey was over, found rest and quiet in the silent grave. Each cornet call was some well known air or tune. How hateful those tunes did become! I verily believe it grew that eventually they were abhorrent to every ear in camp. It was a shame to use good and innocent tunes in that way and render them forever after repulsive through the association of painful or disagreeable ideas. There are different ways of murdering music. Those unfortunate tunes are hateful to this day. (Jaques, CH)
Jaques goes on to explain that he understood the need of the call for most things, but regretted the call for prayers and meetings which he found excessive, when people needed rest:
Public prayer is good in its time and its place, and public preaching is good in its time and its place. But, as with other good things, the time and place for public prayer and public preaching are not every time and place. Far more than either of these, the weary emigrants needed rest and refreshment, night and morning, to recruit their exhausted energies after tugging at those handcarts all day long, and some of the men having to stand guard half the night in addition to their regular day's work. (Ibid)
John Jaques was joined in this opinion by John Southwell:
…A bugler had to be appointed to call the saints in the morning and to other duties such as, time to start on the day’s journey, time to attend services at night before retiring, etc. But oh! That bugle, that awful bugle. How disgusting it was to the poor, weary souls who needed rest rather then to hear the tirade of abuse uttered by that man who liked to talk and call down the curses of Almighty God upon the disobedient after a hard days march. Tired and weary as they were, some of the older people would lie down on their hard beds and almost instantly be in the land of dreams. Than [Then] that accursed bugle would blow the call for prayers. Which, I ask, did the poor souls need the most[?] (Southwell, CH)
Sundays were generally reserved for rest and church services. However, they did at times travel on Sunday.
They were provided wagons for some of their heavier supplies, but still the loads on the handcarts were significant. “We started on our journey one fine day and raised our tents. We had a few yoke of oxen and wagons to carry the provisions and tents, while we had to haul on our hand-carts, our bedding, clothing, cooking utensils and children.” (Watkins, CH)
The limited space available for provisions meant there was a limited allowance for meals. The standard allotment was one pound of flour per adult, and half that for children. However Brother Haven started with an allotment of ten ounces for adults, as he was worried about running out before reaching Florence. “…Dealt out provisions gave 12 oz of flour to each person dayly. Befor we had given only 10 oz. So many leaving….I came to the conclusion that the provision[,] the larese [largesse] that was promised would hold out.” (Haven, CH 1) Because of the shortage of space, the variety of food provided to the handcart pioneers was limited:
The handcarts were limited in terms of how much could be taken. The pioneers could not take a great deal of provisions with them, although eight wagons would carry the bulk of their provisions. Their diet would be based on flour, supplemented with bacon and the beef cattle they would take on the trip with them. They would not have beans, or maple sugar, or corn meal or apples which were common on other pioneer treks. There just wasn’t room on the carts. (Kimball)
As a result of the low rations, the unexpected difficulty with pulling a cart, and occasionally illness, a significant number dropped out of the Company crossing Iowa. Brother Haven had a general rule that if the pioneers talked to him, they would be released, however if they just left the company, they were disfellowshipped. Brother Haven documents quite a number who left the company. In looking at his journal, there were at least 27, not including “many leaving” one day. (Haven, CH 1) This could explain much of the confusion of the number of handcart pioneers. Isaac set the number at 740 (Wardle, CH) when they would leave Florence, but it was 800 when they left Iowa (between the two companies.) The official count, leaving Florence is more like 650. (Jaques, CH) Along with those who decided to stay in Florence, a drop-out of 100-150 is very likely.
The Saints were not entirely dependent upon the allotment of rations. There were at times wild fruit; including gooseberries, cherries, plums and grapes and nuts. (Bleak, CH 1) (Beecroft, CH) Also at times they were able to add meat through hunting. On one occasion a large fowl and a turtle. (Beecroft, CH) P.A.M. Taylor described travel by handcart in this fashion:
Very different was the experience of the Mormons who crossed the plains and mountains with handcarts. In such companies, only tents, and main stock of provisions, and occasionally sick people, were carried in wagons. Everything else was placed on the carts, crudely made wooden vehicles weighing about 60 lb. Clothes, bedding, cooking utensils, and several days’ rations for an average family of five added at least a hundredweight; and, although the load was closely regulated, it was sometimes found necessary to pile a sack of flour upon each cart. What could be carried was never enough for the emigrants’ comfort. But it made too heavy a load to be pulled, without great strain, by women and older children, who had to help the men… They halted on one weekday to wash their clothes and repair their carts, and they stayed in camp each Sunday… At the beginning of the journey, the ration consisted of no more than 1 lb. flour a day, with small quantities of coffee, sugar, and rice, to which could be added milk from a few cows, and buffalo meat when men found time and energy to go hunting… Extreme fatigue, pain from blisters, and , above all hunger were seldom avoided. (Taylor, P.A.M. p 239)
The trail in Iowa was more amenable than what would come later. It was a place to become accustomed to the journey. However it wasn’t without its difficulties. The heat was a problem to people not use to the heat, and not use to pulling handcarts. “Many were prostrated in the Iowa camp because unclimated and unaccustomed to the great heat. In starting from Iowa with the handcarts and dragging them over the sandy roads, it seemed like pulling the very pluck out of one, the pluck physical and corporeal.” (Jaques Bell, p 119) “Thus while passing through a sparsely populated country the emigrants learned many lessons regarding this mode of travel which were of great value to them later when they were hundreds of miles from civilization. as the hand cart emigrants passed through the settlements of Iowa, many of the pioneer residents jeered at them and some mob violence was threatened, But they arrived safely at Florence.” (Loynd, CH)
“Once on the trail, the emigrant’s life was dominated by the daily need of grass and water.” (Jaques, Bell p 119) Another issue was crossing streams. “Some streams could be forded: but there were always some that needed a ferry.” (Taylor, P.A.M. p 222) Brother Haven documents numerous crossings, leaving out many. In Iowa this included a ferry on Skunk River, toll bridge in Des Moines, and steam ferry over the Missouri. A pioneer described some of these issues among the Martin Company:
While traveling through the state of Iowa with six hundred immigrants with hand-carts and dust of harvest weather four or five inches deep, the sun pouring down on our heads and the perspiration and wet dust streaming down our faces and in our throats, choking us so we could hardly breath and tantalized by the people coming out of their houses and telling us that was a (dam) hard way to serve the Lord, and how the young hoodlems would go ahead of the company to the next river or creek to ridicule our wives and daughters who had to raise their dresses out of the water to wade the streams as there was not many bridges in those days…
Our rations was one pound of flour for grown people and half rations for children and the work being so laborious that the young people got very hungry, myself included. The roads were very heavy, being sometimes sand, sometimes mud and sometimes dust, which made progress slow, much slower than had been calculated on. (Watkins, CH)
The Martin group, while traveling on a Sunday, witnessed a meteor as recorded in the journal of 22 year-old Samuel Openshaw. “Aug. 3—Sunday. On account of the unhealthiness of the place, we made a start today and traveled about seven miles. When we had traveled about a quarter of a mile we beheld a ball of fire brighter than the sun before us in the air and came within about three yards of the ground and then drew out in the form of a spear and vanished out of our sight. (Openshaw, CH) Josiah Rogerson, referring to the journal of Joseph Bleak puts this event on August 17:
Recorder Bleak, the writer and his older brother, Thomas Dobson and his younger brother, and others in Wignall’s hundred, leading the company that day, distinctly observed a meteor that appeared not more than a few hundred yards ahead of us, and right on our track, about thirty or fifty yards in the air, and going in a westerly course. It seemed to be about the size of a one-foot Chinese lantern. All of a sudden, as we stopped our carts and were watching its course, it exploded and as we passed along to the point of the explosion, as we guessed, we could see no remains of the piece of the break off from Mars. (Rogerson, CH 1)
John Jaques has the date August 3. “After traveling half a mile saw a ball of fire before us shooting down from the sky; when near the ground, it changed into the likeness of a spear and then vanished.” (Jaques, Bell p 120) There is no mention of this meteor in the Haven journal.
