Transcript for Jones, Samuel S., [Reminiscences], Deseret Evening News, 1 Sept. 1906, 20
The whole story of the travels and sufferings of the Martin and Tyler Handcart companies that arrived in Salt Lake City on the Sunday of Nov. 30, 1856, can never be written or told. Sketches and episodes may be related in brief, but the weather towards the last of the journey was so intensely cold and the hurrying to get through the mountains to the valley so great as to preclude any attempt to write up any data of the journey.
There were five companies of handcart emigrants that crossed the plains in that year. 1856 was the year of the handcart craze, the three first of which were the craze, and the two last that started from the frontiers so late were crazy, and the last of those two was the craziest of all, and the writer was in it.
We started from Florence on the west bank of the Missouri river just about Sept. 1. We traveled on under pretty favorable circumstances until the last of that month, but after that, in October, it got to be pretty cold. The wading of streams, and an occasional wind storm that leveled all our tents made it somewhat uncomfortable. This continued until we got within one days travel of a stockade fort, near Devil's Gate on the Sweet Water in Wyoming, about 400 miles out from Salt Lake City. By this time it was the first part of November. If this had been our destination, the journey might have been regarded a little tough, and let it go at that, but what we had endured up to that date was only a prelude to what followed.
I well remember the afternoon march before we reached the place above mentioned. We had rested for noon along the roadside, and partaken of our scanty meal, when soon after we started on again, the wind blew up from the east, and the clouds came scurrying along the sides of the mountains. I remember those clouds; they looked like they meant mischief, and they got their work in all right; pretty soon it began to snow a little, light at first, but it was not long before it got down to business, and it snowed in earnest. The line of carts was generally a little broken and scattering, but on this occasion they all closed up, following right behind each other. It seemed to strike each heart that we had met the enemy and he had got us. Not a word was spoken. I never shall forget that silence as we trudged along, each footstep deadened by the fallen snow, which was getting a little deeper at every step.
There was no sound, save the faint creak of the little hand carts as they were tugged along. Where were we going! What should we do! God only knew; we didn't. It commenced to get dusk but on we pulled, it seemed as though this terror gave us fresh energy for the snow was by this time from eight to ten inches deep. At last when we were pretty nearly exhausted a log house and the stockade hove in view. We had not seen such a thing for many a day. It was so unexpected that it revived our spirits. We all gathered around the log house. It was soon filled with women and children; one long room and several hundred of us; our hope of shelter was soon dissipated; several of the women folks had fainted from the steam from their wet clothing, and the heat, and had to be carried out.
We soon saw we had to clear off the snow and take to our cold tents. At it we went, with tin pans and plates; there were no shovels or spades in our equipment. The ground here was frozen hard; we could not drive the tent pins, so we raised the tents on the poles, stretched out the flaps, and banked them down with the snow. and huddled in under the best shelter we could get. I do not call to mind any music or singing that night, but no doubt there were many a silent prayer.
Never mind that night; but oh, in the morning! I was the first out of the tent to make a fire. Whew! How cold it was. It fairly bit my face and hands. I had to run for a fire that had been kept burning all night, from the poles of the stockade.
Then I ran back to the tent to tell the folks to stay there till I called them, and they did it. After the sun arose it was bearable but still very cold.
It was decided that morning that we should cross the Sweet Water. and go into what is known as Martin's ravine, as there was some cedars for fuel, and wait until more teams from the valley arrived to help us in. Ten teams with some supplies had already met us. They had dealt part of the shipment to Capt. Willie's company that was a long way ahead of us, and what we obtained from them was soon exhausted among so many hungry souls.
The brave boys from the valley, under George D. Grant carried the women and children over the Sweet Water river, but the men and able bodied had to wade and take the handcarts with them. The water and ice took me up to the waist, and the clothes had to dry on me. That was a terrible night.
We stayed in the ravine five or six days on reduced rations. One night a windstorm blew down almost every tent. Many perished of cold and hunger at this place. I am not going into detail about the occurrences at Martin's ravine. We stacked our carts there, but I remember the pinched, hungry faces, the stolid absent stare, that foretold the end was near, the wide and shallow open grave, awaiting its numerous consignments. The start from that place in the wagons when the camp broke up; the looks of the living freight; the long cold rides, the longer nights; the pitiless sky, the lack of sleep; many dozing down by the fire and turning at intervals all through the night, and so on, and on, until we reached Salt Lake City. Let the curtain fall gently! This is not written in any spirit of complaint. I cannot recall a rebellious spirit or feeling on the trip. We started for Zion, and to help build up the same in the valleys of the mountains, and thank God we are here and in conclusion I will quote the good old hymn, transposed a little:
What if they died before their trip was o'er?
Happy day. All is well
They will endure. No toil or sorrow more,
With the just in peace they dwell.
And as our lives were spared again
To see the Saints their joys obtain
Come let us make the chorus swell,
All is well, all is well.