Transcript for George Whitaker autobiography, undated, 31-37
On the 10th of June we left our Winter Quarters, traveled about ten miles on to a large open plain. There we remained two or three days to be organized into companies. Brothers Pratt and Taylor were with us. They took a prominent part in the organization. Before President Young had left he had appointed some of the captains of hundreds. We were organized into companies of hundreds, fifties and tens. To each of those divisions was a captain. Bishop Edward Hunter was the captain of our hundred. Brother Joseph Horn was the captain of our fifty and Brother Abraham B [H]oagland was the captain of our team. The name of the heads of families in our ten were as follows:
Brother John Taylor traveled with our fifty. I will say that those brethren whom I have named traveled together all the way and settled down very near together, and have loved one another as brothers ever since.
After organizing as thoroughly as we could, we had six full companies numbering over 600 wagons. As soon as we were organized the companies started out. We traveled about fifteen miles and came to the Kikhorn [Elkhorn] River. We found the river to be top high to ford it. We made a raft and put the wagons over that way and swam the cattle. It made it very tedious and took some days, but we all got over.
We were now coming to some Indians who, we were told, were hostile to the whites. They were the Pawnee tribe. Some thought we would have a fuss with them as they did not want us to go through their country. We were now traveling in a level country and we wanted to be as compact and travel as close together as we could, instead of traveling one after another, as we did not know but what the indians would cut off some part of our long train. It was thought best to travel six wagons abreast so our train would only be one hundred wagons long instead of six hundred. We had three cannon with us, which we placed in different parts of the train, and appointed men to handle them if they were wanted. We did not know but what we should have to fight the Indians, and we prepared ourselves as well as we could. When we came to the Pawnee Village we could not see an Indian. They had all left and gone into the buffalo country to hunt.
We had been traveling six abreast for some days. It was very unpleasant and disagreeable, as the dust would blow from one wagon to another, but we traveled in this way for safety. We then traveled four abreast for a few days, and then two, following the track of the Pioneers.
We now came to a river called the Loup Fork. It was about 200 yards wide. We traveled up that river several days until we came to the place where the Pioneers had forded it. It was not very deep, from two to four feet with a sandy bottom. It took us a day to cross the river. We had to wade it and keep our wagons rolling. If our wagons stood still they would sink down as it was a quicksand bottom. We got all our wagons across with some difficulty and some little loss. The Loup Fork makes a junction with the Platte River some forty or fifty miles below where we crossed. It was from ten to Ford across to the Platte River. We had to get on to the Platte River before we could find any water. When we got on to the Platte we camped. The companies had been traveling all together and had made very slow progress. A good many of the brethren became a little dissatisfied. They thought the way they were traveling they would not get over the mountains that season and it was very important that we should make all the speed we could.
On the banks of the river Platte, all the companies camped together. A council was called by Brothers Pratt and Taylor and all the captains of companies to devise the best plans for our future traveling and progress, and to form all of our men that could bear arms into companies for the protection of the camp, and also to organize our night guard. We were in an Indian country and did not know whether they were our friends or our enemies, and wanted to be ready for any emergency. It was concluded that the companies should travel in fifties, that they could travel faster and easier and that there should be a blacksmith, a carpenter or wheelwright in each company, so that if any of the wagons got out of repair they could fix them as we had a good many wagons that were old and not likely to stand the journey. This encampment was near Long [Grand] Island, about 150 miles from Winter Quarters.
It was now sometime in July. The company that could travel the fastest and get out of the way had the privilege to move on. Company after company moved out by fifties until we were all on our way. We traveled much better and faster and with more pleasure than we had done. We would travel from fifteen to twenty-five miles a day very easily, as we would try to get into camp early, un-yoke our cattle and send them by our herdmen to the best grass. We placed our wagons in a circle open at one end, and after our cattle had finished eating would bring them in and put them within the circle.
There was but very little wood up the Platte River, and we had to use buffalo chips to cook with, which was a substitute for wood. After supper we would gather in groups and sing the songs of Zion. Sometimes we would have music and dancing and enjoyed ourselves the best we could. We always laid by on Sundays to rest our cattle and to hold meetings. Our brethren would preach to us on those things which were for our best good. Although not knowing where we were going, yet we felt well and happy, always in hopes that we would find a good country, settle down and live in peace, willing to leave our homes and the comforts of life and get away from the iron hand of our persecturs [persecutors] and go to a country where we could worship God according to the dictates of our own conscience. We traveled this way for several weeks by the side of the Platte River, through a level flat country. There was plenty of grass for our cattle and our cows gave us plenty of milk. The way we got our butter was by putting the morning's milk into the churn and after traveling all day we would find little lumps of butter in the churn. One day while we were traveling we saw a horse at some distance from the train. Three or four of our brethren got on horseback and went after it. The horse had become wild. After a long chase Brother Taylor finally captured it and brought it to the camp. It was a fine American horse and very fat. The horse had got away from some trapper or trader and was lost. It was a good horse and afterwards became very gentle.
