[Stephens, Evan], "Evan Bach," Children's Friend, July 1919, 254-57; ibid., Aug. 1919, 298-301; and ibid., Sept. 1919, 342.
The emigrants forgot all about the thousand miles ahead of them with its possible illness or weariness, content and glad to be free to roam the earth and feel its secure foundation under their feet and with room to walk and exercise in after the nearly two months of ship and train imprisonment.
It fell to the little group from Wales to be in a similar plight for space as it had happened when they reached their sailing vessel, there was no space in the transportation wagons, they had again been overlooked, and now must remain in Wyoming for two weeks, to await the next company.
It was well that it was so, especially for the weary mother who sadly needed the resting time and the strength she might gain from the good fresh milk they could buy here; and then there were so many things delightful and new that time passed on speedy wings.
Most attractive of all, to Evan Bach were the merry smiling teamsters from the "Valley." They looked so jaunty, hardy and good-natured as well as manly in their valley tan boots, jean trousers, broad, shapely shirt waists, with loose colored kerchiefs around their necks, and broad-brimmed hats crowning their tousled heads-a veritable army of Dustin Farnums (as known to later generations on the stage or in the "movies" as the cowboy Virginians).
When darkness set in, and the stars or moon turned on their lights, a clearing in a flat space was selected and the man with the "fiddle" or "concertina" called for to furnish dance music. Duly seated on boxes or a box, if only one was available, he struck up his tune while the boys laughingly urged the timid young ladies to join them as partners for a "cotillion" four couples to a "set." Several sets at times could be mustered and with the experienced teamsters, not actually dancing, to help guide the newcomers through the mazes of the figures called out by the "caller" or prompter, all were soon in full swing, as the command of "Balance all," "Swing your partners," etc., was called out loudly and above the music.
A great ring of interested lookers-on added to both the sight and zest of the dancing. Perhaps the dancing idea was new and even questionable to some who had never associated it with religion. And a stranger, at first sight, would not guess that this was a group of people who had just left home, country, and all that was dear to them for their religion's sake, that it was a part of a religions exodus just as much as was that of the Children of Israel on their pilgrimage to the land of Canaan in olden times; it was religion then, too, when one considers it, for the Israelites made use of the dance as a prominent part of their celebration after their miraculous crossing of the Red Sea.
But opinions of propriety aside, even the most scrupulous could not but see at a glance that here was but an indulgence in the most innocent and pleasant mirth. This merry exercise would continue for an hour or more, then the chaplain would call for a hymn or two, which would be heartily sung, then came the evening prayer. General good nights with hearty thanks for the pleasure of dancing passed from partner to partner, many of whom became lovers before they reached the "Valley" and became happy wedded couples later.
One fine day little Evan's own company, with Captain Rawlins in charge, was ready to make its start for the West. The encampment of wagons had been brought to the river bank a day or two previously, and such poor baggage as the immigrants possessed was placed in the wagons that each party was assigned to. All the oxen were theirs, their very own, in the deepest sentimental as well as useful sense during the long journey before them.
This caravan or "camp" was as perfectly organized as an army of the military, with proper officers in charge of each section and labor. Officers and men, excepting the Captain and his aides, who did the scouting work ahead of the company, and so must ride ponies, walked and worked side by side, their loads drawn by 1ong double strings of oxen, each two oxen were fastened together by a "yoke" placed over their necks and which rested back against their shoulders when pulling was hard.
When making camp, on arriving at the place selected by the Captain, one team pulled out to one side of the road and the next would pull out on the opposite side, each making a wide circle until they would about face, coming back to the roadway, which they would leave open between them so every alternate team would follow until each group formed a semi-circle, on either side of the road and making a circle of the whole with the roadway running through. Sometimes this plan was not convenient, then they left the road entirely to one side and formed what would be termed a "corral" inside of which all the cooking and other activities of the camp took place.
The oxen freed of the yoke would be taken to water and grass by the "herdsmen." In the meantime, every group would be busy preparing its meals on the ground, generally on the inside of their encampment, this was for greater safety, for there was continual and deadly danger lurking every step of the way. The Indians were on the "war path" that year, and there was constant danger that they might forget their usual friendship for their friends the "Mormons," and a poisoned arrow, or a gun-shot might at any time come as an unmistakable sign of their anger at the white race in general, who had in reality despoiled them of almost everything in life. So the Saints felt more secure from danger inside that circle of wagons.
At noon about an hour was taken for meal and rest, then that great herd of kind old oxen would be brought into the inside circle where everything had to be pitched up on the wagons out of their way. Then the slow, steady beasts who by this time had learned their lessons so well that they could go directly to their places and at the kindly command of their teamster walk right under the yoke. Nothing could more vividly illustrate the peaceable, kindly and religious character of this entire patient, contented, happy company of humans and animals than this orderly action that could so easily, without proper restraint, and kindliness, have been a terrible bedlam.
Evan, always appreciative of kindliness, soon learned to love his oxen next to his teamster, and soon all terror of traveling over the "dreary plain," almost uninhabited by white men for a thousand miles, was wiped out by the apparent peace and security of the camp. While the oxen were being yoked and hitched to their wagons, all the able-bodied men, women, boys and girls would start on their journey ahead of the teams and thus escape the clouds of dust stirred up by the great crowd of hoofs and wheels. In this way a great company of four or five hundred people would be strung out ahead of the so-called "train." Always the keen-eyed scouts were still further ahead to see that no enemy or other danger was concealed in their paths.
The particular company in which Evan and his folks were traveling was made up chiefly of Scandinavians, and it was Evan's delight to try and learn to speak with them and thus know their language. In years later he used to say that while he lost the opportunity to learn English during his thousand mile walk across the plains, he had been repaid for this loss amply by having learned to appreciate and love the Scandinavian people. Many years later he paid a visit on two separate occasions to their northern lands, spending several weeks each time in the capital cities of Norway, Sweden and Denmark, and became quite as fond of these countries and people as of his own dear little "Wild Wales" and gentler England.
How he would lift his face to the prevailing western breeze and romp along with the ever-distant, ever-nearing viewpoints, looming up away off where the sun at sunset would drop out of sight as suddenly as if the string which for a moment held it at the very edge of the world was cut asunder. He would wonder and wonder where the Rocky Mountains could be of which he had heard, the air and sky seemed as clear as crystal, and he fancied that he could see the other end of the seemingly flat earth, but there was nowhere a sign of them in the far distance.
One day a dim outline of a cliff came dimly to view-"Chimney Rock," it was called. Very, very slowly it seemed to draw nearer. After days and days of hard walking, about twenty miles per day, a cross cut made over some rolling hills brought them to the River Platt which formed a broad ribbon about a mile wide in the bottom of a valley about twice its own width. The sight of this stream of water was an interesting change from the apparently never ending prairie. It was a dangerous looking scramble getting down with the wagons into that valley from the hills.
Evan's sister had come down with what was termed the "Mountain Fever" and was so ill that Mother had to remain in the wagon. Evan clung closely fearing that the wagon might tip over and hurt or even kill his dear mother and sister. However the clever teamsters helped one another and all were landed safely at the river's side.
Here some very attractive bushes in a little ravine were discovered by Brother David and soon the two boys were reveling in picking and eating some fine "Choke-Cherries" which, even today, seem to have been the sweetest he ever tasted. The little scene was also beautiful for vines and wild grapes grew over the sturdier bushes and made perfect bowers of them.
But, hark! A cry of alarm was raised and the boys were told to rush for camp, that a band of Indians in war paint and feathers were riding right toward camp!
Out of breath and full of terror they were inside the circle in no time and then they saw for the first time in their lives the wild red men of America as they rode into the camp in great show and pomp. They were met with friendly greeting by the Captain and his staff, while every teamster made sure that his revolver was safely in its place on his hip.
The Indians descended from their ponies, a peace pipe was lighted and soon all were seated on the ground in the center of the camp space. Then formally, in turn, a red man and a white man took a whiff at the pipe of peace and thus pledged each other to friendliness. Gifts of flour and other eatables were presented to the visitors and they departed in peace after making a very fine impression on their white friends and doing much to allay their fears for the safety of the camp, which proved to be justified for his camp. But the next camp that followed them but a few days later was robbed of half of their oxen and so crippled in their speed of traveling that many suffered much and some died from cold and hunger before they could get help from or reach Salt Lake City. Perhaps it was the same band of Indians who did it or perhaps another.
However from this hillside afar down the river could be seen the harbinger of another day and other conditions-it was a large body of men laying the railroad track that was to cross the continent and make it unnecessary for ox-teams to ever cross the plains again to bring the Saints to Zion. The very next year teams were sent only as far as Laramie, about half way to the Missouri. And two years later they came all the way by train. A great saving in expense, trials and labor, but a truly great loss in a wonderful experience to the travelers.
