Maria Walker Wheeler, My history, circa 1899, 13-19.
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Keokuk at that time was a small town or village it would be called in England. It was pleasant, situated on the banks of the Mississippi on the Iowa side. The town consisted of a few stores, groceries and general merchandise stores, butcher shop or two, Post Office and several saloons, and some nice dwellings. When we got to camp we found a very large camp about a mile long. Two rows of camps one each on both sides of a road situated in an unsettled land with considerable timber and open range where the campers turned the stock to feed. There was plenty of wood for fuel free for the gathering. And the camp was pleasantly situated on a high hill or there was a hill to go down to the river. The place where the camp was was level. We could see the boats going up and down the river. We had to carry water from the river. There was a clear spring close to the underbank of the river. We got our water and one had to nearly step into the water of the river to get to the spring and I used to get dizzy looking at the water. It looked so big and rolled so. We used to bring our washing to the river and make a fire and do the washing there. The people in camp were mostly English, Americans, Germans, Danes, Scotch, Scandinavians. The Danes were a strange sort of people. They wore hats like Chinamen (the women did) and wooden shoes, blue stockings or red, and short dresses made of wool and mostly red or blue. The people in camp were waiting to get their outfit to go on. There destination was Salt Lake. They had to buy cattle, wagons, provisions and some were pretty well off for money, but most of them were too poor to buy a team all of their own. So, they put their money together perhaps two families in one wagon with two yoke of cattle or three if they could. Some came in what was called the ten pound company. They calculated to make ten pounds carry them through. Of course they came on the cheapest way there was.
A man named Shurtlieff, an American who had been to England on a mission and came back the same year we came, was engaged to buy the stock cattle. There was also another man engaged to buy the wagons for the company. He bought them from a wholesale manufacturer at wholesale rates. Our wagons were there when we got to camp. The covers and tents were bought in Liverpool and made on the ship while crossing the ocean. But the cattle did not come for some time after and were quite wild. One cow we were obliged to lassoo and tie up as she had been taken from her calf that had run with her. She had never been milked and we had quite a time training her. We stayed there for about a month before we got everything ready to start. The companies traveled about fifty wagons in a company with four to six oxen to a wagon. Our folks were one of the independent companies. That is people who had enough money to fit out their own teams. Our folks bought a good supply of provisions, groceries, and with an extra allowance in case of longer delay or accidents that were not looked for. Some had horses and buggies but our folks had not bought any not being told we should need any. Father wanted to get a pair of horses as he thought we should need them on getting to the end of our journey. But, he found it almost impossible to get a good rig in that place. Buggies were not so common nor so cheap then as now. A two seated covered spring wagon was what we needed that could be used to sleep in. But he would have to go to Chicago or St. Louis and our company was going to start soon so he could not go. But he bought a nice trotting mare from a man that came to camp and trusted he might be able to get another and a double buggy or wagon before long. [Christopher] Arthurs, and [Thomas Owen] Kings and one or two others got theirs in St. Louis.
Well, we started but I don’t remember the date of the month. It was in May. We had to travel over some very muddy roads. It rained a good deal and thunder storms the worst I ever saw. The rain just ran through the tents and wagon covers sometimes. But we made the best of it we could. We put up the tent, put our stove in it and cooked there when it was too wet to build a campfire. We passed over some of the finest land and forests I ever saw until I went to California. Father who was always fond of good timber land had half a notion to stay and settle there. We had two large wagons to our family with two yokes of cattle but we found the load to[o] much for that amount of cattle. Father purchased two more yoke of oxen on the road and also another horse. We came past a farm and saw a man plowing and we bought one yoke from him. The man unhitched them out of his team to sell them and also the horse. On another occasion a man was plowing with horses and sold one to father out of his team. We came through a very rough road some of the way. The road lay through woods and the road was cut through the timber and brush and there were lots of stumps in the road. We came down a steep hill through a woody country after we bought the new oxen and camped on a stream on a flat place where there was lots of grass. In some places the grass was waist high and fine country unsettled except a log house or a small lumber one at intervals of from ten to twenty miles apart. Father was almost temped to stay and settle there in some of the places. With his family he said he could take up a large tract of land for his son in laws, daughters and himself to go farming. But he was prevailed upon to go on, so we resumed our journey west. We traveled about 300 to 350 miles by land from Keokuk to Kanesville. That is not far from the Missouri River. We camped at Kanesville with our provisions, or part of them, having bought the groceries and other provisions at Keokuk.
