Extract: Wintering on the Plains after the Handcart Company Rescues

Many have heard of the rescue of the Willie and Martin companies; few have heard the story of the rescuers who stayed behind on the plains all winter as guards and ended up (acquitted) in a Church trial for their actions. The following is an extract from Forty Years Among the Indians by Daniel W. Jones (recently released as a free e-book on Project Gutenberg), which tells the story in full. Jones heard and answered Brigham Young’s call to rescue the companies stranded on the plains, which included both handcarts and wagons carrying a substantial volume of valuable goods. After meeting the companies the following took place.

Steve Taylor, Al. Huntington and I were together when the question, “Why doesn’t Captain Grant leave all the goods here with some one to watch them, and move on?” was asked. We agreed to make this proposal to him. It was near the time appointed for the meeting. As soon as we were together, Capt. Grant asked if anyone had thought of a plan. We presented ours. Capt. Grant replied, “I have thought of this, but there are no provisions to leave and it would be asking too much of anyone to stay here and starve for the sake of these goods; besides, where is there a man who would stay if called upon.” I answered, “Any of us would.” I had no idea I would be selected, as it was acknowledged I was the best cook in camp and Capt. Grant had often spoken as though he could not spare me.

That a proper understanding may be had, I will say that these goods were the luggage of a season’s emigration that these two wagon trains had contracted to freight, and it was being taken through as well as the luggage of the people present. Leading these goods meant to abandon all that many poor families had upon earth. So it was different from common merchandise.

There was a move made at once to adopt this suggestion. Accordingly, next morning store rooms in the fort were cleared and some two hundred wagons run in and unloaded. No one was allowed to keep out anything but a change of clothing, some bedding and light cooking utensils. Hauling provisions was not a weighty question.

This unloading occupied three days. The handcart people were notified to abandon most of their carts. Teams were hitched up and the sick and feeble loaded in with such light weight as was allowed. All became common property.

When everything was ready Brother Burton said to me, “Now Brother Jones we want you to pick two men from the valley to stay with you. We have notified Captains Hunt and Horgett to detail seventeen men from their companies to stay with you. We will move on in the morning. Get your company together and such provisions as you can find in the hands of those who may have anything to spare. You know ours is about out. Will you do it?” I said, “Yes.” “Well take your choice from our company. You are acquainted with the boys and whoever you want will stay.” I had a great mind to tell him I wanted Captains Grant and Burton.

[Several chapters discuss the long, hard winter spent guarding the goods. After returning to Utah with the goods, Jones was accused of having stolen a portion of them. Brigham Young called a Church trial to settle the matter.]


On arriving at President Young’s office August 25th, 1857, I found quite a number present. I was asked if I was ready for the hearing. I replied that I did not see my witnesses. President Young answered: “When we need them we will send for them.” I was then called upon to give my report and show how we had lived, what the cost of living was, etc. I had an account of all our expenditures, which amounted to about 75 cts. a week for each man. Some one remarked that we could not live so cheaply. Then began quite a discussion over our cheap living. Some were inclined to question my statement. Brother Young said to me, “Brother Jones, get up and tell the brethren just how you lived, and explain to them why your accounts only amount to 75 cts. a week.”

I then made the statement that we had killed and eaten forty head of cattle that were so poor they were dying; we had lived on the meat and hides some two months; that we had not credited the owners anything for them, as we thought it was worth the cattle to eat them. That we had killed some game at various times. That was ours, no credit allowed; had lived two weeks on thistles dug from the frozen ground, no credit; one week on native garlic; three days on minnows caught with a dip-net, fish too small to clean, rather bitter in taste, no credit; several meals on prickly pear leaves roasted, no credit; several days without anything much but water to drink, no credit; some five months mostly on short rations without bread or salt. These were about all the reasons for the price being so low. The seventy-five cents per week covered all the meats bought of Indians or anyone else. All groceries, soap, candles, in fact everything used belonging to the companies, including some leather owned by F. D. Richards, who remarked to me that he was glad it was there for us to use. Brothers Jas. Ferguson and W. C. Dunbar also made the same remark about some groceries used of theirs. Not so with some others. They grieved very much over what stuff had been used of theirs.

After I got through making my statements. Brother Young asked each of my accusers what they had to say. No one answered. Then he spoke each man’s name, asking them one at a time if they believed what I had said. All replied in the affirmative. He asked each one if they believed I had been honest, and taken good care of their goods. All answered “Yes.”

