History Mormon Battalion Chapter 39 Section A
Eastward Journey Resumed-No Flour to be Obtained for the Trip-Disappointments At Bridger and Laramie-Scant Fare-Episode With Indians-Diet of Rawhide Saddle Bags-Providential Freezing of the River-Reach Winter Quarters-Kindness of Friends
A few of the members of the Battalion found their families in Salt Lake Valley on our arrival there, and, of course, had no farther to go; some others were so worn down with fatigue and sickness that they were unable to proceed eastward at that time, and still others preferred to remain in the valley until the following spring and endeavor to prepare a home for their families. Thirty-two out of the number, however, were eager to meet their wives and children, and therefore did not hesitate about continuing their journey another thousand miles, even at that late season of the year. We expected to obtain flour in the valley for the remainder of the journey, but found that the people, as a rule, had not enough to subsist upon until they could harvest a crop. We were informed, however, that plenty of flour could be obtained at Fort Bridger, only 115 miles distant, so, relying upon that prospect, we left the valley in good spirits on the 18th of October, 1847, and started eastward.
We arrived at Fort Bridger during a rather severe snow storm, the first of the season, and, to our chagrin, learned that the stock of flour which had been kept there for sale had all been bought up by emigrants to California and Oregon. Bridger informed us that he had not even reserved any for those located at the post, and they were then living solely upon meat. He thought, however, we could get all we wanted at Laramie, upon reasonable terms.
On leaving Salt Lake Valley, we had about ten pounds of flour to the man, hence we were not entirely without when we reached Bridger. We purchased a little beef there to serve us until we could find game, and pushed on. We killed two buffalo bulls before reaching Laramie, and jerked the best of the meat. We had an occasional cake until we reached the upper crossing of the Platte, 100 miles above the fort. There we baked our last cake, on the 4th of November, having made our ten pounds of flour, each, last sixteen days. Of course, during that time we had eaten considerable buffalo and other beef and occasionally had some small game, including one elk killed by Wm. Maxwell.
It was, probably, about the 10th of November when we reached Fort Laramie. There, as at Fort Bridger, we were again disappointed about getting flour, the only bread-stuff purchased being one pound of crackers by Captain Andrew Lytle, for which he paid twenty-five cents. We obtained a very little dried buffalo beef of good quality. The post trader advised us not to kill any buffalo when we reached their range, as it would offend the Indians. He considered it would be a safer and better plan to employ the Indians, should we meet any, to kill some buffalo for us.
Those who had a little money purchased what meat they could afford and divided with the company. Twelve miles below Laramie we found an Indian trader on the south side of the Platte river. A few of the men crossed over and purchased 100 pounds of flour, which cost only $25. There being but about three pounds to the man, it was decided to use it only for making gravy, or for thickening soup, as we had still about 500 miles of our journey to travel.
When about sixty or seventy miles below the fort, our meat was exhausted. We were now among a few scattering buffalo, but as we had been informed that it would be dangerous for us to kill any of them, we were in somewhat of a dilemma what course to pursue to obtain food. However, we decided that He who owned “the cattle upon a thousand hills” had a claim on these, and, being His offspring, we would venture to take one. Besides, there had been no Indians in sight for several days, and, last but not least, we might as well die in battle as of hunger, as in the former case our sufferings would be of shorter duration.
The hunters succeeded in killing one bull and a calf. While skinning the former we saw a smoke and discovered Indians on the south side of the river, opposite to where we were. We consulted as to the best course to pursue. Some thought we had better go on and leave our booty, but Captain R. N. Allred suggested, very properly, that with our worndown animals, this would be useless, as in case they were in for fighting, they could soon overtake us; hence, we decided to stand our ground. We dressed our beef and reached camp on the river, from the foot-hills some time after dark. We were not molested.
Near that point, Captain R. N. Allred traded a small worn out mule to an Indian for a pony. About fifteen miles below we passed, perhaps, 300 lodges of the Sioux tribe. There a stalwart Indian came out and seized the pony by the bridle bit. Captain Lytle and the author, being on the lead, returned to relieve Brother Allred, by which time many other Indians, squaws and papooses had gathered around.
The writer wore a broad-brimmed Panama hat, having undressed elk-skin depending from the under side of it, with the hairy side inward, to shield his ears and face from the cold. His body was covered with a large dressing gown, which had been donated to the company by our venerable Presiding Bishop, Edward Hunter. The reader can imagine how a man weighing not more than 135 pounds would appear attired in the capacious folds of such a garment, made to fit a person several inches taller and upwards of one hundred pounds heavier than himself. His unique appearance, when mounted upon a mule, was not very inviting to a white man, and it actually seemed to strike terror to the hearts of the “reds,” so that, at his approach, all scattered and left Brother Allred, except the stalwart fellow who held the horse by the bit. He maintained his grip and stood firm as a statue, evidently determined on having the pony at all hazards. The mystery of the movement was soon solved by another brave leading out the decrepit mule which Brother Allred had recently traded for the pony, thus proving that the Indian had rued his bargain. The Indian also indicated, by his gestures, that he considered himself cheated, and, having no interpreter we were unable to let him know that the mule only required a little rest and a chance to recruit, when he would be much the more valuable animal of the two. There seemed no other way but for Brother Allred to yield up the pony and take back the mule, which the Indians had almost used entirely up in hurrying to overtake us, and the exchange was accordingly made, and all disputes settled.
