by Martin Calderwood
As dusk fell, the conversation lagged, food was shared and eaten, and some even managed to doze a bit. All the while the man with the eye patch sat silently ignoring all attempts to draw him into the conversation. His fellow veterans identified him as Lt. Robert Baker and added that for the most part he was always like this. They explained that he’d been some kind of preacher, or missionary, before the war and now was bitter and hurt because he believed God had deserted him. The conversation naturally turned to religion and God and the soldiers learned that a large portion of those in the train were Mormons.
Anders, who had never heard of the church, asked a few questions, then simply listened and translated as needed. Two of the soldiers pointed out that Mormons had many wives and one even wondered aloud if Inga and Karen were really wives and not daughters as they said they were. One said he’d heard they worshiped a guy named Joe Smith and didn’t believe in God or Jesus.
Julius and the others tried to explain some doctrines but most, being new to the church, and with the language barrier, were unable to make much headway.
When one of the legless soldiers suggested that it was best that they “got the hell out of America,” everyone fell silent.
It was then that the soldier named Robert spoke. He told the speaker to shut up or he’d find himself thrown off the train. To almost everyone’s surprise the soldier apologized and the topic changed to something more neutral.
When they came into sight of the Great Lake Erie everyone fell silent as they looked out the window. The train rumbled into Michigan after crossing the tip of Indiana and cutting across the top of Illinois. Finally, after nearly twelve hours of stop-and-go travel, the train rumbled into Chicago. Anders stared out the window at the great stock yards of Chicago. It was here, he’d explained, that he planned to work, because it only took one good arm to kill a bull.
“Seems,” he’d said sadly, “that I will never get away from the killing.”
The train whistled and Chicago came into view on both sides of the train. Those who were awake turned to watch the amazing town unfold before them.
It was just past midnight when the train jostled to its final stop. In deference to the women and children, the passengers were told that they could spend the night on the train and get off at sunrise, about six hours away. Most of the people opted to do just that. Two of the soldiers, Heart and Jones chose to leave “the Mormon Express” as they called it, but the rest stayed aboard. Soon all but a few watchmen were dozing in their seats or stretched in the aisles.
The next morning, as the people disembarked in the Chicago train yards, the bustle and smells were unlike anything they had ever experienced before. As Julius and family waited for their trunks, Robert approached them and stood uncomfortably for several minutes before speaking.
“Can I help you??” asked Julius finally.
“You’re a Mormon?”
“I’m a Mormon too,” said the Lt. softly. “Only I left the church.”
Julius looked puzzled and motioned for Kris to come over, asking him to translate.
Kris explained that Robert was baptized, along with his family, into the Mormon church by missionaries when he was fifteen, back in 1858. His father had decided that he did not want to go to Utah, and left the church and moved to Chicago in ‘59. It was there that Robert had joined the Union army and had fought until he was wounded at Vicksburg. He’d recovered in Washington and served as part of the city guard until the war ended.
“How can I help?” asked Julius after listening quietly.
“I don’t know, I just felt like I should talk to you.”
“Perhaps, you should come to Utah. God has a work for you to do and I believe it is His will that you gather with the saints in Zion.”
Robert looked down. “I will consider your words. Where do you go from here?”
“Nebraska. A city called Wyoming. I think we have two stops and a riverboat ride before we get there. In Wyoming we will join a wagon train and travel to Utah. You should join us,” replied Julius
Robert nodded and extended his hand. “Good luck.”
Julius nodded and watched as Robert turned and limped slowly away. Finally he turned back to his son who was looking very perplexed.
“What is the matter?” asked Julius.
“I did not know you knew English that good,” he said after a short pause. “It was perfect.”
His father raised his eyebrow. “I did not speak English at all,” he said matter-of-factly. “Now let’s get our trunks and get everyone together for our contact.”
Their contact was a middle aged man who arrived in a buckboard. With him were eight men, mostly priests and deacons in the church. With swift efficiency they loaded the passengers’ goods and took them to a holding area. They covered the trunks and unhitched the teams, leading them to a pen about a hundred yards away.
“We will be back in the morning. We have some tents for you tonight and a hot meal. Your train leaves at 11:00 in the morning. We will need to load by nine.”
