J[aques], J[ohn], "Some Reminiscences," Salt Lake Daily Herald, 12 Jan. 1879, 1.
- Related Companies
- Edward Martin Company (1856)
The usual routine of the camp life of the fifth handcart company of emigrants (1856) from Iowa city, across the state of Iowa to Florence, across the Platte valley, all up the Platte valley to Fort Laramie, across the Black Hills to the Platte again, and on to Devil's Gate, was something like this—Cornet-a-piation was blown about 5 o'clock a m for the emigrants to arouse, make their fires, cook and eat their breakfast. About 6 o'clock, cornet blown for public prayers, which everybody in camp was expected to attend. About 7 o'clock, cornet blew to strike tents, break up camp, and start. Sometime in the middle of the day, cornet blew for halt to bait. In an hour or two, cornet blew to resume march. Usually sometime before dark, occasionally after, cornet blew to halt, pitch tents, get wood or buffalo chips and water , make fires, cook and eat supper, and do anything else deemed necessary. About 8 o'clock, cornet blew for public prayers. About 10 o'clock, cornet blew for fires and light to be put out and everybody but the guards to go to bed. The undeviating regularity of all this for so long a time grew to be wearyingly and worryingly monotonous. How some of the emigrants did long for the time to come when they could be freed from the odious and relentless tyranny of those unfailing cornet calls, and be left to enjoy a little rest and quiet! Some found that rest long before the journey was over, found rest and quiet in the silent grave. Each cornet call was some well known air or tune. How hateful those tunes did become! I verily believe it grew that eventually they were abhorrent to every ear in camp. It was a shame to use good and innocent tunes in that way and render them forever after repulsive through the association of painful or disagreeable ideas. There are different ways of murdering music. Those unfortunate tunes are hateful to this day.
But in all the above daily routine the only serious mistake was in the semi-daily obligatory public prayer meetings. For the attendance was of a compulsory nature. All were required to attend. Harsh words were sometime uttered and harsh measures were sometime adopted to cause all, men, women, and children, and even the sick, to attend these public prayer meetings, morning and evening. But the prayer meeting was not all. One prominent man was badly afflicted with cacethes loquendi. He loved to preach at the public prayer meetings, and he would do it every time he could get the opportunity. He was an irrepressible preacher. He did not seem to know that he could overdo the matter. He must have thought that his preaching was a very good thing. He appeared to have no idea that there could be too much of a good thing, at least of such a very good thing as his preaching was. He little thought what a nuisance he caused his incessant preaching to become. How tired his hearers were many and many a time of his wearisome harangues! How they wanted and longed to get back to their camp fires and tents to rest! For after a time these frequent public prayer meetings and public preachings, so far from being opportunities for edification and means of grace, became intensely wearying, harassing, and disgusting to the worn down emigrants, and should have been made far less frequent much sooner than they were. Very few of them were held after the start from Devil's Gate, for better sense and more judicious consideration of the absolute restful needs of the emigrants prevailed but not a bit too soon.
To give an idea of the annoying manner in which these frequent public meetings worked, I will tell a short story about three tries to boil a pudding. Somewhere in the Platte country, below Fort Laramie, I believe, one family thought they would have a pudding, or a dumpling it might have been. But, pudding or dumpling, any way it was a boiled circumstance of some sort. For our present convenience we will call it a pudding. In the evening, as soon as the fire was lit and the pudding was made, the latter was put into the kettle to cook, and the kettle was set on the fire. So after came the call for everybody to go to prayers. With the prayers came the, unfortunately not unusual, preaching. After meeting was over, the family, returning to the kettle, found the pudding there safe enough, but the fire was gone out, and the pudding was getting cold. The fire was soon rekindled and the pot was set a-boiling again. Soon after that, and before the pudding was cooked, came the call to put out fires and go to bed. How the family managed for supper, this deponeth sayeth not, for he doth not remember. Next morning the fire was made again, the kettle and the pudding were set on it again, and this time the pudding was actually cooked, serving for breakfast. The family thought they would have a change in their ordinarily monotonous dietary, and a pretty sort of change it was, all through these odiously-frequent public meetings.
