Three letters from the Pioneer Trail, 1849; in Millennial Star, 15 Nov. 1849, 11:22:345–46

Correspondence from America.

From G. A. Smith and E. T. Benson.

Camp of Israel, near Fort Childs, 208 miles from Winter Quarters, Aug. 5, 1849.

      Brother O. Hyde,—While the bright and glorious luminary of day is mounting up from his eastern temple, and the camps of Israel are carreled on the open prairie, with the canopy of heaven for their coverings, (except their canvass,) and the herdsman is guarding the cattle with rifle in hand, and the camps are busy in doing the duty devolving upon them; by our request our clerk has seated himself to write a hasty sketch to you, for the “Guardian” and to all others whom it may concern. We received with joy the letters you sent us by Capt. Kane on the morning of the 2d inst., and we wish you to embrace every opportunity in doing the like, and we will cheerfully return the compliment. We have had no serious accidents in our camps—all have enjoyed tolerable good health with one or two exceptions. We have met with no losses of cattle; indeed in every thing we have been blessed, for which we feel to raise our prayers and hearts of thanksgiving and gratitude to our Father in heaven; surely the angel of mercy has gone before us, and round about the camps of Israel. We have had two or three stampedes, before we adopted the plan of chaining and tying up our cattle, since then, none in our camp has occurred, but our cattle rest in peace and quietness. We carrel our loose cattle, horses, and sheep, inside, and our oxen outside, which we think the safest plan, in case of fright, or a stampede, and we find it answers well, and we recommend to every company coming to adopt the same plan, tie up, and to the merchants in Kanesville to keep on hand a good supply of ropes, of good quality and strength for the purpose, and let none come without a supply sufficient for their cattle. In Capt. Richards’s company a stampede took place last Sabbath evening, but not serious, and without loss—they carreled. His company we expect is at Elm Creek, thirteen miles a-head of us. On our journey thus far we have passed seven graves, some of gold diggers, others of the Saints—all but one (an infant) died of cholera, as the head-boards inform us. Among others we see the name of A. Kellogg, at Prairie Creek, 157 miles from Winter Quarters, he died of cholera 23rd June last. Also Samuel Gully, captain of one hundred, in Brother O. Spencer’s company of Saints, lies 185 miles from Winter Quarters, in the open prairie, his grave neatly tufted over; died of cholera, July 5th, 1849, aged 39 years. Along side of his lies another, Henry Vanderhoof, of the same company, bound for California gold regions; died of cholera, July 4th. So you perceive the destroyer is on these vast plains as well as in the cities and towns.

      We found a note from Capt. Allen Taylor, left on the grave of a gold digger, a few days ago, informing us, that his company had found a few miles below the Fort, fifty-one head of oxen and steers, and four cows; and from some men that have been from the camp to the Fort, we further learn this morning, that between the Fort and where they found the first cattle, they found some fifty head more. The company stopped opposite the Fort, sent over for the officers, to come and see if the cattle belonged to them, i. e., the Government; the officers said they did not, and they proceeded on with them. In the note Capt. Taylor wishes “we had a few yoke of them to help us,” we have accordingly sent on Capt. Patten, with three or four others, to get a few yoke, as our wagons are heavily laden with church property, &c., and the roads have been very heavy, muddy, and miry, rendered so by the incessant rains we have had on the plains. Yesterday morning we experienced a very heavy shower of thunder, lightning, wind and rain, mingled with hail, some were supposed to be one and a half inches in diameter.

      Capt. Richards’s company discovered a new ford across the Loup Fork, about 6 3/4 miles below the upper ford, opposite to an old Pawnee village. The ford is a good one, we think, far superior to either of the others. We crossed upwards of one hundred wagons in a little over half a day, together with our cattle, sheep, &c., labouring under the disadvantage of a high wind—all safe. A good place for camping on the opposite side.

      Since we wrote you concerning our organization at the Elk Horn, we have had a reorganization at the Platte Liberty Pole, which we deemed advisable. The rules of the camps are the same as those adopted by President Young’s company last year. The camps are denominated G. A. Smith’s, including the Welsh company, and E. T. Benson’s, including the Norwegian company. It was thought proper to divide thus on account of numbers, and so separate the camps, but keep close to each other. The officers are as follows:

Isaac Clarke, President of both Camps,

      In G. A. Smith’s Company—W. I. Appleby, William Draper, Counsellors; Elisha Everetts, Captain of one hundred; William Patten, Captain of fifty; Asael Thorn, Captain of the guard; Captain Dan Jones, Marshal; Thomas Jeremy, Daniel Daniels, Lysander Gee, Gashum C. Case, Miram Tanner, Captains of tens; Cable Tary, Clerk.

