Walker, William Holmes, Reminiscences, 15-20.
Trail excerpt transcribed from "Pioneer History Collection" available at Pioneer Memorial Museum [Daughters of Utah Pioneers Museum], Salt Lake City, Utah. Some restrictions apply.
Brother Parker decided to buy six head of oxen for the plains. He offered to buy four head for me if I would see to buying and training his. I bought ten head and brother Lorin made the yokes. Parker offered to pay Lorins expenses. We purchased a wagon and I drove the ten oxen to Iowa City 150 miles, walking a considerable part of the way.
On arriving we learned that President Daniel Spencer had arrived from England with a company of emigrants and several Elders. Brother Spencer had charge of the entire emigration, for that season. He established an outfitting post and camp. There were besides, the independent companies who had their own teams. There was a company of 500 persons who had to be provided with hand carts. Elder Web had charge of this task.
President Spencer appointed me to furnish conveyances for all of the emigrants from the depot to the camp. Also to provide transportation for all the luggage. All supplies and all the outfitting goods. I was to receive all wagons and provisions and forward them to camp.
I purchased all the supplies that could be purchased at Iowa City and forwarded them to camp. I realized that I had a full sized job. I made it my business to be off at dawn. I could seldom return until late at night. I missed many meals, and often had just a dry lunch, such as crackers and cheese. For two months I knew no rest.
President Spencer now had another pressing problem. He had no means of transportation for the luggage belonging to the Handcart Company. He gave me the responsibility of find[ing] a suitable place for storage. After making a thorough search of Iowa City I reported to President Spencer, there was no available building. I gave considerable thought to this serious problem. It seemed to me that these people should not land in Salt Lake City without their clothes, as there would be no possible way of obtaining these necessities there.
I then went to President Spencer. I asked him if he thought it possible for the company, as a whole, to pay one half of the cost of freighting. If they could, I thought it would be possible to take their luggage that they might have it on their arrival. The next morning President Spencer called me and turned the huge task over to me. I immediately set my sails for putting the task over.
I found that I could not <get> wagons this side of Chicago. I wrote Peter Suttler, ordering ten wagons and asking when I could depend on their shipment. Their reply was satisfactory.
It was now July 1st. I took a young man with me. We took a steamboat on the Missouri River and landed at Atchison. We walked thirty five miles into the country to purchase oxen. I bought one young spirited mule and five head of oxen. I thought I could drive back and buy on my way. I soon learned the price of cattle was much higher: so I returned to Iowa City, buying only one more yoke of oxen.
My arrival at Iowa City was timely as Mr Shuttler notified me the wagons were ready to ship. I went to Chicago and gave my personal note, and had the wagons shipped. I then returned to Iowa City.
Next morning, at dawn, I started for Missouri on my mule, to buy more oxen. I now overtook the man that I sent out ahead of me. We had traveled about 75 miles when we met three men with sixty oxen, two cows and one small bull. I had a drivers whip. Therefore they concluded I was buying cattle. I inquired how many there were in their drove I told him he had more than I needed as I had been down the country and already bought a number. They said they would sell cheap. I looked them over carefully and found that most of them were broke for use. They were number one oxen. Just what I needed; but I didn't have enough money to pay for them. I counted them and the number was correct. I then carefully looked them over again. Then I made them an offer of 2100 dollars . They had been driven three hundred miles and they were tired. They still had seventy five miles farther to the place of delivery. I was told I had a hard face to make a cut of 800 dollars on their price. I replied that you are not deceived in that I know my business: I also know the price of cattle. I mounted and started on. I was called back and they accepted my offer. I then told them I would pay them $1500 in gold and give them my note for $600, to be paid, on delivery of the cattle at Iowa City. I would leave my man to help drive.
I then wrote up a bill of sale for 60 oxen, 1 bull and 3 cows at $2100. Received payment in full. To which they signed their names. I then paid them $1500, and left instructions with my man, Mr. Lorrance. I then proceeded in haste the 75 miles to camp.
I sold the oxen I had previously bought to pay my note: which I had given two days before. When the men arrived with the oxen, cows and the bull, I had the money to redeem my note.
My next move was to procure yokes and chains, then herd them, so that there would be no loss.
The wagons had now arrived at the depot and they had to be set up and gotten over to camp. What was called false tongues had to be made and ironed to facilitate in hitching the oxen more readily. I was now ready to load my ten wagons. The companies had all left. President Spencer along with them.
My brother Lorin helped load the bundles, weighing anywhere from five pounds to three hundred. They were every conceivable size shape and form. This made loading very difficult. Every wagon had to be loaded snuggly, so that there could be no shifting, and must be loaded to the utmost top of the bows, in order to take it all. The lashing had to be done skillfully as every bundle above the wagon bed had to be made secure against shifting or loss.