Others commented on the taunting from the locals. “It was a sight to see 600 people pulling their carts through the cities and villages of Iowa. People came out of their houses and jeered us. On we went, all happy and cheerful.” (Bailey, BYU) Jesse Haven in the company journal collaborates this, indicating that some disturbed camp late at night, “In the evening some of the inhabitants came into camp and disturbed us. I invited them to leave. I treated them kindly which rather cooled them down—They left about 11 o’clock.” (Haven, CH 1) On another incident, they wanted the company to hold a meeting, apparently so they could mock them, “…But we did not gratify them.” (ibid) Another Sunday, August 10, three days past Fort Des Moines, Near Coon river, they were again bothered by residents, “Last night some came round the camp—made some noise. this morning we were disturbed some by people coming round us—we were insulted by some—were insulted more than we had been since we lef[t] Iowa City.” (ibid.) The Martin Company was also confronted in Des Moines a few days later, August 12. “Passed through Fort Des Moine today about 10 a.m. This is a small town on the Des Moines River, while crossing the river the inhabitants redicule our mode of travel and made some very unkind remarks about us, but we gave them to understand that we were fulfilling the commandments of God and while they scoffed the Saints rejoyced.” (Binder, CH 1)
Brother John Southwell, provided a story in which the response of their leader, Jesse Haven, seemed to becalm some persecutors:
The usual mobocratic spirit we had witnessed all along the route filled the souls of the people and they felt to vie with each other in uttering oaths and curses upon us as we passed along thru their settlements. God forgive them. We passed along pleasantly for two days. The third day we came to a halt by a nice stream and in the foothills was grass for the oxen. The teams were out to feed and instantly two men started for them, cursing the G.D. Mormons, declaring they would kill every S. of a B. of them. Captain Haven met them and in his gentlemanly way apologized and offered them pay in order to secure a night’s feed for the poor, hungry brutes. This kind act on his part took them by surprise and they consented to leave them there without further trouble. The singing of the young ladies at evening service drew the attention of the kinder disposed people and in the morning they brought butter and milk into camp and expressed themselves as being pleased with the way we conducted ourselves traveling thru the country. At their request on breaking up camp we sang the hand cart song which pleased them. They bid us success on our journey. This circumstance is one that a kind word turneth away wrath and as Jesus said to his disciples, do good to them that hate you, is truly exemplified in this case (Southwell, CH)
The young local would often tease the woman. “[We were] tantalized by the people coming out of their houses and telling us that was a (dam) hard way to serve the Lord, and how the young hoodlems would go ahead of the company to the next river or creek to ridicule our wives and daughters who had to raise their dresses out of the water to wade the streams as there was not many bridges in those days.” (Watkins, CH) On another occasion it seems they had attached to a young woman. “During the afternoon we were annoyed by strangers who hung after Sister Elizabeth Walker. some were rather intoxicated and came out in a threatning attitude and with threatning language.” (Beecroft, CH) George Cunningham, with the Willie Company also described the jeering:
While traveling along, people would mock, sneer, and deride us on every occasion for being such fools as they termed us, and would often throw out inducements to get us to stop. But we told them that we were going to Zion, and would not stop on any account. When we went through a town or settlement, pulling our handcarts as we always had to do, people would turn out in crowds to laugh at us, crying gee and haw as if we were oxen. But this did not discourage us in the least, for we knew that we were on the right track. (Cunningham, CH)
Sister Camm had a different experience with the local Iowa population. “…Some farmers who lived between Iowa and Florence, Nebraska, would take up the children that had to walk and bring them along for a few miles, and some of them kindly gave them food to eat which I have no doubt was well received by the way in which it soon disappeared.” (Camm, CH 1) John Jacques heard a different type of comment from an Iowa resident. “…A resident looked on the handcart procession, was so seriously impressed that he sententiously gave vent to the opinion that making a journey in that fashion ‘was a hard way to serve the Lord.’” (Jaques, CH)
Jesse Haven indicated several days they travelled little, or did not travel because of the heat. It was above 100 degrees on more than one occasion. (Haven, CH 1)
The Haven group ferried over the Missouri River August 19. They arrived in Florence, and camped near the old Winter Quarters that same day. “Built in 1846 as Winter Quarters by Brigham’s pioneer party, the place had been abandoned in 1848. Then in 1854, when the former Omaha Indian territory was opened for settlement by U.S. Citizens, Mormon entrepreneurs reestablished the outpost as Florence. By 1856, it was a thriving little tent city, with stores, warehouses, corrals, and a bowery or town hall for meetings, all laid out in the orderly rectangular grid that would characterize all Mormon settlements, including Salt Lake City.” (Roberts, pp 24-25)
They had some handcart breakdowns, and stayed in Florence for some time refitting their carts. Almost every cart needed some work. Brother Haven had purchased tallow for the axles. “Nearly all our handcarts wanted repairing.” (Haven, CH 1)
Somewhere before reaching Florence, Langley Bailey took ill. “This mode of travel proved too much for me. I was taken down with hemorrhage of the bowels. I was unable to walk, had to be hauled on Brother Isaac J. Wardle and my brother's John's cart.” (Bailey, BYU) As a result, the trek, until the rescue, would be much different for Isaac and Langley than what they had expected.
The Haven group waited almost two weeks for the Martin Company to come up and prepare to leave. They used this time for hunting, fishing, repairing carts etc. (Southwell, CH) The Haven group was ready to leave by August 22, but that same day, after four weeks on the trail, the Martin group had reached Florence. The Haven group was asked to delay their departure. “In the evening bro. Martin’s and my company were called together and both companies were put into one und[er] the presidency of bro—Martin by F[ranklin]. D. Richards” (Haven, CH 1) A reason given for this was to provide greater safety with a larger number of Saints. “At Florence the two sections of the company were consolidated into one as protection against Indians in crossing the mounters [mountains] and plains.” (Loynd, CH) “We here joined the two companies together on ac[c]ount of hostile Indians on the plains which retarded our progress and caused us to be late in the season.” (Platt, CH) For this reason also the two wagon companies stayed close to the Martin Company.
The newspaper “The Mormon,” published out of New York provided some news of the emigrants by printing a letter of President Richards dated August 23, Florence, N.T.:
I found Company E. of the P. E. F. Emigrants under Elder Haven's charge, and a number of emigrants going by ox-teams. Yesterday I had the unspeakable pleasure of seeing the last, of F. Company of P. E. F. Emigrants, under Elder [Edward] Martin's charge, come into camp, all cheerful, and mostly in good health. The hand-carts are at a premium in the estimation of nearly all who use them, and it made one's heart rejoice yesterday, to see the vivacity of the brethren and sisters as they pulled the carts along through clouds of dust, and under a comparatively hot sun, and also to hear the shouts of welcome with which they were received by the Saints already on the ground. The two companies, E. and F., are now organized into one, and expect to move off west to- morrow, under charge of Elder Martin. (The Mormon 1, CH)
Florence presented the last opportunity to winter, continuing the trek the following spring. On Sunday, August 24, there were a couple of meetings held. The first was of a spiritual nature, however all (every member then in the camps) was asked to return for an evening meeting. “There, owing to the lateness of the season, the important question was debated, whether the emigrants should winter in the vicinity or continue the long and wearisome journey to Salt Lake. Unfortunately, warm enthusiasm prevailed over sound judgment and cool common sense, and it was determined to finish the journey the same season.” (Jaques, Bell, pp 122-3) There was only one voice recommending the layover, that of Chauncey Webb, the handcart maker. (Rogerson, CH 1) Franklin Richards, spoke at this meeting. He had left England on a steam ship after the Horizon had sailed, which took him to New Orleans. He had come up the river from there to meet the handcart company Josiah Rogerson described the meeting in this fashion:
I can hear, even now, the voice of President Richards, as he stood there and reasoned with us in his fatherly and gentlemanly manner, as to the lateness of the season, as to the possibility of the storms coming on earlier than usual, that no doubt many of the infants and aged might fall by the way, and some others through disease and from the impurities of the water in the streams, fatigue and exhaustion; and that it was left for us now to decide, whether we would go on and take the risks and chances of these possible and probable fatalities; or remain there and around Florence, Council Bluffs and other villages in the vicinity till an earlier date for starting the next year; that if we chose and decided to stay, we could have what provisions and supplies were in the store or warehouse there and ready for loading into our wagons for the journey; that he would purchase for us what more he could with means still in his hands, and assist us in every other way for our remaining there till next spring, and about the only encouraging words we remember as to our not staying and going ahead were when he said that as it had been one of the largest season's emigrations that had ever been shipped from the British Isles, since he had presided at Liverpool, that it contained hundreds of the first converts to Mormonism from 1837 to 1850, and that the majority of the latter had never been able to emigrate themselves, after their eighteen years in the faith, and doubtless never would have been able, that they were thus far on their way to Zion, he would be gratified by the help and favor of god to see all reach there in safety that season…
Elder John T. D. McAllister, the author of the handcart song, spoke afterward at that meeting for going on, and Cyrus H. Wheelock, General George D. Grant and others; but Brother Webb urged that we should not start, but stay there for the winter. His remarks were Webb's alone. Some others spoke and then President Franklin D. Richards, arising at last, advised all to vote with their free agency and responsibility. The vote was called, and with uncovered heads and uplifted hands to heaven and an almost unanimous vote, it was decided to go on. If Webb or any others voted to the contrary I do not remember it, nor the number. (Rogerson, CH 1)
A young man provided a different description, “Our thoughts were all centered on getting to Zion. Some of the leaders advised against our going, but their advice was not followed. Everybody wanted to get to the Valley and go they would at all costs; so off we started with our handcart train… (Harrison, BYU) Langley Bailey summarized, “The emigrants were called together to know their minds in regards to stop until the next year or go on. Voted to go on. On August 25th, 1856 the company made a start.” (Bailey, BYU) A report of the meeting by 23 Year-old Benjamin Platt suggested Franklin Richards discouraged going on. “Apostle Franklin D. Richards called a meeting and advised us te [to] stop at Florance untill the next season; but there whare som[e] apostates there or Josephites and we did not want to stay, and we declaired we would go through or die trying and we prevailed and he seeing we where determined he consented but he said he did not want any one to try that could not walk every foot of the way.” (Platt, CH) :
President Richards confirmed this in a discourse in Salt Lake:
We started off the rear company from Florence about the first of September, and the gentiles came around with their sympathy, and their nonsense, trying to decoy away the sisters, telling them that it was too late in the season, that the journey would be too much for their consititutions, and if they would wait until next year, themselves would be going to California, and would take them along more comfortably.
When we had a meeting at Florence, we called upon the saints to express their faith to the people, and requested to know of them, even if they knew that they should be swallowed up in storms, whether they would stop or turn back. They voted, with loud acclamations, that they would go on. (Richards, CH)
Another account, written by then twelve-year-old John Bond of the Hodgetts wagon company contends Franklin Richards encouraged going on, while Joseph Young was against it. This version also provides information on the hymns and attitude:
Here a public meeting is called by the captains of the wagon and hand cart trains to receive council from the agents who had traveled over the same. Franklin D. Richards being one of the twelve apostles called the saints to order nearly one thousand by a nice blazing fires over the camp as the stars twinkled and the moon shone brightly in the azure sky. Hymn No. 182 was then given out,
"Now Let us Rejoice in the Day of Salvation,"
No longer as strangers on earth need we roam;
Good tidings are sounding to us and each nation,
And shortly the hour of redemption will come.
When all that was promised the Saints will be given,
And earth will appear as the garden of Eden,
And Jesus will say to all Israel come home.
The hymn was sung in full. When a most fervent prayer was offered by George D. Grant.
