John Ahmanson, Secret History: a Translation of Vor Tid Muhamed, translated by Gleason L Archer (1984), 28-35.
It [Iowa City] had some importance as an exit point for a significant emigration. That is to say, the railroad lines stopped at that point; if one wished to go farther west, the journey had to be continued by other means. The usual means of conveyance consisted naturally of wagons, which were drawn by horses, mules, or oxen; but this year the prophet Brigham Young had just made a discovery along this line. That is to say, considerable expense was involved in conveying the usually indigent emigrants over the prairies in the customary fashion, and so he hit upon the idea that the emigrants themselves should pull their own wagons. Upon our arrival in Iowa City a team of Mormons was found busily engaged in constructing a kind of two-wheeled vehicle (handcart) that weighed about sixty pounds, and each of these wagons was allotted to five persons with seventeen pounds of baggage apiece, which consisted of the most necessary articles of clothing and cooking vessels. Emigrants of larger means naturally preferred to travel in the customary way, and that is what I did as well. But F. D. Richards had requested me to escort the indigent Danes with their train of handcarts, since I was the only one of them who had any competence in English. After I had arranged for my wife to go with a conventional train of vehicles with which a portion of the Danish emigrants had joined, I also fulfilled that request of his, even though it was obvious that that journey would prove extremely difficult.
The handcart train, which consisted of about five hundred persons, broke camp by Iowa City on the sixteenth of July 1856, with twenty three tents, ninety-four handcarts, and five large provision wagons. G. D. Willie took over the leadership again and divided us up into five sections. For each section there was one large wagon drawn by three yoke of oxen that carried the provisions and the tents. The provisions were calculated according to a daily ration for each man at one pound of wheat flour, two and a half ounces of meat, two ounces of sugar, two ounces of dried apples, one quarter ounce of coffee, along with a little tea, soda, and soap.
The fifth division consisted of ninety-three Scandinavians, for which I was appointed leader; but the honor connected with this post was slight, and the advantages even less than that. That is, it led to my having to drive the wagon myself with the three yoke of oxen, [for] none of the others seemed able to drive it, and that is also a difficult piece of work besides, when one has no reins to guide the animals with, but only a long whip and certain stereo-typed expressions in ox-language. By the middle of August we reached Florence, a little town situated on the west bank of the Missouri River, which was at that time a boundary between the territory of the "red men" and that of the "palefaces." Here I met up with Elder Van Cott along with several prominent missionaries who were on their journey home to Salt Lake City from their various missions in Europe and Asia.
We also received there a number of beef cattle, which were to provide us with meat for the rest of the journey, to be slaughtered as we had need of them.
Since we were still a thousand miles away, many who were acquainted with the climatic conditions of the region were of the opinion that we ought to winter in Florence. But the oldest son of the prophet H. E. Kimball then rode into camp and delivered a speech in which he sternly rebuked those of little faith, and he promised that he would "stuff into his mouth all the snow they would ever get to see on their journey to the valleys!" With this of course every doubt had to vanish altogether. Captain Willie also stated that he would continue the trip until he received orders from Brigham Young to desist.
The journey was resumed. On August twenty-ninth we reached Fort Kearney and visited the chief of the Omaha Indians, who was staying in the camp with his tribe. The Savages were smoking, and very obligingly handed us the peace-pipe by way of compensation for a few presents (an entire portion of dried buffalo meat) their chief accepted. We were told here that a small party that belonged to Secretary Babbit had been murdered by a band of "Cheyenne Indians." We also reached the place on the following day and found the burned-out wagons, with the corpses of two men and a child. On the thirty-first we were overtaken by Secretary Babbit himself, who was returning home from a visit to Washington. He now had only his coachman and a lady with a little child along with him. He said that with the exception of these "Cheyennes" he was personally acquainted with every Indian tribe between the Missouri River and Utah.
He had traveled this way several times, on one occasion all alone—and he now believed himself to be perfectly certain of getting through successfully despite the misfortune that had overtaken the men who were carrying his baggage. After a short stay with us he set off again at a gallop relying on his hardy, light-footed mules and his own experience.
