The spring of 1854 was as balmy, its verdure as delicate and green, as any perhaps that had preceded it, or has followed after. The 18th of May, of that year, saw a company of about fifty leave St. Louis on a fine, river steamer, their destination being the City of the Saints. As the boat swung from its moorings, some who had left their native shores, far o'er the sea, were softly singing:
All the way to Zion, all the way to Zion,
All the way to Zion, we'll follow thee.
A joy and peace that the world knows not of reigns in their hearts; the eye of faith already beholds Zion, the goal of their hopes. The mighty Mississippi, in majesty and power, sweeps by them; the spring drift-wood, whirling in the foaming eddies, passes them swiftly, now on this side, then on that, while at different points, stacked on the river's bank, are thousands of cords of wood. Impressive as the scene may be by day, it is awe-inspiring at night. The red lights of the passing steamers, the sonorous bells answering each other; miles and miles of dense groves of trees; the blinking lights of the scattered habitations, all add to the solemnity of the night. The loud clanging bells denote a stop. The gang plank is run out, and scores of deck hands scramble, heavy laden, on shore, returning with freight, or stores of logs to feed the ever hungry engine.
Thus the days pass away, a song, a prayer at morning, a benediction in the evening. On the morning that the landing place is reached all is excitement, all are full of hope. At last the Saints and their belongings are scattered on the river's low bank, the steamer hurries away, and for the first time a feeling of loneliness falls on them, as they watch her departure.
Ere night-fall a camp is formed some distance from the river, and preparations begun for the long journey across the Western wilds.
The stay on Salt Creek is necessarily of some duration. For this, the delayed arrival of the cattle and some of the outfittings is responsible. Everything is new and strange to them; so many things to arrange, to get acquainted with, the cattle to name; yokes to fit, wagons to load, everything to be gotten in readiness.
A few days after the arrival of the St. Louis party, another steamer puffs up to the bank, and leaves a company of about the same number. A few of these are Saints from Nova Scotia, but the most are from New Brunswick.
They choose to camp on the hill, overlooking the other camp, and the river. Apparently they are a healthy, strong people, of kindly disposition, for many kind words were exchanged as they climb up the hill. As the smoke curls high from their campfires, on the stilly evening air floats the melody of song:
Jesus mighty King in Zion,
Thou alone our guide shall be.
Thy commission we rely on,
We will follow none but thee.
Those on the low land respond:
All the way to Zion, all the way to Zion,
All the way to Zion we'll follow thee.
Between was a funeral knell, that was wafted on the air from the upper camp, and somebody's loved one was laid to rest. There are too many perplexities to meet, too much to be done, to sit down and weep, so the songs of Zion, mornings and evenings rise to God. Soon another funeral dirge sounds from the upper camp, then it is whispered by ashy lips, "the cholera has broken out." So rapidly it spreads, that soon there are scarcely any left who are able to lay away the dead. Consternation prevails in both camps; then Brother James' little girl, six or seven years old, died in the lower camp. Some kindly heart suggests, "has any one a box suitable to place her in?" and a good English sister, took her wardrobe out of the one she brought across the sea, and in it the little darling was laid tenderly away.
Sad to tell, as the days pass by, there is no respite from the Destroyer. Nearly all those in the upper camp have died. A hole is dug for each one, some kind hand rolls them up in the clothes they died in, and hides all away from mortal sight. Sometimes a faint voice sings:
Farewell, all earthly honors,
I bid you all adieu;
Farewell, all sinful pleasures,
I want no more of you.
I want my habitation
On that eternal soil,
Beyond the power of Satan,
Where sin can not defile.
But more often they were lowered to the grave, in a profound silence.
With a dumb anguish, born of their desperate condition, the few left of the upper camp, came down with their friends. Even then, eyes that could see the god of Day mount his golden car in the morning, were closed forever before his glorious going down. My parents, George Dunford and wife, with their children, Harry, Morely and myself, were of the lower camp, and all escaped the plague. Often, in after years, I have heard my mother speak of the scenes of that dreadful day. At the witching hour, between daylight and dark, she would gather us around her knee and portray to us the events of that sorrowful time. "There was a Sister Ballinger," she said, "whom I met in St. Louis. She had many nice things and among them a new feather bed. Well, she died on that bed. A hole was dug, she was rolled up in her feather bed, with all that was about her, and placed in it. An elder who had a good voice stood by the open grave and sang in a soulful way:
There is sweet rest in heaven,
There is sweet rest in heaven,
There is sweet rest, there is sweet rest,
There is sweet rest in heaven.
