Transcript for Sarah Hollister Harris, An Unwritten Chapter of Salt Lake, 1851-1901 (New York: privately printed, 1901), 5-31
The following true story of an experience in my life which pertains to a period when Millard Fillmore was President of the United States, would never have been written but for the urgent request of the younger members of my family, who are so deeply interested in the events which are here portrayed, that they plead with me to write this article, believing that the circumstances which occurred at that time, and which are a part of the history of our country, will be as interesting to others as they are to my own family circle.
With much modesty therefore, and with an untried pen for such work, I now relate the story, with the assurance that every incident given is absolutely true.
Early in the spring of 1851, we left our northern home and commenced the long and wearisome journey to Salt Lake City. The Territory of Utah had recently been established, and the following Officers appointed.
Judge Lemuel G. Brandebury, Chief Justice
Judge Perry E. Brochus
Judge Zerubbabel Snow
Secretary & Treasurer.
Broughton D. Harris.
Stephen B. Rose.
Having visited Washington and obtained final instructions from the President and the Secretary of State, Daniel Webster, we journeyed leisurely across the Alleghany Mountains by stage to Pittsburg, thence, via the Ohio River, to Cincinnati and St. Louis. Here we remained long enough to obtain everything necessary for our comfort, and a three months' supply of food.
We met kind friends who made our stay extremely pleasant. Mr. Roswell Field and his young wife entertained us most hospitably in their delightful and refined home, its greatest attraction, their beautiful baby boy, Eugene, even thus early giving abundant promise of his brilliant future.
Here Broughton received into his possession, by virtue of his office as Treasurer of Utah, $24,000 in gold, to be used for Territorial and Governmental purposes. This became to us in the end, the source of infinite trouble.
All arrangements being now completed, we went on board the steamer, and were soon on our way up the Missouri River.
Unfortunately the water was low, and snags appeared continually, and very often our steamer became entangled with them. Sometimes three days would pass despite the efforts of men and windlass, before release came.
At this time there was not a white settlement in Kansas. Indians alone occupied the broad and fertile land.
We were often greatly interested in the Indian villages, and in their inhabitants, as they crowded to the water's edge, curious to see the steamer pass by. Our lower deck contained several hundred Mormon emigrants, and a very favorite amusement among them was to throw bottles, oranges, etc., into the water, and watch the young Indians plunge and swim for them.
A sad incident occurred at the close of one most lovely day, when the cry of-"Child overboard"-rang through the steamer. Quickly a boat was lowered, and strong men rowed with the utmost speed toward the little body drifting so rapidly away, but their efforts were of no avail; he sank before they could reach him. He was the only child of his parents, who were Mormons from Wales.
Twenty one days elapsed before we reached Council Bluffs, and met the rest of the Territorial Officers, and others who were to accompany us across the Plains. Several weeks were here consumed in making the necessary arrangements for the almost unknown journey before us.
Mormon emigrants had gathered in crowds into the little town, so much so that the Officers were most unwillingly forced to share with fifty other people, a large barn-like hall. Here commenced our first experience in frontier life. A few feet square were marked out on the floor for us to occupy as sleeping room, sitting room, etc. It is not to be wondered that some tears were shed by the Secretary's wife as nightfall came on, or that misgivings began to arise in the Secretary's mind as to the wisdom of bringing a young girl into the midst of such unexpected scenes. However the courage of youth and ignorance came to our relief, and ignoring trials, we calmly prepared ourselves for what lay before us.
It was not until the morning of the fourteenth day of May, that our little company took its departure from Council Bluffs. Our carriage was arranged to be turned into a bed at night, with every possible contrivance for comfort and convenience, and we had a beautiful pair of horses-I give their names, Charlie and Billy, as they became such friends and companions to us later on.
Our baggage wagon was driven by a faithful man-of-all-work, William Brackett. In it were our trunks, stove, tent, food, and a variety of things which proved must [sic] useful.
