Rogerson, Josiah. "Martin's Handcart Company, 1856 [No. 5]," Salt Lake Herald, 10 November 1907.
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Since commencing the writings of the annals and narrative of Martin’s Handcart company, I have had numerous applications, personally, by ’phone and letter, to embody the whole in book form at its completion; and as the interest has increased with each number in The Herald by its readers, and the daily demand at the office for back numbers, it is more than probable that after the last chapter it will be embodied in pamphlet form, but until then, it belongs to The Herald, with all the valuable documents and diaries I have been favored with since beginning.
This week, through the kindness of the church historian, Elder Andrew Jensen, I was made welcome to copy General Robert T. Burton’s camp journal, the relief train, and Captain George D. Grant to help the emigrants of the year I have been writing about in the last four articles, and this invaluable, accurate and descriptive journal and diary which has never been in print before, and which contains the history of the noble rescuers and relief party with their teams from the time they left Salt Lake City, Oct. 7, 1856, till they brought and landed the last of Martin’s Hand-cart company into this city Sunday morning, Nov. 30, 1856, with the names in full of the nineteen men left at Devil’s Gate to take care of the “caches” the whole of that winter. All this will be embodied and blended with Historian Bleak’s diary and many incidents from memory in the next four articles, together with data from Captain John A. Hunt’s journal; all three of which I have before me now.
To make the record as full as possible, I have spared neither time nor pains to get Captain Edward Martin’s journal and diary, which I know he kept daily throughout the entire journey that year, of over 1,350 miles, for I many times saw him writing, and read his entries in his journal, and it contains the names of all that died and fell by the way, and where buried, yet notwithstanding the search of his relict and children, who are quite willing these names should be had therefrom, as yet it has not been found.
Asked by readers as to the size of the cart wheels; they were from four and a half to five feet in diameter, both the covered and open carts, thus lifting the axle of each at least two and a half feet above the ground. The covered cart had an iron tire, bolted through the felloe or rim of the cart, but the open cart had only a hoop iron tire, not nearly so thick as the tire on the covered cart, and fastened to the wooden rim by nails or screws.
Thursday, Oct. 9—Traveled three miles today.
Why we didn’t proceed farther today I cannot find in the record, as the weather was favorable and the roads good for traveling and making good time over.
This afternoon we were advised, and likely Captain Edward Martin had been before, of the purchase by President Franklin D. Richards of seventy-five to 100 buffalo robes at Fort Laramie as he passed there some two weeks previous, and after camping here and supper over ten handcarts, with two able-bodied men to each cart, were detailed to go back to Fort Laramie and get the robes.
The writer and his elder brother, William [Rogerson], were among the number detailed, with nine others with cars, under and in charge of a man named William Singleton, a large and tall Englishman, but I am not certain that this is his right name, though afterward, in 1872, I met him in Panaca, Nev. We went back to Fort Laramie that night after dark, a distance not less than seven or ten miles, got the buffalo robes, seven to ten loaded on each cart, and got back to camp by midnight. Another good laurel leaf in the crown of Franklin D. Richards, and that saved nearly half as many lives during the next 500 miles journey. They were distributed next morning judiciously and with general satisfaction.
Friday, Oct. 10.—Traveled fourteen miles today. The roads were very rough—mountain roads.
To show the connection, as promised some time ago, and the proximity of the traveling of John A. Hunt’s and Captain Hodgett’s wagon companies with our handcart company, I will quote a few paragraphs from Captain John A. Hunt’s journal:
“Wednesday, Oct. 8.—Traveled twenty miles today.
“Thursday, Oct. 9.—Traveled twenty miles today, over some very soft, sandy roads; hard and heavy hauling. Camped about a mile or two from Fort Laramie, Wyo., at 7 p.m.,” so readers of this and handcart survivors will see that Hunt’s wagon company, at Fort Laramie, and (in the next paragraph) that Hodgett’s wagon company were only seventeen miles or less behind us at this point.
