Transcript for Atkin, Luella M., "The Happiest Day of His Life," Juvenile Instructor, 1 Feb. 1901, 76-79
The 18th of December, 1899, being the forty-fifth anniversary of the wedding of my grandparents—William and Rachel Atkin, of St. George—a number of the family after doing justice to the good things provided on the dining room table, repaired to the parlor, and on looking at my grandparents comfortably seated in their chairs, I ventured to ask, "Is not this the happiest day of your lives?"After a few moments' reflection, grandpa said, "Well, this is certainly a happy day, to be so comfortably situated in this beautiful, quiet home, blest with so many loving friends and with such pleasant surroundings; but to give a direct answer to your question I must say, No, and I shall have to go back forty years, to May, 1859, to tell you the real happiest day of our lives: when, after seven years of diligent labor, with prayer to our Heavenly Father to open the way for us to gather to Zion, we found ourselves at Florence on the banks of the Missouri River with our two children, (both under two years of age,) preparing to cross the plains.
"On the ninth day of June, 1859, our company, consisting of two hundred and thirty-five souls, sixty handcarts and six wagons, started to cross the plains, bound for the Salt Lake Valley.
"Although we knew our journey must be accomplished by hard labor, yet our hearts fairly leaped for joy at the thought that now we were in very deed starting out for the land of Zion, where we had so long desired to be; and as we started our voices rang out with the 'Handcart Song,' the chorus being:
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.
"Before long we came to large, swollen streams, as the snow in the distant mountains was just melting. We had to wade and carry our children and then pull our carts through.
"A few days brought us to a place called Genoa, which consisted of a few dugouts and one small house. Here two men with ox team and a few cows, asked the privilege of traveling with the handcart company. As ox teams were passing almost daily for the same destination we wondered why they wanted to travel with us; but the first night told the tale, as they milked their cows and with pail and measure went from cart to cart to sell the milk, and as there was little money in the train they soon possessed it.
"A few days after having made a big day's drive we camped near to the only water for twenty miles. Here was a large body of Sioux Indian warriors, said to be about six hundred in number. These were the first Indians we had seen. They demanded flour and bacon from our captain and we were all so frightened that they got all they asked for.
"At night we placed a double guard, and, it being a dark night, we put out our fires early to prevent the Indians from seeing us. We drew our carts close together and longed for daylight to come. Some went to bed, and when all was perfectly still, we were aroused by one of the most hideous noises that I ever heard. It was the Indians. Some of them had on buckskin suits covered with bells. They sang, and jumped, and knocked down one of our tents that was full of people, mostly women and children. It was no wonder the women screamed and the children cried; as we all thought it was an Indian war dance, of which we had heard so much.
"The Indians, perceiving our fear, took advantage of it. They had what was fun to them, but to us there was no fun in it. We were already up when the day dawned and were soon traveling with the hope that we should see the Indians no more; but we had traveled but a few miles when a number of them came as fast as they could ride, shouting like demons, with their long hair flying in the breeze. They tormented us for hours, and this, our fist Indian experience, was a terror to us in very deed.
"Our hard work gave us keen appetites and most of us ate our rations in about half the time that they should have lasted. Then we would ask for more, and, of course, we got it. As we had only seventy pounds of flour for ten weeks; (unless we could make the trip in less time) it followed that we should have to go short at the latter end. We had scarcely reached half way when we found, to our sorrow, that our provisions were nearly gone; then each person had to do with one pound of flour for two days and we felt the pangs of hunger. We had four persons to each cart. Our four consisted of myself, your grandma and our two children. Thus, there being but two of us to pull our cart it made our work very hard indeed. One day as we were traveling along, in this hungry condition, I saw a sheep some distance from the road. I was at once impressed to try to get it. Accordingly I pulled our cart on one side of the road. Seeing what I was doing, our companions made fun of me, but I started out, at the same time offering up a silent prayer to our Heavenly Father to assist me, and to my joy it was but a short time until I caught the sheep and I assure you it was a very good mutton. This was a great help to us, and we divided the meat with those who had small children.
