Transcript for Cantwell, James to S. S. Jones, Handcart Veterans Association, 28 Sep. 1906. Handcart Veterans Association, Scrapbook, 1906-1914f, fd 2
I have often wondered why it was that so little was ever mentioned about those who crossed the plains with the hand-carts in the year 1856. Of course I was more interested in that year, because with my Fathers family came in that fatal year. I was nearly fourteen years of age, and I never can forget what we passed through on that trip. I used to think I would like to forget that part of my history, but of later years I have taken quite an interest in clipping from the papers the testimony of those that have been placed in print. I also have my Father's record and it helps me in dates and names. I see by the Deseret News there will be a gathering of the hand-cart people and also those who came to the rescue. We have in our town men who took an active part in that work[.] there names are Peter Tidwell[,] Geo. G. Merrill & E.R. Miles, we have also eleven who came in 1856. I will give you a short sketch of that history
The captain of our company was Ja[me]s G Willie and his assistants were Jesse Haven & Millen Atwood.
We left Florence on the 17th of August. Our company was composed of 10 wagons and 76 hand-carts. 5 of the wagons belonged to the following men Andrew L Siler, John A. Jost William Wilford [Allen], Ja[me]s S. Cantwell & W[illia]m H Kimball. The other five wagons were to haul the provisions, tents and extra baggage and when any were sick and could not walk, they were put in the wagons. We had traveled about 170 miles and had camped with the Pawnees, they being the only Indians on the plains that were friendly. They informed us that a few miles ahead the Cheyennes had killed 4 men & a child and taken the Mother prisoner, the outfit belonged to Alma Babbitt. They were camped on a small stream waiting for us to come up so they could travel with us. The wolves were digging their bodies up so we throwed a mound of dirt on them.
Aug 31st Alma Babbitt overtook us. He swore he would kill the first Cheyennes he saw, he was carrying the mail, and had a man on guard by the name of Sutherland.
On Sep 2nd we came to where Mr Babbitt had been killed and the letters and papers scattered over the ground.
On the night of the 4th the buffalo got among our cattle and quite a number ran away with them. We did not find them and it left us in a weak condition for teams.
On the evening of the 5th Porter Rockwell came to our camp, having been with the Smoot camp five miles ahead. He tried to find our cattle but failed
Sep 17th my sister Ellen was bitten by a large rattle snake[.] it caught her by the two first fingers as she pointed at it, this was at a place called Scotts Bluff. They tied her arm about half way between the wrist and elbow, the flesh fell off the back of her hand and her life hung in the balance until long after we came to the valleys.
We arrived at Laramie on Oct 1st. Owing to the condition of my sister and our teams very poor, those owning 4 of the independent wagons stayed there to recruit. Captain Willie's company went on and my brother Frank [Francis] went with them.
We stayed until the 17th and left with Captain Hodge[tt]s wagon and Captain Edward Martins hand-cart co.
On the 19th it started to rain, hail, & snow, we made all haste and camped at a place called Buttes. We camped there about 8 days, it storming so we could not travel. It was there they commenced to die from hunger & cold. It was deemed advisable to travel on but the cold & snow made our traveling slow and I do not think there was a day we did not have to bury some[,] the greatest number at once being 14. I have an old spade that was used in covering them.
On the 4th of November we arrived at Devil's Gate &
on the 5th Captain John Hunts Co came in[.] To give a just description of what we passed through there, would be too much of an undertaking for me for the weather was very severe, and the people almost lost all heart. Many of our remain[in]g cattle died & the only thing left was to leave every thing we could leave, take some of the lightest wagons & travel on.
We left on the 8th and arrived at Bridger on December the first. All of our cattle were dead and many of the peoples cattle.
On the afternoon of the 4th some teams arrived from the valleys, there were 7 or 8 and two span on a wagon. The snow was about 20 inches deep. I remember four of the mens names or they were all from Lehi, Wm Dawson Alonzo D Rhodes, John Skeen & Geo G Merrill. Wm Dawson was acquainted with my Father and we rode in his wagon to S.L. City
We left Bridger on the 6th
and arrived in Salt Lake on the 14th of December. The snow was 18 to 20 ft deep on the big mountain.
We camped between the two mountains on the night of the 13th the road being kept open by men with shovels and ox teams from the valleys. The wind was blowing & drifting the snow every day so they had to break the road through every few hours. I will also give you the names of those living here who came in that year with the hand-carts—James Meikle, & John McDonald came in Daniel McCarthys Co, Euphemia Mitchell, wife of R.A. Bain & Elizabeth Read came in Jas G Willie's Co. Jas. B. Shorten and Ellen Parkinson wife of Hyrum Covey came in Edward Martins Co. Annie Brighton wife of Rob[er]t Thomley [Thornley] came in Israel Evans Co and Ja[me]s Sheen in Ellsworths Co. I thought this would not be amiss in getting together the names and where-abouts of some who often speak of those dark days. Hoping you will accept this in the spirit given I remain Yours Sincerely