Note the next line, from Hunt’s journal:
“Friday, Oct. 10.—We were visited by some of the brethren from the wagon company (Hodgett’s) this morning, and some from the handcart company, who are but a few miles ahead of us. Traveled only six miles today (west of Laramie).”
One or two more lines from Hunt’s journal, and then I resume Brother Bleak’s diary:
“Saturday, Oct. 11.—Trading cattle, and remained here all day.”
Sunday, Oct. 12.—Brother Beasley and family, with his wagon, and Brother Bell and family, with his wagon, returned to Fort Laramie, We traveled seven miles and camped on the Platte river.
Saturday, Oct. 11.—Recorder Bleak says: “We traveled twenty-two miles today. Some of our teams began to fall back of the company, and the teamsters signaled us to slow up, or stop, by firing guns, of their condition.”
The writer remembers that this was a fine piece of hard, rolling mountain road, and while not overly hard to pull up, was easy and resting to go down, as compared with the steady and heavy lugging over level, sandy ground.
“Sunday, Oct. 12.—Traveled nine and one-half miles. Rested the balance of the day and gave the cattle a good opportunity to feed.
“Monday, Oct. 13.—Traveled twenty miles.” Another piece of fine, hard mountain road.
“Tuesday, Oct. 14.—Traveled twenty miles today and crossed the Platte again.
“Thursday, Oct. 16.—Traveled eleven miles.” Today our rations of flour was reduced from one pound to twelve ounces for adults, and from eight ounces for children to six ounces per day.
“Friday, Oct. 17.—Traveled only five miles today. Washing day.
“Saturday, Oct. 18.—Traveled seventeen miles today.” We camped on Deer creek tonight, one of the most beautiful camping places on the route, and going on from this point, will be remembered by scores of survivors, as from pleasant autumn to midwinter and death.
We are now coming to our Valley Forge, and the lamentable death rate nightly.
During the afternoon Captain Edward Martin advised the whole camp to lighten up their extra luggage bags and canvas sacks as much as possible, by discarding and burning every article of wearing apparel that could be dispensed with, save and except our best and warm coats, cloaks, etc., for the coming cold weather, and the wisdom of this timely counsel was soon afterward realized. When many of the canvas bags were opened it was readily seen that the heads of many families were hauling and pulling luggage in the shape of books, trinkets and half worn-out clothing that could be dispensed with beneficially, and many piles of this unnecessary loading were burned here.
We were also advised of a fort and a company of United States troops where a store and sutler’s supplies were kept, that we would pass on our journey the next day, and several members of our company were permitted and selected to take such articles of apparel (in lightening up our loads) to the fort and sell and barter the same for flour, dried buffalo meat, tea, sugar and medicines.
In several instances this advice, carried out, was the means of saving lives during the subsequent weeks of snow and hardships intervening between this time and our arrival in Utah, as will be seen by the following incidents:
Sunday morning, Oct. 19.—The diary says we traveled ten miles, but before starting the writer’s mother [Mary Ferron Rogerson], then in her 55th year, got an empty 100-pound flour sack and half filled it with three or four light summer dresses, two or three night gowns and other ladies’ underwear belonging to mother and oldest sister [Bridget Rogerson], of an extra quality, knitted decanter stands, some linen bureau and mirror bric-a-brac, and this stock of merchandise formed the pack of the writer’s first trading experience in the Rocky Mountains. The carts packed, we rolled out for five or six miles, till we reached a point south and opposite the Platte bridge. The pack of clothing was lifted from the cart, put on my back, and I started with several others for the trading post, the company continuing on its journey on the north side of the North Platte to the fatal crossing, some six miles further.
