Heritage Gateways

Official Sesquicentennial K-12 Education Project
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Pioneer 1848-1868 Companies

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1857 (age 55), Johnson, Joel Hills (Trek back to the States - journal entries)

Covering 21 Apr 1857 to 17 Oct 1858
I started on Tuesday 21st for Council Bluffs City in company with Sister Babbitt and family and a young man by the name of Robert Reed who drove for her a team of four mules, while I drove a span of horses. We crossed the Little Mountain, and camped in the canyon about three or four miles from the foot of Big Mountain.

Wednesday 22nd. We started early in the morning and safely reached the top of the Big Mountain at 12 o'clock, and found the snow on the east side from ten to fifteen feet deep and very soft. Therefore, we concluded to wait until the next morning, hoping to find the snow frozen so that we could go down on the crust. Here we took our last view of the sweet valley of Ephriam until we should return. While reflecting on the subject, I went by myself and offered up my thanks in prayer to my father in heaven for the blessings I have received while living in those valleys, and also for his protecting hand to bring me safe back, when my mission is filled, to my family and mountain home. I then returned to my wagon and sat down and wrote the following lines:

Farewell to my sweet mountain home
With sorrow my feelings are touched
To leave thee with strangers to roam
And head thee so often reproached.
While here on the big mountain top
I take my last glimpse of the free
My feelings are buoyant with hope
That I'll soon return unto thee...

A large company of apostates passed down the mountain today, some capsized and some broke their wagon tongues, etc.

Thursday 23rd. We had our breakfast early and started down the mountain. The sun arose very hot and snow began to melt. Our company consisted of 5 men and 5 wagons, with families, who all told me that they intended to return again the next spring, but in reality were apostates. One of our company broke a wagon tongue a short distance down the mountain, but we went ahead without any accident. About two miles down we overtook the apostates company in camp, we unharnessed our teams, and went back to help down the other wagon. We found in an apostate camp a little girl about 16 months old, smothered to death by having a pan of dough turned over her head while asleep, by the rock of wagons coming down the mountain. She was rolled up in a buffalo skin, and buried high upon the side of the mountain.

Rest little stranger, sweetly rest Beneath the mountain snow Where no intruder can molest Or any earthly foe. Sweet, lovely babe, thou here must lay High on the mountain top And sleep the lonely years away "Till Michael wakes thee up. No mother's hand can strew thy grave With flowers, or tears can shed, Or cause the willows bough to wave Above thy peaceful head.

In a few hours the other wagons were brought down to the place where we stopped. We then harnessed up our horses and pursued our journey down the mountain. The road was dreadful, for torrents of water from melting snow came rushing down through every gulch and washed away the dirt and gravel in the road and left nothing but high rocks against which the water dashed and threw foam several feet in the air. Down this current and over these rocks, we had to roll our wagons, expecting every moment to be smashed up, but through the blessing of heaven we arrived safe in the canyon below, about the afternoon and found a good road, although the stream was high. We crossed the stream thirteen times, with the water up to our wagon boxes, and we camped for the night here where it passes through the mountains into the Weber river.

Friday 24th. We started after breakfast, and found a good road to the Weber river, where we crossed about 11 o'clock. The water was high and rapid but we crossed over without accident, and stopped two hours to let our teams feed after which we went on and at 5 o'clock we camped in Echo canyon.

Though journeying long on rocks and stones
And walking in the snow
Has made so sore my flesh and bones
I scarce can sit or go,
Yet, God, my Father, hears my prayers
And makes His grace abound
To keep me safe from every snare
And heal my every wound.
For which I thank His holy name
With all my heart and soul
His love doth still my heart inflame
And all my life control.

Saturday 25th. My sister's son, Almon W. was sick all night with cholera morbus, but was better in the morning. We started after breakfast and traveled slow, and nooned towards the upper end of Echo Canyon and in the afternoon we passed over several snow banks and crossed Bear River about sundown and camped on the east side. We had a cold north wind through the afternoon and night. The water froze in the water bucket two inches.

