Nielsen, Christian, to Carl Nielsen, 27 Apr. 1856, 2-7. (Trail excerpt transcribed from "Pioneer History Collection" available at Pioneer Memorial Museum [Daughters of Utah Pioneers Museum], Salt Lake City, Utah. Some restrictions apply.)
Here we received wagons, tents and oxen. Every day companies came and left; it was very lively and the surroundings lovely. The forests, for the most part oak and all kinds of fruit trees and vine, were blooming. We now had to live in our wagons which were covered with canvas, and tents where we slept as well as in a house. We were given four oxen, one wagon and a tent. On the 21st we started on our journey. In the beginning it went slowly as the oxen were not acquainted with us, and we not with them, as the way in which they drive them here is entirely different from the Danish way. They pull with a yoke of tree which is placed on the neck of them in which there is an iron brace to put the wagon ring in; are there four oxen, the first ones pull in an iron chain. It can be removed in a minute. They are steered with a whip and some very definite words which the oxen know, and in this way from eight to ten pair of oxen are steered by one driver. This form of transportation is common in North America. Our wagon is of excellent quality and solid and is far superior to the Danish. We traveled through the state of Iowa to Kanesville at the Missouri River, and arrived there on June 25th, about 360 miles. The country through which we traveled was sparsely settled; a few towns and houses, many miles apart, but boundless grass fields of the very best kind. Our oxen became fat, fields and forests were full of fruit. The roads were very poor. Here we received supplies for the remainder of the journey, and were ferried across the river. It took us to July 12th before we were ready to travel further. We were now in the State of Nebraska. The country was unsettled. We traveled for a couple of days and came to a river called Loop [Loup] Fork, across which we were ferried. On August 2nd we came to a place where there were buffaloes and the very biggest. In the afternoon of the 5th I went hunting for buffaloes together with some other men, but the time was too short. The camp broke up, and we had to return. We went up into the mountains where we could see a great plain, full of oxen. There were several thousands of them besides deer, antelopes, wolves etc. We camped for the first time on August 4th on the banks of the La Platte River. viz. on the north side. We traveled along it for about 500 miles to Fort Laramie where we crossed the river to the southern bank; in this fort there were soldiers to protect the emigrants against attacks from the Indians. Lately we had previously been visited by the Indians who are always begging and stealing. We often came across gold diggers returning from California, mostly riding, driving mules before them. On July 31st we met among others a man from Kiel, Germany; he had been a soldier in Copenhagen, but during the Schleswig War he had joined the insurgents. Until the middle of August we had fine grass for our cattle, but now it began to become less fine, and sometimes we had to travel for two or three days before the oxen could graze. We lost one of our oxen and had to drive with three. Once in a while the road was sandy; oxen and cows lay dead by the thousands at the roadside. The road and the country were strewn with carriage fittings—the wood was burned—bedding, clothing, kitchen ware, guns etc. I wish to say here, that before us 12,000 emigrants had traveled to California. They are the ones who burn the wagons when their cattle die to join the others, as otherwise they will have to stay. The Mormons do not burn their wagons, they help each other; does a person lose his oxen, the others come to his rescue; is anything broken, the whole company will have to wait until it is repaired; generally speaking there are blacksmiths and other craftsmen in the company. The blacksmiths set up their workshop, and in a short while everything is fixed. Nothing is thrown away unless the wagons are overloaded which is often the case, and they have to "throw it overboard". One would think that we could become rich by picking things up in the desert; this is not the case; there might be some who are greedy and cannot stand to see all that iron and clothing lying there; to begin with they pick up everything they see and are running around in the camps to find more. They load it on their wagons and let their oxen drag it along; sometimes they take it along for several hundred of miles. More and more is thrown along the road; they can't take it along, and it breaks their hearts; here they see a fine wheel, there a brass kettle, here a pan and there a kitchen range etc. They have to drive past it; they are stuck in every hole they pass over; the others must help them all the time; at last they get tired of it and leave them behind, as it is generally that kind of people who constantly ask for help, but will help no one else. Here they are sitting now. First of all they try to give the oxen a sound thrashing but they are overloaded and cannot do it. It irritates them; they take off what they can, and finally they get the wagon out. They load it again; they cannot leave the thing behind, they have brought it so far. They now drive on for a distance of a gunshot or two; they are stuck again; they do as before, but they overstrain themselves, the pulse beats intensely, they must leave some of the things behind to their dismay. Thus they are stuck several times, until they have nothing but the empty wagon; the oxen are tired and can neither get food nor water; they cannot be saved and are at once attacked by wolves to which they fall a prey. It is most comical with those who have preceded them and who are greedy; in the morning they load their backs and are ready to give the whole thing up in the afternoon, as they have to leave it; the next morning they again find something which they feel they must take with them, it is a good piece which they can use for many purposes, sell it at a good price, they make big calculations, until it goes like the day before, and thus it continues every day in such a way that when they arrive in the valleys, they have nothing.
On September 20th we came to a fort called Bridger; here were soldiers from the valleys to protect the emigrants against the Indians; we heard that a war was being fought with them in the valleys and that they had stolen a couple of hundred cattle. We now got up in the mountains where sometimes we journeyed upwards for a couple of days and then downwards tearing along. In some places the wagon was lowered down with ropes. At last we reached the valleys on September 30th; at 8 o'clock in the evening we entered Great Salt Lake City. From Kanesville we had traveled 1,031 miles. . . .
The journey across the country isn't dull either. In the morning we are busy preparing breakfast and make ourselves ready to go as soon as the horn is blown. At noon we generally camp for about an hour if we can get close to water and grass. Now they are busy preparing dinner, get wood and water; the same thing in the evening. We have to walk most of the way, for our loads are big; is [if] the road good the children and the women ride. I had a widow with two children from the island of Bornholm in my wagon, so I had to walk almost all the way. To economize on my boots I walked barefooted for about 200 Danish miles, or about 800 English miles, and let my beard grow for a long time. Many of us looked awful with sunburnt faces and long beards; my beard was so long that it hung way down on my chest. I was afraid to look in a mirror. The Indians stared at me; they don't have any beard. The weather during Nebraska until we reached Fort Laramie in the middle of the desert was warm with much thundering. In Iowa it was terrible; it is almost impossible to imagine it unless you have seen and heard it yourself; it was lightening constantly day and night, about every other night or day we had thunder storms the like of which is never heard in Denmark; as a rule it comes and begins with a terrible storm and a whirlwind. The thunder is approaching with awful booms and bangs, the air is one big blaze; the rain is pouring down and fills the tents with water, and many of the tents are blown down. In Nebraska we drove behind the company for a little while when a thunderstorm hit us; the lightning hit us. My wife felt a pressure on her head, my daughter in her chest, and Anders Nielsen who was the driver one on his right arm; those in front fell to the ground. I walked around among them and saw the lightning among us, but didn't feel anything. In the wagon were two children; we opened it very fast; they were lying well and safe. God had protected us.