Burton, Robert T., to the members of the Hand Cart Association, 1 Oct. 1907, in Handcart Veterans Association, Scrapbook, 1906-1914.
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Now, I desire to accompany this report with a very breif history of that notable event. As appears from the daily journal referred to, this select company left Salt Lake City on the 7th of October, 1856, for the purpose of aiding the incoming emigrant companies. Our information as to their whereabouts was very meagre indeed. It is hard for the people living now to comprehend the situation fifty years ago, when sometimes we had a monthly mail, and sometimes no mail at all for six months. What information we obtained was from carriers who came to advise President Young of the situation.
We made as good time as men and animals could make under the circumstances. But I desire to state that at one time while we were traveling down the Sweet Water [Sweetwater] about 300 or 400 miles east of Salt Lake City, the snow was so deep that the axle-trees of our wagons dragged and we were compelled to remain camped at the same place for one or two days in consequence of the severity of the storms, but with no idea other than resuming our journey when the weather would permit, until we found the companies we were sent to relieve.
As will be noticed from the daily journal, we sent our expresses on various occasions, but were unable to locate the parties we were looking for until we were camped at Devil’s gate, near the mouth of the Sweet water, when the express returned and reported them camped on the Platt River. The weather was cold, the snow deep, the people poor and nearly destitute of clothing, and some provisions. These supplies had been donated by the people in Salt Lake, and these people had been very liberal in their donations, (for they were all in straightened circumstances) but had given such articles as they could and such as would aid the suffering imigrants. Most of the supplies were given to Capt. Edward Martin’s Hand cart company, whose sufferings were intense and necessities very great. A strict account was kept of all these disbursements. The lives of the people were too precious to permit of our carrying anything in the wagons which could possibly be dispensed with. We consequently cached at Devil’s gate all freight that, in our judgment, could be left so as to relieve the company.
It will be seen by reference to the Journal that the cold was so intense that it was not deemed advisable to travel at all for several days. During this time we were engaged in caching the goods. At one time, on the 6th of November, the thermometer dropped to 11 degrees below zero. As soon as the weather permitted we pressed on towards Salt Lake City, traveling up the Sweet Water, and taking every advantage possible of roads and conditions to save the people, but in spite of all that we could do many were laid to rest by the wayside. These matters I do not desire to dwell upon. I would rather forget them and look the brighter side, and thank the Lord for his kind providence in saving those whom he did spare.
In traveling up the Sweet Water we began to meet teams sent to our aid, which relieved the situation to such an extent that when we reached the head of the Sweet Water we were able, on the 19th of November, to get most if not all of the emigrants in the wagons and from this time on we made good time.
On arriving at dry Sandy, as will be seen, George D. Grant, Wm. H. Kimball and others left for Salt Lake City, leaving me in charge of the camp. We were then making good progress day by day, although it appeared at times that our road was entirely blocked with snow. However we met with no difficulties that were not easily overcome until we arrived at East Canyon on November 28th. We found the road there sidelong, but were enabled to get all the wagons over safely, thanks to the foresight of president Brigham Young, who had kept ox teams constantly traveling up and down the big mountain to keep the road open for us. We succeeded in getting over that part of our journey without serious difficulty, although the walls of snow on each side were as high as the bows of the wagons, and those who witnessed this sight can never forget it, as those 104 wagons freighted with human beings who had been so miraculously saved, wended their way up this mountain. It was indeed to us a great sight, as we were now near our homes.
I cannot leave this subject without expressing thanks to those brave men who were constantly day and night in their efforts to save the people, and more especially do I wish to remember those who endangered their lives to carry express East and West under the most difficult circumstances: Notable among these were: Jos. A. Young, Steven Taylor, C. H. Wheelock, Abel Garr and Dan Jones, most of whom have passed away. Of course, too much credit cannot be given to the entire company for their indefategable labors night and day, as before stated, to save the people.