Sunday 26th. Started very early, cold all the forenoon. Nooned at Coperas Spring's and arrive at the first creek south of Fort Bridger a little before sunset and camped for the night. Monday 27th. Very cold throughout the night. The sun rose clear, having all the appearance of February. Started after breakfast and nooned at the crossing of the stream 16 miles east of Fort Bridger.

My joints are weak and badly swelled
Through suffering cold and chill
Yet duty calls and I'm compelled
My mission to fulfill.
I'm sent to call my kindred home
From lands where strife prevails
And counsel all who wish to come
To Ephriam's peaceful vales.

We camped for the night at Hams Fork, having traveled through the day over 30 miles.

Tuesday 28th. Left camp at 8 o'clock in the morning, and arrived at Green River at one o'clock, and turned out our teams to feed on no grass as we have not found any of consequence since we left the Weber. Felt very lonesome all day and could not suppress tears and felt more my dependence on God than ever for his directing hand to attend me on my mission until I return to my mountain home. Crossed Green River at 3 o'clock and started on our journey.

We camped on the Big Sandy for the night without feed. The wind was blowing very cold and high through the night.

Wednesday 29th. Started a little before 8 o'clock and traveled on 6 or 7 miles where we came to the bend of the Big Sandy on the right side of the road, and turned out our teams to feed on little or no grass. We started on at one o'clock and camped for the night at the next crossing of the Big Sandy. The weather extremely cold with high north winds and occasional snow squalls. I never suffered more in my life with cold in the same length of time than in the past week.

Thursday 30th. Started at 8 o'clock in the morning and arrived at the Little Sandy about ten o'clock, and camped for the day and wrote back to my family and also to David Labaren of Salt Lake City. Absence from the one I love causes many lonesome hours.

Friday, May 1st. We concluded to stay in camp today as we have good feed, wood, and water, and start our journey tomorrow morning.

Saturday 2nd. We started at a little before 8 o'clock and camped at night at Pacific Creek. We have passed banks of snow in the road or beside it every day since we left the Big Mountain.

Sunday 3rd. We left camp a little before 8 o'clock, fell very lonesome traveling with apostates. No meetings, no prayers, no sweet songs of praise to God our Heavenly Father. We nooned at first crossing of the Sweetwater. In the afternoon in trying to cross a snow bank, swamped the horses but got them out without much difficulty, but had to go a mile to get round it. We camped near Willow Creek. We had to stop on account of a snow bank and wait until morning to go over on the crust.

Monday 4th. Started at 8 o'clock and passed over the snow bank on the crust, but had to chop ice and shovel snow two hours or more before we could get our wagons over the creek. We came on to a branch of the Sweetwater in about two miles. Here we had to run our wagons by hand over a snow bank from ten to fifteen feet deep which we did without much difficulty. We then came to Strawberry creek and nooned. In the afternoon we had many very bad snow banks to pass over or round, and we had found before for 200 miles. Traveling with apostates, how uncongenial is the spirit that they possess with the principles of life and salvation, how lonesome.

Tuesday 5th. Got under way at 8 o'clock and traveled about ten miles nooned on the Sweetwater at the ford. While the teams were feeding, I walked up the river a short distance and found a grave containing five persons, four of them died on the 19th and one on the 20th of October, 1856. They belonged to one of the handcart companies. The wolves had uncovered one end of the grave, and exposed some part of the bodies. I gave a young man 50 cents to fill up the grave again. We camped for the night on the river at the next crossing.

Wednesday 6th. We started about the usual time and crossed the Sweetwater three times, and turned out our teams for noon. In the afternoon we passed by a grave where there had been several persons buried belonging to one of the hand cart companies. The wolves had dug up and devoured them as their grave clothes and pieces of their bones were scattered around the grave. We camped for the night on the river.

Thursday 7th. Started at 8 o'clock and arrived at Devil's Gate about noon, and concluded to stop until Steward's trail came up. The south wind blew almost a hurricane through the day.

Friday 8th. Very cold and windy through the night with cold wind and freezing through the day. Sister Babbitt had a severe chill in the afternoon.

