Chapter II.


Learn of the "Mormons"--Leave with a Company Bound for

Salt Lake Valley with Eight Thousand sheep--My First "Big Scare"--Surrounded and Threatened by Indians Many Times on the Road--Surrounded by Five Hundred Well- Armed Warriors Demanding the Death of a Man from Our Camp as the Chief's Son had Died--Meet with an Accident Which Nearly Resulted in My Death

IN THE summer of 1850, quite a large company fitted up at Santa Fe, New Mexico, to go to California by the old Spanish Trail, leading to Salt Lake; thence by the northern route to Upper California. I occurred some strange stories about the Mormons, such as were common at that time. I heard of the Mormon Battalion and Pioneer move to Great Salt Lake, a country then only known as the "Great Desert of America" that the Mormons had moved into the desert away from everyone, etc. My sympathy was drawn toward them, for I had often felt as though I wanted to find something different from anything yet seen. So when I heard of this company being made up to go through the Salt Lake country, I determined to make the trip with them.

At that time the Ute nation was very powerful, possessing the country from near the settlements of New [21] Mexico clear to Utah Valley. They were known as a proud, haughty people, demanding tribute from all who passed through their country, even in times of peace. The party fitting up were taking through some eight thousand head of sheep. The old mountaineers prophesied that we would never get through the Ute country with so much to tempt the Indians.

However the owners concluded to risk the venture, as mutton was very high at the mines in California.

We left the settlements of New Mexico at Abiquin, the trail soon entering the wild mountain country, which was at that time only known to a few venturesome traders, and to Mexicans. Very few white men had ever been through the country. At the time of our trip the Utes were supposed to be at peace; but peace in those days meant that if they could rob without killing you, all well; but if necessary to do a little killing without scalping they considered themselves quite friendly. Scalping means hating. Often, when remonstrating with Indians for killing people, they would say they did not scalp them. On enquiring what this meant, I finally learned that the Indians believed that in the spirit world friends recognized each other by the hair, and when they were scalped did not know one another. This accounts for the great risk they will run to remove those killed in battle to prevent their falling into the hands of the enemy.

Nothing exciting occurred for several days after leaving the settlements.

Our first meeting with Indians was on the Rio Piedras, a day's travel beyond the crossing of the Rio San Juan. Here I got my first scare.

The river bottom was spotted with cottonwood trees and willow groves. On arriving in camp, a small party of us unsaddled and started to the river to take a bath, [22] passing through several yards of willows before getting to the river. While enjoying ourselves bathing, we heard a volley of rifle shots from the direction of camp. The shots continued to rattle for some time; then a stray shot occasionally finishing off just as a battle with Indians naturally would. We were out of the water and dressed in short order, fully believing that our camp had been attacked and probably all killed. We rushed for the brush to hide. I got separated from the rest, hid myself and laid quiet reflecting upon my situation. My only chance for life seemed to be to keep hid until night, then try and get on the trail and travel back to the settlements, over one hundred miles distant. This I fully expected to try and hoped to accomplish.

Finally I gained courage enough to creep to the edge of the willows toward camp to see if I could discover what had become of the camp. In and around where we had unsaddled, I saw a great lot of savage looking Indians on horseback; some were still, others moving about. I dodged down now fully convinced that all our company was killed. I lay for a few moments in terrible fear. When I looked out again, taking a careful survey of camp I discerned one of our company hanging a camp-kettle over a fire. Soon I saw some others engaged in camp work. I now concluded that the Indians had spared a few and put them to cooking, so I decided to surrender as a prisoner. When I approached near camp I saw most of the company attending to their own affairs as usual.

I concluded to say nothing about my scare and walked in quite unconcernedly; asked what they had been firing at, when I was told that just as the Indians came into camp a band of deer had run by. Both Indians and whites had been firing at, and had killed several deer. [23] The Indians were perfectly friendly, and all hands were making ready to enjoy a feast of fat venison. I kept silent; no one but myself knew how I suffered during my first "big scare."

I never questioned my companions about our mutual fright neither did they ever make any reference to the affair, why I do not know unless they, like myself, were afraid of being laughed at.

We were surrounded and threatened by the Indians many times on the road; but through the influence of our guide and interpreter, we were allowed to pass along on easy terms. We had for guide Thomas Chacon, a Mexican Indian, the same who will be remembered by many of the Mormon Battalion, as he traveled in company with them as assistant guide; and returned and wintered at the old fort in Salt Lake in 1847-48.