Brother Young then stood up and said to the brethren, “You have accused Bro. Jones of stealing from you and others whom you represent, some five thousand dollars worth of goods. These accusations commenced in the winter when Brother Jones and companions were eating raw hide and poor meat, suffering every privation possible to take care of your stuff. How such stories started when there was no communication can only be accounted for by the known power of Satan to deceive and lie. These accusations continued until I, hearing of them, wrote a letter to the Bishops and Presidents, expressing my confidence in Brother Jones’ labors; knowing at that time, as well as I do now, that he was innocent. I knew what Brother Jones’ feelings were the other day when I notified him of this trial.” Turning to me he said, “You wanted to ask me if I thought you guilty, but I gave you no chance to ask the question. I wanted you to learn that when I decide anything, as I had in your case, I do not change my mind. You were not brought here for trial for being guilty, but to give you a chance to stop these accusations.” Then turning to my accusers again, “How does this look? After charging Brother Jones as you have, he makes a simple statement, affirming nothing, neither witnessing anything, and each of you say you believe he has told the truth. You have nothing to answer save that he is an honest man. Well, now, what have you brought him here for?”

One of the complainers then asked if some of the company with me might not have stolen the goods. I answered “No; I am here to answer for all. Besides it would have been almost impossible for anyone besides myself to have taken anything unbeknown to others.”

Bro. —— asked, “If neither Bro. Jones nor the brethren with him have taken anything, how is it that I have lost so much?”

Brother Brigham replied, “It is because you lie. You have not lost as you say you have.” This I knew to be correct as before stated, I had this brother’s keys and knew that nothing had been taken.

Brother Brigham continued talking, chastising some of the Elders present for their ingratitude. Brother Kimball also felt indignant toward them. Finally Brother Brigham commenced to pronounce a curse upon those who had spoken falsely about me. I asked him to stop before he had finished the words, and told him I could bear their accusations better than they could bear his curse. He then blessed me, saying they would be cursed if they did not cease their talk; saying that we had seen the hardest time that any Elders ever had. While the “Mormon” Battalion suffered, they were free to travel looking forward with hope to something better; but that we were much longer under suffering conditions, as we were tied up and had no hope only to stay and take our chances.

Brother Brigham said if we had set fire to the whole outfit and run off by the light of it he would never have found fault. So the trial ended and I went home feeling pretty well.



1 thought on “Extract: Wintering on the Plains after the Handcart Company Rescues

  1. Valerie Briggs

    This is a great historical story with several true messages for the reader. Chapter 13 is the one most concerned with the details of that winter at Devil’s Gate, and provides the names of the 20 young volunteers who stayed: President, Daniel W. Jones (not the missionary Daniel Jones, who returned from a Welsh mission that same summer), with two Counselors, Thomas M. Alexander, Benjamin Hampton, and a clerk, John H. Latey. In addition were George R. Allen, George Austin, Elijah Lucius Chappell, John Francis Ellis, John Galbraith, William Handy, John B. Hardcastle, Henry Jakeman, Rossiter Jenkins, William H. Latey, John Bussy Shorten, Edwin Summers, John Whittaker, John Cooper, Elisha A. Manning, and George Charles Watts.

    After a near-starvation diet for weeks, the men agreed to strengthen their resolve by having a Fast one Sunday to hopefully find the courage and fortitude to go on. The answer comes to their leader in the form of how to cook the buffalo hide so it would not make them sick to consume its broth. In addition, a friendly Indian Chief came across two out hunting for anything they could find to eat and understood their terrible circumstances. He told them to return immediately to the fort because it was too dangerous to leave it singly or even in pairs to look for game that was so scarce. Then he had his braves bring them fresh buffalo meat.

    Of the 20 men, 7 were named John, 3 were named George, 2 were William, plus there was Elijah and Elisha. It’s no wonder that several added middle names after wintering together in close quarters at Fort Seminoe near Devil’s Gate. Several of the men had life-long friendships with their brothers from the fort, and some even became relatives through marriage. Our grandfather was John Galbraith, who had emigrated that spring from Scotland aboard Enoch Train and a was a Hunt Teamster. After his experience at Devil’s Gate he officially added the middle name of Cameron.

    You can witness a beautifully-presented, life-size diorama of these men when visiting Fort Seminoe at the Mormon Handcart Park in Wyoming. There are two large plaques worth noting where the Church has listed the men’s names with one at the fort, and the other at the Visitors Center, listing all the pioneers on this famous trek and their companies.


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *