William Atkin, "Handcart Experience [Part 1]," Union (St. George, Utah), 14 May 1896, 2.
“Handcart Experience” was published in serial form. The provided link will show the first segment. Subsequent segments can be found in the following editions of the Union newspaper: [Part 2], 21 May 1896, 3-4; [Part 3], 28 May 1896, 4; [Part 4], 4 June 1896, 4; [Part 5], 11 June 1896, 4; [Part 6], 18 June 1896, 3; [Part 7], 25 June 1896, 3; [Part 8], 2 July 1896,4; [Part 9], 11 July 1896, 4; [Part 10], 18 July 1896, 4; [Part 11], 25 July 1896, 4; [Part 12], 1 Aug. 1896, 4; [Part 13], 8 Aug. 1896, 4; [Part 14], 15 Aug. 1896, 4; [Part 15], 22 Aug. 1896, 4; [Part 16], 29 Aug. 1896, 4; [Part 17], 12 Sept. 1896, 4; [Part 18], 19 Sept. 1896, 4; [Part 19], 3 Oct.1896, 4; [Part 20], 10 Oct. 1896, 3; [Part 21], 17 Oct. 1896, 4; [Part 22], 24 Oct. 1896, 4; [Part 23], 7 Nov. 1896, 1; [Part 24], 14 Nov. 1896, 4.
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The latter end of May, 1859, we were in Florence, a place situated on the banks of the Missouri River in connection with a number of Latter-day Saints preparing to cross the plains with the Hand Cart company. We often sang the Hand Cart song.
A young man by the name of Frank Pitman took great pleasure in singing that song. We would sit around our camp fire, and he would sing it for any one who would ask him to, and it being new to most people, he was asked to sing it quite often.
We were finally provided with our carts and on a lovely afternoon in June we started out with our little all in our carts and traveled out four miles where we were to stop one day to be organized for our journey over the plains. In leaving Florence we had a little steep hill to pull up and this gave us a little insight to what we might expect when we came to the mountains. We arrived in camp and even four miles had its effect on some of our company, as quite a number were from the English Factories and knew nothing of the hardships they were now starting out to undergo. When we arrived, I asked our little Frank, as he was by far the smallest man in the company, to sing the Hand Cart song, which he did, and quite a number joined in the chorus. We stayed one day and was organized, with George Rowley as our Captain. We had one wagon and two yoke of oxen of the use of the Captain's family, five wagons and ten yoke of cattle to hall part of our provisions, as also to accommodate those who might be sick and some freight, 60 carts, 235 souls, about 75 of them were men, the others were women and children. On the 10th of June 1859, having rested one day we made a regular start of the plains and traveled 16 miles, and the most of us were tired when we camped at night, and some were already getting foot-sore. Again we asked our little brother Frank to sing the Hand Cart song, but he very reluctantly complied, and I think this was the last time he ever sang it, and there were less who joined in the chorus than before.
The next day we made about 22 miles, and a good many of our feet were sore and a number had their feet blistered, and we were all tired indeed.
One brother more hardy than many others, asked our little Frank to again sing the Hand Cart song, and methinks I now see him stamp his little feet and wring his hands and yell at the top of this voice, saying "I will never sing it again," and I think he kept his word.
We traveled on and came to large streams of water as the snows were melting very fast, in the distant hills, and we had to wade and carry our children, and some of us, also carried our wives across the streams, and pull our carts through; and thus we traveled on, four or five days, till our captain believed we were in a country where there were plenty of buffalo, so we camped for a day in order to hunt for buffalo. There was a grove of timber along a stream, not far off, and our hunters started out. Their outfit consisted of six shotguns and a few pistols, and we traveled on shanks ponies, but of this, I need not say much, only, which I saw parties from other camps who were well provided with rifles, ammunition, and good horses, I could but laugh at our folly in attempting to hunt buffalo on foot and with such an outfit as that which we had, but we had the best we could procure, under the circumstances, and it was all we had to either hunt with or protect ourselves from the red men of the plains, who in those days, were not very pleasant companions.
It was not very long before we arrived at a place called Genoa, which consisted of a few dugouts and one small house.
There were more mesquitoes at this place than I had ever saw at one time before.
There were two men here, with their wives, and each man had a yoke of oxen, a wagon and two or three cows, and they asked the privilege to travel with the hand cart company. As Emigrant trains with ox teams, were traveling our way every week or ten days. I thought it rather strange that they desired to travel with us, but the first night we camped, revealed the secret. They milked their cows, then with their milk and measure went from cart to cart to sell their milk, and the result was that what little money the people did posses; they soon had the most of it. Then they offered to let the people have few pints of milk and take various articles of jewelry; as security, for a short time, but made it so short that they knew the time would expire before they would arrive at Salt Lake City, and thus they become the possessors of many valuable articles. Perhaps you would like to know what became of these two men, who called themselves Latter-day Saints?
