Transcript for C. W. S., "Days of Ox Teams," Deseret Semi-weekly News, 14 June 1887, 2
MORMON GROVE, Kansas,
June 7th, 1887.
Editor Deseret News:
A letter from this prominent point of early emigration history, will doubtless be of interest to many of your readers. This was the first camping ground reached by the "Mormon" trains in the year 1855. It is located about five miles north-west from Atchison, where most of the outfitting was done. When the new wagons had been put together, and the covers fastened over the bows, the work of yoking up the oxen commenced, and the train consisting of about fifty wagons, laden with supplies, bedding, and I guess all the worldly wealth of the Saints about to travel to Utah, would pull out as if to see if anything was "shipshape," and make their first encampment on a nice, level plateau, a few hundred rods distant from an old grove of hickory timber and which was therefore called "Mormon" Grove. Here a "horseshoe" corral was formed by driving the wagons about two feet from each other in a slanting position, with tongues inward, halting in two semi circles, so as to furnish a convenient camp for the people and a suitable pen into which to drive the cattle for yoking in the morning. Some QUEER SCENESused to be visible in the commencement of the journey. Fancy four or five hundred people of various nationalities and occupations in life congregated together in a company, and the men of this motley throng converted into temporary teamsters! The oxen net yet accustomed to their mates of their drivers and some of them only partly "broke," or if broke used to working on the "other side" and not over anxious to work anywhere. Imagine if you can, a Danish "driver" the same being a cabinetmaker "youst from Copenhagen," who had never seen a yoke of oxen in his life, talking to a pair of unruly bulls that, on their part never seen Scandinavian, and trying to hitch them on to a wagon, or to join them with two other "yoke" in a team.
I well remember a London barber who had charge of a team of this kind and who never did get it through his Cockney head what color his cattle were. The only way he knew them was by tying a red string around their horns. Any ox that had a red string on, that would let the Cockney catch him, was liable to be yoked up by him on whatever side his string designated, regardless of color or ownership. Here and there a Yankee who was used to cattle would instruct, advise and help "straighten out things," so that no mistakes might occur. He had to know every ox in the train, and what side he worked on, while the captain kept his "eye skinned" for people left behind, cattle lost and camp utensils deserted when the company moved camp.
So it was to"MORMON GROVE,"that the train steered when the teamsters "hawed" and "geed" out of Atchison in 1855. In that year the cholera struck the camps quite severely. It was very dangerous coming down the Missouri River; the dread scourge would carry off people by the hundred. Stalwart men would be seen carrying the boxes and helping to load and unload boats and trains, or to bury the dead, and in one or two hours the dark monster would have them in his grip. In that season, as many as sixteen person were in some cases burned in one grave at this same "Mormon Grove." I myself lost four relatives here, and it was really to see if any trace of their graves could be discovered that my visit here was made. But no relic of the resting clay is now visible in this once wild cemetery. The land was entered in '57 by a man called "Jack" Martin. He added a mortgage to his other improvements placed on it by the "Mormon" campers (who, by the by, were the prior claimants), and to redeem the debt it became the property of a Mr. Osborne, who now owns the camp. It is now under a wire fence. The grove has BEEN REMOVED.Young timber is growing in another place. Some of the land has been plowed up, and a shanty has been built over the spring that used to furnish the drinking water to the emigrants. The spring itself still flows, and is about he only thing that lastingly marks the spot which supplied the early emigrating Saints with a stopping place on their start westward.
I was only a boy when I came here in '55 and I remember being asked by the Captain to HOLD A MULEclose to that grove. He was not one of those old mules that hate to go, whose hair looks like it had been carried the wrong way of the grain, and with a fuzzy tail resembling a piece of old rope. But this mule was slick as a new sealskin, and his candal appendage was as flowing as a young lady's back hair. He was also gifted with discernment, for he saw that the party to whom he had been entrusted, was a greenhorn, and so he soon made the best of his time and his legs, in getting by about five jumps into that grove. When the Captain returned, I was minus one fine young mule and a new rope. He hunted the animal, but neither his patrician coating or his plebian appendages were ever seen again by us. I looked for him again the other day, where the grove used to be but I failed to find him. They had cut down the trees and plowed up the ground, but the mule was not discovered. It was over 30 years since I saw him, and I supposed he is now working for the government, probably as a punishment for his youthful indiscretion, unless he has been used for beef or sausages by the Atchison people, though I thought I saw him the other day on a St. Jo. street car.
On the west side of the regular traveled road, is to be seen the CAMPING GROUNDon the Welsh and Scandinavians, while on the east side was the location of the English and Scotch. With their usual national shrewdness, the latter used to locate nearest to the spring I have before mentioned. They always get near to water, unless something stronger is in the vicinity to attract their attention, that is in their own country. But they quit it when they come to America.