Bro Smith, as he introduced himself, seemed to be in a perpetual hurry. He spoke fast and directed things with almost frantic motions. He ordered the women and small children to board one of the five surreys driven by his crew, and asked men and older children walk. They traveled slowly for about a mile, to a small grove were a score of tents were pitched among the trees. He then left the company to set up and arrange things as they saw fit, which Julius and the others did. Within an hour they were all bedded down on cots or blankets, after drinking fresh water and eating the few biscuits and jerky strips provided by Smith and his men. The hot meal would come in the morning. Someone would arrive at seven to cook and see to any of their needs.
By eight-thirty the group arrived at the rail yard, where they moved their goods to the car and assisted in the loading of the box car in which they would be transported. Some then boarded the train and took their seats while others, especially the young, did a bit of exploring. When the whistle sounded for departure Bernt and Karen had not arrived so Julius jumped off the train and began to frantically look for his children. He spotted them about a seventy yards away, running at full speed toward the train. The pair reached the car just as it made its first halting move forward and jumped, on panting and smiling.
“Told you we could do it!” exclaimed Bernt to his sister.
Julius was standing up just inside the door, having boarded too promptly to clear a path, looking curious and angry.
“Do what?” he demanded.
“Make the train from that distance papa,” said Karen.
“Ja!” grinned Bernt. “I knew we could do it.”
“You do not play such games again! Now sit and do not move until I say you can!”
“Papa…!” began Karen, but seeing the stern look in her father’s eye looked down and slowly entered the train.
“You too, boy!”
“I should have stayed off!”
Julius shook his head and watched his son stomp to the bench his family occupied.
The train car was older than anything they had been on before. Hard benches lined the sides of the car. They all faced forward and were not as comfortable earlier ones. The bathroom was small and cramped. Men were told that they could go to the end of the train if they wanted to relieve themselves.
The train itself consisted of only ten cars, including the engine and tender. Three passenger cars brought up the rear of the baggage car, mail car, and two cattle cars and two empty flat cars. There were no assigned seats so most of the Mormons clustered in the first car and into the second. There was a wide mixture of people. Half a dozen men in buckskins, carrying long rifles, and wearing long knives clustered in the rear car. Three fancily dressed women seemed to be the focus of their attention. There were three families, two of which chatted noisily while their children played roughly in the isles, ignored by their parents.
The third family was black. They selected one corner and sat quietly. Julius noticed that, although the family was dressed nicely and seemed properly behaved, the benches on either side of them and across the aisle were empty. Julius nodded politely as he passed and the man nodded stiffly back. No words were exchanged and Julius left the car behind to join his family in the lead passenger car.
The trip was noticeably noisier and bumpier as the train sped along at thirty miles an hour over flat lands and slightly uneven terrain. A boxed lunch had again been provided by the saints in Chicago, and they ate shortly after three in the afternoon. An hour later three of the company were throwing up out the windows while about half the group’s stomachs ached.
Trine and Karen were the worst affected and Julius and the others were hard pressed to support them as they hung out the windows to throw up or rushed to the toilet to try to help. By the time they pulled into the Nebraska station, several hours later, most of the passengers were feeling better except for one Sister, who was already weak and pale when the journey started, and needed to be carried off the train by her husband and one of the other men. She had been given a blessing of healing by her husband and everyone felt confident that she would recover soon. The Negro man1 had some experience during the war caring for sick and injured and he was a great help, telling them it was probably bad food and helping them with a simple home remedy that he said would cleanse them out and minimize fluid loss. Mostly it made them throw up. Those who did felt better almost at once. A few had to wait until the solution passed through and after that they began to feel a lot better. His wife helped as well, caring for the three youngsters who were worried about their mother.
The Mormon's belongings and those of the black family and the men in buckskins were all transferred to a small steam paddle wheeler that would take them the ninety or so miles downriver to the city of Wyoming.
The steamship that was hired to take the people to the City of Wyoming was waiting for them and one of the crew stated that they would leave as soon as everyone and everything was aboard. They would be traveling about twenty miles an hour so it would only take them five hours to get there. The captain assured them that there were always Mormons waiting at the dock when they arrived, so there would be no problem getting to their destination once they disembarked.
After a brief bit of exercise to stretch their legs and tend to personal needs, the Mormons began to move their belongings aboard the small ship. The buckskin clad hunters were already aboard, as were a dozen or so other people, many of whom had been on the train.
