Transcript for John Powell autobiography and journal, 1849 June-1901 April, 45-55

Brother Canute Peterson was in St. Louis with a company of Danish Saints. I agreed to go with his company up the river and cross the Plains with them. We chartered a boat to Florence at five dollars per head.

My company consisted of myself, my wife, Fanny, Mary, Fanny, Jessy, Thomas Gascoign, Mrs. Smith, her son, Joseph, and Jane White, nine in all.

We left St. Louis May 22nd, arrived at Florence June 1st. I paid $33.50 passage for my company. We landed our luggage and wagons. I put up my tent a little distance from the river, and made things as comfortable as I could, then went to the Church Store with a note I received from Brother J. H. Hart, calling for $150.00 in oxen.

The oxen had not arrived. It was clouding up for a storm. Bishop Cunningham had a quantity of flour on the ground. He wanted it housed before the storm. He asked several of the brethern to help to carry the flour into the store but all refused. He then asked me. I and the Bishop packed these hundred pound sacks of flour ’till he gave out. While I was packing the flour, these brethern who were all ready on the camp ground were hauling those by the river to camp and charging $1.00 each wagon.

After eating with the Bishop I returned to my tent. My little company had been left by themselves, because they had not a dollar to pay for hauling. I secured my wagon as well as I could to help it from being blowed in the river. The storm was upon us. Sister Smith, her boy, Joseph, and Jane White took to the wagon. I, with my family, went into the tent. The storm became so furious it blew down the tent. My wife and I had to hold onto it with all our strength to keep it from being blown into the river. It was thundering and lightning as I never saw before. The rain was running in torrents under us as we lied on the ground, keeping hold of the tent cover. I was listening between the claps trying to find or learn if the wagon had been blown into the river.

When it became light to my great joy I saw my wagon standing in the same place I left it the night before. Mrs. Smith and Jane White passed the night in great terror, but they were dry. The wagon cover resisted the rain, but I and family were drenched.

We got breakfast as soon as possible. The sun shone brightly. We put our bedding out to dry.

I then went to the camping ground.

Bishop Cunningham asked how it was my wagon was not with the company. I told him the reason. He said it was too bad to be left at the river by ourselves, but he would have my family fetched. He sent a man with a team, hitched onto my wagon and hauled it xxxxinto camp.

Brother James McGore arrived. He had charge of the outfitting arrangements. I presented my order to him. He told me that Brothers G. Grant, and William Kimball were buying oxen in Missouri and would not be there for weeks, so I went to Omaha and worked on a building for two weeks. I got twenty dollars for my work which was a great help. Staying at Florence waiting for oxen twenty-five days we consumed quite an amount of provisions which the twenty dollars enabled me to replace.

Brothers Grant and Kimball came to my tent in the night, called me by name, and told me, in the morning to go over a little hill west of the camp. I would find three yoke of oxen. They were mine. He would let me have them for the $150.00 because I had loaned that amount to the Church I was not to let anyone know the price I paid for them, seeing the oxen were $75.00 and $85.00 a yoke

The next morning bright and early I secured the oxen. Some of the brethern offered me $80.00 a yoke for my oxen.

I had no yokes or chains. I told Brother Kimball this. He told me to go to the stack of yokes and chains and take what I wanted.

The camp was organized by Brother James McGore consisting of forty-two wagons.

Brother Canute Peterson was appointed captain. I was appointed clerk of the camp.

After receiving counsel and voting to assist each other and making up our compliment of provisions we were ready to start.

We broke camp on Thursday, June 26th. The first day we made four miles. Such fun to see the awkward teamsters and contrary oxen. After getting a number of cows and oxen mixed we camped. Camp called to prayer. We prepared for rest being very tired.

Second day out was very hot. We lost by death through the heat and hard driving eight oxen. I saw my oxen had their tongues out and were panting and two bloating. I drove out of the train, let my oxen rest and feed and came into camp after dark, thereby saving my oxen.

Now many found they were too heavily loaded.

I dispensed with a number of things to lighten the load. Next morning we broke camp with lighter loads.

We arrived at the Elk Horn on July 1st.

Here we ferried over two wagons at the same time. I being Clerk, my wagon went over free.

We drove the cattle into the river. The current was so strong it took the cattle with it. I jumped into the river to head the cattle and soon found the water over my head. I had to swim with my ox whip in my mouth. The lash going with the current kept my head in that direction. After a good amount of labor we got all the cattle and wagons over safe.

July 8th, the Soup [Loop] Fork, and on July 16th, made Wood River. Here we were compelled to lay over on account of a Danish brother breaking his wagon axle-tree, and another breaking a wagon wheel.

