Transcript for Beesley, Sarah Hancock, [Reminiscences], in Handcart Stories, 28-34

Mrs. Ebenezer E. Beesley, widow of the pioneer musician, related the following:

"Don't ask me anything about that. You should go and talk to Mrs. [Hannah] Lapish. She can tell you all about it. Oh, she is full of life and very enthusiastic about it but I am not. Those are dreadful stories and I don't see why we shouldn't try to forget them. I say "Bury them with the dead who died on the plains." My children have often tried to get me to write my handcart story but I will not."

And so it was only by cautious suggestions that step by step her conversation was led back to the handcart stories.

"Indeed I did walk all the way. Neither my husband [Ebenezer Beesley] nor I were twenty when we were married in March and we left England in April for the Valley. We got our handcarts in a place called Omaha, I believe, at a town called Florence. I don't remember exactly when we left but we were thirteen weeks crossing the plains and it was September when we got here. I remember it was a Sunday afternoon and the people were just coming out of the old Bowery where the Assembly Hall now stands. I never shall forget how clean they looked. Oh, they all looked so fresh and clean and nice. The women were all dressed in calico dresses and wore sun bonnets. It was a different sight from what you see now-a-days but Oh! It was so good! I never shall forget it. Our company was the company of '59 and Mr. Ro[w]ley was our leader. We didn't have nearly enough to eat and oh, the suffering! (Here her mind seemed to revert back and she tried to think of something else to talk about. It was rather difficult to lead her back to her story again. Finally she said? "We didn't have nearly enough food to begin with. There was 200 lbs. of flour to each handcart and four people to a handcart. Long before it gave out entirely we didn't have nearly enough bread. When we reached Green River, there wasn't a pound of flour in the company. When we started, we had eighteen team of oxen and not one of them reached the Valley. They didn't seem to be able to stand the trip as well as we did. When they were worn out and about ready to die, the men would kill them and we would sit up all night watching for a little piece of meat. Did you notice that wild rose bush in my garden near the gate? I've had it there ever since I lived here. You know there wasn't anything growing along the whole way that we could put in our mouths until we discovered these wild rose berries. When we would come to a bush we would pick just as many as we could and then eat them. Many a time they saved my life I know. They are rather soft and fluffy inside and didn't taste very good but we could chew on them for a long time. They were shaped like a pear only ever so much smaller, you know.

"Yes, Mr. Beesley carried his violin with him and we used to gather around the fire at nights and sing and listen to the music. The popular song was the handcart song. "For some must push and some must pull" Of course after a while we all got so hungry that we couldn't have good times any more. Lots of the men and women could not get out of their beds. Yere [there] were about 250 or 300 people in the company and we only had eight tents. Once or twice we tried to sleep in the tents but that was dreadful. Yes that was dreadful. Everyone was in everyone else's way. We didn't like that a bit so we used to just sleep on the ground. We would draw our handcarts up in a circle and someone would guard us all night. If it rained we would sometimes sleep under the handcarts.

"Of course we didn't suffer with cold but we did with heat. The sun was so hot that sometimes it seemed as if we could stand it no longer. Or sometimes the wind would blow the sand and dirt all over us. They told us in England that everyone had to eat a peck of dirt before he died. I had more than my peck while I was crossing the plains but it didn't take the place of food. One day I remember before we got to Green River we were all literally on the verge of dying of starvation. Some of the people could go no further and we were in the heights of despair when we met some rough mountaineers. They felt very sorry for us and told us if we would come over to their camp they would give us some breakfast. I never tasted anything better in my life and it was cooked by squaws too. They seemed to be living there with those men. The first thing they gave us was milk and whiskey and we had to drink it out of gourds. Yes, I remember that so well. Then they gave us a sort of bread or cake that they cooked in kettles over the fire. Oh, it was all so good and there was plenty of it. Then when we were through, we carried some back to the one's who were too sick to come with us. I remember one Scotch girl stayed there with them. One of the mountaineers offered her a home and her legs were in such a condition she could travel no farther so she stayed. Yes, she never did get to Salt Lake and she left Scotland to come to Zion too. She wasn't the only one who never reached the Valley.

'No, we didn't have any trouble with the Indians. They told us before we left England that we must be good to them and if we had any trinkets we could give them to bring them along. They did so like trinkets. At first we were a little annoyed at so many of them begging but we always treated them nice and they never hurt us. In fact they saved our lives at various times, such as when they gave us food.

'Our handcarts had handles on the front and the back too, for some must push and some must pull, you know. The wheels were high so that they could be used for wagon wheels after we got here. It may sound funny to say that it was hard to push them down the hills but it was. Often the wheels were in sand up to the hubs and it was very hard to get them down hill. We had to ford a great many rivers and sometimes some of the carts were simply washed down stream. I remember when we had to ford the Platte River for the first time. We were in water above our waist and the current was strong. We couldn't cross it single file. Ten or twelve of us would have to lock arms in order to get across. As long as we had flour the men had to carry it on their shoulders. Of course our clothes had to dry on us. It was very disagreeable and of course impaired our health. Our Captain had the only horse in the company and he had to ride in head in order to find a place where we could get water. We had to get water. I think we walked about 25 miles a day and sometimes, Oh it was so hard. The cpatain's [captain's] wife and children were in the company.

Companies were sent out from Salt Lake to meet us and bring us food. They saved our lives and gave us courage to come on, for we were at Green River, 300 miles away then. The band came up Emigration canyon to meet us and escorted us to the City. We went down on the old High School square and there our luggage was dropped out and the handcarts taken away. We slept out on the ground that night. We were used to it. The next day we carted what little bedding and luggage we had into some woman's house and dumped them on the floor. It was soon after our arrival, I remember, that Mr. Beesley heard a man playing on a tin whistle. He said to me, "If that man can play a tune on a tin whistle, he can play a flute" so he went and got acquainted with him. I think he was later the leader of the Military Band.

"There is one woman, who whenever I met her always says, "Now lassie, do your share?" She was in our company and they put her to pull on a handcart with an old man. Very often he would say to her, "Lassie, now do your share". and she has never forgotten it. I also remember another poor woman whose baby was born on the plains and died a few hours later. There was no stop made. She was put in one of the handcarts and jogged along. I don't remember whether she ever lived to get here or not. . .

"After we got here I wrote to my mother and told her what a dreadful time we had had and that she must wait until some other means was devised. She answered that they would come it [if] they only had knapsacks. They came by ox team a few years later, and mother was carried into my little home. She only lived eight weeks. The journey was too much for her.

"There were lots of dreadful things happened that I won't talk about because I'm sure those poor people would not like them talked about. I think we were not so badly off as the people who came in the cold weather. The man who built this house told me that he had seen men, women and children frozen to death while they were sitting up-right. We met a few wagons on their way to and from California and these companies certainly were strange sights to them. They often pitied us and gave us food. Yes, I crossed the plains with a handcart once but I am thankful I have never had to again. I couldn't do it. One such experience is quite enough.