The hunters worked for the railroad. They had been given a few days off to sell their hides and buy ammunition and supplies, which had been carefully stored so they could go down to Nebraska City, about six miles north of Wyoming, to pick up a couple friends. They would then take the boat back to Omaha, board a train and ride out to the end of the line and work from there. The men had been jovial and mostly pleasant company, boasting that they could hit three buffalo in the eye from a hundred yards, skin them, load the carcasses, and have the meat moving in less than an hour, leaving them time to shoot and skin as many of the lumbering beasts as they could for the hides which were in high demand. When asked what they did with the rest of the bodies they simply said, with a laugh, that they left them to the buzzards and any old Indians that happened along.
The boat ride was marred by the passing of the Sister who had been so sick from what they now believed was bad food. She had been frail her entire life, but had borne three strong children and had crossed the ocean and the United States without a murmur. The illness and resulting dehydration had simply proven too much for her body. The saddened pioneers came off the boat carrying the first of their group to join God. Even the usually loud hunters were helpful and quiet as they assisted the Mormons and other passengers remove their items from the ship. In the end they told the Negro man, whose name was Caleb, that he should join them because the railroad needed physicians to take care of the workers. Caleb explained that he would consider it if his job in Nebraska City did not work out.
As promised there were several Mormon Elders waiting as the boat pulled into the dock. None of them seemed too shocked by the appearance of the body, wrapped in white sailcloth. One of the men mentioned that they had once had four bodies come off one ship. The small graveyard they had created about a quarter mile outside the city held more Saints than they had expected; perhaps a dozen or more bodies had been laid to rest in the past year.
The funeral was short and dignified. One man had a harmonica and played a hymn called 'All is Well.”. It contained the words, “And should we die before our journeys through, Happy day, all is well. We then are free from toil and trouble too, With the Saints we shall dwell”.2
The weary saints were given the day off. The next day, July 16th, was the Sabbath, and they held their Sunday meetings and rested while they mourned the passing of Sister Peterson.
It was not until Monday that they received a formal orientation.
The plan was to leave the twentieth-fourth or -fifth of July. If all went well, they would be in Zion by the first part of October. They would average twelve to fifteen miles a day. The Utah pioneers were lead by Brother Jared James,3 who was also the current Mormon Agent in the area. With him was a young man from Denmark, Frederik Hagan, who acted as a translator and teamster. Seventeen men had come from Deseret to help the pioneers.
“When we first arrived, the town had a newspaper, two lawyers, a doctor, and a saloon,” rumbled Bro James in a rugged, deep voice. “Since then I think we’ve scared off one of the lawyers, and there are two saloons, so we ain't doin' much good here as missionaries, but we are movin' the Saints west, and our Church Trains are the best organized and safest of all.”
He grinned at his humor knowing that, in fact, the town had not changed much in ten years, except for a slightly larger population, mostly Mormons, and a few more ways to keep them employed or busy.4 He went on to explain that the city had been used only for the last year as the starting point for the Church Trains, because too many young men and women were being tempted by the worldly pleasures offered by the big city of Nebraska. Wyoming, they were also told, offered a greater staging area for the wagon trains.
“For now though,” he concluded, “we have enough work preparing for the next group or even the next. Bro Hagan will take over from here.”
Frederik translated what Bro James said, then warned the young women to beware of the wife-hunting men who often volunteered for this duty because it gave them first pick of all the emigrant women. This received a few uncomfortable chuckles and a wry glance from Julius toward his daughters, who did not bother to respond with even a smile.
After a few questions the group of over a hundred people broke up. Twenty or more were expected to join them before they left.
The men were immediately put to work tending the crops and preparing things that would be used by the next party of pioneers who came this way. A few, including Julius, went to Nebraska City by wagon, transporting the hunters and Caleb's family, who had stayed on past their original destination to help the sick and the mourning, in the process. Once there, they sold some goods brought with them or made by others who had gone before and bought a few things they needed. Most of the remaining money was carefully stored to be given to the church leaders in Utah for future groups.
Kris and Bernt were put in the wheat field under the guidance of Jeremiah Rutgers, who had been in Zion twelve years, since he was eight. He taught the Berntsen boys more English, but it soon became apparent that it was not really them that he was interested in.
