Transcript for Henry John, Life of Thomas John and Descendants
We were met at Florence by some of the Church Emigration Agents. A very large camp was formed 2 or 3 miles west of the Missouri River. It was called McAlister's Camp. Small canvas tents were furnished the Saints. Twelve persons were to lodge in each tent. Following are the names of those that were to occupy our tent: My father, my mother, William, Charles, Ann, James, Levi, Henry, Letitia and Mary Jane John (my brothers and sisters), Danny Elved Jones and wife and their son Dan, and their daughter Ellen, both grown to maturity, making a total of 14 souls.
My father was put in charge of the tent. Brother Jones became very jealous and would not help with any of the camp duties while crossing the plains. He also tried very hard to persuade his son Dan not to help, but Dan was a fine young man and would always assist in rearing the tent at night and procuring wood and water for camp.
We camped at Florence 6 weeks waiting for the Church teams to come from the valley to take us to "Zion". However, the heavy winter followed by high waters had delayed the trains. They had to build bridges to cross the rivers where bridges had been washed away by the high spring floods.
There were abundant wild fruits such as chokecherries, wild grapes, gooseberries, etc. The Saints would father large quantities of them and stew them. They also made pies. We were allowed a weekly ration of flour, salt, bacon, etc.
We had some severe electric storms while we were camped at Florence. I remember a circumstance where a lot of us boys had gone north over a hill about a mile to gather gooseberries. We had not been gathering fruit long when we observed heavy black clouds rising in the west. Not knowing the nature of the country we continued to gather fruit until we felt large drops of rain falling on us. Then we sought shelter under some large trees that were near. It continued raining heavier and faster until the waters began coming down through the foliage of the trees. We then started for camp. When we got to the summit of the hill near enough to see camp, it was a pitiable sight. Nearly every tent in the camp had been blown down save a very few. These were supported by men standing at the posts and exerting all their strength against the storm. Most of the men in camp had gone to Florence or to Omaha to spend the day.
Some of the people who were in Florence were struck by lightening and nearly lost their lives. Brother Dan Jones, our tentmate, was taking shelter by the side of a house near some other men when he was struck lifeless to the ground. After a great deal of rubbing and working by the men, he regained consciousness. Brother John L. Young (a son of Pres. Brigham Young) was knocked out of his carriage, and I heard that one man (not a Mormon) was killed. We were told these storms were of frequent occurrence.
After waiting 5 to 6 weeks the Emigrant trains began to arrive from the valley and the Saints began to move toward to the west again. Little by little the big camp was broken up, and my father and family were among the last to be called to leave the camp.
For the benefit of future generations, I will here explain how Church Emigration trains were raised and organized. Early in the spring Bishops would call what was then called business meetings and would ask the people how much they could do or furnish. One would promise a wagon, another an ox or a yoke of cattle, another so much flour. This was continued until a large train was raised. The train that I crossed the plains in was made up of 60 wagons with 4 persons and a yoke of oxen on each wagon. Someone was put in charge and called a captain. A captain was also placed to look after each 10 wagons. In this way the train was divided into divisions, each division would take turn leading for one day. A well trained train would form a perfect circle. The first 10 teams would pull into camp. All would follow each other on the same side. The second 10 would pull in from a different point and meet the first 10 forming the beginning of a circle. The tongue of the wagon would always be on the inside of the circle or carol as it was called. The third 10 would follow after the first and in this way a good carol was formed. The carol answered several purposes: to hold the cattle in the mornings, to yoke up, as a fort against hostile Indians, and a place where prayers were offered and meetings held.
Our train had been raised from the wards of the Saints located north of Salt Lake City, principally from Cache Valley. The Saints were allowed labor tithing for the use of their oxen or wagons, and the teamsters volunteered. If enough did not volunteer, they were called, and they were also allowed "labor tithing" for their services.