After crossing the bridge and watching the company betimes, I saw and noticed the snow and storm clouds hovering over and lowering down the point of the Black hills nearby, with a premonition indescribable. Reaching the fort and soldiers’ quarters, I soon found the sutler’s store and, after emptying my pack and his examining the merchandise for barter, he directed me to a row of buffalo robe Indian tepees, ten or fifteen in number, that I found tenanted with squawmen and their Sioux and Indian wives. In nearly every tepee I found a meat-drying fire or an iron Charter Oak stove, and on racks, sticks and strings, were suspended cakes of jerked buffalo meat drying and being partially cooked for the winter’s preservation. After showing the squaws my stock of dresses, etc., they became instant buyers, paying me with a liberal hand, cake after cake of this choice and fall-cured meat, and in some instances making me understand to help myself from the stack for the nice underclothing. From two or three of the squawmen I got $3 or $4, and when I sold out there, I had not less than fifty or sixty pounds of this meat, and money to spend with the sutler. Reaching his store, per mother’s instructions, I purchased a half pound or more of black pepper, several ounces of cayenne pepper, some tea, sugar, soda, etc., and lastly, after starting for my company, (which, after having rested for noon, was traveling as fast as it could on the other side of the river), passing the soldiers’ cook’s cabin. I paid $1 for a four or five-pound loaf of light bread, warm from the stove pan.
Others that I had come with to the fort that day bartered and purchased similarly, and as an instance of the prices of provisions there, I saw Mrs. Betsey [Elizabeth Ollerton] Wilson, the wife of James Wilson of Levan and Juab for the last forty years, pay the sutler a $2.50 gold piece for ten pounds of flour, and 30 cents per pound for square crackers.
The results and success of my bartering trip that day saved the lives of several in our family, and the liberality of my mother, with many a cup of buffalo beef soup, seasoned well with pepper, alleviated the sufferings and saved the lives of several more in our subsequent snowbound camps, where we were compelled to stop for days or a week at a time.
One more incident, which resulted in the tragic and terrible death of two of our company, and then I proceed on the journey.
As I was leaving the soldiers’ quarters with the load of provisions on my back, I espied Father Jonathan Stone (I think from the London conference), a man of about 55 to 60 years of age, in one of the log cabins. He was sitting by the side of a fire on the floor—the cook handing him bread and meat, which he was devouring with relish. I went and called to him and begged and entreated of him to come on, telling him the time, and that it was getting late in the day; that I could see our company a mile or two off preparing to cross the river, and that the storm clouds were getting quite low. Sister Wilson, just previously mentioned, was with me, and added her entreaties for him to come up with us to camp, but all the response we were able to obtain was his promise that he would be along soon. It was now between 3 and 4 p.m., and we made all haste to catch our company before they commenced to cross the river, but the four-mule team had crossed, filled with the aged and children. Leaving my load of provisions in charge of Sister Wilson on the north side of the river, I rolled up my trousers and waded that cold river, six or eight rods wide, slipping betimes off the smooth stones and boulders into deeper water. Reaching the other side, I found my elder brother too weak and timid to undertake the crossing, but soon getting into the rope harness on the lead of the cart, with brother in the shafts and an elder sister wading waist deep in several places, but keeping by my side, I made the crossing again without accident.
After all had crossed the river we camped an hour or so close by the river, and after a tin cup or two of hot tea and a bite or two for supper, (but a loaf of light bread, for the pie and cake in our family), we traveled on up the river a mile or two that same evening and made camp. Father Stone did not show up or reach our camp that night, and apparently went back to the bridge on the road he had come; crossed the river there again that night and, turning west up the river toward the crossing, found his way into Hunt’s wagon company’s camp, with a young girl by his hand 9 to 12 years of age, making inquiries there as to the location of our camp, to which he belonged. He left this camp immediately after dark, without being further noticed by any of its members, the girl with him. This was the last seen of Father Stone alive, for when Captain Edward Martin, after missing him next morning, returned in quest to the crossing, re-crossed the river to Hunt’s camp and hearing the last they knew of him, he turned east on our back track and in a few miles found some of the remains of both the bodies and clothing, upon which the Platte wolves had feasted the night before. The name of the young girl I have not as yet been able to learn.
A line or two as to the fatal crossing.
