Pioneer 1848-1868 Companies
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1855 (age 21), Coombs, Isaiah Moses (Church Freight Train)
Summary of his Life
(From his Journal and Diary)
The diary of Isaiah Moses Coombs ...is the story of a man who was humble, sincere and of deep religious convictions. Isaiah kept a diary and in later years wrote an autobiography, both of which were placed in the archives of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. His son, Arthur F. Coombs, copied from these records the greater part of his writings which were given to us [D.U.P]. We have edited them, using both the autobiography and the diary.
Isaiah Coombs was a man of great faith willing to make any sacrifice for the religion he espoused. Throughout his life he showed outstanding loyalty to the leaders of his Church, always expressing thanks for the privilege of knowing and serving them. He loved President Brigham Young and was closely associated with him. During the seventeen years he was the keeper of the tithing office, his records were so perfectly kept that President Young sent Isaiah to teach others who had the same responsibility, the methods that were used so successfully by him. Few men were thus chosen.
Isaiah Moses Coombs was born March 21, 1834, in Columbia, Monroe County, Illinois. His parents, Mark Anthony Coombs and Maria Morgan, were both members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Isaiah received a good common school education and commenced to teach school in his native town at the age of seventeen. He followed this profession for many years.
When Isaiah was about ten years of age he met, for the first time, his future wife, Sarah A. Turk, whom he described "as an angel, fair and lovely." She was the daughter of a widow, Eliza B. Turk. On November 30, 1854, he was married to Sarah. One year later he made plans to emigrate to Utah but Sarah refused to accompany him, having never accepted the principles of Mormonism. While stopping at St. Louis, Missouri on his way to Utah, he was ordained an Elder and appointed clerk of that season's emigration. He crossed the plains in Captain Isaac Allred's company, bringing with him the body of Alfred Gregory, a returned missionary, who had died at Atchison, Kansas.
On his arrival in Salt Lake City, Isaiah received a certificate entitling him to teach school in Utah. When the Fourteenth Ward Sunday School was reopened May 15, 1856, Isaiah was appointed teacher of the Book of Mormon class and later became superintendent of the Sunday School. On September 12, 1856, he left for a mission with Apostle Parley P. Pratt and labored in Illinois and Arkansas. He visited his wife, Sarah, and made every effort to induce her to accompany him to Zion but, again, she refused. During their separation she had given birth to a child which lived only a short time.
After Isaiah's return to Utah he married Fanny McLean whom he had met on his mission. They made their home in Payson with the exception of a few years spent in Parowan. He taught school until 1869, when he was called to take charge of the tithing office. In 1875 he married Charlotte Augusta Hardy. Throughout his entire life he worked unceasingly in the Church and in civic affairs. Mr. Coombs compiled a history of Payson which was later published by Tullidge. Isaiah died May 20, 1886 at the family residence in Payson.
I was informed that a company of Saints would start up the river in a few days and that I could go with it. But the few days lengthened out to two weeks before we started. I spent the time writing in the office, visiting among the Saints and walking about the city with my brother Hyrum who was learning the printer's trade in the office of "The Luminary,""a weekly paper published by Bro. Snow. Here I counted my money and valued my clothing and found myself worth just one hundred dollars. Ten dollars of that I handed over to the church clerk as a commencement of my tithing, the receipt of which is carefully kept among my papers.
Finally on Tuesday the 8th day of May, I embarked with a large company of Saints on board the Golden State bound for Atchison, Kansas, the outfitting point for the overland journey to Salt Lake. Nothing worthy of record occurred on this trip. We were just eight days in making it. We found many large camps of Saints scattered on the prairie near Atchison, outfitting for their journey across the plains. Far as the eye could reach in every direction were to be seen the tents of Israel with their vast herds of cattle grazing on the rolling prairie. The largest of these encampments was out about twelve miles from the river at what was known as "Mormon Grove."
All the camps finally centered around this point near which a large tract of land was taken up by the church which the emigrants fenced and cultivated, but which was soon afterwards jumped by some rascally gentiles. I soon found employment, first as a herdsman, then as cook for the returning elders of the Church, and finally as clerk and collecting agent for the Superintendents of the Emigration, Elders Daniel Spencer, R. Ballantyne and Erastus Snow. In these several capacities I labored and toiled heart-sick and weary for over two long months. I think during all that time I received but one letter from my wife. In the performance of my duties as collecting agent, I had to make frequent trips to Atchison. These trips were nearly always performed on foot and frequently when I could scarcely stand for bodily weakness. But I did not complain and no one suspected how much I suffered.
One hot afternoon I was sitting in the tent humped up over my writing suffering from a severe attack of cholera morbus. My suffering was excruciating. While I sat thus Elder Daniel Spencer came to the tent door leading a horse by its bridle. "Here Bro. Coombs" said he. "I wish you would mount this horse and take a ride about twelve miles out to the little Grasshopper where Bro. Secrist company will camp tonight and borrow some money for Bro. Snow." I answered that I could not possibly that I was racked with pain and had made up my mind to die that night. "Oh, no," replied Bro. Spencer. "You shall not die you will have a pleasant canter over the prairie and I promise you in the name of the Lord that you shall return feeling much better and that you shall be sick no more till you get home."