One of them was named Cockroft, the same that shot and killed a good Latterday saint, in Salt Lake City, whose name was Brown, about the year 1861 or 1862, for which he was executed. The other was named Richardson and he died a few years after he arrived here, leaving his wife in the 10th ward of Salt Lake City, a miserable wretch. We must now return to the plains where we left our carts. 120 miles of our journey. After traveling about 80 miles farther, we came to Woodriver. Here we found a few more dug-outs, and we had to build a bridge over the water which, however, was narrow, so that we cut trees that were close by and soon accomplished that task. Here I traded off some of my little valuables and purchased an old shot gun and a little ammunition and with this addition to our means of defense we again started on our journey, and and traveled one day and came to the only water, for about 20 miles, and camped. Here were a large body of Sue Indian warrior, said to be about 600, --the first band of Indians most of us had seen.
They demanded flour and bacon from our captain, and we were all, including the captain, so badly scared that they got what they asked for, namely; 3 sacks of flour and one of bacon, and also other provisions. This was in a prairie country where you could see as far as the eye could discern, and we could see great numbers of buffaloes feeding. Some of the Indians mounted their horses and killed a buffalo and brought the meat to our camp and traded it to our people, in small pieces, for sugar, coffee, tobacco and other things.
At night we put on a double guard and longed for morning to dawn, as we were filled with fear.
It was a dark night and we dare not make fires for fear it would give the Indians a good opportunity to see us, so we remained in the dark and drew our carts closer together than at other times. Some went to bed and when all was perfectly still, we were startled by one of the most unearthly noises we had ever heard, not far from our camp. It was the Indians.
It was the Indians, some of whom had made their way to our camp without our hearing a sound of any kind, and yes we had been listening and watching very carefully. Two of them had on buckskin suits that were covered with bells and it was curious how they came in without being noticed. They sang, jumped, and made night hideous indeed to us, and in their mischief they knocked down one of our tents while it was full of people, which made them scream and yell, and it was a time with us long to be remembered, for we thought they were having one of their war dances which we had heard of and supposed it would not be long before we would be doomed to die, as they could see our situation and had proposed to take advantage of it. It was, in deed, a pleasure to us to see daylight the next morning. We hastened on our journey as soon as daylight did arrive, hoping to be fee from them, but lo, our trouble was not at an end, for we had not gone over a mile or two, when a number of the natives came just as fast as they could ride, with their long hair floating in the air behind them, and shouting like demons, and they rode up beside our carts and threw their lassoes to us and showed us that they wanted us to tie them to our carts, and where there were young woman at the carts they seemed determined to tie their ropes to the carts; and thus they followed us and tormented us for hours, and thus our first Indian experience was a terror to us in very deed; and we in our very souls desired that that band of Indians would be the last we would be troubled with. For awhile they had their own fun.
We were now between two and three hundred miles on our journey and our very hard work gave us keen appetites and we had used up a good deal more of our provisions than the distance we had traveled justified, and although our provisions was rationed out to us, yet we had our minds set that we would make the journey in much less time than we had provisions for, as we had 70 pounds of flour for each person, which was one pound a day for ten weeks. When we would receive four days rations, some would eat it in two days and then plead for more, and we all know that no man with a soul in him could deny them, so they would get a little more, and in all this we had a little merriment. We had with us some young men who had worked on farms in England and were large over grown fellows, with keen appetites, who would eat the most of their flour as a rule in half the time, and then they would say they would make starch to stick their ribs together, but this soon ended, as it become too serious to be fun any longer, for we all had to make our rations hold out its time, and thus we began to suffer, by the time we were between three and four hundred miles on our journey and we could not hunt as every one had to pull his cart, and we had four persons to a cart, and myself and wife, two small children, one only three months old, and the other under two years of age, when we started on the plains, thus we had only two of us to pull our cart, and we had a very hard time to pull it and our two children, but he Lord blessed us thus far remarkably, and now when our provisions was very short as we were traveling along I saw a sheep some distance from the road.
Although it looked unreasonable in me to expect to catch a sheep on the prairie, yet I started out, and at the same time I offered up a fervent prayer to my Heavenly Father and asked Him to assist me, and the Lord really heard my prayer, and the consequence was, it was not long before I was back to my cart, having the sheep with me, and it proved to be a very fair mutton. Thus the Lord heard and answered my prayer and gave us the meat we so much needed, and I gave thanks to Him for this great blessing to us in this time of need. As our provisions were not of the kind to give us proper strength to perform our arduous labor, many of us became very weak, and the consequence was that some would get behind, but at evening the willing ones would go and assist them to camp. We were more or less scattered, on this account, and some would be away from camp all night. The Lord blessed me with good health, but my wife's health about this time, began to fail, she having a nursing babe, under three months old when we started. As my wife and I were all we had to pull our cart, her failing health made it exceedingly hard for us indeed. This is the year that the Pikes Peak Mines were discovered, at what is now known as the city of Denver, in Colorado, and a great many adventurers were rushing for the mines. A company of them passed us at this time, being well provided with horses and rifles to hunt with. They were ahead of us and they killed a very large buffalo. They took one quarter of it and covered up the three quarters carefully with the hide, and put up a notice that read "This is for the hand-carts." We found it in a very good condition and it was divided out, giving us from one to two pounds each. Although we were in the midst of buffalo, this was the only good mess of fresh meat of this kind that we had obtained, for, as I have before stated we had neither horses nor other means to obtain it.
