Transcript for Josiah Rogerson, "Martin's Handcart Company, 1856," Salt Lake Herald-Republican, 3 November 1907
Finishing article No. 3 with the roadside death of William Edwards opposite Fort Kearney, Neb., I resume my narrative with a paragraph as to the order and discipline of the camp.
From the date we left Iowa hill, Iowa, July 26, ’56, Brother John Watkins was our bugler, and his cornet was heard every morning to “wake up” between 5 and 6 o’clock. Then again we heard his cornet to “strike tents” and to meeting—not later than 6 or 7 a.m.
These meetings every morning lasted from fifteen minutes to half an hour, when prayer was offered, a verse or two sung from one of our hymns, then a few remarks from Captain Martin, Tyler and the captains of the hundreds as to the health and condition of their companies and suggestions as to facilitating our progress; then our breakfast cooked and partaken of with haste; the tent poles and (about this date) the tents were taken to the four-mule team, the bedding rolled up, the cart packed, and we were generally in line in single file and on our journey by 7:30 to 8 a.m. at the latest.
Father George P. Waugh, then between 65 and 70 years of age, would be seen and heard calling between the tents for his company to muster between 7 and 7:30 a.m. These consisted of all the aged that could walk at all, and not required to pull at the carts; our fathers and mothers from 45 to 86. Away they would start ahead of our seven wagons and the carts, singing and talking and cheering each other with the hallowed reminiscences of the early days of the gospel in the British isles, and the days of Orson Hyde, Parley P. Pratt and Willard Richards. Traveling three to five miles or more in this manner, the mother with the babe in arms and one by the hand, the widow and the aged widower with their walking cane and staff, would rest a few minutes for our coming in sight, then on at it again till noon, but betimes leaving the little ones and the young for their father with the cart to pick up and bring to camp. The oldest and most feeble of this advance guard would be picked up by the wagons as often as possible, and as the loads were lightened by our daily rations.
The able and hardy of this advance guard (Captain Martin would generally ride ahead of us a few miles and locate the noon camp) would be there; the matron and the sire also, with their flour and packs filled with fuel to cook the noon meal.
An hour or two for our noon rest, then were going again, the same aged advance guard ahead of us, with Father Waugh, who was returning from his mission of three years to Scotland, and one of the most devoted Scottish worthies that ever came to Utah. Stopping for noon, we all dropped our carts, single file, in line in our several hundreds.
At nights we made camp in the same manner—the tents in line, one above or below the other, and the carts unloaded at the back or rear of the tent, and a rod or more space between each line of tents, as the location and evenness of the ground would permit.
At times, and particularly from the Loup Fork to Fort Kearney, and to Fort Laramie, our six-ox and provision wagons, the four-mule wagon and the light spring wagon of Captain Martin would be placed in the center of the camp, on account of the hostility of the Cheyenne Indians, that had had a “brush” or two with the United States troops near there a week or two before, and of which the commander at Fort Kearney apprised us by his letter nailed on a cracker box on a post as, we passed in front of Fort Kearney.
Our mules were picketed at nights, and over them a very vigilant watch was kept. The oxen and fifty head of cows and some beef cattle were guarded faithfully by Tyler’s platoons nightly.
There were three companies of United States troops stationed at Fort Kearney at this time, and I find in Captain John A. Hunt’s journal, a few days after we passed, that the commander there, or one of his captains, seeing Hunt’s wagon company passing, rode out and cautioned him to see to their arms; be on their guard day and night till they passed Laramie; advising them of the recent trouble with the Cheyennes, and that the Sioux ahead were not more to be trusted than the Cheyennes.
Our night guarding begun as soon as the oxen were unyoked and the mules unharnessed, not later than 6 to 7 p.m. The moment we dropped our cart we had to spring to this arduous duty every other night for six hours. One week, every night as soon as we reached camp, until midnight (our mothers, fathers or sisters bringing us a bite of supper after they got it cooked, and while still on guard), and the next week every other night, roused from our quilts by midnight, and on guard till 6 a.m. when the oxen and mules were ordered to be brought for yoking and harnessing, and one of the most trying and important of our annals right here in place, that the most hardy and sound of body that ever crossed the plains of Nebraska and Wyoming could endure, was six whole nights, straight ahead, guarding one week; pulling the cart every day, twenty to twenty-four miles a day, between Kearney and Laramie, and the only “winks” the writer got in this service was from 6 to 7 a.m., while his mother was cooking him a little breakfast.
