John Jaques, "Some Reminiscences," Salt Lake Herald-Republican, 5 January 1879, 1.
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SALT LAKE CITY, Jan. 4, 1879.
Having noticed briefly the other companies of emigrants in 1856, let me now return to the fifth and last handcart company, and tell a little more about it.
In passing along the railroads through the states the company was treated usually with civility and more or less courtesy. Toledo was the place where the railroad employés were the most discourteous, uncivil, and harsh in conduct towards the company. Scarcely had the train arrived at the depot there, when the energetic but vulgar salutation was hurled at the emigrants—"Why the h-l don't you get out of those cars?" Those employés must have belonged to that peculiar class of people who are never tired of boasting that they live not in a despotic empire nor in an effete monarchy, but in a democratic republic, a free country, a land of liberty, where one man is as good as another, and a great deal better if he has more cheek and impudence and less principle, which perhaps sufficiently explains the rationale of such coarse expletive salutations being offered to travelers of any class. I believe I might safely wager that in no effete monarchy nor despotic empire in Europe would any kind of railway passengers be so rudely treated.
On one occasion, in the early part of the journey, I believe in Iowa, one man of the company took pity on a woman (she was a few pounds heavier than a woman at that time) and essayed to carry her over a slough but in his impulsive kindness he had over-estimated his own strength, or under-estimated her specific gravity, and he soon found that he had undertaken a more difficult task than he at first supposed. However, he accomplished the feat at three times trying-first, he carried her into the slough and set her down in the mud; second, he picked her up again and carried her out of the slough, but minus her shoes, which were left sticking in the mud; third, he went back into the slough and fetched out her shoes.
On the other side of the Missouri, one of the men drew on his cart his wife's sister, who was sick of a fever, 150 miles, and then, on this side of the Missouri his wife was confined of a son, and he drew her 150 miles, his wife's father meantime taking the sister along in his cart till she was able to walk, it being much easier and less jolting for the sick to ride in the handcarts than in the ox or mule wagons. The same husband also drew his two-year-old daughter much of the journey up to the last crossing of the Platte. The poor little thing died at Green river of dysentery, cold, insufficient nourishment and an avoidable lack of needed attention. The two sisters did pretty well afterwards, though neither of them was a strong woman. They now are mothers of large families, and the infant, who was very puny during the journey, is now the father of a family. All the above, who survive, are residents of this territory.
In the lower Platte valley, near Fort Kearney, an old man pulled his cart until he fell out of the shafts. He died in a few minutes after.
About opposite Ash Hollow, another man, who had had diarrhoea and dysentery nearly all the way from Iowa city, walked fifteen miles one day, fell into a creek while crossing it, and died the next day. Poor fellow, he was confident almost to the last that he should reach "the valley," and his chief solicitude was for his wife, who, he feared, would not be able to endure the journey. But she did endure it. She endured it bravely, although it made her a sorrowing widow. She has lived a life of usefulness to the present time, yet still a widow, for she could never believe there was a man left in the world equal to her husband. She is healthy and vigorous now, considering her advanced age. In fact, taking into account the natural weakness and frequent constitutional ailments of women, it is a wonder they endured the journey so well as they did. But some of them stood it better than many of the men, and pulled at the handcarts as long also. The men, however, had much guarding to do, particularly in the early part of the journey, because of the large cattle herd that started with the company, and also because of the uncommon predatory disposition of the Indians that year. All this of course the women were spared. Partial indemnification was had for the extra guarding by eating many of the cattle in the course of the journey.
One elderly man, named [Jonathan] Stone, who had been much weakened by diarrhoea, went over the Platte bridge to avoid fording the river. He started up the northwest side of the river to meet and rejoin the company after it had crossed at the ford, about five miles further up. Weary and weak, he may have sat down to rest on the way, and have become benumbed with cold, or frozen to death. Be that as it may he was never seen again. But a portion of what was supposed to have been his body was afterwards found and brought into camp. I may here say that the evidence is strong that the last crossing of the Platte was effected on the 19th of October, instead of the 20th, which would make it both the day and the month on which the great Napoleon decided to vacate Russia and commence his disastrous retreat, forty-four years previously, which was then just twice the distance in time that this handcart expedition is now from us. That day, too, was the beginning of the most serious disasters of this handcart company.
In a former letter I stated that at Deer creek the baggage of the company was reduced to ten pounds per head, bedding included. The allowance previously was seventeen pounds per head. Here the altitude was nearly 4,900 feet above sea level.
I have said that the first camp of the company, after leaving the North Platte, was at Rocky avenue. The second was at Willow springs; the third at Greasewood creek; the fourth at Sweetwater bridge; the fifth at Devil's Gate fort, a short distance west of Devil's Gate; the sixth at Martin's ravine.
