John W. Berry Company (1858)
Was this the Lord's army, terrible with banners? (see D&C 109:73). Some participants thought so! It was virtually an all male company, composed principally of Mormon missionaries called home from Canada, the U.S., and England because U.S. President James Buchanan had sent an army against the Saints in Utah. Missionaries coming from England did have weapons (eight rifles and six swords), and they did buy guns in New York. While on the plains the men were to carry their weapons always, and at dusk they were to put out all fires. Rumor had it that this company was going to Utah "to clean the inside of the platter, then clean out the Johnson army, then go back to Jaxon [sic] County to take [possession] of the country and [build] up the center Stake of Zion." Later, human failings became apparent, leading to the conclusion that "we was not [going] to Jaxon-County just [yet]."
At first, various groups of missionaries straggled westward. The European contingent traveled from New York to Burlington, Iowa, by rail. From there, most of them continued on foot, horseback, or by wagon to Fort Des Moines, where they would complete their outfits for the plains. One man, alone, took the luggage and a box of guns to Florence, Nebraska Territory, via steamboat. Arriving there on April 27, he found that nearly 100 missionaries had already assembled, but the party from Burlington was still en route. These arrived on the 30th, with 10 wagons and 53 head of horses and mules-and with John W. Berry in charge. As the company was about to depart for the plains, a diarist, worried about possible perils of the journey (a hostile army and war-like Indians) but, he said, the missionaries would rely on the Lord to see them peacefully through. The company left Florence on May 1, traveling to the Little Papillion. Here, it formally organized with John Berry as captain. Most of the animals soon escaped back to Florence and had to be rounded up.
The train crossed over a bridge on the Elkhorn River and passed Liberty Pole Camp and Fremont on the Platte. It reached the Loup Fork River and Genoa, a Mormon settlement. Here the captain weighed all clothing and bedding. For each traveler, the first 50 pounds of luggage would go free of charge, but he would have pay 15 cents per pound for any excess (up to 75 pounds). Some had to discard belongings. The company also left behind 750 pounds of freight belonging to the Brigham Young Express and Carrying Company. Nine emigrant men, one woman, and two children joined the train at Genoa, making 65 people in the company. Because Loup Fork was running high, the train could not use the ford, so the wagons were ferried across on two canoes. The animals swam the river and then scattered; a search was made and the livestock recovered. It was stormy and cold.
Ten miles further along the European missionaries caught up with Canadian and American elders led by David Brinton. The two groups united making 112 individuals and 20 wagons in the company. May 14, Ogallala Sioux visited the camp because someone in the company had foolishly set fire to the prairie. Captain Berry appeased the natives with a half-bushel of biscuits and three plugs of tobacco. The party camped at Lone Tree and it had to repair the bridge over Wood River before crossing. Believing that the soldiers at Fort Kearny planned to detain all Mormons, the train passed that outpost at night. It was raining and the atmosphere seemed dense. The travelers used signal lights to help them stay together. Stopping at 2:00 a.m., the men tied their tired animals to the wagons and put out a strong guard. The next day dawned stormy and foggy; nevertheless, the train pushed on, the fog continuing to provide cover until the train reached Buffalo Creek.
The company reached the junction of the North and South Platte Rivers on May 19. The next day, seven horses ran away; only five were recovered after a chase of some 50 miles. The weather was cold and windy. There were thundershowers, and the road had become sandy and hilly. The train overtook two German families at Black Mud Creek. Camp on May 24 was opposite Ash Hollow. Sioux were camped nearby but they were friendly and traded with the company. From time to time the travelers saw wagon trains on the south side of the Platte, but the river was running high and virtually impassable. On May 26 the train camped opposite Court House Rock. The following day they nooned nearly opposite Chimney Rock and in the afternoon met the Mormon escort of Colonel Thomas L. Kane, who was returning east after negotiating a peace between Utah and the U.S. Army. The escort delivered a letter from Brigham Young in which he advised Captain Berry to avoid contact with the troops. When the train passed Scotts Bluff snow-clad Laramie Peak could be seen in the distance. Ice formed on the drinking water.