Here the little book that our captain had called a guide over the plains, proved to be very unreliable and at times lead us astray. In proof of this, one day we had traveled about twenty miles and come to a beautiful spring of water, about four o'clock in the afternoon, and the Captain said we need not take any water with us, as we would came to another spring four miles farther on, where we would camp for the night. As we had two small children, we took a bottle of water with us. It was a lovely moonlight night and we traveled on until many of us could travel no longer, without finding any water. It was near midnight, so we pulled our carts out of the road and laid our tired bodies down to rest till daylight should dawn, when we started again on our journey, having had neither supper nor breakfast, and most of the company having had no water since leaving the spring before mentioned. It was near mid-day when we reached the spring spoken of as being four miles distant, and it was nearer thirty miles. When we arrived there we were tired and hungry, so we stayed there until next morning. We started on and came to a patch of wild peas, where we stopped and all hands went to gathering them. We cooked and ate until we were satisfied. With the exception of being a little strong, they were very palatable. Of course they were smaller than our common garden peas, but not having had any kind of vegetables for some time, they tasted so good we ate too freely of them and they produced a disease bordering an epidemic, which made us still weaker.
The next night we came to a large spring which ran down to a low place and formed a small lake, on which was a large flock of ducks. I took my old gun and started off for a duck. The grass was five or six inches high and I moved slowly along to get a good position to shoot, without scaring the game, and just as I was ready to crack away at the ducks, a huge rattle snake bobbed up right in front of me ready to spring on me. This was not an envious position, and in order to save myself I shot the snake instead of the ducks. The report of the gun scared the ducks away, and that ended my duck shooting. I returned to camp, to find it all in commotion, and the cry of all were "snakes," and we found the whole country alive with them.
On account of so many snakes, our only show was to take what water we could, and hurry away from the place, leaving the snakes, as they were the Prior Claimants, to enjoy their fine abode in peace.
The weather at this time of the year was warm and soon as we stopped our carts at night, we would spread down a quilt or blanket and put the little ones on it, in the shade of our carts, that they might get a breath of fresh air, after being under cover in our carts all day. That was what was done at the aforementioned place, but soon as the children were placed on the quilt here came the snakes out from the grass, and crowl over and around the children, and a scream would ring through the air, first from one and then from another, which made it quite an exciting time indeed.
We breathed much more freely when we were away from the grass and snakes, and we were thankful that nobody were harmed by them.
The following day we had a long journey without water, and at night we came to a good sized creek. We were all tired and the captain ordered us to camp before crossing the creek. I saw at a glance that by thus camping, it would give us a cold bath the first thing in the morning with wet clothes to travel in. So, true to my John Bull stubbornness, I raised an argument in favor of crossing the stream that night, but the captain said the order must be obeyed. So I picked up my wife and sat her on the other side of the creek and then carried our children to her. I then took over our cart. Soon as the captain saw we were over, he rode over and ordered us back, but I told him I would not go back. He said he would fetch some men and take us back. Accordingly he rode back and while he was trying to get men to help him fetch us back, lo, three or four more carts came over, and this raised a rumpus which finally ended in the whole train moving over to the zionward side of the stream that night. We traveled all the way up the Platte river, on the north side, as it was too high for us to cross. When we were about opposite Chimney Rock my wife become very weak and had a very hard time to get along, and when we camped at night she was quite sick. I done all I could to assist her, and in the morning I tried to get her into to one of the wagons to ride, but in this I failed, as the teamsters said they were all full. So we started on to pull our cart. Although the road here was very good, through her being so sick and weak, it was not long before we were behind the train, and when she got so she could pull no longer, I told her to hold on behind the cart, which she did until she fell on the ground, exhausted.
I then assisted her into the small hand-cart and pulled along the best I could, for a number of miles. We were now traveling along opposite the Scott Bluffs along the Platte River, and there was a bend here in the road so that we lost sight of the train altogether. Finally we came to a very steep sandy piece of road and I helped my wife and our two children up the hill, then packed our loading up, and then had a hard time to get our cart up, while I was pulling the cart up that steep sand hill I saw more stars than I ever saw at any one time in my life, as everything around me looked like stars.
When I reached the summit of the hill, it was then a steep down grade.
