Transcript for Daniel W. Jones, Forty Years Among the Indians (Salt Lake City: Juvenile Instructor Office, 1890), 62-75
I ATTENDED the October conference of 1856. When conference was opened President Young arose and said: “There are a number of our people on the plains who have started to come with hand-carts; they will need help and I want twenty teams to be ready by morning with two men to each team to go out and meet them. If the teams are not voluntarily furnished, there are plenty of good ones in the street and I shall call upon Brother J. C. Little, the marshal, to furnish them. Now we will adjourn this conference until to-morrow.” Brother Young was in earnest; he seemed moved by a spirit that would admit of no delay.
A few days before this a number of elders had arrived from the old country reporting that the hand-cart people were on the road, but they did not know how far they had advanced. In those days there was no telegraph, and mails from the east only reached Utah monthly, they being many times delayed by high water, Indians or other causes.
Brother Young called upon every one present to lend a hand in fitting up these teams. As I was going out with the crowd, Brother Wells spoke to me saying: “You are a good hand for the trip; get ready.” Soon after Bishop Hunter said the same thing to me. Also Brother Grant met me and said: “I want you on this trip.” I began to think it time to decide, so I answered, “all right.”
I had a saddle horse. We were instructed to get everything we could ready and rendezvous between the Big and Little Mountains, a short day’s drive out from Salt Lake.Next day teams and volunteer men were ready. A better outfit and one more adapted to the work before us I do not think could have possibly been selected if a week had been spent in fitting up. Besides the wagons and teams, several men went horseback. We had good teams and provisions in great abundance. But best of all, those going were alive to the work and were of the best material possible for the occasion.
As soon as all were together we organized and moved on. George D. Grant was selected captain, with Robert Burton and William Kimball as assistants; Cyrus Wheelock, chaplain; Charles Decker, guide. I was given the important position of chief cook for the head mess. I was quite proud of my office, for it made me the most sought after and popular man in the camp. The rest of the company was made up of the following persons Joseph A. Young, Chauncey Webb, H. H. Cluff, D. P. Kimball, George W. Grant, Ed. Peck, Joel Parrish, Henry Goldsbrough, Thomas Alexander, Benjamin Hampton, Tomas Ricks, Abe Garr, Charles Grey, Al Huntington, “Handsome Cupid,” Stephen Taylor, William K. Broomhead, Ira Nebeker, Redick Allred, Amos Fairbanks and Tom Bankhead, a colored man. These are all the names that I remember, if there were any more I have been unable to find them.
The weather soon became cold and stormy. We traveled hard, never taking time to stop for dinner. On getting into camp all were hungry and willing to help. No doubt many of the boys remember the hearty suppers eaten on this expedition. There was some expectation of meeting the first train, Brother Willie’s on or about Green river. We began to feel great anxiety about the emigrants as the weather was now cold and stormy, and we, strong men with good outfits, found the nights severe. What must be the condition of those we were to meet. Many old men and women, little children, mothers with nursing babes, crossing the plains pulling hand-carts. Our hearts began to ache when we reached Green river and yet no word of them. Here an express was sent on ahead with a light wagon to meet and cheer the people up. Cyrus Wheelock and Stephen Taylor went with this express.
At the South Pass, we encountered a severe snow-storm. After crossing the divide we turned down into a sheltered place on the Sweetwater. While in camp and during the snow-storm two men were seen on horseback going west. They were hailed. On reaching us they proved to be Brothers Willie and J. B. Elder. They reported their company in a starving condition at their camp then east of Rocky Ridge and said our express had gone on to meet the other companies still in the rear. We started immediately through the storm to reach Brother Willie’s camp. On arriving we found them in a condition that would stir the feelings of the hardest heart. They were in a poor place, the storm having caught them where fuel was scarce. They were out of provisions and really freezing and starving to death. The morning after our arrival nine were buried in one grave. We did all we could to relieve them. The boys struck out on horseback and dragged up a lot of wood; provisions were distributed and all went to work to cheer the sufferers. Soon there was an improvement in camp, but many poor, faithful people had gone too far—had passed beyond the power to recruit. Our help came too late for some and many died after our arrival.