When F.D. Richards rose to speak to the saints as they venerated his council and advice in all ways as a man of God. He spoke to the saints as follows
"My brethern and sisters we are now in the last outfitting place to get necessary supplies to supply the saints needs until we reach the land of Zion where we long to hear the councils of "Brigham Young" and be in safety with friends. I hear that there are saints here who fear on account of the lateness of the season and may suffer in the crossing of the Rocky Mts. in snow storms. This I will say as the saints have braved it this far and has anything come to hurt or mar the peace and safety of anyone, therefore, I prophesy in the name of "Isreals God" through [though] the storms we may come from the east, the west, the north, or the south God will keep the way open to the faithful at heart and we'll arrive in the valleys in safety and hoped that the saints would be blessed with health & strength to pursue unto the journey's end and there to meet with the Lords anointed and be saved with the just in the Eternal world" and then subsided. He also called upon Joseph A Young to give his views as to the lateness of the season for the saints to go farther west this season and he spoke as follows
"My beloved saints I must differ with brother Richards with regards to the saints going farther west this season for fear of the snow storms to come in the "Rocky Mts" before the saints could cross in safety being in a weakened state from constant traveling would not be able to stand the freezing cold weather in sleet snow in the higher altitudes, shortness of food. Such would cause untold agonies, sickness and much loss of life, therefore I do not wish such upon my conscience, but wish all to stay here for the winter and then go on in the spring as my father's agents have lost too much time in starting the saints to arrive in the valley safely."
At this stage of the meeting the prevailing opinion was to travel on amidst the flowing of many tears from those who had such confidence in Joseph A. Young's manly and stedfast councils and missionary efforts while he was with them in England. The meeting was closed by singing hymn no 316 in full.
O' ye mountains high, where the clear blue sky
Arches over the vales of the free,
Where the pure breezes blow
And the clear streamlets flow
How I've longed to thy bosom to flee.
O, Zion! Dear Zion home of the free
My own mountain home now to thee I've come;
All my fond hopes are centered in thee.
The hymn was sung by W.C. Dunbar and Sarah H. Wheelock, the audience join<in>g the chorus and was sung with spiritual vigor. When benediction was pronounced by John Van Cott the saints retired to their wagons and tents. (Bond, CH)
While at Florence, Colonel Babbit offered to take two pioneers through to Salt Lake in his light wagon free of charge. A Sister Williams, with her baby, took him up on the offer. Her husband was waiting for her in Salt Lake. (Jaques, Bell, p 129)
From arriving in Iowa City, until leaving Florence, the Martin Company had taken 50 days. Even though they were behind the other companies, they were traveling faster; perhaps due to greater worry about the coming winter. Late August was not a good time to leave Florence. (See Olsen p 79)
The returning elders made good reports with regard to the company, but also mentioned the lateness of the season. Brother Cyrus Wheelock talked of the union and spirit. “All were in good spirits, and generally in good health and full of confidence that they should reach the mountains in season to escape severe storms. …I have never seen more union among Saints anywhere than is manifested in the handcart companies.” (MS xviii 1856 p 681) President Richards echoed, “But for the lateness of the rear companies everything seems equally propitious for a safe and profitable wind up at the far end. From the beginning we have done all in our power to hasten matters pertaining to emigration, therefore we confidently look for the blessing of God to crown our humble efforts with success and for the safe arrival of our brethren, the poor Saints, in Utah, though they may experience some cold.” (MS xviii 1856 p 682)
The reporter from a local newspaper, “Council Bluffs Bugle,” who visited the pioneers at Florence with Colonel Babbitt, also conveyed this same message. “This is enthusiasm—this is heroism indeed. Though we cannot coincide with them in their belief, it is impossible to restrain our admiration of their self-sacrificing devotion to the principles of their faith.” (MS xviii 1856 p 667)
As mentioned, before reaching Florence Langley Bailey had become very ill:
By the time we reached Florence, I became very sick. An elder, a captain of a company, was called by my parents to administer to me. He came, said he did not have faith enough to raise the dead, and left the tent. Elder Franklin D. Richards and C.H. Wheelock, having arrived in camp were asked to administer to me. I was promised by them that I should live to arrive in the valleys. Apostle Richard[s] always remembered me by this incident, and spoke of it the last time we met. (Bailey, CH 1)
After reaching Florence, a doctor was consulted, said I must not go another step or I would die and be buried on the road side. A captain named Tune [Toone] would not administer to me, said he did not have faith enough to raise the dead. Mother on hearing that apostle F.[Franklin] D. Richards and C.[Cyrus] H. Wheelock had arrived in camp got them to administer to me. They promised me I would live to reach the valleys. All this time I was unconscious of what was going on. (Bailey, BYU)
Isaac likely was witness to these events, but would not have participated in giving the blessing, being a teacher in the priesthood. Because of Langley’s health problems, he became a passenger on Isaac’s cart:
It is true, I was hauled all the way across the plains in the hand cart until the teams met us, by my brother, John, who was a lad of 15 years, and Isaac Wardle. I promised my [….all] team that I would give them some of my bread if they would try and miss the rocks in the road, which pay was better than gold at that time. Our ration was a quarter of a pound of flour a day [- - - ] the hand carts and stood guard received no more than the women and feeble ones. (Bailey, CH 1)
Being a stron[g] man and having no relatives in the company I took a sick young man (eighteen years old) in my cart. His name was "Langl[e]y A. Bailey", besides the sick boy I had 100 lbs. flour, a tent, and camp equipment for seven persons which I pulled for 1130 miles to Pacific Springs, Wyoming. John Bailey helped me pull some of the way. (Wardle, CH)
At Florence, The load on the handcarts was increased. On each handcart was placed a load of 100 pounds flour. Also it became necessary to haul the tents on the hand carts; before this time they were hauled in the wagons. “Each cart had on 100 pounds of flour, and the tents were carried by the carts, a heavier load than ever before.” (Jaques, Bell p 129) Josiah Rogerson described the load in this manner:
Our handcarts were packed and loaded to the bows, as the wagons, with 200 pounds of flour, and every care where there were two able-bodied men, father and son, or two brothers, and 100 pounds of flour for every other cart, except where the children were numerous in the family. Then the bedding, extra luggage—consisting of clothing, etc., cooking utencils, water casks or can, and on the cart where the two able-bodied were harnessed the tent for ten persons, with the wooden tent pins attached. (Rogerson, CH 1)
Isaac’s cart would have had close to 500 pounds. He said, “When we left Florence there was some 740 soles in the company. Some had stayed at different towns along the road. When we left Florence I had on my handcart a young man 18 years by the name of Langley Ba[i]ley….and 100 lbs flour and tent and camp equipment for 7 persons, with John Ba[i]ley to help me pull it.” (Wardle, Isaac 1) The total weight: flour 100 pounds, Langley approximately 150 pounds, supplies for 7 men 119 pounds, the weight of the tent and camp equipment, 60 pounds and the weight of the cart itself, 60 pounds.
The weight would tell on the carts, causing break-down and delay, “we had to put on each cart 100 lbs of flour and all our logage [luggage] and our tents and the carts being without scains on the axels it was to much for them and they com[m]enced to break down so that hindered us and caused great delay:” (Platt, CH)
We get a good count of the company and wagons from a report made by Franklin Richards and Daniel Spencer upon their arrival at Salt Lake City. This account is from a week after they left Florence. “On the evening of the 7th we overtook Elder Edward Martin, about 40 miles from the Loup Fork, with the rear of our P. E. F. Emigration for this season. He had with him some 576 persons, 146 hand-carts, 7 wagons, 6 mules and horses, and 50 cows and beef cattle; also one wagon mostly loaded with church goods.” (Deseret News, CH) Isaac had previously estimated the company at 740. “We crossed the Missouri River at Florence. When we left Florence there were about 740 souls in our company. With Edward Martin as our Captain we did not have much difficulty on the road except a few visits from the Indians” (Wardle, CH) The difference may represent some exaggeration, but Isaac may have also counted those who had dropped out as they travelled through Iowa, and those who chose to stay at Florence. William Binder gives the total of 700 pioneers. “Our company now numbered nearly 700 souls, which made an immence string of handcarts when they were travelling. (Binder, CH 1)
Pioneers gave these descriptions of traveling through Nebraska. “On the first day of September, we started to cross the plains. During the first part of our journey, we were as happy a set of people as ever crossed the plains. We would sit around the camp fire and sing...” (Fullmer, CH 1) “The people had to wade streams, climb mountains, make and repair roads, etc.” (Teeples, CH) “As far as the eye could stretch its gaze there was not a hill in sight nor a tree. We crossed several streams of water and some pretty large rivers.” (McBride, E.E., CH)
One of the young men noted that there was courting between the girls and boys. He also mentioned “buffalo Chips—the dainty chips” as if this was a source of teasing the young women. (Jones, Albert, CH 1)
The poorly made handcarts were a bother. Even before the extra weight they often broke down. “On each handcart was placed flour and our clothing, as the wagons would not hold the entire load. At first we traveled fifteen miles a day, although delays were caused by the breaking of wheels and axles, the hear [t] and dryness making many of them rickety and unable to sustain their loads without frequent repairs. (Mattinson, CH)
Langley was not the only one to become ill with some type of stomach illness. Joseph Beecroft, the violin player, had to drop out with his family in Des Moines. (Beecroft, CH) Francis Webster also recorded the same type of illness. “I started from Ioway [Iowa] for Salt Lake City with hand carts on the 27 of July[.] I had the diarrhea all the way from Ioway City to Florance [Florence] so bad that I have sat down on the road and been administered to by the Elders and got up and pulled my hand cart with renewed vigor[.] (Webster, CH)
A young man noted those needing to be carried on the handcarts. “As days wore on, our spirits lagged as we became weary. Some of our people became sick and were compelled to ride, thus compelling others to be more heavily loaded.” (Housley, CH) A young woman, fourteen at the time of the trip, blamed the many illnesses for the wait of two weeks at Florence. “At that time so many of our company took sick that we had to camp at Florence for two weeks. …The people began to get sick and died from drinking muddy water.” (Allen, CH) The actual wait by the Haven group was about one week, and the Martin group only four days. (Haven, CH 1)
August 26 or 27 they started from Florence. The company passed Winter Quarters as they left Florence, August 27. “Passed through the ground which was occupied with the graves of the Saints who fell martyrs to the Truth in 1846 when they were driven from Nauvoo.” (Binder, CH 1)
Of note to the company is the death of Sarah Ann Ashton, Isaac’s future mother-in-law. She passed away in childbirth one day after passing Florence, close to the spot of Winter’s Quarter ten years prior. As recorded by Patience Loader Archer, whose sister had a baby the same day, “My sister got over her trouble quite well but another poor sister [Sarah Ann Barlow] Ashton died there that night as soon as her child [Sarah Ann Ashton] was born leaving the new born babe and three other children and her husband. (Archer, CH) As Isaac often helped to bury the dead, there is a chance that he assisted. The baby, Sarah Anne Ashton would survive a couple of weeks. The baby born to Patience’s sister, Zilpah Jaques, wife of John Jaques, would survive the trek.
