John H. Krenkel, ed., The Life and Times of Joseph Fish, Mormon Pioneer (Danville, Ill: Interstate Printers and Publishers, 1970), 25-30.
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John C. L. Smith and my sister, Sarah, had reached the Valley in safety and he was quite successful in trading with the California emigrants, who were trading their broken down animals for fresh ones and buying supplies so as to continue their journey to the Pacific. Smith had made a little by this trade and liberally sent us some to aid in fitting out for the western journey. My father [Horace Fish] had gathered a little together so as to buy one yoke of cattle and two yoke of cows having now four yoke of oxen and cows for we worked our cows that same as we did the oxen. Preparations were now made for a start to the mountain valley of the Great Salt Lake, and on May 29, 1850 we left the place and moved down the river to the lower ferry where we crossed the Missouri River on the first day of June.
After crossing the Missouri River we pulled away from the river a few miles where the Saints were gathering previous to starting on their long journey to the mountain valley of the Great Salt Lake. Here we remained a few days awaiting the organization of the company which was soon completed. The company consisted of fifty wagons and was divided into tens there being a captain over each ten. Milo Andrus was chosen captain over the whole company and Robert Wiley was captain of our ten.
The organization being completed preparations were soon made to commence the journey. Our start and progress for a few days was quite slow. Nearly all the cattle were wild and unbroke, and it required some time and patience to get them in place. The cows were nearly all worked and soon became the best leaders. The wagons were of various kinds—some were made in the east while some were made at Nauvoo and other places by the Saints. My father had the wagon that he had made at Nauvoo and our team consisted of two yoke of oxen and our cows. One yoke of the cattle were good ones but very old, the other was young but wild and unbroken. Many of the teamsters were as awkward as the teams. They never having driven cattle before, so they that had some experience were kept busy in helping others who had to learn. My father was not a good hand to manage cattle as he never drove a team when he could avoid it, so he got a man to drive our team for a distance for his board. These delays with unbroken cattle and untrained teamsters caused some delay and our progress for a few days was rather slow, but, in a short time, things began to move more smoothly and orderly and we began to make better time.
Our mode of traveling was the usual one adopted by the emigrants; each ten took its turn in leading or going ahead and at night the first half of the company would turn to the right and form a half circle, the tongues of the wagons being turned out and the left front wheel near the right hind wheel of the wagon ahead of it. The other half of the company would turn to the left and form the other half of the circle in a similar manner with the tongues of the wagons turned out the same as the others. In later years this mode of forming camp was changed a very little, the first half of the company forming the right hand side faced the tongues of their wagons in. This gave them some advantage it was thought in hitching up their teams. In starting out in the morning the hind part or left hand part of the company would take the lead that day thus changing each day. The cattle were taken out to where they could get the best grazing with a strong guard over them, and there was a camp guard around the wagons. The captain generally went ahead and selected the camp ground, and thus he regulated the distance traveled during the day.
As the company stretched out across the broad prairies it presented a picturesque appearance. Bare-footed children, here and there, wending their way along the line of march. Women, some with sunbonnets, some with hats and others with various kinds of protection for the head, traveling along through the hot dust and over the parched plains. Men with their long whips walking beside the lolling oxen that were dragging their heavy loads towards the setting sun. A variety of characters were behind bringing up the rear with the loose stock which was varied as their drivers. All were hastening west as fast as they could over these boundless prairies.
The Pioneers had gone west on the north side of the Platte but for various reasons, I suppose that the south side was deemed the best route for this season, because the grass had been burnt off on the north side.
And thus we journeyed on amidst our toils, joys and sorrows. On the 23rd of June we arrived at Fort Kearney.
We spent the Fourth of July crossing the South Fork of the Platte River. We forded the river at an angle which made it a little over a mile across. This was done so as to follow a shallow place which had been found by persons who had been sent out to find the best crossing. It was a quicksand bottom and the water was about 18 inches deep. We doubled teams in crossing, the way was marked out by poles being stuck up with flags on them, serving as a guide to the teamsters where to drive. I remember that we children were greatly frightened, but the teamsters on both sides of the long line of cattle kept them moving to keep from getting stuck in the quicksand.
These tiresome journeys, the hardships and exposures were the cause of many falling by the wayside, and many were the unknown graves that we passed on our line of march. Some were those of the Saints and some were those of the California gold seekers who were pressing their way in great numbers to the shores of the western sea. We could not often distinguish to which class they belonged. Who they were and where they lie, is known to but few, if any. Did I but know their final resting place, I would, like "Old Mortality," wish to carve anew, and deep, the fading records of their life and death, which time has so nearly obliterated and to herald abroad the praise and honor due them as some of the pioneers, who were the designers and builders, of a western empire.