"We traveled on until the next day, when, to our sorrow, our rations were reduced to a pound of flour for four days, and then we felt more than ever the pangs of hunger; children were crying for bread and their parents were unable to give them any.
"We traveled on as best we could. We had in our company, brethren who were fishermen, and they expected to catch some fish when we came to the Platte River and the other streams. They were well supplied with fishing tackle, but they too were disappointed.
"We traveled all the way on the north side of the Platte River, as it was so high we could not cross. When we were almost opposite Chimney Rock your grandma became very weak and had a hard time to get along; when we camped at night she was quite sick.
"The next morning I tried to get her in one of the wagons to ride, but in this I failed. The teamsters said the wagons were all full, so we started on; and although the road was good, though your grandma being sick and not able to help pull our cart, we soon got behind the train. She took hold behind the cart until she fell on the ground exhausted. I then assisted her into the handcart and pulled along the best way I could. At a bend in the road we lost sight of the train altogether; finally we came to a steep sand hill. I helped your grandma and the children up the hill, then carried our loading, and then had a hard time in getting our cart there. While I was pulling the cart up that steep sand hill, I saw more stars than I had ever seen before at any time, as everything around me looked like stars. On the other side of the summit of the hill we found a steep down grade. I loaded up with all I possessed, wife children and effects, and traveled down the hill, at the foot of which our company had been taking their mid-day meal and rest. As we reached there the teamsters were just hitching their teams to the wagons to start on again. I succeeded in getting your grandma with the children into one of the wagons that afternoon, which was the only time she ever rode on the whole journey.
"As we traveled, we came to a bed of cactus, commonly known as the prickly-pear. We tried many ways to cook them. Some took their last morsel of bacon and peeled the pears and then fried them with it; some peeled and boiled them; some peeled and roasted them in the fire. A few persons did mange to eat a little, but it was a general failure.
"One day at noon we came to a spring in a grove of timber. As we stopped our carts we saw a large sage hen just over our heads in a tree. I took my gun and shot it, and thus we were again provided with meat. Thus the Lord blessed us above many of our companions.
"About sundown we came to a small stream of water where we intended to camp for the night; but soon after we stopped a band of Indians, men, women and children, joined us. Some of our company were eating their scanty morsel and had knives, forks and spoons on the ground. Although every eye watched, the Indians stole everything they could touch; it did seem as though they were witches in very deed. Although it was then sundown of a long July day, and we were tired with a hard day's journey and were also ten miles to the next water, yet we decided to travel on. When the Indians saw us start out they got very angry and did all they could to hinder or stop us. Some rode their horses in front of us, some rode on each side and some behind. They did not shoot but they annoyed us in every conceivable way for a number of miles. We arrived at the Sweetwater about midnight. We were tired, and hungry with nothing more to eat that night, as we had eaten all we dare for that day. We camped there that night and then had a short day's journey to the Devil's Gate.
"At the Devil's Gate we found a young man who had preceded his sweetheart the year before. She and her parents were in our company, but he did not know it. Like many others he came to see the novelty of the handcarts. To his surprise he met his sweetheart face to face. They were married that day; our captain performed the ceremony. While here in camp, I noticed two men walking from one cart to another. They soon came to mine, then stopped. To my surprise, on of them called me by name. They were two men that had left the place where we were living a year before to go to California, and having here found profitable employment they had stayed. They said that they had heard we were out of provisions. I told them we were. One of them said, 'We are keeping a station in that house (at the same time pointing to a house near by) and if you will come with us we will send your wife something to eat.' They did so and we stayed with them three days.
"We traveled on until we came to the South Pass. As was my custom I here started out in the morning ahead of the company, so as to be sure not to be behind at night. Soon after we started we came to where the roads forked. We took the road which we thought was the right one. We traveled on till about noon without seeing anybody of any signs of our company. At this time two men on horseback came along and told us that we were on the wrong road, and it would take us till night to get back to the right road. They said if we would take particular notice a mile or two on ahead we would see a dim track, which, if we followed, would lead us back to the Little Sandy, but we would have to travel about two miles through large sage brush. We followed their directions and found the way just as they had directed us. We arrived at the Little Sandy about the middle of the forenoon of the next day; having camped by ourselves during the night alone, without food or water.