Once at the bend of the Dolores river our chances for life seemed very slim. We were surrounded by over five hundred warriors, well armed. We numbered about fifty men, mostly Americans. The chief had sent a deputation to our camp on the Mancos River, the day before, stating that his son had died, and that either an American or Mexican would be demanded from our camp for a sacrifice, and if not given up peaceably, war would be opened upon us, and all would be killed. This demand was made by the old Elk Mountain chief. Our interpreter, who had lived many years among these Indians, felt quite uneasy, telling us of the power of this chief and his tribe. He did not advise us to give up a man, but probably would not had objected, as he knew we could not spare him , he being the only one who knew the trail. Captain Angley, who had charge of this company, looked upon the threat as an insult, and told the Indians to say to their chief that he had no men to vol-[24]untarily give up, but plenty to fight; if he wanted any to kill he would have to fight for them.

We were a half day's march from the great chief's camp, and I will admit that I was frightened, for I was much under the influence of the old guide, being conversant with his language. I was in the habit of riding along with him and listening to his talk about the Indians; he often told me how he succeeded in making peace with them.

Previous to this time we had several "close calls," but Old Thomas seemed to always have some way to talk the Indians into peace. This time he appeared uneasy and fearful. On arriving at the Big Bend of the Dolores, we took the best positione possible for defence, where there wasn't fallen timber. Soon the Indians commenced crossing the river above us on horseback and fully prepared for battle. They were about fifty of them, all well armed and mounted. They took position some two hundred yards from camp and in a line facing us, and there stood. I was keen to commence firing upon them, thinking if we got in the first shot we would be more likely to conquer and several of the company felt the same; but when we tried to urge this upon the Captain and Old Thomas--for nothing was done without the guide's consent when Indians were in the question--the old man smiled and said, "Wait, framed, there ain't enough yet to shoot at; you might miss 'em." By this time we had learned that the old guide's wisdom and policy had saved us, when if a shot had been been fired we would doubtless have been destroyed.

It was not long until we understood his meaning; we saw others coming in tens and twenties and doing as the first had done till they formed a half-circle around us. We were near the bank of the river, our rear being [25] somewhat protected by the bank and width of the stream. (In those days nothing but old fashioned Kentucky rifles were in use.) Others followed till they were several files deep. They were not less than five hundred, and all had their arms ready in a threatening attitude. After approaching to within some fifty yards of camp, where we had got behind logs and piled up our packs in the best way possible for defense. The chief, with a few others, rode a little forward and in a loud voice made known his wants, showing us his warriors with arms ready, demanding that we at once should submit. This was interpreted to the captain by the guide. The captain and most of the company understood Spanish. I thought surely our day had come, and so did many others, but all felt they would rather die fighting than to cowardly submit to such an arrogant and unreasonable demand.

The captain requested the chief to approach nearer, saying that he did not wish any trouble and desired to pass through the country in peace, and was willing to respect all his rights. At this the chief approached and finally, by much persuasion, he got off his horse, followed by a few others, the main body keeping their places in stolid silence. They captain carefully passed the word so that it went through camp, that if shooting had to be done, he would "open the ball." He did not expect them to attack us in our present position, but if peace could not be made he intended to shoot the chief down. It was about two o'clock when this commenced. The parley continued until near sundown before peace with decided upon, but it was finally concluded after agreeing to let the chief have some beads, paints, tobacco, etc., articles we had for the purpose of making treaties. In those days, before the white men taught them to lie and [26] betray, the word of an Indian was sacred. Not so now.

The moment the captain spoke telling us all was right, there was a general hand-shaking, and what time was left before night was spent in trading and no uneasiness was felt by any of the company, for all had perfect confidence in the word of the Indians; neither were we deceived.

During the parley, when the Indians found they could not obtain a man, the next thing they wanted was flour. They were told we had none to spare, but would give them such presents as have already been mentioned. They persisted in wanting flour. We were getting short and so could not spare any. While the debate was going on an Indian went and got his blanket full of good dried meat, rode up near the captain, who was sitting down, and threw the meat on to him, saying, "You poor, hungry dog, if you have nothing for us we can give you something." The captain took it coolly and thanked him for it. When they found they could get nothing more they accepted the presents offered.

Some may ask, "What of all this? There was no one killed; nothing of a blood and thunder character to admire." I will stay to such: just stop reading this book, for it is not of the blood and thunder style, such are written by authors who have never seen what they write about. I am simply telling that which I have seen, known of and taken part in. I cannot help whether it pleases or not. I can only tell it as it occurred, or appeared to me at the time; neither do I make any allowance for lack of memory. Anything that was not impressed sufficiently upon my mind at the time of its occurrence so as to remember the same, I consider not worth relating.

