Aveson, Robert, "Ox-Team Pioneer Recalls Joys of Long Trek," in Journal History of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, 22 July 1922
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Reminiscences of Camp Life With Evening Pastimes—How Duties Were divided and Then the "Stag Dance"—Mission of Young Men as Teamsters—End of the Journey—Welcome by President Brigham Young and the Impression It Gave to Weary Travelers.
Come, come, ye Saints, no toil nor labor fear.
But with joy wend your way;
Though hard to you this journey may appear,
Grace shall be as your day.
The above is a true representation of "Mormon" emigrants crossing the plains. It brings back to my memory reminiscences of 56 years ago, when I first beheld a similar scene. To those who have seen a copy of this graphic picture, the question has been asked: What company does it represent? The answer is, I am unable to give the date or the name of the company.
In 1866 nine sailing vessels, with "Mormon" emigrants aboard, left the ports of Liverpool, London, and Hamburg, those sailing from the latter port being mostly from Scandinavia. As the two first companies of emigrants were from Liverpool, England, it might be possible the above group were mostly from those two; but I cannot say positively.
The original copy of this photo was procured by me about the year 1867, a few months after my arrival here. The negative, with several hundred others, was destroyed by fire a number of years after the period referred to. C.R. Savage was the photographer from whom I purchased the small photo, and the same firm about three years ago enlarged it.
And now let me give some reminiscences of camp life on the plains, which no doubt will be interesting to the Pioneers and their sons and daughters:
Florence and Wyoming were the names of the headquarters of the frontiers in the early sixties. Upon my arrival (July 29, 1866), at the village of Wyoming (about six miles from Nebraska City, Nebraska,) I beheld a large number of emigrants, many being seated in the tall blue grass. Some of whom had been there two weeks waiting to start on the journey. The fare for adults crossing the plains was $60, which could be paid in installments after arrival.
From 1850 to 1868, the Perpetual Emigration Fund (which originated in 1849), was the means of assisting many thousands of Saints to emigrate to Utah. It was customary every spring for President Brigham Young to call upon the authorities of the different wards and settlements to furnish young men as teamsters, which calling was considered similar to a mission; also to send wagons, horses, mules, oxen and foodstuffs to assist in bringing the Saint from the frontier across the plains. In the spring of 1866, the Saints in Utah sent to the frontier 456 teamsters, 49 mounted guards, 89 horses, 195 mules, 3,092 oxen, 459 wagons, besides a large amount of breadstuffs.
It was the 2nd of August, 1866, when the company I traveled with was ready for the journey. Just before the oxen were yoked, the captain called the Saints together in meeting. Some good instructions were given us in relation to the journey, especially warning all to keep within bounds for fear of Indian depredations. We traveled from ten to twenty-five miles a day—sometimes a longer day's travel had to be taken to reach water and feed.
Our rations consisted of flour, bacon, rice, dried fruit, etc. The bread was cooked in a bake skillet; soda or saleratus was used instead of yeast.
It was pleasing to see the interest manifested by the weary travelers—what a longing desire they had to reach the land of Zion. They had made a great sacrifice in parting from family connections and dear friends—the parting from husband and wife, mother and daughter, father and son.
At sunrise the bugle aroused us from our slumbers. Tramp, tramp, tramp through the dusty roads. Oh, what a lot of brave hearts, full of faith and zeal, traveling step by step to the land they loved and had so often sung about.
O ye mountains high, where the clear blue sky
Arches over the vales of the free,
Where the pure breezes blow, and the clear streamlets flow,
How I've longed to your bosom to flee.
Reaching camp in the evening we had our chores to attend to. One after water, another to get fuel, the third party preparing for the evening meal. No tables or chairs. We sat on the wagon tongue with a slice of bread in one hand and a tin cup of water in the other.
After the evening meal we sat around the camp fires and whiled away the time, singing spiritual and sentimental songs, and talking of future hopes and bygone days. Occasionally we listened to the howling of wild animals, and at times were in fear of trouble with Indians. Some were sick with dysentery, mountain fever, etc. About twelve in our company died on the way. This always caused a gloom in the camp-many tears shed, and in some instances hearts almost broken.
What a jolly lot of people they were, considering the hardships they had to endure. Sometimes we had to cross rivers, and before the end of our journey our blankets were covered with snow. We did not mind that much. We were traveling by ox-teams. What severe trials they must have passed through, those who came with handcarts.
It was interesting in the evening to see the teamsters enjoying themselves in the dance—what was called "stag dance," no girls as partners, all boys. Two young men had violins and furnished the music. Another acted as caller. "Choose your partners for a cotillion. All set. Balance all, first four forward, cross over, swing your partners. Next four forward, cross over, swing your partners. All promenade."
The mission of the young men as teamsters in crossing the plains and returning to their mountain homes was not of the most pleasant nature. They had some sore trials in their travels—rough, dusty roads, uphill, down hill, fording rivers, and ofttimes troubles with their animals. So occasionally, after a long day's march the fiddlers started up the music and the boys amuse themselves on the rough soil.
Well do we remember when we reached the end of our long journey, and were taken to the old Tithing yard, how we felt to rejoice that our lives had been spared to reach the land of Zion, where we were free to worship the Lord according to the dictates of our conscience.
President Brigham Young met us in the Tithing yard, shook many by the hand, and bade us welcome to Zion. This was much appreciated by the Saints. They had heard much talk of their beloved leader, but this was the first time they had had the pleasure of seeing him.