Kunkel, Isabelle Price, to My Dear Nellie May, 6 Feb. 1922, 8-13.
Trail excerpt transcribed from "Pioneer History Collection" available at Pioneer Memorial Museum [Daughters of Utah Pioneers Museum], Salt Lake City, Utah. Some restrictions apply.
We were camped at old winter quarters for four weeks waiting for teams to arrive from Salt Lake to take us on the rest of our journey, but I think the rest we had at camp helped to give us strength for the remainder of our long tramp. About the first of August we started on our long journey across the plains. Our company consisted of fifty-two wagons and about sixty tents. I forget the exact number of people, but there were not so many wagons as was expected, so we were rather too crowded for comfort. There were fifteen people to each wagon and twelve to each tent, and by the time our trunks, bedding, and provisions were packed, there was no room for any one to ride, except the small children, of course—they had to ride.
Mother [Matilda] felt pretty bad at having to take strangers in with us, but there was a widow with three children, two little boys and a baby girl. Her husband died about a month before we left home. She had a brother in Utah and he had sent for her, so the Captain asked father [Edward] if he would take her in our wagon and we did so. She always slept in the wagon and our family in the tent, but o my! she would not walk a step, she just sat and brooded and fretted from morning 'till night until she lost all ambition for anything. She got so she had no strength or energy to take care of her children. If we had not cooked her meals and fed her babies, I fear they would have gone hungry. Once in a great while she made an effort to cook them a meal, but it seemed like she was glued to the wagon. I don't believe she would ever have attempted to crawl out, but I guess the poor soul was fretting for her husband most of the time. Her poor little baby died just for the want of a little care and exercise. It went when we were about half way here.
Our company was in charge of Horton Haight. He was a fine Captain, had been over the plains a number of times, so knew every mile of the way. He and two or three of his aides had horses. They would start out about half an hour before the wagon train, sometimes an hour before, and all those who could walk, men, women and children, would start at the same time. They did that so that they would be out of the dust of the train and could sit down and rest once in a while. There were not very many men walking ahead, for most of the men were driving the oxen; of course, there were some, but mostly elderly men and boys. In the first part of our journey I walked over two hundred miles, then my feet and limbs began to swell again so I had to ride and take care of baby Eli, but I always cooked our lunch so that mother could rest and be ready for a long afternoon walk. In all she walked over eight hundred miles.
We used to travel about fourteen or fifteen miles a day. It all depended on the best places to camp, where we could get water and feed for the cattle. We sometimes had to go as far as eighteen or nineteen miles before there was a good feeding place with lots of water; when we did it was ten or eleven o'clock at night before we made camp, almost too tired and weary to make down our beds, to say nothing about supper. But that did not happen very often—only five or six times in all the way. We often had very pleasant evenings. As a rule it was cool, and we did our cooking for the next day, and when not busy we had some singing and dancing.
George Careless, the professor, had come with the teams from Salt Lake to meet his mother, who was in our company; he brought his violin with him and did lots to break the monotony. He was always willing to play for those who want to dance. Then sometimes we would have to do a little washing of an evening, bathing, etc.
About once in ten days we used to camp for half a day, that was usually when we came to a river, or where there was plenty of water. We stopped in order to have a general wash and baking day. It was a big fine holiday for the men and boys, in fact for all the youngsters.
Once a group of us girls and boys took a walk to see what we could find. In the distance we saw a small clump of trees and they were something that we had not seen for some time, for we had only feasted our eyes on sage brush, sunflowers and dust. So of course we had to go out and look. Soon we saw something red in one of the trees. On looking to see what it was, we discovered that it was a dead Indian. He was wrapped very roughly in his blanket and tied securely to the branches of the tree. Beside him were his bow and arrows, and a tomahawk and some corn in a bag. Some of the children were scared and ran back, but the older ones investigated. We found a deserted log cabin, probably the home of the dead Indian.
Twice we saw a large herd of buffalo, not very far away either, and three or four times we camped near where there had been an Indian massacre, I suppose of some small company of people. There were stacks of ashes and pieces of wagons, spokes of wheels lying among half-burned and blackened cooking utensils.
The Captain said that the reason the Indians never attacked the Mormons was because we always traveled in large numbers.
The saddest thing that happened on our trip was the death of Sister John Holly. [Jolley] She and her husband and ten children left Scotland and took passage on the William Tapscot and were in our company across the plains. One day when we stopped for lunch she was taken very sick. She perhaps had been bad all day. She had a baby born and her life was the price. It happened to be one of the days when we had to make so many extra miles.
I will never forget those poor children when told that their mother was dead. I don't think the oldest one was more than sixteen years.
The Captain said that he would hold the train for one hour while they buried her. So she was laid away before she was cold. No coffin or box, just rolled in sheets. In less than one hour after giving birth to her babe, she was in the grave. All the camp was sad. I believe the babe died a week or so later. We reached Fort Laramie a few days after. We stayed over one day in order to replenish our stock of provisions, then we commenced our journey through the Rocky Mountains.
It was not near so hot but much more dangerous traveling. Sometimes mountains were so high on one side of the road that we could scarcely see the top and on the other side[.] it was fifty or a hundred feet deep into beautiful canyons. Usually a pure stream of water was running along the bottom to tantalize our parched throats. I used to often wonder how my father could find room to walk beside his oxen to drive them.
One night when we had to travel very late, one of the wagons slipped too near the lower side and went sliding down the precipice almost to the bottom of the mountains. There was a little girl in the wagon at the time named Ruth Jones. She was about fifteen; her leg was broken in two places. The oxen were not killed; the wagon was battered but was fixed up.
We crossed the Platte River five times, sometimes in the wagon but mostly on horseback. Those men who had horses to ride used to take the women and children over one or two at a time and go back and forth until all were over. I remember once or twice the water was so deep that the horses had to swim. And through all this my blessed little mother walked day after day in the hot sun and dusty roads with never a murmur of complaint. She was always at the camping place when the train of wagons arrived. If Lorenzo was with her, he would have wood gathered ready to make a fire for our supper, but one dark night we reached our camping place about ten o'clock and our mother was not there. No one seemed to know what had become of her. We inquired from one end of the camp to the other, finally we found someone who had been walking with her and she said that Mother had become so exhausted that she had sat down on the roadside to rest and wait for our wagons so that she could ride into camp. Those who had horses, together with Captain Haight, rode back to find her. She was almost dead when they brought her back to us. He[r] tongue was so swollen that it would not go into her mouth, she was so thirsty. She never heard the train pass; so I suppose that she had fainted, but she was all right in a few days again. Father would not let her walk so much after that and the swelling had nearly gone from my legs, so we used to take turns in walking.
The next water to cross was Sweetwater River, which was quite deep; we crossed at two different places.
We had met quite a number of Indians since entering the mountains. Whenever we camped for a half day a half dozen or less would come to beg or trade beads or something. After a while we came to Fort Bridger. We camped there a day and had our first meal of vegetables since leaving home, and my, our dinner did taste good!
During the day old Jim Bridger visited our camp. A fine old man he was, too.
Soon we came to Green River, which was our last river to cross.
A few days afterward we neared the end of our long journey. On Sunday morning we entered Emigration Canyon. We were met nine miles up the canyon by my sister Matilda and Brother George Bourne. Matilda was stopping at his house, and he brought her to the head of Emigration in a buggy. They just stayed with us long enough to greet us all. They picked up my mother and took her ahead of us to the city.
It was Sunday, the 19th of October, when we arrived in Salt Lake City, just five months and five days from the day we left home.