An interesting land mark as we journeyed up the Platte was Chimney Rock. I remember that when we came in sight of it that it was thought by us boys that it was not far off and some of us boys started out to go to it thinking that we could go there and then take across and meet the train on ahead. We traveled some little distance when we gave it up and we did not get even with it until the next day. It must have been all of fifteen miles away.
We were hurrying on over these plains as fast as possible with our slow ox train, and we reached Fort Laramie on 19th of July. Here we found a few United States soldiers with several traders, half-breeds, Indians, squaws, papooses, etc.
On leaving the North Platte we soon reached the Sweetwater River and here we reached a noted place in the annals of the fur traders and early explorers that of Independence Rock.
On August 4th we arrived at the Devil's Gate. At this place we found quite a number of wagons. Several had been burnt. The emigrants going to the mines of California had found it impossible to take all their wagons and loading through, so some left their wagons and others burnt them rather than have them fall into the hands of the Mormons. They were eager to get through to the mines on the coast, and wagons, give out animals and innumerable articles of all kinds were left by the wayside. I even noticed an old broken fiddle. The road along here was lined with these articles as they had been thrown aside to lighten the loads of those who were hastening to the Elderado of the west. We found many wagons and parts of wagons were found, the owners having made carts or put their effects on pack animals and hastened on in their mad rush to reach the mines. My father's team was failing fast so to help them some he left his wagon and took another that was lighter that he found by the way side. I learned later that William Hutchins who later located at Beaver, brought our old wagon with him into Utah.
As we journeyed up the Platte, we often saw villages of prairie dogs. One company that had passed the year before on seeing these little animals standing on their hind legs near their holes, supposed that they were Indians hid in the grass for the purpose of ambushing them. The advance parties giving the alarm the company was halted and every man made for his gun when it was discovered that the enemy was a harmless one. Game was found in great numbers, but owing to the large emigration that had preceded us they were wild and numbers had been driven from the roadway, however antelope were seen frequently. Buffalo were often seen in vast herds of many thousands.
Along the valley of the Platte there were many nice places in that shallow river where the boys would go in swimming, and some went in quite often and stayed in for sometime, and being in the hot sun so much they got badly sunburnt on their backs and shoulders.
During the long and tedious journey the children got very tired of riding and those who were too young to walk much wished their mothers to carry them which was done in many instances to the detriment of the mothers, who overtaxed themselves to please their little ones. My sister, Jane, carried my brother, Franklin, who was two years old for many miles which was a heavy tax on her strength and health. My sister, Anna Maria, was cautioned about falling under the wagon wheels when she got in and out, and told that if she did it would kill her. One day she fell and was run over. She jumped up and cried out "Am I killed? Am I killed?" The marks of the wagon tire were on her head but she was not seriously injured. How she escaped being killed was a mystery for it had every appearance that the wheel ran over her head from the marks, etc.
On arriving at Green River we had a severe snow storm. Considerable snow fell on the mountains nearby. Several of the poorer cattle died during the night. One of ours among the number, an old black muley ox that had done us good service. Our team had dwindled down to about one half what it was when we started, and many others had lost fully as many in proportion to numbers.
We crossed the river on the 18th day of August and a few days more brought us to Fort Bridger which was beautifully located on Black's Fort. The fort consisted of but two or three log houses. Journeying on we reached Bear River on August 22nd and we crossed the Weber River on 25th.
A few days before we reached the valley, John C. L. Smith and his wife, Sarah, and their little son, Horace C., who was born after they arrived in the valley, came out to meet us. It was a joyful meeting here in the mountains. They had brought out some melons and vegetables which were much appreciated, as we had had none for nearly a year to speak of. We now had help and we pushed on a little ahead of the main company and arrived in Salt Lake City on August 29th, after a toilsome march of three months over the parched plains and rugged mountains. We, however, had enjoyed good health, but I was dreadfully sunburnt. My ears, nose and lips were a raw sore. The sun and alkali dust had been hard on me as well as many others of the company. All that could had walked, so as to lighten the loads. My father walked nearly every step of the way he counted the graves as we passed along getting up to a little over a thousand when he gave it up being taxed with a give out team and other things which occupied his attention. We were happy in getting through as well as we did for many fell by the wayside before they reached the journey's end. To cheer us on the way the popular song "Come come ye saints no toil nor labor fear but with joy wend your way" was sung quite often with other songs of a cheering character. On arriving in Utah we went up to Centerville about 12 miles north of Salt Lake City where my brother-in-law had located and had secured 25 acres of land for my father.