Cantwell, James, Autobiography, in Joel Edward Ricks, Cache Valley Historical Material [ca. 1955], reel 3, item 29.
- Related Companies
- James G. Willie Company (1856)
The captain’s name was James F. Willie. His asistants were Jesse Haven and Mellen Alwood [Millen Atwood]. The company was composed of 76 handcarts and 10 wagons. 5 of the wagons belonged to Andrew L. Siler, John A. Joste [Jost], William Wilford, James S. Cantwell and William Kimball. The other 5 wagons belong to the handcart company and were to hawl the tents, provisions and extra baggage and when there was anyone that was sick and could not walk they were put in the wagons.
On the handcarts the bedding, cooking untensils, rations for the day, vessels to hawl water to use along the road, and such changes of clothes as was necessary; also firearms for we were continually watching for trouble with the Indians.
Between the 17th and the 29th of August we had traveled about 170 miles, and that night camped with the Pawnees. They were almost the only Indians that were friendly on the plains. They informed us that the Cheyennes had killed 4 men and a child and taken a woman prisoner. Her name was Wilson but she was never heard from afterwards.
Their wagons belonged to Almon Babbit and they were camped waiting for a company to travel with—thinking there was no danger being so near Fort Kearney.
The Pawnees buried these bodies but so shallow that the wolves were digging them up. So we threw a [m]ound of dirt on top of their grave.
On the 31st Almon Babbit overtook us. He was carrying the mail and had a man with him as guard by the name of Sutherland. when he was [saw] what the Cheyennes had done he was wild with rage, and swore he would kill the first Cheyenne he was [saw].
There was a woman traveling with them, but being as the indians were so bad she stayed with us. We brought her as far as Fort Larimie [Laramie]. Her name was Nancy Stewart.
Babbit started on ahead of us but in a few days we came to there [where] both men had been killed, and the mail torn and scattered over the ground.
The night of the 4th of Sept some of our cattle ran off with buffalos and we neve[r] got them again. So it left us in a weak condition.
On the evening of the 5th Porter Rockwell come to our camp, he went to recover our stock but failed. He was with Smoots camp. A short distance a head.
On Sept 17th near a place called Scotts Bluffs [Bluff] my sister Ellen was bitten by a large rattle snake. It caught her by the first two fingers as she was pointing at it. They tied her arm between the elbow and wrist to keep the poison from going [i]nto her body. By the time she got to camp the poison was above the wrist. The flesh dropped off the back of her hand and she never recovered till the next summer.
We arrived in Larimie [Laramie] on the 1st day of October, and owing to my sisters condition and our cattle being very poor, those owning 4 of the independant wagons stayed a while to recriut. Captain [James G.] Willie went on and my brother Frank [Francis Robert Cantwell] went with them. We stayed there when Captain Benjamin Hodgett’s wagon and Edward Martin’s handcart company came in and we went on aga[i]n with them.
On the 19th it stormed with rain, ahil [hail], and snow. We hurried and camped at a place called Buttes and stayed there 8 days during which time it stormed almost incessently. It was there that the people began dying from hunger and cold. After the storm we broke camp determined to travel as fast as possible but we made but slow progress for the weather was cold, roads were frozen and the feet of our oxen soon were cut up and made blood tracks.
Those pulling handcarts began to lose heart and felt that life had no object. Our death rate increased, Ma[n]y of our cattle died, but we kept on,
and on the 4th of Nov. we arrived at Devil’s Gate
and on the 5th Captain John Hunts company came in. To give a description of what we suffered while there is beyond my power for the weather continued very severe, and the people were discouraged. It snowed and blowed for days and many more of our remaining cattle died. So the only thing left for us to do was to leave everything that could be left and travel on. There were about 1200 men, women and children with scarcely anything to eat.
Many dying every day, and I do not believe half that number ever got into the Valley. I do not believe there could be any account kept but the most I remember of dying in one day was 14.
We had little order in our traveling from Devil’s Gate to Fort Bridger, for those who came from the valleys told us to go as far as we could, so we were strung along for many miles and the most of our living was on the cattle that had died.
We left Devils Gate on Nov 8 and arrived at Fort Bridger Dec 1st. All of our cattle being dead and very few of anybody else’s left.
On the afternoon of the 4th some teams came to us from the Valley. There were 7 or 8, two span of horses on a wagon; the snow was 20 in. deep.
I remember the names of 4 of the men and they were from Lehi—William Dawson, Alonzo D. Rhodes, John Skeen and George F. Merrill.
William Dawson was acquainted with my father, so we rode in his wagon to Salt Lake City. We left Bridger on the morning of the 6th of Dec. and arrived in the City on the 14th. The snow was 18 to 20 feet deep on the mountains. We camped between Big and Little mountains on the night of the 13th. The road was kept open by men from the valleys with shovels and teams. The wind was blowing and drifting the snow every day so they had to open and pack the snow every few hours.
