Josiah Rogerson, "Tells Story of Trials of the Handcart Pioneers," Salt Lake Tribune, 30 November 1913, 11.
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This will not be a romance, but the truthful narrative of the travelings, hardships, sufferings and privations of one of the most devoted band of Christians that ever knelt in prayer and worship.
I shall give in this article only a few of the main facts of the travels of [Edward] Martin's and [James] Willie's companies, and these are intended mainly for the veterans of those companies still living, their children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren.
From 1845 to 1855 the European converts had written to President Young, President Woodruff, President Kimball and Willard Richards importuning, begging and pleading that the heads of the church in Utah would in some way or in any way assist them to emigrate to the valleys of the mountains. No matter how they could be assisted, whether to come with ox teams or horse teams, or come on foot and carry their blankets on their backs, they begged and persisted to be permitted to come as soon as possible.
A Prophetic Dream.
President Young from early in 1854 to 1855 with his counsel took these pleadings in earnest consideration, and in the fall of 1855, after suggestions from his counsel, they were impressed with the feasibility of the handcart scheme if a sufficient number of wagons were furnished each company to carry their flour and other provisions.
I have at hand a brief but truthful narrative of the first inception of the handcart plan.
Brother A. Galloway of St. Charles, Idaho, under date of June 7, 1897, wrote: "In the latter part of May, 1855, Edmund Ellsworth (who was on a mission) and I were laboring in the Herefordshire conference. At that time we stayed at the home of Brother Powell, near to Abergavenny, Monmouthshire. Early in the morning Brother Ellsworth said, 'Brother Galloway, are you awake?' I answered, 'Yes.' Brother Ellsworth said: 'I have had a peculiar dream during the night. It has been repeated to me three separate times. Would you like me to repeat it to you?' I answered 'Yes.' He said: 'I dreamed I was at home in Salt Lake City, Utah, and went to the president's, Brigham Young's, office. I saw President Young. He said. "Why Edmund, we have just been talking about you. We are thinking of having a company of saints cross the plains with handcarts next year. We would like you to take charge of the company. Will you do it?" I said, 'If you say so, I will.' He asked me: 'What do you think of the dream?' I answered, 'Well, I think it is more than a common dream. I would write it in your journal and see what comes of it.'
"When we got to the conference house he wrote it and read it to my wife and me. About six weeks after that we were again together at the conference house. A letter was there for Brother Ellsworth from President Young. When Brother Ellsworth had read the letter, he got his journal and handed me the letter. He read from his journal what he had written and then handed me his journal to compare with the letter; they were alike word for word.
" 'Well, Brother Galloway, what do you say about crossing the plains with a handcart?' he said. I replied: 'There is a motto of a highland clan which is my answer: "What other men dare, we can do, the Lord helping us." ' Then he turned to my wife, 'Well, Sister Galloway, what do you say?' 'I will follow my husband.' 'Then I will enter your names as the first volunteers.'
"This took place in Aberoychan, Scotland, the last of June or early in July, 1855. We then commenced to talk handcart emigration. Early in December, 1855, I received a letter from Liverpool to hunt up what was left of the United brethren, for them to go with the first handcart company that would leave Liverpool some time in March, 1856. Sixty of us left for Liverpool with over 500 on the ship 'Enoch Train;' for Boston, Mass.
The first and pioneer company of handcarts in charge of Edmund Ellsworth, was met at the foot of the Little mountain by President Brigham Young and the leading authorities of the church. Henceforward President Young and others walked at the head of the pioneer company until the arrival in Salt Lake City early in the afternoon of September 26, 1856. Thus the dream was literally fulfilled.
My wife walked all the way and helped to pull our handcart for nearly 1500 miles. Such is my knowledge of the handcart origin.
