Alexander, Sara, Crossing the plains in 1859, 1-7.
My Mother [Sarah Brentlinger Alexander], my sister [Mary Ana Alexander Finlayson] and I were among them, my Mother having become interested enough to "gather to Zion". We went from Louisville Ky. to St. Louis and from there to a place now called Florence, in Nebraska. Then it was a barren plain. It was the starting point for the trip across the Great American Desert and was called "Winter Quarters". It looked like a good sized city with all the people assembled for a trip of 500 miles, which took three months to accomplish. Each family provided themselves with at least one large canvas covered wagon—some had more according to size of family and funds—and a pair of oxen and a tent. The wagon carried the tent, food, bedding and all necessary belongings for such a journey. People had to walk,—at least for a time, until food supplies diminished sufficiently to lighten weight. Then the older people and children could take turns in resting, for the oxen must be cared for. If anything happened to them we would have been in sore straits. The dear, faithful, patient, dumb things slowly plodding along. I preferred to walk rather than burden them with my extra 80! pounds. I look back upon it as a great and not unpleasant experience, traveling across the country in that primitive manner. After the day's journey we halted for the night (they knew just where to stop as previous pathfinders had located the distance so as to camp near a stream of water) the wagons were corralled making a large space inside in the form of a ring with a small opening at each end. This protected the people from Indians.
Guards assigned each night to see that the camp was not surprised by them and that they did not stampede the cattle, which was a trick of the Indians to disable the train from moving on the next day and so be at their mercy. Everything was ordered and carried out with military precision.
Tents were pitched, preparations for the evening meal commenced and every one was busy. My business among the rest of the youngsters was to gather sage brush and "buffalo chips" for fires. Each family prepared its own meals and attended to its own affairs. Each being like a neighbor to the other, just like a town or city, but of course more closely associated. Everything was managed with perfect system. No friction, no interference from each other. It was a perfectly harmonious journey. If any other conditions existed it did not reach my understanding. Of course there were many happenings of which I had no knowledge everything and everybody, then, was lovely to me. Each wagon or tent represented a family in their own house with their own interests and belongings. It was an interesting sight, the camp making in the evenings. With the country's advancement these picturesque scenes have passed away. When we saw the noted landmark, Chimney Rock, it told us that half our journey was completed. We forded a stream called Laurence Creek, and that too meant we were leaving the greater part of our journey behind us.
We were inspired with renewed energy and spirits, feeling the end was nearer in sight.
Our party of nearly one hundred families was most fortunate in making the long journey without any serious mishaps. No loss of cattle to delay us.
Our marches were promptly made each day. In fact no casualties of any kind. A remarkable trip for there were other trains that experienced many sad happenings.
I was at an age when everything was interesting and beautiful—sufficient to lighten the privations and hardships.
I think at times all humans turn to primitive life and take pleasure in roughing it and that is why men love to emigrate and build up new countries. It is free from responsibilities and conventions.
Of course the leaders had much responsibility in caring for and watching over so many people who had faith in their judgment and ability to duige [guide] them to the "Promised Land".
I did not even take in the sense of danger that menaced us day and night from Indians who were in sight almost all of the time. It was most interesting to see them riding like the wind, without saddle or bridle, clinging to their horses and looking as if a part of them. I have watched with wonder and delight, as far as the eye could reach over the vast plains, seeing them disappear in the horizon. It is one of the grandest sights my memory recalls.
The Indians are picturesque and magnificent only in their primitive habitant: in their own environment. civilization and Indians seem out of harmony.
Their wonderful faces and commanding attitude gave them an appearance of superiority. Those real "tommyhawk" savages of those pioneer days were my admiration and fear, and yet I sort of envied them their free and untrammeled life. I shall always be glad I have seen the Indians in their primitive grandeur, in their own country where they were kings and where they dominated so royally. I pity their humiliation in compelling them to become civilized. So much has to be crushed in the march of improvement and in the making of a nation.
To return to the evening meal. I don't think anything ever tasted so delicious and appetizing as those sage-brush cooked meals, in the cool of the evenings; and the setting sun was heavenly.
All had an iron oven, a flat bottomed pot with a lid. It held a good sized loaf of bread which was eaten warm with bacon or ham and potatoes, coffee and tea if desired. Mormons did not believe in these two last mentioned expensive luxuries and advised against them. To abstain, was adopted by the majority of the members. It showed faith and a desire to "obey council" which was, "living their religion" and to eliminate tea and coffee is called "the Word of Wisdom". Many did without and many had it with them.
I felt like an old Irish woman who did washing for my mother, who one day said to her, it being Friday and she ate meat, "Why do you eat meat on Friday being a Catholic" she replied "I eat onything I can git, any day and thank the Lord oive got it to eat" and I think there was a good deal of wisdom in that too. There were cows in the party too and we sometimes got a little milk for our coffee as a great favor. Canned foods were not then in the market, had they been, how luxuriously we would have fared.
Sometimes a Buffalo would be killed and then we had fresh meat.