There were about fourteen persons in our teams to start with from Keokuk but my two aunts, Catherine, mother’s sister and sister in law, Hannah Preece, and her boy John, stayed at Kanesville having met some old Nauvoo Mormons who told them the Mormons would marry them for plural wives. They would not go any farther. Two sailors Father was bringing with him who joined the church on board the ship also got tired of the land trip and returned back.
After getting all our supplies the company resumed the journey. We crossed the Missouri, July 4, 1853, after a week of hard travel through fording and rafting slews and water from the overflow of the Missouri River. The raft that was made of logs to carry our wagons over the slews broke to pieces when one of our wagons was on it. The wagon went to the bottom in about four or five feet of water and wet and spoiled lots of our goods, clothing, etc. We got them all out with the help of some of the company but was hindered about two days as we had to build a new raft before we could get our wagons over. We had already had to ferry our raft, our teams and our wagons over three or four slews or over the over flows from the Missouri River. But at last we got to the ferry at the Missouri River that was to take us across. We camped there one night. It took over a day to get all the wagons over and cost one dollar each for the wagons. They made the cattle swim across the stream. It was strong and rapid and it was all the cattle could do to swim. Some floated a mile or two downstream before they landed but we got them across all right. The place we landed was known as Winter Quarters because the Mormons who were driven out of Nauvoo in winter camped there all winter. It is said they cultivated the land there the next spring and raised a crop before going on to Salt Lake. Some of them went on in the spring but most of them stayed until the next year. The place is I think where Omaha is now built. Well, we camped there one night then started on our long journey West.
There were many ups and downs, trails [trials] and difficulties to encounter, but we overcame them all such as breaking wagon tongues, spokes, tires to set, etc. I can’t recount all the small annoyances and troubles we had, such as lame cattle, stray cattle, etc., but we got on without much indifference when one broke a tongue or lost cattle they all stayed until he was ready as we were now coming towards the Indian country and it was not safe for us to scatter as there was more safety and self protection in keeping together. After a week or two we got out of the timber country so there was no timber only in a small fringe on the banks of streams. And soon we had to gather sticks and carry them along to cook our meals when we got to camp or else we were like to have none. Then we had to use buffalo chips to cook with. That was a new experience but we found them good fuel when dry. One day about twelve days or two weeks after crossing the Missouri we met the first band of Indians we had ever seen. Of course most of the women were scared for we had heard so much of the cruelties of the Indians. They were a band of Sonex [Sioux] and were considered a bloodthirsty set. They were moving camp and had their squaws and papooses with them but we had no trouble. Them [they] seemed friendly and came and shook hands with us and began to beg everything from tobacco, whiskey and crackers to coffee and blankets. We gave them a lot of provisions, tobacco, coffee, etc., and then went on. They had numerous ponies and carried their lodge poles tied to each side of their ponies.
The next incident I remember was some immigrants for California ahead of us killed a buffalo and just went on and left about half of it a short distance from camp, also the hide of a large fine one. Well, my sister Selina who was a girl about eleven or twelve years old and father drove on ahead to camp at noon. We found the buffalo meat still warm. We thought we would have some steaks for dinner. We stopped, unhitched our horses; we had the horses and buggy, and made a fire, cut some meat off and by that time the camp came up. They also got some meat and started to cook it. It was the first we had ever seen. After dinner the camp moved on but father wanted that buffalo skin to dress and make a robe. We had heard about buffalo hides for robes but never had seen one. While the camp went on we drove up to where the skin was about a quarter mile from camp. Father told me to get out and also sister while he put the skin into the buggy. It was not like the buggies that they have now days, but was intended for two seats also to put a bed in while camping. So he left the horses stand and tried to put it in behind. But he never did it for one of the horses was a blooded race horse, high spirited and easily scared. She took one look and sniff at the hide then dashed off full speed. Father grabbed at the lines but missed them. He got hold of one side of the bridle but after holding on for a hundred yards or more was knocked down and hurt. The horses and wagon went over him. He got up however and as the horses had gone around in a circle, one horse was slower and could not keep up, it brought them around in a circle and he caught them again but could not hold them as he was hurt to[o] bad. I ran to his assistance and unhitched them quick. I told my sister to hold the shirrey one and the other was not scared. While I got some water to wet father’s face as he had fallen down and was groaning badly. I also was scared and did all I could. In the meanwhile the horse my sister was holding pulled away from her and with the harness on ran off as fast as