Saturday 9th. Wind low but quite cold. Weather gloomy. Sister Babbitt had another chill and considerable fever followed. Very cold at night with ice in the ice streams. Had to keep my head covered to keep my nose and ears from stinging with the cold.

Sunday 10th. Very cold still. My sisters health much improved. The missionaries, 72 in number, today arrived with handcarts. Teams constantly arriving and unloading flour and loading goods all day. The mail from Salt Lake City left here today.

Monday 11th. The missionaries started on their journey today at 12 o'clock.

Tuesday 12th. About 50 wagons arrived today laden with flour for the mail stations. The most of them are going to return to the city with goods in store at this place. The balance of them are going to the stakes for goods. Snow and rain all the afternoon.

Wednesday 13th. Very stormy through the night, but some prospect of better weather this morning. Teams very busy most of the day in loading goods.

Thursday 14th. We started on our journey at ten o'clock in company of 21 wagons commanded by Captain Winson. We had several squalls of rain and hail in the course of the afternoon. We camped at about 4 o'clock for the night at Greasewood creek.

Friday 15th. This morning when the company got up their teams, the four horses which detained us until about 10 o'clock. Soon after we started it commenced to storm severely, and after traveling about 4 or 5 miles we fell in with a company of Crow Indians, who detained us until about 2 o'clock. We then went on and camped for the night at Willow Springs in a severe snow storm. Snow in the morning on the ground two inches deep and ice frozen in the bucket nearly two inches thick.

Saturday 16th. We started about 8 o'clock, and drove to the Platt, where we camped for the night. I never felt more love and gratitude to my Heavenly Father or more of His good spirit than today in my life.

Sunday 17th. We started at the usual time and came to the fording place on the Platt, but found the river too high to ford. We then went down and crossed at the bridge by paying three dollars per wagon. We drove a few miles below and camped for the night. I felt quite unwell and lonesome, yet enjoyed a good degree of the spirit of the Lord. We had a meeting in the evening and there was a good spirit among the brethren.

To a Human Skull Found on our camp grounds.
Whose was this skull and what his fate
When he with life was animate?
What was his name and where did he dwell
Wast white, or red, none now can tell.
What was his sorrows, toils and cares?
His occupation, grief and fears?
What did he love the most on earth?
Was it his God or sensual mirth?
All these are questions now unknown
While his poor skull lies here alone.
Or rolled about upon the earth
As though to him it n'er had a worth.

Monday 18th. We started at the usual time and traveled about 25 miles and camped on the Platt. Cottonwood trees, shrubbery and all kinds of vegetation is not as forward on the Platt at this date as they were in Iron County when I left home on the sixth day of April.

Tuesday 19th. We left camp at 8 o'clock and nooned at a small dry stream and camped for the night on the west fork of the Labonte river. Here is a good place for a station.

Wednesday 20th. Left camp at the usual hour and come on the main Labonte river and there we met the mail with George A. Smith, Dr. Bernhisel, T.O. Angel, and many others on their way to G.S.L. City. We stopped about two hours in which time I wrote a few lines back to my family and friends and forwarded them by Dr. Bernhisel. We then came on to the Platt River and camped for the night at bout 2 o'clock.

Thursday 21st. Arose early in the morning and the weather was very clear and beautiful. I took a walk and looked about and found we were camped in a beautiful rich bottom at least three miles long and from one and a half to two miles wide. We started from camp at the usual time and traveled on to Porter's Station at Horse Creek, where we arrived at 10 o'clock and stopped for the day to make tar. Here the company left about three tons of flour and twelve men.

Friday 22nd. Very clear and fine morning. Some of our animals could not be found so as to start before nine o'clock, at which time we started on our journey and traveled until about three o'clock and camped for the night on the Platt within ten miles of Fort Laramie.