From there we went on to Nebraska's enormous prairie-land, which stretches from the Missouri River to the Rocky Mountains—about 500 miles. The way proceeds almost the whole time alongside the Platte River, which runs from west to east in a valley which is ten to fifteen miles in some places. The land seemed fertile, that is, it has a rich growth of grass, but because of the annual prairie fire which sweeps across the plain neither trees nor bushes are to be found there, except here or there, where a little river with its curving banks has managed to halt the all-destroying rage of the fire king. Our journey went quite well until the third of September, but on that day an unhappy event took place there which later on caused us much suffering and the death of many men. It was already evening when we made camp, and the darkness was intensified still more by a fearful storm which raged on through the whole night. Shortly before the storm broke loose, many of us heard a strange noise which seemed like the sound of wagons driving swiftly by; but since nothing like that showed itself, we assumed that it originated from a passing herd of buffalo, and we went to sleep. The next morning it appeared that in the meantime twenty-two oxen, the majority of our draught animals, had disappeared, and their very tracks had been obliterated by the rain. It often happens in these extensive plains, where the animals seem to recall something of their original wildness, that oxen, mules, and horses when frightened suddenly dash off as if possessed. If one can follow after them immediately on a good horse until they come to a halt through exhaustion, then he man sometimes get them back; but it is impossible to halt them before that. Such a flight of animals is called a "stampede." We never saw the oxen again, even though we waited three days to look for them. There were now only twelve oxen left, except for the slaughter cattle previously mentioned, which consisted of cows and calves. We were now forced to try, even though it did little good, to employ these as draught animals. The end result was that some of the provisions had to be loaded on the handcarts and in that fashion we resumed our journey; but progress was slow, very slow indeed.
On the eighteenth of September early in the morning, before my night watch was over, I saw a horseman approach our camp. At first I took him for an Indian, but with a closer look he showed himself to be clothed in a military uniform, and so taken as a whole, he seemed to be an American soldier. He related that he had traveled from Fort Laramie in company with two families who had left Utah in order to return to the States. While he had gone off in the morning of the previous day in order to shoot a buffalo, the Indians had murdered all the rest. Upon his return he found the wagons in flames and the corpses of his companions, five adults and a baby. After that he continued his journey full of horror and went about seventy miles across the prairie without stopping until he came to us. Secretary Babbit and his three henchmen were likewise murdered by "Cheyenne Indians." On Sunday the eighteenth of October the first snow fell, but on that same day we met three wagons laden with provisions that had been sent out from Salt Lake City. Our pitiful plight had become known there, since several Mormon dignitaries had driven past us in carriages on the way and had furnished the information about this to Brigham Young. Joseph A. Young (Brigham's oldest son), whose acquaintance I had already made in Denmark, was the leader of this train. The provisions were, however, not intended for us but for two trains of emigrants who were still farther behind. We were comforted by the information that on the following day we would meet fourteen wagons with provisions which were intended for us. This was a joyful message, and Young was rewarded with repeated cheers when he parted from us. That evening we set up camp by a small river called "Sweetwater," and we confidently distributed the scraps of food we still had left, consisting of a meager portion of store-bread that we had bought in Laramie. Our rations had already been reduced a good while before, until they shrank to six ounces of meal per day; the coffee and tea had long since been used up. We thought we had now survived the worst, but now cold and nakedness were added to hunger and overstrain! As we remained encamped about evening beside the afore-mentioned small stream, the warmth of the sun had melted the snow away, and we went to sleep with good hopes concerning the future. But the next morning we woke up with a different feeling. During the night the snow had fallen a foot deep, and the area around Sweetwater, which under no circumstances looks very inviting, now appeared doubly desolate and comfortless. Our last provisions had been distributed and as for the animals, where were they to find fodder?
Three days slipped by but no wagons came, and so we sent out two men to see whether they had possibly driven in the wrong direction and passed us by. Finally the relief train arrived on the evening of the twenty-first of October, under the leadership of the aforementioned snow prophet, George Kimball. His courage was hardly as greatnow as it had been in Florence, but the necessary cock-sureness in the character of the son of the Mormon prophet was by no means lacking in him. Captain Willie immediately took his leave, and Kimball himself assumed leadership over the emigrant train. The provisions and articles of clothing were distributed, but they were unfortunately far from adequate in the grim winter that had now begun.
