Transcript for A Biographical Sketch of James Jensen by J. M. Tanner (1911), 23-40
[Christian] Christiansen was a man with capacity to lead and to inspire confidence. He began at once to appoint the captains for the four divisions into which the company was organized. The company at this time consisted of 544 persons. They had, all-told, 68 hand-carts, 3 wagons, 10 mules, and 1 cow, but the cow did not long survive on the journey. The captains of this company were C[arl]. C[hristian]. N[icholas] Dorius, Ferdinand Dorius, C[arl]. C[hristian]. A[nthon]. Christensen, and O[le]. C[hristopheer]. Olsen.
They left Florence on the 3rd of July on their march over the trails which the pioneers had made ten years before. The subject of this sketch was one of that band of toiling travelers. Misfortune overtook him and the rest of his family when only two miles out from Florence. They broke one of the wheels and were obliged to return for repairs. In the midst of that band of emigrants might have been seen the elder Jensen and his family, toiling to move their two-wheeled vehicle over the sandy plains of Nebraska. The father [Hans Jensen] and his son James constituted the wheel-team and younger brother and sister Karen were leaders. The mother [Sidse Marie Jacobsen Jensen] pushed on the cart from the rear and opposite her a small boy seven years old [Soren Peter Jensen] trudged along, hanging to the cart and making his way the best he could. In that rude cart there lay, for some distance on the journey, the youngest child, a child between one and two years of age [Maria Sophia]. The journey was indeed trying upon the infants who constituted a part of those emigrants. The little Sophia, by name, lay sick and suffering, and over its emaciated form the mother gazed in constant anxiety and with feelings of intense distress. She did all that lay in her power to provide it with such comfort as could be found upon such a journey. Her cares, her anxieties, and her tears proved futile; and when at last her little one succumbed, it was placed away in mother earth with only such provisions for burial as could be provided under such circumstances. A sieve was placed over its face and its little form covered by the earth that was taken from its grave.
Their captain was compelled to make new arrangements as the Saints progressed on their journey. The burdens among them became, from one circumstance or another, more and more uneven. As men and women lost their strength their loads had to be lightened and the stronger were required to share the burdens of the weak. In this company were four girls, strong, hearty and happy. Their equipments were lighter than those families whose loads were incumbered by one or more small children. These good souls-their names would be recorded on these pages if they had been kept*-have ever been held in grateful remembrance by those they so cheerfully and lovingly aided in their trying journey with hand-carts across the plains.
The first night on this journey was passed at Papio [Papillion] creek, where the conditions of the hand-cart company were more closely examined. An examination was made of the physical conditions of the emigrants. Their wise captain and his counselors had before them the intense suffering of the hand-cart company which had crossed the plains the year before. The warning which the misfortunes of that company carried with it could
* The names of two are, Christina Green, Mrs. Laurentzen (Lund).
not be disregarded and every effort was made to thin the ranks by requiring those who were not suitably prepared for the journey to return to Florence and await later opportunities to reach the Valleys.
Although the company had been furnished four mule teams to be used for the support of the emigrants, those in charge of the teams were still unmindful of their duties to their plodding brethren and sisters. They continued to go ahead instead of remaining behind and were therefore a source perhaps of as much annoyance as they were of assistance. There were aged people and those in poor health who had to be turned back, eager as they were to proceed and willing as they were to take their chances against the certain failure that lay before them. Among those turned back was a Swede by the name of Hulberg [Christopher Hultberg]. He had a wife and two small children; and believing that the wife was too feeble for the journey, he was advised to remain in Florence. The disappointment was more than he could endure, and after the company had started on he determined to proceed in its rear undetected until it would be too late for him to look backward. After the company had traveled a distance of fifty miles, he again joined it. Much of the way he had carried his children and even his wife upon the cart which he was able to pull by means of his superior strength and irresistible desire to reach the land of Zion.