Now, there is a time for everything, says the wise man, and everything is good in its time and in its place. But every thing, every good thing, is not good out of its time and its place. Public prayer is good in its time and its place, and public preaching is good in its time and its place. But, as with other good things, the time and place for public prayer and public preaching are not every time and place. Far more than either of these, the weary emigrants needed rest and refreshment, night and morning, to recruit their exhausted energies after tugging at those handcarts all day long, and some of the men having to stand guard half the night in addition to their regular day's work. It would have been much better for the occupants of each tent to have had their daily prayers at such time as best suited them and the whole camp to have had public meetings only when absolutely necessary or really advisable. There is no more necessity for a large company of traveling emigrants to be required to attend public meetings and preachings twice a day that there is for a community or a ward to be required to do the same. Furthermore, that inveterate preacher did not seem to take into consideration the private sharp scolding some of the poor women might receive at their tents, from their irritated liege lords, if the cooking did not happen to suit them, or if shirt buttons became frequently fugitive. Though I may say that the men did most of the stoking and much of the cooking, and consequently, if things were not done to a T, they could appropriate a liberal share of the blame to their own dear selves. Nor did he make allowance for the affectionate but searching curtain lectures which some of the poor men might have to endure after the evening's public preaching was over. For, although a well meaning, good and worthy man, not lacking in good sense in many matters, yet his everlasting preaching was his everlasting hobby and he did not seem to be aware that it was not everybody else's hobby also. At the same time it appears to be a very hard thing to deny a man the exercise of the preaching faculty when he is superabundantly endowed with it. For it must be a grievous trial to him to hush-up and keep his mouth shut when he has a lava stream of burning words pent up and urging eruptive issue. Yet he should be cheerfully willing to pass through even that fiery ordeal when the public welfare demands it, and, if he is what the school histories term a great patriot, he will. But the poor emigrants were really to be pitied under this preaching infliction. It might be their lot to be worked and wearied and worn down to death, or starved to death, or frozen to death, or wasted to death by diarrhoea and want and weakness, but surely that was enough. It hardly seemed fair that they should be harassed to death with needlessly frequent public meetings, and preached to death while they were at the meetings. For, of all deaths, to be prayed to death, or preached to death, or talked to death in any way, is not the easiest kind of death to die.
I have talked of the great appetite which came to the handcart emigrants on the journey. Near Fort Laramie one of them, after having eaten his supper one night, took a stroll through the camp of tone of the wagon companies near by, where an acquaintance and friend kindly asked him to have some supper. With thanks he thought he would. So he sat down with the wagon people and did full justice to some fried beef and bacon, with biscuit, which he thought was as savory a dish as he had tasted for many a day. After eating as long as he could put on a face to do so, he finished his second supper, but without feeling much more satisfied than when he first sat down. If any body else had kindly extended to him another invitation to supper that night, I have no doubt he would have accepted it gladly, and done full justice to a third supper.
I have mentioned the generally prevalent abnormal indifference to death and the dead, induced by daily familiarity therewith, in the company. In some, if not all, of the hundreds, men were specially appointed to be grave-diggers, and the feelings of these men would naturally grow more callous than those of others of the emigrants, from usage, as well as from the fact that the exigencies of travel would frequently require the interment of the dead in what, under other circumstances, would be considered indecent haste. But on one occasion, at least, the old sensitiveness or normal nervousness returned and re-asserted itself unexpectedly and suddenly though temporarily, to two of thes grave-diggers. One evening, on the other side of Devil's Gate, after the tents had been pitched, these two men dug a grave, buried two corpses in it, and filled it up again, out-side of camp. Scarcely had they finished their work, when some unaccountable, irresistible and uncontrollable nervous impulse simultaneously seized them both. Without saying a word to each other at the time, each shouldered his spade or his pick and ran back to camp as fast as his legs could carry him, or in a popular parlance, as if the very Old Harry were after him. This was the only time, one of those grave-digging and pedestrian Tam O'Shanters subsequently declared, that he ever felt frightened over that part of the camp business.
In some of the pinching times there would be, occasionally, a little petty pilfering going on in camp. The pilferings were usually of bread to eat. The bread was baked in the form of cakes in frying pans, or of biscuits in skillets and bake-kettles. In one family there were two or three grown-up girls, and one of them attended much to the cooking. One evening she had made and baked a very nice cake before going to prayers, and she set it up on edge against the tent while she went to prayer meeting. When she got back to her tent she went for her cake. On picking it up it seemed diminished marvellously in weight. Presently she exclaimed, with tears in her eyes, "Oh, mother, somebody has been and taken every bit of crumb out of my cake and left the crust!" Some sharper, who either had not been to prayers, or who had loiteringly delayed his going, or had got through them with singularity swift dispatch for his own ulterior purposes, had discovered the girl's cake, taken a fancy to it, pulled it in two, eaten the soft and warm inside, put the two crusts together again, and reared them carefully against the tent as they were. The poor girl thought that was really too bad, yet no doubt she felt thankful to get even the crust of her cake back again from that hungry pilferer. Solomon says, "Men do not despise a thief if he steal to satisfy his soul when he is hungry." But Solomon did not cross the continent with this handcart company. Besides, the purloining fellow I have been talking about stole, not from the rich and well fed and surfeited, but from those who were as hungry and as poor as himself. The girl would have been glad to find him and give him ample opportunity to make the scriptures sevenfold restitution. I presume she would not have demanded also that he should "give all the substance of his house," or of his tent, or of his handcart. Sevenfold that is, seven hot cakes, in their integrity, unrifled of the crumb, would have more than satisfied her, and then she would have made him as welcome to the empty crust as he had made himself welcome to the more tempting crumb of her solitary cake.
[also in Journal History of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, 30 Nov. 1856, 43-48]