she could run. The other horse I tied to the wagon whell [wheel] there being no tree nor brush near. In the meantime the camp had gone on quite a distance. There was no one to help. Finally my brother in law [Thomas Arthur] Wheeler saw there was something wrong and left his team to his wife [Ann Walker Wheeler] and came back. The horse had run quite a way by this time. He mounted the other and rode after the runaway but he may as well have whistled for no horse in camp could keep up with her if starting together let alone being nearly a mile behind. The harness scared her and she took the back track and after about ten or twelve miles without gaining on her he lost sight of her and came back for it was getting night and not safe for a lone person in an Indian country. So, we never got her again. A company of horse teams overtook us a few days after and we asked if they had seen anything of a runaway horse. They said the night after the runaway they heard a horse run through camp at about midnight. Some of them tried to stop it but could not. They heard the harness rattle so we knew it must be our horse. She doubtless ran until she dropped dead. In the meanwhile someone brought a yoke of oxen back to fetch the buggy, I think it was Joseph Gough, my other brother in law. Father was badly hurt as he spit up blood for sometime after. He had to lie in bed most of the way and did not get well enough to work until after he moved out to Cottonwood. Well, we caught up with the camp after a while but was creoled for want of a team to draw the buggy. It fell to my lot to drive it. They put on a yoke of cattle from one of the other teams. The country was level plains mostly. We were getting near the Platte River. Father lay in the buggy on a bed and I was rather cross as the road was rough. It jarred him and hurt but I could not help it. I had to follow the rest. We traveled day after day on a prairie as level as any country ever was as far as the eye could see. Without a tree or bush to break the monotony of the scene, only Platte River. There were large herds of buffalo with sometimes an antelope and deer. There were few experienced deer or buffalo hunters along with us and we did not get near enough to get any for a long time. One night after we came in camp, it was quite early, there was a small band of buffalo not far off and one of the men took a rifle and went toward them. They were making for camp and we were afraid they would stampede the cattle. Some of the men tried to stop them. Finally one man shot one and the rest left. We had plenty of fresh meat for a few days. We had to cook it with buffalo chips. We went on and on without any incidents until we came to the sand hills where the sand was so heavy our travel was slow. In a few days we would be through them. There was very little feed along there. One day we camped for noon or dinner and turned out the cattle to feed awhile but a terrible hail storm came up with hailstones larger than quail eggs and how it did beat and blow. It drove the cattle off about five or six miles before it. It was quite a while before they were found. As we went over sand hills and rough places and finally on to the plains again we neared Fort Laramie without anything unusual, such as gathering buffalo chips, cooking our meals, milking cows. We generally set the nights milk in the tent on the table for we brought a table we could fold up and fasten besides the wagon. In the morning we skimmed the milk, put it and the morning milk away, tied it up in jars and at night the cream was generally butter. So, we had butter without churning. When we got to within twelve or fifteen miles of Laramie we camped one night rather late between the Platte and the high hill or bluff. There were other hills in a bunch but the one I speak of was large and near the river only a few rods, perhaps fifteen or twenty from the river. We camped and kindled fires to cook but had not got supper before a lot of Indians came on the hill and commenced shooting arrows into camp. It was dark and about between eight and nine o’clock in the evening. Of course we were scared but our captain who had had some experience told us to put out the fires; let women and children go in the wagons and keep quiet and corral the cattle. We always made a corral of our wagons and all the men armed themselves and stood guard. They did not fire on the Indians else it would be a signal for a massacre of all our company. Well, the men watched all night but after firing a few times at the camp and some of the arrows stuck in the wagon covers they left and next morning we moved camp.
Our next stopping place was Fort Laramie where after crossing the Platte we went about a mile and camped there. We decided to stay a week to rest the teams, set tires, watch, etc. As that was about the end of the level country and feed was getting poorer as we neared the Black Hills it gave our cattle a good rest and feed. The Indians came to camp often to beg but being near the fort did not try to bother us again. We then moved on but some of them tried to buy a white woman; tried to trade a pony for one and also offered a pony for a jug of liquor but we would not trade. On [we] went until we struck the upper crossing of the Platte which was quite deep in this place. As we were now among the hills poor and barren with sand hills in places which made it hard for the teams and the oxen were getting poor as feed was scarce. One day one of the oxen gave out, lay down and died in a little while. He had doubtless drank alkaline water as others had died of the same. We had to get along as we could without him thankful we had lost no more.