The foregoing is simply a preface and an answer to many inquiries that have been put to the writer for several years past as to why President Brigham Young ever inaugurated such an experiment as the handcart companies with the appalling losses of life that resulted. It can only be truthfully answered by the statement that we started three or four weeks too late, and the storms came down three or four weeks earlier than usual. Fifty-seven years ago, when every member of our company that had survived the hardships of 375 miles in the snow landed in Main street in Salt Lake, from President Young's monument to Fifth and Sixth South the snow was two or three feet deep. Main street today is clear of any snow whatever.
Now for a few correct dates of our journey:
The members of our company and of the [John] Hunt's and [William] Hodgett's wagon companies left Liverpool Sunday morning, May 25, 1856, and on Monday, June 30, we were towed into the dock at Boston.
July 2 we took the cars from Boston to Albany, passing through Buffalo on the glorious Fourth of July.
We reached Cleveland, Ohio, on the 5th, passing Kirtland with its temple in the night.
Sunday evening, July 6, we arrived at Chicago, Ill., where we stayed all night.
Monday, July 7, we left Chicago early in the morning and arrived at Rock Island in the evening.
Tuesday, July 8, we crossed the Mississippi by a ferryboat and then took the cars from Davenport for Iowa City, reaching there the same evening.
Wednesday, July 9, we were employed in unloading and hauling our luggage to the camping ground on "Iowa hill," three and one-half miles northwest of Iowa City, Ia., the outfitting point for that year's Mormon emigration.
At Iowa City flour was $3.50 per hundred; corn meal $1.50 to $2.50, and bacon 5 to 10 cents per pound.
On the 10th or 12th of July, Captain [James] Willie's company left the camp ground via Council Bluffs for Salt Lake.
On Saturday, July 26, [Edward] Martin's company left this camping ground with 400 men, women and children, and we reached Council Bluffs on August 21 and went up near the ferry over the Missouri and camped on Pigeon creek.
August 22 we were ferried across the Missouri and made camp close to and below the old Mormon sawmill or winter quarters near Florence, Neb., and here some 200 members of Captain Toone's company that had preceded us from Iowa hill about a week before, joined and were blended with our company, making the total some 622 men, women and children.
Five days after this, Wednesday, August 27, Captain John A. Hunt's wagon company passed through Council Bluffs. We rested in the camp ground near the old Mormon sawmill three full days, and after a very remarkable meeting of all the members of our company and being informed fully by President Franklin D. Richards of the possibility of our encountering snowstorms before we should reach Salt Lake, and that we were then three weeks or a month late in starting from there to make the 1031 miles journey to Salt Lake, we all consented with uplifted hands to go on and take the risks.
Undaunted by Risks.
Monday, August 25, we started from the camp near Florence and pulled up the hill three miles and camped for the night.
On Friday, August 29, we crossed the Elk Horn.
Saturday, September 6, we passed more than 1100 of the Pawnee tribe of Indians who were going eastward.
Sunday, September 7, traveled sixteen miles, and just after we camped President Franklin D. Richards and fifteen or twenty returning missionaries overtook us.
Monday, September 16, we passed Fort Kearney. One very commendable fact has been omitted in all the sketches heretofore written and it deserves special record and credit.
The father of Dr. George W. Middleton, the physician and surgeon, now residing in Salt Lake, and his grandfather were in charge of one of the provision wagons of [Edward] Martin's handcart company with three yoke of oxen, and from Fort Kearney to Laramie and up to the time this ill-fated company became snowbound at the Devil's Gate, the father and grandfather of Dr. [George] Middleton would pick up the children that were walking with their mothers and take others from the arms of their parents and put them in their wagon. The fatherly and kindly solicitude characteristic of the grandfather and his son deserves all praise.
Wednesday, October 8, we camped in sight of Fort Laramie, leaving Fort Laramie on the evening of October 9.
From this time on, [John] Hunt's and [William] Hodgett's wagon companies kept close behind or a short distance ahead of us all the way to the South pass.
Sunday morning, October 19, we left Deer creek and in the afternoon and evening crossed the North Platte, where the two wagon companies assisted us greatly in getting across.