I loaded up with all I possessed on earth—Wife, children and our effects, and traveled down hill at the foot of which our camp had been taking their midday meal and rest, and the teamsters were just putting their teams to their wagons prior to starting.
I went direct to the captain and told him my wife was sick and asked the privilage to put her into one of the wagons, he told me to go to the captain of the teamsters, which I did and told him my story. He told me the wagons would be all full and she could not ride. I looked in the wagon nearest me and saw a good empty seat, so I hurried and placed my wife in it, and gave her both children and told her not to mind what any one said but stay there till I came for her. The teamster saw what I had done and heard what I said and I told him to be sure and not attempt to move her, and I was satisfied he knew I meant what I said, so they drove off and the train started out.
After my action on [illegible] last issue, I heard some[illegible] "That is a nice way [illegible] for a young man who is a [illegible] and he is as selfwilied as [illegible] times I had my own way in some things.
We were now in a [illegible] to try us to the very core and we often found out [illegible] much faster, than we would [illegible] out [illegible] own.
At this time we met some trains going east who came from Salt Lake Valley and they have been members of the church but had trusted [illegible] other mens [illegible] for their guide and they had some very hard Utah and the Mormons.
When we met one of these trains I was [illegible] with my cart. Both trains stopped and by the time I got [illegible] parties were preparing to have a [illegible] big fight. our captain is as bad as any one. The teamsters got themselves up to [illegible] fighting pitch. I walked up to the captain and took him to one side and gave him what I thought was a little good advise, which he thanked me for and he ordered the Handcart people to move on, which they did.
We had in our company some old experienced Fishermen who had heard a good deal about the Platte river and the fish that were in it, and before we arrived there they would tell what they would do at fishing when they arrived there, as they were well prepared with hooks and lines, but when they started to fish, they found, to their sorrow, that they could not catch a fish. Whether there were any fish there or not I do not know; but this I do know, our brethren were sorely disappointed and hung down their heads in sorrow, for at this time our whole living was but a pint of flour and a small amount of bacon, which was allowed to each person for a day's rations, and they expected to have some fish to help out the food supply.
One night when we camped a company of those apostates camped near us and some of them came over to talk with us. I got into conversation with one man who was quite reasonable in his conversation. He said he had been in Salt Lake City two years, and when he arrived there he had not got a dollar, and he had a wife and family to provide for. He had worked for Brigham Young but was now on his way back. Although they said we could not make a living there, during the two years of his sojourn in the valleys he had provided for his family and now had a wagon and a yoke of oxen and provision enough to carry him and his family back over a 1000 miles journey. I asked him if he had ever known that the gospel was true? He said yes and he had that testimony yet. I told him to be sure and not speak against the Lord nor his people, and also be sure not to forget to pray and to keep that testimony always; and the day would come when he would return again to Zion. A very few years after I saw him in Salt Lake City, and he told me my words had been the cause of this coming back as he had kept them continually on his mind.
We next came to a trading post, and there were quite a number of Indians present,—men, women and children, and as our past experience with that class of people had been of that nature that made us dread the sight of them, we hastened from the place as speedily as possible,—only to be filled with fear before the day had closed. As we heard them singing, their unwelcome noise was more like the howling of wolves than the welcome voice of human beings to us. We were very thankful that they kept out of our sight for they did not come to us and we were well satisfied that they did not see us, either, or their curiosity would have brought them to look at us, as the sight of the Handcarts brought Indians, traders, and all classes of people that were on the plains, to look at the oddity of the outfit, as it was a rarity in very deed, and but few such sights have been witnessed.
In traveling up the valley of the Platte, for hundreds of miles, in those days, there was one very peculiar feature that I never saw anywhere else to the same extent and we were oftentimes deceived by it. Of course it was caused by the clearness of the atmosphere. The peculiarity was that objects many miles away would appear to be very near by. On account of the river having many long turns, the road would be 5 to 10 miles from the river, and sometimes even more, and when the road was first laid out, cut offs were resorted to in every instance possible through the Platte Valley, so that the road was shorter that the river, and we would camp at a bend in the river that came near the orad and look straight across to the next bend with its timber and the captain would say "we camp tonight at that point yonder, and it really looked as though it was no more than 4 or 5 miles distant, but lo! We would travel all day, going from 20 to 30 miles before we would reach the point that we saw in the morning, which looked so near by. Even at noon, we could look toward the river and it would seem so close that some would start to go and get some water to use, but if they continued on, they would see the train start and they would have to take a cut across to catch the train.
The river ran east and west and we were traveling on the north side of it, and as we are now camped on the banks of the Platte, about 400 miles on our journey, let us take a look at our condition. We left Florence with 70 pounds of flour for each adult. It was put up in sacks of 100 pounds each, and all the 60 carts had one of the sacks in it, and all the carts that had four adults to pull it, which was about half of them, had two sacks put into them, thus 90 sacks of flour were put into the carts at the start, and about the some amount was placed in the wagons, and all the flour that was in the wagons had been used and that which was in the carts had been taken out and placed into the wagons and about half of that had been used, at this time, so that we have about one fourth of our flour on hand and have only traveled 400 out of 1000 miles of our journey. Knowing this to be the case, I knew we were in a critical condition.