Brother Henry Miller, from Farmington, Davis County, was placed as captain of our train. He may have had some noble traits of character, but I have always thought that he was very inhumane in many respects as I will show. When we came to Green River, its water was very clear and cold as though it was flowing from a snowdrift. Word was given out that no one was allowed to ride. The river had a rocky bottom and the waters run with a rapid current. The captain stood a few rods up on the bank of the river so that he could have a good view of the teams as they crossed. An old man that had been sick for some time and was badly worn down climbed into a mess box that was bolted onto the hind end of a wagon. The wagon was well out in the river when the captain saw him. Captain Miller ran down to the ford and jumped in, catching up with the wagon about the middle of the river. He pulled the old man off the mess box into the cold water, submerging him nearly all over in the ice-cold water. I believe that the hardships that the Saints endured were the cause of so many deaths in H. W. Miller's train. We find the following account in Church Chronology by Andrew Jenson, page 68: "Friday, October 17 Capt. Henry W. Miller's church train (fifth) which had left Florence August 8 with 60 wagons and about 665 (?) immigrants arrived in Salt Lake City. The company had suffered considerably from sickness and about 28 persons died on the journey."
I shall relate another case of cruelty. We were camped at a place where there were some mud springs. In one of the tents was an old man by the name of ____Colt and a very disagreeable and overbearing woman. It was said by some of those who belonged to the same tent that the woman was very abusive. She mistreated Brother Colt shamefully before he made any response. When he could endure it no longer, he retaliated with his foot. She went to Captain Miller and accused Brother Colt of kicking her. The captain, without any investigation, told one of the teamsters, Timothy Parkinson, to duck that old man in one of the mud springs nearby. The teamster obeyed, and the old man was plunged in the mudholeuntil he was covered with mud from head to foot. Brother Colt made no remonstrance but walked to his tent and changed his clothing. He said nothing about it until we came to Salt Lake City. Then he went to Brigham Young's office and entered a complaint. President Young sent for Captain Miller to come to his office and asked him if it was true what Brother Colt said. The captain tried to justify himself, but after hearing both sides, President Young told the captain that he could choose one of two things, pay Brother Colt $300 or stand a lawsuit. The captain chose to pay the money. The following spring Brother Miller offered his services to go back to Florence and take charge of another immigrant train, but President Young told him that he was excused from going after any more immigrants.
I think it was some time in August 1865, that our few goods were loaded into the wagon that carried them across the plains. There were assigned 18 persons to each wagon (a tent and a half or three tents to two wagons). Among those that were assigned to our wagon (I take the liberty to call it "our" wagon because it hauled our goods) was an old lady and her daughter. The old lady was probably 75 years old and her daughter perhaps 40 or 45. The old lady (I do not remember her name) insisted on having about ½ of the wagon for herself and her daughter. She finally succeeded in utilizing the hind part of the wagon. She could not walk much herself and claimed she should have her daughter with her to take care of her. I think the old sister was right, but there should have been provisions made beside crowding all the rights from others.
My father was put in charge of our wagon in seeing that the tent was taken down, rolled up and lashed onto the side of the wagon every morning in good time. He also had to see that the cooling utensils were properly packed in the mess box. My father would always see that the old sister was cared for with food.
Just before starting out on the plains, my brothers William and Charles (ages 21 and 19 respectively) hired out to drive church teams across the plains. Captain ___Dame was in charge. I do not know whether they received any wages or not outside of their board and passage. If they did, it was very small. They were new hands at driving teams.
I have heard them say that at first it was very awkward. However, they soon learned to yoke up the oxen and drive, and enjoyed the work. They had a good captain and they soon learned to love him. They thought Captain Dame an exceptionally good man.
After our goods were loaded up, we were told that there would be no room for any to ride. The front part of our wagon was loaded to the bows, and all would have to walk. All that is except the old sister who persisted in having her little room in the hind part of our wagon. All sympathized with her and let her have her way. I do not remember ever seeing her out of the wagon unless it was on Sundays when the train did not travel, but would hold religious services until we came to the little mountain near Salt Lake Valley.