I had some tools with me so I went to work and fixed the wheel and axle-tree. Wood River is a beautiful place. We gathered all the plums and strawberries we wanted. The captain called the Company to meeting. At the meeting, the captain said, “Brethern and sisters, we are about to enter the Indain [Indian] country. I wish every man to have his gun in readiness. Also the men not to undress but sleep with their clothes on and their guns under their pillows, so a moment’s warning they will be ready to defend the camp. I also wish all the women and children to keep close to the wagons as we travel.”

We arrived at the Platte River, July 18th.

Some of the brethern were very anxious to see the buffalo. President Canute Peterson told them if they will wait awhile they will see all the buffalo they would desire to see. In the course of the day two buffalo were discovered off grazing by themselves. Two brothers were determined to go and shoot them. Brother Peterson advised them to stay with the camp, but they would not listen to his advise [advice]. They armed themselves with rifles, knives, etc., and started. We watched them from the train. We saw them approach the buffalo, who, as soon as they perceived the brethern, raised their heads and walked slowly with their heads down towards the brethern. The brethren must have been frightened for they began to retreat. When the buffalo made for them, the brethern made for the train as fast as their legs would allow them to go. At the same time the buffalo were making for the brethern as fast as their legs would permit them. It was a very exciting race to the brethern at the train. Some were getting their rifles ready to go assist their brethern, but the buffaloes, perceiving the train, stopped suddenly and turned toward the hills. After a while the brethern came to the train all the worse for running.

We passed the North Bluff Fork, July 28th.


Celebration of the Twenty-Fourth
of July on the Plains




On the evening of the 23rd, it was agreed to lay over and celebrate the 24th in commemoration of the Pioneers entering Salt Lake Valley.

On the morning of the twenty-fourth, after getting the cattle drove to the river, the camp was called to order, prayer by the chaplain. Some hunters were appointed to go and kill some buffaloes for the camp. They immediatly started. I was appointed butcher, to cut up the meat and to divide the same to the families of the camp. Some brethern were appointed to clear a place for a dance. The sisters were busy gathering buffalo chips, some were washing, some were cooking, some had on their best clothes, all seemed very busy.

The hunters soon returned and reported they had killed eight buffalo. Some brethern yoked their oxen and went to haul the dead buffalo into camp. Soon we had eight in camp. Now was a busy time for me. We skinned and cut up and divided the meat.

In one hour the camp had the appearance of a camp of butchers, for each wagon cover was decked with fresh meat put on so as to dry by the sun.

Now everyone had buffalo steak for dinner.

After dinner as I was sitting on my wagon tongue I saw a buffalo making straight for our camp with his head down and roaring as he came. I called the attention of some of the brethern to him. One brother had a Sharp’s rifle. He came to me and let the buffalo come within twenty paces of the wagon, and fired. The buffalo rolled over in the dust of the road.

In the evening, we danced to the music of a flute and violin. The flute was played by a Danish brother and the violin by an American. The moon was light. It shone very brightly. We danced and sung and feasted, and praised the Lord. Such was the way we spent the 24th, 1856, on the Plains.

We crossed the Sandy Bluffs doubled teams, August 1st. As the train was going quietly, we noticed a great number of buffalo traveling towards the camp. As they came nearer, we shouted. They came faster, and to my great surprise they came to the train. Our oxen became frightened and as the buffalo passed the train, our teams took after them. It was avery amusing sight to see a herd of buffalo going at the top of their speed, followed by the whole train.

The buffalo took to the hills on the right of the road. The oxen kept up with them for about two miles. They then slacked their speed and finally stopped.

As I was walking and sometimes running, I came to a woman lying on the road, covered with blood. She had been run over by a wagon. I next came to a boy who had also been run over. I could not stay with them for I was troubled about the safety of my children who were walking by the train when the oxen stampeded. I could not see any of them. My wife was in the wagon so I made for the wagons. I came to mine and saw an old lady standing at the head of the team, holding an umbrella before the eyes of the lead oxen. I thanked her for her kindness. I found my wife was safe in the wagon. The brethern were securing their teams and after patting and speaking kindly to our oxen we began to turn them toward the road.

After a good amount of trouble we made the road, took our places in the train. I informed Captain Peterson of the woman and boy I had seen back.

I found my children. They were safe. How they escaped being run over was a mystery.

I went back with several brethern and found the woman still lying in the same place. We bathed her face and arranged her clothes and carried her to camp. Her face was cut which made the blood run down her neck and on the clothes.

We then went to find the boy. We found him. He had been run over. The wheels passed over his legs. We carried him to camp. This was the first stampede I had ever seen. We travelled a few miles and went into camp. We corralled our wagons and had double guards out. The country seemed full of buffalo. They were in every direction. They were countless.