      In E. T. Benson’s Company—Charles Hopkins, Captain of fifty; Samuel Malin, Captain of the guard; James Cragan, Marshal; Azael T. Talcott, Elisha Wilcox, Sherman Gilbert, Christian Hyer, Henry Boley, Captains of tens.

W. I. Appleby, General Clerk of both Camps and Journalist.

      The reason why we are anxious for all companies coming this way to tie up their cattle, is because of loss and danger. Indeed, there are but few that can comprehend the terrors of a stampede. Picture to yourselves, three or four hundred head of frightened oxen, steers, cows, &c., running, bellowing, roaring, foaming, mad and furious—the ground shaking beneath their feet like an earthquake, chains rattling, yokes cracking, horns flying, and the cry of the guard, “every man in camp turn out.” Horses mounted, and in the darkness of the night, through high grass, sloughs, mud and mire, pursue the bellowing and furious herd, leaving the women and children frightened with a few guards with rifles to guard the camp. After an hour or two, perhaps, the cattle will begin to get weary and quieted, and if luck and fortune attends, the horsemen will head them and drive them back to camp, except those that sometimes swim the rivers, &c. The terrors of a stampede are not soon forgotten. Good chains and ropes to tie up will prevent all this.

      We close by saying, may peace and the blessings of heaven attend you all, and let your prayers ascend to heaven’s throne for our welfare, and not only us but all the camps. Send us on some newspapers whenever you can, and other intelligence. May we meet again in the Valley of the Mountains of Joseph, is the prayer of, your brethren in Christ.

George A. Smith,
Ezra T. Benson,

W. I. Appleby, Clerk.


Camp of Israel, Indian Territory, Sandy Bluffs, 280 miles from Winter Quarters, August 12, 1849.

      Dear Brother O. Pratt,—This morning, while the rain is wetting our canvass, and bids fair for a stormy day, I thought I would send you a hasty sketch of our journey thus far on our way to the Salt Lake, and offer a few suggestions to the Saints in England and other places, that will be of advantage to them in their emigration.

      First, then, I left home and went into camp on the 23rd day of June last, after months’ exertion of labor and toil, and at last was obliged to borrow ten yoke of cattle to roll into camp with; however, I have got along tolerable well, for which I feel truly thankful. We left Winter Quarters on the 14th day of July, with about 130 wagons. At the Platte Liberty Pole, for convenience, herding ,&c., we divided the company into two camps, denominated G. A. Smith’s camp, including the Welsh company (under Captain Dan Jones, consisting of some twenty-five wagons) and E. T. Benson’s , including the Norwegian company, making two camps, yet travelling and encamping near each other all the while. Our progress, thus far, you will perceive has been slow, owing to the wet, muddy, and miry state of the roads, rendered so by the incessant rains we have experienced since we left the Elk Horn; indeed it has been shower after shower of wind, rain, thunder, lightning, and hail. There has been no scarcity of water all through this Indian country, nearly every creek that was dry heretofore when the emigrating companies passed, has now plenty of water in them, and the grass on the prairies is very little behind the prolific yield of the prairies of Illinois.

