Transcript for Mary Burton Shrewsbury (pseudonym), "Reminiscence" in "Tell It All": The Story of a Life's Experience in Mormonism by Fanny W. Stenhouse (1874), 206-36
"I promised to write and tell you all about our journey across the Plains, but I little expected to have such a terrible tale to tell.
"You have heard so much of the journey to Salt Lake Valley that you know pretty well how we must have travelled to Iowa City where it was necessary that we should wait until the whole company was quite ready for the long journey which lay before us.
"Our life up to a certain point was much the same, and we met with the same difficulties as all other emigrants who had gone before us. But there the comparison ends. Privation, and toil, and weariness, and not infrequently sickness and death, wore out many of the companies that went before us, but they never suffered as we did. It is utterly impossible for me to tell you all that we went through. And when I finish this letter and lay down my pen, and even when you read the fearful story of my own experience during that journey, you will still have but the faintest idea of the horrors and sufferings which we endured.
"At Iowa City we found nothing prepared for us. When we left Liverpool we were told that hand-carts, provisions, and all that we needed should be provided before we arrived. If this had been done we should have had just fairly time enough to travel over the Plains and reach Salt Lake before the terrible cold of winter set in. As it was, everything went wrong. The Elders who had been sent out before us to buy tents and carts and all that we wanted, had either been unfortunate or very careless, for, as I said, when we arrived in Iowa City not the slightest preparation had been made.
"You know how strong my faith was when we left New York and how Brother Shrewsbury and myself were ready to sacrifice everything. I can assure you that we were fully tested, and I do think that but for our strong faith, not a single soul of all that company would have survived that journey.
"Three companies had, after a long delay, been sent out before we reached Iowa City. As it was then early in the season they completed their journey before the cold of winter set in. I afterwards heard that Brigham Young and the Elders, when they saw those companies arrive safely in Salt Lake City, spoke of the scheme as a successful experiment. We had been taught that the scheme came directly from heaven and was neither speculation nor experiment, and when I heard that, after all, the Prophet himself spoke of it as a matter of doubtful issue, I asked myself—Who then can we believe?
"We waited three weeks in Iowa Camp while they were making the hand-carts. They were very lightly made and I think not at all suitable for such a long and wearisome journey; and being so hastily put together and most of the wood unseasoned, they were utterly unfit for the rough work for which they were constructed. Twenty of these carts—one to every five—were allowed to every hundred persons, who were also allowed five good-sized tents, and one Chicago wagon with three yoke of oxen to transport the baggage and provisions. We were only allowed seventeen pounds of bedding and clothing each, which, with cooking utensils, &c., made up about one hundred pounds to each cart, and that was quite as much as the cart (itself only sixty pounds in weight) could carry. You can see, Sister Stenhouse, how difficult it must have been out of every hundred persons—men, women, and children—to find twenty who were strong enough to pull even such frail things as those hand-carts were. The married men and the young men and boys did the best they could, but they could do no more, and some of the carts were drawn by young girls alone.
"The girls and women who had no husbands used to occupy a tent by themselves at night, but in the other tents, whole families, without respect to age or sex, together with the young men who assisted them during the day, used to find shelter. This you will see at once was exceedingly inconvenient, but we had no choice, and we had been so long associated and had suffered so much together that we did not feel it as much as we otherwise must have done.
"What weary days we spent! Hour after hour went by, mile after mile we walked, and never, never seemed to be a step the further on our way. Sometimes I recalled to mind a hymn which we used to sing at Sunday School, when I was a child—an evening hymn in which we returned thanks that we were—
"But day after day went by—wearily, hopelessly—and when each night came on, and, tired and footsore, we lay down to rest we seemed no nearer to our home in Zion.
"Do not think, Sister Stenhouse, that we gave way to despondency. What we felt, God alone knows; but our poor weary hearts were full of confiding faith in Him, and we placed undoubting confidence in the promises and prophecies which we had received through His chosen servants. The young folks were light-hearted and gay, and with all the enthusiasm of youth they pressed on, thinking not of the way but only of the end; and their example was most encouraging.
"My husband was one of the bravest and truest of all that band. He drew the cart which we shared with another Elder and his wife and their grown-up daughter. They were old people—I mean the Elder and his wife—and the daughter was an old maid, unpleasant, thin, and sour, and too feeble to do anything. There were reasons why I was excused from taking any share in hard work; but I felt as zealous as the rest, and day after day walked beside my husband thinking that, if nothing more, my companionship might cheer him. The old folks walked behind, and so did the children, but sometimes, when the little ones were very weary indeed, the parents would place them on the top of the bedding in the hand-cart and give them a lift. But some of the elderly people who were unused to walking far, and whom it was impossible to carry, suffered a great deal; and sometimes mothers with children at their breasts would trudge on mile after mile in all the heat and dust without a murmur or complaint until they almost dropped down with fatigue. What some of those poor creatures suffered, no words could tell.
