Transcript for Fox, Ruth May, "From England to Salt Lake Valley in 1867," Improvement Era, July 1935, 408-9, 450
One night we spent on a cattle boat sailing up the Missouri river. The cattle, judging from their bellowing, seemed not to enjoy our company any better than we enjoyed theirs.
Arriving at North Platte, which was then a little railroad town, we found that the company would be delayed one month. This situation was a serious one; every day meant loss of time and means. Several excuses were given for the delay. One was that some of the brethren were in the east on business. They had been detained, and must return to the Valley with this company. Another was that the Indians had burned a train-load of provisions and more supplies must be purchased. Still another was that here was fine grazing and the cattle must start out in good condition.
Meanwhile, there we were with our trunks and traps. The full quota of wagons had not yet been purchased and the housing of men, women, and children was a real problem. Finally the railroad people tendered us the use of a great barn of a building which happened to be empty, and there we set up some kind of housekeeping for the coming weeks.
At night we made our beds on the floor, and with gratitude let me say, we could hang up a protection from wandering eyes. My father, after deducting other expenses, found that he had only money enough to buy one yoke of cattle and two yoke were necessary to pull the heavily loaded wagons across the rough way.
It so happened that a certain brother had a wagon and one yoke of cattle, so the bargain was made that father join his cattle to this outfit and drive all the way for his share in the wagon. The owner of the outfit had a wife and seven children. Our little family consisted of five, as father was bringing a little girl across the plains to join her relatives in Salt Lake City. So you see there were fourteen persons with all their worldly possessions in that one wagon. The owners of the wagon used it for a sleeping apartment and my father bought a small tent, just large enough for the five of us to lie down in side by side like sardines in a can. This we unstrapped every night and fastened again to the wagon each morning.
Imagine if you can these would-be drivers, who had, perhaps, never seen a Texas steer before, go though the procedure for the first time of yoking their cattle. Truly no rodeo could match the scene. The men had to be instructed in this art and some did not learn very quickly. The same was true of the use of firearms. Every man was supposed to have his own gun and ammunition though he had never fired a shot in his life.
Indeed there were many things for an immigrant to learn. He must be willing to understand and accept the discipline of the camp, become used to having his flour, potatoes and bacon measured out to him each day according to the number in his family.
The captain of a company must be a real dictator. What he says must go. One crack of his or his assistant's whip on the tent or wagon cover meant "Get up quickly!" which we did and made hurried preparation to start. So now everything is in readiness, the command is given and our sixty wagons—fifty of them belonging to Scandinavian Saints—are on the way, and we could sing:
"We've left the realms of Babylon and crossed the mighty seas;
We've left the good old ship where we walked about at ease.
and now's the time for starting boys,
we'll jog on if you please.
So get up; my lads, Gee whoa! Push
on my lads. Heigh Ho!
For there's none can lead a life like we
merry Mormons do"
Other than one birth and an accidental death by a bullet when men were shooting sage-hens, our journey across the plains seems to have been rather lacking in perilous adventure but was always interesting.
We camped once more where there were trees and water. I do not remember the name of the place, but I do remember this incident: It was quite late at night when one of the brethren thought he could hear someone stealthily moving among the bushes. You must know that everyone was a little watchful of Indians. So this brother took out his pistol and three times he gave the warning, "Speak or I'll shoot! Speak or I'll shoot! Speak or I'll shoot!" and then off went the gun. This, however, caused some merriment as it was discovered later—that it was merely the wind playing with the leaves.
After we left civilization the first place we came to was Julesburt, which was nothing more than a trading post but at least it broke the monotony of the journey.
One of the diversions of the plains was picking up buffalo chips for fuel. This task fell to the women and girls who wore aprons in which to gather and carry them. Once in a while a few Indians would come into camp when we were eating and offer to barter trinkets for food.
One day we had an Indian scare. Someone thought he saw a few Indians on the hills not far away. Every man was ordered to take out his gun and carry it on his left shoulder as he drove, with his right hand. This, too, proved to be a false alarm. I think there was no dancing in our company. Occasionally we were called to evening prayer with the tune of "Do What is Right," played from a bugle in the hands of Brother Stephen Hales.
