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- The Great Salt Lake Trail - 20/86 -
the Sweetwater. The task seemed hopeless, but at noon a wagon drove up, containing Joseph A. Young and Stephen Taylor, from Salt Lake City, who told them that a train of supplies would reach them in a day or two. Thus encouraged, the emigrants pushed forward. By doubling their teams, and by the strongest of the party helping the weak to drag their carts, all reached the camping-ground, though some of the cattle perished, and during the night five persons died of cold and exhaustion.
In the morning the snow was a foot deep, and there remained only two barrels of biscuits, a few pounds of sugar and dried apples, and a quarter of a sack of rice. Two of the disabled cattle were killed, their carcasses issued for beef, and on this and a small dole of biscuits the emigrants were told that they must subsist until supplies reached them. The small remnant of provisions was reserved for the young children and the sick. It was now decided to remain in camp, while the captain with one of the elders went in search of the supply-trains. The small allowance of beef and biscuit was consumed the first day, and on the second day more cattle were killed and eaten without biscuit. On the next day there was nothing to eat, for no more cattle could be spared. Still the supplies came not, being delayed by the same storm which the emigrants had encountered. During these three days many died and numbers sickened. Some expired in the arms of those who were themselves almost at the point of death. Mothers wrapped with their dying hands the remnant of their tattered clothing around the wan forms of their perishing infants. The most pitiful sight of all was to see strong men begging for the morsel of food that had been set apart for the sick and helpless.
It was now the evening of the third day, and the sun was sinking behind the snow-clad ranges which could be traced far to the west amid the clear, frosty atmosphere of the desert. There were many who, while they gazed on this scene, did not expect to see the light of another day, and there were many who cared for life no longer, having lost all that makes life precious. They retired to their tents and commanded themselves to their Maker, lay down to rest, perchance to die. But presently a shout of joy was raised. From an eminence near the western portion of the camp covered wagons were seen approaching, with the captain at their head. Immediately about half of the provisions, together with a quantity of warm clothing, blankets, and buffalo-robes were distributed to the companies. The remainder was sent forward under charge of Grant for the use of another company.
But the troubles of the hand-cart emigrants were not yet at an end. Some were already beyond all human aid, some had lost their reason, and around others the blackness of despair had settled, all efforts to rouse them from their stupor being unavailing. Each day the weather grew colder, and many were frost-bitten, losing fingers, toes, or ears, one sick man who held on to the wagon bars to avoid jolting having all his fingers frozen. At a camping-ground at Willow Creek, a tributary of the Sweetwater, fifteen people were buried, thirteen of them having been frozen to death. Near South Pass another company of the brethren met them, with supplies from Salt Lake City, and from the trees near their camp several quarters of fat beef were suspended—“a picture,” says Chislett, who had charge of one of the companies, “that far surpassed the paintings of the ancient masters.” From this point warm weather prevailed, and fresh teams from the valley constantly met them, distributing provisions sufficient for their needs, and then travelling eastward to meet the other company.
On reaching Salt Lake City on the 9th of November, it was found that sixty-seven out of a total of four hundred and twenty had died on the journey. Of the six hundred emigrants included in Martin's detachment, which arrived there three weeks later, a smaller percentage perished. The storm which overtook the party on the Sweetwater reached them on the North Platte. There they encamped and waited about ten days for the weather to moderate. Their rations were reduced to four ounces of flour per head a day, for a few days, until relief came. On arriving at Salt Lake City the survivors were received with the utmost kindness.
On their arrival at Devil's Gate on the Sweetwater, twenty men belonging to the other company were left in charge of stock, merchandise, and baggage, with orders to follow in the spring. The snow fell deep, and many of the cattle were devoured by the wolves, while others perished from cold. The rest were slaughtered, and on their frozen carcasses the men subsisted, their small stock of flour and salt now being exhausted. Game was scarce in the neighbourhood, and with their utmost care the supply of food could not hold out until spring. Two of the men, with the only horses that remained, were sent to Platte Bridge to obtain supplies; but the animals were lost, and they returned empty-handed. Presently the meat was all consumed, and then their only resource was the hides, which were cut into small pieces and soaked in hot water, after the hair had been removed. When the last hide had been eaten, nothing remained but their boot-tops and the scraps of leather from their wagon. Even the neck-piece of a buffalo-skin which had served as a door-mat was used for food. Thus they kept themselves alive until spring, when they subsisted on thistle-roots and wild garlic, until at length relief came from Salt Lake City.
