Charlie [Charles H. Bassett], "Death and Burial on the Plains," St. Louis Luminary, 24 Feb. 1855, 54.
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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 abodes of civilization, where not even a rough plank can be procured of which to make 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 [Joseph] 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 large bend, and sweeping around a low point, describes nearly a three-quarter circle, and encloses a beautiful little valley, luxuriant with grass, and dotted with prairie flowers, affording rich grazing for our hungry cattle. We had experienced a hard day's travel up the valley of the main Platte, subject to the broiling influence of a July sun. It was Friday evening, and we were to remain in camp till 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 pleasant 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 river side, and spreading their 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 violently attacked with that dreadful scourge, the cholera. I was immediately sent for, and myself and others administered in the name of the Lord. But it seemed to do no good. He was certain that he would not recover, and did not in the least degree seem tenacious of life. He continued to grow worse till dark, though every means at our command were employed to baffle the power of the destroyer. I assisted in removing him from his wagon to a tent, and remained by his side till about eleven o'clock, when he ceased cramping and appeared to be quite easy. I now left him in kind hands, and wearily sought my bed. I was much exhausted with continual exertion, and soon fell into an uneasy slumber. I had been asleep but a few minutes when I was arouse by a wild cry of anguish, apparently near the front of my wagon. It was a female voice, and her frantic shrieks rang wildly out on the still night air. "Oh, brother Charlie do come quick, Joseph is dying." I sprang from my wagon and hurried to the tent of the dying man, which I reached just in time to witness his last struggle.
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 victim 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 a 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 parallel with each other. Across these were laid small rods, cut of a proper length; and over all were placed willow boughs. The corpse was brought from the tent and placed on the bier, and was slowly borne 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 the grave, forming a sort of trough, over which was spread a nice new blanket. The corpse was next lowered, and the blanket carefully wrapped around it. The remaining half of the bark was now placed over the body, forming an arching lid to this rude coffin. The green branches that had covered the rustic bier were thrown into the grave, which was soon filled with the damp mould, hiding from our sight all that was left of a fond 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 irregular characters, with my pocket knife-"J. S. 1852."
We moved early, and the heart-broken widow of the deceased lingered a few sad moments near the grave upon the sacred spot forever.
SPRINGFIELD, O., Feb. 6. 1855