Captain Kimball had now decided to make forced marches. He had the whole plan all figured out in his mind how this was going to be done, and he was a man for carrying it out. On the twenty-third of October we broke camp from Sweetwater in the following order. First, the children, the old people, and the sick who could still move about marched off under the leadership of a certain renowned Copenhager, Mursvend Christensen. So these two-wheeled infernal machines invented by Brigham Young came along, drawn by exhausted men and women. The vehicles brought up the rear for this miserable procession. This order of travel did not, however, last very long, because many began to fall behind quite soon with their handcarts, which were incapable of keeping up in the order which Kimball had initiated. There was a Dane named Niels Andersen, who had shown himself during almost the entire trip to be one of the strongest and bravest in the entire train. He had often loaded his fourteen-year old daughter on his cart when she was tired, and yet he still drove ahead just as happily with her. But more recently he had been attacked by dysentery, which had begun to spread to an alarming extent. By this day it had befallen Christensen's group, and his wife had to pull their cart by herself. Naturally she had fallen behind, and I therefore gave her a helping hand until we reached our camp location. It went pretty well that way, but we could not overtake the caravan. It was just about noon however, when we came up to her husband, who was tottering along the road and seemed as helpless as a child. He broke out with heartrending lamentation when he saw us. His wife comforted him as well as she could and gave him some food, which he ate ravenously. We stopped in order to wait for some wagons that were still farther behind, to have them pick him up as they drove by. Finally Savage came, the captain of the wagons, with a ox-drawn wagon; but he refused to take Niels Andersen up because the wagon, as he said, was already overloaded. After a serious discussion with me, and after he had become convinced by personal examination of him that the man could walk no farther, he brought himself after all to pick him up. This day of forced marching also came to an end, but not until two hours after it had become dark, did we arrive, in company with one of the Utah wagons with which we had caught up. We came to the campsite where the earlier arrivals had already kindled a fire and set up their tents. By midnight the last Utah wagon came in; but since several of the handcarts were still missing, some of the wagons were sent off to help them, and it was 4:30 A.M. when the last of them returned.
The next morning, which was therefore October twenty-fourth, fourteen emigrants were found frozen dead in our camp, among who was Niels Andersen. Two more died later on in the day. They were all buried in a large rectangular grave, which because of the cold had to be dug out in the ground by oxen. This was the first fruit of the forced march of George Kimball, the snow prophet. The resentment toward him was quite general; I myself was simple-minded enough to threaten him that I would present a complaint against him to Brigham Young! Oh, you trusting simpleton! The prophet laughed right in my face. It was no longer necessary for him to wear the mask of his counterfeit holiness. Through the Mormon sheep's fleece the wolf's claws were beginning to show. Although the trip proceeded in a more sensible manner, yet from then on almost every one of our natural campsites was marked by a fresh grave. God knows how many of us there were who would have escaped with our lives if from Salt Lake City, where our sorrowful condition was well known, Brigham Young had sent the one relief train after the other in order to bring us in. When we reached Fort Bridges (one hundred twenty miles from Salt Lake City) we didn't have to use those two-wheeled man-tormentors anymore, and anyone who felt the need could get a ride. On the eight of December after passing over the Big Mountain we looked down for the first time on the valleys where the Lord's people had taken up residence, and where the promises which awaited them were to be fulfilled. Many forgot the tribulations they had endured upon glimpsing this sudden vista, and on the following day, which was a Sunday, we all broke formation, and as we exchanged expressions of eager anticipation we drove down speedily through the twelve miles of the long, snow-free Emigration Canyon to the great Salt Sea Valley, where we caught sight of Salt Lake City, seven miles distant, the capital city of Mormonism and Brigham Young. From that distance the city with its light gray adobe houses looked like a huge encampment, and the Salt Lake Valley, which had a breadth of about thirty miles from east to west, resembled a basin or dried up lake, with its huge mountain masses ranging upward on all sides.
Although the vegetation was now dead, and the eye of the observer met only a desolate treeless valley, surrounded by bare, reddish mountains, yet the impression made by the whole scene was still very pleasing. The climate was still mild and pleasant down there, and the enormous cliffs and mountain masses, which towered skyward on every side, gave way to an impressive, almost romantic, appearance.
In the afternoon our wagon train reached the city.