Preston Thomas Company (1853)
The Preston Thomas company consisted of poor Englishmen, a couple of Scotsmen, and some wealthy Texas families with their slaves. The British Saints, 13 in number, had sailed from Liverpool to New Orleans, then to Galveston and Houston, from which point they traveled overland to Spring Creek (near Houston). Here they were assigned jobs as teamsters, cooks, and herdsmen in the company to pay for their way to Utah. The 12 Texas families had an average of three wagons each and between four and five hundred head of cattle. While in this outfitting camp, they elected Alexander Barron to be captain. Barron, an energetic man, had been serving as a branch president. Preston Thomas, who joined the company to return to Utah, was a missionary who had served in Texas. All together, there were between 60 and 75 in the company when they started. Setting out from Spring Creek on May 23, the company encountered many difficulties. Their oxen were wild or unbroken, it was exceptionally hot, and many of the teams failed. Before getting far, the company was stopped by a law officer who demanded $500 to pay a debt he said one in the company owed. In many places, deep sand covered the road, and making it muddy and slippery when it rained. At one point wagon had to be dug out of the mud. The Englishmen quarreled with the Texans, demanding pay for their services. The company frequently had to stop to look for lost cattle and they often traveled no more than eight or nine miles a day.
By May 31 they had progressed only 40 or 50 miles. On that same day, two of their number chose to remain in Texas as missionaries. On June 3 in Grimes County, four more Mormon families joined the company. Slowly they pushed ahead. The party crossed the Trinity River at Dallas and the Red River about 40 miles above the town of Preston. At the Red River, they voted to have Preston Thomas take over the company captain's reins because he was more experienced in traveling in Indian territory than Barron.
Traveling in Indian territory, many in the company suffered from "bone fever"-their bones and heads ached, their flesh felt tender, and they were feverish. On July 30 the train camped near Fort Arbuckle. The post commander and his physician treated the Mormons with much kindness, giving them medicine without charge. On August 7 they camped on the Canadian River with improving health and spirits. There, a Cherokee man advised them not to continue northward but to go down the Canadian River and then go crosscountry to the Arkansas River. They followed this route and arrived near the mouth of the Verdigris River not far from Fort Gibson. All along the way from the Red River to the Arkansas River the road was bad and some of it had to be repaired. Three wagons tipped over, though no one was seriously injured. After crossing the Arkansas River, the party went into winter quarters on the east bank of the Verdigris River about 35 miles north of Fort Gibson. There, Elder Thomas organized a branch called the Texas Branch, with Alexander Barron as president. Up to this time, six children and one woman in the company had died. The Texas Branch stayed there until the following year, 1854, when they completed their journey to Utah with Washington L. Jolley as their leader.
In spite of the lateness of the season, Preston Thomas decided to continue on to Utah via the Evans/Cherokee road. Together with five companions (one of them a non-Mormon), two light wagons, four mules and four horses, this small party left the Verdigris River on September 14. Trouble struck almost immediately. One of the heavily laden wagons got stuck crossing a creek. At Hickory Bluffs, a Cherokee settlement, the natives tried to dissuade the travelers from continuing their journey. The crossing of the Verdigris River was difficult.
Weather continued hot until September 20. When the company ventured onto the plains the next day, some of the men were suffering from chills and fever. Reaching the Santa Fe Trail at Turkey Creek, they followed that road for about 100 miles to where it crossed the Arkansas River. On the road they met freight trains and purchased soap, medicine, flour, and matches. On September 29 the weather turned wintry. Two days later they passed Fort Atkinson, a deserted army post.
After crossing the Arkansas River, they left the Santa Fe road and followed the north bank of the river westward. When they passed a Cheyenne encampment, armed and mounted warriors surrounded them, demanding food and pilfering equipment. Facing the Indians with boldness, the company was allowed to continue. They passed Bent's Fort and then turned northward along the Boiling Spring River. They then passed Pike's Peak, crossed over the Arkansas-South Platte watershed, and followed Cherry Creek to its mouth. For 12 days the weather was freezing; then it snowed in drifts that made traveling difficult. Creeks were frozen, food ran low, feed for the animals was scarce. When the party, many of whom were now sick, met a band of Arapahos, an old chief advised them not to continue their journey. Two of the company elected to winter on the South Platte.
From the South Platte the rest of the party headed toward Bitter Creek, even though Indians and a mountain man warned them not to go that way. For the next 200 miles there was no grass, no water, no wood, and the road was the most difficult any of them had ever seen. Cold and snow continued. It took them six days to get from the Continental Divide to the Green River, arriving there on November 22. There they bought a fresh team and some beef from mountain men. On Black's Fork the travelers joined the main east-west emigrant road. Stopping at Fort Bridger, they bought flour and fresh beef. At Yellow Creek, Thomas left his companions and pushed ahead in order to solicit help from Salt Lake City. He reached Salt Lake in company with a mail carrier he had met on the road. His three companions straggled into Salt Lake on or about December 9-one of the latest arrivals on record for a Mormon emigrant company, albeit a very small one.