August 28 they arrived at the Elk Horn, and ferried across the following day. (Binder, Ch 1) Isaac reported no early difficulties, except a few visits from the Indians, despite the hills and sand. (Wardle, CH) Patience Archer commented on the days through Nebraska. “we would travel all day and when we got into camp we would get somelittle to eat then we would Sit around the camp fire and sing the Songs of Zion[.] oh Yes and our favorite hand cart song[:] some must push and some must pull as we go Marching up the hill untill we reach the valley.” (Archer, CH)
September 1 they witnessed prairie fires. “Passed an immence prairie fire today, which was over a mile in breadth.” (Binder, CH 1) “We travelled 19 miles and slept without raising our Tents as it was very late when we camped. We had a fine view of the prairies on Fire in two places.” (Bleak, CH 2)
Five days after leaving Florence, they hit the Platte River, and the much traveled “Great Platte River Road.” “The journey across Nebraska would be more toilsome than across Iowa. Factors contributing to the increased difficulty included heavier loads on the carts, the gain in elevation and the ubiquitous Platte River sand. (Olsen p 88-9) September 3 they crossed the Loup River ferry. (Haven, CH 1) “Ferrying is hard work.” (Piercy p 81) September 5 and 6 they had plenty of sand, a hard hill, and hail. (Haven, CH 1)
Jesse Haven documented seeing a group of over 500 Native Americans shortly after they left Florence. (Haven, CH 1) Other pioneers confirmed this. “Sept. 6—…We met a large party of Indians—men, women, and children with their horses and mules all loaded with skins going to Missouri to trade with the whites. They are the first party of Indians that we have seen. (Openshaw, CH) William Binder documented a different motivation for the presence of the Indians:
We met a large body of Pawnee Indians numbering about 800 souls. Principaly Cheifs and warriors. The Sioux and Pawnee tribes were at war with each other and it being customary with Indians to make secure there Squaws and papooses (wives and children) before entering upon their war campaign. The object of the present company of Pawnees was travelling East and nearer to the White’s settlements was to hide their wives and children and such of them that were unfit for war. The warriors were well armed with rifles and bows and arrows and many peculiar looking instruments. Weapons of war peculiar to the Indian Nations: they manifested quite a friendly feeling to our company. (Binder, CH 1)
The McBride boys were very impressed by the Indians:
I will never forget one day when we met 3,000 Sioux warriers [warriors] all dressed in their war paint going east to fight the Pawnees. I remember how they laughed and jabbered to each other and how frightened we were but they gave us the road and made signs to us that they were our friends and they would not be unkind and not kill us and so we got over that scare allright. (McBride, E.E., CH)
…Our company met three thousand Sioux Indians, all warriors all in war paint. Our people were much frightened, fear held the whole camp in its grip as they all expected to be annihilated. But their fears were groundless. They told our interpreters they were going to fight the Pawnee tribes. They wouldn't hurt us because we were mostly squaws and papooses. It would be cowardly to fight us, so they gave us the road. (McBride, Peter, CH)
These days were also punctuated by the company running dry for a couple of days. The only water available was standing water, “In the afternoon the company came to a round pit or pond of water. Parched with thirst the cattle rushed pell mell into the pond and stirred up mud until the water was thick and black, before the people had supplied themselves for their own use. But it was all the water available so it was used to cooking purposes.” (Jaques, Bell p 134) “There was no water but an old mud pit,” recorded Samuel Openshaw one day at dinnertime. (Openshaw, CH)
September 7 they were overtaken by Franklin Richards and his company of returning missionaries. He addressed a Sunday meeting.
Up to this time, The company had the charge of a small herd of cattle. Brother Southwell mentions the use of prayer, as a minor rebellion which resulted in the removal of this responsibility:
…A party of elders from the British Mission arrived on the scene, consisting of Brother Franklin O. [D.] Richards and Brother Callister and some others in authority. They arrived in time to save us great trouble. They came up in carriages and prancing horses. They were royally welcomed into camp and took command temporarily. In the evening the camp was called to order by Brother Callister. He introduced Brother Franklin, the then president of the European Mission. Meeting was opened in the usual way by singing “Come, come ye saints, no toil or labor fear, but with joy wend your way.” Brother [John] Toone offered the opening prayer. In his prayer he used the words “May God send us a speedy deliverer from the arduous labors we are daily and nightly called to perform.” The people as if with one voice proclaimed a hearty “Amen.” Brother Franklin then made a speech which was applauded to the echo. He told us that we would soon be relieved of the responsibilities of the bank of cattle that were now forming so much extra labor, such as reducing our forces at the hand carts as well as double the number of men to guard through the night instead of giving them their much needed rest. The man who liked to talk said we were all willing to do it, Brother F. The meeting was about to be broken up in the uproar which followed this remark, when Brother F. said you may consider yourselves dismissed. Amen was again echoed from every tongue.
A meeting was held by the authorities with the following results. The herd was taken possession of by two horsemen who were with the party and were driven by them the remainder of the journey to Salt Lake City. Before starting, however, two small animals were killed and distributed among the people, being the first beef we had been the recipient of on the journey.
The following day they again traveled through sand, “Traveled eighteen miles over a very heavy road. No watering place on the road. Considerable murmuring in the camp.” (Haven Ch 1)
One of the difficulties in travelling “the road,” was to assure a good supply of water. “Scarcity of water was the prevailing evil and it was then we suffered most.” (Southwell, CH) The pioneers were now getting into the sand dunes or sand hill country.
The people had to wade streams, climb mountains, make and repair roads, etc. …Mrs. Teeples says often the people would get so tired they would lie down under a bush or tree and then they would be very hard to get up. The leaders had to take a whip to them and lash them back to consciousness, when they would beg to be left to die. (Teeples, CH)
Several pioneers commented on the difficulty of the sandy hills in Nebraska. The sandy hills of Nebraska were quite a task. A pioneer of the first company commented, “We waded streams, crossed high mountains and pulled through heavy sand, leaving comfortable homes, father, mother, brother and sister to be where we would hear a prophet’s voice and live with the Saints of Zion.” (Heart Throbs of the West as quoted in Hafen and Hafen p 71) Martin Company pioneer commented, “…Traveled over the sandy bloffs [bluffs]…. continued to travel over the sandy bluffs which is very hard pulling.” And then a week later he said, “I think, the hardest day we have had on account of deep sands.” (Openshaaw, CH) The weight on everyone’s handcart would have been more keenly felt, and for those, like Isaac, hauling the tents and/or sick persons, the effort would have been almost super human.
One tactic for overcoming the hills and the sand was to help each other by pulling on the carts while others pushed. “When we came to a sandy, bad road, we helped the teams what we could by pulling.” (Mattinson, CH) A pioneer from an earlier company commented, “We … had to pull the carts through 6 miles of heavy sand. Some places the wheels were up to the boxes…” (Bermingham, CH) During this part of the journey, Francis Webster hauled James Bleak, who was ill. It is very likely this event that prompted his famous recitation with regards to the trek:
I had pulled my hand cart when I was so weak from illness and lack of food that I could hardly put one foot ahead of the other. I have looked ahead and seen a patch of sand or a hill slope and I have said I can go only that far and there I must give up for I cannot pull the load through it. I have gone on to that sand and when I reached it the cart began pushing me. I have looked back many times to see who was pushing my cart but my eyes saw no one. I knew then that the Angels of God were there. (McKay, David O.)
Langley Bailey also described an incident which likely was motivated by this hard pulling, and the strain upon his brother and Isaac:
One morning believing I could walk a little a head of the company. I got this privledge from my parents, my plan was to get away lay down under a sage brush and die. I saw my father and mother and my cart pass by, I stre[t]ched out to die, just then a voice said, “Your mother is hunting you, jump up.” I saw mother in haste comming towards me, wanted to know what had gone rong with me. I told her I had planded to lay down and die. I felt it was to much to pull me on the cart, at same time had as much lugage they could manage, scolded me a little. She reminded what I was promised by apostle F.D. Richard. I wrode on a cart untill the teams from the Valleys met us. (Bailey, CH 2)
A young sister seemed to also feel guilty about burdening her mother, needing to be pulled on the cart:
On August 25, 1856 we started on a thousand mile journey across the plains. I was ten years old at this time, and to my great sorrow, I had chills and fever, and had to have my mother pull me on the handcart, which was heavily loaded with our provisions. The deep sand, rocky roads, and fording streams made it almost impossible for mother to pull it, so we had to leave some of our things along the roadside. (Zundle, CH)
Sand and stream were not the only obstacles. “Nature… bombarded the emigrants with terrible pests, especially mosquitoes… “…There was nothing strange or new except the mosquitoes. Their stings are most painful and irritating.” (Piercy p 85) “They were also plagued by chiggers, fleas, flies, gnats, ticks, lice, ants, bedbugs, grasshoppers, scorpions and spiders. But it was mosquitoes they complained about most.” (Kimball) Wind, and wind-blown sand were also obstacles.
