Jonas Myers, Across the plains in 1865, undated.
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On June 3rd, 1865, in Nebraska City and Territory of Nebraska I hired out to whack bulls to Salt Lake City for D. J. McCan[n], who was a banker and freighter of that place. I was to get $60 per month for the round trip, or $75 per month if I took my discharge in Salt Lake.
There were 25 wagons in the outfit and from four to six yoke of oxen to go with each wagon. The corral where the wagons were was some two miles out of town on the prairie, which was then the frontier of the far west. Two-thirds of the cattle that we were to drive had never been broken to the yoke so if each team had a yoke of broken cattle to work next to the wheel and one good pair for leaders why any kind would do for the swing cattle, for after they were hooked together they would have to go anyhow.
There were two Frenchmen (squaw men) who had 16 wagons of their own. They were to travel with us, one of them a Mr. Londo was to be wagon boss of the whole outfit. There were 16 Mormon emigrants joined our train on their way to Zion. The men were to drive team; one family had a team of their own and went with us for protection from the Indians.
Well, after a long time we broke camp, and rold out on a journey of 1300 miles over a wild country infested with wild beasts, and wilder Indians. It rained a good deal and the roads was mud[d]y and green cattle and greener drivers we was making very slow progress, and a good deal of quarling between some of the men and the boss and it got so bad after a while that Londo give it up and sold the interest in the outfit to D.J. McCan, so we got a new boss and he tride his hand fore a while, but we soon saw that he didn't understand the business and was worse if anything than Lando, if possible.
So by the 4th of July we had got as far as Salt Crick; some 40 miles on our journey; we had heard that we was to have a new boss and we was wondering what kind of chap he would be but that eavening just after going in to camp our new wagon boss arrived on the stage on its way to Denver. Tom Fitswater was his name. He carried a grip and a two galon jug of whiskey. He set the jug down in the middle of the corral, got a tincup and puld the cork and told the boys to help themselves wich most of them did, with great gusto. Then he made a little speech, and with other things he said, he was the wagon boss, and if any man in the crowd did not intend to obay his orders now was the time to say so, and he would give him his time; he would not have any quarling if two men fell out about anything they would have to fight or shut up and furthermore we would not give the road to any other outfit that we might meet on the road.
It was wonderfull how soon things changed from chaos to order. He said he would make two drives a day, if we did not make two miles a day. Well, we was yoking up and unyoking the most of the time for a couple of weeks, but at the end of that time the cattle was getting gentle, and it wasent long until it onley took a few minits to yoke or unyoke after the cattle wer[e] in the corral, and we wer[e] soon making fifteen miles a day, wich was considerd good time for so large an outfit.
We traveld every day, Sundays included. Sometimes it raind on us and at such times we laid up because the wet on the cattles necks wher[e] the yokes chaffed them it would make sores on them. We had about 20 head of extra cattle, wich was driven along behind the outfit to take the place of any of the work cattle that might get hurt or give out for any other cause, and those loose cattle was cald the cavie yard, and was griven [driven] by a boy. The road wended across fine rol[l]ing prairie, the ground was coverd with grass, beautiful colored wild flowers. We would camp for the night on some nice stream of cool, sparkling water on the banks of wich would be groves of oak, ash, hickory and wild flowers and wild plum. This is the country we passed over between Nebraska City and the South Plat[te] River, wher we camped at Old Fort Carney [Kearney]; a few soldiers was stationd there. The next day we started up the south side of the river and would camp each night near the river to be handy to water; wood for making fires was getting scarce, so we was begining to learn to use the buffolow chips in its stead, and along here I got site of a jackrabit and prerrie dogs for the first time.
D.J. McCan gave 20 rifles to men in the outfit to those that had no revolvers to protect them in case of an Indian atac on us, I had a revolver so got no gun and we will see what use some of them made of the[i]r guns when needed. Some place on the road between Fort Carney and Julesburg we were going a long nicely on a bright clear day just a jentle breeze blowing when all of a sud[d]en I heard dredful noises and thought for a moment it must be a storm coming when I looked to the rear of the train.