Wagon wheels were greased, harnesses and leather goods worked, and all the teams checked and examined to insure fitness. Every one over twelve was given the chance to practice hitching and unhitching the ox teams. Goods were sorted and some things were left behind. Once again the troll almost became a casualty of necessity, but none of his family would budge on the fact that Johan would keep the troll and Sigrid her doll.
The women sewed, mended and quilted so that those with less would have enough when they arrived, especially if they had to stay the winter. Those under twelve were sent to gather fire wood. One group followed a wagon two miles out, where they gathered wood and buffalo chips to store for the future. It was an excellent test for the youngsters because those who had difficulty with this short trip would have to be worked with to help them understand just what was coming. Johan and Sigrid did not complain because they had often walked that far before though Sigrid did not like the idea of picking up the droppings of the buffalo.
From sun up to sun down the pioneers worked and prepared. As little as possible would be left to chance and stores and supplies had to be left for those to come. The men were given shooting lessons. Most had never held a gun, much less shot one. After a couple hours a handful could hit the targets and one or two were able to handle a rifle well. They were made the point men, along with a couple of scouts from Utah. They would ride ahead and keep an eye out. They were also expected to help with the hunting. None of the Berntsen men qualified, though Kris did fairly well, finishing ninth overall.
After another day of rest, during which wagons were assigned and other physical and temporal adjustments were made, the company began to live by trail rules. This meant they were up at 5:30 for breakfast, oxen yoke practice, and wagon hitching. In lieu of travel, chores and work projects were done, along with skill training for animal care and gun cleaning. Everyone was given the opportunity to drive a yoked wagon, and one evening they learned to circle the wagons and secure the cattle while losing the light of day. The men were shown how to do repairs. Here the Berntsen’s excelled. Julius was soon put in charge of any woodworking that needed to be done. Basic wound dressing and horsemanship were taught, so that as many contingencies as possible could be addressed. English lessons were continued and soon the younger children were speaking the new language with some degree of comfort and accuracy.
They continued with preparing dinner, building fires, and refilling water containers and any cleaning that was needed. At eight everyone was gathered into the center of the camp, where one of the men produced an old fiddle and another, a harmonica. For a half an hour to forty five minutes hymns were sung, group prayer was held, and lastly a half hour dance during which everyone who could was required to dance. Those who did not know how were taught and some added traditional dances from their home areas. After the dance everyone, except the guards and a handful of others who had duties to finish, turned in, where they could study briefly on their own before lights out at nine-thirty.
The routine was repeated daily.
Everything changed when a half dozen of the party, including little Sigrid and two other children, fell suddenly ill with diarrhea and vomiting. In hours, dehydration became a severe problem. Sigrid's flushed and fevered body was placed in the wagon assigned to the family and camp caretakers were assigned to each victim and their families. The rest were encouraged to begin to fast and pray before blessings and other ministrations were given. Sigrid seemed to be the worst hit, and while the others were able to sip small amounts of water and herbal tea, the little girl could keep nothing down. From time to time her little body was racked with tremors as her fever continued to grow. Nothing, even the laying on of hands, did anything for the child. The leaders and caretakers began to prepare the family and themselves for the worst and a small grave was dug in the tiny cemetery.
Inga and Karen did their best to keep their mother occupied, but Trine, when she was not washing her daughter with cold wet rags, continued in fervent prayer in her child's behalf.
Outside Julius and the children paced and prayed and provided a steady stream of wet rags from the nearby brook. Johan clutched his troll and kept asking if he could go in and show him to his sister.
“Zorf says 'Cold make hot go,” reported the boy several times, only to be ignored. Finally he gave up and planted himself under the wagon clutching, the toy as he fought back tears of worry and frustration.
Around camp only those who had to continued their work though all were encouraged to do their chores to help bide the time. Very few took to the advice, and even they worked or listened with only half a heart.
At about eleven o'clock some shouted that there was a wagon coming at a “purty good clip.”
It was Caleb and he was running the horses for all they were worth. He reined to a full stop and almost leapt out of the sideboard, running to Julius' wagon where he peered inside, assessing the situation.
“Had a dream that I should come here,” he said by way of explanation. “Don't know why, but I's learned to follow my gut, and I came fast as I could. Took a while to convince someone to loan me a wagon. Told 'em a little girl's life was a stake.”