Next morning the Prairie Train was loaded up, the oxen were brought in off the prairie and yoked up and hitched to the wagons, the train pulled out and was soon headed West.
During the day we passed by an overland or mail station. That is the place where I first saw an Indian. I remember that I was very much afraid of him. He was dressed in the Indian costume. His hair was done up in long braids, with long strong feathers standing up around his head. His face was painted red, and had many brass bands or bracelets on his wrists. He had on buckskin pants with a long buckskin fringe all the way down the outside of the legs. He had a blanket of very bright colors over his shoulders. In his hand he had a large wooden bow covered over wood (I was told). The string of his bow was made of sinew. He had a large quiver of arrows with metallic heads. He had buckskin moccasins (Indian shoes) on his feet and looked very dangerous to me.
That afternoon we camped on the west side of a beautiful stream of water called the Elkhorn River. We camped at that place two or three days for the purpose of arranging the train in proper order and doing other necessary business before starting on the long journey across the plains. There were fish in abundance in the river. Some spent their time while we camped there in fishing while others enjoyed themselves under the natural bowers of wild grapes. I will say here that at that place I saw the most wild grapes that I ever saw in my life. The vines climbed up the trees that stood on the banks of the river and twined over the branches and formed beautiful bowers. The fruit hung in its thousands of clusters making grand sights.
After all the preparatory arrangements for the journey were made we again moved out of camp in order. It was a grand sight to behold. About 1000 people were on the move, many in lead of the train while many followed behind.
After leaving the Elkhorn River, we were soon out from civilization and on the great American western prairies. At this time they were only inhabited by Indians and wild animals. Nature in all its beauty and splendor was uncontaminated by man. The wild grasses waved in the breeze. No sign of white man's ax was seen in the forest and woods. The wild flowers bent and nodded in the breeze and dropped their petals and prepared seeds for the next year's crop. The morning dove's plaintive song was heard in the woods. The wolf, fox and beaver were undisturbed save now and again a band of trappers would chance along. The little prairie dogs darted from burrow to burrow and would utter their sharp shrill bark as we passed their towns.
The wild buffalo were seen by the hundreds on the distant hills. However, one was all that was brought into our camp in crossing the plains. The elk, the deer and the antelope were numerous and valued for the choicest venison. But the time was at hand when the white man would exterminate them and change the face of nature. The buffalo were swept off by the hundreds and thousands. They were slain for their hides and tallow. Their carcasses were left on the prairies to waste. Their hides were dressed and made into beautiful robes, sometimes lap robes, and other things. The natives used them loose over their bodies in place of coats with the fur side in. They were very warm. White men used them for bed covers, which were highly prized. The rich often used them as rugs on parlor floors, but that luxury was soon to be a thing of the past.
The horse and the cow were soon to take the place of the buffalo. Sheep were to replace the elk, deer and antelope. Domestic fowl claimed the place of the wild turkey; grouse and little prairie dogs were given wheat saturated with poison in order to move them out of the way so fields of grain could be raised. Wild plums with bending branches of wild fruit were to be rooted up and the more luscious fruits - peaches, pears, apples and others - were to take their place. The Indian wigwams were to be moved; white man's cottages and beautiful residences were to take their places.
The red man had to move and seek a home elsewhere. He had already been pushed from the Atlantic states westward across the great valley of the Mississippi, thence across the Missouri and soon all his lands would be taken from him. The U. S. Government was now beginning to make provisions for him. Certain tracts of land called reservations would be his new home. His hunting grounds would soon all be claimed and the game all extinct. School houses were to be built on the reservations. Each Indian would receive certain rations of flour, sugar and other groceries along with a certain number of blankets, cheap jewelry, beads, etc. It is now the year 1917 and when I look back over the past 55 years, it seems to me as a dream.