And the next day he was laid unsung in his own grave. That evening Apostle Orson Pratt, en route to Utah from a foreign mission, reached the camp. "It is the water," he said, "get under way at once, or you will all die." So terrible was the scourge that very few ever recovered who were seized by it. On June 19th, a fair, sunny day, they broke camp, bidding farewell to so many of those who with glowing anticipations had been their comrades, and landed there with them less than a month before.
Health and hope return as they wend their way over the wide prairies of Nebraska, though a few more are added to the list of "The Wayside Dead," but over them they place the wild flowers that abound there.
At the Big Blue, they camp for some time to make some required changes and better arrangement of things that had been hurriedly left unfinished. Nearing Laramie, it was learned that the Indians had made an attack on an emigrant train, and that many had been murdered and scalped. When this point was reached they traveled all night, so as to leave the place as far as possible behind. With what terror, then, did they watch, a few days later, the approach of what proved to be two hundred and fifty Pawnees who surrounded them and camp, as though for an indefinite time. All men stood guard that night, no one slept. The Indians demand provisions, which are gladly given. A little later, they ride away, leaving the train unmolested, and the people wonderfully happy, for this unusual, almost unlooked for occurrence. About this time some of the company became dissatisfied with Captain Field's manner of leading the train. Sometimes he would make thirty miles in one day, then rest a day or two for the cattle to recruit; at other times he would travel far into the night, much against the wishes of his friends. When this became unbearable, the late Isaac Groo said, "All who will follow me, come now, I will lead you." Next morning nineteen wagons followed his lead, another a mule team caught up with them next day. My parents followed Captain Groo, and never regretted it, for he led the company by easy stages into Salt Lake arriving on September 19, 1854, the first company of the season, and two weeks before those arrived who remained with Captain Fields who, by the way, soon left Utah, going to California, where he died.
The only serious Indian trouble occurred near a sand bank, in which at times the wagon wheels sank to the hubs. They camped by a little stream, willows growing on its bank; over it they drove the cattle for feed. The writer, then a tiny girl, came into camp with a piece of wood picked from a grave, among the buffalo chips. On it a warning was written, "Do not camp here, but go on three miles; if you camp here, do not drive your cattle over the creek." Too late, too late, the cattle were over, scattered among the brush. That night the Indians drove the greater part of them off, though extra guards had been stationed to prevent it. The night was a sleepless one, full of suspense. Early in the morning from the tops of the high mountains, the Indians were seen waving their blankets in token of triumph. However, most of the cattle were found by the searching party, though some of them were shot by poisoned arrows. Among these was a fine yellow cow, and my mother said she moaned almost like a human being until she died.
At another time some of the people camped before the others on a hill, which was found to be three miles from water, and off the road. Captain Groo ordered the cattle to be attached to the tongue of the wagon, while heavy chains were pulled by three or four stalwarts, to hold them back. Thus they safely descended the steep place, and reached the road, saving thereby about seven miles around it. At another time, where they camped they found a dead Indian hanging in a tree, sewed up in his blankets, with his pipe, tobacco and other things. One reckless fellow took the pipe and tobacco, after cutting him down, then burned the tree. Captain Groo was very angry, and commanded him to replace everything as he had found it, hanging the Indian to another tree. This desecration might have caused the massacre of the whole company.
Of this party but few remain today. Among them are S. W. Parkinson, of Franklin, Idaho, and Sister Anderson, mother of James H. Anderson, of Salt Lake. Perhaps all the others were children at that time. The train has gone to the Grand Encampment over the Silent River. On the survivors lingers the glory of the setting sun, so brilliant just before it goes down. Even the children of those pioneers are passing over, one by one, to the camp on the other side. What does it matter? Thousands upon thousands sing the praises of the pioneers today. The unterrified, who braved untold dangers, unknown vicissitudes, to plant their feet among the everlasting hills of Zion, and place their genealogy in the eternal archives of the Temples of God. Nor will they or their works be forgotten, for what a man does shall live after him. In their posterity they live again. They are messengers encompassing land and sea, scattering wide the gospel seed, the coming of that Perfect Day.