He reached out and touched her leg. “Child's burnin' up wit the fever. Gots to break it fast. Mr. Julius, I can help yer daughter but I must do it now, 'for it's too late. You has to trust me, Mr. Julius.”
Julius assessed the man for several seconds, sparing several furtive glances at his wife and child as he thought. He did not think about the fact that he had not even needed a translator for this conversation. Finally he nodded and Caleb scooped the little girl up and carried her away fto the edge of the water. He paused long enough to find a slightly deeper pool within the flow. Without hesitation the black man walked into the stream and stood quietly looking heavenward as he lifted the girl over his head. Almost inaudibly he mumbled several strange words, and some of the men stepped forward only to be restrained by Julius. After a few seconds he knelt in the current and held the little girl over the water before plunging her. She cried and struggled to get away as her body touched the water. Caleb continued to immerse her until only her face was above the water. Again, two of the company started to move to his way but halted when Julius spoke in clear English telling them to stop and let the doctor go about his work.
“Mommmaaaa!” wailed Sigrid pathetically.
Trine could not be restrained as she ran the twenty yards to the water, Julius following close behind.
Before the distraught mother could grab Caleb or Sigrid, Julius wrapped her tightly in his arms and held her firmly as she struggled. After a moment she sobbed and leaned into her husband while carefully watching the other man with a combination of fear, hope and faith.
Sigrid remained in the water for almost five, minutes moaning and crying pathetically until she finally fell silent.
Caleb again lifted the child quietly over his head and mumbled the same more strange words. This time when Sigrid entered the she was too numb to react. She remained in the current for only a minute or two when Caleb lifted the trembling girl up quickly and without a word handed her to her mother.
“Blankets, I need blankets!” he called and several were produced out of nowhere.5
“Change 'er and wrap 'er up. Keep 'er warm 'til she stops tremblin'. Give 'er a sip or two of warm broth and nothin' more. I'll check the fever in a few minutes. Let me do it again if need be.”
Trine accepted her daughter without a word, her eyes wide with concern and anger. She wrapped her daughter in the warm quilts.
Silently the Mormons walked back to the wagon, leaving Caleb to watch from the background. Nobody said a word of thanks or even spared him a grateful glance. In turn he looked skyward and said his own type of prayer.
Caleb did not have to return Sigrid to the water but instead had her wrapped in cold towels from the stream. They did this twice while Caleb looked on
By sunset, the fever had broken.
It took two days for Sigrid to regain enough strength to leave the wagon and almost week for her to be ready to travel. The others had recovered within two or three days, and the waiting became drudgery, but for the most part they remained silent and supportive of the family and the stricken girl.
Caleb continued to follow up with the child and even oversaw another brief dip in the stream before fever finally broke. Gradually, as people realized what had happened, the 'physician', was welcomed and brought in as part of the company. He was invited to join them, and there were multiple discussions of religion, but Caleb remained firm in his own convictions. He finally departed for home and family the afternoon of Wednesday the 26th, after making sure the child was out of the woods.
Friday morning, the camp was struck and practice gave way to reality. The company departed at eight and headed west. There were twenty-six families, two dozen single men, five single women, and two children en route to join relatives in Salt Lake.
The trail was well marked and the road easy over the plains. The Nebraska Cut-off Trail they had chosen would save them fifty miles as they traveled first toward across Nebraska then onto Fort Laramie, then finally Fort Bridger before the final leg to Salt Lake City. The path was well established, but there were still dangers of weather, renegade Indians, illness and more. Progress would normally range from twelve to twenty miles a day, with as many as twenty-five possible on some days and as few as five on others. Julius and his family had no illusions about the journey, but trusted their faith and the divine guidance given their leaders to get them through. The first stretch of country was easy rolling plains, covered with a verdant buffalo grass. The road was crude, rutty, and dusty, a winding, seemingly endless set of ruts cut deep by those who had gone before. The Captains hoped this stretch would help build the pioneers stamina.
They traveled over twenty five miles the first day before camping early. They hoped to adapt to trail life by resting a little longer than they would as the days progressed.