"The sun shone down upon us with intense heat as we travelled through Iowa, and the people from the farm-houses and villages came out to see us and wondered at our rashness in undertaking such a journey. They were very kind to us and came and visited us in our camps and offered some of the men work and good wages if they would wait there instead of going on to Zion. A few of the people accepted these offers, but the Elders, as you may suppose, watched carefully every company and every man; and in the evening, when meetings for prayer and preaching were held, we were earnestly exhorted to obedience, and the sin of acting upon our own judgments was set forth in the very plainest terms. The kindness of the Iowa people, however, encouraged us, and they freely gave to those who most needed whatever they could to help us on our way.
"And we needed help and sympathy.
"Of course, with only one wagon to carry all the provisions for a hundred persons, besides five tents, our supply of food was very limited. At that period of the journey the grown-up people were allowed ten ounces of flour a day and a little—and but a very little—coffee, sugar, rice, and bacon. This was a very scanty allowance for people who all day long had to draw the hand-carts or to trudge mile after mile in all that burning heat and dust—but we never complained. Some of the men ate all their rations at breakfast, and went without anything more until the next morning, unless they were able to beg a little of some friendly farmer by the way. The little children received just half as much as the others. With a very small amount of management this inconvenience might certainly have been avoided, for provisions of all sorts were very cheap in the districts through which we passed. Some of the more thoughtful Saints, I know, felt very bitterly the injustice of this, for, as you are aware, we had paid all our expenses in full—even to the utmost farthing; and we been promised in return a safe and sufficient outfit with plenty of provisions, and in fact all that was necessary Had we been left to ourselves we would of course have provided for every contingency; but we came in obedience to counsel under the direction of the Church, and after we had paid for everything; the Church even "took care" of our money, so that we therefore could not procure necessities by the way, as otherwise we might have done.
"Thus wearily, and suffering not a little privation, we travelled all through Iowa until we came to the Missouri river and encamped at Florence, a place about six miles north of Omaha, and there we remained about a week preparing for our journey across the Plains.
"It was the middle of August when we arrived at Florence, and we had been delayed so much on the way that it appeared to many of the more experienced that it would now be the height of imprudence for us to cross the Plains at that season. With old people, delicate women, and little children, and without carriages of any sort—except the frail hand-cart that carried our bedding—it would be a weary long time, before we could reach Salt Lake. Every step must be trudged on foot, and it was quite impossible that we could walk many miles a day, while there was before us a journey of over a thousand. Some of the Elders proposed that we should settle where we were, or somewhere near by until the following spring, and then go on to Zion; but others who were more confident urged that we should proceed at once. The Elders called a great meeting to settle the matter, at which we were all present.
"I should tell you that when we first started, our whole company was placed under the guidance of Elder James G. Willie as captain; and we were again sub-divided into five parties of about one hundred each, and over every hundred was placed an Elder or sub-captain. The first hundred was headed by Elder Atwood, the second by Levi Savage, the third by William Woodward, the fourth by John Chislett, and the fifth by Elder Ahmensen. About two hundred of the people were Scotch and Scandinavians; nearly all the rest were English All were assembled at the meeting. You know, Sister Stenhouse, how meetings were held at home. Well, it was just the same there. We, of course, had nothing really to say—we had only to obey counsel and sanction the decision of the leading Elders. I used to feel annoyed rather at that sort of thing in London, as you may remember, but now when life and death depended upon the wisdom of our decision, with all my faith, I felt worse than annoyed, wicked as I have no doubt it was for me to feel so. My husband never uttered a word, but I know he felt much as I did, and in that he was not alone among the Elders.
"We had neither vote nor influence—the elders held our destiny in their hands. In all our company there were only three or four men who had been out to Salt Lake before, and of course they could not be overlooked, so they gave their opinion at the meeting. They must have fully known the dangers and difficulties of the way, and what hardships must overtake a company so scantily provided for as was ours, if we continued our journey. But, for all that, they not only spoke slightingly of the danger which threatened us, but prophesied in the name of the Lord, that we should pass through triumphantly and suffer neither loss nor harm.
"One man alone—Levi Savage—dared to tell the truth. People well-mounted, or even with good ox-teams, could safely and easily make the journey, he said, but for a band of people like ourselves, with aged folks, and women, and little children, to attempt it so late was little short of madness. He strongly urged that we should take up our quarters there for the Winter, when, he said, as soon as Spring came on, we could safely and successfully perform the remainder of our journey.
"The other Elders thought that he was weak in the faith, and plainly told him so; and one of them even said he'd eat all the snow that fell between Florence and Salt Lake City. The people, of course, believed without question what they were told to believe, for they had long ago made up their minds that the leaders were inspired, and therefore they dared not doubt them, and the prudent counsel of Brother Savage was rejected accordingly. I was not near enough to hear his words, but I was afterward told that he said: 'What I have said, I know is the truth; but as you are counseled to go forward, I will go with you; I will work, and rest, and suffer with you, and, if God wills it so, I will also die with you.' Never was man more faithful to his word than was Brother Levi Savage, and often after that, when sickness, and weariness, and cold, and hunger, and death, overtook us—as he had foreseen—he never for one moment forgot the promise which he had so solemnly made.