"After resting and refreshing ourselves with the small amount of food we had, we again started, and as soon as we arrived on the bench we saw the handcarts only a few miles away; we overtook them at the Big Sandy. At this time the handcart people were in a starving condition and here a scene transpired I shall never forget.
"At this place was a mail station. There were three or four mountaineers and traders, a stage-driver and mail agent, being seven or eight men in all. With more whisky in them than good, common sense—when the handcart company came up, two of the men called out, 'We want a wife!' and 'Who wants to marry us!' and to our great surprise and sorrow two of our young women stepped out and said they would marry them. One of the two had a lover in our company and they had always appeared affectionate and kind to each other; but their starving condition drove all natural feelings from them. We tried all in our power to persuade them to continue their journey with us, but to no purpose. So there were two marriages that day in mountaineer style."
"Did you ever hear any more of those girls?" I asked.
"Oh, yes!" said grandpa, "they came to Salt Lake City. One of them was accompanied by her husband; and although he did not join the Church, they got along reasonably well. The other only lived with her husband a short time, and in about two years after she and her lover were reconciled and he in his love and mercy forgave her all, and they were married and lived in Salt Lake City.
"After these men had made matters satisfactory with the two girls about their marriages, one of them asked if there was a butcher in the company. I said I was one. He said he wanted a beef killed. I told him if he would give my wife and child something to eat, that I was ready to dress their beef. The men gave your grandma and the elder child all they wanted to eat; and when I had dressed the animal they gave me a loaf of bread and quite a large piece of beef.
"Our train had now gone and it was near sundown when we left. I bade those girls a sorrowful farewell; and thanked God for again providing us with food. We traveled on until dark and again camped alone. Although we were in an Indian country and nearly every white man we met was an avowed enemy of the Mormon people, yet we were not afraid, but laid down and took sweet rest. In the morning we started out early and on arriving at the Green River, we found that our company had crossed it the night before and they were gone out of sight. Your grandma and I looked at the river and I said to her, 'We cannot cross this river alone.' She replied, 'No, but the Lord will help us over.' At these words my heart seemed to leap for joy and I said, 'Yes, He surely will.' We then knelt down and in all humility told our Heavenly Father that we were doing all in our power to keep His commandments and to gather to Zion; and now we had come to this river and could not cross it alone. We knew He could help us and we now relied on Him to assist us over. Your grandma and I then pulled our cart into the river, which was swollen; we could see the deep water just ahead of us, but every step we took the deep water was still one step ahead of us, and we landed on the western bank without even wetting the axletree of our cart. Our hearts were full of gratitude to our Heavenly Father for thus again answering our prayers.
"We traveled on a few miles and found our company camped in a bend of the river. The scene that there met our gaze was heartrending in very deed. Children were crying for bread, and their parents had none to give them. We again divided our little with the mothers with small children as far as it would go.
"As we traveled along by the river, an aged sister (Jarvis, by name) sat down, gave two or three heavy sighs and her spirit departed. We buried her by the wayside. A short distance from her grave we came to a mail station and store, but we could get no assistance from them as the men who kept them had nothing but curses for the Latter-day Saints. One of these men wanted to hire some men to cut hay. I stayed and helped put up some of the coarsest hay I had ever seen put in a stack. We cut down tress, some of them a foot through and piled them up, then stacked a little hay around them and on the top. It made a very large stack but with very little hay in it. This hay was put up on contract for the United States government, by these same parties who so despised the Mormons; and this was the example they set before strangers who had left the land of their birth and come to what they had been taught was the land of the free, where every citizen should be as interested in taking care of the government property as of his own, but we were led to say, 'Oh! Consistency thou art a jewel!'
"We stayed there ten weeks; procured provisions and then started again for the land of our choice. Just before we reached Bridger, some teams that had been to some ranches with provisions came along, and we paid them to bring us to Salt Lake City, where we arrived on the tenth day of November, 1859. That was indeed the happiest day of our lives, for after a hard journey of one thousand miles with the handcarts, we had now arrived at the place we had toiled so long to reach."