Transcript for J[aques], J[ohn], "Some Reminiscences," Salt Lake Daily Herald, 8 December 1878, 1


SALT LAKE CITY, Dec. 7, 1878. Last week my letter started the handcart company from Florence, August 25th, (1856,) in charge of Captain Edward Martin, assisted by Daniel Tyler. The company was divided into six hundreds, each superintended by its respective captain. While the company was at Florence, F. D. Richards, Erastas Snow, and several other prominent men were on the camping ground, all but Erastas Snow on their way west, returning from missions, chiefly to Europe.

The company moved on the day named from Florence to Cutler's Park, two and a half miles and camped, staid there the next day and night, and left the next morning. While there, A. W. Babbitts dressed in corduroy pants, woolen overshirt, and felt hat, called as he was passing west. He seemed in high glee, his spirits being very elastic, almost mercurial. He had started with one carriage for Salt Lake, with the mail and a considerable amount of money. He was very confident that he should be in Salt Lake within fifteen days. He intended to push through vigorously and sleep on the wind, meaning an airfilled mattress.

One ten and tent of the company staid another night alone at Cutler's park, a birth having occurred in the tent in the morning of the 27th, shortly after midnight of the 26th. The next day, 28th, the ten struck their tent and followed. The company, coming up with it in camp at Elk Horn crossing, very late at night, and after the camp had gone to bed. The Elk Horn valley was remarked as one of the finest pieces of country on the whole journey west of the Missouri.

The two wagon companies under Captains Benjamin Hodgetts and John A. Hunt left Florence by September 1st, and Cutler's Park by September 2nd, and were purposely kept within available call of the handcart company during most of the journey. The statistics of the three companies, when fairly launched on the great plains have been given thus-Martin's handcart company, about 576 persons, 146 handcarts, seven wagons, including one carriage, six mules and horses, fifty cows and beef cattle, also one church wagon with freight; Hodgett's wagon company, 150 persons thirty-three wagons, eighty-four yoke of oxen, nineteen cows, and about 230 head of heifers and other loose cattle; Hunt's wagon company, 240 persons, fifty wagons, 297 oxen and cows, seven horses and mules, and four church wagons with freight. It will be understood that these figures, however correct when taken, were constantly subject to greater or less variation during the journey.

On leaving Florence the loads on the handcarts were greater than ever before, most carts having 100 pounds of flour on, besides ordinary baggage. The tents also were carried on the carts. The company was provisioned for sixty days, a daily ration of one pound of flour per head, with about half a pound for children, being the principal item.

On the 7th of September, west of Loup Fork, the company was overtaken by F. D. Richards, C. H. Wheelock, J. Van Cott, G. D. Grant, W. H. Kimball, Joseph A. Young, C. G. Webb, W. C. Dunbar, James McGaw, Dan Jones, J. D. T. McAllister, N. H. Felt and James Ferguson, who left Florence September 3d, passed Hunt's wagon company on the 6th, east of the Loup Fork, and Hodgetts' wagon company on the 7th, ten miles west of Martin's company, and arrived at Salt Lake city, October 4th, having left Dan Jones at Platte Bridge with his brother, September 23rd.

Crossing the hills on the way from the Loup Fork valley to the Platte valley, the handcart company had a dry march of two days. One on the 9th of September, in the afternoon the company came to a round pit or pond of water. Parched with thirst, the cattle rushed pell mall into the pond and stirred up the mud until the water was thick and black, before the people had supplied themselves for their own use. But it was all the water available, and so it was used for cooking purposes-making coffee, tea, bread, and porridge or hasty pudding, which when made was quite black, but was eaten and drunk nevertheless. At 7 p m, the camp started for Prairie creek, nine miles, reaching it between 11 and 12 o'clock, but very glad to get to clear running water, after having been without two days.

On September 11, eight or nine miles from Lone Tree and Wood river, the company passed the graves of two men and a child belonging to A. W. Babbitt's wagon train, who had been killed on the 25th of August by some Cheyenne Indians, who were on the war path that summer. Two of the teamsters escaped death, and Mrs. Wilson was taken prisoner. Most of the property plundered from the wagons was subsequently recovered by Captain Wharton and the United States troops at Fort Kearney. A mile or two east of the graves of the teamsters a paper was tacked on a board, on which the chief of the Omaha Indians disclaimed participation in the murders. Early in the journey from Florence the company met two or three hundred Omahas, who passed by quite peaceably.