"Then—the middle of August being passed—we left Florence behind us, and began our weary journey across the Plains in much the same fashion as we had already travelled through Iowa. We had, however, taken in fresh provisions to last us until we reached Utah, and as the oxen could not draw so much extra weight, one sack, weighing about a hundred pounds, was placed on each of the hand-carts, in addition to the other baggage. This was a severe task upon the endurance of the people, but most of them bore it without a murmur. On the other hand, we fared a little better in the matter of provisions, for we were allowed a pound of flour a day each, and also, occasionally, a little fresh beef, and, besides that, each hundred had three or four milch cows. As we continued our journey, and the provisions were consumed, the burdens on the carts, of course, grew lighter.
"But this was only the beginning of our pilgrimage:—the end we could not foresee. Every evening when we pitched our tents, we endeavored by songs, and jests, and interesting stories, to beguile the tediousness of the way. The days were not quite so warm now, and the nights were more chilly; but altogether it was much more pleasant travelling than it was in the earlier part of the journey, and no one seemed to remember the almost prophetic remonstrance of Brother Savage.
"Still we travelled very slowly, for the carts were always breaking down; the wheels came off, and we had nothing to grease them with. The boxes of the wheels were made of unseasoned wood, and the heavy pressure upon them, and the dust that got into them, soon wore them out. Some of the people cut off the tops of their boots and wrapped them round the axles, and others cut up their tin plates and kettles for the same purpose, and for grease they used soap, and even their pitiful allowance of bacon. But as the days passed, the flour began to be used up, these accidents became less frequent.
"Upon an average, they said, we travelled about fifteen miles a day, which I think was very good. Some few days we even made a little over twenty miles, but they were balanced by the shortcomings. We tried to feel happy and hopeful, and even the aged and infirm tried to make light of their toil and privations, for we did not yet see that heavy cloud which was looming across our way. I frequently talked with the old and weakly among the people, to whom both my husband and myself were able to offer little kindnesses, and they all spoke cheerfully of our prospects. Such faith had they in the promises of the Elders.
"Just before we reached Wood river, vast herds of buffaloes appeared in our vicinity, and one evening all our cattle stampeded, and the men had to go in search of them. About thirty were lost, and after hunting after them for three days, we gave them up. We had only one yoke of oxen now for each wagon, and as the wagons were loaded each with three thousand pounds of flour, the teams could not move them. So they yoked up the beef-cattle, and cows, and heifers, but they were unmanageable—and at last we were obliged again to place a sack of flour upon each hand-cart.
"This sorely tried us all. Some of the people even complained, but the greater part of us bore up bravely, believing that it was the will of the Lord. We still had faith that all would yet be well. This was, however, a hard blow. Our milch cows were useless to us, our beef-rations were stipped, and the burdens which we drew were doubled. Every one did his or her best, but many of us began to be disheartened, and could hardly get along.
"One evening there was quite a commotion in the camp. We had pitched our tents for the night on the banks of the Platte River, I think, when suddenly quite a grand turn-out of carriages and light wagons came up from the east and joined us. Each carriage was drawn by four horses, and the outfits were in first-class style. Nothing could be too good for Apostles and other "distinguished" servants of the Lord. I was anxious to know who they were, but was not long in finding out. There was the Apostle Franklin Richards, and Elders Webb and Felt, and Joseph A. Young, the son of the Prophet, and Elders Dunbar, and Kimball, and Grant—all returning Missionaries. They stayed with us all night, and in the morning called a great meeting, and the Apostle Richards delivered a speech, which troubled me not a little, and made me very sorrowful.
"He had heard of what Brother Savage had said, and then there, before us all, he rebuked him. He then exhorted us to remember the hope set before us, and told us to pray and work on, and especially to be obedient to counsel; and he finished by solemnly prophesying, in the name of the God of Israel, that the Almighty would make a way for us to Zion, and that though the snow might fall and the storm rage on the right hand and on the left, not a hair of our heads should perish.
"Some of the people wept with joy as they heard these words. My own heart was full. To me, this was the voice of inspiration—the voice of God—how could I doubt again?
"Sister Stenhouse; before a month was over, I saw with my own eyes that prophecy, those promises, falsified to the very letter; and yet at the time they came to me and to all else as the word of the Lord from heaven. Tell me, if men can thus deceive themselves—for I do not doubt for a moment that the Apostle believed his own prophecy—and if we could be so sadly deluded as to believe that what was said was divine, what surety have we for our religion at all? I strive against these sinful doubts, but they will sometimes creep into my heart unbidden.
"The Apostle and the Elders with him told Captain Willie that they wanted some fresh meat, and the Elders killed and gave them of our very best. What could be denied to the Servants of the Lord? We were then more than four hundred in number—aged men and feeble women, with babes and poor little children too young to walk; many of them infirm and sick, all of them footsore and weary. We were far away from home, travelling slowly hundreds and hundreds of miles, worn out and without sufficient provisions for the way or the remotest chance of obtaining any: And yet, Oh God! I shame to tell it; these servants of Heaven—our leaders our guides, our example—these chosen vessels who came to us, riding comfortably and at ease in their well-appointed carriages, took of our poverty—took the very best we had!
