Josiah Rogerson, "Martin's Handcart Company, 1856," Salt Lake Herald-Republican, 17 November 1907, 14.
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My last chapter concluded with the death of Aaron Jackson and the first snowfall on the North Platte river.
Returning to my tent from the night’s guarding I found there in one of the most touching pictures of grief and bereavement in the annals of our journey. Mrs. Jackson, apparently but just awakened from her slumber, was sitting by the side of her dead husband; her face suffused in tears, and between her bursts of grief and wales of sorrow, would wring her hands and tear her beautiful head of hair; her children blending their cries of “Father” with that of the mother. This was love; this was affection; grief of the heart and bereavement, the like of which I have never seen since, and would have immortalized any artist by its faithful portraiture, a counterpart of the death scene of Minnehaha. Aaron’s demise was not the only one by a half dozen that night but I am writing only what I saw and know.
At midnight the snow was four or five inches deep, and some more fell before daylight. It was a wet, heavy snow, and the striking of our tents this morning was hard work. Brother [James Godson] Bleak’s Journal for today, Monday. October 20, is blank, and the same on Tuesday, October 21, and the 22d. and while his memory says we were snowbound these three days, I must for the first time kindly differ with him, as it is sixteen miles from the crossing of the North Platte to the Red Buttes, which we reached on Thursday, October 23, 1856.
The morning after the first snow, October 20, I remember well our traveling and that the wind blew and the snow fell and beat in our faces all the time while making only four or five miles. As we tugged and pulled our carts the snow stuck and rolled up on the tires two and three inches deep, the ground having been quite dry before the snow fell. While it thawed some today as the snow fell, it must have been six or eight inches deep this afternoon when we camped.
The next day, Tuesday, October 21, we made another four or five miles with the wind and snow falling and beating in our faces, and on
Wednesday, October 22, I do not remember traveling, as the last two days’ pulling in the snow had wilted and downed the best and strongest of our company.
On the next day, Thursday, October 23, Brother Bleak says, “traveled five miles today, reaching the Red Buttes, where we camped for the night.” I have talked with numbers of our company since then as to the last four days and the least distance computed from our memories and traveled, has been forty miles, though only in fact, sixteen but they were the longest forty miles we ever covered.
Tonight, or the next morning, Captain Martin must have taken an inventory of the physical condition of his company, and realizing our predicament, with the snow clouds still hanging around us, he must have decided not to place any more miles between us and the fort, near the Platte bridge, and the nearest source of supplies, if perchance we should be compelled to remain here for the winter.
True to their promise of assistance and protection, since leaving Florence, Neb., Hunt’s and Hodgett’s wagon companies would not pass or leave us, and according to General Robert T. Burton’s journal, which will be blended with my narrative from now on to the close, these two companies were camped only a mile or two east of ours, on the North Platte, and to the end. Before General Burton’s advance express reaches us here, Brother Bleak’s diary must come in again. He says:
“Friday. October 24—In camp; snowbound; no travel.
“Saturday, October 25—The same as yesterday, but this morning our rations were again reduced to eight ounces of flour for adults and four ounces for children.
“Sunday, October 26—In camp.”
I must now come in with a paragraph or two from memory. The weather, at night particularly, had been very cold since we stopped here on the evening of the 23d. with six to eight and more deaths every twenty-four hours. The aged and worn-out seemed in an hour or two to relinquish all their desire for life, passing away like an infant in slumber.
On the Sunday morning, just quoted, the sun broke through the clouds at intervals, shedding a few rays of warmth on the uncovered heads of the company as we stood in the snow, about 8 or 9 a.m., at our prayer meeting, and immediately after the supplication, Brother [John] Rodwell announced that during the night or early morning he had a very impressive dream, presaging the future of our company.
He said: “I dreamed that it was Tuesday or Wednesday, and about noontide, as near as I could judge. I saw a mule, packed with blankets and cooking utensils, come right in the middle of our camp, as we are now, followed by three Californians, wear[ing] blue soldier overcoats, riding mules or horses. They stopped and told us of teams and relief from the valley, after which we started again on our journey.” Closed with a few more words that he believed we should all see this dream come true, and we felt then, and every member in that snow-bound dream come true, and we felt then, and every member in that snow-bound camp, every word of that vision.