I was in the middle of the train, and was astonished to see a stampede of the cattle had started and was coming with a rush all the way along the line. I stoped my team and locked both hind wheels of the wagon and yel[l]ed to the driver ahead of me and the one behind me to do the same, and we hadent much time to do it in, when here they come, old deadheads, some of them that ordenarly you couldnot whip them into a fast walk, with there heads up, there eyes redy to pop out of ther heads, and the loads they were pulling they did not feel at all.
The most of them seemed to be coming on the left hand side of the train. I stood on the right hand of my team, kept talking to them and saying "Wo, wo", and when the drive came past they threw up ther heads and made a spring forward and moved the wagon eight or ten feet. But with the hind wheels locked the load was too much so they gave it up and none of the wagons ahead of mine run. The boss and his two assistents were on ther horses at the head of the train when the thing began. They headed the front ones of the stampeders in against each other and the ones in the rear all pilde up against them and stoped them in that way.
Well it was a sorry looking mess,—one ox had his back broken, some with legs broken, others with ther feet cut off, wagons broken. It took us two days to get stratened up and redy to start on again, and none of the boys [k]new what started them, but cattle seems to know they are in a wild country and are easily brightened [frightened].
We had all the fresh beef we coud eat for a few days after the stampede, and the change was very exceptable after having had no meat but bacon since leaving Nebraska City.
The trip on up to Julesburg was without note. There we had quite a time fording the river. We had to raise the wagon beds that held the freight two feet above the bolsters to keep the water from the goods inside of them. Altogether I assisted 8 wagons to cross by hitching my yoke of leaders on the head of other teams, and piloting them over. Of course, I had to wade the river each time,—in some places the water came up to my arm pits, and more than that I waded every other stream that we crost between Nebraska and Salt Lake.
Julesburg was the last place we could mail a letter untill we got to Salt Lake, so a good many of us improved the opportunity to do so going from camp to camp; one night to Julesburg was the first horseback ride I ever had with my futur[e] wife of blessed memory. My, but I think we were brave at that time.
We camped on the north side of the river for two days and rested up some before starting on again, and the boss got some new men from Julesburg to take the places of some of ours that quit the train there, and went back east on the stagecoach. One of the new men we got at this place was quite old. He had started out earlier in the season and a wagon run over him and hurt him so he could not travel for a while, but was well enough to join us by this time.
Pole Crick [Creek] is a very pritty little stream of water, but disapears in the ground some places and does not show itself for miles again, wen it rises to the top again, clear and cold. There was fine grass along this crick, with a few pine trees here and thair, and some of the trees had ded Indians laid away up in the branches wraped up in ther blankets,—they were safe up there from the wolves.
At his time we began to see thousands of antelopes, but we did not get many of them. I was a very poor hunter at that time, and non[e] of the others seemed to be any better.
One place we laid over for noon at a place cald Pine Bluffs, where there was a pritty grove of pine and cedar trees up along the rocks about a half a mile from camp. Margaret, Barbara, Will Cochron and I took a strole through them, and shot at a mark and gatherd some pretty wild flowers, and never thought of Indians untill on our way back we come across a newly made grave at the foot of the bluff, with a board stuck on the grave with the name of the one below, saying he had been kild by Indians. I often think how easily they could have scalped us all, but they did not just happen to be there that was all.
I think it was about two days drive from there that the boss told us cooks one eavening to cook enough that night so every one could have a snack in the morning, as we would have to make a long drive to get to water. Our custom was to yoke up at daylight in the morning, and drive untill ten o'clock and then have brakefast and dinner at one and the same time. A bull whacker just gets two meals a day, if he has good luck.