"As they left the camp, I looked up into my husband's face and our eyes met. We said not a word, but in our hearts there was the same thought. Sister Stenhouse, there must have been that selfsame thought in the mind of many another poor soul who watched those Elders depart after they had lectured us on faith and patience and obedience!
"They crossed the river pleasantly enough, and pointed out the best fording place and they watched us wade through—the water there being nearly a mile in width, and in some places two and even three feet in depth—and though many of the heavy-laden carts were drawn by women and girls, they never so much as offered to lend us the aid of their handsome teams. One sister told me that they watched the poor people crossing, through glasses, as if were entertainment, but I did not see that, and can hardly believe it was true. All that they did, however, was to promise that when we reached Laramie we should find provisions and bedding and other necessaries ready for us, and that they would send help from Salt Lake Valley to meet us."
"It was early in September when we reached Laramie, but we found nothing awaiting us there. We were all very much discouraged at this, and Captain Willie called another meeting for consultation. We knew, of course, beforehand, that our position was very bad, but figures when stated plainly become startling facts. We now learned that if we continued at the same rate as that which we had previously been travelling, and received each the same allowance daily, we should be left utterly destitute of provisions when we were yet three hundred and fifty miles from the end of our journey. Nothing remained but to reduce our allowance; so, instead of one pound, we were rationed at three-quarters of a pound a day, and, at the same time, were forced to make incredible exertions to travel faster.
"Not long after this, Captain Willie received a message from the Apostle Richards. It is the custom, you know, for people who want to send messages to emigrants who come after them, to write a note on a scrap of paper and tie it to a stone or a piece of wood and leave it on the way. No one disturbs it, as no one but the emigrants travel along that road, and they are sure to find it. It was from a rough postoffice like this that Captain Willie got his letter. In it the Apostle told him that we should receive supplies from Salt Lake when we reached the South Pass; but that we knew would be too late. So our allowance was again reduced, and after that we were rationed at an average of ten ounces for every person over ten years of age. The men who drew the carts received twelve ounces, the women and aged men, nine ounces, and the children from four to eight ounces according to age. Before this, the men with families had done better than the single men, as they had been able to save a little from the children's rations, and of course they did not like this new arrangement so well.
"Picture to yourself these men—in the cool air of September, drawing after them each one a loaded cart, with one or more children, most frequently superadded to its weight, trudging wearily every day, ten, fifteen, or twenty miles over the rough desert, wading across streams with the women and children, setting up tents at night, working as they had never worked before in all their lives, and withal keeping soul and body together upon twelve ounces of flour a day. This but one side of the picture—the physical toil and endurance of the working men. Think what the feeble and aged, the sick, the women and children must have endured!
"By this time many of those who had hitherto held out bravely began to fail, and the people in general were greatly discouraged. Captain Willie and the Elders who assisted him did their best to keep up the spirits of the people and to get them over as much ground as they could each day. The captains over the hundreds had also no little work to perform in distributing provisions, helping the sick and infirm, and, in fact, superintending everything.
"For some time the nights had been getting colder and colder, and by the time we arrived at the Sweetwater river we suffered considerably from that cause; we felt that winter was fast approaching. In fact, it came on earlier and more severely last year than at any time before, since the Saints settled in Utah. Does it not seem strange that at the very time when they were offering up special prayers for us in Zion, that we might be defended from cold and storm, the terrors of a more than ordinary winter overtook us and proved fatal to so many of our company! The mountains were covered with snow, and it was soon quite evident, even to those who had prophesied most loudly that the Lord would work a special miracle in our behalf, that the storm-clouds of winter would soon burst upon us.
"You have never seen the Sweetwater river, so I may as well tell you that it is a very irregular stream, and we had to cross it again and again upon our way. As usual we had to wade through the water each time, and though the men helped over the women and children as well as they could, many of us got very wet indeed, and quite chilled, and we were all cold and miserable. Still, our faith never gave way—some, I know, began to doubt a little, but they had not yet lost all faith, and discouraged and wretched, as indeed we were, the greater number bore up with heroic resolution. I noticed, however, on the faces of some poor souls—men and women—a peculiar expression which it is impossible for me to describe. Later on I was led to believe that at that time they, perhaps unconsciously, felt the presentiment of that fearful death which so soon overtook them.
"We suffered much at night. You may remember that I told you we were only allowed seventeen pounds of clothing and bedding, and that, of course, was of little use. Sleeping in a tent, under any circumstances, is not generally pleasant to those who are accustomed to the shelter of a house, but sleeping in a tent, exposed to the keen night air of the wilderness, and with scarcely a rag of covering, was almost sufficient to prove fatal to the stoutest and strongest. During the summer time, although our fare was scanty and our labor incessant, we rose each morning refreshed and strengthened and ready for the toils of the day. But now we crept out of our tents cramped and miserable, half-frozen, and with our eyes red and tearful with the cold. We seemed to have no life left in us.
"These things soon began to tell upon the health of every one of us, especially upon the aged and those who were sickly. Hope at last died out in their poor weary hearts. One by one they fell off—utterly worn out. Poor things! how they had longed to see the promised Zion, and now all expectation of peaceful rest on earth was over—the bitter end had come.
