McDonald, John, "Personal Reminiscences of Early Days in Nauvoo and Utah," Deseret Evening News, 20 Aug. 1910, 20.
AWFUL EXPERIENCES CROSSING THE PLAINS
. . . My father did not go back to St. Louis again but went to work on the temple at carpenter work and worked until it was finished, when he and my mother received their temple blessings. He camped out in the dead of winter in snow and cold, watching the mobs that were threatening to come in upon us and wipe us from the earth. About this time the word was sent that we must move to the west and leave our homes. President Young and the twelve apostles established association shops for the manufacturing of wagons to move the Saints to the Rocky mountains or some place in the great western Indian country. Father and my brother William worked in one of these shops making wagons for about 18 months. We had to live on a little corn meal and we were glad to get enough of that. We seldom ever tasted fresh meat. After the first companies had started west father purchased a wagon running-gear for himself but he had no money to pay for the ironing of it, so he had to sell it to Bishop Hunter to iron another, which he had made out of every kind of timber he could get as all the best timber had been worked up. But at last he got a wagon. He then sold all of his valuable books and everything we could spare for a yoke of wild 3-year-old steers. We had a yoke of yearling calves that I used to play with. I had them well broken in to work so they made good leaders. This was the kind of team we had to start across the plains with. It would have made a mule laugh to have seen us start. Father had a big rope around the off steer's harness and my brother one on the nigh steer, both pulling for life to keep them from breaking the wagon and I with my whip, driving my calves on the lead.
To make it more pleasant for us, our neighbors were all laughing at us, for starting with such a team to cross the great Mississippi river in a flat boat and into the wilderness over a rough hill country. No wonder they laughed. But then he who laughs last laughs best, for in a few days after we had started our team pulled our wagon with about 2,700 lbs. on it with ease and we helped many good teams up the steep hills and I do not think we had to be helped once.
COAXED WITH CORN
Before starting up a hill we always gave our steers an ear of corn and if it was very steep mother would go ahead and hold out some ears of corn to them and you ought to see them pull. When we got to Bonaparte in Iowa we stopped for about two months and father got to work at wagon making and got a good yoke of cattle and provision and we started for Council Bluffs.
We suffered much from sickness while in Bonaparte. Father and some of the rest of us were taken down with the fever and ague and I can tell you it shook us up good. But we had many friends while there, especially in one instance when my brother William and I and two other boys by the name of McDonald went in swimming in the river. The boys of the town found out that we were Mormons and thought they would have some fun with us so they took our clothes and scattered them about and bedaubed them with mud. My brother and the two McDonald boys saw them and got out of the water as soon as possible and pitched into them and in about 10 minutes licked their bullies and drove the rest off. After that they were very friendly toward us for one of them said to me next day: "You did just right," and that he thought the Mormons were just as good as white people if they just behaved themselves.
We got to Council Bluffs in due time but did not cross the river. We built a log cabin of one room and laid willows on top for a roof and covered it with dirt and got ready for winter there. But we all took sick, father with fever and ague and the rest of us with scurvy and black leg. My brother Washington died there and my father made him a nice coffin out of the wagon bed and he and my brother William carried him on their shoulders across the Missouri river, covered with masses of ice, and buried him in the grave yard where many of the Saints were laid to rest, having died from sickness and exposure.
GAVE OUTFIT TO VETERAN
Our cattle died that winter and left us without a team. Father went into Missouri to a town called Weston with many others to try and make a raise. Father got work at Leavenworth and afterwards was foreman of the government wagon shops. We stayed there about a year and got a good fit-out and started to the Salt Lake Valley but when we got to Council Bluffs he was advised to let one of the brethren have his outfit to get to the Salt Lake valley, as he was very old. He did so and we stopped at Davis Camp and father and William started a wagon shop in Kanesville. About that time the California gold fever broke out and we got another good outfit and started for Salt Lake on the 17th day of June, 1850.
DEATHS ON THE PLAINS
We had a very good time crossing the plains, hunting buffalo and game when we were camped to rest. About the only thing that annoyed us young folks along the plains was that the cholera was very bad and many died and the old folks got very religious and would not let us dance at night and sing negro songs but we had a good time when we got the chance.
The cholera was very bad all along the Platte bottoms. There were thousands of the emigrants going to California who died on the plains. In some places you could jump from one grave to the other and in some graves there were great holes at the head and foot where the wolves had dug down and got the bodies. There were also many Saints who died. I think there must have been an average of about 15 to every company of 50 wagons. We had to ford the Platte river three or four times.
On one occasion I came pretty near being drowned. I was driving the ox team and my cattle went a little too far to the right and we all went down the stream together, wagon, oxen and myself. I grabbed hold of one of the oxen's bows and kept my head out of water until we stuck another bank and we got across all right. There was a young man by the name of Frank Cunningham, who drove one of our teams who also got nearly drowned in the Platte river but some of the men threw him a rope and he caught it as he was going down the last time and they pulled him ashore under water. He had no life in him when they got him to shore but they rolled the water out of him and worked with him until they brought him to life.
CATTLE STAMPEDES AND BUFFALO HUNTS
I have ofttimes thought that traveling along the Platte bottoms was as near to hell as I ever want to get for our cattle used to stampede every few days. We would make a corral of our 50 wagons and drive our cattle in at night and leave a guard at the mouth of the corral to watch and we would put log chains around to keep them in but sometimes it did not do much good for just as we would think that all was well one of the oxen would give a blat and sniff the air and every ox and cow in the corral would commence to bellow and run around until they would squeeze the cattle that were on the inside nearly to death. Then they would make a break for the mouth of the corral and away they would go at break-neck speed. Just imagine if you can, that you see 300 head of poor, worn-out cattle sniffing the air and running in all directions for miles as though there were a thousand devils after them and you will have a pretty good idea of what we used to call a stampede.
