Jenkins, John, “Life Sketch of John Jenkins”
View this source online
. . . Father sold his land for five hundred dollars. He equipped an outfit and we started for Utah the 1st part of June, 1861, in Homer Duncan’s company.
Our train was an independent outfit, that is, it consisted of people who fitted up their own outfits. Father had two wagons, two yokes of oxen, eight cows, and two or three horses. Father drove one wagon and I drove one. The family was in the wagon Father drove. I drove one yoke of oxen and one yoke of cows. We worked the cows as well as the oxen.
When we started in the morning the milk would be put in the churn and by noon when we stopped it would be churned to butter. The Indians caused us no trouble on our journey, although they often came and begged us for flour and sugar.
In the company I was known as the “Little Hunter”, with an old muzzle loading rifle, I obtained more meat than our family could use. So often we had some to give to other families. At one time between the Platte and the Sweet Water Rivers, I wounded an antelope. After tracking it I got another shot and killed it. I then dressed it and started for the train of wagons which was traveling. I soon realized I was lost. I wandered around until nearly sun down. On reaching the top of a knoll, I thought I saw what might be the road. So I hurried in that direction. Soon I saw a man and started running toward him. On seeing me, he ran from me, thinking I was an Indian. My motions in trying to stop him, he thought were signals to other Indians to close in on him. However, I finally overtook him and found him to be a member of our company. When I told him about the antelope, nothing could stop him from going back for it. We soon found the game and I split the cord in one front leg, slipped the opposite hind leg through the split, and put his head between the legs so that the antelope hung on the man’s back. I carried the guns and together we made our way back to the wagon train, arriving at camp late in the night. I have often been out alone in the hills but have never again had the feeling of being lost.
At this time I was a boy of sixteen. I remember among other members of the company, President Charles W. Penrose, Francis W. Armstrong, and Samuel Russell. President Penrose often took part in the programs held around the campfire. We had many good times during our journey. We arrived in Salt Lake City in September 28, 1861 . . .
In 1863 I was called by the church to go to the Missouri River for emigrants. I responded and drove a team of four yoke of oxen along with a company of sixty to eighty teams. Thomas Ricks was captain of the company. It took us five months to make the round trip, leaving in May and returning in September. At this time I was eighteen years of age.
In 1864 I made another trip with Captain Israel Canfield of Ogden. We had a pretty good year except some trouble with the Indians. They stole some of our horses which were used only for riding. Each of our wagons were pulled by four yoke of oxen. In 1865 the Indians were so hostile that the church sent no teams back for emigrants.
But in 1866 I went again; this time with Captain Horton Haight of Farmington. The South Platte River, at Julesburg where we crossed was three-fourths of a mile wide and we ferried our stuff over by taking the best wagon boxes and lashing four of them together. Thus they served as a ferry boat, to carry our wagons and goods across the stream. This took about eight days getting the train of about ninety wagons across the stream. Our train was extra large, having some boys from Dixie who belonged in another train. After we got our wagons and goods over, the captain called for volunteer to swim the cattle across, which consisted of about eight hundred head. Eight men volunteered, I being one of them. After about four hours of hard labor by the entire company, we got the cattle started through the water, and we eight volunteers followed them, swimming behind to keep them going. To do this we would take hold of the tails of the cattle that were behind and swim with them. When the ones we had hold of would swim into the bunch we would let them go and grab a fresh hold on another animal as it was unsafe for us to go into the bunch of swimming animals. Had we done so, we were in danger of drowning. We were in the water about six hours before we got them across. At that time there were about five hundred teams of gentiles who were going west but did not dare attempt to cross the river. We continued our journey on to a little village and landing place on the Missouri River, called Wyoming which was bout fifty miles down the river from the present city of Omaha and about six miles above Nebraska city.
We were held at this place two or three weeks, waiting for European emigrants and resting our animals. While here I helped some of the farmers harvest their crops. There were not enough emigrants to complete the loads, so some wagons were loaded with telegraph wire; the first telegraph wire to go to Utah. When we were ready to leave some apostates placed an attachment on the wire, claiming that President Young was indebted to them. A law suit followed, we found it was a mere scheme to told us back until there would be so much snow that it would be impossible for us to get through the mountains. The court released us and we were soon on our journey. Upon arriving at Fort Kearney our train was held up for some time by the United States soldiers. They said it was not safe to proceed because the Indians were so hostile, but we were finally allowed to go on our way by traveling with two trains together, making about one hundred and fifty teamsters, all armed.
When we got about twenty-five miles this side of Fort Kearney we came to a trading post called Plum Creek. I was driving the lead wagon as I usually did, and I came upon a man lying stretched across the road. I soon discovered he was dead. He had a double barrel shotgun across his chest and two buckets of alcohol by his side. He had been killed by the Indians. I drove around him and the entire train followed me. We camped near by for the night and some men were detailed to bury the man. The next morning, after driving about five miles, we found eleven men who had just been killed by the Indians. Their twelve wagons had been burned and a woman and two children were carried away.
Proceeding westward, we came to the banks of the Platte River where we camped near a little knoll. During the night we could see the Indians on the knoll and hear them splashing in the river as they were fording across. Sleep cam to no one in the camp that night. The next morning the Indians were all gone. But we could see them across the river all traveling eastward. As we were going westward, that was the last we saw of the Indians on our trip. The distance from Winter Quarters to Salt Lake was about one thousand and fifty miles. Upon one occasion, only my company made this journey one way in eight weeks. Ordinarily it took us about five months to make the round trip.