This Week in 1856 – Crossing the Platte – Mary Taylor

From John Jacques:

At Deer Creek, on the 17th of October, owing to the growing weakness of emigrants and teams, the baggage, including bedding and cooking utensils, was reduced to ten pounds per head, children under 8 years, five pounds. Good blankets and other bedding and clothing were burned, as they could not be carried further, though needed more than ever, for there was 400 miles of winter to go through. A detachment of soldiers were stationed at the bridge over the North Platte, to remain there until the emigration had passed, and then to withdraw to Fort Laramie to winter.

19 October 1856:

That was a bitter cold day. Winter came on all at once, and that was the first day of it. The river was wide, the cold, exceedingly cold water, was up to the wagon beds in the deepest parts, the current was strong, and the bed of the river was covered with cobble stones. Some of the men carried some of the women over on their backs, or in their arms but other women tied up their skirts and waded through, like the heroines they were, and as they had done through many other rivers and creeks. The campy was barely over, when snow, hail and sleet began to fall, accompanied by a piercing north wind, and camp was made on this side of the river.

Captain Hunt’s wagon company camped on the other side of the river, and Captain Hodgetts was on this side. That was a nipping night, and it told its tale on the oxen as well as on the people. The snowstorm appears to have been a very extensive, as well as severe one, reaching westward at least to the Wasatch Range.

Patience Loader

October 19, 1956:

We halted for a short time and took shelter under our carts. After the storm had passed we traveled on until we came to the last crossing of the Platte River. . . . The water was deep and very cold and we . . . drifted out of the regular crossing and we came near being drowned, the water coming up to our arm pits. . . .

“. . . After we got out of the water we had to travel in our wet clothes until we got to camp and our clothing was frozen on us. . . . When we got to camp, we had but very little dry clothing to put on.

“We had to make the best of our poor circumstances and put our trust in God our Father that we may take no harm from our wet clothes. It was too late to go for wood and water, and wood was too far away that night. The ground was frozen [so] hard we was unable to drive any tent pins in. As the tent was wet when we took it down in the morning it was somewhat frozen, so we stretched it open the best we could and got in under it. . . .

Every day we realized that the hand of God was over us. . . . We knew that we had not strength of our own to perform such hardships if our heavenly Father had not help us. . . .

(Wallace Stegner, The Gathering of Zion: The Story of the Mormon Trail [University of Nebraska Press, 1992], 3, 247.)

Josiah Rogerson

October 1856

The crossing of the North Platte was fraught with more fatalities than any other incident of the entire journey. . . . More than a score or two of the young female members waded the stream that in places was waist deep. Blocks of mushy snow and ice had to be dodged. The result of wading of this stream by the female members was immediately followed by partial and temporary dementia from which several did not recover until the next spring.

(Josiah Rogerson, Salt Lake Tribune, 14 Jan. 1914, as quoted in LeRoy R. Hafen and Ann W. Hafen, Handcarts to Zion [Glendale, Ca.: The Arthur H. Clark Company, 1960], 109.)

Elizabeth Horrocks Jackson Kingsford

October 19, 1856

My husband (Aaron Jackson) attempted to ford the stream. He had only gone a short distance when he reached a sandbar in the river, on which he sank down through weakness and exhaustion. My sister, Mary Horrocks Leavitt, waded through the water to his assistance. She raised him up to his feet. Shortly afterward, a man came along on horseback and conveyed him to the other side. My sister then helped me to pull my cart with my three children and other matters on it. We had scarcely crossed the river when we were visited with a tremendous storm of snow, hail, sand, and fierce winds. . . .

About nine o’clock I retired. Bedding had become very scarce so I did not disrobe. I slept until, as it appeared to me, about midnight. I was extremely cold. The weather was bitter. I listened to hear if my husband breathed, he lay so still. I could not hear him. I became alarmed. I put my hand on his body, when to my horror I discovered that my worst fears were confirmed. My husband was dead. I called for help to the other inmates of the tent. They could render me no aid; and there was no alternative but to remain alone by the side of the corpse till morning. Oh, how the dreary hours drew their tedious length along. When daylight came, some of the male part of the company prepared the body for burial. And oh, such a burial and funeral service. They did not remove his clothing—he had but little. They wrapped him in a blanket and placed him in a pile with thirteen others who had died, and then covered him up with snow. The ground was frozen so hard that they could not dig a grave. He was left there to sleep in peace until the trump of God shall sound, and the dead in Christ shall awake and come forth in the morning of the first resurrection. We shall then again unite our hearts and lives, and eternity will furnish us with life forever more.

I will not attempt to describe my feelings at finding myself thus left a widow with three children, under such excruciating circumstances. I cannot do it. But I believe the Recording Angel has inscribed in the archives above, and that my suffering for the Gospel’s sake will be sanctified unto me for my good.

(Elizabeth Jackson, as quoted in LeRoy and Ann Hafen, Handcarts to Zion [Glendale, Ca.: The Arthur H. Clark Company, 1960], 110-13.)

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