Burton, Robert Taylor to S. S. Jones, Handcart Veterans Association, 9 Nov. 1906. Handcart Veterans Association, Scrapbook, 1906-1914, fd. 2.
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Church of Jesus Christ of
Salt Lake City, Utah
Dear Brother: —
I am in receipt of your favor of October 10th, last, and I feel that I owe you an apology for not sooner replying thereto.
It is true as you state that I came to the 14th Ward Assembly Hall when the Hand Cart people assembled there and found it was so crowded that I could not very well make my way to the stand; the crowded condition of the Hall as stated, and my business affairs at the office requiring almost constant attention, I did not press my way to the front. But I do not wish you nor my hand cart friends to think it was because I had forgotten the importance of the event they gathered together to commemorate, had opportunity occurred I would like to have spoken a few words to the survivors of that 1856 expedition.
I state for your information, that on the 7th of October, 1856, we left Salt Lake City with a small detachment of cavalry and three or four wagons in which we had limited supplies. We made fairly good headway passing over the old emigrant route from the Big Mountain and up Echo Canyon, etc., and finally made Fort Bridger on the 12th of the same month. Here we obtained some little additional supply and forage, etc., and then pursued our journey on the old route. As before stated crossing Green River at Sandies and so on over South Pass, until we arrived at Sweet Water [Sweetwater]; traveling down the Sweet Water we arrived at the Devil’s Gate on the 26th of October, however, I may say that the snow was so deep and the storm so excessive that we were compelled to lay up one or two days on the Sweet Water. It might be well now for me to here state that our progress was necessarily slow as the axle-trees of our wagons dragged through the snow as we were making our way toward the people who were in distress, and we were going from our homes.
In the meantime, we had forwarded an express to ascertain, if possible, where the Hand Cart people were; this express was carried by two of our bravest men, who have many years departed, namely: Joseph A. Young and Able Garr. They reported that they had been farther down to the Platte and had no tidings of the people. We refitted them up, however, and sent them on again to find the people, which they did, as you probably remember, on the head of the Platte River.
Now Brother Jones, it would be too tedious at this time to explain to you all the features of that terrible march from and back to our homes. In charge of the expedition was our departed friend George D. Grant, aided by Wm. H. Kimball and myself. On our return toward our homes Grant and Kimball were compelled to leave me and come to the City. By this time, however, we had got the most of our people in comfortable wagons, and from that on, made fairly good headway toward the City, in spite of the storm, snow and frost.
Arriving at the Big Mountain on the evening of the 30th of November, where the snow had piled up on each side of the road nearly to the tops of our wagons, which had been kept open by the efforts of our dear President Brigham Young by the use of ox teams passing up and down the road. This was a sight which to those who were present could never be forgotten; 104 wagons ladened with the survivors of the distressed companies and the hardships endured before we got there, are many of them too severe to be related. I have striven for years to obliterate from my mind some of the sights that I witnessed on the return to the Valley.
In conclusion, let me say if it will be of any service to you or any one else who may desire to further perpetuate the remembrance of this terrible trip, I have got every days camp noted in my journal, and the forage and provisions that were bestowed upon the companies’ and individuals, just as we were compelled to scantily dole them out, so that we could have at least quarter rations in the hardest of the time.
You will probably think my letter somewhat lengthy and so it is, but as you know I have hardly entered upon the history of this matter, but will say, that if I am permitted to remain until there is another gathering of the same kind I will take pleasure in contributing my mite to the comfort of the survivors who may be spared to assemble on such an occasion.
With kind regards and well wishes to yourself and others interested, I am,
As ever, Your Brother, RT Burton