For the next four days the snow fell almost continuously, blowing in our faces nearly all the way until we got to the Red Bluffs, where we stopped four days. At this camp, when the snow was from one to two feet deep, Joseph A. Young, Dan Jones and Abe Garr came to us and told us that we would have to go on some thirty miles farther west, where we would meet ten wagons from Utah with provisions and other supplies.
Sunday, November 2, we camped at the Devil's Gate, snow deep and very cold, and while snowbound here several, of the most prominent members of the relief party from Salt Lake, that had crossed the plains ten or fifteen times during the period from '48 to '56, remarked that they had never seen a company of the Mormon people in such a pitiable plight or condition, and their hearts were filled with gloom and some doubt as to our being able to be extricated and brought through to Utah that winter.
November 4 we went across the Sweetwater and went up into what was called Martin's Cove, where there were plenty of good cedars and pines, and here we camped three or four days.
Sunday, November 23, we camped close to the old fort at Fort Bridger, Wyoming, and it was one of the coldest and most severe nights that we experienced on the whole journey.
Monday, November 24, we camped on the Muddy, eighteen miles west of Bridger.
Tuesday, November 25, we camped on Bear river.
Wednesday, November 26, we camped in the head of Echo canyon.
Thursday, November 27, we camped on the east side of the Weber river, just below the mouth of Echo canyon.
Friday, November 28, came up East Canyon creek and camped in Quaking Asp Grove.
Saturday, November 29, crossed the Big mountain, snow falling fast; passed over the Little mountain, and camped in the head of Emigration canyon.
The Journey's End.
Sunday, November 30—Started early this morning and arrived in Salt Lake a little before noon, with all the handcart company and several families from [John] Hunt's and [William] Hodgett's two wagon companies, but the last of the members of the two wagon companies did not reach Salt Lake until the 15th or 16th of December.
The first handcart company of 1856 left Iowa City June 23 and arrived in Salt Lake October 2.
[James] Willie's company, the fourth company arrived in Salt Lake November 9, and [Edward] Martin's handcart company on November 30.
[Edmund] Ellsworth's and Dan McArthur's arrived in October, a few days after the first company.
In 1857 Christianson's handcart company arrived in Salt Lake, Sunday, September 13.
Saturday, September 12, the last of Israel Evan's handcart company, consisting of 154 souls and thirty-one handcarts, arrived in Salt Lake City.
No handcart companies came through in 1858, but in 1859 George Rowley's handcart company arrived in Salt Lake on Sunday, September 4.
In 1860 Daniel Robinson's handcart company, the first in this year, arrived in Salt Lake Monday, August 27, and on Monday, September 24, the second handcart company arrived in Salt Lake in charge of Oscar O. Stoddard. These were the last companies that crossed the plains with handcarts.
As to Captain [James] Willie's company, we have been favored with the only journal that he wrote of his company's journey.
He says his company consisted of 500 persons, 120 handcarts and six wagons. Sixty-six died on the journey, mostly between Fort Kearney and Fort Bridger, through scarcity of provisions, cold and over-exertion in the mountains and snow.
From the time they left Florence, Neb., August 19, until they passed Fort Kearney, they made good headway, but possibly through the lack of vigilance on the part of one or two of the night guard, on the night of the 4th of September, and 263 miles west of Florence, fifteen yoke of their oxen were missing. These oxen had been pulling the provisions, and to this day it is believed beyond all doubt that they were stolen from the herd by half-breed Indians and squawmen.
The trusty guardian of the temple entrance, John Y. Smith, and another fearless member of the company, were selected on the morning of the 4th of September to go in quest of the missing oxen, and this was fifteen miles west of Fort Kearney, when the United States troops and the Cheyennes were at war with each other early and late, and where Thomas Margetts and Almon W. Babbitt and others had been massacred by the Cheyenne Indians a few days before. [John] Smith and his companion went as requested, in search of the oxen, going off the road to sleep at nights, but finding no clew to the whereabouts of the stock. With their blankets on their backs, they returned on the 6th, and rejoined their company.