Saturday 23rd. Started a little before 8 o'clock. I went ahead and arrived at Fort Laramie at a little before ten o'clock. Myself and Sister Babbitt went to see the commander of the Post in order to get some information in regards to the murder of her husband, A.W. Babbitt, by the Indians. My sister requested him to make a statement in writing of the information that he had received through the French traders from the Indians in regard to the matter which he at first promised to do, but afterwards sent for me and told me that he would do nothing about it. He said that he had no doubt that the Indians killed and plundered Col. Babbitt. I am confident that the reason why he was unwilling to make a written statement of the matter was that he was afraid he would loose favor in the eyes of those who were opposed to the inhabitants of Utah. We purchased a few necessaries and drove about ten miles down the river and camped for the night.

Sunday 24th. Started early and drove until a little past ten o'clock and turned out for noon. I constantly feel grateful to my Heavenly Father for his blessings to me on the journey.

While we were nooning a mountaineer drove up and told us that there was about 3,000 Cheyenne Indians camped near the road in the vicinity of Ash Hollow, and that there was 500 lodges in one place, and 300 in another. This information frightened Sister Babbitt and she thought we had better turn back to Laramie, and wait a while until the soldiers who were expected should come up. I told her that I would return if she requested it, but I thought we had better keep with the company until the next morning, and we might hear something more favorable, to which she consented and so we started on at about one o'clock. In the afternoon we met another mountaineer who said that there was but 300 lodges of Indians in all and represented the danger as being much less than what the others had. We camped for the night at Horse Creek, and had a meeting of the camp in the evening and all seemed to be in good spirits and thought we had better proceed together.

Monday 25th. We started early in the morning and drove about two miles when we met another mountaineer with two wagons drawn by oxen who had been all winter trading with the Cheyenne Indians. He told us that the other mountaineers had lied, for the was no Cheyenne Indians near the road. They had heard that soldiers were being sent against them and they were moving back on to the Arkansas River to prepare for war. We thought his story looked the most like truth, however, we kept up a good night watch and day, with the strong guard about our animals. At night we camped a little above Chimney Rock.

Tuesday 26th. We started at the usual time and passed Chimney Rock at about nine o'clock, and a few miles below we overtook a company of nine wagons and nineteen men mostly apostates who left us at Devil's Gate and went ahead. When they came thus far, were afraid of the Indians stopped for us to come up. Agreeable to their wishes we took them into our company. We traveled today about 30 miles and camped in a large bottom on the Platt about half a mile from the road. Our company now consisted of 28 wagons, and 54 men, 9 women and 22 children, and 175 horses and mules.

Wednesday 27th. This morning we crossed the Platt to the north side of the river. At this point the river is full three fourths of a mile wide. The whole camp was over a little before ten o'clock. We thought it more safe to go down on the north side than to pass through Ash Hollow and over the South Platt which is said to be more infested with Indians than the North side. We drove about six miles and turned out for noon. Some of the company discovered a buffalo a short distance down the river and after him some of our hunters were soon under way. They over took him and shot him directly, but the wolves had made such havoc of his sten and winter of his maw that he was not fit for use and was abandoned. We saw several others on the distant hills in the afternoon but did not attack them. We came to Crab Creek and camped for the night.

Thursday 28th. Very cold with a good deal of frost and ice. We started an hour earlier than the usual time, traveled 18 miles and turned out for noon. In the afternoon we traveled about two or three miles below Ash Hollow and camped for the night.

Friday 29th. We started at half past seven o'clock and had not gone far before we saw two antelope between the train and the river, which was close by. The wagons halted and some of the boys shot them both. It was quite cloudy and threatened rain all forenoon. We came to Crooked Creek about 18 miles and turned out for noon, but the clouds began to thicken and wind to raise, and we soon had a heavy squall of wind, hail and rain. In the afternoon or towards evening, we passed by an Indian village of about 30 lodges. They appeared very friendly and wanted us to camp in their neighborhood and trade with them. We accordingly camped for the night about one hundred rods from their village.

Saturday 30th. Early this morning the Indian men, women and children were in our camp by scores to beg and trade. We gave them bread and flour and such things as we could spare, and traded some and smoked the pipe of peace with them. Started on our way at about 8 o'clock. The north wind blew almost a hurricane through the entire day and stripped some of the wagon covers all to strings. We traveled today about 28 miles, and camped for the night on the north bluff fork of the Platt. Today we met the first train of California emigrants with about 1000 head of young stock. Two trains also went up the south side of the river. I feel to thank the Lord for his goodness thus far on my journey.