"We dug graves for them by the wayside in the desert, and there we laid them with many tears, scarcely daring to look one another in the face, for we felt that our own time might perhaps be nearer than we thought.
"One by one at first they fell off, but before long the deaths became so frequent that it was seldom that we left a camp-ground without burying one or more. This was, however, only the beginning of evil.
"Soon it was no longer the aged and the sickly who were taken off, but the young and strong, who under other circumstances would have set disease and death at defiance. Cold, hunger, and excessive toil brought on dysentery, and when once attacked by that, there was little hope for the sufferer, for we had no medicine, and it was quite out of our power to give them relief in any other way. I now began to fear for my husband, for I had noticed for some time an expression of extreme weariness in his face. Our trials had not hardened our hearts; on the contrary, I think, as death seemed to be drawing near, our affection for each other grew more pure and devoted, and in my heart I often prayed, that if it were His will, God would let us die together and rest in the same grave. We never spoke a word to each other on this subject, but we felt the more. I exerted all my strength, and day after day toiled along at his side, helping him all I could; but although he never complained, I saw in his eyes a dull and heavy look which, more than any words, told of failing strength and the approach of disease, and my heart sank within me.
"But my own troubles did not alone engross my attention; there was too much wretchedness around us to allow anyone to be absorbed entirely in his own griefs. Acts of devotion on the part of both parents and children came before me daily such as would have put to shame the stories of filial and parental piety which we used to be taught at school.
"I saw one poor man whose health had evidently never been strong, draw the cart with his two little ones in it, as well as the baggage, mile after mile, until he could hardly drag his weary limbs a step further; his wife carried a little five months old baby in her bosom. This they did day after day, until disease attacked the husband, and it was evident that he could bear up no longer. The next morning I saw him, pale as a corpse, bowed down, and shivering in every limb, but still stumbling on as best he could. Before the day was half over, the poor wife lagged behind with her babe, and the husband did not seem to notice her. This was not the result of heartlessness on his part; I believe that even then he had lost all consciousness. He did not know it, but he was dying. Still he stumbled on, until the short wintry day came to a close, and we pitched our camp, and then I missed him. There was no time to enquire, and chill came over my heart as I thought of what might be his fate. Presently my husband came to the tent and told me all. The poor man had dragged the cart up to the last moment, and, when the company halted for the night, he had turned aside, and sitting down he bowed his head between his knees and never spoke again. Later still, the poor wife reached the camp, and I saw her then. There was no tear in her eyes, and she uttered neither cry nor moan, but there was upon her features a terrible expression of fixed despair which I dared not even look upon.
A few days after this, one morning as we were almost ready to start, I saw that poor mother in her tent, just as they had found her. She was cold and still—frozen to death—her sorrows were over at last, and her poor weary spirit was at rest; but on her bosom, still clasped in her arms, and still living, was her little child, unconscious of its mother's fate.
"Most of those who died, as far as I could tell, seemed to pass away quietly and with little pain, as if every feeling of the heart were numbed and dead. But my own sufferings and fears at that time were so great that I could not be a very close observer. Strange as it may seem, the fear of death did not so much appear to terrify these poor victims as the thought that their bodies would be buried by the way-side in the desert, instead of in the sacred ground of Zion. Poor souls! the absorbing passion of their life was strong in death.
"As death thinned our ranks, the labors of those who survived were increased, until at last there were hardly enough left with strength sufficient to pitch our tents at night. A great deal devolved upon the captain of our hundred, Elder Chislett. He is a very good man, and a devoted Saint; and I am glad to say that both he and a lady to whom he was betrothed, and who was also with our company, escaped with their lives. I have often seen him, when we stopped for the night, carrying the sick and feeble on his back from the wagon to the fire, and then working harder than a slave would work in putting things straight for the night. He showed a great many kindnesses to my husband and myself.
"But individual efforts availed nothing against fatigue and hunger, and the fearful cold. To the minds of all of us, the end was fast approaching. Nothing but our faith sustained us; and foolish as many people would think that faith, I am quite sure, that but for it, no living soul of all our company would have ever reached Salt Lake.
"At last the storm came, and the snow fell—I think it must have been at least five or six inches deep within half an hour. The wind was very keen and cutting, and it drifted the snow right into our faces; and thus blinded by the storm, and scarcely able to stand, we stumbled on that day for fully sixteen miles. What we suffered it would be useless for me to attempt to describe. Some of the scenes we witnessed were heartrending.
"There was a young girl, with whom I was very well acquainted, and whom I saw struggling in the snow, clinging to one of the hand-carts, and vainly trying to help in pushing it on, but really doing just the contrary. She is now in Salt Lake City, a helpless cripple, her limbs downwards having been frozen during that storm, and subsequently amputated. A poor old woman, too, whom I think you must have known in London, lingered behind later in the day. When night came on it was impossible for any one to go back to search for her, but, in the morning, not very far from the camp, some torn rags—the remains of her dress—were found, a few bones, a quantity of hair, and at a little distance a female skull, well gnawed, and with the marks of the wolf-fangs still wet upon it;—the snow all round was crimsoned with blood.