The members of the party consisted of the other Officers of the Territory and their families, teamsters, etc., in all, eleven men, five women, and several little children. All with an outfit similar to ours. It was indeed a small company, and poorly provided for the hardships and dangers before us.
We went over the Missouri River in relays, on a flatboat, and as we approached the shore, a row of Indians sat watching us stolidly, wrapped in their blankets, and evincing not the slightest curiosity. We drove up onto the bluff, not a habitation in view, waiting for the rest of the party to cross. At length all were safely over the River, and, passing directly over the spot where now lies the City of Omaha, we drove on a few miles and encamped for the night.
It was a new experience for all but one of us, Mr. Almon Babbett [sic], who, having crossed the Plains before, now became our leader and guide.
After all arrangements had been made for preparing supper, Mr. Babbett's spring which he had expected to find close by, proved to be a mile away. Willing hands soon remedied the matter, and we proceeded to partake of our first meal in the open air. It made little difference what the food was, everything was delicious to appetites born of the excitement of the first day of what seemed the beginning of a long picnic. I assure you it was no picnic in the end.
The third day of our journey brought us to the bank of the Elkhorn, a small stream, easily fordable, where we stopped for our noonday rest and lunch. In an incredibly short time a sudden storm came on, the Elkhorn became a roaring torrent, and an entire week passed before we were able to procced [proceed], and then we accomplished only a mile. The whole country was covered with water as far as we could see. There were only a few acres of ground visible, and here we were encamped three weeks under circumstances of the greatest discomfort.
Rattlesnakes, small and large, were driven out of their haunts, and were not infrequently seen in the camp.
A lady found one crawling up on the wheel of her carriage as she was making her morning toilet; another was discovered coiled under a carriage with little children playing about.
On one occasion supper was being prepared, and all the while the wind was blowing with such force that the tent could not be pitched, and the cakes on the stove were covered with a tin pan to enable them to be cooked at all. The storm broke suddenly upon us, and the tin cover soared fifty feet into the air, the cakes following in quick succession; the wood and ashes disappeared in the twinkling of an eye, and we went wet and supperless to our carriage, which had previously been securely fastened by ropes to nearby trees.
Every morning the men took counsel together, and many were the devices proposed for our relief. A boat of some sort seemed all important, and various efforts to secure one were made. The body of a large baggage wagon was taken from its wheels, and comforters were destroy that the cotton might be used to cork up the seams and holes, and so make it answer the purpose. It is not strange that the result was a sad failure.
Again, volunteers were called for to go into a grove of cottonwood trees, and cut one down, out of which a boat or canoe might be constructed. Broughton was the first one to respond; others followed his example, and, standing in deep waters, commenced their labors. Hearing a noise on a branch near his head, and turning to learn the cause, Broughton discovered that a large rattlesnake had taken refuge there. The effort to construct a canoe ended abruptly, and the snake was left in possession of his temporary home. The men retreated to the camp deciding to await in patience the subsidence of the waters.
Rain fell daily; thunder storms came on with such rapidity, and were so frightful as to terrify the strongest man. During our imprisonment three men were killed by the lightning, and it is no wonder we almost lost heart, or that much anxiety was felt lest food for ourselves, as well as for our animals, should fail. Three times during these weeks of waiting, men were sent back to Council Bluffs, only forty miles away, for supplies of all sorts.
We were not alone in our trouble for encamped on this small space of dry land, were a number of emigrant trains, most of them Mormons bound for Salt Lake City, travelling with immense wagons drawn by oxen and cows. Kindly people they were, many of whom had been gathered from foreign lands, having yielded to the persuasive arguments of Mormon missionaries, and made to believe Brigham Young one of the Lord's anointed, and Salt Lake City the Garden of Eden.
The awakening was bitter beyond words to express.