We broke camp from this place, traveled a short distance and met a small company going east. We traveled on and in the evening when we camped, one lady whose name was [Mary Catherine] Wilson, and who was a widow, having two sons [Charles and Hugh], was missing and could not be found among the company.
One of Mrs. Wilsons sons [Charles] was married and had a family of his own. Her two sons and some others went back to look for the missing lady and continued their search until late at night without finding her. Next morning quite a number went back to look for her and Camp laid over again that day, making good use of the time, washing their clothes.
Toward evening the searchers returned without obtaining any tidings of sister Wilson, and she had not returned to where we met the small company traveling east, but they found a pair of old shoes set by side of the road and her sons said they belonged to their mother. So the two sons and those who were with them, came to the conclusion that she had gone back with that company, and had set the old shoes beside the toad that they might be found and thus her family would know she had gone back. This was the report that the searchers gave.
We now continued our journey and traveled for three days, and near the close of the third day we found Sister Wilson sitting beside the road with her shoes on, patiently awaiting our arrival.
When Mrs. Wilson was found she told the following story concerning the troubles she had passed through during her absence from the train.
She saw some wagon tracks turn off from the main road and supposed they would come to the road again thinking that it was a cut off. She followed those tracks until she lost her way entirely and wandered on until late at night, when she found some men camped in a tent, who had a number of horses herding. The gave her something to eat, and while she was eating they talked all manner of meanness and what they would do with her until she was nearly scared to death. They were drinking and gambling. Finally one young man made signs to her and got her to go out and he soon followed her. He put her on a horse with him and rode off with her quite a distance and put her on a road that led to another camp where, he told her, she would be safe, and she would also be much nearer the road and also quite a distance on her journey. She took his advice and found the place as described and also kind people who fed her and kept her until they could see the train from where they were camped and then put her on the road. Thus the Lord had preserved her, fed her and returned her safely to her family. She arrived safely in Salt Lake City with her family, and lived principally in that place until her death, which occurred about the year 1893, she being over 90 years of age.
As we arrived one evening on the Platte, near Fort Laramie, the captain called a meeting of all the people and told us our true condition, that our provisions were very low, and asked us if we were willing to go on half rations. One man rose up and said he was glad that the captain has asked this of us, as he knew the Lord would bless the half to us and we would feel better than we would on full rations. But I knew he had been begging all the way, for the captain to give him a little more flour, and his rations never lasted from one ration to another, and as the Captain had been very liberal to him, I was of the opinion that he thought this liberality would continue, but he was mistaken this time. We agreed that as our provisions were so very short it would be better to make the very best we could for the little we had left. So at the next days rationing we received a pint of flour for two of us instead of one for a days ration, and a very small amount of bacon.
We traveled on and came to a very large bed of the kind of cactus generally known as prickly pear, and we tried many ways to cook them so we could eat them. Some took the last morsel of bacon they had, peeled the prickly pears and fried them, others peeled and boiled them, while other placed in the fire and roasted them, but all to no purpose. Some did eat a very little of them, but it was a failure in general.
Our next days ration came, one pint of flour for two of us, per day, as before, and by this time we were all hungry indeed, and we were all alike, and there was too little provisions in camp to give any between ration days. At our next ration day there was little, indeed, in the wagons, and so we received one pint of four for four of us a day, instead of two, as formerly, and we were now in a sorrowful condition. Children crying for bread and parents not able to supply them. We traveled on as best we could; hungry and weary, we came to a spring in a small grove of timber. We stopped our cart and happened to look up into a tree and saw a large sage hen. I took out my old gun and shot it and had enough for several good meals, and thus the Lord had blessed us above the remainder of our brethren and sisters.
We traveled on until nearly sun down, when we came to a small creek, where we intended to camp for the night, but soon as we stopped, here came a large band of Indians, men, women, and children.
Some of our company had their knives, forks, spoons &c., on the ground, eating their scanty morsels, and when the Indians came up to us they gathered around and would steal different articles right from before our face and eyes, and it seemed as though they were witches in very deed, for no matter how many watched them they would steal everything they could touch, that was small enough to cover up. Although we had traveled a good days journey and it was then nearly sun down, in the long days of July, and 16 miles to the next water, yet we decided to travel on. This time the Captain had the handcarts go first and the wagon follow. When the Indians saw us start out, they got mad and done all they could to hinder or stop us. Some rode their horses in front of us, some on each side, and some behind. They did not shoot, but they done almost everything else they could, even throwing lassoes at us and kept up quite a confusion and annoyed us for several miles.