The Indians had departed but there were other troubles close at hand. There was that wide river to cross, it had been carefully examined and tested by the advance scouts and the safest and shallowest crossings carefully selected, but it was so muddy that one could not pick a bottom at sight, and the fine gravel that formed its bed was constantly on the move and if a wagon, team or man had to stand long in one place the quick-sands would be gathering or setting them down a little deeper every minute. It was so shallow that it was deemed safe for the grown-up men to wade it, but they were warned to keep on the upper side so that if washed down the stream the men with the teams could come to their rescue and then, too, the caravan would be between them and down the river.
Evan was put into the wagon, rather against his dignity, as he felt sure he was an experienced walker by this time. David was, however, wading it, and either, because he did not realize danger, or purposely through overconfidence he got on the lower side of the wagon and soon he was getting into deep water and had to be rescued.
A few days after this, sister Mary was apparently at death's door for the fever had reached its climax. One noon her husband and mother were sorely weeping at the prospect of losing the loved one in death and they dreaded so to have that terribly hard experience of burying her by the wayside "on the plains" it would be almost, if not quite as hard to bear as the burial at sea. However, through determined faith and prayer they had the joy of seeing her change for the better, and she, at this writing is still alive and hearty, the mother of ten living children with a host of grandchildren and greatgrandchildren.
Then at last! at last! something tangible seemed to form afar off in the west, could they be clouds? or some dark irregular steaks against the sky? No. A wild shout from the teamster boys told it all at once, they were the mountains of their hearts love-the mountains in whose vastnesses they had left all their loved ones for safe-keeping while they came out a two thousand mile ride (or walk rather) to help their fellow-worshipers, entire strangers to them, save that they were of that same faith and brotherhood, that needed no personal acquaintance to endear them to true men and believers.
Their dear old mountains again! And soon all the camp was ringing with songs sung in several tongues but all expressing the same thought:
"O ye mountains high,
Where the clear blue sky,
Arches over the vales of the free."
The next day and the next they traveled on towards the wonderful mountains, each day their beauties increased and in a week or more they seemed to have grown to greater heights while here and there glistened the snow and ice that lay at the bases of jagged peaks like mantels of silver shining in the sun. Ah! no human--or few wise ones only--at that time realized the store of shining metals that lay concealed under that mock silver, really more precious than the others of earth earthy, the "Sweet Water" of the Rockies. The Sweet Waters that would like magic bring forth towns, villages, and farms all over this then wild and barren country.
So they journeyed on and on 'till they were well among the peaks and canyons of the mountains. The "Rockies" first, then the "Uintas" and last of all the Wasatch range.
A dangerous bit of work was the fording of the swift and deep Green River. The danger seemed greater because of its nearness, comparatively speaking, to the end of the journey. Like the sea travelers and Evan's unfortunate uncle finding the danger spot almost at his dear mother's door. On the sea there is comparately little danger when far from land, but when the rocky coast is near they are like hungry wolves ready to devour whatever the winds and waves drift to their hungry maws. So here Little Evan's second river ride on the plains seemed to be a risky one. One or two of the wagons were carried down stream some distance but finally rescued. A snow storm next came on and the company was made to realize in a small way what that unfortunate company of Saints had suffered who had pulled or pushed handcarts across the plains, many of whom froze to death in this vicinity before rescuers from the "Valley" reached them with aid.
Upon reaching the Bear River a party was met who were looking for relatives in the camp. This made the end of the journey seem very close.
After traveling miles and miles between great walls of mountains a thousand feet high, called Echo Canyon, we passed the first little town seen this side of the Missouri River. In this little town called "Coalville" the emigrants saw something they hardly imagined could be true-a bishop carrying a sack of flour on his back, his clothing all white with it, wearing neither coat or vest. Old country people as they were they never before had seen a toiling, manual laboring, bishop, coatless and vestless, and they wondered what sort of a bishop a "Mormon" bishop must be to be so "human like" and democratic.
Another day and we began the last downward climb towards the valley of our dreams. Steeper and grander became the towering cliffs. The lower we got the higher they towered over us, and billows of them still seemed to hide the view, and almost the sky, ahead until finally we made our last camp at "Mountain Dell" just a few miles away from the goal we had started for-Great Salt Lake City.
The "Valleys of the Mountains"--who could tell all the love-tales and emotional dramas taking place in that camp on this last eventful night of their journey. Surging eagerness of some hearts to meet loved ones they had followed here, would they find them unchanged or enthralled in new loves? Others, perhaps, with a new found love in their hearts dreading the parting that was so near. Others wholly at sea as to their immediate future even, relying only in faith that as the Lord had at their pleading and work opened the way for them to come this far, He would not now desert them and all would, shortly, be well.