On the 9th of July the company reached the Elkhorn River and were soon carried across the stream. Two days later they reached the Platte and on the 16th came to Loup Fork, one of the tributaries of that river. Here a more difficult and somewhat dangerous experience awaited the emigrants. The river at the point where they were to ford it was nearly a mile wide. Its frequent sand-bars and quicksands and deep holes made it necessary to secure reliable guides across the stream. For this purpose Indians familiar with the stream were brought into service. It was necessary to raise the boxes of the wagons so as not to damage their contents and to hitch to each of them something like ten yoke of oxen. The empty hand-carts were pulled across, by the strongest members of the company, and the women folk were placed on the backs of horses behind the Indians where they were often compelled to cling to the nude bodies of their protectors and guides. Speaking of his experience at Loup Fork, James says that in his hand-cart the little children were placed, and that when in the deepest parts of the stream the water raised so high that there was barely enough room for the children to breath above the current of the water in which they were sitting in the space below the cover. The task at Loup Fork was full of difficulties and required something like two days to accomplish. The good captain used every precaution to keep those who were wading in the stream from being swept down by its swift current. It was even necessary to shift their course, as the quick-sand changed the bed of the stream, in order to avoid the deep places which had been cut out in that treacherous river. No accidents occurred; they all rejoiced in the good, fortune which their care and prudence had vouchsafed to them.
At this point N. V. Jones and others were engaged in the erection of houses so as to afford a settlement from which the passing emigrants might obtain supplies and where those who through sickness or other reasons were unable to continue their journey might receive support. Two families from this company on account of sickness were obliged to remain in the new settlement on Loup Fork.
During the journey care had to be observed in safe-guarding emigrants against the dangers of a water famine. It is true that they remained not far in their course from the Platte River. Sometimes, however, it was necessary to move inland in order to obtain better roads, and special precaution had to be taken to reach regularly at night some suitable watering place. The 19th of July was a memorable day in the company's experiences. Through the deep sands and up and down the hills they pulled their hand-carts a distance of seventeen miles. The struggling efforts of human beings under such conditions are almost impossible to imagine. It was a severe strain upon the physical strength of the men and women who toiled almost to the point of exhaustion. Indeed, some of the emigrants were so overcome by the superhuman efforts required of them that they fell exhausted by the way-side and were unable to reach the camp at night. All day long they had toiled without water. Their thirst became almost unbearable when at night, in their failure to find a watering place, they were compelled to lie down in their famished condition. They brought up those from the rear, and the following day the company reached Wood River in a famished condition and in a spirit of gratitude and prayer.
These hand-cart companies were made up of all classes. They were not picked men as those were who constituted the first pioneers, and it may truthfully be said of them that their heroic efforts beyond question surpassed perhaps any other journey known in the history of the world. The tasks of the women were of course not completed at the close of the day's journey. Food had to be prepared, children cared for by the loving ministrations of devoted mothers. Women were not infrequently in a delicate condition. At Wood River, the wife of Niels Sorensen [Anna Marie Sorensen], after the exhausting journey and in a famished condition, gave birth to a baby girl [Juliane Marie Sorensen]. She had retired into the brush where her accouchment was accomplished by the aid of devoted friends. So delicately was the matter treated that the circumstances of the new birth were unknown to most of the company. On the morning following she appeared again with her infant in her apron ready to pursue the journey. She had not murmured; her courageous and devoted soul knew no obstacles to the goal of her ambition. However, the tender regard that was felt for her in such trying circumstances led to the preparation of such comforts as could be provided on such a journey, and she was placed in one of the wagons where she remained until able again to take up her march in the line of the handcart train. The home of that noble mother was later located in Monroe, Sevier county, where the child grew up to womanhood and became, in time, a grandmother. She is still a resident of the town.
