H. N. Hansen, "An Account of a Mormon Family's Conversion to the Religion of the Latter Day Saints and of Their Trip From Denmark to Utah," The Annals of Iowa 41 (Summer 1971), 709-728; (Fall 1971) 765-779.
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St. Joseph was not much of a place at the time when we arrived there. We were dumped off near the Missouri River on the sand. If there was a depot we were not taken to it. Perhaps if there was one, it would have been too small to accommodate our crowd. Here we boarded a steamer which slowly paddled us up the Missouri River to a place called Wyoming, about seven miles above Nebraska City where we arrived about the middle of June. This was the place selected from which we were to begin our tedious journey across the plains. This trip was to be made with ox team, and the distance to be traveled some over one thousand miles. It was the first season in which the mormon emigration was to start from here.
In previous years the starting point had been Florence, Nebraska about 40 miles farther up the river, and about four miles from Omaha. Perhaps the principal cause for this change was the fact that this latter place having so long been on the line over which the mormons having travelled, and in consequence many of the citizens of Omaha and Florence were apostate mormons. Some having refused to journey any further having become weak in the faith before reaching the mountains, and others after having gone there had become disgusted and returned and located at these places. It was not desireable by the leaders of the mormon emigration to take the people where they would be so close in contact with these apostates, as they might bring them such information as would not be desirable for them to obtain, thus leading perhaps others to apostatize.
After landing in Wyoming we were permitted to scatter about among the brush and build our camp as best we could, and every body were soon busy at work. Only few in the company had tents, those who had were considered the rich. The rest build huts by throwing brush upon poles erected for the purpose, and an effort was made by some to have these huts with sumac bushes and other brush in a manner to keep out the rain. But this last effort did not prove much of a success. Our brush houses answered quite well to keep out the sun but when it rained we were in pitiful condition. For it did rain and rained as we had never seen it rain before. In Denmark we had seen long and steady rains, but never had we witnessed such pour down before, nor such thunder and lightnings. I have seen some such weather since, but do not think I ever seen anything worse, and we were altogether unprepared.
Among the first and very important work to be done among us was that of getting our clothing washed, that we might be freed from the past before spoken of that had by no means been deminished, but on the other hand had got worse. And for the accomplishment of this a good supply of soap had been provided by those in charge. Water being free and plenty and little wood could be gathered to heat the water the facility was good for a cleansing process. We now had plenty of room so that those who wanted to need no longer remain in their previous condition.
We had not been long in camp until we found disease prevailing among our number to an alarming extent. The change of climate and the change in living at the same time being exposed to all kinds of weather brought on sickness. This time it was not among the little ones only as was the case on board the vessel.
This time it was primarily grown persons that became afflicted. It was by some called the choler. I think however it was only the result of the hardships of the journey combined with change of climate and diet. No matter what disease it was it was bad enough, and attacked both young and old, some slightly and others severely, and in quite a number of cases resulted in death. Mother [Johanne Hansen] was the first one in our family who came down, and we found it impossible to care for her as the sick ought to be cared for, not even being able to protect her from the rains that fell in torrents nearly every night.
One day Elder John Smith, who is now the presiding patriarch in the Utah Church came by and stopped to see my mother his generous heart was touched with pity and he told father to come with him and he would see that we got a tent to use, which he did. John Smith was himself at this time return from a mission to Denmark. At this time mother was very low and by many not expected to live. I remember upon one occasion when alone with my father he spoke to me in manner evidently to prepare me for what he feared would be the end. I know father [Hemming Hansen] felt bad and I was in condition nor was I old enough to comfort him. Mother expected herself that her end had come and wanted to die. She told us that she could not live and if any spoke of the possibility of her recovery it seemed to be affursia to her. But her work was not done she could not then die, but she is living even now. She had yet to suffer many things that none of us at that time had even dreamed of.
How wisely that the creature in many instances has kept hid from gaze the future, and only revealed in part such things as may prove for our good if rightly and faithfully applied. The tent that was so kindly furnished us proved to be of but little good to us as it could not stand the storm and we being inexperienced with tenting did not know so well to pitch it securely. I remember several nights that I together with my father when the storms came up would get up and cling to the poles with all our strength in the hope of holding it secure, but it would be only for a while and then it would go down notwithstanding our efforts. After a while we learned by experience to pitch it more securely that we made it stand, and perhaps the storms were not severe. We have often felt grateful to Elder Smith for his kindness in our behalf. A friend in need is a friend indeed and such he proved to be though he was almost an entire stranger to us. Mother got better in course of time, and the next to be taken sick was my sister [Ane Hansen] and I.
We had not means to purchase a team of our own and thus travel in an independent way across the plains as some did. The church had sent teams from the valleys to bring out the poor, and we being now among that class having spent all we had in the world to come this far on our way to Zion. A company composed of those whom possessed their own teams had started and indeed had not tried to get off on account of the sickness of mother.
