George Cunningham journal, 1876; 1885 August-1886 January, Reminiscences, 1876, 2-5.
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I think that it is written somewhere that the devil is prince and power of the air. If so, he must have been in an awful rage; for such storms continued for several successive nights. Of course, some growled and repined about the good homes they had left. Indeed, many felt like the ancient Israelites who looked back and moaned after the leeks and onions of Egypt. But after a few days, cloth was procured and tents were made and things went along much better. We camped here five or six weeks before we could get away. At last we were told that we were to go in Brother’ Willie’s handcart company. This company consisted fo [of] about six hundred persons, men, women and children. There were one hundred Scotch, two hundred Danes, and about three hundred English. A captain was appointed over each hundred, he being chosen from the returning missionaries. One team was appointed to haul provisions for each hundred. The cattle were wild and the teamsters were green but we got along the best we could. We had three hundred miles to travel right through Iowa before we could reach the permanent starting place, Winter Quarters or Florence. While traveling along, people would mock, sneer, and deride us on every occasion for being such fools as they termed us, and would often throw out inducements to get us to stop. But we told them that we were going to Zion, and would not stop on any account. When we went through a town or settlement, pulling our handcarts as we always had to do, people would turn out in crowds to laugh at us, crying gee and haw as if we were oxen. But this did not discourage us in the least, for we knew that we were on the right track. That was enough.
After several weeks pulling, hauling and praying, we arrived at Florence, but were detained again several weeks more. Some stayed here, and would not go any farther. In fact, we were told that if any wanted to stop that they might do so, but the council was to go on to the valleys. I can remember of being at a meeting one night when Brother Levi Savage, a returning missionary arose and spoke. He counseld the old, wealk [weak], and sickly to stop until another spring. The tears commenced to flow down his cheeks and he prophesied that if such undertook the journey at that late season, of the year, that their bones would strew the way.
At length we started, but our number was greatly reduced. About one hundred stayed who would not go any farther. I must state that there was not one of our hundred stopped, for that we got the praise. The oxteams were loaded down, and we were delayed much by having to wait on them. We strove along daily and when we got to Wood River, we came across a large camp of Omaha Indians who were very friendly. They invited us to camp with them for the night. We did so. They told us that the Cherokee Indians had attacked a train of Almon W. Bibits [Babbitt] which was encamped a short distance up the river, killing all the men except one who was on cattle guard. He alone escaped and fled to Fort Kearny. Mr. Babit was not with his train himself and had not yet come up, but he caught up with us on the following day. He said that there was a lady belonging to a gentleman in Salt Lake who the Indians had taken when they had attacked the train. I think that he offered ten thousand dollars for her recovery. He was conseled before his train started to have his train travel with some of the handcart companies for protection, but he would not. We have partly told the result. He went to Fort Kearny loaded up again. During this interval, we got ahead of him but he caught up again.
He was determined to go ahead. He had four fine mules on his carriage and one man with him. He tried to get someone else out of our train to go with him, but no one would go. He started on ahead. The Indians followed them for three days and dispatched them, also. They said that he fought like the devil but they overpowered him. We traveled up the Platte, saw immense herds of buffalo. Some places the prairie was black with them, there were so many. We could not keep them out of the train while traveling. We killed some of them and had plenty of meat. Some felt like wasting it because it was so plentiful. I saw a man who had one. Went and cut a piece or rather a few pieces out of the carcass and let the balance go to waste. The captain saw this and was very sad. He went and cursed him in the name of the Lord. The man lay down that night and died. He also cursed another man about the same time. He lay down and expired also. One night about that time we encamped about dark, having made a large drive that day. We turned out the oxen and cows to feed. A large herd of buffalo came running towards them. The oxen ran off with the buffalo and although we stopped and hunted the country for thirty or forty miles, we never found them.. There were nearly as many cows as oxen in the herd, but strange to say, not one of the cows left.