As a short but very interesting preface, I shall copy a paragraph or two from Captain John A. Hunt’s well-kept and accurate journal as to this important incident. He says:
“Sunday, Oct. 9—We broke camp and started at 7:30 a.m.; passed Captain Martin’s hand-cart company just as they were ready to start from Deer creek. After having stopped for dinner, many of them pulled their carts alongside of our wagons, and it was enough to draw forth one’s sympathy for them, seeing the aged men, women and children drawing the cars, and so many with haggard countenances.
“We passed the fort bridge, Platte bridge, about 12 noon. Camped at 2 p.m. at the fording place on the Platte river; distance traveled today, fifteen miles.”
That corresponds with the Oregon road distance from Deer creek to this the old Oregon crossing.
“Captain Hodgett’s wagon company had just forded when we arrived, and the (Martin’s) hand-cart company crossed directly afterward.”
They remained here this evening, and next day he says:
“Monday, Oct. 20—The ground was covered with snow and prevented us moving. Our cattle were driven into the corral this afternoon, but some ten or twelve were missing. It commenced snowing again at 3 p.m., and continued for some time.
“Tuesday, Oct 21—Snow about eight inches deep, and completely stopped us from traveling. The missing cattle were all found, they having crossed the river and got with Captain Martin’s lot.
“Wednesday, Oct. 22—We are fording the river at 1 p.m., and camped one mile further on.
“Thursday, Oct. 23—Very cold, frosty weather: camp still detained by snow and cattle dying.”
I now leave Hunt’s company for a few days, and resume our Martin’s hand-cart narrative.
When the writer forded the crossing of the North Platte twice, late in the afternoon of the 19th, he had to dodge in his wadings large cakes of mush-snow and ice—not a presage, but proof of the fact that the snowstorms had been ahead of us for several days in the headwaters and tributaries.
The water was cold, indeed, and to numbers of our young women and middle-aged mothers and matrons, it proved a fatal crossing in the death of many and the ruining of the health of as many more, from which they never afterward recovered. That Hodgett’s wagon company that just preceded us in fording, rendered all the aid and assistance to our people possible, has ever been remembered and recorded with gratitude, but the carrying over of all the members of their companies and ours was almost impossible, taking into considerations the condition of these teams, their loads and the distance covered during the last 500 miles, so that at least 200 to 300 of our company waded and forded the river, pulling the hand carts through behind them. There were wet feet and soaked shoes and socks with the men, but many times worse the soaked skirts, dresses and underclothing of our sisters and mothers. We gave little care for the crossing of the main Platte river several times previous, and other streams during the warm weather, but this crossing has been remembered vividly by all from that day to the present.
We mentioned before that after crossing and having a bite of supper, we went on the same night up the North Platte, a mile or two and camped.
Aaron Jackson, whose widow and several of his children have resided in Ogden since our arrival, was found so weak and exhausted before crossing today, that he could not make it, and after being carried across the ford in a wagon, the writer was again detailed to wheel the dying Aaron on an empty cart, with his feet dangling over the end bar, to camp, and after putting up our tent, assisted his wife in laying him in his blankets, the last time on earth.
It was one of the bitter cold, black frost nights, near the Black hills and, notwithstanding the hard journey the day before, I was awakened at midnight to go on guard again till 6 or 7 in the morning.
Putting jacket or coat on, for both sexes had for weeks past laid down at night in the clothing we had traveled in during the day, and passing out in the middle of the tent, my feet struck those of poor Aaron. They were stiff and rebounded at our accidental stumbling against them, and reaching my hand to his face, I found that he was dead, with his exhausted wife and little ones by his side, all sound asleep. The faithful and good man Aaron had pulled his last cart. I did not wake his wife, but whispered the fact to my mother, and also the sad news, after reaching our hand to the side of the tent and feeling it heavy and weighted with snow, that “Mother, the snow has come.” What a thrill seemed to fill the whole tent, as I whispered those five words to mother.