The story of the Saluda is strikingly sad, especially when one takes the perspective of William Dunbar, a Scottish convert to The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (incorrectly referred to as the “Mormon Church” by the media). In the mid-1800s, Latter-day Saint converts were all travelling West to join the Saints in the Utah Territory. Many would arrive from Europe by ship in New Orleans, then take steamboats to St. Louis, then other steamboats up the Missouri River to Council Bluffs, Iowa (then Kanesville).
There was typically a Church representative in St. Louis to help newly arrived converts gain passage on steamboats for a fair price and get to where they needed to go. However, in 1852, the representative had left and was not replaced until the end of that year. Eli Kelsey and David J. Ross were consequently sent from Kanesville down to St. Louis to help out in the interim. They were also planning to head to the Utah Territory that year, and they felt pressure to get the Saints on their way as quickly as possible. It was still early spring, though, and ice flows in the river were preventing steamboat captains from taking the risk of the journey. When they found Captain Francis T. Belt of the Saluda, he agreed to book passage for about 100 passengers, feeling the profits outweighed the risks he would take. Many of the waiting Saints were grateful, because they were having to pay for unexpected lodging and food during the delay. Read more