When we arrived at the sweet water that night it was about midnight and we were tired and hungry and nothing more to eat that night, as our day's ration had been eaten at the other place where we stopped. We camped there for the night and next day we traveled but a short day's journey to the Devil's Gate. At this place was a young man who had parted with his sweetheart, the year before, and she and her parents were in our company, but he did not know it; but like many others, come out to see the novelty of the handcarts, and, to his surprise, soon met his sweetheart, face to face.
Her parents at once made arrangements for a marriage and our Captain performed the ceremony, which made the twain one flesh. While this was going on and our company stopping on the bank of the stream, I noticed two strangers walking around from one cart to another and at length they came to my cart and stopped and to my surprise one of them called me by name. They were two men who had lived in the same place that I had left only a few months before. They left one year before I did, to go to California, but had found profitable employment at that place and stopped. About the first thing they said was that they understood we were out of provisions. I told them we were. One of them said, "We are keeping a station there, in that house," at the same time pointing to a house a short distance away, and said, "you come with us," and, turning to my wife said "we will send you something to eat." I very gladly accepted the invitation, and on entering the house he asked the cook if he had anything cooked and was told he had. Then they told him to give me what he had cooked and then to bake and cook some more bread and meat as quickly as possible. He told me to take what was already cooked over to my wife and children, and not stop to eat any of it but to come right back and they would soon have some more ready for me. I obeyed with thankfulness to them as also to my heavenly father for thus providing for my family in this our great time of need. I returned and in a short time was sitting at the table on which was a loaf of bread about two inches thick and 14 or 15 inches across, baked in round campers bake oven and a good sized frying pan full of fresh fried Buffalo meat. I having a keen appetite, in my inmost soul thanked my Heavenly Father for this blessing, and I asked him to bless it to my good, and started to eat in good earnest. I did not stop until I ate the whole of it. We stayed here three days, and while we were there our company were starving and I and my family were feasting, and some of our company said I was eating with the Gentiles and going to the Devil.
Although they said I was going to the Devil, they would gladly accept even a small morsel that we could give them. When we left that place, the two men before mentioned gave us some provisions to take with us, so again the Lord had in his goodness, provided for I and my family. Our company were in a starving condition and we divided most of what we had with them.
One night while the guards were taking out the cattle to herd, it being moonlight, one of the guards who had a gun, smelled the fumes from a dead animal, and on looking around saw it, and also saw what he supposed to be a wild animal eating it, so he raised his gun and was about to fire, when one of our brethren raised up. He was so near starved that he was glad to even get a bit of stale meat from a dead animal. The man who had the gun could hardly contain himself, in thinking how near he came to shedding the blood of one of our brethren.
We traveled on until we came to the Pacific Spring. As was my common custom, I started out in the morning ahead of the company so as not to be behind at night, and soon after I started out, the road forked and I got on what I supposed was the right road, but I traveled on until nearly noon, and yet saw no signs of the company. About this time two men came along on horseback and told us we were on the wrong road and that the company had gone on, and it would take us till night to get back to where the roads fork.
They said if we would take pains and follow their instructions they would direct us to where there is a very dim track that would lead us to the Little Sandy, but we would have to travel for about 2 miles through large sage brush and it would be hard to pull our cart thru, and there was no water until we reached the Sandy, which would be the middle of the next day. We followed their directions and found the way as they had described it to us, but arrived at the Little Sandy about the middle of the forenoon, having camped by ourselves without food or water.
We stopped in a small patch of timber which was on both banks of the stream, and in looking on the opposite side I saw a large bear, but a short distance from us, the river being not more than 20 feet wide at this point. The land on that side was narrow, with banks from 10 to 20 feet high, the floods having taken the soil away at some former time. I took out my old shot-gun but bruin wheeled and made for the bank to where there was an opening like a large door, into this he walked and we saw him no more, for which we were exceedingly thankful.
After resting and refreshing ourselves with the small amount of food we had, we again started out our journey. We crossed the stream and ascended to the bench, when lo, but a few miles distant were the handcarts and we met them at the Big Sandy. When the handcart people arrived at Big Sandy, they were in a starving condition, and here a scene transpired which I never shall forget. At this place was a mail station. There were three or four mountaineers and traders, a Stage driver and Mail agent at the Station, being 6 or 8 men in all, with more whiskey in them than good sound sense, and when the handcart people came to the stream and stopped to get water, two of those men stepped out of the house and yelled, "we want to get a wife; who wants to marry?"
To our great surprise two of our young women stepped out and said they would marry them. One of those young women had a lover in our company and they had always appeared affectionate and kind to each other, but alas! Their starving condition seemed to drive all natural feelings away from them, and all the persuasion we could bring to bear on the subject could not change their minds and go on with us to the Valleys, so there were two weddings celebrated that day in their mountaineer style. Before we leave these girls, we will follow them for a few years, as we know the reader will be anxious to know some of their future career.