Sunday 31st. Cold north wind, and stormy. Started at the usual time. This afternoon we crossed many bad sloughs and traveled about 13 miles, and turned out our teams to feed for noon. Very cold through the day. We traveled about 27 miles and camped for the night. Many cattle and teams passed up the river on both sides today. Several Indians came into camp to swap buffalo meat for flour.

June 1st. Started at the usual time and tracked about fourteen or fifteen miles and turned out our teams for noon. Weather quite pleasant in the afternoon. We traveled about 28 miles today, and camped for the night. Many emigrants trains with thousands of heads of cattle passed up the river today.

Tuesday 2nd. We started early and drove to Buffalo Creek, and turned out our teams for noon. In the afternoon we drove about 8 or 10 miles and camped for the night near two emigrant trains, driving stock to California.

Wednesday 3rd. Captain Winson concluded to stay in camp this forenoon and hunt buffalo, and soon 12 or 15 men were on a hunting expedition, and returned with several horses laden with beef. Three of the men stayed out until near sunset which kept us in camp. We then harnessed up our teams and traveled about seven miles to better feed and camped for the night near a camp of emigrants.

Thursday 4th. We started early and came to the ford of the river, near the head of Grand Island, at which we arrived a little past 12 o'clock and here we concluded to stop until we could cross the river to Fort Kearney, and do some business and make some additions to our stock of supplies. Today we have passed about 4,500 head of cattle with many wagons and families on their way to the land of Gold. And I think that double that amount passed up the other side of the river.

Friday 5th. This morning we started early to cross the river to Fort Kearney. We crossed one part of the river about 15 or 20 rods wide on to Grand Island, which is two miles wide at this point. We then came o the main river and crossed it while that water in many places ran over the tip of our wagon box. The main river is about one and a half miles wide. We saw Captain Wharton and obtained from him a bundle of papers belonging to the late A.W. Babbitt, Secretary of Utah. Said papers were picked up on the ground where Mr. Babbitt was murdered, by some French traders who delivered them to Captain Wharton, he reserving five drafts amounting to one thousand dollars each and one note of some over eight thousand dollars which he had been ordered to return to Washington City. Captain Wharton and Lady said that they had no doubt but what Col Babbitt was murdered by the Indians and he promised to send Mrs. Babbitt a written statement of facts gathered from Indian traders in reference to the matter, but she never heard anything more from the Captain. We purchased a few necessaries and returned across the river to our camp. Captain Winson with Stewart's train crossed the river with us this morning and went down the South side, and left us with the company of apostates that joined Captain Winson's company below Chimney Rock.

Saturday 6th. Started early this morning and about noon we came to Wood River, and turned our stock to feed. In the afternoon we came to the Bridge and camped for the night.

Sunday 7th. This morning started early and nooned on Prairie Creek, near where A.W. Babbitt's train was broken up last fall by the Indians. We saw the graves where those that were killed were buried, but the wolves had dug them up and devoured them, for we saw their bones, hair, and grave clothes scattered about the ground. We camped for the night at the crossing of the creek.

Yes, dead by the thousands have we passed
Entombed along the road,
When Michael's trumpet must call at last
To stand before their God,
Where all receive for thought and work
And every deed their just reward.

Monday 8th. Started late and traveled about 16 miles and turned out for noon. We passed today 12 or 15 emigrant trains on the way to California. At night we camped on the Left Fork of the Platt, near to a beaver dam built last fall and winter, which was a great curiosity to me. It was built through a heavy thicket of river willows and young cottonwood trees, first by grubbing all the trees and brush by the roots and cutting them up into chunks and placing them in a kind of window and then digging up the earth and placing it in a bank against the window of grubs or chunks. It was in some places three feet high and the lowest place that I saw was about fifteen inches on a perfect level at the top of the water, rising uniformly to within two inches of the top. I walked out to the thicket on the top of the dam about 20 rods long and could not see to the other end. I suppose it to be at least 50 rods long and perhaps longer. How many teeth and tails it took to accomplish this job, I know not, but it would have taken ten men with axes, shovels, mattocks, etc., at least one week to have completed the job and perhaps double that time. I should suppose the pond to cover at least from 50 to 100 acres.