We were now getting into the buffalo country. We felt that we wanted a little fresh meat. Three or four of our brethren were appointed to go and kill some buffaloes. They went a few miles over the hill until they found some, killed two or three and sent to the train for a wagon to bring them in. We stopped the train, unloaded a wagon and brought them in. They were then divided among the companies according to their families, which gave us meat for several days. The buffalo beef is not so good as tame beef, being hard and tough. We were now fairly into the buffalo country. There were tens of thousands of them, the hills perfectly black with them.
We had gone into camp one evening very close to the river, and had all retired for the night except the guard which we always placed around the camp. A noise was heard from the other side of the river, like distant thunder. We all got up, not knowing what it was. We soon heard a splashing in the water. We then knew what it was. It was a large herd of buffalo crossing the river. We were frightened as they were opposite our camp. We were afraid they would run over our camp and stampede our cattle, which would have caused us a good deal of trouble and taken us sometime to find them. We all got down by the side of the river and shouted to try to turn them. They turned a little on one side of our camp and passed by without doing us any harm. The buffaloes travel in this way from one place to another in very large droves and nothing can impede their progress. After our fright we all went to bed.
Up to this time we had seen but very few Indians. As we were traveling along one day we saw a great many Indians coming out of the hills towards us, some on horseback and some on foot. They were all armed with bows and arrows. We did not know whether they were for peace or war. We called our train to a halt, got our wagons in the best position we could, loaded our guns, and prepared for the worst. By this time they had come up. They were a fierce set of looking men. They rode right up to our wagons and talked as though they wanted something to eat. We had no one among us who could interpret. They seemed very independent. There were several hundred of them with some squaws. We did not think they were a war party as they had some squaws with them. We gave them something to eat. They wanted to look into our wagons, I suppose to satisfy their curiosity. We had one cannon with us. We were ordered to put a blank cartridge in and fire it off, which we did. They seemed very much surprised and frightened at the report of the cannon. I suppose they had never seen anything of the kind before. They were dressed very fine in their way in buckskin and moccasins, all beaded over in very fine style. After we had given them something to eat and traded with them and told them we were going a long way out of their country, they began to feel better and made signs that they would dance a little for us. They formed into a circle and commenced dancing, the young men and squaws performing. They dance[d] for us about half an hour and went away seemingly well pleased. We were well pleased too that things had turned out as they did. We had not heard much from other companies. Those that were ahead of us kept out of our way, and those that were behind did not catch up with us. We traveled along much better in smaller companies. We would have to stop sometimes to set a fire or mend a wagon. The roads were good until we came to the sand hills and then it was very heavy going for about thirty miles. It was very hard upon our horses and cattle rolling through the heavy sand, but we got through without much loss.
We were now drawing near to Ft. Laramie. We had seen Laramie Peak in the distance for about two weeks. When it was over 100 miles away it looked so near that we expected to reach it many days before did. The atmosphere was so clear that we could see a long way in the distance. Every large object seemed to be very close, but it would take us days to get to it. It was so with Laramie Peak.
We had been traveling up the North Fork of the Platte as far as Laramie. We now had to cross over on the south side and leave it. The river was low and we could ford it. There were quite a number of Indians around Ft. Laramie, but they did not trouble us much, although we had to keep a good look out or they would have stolen everything we had. While coming up the Platte we met two of our brethren who had received their discharge from the Battalion and had traveled all the way from California and were going to Winter Quarters to their families. They were traveling alone, having two Indian ponies. The way they were evading the Indians at night was by traveling till dark and pretending to camp, after dark they would leave that place go half a mile from the road, then would lie down and sleep till morning. They told us they were watched by the Indians and that is the way they evaded them. One of them was Jonathan Pugmire who lived a neighbor to me for many years after we reached Salt Lake. His father was in our company. He expected his father would bring his family along, but they did not come and he had to go to Winter Quarters to get them, and they came along the next season.
We had now left the flat country at the Platte River and had to travel through the Black Hills one hundred miles. It was a very hilly country, but the roads were good. We had by this time got used to traveling, and our horses and cattle were in pretty good condition. Our loads were getting a little lighter and we seemed to travel with more ease. We would average about one hundred miles a week. We had left the buffalo country where we could get plenty of game in the Black Hills, such as deer and elk, and some smaller game. Brother [Joseph] Harker was a good shot. He would leave his wagon for his wife to drive and take his rifle and kill a deer, which always came in very good. He would divide it among his friends as far as it would go.
