Joseph Ellis Johnson letter to Beloved Friends in J. E. J. Trail to Sundown (1961) by Rufus David Johnson, 121-24.
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upper crossing of the Platte, 700 miles w.
of Kanesville, July 30, 1850
". . . We have had an accident (mishap). We came here and camped at 7 last evening on a sandy place near the river by a spring creek in the shade of a few cottonwoods. Our 6 horses and one mule were put out to pasture on the sand hills about a mile. We left them there and went to sleep. About 9 a mule team came up intending to travel with us,—family named Daniels from Montrose. When morning came our horses were missing and we know nothing of their whereabouts. Bros. Miller and Kelley have gone back toward the ferry look for them. It is uncertain whether we will start today . . . Bro. Hyde has turned in to sleep; Bro. Daniels has gone hunting. I have cooked breakfast; made meal pancakes with eggs, soda and acid. Have washed dishes also a towel, my gloves and kerchief, repaired our provision chest and have put the wagon in order. Also have apples cooking.
". . . About 20 miles up the road leaves the Platte and strikes across to the Sweetwater river. The Platte here is only a few rods across, but is deep and turbid. We had a little scow or dugout to cross in and were obliged to swim our horses. Companies under Captain Andrews, Bro. Hawkins, P. Young and a small group of 10 wagons were encamped near the ferry on and about Deer Creek. . . My last letter was sent back by a company returning from the capture of some deserters . . . Deer Creek on the Platte would be a good place for a person to stop with some goods during their emigration. Have liquors, with a blacksmithing and pack saddle outfit, build a good boat, do all ferrying, trading, repairing, and a large amount might well be taken. I have the idea of stopping with 6 or 8 hands and the necessary articles, come out early, should I have the blessing of prosperity next spring.
"As to native fruits, I have seen a berry sweet and nice growing on a bush much like the shad and tasting like it. There are plenty of white currants, also gooseberries and a bush and berry like red currant only more sweet. Choke-cherries are yet green, also thorn apples, a kind of berry resembling the fire cherry. These are all the fruits we have seen except grapes way below the Platte."
Independence Rock, Sweetwater River, Aug. 1, 1850.
"I have just come down from the top of the rock and have had a laborious climb. It is a vast rock ½ mile long and full of seams, cracks, gaps and crags, but one hard, rough granite rock standing singly and alone. On the bottom near the river there are thousands of names painted and engraved in every possible size, shape and color. I have read until I am weary but have found few of my acquaintances. A beautiful evening and a beautiful place. A company of 5 wagons is camped near us, and D. S. Baker left the place just as I came up. We did 22 miles today over sand and thro saleratus [Salaratus] plains and ponds. I walked 3 or 4 miles to pay for running off after saleratus ponds. We stayed at Willow Springs,—poor feed and wood. Made 33 miles yesterday but horses are badly jaded today.
"The Sweetwater is a pretty stream, clear, swift and cold and is lined with good grass, just now cropped close. How the teams of 800 to 1000 wagons are to be sustained God only knows, altho he has sent an uncommon quantity of rain to make the feed grow. . . . I so dread the crossing of these plains twice again, but certainly I shall never set out in ox teams, 'tis killing. . . .
"We have seen plenty of game, elk, buffalo, lion, sage hens, etc. Since yesterday we have passed over a hundred carcasses of oxen and horses. They lie and fairly dry up, as even wolves cannot subsist on these desolate plains. We have seen hundreds of gun barrels, log chains, staples and rings, harnesses, trace chains and the finest of wagons, buggies and carriages. We found 26 log chains in one pile. The ground where we are now encamped is literally strewn with irons, stoves, clothing, parts of harnesses, etc. Every pain seem to have been taken to destroy all property so that it will be of no use to anyone else. Even the finest of rifles are broken and the barrels are smashed. The destruction of life and property has been terrible.
"This mountain air is different from any I ever breathed before. Tis sharp and it obliges me to put my hand to my face to guard my respiration, for it will make the nostrils twinge like hard frosty weather even at midday in the hot sun.
"Sund. morning. 20 miles from Bridger, 135 miles from the Valley. All well and expect to be there in 4 or 5 days."