I have had some close calls in my life; but those [27] just related occupied my attention about as closely for a short time as anything that ever occurred.

A few days after this, just before reaching Grand river, we came very near opening fire on another party of Indians. About half of the company went ahead daily as a front guard, and just as we were emerging from a cedar grove the guide cried out: "Now we have to fight, sure; there comes a war party full drive for fight." Sure enough. There they cane, some five or six hundred yards away, out of a ravine on to a rise of ground some three hundred yards distant. We dodged back into the cedars, every man taking his tree. The Indians cautiously approached to within one hundred yards, there being a few scattering cedars in their direction. They guide to them for Navajoes; he was afraid of them, but friendly with the Utes. As the Indians were fully in earnest and seeking to get an advantage, we were about the commence firing to try and take some of them off or keep them back until the rest of our company could come up. Just at this critical moment one of our men said, "If there is one who will follow me I will go out and make friendly signs. May be they are friends." I felt afraid, but being a boy I wanted to appear brave, so I told him I would go; we went out to an opening with our guns ready for use. As soon as the Indians saw us they called out "Friends?" and came toward us making friendly signs.

We told them if they were friends to stop until Thomas could come. The old fellow was so sure they were hostile Navajoes that he had got as far away as convenient, but seeing they had not fired on us he picked up courage and came to where we stood facing the Indians with our guns aimed at them. Mine was cocked, and I can well remember placing my finger on the trigger [28] several times with dead aim at the one I supposed to be the chief. As soon as Old Thomas showed himself there was a big laugh all around at the mistake, they having mistaken us for Navajoes the same as we did them. They were on the war path hunting Navajoes who had just made a heavy raid upon them. Soon all was well, as these Indians were Utes and friendly with the guide, he having lived with this same band several years. These were this same Indians who afterwards broke up the Grand Valley or Elk Mountain settlement. During the excitement, after the Indians were recognized, an accidental shot was fired, wounding a man by the name of Tattersall severely in the leg. This cane near starting a fight, as many thought it came from the Indians. I am satisfied that much blood has been shed, and many cruel wars brought on by some little act that might have been avoided. Here are two cases within a few days that seemed certain fight, and to fight meant certain death; for in those days the Indians were ten to one of us on the ground, and plenty more to come.

I now come to the place where my whole feelings changed toward the Indians, and as the accident that I am about to mention seemingly had an effect on my future life, I will beg leave to write freely. From this time dates my friendship for the red man, which many think so strange. Until this time I had felt about the same as my associates did toward the natives, possibly I was not so bitter as many. There seems to be something providential in my experience so far in never having had to fight with them. I had never been required to shed their blood, and I now made up my mind I never would, if it could possibly be avoided.

About the middle of August, 1850, we were camped on Green River, not far from where the Denver & Rio [29] Grand Railway now crosses it. I shot myself accidentally; the wound was one of the most dangerous possible, not to prove fatal. When I found where the ball had entered my clothing, I took out the other pistol from my holster with the intention of "finishing the job." The ball had struck the waist button of my pants as I was standing by the side of my mule. I was placing the pistol in the holster, after saddling up, when the hammer caught on the edge of the holster, pulling it back slightly, when it slipped and went off. The ball ranged downward, entering the groin and thigh, passing through some fourteen inches of flesh. Some good spirit told me to hold on, that I would live. Almost everyone in the company expressed the belief that I would die.

We were about to cross the river, which was up to its highest mark. We had to cross on rafts made of half decayed cottonwood logs which made it very dangerous. I suffered terribly during the day, once having the lockjaw. I could hear remarks being made that I was dying. When I rallied enough to speak, the first use I made of my tongue was to give all a good cursing, telling them I would live longer than any such a set who were so willing to give me up. I felt at the time that I would try and live just for spite, for I fully realized I was looked upon as an incumbrance. They could not see how they were to take care of me, as we were traveling with pack animals. I was left most of the day entirely alone, all hands being occupied in rafting over the provisions and baggage. I lay in the shade of a cottonwood tree, thinking that my companions wanted me to die, so as to get rid of bothering with me. I was some distance from them, and every half hour I would give a yell just to let them know that I was not dead. Before night I was placed on a raft and floated over to camp. There had [30] been much delay in crossing, and it was found that at this rate it would take three days to get over. This gave some hope that I would have time to die decently, and the company would have no further trouble with me only to care for me while I remained. Old Thomas was kind to me and felt as though I might live if I had a little attention.