One of the girls persuaded her husband to go to Salt Lake City, and I saw her there often, for a number of years, although her husband did not join the Church. They seemed to get along together nicely, for all that.
The other girl, after she had stayed with her husband a few months, he sent her to Salt Lake City, but whether she ever saw him any more after that, I do no know. But one thing I do know, that between two and three years after the lovers parted on the plains, almost frantic and wild, they were again reconciled, and he in his mercy and love forgave her all, and they were married. The first 6 or 7 years of their married life was spent in peace and love, as far as I could see, and they lived in the 10th ward in Salt Lake City, and when I was called to come to the Dixie Mission they were the parents of 3 smiling children. The twain were striving to do all the good they could, and I for one could only say "Peace be with you," for although I saw her fall, I also saw the circumstances which caused it and knew that God is merciful.
After those men had made everything satisfactory to themselves about their marriage with the two girls spoken of, one of them asked if there was a butcher in the camp. I told him I was a butcher, and he said he wanted a beef killed. I told them I was on hand an asked them to give my wife something to eat while I was dressing the beef. They gave her and our child all they could eat, and they gave me a loaf of bread and quite a large piece of meat for my work. Our train had gone and it was nearly sun down when we were ready to start, and we traveled until late at night and we again camped alone on the plains, but his time we were more fortunate, having already had a good meal, and we had sufficient water with us. We sincerely thanked God for again thus providing for us, and although we were in an Indian country and nearly every white man we saw were the avowed enemies of the Mormon people, we were not afraid, but lay down and took sweet rest. In the morning, after partaking of a good meal of beef and bread, we again labored in pulling our cart, and when we came to Green River, we found the train had crossed and gone; and we were alone on its banks. We looked at the river, and I said to my wife we cannot cross this river alone. She said "no but the lord will help us over." At these words, my heart seemed to leap for joy, and I said, "yes, he surely will," and we arranged our children and other things in our cart, then knelt down on the ground, in all humbleness, and in the sincerity of our souls we told our heavenly father that we were doing all in our power to keep this commandments to gather to the land of Zion and now we had come to this river, and we could not cross it alone, and we knew that all power was in his hand, and we relied on him to assist us over. We started into the stream, and as we did so we could see the deep water just ahead of us, and the next step we expected to step into the deep water, but when we took that step, the deep water was still ahead, and thus it was all the way across, and to our surprise we had not wet the axletree of our cart, and we were truly thankful to our heavenly father that we landed on the other bank in safety.
After traveling a few miles down the river, we found our main company in a nice bend of the river. The scene that next met our gaze was heart rending in the extreme-children begging their parents to give them something to eat, but they had nothing to give them and they were sad and down-cast.
It was indeed a sorrowful sight to behold, and it seemed that all human feelings had left the people.
We borrowed a large camp kettle and cut up the beef we had and boiled it thoroughly and divided it out to the sisters who had children, as far as it would go.
Men came around, and really shed tears, and begged for a little soup, but we could not give them any as we did not have enough for all.
When night came, the usual prayer meeting was neglected and the people looked just what they were-downcast and sad in very deed, with no kind word for each other or their children. The next morning I was called on by the captain to kill one of the work oxen for the people to eat. It was quite poor, but as fast as we took off the hide a piece of it was cut loose, and some one would grab it and roast and eat it, and everything was eat up clean, but now came a very difficult task: I was to divide the beef, which was far more bone than meat, so that each one would have an equal portion, but I done the best I could and gave general satisfaction in this regard.
When we started on the plains about 50 of our company were Scandinavians, whose language was strange to the English speaking people and the language of the English speaking people were strange to them, but one could easily tell that we were all of the same faith.
Among the Scandinavians was a man between 30 or 40 years of age, well built, on whom nature had lavished many good qualities. He was full of life and vigor, doing all in his power to make himself agreeable and useful, so let us follow him.
At first we see him pulling his cart, and as soon as his cart is landed over a stream or up a hill, he hastens back to assist others who are needing aid. We soon see him foot sore and weary but still he preservers every way that his strength will allow. A few days later we see him with the tops of this shoes cut to ease his feet which are now festered and raw, as he was not use to traveling in this way, and he is no longer able to pull his cart.
Do you ask "does he ride in the wagon?" oh, no, although none more deserving than he, but we see him rise early in the morning, take his small cake and a bottle of water, and a stick and start out and hobble along as long as he can, rest awhile and then start on again, and would get to camp as best he can. When he did not get to camp some kind soul would go back and meet him and thus the days and weeks pass by until we find him without shoes, his feet a mass of sores and tied up in rags to keep them off the ground, and thus he travels until he is altogether unlike the man he was when he started on the plains. At last in looking around camp I failed to find him, and nobody can tell of his whereabouts, and what become of him we know not, but one thing we do know that his life was spent in doing good as long as his strength lasted and whatever his end was his reward will be great in the kingdom of Heaven.
