Joseph Yates autobiographical sketch and genealogy, 1911, 4-7.
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Being unsuccessful in finding a purchaser for anything he had, he left his holdings and nearly everything he had in the care of my older brother Henry, who remained behind at Council Bluffs to look after things. My sister Ann also remained behind and soon afterwards married, and died at Council Bluffs, in 1853, the year after we left as previously stated.
It was on the first day of May A. D. 1852, that my father and the remaining members of his family, namely my sister Harriett, and my brother Thomas and myself, four souls in all, left Council Bluffs and started on our journey across the plains to the Great Salt Lake Valley.
Our outfit consisted of one wagon, two yokes of oxen, two yokes of cows. Our provisions consisted principally of corn meal packed in old sugar barrels, and this corn meal made up into dodger together with the scanty supply of milk derived from our cows as we journeyed along was our main staple of food during our journey to the valley. Yet we murmured not. We were thankful for what we had, it was lost time to grumble for what we had not.
We traveled in Captain Tidwell's company of Saints consisting of one hundred wagons and their accoutrements.
In our journey across the plains to the Great Salt Lake, we followed the old Pioneer trail to the mountains, made forever memorable by President Brigham Young and his dauntless band of heroes who led the Church through the desert to a land of liberty in 1847.
I was but a boy of seven years of age, when I journeyed with my father to the Salt Lake Valley, but yet even now after the lapse of years the incidents of that trip are still fresh upon my memory, and will remain there, I believe forever. Somehow we retain quite vividly the events of earlier years, when the mind and heart are young, the impression then made are lasting, while the events of yesterday, as we become more aged, fade away quickly.
We traveled from Winter Quarters and kept the trail upon the North bank of the Platte River crossing Elk Horn River, Loup Fork, Prarie Creek, Wood Creek, Elm Creek, and the other numerous tributaries of the Platte until we came to Fort Laramie, at which point we crossed to the South side of the Platte river and journeyed through the Black Hills, crossing Deer Creek until we reached the bend of the Platte Tiver [River] again, when we crossed again and still journeying on across the Sweetwater River then through the mountains to the valley of the Great Salt Lake.
It can well be imagined that there were many things occurring in that trip across the Desert, that made a deep impression upon the tender susceptible mind of a mere youth. Time and space of course prevent any mention of many interesting incidents, I, Simply wish to recall a few matters of interest. And first the almost boundless extent of prairie. and wood, and river and mountain, and the wild free life of the men of the Plains made such an impression upon my mind, that I believe in after life, it influenced me not a little for a liking for outdoor pursuits and to delight in frontier life. One cannot live outdoors with nature, without being in love with freedom and liberty. There is something in the silence of mountain glen, and rolling prairie, that speaks to the soul of the Great Creator, and raises the thoughts of man upward to his Divine Parent. I v[b]elieve also that outdoor life with nature, makes a man more natural, contact of man with his fellow man in crowded cities may breed artificial men, but contact of man with nature and nature's God, will bring us back to reason, and a natural simple life.
anyhow in our journey we met nature day by day, in her most varying moods. Like all the journeys and work of the Saints, order and organization controlled our company. We had our Captain, he had his assistants, every man knew his place and his duty, and what to do in every emergency. We were not traveling hap hazard, one common purpose united us all. We were Saints of God, with faith in the gathering of Israel, and we were proceeding with all diligence to reach the gathering place.
Not that we were yet perfect, for as we traveled, along day by day, the little vexations, toils, and trials of the journey revealed that there was yet much of the old "Adam" left in our natures, and of course some would stand these trying tests, much better than others, patience however was a most cardinal virtue to possess, and in our travels, he was the most blessed who had most of it.
But we traveled orderly and systematically, the call of the bugle at night and at early morn to prayers and devotion I well remember, as also the camp at night when our wagons would be drawn up in such a manner as to form a huge corrall, and armed guards, in turn, were set to watch at the openings whilst we slept, to protect the camp from wild animals, and wild men, for sometimes the Indians were troublesome, and we had to keep strict watch that our cattle were neither stolen nor stampeded.