Recorder [James Godson] Bleak speaks of a heavy thunder shower during this week, which I well remember, though only a boy of 15 years of age. It was between midnight and 3 or 3 a.m. My companion on guard had sung out the hour and “all well.” The rain clouds seemed only a few feet from the grass on which our oxen were trying to fill up for the next day’s journey. Dark as pitch, the rain commenced to fall as it only does fall on the meadows of Iowa and the prairies of Nebraska, and the vivid lightning flashed so that we could see clearly the shape of the ox and his color. Exhausted and weary beyond endurance by the loss of six nights’ sleep and rest, I laid down in the rain in a red blanket, with my United States unloaded Yauger gripped in my hands, and fell asleep in that shower, and slept till the guard coming for the watchword found me in the water. It was reported to Tyler, and at the meeting next morning I made confession to the whole camp for dereliction of duty.
What a contrast in crossing the plains of America then with a handcart and now a Pullman sleeper. Well may a few of the great-grand daughters of the revolutionary fathers, and the not too many sons and daughters still living in Salt Lake of the pioneers of 1847 take an interest in the perpetuation of their memories and the preservation of their records; but the future historian will say that none the less mead of praise is due, and none the more worthy of record, that ever crossed the plains, or demonstrated their firmness of faith and adherence to Mormonism than the members of the handcart companies of 1856.
Again to our diary and travels.
Tuesday, Sept. 16—Traveled nine miles. Some of the men went in search of buffalo, but returned unsuccessful, and we must record that, notwithstanding we had now traveled in and across the annual trail of the bison for the last two weeks, our captain and the “shots” in the camp had not killed one, and only seen some at a distance in the field glass and telescope. It has been a wonder since then why we didn’t see hundreds and thousands, as the trains, in the years previous, had to goad and scare them off the road as the ox teams passed, and the absence and dearth of the buffalo continued throughout our entire journey.
Wednesday, Sept. 17—Traveled fifteen miles. A very high wind all day, and blowing against us all the day.
Thursday, Sept. 18—Traveled twenty-three miles. According to William Clayton’s guide book, written in 1847, we are now 294 miles from Winter Quarters.
Friday, Sept. 19—Traveled seventeen miles to Pawnee swamp.
Saturday, Sept. 20—Traveled thirteen miles. A very wet afternoon.
Sunday, Sept. 21—Traveled five miles. Did not start till the afternoon.
Monday, Sept. 22—Traveled eight miles. No incident, but making good progress through the sandhill country.
Tuesday, Sept. 23—Traveled twelve miles. We are now 709 miles from Salt Lake City. Some of the wagon companies, Hunt’s and Hodgett’s, who had been traveling close to us since passing Fort Kearney, killed a buffalo today, which they kindly presented to us. A very sandy road today, and we passed the remains of Colonel Babbitt’s wagon, which had been burned by the Indians, to the right of the road and near a small spring of water coming out of the foot of a sandhill.
Wednesday, Sept. 24—Traveled fifteen miles. Today we [-] some articles of clothing, stained with blood. The wagon company picked up parts of a man’s body which was supposed to belong to Thomas Margetts.
Thursday, Sept. 25—Traveled thirteen miles.
Friday, Sept. 26—Traveled eleven miles.
Saturday, Sept 27—Traveled seven miles. Sand very soft and deep, very hard pulling and hauling. Amy [Elizabeth] Webster, the daughter of the late Francis and Elizabeth Webster (of Cedar City, Iron county, Utah, for over fifty years) was born here today on the south side of the Platte river.
Sunday, Sept. 28—Traveled sixteen miles.
Monday, Sept. 29—Traveled twenty miles.
Tuesday, Sept. 30—Traveled eleven miles.
Wednesday, Oct. 1—Traveled twenty miles.
Thursday, Oct. 2—Traveled eighteen miles. Today we met some apostates returning from the valley (Utah), also some soldiers hunting Indians, and we sighted “Chimney rock” this morning.