On Sept 8 John Jaques recorded, “Wind right in our face. Hard pulling over about seven miles of sandhills.” (Jaques, Bell p 134) The combination of sand and wind was a hardship. “The wind brought the sand into our faces with blinding and choking effect.” (Piercy p 88)
They witnessed a two-hour lightening storm Sept 9, followed by a “very heavy thunderstorm.” (Binder, CH) Graciously this storm cooled the air as they had been traveling very hot. The heat would return.
The members of the company would have seen several types of animal life for the first time. This included prairie dogs. “Here I saw that curious little animal called a prairie dog. It is almost as much like a squirrel as a dog. It very much resembles a fat puppy of a light fawn colour. It burrows in the earth like a rabbit…” (Piercy p 86) They also saw snakes, lizards and grasshoppers, “some seeming very large.” (ibid p 90) Buffalo were also seen. “They are very singular in shape, and run in a most grotesque manner, and apparently very rapidly.” (ibid p 88) “We saw great herds of buffalos estimated to 50,000 in a herd.” (McBride, E.E., CH) “Saw a large herd of Buffalo today also a good many Elk.” (Binder, CH) They also saw antelope and deer, with some success at hunting. Wolves were also present, and their “hideous noises.” (Bond, CH) On one occasion “Elder Tyler killed a Rattlesnake and 4 young ones[.]” (Bleak, CH 2)
Howard Driggs also talked of this romantic part of communion with the wildlife as part of the journey:
Not all the stories, however, were of trouble and sorrow. For the younger ones, and for many of their elders, the journey across the plains was one of thrilling adventure. The prairie lands in spring and summer were bright with blossoms. There was the fun of gathering new flowers, and sometimes wild fruits, along the way. Prairie dogs barking from their populous villages, buffalo and antelope on nearby hills, wolves and coyotes slinking about, all added to the excitement of travel. Besides, there were the various birds that brought life to the plains—wild geese and ducks, prairie chickens, owls and eagles, and such songsters as the meadowlark and the robin to cheer the way with their songs.
Camping out at night under friendly stars was another rich experience. Evening stories and songs round the fires, with an occasional dance on the greensward to the tune of fiddle, accordion or banjo, all helped to chase the darker hours away. Then came the rosy dawn and the great red sun, rising seemingly “right out of the ground,” to light up the old trail for another day’s journey towards a dreamed-of home… (Driggs p 67)
An issue with traveling through the plains of Nebraska was the great scarcity of fuel for the fire. Trees were less and less frequent. The choice was to either go without a meal for the lack of a fire, or to gather buffalo chips. The buffalo provided a supply of fuel, as wood became less plentiful. “There were plenty of buffalo chips there. They are composed of grass, masticated and digested and dried in the sun. …They burn fiercely and cook quite as well as wood.” (Piercy p 90) The young people were often put to this task. (Jaques, Bell p 168) “We had to burn buffalo chips for wood, not a tree in sight, no wood to be found anywhere. Just dry earth and rivers.” (McBride, Peter, CH) The constant searching for buffalo chips may have slowed the handcarts. “Their progress was slow because they were all supposed to stay together and gather every buffalo chip they saw, for that was all the fuel they had.” Teeples, CH) “As the handcart pioneers trudged across the treeless plains of Nebraska the women and children gathered buffalo chips to feed the fires for cooking their meals. Carts were formed into a circle at night, with the tents pitched in the center, and a guard put to watch. (Hafen and Hafen p 71) “…We wended on our way burning buffaloe chips for fuel to cook our fugal meals.” (McBride, E.E., CH)
Samuel Openshaw described camp life in Nebraska:
The weather is extremely hot which makes it hard traveling. Stopped at one o’clock, but moved no farther today. It would truly be an amusing and interesting scene if the people of the old country could have a bird’s eye view of us when in camp; to see everyone busy—some fetching water, others gathering Buffalo chips, some cooking and so forth upon these wild prairies where the air is not tainted with the smoke of cities or factories, but is quiet here. (Openshaw, CH)
The Indians were very active this season. President Richards sent a communication to President Martin, which he read to the pioneers, which warned of the danger and advised, “to use his best excertions to prevent the company from scattering in consequence of there being several parties of hostile Indians lurking about the emigrant trail.” (Binder, CH) A summary of the Indian activity is provided by N.H. Felt in a letter published in “The Mormon:”
We have passed through a dangerous country where many deeds of horror have been perpetrated this season, but we have been greatly favored, not even having, scarcely met an Indian, since leaving Fort Kearney to this place, though no doubt they watched us closely. Twelve miles west of North Bluff Fork, Bro. [Almon] Babbitt's train was attacked by the Cheyennes, two men killed, also, Mrs. Wilson's child and herself probably taken prisoner, and worse than death; this was below Kearney. While at Kearney we learned by a soldier from Laramie that Thos. Margetts and family and Jas. Cowden and family had been killed; the soldier had been in company with them a day or two, but had left them a short time in pursuit of a Buffalo, and on his return found the Indians robbing and burning the wagons, and saw the bodies of Margetts and Cowden and one of the woman,—the child still crying at the side of the wagon.
Col. A. [Almon] W. Babbitt, after leaving his wagons, which had been recovered from the Cheyennes, by the Omaha's and placed them in charge of O. P. [Orrin Porter] Rockwell, started ahead with two men, since which no trace of him has been found, he should have been here eight or ten days ago. No. doubt, he and his companions have met with the same fate. He would listen to no counsel, but would go on with so small a party. There has been several other murders of single men, travelling the road, the particulars of which we could not gather. (Felt)
On September 11 the company passed the graves of the A.W. Babbitt teamsters who had been killed by Indians Aug 25, along with the baby of Mrs. Wilson who had left the company and gone with them. Mrs. Wilson was assumed kidnapped. An impressionable young woman provided this description, “We saw the place and the remains of part of their vehicles and some hair from their heads and parts of burnt clothing where they had been massacred. I think they were the Sioux or Cheyennes [who killed them.]” (Goodaker, CH)
This day also Sarah Anne Ashton passed away, baby daughter of Sister Ashton who had passed away in childbirth. The baby was “buried by the Wilson baby and two teamsters of Colonel Babbitt, 9 miles west of Prairie Creek.” (Jaques, Bell p 306)
Because of the Indian activity the handcarts traveled close to one of the wagon companies for a few days, giving the idea of strength in numbers. This was a few days before they reached Fort Kearney, and a few days after. (Haven, CH 1) The Saints passed Fort Kearney on September 12, but did not visit the fort as it was on the South of the River. Opposite Fort Kearney a Brother Edwards lay down and passed away. He was hauled on a cart another five miles and buried during the lunch period. (Rogerson, CH) The soldiers at Fort Kearney warned the pioneers that there had been Indian activity upon the trail, with several deaths.
The worry about the Indians necessitated extra guards, especially at night. “…The Willie and Martin Companies were constantly worried about running into hostile Indians. Not long after setting out from Florence, the emigrants were warned by the relatively docile Omaha Tribe that Cheyenne’s further west were on the rampage.” (Roberts p 171) On September 20 all the men were required to guard for a time. “All the men called out to guard for an hour or two. Got wet through.” (Jaques, Bell p 136) Also Sept 24:
Pres Martin had strong suspicions that we were surrounded by hostile Indians. For as soon as it was dusk we heard a most horrible yelling and barking like the hills were filled with the savage. Feeling that the company was in danger, and realizing, that eternal vigilence is the price of liberty Pres Martin instituted double caution and formed a large correll whith the handcarts, and having all the cattle driven therein; placing every man on guard duty all night, and by using the caution our camp was unmolested and our stock was safe. Although we were very much fatigued and hungry the next morning, having had no fires the night previous. (Binder, CH)
There were at least four Indian attacks documented this Summer, and one attack by the forces at Fort Kearney against the Indians. The report by President Richards and Daniel Spencer to Brigham Young summarizes:
Here, from a company of returning Californians met the previous day, we learned of the increased hostility of the Cheyennes, and that they had already made a successful attack upon A. [Almon] W. Babbitt's ox train. Of the four teamsters in that train two were killed and one wounded; and a woman named Wilson (as was presumed from the tracks) was severely wounded and taken prisoner, and her child, about two months old, was murdered.
The troops had made an attack upon a Cheyenne village and killed 10 warriors. This increased the rage of the Cheyennes, and from that time we were informed that they had divided into war parties for the purpose of attacking small parties of emigrants.
Here we met a returning Californian who had escaped from one of their assaults, with the loss of his wife killed, and his boy, some 3 or 4 years old, taken prisoner.
