Bassett, Charles Henry, "Death and Burial on the Plains," [1-6].
Death and Burial on the Plains
Death is never a welcome guest[.] To deliver up to his icy arms a husband or wife, a father or mother, a son or daughter, is, indeed, a sore trial under any circumstances. Yet when the destroyer selects his victim from our home circle, we enjoy a degree of satisfaction in the privilege of depositing their bodies in the old church yard, near the graves of other departed kindred. It affords us consolation to visit their lonely resting places by the pale light of the moon, and mingle our tears with the evening dews, to plant sweet flowers over their tombs, or train the delicate vine up the marble slab that marks the hallowed spot where we have buried the cherished idols of our affections. But when the grim monster serves his imperious summons far away on the distant plain, far from the abode of civil[iz]ation, where not even a rough plank can be procured of which to make a rude coffin, or the necessary material to stitch together into the ordinary habiliments of the grave, it is then we feel the blow as doubly severe. My memory still retains in sad distinctness the death and burial of poor brother Sprouse, as we were journeying over the plains to the valley of the Great Salt Lake.
The shades of evening were quietly gathering around as our long train of covered wagons slowly rolled into camp on the banks of Wood river, which here makes a long bend, and sweeping around a low point, describes nearly a three quarter circle, and encloses a beautiful little valley, luxurant with grass and dotted with prairie flowers, affording rich grazing for our hungry cattle. We had experienced a hard days travel up the valley of the main Platte, subject to the broiling influences of the July sun. It was Friday evening and we were to remain in cam[p] until Monday morning. We hardly had time to dispose of our hurriedly prepared supper, before the sable curtains of night closed around us. A guard was detailed and we retired to rest.
Saturday was a pleasent day and all were early engaged[.] The men were burning a small coal pit and repairing wagons and yokes; the women were washing by the riverside and spreading there clothes on the willows to dry and the boys were watching the cattle that were turned out to graze. About the middle of the afternoon brother Joseph Sprouse was vio[l]ently attacked with a dreadful scourge[,] the cholera. I was immediatly sent for, and myself and others administered
Sunday morning was a delightful one. The majestic king of day, seated in his glowing car proudly arose to his diurnal course. The feathered warblers of the grove gaily tuned their musical throats in notes of welcome to the return of gentle morn. But our little company of pilgrim saints was in mourning. Our camp was encompassed in a shroud of quiet gloom. The destroyer was in our midst, our beloved brother had fallen a victom to his cruel tyranny. The angel of death plumed his sable wings over the camp of the saints.
A grave was prepared beneath the shade of a wide spreading ash that grew on the small natural mound near the banks of the river. About 10 o'clock the camp assembled to pay their last respects to the remains of our deceased brother. A rude bier was formed by placing on the ground two tent poles about three feet apart, and parellel with each other. Across these were laid small rods, cut of a proper length, and over all were placed willow boughs. The corps[e] was brought from the tent and placed on the bier, and was slowly born[e] to the grave, followed by a procession of sorrowing saints.
A large tree had [been] felled and cut the required length, and the bark peeled off in halves. One half was placed in the bottom of grave forming a sort of trough over which was spread a nice new blanket. The corps was next lowered and the blanket carefully wrapped around him. The remaining half of the bark was now placed over the body, forming an arching lid to the rude coffin. The green branches that had cofered [covered] the rustic bier were thrown into the grave which was soon filled with the damp mold, hiding from our sight all that was left of a fod [good] brother, a kind husband and devoted saint. A benediction was pronounced, and we returned sorrowing to camp.
The next morning before we broke up camp, I placed at the head of the grave a rough wooden slab, with this inscription, cut in regular characters, with my pocket knife. "J. S. 1852."
We moved early, and the heartbroken widow [Sarah Burney Sprouse] of the deceased lingered a few sad moments near the grave of her dead husband, and then turned her back upon the sacred spot forever.