One morning just as we were starting out on our journey one of the tires ran off of one of the wheels of the wagon ahead of us and scared our cattle and away they went. There were 40 wagons ahead of us and 10 in the rear and it was not long before the whole train was on the run. My father and mother were in their horse wagon and as the ox teams came up on the run one of them ran into our horse wagon and took a hind wheel off and broke the axle tree off and nearly threw father and mother to the ground. My brother William happened to be on horseback and he managed to stop some of the front teams and keep them from running into a very deep ravine. The only way I can think of to portray such a scene is for you, my friends or children, to imagine you are standing a little off the road and you see a train of wagons coming along the road loaded with provisions, bedding, women and children, perhaps many of them sick. One of the oxen throws up his head as if he were scared at something but you see nothing to scare him. Then he gives a blat and commences to jump and run and in a very few moments you see the whole train running in all directions over a rough plain. You expect every minute to see some of the wagons tip over. You see old men and boys pounding their cattle over the heads with their whips and halloing "whoa! whoa!" but they don't "whoa" worth a cent. Then you hear women screaming and children crying and now and then you see some of the poorer oxen stumble and fall and they are dragged by the neck until they are almost dead, and then you shut your eyes and stand and tremble, you have seen enough. But through the blessing of the Lord the teams are stopped and it is not long before the Saints are on their way to Zion again.
In those days the buffalo were very plentiful along the Platte river and once in a while a stray bull would get fenced in a bend of the river and the dogs would run him into camp and we would have a regular buffalo and dog fight. But the dogs did not stand much show so the boys would get their guns and keep shooting until they had killed him and then we would take his hide off and get the best of the meat and cut it in strips and hang it on the wagon and dry it and eat it on the journey. . . .
We arrived at Salt Lake on the 18th of September, 1850. . . .
[John McDonald went to California, and the following is his reminiscence
regarding his return trip to Utah in 1856.]
BACK TO SALT LAKE: ADVENTURES EN ROUTE
About that time news came from Salt Lake That there was a great famine there and the grasshoppers had destroyed nearly all the crops and all the people had to eat were roots, bran, or shorts, or anything they could get hold of. This kind of news gave me much pain, for my mother was left alone in Salt Lake, as my father had been called on a mission to Europe some three years before this. I sent my mother $40, but she had to pay it for taxes to build a wall around the city, and this left her without anything, so I came to the conclusion that I should go home and see that she did not suffer from want of food. I had four good horses, but I had no sooner made up my mind to go to Salt Lake City than the Devil or some other agency tried to prevent me from going, for when I went to get my horses I could not find them and I never could find the two best animals. I bought two sacks of flour at $11 per sack, for it was scarce in San Francisco, and I bought two blankets to wrap it in and lashed my flour on my pack saddle and determine to go with my two horses. I would have to travel a distance of about 800 miles through Indian country.
HORSE FALLS ON HIM
In those days they carried mail from Salt Lake to California on horse back, and as the mail carriers were about to start on their return trip I made up my mind to travel with them. We started out about 4 o'clock p.m. and went up into the Kahoon [Cajon] pass and camped a distance of about 12 miles. My brother William came out and stayed at night with us. In the morning we hitched up our horses and mules to make a start but when I got on my horse he was standing in a patch of willows and made a jump straight up in the air and fell backwards on top of me. The willows were so thick I could not get from under him when he fell. The boys came to my assistance and found that I was badly hurt. The insisted on going back to San Bernardino, but I told them that I had started for Salt Lake and would not go back if they had to bury me before we had gone five miles on the road, so I changed horses and rode a horse that my brother had lent me in case of accident and he came in handy in the first part of the journey. When my horse fell with me he lit with the horn of the saddle right in my breast and I spit blood for three days, but I was determined that I would not go back, for I had promised the Lord if he would open up the way for me to get back to Salt Lake that I would stay there and help build up his kingdom on earth.
At this time the Indians were very hostile, and when we got to Kingston Springs we found that they had murdered two white men the night before we camped there. When we got to Rio Virgin there were about 200 Indians waiting for us. They had barricaded the road in several places so we could not pass, and we would have had a hard time getting through had it not been for a Mormon missionary by the name of Follett, who had been on a mission in Las Vegas and was returning home to Provo or Spanish Fork. He stayed behind us with the old chief and preached to him, and told him if he would go with us to where we camped we would divide our provisions with him, but we had hard work to keep his Indians from scalping us. We traveled over 80 miles that day and the old chief traveled about 20 miles after dark with us to find us a place to camp where his Indians could not find us. He sat up all night and herded our horses for us and drove them up to camp in the morning. We gave him all the grub we could afford, which was very little; but the Indians were so starved that they would follow you 20 miles for one cracker. After that we were not troubled with the Indians much until we got to Salt Creek, and then they did not trouble us; but Walker's band killed a man and a boy at the place where we camped the night before we got there. It was there that we lost every horse we had.
Arrives in Salt Lake
They were very tired and we turned them loose to feed and when we went to bring them up we could not find one of them. We hunted all night and gave them up for lost, but when light came we found them lying in a litter below, not a quarter of a mile from camp. We made the trip in 17 days and we rested one day at Parowan. We rode from Salt Creek to Pleasant Grove after we got our horses and camped there for the night, and started for the city the next morning. I got to my father's house about 2 p.m. I drove up to the door, but my mother did not know me, for I had changed considerably during the few years that I had spent in California.