At the Sweetwater
After it became obvious that the party would not be able to travel for several days because of the extreme cold a ravine, which would provide some protection from the weather, and close to the mountains where firewood would be available was scouted, and it was determined to move the handcart company there. This was a ravine where the rescuers had camped a few days before and was described as “a lovely cove in the mountain across from the fort where we had plenty of fuel and forage for animals.” (Cluff, CH) This ravine would become known as Martin’s Cove or Ravine.
There were not enough cabins at Devil’s Gate to provide protection for but a few from the wind. “Cold continued very severe. People could not move; stowed away the goods of the trains in the houses. Capt. Martin’s camp moved 3 miles and camped.” (Burton, CH 1) There was also a lack of wood for their fires:
THE winter storms had now set in, in all their severity. The provisions we took amounted to almost nothing among so many people, many of them now on very short rations, some almost starving. Many were dying daily from exposure and want of food. We were at a loss to know why others had not come on to our assistance.
The company was composed of average emigrants; old, middle-aged and young; women and children. The men seemed to be failing and dying faster than the women and children.
The hand-cart company was moved over to a cove in the mountains for shelter and fuel; a distance of two miles from the fort. (Jones, Dan)
To escape the wind, Nov 4 the Martin Company moved to Martin’s Cove or Ravine. And thus came into play one of the most dramatic scenes of the handcart trek. For the handcart company to reach this ravine, they would have to ford the Sweetwater River. This river isn’t very wide, but at this time there were ice chunks in the water, and the pioneers would have to go with the stream for a time because of the steepness of the opposite bank, making the ford longer than going straight across. A pioneer commented, “It was decided that morning that we should cross the Sweet Water. and go into what is known as Martin's ravine, as there was some cedars for fuel.” (Jones, Sam, CH) The weather earlier in the day was unsuitable for traveling, and consequently the move took place in the afternoon and evening. (Orton)
John Jaques described the experience this way. He speaks of himself in the third person as he was pulling the cart involved:
The passage of the Sweetwater at this point was a severe operation to many of the company. Like Napoleon's passage of the Beresina, it was the worst river crossing of the expedition. It was the last ford that the emigrants waded over. The water was not less than two feet deep, perhaps a little more in the deepest parts, but it was intensely cold. The ice was three or four inches thick, and the bottom of the river muddy or sandy. I forget exactly how wide the stream was there, but I think thirty or forty yards. It seemed a good deal wider than that to those who pulled their handcarts through it. Before the crossing was completed, the shades of evening were closing around, and as everybody knows, that is the coldest hour of the twenty-four, or at least it seems to be so, in a frosty time, and it seemed so then, for cold enough it was. The teams and wagons and handcarts and some of the men forded the river. A son of Heber C. Kimball and a son of George D. Grant, and I believe several others of the relief party, waded the river, helping the handcarts through and carrying the women and children and some of the weaker of the men over. If I were certain of the names of all those brave waders I would insert them here.
