Transcript for Henry W. Nichols autobiography, 1921 July, 21-26
There was lots of Indians camping around. The first I ever saw. When I had been there three weeks word was sent me for Florence that the cattle had arrived and would be getting ready to start, so I had to leave my job. I received my pay and gave the most of it to the old gent, Mr. [Joseph Barnard] Sewell, to get a few sacks of flour and cornmeal.
I had to help break in cattle. It was a trying and a dangerous job. In two days we were ready to make a start. The first day we only traveled about one mile, to get used to camping and yoking up the cattle. The second day about five miles. I had made good progress with my yoke of cattle, and was doing well. The old Gent was doing the same. Young Joe [Joseph Barney] Sewell was about 17 years of age at this time and had joined a merchandise train which was getting ready to leave, but changed his mind and made his way to our camp. On the third day I had got nicely yoked up, with the word given to start, when the old Gent say, “Joe is with us now. Suppose you let him drive now, and you keep around and see everything is alright.” I hated to lose my job. After breaking in the cattle I was getting interested. In guiding the cattle the word Gee means turn to the right and Ho ah or OR means turn to the left. The starting got up. The train of about forty wagons was moving out. Now young Joe Sewell whip in hand, with all the dignity of a bull driver, shouts to the cattle Gee, Gee, and before I could rush around to stop them the forewheel of the wagon cruched in. The old Gent set up a crying like a baby and said to me, “See what you have done for me.” I felt mad, and said, “Why in h—l did you take the job out of my hands. and see what you have done.” By this time the train was leaving us. Job Pingree, the Captain, came to us. He was on horse back, and said, “I am very glad it happened now. If it had been further on the road you would have been in a worse fix. Now it is only six miles to Omaha, and you can get it fixed up and join the next train that comes along.”
I remember a good natured fellow came up to us and said, “Joe, I feel bad to leave you in this fix. Here’s five dollars which may help you a little.”
When we were left alone, I says to the old Gent, “It’s no use looking at it. We got to get to Omaha as quick as possible.” Every spoke was smashed. Only the hub and rim was sound. The Old Fellow put the hub on his shoulder and I took the rim, too heavy to carry had to be trundled. It was quite a job. I could bowl it fairly well like a boy with a hoop by keeping it going. It was a tough job for the journey was what they call a rolling prarie – up hil and down hill most of the way. The old Fellow and Joe tried to take in hand to help me but it was disgusting to see what a mess they made of it. It would run a few feet and wabble. They did not seem to get the notion of keeping it going. We finally got to Omaha. As I have previously mentioned, there was only one wheelright and blacksmith in the place. They took it in hand and in a few hours got it fixed. It was getting towards sundown. We had to get a move on us to get back before dark. The three of us tried to carry the wheel, but could not manage it, so I had to bowl the thing all the way back. We found the folks as we had left them all alone and pleased to see us, and I’ll say for once in my life, the old Fellow had a good word for me, in telling them they could not of got back, had I not handled the wheel.
The following day two men came along with their wagons and stopped to have a chat. One old gentleman by the name of Kelsay, the other named Runke. Their home was in Utah, and both returning after some business in the States. They agreed to stay with us until a train for Salt Lake would come along. The next day a train of 35 wagons came along. The Captain’s name was [Elias] Asper. He was requested to take charge at Florence because he was a western farmer, and not one in the whole train had ever crossed the plains before.
Captain Asper was pleased to meet them and begged them to join in to act as guides, also our outfit seeing that we were a good looking set. They were all a good natured set. If they had any quarrels it was inside their own families which was their own affair not the companies at large.
The company was well organized, a list of names taken down to go on duty at night to guard the cattle and keep a good lookout for Indians, for at the sight of an Indian the whole of the herd would stampede. The first Indians we met on the road. We did not know on account of the dust if they were Indians or a train. As they came nearer I noticed the oxen getting restless. Whether they scented them or not I didn’t know, but when they came close to us everyone had to hold on the cattle, until they got used to seeing them, which was pretty often.
When we had traveled a few days we came to Wood River about one hundred miles from Omaha. At this place was a store with general goods. Its owners name was Johnson. Where his customers came from was a mystery to me for after leaving Omaha we never saw one house and no house—only this store—at Wood River. This was a good camping place.