As we were leaving the fort for our camp on the north side of the Platte, a discharged soldier came to Capt. Wharton with the news of another massacre by the Cheyennes. This soldier had accompanied Thomas Margetts and James Cowdy, and their families, from Laramie and on returning from a buffalo hunt, when about 125 miles from Fort Kearney, found the wagon plundered and the murdered remains of his traveling companions. (Deseret News, CH)
Another attack was made against Colonel Babbitt and his companion. The company passed the remains of his wagon Sept 23. ***
The company passed the remains of a small group of disgruntled Mormons headed east, Thomas Maggets and James Cowden and families, on Sept 24. That night all the men were required to guard until after midnight, and then the guard was doubled for several days. (See Felt, CH and Jaques, Bell pp 136-7) Samuel Openshaw commented on this event, and the Indian activity in general:
…Saw the blood stained garments of Thomas Margaret’s [Margett’s] wife and child who had been murdered by the Indians. They are committing depredations behind and before. In fort [fact] they made an open attact in day light upon Fort Kearney. On the twenty Second of August the soldiers killed a great number of them, which has stirred them up against the white man, but they keep out of our way. (Openshaw, CH)
About Sept 23 was born a daughter to Elizabeth and Francis Webster, who would grow to maturity. (Webster, CH) This was a hard day as there was a long pull up hill, which strained the handcart pioneers as well as the oxen. “so many gave out and the wagons was loaded with the tents and what provisions there was[.] some of the oxen gave out[.]” (Archer, CH) This was also the day Brother Loader passed away. This same day the pioneers had a taste of their first buffalo meat which was provided to them by the Hodgetts Wagon Company as members had shot one for themselves and one for the handcarts. Nebraska presented the chance to hunt buffalo, as they were plentiful. This was a problem for the hand carters, as they were not very skilled at hunting, and they did not want to upset the Indians by hunting buffalo. They traded with the Indians for buffalo, and on this one occasion they were given a buffalo by the wagon companies. (See Roberts p 168) Rogerson pointed out that the buffalo were very scarce as they travelled, and although some hunted, they did not have success. (Rogerson, CH)
September 30 they crossed the Platte for the first time, to the south side. As they passed Chimney Rock, October 3, the temperature stood at 112 degrees. (Haven, CH) Soldiers, returning to fort Laramie, met them close to Chimney Rock and guarded them to the fort. A young member of the company ended up going with the soldiers and serving them as a cabin boy after having fallen asleep while sick, and was left behind by the handcart company. (Giles, CH) The next day they passed Scotts Bluff, (Jaques, Bell, p 141) the weather continuing hot. (Haven, CH 1)
By the time the Martin Company reached Fort Laramie, October 8, they had experienced upwards of 20 deaths. Worse than this, deaths were now becoming a daily occurrence. This included Sister Ashton and her baby, and a few of the older company members. One brother’s death was blamed on hyperthermia. “…They were told to be sure to see that their clothes were dried every night and not to go to go to bed in wet things, for the first one who fell by the way was a man who had been too tired to dry his wet clothes and the next morning, it was his turn to make a fire, and Paul Gourley called him, and he did not respond, and upon investigation it was found he was dead. (Teeples, CH) Jesse Haven, travelling with the Hodgetts Wagon Company, wrote a letter to Brigham Young inform him of the death of Thomas Tennants, who had purchased Brigham Young’s properties in Salt Lake, and just provided the cash needed to make the emigration of 1856 possible. Jesse Haven commented on the handcart company. “In Bro- Martin’s hand-cart Comp- that is now camped near us there has been between 20 and 30 deaths since they left Florence and are now dying daily[.] I understood 3 or 4 died yesterday. They are truly a poor and afflicted people, my heart bleeds for them.” (Haven, CH 2)
The Saints arrived at Fort Laramie October 8. Fort Laramie is located at the confluence of the Laramie and Platte Rivers. It was built by the American Fur Company to protect their trade. It was purchased by the United States in 1849 and improved by adding barracks. It housed at least 100 soldiers. (See Piercy p 92) It presented the hope that provisions would be waiting for them to continue their trek. This was included in the first letter Brigham Young had sent to Franklin Richards outlining the plan:
It will become important for you to forward us a list of their names and advise Brothers Taylor and Spencer that they may make arrangement accordingly. If they will do this, nothing doubting, I can promise them that they will be met with provisions and friends far down on the plains, perhaps as low as Laramie if we get their names in time. You know almost everybody has friends and relatives here now, that when they find their friends are coming will go out and meet them. (MS xvii 1855 p 813)
The Saints had sung about meeting provisions, since starting their journey from Iowa:
And long before the valley’s gained,
We will be met upon the plains
With music sweet and friends so dear
And fresh supplies our hearts to cheer.
Handcart Song J.D.T. McCallester (Hafen and Hafen)
However there were no provisions waiting for them. Some pioneers were able to resupply themselves minimally through trade. “Our provisions by this time had become very scant, and many of the company went to the fort and sold their watches and other articles of jewelry. With the proceeds they purchased corn meal flour, beans, bacon, etc. With which to replenish their stores of food which had become very scant.” (Kingsford, CH 1)
Josiah Rogerson, who was 15 at the time of the trek, felt the provisions had been adequate to this time:
Our rations was one pound of flour per day for adults, six ounces for the children under 9 years, a few ounces of bacon in proportion to the flour and the adults and children, and once a week a few ounces of tea and sugar to the family, aged and feeble, with some of Babbitts's saleratus and soda to leaven the bread therewith, but which in too many instances made the unleavened dough cake look as though it had a bad attack of jaundice. Even with the above rations, limited in variety and quantity, the able bodied adults and middle-aged had stood the journey fairly well and were all right and good for another 500 miles.
During the afternoon, while resting here, numbers, if not all that had any money left, went to the fort and purchased from the sutler there, some tea, coffee, sugar, Babbitt’s saleratus and soda, black and cayenne pepper, crackers, bacon, etc., of which our supply that we had brought from Florence, Neb., had been getting short for the past week or two. (Rogerson CH 1)
Some of the others disagreed about the adequacy of their food allowance. “For although up to this time the daily rations of one pound of flour for each adult had not been cut down, the fresh air made them hungry and their appetites were hardly ever satisfied. So at Fort Laramie they were glad to exchange their watches and other valuables for provisions which were sold at reasonable prices.” (Loynd, CH)
Giving up possessions and not getting their value was hard, but better than starving:
Many of the brethren went to the fort to buy provisions, etc. I went and sold my watch for thirteen dolloars. I bought from the fort commissariat 20 pounds of biscuit at 15 cents, twelve ounds of bacon at 15 cents and 3 pounds of rice at 17 cents and so on. (Jaques, Bell p 141)
We continued on with our journey with continued hardships, until we reached Laramie, Wyoming, about October 8, 1856. We rested here for a short time, and it was necessary for us to dispose of our prized possessions and buy corn meal, beans, and other food as our supply was gone. We were rationed to a pound of flour per day. This ration was decreased several times until all of our flour was gone. The captain was very kind to mother and gave her some of the flour sacks to scrape off with a knife for what little flour was left along with the lint. With this, she was able to make cakes and mush to help sustain life. (Zundle, Church History)
There were a few wagons with provisions waiting upon the plains. However the provisions did not make it to either the Willie Handcart Company or the Martin Handcart Company. The first three handcart companies had met resupply wagons, and benefitted greatly from them. There were wagons on the plains to resupply the companies coming in late. Franklin Richards mentioned in his report that he told the wagon drivers that the handcart companies were coming, and to move forward to meet them. (See Deseret News, CH.) However the flour from these wagons did not meet either company. It could be they supplied a wagon company which was a week ahead of the Willie Company, or they just got tired of waiting and turned about before delivering their supply. Perhaps there was confusion about whether or not the companies were crossing the plains or staying in the Midwest. However with President Richards telling them they were behind, this should not have happened. Still, for whatever reason, they did not meet the handcart companies, and did not resupply them. (See Olsen pp 105-9)
There were three companies of military at Fort Laramie, and they recruited from the handcart pioneers with some success. This included William Ashton, who had already lost two daughters and his wife on the journey. He left three daughters in the care of other handcart pioneers:
The three companies of United States troops at Laramie were not full in their enrollment and lacked from twenty-five to thirty-five men in each company. Inducements and persuasions were offered and made to numbers of our young men to enlist that had gone to the fort in the afternoon, and not risk their lives in the farther 500 miles’ journey from there to Salt Lake that season. The comfortable adobe quarters, and the snug and warm log rooms were quite tempting for a winter’s rest, with plenty to eat and though none stopped that day, Wednesday, Oct. 8, yet on the evening of the second day following, after we had traveled and gone seventeen miles west of Laramie, William Ashton, a married man, with a wife and five children, left them all and the company this evening, with Samuel Blackham and Aaron Harrison, the two latter single men, and another young man, a cripple aged about 22 years, walked that night back to Laramie and enlisted. The cripple was justified in so doing, as we certainly should have buried him miles east of Utah, but the married man’s wife died before reaching Utah, and three of her children got in in fairly good health. James Thomas and Mary Jane Thomas, both members of our company, stopped and were married there, he enlisting in the infantry for three years. (Rogerson, CH 1)
As previously noted, William Ashton had already lost two of his children and his wife, before reaching Fort Laramie. From Fort Laramie the pioneers could see the Rocky Mountains for the first time. Laramie Peak stood on the horizon, “grand, gloomy and mysterious.” (Jaques, Bell p 141)
There was one blessing from the stop at Fort Laramie. “One hundred buffalo robes had been purchased by F.D. Richards at Laramie, and these were eagerly secured by the membersof the company.” (Hafen and Hafen p 108) These would provide some protection against the cold, which was shortly to fall upon them.
After leaving Fort Laramie, the Handcart Company had to travel through the Black Hills. For this part of the trek, they left the Platte River, which passed through several narrow canyons, not passable by wagon. This presented a most difficult haul. However, they were out of the sand, and after getting up to the top of the hill, there was downhill pulling, which was easier. (Rogerson, CH 1) However the rougher road also meant more breakdowns with the carts, when there wasn’t time to repair them. “In the Black Hills the roads were harder, more rocky and more hilly and this told upon the handcarts, causing them to fail more rapidly, become ricketty, and need more frequent repairing.” (Jaques, CH) The carts were lighter, without extra flour on them. The flour was almost depleted, and what was left could have been carried on the wagons.