The next day about twelve o'clock when we correld again, with plenty of water and fine grass for the stock, there were some willows growing along the crick. I told the boys of my mess if they were not very hungry before getting dinner I would go out and see if I could get an antelope. They said all right, to go ahead, so I went, and kept on going untill I must have been two or three miles from camp before I would give it up, and came back without any game, and got dinner. All the other men had been to there dinner by this time and we had just finished our meal and was sitting around talking and smoking when all at once Margaret, who was washing dishes right across the corral from us, and near the mouth of the corral, give a yell that the Indians were coming. A fellow that was in my mess by the name of Pike, he and I jumped up and stood between the two front wagons on our side of the corral, and with our revolvers opend fire on the Indians who was on horseback and was passing not more than forty yards from us. At the first shot we tumbled one of them from his horse. Two of the others jumped from there horses and put him on his hors[e], and went over a little hill out of sight of us, and in another direction from the way the others were going.
After the first shot was fired all the Indians laid over on the other side of there mounts from us, so we could not see much of ther boddies to shoot at, but there was soon quite a fuselade going on all along the side of the corral, and in firing my revolver an exploded cap got stuck in the cilender[cylinder] so it would not revolve any more. I run to a pile of brush I had to make a fire with to get a splinter to pick the cap from the cilender, so I could shoot some more, and while getting it I looked up the crick and saw ten or fifteen Indians after this same old man that had joind our train at Julesburg. He was with som of the others of our men herding the cattle. He was about 300 yards away and running towards camp and motioning us to come to him. I called to some of the men to come with me and we would go to the rescue they hung back a little and some said if we left the corral the Indians would get us shure. I was mad, and somewhat excited and told them to go to hell, I would go alone, when the Boss come up and said he would go with me and five or six others and we started on the run. But by this time the old man had emted [emptied] his revolver at them, and when he could shoot no more they run up close to him and shot him in the back with an arrow, and one of them run up and hit him on the head with his tommie hawk and [k]nocked him down, and scalped him.
By this time we were getting closer to them and shooting all the time as we went, and could see our bullets raising the dust in amongst them when they began to get away from there. The last one of them that went past the old man who was lying on his side shot him in the but[t] of the ear, the bullit coming out of his mouth. We gatherd the old fellow up and carried him back to the corral and gave him what cair we could. The dirty brute had driven the arrow into his body as far as they could and broken the steel off the head inside his ribs and then broken the shaft off even with the surface of the skin
We got the wood out of his body but could not get the steel It was the 13th of August and hot weather, so mortification soon set in and he died two days after he was hurt.
After we got back to the corral everyone was excited and telling how many Indians they had killed and what should have been done and soon a man by the name of Larkin, who was on herd near the old man saw the Indians coming and hid in a bunch of willows and escaped that way. A boy 16 years old, Jonnie Thomas, was on head and the Indians was trying to stampeed the cattle. An old gentle ox happened to be near him,—one of his leeders,—he run and put his hand on the ox's neck and run along by his side. The Indians did not see him. We all thought for a while he was killd and was mighty glad to see him coming in. He was looking pritty wild, but told us how he saved himself.
One of the boys picked up a bit of buffolow robe that the Indians rides on in place of a saddle. It had a good deal of blood on it and concluded the rider had been woulded [wounded] in the skirmish. The Indians got all of the horses we had but one. Margaret run out and grab[b]ed the roap that he was dragging, and tied him inside the corral. As usual she was doing her part.
Another big outfit was corralled about a quarter of a mile from us and they lost all ther horses at the same time.
Two of our men went hunting that day, an Irsh man and an Englishman,—the latter a good Mormon. They run across two Indians who were on horseback and began to circle around them, and Morrisy, the Mick, put up his gun to shoot and the Mormon told him not to shoot for he would tell them that they were Mormons, then they would not hurt them, but Morrisy blaized away, and broke the meck of one of the horses. Then the Indians went away. The boys were in luck that they did not meet the big band. We all thought for a while that they had been scalped. Of course, I do not believe in such a thing as luck, but quear things happen sometimes. Take the old man that got kild. See how he had started out early in the season to go to Montana and got hurt and then joind our outfit. Our boys had stood his herd as he could not walk very good, but this day he said he would go that he felt all right, and he was not out three hours before he was kild, so it happens that way sometimes.