The Death List.
This great loss of the draft oxen impeded the progress of the company, as the flour and other provisions had to be taken out of the wagons and loaded on to the carts and pulled by the members of the company. This retarded the arrival of the company in Salt Lake and, but for their loss, they would have arrived here on November 1 instead of a week later.
As to the loss of life, several of the most intelligent members of the [Edward] Martin company asserted that ever half the members of the company had been lost.
We took this matter up in the historian's office here and spent at least one month, with the assistance of the late A. M. Musser and Andrew Jensen, on this point, and after getting the names, as nearly as possible, of those who did arrive in Salt Lake in the relief wagons fifty-seven years ago Sunday, November 30, by diligent inquiry and careful investigation we fixed the actual loss of lives as between 135 and, possibly, 150. Taking into consideration that we were the last company of that season and that we had three veterans of Waterloo, between 75 and 80 years of age, and some members who had been in the Queen's Life Guards in London and Scotland, and considering that more than half of our 623 members were from 35 to 55 years of age, it is hardly to be wondered at that our loss was so great. Had the heavens been as propitious as they have been this fall , we should not have buried over fifty during the whole journey and they would have been the oldest of our company.
Leaving Fort Laramie (or its proximity) on the morning of October 9, we made camp at Deer Creek on Saturday, October 18, having made 125 miles in the last nine days; but little did we dream that we were nearing our "Valley Forge," our death rate began to increase nightly.
Here we took from our cart sacks which we had brought from all parts of Great Britain, every souvenir and present and every bit of clothing that was not necessary for every-day wear and warmth and burned them on this Indian meadow camp ground, one of the most beautiful camp grounds on the whole journey.
[John] Hunt's and [William] Hodgett's two wagon companies were in close proximity to our camp this evening, but we got a good start and got to the fatal crossing of the North Platte by 2 or 3 o'clock in the afternoon, and with their unlimited and kind assistance we were all across by 4 o'clock in the afternoon. Some of the wagons and the families remained on the south side till the next morning, but our [Edward] Martin's company, after getting a bite of supper and a tin cup of warm tea (for the evening commenced to be very cold), moved up the north side of the North Platte two or three miles, where the Cottonwoods and willows were more plentiful. Soon after getting in our tents the snow commenced to fall and by midnight was five to six inched deep.
Crossing the Platte.
The crossing of the North Platte was fraught with more fatalities than any other incident of the entire journey. Here we shall record for the benefit of the children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren of the veterans one or two more paragraphs that have never before been printed.
This was the old Oregon and California crossing, and at this point several members of President Brigham Young's pioneer company built a ferryboat and ferried numbers of Oregon emigrants across the river, which in the months of September and October is not less than 100 to 150 yards wide with a rocky bed and a goodly supply of boulders as smooth as alabaster.
Several of the male members of our company, who had pulled their carts over 1000 miles, when they neared the south side of the stream were stricken with fear and quailed, and had to be put into the wagons, the younger ones pulling the carts across.
More than a score or two of the young female members of our company waded the stream that in many places was waist deep and deeper; and if they unfortunately stepped off one of the smooth boulders, they found the water a foot deeper. Blocks of mushy snow and ice had to be dodged in many instances by the wader, with the sad information that the snow had already fallen farther up the Platte and its tributaries, through which we had to pass before reaching the Sweetwater.
The results of the wading of this stream by the female members of our company was immediately followed by partial and temporary dementia, from which several did not recover till the next spring. The writer has been able to find but one diary that was continually kept by any member of the company after this fatal event, and even the historian, John Jacques, stopped his diary at this point.
Enough regarding the fatalities.
In conclusion, I will only add that I never could find words ample and sufficient to express thanks and gratitude to the veterans of the relief party and rescuers sent out by President Brigham Young from Utah.
[also in Journal History of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, 30 Nov. 1856, 3-5]