Today passed, and the weather seemed to abate in its severity. Monday passed, and the dream, as yesterday, was the theme of the camp. Tuesday morning came. Prayer meeting was called with remarks of hope, comfort and cheer. One meager bite for breakfast over, the sun shone again a few minutes at a time, as on the Sunday referred to, and noontide was approaching, when all of a sudden the stillness of the camp was broken by shout of joy and gladness; the mule was in camp, the mute messenger of relief and life was there, motionless and tame as a Shetland pony, surrounded by a score of women and aged men, all in tears, and several of our mothers’ arms around his neck. God was praised and the heavens were thanked. We saw all this, and we had been looking for it for three days. After a few minutes of this frantic joy in rode our rescuers, Joseph A. Young, Dan Jones and Abe Garr. Hand shaking, thanks and praises followed for some time, and if there was a dry cheek in that company it wasn’t in the three of the relief express. Immediately a meeting was called, the news and particulars of the whereabouts of the relief teams from the valley made known; a pound of flour per head ordered to be issued to every adult, and a proportionate amount for the children, and the balance of the day was spent in cooking, baking and getting ready for another start in the morning to reach some eight or ten of the mule and horse relief teams, forty-five miles west of us, near the first crossing of the Sweetwater and a few miles east of Devil’s Gate.
The pessimist and doubtful may think of the dream as they choose, but I have recorded it as truthfully as it can be narrated. Before leaving here I have two more entries from the diary to record:
“Monday, Oct. 27.—In camp at the Red Buttes.
“Tuesday, Oct. 28.—In camp. Were met by Joseph A. Young and others.”
Recorder Bleak further says: “As told the ‘brethren’ from Utah by Captain Martin that fifty-six members of our company had died up to the time that we were met here today (since leaving Florence, Neb., a distance of 650 miles).”
We remained here five days and six nights, and a column of interesting incidents and detail could be added as to our stay here, the depletion of our ranks, scarcity of food and fuel—the latter consisting of only green, small willows and small Platte thorns—and the burial of our dead, but the writer prefers to leave all this to be read as a coroliary between the lines. The late historian, John Jaques, has it that we stayed here eight or ten days, but Brother Bleak’s diary is confirmed by the relief party’s journal. Several of our oxen died here out of the twelve yoke, and numbers out of the two wagon companies. The captains and many members of the companies came to visit us daily.
One more incident, which resulted in the death of one of our company, and the life of the second only saved by a hair, and then to General R. T. Burton’s relief journal.
We had been camped at the Red Buttes bust two or three days when the writer was detailed to go across the North Platte river, apparently on the southeast of our camp, with a man from the north of England, fully six feet in height, and a widower with one or two boys in his family. We were to look up the oxen and loose cattle belonging to our camp, and as many more as we might find belonging to the wagon companies. The snow in this direction on the hills had melted faster than around our camp since we stopped, and the cattle had rambled here for bare ground and feed. This being a joint service that day for the benefit of the two wagon companies, as well as our handcart company, a young man was sent from one of their company to carry us across the river horseback, the river in its bed forming two or three divisions, and one too deep to wade. The men and I were carried across soon after breakfast in the morning, and closely following, in our trail a Danish Mormon from one of the wagon companies in search of one, or his last, cow, that he found in a few miles from the river. The two of us continued our search for the oxen as far as we were able, and early in the afternoon, having found twenty or thirty head, turned them back to the river, leaving them close to some feed and cottonwood browsing.
Getting along towards sundown, we reached the place where the Danish brother had killed the cow, and, as we remember, was strapping and tying on his horse the last quarter at the skirt of a thick grove of cottonwoods and close to the river. He had just finished his meal of broiled meat and leaving us a good slice, we broiled and ate it for our supper. Then the night commenced to close in while we were looking and watching and waiting for our young friend to come from the wagon company, as he had promised, and carry us back across the river. It became dark, but no man with the horse, and soon the sharp bark and yelping of Platte wolves was the only sound that came to our ears. We turned and saw their red eyes sparkling and glistening in the moonlight between the trees, the river in front of us, the pack smelling the offal, head and hide left of the cow, ravenous for the feast, behind us. Jumping to my feet I called for him to come on, and as we made for the divisions of the river the wolves made for the remainder of the carcass. One division was waded and crossed with safety. Making for the second, the man following, I was soon carried off by [my] feet, but by struggling reached a sandbar. Another yell of the wolves at their feast, and preferring drowning to being eaten alive, frantic with fear and chilled to the marrow, I plunged into the third division, but was soon off my feet again, with ice and snow around me. Catching a glimpse of a low place in the bank, where we had come down in the morning, I made a last attempt at swimming, and grasping some willow or cottonwood roots that reached out in the water, pulled myself to shore. I was too nearly frozen to look back for my companion; my clothing was filled with snow and ice water. Freezing, I found the trail to our camp by moonlight. Reaching to tent, mother soon had me wrapped in a blanket and buffalo robe, with a strong cup of cayenne tea for supper. I was around again by noon the next day. The man with we managed to get across the river, but how will never be known, for after reaching the bank he lost his way among the willows and thorns that night for some time (as I was informed), only reaching camp late at night, and died that evening or the next day.