Up to this time we had heard nothing from the Pioneers. We were traveling on their trail. They measured the distance as they went along by a wagon wheel. Every mile they would set up some kind of a mark. Sometimes they would leave a little note with the day of the month. While we were crossing the Black Hills we met Ezra T. Benson and another brother who had been sent back by the Pioneers to meet the companies. They told us they had found the place in the valley of the Great Salt Lake. This was about the last of August. We were then over 400 miles from the valley. This news filled our hearts with joy and seemed to put fresh life into us. We asked them a great many questions about the country. We also called a meeting for them to talk and tell us all about the country. They tried to tell us something about it, but I suppose they did not know much about it themselves. They thought it was a good country and gave us all the encouragement they could, but I learned afterwards that they did not find anything but a dry, barren and parched up desert, a few naked Indians and armies of large black crickets that had eaten up everything that had been green, but we were very well satisfied with the report they had brought. We traveled on being pleased to see and hear from our brethren who had been to the valley, and had seen the place of our destination.
We came to the upper crossing of the Platte. The river takes a circuit between Laramie and the upper crossing. We had to cross an alkaline desert, about forty miles, to get to Independence Rock on the Sweetwater. When we got to the Sweetwater quite a number of our cattle died from the effects of drinking alkali water, as there was no other for them. We were not aware it would be so injurious to them or we could have prevented them drinking. Millions of tons of good salaratus could have been taken from these alkali beds. The cattle would swell up and die in a little while. A great many were sick, but recovered after we had given them something that would operate against the poison. It crippled us in our teams. We had to make it up by yoking up our cows. I was very fortunate in saving my team.
The first night we arrived at Independence Rock, my wife was blessed with a fine boy. We stopped over the next day on account of so many of our cattle being sick and dying. It was also very lucky for my wife as she needed a days rest. We were now at the foot of the Rocky Mountains. We had about 100 miles up hill to get to the summit of the mountains or the South Pass. My wife got along very comfortably and in about three weeks was able to go out.
On the ninth day of September when within about thirteen miles of the South Pass, on a very cold, stormy day, we met President Young and the Pioneers going back to Winter Quarters. We were very much pleased to see the President after an absence of some five months, and at finding him and his company all well. We stopped over all that day as we could not travel for the storm. We were then in a high altitude, 10,000 or 12,000 feet above sea level. We thought if winter had set in at that early period we should never reach the valley. There was six or eight inches of snow on the ground, our cattle could not get anything to eat all that day and they were all drawn up with cold. We could not get out of our wagons to make a fire or cook anything, and everything looked very gloomy. President Young told us we would not have a dozen days like that in the valley all through the winter, and his words proved true. President Young and company remained with us that night. The next morning the sun shone brightly. We bade the Pioneers good-bye, they traveling east and we west. It was not long before the snow was gone. When we came to some grass we stopped to let our cattle graze. We traveled thirteen miles that day, having journeyed over a very rough and rocky road, mostly up hill, camping at the Pacific Springs. We were now on the summit of the Rocky Mountains. The water instead of running east into the Mississippi River ran west into the Colorado.
It was now getting towards the middle of September and we had over 250 miles to go. We wanted to get to the valley by the first of October. As we were now going down hill we could travel faster. We camped next night on the Big Sandy, about twenty miles from the summit. There was very little water in it. In three or four days we reached the Green River which is the main branch of the great Colorado. We laid over one day to rest our cattle. There were a great many wild currants there, mostly black. We gathered a great many as we though[t] they would be very good for stewing and making pies. I took some of them to the valley, planted them and raised a great many bushes. It was the first fruit we raised in the valley, although it was very inferior, it was the best and only fruit we had for sometime.
Green River is a deep rapid river in the spring of the year when the snow comes out of the mountains, but in the fall of the year it is low so that it can be forded. We all got across the river safely and made our way for Ft. Bridger, about fifty miles. Ft. Bridger was owned by an old trader by the name of [Jim] Bridger. He had been there many years. It is said that he was an outlaw and fled from justice. Bridger consisted of a few log cabins and a stockade built around. Mr. Bridger told the Pioneers that it was folly for them to think of settling down in Salt Lake Valley as they could not raise anything. He said there were frosts there every night in the year. He told them he would give a thousand dollars for the first bushel of corn they could raise. He had a squaw for his wife. There were a number of Indians. That was the central point for trade for miles around. He would buy up their robes and buckskins and send them to St. Louis, and would pay them in trinkets such as beads and butcher knives, and such things as the Indian took a fancy to. He made enormous profit by cheating the Indians and no doubt became very wealthy. Ft. Bridger is 116 miles from Salt Lake.
Our company pushed on and came to Bear River. We left Bear River and got into Echo Canyon. There was another birth. A boy was born to Sister Harker. We traveled down the canyon twenty miles and came to the Weber River, went down the river a few miles, crossed over the hills and came on to east Canyon Creek. We were now at the foot of the Big Mountain which was very steep towards the summit. We had to double teams to get up to the top of this mountain. We then had the first sight of the valley, which caused feelings of joy to think we could see the place of our destination. We got down the mountain and camped between the Big and Little Mountains. The next morning we crossed the Little Mountain and went down Emigration canyon which opened out into the valley. This was on the second day of October. In coming down the canyon one of the wheels on my wagon broke down and I was obliged to stop. I waited there two days for them to send a wheel so that I could come in. Finally a wheel came along. I put it on to the axel and we rolled into the valley.