[William Knox Aitken], "Adventures of a Mormon," London Advertiser, 9 Aug. 1857.
- Source Locations
- Church History Library, CR 100 91, 1857 Scrapbook No. 6
- Related Companies
- Daniel D. McArthur Company (1856)
- Related Persons
- William Knox Aitken
The following extraordinary narrative appears in the last number of the Edinburgh News. It is from a private letter, dated—“Western Missouri, July 11, 1857:”—
DEAR BROTHER,— . . . . It would be absurd in me to attempt at this time to tell you all that I have seen, or known, or passed through, since I left Edinburgh. Six months would scarcely suffice for the task. I will, however, endeavour to give you a brief outline of what has happened to me since I last wrote to you from Florence, whither we had arrived, after much journeying from our leaving the ship Enoch Train. We started from Iowa with our hand-barrows for Utah, at which place we arrived on the 28th of September, 1856, wearied and worn down, the bones almost through the skin, not only of myself but of all that were in the company, having walked from Iowa city to the Great Salt Lake city, a distance of 1,350 miles, and were half starved to the bargain, our whole allowance being 12 ounces of flour per day, and we did not even get so much. You will, no doubt, feel inclined to ask me if little _____ and _____ walked all the road. Yes they did; and not only that, but had to draw a hand-cart besides. Old and young had to do it. I know one little boy of six years of age who did it, and an old woman of 60 who did the same thing. It is the policy of the Church to leave the weak, the infirm, and the old by the way, that they may have no paupers to support. I have seen both old and young drop by the way, and one young man, Conrad Eleker, became so feeble that he was unable to walk forward with the company; so he fell back, and was lost in the desert plains, and of course he made a supper for the wolves. Two of his sisters died before this, and were put into a hole, but poor Conrad was never heard tell of. His old father, through sorrow, soon fell a victim to death too. We buried him at Hams Fork, a fort of Green River. As I passed on my way back to the States I visited his grave; it was entire. What makes me remark this is, that most of the graves are dug up by the wolves or man-eaters. One old man named M’Leve, who was borne down by hunger and fatigue, we buried at Bien River; he was put in clothes and all. As I returned I saw his bones strewed around; and little _____ took out of his pockets some nails which were in them. Another old woman, whom we buried at the South Pass, we saw her remains likewise. As I passed, her long brown hair were mingled with the tattered garments that covered her poor worn carcass. Some fell dead while pulling their hand-carts; one a little ahead of us was struck down by lightning. His name was Walker. But it is scarcely worth naming instances where there were so many. We were the first company that got into the valley; the company that followed fared far worse. Of Martin’s company, consisting of 500, only 300 arrived, and of these a great many were good for nothing. Their feet and hands were so frozen that they dropt off. Lots of them when they took off their shoes took the feet with them; many lost their fingers, and some the sight. One, whose name was Whitten, from Preston Conference, Lancashire, ate the fingers off his own hands, he was so famished, and then expired. Another, while in the act of cutting some wood to make a fire, dropped on his knees, with the axe still on his shoulder, and was found dead. I would not have known this had it not been for a man of the name of Hill, who helped to bring the above company over, but left Utah with me. He showed me where he put nine in one grave, and had to lay them on their sides to get them all in. A man of the name of Pears, from Bradford, with whom I was acquainted, fell here; and another of the name of Peel, and one from Leith, named Gibb. But were these things ever published? No. There is but one paper published in Utah, and its contents are all one-sided. If a murder or a suicide is committed—and there were both while I was there—no notice is taken of it, but they can republish such things from other papers. But let me not dwell too long upon this subject; suffice it to say that I arrived at Salt Lake city almost used up, but my pluck as good as ever, and with my eyes wide open, my pockets empty, and without clothes or tools. All I had was my case of instruments and a rag of a shirt, having to leave all our chest behind to come on with the wagons, having paid their carriage previously. The amount paid by me for my cases, with clothes and tools, was twenty-three dollars. But the wagons were overtaken by the snow, so my goods had to be put into a hut at a place called Devil’s Gate, three hundred miles from Salt Lake, so that I never saw them. . . .
After witnessing such proceedings, and a thousand times worse, I became determined to leave; so, with other 50 men, or 300 souls in all, I left the Lake. We all met about twelve miles out of the city, between the mountains, on the 18th April, with a little provisions—some on horses, some on mules, some having oxen wagons—all determined to get off or die. All had arms. Some could have spent 60 shots, some 20, and some 12, and so on. In crossing the mountains we had to pass over fifteen feet of snow; sometimes we had to make our bed on the snow. When we came to Fort Lar[a]mie, which is a Government post, 500 miles from any settlement, we were supplied with provisions, and when we came to Fort Kenney [Kearny] we were again supplied, through the kindness of “Uncle Sam;” so we all reached the States in good health, after a journey of 1,250 miles, and all that we lost was one cow, with the calves. Some carried their food on handcarts, and some on their backs, but all got through in safety. I am here without money and without clothes, but in health, both the children and myself, and friendless, with the exception of Robert Menzies, and my pluck (which I am glad to say is not down yet), and thousands in Utah would be glad to be with us, though in the same condition. . . .
[We have purposely suppressed the names mentioned in the above letter, but the writer was well known to many of our citizens; was about fifteen years a member of the Mormon body, and an active propagandist; but has at length abandoned that body, having seen the villainy of its leaders, and the misery of their dupes.]
Source: 1857 Scrapbook No. 6, in Historian’s Office, Historical scrapbooks 1840-1904.