To show how preparedness works out sometimes, there were men in the outfit that McCan had given guns to to use in case we had to fight the Indians, and when the time come, some of ther guns was stowed away at the bottom of ther trunks, and before they could get them out the redskins were gon[e], ha, ha!
Well, we did not brake corral that day, but the next day about ten o'clock it was foggy in the morning, and we started on again. In the meantime we had slung a hammoc to the bows that held the wagon sheets up and put the wounded man into it so the jolt of the wagon would not hurt him. He came to shortly after we brought him to the corral and wanted to know if he had been scalped, and if we had gotten the arrow out of his back. We answerd no to the first question, and yes to the last,—he was hurt wo badly that he could not tell, and we new he could not get well. He said he hit two of them before his amanition gave out, but that he would get well and have revenge on them yet. The Indians took his revolver, but left his watch and a few dollars in his pockit. He had a sewing machine in the wagon, and when we got to Salt Lake the Boss sold the macheine and sent the price of it and his watch to his wife, back in Canada. He lived untill the next day,—in the eavening just after we corrald for the night he passed away. His name was Bennet, and about 55 years old. One of the Morman elders said a few words over his remains at the graveside, so "we left him alone in his glory".
It was about this time that one of the boys thought he would cook in my place. I asked him what was the matter. He said I had cooked long enough, and now he would try it for a while. I told him he might if he could lick me. I said some cuss words, which I rairley did in those days, and squaird off to him. Well he went and set down but wanted me to promis him if ever the Indians got after him when he was on herd I would come to his rescue. No, the Indians had put the fear of death into some of the men, and they thought if they kept close to the corral they were safe.
In a few days after this I had my first sight of the snow cap[p]ed rockeys. They layed off to the southwest from us, and I would not beleave that it was anything but clowds that we could see, but as we kept geting nearer to them and they were always in the same place I had to give it up and thought maybe it was mountains that we could see.
The wagon bosses, extra hands and night herders had to walk so we was all on an equality, and it continued so untill we come into the Black Hills when we met some men driving a lot of lo[o]se horses and mules. The Boss bought enough to due him untill we got to Salt Lake. There were some redskins seen in the Black Hills but they did not bother us any.
When we came to the brow of the hills so we could look down in or onto the Laramie plains I never had seen such a beautifull sight,—the river shining like a silver thread wundering in and out of groves of cotenwood trees along meddos of green natcheral grass, where thousands of tuns of hay could be cut, and little did I think then that I would ever live and have a home there. We could see it raining down on the plains and the Boss said it raind there every day in the summer time. Years after I found out that he did not know so much about it as he thought he did.
We drove down the hill to the river and found lots of ded cattle that some outfit had lost earlere [earlier] in the season from the cattle eating poison weed and a sign stuck up to be aware of poison grass. The Boss had us cross to the west side of the river and corral on that side and the cattle driven back from the river onto the high land in order to get away from the poison grass, and from what I learned years after he had the cattle driven to where the poison weed was the thickest, and why our cattle did not suffer with it was because it was so late in the season the weed was dryed up by that time and would not do the cattle any harm if they did eate it.
We could hear the Indians pow-wowing and beating there drums where they were camped at the spring east of where Laramie City is now, and where the City gets most of its water from now. Where we camped on the river was a mile or so up the river above where Laramie City stands now.
The next morning we hooked up and had just got started when we saw forty or fifty noble red men on horseback coming for us, but we had time to corral with the cattle on the inside of the corral and the Indians saw that we was redy for them. They beet it, and after a while we rold on again, and camped on the little Laramie wher Phil Mandil used to live and he did then, and offered us fifty cents a piece for gun caps. We had plenty but none to sell.
Lots of the cattle's feet were getting sore, and we had to put shoes on them. That granit gravel was hard on work oxens feet. We went on to Rock Crick and there was the first Indians that we had seen that was not hostile. There was one white man living with them.