On September 19th, two or three teams from Green river, going east were met, and the man informed the emigrants that Indians had killed A. W. Babbitt and burned his buggy thirty or forty miles west of Pawnee springs. On September 23d, about six miles east of Bluff creek, and about seventy yards to the left of the road, a little harness, two wheels and the springs of a burnt carriage or buggy, and a few other things were seen. These were supposed to be relics of A. W. Babbitt's outfit. The company brought the springs along; but what became of them ultimately I don't know who knows. Babbitt had left Kearney about the 2d of September, with Thomas Sutherland and a driver. Two miles farther on, Captain Hodgetts, Moses Cluff, and Nathan T. Porter were busy with a dead buffalo, which they had run out of a herd and killed for the handcart company, having previously killed one for their own wagon company. Some of the handcart people stayed to skin and quarter the buffalo, and bring it along on four handcarts. At night it was divided among the company, about one pound to each adult. This was the first buffalo beef the company obtained. Buffalo beef, the lean part of it, is good eating on the plains, but it is coarser than ox or cow beef.

The next day, September 24th, the company passed the place where it was supposed Thomas Margette [Margetts] and others were killed by Indians, there being a quantity of feathers strewn about, a blood-stained shirt, and a child's skull. The company camped at Duckweed creek that night, and after dark all the men were called out to form a line around the camp, as it was supposed that Indians were lurking around. About 11 o' clock the men were called in, a double guard was set for the night, and the rest of the men were seriously talked to for half an hour or so, but one of the company who was fond of preaching, on the necessity of vigilance in an Indian country. Then the men were dismissed to their tents, except the double guard. In the afternoon of the 25th, five Indians, some of the squaws, on ponies, rode past the company and near to it, carefully scrutinizing it, but they had nothing to say, and then they rode off towards the Platte. These were the first Cheyenne Indians the company had seen.

On the 3d of October, near Chimney Rock, a company of United States dragoons, under Major Hunter, with ten or twelve mule teams, from Fort Kearney for Fort Laramie, passed the company, and a boy named Aaron Giles, left the handcart company and went with the soldiers. On the 4th of October the company passed Scott's Bluffs. Parley P. Pratt's company of missionaries, going east from Salt Lake, passed the Bluffs about the same time but the two companies did not see each other.

The company arrived at Fort Laramie October 8th, and camped east of Laramie Fork, about a mile from the fort. Before reaching Laramie the company met a fine looking and finely-dressed friendly Indian chief on a fine American horse, and soon after two dragoons on horseback, who, that is, the dragoons, gave some sweetmeats to the children of the company and appeared immensely pleased to see the people. Laramie's Peak, in the distance, gave the first adequate idea of the Rocky Mountains-grand, gloomy and mysterious. On the 9th, many of the company went to the fort to sell watches or other things they could spare and buy provisions. The commandant kindly allowed them to buy from the military stores at reasonable prices-biscuit at 15 1/2 cents, bacon at 15 cents, rice at 17 cents per pound, and so on. Some brought a few things at the sutler's, but much higher prices ruled at his store.

I believe the company left Fort Laramie the next day. Thenceforth, until the close of the journey, although noteworthy events were on the increase, and some of them were indelibly impressed on the minds of the emigrants, yet they were so fully occupied in taking care of themselves that they had little time to spare to note details with exactness, and many notes that were made at the time were lost subsequently and cannot now be found. Up to this time the daily pound of flour ration had been regularly served out, but it was never enough to stay the stomachs of the emigrants, and the longer they were on the plains and in the mountains the hungrier they grew. Most persons who have crossed the plains with ox teams or handcarts know well enough the enormous appetite which that kind of life gives. It is an appetite that cannot be satisfied. At least such was the experience of the handcart people. You feel as if you could almost eat a rusty nail or gnaw a file. You are ten times as hungry as a hunter, yes as ten hunters, all the day long and every time you wake in the night, and so you continue to your journey's end, and for some time after. Eating is the grand passion of a pedestrian on the plains, an insatiable passion, for he never gets enough to eat. When the emigrants would arrive at Salt Lake and be invited into the houses of their friends, the newcomers would eat and eat and eat until they were literally and perfectly ashamed of themselves, and then retire form the table, hungry. I forget how long it would take an emigrant in those days to fill up and reduce his appetite to its normal condition, but it was a long time, a number of weeks and it was an expensive process. No such outrageous appetite comes to you in crossing the continent by rail, and very thankful you may be that it does not, for it is a serious infliction upon those who have it, as well as upon their hospitable friends.