"We halted for a little while in the middle of that day, and to our surprise and joy, Joseph A. Young and Elder Stephen Taylor drove into the camp. We found that when the returning missionaries, of whom I have already told you, left us by the Platte river, they made their way as speedily as they could to Salt Lake City. Joseph A., who felt deeply for our sufferings, although he had been away from home for two whole years, hastened to his father, and reported to him the condition in which we were. Brigham Young was of course anxious to undo the mischief which had resulted from the people following his inspired counsel, and at his son's earnest entreaty allowed him to return with provisions and clothing to meet us. Joseph A. lost no time, but pressed on to the rescue, and having told us that assistance was on the way, hastened eastward to meet the company that was following us.
"I cannot tell you what a relief this intelligence was to the minds of all, and how much the poor people felt encouraged by it. But as for me, at that time my heart was sad enough. For some time my husband's strength had evidently been failing, and for the last two days I had felt very serious apprehensions on his behalf. He had been overtasked [overtaxed], and like the rest of us he was starving with cold and hunger, and I saw that he could not hold out much longer. My worst fears were speedily realized. We had not journeyed half a mile from the place where we rested at noon, when, blinded by the snow, and completely broken down, he dropped the rail of the cart, and I saw that he could go no further. How I felt, you, as a wife and mother, only can guess. In a moment my own weakness was forgotten; my love for my husband made me strong again. To leave him there or to delay would have been death to one if not all of us. So I called to those who shared the cart with us, and they helped me as well as they could to lift my husband up and put him under part of the bedding. It was the only chance of saving his life, for, as I before mentioned, some, previous to this, who had been overcome, and had lingered by the way, had been frozen to death or devoured by the wolves.
"I then took hold of the cross-bar or handle of the cart, and numbed with the cold, and trembling in every limb, it was as much as I could do to raise it from the ground. To move the cart was impossible, so I appealed to the old folks again, and they exerted all their strength to push it from behind, and our combined efforts at length succeeded; but the chief weight fell upon me. How gladly I bore it; how gladly I would have borne anything for the mere chance of saving my dear husband's life, your own heart can tell.
"The snow drifted wildly around us, and beat in our faces so blindingly that we could hardly proceed. The greater part of the train had passed on while we delayed on account of my husband, and now every one was making the most desperate efforts to keep up with the rest; to be left behind was death. Had I been asked whether under any circumstances I could have dragged that heavy cart along in all that storm, I should certainly have replied that it would be utterly impossible; but until we are tried we do not know what we can bear. It was not until the night came on, and we pitched our tents, that I realized what I had passed through.
"They helped me to carry my husband to the tent, and there we laid him, and I tried to make him as easy as was possible under the circumstances, but comfort or rest was altogether out of the question. All that night I sat beside him, sometimes watching, sometimes falling into a fitful sleep. I did not believe that he would live through the night. In the morning he was by no means improved, and then I felt too truly the abject misery of our position. It is a painful thing to watch at the bedside of those we love when hope for their recovery is gone, but think what it must be to sit upon the cold earth in a tent, upon the open desert, with the piercing wind of winter penetrating to the very bones, and there before you, the dear one—your life, your all on earth—dying, and you without a drop of medicine, or even a morsel of the coarsest nourishment, to give him. Oh, the bitterness of my soul at that moment! I tried to pray, but my heart was full of cursing; it seemed to me as if even God Himself had forgotten us. The fearful misery of that dark hour has left on my soul itself a record as ineffaceable as the imprint of a burning iron upon the flesh.
"The morning broke at last, dark and dreary, and a thick heavy mantle of snow covered all the camp, but we contrived to communicate with each other, and soon it was whispered that five poor creatures had been found dead in the tents. Want, and weariness, and the bitter cold had done their work, and we did not weep for them—they were at rest; but for ourselves we wept that we were left behind—and we looked at one another, wistfully, wondering which of us would be taken next.
"We buried those five poor frozen corpses in one grave, wrapped in the clothing in which they died, and then we comforted each other as best we might, and left the dead who were now beyond our reach, that we might do what we could for those who were fast following them to the grave. A meeting of the leaders was held, and it was resolved that we should remain where we were until the promised supplies reached us. We could not, in fact, do otherwise, for the snow was so deep that it was impossible for us to proceed, and the sick and dying demanded immediate attention. That morning, for the first time, no flour was distributed—there was none. All that remained, besides our miserable cattle, was a small quantity of hard biscuit which Captain Willie bought at Laramie, and a few pounds of rice and dried apples. Nearly all the biscuit was at once divided among the whole company, and the few pounds which remained, together with the rice and apples, were given to Elder Chislett for the use of the sick and the very little children. They also killed two of the cattle and divided the beef. Most of the people got through their miserable allowance that very morning, and then they had to fast.
"Captain Willie set out that morning with another Elder to meet the coming supplies and hasten them on, and as we saw them disappear in the distant west we almost felt as if our last hope departed with them, so many chances there were that we should never see them again.
