J[aques], J[ohn], "Some Reminiscences," Salt Lake Daily Herald, 19 Jan. 1879, 1.
- Related Companies
- Edward Martin Company (1856)
SALT LAKE CITY, Jan. 18th, 1879
The grand mistake in the management of the fifth company of handcart emigrants in 1856 was the lateness of the start on the handcart portion of the journey, throwing the last third of the same into a semi arctic winter and thereby causing the expedition to be one of the most painful, disastrous, and costly character. The entire journey, by sea and land, lasted six months. Now the emigrants are brought the whole distance by steam in half that number of weeks, and still some of them think it a hard and trying journey, when in fact it is a mere nothing, except a pleasure trip, compared with the sharp experiences I have been narrating in these papers.
The company left the mild and mellow and equable climate of England in the merry month of May, passed the pleasant month of June on the cool Atlantic ocean, the fierce heats of an American July in riding from Boston to Iowa city and in waiting in camp near the latter place, and the sweltering sultriness of August in pulling the handcarts from Iowa city to Florence. Many were greatly prostrated in the Iowa camp, because unacclimated and unaccustomed to the great heat. In starting from Iowa city with the handcarts and dragging them over the sandy roads, it seemed like pulling the very pluck out of one, the pluck physical and corporeal. The pluck mental remained with the company much the same to the last. The carts were poor ones, with wooden axles, leather boxes, and light iron tires, and the squeaking of the wheels, through lack of sufficient grease could often be "heard a mile."
To many people walking several miles a day is pleasant and invigorating exercise, but to others to be obliged to walk such a distance daily is purgatory and is destructive to happiness and health. George P. Waugh, veteran soldier as he was, though on shipboard as lively as a cricket, in the latter part of the land journey failed gradually and rapidly until he died on Canon [Canyon] creek. Walking daily and pulling a heavily laden handcart ten to twenty miles or more, not over the magnificent macadamized roads of western Europe, nor in the gentle and invigorating climate of England, but over the no roads and sand hills and rocky hills and sagebrush hillocks and rugged mountains and through the creeks and rivers of western America, proved sure and certain death to a large proportion of the emigrants. This company had not only all this to do through the roasting heats of July and August, but it had to do it afterward, with insufficient food, yea, on famine rations, with every scanty clothing and bedding and worn out shoes, at great altitudes, in a climate of exceptional severity, in an unusually early and piercingly sharp winter for a frigid zone character, and with the members of the company decimated by disease and death and all were down with fatigue and privation, until a sufficiency of relief wagons was met, so that all could ride and none need longer walk. But the mischief was done then, notwithstanding it was a happy deliverance at last to the survivors of the company.
Nevertheless, some people apparently did not realize the exigencies of the situation in which this unfortunate company was placed. After its arrival in this city, one prominent person, who had crossed the plains the same year, asked one of the emigrants the strange and inappreciative question whether he had really suffered much through want on the journey. What a question to ask in such a connection!
To all, the journey, with its great and incessant toils, its wearing hardships, and wasting privations, was a hard and bitter experience, wholly unanticipated. But to many, and especially to women and children who had been delicately brought up and tenderly cared for, and who had never known want nor been subject to hardships previously, as well as to the weakly and elderly of both sexes, it was cruel to a degree far beyond the power of language to express, and the more so for the reason that the worst parts of the experience were entirely unnecessary, because avoidable by timely measures and more sagacious management.
In all such journeys there should be a reasonable sufficiency and variety of food to maintain health and strength. The object should be not to see how much a man can endure and live and drag through the journey, but how things can be arranged so that he can accomplish the journey with reasonable economy, and at the same time with as little hardship as can be so as to have no unnecessary expenditure of vitality and no loss of good feeling, if possible to help it. No traveling company should be wearied or harassed and tormented with needlessly frequent and lengthy public meetings. Nor would it add to the efficiency or happiness of the emigrants to be preached to death. At nights, rest and refreshment are what such a company needs, and the recruitment of its energies and spirits should be a matter of the greatest care. For a man to draw his handcart and his own baggage is bad enough, but for him to draw the effects of five or six others, and perhaps draw one of his family, also, is a killing business.
There are people who believe in doing every disagreeable and painful penance and in suffering horrible self torture, but there seems to me to be a great deal more sense in trying to pass through the world with all reasonable comfort consistent with the performance of duty. There is plenty of annoyance, hardship and suffering unavoidable, without any needless increase of the same. Amelioration of one's condition should rather be a constant study. If we must walk through this vale of tears with peas in our shoes, whether all or part of our allotted time, we need not have the peas raw and hard. We need not parch them and make them harder. We may just as well take the liberty to boil our peas and keep them as soft as we comfortable can, so as to make our walking as easy as possible.