There was a camp of Indians of Tabby's band not far from us. My old friend, the guide, went and told the Indians about me, saying I was his boy, an expression that means a great deal among the Indians, meaning that I was the same as a son to him in friendship. The Indians came, both men and women, and I can never forget their expression of sympathy, or their looks of kindness. They offered to take me and try to cure me. This seemed to stir up the feelings of some of my companions, and they began to discuss the possibility of taking me along. Finally, a few of the kindest hearted determined to try it; so a rig was gotten up, and Old Thomas advised me to endeavor to get to the Mormon settlements, telling me about their goodness, and that if I could reach them, they would care for me. I felt almost disappointed not to go with the Indians, for my heart was melted toward them, and I felt as though I could always be their friend and trust them, and I can truly say that this feeling has ever remained with me. I felt to be guided by the old man, for his judgment was generally good, and I knew him to be a true friend. His description of the Mormons seemed strange to me, and I told him they were a bad people, who had been driven out from the States because they were thieves and murderers, and that for their bad conduct they were banished from decent people. His reply astonished me. He asked, "How can you say that? There is not one [31] word true. I traveled with the Mormon soldiers from Santa Fe to California; they never stole anything from the settlements like the other soldiers did. The Mormons are honest and have no bad habits like other people. I came back with some of them to Salt Lake and remained there last winter. I traded with the Indians and Mormons, and lived with them. The Mormons have no harlots or bad people among them, and all those stories are lies; why do you speak so about them?" The old fellow seemed terribly offended at my words. I felt there was something wrong. I told him I knew nothing about the Mormons, that I had only told him what others said. He replied, "Then wait and see for yourself; they are the best people you ever saw." This caused me to reflect and wonder why such stories were told of the Mormons, for I not only had confidence in the old guide's truthfulness, but I believed he had been with the people enough to know them.

A frame was made and placed upon the back of a good stout mule, the foundation being a Mexican Apparejo. I had to sit entirely above the mule, as the wound would not allow to sit in a saddle. This made the load top-heavy. The trail from Green river down Spanish Fork canyon, was quite rough and steep in many places. Guy ropes were rigged, and three men took care of me, and I must say that after taking the labor in hand to bring me in, all hands became interested and I was treated with great kindness.

I suffered a great deal during the fifteen days I thus journeyed, but I never lost courage. Our drives were short; sometimes being two days in a camp engaged in cutting roads through the brush for the sheep to pass. This gave me a chance to rest. I attended to my wound myself, as I could not bear anyone else to touch it; nei-[32]ther would I take any one's advice about dressing it. I felt like being my own doctor. I have always believed that if I had been in a good hospital, I would have been "done for," as the wound was terrible. I starved myself almost to death--an idea obtained from two men's experience in southern Arizona. These two men, Green Marshall and Robert Ward, left Santa Fe with a party going to California by the Southern Trail. Close by where Silver City now is, the party was attacked, as supposed, by Apache Indians; all were left for dead. The surprise occurred early in the morning. About noon Marshall and Ward recovered consciousness. They were stripped and both wounded in several places and almost perishing for water, they being in a dry camp. They started for water and after going a short distance they separated, each in time finding water, but they never met until reaching settlements.

According to the account given by each of them, on arriving at the Mexican settlements, they were out some twelve days with scarcely anything to eat, each one supposing the other dead; and it was several days before they heard of each other, having come into settlements that were some distance apart. The wounds of each had seemingly dried up and healed for the want of something to feed on.

I was well acquainted with both men, one being a relative. I took much interest in their case, as it was one of the worst on record. I felt like trying as much as possible the same regime, and believe to this day, in case of severe wounds, that the system should be reduced by abstinence to the lowest possible living condition. Nature so directs many of the lower animal creation. I had known some domestic animals, as well as wild ones, that aren't being dangerously wounded would hide [33] up for days without food for drink and come out well in time.

Finally on the 6th of September, 1850, we came in sight of a settlement, then a fort on the Provo River. This surprised us considerably for we had not expected to meet anyone before reaching Salt Lake City.