"The whole of that long, long day I sat beside my husband in the tent—and I might almost say I did no more. There was nothing that I could do. The little bedding that was allowed for both of us I made up into a couch for him; but what a wretched make-shift it was! And I got from Elder Chislett a few of the dried applies which had been reserved for the sick; but it was not until nightfall that my husband was capable of swallowing anything—and then, what nourishment to give to a sick man! The day was freezingly cold, and I had hardly anything on me, and had eaten nothing since the day before; for my mind was so agitated that I do not think the most delicate food would have tempted me. God alone knows the bitterness of my heart as I sat there during all that weary day. I never expected to see my husband open his eyes again, and I thought that when evening came I would lie down beside him and we would take our last long sleep on earth together.
"When night came on and all was dark I still sat there; I dreaded to move lest I should learn the terrible truth—my husband dead! I looked towards the place where I knew he was lying, but I could see nothing. I listened, and I fancied that I heard a gentle breathing—but it was only fancy. Then, louder than the incessant moaning of the wind, I could hear in the distance a fearful cry—a cry which had often chilled our hearts at midnight on the plains—it was the wolves! The darkness grew darker still—so thick that one could almost feel it; the horror of death seemed stealing over all my senses. Oh that there might be one long eternal night to blot out for ever our miseries and our existence. I threw my hands wildly above me and cried bitterly: 'O God, my God, let me die!'"
"God was nearer to me than I thought. As my hand dropped lifelessly to the ground it touched some moving thing—it was my husband's hand—the same hand which I had watched in the twilight, stiffening, as I thought, in death. The long, thin fingers grasped my own, and though they were very, very cold, I felt that life was in them; and as I stopped down to kiss them I heard my husband's voice, very weak and feeble, saying in a whisper—"Mary." I threw myself upon his bosom. In a moment the fear of death—the longing for death—the wild and terrible thoughts, all had gone;—the sound of that voice was life to me, and forgetful of his weakness, forgetful of everything but him, I threw myself upon his bosom and wept tears of joy.
"Very carefully and gently I raised him up, and, in the darkness, every whispered word conveyed more meaning to my mind than all his eloquence in by-gone times. After some time I persuaded him to take a little nourishment—miserable stuff that it was—and presently he fell asleep again. I laid his dear head upon the best pillow that I could make of some of my own clothes, and then I slept a little myself—not much, but it was more refreshing than any sleep that had visited my eyes for long time past—hope had come again.
"The next morning my husband was evidently better, and I knelt down beside him and thanked God for the miracle that He had wrought; for was it not a miracle thus to raise my dead to life again? How many stronger, stouter men than he had I seen fall sick and die; but to me God had shown mercy in my utmost need.
"We waited three long days for the return of Captain Willie. My heart was so full of thankfulness that my husband had been spared that I certainly did not feel so acutely the misery with which I was surrounded as I otherwise should have done; I was like the prisoner who feels happy in a reprieve from death, but whose situation is nevertheless such as would appear to any other person the most wretched in which he could be placed. The misery that was suffered in that camp was beyond the power of words to describe. On the second day they gave us some more beef-rations, but they did us little good. The beef was, of course, of the poorest, and eaten alone, it did not seem to satisfy hunger, and those who were prostrated by dysentery, although they ate it ravenously, suffered much in consequence afterwards.
"The number of the sick rapidly increased, and not a few died from exhaustion; and really those seemed happiest who were thus taken from the horrors which surrounded them. Had it not been for the intense frost, we should all probably have fallen victims to the intolerable atmosphere of the camp. I would not even allow my mind to recall some of the scenes which I witnessed at that time: scenes, the disgusting and filthy horrors of which, no decent words could describe. When you consider the frightful condition in which we were, the hunger and cold which we endured, you may perhaps be able in a small degree to conjecture—as far as a person can conjecture who has not himself suffered such things—what we then passed through. I saw poor miserable creatures, utterly worn out, dying in the arms of other forlorn and hopeless creature as wretched as themselves; I saw strong and honest, honorable men, or who had once been such, begging of the captain for the miserable scraps which had been saved for the sick and the helpless children; I saw poor heart-broken mothers freezing to death, but clasping as they died, in an agony of loving woe, the torn and wretched remnants of clothing which they still retained, around the emaciated forms of their innocent babes—the mother-instinct strong in death; and sometimes at night when, all unbidden, I see again in dreams the awful sufferings of those poor God-forsaken wretches, I start in horror and pray the Almighty rather to blot out from my mind the memory of all the past, than to let me ever recollect, if but in fancy, that fearful time.
"The third day came, and still no relief. There are mysterious powers of endurance in human nature, weak as we often deem it, but there is a point beyond which the bow, however flexible, will not bend. It was evident that if no help arrived speedily, the end was not far off.
"The sun was sinking behind the distant western hills, in all the glory of the clear frosty atmosphere of the desert, and many who gazed upon its beauty did so with a mournful interest, believing that they would never again behold the light of day. But at that moment some who were anxiously watching with a last hope—watching for what they hardly dared expect to see—raised a shout of joy. We knew what it was! Men, women, and children rushed from their tents to welcome the approaching wagons and our friends in time of need. Captain Willie and the other Elder had found the rescue from Salt Lake overtaken by the storm just as we were, but he had told them of our terrible situation, and they had hastened on without a moments delay. It was he and they, convoying good supplies, who now approached us. The poor creatures shouted wildly for joy, even the strong men shed tears, and the sisters, overcome with the sudden change from death to life, flung themselves into the arms of the brethren as they came into the camp and covered them with kisses. Such happiness you never saw—everyone shaking hands and speaking joyfully—everyone saying 'God bless you' with a meaning such as is seldom attached to those words.