We had been in camp at Wyoming about six weeks, and now the last company were going to start, and so of course we must go along or be left behind. My sister was quite sick yet and I was not well, but we got started. Now the teams that came from Utah was furnished by the people there upon the call of their leaders to bring the poor saints to Zion, but before any of the belongings of the people were laced in the wagons they were loaded with merchandize almost to their full capacity. This consisted of boxes and bales and in other forms either for some individual merchant in Salt Lake City or for the cooperation known as cooperative "Zions, merchantile institution". Though I do not know if this institution was organized at that time or not. No matter the goods were hauled out for somebody, and it was all done in the name of helping the poor and building up Zion. I learned from the young man who drove our team that there was some over twenty hundred on the same before any of the emigrants had a thing put on but the emigrants goods did not amount to much, as each person was only allowed fifty pounds and that included bedding and all.
We were twelve persons to a wagon, but every man, woman, and child who was at all able to should walk. We were of course not going to go to Zion "on flowery beds of ease," neither should we ride on an ox team. But we must walk both men, women, and children. Such streams as the Platt[e] and other rivers must be considered no obstacles, if they could be forded with teams men and women could wade across and it was expected that they should. Perhaps when we think of the hardships of the hand cart companies who traversed the desert pulling or pushing their carts, our walking and wading the rivers should not be complained of.
But when it is born in mind that these teams were sent freely for the purpose of bringing home the poor, and when it is understood as was the fact that each head of family before starting on the journey had to sign promisory notes agreeing to pay $60.00 for each person carried across the plains and these notes drawing interest at the rate of ten per cent, paid interest to be added to the principal yearly and drawing interest at same rate until paid, it looks like an expensive privilege. I remember it was announced while in camp at Wyoming that all who wanted to go on the church teams should come to office and sign their name and of course all went. The masses coming from foreign lands of course could not speak nor read English, but they asked no questions but did as they were told, and not one explained what their signature meant.
I was not well when we started and for a few days was permitted to ride, but it was only a few days, less than a week I think, after that I was not permitted to get on the wagon. My sister instead of getting better got worse, and so weak that she could not walk from the tent to the wagon so of course she had to ride.
While in camp at Wyoming we had frequently been-preached to, and in these sermons we had been admonished to be submisse to council and not complain. I think it was Joseph Young who spoke to us shortly after arrival one part of what was said I distinctly remember.
It was that the saints should be like the ox under the yoke, when we say ha he turns to the left, and when we say gi he turns to the right, so should the people be obedient to the council of the priesthood. The preaching was in English which of course I didn’t understand, but it was interpreted for our benefit by some man whose name I didn’t learn, or if I did do nor remember.
Death in our company was a frequent occurrence and the men being so weary and weak in body that it was difficult to get anyone to dig the grave. Indeed it was general a shallow hole that was made and there the dead body was deposited of course without coffin, and without anything to mark the resting place of the weary traveler. Thus have thousands gone to rest on their pilgrimage to Zion in the mountains, and among some who have even been more completely worn out that were our company they have been left without burial at all their flesh to be consumed by wild beasts and birds of pray, and their bones to bleach upon the plains.
This year the Indians was very hostile we were in constant danger, but our worn out company did not seriously think of this, though we daily witnessed signs of depridations committed by them along the road. The few settlers that had been along the line of our travel had deserted and lift their sod house, for such were mainly the buildings erected by those who ventured into these then frontiers to seek cheap homes. A marvelous change has taken place in eastern Nebraska during the 30 years since that time. The sod houses are no more, but instead well improved farms with comfortable and handsome looking houses and large barns which bespeak the thrifty and well to do condition of the inhatitatants [inhabitants].
When we at that time traversed these then open prairies it was altogether different. It was only a few here and there who had ventured out into the wilderness to make a selection of a choice farm of Uncle Sam’s vast domain, which was then freely given to each citizen who would avail himself of the chance. But some had evidently gone too far from the borders of civilization, for they found it necessary to return leaving their homes and in many instances their furniture such as they had for the savages to do with as they pleased. One day we passed a house right by the road side, it was burning slowly, and about two or three rods from the house laid a man dead presumably the owner of the place having being killed by the Indians that same day, perhaps not an hour before we arrived on the scene. I do not know whether anyone examined to see if he was shot or where, or how he was killed but we saw that he was dead. I, like boys, would be likely to do ran with the rest to see the sights.
The ground was dusty where the corpse lay, and it was so besoiled that it was difficult at first glance to tell whether it was a white man or an Indian, but of course by a little closer examination it was seen to be the body of a white man and we took it for granted that it had been the owner of the house which now was burning. The Indians had taken out of the house what they wanted and then fired it. They had emptied the feather beds and the contents were flying round by the breeze. They evidently thought they had no use for feathers, there custom not demanding so soft a bed. Whether the rest of the family was murdered and laying somewhere in the weeds or the burning house, or if any of them had been carried away by the Indians we did not learn, and I do not know if any gave the matter serious thoughts at that time.