Friday, Oct 3—Traveled seventeen miles. Passed Chimney rock this afternoon. Now we are about eighty-five miles from Fort Laramie, Wyo.
Saturday, Oct. 4—Traveled fifteen miles and passed through “Scott’s bluffs [Bluff].” Apostle Parley P. Pratt and a company of missionaries going to the states and other points east, passed at the same time to the north of the bluffs, and between there and the Platte river. During the last seven days we had made 117 miles, with only a few deaths, averaging nearly seventeen miles per day, and every member four miles—losing nearly a day in the walking the entire distance, that was able to walk.
Sunday, Oct. 5—Traveled fifteen miles.
Monday, Oct. 6—Traveled only eight miles, in consequence of a sister having been missed. She went to the river to get some water last night, but didn’t return. After a fruitless search this morning we found she had been with Captain Hodgett’s company all night. We passed Rawhide creek on our journey today.
Tuesday, Oct. 7—Traveled seventeen miles and passed a trading post.
Wednesday, Oct. 8—Traveled fourteen miles today, and camped in sight of and about three or four miles to the northeast of Fort Laramie, Wyo. During the last four days we covered fifty—[text missing in newspaper] search for the missing sister on the 6th. And making 171 miles in eleven days.
During the afternoon, while resting here, numbers, if not all that had any money left, went to the fort and purchased from the sutler there, some tea, coffee, sugar, Babbitt’s saleratus and soda, black and cayenne pepper, crackers, bacon, etc., of which our supply that we had brought from Florence, Neb., had been getting short for the past week or two. Hints were made to us while here as to the early fall of snow, which we might look for in the next 120 to 150 miles, but the days were sunshiny and pleasant, and the nights only cool enough to sleep good. There were three companies of United States infantry and cavalry stationed here; company G. in charge of Captain Ketchum; company C, in charge of Captain William Foote, and company D, in charge of First Lieutenant Carlin, commanding—the captain of this company being east at this time, and Colonel Huffman was the commanding officer at the fort.
Up to this point, and since leaving Iowa City, we had covered 814 miles, including all delays as recorded, in seventy-four days, or ten weeks, with the “cleanings up” of that year’s emigration, and comprising the halt, lame, feeble, and from the babe in the arms to the East Indian veteran, Father Wood, aged 86, who weathered the journey to Fort Bridger, but there succumbed.
Our rations during these ten weeks was one pound of flour per day for adults, six ounces for the children under 9 years, a few ounces of bacon in proportion to the flour and the adults and children, and once or twice a week a few ounces of tea and sugar to the family, aged and feeble, with some of Babbitt’s saleratus and soda to leaven the bread therewith, but which in too many instances made the unleavened dough cake look as though it had a bad attack of jaundice.
Even with the above rations, limited in variety and quantity, the able bodied adults and middle-aged had stood the journey fairly well and were all right and good for another 500 miles, but the every other night guarding for six hours was beginning to tell on the fathers of families and the less hardy young men, who were now showing the effects of such hardship in their lean and haggard faces and frames.
The three companies of United States troops at Laramie were not full in their enrollment and lacked from twenty-five to thirty-five men in each company. Inducements and persuasions were offered and made to numbers of our young men to enlist that had gone to the fort in the afternoon, and not risk their lives in the farther 500 miles’ journey from there to Salt Lake that season. The comfortable adobe quarters, and the snug and warm log rooms were quite tempting for a winter’s rest, with plenty to eat and though none stopped that day, Wednesday, Oct. 8, yet on the evening of the second day following, after we had traveled and gone seventeen miles west of Laramie, William Ashton, a married man, with a wife and five children, left them all and the company this evening, with Samuel Blackham and Aaron Harrison, the two latter single men, and another young man, a cripple aged about 22 years, walked that night back to Laramie and enlisted. The cripple was justified in so doing, as we certainly should have buried him miles east of Utah, but the married man’s wife died before reaching Utah, and three of her children got in in fairly good health.
James Thomas and Mary Jane Thomas, both members of our company, stopped and were married there, he enlisting in the infantry for three years. We shall rest here now with our Narrative No. 4, till next Sunday, for No. 5, which will cover 150 to 200 miles, including the first fall of snow, and for six to ten days in succession; our being snowbound, short rations, the stopping of the two wagons, and deaths.