October 14 they again crossed the river to travel on the North side of the Platte. They were now starting to feel the effects of the elevation. “Cold last night—pleasant this morning.” (Haven, CH) Then on the 15th they again crossed to the south side. (See Hafen, CH.) The weather became cold, especially at night. “The weather after leaving Laramie became very cold at nights, and the hardship on the men having to stand guard six hours every other night was beyond human endurance.” (Strong, CH)
As the food supply became short, it was decided best to reduce rations. John Jaques described the constant hunger that haunted them, even before the reduction in rations:
Up to this time the daily pound of flour ration had been regularly served out, but it was never enough to stay the stomachs of the emigrants, and the longer they were on the plains and in the mountains the hungrier they grew. Most persons who have crossed the plains with ox teams or handcarts know well enough the enormous appetite which that kind of life gives. It is an appetite that cannot be satisfied. At least such was the experience of the handcart people. You feel as if you could almost eat a rusty nail or gnaw a file. You are ten times as hungry as a hunter, yes as ten hunters, all the day long and every time you wake in the night, and so you continue to your journey's end, and for some time after. Eating is the grand passion of a pedestrian on the plains, an insatiable passion, for he never gets enough to eat. (Jaques, CH)
Another pioneer commented on the Black Hill country and reduction in rations. “After leaving Fort Laramie it was found necessary to cut down the rations. The pound of flour per day was reduced to three-fourths of a pound. Later to half pound and still the company toiled cheerfully on through the black hell [Hill] country where the roads were rocky and hilly causing the hand carts to become rickety and to need frequent repairs.” (Loynd, CH) I like this man’s spelling error, because this country could have been known as Black Hell. When nourishment was most needed, because of the hardness of the trail, they reduced rations:
Shortly after leaving Fort Laramie it became necessary to shorten our rations that they might hold out, and that the company be not reduced to starvation. The reduction was repeated several times. First, the pound of flour was reduced to 3/4ths. Of a pound, then to a half of a pound, and afterwards to still less per day. However, we still pushed ahead. (Kingsford, CH)
On October 16 the ration for adults went from sixteen to twelve ounces. (Bleak, CH 2) “Soon after leaving Larimie [Laramie] the ration was decreased and when the first snow began to fall they were living on water gravy.” (Teeples, CH)
The people were not the only ones short of food. There was also less grass along the trail for the animals. “Grass for the stock also became scarcer, and the oxen began to weaken.” (Hafen and Hafen p 108)
As they traveled through the Black Hill area, the Saints became more and more exhausted. “When we reached the Black Hills, we had a rough experience. The roads were broken, rocky and difficult to travel. Frequently carts were broken down and much delay was caused by the needed repairs.” (Kingsford, Ch 1) “In the Black Hills the roads were harder, more rocky and more hilly and this told upon the handcarts, causing them to fail more rapidly, become ricketty, and need more frequent repairing.” (Jaques, CH)
A description of the hardship provides some insight. However it is not dated, so the particular time of the trek is not certain. “…Often the people would get so tired they would lie down under a bush or tree and then they would be very hard to get up. The leaders had to take a whip to them and lash them back to consciousness, when they would beg to be left to die.” (Teeple, CH)
They would often help each other make it to camp:
The usual way the hand-cart Saints lay down on the way, getting more exausted as their allowance of food did not seem adiquet for them to pull their carts and live on, and it was fast telling on them. But friends go back on the plains and help them into camp. Though fatigued in doing so yet they have faith in God to protect the famished and that they will receive the desired relief and camp shortly.
The wind is blowing hard and the snow is seen on the Larimie [Laramie] Peak in the distance which gave every indication that a snow storm was near at hand, and the wolves are following the trains making their mo<no>tonous howlings in all directions a hideous sound to the ears. The snow cap[p]ed Peaks bring much alarm for fear of the sufferings ones in tent life as their bed clothing is worn badly from laying on the camp ground getting damp and cold to lay on, their wearing appearal is in a very bad condition with worn out shoes, their protruding and bleeding from them. It is a shocking and heart aching sight to see, and their care worn and emaciated forms with tears rolling down their sunburnt cheeks, God pity them. He knows of their wounded and aching hearts. (Bond, CH)
Isaac’s feet bled as he crossed the plains. (See Beckstead.) He would also have viewed the mountains with awe and fear. The pioneers were so expended, they were no longer able to pull the carts. In addition to reduced rations, they also decided the loads needed to be further reduced to reduce the energy expended in pulling the handcarts:
With cold weather and winter approaching while out on the prairie, we all were frightened and a council was called at which they all decided, under the circumstances, to lighten the loads to a few pounds each, which was w[e]ighed out to them with a pair of scales, leaving out quilts and blankets, overcoats, cooking utensils and everything that could be dispensed with which were put in a heap and set fire to for fear some one would be tempted to pick out something that they needed so badly. Every thing that human ingenuity could devise to try and save the lives of the people so they could get in early and the snows would not catch them in the South Pass and the Big and Little Mountains. (Watkins, CH)
…when we got out on the prairie our food ran short, our rations were then cut down and half and finally to four ounces of flower [flour] a day to grown people and two ounces to children, which continued day after day making the people very hungry and weak. With cold weather and winter approaching while out on the prairie, we all were frightened and a council was called at which they all decided, under the circumstances, to lighten the loads to a few pounds each, which was w[e]ighed out to them with a pair of scales, leaving out quilts and blankets, overcoats, cooking utensils and everything that could be dispensed with which were put in a heap and set fire to for fear some one would be tempted to pick out something that they needed so badly. Every thing that human ingenuity could devise to try and save the lives of the people so they could get in early and the snows would not catch them in the South Pass and the Big and Little Mountains. (Watkins, CH)
At night in our tent s [tents] there would be three couples and six to eight children under eight years of age. The weather after leaving Laramie became very cold at nights, and the hardship on the men having to stand guard six hours every other night was beyond human endurance. Our rations had to be cut down both for adults and children and the clothing of both sexes becoming in-sufficient for the healthful warmth of our bodies…. During these times we had only a little thin flour gruel two or three times a day, and, this was meager nourishment… (Walsh, CH)
At Deer creek, on the 17th of October, owing to the growing weakness of emigrants and teams, the baggage, including bedding and cooking utensils, was reduced to ten pounds per head, children under 8 years five pounds. Good blankets and other bedding and clothing were burned, as they could not be carried further, though needed more than ever, for there was yet 400 miles of winter to go through. (Jaques, CH)
Wallace Stegner later summarized this event:
…At Deer Creek, they had had to make an impossible choice. Faced with more than a month’s struggle through the wintry mountains, and with their strength daily growing less, they had thrown away not only all those small cherished possessions that they had carried this far, but much of their “excess” bedding and clothing as well, including most of the heavy buffalo robes that Franklin Richards had hoped would protect them against the cold. Their baggage allowance from Deer Creek on—and few had murmured at the reduction of the loads—was ten pounds per adult, five pound per child. (Stegner 1, p 246)
When they left their bedding and extra clothing, they did not know that winter would come early, and with such force. “And although the weather was severe, a great deal of bedding and clothing had to be destroy-burned-as it could not be carried along. This occurrence very much increased the suffering of the company, men, women and children alike.” (Kingsford, CH) “Smaller grew the allowance and strong men became weak, women suffered terribly. …Bedding and clothing had to be discarded when it was most needed, for the loads were to heavy.” (Kirkman, CH) This resulted in daily stragglers:
Traveling began to get very tedious. Every day brought its hardships, fighting against hunger and cold weather and bed covering was not sufficient to keep us warm. It would be midnight, many nights, before all the company would be assembled. Men were detailed to help the weak ones into camp, and many were frost bitten, losing fingers, toes, and ears and dying from exposure. (Mattinson, CH)
The Saints lacked the energy to push and pull:
During the afternoon Captain Edward Martin advised the whole camp to lighten up their extra luggage bags and canvas sacks as much as possible, by discarding and burning every article of wearing apparel that could be dispensed with, save and except our best and warm coats, cloaks, etc., for the coming cold weather, and the wisdom of this timely counsel was soon afterward realized. When many of the canvas bags were opened it was readily seen that the heads of many families were hauling and pulling luggage in the shape of books, trinkets and half worn-out clothing that could be dispensed with beneficially, and many piles of this unnecessary loading were burned here.
We were also advised of a fort and a company of United States troops where a store and sutler’s supplies were kept, that we would pass on our journey the next day, and several members of our company were permitted and selected to take such articles of apparel (in lightening up our loads) to the fort and sell and barter the same for flour, dried buffalo meat, tea, sugar and medicines.
In several instances this advice, carried out, was the means of saving lives during the subsequent weeks of snow and hardships. (Rogerson, CH 1)
The pioneers were aware that “lightening” the load was a mixed blessing, and the mountains already loomed cold ahead. This is recorded Oct 17:
At this place the authorities of the camp deeming it advisable to lighten up our luggage issued orders to emigrants to reduce the amount of their personal luggage to 10 lbs. per head; this action of the Elders in charge seemed to us a terrible hardship, as we were only very scanitily provided with clothes and bedding and to stand by and see our bits of clothing and bedding burned on the spot, caused anything but a good feeling to exist in our hearts towards our leaders. Already the snow clouds were making their appearance on the Black Hills. (Binder, CH)
Patience Loader Archer documents the first snow storm about this time, just before reaching the last crossing of the Platte. “about the begin[n]ing of October we had the first snow storm[.] we was then at the black hills[.] we halted for ashort time and took shelter under our hand carts[.] after the storm had past we traveled on untill we came to the last crossing of the Platt[e] river[.]” (Archer, CH)
The Saints crossed the Platte River for the last time October 23. They would have crossed from South to North. “For some reason, presumably to save toll charges, they had not crossed the North Platte on the bridge, but had walked up the south side to Last Crossing. The river faced them, shallow but many rods wide, and floating mats of slush ice.” (Stegner, 1 p 246) This crossing was the fourth time the Mormon Trail crossed the Platte. The pioneers had passed a fort and bridge six miles downstream but continued on to the crossing. The two wagon companies traveling with or behind the Martin Handcart Company came up and provided some assistance. (See Hafen and Hafen p 108.) Few pioneers kept journals during this time, but many later described the crossing. Thomas Durham wrote, “We had a very heavy heavy hail storm that day and the river was very high and the water very cold. It was all I could do to stand it.” (Durham, CH) There was ice and slush floating in the river, as a testament of the storms to come, that had preceded them upstream. “We had scarcely crossed the river when we were visited with a tremendous storm of snow, hail, sand and fierce winds. It was a terrible storm from which both the people and teams suffered.” (Kingsford, CH 1)
Because of the difficulty in crossing, the sick wagon was emptied and even the enfeebled were asked to wade across the stream. John Bond, with the Hodgetts Wagon Company provided this description:
…It commenced to rain and then the rain turned to sleet while the air commenced to get colder just as the courageous Hand-cart Saints arrived at the opposite side of the river. Here Daniel Tyler sat on his mule giving orders to the saints to go on to the west side of the river as soon as they could as a violent storm had approached them and all looked gloomy to us especially the aged and small children in the wagons, and weaker ones. Here the weaker ones pleaded to the captain to unload one of the wagons and haul them over the river as they could not stand the cold water in their condition, the water running so rapid... The weak ones still begging and [w]ringing their hands in tears and shivering with cold. "Do, captain do unload a wagon for us do! And let all ride over the rough and stony crossing." Alas their pleading was in vain, "You must have faith in God and you will not <take> cold wading the stony crossing." The Saints pleaded so earnestly, we could hear their appeals on the opposite side of the river. In tears and bitter anguish they cried, "Captain do have mercy on us." The captain still gave them a deaf ear to their pleadings.
