Israel Evans Company (1857)
This was a Mormon handcart company, but it differed from those of the first year of handcart travel in 1856. In this company, participants had to buy their own outfits because the Perpetual Emigration Fund had run out of money. The trip across the plains cost approximately $50.00 in 1857. Captain Israel Evans was returning from a four and one-half year mission to England and Wales. Earlier, he had served as a member of the Mormon Battalion, marching from Council Bluffs, Iowa, to California and back to Utah. His emigrant company of 1857 consisted of 150 persons (69 males and 81 females, 21 under 8 years of age, and 2 over 60 years of age). They had 31 handcarts and a mule-drawn wagon that carried nine tents and provisions. Evans' assistant was Benjamin Ashby. As a tribute to these leaders, a member of the company penned the following lines:
"All hail the day that Israel was appointed to preside To guide us Saints across the plains in Zion to reside. He governs us in righteousness; his ways are true and just; Those who his counsels all obey shall greatly be blessed. Hurrah for Captain Evans, hurrah for Ashby too; They used all wisdom possible to guide us safely through."
On May 20 the emigrants made final preparations for their trek, in spite of rumors that the United States Army would soon march against the "rebellious Mormons" in Utah. Because the handcarts had a limited capacity, the travelers paid extra to send excess baggage by wagon. The party started west on May 21, traveling just three miles. Then they received final instructions from Church emigration officials Erastus Snow and James A. Little. For the next week it rained almost every day, so hard at times that the company remained in camp. The road became muddy. On the 28th men started military drill; on the 31st, a number of non-Mormons came to hear Captain Evans preach. The train passed the following places: Norton City on June 2 where they bought some store goods, Des Moines on the 4 where they paid 10 cents per cart to use the toll bridge, "Are Deal City" (possibly Adel-here the emigrants forded a river, possibly the North Raccoon), Grove City on the 9th where there were but four houses, Indian Town on the 10th, and Bluff City on the 12th (probably Council Bluffs). At this last place the travelers camped in the woods. Along the way fleas had troubled them. Nevertheless, all were in good spirits.
Before crossing the Missouri by tugboat on June 13, the company met some eastward-bound Mormon missionaries. At Florence they met missionaries who had just come from Salt Lake City by handcart. These gave the travelers good advice. An emigrant party of about 20 persons from St. Louis joined the company. From the 13th to the 17th it rained, heavily at times. On the 18th the company made final preparations for plains travel but they could not locate their mules. Finally, on the 19th they again headed west. Six miles from Florence they stopped at the Little Papillion. The next day they passed the Great Papillion and then camped on the Elkhorn. Here the travelers found William Walker's wagon company waiting for the river to go down so it could safely cross. Reportedly, the river was three miles wide. Sunday, June 21, the emigrants from both camps met together for religious services. On Monday, Captain Evans elected to go upstream to Fontanelle. After passing through that town the handcarts crossed the Elkhorn at the upper ferry. It was hot and rainy. The train now followed the Old Mormon Trail.
By the 26th the travelers were on the Loup Fork, camped at a place a diarist called Greerdy City. The next day, despite a heavy storm, they reached Looking Glass Creek. Here, they met men from the Mormon settlement at Beaver Creek (Genoa). These spent the night with the handcarts and then loaded part of the emigrants' luggage into wagons and hauled it to the settlement. Because it was Sunday, emigrants and settlers attended meetings together. Members of the Walker train were also there as Erastus Snow addressed the congregation. It was here that travelers and settlers learned about the assassination of Parley P. Pratt. The handcarts remained at Genoa until June 30; then, they crossed Loup Fork, with help from the settlers. A wagon went into the stream first, and then a man or woman pulling a handcart grabbed the wagon tailgate with one hand and the cart with the other as they crossed the stream. A bonfire dried people out.
July 4 the train forded Prairie Creek, and on the 6th it camped at Wood River. On the 8th it passed Elm Creek and camped on Buffalo River. The travelers saw many herds of buffalo and here Captain Evans and others shot a buffalo and parceled the meat out to the company. Upon crossing Buffalo River the train stopped to wait for Erastus Snow and John Taylor, who were also traveling to Salt Lake-and to allow the Walker train to catch up. All three groups camped together. During the night it rained hard, causing animals belonging to the handcarts to stray. In spite of a diligent search, the animals could not be found, so Captain Walker loaned Captain Evans three yoke of oxen to pull his provisions wagon. Some 280 miles west of Genoa one of the handcart people, James Reader, died after a prolonged illness.
On July 25 the train camped near Chimney Rock. Walker and company were still near enough to hold joint meetings on Sunday, July 26. August 1, the handcarts stopped for two hours at Fort Laramie and then forded to the north side of the North Platte. They reached the Horseshoe settlement on the 4th, after traveling 14 miles on empty stomachs. Here, they secured a fresh supply of flour and had a blacksmith make some repairs; but they had to sign over their entire outfit to the Church in return. On the 9th they were at the Deer Creek settlement, again they had crossed to the south side of the North Platte. Here the settlers received the emigrants with great joy and supplied them with meat and flour. On the 10th everyone danced and sang the evening away, accompanied by a violin. August 14, it rained hard. Nevertheless, the company crossed the North Platte one last time. Shortly thereafter the handcarts and the Jesse Martin wagon train traveled together. According to one source, these parties traveled together nearly all the way.
August 16, the handcarts were at Willow Springs; on the 17th they were four miles east of Independence Rock; on the 18th they paused on the Sweetwater River to gather a supply of saleratus. They camped that night at Devil's Gate. Here they harvested currants, replenished their flour supply, and had their oxen shod. They found the Sweetwater Station abandoned. Brigham Young had recalled the men because Johnston's army was now marching toward Utah. August 26, at Pacific Springs, the handcarts met a 70-man expeditionary force that had come from Salt Lake City to watch the movement of the U.S. troops. The next morning there was frost on the ground half an inch thick. After taking the right-hand road, the company camped at the Little Sandy. The August 29 camp was on the Big Sandy; it was at the Green River on the 31st and at Black's Fork River on September 1. The train passed Ham's Fork on the 2nd and camped at Black's Fork Crossing. It had rained.
September 3, the travelers were at Fort Bridger, where they stocked up on potatoes, turnips, beets, flour, and beef. By the 6th they were at the Bear River. The September 7 camp was in Echo Canyon. On the 8th, certain items were missing from the company wagon. Captain Evans made a thorough search of the camp but did not find them. That night the company camped on the Weber River. On the 9th they were on East Canyon Creek. A heavy thunderstorm doused them the next day. Camp was at the foot of Little Mountain. September 11 the company traveled to within five miles of Salt Lake City, then stopped so the emigrants could clean up before marching into the city. An emigrant later recalled that the hardest part of the journey was pulling the handcarts over sand hills, but by cooperative effort and moving the carts in relays, these obstacles were overcome. In addition to the man who died, an infant also died. Also, somewhere out on the prairie a little girl was temporarily lost but was quickly restored to her family.