"The supplies were to us more than food and clothing—they were life itself. Elder John Chislett was appointed to distribute the provisions and clothing, and everything was placed in his hands. He gave out to us all what was immediately necessary, but strongly cautioned us to be very moderate in what we ate, as it was dangerous to go from the extreme of fasting to a full meal. After supper, the clothing and bedding was fairly divided, and we felt more thankful for those little comforts than a person, who had never endured as we had, would have felt had he become suddenly the recipient of boundless luxury.
"Two of the Elders who had held forth such delusive hopes to the company, not long before, as I have already told you, were with the brethren who came to our relief. I have never ventured to ask how it was that they could hold out to us in God's name such promises, when they must have known, after a moment's reflection, that they were utterly baseless, but I think that probably they left their comfortable homes in Salt Lake City and came across the stormy desert with supplies to meet us, only to show practically how anxious they were to atone for having led us astray. Next morning Elder Grant went on east to meet the company following us, but Elder W. H. Kimball took command of our company for the rest of the way.
"We could now journey but very slowly, for the road was bad, the sick and weakly were, however, able to ride, and altogether we suffered less. To some this change for the better arrived too late—the mental and physical sufferings which they had endured were too much for them. Poor souls! they alone and their Father in heaven knew what they had passed through. They seemed to have lost all consciousness, as if their faculties had been numbed and stultified. We talked to them of the past, but they looked at us with unmeaning eyes, as if we spoke of something in which they had no interest; we tried to lead their thoughts to Zion, and the promises of the Lord; but it was all in vain. They turned from us with a look of terrible apathy; and one or two, who partly seemed to understand, only replied with an indifference painful to witness—"too late, too late!"
"As we journeyed, the weather every day grew colder: Many of the unfortunate people lost their fingers and toes, others their ears; one poor woman lost her sight, and I was told of a poor sick man who held on to the wagon-bars to save himself from jolting and all his fingers frozen off. Few, if any, of the people recovered from the effects of that frost. One morning they found a poor old man who had vainly tried the evening before to keep up with the rest. His corpse was not far from the camp, but it had been sadly mangled by the wolves. Then there came another snowstorm, only worse in proportion as the weather was colder, and it was with the utmost difficulty that we could be kept from freezing. We wrapped blankets and anything else we could get around us, but the cold wind penetrated to our very bones. I was told that some of the people, even women and children who lagged behind were whipped so as to make them keep up, and to keep life in them. I did not see this myself, but I believe, if the story was true, it was an act of mercy and not of cruelty, for to delay a moment was fatal. The captain of our hundred, more than once stayed behind the company to bury some unfortunate person who died on the road: how he ever got up with us again I cannot tell, but he seemed to be as indefatigable in his labors as he was wonderfully preserved.
"Sometimes the carts came to a dead stand-still, and several had to be fastened together and drawn by a united effort, and in more than one instance the poor people gave up altogether;—they were carried on, while they lived, as well as we could; but their carts were abandoned. The stragglers came in slowly to camp the night of the storm;—the people from the Valley even went back to fetch some in; and it was nearly six o'clock in the morning before the last arrived
"The next day we remained in camp, for there were so many sick and dying that we could not proceed. Early in the morning Elder Chislett and three other Elders went round to see who was dead, that they might be buried. They found in the tents fifteen corpses—all stiff and frozen. Two more died during the day. A large square hole was dug and they were buried in it three abreast, and then they were covered with leaves and earth, every precaution being taken to keep them from the wolves. Few of the relatives of those who were dead came to the burial—they did not seem to care—death had become familiar to them, and personal misery precluded sorrow for the dead.
"As we drew nearer to Salt Lake Valley we met more of the brethren coming to our assistance. They supplied us with all we needed, and then hastened on to meet those who followed us. The atmosphere seemed to become sensibly warmer, and our sufferings were proportionately less as we approached Zion.
"What the feelings of others might have been when they first saw the goal of our hopes—Zion of our prayers and songs—I cannot tell. Weary, Oh, so weary I felt, but thankful, more than thankful that my husband's life had been spared. He was pale and sick, but he was with me still.
"I have written too much already, Sister Stenhouse. I cannot tell you more now, but I may as well add that when we left Iowa City we were about five hundred in all. Some left us on the way. When we left Florence and began the journey across the Plains we were over four hundred and twenty, of which number we buried sixty-seven—a sixth of the whole. The company which followed us, and to which I have frequently alluded, fared worse than we. They numbered six hundred when they started, but they buried one hundred and fifty on the journey—one in every four. May God grant that I may never again see such a sight as was presented by the miserable remnant of that last company as they came on slowly through the Can[y]on towards Salt Lake Valley.