I must mention that when we got to Fort Laramie there was an old trapper or Indian hunter who had a young horse to sell and we wanted one to go with the other in the buggy. Father, who was some better bought him. We put it at once in the team and I drove him all the way to Utah. After the first day or two we got to sweet water, a stream we crossed quite a number of times. There was a band of Indians, a whole tribe, camped on the Sweetwater. In going through a flat or valley of about forty or fifty acres surrounded by perpendicular cliffs, the Indians commenced firing on us from the cliffs. Some arrows stuck in the covers of the wagons. One or two hit the oxen but we did not return the fire knowing we could not hit the Indians high up in the rocks and bushes. We soon passed that dangerous place and got out in the level country again and passed the Indian camp. We got to Devil’s Gate, a place where the Sweetwater runs between two perpendicular cliffs. We also passed Independence Rock where some wrote their names. I forgot to say we passed Chim[n]ey Rock on the Platte, a loose rock out in the level plains and like an immense chimney. One night the wolves that howled every night came into camp and killed two cattle. They killed several before this crippling their owners for cattle. Some had to put cows in the team. One woman lost three out of four of her cattle and had to put her cow and oxen in and get along as best she could. One day I was behind driving the horse team and one of the tires came off. I was quite a distance behind the others. I got it on as best I could, working it on with a hammer. Father could not help much being sick but I managed to get within hearing of the camp and get help to camp. It was one long tiresome journey but we made it as pleasant as possible. Some folks used to get together at some campfire and sing, tell stories and chat, thereby making the time pass as well as we could. But there were some hateful folks who tried to be disagreeable. We came to Green River at last. It was quite high and my cousin Bill Preece who was driving one of our teams, in trying to roll up his pants so they would not get wet, had to stand on the tongue of the wagon to drive across. His team started to follow the one ahead before he could roll up his pants, so he came near going down the river in trying to catch them and get on the wagon. He had been sick and was very weak but someone helped him to get on his wagon. I came next with four or five girls in the buggy and the water came up into the bed of the buggy and the traces which were old fashioned came unhitched. As one of them did I had to go out on the tongue to find it and fasten it while the girls screamed as the rig swayed with the water but we got over all right at last with wet feet and skirts.
I can’t get to write in this book often as I can’t think of events when anyone is around talking. We camped a night or two from Green River. There was not much of interest happened, only the everyday events. Mountains to climb, rivers to cross, sometimes someone had an ox give out then they would put a cow in his place if they happened to have one. One woman lost all her oxen but one. The wolves had eaten some, some had died from drinking alkalie water or gave out. Some of the company would either take some of her good[s] to carry or help her up the bad places. Many folks who were good natured at home were cross and selfish when traveling so long a distance with ox teams. But on the whole we got along first rate for no one was allowed to go on and leave a family behind who needed help. Sometimes we came across wild grapes which were rather scarce in that country. Then we gathered them and although small and sour were quite a treat. Sometimes we found wild gooseberries among the rocks then we made a pie or stewed them for some vegetables and fruit was a luxury. On and on we toiled. We came to Sweet Water, so called it is said because some upset a load of sugar in the stream. We crossed it a number of times, passed an Indian camp of Crow Indians who did not molest us only as usual came to beg. We were daily nearing the Rocky Mountains. Then we came to South Pass, the highest place in North America. After a day or two we got to the top. Then the streams run the other way. Before all streams ran east or northeast. Now they ran south or west. But after we got into the Great Basin of Utah all the waters either sank in the desert or ran into some of the lakes. Finally we got to the Wasatch Mountains. Now the weather was getting quite cold especially at nights and one night it snowed four or five inches. All the wood we could get handy was willows and of course they did not make a very hot fire but we only had a few days more to travel before we got to our journey’s end. But, I am before my story. Before we got to the place it snowed we came to Fort Bridger a place occupied by U.S. soldiers and we came there and stayed a few days to rest and recruit our teams before going over the mountains. The roads for two or three hundred miles had been very rough and rugged and feed for the teams was poor and scarce. After resting we went on but one team could not keep up with the rest as they had lost one yoke of oxen, having died or gave out. So some who had good teams took some of their loads and left them to come on at their leisure, knowing them to be safe as long as the fort was so near. They got to their journey’s end a few days after we did. We got to Salt Lake City about the twentieth of September, 1853, and were all glad we had got to our journey’s end.