We were soon out on the plains, traveling up the Platte Valley, seldom seeing a house or any people. We had not traveled many days when one of the teamsters told my father that out on the plains in the Buffalo country we would pass some "Trading Posts".
As my father had had the misfortune of loosing all of his bed clothing in traveling on the train, he might be able to save up a couple hundred pounds of flour and trade it off for buffalo robes at those trading posts. My father thanked him for the information and had his family be as saving as possible so as not to waste a crumb of bread. We had not traveled many weeks before we had saved up 200 pounds of flour out of our rations. We were thinking how we would appreciate our robes those cold nights, for it was now getting in September. However, we were to experience a sad disappointment.
I think it was the morning we were to pass one of these trading posts that the teamster who drove our team went to the captain and told him that my father intended trading some flour for buffalo robes. The captain, who had a very sonorous voice, came to my father as if he had done some very heinous crime. In a very loud voice repeated to my father what had been told him and said "You shall not have another pound of flour till you eat up the flour you have." My father tried to explain how he had saved up the flour by the strictest frugality. We had even shorted ourselves in order to get these robes that we so much needed, having lost all on the train. My father soon found that instead of touching a sympathetic chord, the captain flew into a rage and began abusing him, telling him how the Saints in the valleys had sacrificed in order to raise the flour that had been sent to feed the emigrants. Those Saints would apostatize. I do not know but that my father thought himself that he had done wrong in thinking about those robes. I shall always believe that Captain Henry W. Miller appropriated the flour that belonged to my father for himself. This I do know: that Captain Miller rode in a new white top buggy that was always empty back of the group till we came to the trading post. He traded flour at the trading post for buffalo robes and his buggy was then on was filled with robes.
When we came near Salt Lake City, we were met by one of the Church immigration agents. Our train laid over for a few days and an account was taken of all the people. My father was charged between $300 and $400. He was charged with full rations the full time as he did not report what the captain had done with the flour that was held back. My father paid his debt as fast as he could until every dollar was paid with 10% interest after the first year.
When we were crossing the South Pass, the weather was very cold. When we opened the front of our tent one morning, we found that it had snowed 3-4” during the night and the wind was blowing very cold. We were camped on the open prairie and there was nothing to make a fire but some small green sagebrush. It was a dry camp. All the water we had was what we had carried with us. The people made haste and packed up their beds, and rolled up the tents. The cattle were brought into camp and hitched up. The train rolled out. The next night we had a better camping place with better pasture for the cattle, wood and water, all of which was very much appreciated.
We came to the foot of the Little Mountain not far from Salt Lake City. It was late in the afternoon. The teams were tired and the load in our wagon was very heavy. Our teamster, John Wood, had 3 of his oxen die. He had only 5 left, but one of the other teamsters loaned him one of his oxen making 3 yokes of oxen. However, the load was so heavy that the team could not pull the wagon up the hill. Brother Wood asked the old lady in the wagon if she would come out but she refused. After several attempts to get up the hill, he became angry and declared he would drive off the grade and tip the wagon over if she did not come out. She would not get out. The teamster began to carry out his thread. The wagon was on the verge of tipping over when the old lady began to scream and soon came out. Some of the men lifted on the wheels, and some shoved behind. With a united effort we got to the top of the hill and in camp for another night. The Saints sat up quite late singing songs and talking of the good times we had had in our meetings and dances on the journey. The spoke of their prospective homes in the valleys, which many have lived to see and enjoy. However many of those that were of mature years at that time have passed to the beyond. Many that I have been able to keep track of are prosperous and well to do financially and have held on to the “Iron Rod”. They are good Latter-day Saints and have beautiful homes and farms in the valleys of the mountains.
On the 17th of October we arrived in Salt Lake City. We camped on immigration square, from which place the train scattered, each team or group of teams pulling out towards their own homes.