The question may be asked, whom do I blame for the misadventures herein related. I blame nobody. I am not anxious to blame anybody. I am not writing for the purpose of blaming anybody, but to fill up a blank page of history with matters of much interest. I may say that notwithstanding the serious misfortunes of this company, I have no doubt that those who had to do with its management meant well, and tried, to do the best they could under the circumstances. Captain [Edward] Martin and his assistant, D. [Daniel] Tyler, were very active, careful and vigilant all the way and especially where the exercise of those qualities was most required of them in the earlier part of the land journey and before any relief was obtained.
A most commendable spirit of liberality was manifested by the residents of this valley, not only in hospitable and kindly attention to the emigrants after their arrival here, but in making donations of provisions and clothing and in sending hundreds of wagons, with horse, mule, and ox teams, to the relief of the snowed-up and winter bound company. Too much can hardly be said of the self-denying exposure, privations, and labors of those who went with the teams from this city to help the emigrants along. Everybody who went out to meet the company, or who contributed anything to relive it, might pardonably wish his or her name inserted herein to that effect. But if so, and if I and you were anxious to accommodate all such, how could I find the time or you the space for this friendly detailed acknowledgement. I may say that I am told that the "boys" who waded the Sweetwater and carried the women and children across were D. P. Kimball, George W. Grant, Stephen W. Taylor, and C. A. Huntington.
On the 18th of October Governor B. Young, H. C. Kimball, J. M. Grant, D. H. Wells, J. Ferguson, L. Smith, J. Tobin, J. M. Barlow, and others left this city to visit the Shoshones near Forts Bridger and Supply and Green River crossing, and to cheer the hearts of the emigrants. But on the morning of October 15th, while encamped on East Canon [Canyon] creek, Governor Young was so suddenly seized with a severe attack of illness that it was deemed inadvisable for him to proceed further, and he returned to the city in the evening.
This is the first time that the story of this handcart expedition has been written from beginning to end, so far as I know. It was not done before, partly for the reason that, for years after the journey was made, nobody wished to say or hear much about it, and those who were in the company cared to remember little of it. The affair was one of those disagreeable things, like some hateful dream, or dreadful vision, or horrible nightmare, that people seem indisposed to refer to but rather tacitly agree to forget, as much as possible, at least for a time. But the lapse of years has calloused the early sensitiveness in the matter, and the narration now may not be without its uses, although I am aware it is imperfect. In making this narration, I have done it with a desire to present a trustworthy statement, so far as I could, speaking of things as they were, with nothing extenuated nor aught set down in malice.
In conclusion, I have a benevolent suggestion to offer. I may be blamed for it by some persons, but I cannot help that. Namby-pamby sycophancy may deem the suggestion rashly presumptuous. So perhaps in self-defence I ought to say, beforehand, that I, who for weeks together stood face to face with Death in the repulsive aspects outlined in these papers, who witnessed his victories daily under heart-rending circumstances, who saw those near and dear to me succumb to his attacks under such circumstances and fall helpless victims to his all-conquering power, and who at that time would scarcely have cared the toss of a button to avoid a decisive wrestle with the grim monster myself, can hardly be expected to be exactly the sort of man to feel greatly disposed to adopt the weak and supple methods of spineless people, or to sympathize with a spirit akin to that of "this soft and pliant willow, Damocles." Besides, it seems to me nothing but right that somebody should speak a long delayed word in favor of these sadly afflicted emigrants. Therefore do I make bold to present the suggestion, let it please or offend whom it may, though none will have just cause to be offended, and all ought to be pleased with it, for, if adopted, as it undoubtedly ought to be, it will injure nobody, but may benefit many. The suggestion is this: It whould be entirely proper for the president of the Perpetual Emigration Fund company and his assistants to be asked to freely and fully cancel the indebtedness for passage, if any remains, of every member of this unfortunate and sorely tried emigrant company, and it would be a righteous, beneficent and graceful act for those gentlemen to readily accede to such a request. For if anybody ever worked his passage, to the uttermost farthing, these poor emigrants did. They paid not only the principal, but the interest also, with the latter rigorously compounded. They paid it in the hardest and most precious and most costly coin—by enduring daily hard labor, wasting fatigue, and pinching privations, by passing though untold hardships, by suffering cold and hunger, wretchedness and starvation, nakedness and famine, by frozen limbs and injured health and broken constitutions and many by giving their earthly all. Most of them lost old and valued friends and near relatives, and not a few sacrificed their own lives. In this most painful and most rigorous manner did these poor creatures pay dearly for the privilege of being brought over land and sea. Methinks that even stern Justice herself, inflexibly rigid and relentlessly exacting as she is, if she were to speak, would say, with no uncertain voice, that they had paid enough, and much more than enough.
All things earthly have an end. So must these handcart papers, and this is the last of them.
[also in Journal History of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, 30 Nov. 1856, 48-53]