While we were camping here Joseph Wintle, Emily’s cousin, came in a light Trap from the camp that we had to drop out of when our wheel got smashed. He had a wheel that got smashed up the same as ours was. Mr. Wintle had orders to take it to Mr. Johnson and for him to get fixed as quick as possible as the whole train would be delayed until it got back. In some way Mr. Johnson must have been interested in the Mormon outfits. Adjoining his store was a small blacksmith shop. He had no wheelright and was in a fix. He went around our camp to find someone that could fix it. Someone pointed to me out as a carpenter. He came to me and explained the fix he was in and begged of me to do it. I told him I was not used to that kind of work. He said, “I know you can do it and I’ll pay you well.” I said, “how about putting on the tire?” He said, “We have a handy man with us, also handy at blacksmith work. If you do the wood work he will put on the tire.” He says, “Go ahead. We have plenty of spokes, and probably all the tools you need.” I started in and go along better than I expected, and when I got through Johnson pronounced it a good job and gave me a five dollar gold piece which was very acceptable at that time. Mr. Jos. Wintle hurried back with the wheel. I learned afterwards when they went to put the wheel on the wagon that I had dished the wheel the wrong way. The Captain, Job Pingree, said, “That’s a devil of a go, and put it on anyway and risk it.” It looked odd, but when they go to Salt Lake City it was just as sound as the day it was fixed.
One thing I forgot to mention. The second day when we started while resting at noon a thunder shower came up. It was hardly noticed, but the lightning struck two oxen and killed them on the spot. Another ox got his neck broken in a clump of brush. This was a starter but the only loss in cattle the rest of the journey.
After we left Wood River it was a level country. For four hundred miles we followed the Platte River. We had to cross it several times in shallow places. The Indians bothered us most of this stretch. They would follow us for miles until we spread a blanket and made up a collection and gave them coffee, sugar, tobacco, cornmeal, etc. It was very trying until we reached the Black Hills where we left them.
At this time the Stage Coaches were running, but I only saw them once. They took a shorter route.
About this time a man by the name of John Fawkes had a yoke of cattle and a yoke of cows. His wife was very sick. He had no children and asked me if I would drive them so he would have more time to attend his wife. Now young Joe could drive as the cattle by this time was easy to manage. I accepted the job and kept with him until we reached Salt Lake. This helped us considerable for Falkes had more flour and meal than he needed and by the looks of things many in the train was getting short of supplies and it looked so in our outfit. With a couple of sacks I earned from Fawkes along with some bacon our folks got on fairly well.
I am sorry to record it – the old man at this time was getting more devilish, bulldozing everybody and whipping the boys and threatning to whip Emily, my wife. Every day Emily would come to Fawkes wagon at noon and take lunch with us and tell us how she was treated by the old fellow. Mr. Fawkes saw how aggitated I was about it and asked me not to notice it. After a few days her complaint was intense. He not only threatened to give her a thrashing and that her puny husband could wipe it off. I cannot describe my feelings this noon. While he was sitting on the wagon tongue of the wagon I went to him and said, “I don’t care a d—m what you say about me, but I want you to quit abusing my wife. She’s your daughter, but you have got to quit ill-using her, and as far as me being a puny coward –“ I grabbed him by the shoulder and said, “Just come on out in the open, and d—m you, I’ll show what a coward I am.” It was his turn to be a coward. All he would say, suiting the word to the action by standing on the tongue of the wagon, “I’ll pitch your things out of the wagon.” I said, “You can’t do it, and if I want to I can put them in Mr. Falkes wagon.” This was part of my agreement he would take my luggage in part pay. I am pleased to say this put an end to any further trouble on that score. Under the circumstances the Old Fellow could not put my things off the wagon. The Captain of the train would not allow it.
This reminds me of a case in mind. One old lady on some account got the devil in her and said she would commit suicide or drown herself. This was at noon time and all ready to make a start again. The Captain informed of this said, “We can’t go and leave her,” so all hands started in search of her. It took all the afternoon before she was found away in a hiding place. The whole afternoon was lost, and the road was good for travel and that was an object. The Captain was mad and said to her, “If you had been a man I would horsewhip you,” and said, “Don’t let this happen again.” This was very annoying as we lost several days when it rained.