Let me say just here, that up to this time, 1851, very little was known of Mormonism, save that it had become obnoxious to the people of Illinois. Joseph Smith had been killed, and Brigham Young had assumed his place as head of the Mormon Church, assisted by his three counsellors, and his twelve apostles. In 1847 they had emigrated to the valley of the Salt Lake, from Nauvoo, Illinois. Rumors were in the air of the existence of polygamy, which was vigorously denied by all their missionaries and officials. For instance-Judge Zerubbabel Snow of Canton, Ohio, had been appointed by President Fillmore, one of the Judges of the Supreme Court. He was living in Canton with his wife and five little daughters, the oldest twelve, and the youngest a year old. They were Mormons from theory only, never having lived with the Mormons, but having read about them as an industrious, law-abiding people, and they were greatly attracted by the descriptions of the ideal haven of rest-the Promised Land-in the heart of the Rocky Mountains. Mrs. Snow was a charming and refined woman, of poetical temperament, and most interesting in all she said and did. Before Judge Snow accepted his appointment, two of his brothers arrived at his home, directly from Salt Lake, on their way to Europe as missionaries. Here was the long sought opportunity to learn the truth. Was plural marriage practiced among the saints? The missionaries utterly and entirely denied it, advising their brother to accept the office, and to move his family there, and they were now on their way with us.
Broughton, too, had resorted to every possible means to ascertain the truth of the reports, and had taken counsel of the highest officials at Washington as to whether it would be wise to take his wife to that almost unknown region.
Daniel Webster, who was Secretary of State at the time, advised him to do so. Captain Stansbury also, who had just returned from making a government survey, and had spent much time among the Mormons at Salt Lake. I have never been able to understand why he should have given this advice, assuring Broughton that nothing of the kind existed there, when at that moment, it was one of the cardinal doctrines of the Church, and in vigorous practice.
During our stay at Council Bluffs, Mrs. Snow and I began to have very serious misgivings; signs appeared that were very disquieting, especially to her, and many were the conferences we had upon the subject.
As the days came and went of our enforced delay, our little band tried to encourage each other, making light of our situation, but great was the rejoicing when the waters subsided so that once more we could resume our journey.
We travelled along the north side of the Platte River, camping near it at night, that we might be sure of water; frequently fording it, and always fearing the quicksands in its bottom.
Game of various kinds appeared, mountain sheep, antelope, wolves, a few buffalo, and plenty of rattlesnakes.
The acres of ground given up to the minute prairie dogs were interesting. Small mounds of earth surrounded each hole; the sharp bark of the little creatures would attract our attention, and instantly they would dart back into their homes. Small owls were sometimes sitting beside them, and Broughton once shot a rattlesnake just going in with them, thus verifying the oft-told tale of the prairie dog, the owl, and the rattlesnake all living together in peace and unity.
Not infrequently did we meet strolling bands of Indians, few in numbers, who seldom gave us much uneasiness. The gravest fear we had of them was lest they should stampede our animals, and this led to unusual vigilance, especially in the nighttime, when we knew they were in our neighborhood.
On one occasion we were detained in camp a day or two, and there chanced to be a wigwam nearby occupied by a young Indian and his little squaw and papoose. Great was the indignation of the ladies of our party at the treatment of the wife. Every burden was borne by her with the utmost patience, and with no assistance from her husband. To bring the water, drag in the wood, split and chop it, and prepare the food, seemed the end and aim of her existence. We finally felt it our duty to interfere, and remonstrated with the noble red man. Alas, our words fell on stony ground, and were of no avail.
One evening, long after the usual preparations for the night were over, a tall young Indian appeared among us. He was alone, and evidently hungry, though too proud to ask for food. Finding that no one seemed ready to supply his needs I approached him, and made him understand that I would help him. He readily responded to my invitation to come and sit by our carriage while I prepared him an abundant and substantial supper. He eagerly watched every move I made, saying nothing, and when all was ready, seated himself to eat ravenously. I then and there lost faith in the gratitude of an Indian, for this splendid specimen of the race rose as the last morsel was devoured, and without a word or even look of thanks to show that he appreciated the trouble I had taken for him, disappeared in the twilight.
