Diana Eldredge Smoot autobiography, 1912, (2-5).
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After the departure of Brother Young and his Company, those of the number left in Winter Quarters who could, began immediate preparations to follow as soon as possible. As fast as they were ready to leave, they moved out a distance and camped on the Horne River until everybody was ready to start. The Saints were then organized into hundreds and fifties. Brother Daniel Spencer was Captain over the First Hundred, after President Young’s Company and my Father was Captain over the first fifty in Brother Spencer’s Company.
When the Companies were all organized they moved out a short distance apart. They camped with not more than one day’s travel between two companies for fear of encountering the Potawataimie [Pottawattamie] Indians, who were at that time out on their hunting trips.
We followed the trail of the Pioneers, Brother Parley P. Pratt riding ahead on the horse to locate camping places for us. In many instances we found and camped on the camping grounds of the Pioneers.
One thing which I remember very distinctly, was the finding of the first mail box after leaving Winter Quarters. While Father was breaking camp and hitching up to start one morning, I, with a girl companion wandered up on a little knoll a short distance from where we had camped. On this knoll I found a stake driven into the ground, on top of this stake a hole had been bored and plugged with a cork. Returning to my Father, I told him what I had seen and he went to the spot, drew out the cork, and found a letter written by President Young, to the camp. He read the letter to the camp and replaced it in the stake that the following companies might also find it and read the message.
Several days later, we saw a patch of willows some distance from the road. This seemed to promise water, and my father turning to Gid Ensign said, “If you will go down there,” indicating a certain point, “and bring me a jug of water, I will give you twenty-five cents.” The boy went, and in the exact spot pointed out by my Father he found another letter from Brigham Young. Evidently his Company had camped there and thought we might do so on account of water.
After this we traveled for some time with nothing of especial interest to break the monotony of the days until we had an encounter with a band of Sioux Indians at Chimney Rocks. There were about a hundred braves in war paint and feathers headed by a Chief. They thought we had come to take their land away from them, but when they were finally convinced that we did not want to molest them, they seemed quite friendly. We cooked them a big dinner, after which the “peace pipe” was smoked by all the men in both bands. A large fire was built, the Indian Braves forming a semi-circle on one side, the white men on the other side facing them. The pipe was then passed from the Chieftain clear around the circle. A dance followed, in which all took part in characteristic ways.
As we moved on they followed us for two or three days, but they offered no opposition to us. However, they insisted that the deer and buffalo belong to them and that we must not kill them. On this point we had to be careful and not anger them.
At Laramie, we camped and had all the horses in the Company shod, but the next point of interest which impressed me, was the meeting of a huge herd of buffalo at Platte River. Traveling along the bank of the river about noon, we were between the stream and the hills where the herds ranged. They surged down upon us on their way for water. The men of the Company crowded all the wagons of the train into as close a bunch as possible and all the women and children into the wagons. They drove the cattle into a line with their heads turned from the buffalo and then stationed themselves at the head of their oxen with whips and no other weapons, owing to their promises to the Indians. As the herd crowded closer to us, pawing the earth and tossing their heads, the men kept up an incessant shout and waving of their whips. Suddenly, when they were just about upon us, the herd separated about in the middle, part going one side of the train and part the other side. Not one head of cattle was lost and not a person injured. As the buffalo dashed into the river beyond us an immense fellow fell and our men shot him, but of course this had to be kept quiet so the Indians would not hear of it. This was the only large herd we saw tho’ we frequently came across smaller bunches until we reached the region of the mountains.
At this time I was driving a team of oxen which my brother Edmond [Eldredge], started out to drive. He was taken sick during the journey and for about two hundred miles I did all the driving of the team immediately behind my Father’s in the train, followed by my Mother’s carriage which she drove from Indianapolis to Salt Lake Valley. I became so proficient in some respects that the men had to look after their laurels and in the matter of locking wagons, which method was employed in place of brakes, I could beat any man in the train.
Just as we were entering the mountain region, we met President Brigham Young and his party, who were on their way back to Winter Quarters, for their families. My Uncle John Eldredge was with the party, and he took the team I was driving and drove it into the valley. At this place Brother Heber [C]. Kimball asked my Father what he had in the way of goods and provisions for his family. On learning that we had supplies enough for our own use and to help others less fortunate, Brother Kimball promised my Father that neither he nor his family would every want for bread, and the promise was verified all through the days of privation during the settling of the valley.
From there the journey was monotonous, except for the common interest of travel, until we reached the top of the peak from which we had our first view of the Valley.
On Sept. 21, 1847, our Company reached the top of the mountains just at sunset with the rest of the train spread out behind us. It was necessary for us to descend to the foot of the mountain before dark, in order for the rest of the train to reach the top to make camp. My Father asked me if he hitched “Billy,” a riding pony which I had ridden a good deal during the journey, in front of his team, if I thought I could lead them down the side of the mountain. I thought I could alright, so the pony was saddled and I mounted. Father instructed me to hold the reins close to the bit to prevent the pony from falling if he stumbled on the rough, bushy trail, and thus I led the team of three yoke of oxen down the mountain and into the valley. Before we reached the bottom, I was so excited and nervous, the tears were streaming down my face, but father kept cheering and encouraging as he followed beside his team. When we reached the bottom, however, he confessed that he had never felt so sorry for a child in his life and said it was very clever work for a 10-year old girl. We camped at the foot of the mountain that night and
at mid-day of September 22, 1847, the Company rolled in and pitched camp at the North side of the old fort, where our Company built their fort as soon as possible. As soon as breakfast was over on the morning of the 22nd. camp was hurridly broken and the teams started on the last stretch of the long, long, journey. As soon as we were well on the way, I, with two other girls on horseback, left the Company to hurry on to the fort. There was no danger of us losing our way as the trail of Brother Brigham’s Company was quite plain, and better than that, we could see the smoke from the fort. As we left the train Uncle John Eldredge called after us to look out for Indians and be careful for they might get us anywhere. Tho’ it was only a joke, it served to hurry us had we been inclined to lag. As we neared the fort, I forged a little ahead of the other girls and rode into the fort first. There were three women in the first Company and two who came with the Mormon Battalion who were in the fort ahead of me, but they are all dead now, and as far as I know, there is no woman living who was in the fort before I was.
Tho’ the journey was long and fraught with anxiety, we had none of the hardships to endure, which were the lot of some of the later Companies. We had comparatively little sickness, with only one birth and one death. We had good teams and good wagons, plenty of good feed and provisions and altogether, the trip was a very pleasant one.