Transcript for Shedd, Franklin Knox, "The Road to California: The Mormons," Bunker Hill Aurora, 29 July 1848


In the Bunker Hill Aurora have appeared several letters written by a young man named Franklin K. Shedd, whose parents reside in Charlestown, and who, in the spring of 1847, left that city, and emigrated with the Mormons in their misguided wanderings to the Far West. As these letters contain much interesting information regarding the country through which he travelled, we submit them to our readers, premising that their author died in the vicinity of the Great Salt Lake, on the 22d of February last, in consequence of eating the wild parsnip while on a hunting excursion, mistaking the root for one of similar appearance, eaten by the Indians. Mr. Shedd was only twenty-three years of age, and was loved and respected by all who knew him. His funeral was very numerously attended, and he was buried on a mountain near Salt Lake City, in the northeast part of Upper California. His death in that distant land while in the bloom of a youth which afforded much promise, is but another melancholy instance of the sad effects of following new and untried lights, whether in morals, society, politics or religion.

Council Bluffs, June 6th, 1847

Knowing your anxiety for my welfare, and having a little leisure time, I improve it by writing to you of my present situation. . . .

I shall . . . accompany Mr. J. M. Grant, who is well provided with all the requisites for the journey, and will be as well fitted as any that goes out. I shall drive one of his teams, and live in the wagon, which is strong and water-proof. I shall carry all my things, and I will here say that I have had the good luck not to lose anything on my journey so far. . . .

Indian Territory, Platte River, near

Fort Laramie, July 25th, 1847.

A few of the pioneers who left Council Bluffs to search a location for the main body early this spring, we met yesterday on their return. They will continue their journey back to-morrow, and by them I send you these lines in haste.

I wrote you from Council Bluffs, and told of many things which I have no time to repeat. There are in this company, about six hundred wagons and three thousand individuals. I suppose you think I am in the heart of the wilderness, but I have not seen any yet, but I am in the largest mowing-field, and the greatest farm for live stock I have ever seen or imagined. For the last fortnight I have seen continually herds of buffaloes, from 25,000 to 100,000 in each herd. Their meat is better than Boston market beef. You may think I have told my story in haste, but my figures are right.—They are so plenty that there is danger of their running among our cattle, and causing them to stray away with them. There are cattle and horses among them which are supposed to have strayed from other companies at different times. I had a chase once with about 1000 or 1500, (on foot,) and shot one bull. It is grand fun, for they are clumsy things to run.

There is a hunting party of about 500 Sioux Indians encamped in sight of us to-day. They are the finest looking Indians I have seen yet, and have beautiful ponies. I shall try to trade for one if possible. We smoked with them, and in the meantime their daughters were riding their wild colts about at a great rate.

We are formed in six companies of about 100 wagons each, having captains appointed to hundreds, fifties and tens. Each hundred travels in double file, breaking their tracks, or following in the tracks of the foremost, as they choose. We generally break from four to six tracks of roads, and when we encamp, each hundred forms a circle, with gaps at each end, thus [illustration of a circle with openings on each side]; the area in middle is used for a cattle yard in the night.

I have a wagon by myself to sleep in, that is dry and convenient. I drive two and three yoke of oxen. All my things which I started with from Charlestown, are preserved. I wear nothing but overalls and shirt, and shoes in bad places.

There are no rocks, or ledged or trees here. We burn “buffalo chips;” it make good fire, and is abundant. Our location will probably be on a lake called “Utaw [Utah],” about thirty miles from the Great Salt Lake. We have in our company every thing good for a settlement—the best of cattle and mules, and two grist-mills, two six-pound cannon, a boat and a bell. The health of the camp is remarkable—no deaths, and but few cases of sickness. F. K. S.

Sixty miles east of the Pass of the Rocky

Mountains, Sept. 6, 1847.

. . . I cannot tell you all that I have seen, but will relate some few things. In this country there are places where lakes have dried up, and a large mount of stuff called saleratus, lays on the bottom. It is pure and white to the depth of four or six inches, and will make good bread, and soap. A great many of the folks use it altogether—the U. S. Army also used it.

We have not seen timber for some hundred miles, and do not expect to for a hundred or less to come; we burn buffalo chips, (dung) which are dry and very abundant. We fare sumptuously on bear, buffalo, deer and antelope meat. The other day I shot two fowls called mountain sage-birds, as large as turkeys, and the meat is as good; they were very tame, and probably would be easily domesticated; they look like the Eastern partridge. Wolves are very numerous, and some panthers have been seen. We have lost about sixty head of cattle; 20 have died from poison, and 40 have strayed away among the buffalo herds. When we travel, we go from 10 to 20 miles per day. We have stopped Sundays, and when a wagon breaks down we stop and repair—set fires, &c, &c, and the women bake and wash. Everything I took from Charlestown I have preserved.

There is much travel on this route now, and probably will be for the future. We met Gen. Kearney and escort with about one or two hundred mules, about six weeks ago, on his return to the States.—This morning is chilly—I can hardly hold my pen, and we are about to start. I wrote you two letters since I left Council Bluffs. You may hear from me once more this season.

F. K. S.

Salt Lake Valley, Great
Basin, Oct. 14th, 1847.

Having still one more opportunity of sending you a letter this fall, I improve the chance.

Having still one more opportunity of sending you a letter this fall, I improve the chance. Having still one more opportunity of sending you a letter this fall, I improve the chance.

My health is and has been as good as I possibly could wish ever since I left home, and even remarkable while on the road from Council Bluffs to this place, considering the great change in my mode of living, such as being deprived of vegetables and fruits in their season, (with the exception of a few berries I gathered on the way,) and sleeping exposed to the weather—sometimes in wagons and at others in the open prairie, or on the mountains, when my turn came to guard the camp or herd the cattle, a duty from which no one was exempt, not even the captains. . . .

Since my last I have gone through such places and over such mountains as would make the heart of a Bostonian quake, were he to come upon them unawares and inexperienced—such as can[y]ons, where the water has gullied away the mountains for ages, leaving the banks on either side nearly perpendicular to the height of 400 feet, for 50 miles in extend, and only a place at the bottom barely wide enough to admit our wagons in single file, and a small brook, which we had to cross frequently with great difficulty and danger. The place called the South Pass is simply a place where two ranges of mountains seem to terminate or change their course.—The Wind river mountains can be seen on the northwest, about 95 miles off, with snow on their tops at all seasons of the year, and another range at the south-east, about 100 miles off; the same range, I think, forms the eastern boundary of this valley. . . .

I attended a ball given to the Indians and Mountaineers, at Mr Bridge[r]'s fort on Green river; it was attended by the young men and girls of our “hundred,” and I very readily went through their forms in dancing. . . .

At a camp on the Platte river, near the Sweetwater, a man proposed to go to the mountains in the north—apparently but a short distance—and bring down a snow-ball. He set out at noon, and was gone all day till dark when the camp was alarmed for his safety, and many sallied out on their horses in search of him. He was found about midnight, in the mountains, quite “tuckered out.” The distance was found to be 15 miles. . . .