William Kimball with a few men and wagons turned back, taking the oversight of this company to help them in. Capt. Grant left a wagon load of flour near the Pass with Redick Allred to guard it. There were several hundred people with Brother Willie. They had a few teams, but most of them had become too weak to be of much service. When we left Salt Lake it was understood that other teams would follow until all the help needed would be on the road.
The greater portion of our company now continued on towards Devil’s Gate, traveling through snow all the way. When we arrived at Devil’s Gate we found our express there awaiting us. No tidings as yet were received of the other companies.
HAVING seen the sufferings of Brother Willie’s company, we more fully realized the danger the others were in. The Elders who had just returned from England having many dear friends with these companies, suffered great anxiety, some of the feeling more or less the responsibility resting upon them for allowing these people to start so late in the season across the plains. At first we were at a loss what to do for we did not expect to have to go further than Devil’s Gate. We decided to make camp and send on an express to find where the people were and not to return until they were found.
Joseph A. Young, Abe Garr and I were selected. (Some histories give other names, but I was there myself and am not mistaken). With picked saddle horses and a pack mule we started out.
The first night we camped, our horses followed a band of buffaloes several miles; it was near noon the next day when we returned with them. We determined to get even with them so rode at full gallop wherever the road would permit. After riding about twelve miles we saw a white man’s shoe track in the road. Bro. Young called out, “Here they are.” We put our animals to their utmost speed and soon came in sight of the camp at Red Bluff. This was Brother Edward Martin’s hand-cart company and Ben Horgett’s [Hodgetts] wagon company. There was still another wagon company down near the Platte crossing.
This company was in almost as bad a condition as the first one. They had nearly given up hope. Their provisions were about exhausted and many of them worn out and sick. When we rode in, there was a general rush to shake hands. I took no part in the ceremony. Many declared we were angels from heaven. I told them I thought we were better than angels for this occasion, as we were good strong men come to help them into the valley, and that our company, and wagons loaded with provisions, were not far away. I thought this the best consolation under the circumstances. Brother Young told the people to gather “up” and move on at once as the only salvation was to travel a little every day. This was right and no doubt saved many lives for we, among so many, (some twelve hundred) could do but little, and there was danger of starvation before help could arrive unless the people made some head-way toward the valley.
After talking to and encouraging the people, they agreed to start on the next morning. We then started full gallop for John Hunt’s camp fifteen miles further. On arriving no one noticed us or appeared to care who we were. Their tents were pitched in good shape, wood was plentiful, and no one seemed concerned. Joseph A. Young became offended, not expecting such a cool reception and remarked, “Well it appears we are not needed here.” So we went down into the bottom and made camp for ourselves. After a while some one sauntered down our way, thinking probably we were mountaineers. These recognized Brother Young and made a rush for camp, giving the word; soon we were literally carried in and a special tent was pitched for our use. Everything was done to make “amends” for the previous neglect. I never could see where the amends came in, for no one happened to know us when we first arrived, and strangers were often passing, this being near where several camps of old traders were located.
About the time we were settled in our tent, Captain Hunt and Gilbert Van Schoonhoven, his assistant, arrived from the Platte bridge, also Captain Ben Horgett. They were rejoiced to meet us. Here I first met “Gib Spencer” and formed a friendly acquaintance with him which continues to this day.
These people were just on the eve of suffering, but as yet had not. Quite a number of their cattle had died during the snow storm which had now been on them for nine days.
Next morning Brother Young and others went to Platte bridge, leaving Brother Garr and I to get the company started according to agreement made the evening before. There was a spirit of apathy among the people, instead of going for their teams at once, several began to quarrel about who should go. This made us feel like leaving them to take care of themselves. We saddled up to do so. The clouds were gathering thickly for storm, and just as we were about to start it commenced snowing very hard. The heavens were obscured by clouds, excepting a small place about the shape of the gable end of a house. This opening was in the direction of the valley and the sun seemed to shine through with great brightness. We mounted our mules; Brother Garr, pointing to the bright spot in the heavens, said, “Do you see that hole? You had better all get out of here before that closes up, for it is your opening to the valley. We are going.” The people, I believe, took this for a warning and soon started for their cattle.