      We are now encamped on Skuuk Creek, near the Sandy Bluffs—plenty of wood, water, and rich pasture. Our cattle stand the journey thus far very well; our camps are enjoying health and peace; no deaths, losses, or serious accidents have occurred in our midst. Surely the angel of mercy and protection is round about, and goes before the camps of Israel, and may he still continue to go before us to preserve our lives, our cattle, herds, wagons, and provisions—vanquish the destroyer, guide and protect us safely to our destined haven. There were two or three stampedes among our cattle, until we adopted the plan of chaining and tying them up every night; since then we have had no stampedes, but our cattle have rested in quietness. We carrel our horses, sheep, and loose cattle inside, our oxen outside of the carrel, which we think the best and safest way. We would suggest the propriety, and recommend the same to all the Saints that purpose emigrating, to provide themselves with plenty of good grass rope, one-half or five-eights in diameter for tying up, about ten feet to an ox, or steer, or cow, and also to provide some good heavy ox chains, in addition to their lighter ones, in case of doubling several yoke together, when needed in miry places; and have good strong wagons, not too heavy, with high wheels, tight beds, and the bottom and side boards where they meet, bevelled together to prevent the water running through, and thereby lose their flour, as has been the case in a few instances to a small extent in our camp; also procure a good thick twilled material, either cotton or linen, for wagon covers, Russian duck, No. 8; likewise a few yoke of good extra oxen to a company, in case of accident. These are things we recommend to the Saints, which if embraced or adopted, we feel confident will be a benefit unto them, especially the tying up of cattle. No one that has not witnessed a stampede of cattle on these plains, has any idea of the terrors, and dangers, and losses sometimes that accompany them. Contemplate a camp of 50 or 100 wagons all carreled, with about 1000 head of cattle, oxen, steers, cows, &c., with some 3 to 500 souls, consisting of men, women, and children, all wrapt in midnight slumber, with every prospect of peace and quietness when they retired to rest in their wagons under their frail canvass covering, with the guards pacing their several rounds, crying the hour of the night, &c.; when all of a sudden, a roar equal to distant thunder, which causes the ground to shake, is heard; the bellowing and roaring of furious, maddened, and frightened cattle, with the cracking of yokes, breaking of chains, and sometimes of wagons, is heard—away they go, rushing furiously over guards or any thing else that is not invulnerable to them. Hear the guard cry out, a “stampede! every man in camp turn out.” Horses are mounted, and through the storm and darkness of the night, with the rifle in hand, the roar and sound of the cattle are followed; sometimes rivers are swam, and hundreds of heads of cattle are lost; but if success attend, in an hour or two, sometimes longer, they are brought back, but not quieted, to the camp, where the women and children, affrighted from being roused from slumber by such terrific wars, had been left with armed guards to protect them from the Indians, who roam over these plains in countless numbers, merely in quest of plunder, and perhaps had been the cause of frightening the cattle and causing the stampede; such, in brief, is a stampede; but it must be witnessed to be realized. Capt. Owens (Judge Owens of Hancock county, Illinois) with a company of gold hunters, had a stampede a few weeks ago, about 70 miles from here, and lost upwards of 100 head. They were found near Fort Childs, by Captain Allen Taylor’s company of Saints, and returned to them a few days after. The cattle travelled 130 miles in thirty-six hours.

      Our statistics are as follows, as near as we can ascertain at present:—

      129 Wagons,
      467 Souls,
      125 Men,
      23 Horses,
      1 Mule,
      4 ponies,
      514 Oxen,
      243 Cows,
      70 S. Cattle,
      100 Sheep,
      12 Pigs,
      74 Chickens,
      22 Cats,
      26 Dogs,
      21 Ducks,
      4 Turkies,
      2 Doves,
      2 Marriages,
      2 Births,
      No Deaths,
      157 Guns,
      38 Pistols.

We are composed of Yankees, English, Welsh, Norwegian, &c., yet we are one, although of different dialects and nations. The English are doing first rate, as also the Welsh. They are well fitted out with teams and provisions; are in good spirits, are joyful, and make the camp resound with the songs of Zion in the evening after carreling. Capt. Dan Jones understands his duty, and surely he has done nobly in building up the kingdom of God in his native land, and conducting the company he has across the mighty deep. Surely their prosperity and rejoicing should stimulate their brethren to imitate their example.

      There are three companies of Saints a-head of us: Capt. Gully, with President O. Spencer, Capt. Allred’s and Capt. Richards’s. Capt. Samuel Gully went out last spring as captain of one hundred to Brother Spencer’s company, and on the 3rd day of August last we discovered his grave and another, Henry Vanderhoof, of the same company, but not a member of the church, neatly sodded over, and head boards with inscriptions upon them, about 180 miles from Winter Quarters, from which we learned that Brother Gully died of cholera, July 5th, 1849, and Vanderhoof on the 4th. We have also since learned with regret, from the gold diggers that returned after their lost cattle before referred to, that the same company at the Loup Fork, lost one man by drowning, another the Indians shot while out hunting. Four had died of cholera, and two more had been severely injured by cattle in a stampede. At Prairie Creek we saw the grave of an infant, son of Joseph Egbert, who died July 27th, 1849, aged seven months.