We are now only ten miles from where the U.S. soldiers wintered two years before, when the well known Buchannon army came to wipe out the Mormons, and the hatred that was in the hearts of the mountaineers, herders, and traders in general was so intense, that they would tell us "that to starve to death was too good for us, and they would rather see us in Hell than they would feed us."
We started on traveling by the side of the river 8 or 10 miles, in traveling along an aged sister, Jarvis by name, was walking along by the side of the road until she could walk no farther, and she sit down and gave two or three heavy sighs, and her spirit departed. We buried her by the wayside and traveled on but a short distance when another sister, her name was [Mary Jane] Shanks came to my wife and said "Sister, the martyrdom of Joseph and Hyrum was nothing to compare to this," and it was a very easy matter to see that she was very weak indeed, and unless that she got immediate relief from some source she could not endure the hardships but a very short time.
We soon came to the mail station, where there was also a store kept, but we could get no assistance from either as the men that kept them had nothing but curses for the Latter Day Saints. This was only a very short distance from the 2 Government wagons were burned, that belonged to the Buchannon Army.
And I visited one of them and most of the irons of the wagons still lay on the ground but shortly afterwards were hauled to Salt Lake City, where some of the heavy wagons tires were converted into molasses mills, and some of them at this writing 1896 are in good condition and are still used every fall to good purpose in pressing the cane from which a good article of molasses are made in the vicinity of St. George.
At the mail station refered to, a man came to our train and said he wanted to hire some men to mow hay. I agreed to stay, and he let us have a very little provision for my family and went out a few miles and worked a few days, and here I helped to put up the coarsest hay I ever saw put in a stack. I had helped in other places to put up flags, and rushes, and some very large canes for hay; but here I helped to cut down cottonwood trees by the dozen, and the trees, limbs, and all from one to two feet through were piled up 8 or 10 feet high. The hay was then stacked around and on top of the pile of wood and brush, and the whole was called hay.
I found out that these men had a contract to furnish a certain amount of hay for the U.S. Government, and the hay was stacked in the manner above stated, and the whole measured as soon as the stack was completed.
Thus these mean who so despised the Mormons for not being true to the Government, showed their loyalty to this same Government, that they made such great pretensions to be true to, and to defend against these rebellious Mormons, but these pretended honest citizens of this great and glorious Government would rob the U.S. at every opportunity. This is the kind of example that they set before strangers who had just left the land of their birth, and came to what they had been taught was "The land of the free and the home of the brave." Where every citizen was an interested party and should always be on hand to protect the property of the great Government, as he would his own personal property, but Alas! Alas! Here we found ourselves surrounded on every hand by a set of men without a particle of honest principle in them and we called to mind the saying; "Oh consistency, thou art a jewel."
We will now follow the handcart train who traveled on that day to Hams Fork , and this same sister Shanks spoken of being unable to keep up with the carts was left behind, and the next day was found mostly eat up by wolves. Whether she died or was killed by the wolves we never knew. Her husband who was very weak at the time also died before reaching the S.L. Valley.
At Hams Fork a time of rejoicing was had, as that the place they were met with provision from S. L. City, and the people were fed. Although a few had got down to such a weak state of body that they never recovered, but lingered on for a time and passed away and were numbered with hose who have laid their bodies down for the Gospel sake.
Before leaving the handcarts one thing I wish to state. We learned each others character and formed ties of friendship that will last forever, and saw the hand of the Lord made manifest for our special benefit in many ways on this hard and tiresome journey over the plains, and when cast down with hunger, fatigue and all look dark and dreary then that kind spirit that none but God can give comforted us in our deep distress.
We continued to look forward to that land for which we were toiling hard to reach, and we were blest above many of our companion on this journey, as the Lord provided for us in the manner before referred to for which we truly thank him.
Myself and family stopped at Green River for ten weeks, and for two weeks some member of our Handcart company kept coming along, and we helped them as we could.
During our sojourn at Green River we procured provisions and a gentle ox, I made shafts to our cart, hitched up our ox and started on our way for the land of our choice, with plenty to eat and our hearts cheerful. We had traveled but two days when our ox took sick and were obliged to stop, we then being but a few miles east of Fort Bridger.
We had only stayed a few hours, some teamsters came along and their wagons were empty, and they were going to Salt Lake City. They had been to some of the stock ranchers near by, with provisions. We made arrangements with them to take us and our effects to Salt Lake and so loaded all but our ox on their wagon, and went on our way rejoicing, and we landed in Salt Lake City on the 10th day of November, 1859, after a hard and tedious journey of one thousand miles having suffered many hardships, hunger and privations, to reach the place God had designed for a gathering place for his people.
[Also published in Heart Throbs of the West, 12 vols. [1939-51], 6:380-94 and Jacqueline Williams Awerkamp, comp., William Atkin and Rachel Thompson: Journal and Genealogies , 15-31]