All along our route we had seen traces of sorrow and distress among those who had crossed the Plains the previous summer. Cholera had made sad inroads in the little companies, and numerous graves were seen with rude headboards in[s]cribed by loving hands-"Our Willie" -"Baby Ruth"-"Our Mother"-it was most pathetic.
Household treasures strewed the way; broken and abandoned wagons, stoves, chairs, and all sorts of useful articles were evidently thrown aside as means of transportation and strength of man failed. The tale of suffering was told; its tragedy and horrors could not be concealed.
Our small party had thus far escaped illness, and were all well, with plenty of courage left to meet whatever trials might lie in our pathway.
Our patience was severely tried however, by the appearance of clouds of mosquitoes, which distressed us beyond measure, and from which the horses suffered equally with ourselves. Many times we turned them completely around that the wind might blow their tormentors away. I bound a thick veil around Broughton's head, much to his relief, as without it, he could not see to guide his horses. Fortunately the infliction was not of long duration; one day's feasting upon us satisfied the pests, and they were gone as suddenly as they came.
I regret not a little that I have not a copy of the small guide book, which was at once our friend and our enemy. With what eager interest we studied its pages. Sometimes we read-"Fine road to-day, feed for the animals abundant"-"Good camping ground, with spring of sweet water nearby"-Again, "Look out for rattlesnakes to-day," caused us infinite disquiet. More than all we feared its frequent mention of "Deep ravines." Well we knew that this meant disaster to some vehicle, and probable delay of the company. Apparently our road stretched out an unbroken level before us, when suddenly we would come to one of these dangerous ravines, narrow and deep. Bridges there were none; however steep the banks, there was no alternative; down one side and up the other we must go. It was rare that this was accomplished without some of the animals being mired in the quicksands, and either carriage or harness, or perhaps both, broken in their frantic efforts to escape.
So it happened to us one particularly unfortunate day. As our horses left the water, mud and quicksand seized their legs, leaving the carriage on a very much inclined plane with the rear of it resting in the water. Other animals were brought to our assistance and with much exertion we were dragged to level ground and safety; at the expense however, of various straps and buckles. Incidents similar caused us many a day's delay, when we all took occasion to repair damages to wardrobes, take account of stock, set tires to wheels, prepare food, etc.
Our stove was placed in the baggage wagon during the day, and set up on the ground at night. We had plenty of ham, beans, dried fish, dried meat, salt pork, etc., etc., and our meals did not lack variety. On the eve of this particularly trying day, I had planned an especially appetizing supper-ham, and as a treat, eggs, hot biscuit, etc.-My disappointment was great indeed when I found every egg broken. They were packed in a box of salt in the rear end of our carriage, and as we emerged from the deep ravine, water had invaded the box with dire effect on the eggs.
Buckw[h]eat cakes were never failing, and in great demand, a portion of batter left over in the pail leavened and made light the next meal.
Sunday was indeed one of rest, as we never travelled on that day. If possible we encamped Saturday night near one of the emigrant trains journeying Zionward, from which we could always obtain milk-a great luxury to us.
It was pleasant to see the comfortable way in which their large unwieldy wagons had been converted into temporary homes. A door at the side with portable steps led into the centre; a bureau set across the front held many treasures; the bed arranged in the rear looked most inviting; and the mother sat in a large rocking chair in the midst, sewing or knitting. Children of all ages ran about, riding if they wished, or walking by the side of the oxen.
Ours was the only train drawn by horses or mules, on the Plains that summer, and we had become quite familiar with the people in the ox-trains, having camped with different ones as we came across them from time to time. They manifested great interest in us, especially the Mormon people of whom most of the trains were composed. They knew our destination, and envied us that we should so soon be able to reach the home of the Saints, while months must elapse before they could hope to gaze upon the sacred City.