      We would also recommend the brethren not to calculate to carry over these roads, at the furthest, more than twenty hundred pounds weight, to two good yoke of cattle and a yoke of cows, with wagon not too heavy, as we before referred to, and double covers to the same,—one of the material before mentioned, and the other coarse cotton sheeting, as it will be necessary to shield them and their provisions from the storms, especially such a one as we experienced night before last. We give a sketch of it from Brother Appleby’s journal of the camp.

      “August 10.—Travelled about 12 miles, some part sandy road; a heavy shower coming on, we encamped early near Low Sandy Bluffs. From about five o’clock, P. M. until midnight, there was one constant and incessant deluge as it were. The rain fell in torrents, the lightning flashed in vivid glare, the thunder rolled in rumbling and terrific peals, the winds howled through our camp of canvass, spread to the enraged elements, and many were the mothers and infants that received the cold drops through their frail covering, and reposed in their saturated beds, without murmuring as it was heaven’s will. The cattle bent to the storm as they stood upon their feet, and sometimes gently tried a chain or rope by which they were made fast. The guards, wet and dripping, paced the camp in their several rounds, cried the hours, exposed to the furious and pitiless storm. However, after about seven hours, the elements having spent their fury, a calm subsided, and in the morning the camp arose to behold a beautiful clear sky, a shining sun, cattle all safe, and cheerful and smiling countenances in the camp, and plenty of water around the same! Such is a prairie thunder shower.”

      We saw Brother T. D. Brown of Liverpool. He paid us a visit while crossing the Missouri river, but in the bustle and hurry we had not time to converse a great deal. He was in good health and spirits, although his business was a little complicated. He rejoiced to behold the camp, and only wished he was ready to go along. He tarries at Kanesville. Sister Smith sends her respects to you and Sister Pratt, and thanks for the presents received. She, together with Sister Benson, wrote a letter at the Horn to Sister Pratt, which we hope she has received. Farewell. May the Lord bless and prosper you for ever. Amen.

G. A. Smith.

W. I. Appleby, Clerk and Journalist of the Camp.

Camp of Israel, Spring Creek, 345 miles from Winter Quarters, August 21st, 1849.

      Brother Hyde,—We wrote you on the 5th inst., giving you a brief description of our journey up to that date, and sent the same to Fort Childs to be forwarded on to you. Another opportunity favours us this morning of writing you, by Brother Babbitt, who came into camp a few hours ago, twenty-six days from the Salt Lake. The news he brings from there is flattering, and cheering are the prospects before the Saints, as he and the documents he bears will inform you. As it regards the health of our camps, it has been quite good, no serious sickness with the exception of Brother Benson, who has been quite sick, for some ten days with an attack of his old complaint, the bilious cholic; however, he is getting a great deal better, and bids fair for a speedy recovery at present. We have sustained no losses, no serious accidents of any kind, the destroyer has not lain any of us low; but indeed in every thing we have been blessed and prospered, and the angel of peace and mercy, it appears, has been our shield, and Joseph’s God our kind protector, for which we feel truly thankful to him whose we are, and whom we desire to serve and obey. To be sure we have had our trials in wet, muddy, miry roads, sand bluffs, sloughs, rivers, &c.; also quite frequent and heavy showers of rain, thunder, lightning, wind, and great hail. But it has caused, where last year no grass grew, and no water to be found, plenty of each for us the present year, and the buffalo, antelope, ducks, &c., supply the camp with meat, which is excellent and plentiful; so you will perceive we are happy and contented, and blessed with the spirit of the Lord. We surely rejoice, and oft is the time the camps resound with the songs of Zion, and fervent aspirations to heaven for the mercies and blessings we enjoy, and protection from the Indians—they have not molested us; indeed, we have not seen half a dozen Indians since we left Winter Quarters. The cholera it appears, has frightened them, and they have deserted the path of the white man; scores of them have already died with it, and left on the prairie, covered over with a few skins, and the wolves have come and devoured the flesh from off their bones.

      Last year we requested of the merchants in Kanesville to procure good and substantial materials for wagon covers, which was wanted by the immigrants to the valley, and we expected they would procure it, and they assured us they had, and we purchased under that consideration; but be assured we have been deceived, as the material (although double), will not prevent the rain from coming through and wetting our provisions, beds, &c. We would therefore counsel our brethren, that intend making purchases of material for wagon covers for future emigrating, not to purchase any such material as that sold to us, but purchase good, substantial, glazed cloth or bed ticking.