As the summer advanced, the watering places became more scarce. Only those who have felt the famished condition that comes from hours of toil without the aid of water to quench the thirst and moisten the parched lips of the traveler, can even imagine the sufferings which the traveler must undergo. Strong men felt the hardship and suffering from the heat and the burning sun under which they laboriously struggled, hitched to their wagons. On the 3
rd of August, one of their number, a man only thirty-six years old, succumbed. His feet became so swollen that it was impossible for him to walk. "We got him into the hind end of a wagon but he died before we reached camp and water."
On the 9th of August the hand-cart company of 1857 reached Fort Laramie on the Platte River on the north side of which they camped but a short time. Here new conditions of traveling awaited them. They were soon to enter the Black Hills. Leaving the river, the task of obtaining water became more hazardous, although the grass and the cedar wood were more abundant. While traveling through these hills they one day unknowingly passed the only watering place to be found along that day's journey. To add to their discomfiture, they were obliged to pass the night in their famished condition without even the shelter of the tents which had been carried on in the wagons by thoughtless men who were over-anxious to reach their destination, and who often neglected the burdened Saints in these long stretches of travel over the rolling hills and difficult roads. Here one of the aged Saints [George Jorgen Christopher Folkman], father of the Folkman brothers, was lost. For a whole day a search was kept up to find him. He had ventured on what he thought was a cut-off that he might quench his thirst by water which he hoped to find. In his famished and exhausted condition he was discovered by some trappers who kindly brought him back to the company from which he had wandered.
As might naturally be expected, the wardrobe of the hand-cart company was very much limited. Those tiny wagons were insufficient to provide the necesssary supply of food. The wear and tear on such a journey gave their clothing the appearance of destitution. Perhaps the most tolerable circumstance which made them more or less indifferent to their appearance was the fact that they were all on equal footing. However, they were not without hope and consequently felt the enjoyment that comes from the expectation of better days. Their enthusiasm often broke out in songs and peals of mirth.
It would be strange indeed, if in such a company some amusement did not come from instances of a mirth promoting character. James, in his native land, had never known such a thing as a prickly-pear. His introduction to this peculiar inhabitant of the deserts and plains made a somewhat lasting impression upon him. On such a journey shoes would be the first article of clothing to yield to the excessive use to which they were put. When the company reached the upper waters of the Platte in the uplands of Wyoming, they were indeed quite generally a barefooted band of pilgrims. If their feet were protected, it was because of all sorts of devices to which they resorted to make their leather the most serviceable. James, now sixteen years of age, was the wheel-man in the team opposite his father.
During those long, tedious days over the parched land, they found themselves in want of suitable water and sometimes without any liquid whatever to quench their thirst. He relates that one evening he started out with others in search of water. The prickly-pears could not be seen while he was making his way back to the camp after nightfall, and his feet clad in old socks to which his mother had sewed canvas soles were often planted on the thorny points of these desert plants, which produced the most painful sensation. Those who have known something of this prince of briars will appreciate the excruciating pain from which the emigrants suffered when they came in contact with them. "On my return to the camp," he says, "I was unable to pick my way. One of my feet would no longer endure the pain. I was obliged to stop and remove the prickly-pears from my feet. Once they were so bad I was obliged to sit down to remove them. To my horrified surprise I sat on a bunch of prickly-pears." The predicament was so unusual, the surprise so painful, that the circumstance has always remained a land-mark in his recollections of those hand-cart days.
The above circumstance was perhaps not so mirth provoking as one which is related of an old man whose sense of smell had been completly destroyed. He had wandered some distance from the company when he ran across what was to him a strange and peculiar animal. May be it was suitable for food; he did not know. However, he would make the experiment, kill it if he could, and let those in camp say whether from their knowledge of it and their experiences in the wild west, it was fit for human consumption. Taking his cane he pursued the animal until it was overtaken, and by the blows which he rendered, it was finally killed. He threw the little striped animal over his shoulder and started for the company, with the game he had procured. Sometime before he reached the midst of his friends he discovered them retreating in horror. The skunk which had not disturbed him in the least was detestable to the sense of smell of his friends. The old man was saturated by the odor; his presence was unbearable. A change of clothing where no extra clothing was to be had could not relieve the situation. After reaching Deer Creek station, where the old gentleman met his son, he remained over for the rest of the season and later came on to the Valleys.