Tuesday 9th. We started at the usual time. We met several emigrants in the course of the day, and a little after 4 o'clock we came to the ford of the river opposite to the new settlement of the Saints. We forded the river and camped for the night with them. At this settlement there are one hundred men who have been there only three weeks and have made larg improvements in fencing and breaking land and getting in crops. Some of which are already up and look fine. We had a meeting in the evening and the Saints had a first rate spirit and felt well. Brother Charles Shumway and myself spoke to them in reference to things at Salt Lake City which seemed to increase their courage. They intended to lay out a city in which to build their houses and call it Genoa after the birthplace of the great discoverer of the American continent.

Wednesday 10th. We started at 8 o'clock. The land is all claimed that we passed today and two or three cities laid out and many houses built along the river. We traveled 26 miles today, camped for the night on the Main Platt River within a few rods of a grocery.

Thursday 11. Started at the usual time. We passed several newly laid out towns today, and many new houses and the land is all cleared up several miles back from the river. We traveled about 25 miles today and camped for the night near the Platt River, A man by the name of Clark, an apostate who I have traveled with most of the way from Salt Lake, and pretended all the way to be a good Mormon and everything right among the Mormons until tonight, there being a few strangers present, he began to spew out the corruptions of his black heart by saying that he had got into a land of liberty where he dared to speak and declared that the Mormons at Salt Lake were a G--- D--- set of hell hounds, murderous thieves and including all the black catalogue that apostates have to disclose.

Friday 12th. We started at the usual time and crossed the Elkhorn River at about 3 o'clock and came to the Pappea and camped for the night.

Saturday 13th. Started early and arrived at my brother William Johnson's in Florence at about 10 o'clock and crossed the Missouri River at 12 o'clock and arrived at my brother Joseph Johnson's at Ellisdale at 2 o'clock.

Sunday 14th. Stopped with Joseph today. Joseph and William with Ruben Barton and families all present, (with many of their friends) who provided an excellent fruit and oyster supper upon which we all feasted ourselves and had a jovial time and enjoyed ourselves first rate, after which we went home with the Barton's family.

Monday 15th. Stayed at Joseph's the fore part of the day, and towards evening went with William over to Florence. Very stormy weather in the afternoon.

Tuesday 16th. Very stormy. Visited the Hand cart company on the camp ground in the forenoon and stayed in the house the balance of the day.

Wednesday 17th. Very stormy most of the day. Kept close in the house at my brothers.

Thursday 18th. Visited the hand cart company again. They expected to have started today but were disappointed. Towards evening a steamboat arrived at the landing, which I visited and found on board Brother John Taylor and Erastus Snow, two of the twelve and a large company of Saints from St. Louis and other places.

In the afternoon I went fishing with my brother and his two little boys. We caught a few sunfish and returned home.

Saturday 20th. Went out this morning with Taylor and Snow to visit the Hand cart company, who was in camp about 8 or 10 miles out from the city. We arrived just as they were leaving camp. They, however, stopped and came together a few moments while Brothers Taylor and Snow gave them some instructions. They possessed a first rate spirit and felt well.

[skip to October, 1857] Thursday 15th. Sister Babbitt took sick today with a very severe chill.

Saturday 17th. Sister Babitt took a sinking or congestive chill and was confined to bed until her death. She had medical attendance and all the care possible given her by her relatives and friends, but she departed this life on Friday the 23rd of October, 1857 at 5 o'clock in the morning and was buried on Saturday 29th at Council Bluffs City, near by her mother and other relatives.

This Journal transcribed by Bertha McGee (Joel's great grandaughter), her daughter Linda, and Linda's husband Chuck Harrington, and Bertha's son Scott. [If you want further information, contact Scott by e-mail]

Source: Miscellaneous personal histories This information has been gathered by various people interested in Utah history. These are unpublished biographies.