On the 5th of December, 1857, John B. Floyd, then Secretary of War, in his report to James Buchanan, President of the United States, states that the people of Utah implicitly obeyed their prophet, and that from the first day of their settlement in the territory it had been their aim to secede from the Union. He says that for years they had not even pretended obedience to Federal authority, and that they encouraged roaming bands of Indians to rob and massacre the emigrants bound for the Pacific coast.
Previous to the assembling of any troops for duty in Utah to enforce obedience to the laws of the government, an opinion was asked of General Winfield Scott, then commanding the army, as to the feasibility of sending an armed expedition into the territory. Scott's decision was most emphatically against the proposition to send troops there so late in the season. The general's advice was not heeded, however, and in May orders were promulgated that the Fifth and Tenth Infantry, the Second Dragoons, and a battery of the Fourth Artillery should assemble at Fort Leavenworth, Kansas, with the Valley of the Salt Lake as their objective point.
In June, 1858, more than six thousand troops were mobilized for Utah, and the command was given to Brigadier-General W. S. Harney.
In the whole military history of the country, before the Civil War, no expedition had ever been better equipped and rationed than that which was to be called “The Army of Occupation in Utah.” Thousands of cattle and immense supply-trains were started across the plains in advance. The price for the transportation was twenty-two cents a pound.
These exorbitant contracts made the lucky individuals who had secured them very wealthy. By a little political wire-pulling he who had secured the flour contract obtained permission to provide the troops with Utah flour. It cost him but seven cents a pound, but he received the twenty-two cents which it would have cost to have transported it from the States.
This large army was stationed in Utah Territory for nearly four years. It is stated on good authority that the private soldiers asked of each other, “Why were we sent here? Why are we kept here?” while the common people wondered whether the authorities at Washington kept them there to make the contractors rich.
At that time the people of the territory were in a starving condition in consequence of the failure of crops and the unusually severe winter of 1856-1857. There were thousands who for over a year had never realized what a full meal meant; children by the hundreds “endured the gnawings of hunger until hunger had become to them a second nature”; yet despite this condition of affairs the orders issued to General Harney from Washington display a lamentable ignorance, or a determination to compel the Mormons to feed the troops on the basis of the miracle of “the loaves and fishes.” His instructions were as follows: It is not doubted that a surplus of provisions and forage, beyond the wants of the resident population, will be found in the Valley of Utah, and that the inhabitants, if assured by energy and justice, will be ready to sell them to the troops. Hence, no instructions are given you for the extreme event of the troops being in absolute need of such supplies, and their being with-held by the inhabitants. The necessities of such an occasion would furnish a law for your guidance.
Exactly the reverse of what was intended by the authorities at Washington occurred in Utah. In another chapter it is shown how the Mormons stampeded the cattle of the supply-trains, and robbed them of their contents, so it will be perceived that the Mormons themselves subsisted on the rations intended for the troops, completely controverting what was implied in the orders to General Harney.
On the day after the departure from Salt Lake of the officers sent on a special mission to investigate the condition of affairs in Utah, Brigham Young issued a proclamation declaring martial law in Utah, forbidding all armed forces to enter the territory under any pretence whatever, and ordering the Mormon militia to be in readiness to march at a moment's notice. It is probable that the Nauvoo Legion, which now included the entire military force of the territory, mustered at this date from four to five thousand men.
Though imperfectly armed and equipped, and, of course, no match for regular troops, the Mormons were not to be held in contempt. In July, 1857, the Nauvoo Legion had been reorganized, the two cohorts, now termed divisions, having each a nominal strength of two thousand. The division consisted of two brigades; the brigades of two regiments; the regiments of five battalions, each of a hundred men, the battalions being divided into companies of fifty, and the companies into platoons of ten. Each platoon was in charge of a lieutenant, whose duty it was carefully to inspect the arms, ammunition, and accoutrements. All able-bodied males in the territory, excepting those exempt by law, were liable to military duty, and it is probable that the Mormons could have put in the field not less than seven thousand raw troops, half disciplined, indeed, but inured to hardship, and from the very nature of their environment splendid rifle-shots.
It was not the intention of the Mormons to encounter the army of Utah in the open field, or even behind breastworks, if it could be avoided. In order to explain their tactics a despatch sent by the lieutenant-general of the Nauvoo Legion to Major Joseph Taylor will make plain what they proposed to do.
On ascertaining the locality or route of the troops, proceed at once to annoy them in every possible way. Use every exertion to stampede their animals and set fire to their trains. Burn the whole country before them and on their flanks. Keep them from sleeping by night surprises; blockade the road by felling trees or destroying the river-fords where you can. Watch for opportunities to set fire to the grass on their windward, so as, if possible, to envelop their
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