I shall never forget the peculiar feelings they came over me when we arrived at the fort. The little party with me had become separated from the main company while coming down Spanish Fork Canyon, and we were considerably behind when we saw signs of settlements. We felt somewhat uneasy for fear "the bad Mormons" would take advantage of us and rob us, as we had some money. When the company of fifty were all together we felt as though we could stand the Mormons off, but the four of us counting myself, I wounded and weak, feared we might be taken in. I had my pistols by me and told the boys I would do my best, if molested. When we got to the fort instead of trouble we found the people with about the same kindly look of the eye and expression of sympathy as was manifested by the Indians on Green river. There are many now living in Provo who remember this circumstance, and how I looked, a mere skeleton sitting on the top of a mule. The Indians also remember me to this day from these circumstances, and call me "Chacon's boy." I now felt conquered as far as Mormon goodness was concerned for many offered me help if needed.

I was at first tempted to accept their kind offers, but a spirit of pride came over me. It seemed humiliating to receive a favor under any circumstances, so I went into camp with the rest. I was now out of danger; my wound having done well, but the position in which I had to ride had set the muscles so that crawling on hands [34] and knees was my only means of moving about; still I had not lost my spirits. I had started to California to get rich and did not want to fail.

The Mormons often visited our camp, selling us butter, vegetables, and such supplies as they had to spare. Owing to the conflicting stories I had heard about them, I watched them very closely. Some of our company where Missouri mobocrats, and told hard stories about the Mormons. These they related to me as though they were their own personal experiences with them. Some of these men I had known for years and looked upon them as men of truth and honor. How then could I help believing their stories? And yet, how could I believe people to be such monsters of iniquity as Mormons must have been if the stories were true? When looking at their friendly eyes and hearing their voices of sympathy, I could see nothing that indicated depravity, but on the contrary, all seemed industrious, kind, honest and peaceable, ever ready to do us a favor or give any wanted information frankly, without any show of craftiness whatever. To this day it is a mystery to me how anyone can call the Mormon people crafty and dishonest. That individuals among us may be, is too true; but as a people we have a right to be judged collectively, let each person answer for himself. I was sorely perplexed, but each day induced a more friendly feeling toward the Mormons. As yet I had never heard a word of their doctrine, or history, not even having heard of Joseph Smith's martyrdom. In fact, I knew nothing about them.

One of our company, who boasted of his cruel exploits in Missouri, went up to the fort and under the guise of friendship procured a book of Doctrine and Covenants from a sister Higbee, to read and make [35] sport of. There were a number listing and ridiculing the book. I was some distance away, lying alone in the shade. I thought I might enjoy the fun with the rest and crawled up nearer. When I got within hearing distance something was being read about God revealing Himself, telling certain ones what to do. This had a peculiar effect on my mind. My oft-repeated prayer asking for this very thing came to my mind.

I had heard but very little of their reading, for just as I came within hearing distance some one took the book from the mobocrat and read the account of Joseph and Hyrum's martyrdom. On hearing this I believe I felt just as the Saints did when they first heard of the murder of the prophets at Carthage. The feeling that came upon me at that time was that they were men of God and were murdered by wicked men just as it was there recorded. At once the desire came over me to get away from those who were exulting over their death, and deriding the revelations that I thought might be true. So I determined to stop and see who the Mormons were. I asked the first teamster that passed to take me to the fort, about two miles distant, as I wished to see if I could find some one to take care of me.

After being helped on the wagon the owner, Thomas Ross, asked me a few questions then remarked, "You had better remain in Utah, my son, and you will soon be a Mormon."

This seemed strange to me, for according to my idea he might as well have said, "You will be a China-man." I asked how that could possibly be?

He replied, "By obedience to the gospel and baptism."

I asked if the Mormons had a religion.

[36] He said, "Yes, the same that Christ taught; we believe in the New Testament."

I replied, "That is what I believe; but I believe it as it reads."

"Well," said he, "that is what we think; I guess you'll be a Mormon yet."

This was something new to me and I was continually asking myself: how can I be a Mormon? On arriving at the fort, I went to Bishop Isaac Higbee's house where I was kindly received, his wife agreeing to care for me on reasonable terms. She is now living in Salt Lake City and has ever been a friend to me. I went back to camp and bade good-bye to my old friends and associates, determined that I would stay and see for myself, and if Mormonism was what they said it was, I would go no further for all the gold in California. Since I was ten years old I had believed there was something before me worth living for and that God would eventually answer my prayers and let me know how to serve Him. I often wonder why I am not more faithful, and if I will ever learn to do as I should. Much of my life seems to have been governed by circumstances over which I have had but little control. That is, I have been impelled by influences that urged me on to certain labors, especially among the Indians, which I have felt compelled to answer.

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