William Woodward letter to Joseph F. Smith, 1907, in Utah State Historical Society Cache Valley Chapter in Historical resource materials for Cache Valley, Utah-Idaho, 1955-1956.
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Prest. Jos. F Smith
Dear Bro. After meeting with the Hand Cart veterans on the 3rd inst. various reflections passed through my mind. And I thought I would pen <some of> them down for your inspection. The Hand cart camp was formed in May (I think) in 1856 and the site was selected by Daniel Spencer (
I think) I arrived in camp on June 2nd with Dan Jones, Company (mostly Welsh) this company crossed the sea on the ship “S. Curling,” some 703 passengers. Some passengers staid in the States, but the main part came on to Camp near Iowa City. Two ship loads of Saints left Liverpool before our company; the “Caravan,” and “Enoch Train.” When we arrived in camp it was fine weather. Daniel Spencer was President of the camp, and all affairs pertaining to the emigration appeared to be under his direction. James Ferguson was his assistant; J.D. Tone Whittier was Comissary, Daniel Tyler Bishop, Chancey G. Webb superintended the making of Hand Carts, assisted by several of the bretheren, returning missionaries and others. Bro. Webb was very industrious, he was a mechanic. I remember the following missionaries, besides those named above E[.] Ellsworth, D.D. McArthur, S.W. Crandall, Truman Le[o]nard, Edward Bunker <John A Hunt & B.W. Hodgetts> and of our company Dan Jones, David Grant, John Oakley, Wm. Butler, Jno McDonald & Wm. Woodward.
The next day after our arrival in camp W[.] Woodward was made historian of the camp[,] sexton, & postmaster.
Soon after our arrival E[.] Ellsworth’s company was organized with John Oakley & Wm Butler his assistants & some of our emigrants <went to his company.> D.D. McArthur’s company was organized with S.W. Crandall & Truman Le[o]nard assistants, with some of our ships company to swell his numbers.
These two companies left in the early part of June[.] E. Ellsworth’s company 2 or 3 days ahead of McArthur’s. McArthur drove up to Ellsworth’s company the first night out.
Quite awhile after these two companies were gone, the 3rd Company was organized Edward Bunker Captain, with David Grant & Jno McDonald his assistants. This Company was nearly all Welsh.
These companies left in good time, and reached the valley before October Conference. I consider the people were weakened in the start, rations 10 oz of flour a day, 4 oz of bacon a week with a few other things, but the substantials were deficient. Instead of 10 oz of flour a day 20 oz would have been little enough. The stragglers were begging at the farm houses through Iowa for milk[,] buttermilk & anything they could get.
Sometime in July Jas G. Willie’s ships company came to camp[.] After a time this company was organized. Jas. G. Willie, President; Millen Atwood Capt of 1st Hundred[,] Levi Savage capt of 2nd Hundred, W. Woodward, capt. of 3rd Hundred; John Chislett Capt of 4th. Hundred[;] A.H. [Johan August] Ahmanson capt of 5th hundred. This 5th Hundred were Scandinavians
We left camp the latter part of July, when we ought to have been at Missouri River[.] Two more Hand Cart companies were in process of organization 5th & 6th under Edward Martin & Daniel Tyler but were merged into one; and two wagon companies John A. Hunt’s & B.W. Hodgett’s
The companies had to wait for carts & cattle[.] Although John Taylor was in the States he did not seem to have anything to do with our companies. Geo. A. Smith was also in Washington & Erastus Snow came to our camp before the 3rd company left
In the companies were cripples, and people who had to be hauled all the way [on the] trip. Bro Willie assumed all responsibility & Bro Savage <was> condemned for his recital of what might be expected on our journey. Bro Willie gave me the information when I returned from Council Bluffs. Every word spoken by Bro. Savage came true.
Several families with teams joined our company at Florence and travelled with us. After passing Fort Kearney on opposite side of Platte river we lost many of our cattle one dark night. It stormed during this night, & ravines twenty feet deep were full of water in the morning[.] Some young men went to hunt for these cattle & had to go miles in the hills before they could cross these streams. our cattle were not found.
Willie camped at North Bluff Fork of the Platte[.] F.D. Richard[s] & company overtook us[.] This company besides Bro Richards were the following[:] Daniel Spencer, C.H. Wheelock[,] Jas Ferguson, Geo. D. Grant, W.H. Kimball, W.C. Dunbar, C.W. Webb, Dan Jones[,] J.D. Tone[.] It was intended
to for every hundred people to have one wagon with 3 yoke of oxen or 4 mules – these were for hauling provisions[,] tents &c & they hauled several of the people. Little children had either to be hauled in carts or wagons of our company. In our company one man had a crazy wife & he hauled her as long as she lived, another man hauled his sick brother near all the way to the valley. One old man blind & ruptured unable to walk a ½ mile a day, some 66 years old, with no relatives along, was a hand cart passenger, rode as long as he lived, a good old man too, for he was in my hundred; some 5 men over 60 years of age died in my hd on the way. We never ought to have left Mo. River. It was about August 17th when we left the River; we had 6 wagons when we left Florence and was allowed a pound of flour a day. While at Florence a meeting of our Company was held—I had been sent to Omaha & Council Bluffs, when Levi Savage told of the cold & suffering might be expected and Allister, Jos. A[.] Young, N.H. Felt, Jas. McGaw, & Jno. Van Cott. These names remember although it is more than 51 years ago.