The Platte is a very winding river so we crossed it many times without much inconvenience, as the Scandinavian brothers would take us girls on their backs and carry us across the stream. Sometimes the distance traveled would be only eight miles a day because of heavy sandy roads. One night we pitched our tent in this sand when lo the wind blew and the rain descended and beat upon that tent and great was the fall thereof. Mother was hurried to the wagon of a friend and we girls held up the tent while father tried to drive in the pins, which was an almost hopeless task. This situation gave us sympathy for the man of Bible fame, but after all, situations are just the way you take them. If we had thought shower baths instead of cold rain running down our backs and arms the occasion would have been a delightful one. However, as we trudged along the next day we sang lustily:
The heat may skin our noses, but they'll soon get well again.
And when we think of Zion's land, we'll forget the wet and pain
So, Gee up! My lads, Gee whoa!
Push on my lads, Heigh Ho!
For there's none can lead a life like we merry Mormons do."
We had not completed one-half of our journey, when we discovered a shortness of food in camp, but it happened that a government post, I think it was named Fort Platte, had been ordered to evacuate. So we were able to buy some supplies from the soldiers.
One has to be accustomed to the western air and atmosphere before he really can have any idea of distances. In our camp was a man named San Givans who had crossed the plains many times. Walking along by his side one day as we were coming in view of Scot's Bluffs, I asked how long before we would reach them. His answer was, "Oh, two or three hours." But to my astonishment it took us one day and a half before we passed through the openings between those bluffs.
Fort Laramie was another place where some needed supplies could be bought, and oh, what a joy it was when we discovered wild berries and ground cherries growing there! Now we were going into the Rocky Mountain region, and I remember that once at least we had to descend a hill so steep the cattle had to be unhooked and the wagons let down by ropes and manpower. Chimney Rock and Independence Rock had both contributed to our recreational activity but no one but those who have walked over prairies and deserts for days, where water is so scarce that the creeks were reduced to little puddles of alkali water, can imagine the beauty and glory of a river. On the Sweetwater we rested, washed our clothing, went in bathing, and had a real jollification.
On one of these few and far between occasions, father being very tired, having walked every step of the way; after he had unyoked his cattle, threw himself on the ground to rest when one of the brethren came along and asked, "Well, Brother May, how are you today?" Father answered quickly, "Oh! There isn't much the matter—I have a sick wife, two sore heels and two dummies, that's all."
I was one of the dummies.
At South Pass we had a snowstorm which delayed us two or three days and made the road very muddy for pedestrians and hard for the cattle to pull their loads as part of the way was up hill.
When we were out of the Indian country Brigham Young, Jr., and his brother John W., and the other brethren who were returning from business trips or missions left us for their homes in Utah as they could travel much more quickly with their horses and carriages; and they were asked to report that provision were again becoming scarce. As a result we were met at Coalville by Brother Samuel Hill who had been sent by President Brigham Young with a load of potatoes and other edibles enough to last until we reached Salt Lake. As we passed through Wanship I noticed a man standing in the doorway of a rock cabin. As he stood there he seemed to be as high as the roof, but nevertheless his dwelling looked good to me for I said: "That is not much to wish for, father, but I wish we had a place as good as that to get into." This incident shows that my ambitions for a home were not very exalted.
At Echo Canyon we were joined by a couple of boys whose home was in Goshen. These lads offered to ride us girls through this rugged freak of nature, so lickety split we came down the narrow defile expecting every minute to be thrown from the rickety old light wagon and killed. This afforded great sport for the boys who knew no fear of the canyon and saw no dangers, but to emigrants who had never seen such a sight it was breath-taking to say the least.
Our last pull was through Parley's and up to the top of the hill. This was accomplished at twilight and here we got our first glimpse of the little city of Salt Lake.
I have to admit some disappointment as I exclaimed: "Oh, have we come all this way for that?" We continued on to the campground that night. Next morning was the Sabbath.
The sky was blue and radiant. The valley fair and the grand old mountains proudly guarded the home of the prophets. The family took a bath in a wash basin, put on our best clothes and went to the tabernacle services. My dreams came true and all was well in Zion.