Transcript for Samuel K. Gifford reminiscences, 1864, 9-10
So I started for the Rocky Mountains in the spring of 1850. I went to Council Bluffs and found my mother in Plum Hollow on the east side of the Missouri River. She packed up and I took her with me. We then went to Council Point where I found Uncle Levi Gifford and family who were getting ready for the journey. We staid a few days for them to get ready and then we drove down to the lower ferry below the mouth of the Platte River. Here we found a great many had gathered to be organized for the journey. We were organized into Brother [Benjamin] Hawkins’ hundred, Thomas Johnson’s fifty. My team consisted of one yoke of oxen, one yoke of three year old steers and one yoke of cows. We crossed the river in a flat boat and camped at the mouth of Salt Creek on the Platte bottom. Here I consider a miracle was wrought for the benefit of the companies that were about to cross the plains. The Pawnee Indians made their appearance by hundreds, and I believe by thousands, for they could be seen standing on the bluffs like a thousand stumps. Quite a lot of them came into camp and commenced begging and stealing, and stole more than they begged. One finally stole a sack of crackers, and got caught at it and brought it back. The old Chief, quite an old Indian gave him a number of heavy licks with his riding whip over the head and gave him a terrible talking to. I suppose it was for getting caught and not for stealing. About this time it was discovered that a Gentile who had come up on a steamboat and got into our company to cross the Plains was nearly dead with the small pox. This word was soon conveyed to the Redmen who disappeared like dew before the searching rays of the sun. The Cholera also commenced it work in camp and soon we burried a gentile that died of the Cholera and then Peter Shirts’ wife died. Then Captain Thomas Johnson called the camp together and said “If you will do as I tell you with regard to the water that you use for drinking I will promise you that there shall not more than five die in this camp with the Cholera. All believed what he said and did accordingly and the strange promise was literally fulfilled, for just five and no more died. While the gold seekers ahead of us and the Saints behind us were dying at a fearfut rate. I will now tell about the water. The Platte water being muddy, there had been wells dug all along the Platte bottom to get clear water. The wells were about six feet deep with steps dug to get to the water. The council was this, “To not go near those wells for water but get their water out of the river and drink none without boiling and to fill their churns, teakettles, and everything that they had that would hold water with boiled water to use while traveling. There was in the camp a kind of a fearful looking for the Small pox, as quite a number had been exposed, but no one had it. The Lord had respects to the words of his servant and preserved the camp from farther sickness and death.
Brother Lorenzo Young overtook our camp with a large herd of sheep one days drive below the south crossing of the Platte. When we came to the crossing we unloaded some of our wagons and took the sheep over in wagons. We had to raise our wagon boxes to cross the river to keep things dry. After crossing, Uncle Levi Gifford, Abram and Iabex [Jabez] Durfee and myself started to accompany Lorenzo Young to help guard his sheep through but we had but traveled one day until word came to us that Aunt Deborah Gifford could not be spared from Johnson camp, so Uncle Levi and myself stopped and waited for the company. I will here state that while I was at Council Point I took a severe Diarrhea and it continued to weaken me down until I was quite weak. We made camp one afternoon on the bank of the river where there was no wood to be got without crossing onto an island. It was perhaps from fifteen to 20 rods across to the island, and a portion of it was quite deep. We took ropes over with us and lashed a lot of wood together leaving rope enough so that we could swim ahead of the wood and pull it after us. When I was within a rod of the shore I commenced sinking. It was discovered by a lot of men on the shore. I had on heavy boots and was very weak and did not realize it till I got into deep water. About the same time a boy a little below was sinking for the third time when some man caught him and brought him to shore.
The horror that reigned in camps ahead of us cannot be described. Sometimes (places) for miles could be seen, feather beds, blankets, quilts, and clothing of every kind strewed over the plains, also wagon tires and irons of every description, gun barrels, stoves, etc. etc. The bottom of the Sweetwater was also lined with wagon tires, chains and other irons. And fresh graves could be seen in every direction. We met some missionaries going east who said they met companies of the gold emigration that were driving twelve abreast, hurrying to get away from the Cholera. Missouri and Illinois were well represented among the dead. These were the two states that had driven the Saints enmass ______ and some of them their bones are now bleaching on the plains.
We continued our journey slowly till at length we camped fifteen miles below Laramie, a small fort where a few of Uncle Sam’s soldiers were stationed. Here we found a camp of Indians of the Sioux Nation. These were the first redmen we had seen since the great small pox scare on Salt Creek. One of my steers became so lame that I had to leave him on the Prairie. I took a widow woman into my wagon and hitched up or yoked up a cow belonging to her and thus we continued our journey. An old man by the name of Richards who had a cancer on his lip, a captain of a ten in our company, got mad because Captain Johnson asked him to help some of the poor by letting them use some of his loose cattle (of which he had a great plenty) to help them on their journey. He took his ten and went ahead of the main compnay and drove to Bitter Cottonwoods in the Black Hills where there was good water, wood and feed. And when Captain Johnson came up a little later with the balance of the company (ie) the main company, Richards behaved like a mad-man. He started out very early the next morning and we saw him no more till we got to Deer Creek. Here Johnson took a halt by the edge of a nice grove of Boxelders, made a coalpit and burned coal, staid twelve days fixing wawgons, setting tires and shoeing oxen etc. I had not got my tire set. I was told that I could wedge them on. The idea was something new to me but I went to work and wedged them till I thought all was safe but I had not gone a half a mile till I had to stop and wedge up again, but I soon learned how to wedge a wagon. I will here mention that I had not been well since I took the Dirreah so bad at Council Point. While stopping at the Boxelder grove on Deercreek we were surrounded with wild currants of every kind, size, and color, and wild cherries in abundance. I ate them both cooked and raw. One day Peter Shurtz [Shirts] and a man by the name of Harns who has since been Bishop of Gunnison went up into the Black Hills some ten or twelve miles and killed a buffaloe and some antilope. And some others took two wheels of a wagon and made a cart of it and went after the meat. While coming down a steep mountain, pulling the cart with an ox team the cart run onto the oxen and broke the tongue of the cart. The men went to camp without the meat. They said the cart was about five miles from camp and that we could go to it and back before dark. It was about the middle of the afternoon. So there was five horsemen and five footmen started out without any lunch, thinking that we could be back to camp for supper. I was among the footmen. We traveled till we had gone at least ten miles. It was getting dark. We went onto a knole in the middle of a large valley. At a great distance across the valley we discovered something while on the side of the mountain and knowing that the cart had a cover onit, we concluded it must be the object of our search. But it looked more like a big rock. So we took the course and kept it as best we could in the dark and when we got there we found that we were not mistaken. We found the cart full of meat, some fresh and good and some spoiled. We found ourselves in a nice grove of pine, fur, popple (Quaking-asp) etc. Here we were without bread and the weather seemed very cold up so high in the mountains. So we built a large fire and broiled meat without salt and spent the night in eating fresh broiled meat and resting ourselves as best we could on the ground before a large fire. When daylight came I discovered that we were surrounded with service berries, the first I had ever [Text missing]