The captain repeated, "Have faith in God and you will not take cold", while he sat on his mule and saw those innocent ones, who had pleaded so, fall in the river as the current was carrying the weak ones off of their feet, but with the stronger and manly aid and courage of John Laty, T.J. Franklin, John Toon, Geo. Hains, Geo. Dove Sr, and others the helpless and weakened ones were taken to the opposite bank of the river and were given all the care they could when brought from the icy cold water. Those noble heroes went backward and forward several times carrying them on their backs, the weaker ones, which is worthy of commendation for their kindheartedness and worthy to be handed down to future generations.
Before fires could be made for those who fell in the river, they cried most piteously. When all had arrived, on the opposite side of the river camped a short time to eat their scanty meal in ice cold clothing, a sorrowful spectacle, disheartening to see indeed. In the afternoon captain Hodgets and Edward Martin hand-cart train start on again, still snowing the first of the season and drive on to Red Butes [Buttes] Wyoming.
Several other pioneers provided descriptions of the hardship:
On the 20th of October the company crossed the Platte, for the last time, at Red Buttes, about five miles above the bridge. It may have been the 19th, but I am inclined to think it was the 20th. That was a bitter cold day. Winter came on all at once, and that was the first day of it. The river was wide, the current strong, the water exceedingly cold and up to the wagon beds in the deepest parts, and the bed of the river was covered with cobble stones. Some of the men carried some of the women over on their backs or in their arms, but others of the women tied up their skirts and waded through, like heroines as they were, and as they had done through many other rivers and creeks. The company was barely over when snow, hail, and sleet began to fall, accompanied by a piercing north wind. (Jaques, CH)
We had a very heavy heavy hail storm that day and the river was very high and the water very cold. It was all I could do to stand it. My woman [Mary Durham] and her sister Eliza [Morton] crossed it sticking hands or they could not have stood up in it at all. All the sick that could walk at all had to get out of the wagons and walk through the river, some of them falling down in the river several times, not being able to stand up in it being so weak. Camp crossed and travelled about 1 mile and then camped. (Durham, Church History)
The water was cold, indeed, and to numbers of our young women and middle-aged mothers and matrons, it proved a fatal crossing in the death of many and the ruining of the health of as many more, from which they never afterward recovered. …At least 200 to 300 of our company waded and forded the river, pulling the hand carts through behind them. There were wet feet and soaked shoes and socks with the men, but many times worse the soaked skirts, dresses and underclothing of our sisters and mothers. We gave little care for the crossing of the main Platte river several times previous, and other streams during the warm weather, but this crossing has been remembered vividly by all from that day to the present. (Rogerson, CH)
On October 19, 1856, the Martin Handcart Company made their final crossing of the N. Platte River as the first winter storm descended on them. Charlotte Elizabeth Mellor (14) told about it in these words: "On entering the water, our first impulse was to turn back and not wade across. The water was so cold that it sent pains right to the bone and the muscles cramped. We steadied ourselves as we held on to the cart and pushed. Father pulled. By the time we got across, our limbs were so numb that we could hardly keep from falling as we trudged along. The north wind cut like a sharp knife." (Tell)
The women held hands in groups to help stabilize themselves while crossing. “It was quite a sight to see the poor womin take hold of hands in wadeing thru the cold rivers with their cloth[e]s froze when they came to the other side.” (Bailey, CH 2) Writing of this day, a historian would later write, “The timing was disastrous for on this day the Martin Company had reached the point… where the Mormon Trail left the Platte to follow the Sweetwater River… To pursue that route, all of the Martin Company had to ford the Platte, snowstorm be damned.” (Roberts p 30)
The death of Brother Stone, which occurred the day of the last crossing, had a lasting impression on the Saints. He had delayed in crossing the Platte, staying by the fire at the trading post at the bridge. Some stories indicate he had a young girl with him age nine to twelve:
A man from London by the name of Stone, while trying to get to an Indian camp was devoured by wolves; when found by some of our camp, nothing was left of him but his legs inside his boots. (Housley, Church History)
As I was leaving the soldiers’ quarters with the load of provisions on my back, I espied Father Jonathan Stone (I think from the London conference), a man of about 55 to 60 years of age, in one of the log cabins. He was sitting by the side of a fire on the floor—the cook handing him bread and meat, which he was devouring with relish. I went and called to him and begged and entreated of him to come on, telling him the time, and that it was getting late in the day; that I could see our company a mile or two off preparing to cross the river, and that the storm clouds were getting quite low. Sister Wilson…, was with me, and added her entreaties for him to come up with us to camp, but all the response we were able to obtain was his promise that he would be along soon. It was now between 3 and 4 p.m., and we made all haste to catch our company before they commenced to cross the river…
After all had crossed the river…we traveled on up the river a mile or two that same evening and made camp. Father Stone did not show up or reach our camp that night, and apparently went back to the bridge on the road he had come; crossed the river there again that night and, turning west up the river toward the crossing, found his way into Hunt’s wagon company’s camp, with a young girl by his hand 9 to 12 years of age, making inquiries there as to the location of our camp, to which he belonged. He left this camp immediately after dark, without being further noticed by any of its members, the girl with him. This was the last seen of Father Stone alive, for when Captain Edward Martin, after missing him next morning, returned in quest to the crossing, re-crossed the river to Hunt’s camp and hearing the last they knew of him, he turned east on our back track and in a few miles found some of the remains of both the bodies and clothing, upon which the Platte wolves had feasted the night before. The name of the young girl I have not as yet been able to learn. (Rogerson, CH)
Another man known as father [Jonathan] Stone, who traveled in company with a little grandchild, about 10 years of age, lagged behind one day and was taken up by the Hunt wagon company traveling in the rear. He was invited to stop with them over night, but being anxious to rejoin his own company, he and his little companion went forward. On the morrow their mangled remains were discovered upon the plains surrounded by a pack of wolves. (Loynd, CH)
The common practice was to not change clothes at the crossings, as there was no time. “I will here state there was no time crossing the rivers to stop and take off clothing, but had to wade through and draw our carts at the same time with our clothes dripping wet[,] had to dry in the sun and dust.” (Camm, CH) At this crossing they did take some time to recuperate, but many were left in wet clothes, which contributed to the hardship, and I am sure hypothermia resulted. “that night we had no dry cloth to put on after we got out of the water we had to travle in our wett cloth[e]s untill we got to camp and our clothing was frozen on us and when we got to camp we had but very little dry clothing to put on[.] we had to make the best of our poor cercumstances and put our trust in God our father that we may take no harm from our wett cloth[e]s[.]” (Archer, CH) “They had to wade through ice and snow and slush, but they were told to be sure to see that their clothes were dried every night and not to go to go to bed in wet things.” (Teeples, CH) “We had to wade through more streams, and sometimes up to our waists, and when we got through our clothes would freeze on us until we reached camp and made a fire to thaw out.” (Clark, CH 1) “After all had crossed the river we camped an hour or so close by the river, and after a tin cup or two of hot tea and a bite or two for supper ….we traveled on up the river a mile or two that same evening and made camp.” (Rogerson, CH)
Isaac indicated that the serious problems for the company started after the last crossing of the Platte River:
…We encountered a sever[e] snow storm at Platt[e] Bridge this was early in October. Then our old men and women and some of the younger children began to give out and to get sick and many of them died which I helped bury, but we kept moving on a little every day in spite of the cold and hardships. At one time I became so weary and over come with cold that I fell down and was forced to lay there for some time. (Wardle, CH)
After the last crossing of the Platte River the storms came on:
The night after we crossed the last crossing of the Platte river the snow started to fall and winter set in, finding us with scarcely any clothing and very little food. The cold and hunger was so intense that we stopped a day or two in camp and before we moved camp, buried fourteen people in one grave who died from cold and hunger; Up to this time a great number of our company had died through hunger and cold. The people who were to meet us from Salt Lake did not arrive as expected. (Watkins, CH)
A young pioneer observed the difference in the attitude of the members of the company, after the snow arrived. “But with the first snow storm came a contraction of the muscles of the face, which gave an expression to the features of the men denoting that they were now about to enter a struggle with snow and frost which would take all their energy to conquer. As the days grew shorter and colder and the snow's were more frequent, it became a struggle of human endurance to keep body and soul together.” (Jones, Albert, CH 2)
The cold and snow had finally came on during the night. When young Josiah Rogerson was woken for guard duty, he noticed Brother Jackson had passed away, and that the snow had come on. “I did not wake his wife, but whispered the fact to my mother, and also the sad news, after reaching our hand to the side of the tent and feeling it heavy and weighted with snow, that, ‘Mother, the snow has come.’ What a thrill seemed to fill the whole tent, as I whispered those five words to mother.” (Rogerson, CH) Brother Binder documented the next morning, Oct 20, “To our great surprise when camp was aroused some 3 or 4 inches of Snow had fallen on the ground, which, add to the intense cold morning had a very discouraging effect upon us.” (Binder, Ch 2) A young girl would later comment. “I remember distinctly when that terrible snow storm came how dismayed the people were.” (Fullmer, CH, 2)
Deaths became common in camp after the last crossing. The women bore the burden better than the men, or perhaps it was that the nights of guarding were catching up with the men. “The women of the company bore the strain well; free from night guard and other cares which were on the men, they endured the privations of the journey with less loss to their ranks.´ (ibid)