It happened like this as soon as we formed camp one of those terrible storms blew up which are only known in a prairie country. Every man ran to help put up the tents, and the cattle guard ran to help save the women and children also, thinking that the storm would subside after a little and they would tend to their cattle again, but it kept up the whole night, and it soon became as dark as pitch and all hands had to hold on to the tents to keep them from going up. The prairie was flooded in a few moments. The t[h]under roared most deafeningly, accompanied with the most vivid flashes of lightning which seemed to electrify everything.
The lightning flashed from pole to pole
Near and more near the thunder roll.
Have you ever read Southay’s poem, “How the water comes down at Lodore?”, or did you ever read of the ancient Roman artist who went to a victorious general to buy one of prisoners of war for the purpose of putting him to death by inches that he might cultivate his art on the agonies of death. Oh, for the pen of the poet. Oh, for the brush of the artist. Had they been there! But such thoughts are above the power of my pen to describe.
But here my muse her wing must cour
Sic flights are far beyond her power. —
Now must it be with the mariner that is lashed to the helm which the seas wash all around him, when it is so difficult to stand such a storm on Terra Firma. Thoughts like this and similar ones seemed to give us courage and strength until morning came.
We then all turned out (I mean the abled bodied boys and men) after the cattle but they had got beyond our reach. There was no trace of them. We thought to track them by their foot prints, but the rain had washed the ground so that this was impossible. We kept up the hunt for a week, securing the country all around. After traveling towards something that kept on the move which we thought must be old Brin and Nig or Buck and Bright, they would invariably take to their heels and prove to be nothing but the ugly old buffalo. I have heard the song sung, “Through the wild wood I’ll wander and chase the buffalo,” but I never supposed that I would experience it in this shape. At length, we were compelled to give up the hunt. It was evident to all that our provisions were getting very short. We had between six and seven hundred miles to travel to accomplish our journey, which we would be compelled to do or perish in the mountain snows. We therefore came to the conclusion to take the provisions out of the wagons and put them on the handcarts. We had about thirty milch [milk] cows which we hitched on to the wagons to haul the sick. The children that were not able to walk were put on the handcarts also, and we who were able had to haul them. Here we plodded along through the mud with all the courage that we could muster. Our bright young sisters helped us by doing all they could to encourage us in every shape, and whenever an opportunity afforded, they would try to cheer us along with their beautiful strains of vocal music. They seemed to have songs very appropriate for every occasion. This was much help to us under such stiff circumstances. Some of their words I can well remember yet such as:
Some will push and some will pull
As we go marching up the hill
So merrily on the way we go
Until we reach the valley oh.
They used to sing also the following words a great deal:
Hurrah for the camp of Israel
Hurrah for the handcart scheme
Hurrah, hurrah, it’s better by far
Than the wagon and ox team.
About this time Elder Franklin D. Richards and the returning missionaries came up with us. A meeting was called. Captain Willie laid the state of affairs before the brethren. He accused Brother Savage and Atwood for rebellious talk and not upholding him in his place. President Richards reproved them and the whole camp for the dissentions that had been allowed to creep into camp. He said that the hand of God had been heavy upon us for this cause. Brother Savage was called up and was told that he would have to take back what he said at Florence of which I have already mentioned or be tried for his fellowship. He was forced to do so. But it reminded me of Galilee, the great Italian philosopher, who discovered that the sun stood still. He was hauled up before the Roman inquisition for teaching heresy and made to swear by everything that was holy that he would never teach such doctrine again, but while rising off his knees, he was heard to mutter in an undertone, “The earth, the earth does revolve for all that”. Every word of Brother Savage’s prophecy was fulfilled and when Brother Franklin Richards arrived at Salt Lake City, Brigham Young told him that he was the cause of the trouble. That he had no business to start the companies at that late season of the year. Brother Richards and company left after the meeting. They had a splendid outfit of mules and carriages and were able to travel very fast. We went along slowly and after a few weeks more arrived at Fort Laramie. As our provisions were very exhausted our captain went to Fort Laramie and bought a ton or two of flour for which he had to pay $20.00 per hundred pounds. After leaving, we were met by a company of missionaries going to the states. Elder Parley P. Pratt came and talked awhile to us and tried to encourage us. The nights now began to be very cold and the feed was very poor. Our provisions were running out fast. Starvation looked us in the face. We were put on rations of six ounces of flour per day and nothing else. The old and weak began to die off, and a great many of the young and strong soon followed suit. We were several weeks on this small ration. They were reduced to half that amount. At last we were caught in a heavy snow storm on the Sweetwater, and the last of our flour was gone. The captain called us together, and said that all the provisions were gone, except some few crackers which he had saved for the sick and the small children. There were only one or two hundred pounds of them. He said that all hands would be treated alike; that he would kill every critter in the train before any of us should die of starvation.
