Transcript for D. W. E., "Lost on the Plains," Juvenile Instructor, 28 May 1870, 87-88
In the days when to cross the Plains was a long, weary journey of several month's duration, when "buck" and "bright" were in the zenith of their fame, a cordial welcome from an old friend, whom I had not seen for years, and a decent meal could not be counted among things to be lightly esteemed. At least the writer thought so when crossing from Florence to the Valley in the Summer of 1860, he met with a friend from the same branch of the Church in England, at a station kept by a Frenchman named Louis Genoy, near what was then called the upper Platte Bridge. We had been on very friendly terms before his departure for Zion, by the first handcart company, in 1857. Through sickness, he had been compelled to stay by the way, and three years after, we met quite unexpectedly at the place mentioned. Our meeting took place between ten and eleven o'clock in the morning, and as might be expected he had many inquiries to make about friends and acquaintances behind; and it was too soon for the company to stop for "nooning" he pressed me to stay an hour or two with him, to have a chat and eat dinner, promising to put me on the right track, so that I could easily overtake the company before sundown.
I had then been on the Plains some seven or eight weeks, and, as all who have passed through a similar experience know, a good dinner was considerable of a temptation to stay awhile. I spoke to Captain—, now a Bishop in one of our northern settlements, but he advised me not to stay behind the company. As I however did not intend to stop more than an hour or so, and was assured by my friend that he would put me in the way the train travelled, I concluded, very foolishly, to remain behind. The lesson I ultimately learned will, I think, never be forgotten.
I stayed until dinner was ready, probably a couple of hours, and then had a feast of boiled elk, and other good things, and immediately started off, hoping to overtake the company in two or three hours at most. Fred accompanied me a few hundred yards and gave me as I supposed, the necessary direction, and off I trudged.
I walked for an hour or two as fast as I could, hoping as I reached the summit of each succeeding bluff, to see some signs of the folks ahead. But after walking three or four hours, and still no indications of their presence a feeling of anxiety would arise in my mind, lest I had missed the track and was lost on the Plains. I kept onward looking eagerly ahead, but nothing but disappointment awaited me. As the sun gradually approached the western horizon and still no tokens of the missing train, my anxiety became very great, for I had heard of individuals crossing the plains, straying from their companies, and never being heard of again, and the thought of being benighted there caused me greater anxiety than words can express. Still I pursued my journey, occasionally looking anxiously in every direction in hopes of seeing smoke from camp fires or some other indications of human life; but no cheery sign met my gaze, and at last the conclusion was forced home to me that I really was lost.
By this time the sun was nearly touching the loftiest peaks of the western mountains, and as he approached the setting point, his rays seemed to grow brighter, as if rejoicing at the prospect of rest after his day's journey.
But how different was my position! The nearer night approached the higher my anxiety rose, for look in what ever direction I might there was no sign of life or human habitation, nothing but dreary, barren sand-hills. Not a tree or hillock of any kind for a shade or shelter when darkness overtook me. And this was the result of disregarding the advice given me, not to stay behind the company. That dinner of elk, &c., seemed likely to cost me a very heavy price.
At length, just as I was really giving up in despair, a sight met my gaze, which resurrected hope, within me, and infused new life and energy into my wearied limbs. It was not the camp and my friends with whom I had parted in the morning; but, away in the distance, probably half or three quarters of a mile, I saw a bridge across a stream of water, and some sign of human habitation. I hurried forward as fast as possible, and when I got within a few hundred yards, I saw white men there; anxiety had nearly vanished now, for I felt a hope that I should be able to find shelter and food for the night, and should be put in the right track for the camp in the morning.
On arriving at the bridge and making my position known, the men told me, in a somewhat surly and uncivil manner, that I was some five or six miles from Genoy's station; and evincing no disposition to be at all hospitable, I determined to ask no further kindness at their hands, but, tired as I was, I determined to set off, in hopes of reaching the quarters of my friend Fred, where I was sure of meeting with the most cordial hospitality.
The sun had descended behind the hills when I started, and the road being entirely unknown and lonely it was anything but a pleasant journey. But I had no alternative. I must reach there or stay all night on the desert. Suffice it to say that in about a couple of hours I reached the point I was trying for, and after some supper Fred showed me into his room, and I was asleep in two or three minutes. I was aroused in the morning long before sunrise by my friend, who was determined to travel with me to the camp, and he was anxious that we should reach it before the train commenced its day's march.
Away we started, I very stiff and tired, but feeling comparatively light hearted at the hope of rejoining the company. We had travelled two or three miles when, in the distance, we saw two men approaching us, and upon meeting I found it was Brother P. [Miner Grant Prisbrey] now living at Payson, Utah County, and Bro. John Ames, the former, I believe one of the Captains of ten in the company, the latter one of the emigrants. They had been sent out by the company to hunt for me. My arrival had been looked for with some anxiety the preceding evening, and my absence gave rise to considerable speculation and uneasiness. At break of day the next morning, they were sent in quest of me. I was quickly astride their pony, and bidding good bye to Fred, he returned to the ranche of the Frenchman Genoy, and we set forward for camp, which we reached in due time without accident or delay.
On my arrival I met with a slight rebuke for my willfulness from the Captain; but my own reflections were worse to endure then the most harsh words would have been; for I knew that my folly, in disobeying counsel had caused unnecessary anxiety in camp and had exposed me to very great risk.
To this day my wanderings while lost on the Plains, and the narrow escape I had from a lonely and terrible death appears marvelous, and I cannot do other than acknowledge the over-ruling hand of Providence in my preservation and deliverance