Hiram B. Clawson, "Crossing the Plains," Young Woman's Journal, May 1907, 217-18.
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- Source Locations
- Church History Library, M205.1 Y81 v. 1-40 1889-1929
- Related Companies
- Brigham Young Company (1848)
In the early spring of 1847, President Young and the pioneers, about 150 in number, left to pioneer the way to a new home. The people who were left in Winter Quarters went on preparing to take this journey. They made up every kind of wagon that you could possibly imagine to go on that long journey. Nothing but their extraordinary faith and hope carried them through. How did they get that faith? They got it from the Prophet Joseph Smith, the Prophet of the Lord; he had told them things that were to come to pass, and they believed him. There was no hesitation in all the three thousand people that left Winter Quarters and went on that journey; at least, I never saw any. They got their wagons loaded, and just as fast as they could, moved onward, following the presidency. They now had as regular an organization as an army. They were divided up into wagons of ten, with a captain, wagons of fifty with a captain, then wagons of a hundred, with a captain; and these all implicitly obeyed the instructions given them. Why did they do it? Because they never had a doubt, never, never! Now starting out as they did, not knowing what was before them, I say the journey of this people in the wilderness was greater than the journey of the children of Israel, when they were forty years in going a much shorter distance; these were just five months in going a thosuand miles.
I want to say they had dangers in their path, too. The first danger was the Indians, who began to come to their camps. President Young sent word to all the companies, "Don't mistreat an Indian. If they come to your camp, feed them. Do the best you can for them." The interpreters had told those wild people the story of the Saints that they were driven out from the abodes of the white men and had to take to the wilderness. Thus the savages had more respect and sympathy. While they hated other white men, and were willing to massacre them wherever there was a chance, the Mormon families moved right on, and every night went to sleep and never thought of being disturbed by the Indians; and they never were.
Another danger was the buffalo. In one sense the buffalo were there for a purpose. In the wilderness the Lord sent manna down from heaven for the Children of Israel. He did not have to send manna for this people, but He prepared something else that would help them out—the buffalo. They were all over the plains. Every morning when I got up I could see buffalo in every direction, thousands and thousands of them. President Young sent word that not a single buffalo was to be killed except for food. We went around among the buffalo, and they were perfectly fearless. They did not fear the savages nor our people, and never molested us. They would come in large herds, and had they stampeded nothing in the world could have stood in their way. An instance of this kind occurred two or three years afterwards. A company of six wagons camped one evening on the Platte river. The next morning not a vestige of that camp was left except a few wagon tires, broken spokes, some shreds of clothing and a few bones. They had been swept out of existence by a buffalo stampede.
Another thing that showed plainly who was directing the affairs of this people was their preservation from prairie fires. They did not have any serious fires.
The camps moved in a quiet way. It is true it was hard work on the women. There being so few men, they had to drive stock, and in some instances had to drive oxen attached to the wagons; in fact they had to do all sorts of work. But the courage they had, the determination, the will-power and the faith, aided and helped them, and with the blessing of the Lord they went through all right. It is hardly worth while to describe the daily journey. There were times when it was very hard and very difficult, principally when we crossed rivers, and the few men had to carry the women and the little ones over, wading themselves. In the spring the water was so cold that often the men would be dressed with icicles, as they waded. Still there was no serious sickness; they were not frightened, and did not take cold, and they went along as though nothing had happened.
There was very little sickness on the plains, and very little medicine if we were sick. Consequently, when the people were sick they depended upon the elders, and the elders laid hands on them and they were made well. Numerous instances of this kind occurred; I was aneve-witness [eye witness] to a great many of them. Though so very sick in Winter Quarters, when I got onto the plains I was well. I drove my team, and as I trudged along I had less and less shoes on my feet until I was barefooted. When we came to the Black Hills, the weather got clear, and it was much pleasanter, and the people were encouraged. But we were short of provisions, and did not know whether we could really get through or not. One morning when we were camped in the mountains, I started out. I do not know what impelled me to pick up a gun. I had never been a hunter, and never had been out with a gun. But I took this one, and went out to where the hills there were rolling. The wind was blowing from the north, and as I came along, I thought, "Well, I believe I will just climb upon this little knoll and see if I can see anything." I did so and just as I raised my head above the level and looked over, I saw a buffalo standing within the range of my rifle, facing toward me and eating. Now, while I was not a hunter I was not the least bit excited. I raised my rifle, prepared it, took steady, careful aim, and fired. I saw the buffalo raise up and start but pretty soon he began to totter and then spread his legs out and fall over. I waited to see whether he was dead, for if he was but wounded and I ventured too near, I would be the one to be found dead. I went over toward the camp, and said to two of the brethren, "I wish you would come over here and help me bring in this buffalo."
"Buffalo!" They just laughed. "Oh, I guess you have lost your mind, haven't you?"
"No; better come," I said.
With a great deal of persuasion I got them to come over. And when they saw the buffalo they were startled; they were glad. It was meat for them; it was something to live on. It had been sent to us, and there is no question about it.
When we came to within about a day's journey of the valley, the people were all excited. They had had such a tedious journey and were so weary they did not know how to express their joy. We hitched up that day to take our journey, and my mother [Catherine Reese Clawson] drove a little pair of young steers. The feed had been so much better since we reached the Black Hills that they really got a little frisky, and they bolted and they ran—the men ran after them. Finally they were caught. Remember, no lines were used in those days. They were driven with a whip, and they would touch one and say "Gee," and the other, and say "Haw." Well, they caught these animals and got them under control, but mother had sprained her ankle.
We camped the last night with a little hill just in front of us, between us and our goal. The people were joyous in camp. They slept well, and were happy. In the morning they dressed early and started to move. About 9 o'clock they arrived at the top of the hill. The sun had just cleared the peaks, and it struck over on the western side of the valley. As they arose that panorama burst upon them. Now, how would you feel, if you had spent five months in the mountains, in the midst of trouble and danger and trials? How would you feel when you got first into sight of the promised land? It was the promised land to them, and they saw the peaks and the beautiful valley, the Salt Lake, that looked like a lake of silver, and they said, "What a beautiful scene is this!" They looked around, tears rolled down their cheeks; they clasped their hands and sank down on their knees in prayer.