Next day a meeting was held at our
Hand Company camps[.] F.D. Richards had heard of the remarks made by Bro. Levi Savage at Florence, and severely condemned them. He said he had <heard> remarks made by Bro. John Taylor at New York who spoke of the lateness of the season, and Bro F.D. Richards said he told Bro John Taylor he could wash his hands from it & he would take the whole responsibility of the emigration <on> himself. James Ferguson prophesied that the storms would divide and pass us by; in fact we would be far from them
When we arrived at Fort Laramie there was a letter from Bro Richards directing the families traveling with us in private wagons to remain at Laramie till the wagon companies east of us arrived, & then travel with them. It must have
it must have been two weeks or more before the wagon companies arrived. These people could have out travelled us and were no detriment to us in the least. I have since thought Bro Richards had lost his head, in so advising people to wait as if summer would be perpetual. I had read of Geo. A[.] Smiths company in 1849 being caught in the snow east of the South Pass & having cattle, pigs, & chickens frozen to death. And it had been counsel not to start late to cross the plains.
An Express from the relief train met us about Ice Springs on the Sweetwater <valley> C[.]H[.] Wheelock, Jos. A. Young, Steve Taylor and a Bro[.] Garr. Some of these bretheren advised us to give out all the flour we had at night to our famished people. We did so. A snow fell on us that night about a foot deep. It was a sorry sight, over 400 people with hand carts, short of bedding, & to sleep on the cold ground. One thought is enough for a lifetime
James G. Willie and Joseph B. Elder started out to find the relief camp, & found it on the Sweetwater. They came to us near night. Had it not have been for the timely aid sent us, it seems we must have all perished. A few might have got to Fort Bridger; but the women & children[,] the sick & feeble would have succumbed to the cold & hunger. Teams & help with food & clothing [were] sent by the good people of Utah to our rescue[.] God bless them. Levi Savage who was censured for his truthful statement at Florence, was I think the best help we had—resolute & determined[,] his whole soul was for the salvation of our company.
In crossing the Rocky Ridge two of our teamsters abandoned their teams. Millen Atwood & myself took the teamsters places <Bro Savage was with us> we picked up all the stragglers & our wagons were filled[.] We had about 3 steers & Arkansas cows to our wagons & toiled along as best we could. We arrived at a small stream with a steep hill to pull up after we got over the creek. It was dark at night all other teams gone[.] Levi Savage went to camp. Teams were gathered to help us & relieve our loads, & teamsters sent to relieve us, & best of all bread sent to feed our hungry loads of people. What kind boys they were; who were sent to our help. Prest Brigham Young seemed to be inspired and seemed alive to the occasion. God bless his memory[.] We arrived in the City on Sunday Nov 9, 1856. We buried 68 of our people[.] We were dirty & Lousy. Body lice by the hundreds were on our people.
But few of those who were in charge of Hand companies are alive to day. I was the youngest returning missionary & I was 74 Jan 4 this year. I think only D[.]D[.] McArthur of St George & may be Levi Savage in southern[….]
Much has been written about the Pioneers, and the “Mormon Battalion” crossing the plains, but I have never seen any thing like
goings a history of <the> Hand Cart Emigration of the year 1856. It was a new scheme for the deporting of a numerous people to Salt Lake Valley. This plan was to bring as many people as possible, for a small an amount of money as could be possible that the poor of Europe might find homes with their Co-Religionists in the Vallies of the west.
In 1853 a £10—company of Emigrants had been sent across the plains—ten persons to a wagon and this was a success. Those emigrants came by New Orleans and up the River to some outfitting point and then proceeded across the plains—Coming by New Orleans, & by steamboats up the Rivers, was often attended with many deaths, and to alviate [alLeviate] this, a more northern route was selected—New York & Boston & the railroads south of the great Lakes—via Chicago, Rock Island, & Iowa City
It was the constant desire of the authorities of the Church to plan for the people for their temporal & spiritual welfare. And the returning Missionaries were held to labor for the welfare of Mormon Emigrants till they arrived in Salt Lake City.
Many of the leaders of the Hand Cart Companies are dead
(the rest are getting aged) Edward Martin, Edmund Ellsworth, Millen Atwood, Jesse Haven[,] <David Grant>[,]< John Oakley> and others have passed the last roll call on earth, the rest are getting aged, and with them will die much of the history of one of the most remarkable episodes of modern times[.] While I am writing this I think of the brave men of our Company—of Willie, of Atwood, Savage & Ahmanson. I was the youngest of the Captains of Hundreds and I thought I could put up with anything but alas to human foresight. I was stricken with chills & fever west of the Missouri River & was almost useless for 3 weeks, till a severe storm of wind & rain came one night and I was soaked in water, from this on I had no chills but a good appetite with not enough to satisfy it
When I arrived in camp on June 2nd I was kindly invited to the tent of a Bro Beel from London. The next day I was with Edward Bunker and others to get some timber for Hand carts[.] The next morning I was installed clerk of the camp also postmaster & Sexton: my calling was varied. I was also required to hunt mules & cattle, traveling some 75 or 100 miles as far as the Des Moines River in the south
When I was appointed Capt of the 3rd Hundred on the 4th Hand Cart Company I relinquished the other offices and prepared myself for the trip to the valley
A mule <team> was assigned to my Hundred—some of the mules had to be tied to the wagon wheels to be Harnessed, and then it took considerable patience to handle them—our oxen were unbroken and the valley Elders had cares enough—the weather was hot[,] roads dusty, diet slim & we generally slept well when we could get to bed.
Some of <the>: emigrants were not fit for the trip: five persons in my hundred were over 60 years of age—one man was blind & ruptured unfit to walk, one boy had to be hauled all the way in a cart and quite a number soon became leg-weary; one man hauled his wife from Iowa City to the Rocky Ridge where she died