Next morning they moved on. Brother Garr and I went back to where E. Martin’s camp had been. They had rolled out and Captain Horgetts wagon company were just starting.
We continued on, overtaking the hand-cart company ascending a long muddy hill. A condition of distress here met my eyes that I never saw before or since. The train was strung out for three or four miles. There were old men pulling and tugging their carts, sometimes loaded with a sick wife or children—women pulling along sick husbands—little children six to eight years old struggling through the mud and snow. As night came on the mud would freeze on their clothes and feet. There were two of us and hundreds needing help. What could we do? We gathered on to some of the most helpless with our riatas tied to the carts, and helped as many as we could into camp on Avenue hill.
This was a bitter, cold night and we had no fuel except very small sage brush. Several died that night.
Next morning, Brother Young having come up, we three started for our camp near Devil’s Gate. All were rejoiced to get the news that we had found the emigrants. The following morning most of the company moved down, meeting the hand-cart company at Greasewood creek. Such assistance as we could give was rendered to all until they finally arrived at Devil’s Gate fort about the 1st of November. There were some twelve hundred in all, about one-half with hand-carts and the other half with teams.
THE winter storms had now set in, in all their severity. The provisions we took amounted to almost nothing among so many people, many of them now on very short rations, some almost starving. Many were dying daily from exposure and want of food. We were at a loss to know why others had not come on to our assistance.
The company was composed of average emigrants; old, middle-aged and young; women and children. The men seemed to be failing and dying faster than the women and children.
The hand-cart company was moved over to a cove in the mountains for shelter and fuel; a distance of two miles from the fort. The wagons were banked near the fort. It became impossible to travel further without reconstruction or help. We did all we possibly could to help and cheer the people. Some writers have endeavored to make individual heroes of some of our company. I have no remembrance of any one shirking his duty. Each and everyone did all they possibly could and justice would give to each his due credit.
All the people who could, crowded into the houses of the fort out of the cold and storm. One crowd cut away the walls of the house they were in for fuel, until half of the roof fell in; fortunately they were all on the protected side and no one was hurt.
Many suggestions were offered as to what should be done, some efforts being made to cache the imperishable goods and go on with the rest. Accordingly pits were dug, boxes opened and the hardware, etc., put in one, while clothing, etc., were put in another.
Often these boxes belonged to different persons. An attempt was made by Brother Cantwell, to keep an account of these changes.
This caching soon proved to be a failure for the pits would fill up with drifting snow as fast as the dirt was thrown out, so no caches were made. The goods were never replaced.
Each evening the Elders would meet in council. I remember hearing Charles Decker remark that he had crossed the plains over fifty times (carrying the mail) and this was the darkest hour he had ever seen. Cattle and horses were dying every day. What to do was all that could be talked about. Five or six days had passed and nothing determined upon.
Steve Taylor, Al. Huntington and I were together when the question, “Why doesn’t Captain Grant leave all the goods here with some one to watch them. And move on?” was asked. We agreed to make this proposal to him. It was near the time appointed for the meeting. As soon as we were together, Capt. Grant asked if anyone had thought of a plan. We presented ours. Capt. Grant replied, “I have thought of this, but there are no provisions to leave and it would be asking too much of anyone to stay here and starve for the sake of these goods; besides, where is there a man who would stay if called upon.”I answered, “Any of us would.” I had no idea I would be selected, as it was acknowledged I was the best cook in camp and Capt. Grant had often spoken as though he could not spare me.
That a proper understanding may be had, I will say that these goods were the luggage of a season’s emigration that these two wagon trains had contracted to freight, and it was being taken through as well as the luggage of the people present. Leaving these goods meant to abandon all that many poor families had upon earth. So it was different from common merchandise.
There was a move made at once to adopt this suggestion. Accordingly, next morning store rooms in the fort were cleared and some two hundred wagons run in and unloaded. No one was allowed to keep out anything but a change of clothing, some bedding and light cooking utensils. Hauling provisions was not a weighty question.
This unloading occupied three days. The hand-cart people were notified to abandon most of their carts. Teams were hitched up and the sick and feeble loaded in with such light weight as was allowed. All became common property.