At Deer Creek, a number of Mormons were busily engaged in erecting a station for the accommodation of emigrants and for the express company which at that time was established between the Missouri River and Great Salt Lake City. This station, however, was abandoned on the approach of the army. It may here be said that while the Saints were pulling their rude hand-carts on the north side of the river, the soldiers of the United States army were marching along the south bank to put down a rebellion in Utah, a rebellion that had no other existence than in the imagination of those who had received with credulity the utterly false reports sent out to create enmity toward the Mormon people. What the soldiers and the officers thought of this motley company, the hand-cart train of men and women, we are not permitted to know. Marching against those, whose religious devotion and self-sacrifice were so manifest, must have, however, often appealed to the more intelligent soldiers as something both contradictory and absurd. The commissary train of the army, however, much of the way moved along the north bank of the river, sometimes close to the hand-cart company. Nothing of an unpleasant nature occurred. The provisions of the army were ample and the soldiers enjoyed an abundance of food, while their hand-cart traveling companions were often in dire distress. The bacon that the company brought with it from the Missouri River soon became wholly unfit for use, a stench in the nostrils of the Saints, and they were finally obliged to throw much of it away.
One circumstance, however, of the journey of the commissary is called to mind when it reached the Sweet Water. There one of Uncle Sam's fat oxen had one of its feet crushed by a wagon which ran over it. In that condition it was of course thought unfit by the captain for the food of his men. "He walked up to where we were standing, and in a half-joking manner said, 'You may have that ox, I guess you need it.''' The emigrants were not at that time in a physical condition to discuss matters of hygiene. For several weeks they had been without meat and their supply of flour was so low that they had been compelled to re-divide their rations. It was remarkable that although they passed through large herds of buffaloes on the plains they did not venture to kill any of them. They were afraid, they said, of the stampede that might ensue and the trouble which might come to them. The fact is, no doubt, that the emigrants were not hunters, that they had little or no amuntion, and were therefore not in a position to enjoy a supply of suitable meat which they might have had, had they been more frontiersmen than emigrants from Scandinavia.
As they began to ascend the eastern plateau of the Rock Mountains they met teams bringing on supplies of flour which they had the opportunity to purchase. They gave in security their hand-cart equipments; and the obligation which they assumed to pay for the flour which had been sent to their relief meant in return the help they would be able to give in days to come to other emigrants in need of assistance. They needed 9,200 pounds, they estimated, to carry them on the remainder of the journey of 300 miles to Salt Lake. The supply was insufficient, however, and at Fort Bridger, they were again obliged to take in a new supply.
"On the 22nd of August we arrived at Devil's Gate, and finally, when within about thirty miles of Salt Lake City we were met by teams that brought for our nourishment bread, cake, and fruit. Among the sick and those well-nigh worn out, the fruit was divided as a delicacy." These provisions not only gave strength to the bodies that were already greatly emaciated from the long journey over the plains, but filled their hearts with courage and gave them the assurance of the loving welcome they would receive when they clasped the hands of their brothers and sisters in their new homes. The closing scene of that memorable journey brought about a test between human endurance and the endurance of the animals, the mule teams, which had been assigned to the help of the emigrants on the journey. Wearied though the emigrants were, they reached their destination in a better condition than the mule teams which were so well inured to hardships.
"When we came to the last steep hills of the mountain sides, our mules were so weak that the emigrants were obliged to help them over by the aid of ropes. On the 13th of September, a Sunday, we marched with feelings of thankfulness and grand expectations into the city of the Saints. One out of every ten of our number died on the journey."