In those early days, the wild buffaloe was a native of the plains, the exterminating white man had not yet decreed his destruction, and it was one of the sights to be forever remembered to see as we did day by day the immense herds of these animals crossing the plains to their water of feed grounds. No description of mine could do full justice to the tremendous herds of the buffalo we say [saw] from time to time. Sometimes these animals would string out in a long train of a mile or a mile and half in length, and running at a sort of coyote lope go thundering on their way, making the very ground tremble beneath the tramp of their hoofs, with a noise resembling thunder. Woe be unto the wagon train, if our trail of wagons was in the direct line of their march. Stop they would not, these noble animals had been accustomed from time immemorial to the right of way and on they would go, helter skelter, pell, mell, through and over wagons, and outfits, breaking, crashing, and scattering wagons, goods, boxes, utensils, and scattering destruction and devastation in their trail, leaving exasperated teamsters, and bewildered Saints to gaze in wonder at the wreckage and ruin they had left in their wake.
Sometimes they would cause our animals to stampede, and filled with fear and snorting with terror, our animals would break away, upsetting and overturning, and breaking wagons and outfits in the process, before the maddened animals could be caught, quieted down and return to sober reason again. Then would follow of course, the stopping for repairs, and fixing up things generally. Luckily the spirit of brotherhood prevailed. We were brothers in misfortune. We had no class distinctions, no man counted himself better than his neighbor, and so every one would help to the best of his ability, and wagons would be mended and rigged up again, scattered goods and utensils would be gathered and restored, and on, on, we would go again. On, on, to the valley of the Great Salt Lake. To offset these troubles as much as possible, when buffalo were sighted, it was the custom for some of the Nimrods, Guards and Hunters to ride ahead of the train, and by shooting at the leaders in the buffalo herd, turn them out of our course, so that they would then leave us unmolested, and go on in their own sweet way. Incidentally of course, any buffalo meat that might incidentally be bagged would be divided up amongst the camps. In the evenings it was my delight to go out with our guards and hunters, when buffalo would be sighted in the evening within half a mile or a mile of our camp, and in the draws and ravines, our hunters would get busy, and if luck was with them bring down some fine buffalo. But in shooting the animals, it was important to aim at their weak spots. I have already intimated that the animals were decidedly bull-headed, the head was their strongest point, and the unlucky hunter who was verdant enough to aim at this stronghold would see his buffalo notwithstanding his shot, going serenely on its way.
The skulls of the animal was very thick, and usually thick bushy tufts of hair grew on the forehead, which was generally so matted with sand, and griars [briars] as to turn a bullet as easily as a steel plate.
If our hunters had been successful, the buffalo killed would, if close to camp be dragged in, with the hide on, and in the glowing blaze of the camp fire at night, the animals would be dressed, and prepared for use. It was quite an interesting sight for an hungry boy to watch these preparations. The meat would be divided out amongst the Saints according to their needs. Thus our friend the buffalo furnished the traveling camps of the Saints with many a to[o]thsome meal in their weary pilgrimage across the plains.
Another interesting sight, that we frequently gazed upon was the many bands of Indians we encountered as we pursued our journey across the valley of the Platte. For the most part the Indians we met belonged to the Sioux race. They were certainly the most magnificent race of Indians I ever met with, and as they would pass our wagon trail, would certainly present a unique and most picturesque appearance.
The men were nearly all considerably over six feet in height, in decided contrast to the squatty Indians we know in this country called the Utes, the Sioux warriors were some of the grandest specimens of physical manhood one would meet anywhere. Tall, straight, agile, with immense broad shoulders, slender waist, with perfect muscular development not an ounce of superfluous flesh upon them. With high foreheads and handsome faces, they were certainly the descendants of a once remarkable people. Thousands of them would travel in a company, the men would wear feathers upon their heads, attired in fringed leggings, and buffalo robes, unless as mounted for the chase and hunt, then their bodies would be stripped or bare with the exception of a cloth around the middle of their body and their leggings and mocassins. They were armed with bows and arrows for the most part, although some carried rifles. They would trail along their ponies and horses, which were to me quite interesting from the many colors, some spotted, some piebald, of all shades and stripes the ponies of the Indians presented a varied show of horseflesh.