In that rear part of the company two men were pulling one of the handcarts, assisted by two or three women, for the women pulled as well as the men… One of those men, who was much worn down, asked, in a plaintive tone, “Have we got to go across there?” On being answered yes, he was so much affected that he was completely overcome. That was the last straw. His fortitude and manhood gave way. He exclaimed, “O dear? I can’t go through that,” and burst into tears. His wife, who was by his side, had the stouter heart of the two at that juncture and she said soothingly, “Don’t cry Jimmy. I’ll pull the handcart for you.” A noble and generous offer, which, however was not carried out. Jimmy besought one of the "boys" from "the valley," who was in the water, to carry him over. The "boy" urged that the women and children had the first claim, but finally consented to carry him across. Jimmy got on the back of the "boy" to ride over, and the "boy" started with him. This little episode, however, ended badly for Jimmy, for, before he was carried entirely across, the "boy" slipped and fell with Jimmy into the water, very wet water it was too, and very cold, freezingly cold, enough to congeal anything. The women with the handcart were carried over safe, and the cart remained with the one man to pull it through. He rolled up his pants as high as he could, pulled off his stockings and boots which he had happened to receive at Greasewood reek, put on a pair of old shoes he carried with him, and all alone went into the river with naked legs and with his cart laden with pots and kettles. It was easy enough to go into the river, but not so easy to pull across it and get out again. The way of the ford was to go into the river a few yards, then turn to the right downstream a distance, perhaps forty or fifty yards, and then turn to the left and make for the opposite bank. When in the water the narrow felloes of the cart wheels cut into the soft bottom of the river bed and he soon got stalled. Two of the "boys" in the water went to his help, and one soon exclaimed "D-u it, you don't pull an ounce!" So hard was the tugging at the cart that it required the utmost combined strength of the three to take the vehicle through safe to dry land. While in the river the sharp cakes of floating ice below the surface of the water struck against the bare shins of the emigrant inflicting wounds which never healed until he arrived at Salt Lake and the dark scars of which he bears to this day….Going through the river and taking his cart single-handed to camp after he had effected the crossing of the river, on that piercing cold evening was the hardest piece of tugging he had encountered on the entire journey… (Jaques, CH)
Josiah Rogerson later described the hardship:
Martin's hand company left the camp at Devil's Gate some time in the forenoon, making straight west to the Sweetwater. The creek here was at least two rods wide, and from two to three feet deep, with plenty of ice and snow, so as to carve the recollection forever in the minds of all that waded that stream. Our few wagons helped to carry all the children they could, the aged and wornout, and many a child was pulled across in the father's covered cart… (Rogerson, CH)
As they crossed the river, they were assisted by the boys from the Valley. These descriptions of the crossing have been left for us:
The creek here was at least two rods wide, and from two to three feet deep, with plenty of ice and snow, so as to carve the recollection forever in the minds of all that waded that stream. Our few wagons helped to carry all the children they could, the aged and worn out, and many a child was pulled across in the father's covered cart, but we had one hero on this occasion, whose name deserves to be chiseled on the pedestal of the throne in heaven, and that was Daniel H. Grant, the son of General D. Grant of Farmington, Utah, about 18 or 21 years of age, who jumped into that cold, icy stream, and for nearly two hours carried across on his back, with their arms clasped around his neck, fully 150 children, young ladies and the aged of box [both]sexes. When we were all across, he walked in his suit of ice some two and a half miles to the camp at the Gate, where his father did all possible for him that night, but he told me ten or twelve years afterward in Utah that his services that day in the Sweetwater had made him an invalid for life and a permanent rheumatic, and so far as health and strength, a ruined man. (Rogerson, CH)
The crossing of the Sweet Water near this point proved a terrible ordeal to the weary travelers, standing, shivering with cold, on the river bank. They watched the huge pieces of ice floating down stream. The water at this crossing was about two feet deep and in other places still deeper. In spite of the cheering information that this was the last river they would have to ford, it seemed impossible for the emigrants in their weakened condition to make the attempt. At the prospect before them not only women and children wept but even strong men shed tears freely….David P. Kimball, George W. Grant and C. Allen Huntington of the relief party entered the icy stream determin[e]d to save life. They waded back and forth helping the hand carts through and carr[y]ing the women and children ac[r]oss the river. Hour after hour they worked incessantly until just as darkness closed in upon them all the company had passed over. (Loynd, CH)
…The north wind blowing hard and cold but the men came and took the tent down and fixed our load on our cart and they went ahead and broake the road[.] went about 2 miles and turend and crost s[w]eetwater[.] when we saw that we felt very bad to think we had to ford that stream and I dont think we could have made it in our week[e]ned condition but when we got there we was very much suprised for there were some men there[.] they carried us across[.] (McBride, Heber, CH 1)
I fealt that I could still walk if I did not have the cart to pull[,] but oh what a dissapointment[,] the next morning we faunt [found] it was only those could ride that was to[o] sick and weak to pull there carts and so we girls all pretty well in health[,] we had to start out with our cart again[.] as we started out from camp[,] there was quite a nomber of the breathren from the valley standing in readyness to help us across the stream of water with our cart[.] I was feeling somewhat bad that morning and when I saw this Stream of water we had to go through I fealt weak and I could not Keep my tears back[.] I fealt ashamed to let those breathren see me shed[d]ing tears[.] I pulled my old bonnet over my face as thay should not See my tears[.]
