Thomas L. Kane continues his description of the refugee camp...
|Southern Iowa, Tanner's New General Atlas, 1846.|
The party encountered by me at the river shore were the last of the Mormons that left the city. They had all of them engaged the year before, that they would vacate their homes, and seek some other place of refuge. It had been the condition of a truce between them and their assailants; and as an earnest of their good faith, the chief elders and some others of obnoxious standing, with their families, were to set out for the West in the Spring of 1846. It had been stipulated in return, that the rest of the Mormons might remain behind in the peaceful enjoyment of their Illinois abode, until their leaders, with their exploring party, could with all diligence select for them a new place of settlement beyond the Rocky Mountains, in California, or elsewhere, and until they had opportunity to dispose to the best advantage of the property which they were then to leave.
Some renewed symptoms of hostile feeling had, however, determined the pioneer party to begin their work before the Spring. It was, of course, anticipated that this would be a perilous service; but it was regarded as a matter of self-denying duty. The ardor and emulation of many, particularly the devout and the young, were stimulated by the difficulties it involved; and the ranks of the party were therefore filled up with volunteers from among the most effective and responsible members of the sect. They began their march in mid-winter; and by the beginning of February, nearly all of them were on the road, many of their wagons having crossed the Mississippi on the ice.
Under the most favoring circumstances, an expedition of this sort, undertaken at such a season of the year, could scarcely fail to be disastrous.* But the pioneer company had to set out in haste, and were very imperfectly supplied with necessaries. The cold was intense. They moved in the teeth of keen-edged north- west winds, such as sweep down the Iowa peninsula from the ice-bound regions of the timber-shaded Slave Lake and Lake of the Woods: on the Bald Prairie there, nothing above the dead grass breaks their free course over the hard rolled hills. Even along the scattered water courses, where they broke the thick ice to give their cattle drink, the annual autumn fires had left little wood of value. The party, therefore, often wanted for good camp fires, the first luxury of all travellers; but to men insufficiently furnished with tents and other appliances of shelter, almost an essential to life. After days of fatigue, their nights were often passed in restless efforts to save themselves from freezing. Their stock of food also proved inadequate; and as their systems became impoverished, their suffering from cold increased.
Sickened with catarrhal affections, manacled by the fetters of dreadfully acute rheumatisms, some contrived for a-while to get over the shortening day’s march, and drag along some others. But the sign of an impaired circulation soon began to show itself in the liability of all to be dreadfully frost-bitten. The hardiest and strongest became helplessly crippled. About the same time, the strength of their beasts of draught began to fail. The small supply of provender they could carry with them had given out. The winter-bleached prairie straw proved devoid of nourishment; and they could only keep them from starving by seeking for the browse, as it is called, or green bark and tender buds and branches, of the cotton-wood and other stinted growths of the hollows.
To return to Nauvoo was apparently the only escape; but this would have been to give occasion for fresh mistrust, and so to bring new trouble to those they had left there behind them. They resolved at least to hold their ground, and to advance as they might, were it only by limping through the deep snows a few slow miles a day. They found a sort of comfort in comparing themselves to the Exiles of Siberia,* and sought cheerfulness in earnest prayings for the Spring,—longed for as morning by the tossing sick.
* Nine children were born the first night the women camped out. “Sugar Creek,” Feb. 5.
* One of the company having a copy of Mme. Cottin’s Elizabeth, it was so sought after that some read it from the wagons by moonlight. They were materially sustained, too, by the practice of psalmody, “keeping up the Songs of Zion, and passing along Doxologies from front to rear, when the breath froze on their eyelashes.”
To be continued...
(Thomas L. Kane Defends the Mormons: links to all excerpts.)