When everything was ready Brother Burton said to me, “Now Brother Jones we want you to pick two men from the valley to stay with you. We have notified Captains Hunt and Horgett to detail seventeen men from their companies to stay with you. We will move on in the morning. Get your company together and such provisions as you can find in the hands of those who may have anything to spare. You know ours is about out. Will you do it?” I said, “Yes.” “Well take your choice from our company. You are acquainted with the boys and whoever you want will stay.” I had a great mind to tell him I wanted Captains Grant and Burton.
There was not money enough on earth to have hired me to stay. I had left home for only a few days and was not prepared to remain so long away; but I remembered my assertion that any of us would stay if called upon. I could not back out, so I selected Thomas Alexander and Ben Hampton. I am satisfied that two more faithful men to stand under all hardships could not have been found.
That night we were called together and organized as a branch. Dan W. Jones, Thomas Alexander and Ben Hampton were chosen to preside, with J. Laty as clerk. The rest of the company was composed of the following names: John Cooper, John Hardcastle, John Shorton, John Chapel, John Galbraith, John Ellis, John Whitaker, William Handy, William Laty, Edwin Summers, Rossiter Jenkins, Elisha Manning, Henry Jakeman[,] George Watt, George Watts and [---]. [The individuals Jones did not recall at the time of this writing were George Austin and George Allen.]
Captain Grant asked about our provisions. I told him they were scant, but as many were suffering and some dying, all we asked was an equal chance with the rest. He told us there would be a lot of worn out cattle left; to gather them up and try to save them. They consisted mostly of yearlings and two-year-old heifers, some one was taking through.
The storm had now ceased to rage and great hopes were felt for a successful move. We were daily expecting more help and often wondered why it did not come. Next day all hands pulled out, most of them on foot.
After getting my camp regulated a little and giving some instructions, I got on my horse and rode on to see how the train was moving along. All were out of sight when I started. After traveling a few miles, I came upon a lady sitting alone on the side of the road, weeping bitterly. I noticed she was elegantly dressed and appeared strong and well. I asked her what was the matter. She sobbingly replied, “This is too much for me. I have always had plenty, and have never known hardships; we had a good team and wagon; my husband, if let alone, could have taken me on in comfort. Now I am turned out to walk in this wind and snow. I am determined not to go on but will stay here and die. My husband has gone on and left me, but I will not go another step.” The train was two or three miles ahead and moving on. I persuaded her after a while to go on with me.
This lady, Mrs. [Mary Jane Paul] Linforth, and her husband now live in San Francisco, California. They could not stand the hardships of Zion; but I believe they are friendly to our people.
After overtaking the train and seeing them on the move, Captain Grant asked me to go back with instructions for the brethren left with me; then to come on next day and camp with them over night.
On calling the company together at the fort that night, I told them in plain words that if there was a man in camp who could not help eat the last poor animal left with us, hides and all, suffer all manner of privations, almost starve to death, that he could go on with me the next day and overtake the trains. No one wanted to go. All voted to take their chances.
On taking stock of provisions, we found about twenty day’s rations. No salt or bread excepting a few crackers. There was at least five months of winter before us and nothing much to eat but a few perishing cattle and what game we might chance to kill. The game was not very certain, as the severe storms had driven everything away. The first move was to fix up the fort. Accordingly Brother Alexander, being a practical man, was appointed to manage the business; Brother Hampton was to see about the cattle.
I followed the train this day to their second encampment and the next day traveled with them There was much suffering, deaths occurring often. Eph Hanks arrived in camp from the valley and brought word that some of the teams that had reached South Pass and should have met us here, had turned back towards home and tried to persuade Redick Allred, who was left there with a load of flour, to go back with them. The men who did this might have felt justified; they said it was no use going farther, that we had doubtless all perished. I will not mention their names for it was always looked upon by the company as cowardly in the extreme.
If this had not occurred it was the intention of Captain Grant to have sent some one down to us with a load of flour. As it was, by the time any was received, the people were in a starving condition, and could not spare it.
From the third camp, where I saw the last of the brethren, an express was sent on to catch the returning supplies and continue on to the valley, giving word that the train was coming. I know nothing more of them except from reports. As I am writing mainly from my own observations, I will simply state that after great suffering and much assistance (hundreds turning out to help) the emigrants were finally landed in the valley.