Now about this time, I can tell one on myself. One night, being on guard toward morning, there was something dodging around the wagons. A man on guard with me said it is a woodcock. I was going to shoot at it. My mate said, “You will alarm the camp. Don’t shoot.” I picked up a club and chased it a considerable distance from the camp and killed it. The man on guard with me came running up to me and said, “It’s a skunk.” But it was too late. The mischief was done. In chasing it I noticed a smoky smell and thought it was some embers from a camp fire. The fact of the matter I was completely smothered. I had to change all of my clothes. My shoes – I had to through [throw] them away, for I kicked it in dispatching it. I could not afford to through my clothes away. I made a bundle of them, and put them in the river until we started out again. Although I changed all of my clothes, at breakfast Mrs. Falkes said, “Henry, do go away and take your mush with you.” I complied and went a distance from the camp and ate my breakfast alone. I felt quite sick. Mr. Falkes gave me a little whiskey and that helped me. One incident makes me laugh when I think of it was when we were getting ready to start out. I took the bundle of clothes from the river and lashed them under the wagon. The old Fellow knew nothing of this circumstance. When we had traveled a couple of miles the sun became warm. It affected the bundle, and the old Fellow said, “My God, where does that smell come from?” At night I would put my bundle in the river again and in the course of a few days they got to a normal condition again. I had to take several baths before I was properly sterilized.
After we left the Platte River, it was difficult to find a camping place where there was water – sometimes a long distance. We were helped some by Orson Pratt’s guide book which John Fawlkes happened to have, and lent it to the captain, but many of the creeks had dried up which were mentioned.
One day we had to camp and no water. The Captain said we will make a start in the morning early before breakfast. That night I was on guard with others. The cattle was restless for want of water. At about midnight I noticed one of the oxen acted queer – sniffing, snuffing, and pawing with his feet. He co[c]ked up his tail and galloped like the devil. I shall never forget it. The rest of the cattle followed suit, and the way they rushed off we were helpless. We called the Captain up. He was much concerrned for he had quite a number of young stock. He said, “Boys, they will keeep going until they find water. The only thing to do it to start at day break in the direction they took.” So at daybreak as many of the men as could go started off. When we traveled a few miles we saw a clump of small trees or brush in the distance. We made for it. It was a swamp and tall grass. All the cattle laying around filled up. We had no trouble in getting them rounded up and starting for the camp. The distance was ten or twelve miles. It was about noon when we got back and after a good meal we got started again. It would have been a terrible thing if there had been Indians in that location.
After this our journey was mostly through hills and often had to double teams up the hills.
Now I will mention some of my troubles. I have mentioned of John Fawkes having a yoke of cows. One was four years old. The other thirteen years old. They gave quite a lot of milk while we traveled along the Platte River where the feed was good, and it helped us to eat our mush, but the milk soon gave out and the cows got sore feet. The old one would lay down, and was no further use in the yoke. We fixed up a kind of harness for the others, and she got along in this the most of the journey. The old one got so worn out I had to lead it along and follow the train. Sometimes I would be two miles behind the train when they camped.
One night I was a mile behind. She laid down and would not stir. I used to carry a sack well filled with grass to help her on the road. I left the sack and the cow and started for camp to some bran mauh we usually gave her. I met Falkes coming with some. When I got to the place I had left her the sack was there, but the cow was gone. It was getting dark, but we hunted for half a mile. It got so dark we could not see anything, and for the first time I heard wolves howling. Fawkes, being deaf, did not hear them. I was wishing he could so he would hurry back. We finally gave it up and left for camp without the cow. We could pick out our way back by the light of the camp fires. The next morning I said to Fawkes, give me your pistol, and I’ll do my best to find the cow.” I hurried back. In a couple of hours I found her in a hollow where there was some grass, laying down chewing her cud, and she refused to budge. I said to myself, “I’ll give you a darn good liking [licking] before I leave you.” I had a club with me. I began to give her a good beating and to my surprise she jumped up and away she went in the direction I wanted and I kept her going. When I got on the way about three miles a man came along on horse back and said, “Where are you from?” I explained the cow had strayed away from camp and I had found her. He said, “You will never get that cow to your camp. If you can get her to my corral, which is a couple of miles on your way, I’ll give you ten dollars for it.” I got along fairly well until I was within ten rods of the corral. She laid down and would not budge. The man came out and said, “I can’t take that cow. It will die on my hands,” and said, “I’ll risk five dollars.” I was glad to take it, for he could have had it for nothing. This house was the only one since leaving Wood River. When I got rid of the cow it was getting late and a snow storm set in, and some hills to climb, and snow and sleet made the road muddy. The clay hung to my shoes. About 7 or 8 pounds accumulated on each foot. I took off my shoes to walk bare foot. I was in the same fix what with carrying the heavy shoes and slipping in the mud and clay.
