Joseph Ellis Johnson letter to Distant Friends in J. E. J. Trail to Sundown (1961) by Rufus David Johnson, 116-19.
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July 18, 1850
"Dear tho Distant Friends:
"There is a team in sight returning to the states and I will write what I can . . . We passed fort Kearney and have got along very slow on account of our horses giving out. We traded one, left another and shall be obliged to swap or buy more . . . We have been constantly passing emigrant companies with many of whom I am acquainted. Came up with Bro. Foote's company. Every attention was bestowed upon us and everything that could be produced to eat was set before us. We got plenty of buffalo meat and butter.
"For the last four days we have seen thousands of Buffalo. Have had a few chases but caught none. At night came up with Capt. Wall's company, the Macedonia camp. Fared the best possible. We are now encamped above Cedar Bluff, above Ash Hollow, south side of river.
"We passed Colonel Johnson next morning. Passed Fort Kearney about noon. Encamped 20 miles this side (west). Next morning two mail carriers came up with us going to Laramie. They stayed with us two nights, then went ahead. Next morning saw 3 buffaloes on the bluffs. Bro. Miller gave chase. Came up at noon, no luck! Encamped at noon in sight of 3 or 4 herds feeding on the bottoms. Had a fine chase but did not kill one. Cooked by the fire made of buffalo chips which gave a fine blaze and heat but too much ashes. Went 33 miles and encamped. Cooked and ate supper but were forced to hitch up and pull out because of mosquitoes. Drove ten miles and camped.
"Next day came up with Foote's company at noon. They gave us buffalo meat, butter, milk and anything we wanted. Saw West and his wife. She held an umbrella over me while I ate dinner. Immense herds of buffalo in afternoon. Bro. Kelley gave tremendous chase of 3 or 4 miles with pistol, but they are so hard to kill he did not bring any. Saw several graves dug out; saw the carcass of a man scattered around by the wolves. Yesterday I picked up the jaw bone of a man which had been cleaned by the wolves . . . Passed any amount of prickly pear the last 3 days. We also see wild poppies and hollyhocks that look like moss rose blossoms, sunflowers, wild pinks. etc.
The river here is about two miles wide. After trying to cross on horseback, Bro. Hyde and myself stripped to wade over and each led a horse while the other drove the teams. But the horses sank in the quicksand and we had to double teams and pass twice over. I waded the river three times, a four mile round trip against the current and quicksand and it nearly exhausted me. . . . Drove on 20 miles and encamped in Captain Bennet's company in Ash Hollow. Came on to this place, cooked dinner, shod horses, slept and are now going to start.
"Made 25 miles and encamped with Captain Evans company. Arose late, bad night,—insects. Passed over sandy roads, stopped for dinner of ham and eggs, fried crackers and tea. Came up to Captain Blair's company and concluded to stay. Company glad to see us and showed us every kindness. Early start. Stopped for dinner within 3 miles of famous Chimney Rock. The base is a kind of hard clay. It forms a pyramid to about 50 feet, then a rough pedestal of rock rises perpendicular. Saw it from a distance of 30 miles.
"Came up to one part of Bishop Johnson's company . . . Have just found that today is Sunday. However, we have been singing and have been quite civil. Traveled 30 miles; left 2 horses this morning with Bro. Blair as they ailed and old Skewball was one of them. We have fed grain all along and have some yet. Tis about 60 miles to the fort [Laramie].
"Have not stood guard yet and all the company favors me much. Even Bro. Hyde takes more upon himself than he allows me to do. I am cook, steward, doctor, chambermaid and clown and they don't know how to get along without me! I had a strong invitation this morning to stop with Captain Fleming (Blair's company) and Miss F. said she would do my vittles and washing. But I concluded to go on so I ran to catch up a mile ahead."
"On Sunday evening we overtook the back 50 of this company 30 miles east of Laramie. Stayed overnight, started early and soon came to Scott's Bluff, a curious and strange piece of rock earth. It suggests ancient ruins of forts, towers and pyramids towering to an immense height . . . Saw two large elk on the river, also a red fox. Wolves are continually in our sight. Came to a trading post consisting of 2 or 3 of the meanest kind of little low shanties, a few dogs and horses, 2 or 3 men and as many squaws. There are also 2 Frenchmen with an anvil and bellows ready to do any little job. Plenty of old and new, whole and broken wagons on the hill. One man invited me in to see his squaw. Bro. Kelley went in with me to the wigwam composed of raw hides and in the shape of a potato hole with a round crawl-in hole at the side. We were offered seats on the ground. They had one very pretty squaw if she were fashionably dressed. Here we saw what is called the Service berry. We ate a few and found them like juicy whortleberries. They offered us common moccasins at $1.00 per pair.
"I took a ramble on the hills hunting berries; found a few. It was as far again as it looked; tired out. On returning had to go through 2 miles of arrowgrass. It annoyed me by sticking through my clothes. . . . Came on 10 miles, camped on barren [p]lain. Mosquitoes, O dreadful night! I wrapped my head and hands tightly in a blanket as long as I could stand it, then took a corner to fan myself rapidly, or get up an run as fast as possible. Started at dawn and in 3 miles came up with the head of the Bishop's company. Concluded to stop with them tonight. We got 2 horses yesterday and one from this company. They intend to celebrate the 24th as the day of entrance into Deseret and are anxious to have us stay. We concluded not to stop for the celebration and left early loaded with favors of all kind of sweet cakes and eatables. Passed through an Indian village this morning; saw some fine horses and splendid ornaments and trappings. Tried to buy moccasins from them but could not, neither would they trade horses.
"We saw wagon tires and irons where wagons have been burned . . . All the horses that we started with have been left behind except 2 and we shall have to leave one of those at the fort. . . ."