So much for the broken promise of the young man, who succeeded in getting through to Salt Lake the same fall, but taking a bath in the Jordan the next summer he was drowned.
Now for General Burton’s journal, verbatim:
“General Robert T. Burton’s camp journal. (Rescuing and) relief train, Captain George D. Grant, to help the emigrants. 1856.”
Tuesday, October 7, 1856, left Salt Lake City, going east to meet the belated emigration companies.
We camped tonight at the foot of the Big mountain.
Wednesday, October 8, passed over the Big mountain and camped in East canyon. Had a light snowstorm.
Tuesday [Thursday], October 9, had good roads; camped in Echo canyon.
Friday, October 10, camped near a little grove at the head of Echo.
Saturday, October 11, traveled down the “Old Pioneer road;” camped tonight at a big hollow; good feed and water.
Sunday, October 12, arrived at Fort Bridger; left some of our flour, feed, etc., at this place; got some beef, etc., camped here tonight.
Monday, October 13, left Fort Bridger; camped tonight on Black’s fork; met Brothers Smoot, Dan Jones and others; some teams returning that had been back on the road; got tired of waiting.
Tuesday, October 14, Brother Smoot returned with us to meet his son; camped tonight on Black’s forg [Fort]; again sent on an express (east) to meet the companies and report back to us their situation, whereabouts, etc. C.H. Wheelock, Joseph A. Young, Stephen Taylor, Abe Garr.
Wednesday, October 15, traveled to Green River; left some flour, feed, etc.; camped tonight on Big Sandy, at 8 o’clock.
Thursday, October 16, at the Big Sandy, met Captain Smoot; camped here tonight. Let him have some flour, beef and teams and eighteen men.
Friday, October 17, started late; camped on little Sandy; feed scarce; looked like a storm.
Saturday, October 18, clear and fair; storm passed to the right and left of us; camped tonight on the head of Sweetwater; good feed and wood; looked like a storm.
Sunday, October 19, killed one beef; started in the afternoon; camped below the mouth of Willow creek. Tonight it commenced storming; very cold; good feed.
Monday, October 20, stayed in the same place today. Brother Willie (Captain [James G.] Willie of the Fifth handcart company), came to us near nightfall.
Tuesday, October 21, started early in the morning to meet Captain Willie’s company; camped with them tonight; dealt out flour and clothing to them. William Kimball and several others returned with him with teams, etc.; snow deep.
Wednesday, October 22, traveled seventeen miles; snow getting deeper and deeper all the way; camped tonight under the Wallahualla rock.
Thursday, October 23, stayed at the same camp; snow deep, could not travel.
Friday, October 24, clear and fair; some warmer; camped tonight below the Three Crossings of the Sweetwater; snow still deep; saw a large herd of buffalo, three miles distant.
Saturday, October 25, wind blowing hard; camped tonight below the Wallahualla rock; snow going away slowly; weather some warmer.
Sunday, October 26, traveled nineteen miles; camped near the Devil’s Gate; found the express that had been sent on at this place; waiting further orders; had heard nothing from the companies behind.
Monday, October 27, remained in the same place; feed tolerably good. From this point sent on another express to the bridge on the Platte river, Joseph A. Young, Abe Garr, Dan Jones, to find the companies if possible and report back their situation, whereabouts, etc., and the next day, Tuesday, October 28, they reached our Captain Martin’s handcart company at the Red Buttes, between 11 and 12 m., as heretofore narrated in this chapter.
No. 7, in next Sundays Herald, will cover our traveling to the South pass, where the last of our members were picked up and rode in the wagons from then till we reached Salt Lake, November 20.