About 150 miles below Laramie, we awoke one morning to find ourselves under about twelve inches of snow. From this point to Winter Quarters, about 350 miles, we had to travel and break the trail through snow from one to two feet in depth.
Just before and after crossing the Loup Fork river, we lost a few animals, supposed to have been stolen by Pawnee Indians. Near the crossing of the river, the head of a donkey was found, which Adjutant P. C. Merrill’s company had killed some time before for beef. It was supposed to have belonged to Sergeant D. P. Rainey. Captain Allred took an ax and opened the skull, and he and his messmates had a fine supper made of the brains.
Near the same point Corporal Martin Ewell opened the head of a mule killed by Captain James Pace’s company only the day before, with the same result.
The day we reached the Loup Fork, we divided and ate the last of our food, which in the main consisted of rawhide “saddle-bags” we had used from California to pack our provisions in. This was during a cold storm which lasted several days. Our next food was one of Captain Lytle’s young mules, which had given out and was unable to travel. This was the first domestic animal our little company had killed since our beef cattle in California, although we had several times looked with a wistful eye upon a small female canine belonging to Jos. Thorne, who, with his wife and one or two children, in a light wagon, had accompanied us from Fort Bridger. Friend Joseph, however, removed the temptation by trading her to the Pawnee Indians for a small piece of dried buffalo meat. Of this family pet, they doubtless made a rare treat, their greatest feasts being composed mainly of dog meat.
Owing to floating ice, we were unable to cross the Loup Fork for five days, in which time we traveled a few miles down the river and found Captain Pace’s company just in time to save them from the danger of being robbed by Pawnee Indians who came over in considerable numbers. The remnants of the two companies afterwards remained together.
In hopes of procuring some corn from an Indian farm on the opposite side of the river from us, a few of the men ventured to ford the stream, but the corn had been gathered and twice gleaned from the field by other travelers, so that all they could find were a few scattering, rotten ears. Captain Pace and William Maxwell, also visited an Indian camp some distance away, to try to purchase food, but failed to get any, as the Indians had none to spare. They, however, stayed all night with them and obtained a good supper and breakfast and were otherwise treated kindly.
The cold became so intense that the river froze entirely over, and on the morning of the sixth day of our stay upon its banks, we commenced to cross upon the ice. The ice bent and cracked, and holes were soon broken in it, but we persevered until everything was over, the last article being Brother Thorne’s wagon. The weather began to moderate when the sun appeared above the horizon, and the ice had become so rotten before we finished crossing that the last few trips were extremely dangerous. But a short time had elapsed after we had safely gained the other shore before the ice broke away and the river was again covered with floating fragments.
A kind providence had made the congealed water bridge for our special benefit, and removed it as soon as it had filled its mission. From the killing of Captain Lytle’s mule until we reached Winter Quarters, probably ten day’s travel, we subsisted upon mule meat alone, without salt. On arriving at Elk Horn River, thirty miles from Winter Quarters, we found a ferry-boat with ropes stretched across, ready to step into and pull over, which of course we did.
It was understood that this boat was built by the Pioneers, and was first used by them. It afterwards served the companies who followed on their trail; was then used by the Pioneers and Lieutenant Merrill’s company on their return; and last, but not least, by us, for whom it had been last left. We crossed on the 17th of December, 1847.
The next morning, we arose early and took up the line of march, and the foremost men arrived in Winter Quarters about sundown, while the rear came in a little after dark. Thus, it will be perceived that we were just two months in making the journey from Salt Lake to the Missouri River, a distance which is now traversed by the cars in a little over two days. Some of the company found their families in the town of Winter Quarters, while others were across the Missouri River, at or near Kanesville, now Council Bluffs, Pottawatomie County, Iowa. The reader can more easily imagine our joy and that of our families and friends than it can be described.
The kindness of friends, brethren and sisters, on our arrival at Winter Quarters, now Florence, Nebraska, is deserving of special mention. All the soldiers, although in some instances they were highly respectable, were unavoidably dirty and ragged; yet they found only warm-hearted, sympathetic brethren, sisters and friends among the people, from President Young and the Twelve Apostles to the least child who knew what the words “Mormon Battalion” meant. They had been taught to know that that valiant corps had been offered like Isaac, a living sacrifice for the Church as well as the nation.