In the camp the men would always ride ahead, and the squaws would bring up the rear. To the squaws was assigned the task of trailing the lodge poles, packs and utensils of the camp.
Some of the Indian horses would be fitted up with pack saddles of their own make, very ingeniously contrived to carry their packs and baggage. the bows of the saddle would be made from hickory upon which they would stretch skins tightly when wet, and sho[a]pe and fashion them for their purpose. The Indian tents were made of buffalo robes with the hair shaved off, and sewed together with the sinews of the deer,
Indeed the sinews of the wild animals supplied the Indian for all his sewing thread. If he wanted a thread fine enough for sewing loves or mocassins, he would separate the sinew to the desired fineness, and for sewing tents or saddles of course thicker strands would be used.
They were very expert in the use of the bow and arrow, and most interesting sight it was to see them riding stripped for the chase, after the buffalo, which they would shoot on the run, always singling out the best beef. The magnificent physique of this tribe of Indians was brought to my attention ten years after when I crossed the plains again in 1862, we had a brother in our camp named Jonathan Smith, who was one of a family of extremely large men. We were then camped at Pawnee Springs, and there we met with a band of Indians who were quite friendly, and I well remember noticing this brother Jonathan Smith standing side by side with an Indian of the Sioux race, and although Brother Smith was considerably over six feet in height, and weighed about 250 pounds, yet the Indian easily measured two inches more in height, and was larger and better proportioned in every way.
In our journey onward to the west, there were also experiences and sights saddening as well as interesting. We saw things occasionally which reminded us of human suffering and death endured on the plains by the Saints for the gospel sake. I well remember walking along behind the train of wagons one day towards evening. And I noticed by the wayside a shallow hole which had evidently been dug for a grave. Bones were scattered all around it, glistening white and ghastly in the sunlight.
Upon the ground near the bonds was a round hollow skull picked clean and bare by the wolves of the prairie. Boylike I took it up, not thinking that it was the skull of a human being, and playfully, without thinking rolled it along and even kicked it, using it for a football as I trundled it towards the wagon trail, until I came up to my father. He at once stopped me and sternly asked me where I had found it.
I told him, and he commanded me instantly to take it back to the place I had found it, and in the future to leave such things alone.
Even then I did not know that I had been handling a human skull, or I would have been afraid to take it back, and my father at that time did not tell me what it was. But since then, as we came across many a grave that the wolves had robbed and defiled, and many a lonely mound by the weary trail where some poor soul had made the last sad journey, I have been led to reflect of the unknown graves that mark the trail of the camps of Isreal through the desert, where worn out with suffering and hardship and disease the pilgrim Saints await the call of the roll that shall admit them to the home of the glorified and redeemed.
But the matters I have described were common incidents of a journey in early pioneer days. Since then years have passed and time has wrought its many changes. The hunting grounds of the Indian have long since been appropriated by his white brother. The buffalo have long since disappeared from the plains, and where we traveled across the dreary wilderness of plain and mountain and desert, has long since been converted by the hand of toil into flourishing farms, busy cities and prosperous States. So many changes does the hand of time effect in the march of years.
The great transcontinental systems of railroads from the Atlantic to the Pacific have long since built their roads upon our old wagon trails.
And where we journeyed wearily along, day by day, with slow moving oxen, now the passenger from East to west speeds with the quickness of the wind in palace cars of comfort and luxury.
But we proceeded on our way, across rivers and tributaries, fording some streams, ferrying across others. Swimming oxen across. In dust, and mire and under broiling sun, in shade and storm and calm and sun, on, on, to the west we came. The days lengthened into weeks, the weeks into weary months ere our pilgrimage was over. As we neared the Rocky Mountains we divided our Company into two parts or trains of fifty wagons for the better grazing of our animals. Proceeding in this way in the latter part of the month of October my eyes were greeted with my first view of the Great Salt Lake Valley, and soon after our wagons rolling through the canyons we emerged at last to our destination, the land of Zion which we had started out to find more than two years before.
Truly right before our eyes, lay the City of Salt Lake, with the Great Salt Sea, shining and shimmering in the rays of the sun.