The fact that we had no milk, strongly appealed to their sympathies; "The poor things, they have no milk," they would say, and then bestow liberally upon us. We were usually able to return their kindness; soda for their bread being with them the one thing needful.
One handsome young matron, Mrs. Douglas, was particularly friendly; possibly the fact that she and her resolute, good-looking husband had only lately been married, caused our mutual interest. We had learned many of the events of their past life in England, where the persuasive voice of some silver-tongued missionary had enticed them to leave home and friends to come to that paradise on earth where the Saints dwell in peace and harmony. She entertained no doubt of their coming happiness, or of the beauties of the wonderful City, and we privately sorrowed for her rude awakening.
Our hunters were always looking for game. Deer there were, but not in plenty, and we saw one magnificent herd of elk which was gathered on an island in the Platte River.
Often small bands of Indians appeared. One day we had encamped for our midday meal, when five strong looking braves rode into camp, and made themselves quite too familiar. One was getting into our carriage when Broughton peremptorily ordered him off. They then spread blankets down before us, and in a lordly way demanded to have "sucre," whiskey, tobacco and various other things placed upon them as toll, "for passing through their country." They were given some trifles and made to depart. Later on we learned that a party of emigrants had been attacked and robbed at that very spot, probably by the same band.
On another day we passed an Indian women [woman] sitting by the roadside, mourning for her little dead baby, her husband standing near, no emotion visible on his calm face.
At the beginning of the journey our men had formed themselves into an organized company with officers. Guards were appointed every night, each man taking his turn.
The carriages were carefully corralled, animals picketed, and every precaution taken against any possible attack from the Indians. As day after day passed, however, and nothing occurred to alarm us, vigilance was relaxed, and finally everyone retired at night and went quietly to sleep.
At Fort Laramie we stopped for supplies, and it was pleasant indeed to meet such agreable people. Captain Ketchum was in command of the Fort, and assisted us in every possible conceivable way, being instructed from Washington to furnish us everything desired.
By this time our animals were in a sorry condition, and our carriages were tied up with many an extra rope and strap. The floods had left the country full of quicksands and mud, and broken harnesses and carriages had taxed to the utmost the ingenuity of our men. Our patience was many times severely tried.
Mr. Babbett directed us judiciously and with much care. He rode a magnificent stallion, which he had found roaming about the trail on a former journey across the Plains, and which he called Survivor. I am sorry to say that it was with reference to Mr. Babbett that Mrs. Snow and I had our misgivings. We could not account for his solicitude about a certain lady who was in an ox-train of his some distance behind, and who had been near us while we were detained by the high water. We afterward found that she was one of his wives. His first wife and her children were of our party.
All went well for many days, each filled with its usual incident and routine. Trifles assumed importance, as for instance, when our little dog Princess, had her victorious encounter with a rattlesnake. We heard her barking excitedly and springing about in the long grass by the roadside. As we drove near, we saw the snake rearing its hideous head before her, shaking its rattles viciously. This was too exasperating for Princess to bear, and with one spring she caught the snake by the neck, and in a moment shook it to death. Always the pet of the family, she was now more than ever beloved, and endeared her little self to everyone in the company. A day came when the pretty little creature accidently ventured too near the wheel of a carriage, and was crushed underneath it. Peace be to her little white soul-for I know she had one.
Day by day we were getting up into the heart of the Rockies. Long ranges of mountains were visible. It became very cool at night; water would freeze, and extra clothing was required! while at midday it was decidedly hot; conditions not conducive to health. It is not surprising that Broughton arose one morning to find himself ill. He rapidly grew worse, and I soon had to take the lines into my own hands-my only experience in four-in-hand driving-while he gave up entirely, only rousing himself to guide the horses as we forded the Green River. By night he was quite delirious, and Dr. Bernhisel pronounced it a sharp attack of mountain fever. I was greatly alarmed, but the Doctor assured me that he would soon be better, and that while this was a very painful disease, it was of short duration-three days being its usual length. So in this case it proved, and at the end of that time, to my great joy, he was nearly as well as ever.