We often saw large herds of them. I have seen a whole herd stampede and rush into a stream of water and swim for their lives. They are timid and afraid of the human animal. It was a beautiful sight to see those immense and clumsy looking creatures plunging into the water so many of them at once and swimming with such grace and stateliness. Poor things, they too have been quite banished in the march of civilization across the continent.
After the suppers were over and everything was cleared away as spick and span as army quarters and a long evening before us, the camp fires giving light and warmth, there would be prayers and discourses by the Elders and Teachers, singing with the accompaniments of guitars, violins, cornets and such musical instruments. Those evenings recall memories of the most spiritual and soul-inspiring religious sentiments I EVER experienced.
The vast, open surroundings, our camp which looked like a little dot on the face of the earth, our insignificance and helplessness without Supreme protection, was forced upon the consciousness: the stillness, the vastness, the night with the moon and stars shining over us, (at times when there were moon and stars), was all so overwhelming in its beauty and greatness that a heathen must have been impressed with the presence of a God.
When the night came the beds would be prepared in tents and wagons and all but the watchers had retired for the night and quiet reigned. then was the time that the supremecy of One All Ruling Power was the greatest and grandest. Alone in the stillness with the Supreme Ruler over all, in that apparently boundless space. THOSE were the SERMONS that impressed me.
Our sleep was sound, sweet, and refreshing and all were ready in the morning to strike tents and start anew the journey.
Horace S. Eldridge, one of the prominent men in the Church, was the leader of our company.
The road I WALKED over I have since traveled several times in luxurious Pullman trains. I looked at the road and could picture myself as I first traveled it, and with tender recollections.
The railroad company laid their tracks over the same path (the Read & Donner trail) so many weary feet had trod and where hundreds were left on the way.
The sufferings of many of the pioneers who crossed the plains were great. Some frozen to death, some arrived at their destination only to have their limbs amputated because of their being frozen. One hand-cart expedition had sufferings too horrible to repeat. Through mistaken instruction from the emigration agent, they started too late to reach Salt Lake City before the very cold weather set in and that fearful history has been told in the Salt Lake Deseret News.
A hand-cart company left Florence some days before we started and I never saw such enthusiasm and religious ferver as those people displayed; men, women and children. They started with song and almost dancing. Women pushing their carts containing food supplies; they could scarcely hold much besides.
They were from many foreign nations, the women were used to hard physical labor but I did not like to see it not being used to seeing women doing laborious work, but they were joyously happy, had arrived in America bur [but] a short time before, and were going to "Zion" the home of the "Saints".
We overtook them on the way and poor things, they were not so hilarious and they looked fagged and worn already but filled with Faith and Hope.
I don't know how they managed about sleeping, their small carts did not look large enough to hold anything sufficient for comfortable rest at night.
It was a company like this that nearly all perished on the way, from the snows and exposures to the severe cold weather. Word got to Salt Lake before they were half way and people with wagons, provisions and warm coverings were sent to meet them.
One incident in particular remains in my memory.
Being tired and perhaps a little rebellious, I sat down on the ground to rest and watched the long train go by and as it finally passed me (the people kept well ahead with the train, especially the women and children) it was a sort of weird sight to see it moving along, the only sounds intruding on the silence werd "gee" and "haw" meaning right and left, which the oxen understood and promptly acted upon. I sat there until the last wagon passed.
I thought I would be missed and they would feel sorry for me being so tired and let me ride a little way. I must have looked a forlorn speck sitting there. As the last wagon looked a little distant and left me there alone I felt as if I were in an empty world, and looking off in the distance I saw some Indians rapidly riding in my direction, the first emotion of fear took possession of me, and I made a good run to catch up with my family.
I HAD NOT EVEN BEEN MISSED. WHAT A BLOW. Every one that was able took care of themselves and we were warned to keep close to the train: aside from that little diversion, things went on in the same monotonous way each day.
We heard of a very sad occurrence that happened to one of the companies in crossing. When coming to a stream of water there were trees and wild flowers, it was hard to keep the young girls from wandering too far from the camp, and they, not realizing the dangers, were fearless.
Two young girls wandered off in this fashion when five Indians sprang from some bushes and carried one of them off. The other being further behind was saved from the same fate. The train stopped over several days hoping to rescue her, but they had at last to move on and she was lost to them forever.
We traveled through the homes of noted tribes of Indian warriors. They sometimes came to our camping grounds (every Mormon company had an Indian interpreter) they appeared friendly. They tried to barter for the women and girls; wanted to trade them for ponies.
The Platte river stayed in my memory, we followed it for days; crossed it many times sometimes wading thru if shallow enough: the oxen forded the deeper streams and the men improvised rafts to take the women over[.] children were placed in the wagons, some of the men wading or swimming over.
How refreshing after a long hot day's journey to come to a cooling stream.
If we did not reach water in time to camp in the evening we would travel into the night: could not stop until there was water.
When nearing the end of the trip expectation was great and enthusiasm ran high.
We entered Salt Lake City by way of Emigration Canyon and the sight of the city in the valley with its white adobe houses and beautiful streams of water, and green trees was indeed a grateful picture.
We had left Florence Neb. in June and we arrived in Salt Lake City Aug. 29, 1859.
So ended the long and weary wandering across the plains.