there was three brave Men there in the water packing the women and children over on there backs[.]…those poor breathren was in the water nearly all day[.] we wanted to thank them but thay would not listen to My dear Mother fealt in her heart to bless them for there Kindnes[.] she said God bless you for taking me over this water and in such an awfull rough way[.] oh D –m that[!] I dont want any of that[.] you are welcome we have come to help you[.] Mother turned to me saying what do think of that man[?] he is arough fellow[.] I told her that is Brother William Kimble[.] I am told thay are all good men but I daresay that thay are all rather rought in there Manners[,] but we found that thay all had kind good hearts[.] this poor Br Kimble Staid so long in the water that he had to be taken out and packed to camp and he was along time before he recoverd as he was chil[le]d through and in after life he was allways afflicted with rhumetism. (Archer, CH) [The rescuer actually wasn’t William Kimble, who was not there that day, but another unknown rescuer. (see Orton.)]
The traditional account says three of the Valley Boys entered the water, pulling handcarts or carrying people across the river. These were George W. Grant, David P. Kimball and C. Allen Huntington. (Kimball, Solomon) However two more rescuers have been for sure documented as entering the water, adding Stephen W. Taylor and Ira Nebeker. There may have been others. As many as eighteen rescuers were in the area and assisting the company with the move this day. (See Orton.)
A good percentage of the pioneers were carried across the stream, but not all. “The brave boys from the valley, under George D. Grant carried the women and children over the Sweet Water river, but the men and able bodied had to wade and take the handcarts with them. The water and ice took me up to the waist, and the clothes had to dry on me. That was a terrible night.” (Jones, Samuel, CH)
There was a hierarchy as to who had claim on the wagons, to ride to the Cove, and also to the services of the rescuers in the river. As many of the infirm, elderly, children and widows would have been in the wagons as they could carry. However many children and the women would have been expected to walk, and ford the stream. “As with deciding who would ride in the wagons, the rescuers implemented a priority system at the Sweetwater. While those who had difficulty walking had first claim on the wagons, those who had first claim on being carried by the rescuers at the river were women and children.” (Orton) Some of the older men were also carried across. “Finally a lull in the raging wind from the north enabled the handcart companies to cross the river and go up to the cove where we had camped as previously mentioned. Men of old age and women were carried across the river on the backs of these sturdy mountain boys.” (Cluff, CH)
Isaac talks of pulling his cart to Pacific Springs. After Devil’s Gate most of the handcarts were left behind, but the sturdier carts, about a quarter, made in St. Louis and with canvas covers, were still used to supplement the wagons. (See Orton.) Isaac would have been still pulling his cart with the assistance of John Bailey. Most likely Langley was no longer a passenger, but would have been in a sick wagon. Of that crossing, S.S. Jones would later recount, “The brave boys from the valley, under George D. Grant carried the women and children over the Sweet Water river, but the men and able bodied had to wade and take the handcarts with them. The water and ice took me up to the waist, and the clothes had to dry on me. That was a terrible night.” Issac, too would have had a terrible night.
Some of the rescuers were singled out for their efforts this day. However all the rescuers did whatever they could to help the pioneers:
Every possible assistance from the boys from Utah was freely given. And these young hardy men from the Rockies were a mighty force and power in the salvation of that people. . . . In this instance [carrying pioneers across the river], as in many others, the value of the boys from Zion was a great help to the weary Saints. Camp was made, tents set, supper over and the people retired for the night. (Cluff, CH)