The weather turned to be extremely cold. Many died from the effect of want and cold, I myself have helped to bury (or partly bury, as they were only put a small distance underground—might just as well have been left open for the wolves) ten to fifteen in a single day. Our Captain intended to keep his work, and commenced to kill off the cattle, but they were nearly as poor as we were. We used to boil the bones and drink the soup and eat what little meat there was. We greedily devoured the hides also. I myself have took a piece of hide when I could get it, scorched off the hair on the fire, roasted it a little on the coals, cut it in little pieces so that I could swallow it and bolted it down my throat for supper and thought it was most delicious. Many were frozen to death. I think that there were only five or six men in camp towards the last but what were frozen. Our captain drove all he could and did his duty. He was badly frozen and came very close to dying. Some would sacrifice themselves by giving their food or perhaps some old blanket that covered them. In common cares, we cannot tell what our friends and neighbors are, but there are circumstances which undoubtedly proved them.
While laboring under those trials and afflictions, I lay down one night and fell asleep. I dreamed a dream. That morning had come, the storm had subsided some and that we had started out on the road. I thought that I saw two men coming toward us on horseback. They were riding very swiftly and soon came up to us. They said that they had volunteered to come to our rescue and that they would go on further east to meet a company which was still behind us and that on the morrow, we could meet a number of wagons loaded with provisions for us. They were dressed in blue soldier overcoats and had Spanish saddles on their horses. I examined them, particularly the saddles as they were new to me. I also could discern every expression of their countenance. They seemed to rejoice and be exceedingly glad that they had come to our relief and saved us. At last morning came, it had cleared somewhat and I think that the snow was eighteen inches deep on the level where we were. The weather was very cold. We made some very large fires with willows which were abundant around the place, and everyone stood around the fires with gloomy faces. The thought of my dream would be fulfilled for it was my promise in my blessings to dream dreams and see things come to pass. We therefore set out and to our great pleasure, every word of my dream was fulfilled. I can recall that I was on the lead of the group, feeling somewhat inspired by what I had dreamed the previous night. The day was rather blustery with alternate snow storms blowing from the North, mixed with clear spells which lasted sometimes for nearly half an hour. During one of the clear spells I spotted two persons that I had dreamed of the night before, riding fast towards us. I called the fact to the attention of the crowd, being quite a distance off. I roared out, “Here they come, see them coming over that hill.” They told me that I was a true dreamer, and we all felt that we should thank God. We met the wagons with the provisions on the following day. We were very well treated by the brethren who came to meet us. Now the great difficulty was of eating too much. The feelings and senses of our people were dull and numbed now. Everyone feared death, and seemed indifferent and stupefied.
One old writer said, “Oh, death, where is thy sting? Oh, grave, where is thy victory?” It had gone too far to dread death, for the thread of life had by this time been nearly exhausted. Neither had the grave much victory to boast of, for many did not feel like going one step out of its way. Our Captain showed us all a noble example. He was furnished a mule to ride on our start from Iowa City, but he said, “I will never get on its back, I shall show the example, you follow it.” He did so and the captains of hundreds followed him. They would crowd on ahead to be the first into the streams to help the women and children across. After getting the last one across, they would crowd on ahead to be the first. They waded every stream, and I might say, a dozen times between Iowa City and Green River, with the exception of the Missouri River, by this time they were completely exhausted and had to be hauled the balance of the way. Some of them not being able to stand on their feet. Their names were: James Willey, Millen Attwood, Levi Savage, William Woodward, and the fifth was a Danish brother whose name I can’t recall.
At last we arrived in Salt Lake where we were kindly cared for and well treated. The sick were doctored and then sent to the various settlements.