I finally reached the bench land where I could see the camp fires in the distance. When I got to camp I was shaking from head to foot. I threw off my wet clothes and rolled myself in the blankets. Mrs. [Emily Elliot] Sewell said, “Harry, I would do something for you if I could. I have a little brandy and laudnum [laudanum] left. You take it.” Which I did and in the morning I was alright – feeling quite well. It was the brandy and laudnum that did set me right.
By this time I should judge we had traveled seven hundred miles and the rest of the journey was hills and valleys and the nights getting pretty cold. Sometimes one half inch of ice on the water.
I forgot to mention one night in camping on the bottoms there was clouds of mosquities. It was something dreadful. My wife said, “Let us get in the wagon, pull the canvas tight, and smoke your pipe,” which I did.
One night when picking up brush to start a fire (it was dark) a snake curled around my wrist. It gave me a jar. I managed to shake it off. It was a queer sensation – cold and clammy, but did not hurt me. We often saw snakes four or five feet long.
I only saw one skunk. Sometimes we passed a prairie dog town. It was amusing to see the little devils stand in front of their holes on the side of the banks and give a yelp and dart in their holes again. We saw no buffalos, but did see plenty of elk far off in the distance, but as soon as we came in sight they were off like lightning. There was plenty of rabbits, but had no time to go after them. There was two men in the camp had nothing else to do only to start out ahead of the camp with their guns for game. they only got a few rabbits and that depended on the location. Once they shot a wild hog. It was an ugly looking thing with curled teeth sticking out and covered with long bristles.
I don’t remember seeing any birds only on one occasion. While hunting for the cow I saw two very large white feathered birds. They were all of four feet high. They were feeding on dead animals. I thought when they saw me they would fly away. Not much. I, getting close to them, picked up a rock and threw at them, and instead of flying away, they clapped their wings and made quacking noises and rushed for me. I was glad to get away and leave them alone.
Sometimes we came to water – the ground covered with alkali six inches deep and the water impregnated with it. We hurried past as quick as we could for it would kill all of the animals if we had camped close to it.
Somewhere about this part of the country our attention was called to the fact there was a parting of the ways. One stream of water making for the East or the Platte that empties into the Missouri River, and the others to the rivers leading to the Pacific.
We often saw broken down wagons and tires laying around. Mr. Kelsey said if we could get the iron to Salt Lake it was worth fifty centy [cents] per pound, but the cattle getting tired out, no one seemed to take advantage of it.
The latter part of the journey was nothing but hills and valleys until we reached Green River. At the fording place the water was four feet deep and half way up to the wagon boxes. This was the worst crossing on the whole trip. It took four to six yoke of cattle to get across and climb the steep bank. I had a narrow escape. John Fawkes wanted me to take hold of the oxes tail and to shout to keep him going. If I had done this it would have been the last of me, but I held on to the side of the wagon like grim death. The current was so swift I was horozontal in the water. I did the shouting alright. We all got across alright. It took the whole day to do it. There was one wagon down the river someone had lost and a mail coach abandoned.
Now the rest of the journey seemed pretty easy till we reached Salt Lake City.
I had formed an idea the houses in Salt Lake would be log cabins, but to my surprise on entering the city, the adobe houses looked like bricks and some houses neatly painted. It made a good impression on me. We landed on the Camp grounds now occupied by the City and County Building. It was on a Sunday afternoon, the latter part of Sept. After traveling three months and one day we felt good that our journey had come to an end. Lots of folks came around to see us, but none that we were acquainted with.