One of the first things done each night was digging a fire pit. Depending on the area either wood or buffalo chips would be used for fuel. Those assigned started cooking at once while the rest took care of the animals and watched for unfriendly Indians. Dinner for the Berntsens was chunk of pork baked in a Dutch oven filled with beans Trine had started preparing that morning. A few fresh carrots from the pioneer garden in Wyoming were thrown in for taste.6 Everyone in the family enjoyed the sweet savor of the pork and the beans, cooked in the thick grease, were a delight as well.
Mormon wagon trains were well organized and well disciplined. They often had a military atmosphere about them, with a Captain in charge of the entire operation and the daily routine set. When they stopped, the wagons were drawn into a tight circle, the most valuable livestock inside. Sentries were posted and watches set. Every man and boy above sixteen was expected to take a watch unless there were strong mitigating circumstances.
The soldiers fell in as the small group, which was headed to California, drew in behind the Mormons. The rest of the day moved on in peace, though the soldiers were quick to remind everyone that there were most likely Indians watching the wagons even now, looking for strays and other opportunities to steal. That evening, Julius and Train Captain James invited the new party and the soldiers to join everyone for a common supper. The soldiers gratefully agreed, looking forward to a “home cooked” meal, but the California-bound group politely declined, preferring their own company. They'd even refused to join the main circle of wagons earlier, so nothing else was said. As the conversation drifted from topic to topic, a Sergeant explained more, adding that the soldiers had standing orders to be on the lookout for smaller groups, knowing that they would be easy prey for the renegades. Small groups were ordered held up until a larger group came along or was created by the combination of the smaller groups. Regular check points had been established to watch the roads, but these locations had gotten out and some groups, like the one they had rounded up, instead of joining the caravan the first day, had simply changed course and gone around the soldiers. The devious group had been spotted by outriders who in turn directed the platoon where to go to retrieve them. They had balked and complained all the way, swearing that they would not remain anywhere once the soldiers left. The Sergeant had chuckled and said that they deserved any fate they got if they left. He also added that in a few miles their attitude might just take a sudden turn toward the 'co-op-per-a-tive'. The following day was Sunday, and in keeping with the directives of their Prophet, the wagon train rested and did not travel. There was a lot of grumbling by the would-be prospectors, who cared for nothing but getting to the gold fields and making their fortune. On the other hand, the soldiers were grateful for the day off, though they remained vigilant and made certain the smaller group did not stray. The soldiers and the prospectors were invited to share the common evening meal the settlers made after a day of worshiping their God through lessons, prayer, the partaking of the sacrament, and song. The soldiers were glad to get away from their field rations, and even the cook was excited about having the evening off. The prospectors refused again, and kept to themselves, in a small and uneven circle of wagons a few hundred yards off. There was no dance, which was a disappointment to the soldiers, who had been included in the previous night's recreation. Some of the soldiers had to be warned about their duty and to not take advantage of the pretty Mormon girls (and women) conducted themselves in a manner becoming of Latter-day Saints. They traveled in a relative straight line for the next three days. As the miles lumbered slowly past behind the trudging oxen, the pioneers grew in stamina and resolve. The ever-alert soldiers spotted a few Indians in the distance but none came close to the train. The prospectors usually tried to push ahead, chiding the others for their slowness. Once, on the sixth day, a handful of the troopers had to go ahead and hold back the prospectors, much to their frustration. After that they remained just close enough to avoid trouble. The Monday after their second Sabbath on the trail, the company came across a sobering sight. About a hundred yards off the trail, were burnt-out remains of a dozen or so wagons and a couple of buckboards. Nearby was a cluster of twenty or so graves marked only by a single sign reading “Slawtered by Injuns”. Scattered among the wagons were broken trunks and furniture, household items, and the remains of some of the wagon rigging. Kris and three of the soldiers investigated, bringing back the sad report. The leader of the soldiers and the Train Captain used the experience to reinforce the need to stick together and work together in a spirit of cooperation. About fifty miles west of the gravesite, the company was intercepted by a mounted pair of soldiers, who informed the officer in charge that there was a small camp of men stationed ahead. The company was invited to pay a visit, which the soldiers obeyed without question. Even the prospectors went without argument. Once at the site they stopped early, rested and got caught up on the latest news. They had traveled over a hundred and fifty miles and