I have before me a history of that terrible time and will copy that part of it that relates to that part of our history. This history is entitled “Forty Years Among the Indians” and was written by Daniel W. Jones one of the men who came to our rescue. He has described it much better than I can but there are a few items in my experience that I wished to leave to those that will follow after. This history I will copy and begin at the XI chapter, as follows:—
“I attended the October conference of 1856. When conference was opened President Young arose and said: “There are a number of our people on the plains who have started to come with handcarts; they will need help and I want twenty teams to be ready by morning with 2 men to each team to go out and meet them. If the teams are not voluntary furnished there are plenty of good ones in the street and I shall call upon Brother J. C. Little, the marshal, to furnish them. Now we will adjourn [adjourn] this conference until tomorrow.” Brother Young was in earnest; he seemed moved by a spirit that would admit of no delay.
“A few days before this a few elders had arrived from the old country reporting that the handcart company were on the road but they did not know how far they had advanced.
In those days there was no telegraph and mail from the east only reached Utah monthly, they being many times delayed by high water, Indians or other causes.
“Brother Young called upon every one present to lend a hand in fitting up these teams. As I was going out with the crowd, Brother Wells spoke to me saying “You are a good hand for the trip; get ready.” Soon after Bishop Hunter said the same thing to me. Also Brother Grant met me and said: “I want you on this trip.” I began to think it time to decide, so I answered “all right.”
“I had a saddle horse. We were instructed to get everything we could ready and rendenvous between Big and Little Mountains, a short day’s drive out from Salt Lake. Next day teams and volunteer men were ready. A better outfit and one more adapted to the work before us I do not think could have possibly been selected if a week had been spent in fitting up. Besides the wagons and teams several men went horseback. But best of all, those going were alive to the work and were of the best material possible for the occasion.
“As soon as we were all together we organized and moved on. George D. Grant was selected captain, with Robert Burton and William Kimball as assistants: Cyrus Wheelock, chaplain; Charles Decker Guide. I was given the important position of chief cook for the head mess.
“I was quite proud of my office, for it made me the most sought after and popular man in the camp. The rest of the company was made up of the following persons: Joseph A. Young, Chauncey Webb, H. H. Chiff, D. P. Kimball, George W. Grant, Ed Peck, Joel Parrish, Henry Goldsbrough, Thomas Alexander, Benjamin Hampton, Thomas Ricks, Abe Garr, Charles Grey, Al Huntington, “Handsome Cupid,” Stephen Taylor, William K. Broomhead, Ira Nebeker, Redick Allred, Amos Fairbanks and Tom Bankhead, a colored man. These are all the names I remember, if there were any more I have been unable to find them.
“The weather soom [soon] became cold and stormy. We traveled hard never taking time to stop for dinner. On getting into camp all were hungry and ready to help. No doubt many of the boys remember the hearty suppers eaten on this expedition. There was some expectation of meeting the 1st train, Brother Willie’s on or about Green River.
We began to feel great anxiety about the emigrants as the weather was now cold and stormy, and we, strong men with good outfits, found the nights severe. What must be the condition of those we were to meet. Many old men and women, little children, mothers with nursing babies, crossing the plains pulling handcarts. Our hearts began to ache when we reached Green River and yet no word of them.
Here an express was sent on ahead with a light wagon to meet and cheer the people up. Cyrus Wheelock and Stephen Taylor went with this express.
“At the South Pass we encountered a severe snowstorm. After crossing the devide we tuned down into a sheltered place on the Sweetwater. While in camp and during the storm two men were seen on horseback going west. They were hailed. On reaching us they proved to be Brothers [James G.] Willie and J[oseph]. B[enson]. Elder. They reported their company in a starving condition at their camp then east of Rocky Ridge and said our express had gone on to meet the other companies still in the rear. We started immediately thru the storm to reach Brother Willie’s camp.
“One [On] arriving we found them in a condition that would stir the feelings of the hardest heart. They were in a poor place the storm having caught them where fuel was scarce. They were out of provisions and really freezing and starving to death. The morning after our arrival nine were buried in one grave. We did all we could to releive them. The boys struck out on horseback and dragged up a lot of wood; provisions were distributed and all went to work to cheer the sufferers. Soon there was an improvement in camp, but many poor faithful people had gone too far—had passed beyond the power to recruit. Our help came too late for some and many died after our arival.
“William Kimball with a few men and wagons turned back taking the over sight of this company to help them in. Capt. Grant left a load of flour with Redrick Allred to guard it. There were several hundred people with Brother Willie. They had a few teams but most of them had become too weak to be of much service. When we left Salt Lake it was understood that other teams would follow until all the help needed would be on the road. The greater portion of our company now continued on towards Devil’s Gate, traveling thru snow all the way. When we arrived at Devil’s Gate we found our express there awaiting us. No tidings as yet were received of the other companies.
“Having seen the sufferings of Brother Willie’s Campany, we more fully realized the danger the others were in. The Elders who had just returned from England having many dear friends with these companies, suffered great anxiety, some of them feeling, more or less the responsibility resting upon them for allowing these people to start so late in the season across the plains.
“At first we were at a lost [loss] what to do for we did not expect to have to go further than Devil’s Gate. We decided to make camp and send on an express to find where the people were and not to return until they were found.
“Joseph A. Young, Abe Garr and I were selected. (Some histories give other [text missing]