After receiving an extra ration of flour one night, one family, having made up their bread, found that it rose most promisingly. The good housewife, or tentwife, was in high spirits over it, anticipating a batch of bread that could not be found fault with, nor excelled in camp. When baked, it was the lightest and whitest bread they had made on the entire journey. Oh, it was most beautiful bread. But when they came to eat it, the flavor was extraordinary. They had never tasted anything like it before, and this is the way it came to happen so. Somehow or other, about half a pound of soap had fallen unnoticed off the hind part of the wagon bottom into the camp kettle and had frozen there. At night, when the kettle was rinsed out, the soap remained fast at the bottom, still unnoticed in the dark. The kettle, with water in it, and the soap also, was set on the fire to get hot. With most of this soapy water the bread was made, and very soapy was the taste thereof, but the family could not afford to go without a day's rations and throw the bread away. They were far too hungry for that. So it was eaten, every bit, with more or less wry face over it. Yet if it proved unhealthy the eaters never found it out. Contrary to the book that John the Revelator eat, this bread was bitter in the mouth, but sweet to the belly. Then the emigrants had been using snow water with a strong sage-brush flavor for culinary and drinking purposes, and had become accustomed to bitterness of taste.
Now I think of it, here is a useful hint for housewives who are troubled with heavy bread. If they would put half a pound of lively, energetic soap into a baking, the bread would be much improved as to lightness, but whether the flavor would be considered improved proportionately would depend upon the taste of the eaters. To the palates of some people probably it would not be pleasant; though sanitarily it might benefit their internal economy. This soap-rising made lighter and whiter bread than the orthodox American salt-rising, or than the standard yeast of the emigrants-a piece of sour dough with a pinch of saleratus or soda or baking powder. Anybody is welcome to this valuable recipe, thus accidentally discovered, like many other useful and happy devices and inventions. It is saddled with no restrictive and obnoxious and tribute-squeezing patent, and I charge nothing for making it known, as my life is largely devoted to the benefit and happiness of my fellow-man. If the flavor of soap-rising bread should prove too strong for very delicate palates, various practicable methods of agreeably disguising the peculiar flavor might be safely left to the ingenuity of the lady breadmakers.
Several other discoveries were made on the journey. The way to have a warm sleeping place was this-sweep away the ashes of the camp fire and lay your bed on the spot where the fire was built. You would be sure to sleep warm there, if anywhere. In the morning the same spot was found to be the most available for a graver use-it was the easiest place in which to dig a grave to bury the night's dead. No pun is here intended. The subject is too serious. Besides, the punning propensity is detestable. Thus, in this severe winter traveling and camping economy, the hearths served three separate, distinct, and important purposes.
In the beginning of the journey, the company paid more or less regard to the observance of Sunday, but in the latter part, as the hardships increased, there did not seem to be any Sundays. I can recollect none, excepting that on which the company arrived in this city.
In the early part of the journey and until the relief party was met, the camps were made in open situations, as a rule, with a special view to avoid, as much as possible, being surprised or ambushed by Indians. Afterward, sheltered spots were chosen, with a view to make the company as comfortable as possible in camp.
Worn down by the labors and fatigues of the journey, and pinched by hunger and cold, the manliness of tall, healthy, strong men would gradually disappear, until they would grow fretful, peevish, childish, and puerile, acting sometimes as if they were scarcely accountable beings. In the progress of the journey it was not difficult to tell who was going to die within two or three weeks. The gaunt form, hollow eyes, and sunken countenance, discolored to the weatherbeaten sallow, with the gradual weakening of the mental faculties, plainly foreboded the coming and not far distant dissolution, though the limbs and faces of some were swelled or bloated. Many whose lives were saved by their arrival in this valley, would have died as sure as fate if they had been subjected to two or three weeks more of exposure, fatigue and privation. Nothing could have save them. However, as a general thing, those came through in best condition who had strength and spirit to be most persistently active, for to sit down supinely and do nothing was to sit down and freeze and die.
To give a better idea of the nature of the latter half of the journey, I may say that the altitude of the Salt Lake above sea level is about 4,200 feet, that of the Temple block in the city about 100 feet higher. And that of Fort Laramie is about 100 feet lower. It may also be recollected that the whole of the winter part of this journey was performed at a much greater altitude, beginning at about 5,000 feet at the North Platte camp, where the relief express found the company, and never sinking so low again until in Emigration cañon, near this city, but rising until at Devil's Gate it was 6,000, near the three crossings of the Sweetwater about 7,000, at the South pass a little higher, from Green river to Bridger from about 6,200 to about 6,700, on Bear river about 6,800, in Echo cañon from about 6,000, and on the Big mountain about 7,245, with different ridges and summits which were passed over varying from over 7,000 to nearly 8,000.
A few more notes will conclude this strange eventful history.
(From this date on the camp journal was written with lead pencil which at this late day, Feb 25, 1926, can scarcely be read. It would appear that the ink used by the scribe had frozen, and the journal from now on only contained a few entries.
(Matagorda Bay the place from which this company of saints commenced their journey is <on the coast of the Gulf of Mexico> 86 miles southwest from Galveston, Texas.(Matagorda Bay the place from which this company of saints commenced their journey is <on the coast of the Gulf of Mexico> 86 miles southwest from Galveston, Texas.
[also in Journal History of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, 30 Nov. 1856, 38-43]