With that promise I allowed him to help me into the saddle, and after receiving my instructions proceeded slowly and wearily to wend my way through the encampment till I reached the highway on the prairie. Here I gave my horse the rein and just as the sun was sinking beyond the western horizon I started off on a keen gallop for the distant Grasshopper. The first few jumps of my steed occasioned me great pain, but I hung on to the pommel of the saddle determined that that ride should either cure or kill me. I had not gone far before all pain left me. Thereupon a wild, reckless spirit took possession of me and putting spurs to my horse I dashed along the road at headlong speed, whooping and yelling as I went. But I continued not in that mood a great while.
On reaching a grove of timber I dismounted and on my knees returned thanks to God for this manifestation of His loving kindness to me. I there promised if He would forgive the lukewarm service I had hitherto rendered him that I would in future give Him my whole heart. I arose feeling that I stood on holy ground, remounted my horse and pursued my journey. I came up with Capt. Secrist company just as they were camping for the night. I spent the night in the captain's tent, formed a pleasant acquaintance with him. Next morning I transacted the business with which I was intrusted and started on my return just as the company was striking their tents. I never saw Captain Secrist again as he died of overwork on the journey and was buried by the wayside.
Church Train [Carrying Church Freight]
At last what was known as the Church train was being fitted out for the journey and I was to accompany it. One of the Salt Lake missionaries, a Bro. Gregory, had died at the Grove on his return home from the Eastern States where he had been to get some means that had been left him by some relative, and his body was to be taken to his family in a metallic coffin. A light wagon was selected for this purpose and two yoke of young half broken cattle were purchased to draw the same. This wagon and team with Bro. Gregory's body and effects were placed in my care with instructions to take them to the family of the deceased in the far off city of Salt Lake. Bro. Snow helped me yoke my wild team and hitch them to the wagon and as I was a new hand entirely with an ox team, never having before handled one, he condescended to drive out half a mile for me on the road.
The train had got the start of me and were at least two miles ahead. I had taken the precaution to tie a rope to the horns of my near leader and was taking hold of this when Bro. Snow bade me goodbye. Away I started July 28, 1855, an independent teamster bound for Utah.
I went on gloriously for a time, but alas! the chain that connected my leaders with the tongue of the wagon broke. I managed to stop my team but in trying to toggle my chain together one of the oxen took a notion to kick up its heels and have a run, and as I was in the way I received one hoof in my stomach which sent me to the grass breathless, perfectly hors du combat, and away the leaders ran in the direction of the train that was now about a mile ahead and in plain sight followed by the other yoke with the wagon. As soon as I could recover my breath I started in pursuit as fast as possible. It did not take us long at this rate to overtake the train and some of the brethren soon helped me recover my refractory team. Fortunately they had kept the road and as it lay over a level prairie no harm had been done.
That evening we camped on the Big Grasshopper and next day returned to the Grove with our teams to draw out some more wagons and this we did also the next day. We had not more than one third enough teams to draw the wagons that had been assigned us but we had been promised some more in a few days. But we got no more teams and at the end of two weeks dragging through the mud we had to leave ten wagons by the side of the road. Even then we were too heavy loaded, and after breaking one wagon down in a mud hole, we left three more. The wagons then left were all loaded with church property: books, clothing, steam engine, etc. Even after this we dragged along but slowly. I have often wondered how Bro. Snow could have had the heart to start out a train so late in the season and so illy provided with teams. A thousand miles of weary travel lay before us. We labored under another disadvantage which proved to be a serious one before we got through.
We were the last train on the road. Scores of large emigrant and merchant trains had traversed the road before us and their teams had eaten out the grass so thoroughly on the line of travel that our poor oxen had hard fare indeed. In many localities the ground was full of alkali and as the grass was short many of our cattle got alkalied and were left behind to die. Of the four oxen that I started with not one lived to reach Salt Lake.
Our company numbered 61 souls including the women and children. Out of this number two died. One, an old man, died and was buried on the banks of the Little Blue. The other, quite a young man, Joseph Redfern, fell off his wagon tongue and was run over, which caused his death in two or three hours. This was as we were crossing Scotts Bluff, and we buried him that night on Horsehoe Creek.
Isaac Allred, a returning missionary, was Captain of our company, James Pace was his counsellor and Jas. C. Sly was captain of the guard. The last two named were also returning missionaries and all three were fine men. We dragged slowly and wearily along. We at last got into the mountains and found better feed for our poor animals in the shape of bunch grass, but as it grows high upon the sides of the mountains, it was hard work for them to get at it.
The scenery was now more diversified and grand and travelling actually seemed less laborious than when we traversed the unbroken plain. At last we reached and crossed Green River. Here we found ourselves compelled to call a halt, and send on to the valleys for assistance.