On May 30 the company reached a fork in the road. One branch led to Fort Laramie via a ferry across the North Platte; the other stayed north of the river. Fearing the soldiers, Captain Berry elected to follow the northern route, intending to pass the fort at night. But after his train was discovered by government mail wagons, the captain decided to go on in full daylight. When the train was within about three miles of the fort, however, a violent storm erupted-rain, hail, and thunder-and continued until the company was well past Laramie and out of sight. The soldiers apparently did not see the train; the missionaries were convinced that the storm had been divine intervention on their behalf. Nevertheless, some of the travelers were unhappy with Captain Berry and on June 3, while camped opposite Deer Creek Station, it was necessary to "preach . . . a reformation."
On June 5 the train passed Platte Bridge and stopped at the upper ford. Here, Thomas Bullock, who was clerk of the train, wrote the following about the the previous five days the company had traveled: "a circuitcus [circuitous] and hilly road, . . . then ascended a mountain . . . passed over a divide and descended by ravines to Box Elder Creek . . . wound through some picturesque bluffs . . . traveled over the tops of Alpine Mountains . . .[and passed] over a heavy sandy road." He was "satisfied that the last 55 miles [had been] the worst of the three roads to travel and that 'Johnson's guide' for the north side [of the river] is made to sell and deceive the traveler as to distance." Now, the travelers found the main road rutted and rough due to constant use by government wagons. A large herd of sheep passed by. The missionaries discarded their wagon covers and their tent poles and stakes to lighten the loads.
On June 7, the train forded the Sweetwater rather than pay $2.00 per wagon to use a bridge, and it passed both Independence Rock and Devil's Gate (where the travelers saw the ruins of a recently destroyed Mormon fort). The train crossed the Sweetwater four times on the 8th. Torrents of rain, followed by snow, fell for two days. The animals began to fail. The travelers passed Ice Spring and took the Seminoe Cutoff. At Mountain Springs (possibly Mormon Springs) they met an eastward-bound Californian who had wintered in Salt Lake City; he told them of recent developments there. Here, too, members of the party cached iron axles and wheels. It had been snowing. The company met five
eastward-bound government wagons loaded with teamsters. It also met Utah Mormons going east to retrieve goods stored at the last crossing of the Platte. The Utahans gave the missionaries beef and bacon and reported that the army was about to leave its winter quarters (Fort Bridger). They advised Captain Berry to follow a route that would carry him around and ahead of the army. An ox and a cow wandered into camp. Regarding these as a gift of providence, the travelers slaughtered them and distributed fresh meat all around.
The company camped near South Pass and on the Little Sandy. It passed an area littered with wagon iron and concluded that this was where Mormon guerrillas had burned a government train some months before. A mail wagon brought news that part of the army had left Fort Bridger on its way to Salt Lake. Berry's train took the Kenney Cut Off, traveling into the night, until the moon went down. The company reached Green River on June 14. Here the men raised a sunken ferryboat and in a few hours got all the wagons safely across. The train then followed a northwest course passing "over a long and very steep hill" to the headwaters of Ham's Fork, "then traveled over a circuitous road, winding over a very high mountain, descending by steep pitches." Later it "went over another high mountain and dropped down to Bear River, then traveled up it several miles, [the men] making [their own] road through sage brush." They "continued making a road up the east side of Bear River to the Big Bend." Here, because they were unable to cross the river, they formed a ferry out of wagon boxes and ferried the freight across by pulling on long ropes. During this crossing, one man nearly drowned.
June 19, after making a road along "nearly a south southwesterly course for about 12 miles, then go[ing] up a ravine [and], taking a southwest course over a succession of gentle hills," the company reached the head of Echo Canyon. Rain was falling. After a frosty night, the train reached the main road again, about one mile below Cache Cave. As the travelers moved down the canyon, they passed some very surprised soldiers who were repairing the road and building bridges. The soldiers said that the army was just 12 miles behind them. The missionaries cheered when they saw the fortifications Utah men had built in Echo Canyon. Four wagons with mule teams and then another party of 26 merchant wagons passed. Berry's company forded the Weber River and, on June 21, crossed East Canyon Creek 11 times. They then passed over Big and Little Mountains, descended Emigration Canyon, and with 110 individuals, 20 wagons, and 93 animals, entered a nearly vacant Salt Lake City as most of the inhabitants had fled south. Two days later the company arrived in Provo, temporary headquarters of the Church; there it disbanded.