We went on west and crossed a crick called Wagonhoun[d] but there were lots of little cricks to cross for a long ways. . North Plat was our largest stream that we had come to since we left the South Plat. Fort Halie was the first post that we had come to since leaving Fort Carney. There were a company or two of sold[i]ers at each place.
We were traveling through a fine wooded and waterd country, with plenty of grass and game if we had known how to find it. It was in this part of the country that I saw my first grisley. He was a big brute, and I did not want any truck with him. A few days travel brought us into a very different looking country—more shage brush and not as much grass as we had been having, and the nights were getting quite cold with a big white frost over everything in the mornings. We were getting into the Bitter Crick country, and one night we corralled on the crick itself. The water was something fierce and was rightly named. Coffee made of the water was not so bad, but the beans cooked in it tasted a good deal like the odors smells that comes from the Pioneer Fish Company plant at the foot of 23rd street, San Diego.
About the worst deal that we got on the whole trip was at a place called Barrel Spring. The wether was cold and it was snowing hard when we got there, and it was dark so that cattle were kept in the corral all night as the men could not find grass for them in the dark; the night turned bitter cold befor morning, nobody got any supper that night for there wasn’t any wood to build fires with. In the morning the snow laid about a foot deep over everything, and two of the oxens were ded in the corral. The cold had been to much for them.
It was surely a sorry looking place to stop at, but the first thing to do was to hunt some place where the stock could get some thing to eate. The Boss and some of the men drove the cattle to were they could find feed. We had good spring water, but no wood in site to make a fire with. The best thing we could get to make a fire with was sagebrush, and had to go a good distance to get that.
The weather had cleared up and quit snowing but there we was stuck and stayed there 8 days,—the most miserable 8 days that I had ever spent. The day before we stoped ther, we had passed a big mule train going to Fort Bridger and the night it snowed they lost 17 mules from the cold. There was one consolation we were in no danger of any harm from the Indians. The Indians in that country were Utes and not hostile.
You may be shure we were glad to get away from Barrel Springs. I will never forget the last afternoon drive we made before reaching Greenriver. The weather was quite warm and the alcaly [alkali] dust was so thick that it was difficult to breathe and sometimes you could not see the leed cattle of the team I was driving.
Green River is a beautiful stream of clear water and plenty of wood on its banks. We rested here for a day and a good deal of the time was spent in the river scrub[b]ing our bodies and our clothes.
I should have mentioned that our Mormon friends that had there own team pulled out and left us shortly after leaveing Barrel Springs. They had a good team and could go faster than if they stayed with the train, and had now past the Indian danger zone.
We had two Mormon Elders with us who were just returning from Europe, where they had been sent as missionerys by the church. One of them used to like to preach, mostly at night, when we could not get away from him, and he had become a regular nuisance, so I started in opposition to him on the other side of the corral and I soon had the big[g]est crowd. He said we were a gang of ungodly reches [wretches], and we would burn for it in the next world, but we took chances on that, and every time he began to speak, I would start in, and finilay he gave it up, but one could see it hurt him to do it.
By the time we left Green River out [our] provisions were running short. Bred and beans was all we had left and hadent anything to use for rising for the bread. I had heard a backer [whacker] say that he had used soap, well we had plenty of that, for that is an article that bull whackers goes light on, so I thought I would see how it would work, and it done fine, and the boys blowed on it and said they [k]new slippery Dick (that was my name) had saved out some yeast powders so I could give them a treet. When I told them that it was soap that done it they looked as tho they would like to get rid of what they had eaten, but it would have take a hard pull to get it up again. They all said it was good, but please don’t make any more.
Shortly after this the Boss sent a team to Fort Bridger and got enough of everything to do us untill we got to Salt Lake witch we made in due time.
It was about the first of November when we arrived in the City of the Saints. We unloaded our freaght and those that were not going back to the States were paid off, and discharged, and mule teams and light wagons furnished to take those who would make the round trip back to Nebraska City.
Brigham Young and Mormonism was the whole thing in Salt Lake City at that time.