      On the 9th, inst., we passed the grave of a gold digger, and from a writing found upon the same (a copy of which we send you), we learn that it was the grave of Edward Haggard, of Askaloosa, Iowa, (of the Hawkeye company,) who died in June last.

      Copy of the writing found upon the tomb, (Verbatim.)

      “To any one who may read—June 7th, 1849. May know the cause. The Hawkeye company on their journey to California, to inform any one who may read this letter, that mankind whilst journeying through this world are subject to troubles, crosses, and losses, of which we, the Hawkeye company, have to say that we mourn the loss of one of our company, (to wit,) Edward Haggard, of Askaloosa, Iowa, who departed this life June 7th, 1849,—was taken ill at Loup Fork, with diarrhœa, which was the cause of ending his existence here below, we all mourn the loss of a friend, and particularly to be left in a desert land. We add nothing more.

      James McMurray,
      J. Shrade,
      W. W. Sampsee,
      W. G. Lee.

      There was a few lines of original (in part) poetry, on his death, which our sheet will not permit us to copy. The reason why we refer so particularly to his death, the copy of the note, &c., is this, Brother Joel Terrill, last spring, purchased some ten dollars’ worth of ropes, and came on from the Bluffs to the Elk Horn river, with two or three others to build a raft, that the emigrants might have a way of crossing the river without being detained on their arrival. Accordingly he built his raft, exposed to the attack of the Indians, far from the habitation of white man, &c. Shortly after, the before mentioned Hawkeye company of gold hunters, on their way to California arrived at the Horn, and demanded of Brother Terrill what the fare was for conveyance over the river; he replied, that as he came a considerable way—periled his life as it were, in an Indian country, and attended with considerable expense, trouble, &c., he thought he ought to have one dollar per wagon. They retired a short distance, and shortly after returned, and with guns glistening with bayonetes, presented the same to Brother Terrill, and ordered him under the pain of death to leave his raft, which he was compelled to do. They used the raft to cross over, and took the ropes, &c., belonging to Brother Terrill along with them, without remunerating him one cent. Brother Terrill related the circumstances to G. A. Smith, together with the name of the company, &c.

      We have been visited with two or three severe hail storms, one took place last Friday evening, a description we copy from Elder Appleby’s journal of the camp.

      “August 18th.—Last evening we experienced another heavy shower. It came on just as the camps were tying up their cattle. A dark cloud had been observed for some time before, lying off south of the Platte (near by which we were encamped); after some time it appeared to separate, one part passed east of us, the other a short time after came over us, and saturated our canvass well, and made those that were tying up their cattle expedite the business, or else take the cold and large drops. However, it soon passed over, and appeared to follow the one gone east, as if to wage a battle, as both seemed prepared. After some time they appeared to meet, and both united bent their way to give the camp a round of their artillery. On they came, riding upon the wind with the speed of the lama over the prairies, roaring and rumbling, charged with electricity, the lightnings flashed and presented their vivid glare through the darkness of the night and storm; sometimes a shaft would descend to the earth, followed by rumbling and exploding peals of thunder, that caused the earth to tremble. At length they reached the camp, and as if to defeat us if we undertook to keep them at bay, they first gave us a fine drenching, (perhaps to wet our ammunition,) except those whose canvass was thick enough to repel the force of the storm. After a few minutes their batteries were opened indeed: first canister, then grape, afterwards half-pounders, not hot shot, but cold and hard, was poured into the camp. The plains and distant hills reverberated with the sound of the artillery of heaven. The cattle being made fast, withstood the storm, without seeking for shelter, except some horses that broke loose, and loose cattle in the carrel. The guard, in the midst of the battle, cried the hour as the hail fell upon them, sometimes striking them on the head, nearly stunning them, and cracking like shot or balls when striking the wagon bows, and sprinkling the inmates of the wagons when striking their canvas covering, and rebounding to the ground.

      “However, after awhile, appearing to have spent their fury, they retired, leaving the camp master of the field, and a considerable quantity of their large shot lying in and around the camp, which some gathered and put in water and made a pleasant beverage. The camp after their retreat reposed in sleep, the sentinels paced the dark, and in the morning all was well; no one hurt, killed, or wounded, no cattle missing, and not an enemy lying on the battle field.”

      Farewell, may peace, and happiness, be and abide with you and yours, and all the Saints, and enjoy a crown of eternal life hereafter, is the prayer of your brethren in Christ,

George A. Smith,          Ezra T. Benson,

      W. I. Appleby, Clerk.