We traveled on so far as could be observe altogether unconcerned. I think it was but a day or two after this or perhaps the same day that we came across a company of eleven teams, that had been shot down both men and beast. They had been attacked while traveling, and the teams were run off a short distance from the road where they scattered about, horses and mules with the harness on yet hooked to the wagons but dead. They had been loaded with corn and bacon and perhaps other articles to which fire had been applied, but it was burning rather slowly. A company of soldiers just left the spot as we came along having buried the dead all in one tomb, but eleven ridges of dirt on the top indicated that that number had suddenly found an unexpected tomb. Notwithstanding these and similar things I do not think that anyone was afraid in our company. Death with us had become so common, and it seems as though all had become careless and unconcerned by their own toils, sorrow, and hardships.
As we progressed westward reaching the higher altitude in the mountain region the general health of the company became bitter, but by that time quite a number had fallen by the way and it had been mostly the young sturdy ones who had succumbed. Father whose health had been good while the many were sick now gave way but yet he was not so bad but what he was up and managed to walk along though it was hard on him. One night we came to camp but father was nowhere to be seen, we got our tent pitched and darkness came on yet father was of yet heard from. Of course the family became alarmed, but just as we had got camp arranged and we began to feel very uneasy he came along. He told us that he had become so tired and having being left behind, that he very near had given up in despair not thinking himself able to reach us.
But after resting himself a little he made another effort and finely reached camp at the late hour being guided by the campfires. Yet the next day he walked as usual, he was of that disposition that I believe he would have been left and perished in the wilderness rather than having asked for the privilege of riding.
Mother’s and my health had become good towards the latter end of the journey at first just after my sickness walking was quite irksome to me, but now I felt after eating my supper at night that I was ready to start out again. We traveled on an average about twenty miles a day, which of course for a young and healthy person was easy enough to walk. But my sister’s condition became no better, but rather worse so much so that she was not expected to live.
I remember that friends who called around to see her would tell my parents that her suffering would soon be over. In the morning they would say, she will not live till night, and at night she will not live till morning. Yet under this condition no one was permitted to be with her in the morning. When she was carried in in the morning, and placed in the nest that was made for her in the bedding, there was no one to be with her to give her a drink or in any way to help her. But mother was in the habit of walking close by the team, and as an oxteam [ox team] moves but slowly she would walk in behind the cattle at the front of the wagon and get on the wagon tongue and look under the cover to see how she was and if anything could be done for her comfort. This she had done many times and did not think there was any danger, but the last time she attempted this her dress caught on the bolt in the wagon tongue and she fell in front on the wheels and the heavy loaded wagon passed over her breast and shoulder. I was not near when the accident happened but was in the front of the company. Father had bought a cow that we might have a little milk on the road and it was my duty to drive the cow along.
I had not learned anything of what had happened until camping time. It was in the evening I think, coming back to where our wagon had stopped I saw father by the side of it, and before I came close enough to speak I could read in his face that something was wrong. I thought my sister was dead for this was what I had been expected to learn, though we thought we had seen some change for the better in her condition the last few days. I went up to father and asked him what had happened, but he could hardly tell so overcome of grief was he. And well might he be. His two youngest children had died on the road, his only daughter lay sick and entirely helpless, lingering as it were between death and life, himself worn out and sick and mother he thought was killed or would die, or if not was ruined for life. I was the only one who was well, but this was a sad blow to me at the time also. When the accident had happened of course something had to be done.
There was not room in our wagon under the wagoncover for mother until some of the baggage was moved from that to another wagon, and a place was fixed such as could be done in a hurry by the side of my sister and mother was lifted in. Now she could ride, but in her condition it was a hard ride over rocks and boulders, as was the case in many places in this mountain region. There was no physician in our company and no one who could tell how bad she was hurt. It was hard matter to get her from the wagon to the tent at night and back again in the morning. She could not help herself and she could not stand to be lifted, but I shall not attempt to describe any farther, it can better be imagined.
I think it was about two hundred miles before reaching Salt Lake City that the accident happened to mother, and strange as it may appear by the time we reached the city she had improved so much that she with a little help could get out and in of the wagon. My sister too had improved a little, but she still entirely helpless as a little child, I remember the day when we came through the last canyon in the mountain and our eyes first beheld Salt Lake City. It was a cheerful sight, not only because of the improved condition of the country compared with the wilderness in which we had traveled for months, but it was our journeys end the land for which we had started. We needed rest and we were happy in the thought that rest was at hand. The appearance of the country did not come up to the expectation of many but most of the company did not care much for that, a rest was wanted and they were glad to make a halt anywhere for the purpose.