Nothing can now describe the monotony of our days. Occasionally we met one or two men bound for the States, to whom we entrusted letters to the dear ones at home.
We had passed at long distances apart, camps where white men were living with Indian wives. They gathered from the Plains lost and worn-out horses and mules, and brought them into condition for sale. Broughton had bought of them a pair of mules, we called them Jenny Lind and Fanny Estler-at that time those names were famous, the former the Swedish Nightingale, the latter the most graceful dancer on the stage.
The mules were driven behind our pair of horses, which had become tired, and we feared very much they would give out entirely.
When we reached Fort Bridger, we rested a day or two, and were most kindly treated by Col. Bridger's Indian wife-"Bridger's Mary," she was called-who freely offered us milk, butter, potatoes, everything in fact she had that would contribute to our comfort. The kind little woman-I have never forgotten her attentions to us.
Our horses were now running along beside us at their own sweet will; they could no longer help us, and had richly earned their freedom. I could call Billy out from among the band of horses, and he would run to eat from my hand any and everything left from our own table-griddle-cakes being his special delight. One night a pan of bread dough tempted him so greatly, that he quickly appropriated it.
Dear old Billy and Charlie-so faithful and obedient-surely you have had your reward.
After leaving Fort Bridger, our road led us through a wild country indeed. Mountain peaks, snow-crowned, and of indescribable grandeur, lifted their heads in air, while long ranges stretched far into the distance. The rocky formations were most interesting, and of wonderful shapes, composed of a conglomerate mass of red sandstone and various pebbles, cemented by fine particles of red and yellow earth. Many of them were so peculiar as to be named in our guide book-"Chimney Rock"-"Castle Rock" -"Holy Temple Rock" "The Twin Sisters," and so on.
Fertile valleys varied the scene and furnished fine grass for our animals, as well as much needed rest for ourselves. One particularly beautiful spot we found-"Echo Canyon"-so lovely was it that we rested there for a day and night. A few years later in this place, a band of emigrants were attacked by white men disguised as Indians and utterly destroyed in the now famous "Mountain Meadow Massacre."
To the Morons belongs the credit of this horrible outrage.
Our way became now more and more precipitous. The guide book gave timely warning of dangers ahead; carriages were strengthened, harnesses more carefully inspected, ropes added where straps should have been, and all possible precautions taken for our safety.
One terrible day remains in my memory, when Broughton besought me to leave the carriage and walk down the awful steeps. Brakes were applied to the wheels to keep them from rolling upon the animals, and Broughton, though he was strapped to the sides, found it almost impossible to keep his seat.
With all the anxiety attending our condition, I could not help laughing when the mules solved the problem, by actually sitting down and sliding to the bottom of the long descent. They held back the horses as well as the carriage, and brought us safely to our camp.
As we approached Salt Lake, a courier was sent on to the city to inform Brigham Young of our coming, and to secure for us suitable quarters.
On the morning of July nineteenth, our last day's journey, a large party of men from Salt Lake rode out into the canyons to me[e]t us, bringing champagne, preserved fruits, and many other delicacies. Among them were Mr. James M. Livingston, Mr. Benjamin Holliday, and many other well known men, who showed us by every possible courtesy, how warm was our welcome.
As we emerged from the canyons onto a plateau four miles from the city, wonderfully beautiful was the scene before us. The fair valley of the Salt Lake, surrounded by encircling snow-clad mountains, seemed indeed a haven of rest to the toil-worn and travel-stained company.Sixty-five days had passed since we left Council Bluffs, and we were now four months from our northern home.
With hearts full of gratitude that we had been brought through the many perils of the long journey, we entered the city. There were no hotels in the place, and our company took refuge in private families.Brigham Young had secured board for "Secretary and Mrs. Harris" in the home of his sister, Mrs. Fanny Young Murray. How glad we were to arrive at her comfortable house cannot be described.