they were noticing some wear and tear on the equipment and wagons. In exchange for home cooking and a bit of entertainment, the encamped soldiers helped with minor repairs, mostly done by a former blacksmith who was among them. The Mormon carpenters also up a couple of hitching posts to help tie off the horses. Some of the soldiers, when not otherwise occupied, watched with mild amusement as the Mormons went about their routine, occasionally making comments or asking questions about motivation and reasoning. When the Saints departed the next morning the officer in charge commented that if all the settlers were as well behaved and cooperative as the Mormons the soldier's job would be a “whole hell of a lot easier.” The company continued west, watching with some trepidation, as the skies darkened. When the winds increased, the Captain sent out riders to find a suitable camp area nearby. They camped early, spreading out the wagon circle enough to keep all the cattle inside as well as the horses of the soldiers. Outriders and pickets were set, and the women began to prepare food for the storm. The prospectors were invited to join, but still refused, choosing to set up camp a few dozen yards away. By night the first few drops began to fall and by midnight the camp was soggy and sullen. It rained for three days. Thunder and lightning made it impossible to travel and the pioneers were forced to wait patiently under what cover they could find. The soldiers fared worse, even with the small tents they stored in their supply wagon until, the Saints gave up three of their wagons to provide crowded but somewhat dryer quarters for them. During one particularly heavy downpour, the thunder spooked the animals. In their panic, one of the wagons was pushed over and several of the cattle escaped into the storm. No one was seriously injured, but one man inside the wagon received a strained arm and twisted ankle. After the injuries were assessed, he was assigned only light duty for a week or so. After several hours of slushy slogging, most of the animals were found. Sadly, two oxen and a milk cow remained missing. The wagon was righted and inspected, and was declared sound. Sunday, the thirteenth, dawned wet and cold. Fires sputtered and dry wood or other fuels were scarce. The storm had lasted longer than anticipated and the supply of prepared food was gone. Still, the Mormons remained hopeful and, as such, modified their Sunday worship to accommodate the situation. The soldiers were asked, and some volunteered to ride watch while the Saints prayed. The few that remained sat silently, wondering at what they were watching, much of which they did not understand. They heard references to things like the Melchizedek Priesthood, living prophets, and restoration. They sometimes snickered at ideas of miracles and God helping men, but mostly they showed a professional respect for those they were guarding. The final speaker spoke about the power of prayer. In a loud voice that could be heard throughout the camp, the man preached that with prayer anything was possible for those with enough faith. “Even to the tempering of the elements,” he admonished. “If you believe, and it is God's will, we can pray away this storm and travel on. The world needs water, and the saints need to be gathered, so it is indeed up to the Lord, but I believe that the gathering of the saints is the higher law.” By now Julius and the children were beginning to understand English so Kris' translation was mostly for his mother and little Sigrid, who spent most of her time snuggling close to her mother. Trine was distracted from the speech when Johan tugged on her skirt. “Zorf says the storm is about over. Big booms, lots of water, stops before sunset. Morning dry,” he said matter-of-factually. His father looked at him and raised his eyebrows but only said, “Tell Mr. Troll, thank you.” Bernt and Karen, however, winked at each other and then tried to focus on the droning speech. The closing prayer was a plea for the rain to stop. By its end all the children and some of the adults were squirming in their places. The rain was not strong enough to keep most of the congregation from going out to find some privacy.
The story continues in part 5
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1This term was not considered derogatory during this time
2 This hymn was written by Mormon Poet William Clayton in 1846. It was later retitled “Come,Come, Ye Saints”
3 A fictitious name for the story, though in reality there was a group that left the area about the time this story is set.
4 Little remains of the town today, except for an unmarked Mormon cemetery. I could not find any specific reason why the city ceased to be. In three years, 1864 to 1867, 6,500 Saints started their journey west from Wyoming City. In 1867 they started using the railroad from Omaha more frequently. This likely hastened the town's demise.
5A couple of those who had blankets with them would later report that they just felt like they should bring them with them when they left.
6The 'trail larder' for the Mormon Pioneers was well supplied. Usually there was plenty of 'staples' like flour, bacon, sugar, beans, dried fruit and meats, salt, molasses, corn meal, eggs, butter and fresh water. Some of these had been brought from Salt Lake where they had been processed, some were grown and prepared by the pioneers while they were waiting for departure
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