Wednesday, April 26, 2017

HANNAH KNIGHT LIBBY - Part 25 - Crossing the Plains to Salt Lake

The years 1850 to 1852 saw the Carter families cross the plains from Winter Quarters/Kanesville to Salt Lake City in three groups.  The first to cross were William Furlsbury, John Harrison and their sister, Hannah Carter York and their families.  They crossed the plains with the William Snow Company, leaving on 21 June 1850 and arriving in Salt Lake on 1 to 4 October 1850.  The last sibling to come was Eliza Ann Carter Snow who traveled in her husband, James C. Snow’s Company.  They left Iowa on 5 July 1852 and arrived in the Salt Lake Valley on 9 October 1852.  In addition to her family they also brought the Richard and Hannah Parker Carter orphans – Franklin Fitzfield, Mary A and Samuel Parker Carter.

This leaves us with Dominicus, who by several accounts brought his mother Hannah along with his family in 1851.  The Church is developing a comprehensive database of the pioneers who crossed the plains called “Pioneer Overland Travel” – see:  It is a database that is incomplete and constantly being updated.  The irony is that 1851 is the biggest weak line.  The Brethren encouraged all that could travel to come to Utah that year.  In response there were many groups that crossed the plains that year but they were poorly documented.  Not one group has yet been fully accounted for at this time. So this leaves us to surmise the best we can what transpired in Hannah’s crossing the plains.

So the question becomes when in 1851 did Dominicus and Hannah cross the plains.  Most of the accounts of Dominicus life state that he arrived in Utah in June, 1851.  To do that they would have had to leave in early spring before the snows had melted.  That just seemed to this writer to be too early for them to arrive.  After much futile searching it was decided to locate Dominicus’ obituary – which is located at in his memories in Family Tree.  This obituary states "From Nauvoo he migrated to Boniplat, Iowa, and resided one year at Mount Pisgah, he removed thence to Council Bluffs, whe he resided two years.  He left the latter place on the 20th of June, 1851, and arrived in Salt Lake City on Sept. 25 of that year.  Two months later he came to Provo (Nov., 1851) where he has resided ever since." ("A Veteran Gone," Published in the Territorial Enquirer, 5 Feb. 1884. Seen in Journal History of the Church, Vol 5, Feb. 1884, page 7.) This is the only place where this writer has found absolute beginning and ending dates for their journey.

There is one other source that provides an extra tidbit of information.  Dominicus crossed the plains in 1851 according to the record in Frank Essholm’s book published in 1913 at Salt Lake City—a 4500 copy by subscription edition—Pioneers and Prominent Men of Utah, page 281. This record shows his picture and states “Dominicus Carter a native of Maine came to Utah in 1851 with Captain Homers Co.”  A search for Captain Homer’s Company has located no further references to the supposed wagon train.  There was a supply train that arrived in Salt Lake in late September what was lead by a Captain Horner.  In looking closely at a copy of Essholm’s book Homer could in fact be Horner, which would explain the non-existence of Captain Homer. 

Typical Wagon
Without any absolutely related documentation of their travels the following will have to suffice to help us to picture what this trip must have been like in 1851 (or thereabouts.)  To go west by wagon and teams was not cheap. People had to obtain their own outfits or pay to go with someone else. President Hyde reported in 1850 that outfits that year cost about $600 each, equivalent in today’s dollars to about $13,000.  It was not wise for any to head for Utah unless they had “team and wagon sufficient to come through without any assistance from the valley,” the First Presidency instructed from Utah in June 1849. “And they should bring breadstuffs sufficient to last them a few months after their arrival.” (The Ensign Magazine, August 2002 – “Pushing on to Zion: Kanesville, Iowa, 1846–1853” By William G. Hartley)

Ironically the year 1851 was a year of low emigration.  With the Mormons, Oregonians and Gold Rushers 1848-1850 had been boon years.  There was a significant drop off in 1851 but things picked up significantly in 1852.  The latter year (1852) was significant for Mormons as the First Presidency essentially told all remaining Saints in the Kanesville area to pack up and move to Utah and abandon all holdings in the States.  Four letters detailing this shut down of the settlements in Iowa were sent from Salt Lake during the 1851 year – at the time Dominicus packed up and left.  (See:  BYU Studies Quarterly, Vol 52, Issue 3, Article  - 10-1-2013 - The Closedown of LDS Iowa Settlements in 1852 That Completed the Nauvoo Exodus and Jampacked the Mormon Trail by William G. Hartley.  Online at