Well, at the time when this great appetite was fairly roused up and had put on its strength and was still further strengthened and sharpened by the increasing coldness of the weather, the extra pinching time commenced. Soon after Fort Laramie was passed, it was deemed advisable to curtail the rations in order to make them hold out as long as possible. The pound of flour fell to three fourths of a pound, then to half a pound, and subsequently yet lower. Still the company toiled on through the Black Hills, where the feed grew scarcer for the cattle also. As the necessities of man and beast increased their daily food diminished, at the time when it was as the emigrants might have said, with Sir Walter Scott, "like a summer - dried fountain, when our wants were the sorest."

In the Black Hills the roads were harder, more rocky and more hilly and this told upon the handcarts, causing them to fail more rapidly, become ricketty, and need more frequent repairing. One man's handcart broke down on afternoon in the hills, and by some mischance the company all went on, leaving him behind, alone with his broken cart and his and his family's little stock of worldly goods thereon, including his rations, which he could not afford to leave, though he lost his knives and forks also some biscuits and butter and sugar which he had bought as extras at Laramie, and a few other things, he was drawing his little child in his cart, as he had drawn her most of the journey, and as he subsequently drew her to the last crossing of the Platte, but when his cart broke down he had to transfer her to somebody else's cart and sent her on with the company. So he remained behind with his cart, anxiously expecting somebody to turn back and help him, but no one came. Night drew on apace and still he was all alone, save and excepting the presence of a prowling wolf, which could be seen in the streak of light on the western horizon, a little outside of the ordinary rifle range. Happily, just as the darkness was settling down Captain Hodgett's wagon company was observed coming down the opposite hill, from the east, at the base of which it encamped, a quarter or half a mile distant from the benighted and lonely handcart, who eagerly went and told his tale of the misfortune to the wagon people, and they took him in for the night. Toward midnight two men with another cart from the handcart camp, seven miles off arrived in search of their missing companion. They also stayed with the wagon company that night, and next morning early the three handcarters started after their own company, coming up with the camp just as it was breaking up and the emigrants were getting ready to start for the day's march.

At Deer creek, on the 17th of October, owing to the growing weakness of emigrants and teams, the baggage, including bedding and cooking utensils, was reduced to ten pounds per head, children under 8 years five pounds. Good blankets and other bedding and clothing were burned, as they could not be carried further, though needed more than ever, for there was yet 400 miles of winter to go through. Again might the emigrants have said, with the Scotch poet, "Like a summer - dried fountain, when our wants were the sorest."

A detachment of soldiers were stationed at the bridge over the North Platte, to remain there until the emigration had passed, and then to withdraw to Fort Laramie to winter. On the 20th of October the company crossed the Platte, for the last time, at Red Buttes, about five miles above the bridge. It may have been the 19th, but I am inclined to think it was the 20th. That was a bitter cold day. Winter came on all at once, and that was the first day of it. The river was wide, the current strong, the water exceedingly cold and up to the wagon beds in the deepest parts, and the bed of the river was covered with cobble stones. Some of the men carried some of the women over on their backs or in their arms, but others of the women tied up their skirts and waded through, like heroines as they were, and as they had done through many other rivers and creeks. The company was barely over when snow, hail, and sleet began to fall, accompanied by a piercing north wind, and camp was made on this side of the river. Captain [John] Hunt's wagon company camped on the other side of the river, and Captain Hodgett's was on this side. That was a stinging night, and it told its tale on the oxen as well as the people. That snowstorm appears to have been a very extensive as well as severe one, reaching westward at least to the Wasatch range. It snowed heavily at Green river at that time, and the thermometer fell to zero there.

Here we are, only at the last crossing of the Platte, and yet I have occupied all the space that you will be willing to spare today.


J. J.


[also in Journal History of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, 30 Nov. 1856, 14-20]