Our wagons were loaded, the teamsters hired and then our next difficulty was to pair off sixty head of oxen with help who had never even seen an ox hitched up. We were finally ready to start. We had gone only about three miles, when one of the teamsters got his oxen excited and the leaders made a sharp turn and began to run, capsizing the wagon. We were occupied the rest of the day repairing and loading the wagon. This was a bad day we made but three miles progress.
The next day we got along better.
The third day another wagon capsized. Then one night my mule got away and ran back. I had to have him as he was needed in rounding up the cattle, and so another delay.
We had traveled five or six days. Seven out of ten of my teamsters were sick with chill and fever . By this time we were at Winter Quarters. It was Sept 1st. I tried to hire other men but to no avail. I still realized I should make a special effort to get the luggage through. I would leave no stone unturned. I then got Bishop Cunningham to try his luck at getting teamsters but he was without success. I next discussed the situation with Apostle Erastus Snow. As grave as the whole matter really was, he said he would not advise me to go on.
It was now Oct. 1st. Bishop Cunningham let me have a storehouse that belonged to the Church. I had my wagons unloaded but I had more than sixty head of cattle to feed through the winter. I learned there still was some wild hay that could be cut, so I took some of my men and the bishop went with us to show me where I could get it.
I camped on the creek one mile below town. We cut and stacked 100 tons of hay. Built a stable for my mule. Brother Lorin and I built a two room house of willows, plastered it outside with mud and provided ourselves with wood and then concluded that we were settled for the winter.
Winter set in about the middle of Nov. By Dec 1st it was severe.
About Dec 20th, a man from Omaha, passing observed my outfit and inquired if I would like to contract hauling one thousand sacks of flour from St Joseph MO. I told him that I would take it at the right price. That I would be in Omaha next day for business. We drew up a written contract with sufficient money advanced to meet my expenses. This was forthcoming. I returned to camp and fitted up for business. I made a small light sled that my mule could manage. I then hired teamsters and started, Christmas, with five wagons, with three yoke of oxen for each wagon.
I went ahead directing the route. I bought grain and a stack of hay at points I thought suitable for camp sights. I went to St Joseph and returned buying feed for my convenience.
On the second trip there was a heavy snow and extreme cold. I bought five ox sleds and continued hauling. When we got to Omaha we drove across the Missouri River on the ice. I used the sleds until spring.
When the snow went off I hitched on to my wagons and sold the sleds for as much as I paid for them.
I made five round trips from Omaha to St Joseph and lost only one ox. And that was from eating too much corn. My men traveled early and late all winter long. None of us were frost bitten: although many <other people> were frozen. We used no liquor.
In the spring I received a letter from Apostle Erastus Snow. Stating I would have to sell enough of the teams and wagons, before starting, to pay off the note on the wagons, as the Church couldnt pay this.
I had already sold off some of the wagons at a good profit. I lifted the note on the wagons and paid for ten more, which I now had ordered. I also bought 12 head more of oxen. Six oxen had died at Winter Quarters. So starting out on the plains I had one more wagon and six more oxen.
On starting, some twenty wagons of emigrants were added to my company. Captain David Evans handcart company started. Many things happened some, unpleasant. We also learned that Johnsons army was on its way to Utah. We were traveling in the Platte Region. I drove over to the Platte River and camped. The handcart companies camped at the springs. Next morning Capt. Evans sent me word that their oxen had stampeded and had all run off with the buffalo. He had no way of recovering them, and could I give them assistance. I sent teams to move the company to our camp. I also succeeded in getting oxen from those not too l[h]eavily loaded. I was able to haul some of their flour. Others took on whatever they could. We took the entire company along with us.
Many in our company were very accommodating in letting the sick and weary ride. All went on nicely for a few days, then some in our company had lost some of their oxen and wanted theirs back from Capt. Evans. Finally nearly half in my company rebelled at the slow progress, we were making on account of being so burdened. They were determined to go on and leave the handcart company. I tried to reason and prevail on them not to leave them on the plains to starve. I was finally obliged to insist that no team should leave camp until arrangements were made. Yet the leader of this faction hitched up and drove out others followed.
I rode in front of their teams and said without threats, though plainly and positively "not a team can leave this camp until all arrangement are made to take care of these people. I had a pair of revolvers on my saddle which I carried at all times. The leader said he was not afraid of my pistols. I told him no one need be afraid; but he nor any other man could go until arrangements were made to take the entire handcart company along.
We took them along until we had crossed the Black Hills and the last crossing of the Platte River. Here the handcart company obtained assistance. It was here that some brethren were building a station in the interest of the B.Y. Express.
Here I put Thomas E. Rise in charge of my train. I started on my mule alone for home. I was warned of the danger of traveling alone. I got to Ft Bridger. I took plenty of chances and also used more precautions.
I arrived in Salt Lake City Sept 1st 1857. I had been gone five years minus 15 days. I had ridden my mule 400 <miles> in 8 days. In the five years I had traveled more than 40,000 miles.
On arriving I went to my home and asked if I could get accommodations over night, for my mule and myself. It was just dusk and I was not recognized for some little time.
My wagon train arrived Sept 10.