Passed Chimney Rock August 7th and reached Fort Laramie on the 13th. Here I bought some bacon at seven cents per pound. The officers at the Fort were very polite and obliging. We nooned here and replenished our stock of provisions. We reached Horse Shoe Creek the 15th.


Meeting With Indians on the Plains


As we were traveling by the Platte River on a beautiful, bright day, we were met by a large band of Indians, who came riding up. The Chief ordered the camp to stop. Captain Peterson came to see me and said he want—me to control the English and American brethern and he would control the Danish. The Chief wanted to have a talk with us.

I went with the Captain but I could not understand what the Indians wanted. I saw they were well armed and they had their squaws with them. They were fine men and well dressed, had good guns.

We made out that they were going East to meet the Indian Agent supplies. The Chief said if we would give a pan of flour and a pint of sugar for each wagon, he would not allow any Indian to come to our camp in the night. They would camp on the other side of the river, and we were to camp on this side. He also promised the Indians should not interfere with our stock, so we agreed to give flour and sugar. The Chief called his men and talked to them. They then all set on the ground in a circle, the Chief being in the middle. We went to each wagon and got a six quart pan of flour, and a pint cup of sugar.

The Chief spread a blanket on the ground in the middle of the circle, and as we gave him the pans of flour, he would empty the pans into the blanket.

He made two heaps, one of flour and the other of sugar. When he had got all, he divided it amongst the men. Each one held open his blanket and received his portion. I did not hear a grumble. Each seemed perfectly satisfied with it. They all mounted their horses and camped. We went a little further up the river and went into camp.

We had double guards out during the night. The Indians made a noise all the night so we could not sleep, but not an Indian came to our camp. As soon as it was light, the squaws crossed the river, came to our camp, and began to carry off some buckets and some skillets. Our guards saw them running off with them. They gave the alarm. We were soon up and overtook the squaws and made them give up the things.

Soon all the Indians crossed the river and came to our camp. Captain Peterson told the Chief of the squaws stealing our things. He laughed and said his promise had been kept. No Indian had molested us or our cattle during the night. While the Chief was talking to Captain Peterson, the Indians were trying to thieve all they could. One got into my wagon. I called to him to come out but he would not. I seized him by his legs and pulled him out. He then wanted my wife to give him her wedding ring. She asked if she should give it to him. I told her not to give it to him, and shook my head at the Indian. He then put his arm around her neck and kissed her, and laughing went to the next wagon. Captain Peterson made a trade with the Chief. He agreed if the Chief would have his band cross the river and free our camp of them, we would give some more sugar and flour. The Chief said we were Mormons. If we were Americans, he would not. He mounted his horse and in twenty minutes there was not one in camp. We felt great relief when they crossed the river. We gave them the sugar and the flour. They went East.

We crossed the Platte 18th; recrossed 19th.

Just as we started, William Godbe of Salt Lake City crossed the river on a mule. He had on a red overshirt. He came to the train on a lope. As soon as the oxen saw him they stampeded. The Danish Brethern, since the first stampede adopted a way of having ropes fastened to the lead oxen’s horns, I suppose, thinking they could control them easily. When the oxen started to run at the sight of the red shirt of William Godbe, a Danish brother held onto the rope, was pulled down and the wagon went over him, killing him instantly. As soon as we recovered the teams, we stayed half a day to make the grave and bury our brother. He was a fine healthy young man. We all felt very sorry. He was killed instantly. He spoke not a word.

We arrived at the Bridge 22nd. Recrossed the Platte the 23rd.

Here we met another band of Indians, who had to have their toll. They were inferior to the others in number and arms. I believe they were Snake Indians. We gave them flour but no sugar. They detained us only a little while.

We struck the Sweetwater, 24th.

Rock Independence, the 26th.

Devil’s Gate, the 27th.


South Pass


This is the highest point of travel. The wind blew so strong we had to cover our faces to protect them from the gravel and small stones. The wind blew in our faces.

Crossed Green River, Sept. 7th.

Came to Fort Bridger, the 12th.

September 16th, as I was driving my team in Echo Canyon, I saw the wheel of my wagon off the track. I endeavored to get my oxen, when I fell over the ridge and landed on some bushes. As I looked up I saw my wagon come over. The wagon, in its fall, turned over, and landed on the bows. My wife was in the wagon at the time. The train stopped. The brethern came with ropes and pulled the wagon up and helped me to reload. I lost many things among the bushes and in the creek. I arranged my things as well as I could, and made camp after dark.

We arrived at Great Salt Lake City, September 21st.

We made the journey from Florence to Great Salt Lake City in eighty-seven days.