Capt. Allred, myself and eight others of the brethren remained with ten wagons and all the worn out cattle while the rest pushed on for Salt Lake. We grubbed willows out of the midst of a dense thicket and here we had a picturesque camp where we spent two long and tedious weeks. During that time our provisions ran out entirely, but were again replenished from the camp of a trapper in the vicinity whom Capt. Allred accidentally found one morning while hunting for game.
At length on the evening of the fourteenth day a solitary horseman was seen approaching our camp at a swift gallop from away toward the west. It proved to be the eldest son of our Captain with the news that Bishop Abraham O. Smoot was at hand with plenty of cattle and provisions.
It was a joyous meeting of father and son after a separation of over three years, and we, who had never before seen the boy, was scarcely less glad to meet him for the news he brought us. We were now, of course, in the midst of the Rocky mountains, those grand, old rock ribbed hills I had read of as a boy and my heart throbbed with wild joy as I trod their lofty summits or walked in the deep vales and canyons between them.
Old winter was coming on apace. It was late in October that we abandoned our friendly willow camp and set our faces once more homeward. It was a cold, windy, snowy day. Mountains were already shrouded in snow half way to their base and the wind that came sweeping down from those dizzy heights was piercing cold. I was placed in charge of about ten yoke of our worn out cattle that could but just creep along and with a sick man placed in my wagon was appointed to bring up the rear.
Long before night I found myself in the rear and my cattle almost ready to lie down in the road with fatigue. With the helpless man in my wagon I felt far more lonely than if I had been entirely solitary. I tried to grope my way but the road was so completely covered with the drifting sand that I was completely baffled. I accordingly let the oxen take their own course and plodded on by their side bewildered and anxious not knowing whether I was travelling east or west. At last, I observed a light in the distance which proved to be the camp fires of my friends and soon I heard the friendly shouts of brethren who had been sent back to help me on.
And thus we toiled on through snow and sand drifts, threading canyon after canyon, climbing mountain after mountain for eleven weary days. Fort Bridger was left in the distance, and at last standing on the dizzy top of Big Mountain we caught a glimpse of the distant valley of the Great Salt Lake, the home of the Saints. Our hearts swelled with joy at the sight and we gave vent to our feelings in three hearty cheers. That was the last night that we spent in the mountains. When I arose next morning I threw from my blankets at least six inches of snow. By noon we had gained the bench land that overlooks the lovely city of the Saints with the lake from which it derives its name sleeping in the distance. Date Nov. 2, 1855.
In Salt Lake Valley
In a very short time we found ourselves traversing the streets of Salt Lake City. That night we lodged in an unoccupied building on East Temple Street. I slept with Bro. E. E. Phelps, with whom I had formed an acquaintance at St. Louis, at the residence of his father, Judge W. W. Phelps in the 14th Ward. The next morning but one, I passed an examination before Judge Phelps in his capacity as Regent of the Deseret University and received from him a certificate of qualification to teach a common school.
My next night was spent at Townsend's hotel where I secured lodgings for one week, which cost me seven dollars. The next week I boarded with Bro. Peter Wentz at a private house and by that time I had secured the 14th Ward School and was received as a boarder by Sister Leonore Taylor, first wife of Bro. John Taylor, one of the Twelve Apostles; he, himself, being at the time on a mission to New York.
I had a school of some fifty scholars all winter, and was well liked as a teacher. On the Sunday after my arrival I saw President Brigham Young for the first time and heard him preach. During the winter I made many friends and formed many pleasant associations. I was a constant attendant at all meetings of worship and at many business meetings. I assisted in organizing a Literary Society that was called the polysophical Society; the exercises in which were speechifying, declaiming, essay reading, singing, etc. We held these meetings weekly and found them very profitable.
...The year of my arrival in the valleys was one of hard times. The grasshoppers had preyed on the crops until starvation seemed to stare the people in the face. Grave apprehensions were entertained by many, of a famine. Being a thousand miles from the frontiers with no connecting railroad on which to bring supplies, we found ourselves thrown on our own resources of sustenance. Under the same circumstances any other people would have starved to death. But the Saints hearkened to the counsels of the prophet and were saved. A public feast was proclaimed every week and what was thus saved was distributed to the poor. Every man who had bread divided with his neighbor and thus the community was saved from the horrors of famine. I heard of no instance of rich or well-to-do men taking advantage of the necessities of the poor. President Young himself set the example in this respect and dealt out to the people as long as any remained in his bins. Greens, wild roots, etc., were freely eaten by all classes so as to spin out the bread stuff until the harvest of '56. The first grain cut was barley and upon that the people subsisted for two weeks. It was indeed a trying time. During all these months I had no tidings from Illinois [his wife and family].
- Source: Our Pioneer Heritage
- © Carter, Kate B., ed. 20 vols. Salt Lake City: International Society, Daughters of Utah Pioneers, 1958-1977. All rights reserved. No part of this material may be reproduced in any form or by any means without permission in writing from the publisher. Documents and images are exerpted by permission from the LDS Family History Suite CDROM from Ancestry.