The initial cost of the outfit was just the beginning of the costs.  You then had to pay for food to keep you alive and to pay to cross rivers (on bridges or on ferrys.) Since it was impossible to carry enough food to feed your family during the whole trip, it was essential to have funds to resupply your stores as your traveled.   Prices for foodstuffs varied widely from year to year and trading post to trading post.  The following demonstrate this from 1850 and 1852 since no figures could be found for 1851.  In 1850 prices at Fort Laramie were as follows:  Flour $.12 to $.50 per pound; Sugar $.50 to $2.00 pound; Coffee $.50 pound; and Bacon $.50 pound.  In 1852 before Fort Laramie: Flour $.20 pound/$15.00 per 100 pound; Sugar $.50 to $.60 pound; Coffee $.50 pound.  At Fort Laramie in 1852: Flour $10.00 to $10.50 per 100 pounds; Sugar $.50 to $.75 pound; Coffee $.40 pound; and Bacon $.15 pound. (The Plains Across - The Overland Emigrants and Trans-Mississippi West, 1840-60 by John D. Unruh, Jr. [University of Illinois Press – 1979] pp. 276 and 283.)

Ferrying the Platt River

Crossing rivers was an expensive process if they couldn’t be forded.  With 1851 being a high river year the use of ferrys and bridges was essential.  Cost ran anywhere from $1.00 to upwards of $10.00 per wagon and often $1.00 per horse.  Bridges were an extra bonus as they cut down the wait that often occurred at ferry crossings as wagons would back up for days at many ferry passings.
The modern roadmap was not in use in the early days of travel across the plains.  There were maps but they were expensive and in short supply.   Instead there were guide books that were produced to help travelers in their journey.  Perhaps the most famous of the guidebooks available to the Mormons and other emigrants was Lansford Hastings’s The Emigrants’ Guide to Oregon and California, which was written in 1844 and published in Ohio in 1845. Hastings is best known for forging the trail through Emmigrant Canyon into the Salt Lake Valley that the Saints so benefitted from.  He is forever linked in infamy with the Donner Party whose demise was partly due to following the “Hasting’s Cutoff.”  Of more value to the Mormon emmigrants was a guide written by William Clayton.  Clayton was charged with keeping a journal of the first pioneer wagon train of 1847.  His notes were later published as “The Latter-Day Saints Emmigrants’ Guide” which became an instant success with the Mormons and the Gold Rushers headed to California.  (William E Hill, “The Mormon Trail” [published by Utah State University 1-1-2006] see:  Mr. Clayton, the original publisher of this Guide, is justly entitled to much credit and great praise for his diligence, care, perseverance and untiring industry in measuring the distances from point to point on this route, in describing the country, in pointing out the streams and springs of water, showing the distances in English miles, from one camp ground to another, so that the traveler may always know, when he starts in the morning, how far he has to go before he finds another suitable stopping place. ("Emigrants' Guide to Salt Lake and California," Frontier Guardian, 7 Feb. 1851, 2. See:
Wagon Train Crossing the Plains
In researching this part of Hannah’s life one detailed account of a wagon train crossing the plains in 1851 was located.  It is found at  in the Family Tree attached as a memory for Elizabeth Carson Griffeth (“On the Trail With the Carsons in 1851” contributed by Nyla Skinner).  The Carsons traveled in what came to be called the Garden Grove Company as they left Garden Grove, Iowa on May 17th and left Winter Quarters on July 3rd (about 3 weeks after Dominicus left) and arrived in Salt Lake City on Wednesday, September 24 (the day before Dominicus arrived.)  Thus their two wagon trains surely shared the trail and probably were in communication with each other.  The experiences of the Carson group probably parallel what happened to the Carter wagon train to some extent.  The following excerpts from the Carson article follow.
In 1850, an article in the Frontier Guardian stated that the average fully loaded wagon weighed about 1,850 pounds. For each person, old or young, it was recommended that one hundred and twenty five pounds of flour be taken, "plus bacon, sugar, coffee, tea, rice, dried fruit and other necessaries in proportion." … Each family would also have stocked their wagons with clothing, household goods, cooking utensils, tools, farming equipment and seeds.  The article in the Frontier Guardian also recommended that for each wagon, the family should have "two good yoke of oxen and from one to three yoke of cows." If those traveling in the company have even four or five oxen, or cows with them, it means they are moving at least three hundred head of livestock. Most families also have several horses. Herding this large group of animals, finding food for them, and keeping them safe from the Indians is a daunting task that requires a good portion of the labor each day.
Winter Quarters had been abandoned since 1848 and was virtually a ghost town falling into ruins.  By the time the Carsons left Winter Quarters on July 2 the Elkhorn River had rose so high they had to make a 100 mile detour to travel to the head of the river so they could cross it.  A day into their journey they met the party of Brother Orson Hyde traveling east from Salt Lake.  Surely Dominicus’ group probably passed him on the trail too.   The Carsons described their early challenges in getting their oxen teams to travel the route they desired and how it took quite some time to train the animals and drivers on how to accomplish this task.  They then encountered Indians along the Elkhorn that drove off cattle and horses.  They also endured more than one spontaneous stampede of their livestock which lead to a couple of the party being trampled to death.  One day they crested a hill only to find gigantic herds of buffalo heading their way.  It took hours for the beasts to pass them. 
By late July the wet cool Spring had turned to a dry, hot summer.  Mountain Fever, or malaria, became a problem on the trail thanks to the wet spring conditions.  The disease is spread through water. None of the pioneer accounts I have read have described how they washed and bathed while on the trail, nor how they took care of other basic needs. They had no toilet paper, and I doubt they carried a four month supply of "corn cobs." It was customary at the time to make use of small pieces of cloth. These, naturally, were washed frequently in the streams. This is why it was possible for the disease to spread so rapidly.
Wagon Ruts in Wyoming
The pioneers passed several natural landmarks such as Chimney Rock, Lone Tree and Devil’s Gate.  Heading into Fort Laramie (or Fort John in those days) the landscape changed drastically from grasslands to dryer vegetation, sage and cactus.  This meant that livestock would now need more feed to survive.  Fort Laramie was a trading establishment of 12 houses enclosed in a wall 11 feet high.  He buildings were built of adobe – which the pioneers would see much of in the coming months.  Wagon trains would stop here to trade, to use the blacksmith shops to make repairs and generally rest up.  This fort was approximately half way between Winter Quarters and Salt Lake City.
The pioneers tried to keep spirits up with dancing, songs and story telling in the evenings.  These activities were important to break the monotony of the days and give the travelers something to look forward to.  This was often a 7 days a week journey with only part of the day on Sunday’s taken out to worship.  The trip was always arduous at best.  It was hard to keep everyone happy.  Discontent seemed to raise its head in every wagon train.  The trail included loose cobble stones, ravines and creek beds to pass.  Wagons were forever having souse wheels.  Every company needed a blacksmith traveling with it to help keep the wagons in repair.  (Dominicus would be very helpful to have around in this case.)
By late August the company spent a week traveling through a bleak and dangerous landscape of mineral springs, alkali beds, and poisonous swamps. It was remembered that many of the families lost cattle to the alkali during this portion of the trek.  The only good thing about this alkali land was the women could gather “salaratus, or soda, since this was the only source of this mineral on the trip. It could be used in place of yeast in baking.   Upon reaching the Sweatwater River they passed Independence Rock.  On August 31st they reported that three companies were traveling together – the Garden Grove Company captained by William Walton, “Captain Brown’s” Company, and “Father Allred’s” company.  These companies would have been in competition for good camping places and for feed for their livestock.
As they passed from Nebraska into Utah their trials were not over.  The land was still dry and oxen died daily from exhaustion, lack of adequate nourishment and water.  This problem wasn’t resolved until they finally reached the Green River.  By this time they were only 120 or so miles out of Salt Lake but the teams were giving out and provisions were growing short.  The companies were throwing away all they could possibly spare in order to lighten the loads. It appears that all of the companies that were nearing Utah at this time were experiencing the same difficulties - shortages of food, and livestock dying nor near death from exhaustion.  On Tuesday, September 16th 1851 the company arrived at Fort Bridger and drove pass it a mile or so and camped.  There they divided their teams up in preparation for crossing the passes of the Rocky Mountains that were ahead of them as it would take cooperation of all the families to make this last crossing.  They were just 112 miles from Salt Lake but the challenges were not over.
In the mountains east of Salt Lake City
The final week of their trek was not described – probably from the extreme exhaustion everyone must have had in crossing the mountains.  Others described the beauty of the scenery and the comfort of not having to breathe dust all day like they had done for months. On Saturday, the 20st of September, the Carsons were about seventeen miles from the valley. Here, the pioneers probably had their first view of the Salt Lake Valley. From the summit of a mountain which the Emmigrants’ Guide described as being 7245 feet high, it was possible to see in the distance the south part of the Valley. Here they met several men with teams ready to assist those who needed help. ... The descent of the mountain was awfully steep and dangerous for about four miles. The next two days saw them travel a whole 4 miles over the roughest, most treacherous landscape they would pass on the entire trip.

On Wednesday, September 24, 1851 the Garden Grove company had breakfast and then moved up and over the last hill and entered the Salt Lake Valley with 60 wagons.  The next day it is reported that Dominicus arrived.  Hopefully this account gives the reader a taste of what the journey for Dominicus and Hannah was like. 

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