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Pioneer 1848-1868 Companies

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1862-4 (age 30-32), Briggs, Thomas

Excerpts from the Diary and Journal of Thomas Briggs
The autobiography of Thomas Briggs contains much of the kind of living a large percentage of the pioneers of Utah experienced. He was one of the worthy poor and yet from his meager stores he helped hundreds of others who had less. He understood people. From his early childhood he had known pain, and yet each day found him performing some task which would strengthen not only his body, but his determination to make his life one of accomplishment.

Thomas was born August 20, 1832 at Newark, Nottingham, England, the son of James and Ann Ordoyno Briggs. His father and mother were the only members of their families to join the Latter-day Saint Church, and throughout his life he felt a responsibility in living the principles of the gospel they had embraced.

His first wife, Ann Kirkham, was born May 29, 1832 at Spaulding, Lincolnshire, England, the daughter of John and Elizabeth Ward Kirkham. She was a courageous woman, full of love for her family. She stood loyally by her husband and during his many serious illnesses nursed him faithfully. It is said that she never complained no matter how much she had to endure. She was the mother of nine children. The family made their home in Bountiful, Utah. Twelve years after her` arrival in Zion she passed away July 15, 1876.

From His Writings
When I was about six years of age my parents moved to Hull in Yorkshire, (England) and as it was in the winter, and being strangers, they had very hard work to find anything to do and had to sell some furniture in order to buy bread. There were two other children besides myself, Hannah and Elizabeth. In the spring Father found work, and things began to look brighter. In all the troubles my parents passed through in life, they were very happy and I do not remember them having any quarrels with each other. They were religiously inclined, but were not satisfied with the various sects, until the year 1848, when Father heard of a religious sect calling themselves Latter-day Saints. When he heard them preach, their doctrine seemed to satisfy him, but they were very unpopular and their place of worship was in one of the lowest places in Hull. My Father was some time before he could persuade Mother to hear them preach.

To America, 1851
In the year 1850, my Father was greatly blessed in his income, the vessel which he was running brought him in considerable money. At this time he had the spirit of gathering, and decided to sail in January 1851. Before he sailed, Brothers Peter C. Hanson, Erastus Snow, and John Forsgren called at Hull on their way from Salt Lake City to Copenhagen, Denmark where they were going to do missionary work. While they were stopping at my Father's house, one of the brethren said to him, "Brother Briggs, when you get sufficient means to take you to New Orleans, go, then go on to Saint Louis, or you will never get to the valleys of the mountains."

Father delayed until everything seemed to go the wrong way, and then he began to think of the words of the brethren. He decided to sail on the ship "Ellen", the 8th of January 1851. On the 1st of January we left the land of our forefathers, to go to a land we knew not of, and that because the Lord had commanded us. Not until we reached Liverpool did we realize what was needed for a journey of 6000 miles.

Rations for the Trip
The rations allowed was approximately 250 lbs. of hard biscuits, so hard, we had to take a hammer to break them, 10 lbs. flour, 20 lbs. rice, 50 lbs. oatmeal, 10 pounds pork, 5 pounds sugar, 5 pounds molasses, 1 half pound tea, 2 pounds cheese, 1 pint vinegar and three quarts of water, daily, but the other rations were for the entire voyage. The ship left the docks on the 6th day of January, anchored in the river for two days, and then sailed with 470 passengers. The wind was in our favor and we travelled about seven miles an hour. About seven o'clock at night the wind suddenly changed, and blew very heavy, which caused our vessel to run into another vessel, breaking the jibboom on our ship. I was on deck at the time and it seemed to me the other vessel sunk. All was confusion and for a while everything was in darkness.

The following day we sailed as far as Cardigan Bay, North Wales, to repair the ship, but we were ready to sail in a few days. The wind was again unfavorable, so we had to remain in the Bay for three weeks. While there, one of the sailors was very badly hurt and had to be sent back to Liverpool. The Captain asked if any of the passengers would volunteer to take his place. I volunteered to work for my passage and board until we got into the trade winds. On the 23rd, we again put out to sea but made very little progress. On the first of February the wind changed and we soon lost sight of the Irish coast. From this time on we had a pleasant voyage, and on the 14th of March anchored in the river at New Orleans, making twelve weeks we had been on the ship. During the voyage we had twelve deaths on board, mostly children. When we landed, my Father saw Brother James Goodwin and borrowed from him ten shillings and three pence, which was sufficient to take us up the river as far as Saint Louis.

New Orleans to St. Louis
We left New Orleans on the 19th of March, 1851, in the company of which J. William Cummins was President, and Brother Dunn and William Moss were councilors. We arrived at Saint Louis on the 26th, after having had a good passage up the river and only two deaths. The sailors were in a hurry to get rid of the freight, so our baggage was crowded on the levee. Some of the Saints had friends awaiting them, and others were all alone, but we all felt sad at parting as we had formed a love for one another during the voyage. To our surprise we saw Brother Lewis, a friend from England. My Father had loaned Brother Lewis one sovereign and I had loaned him 10 shillings. He had the money with him to pay us back for which we were very thankful.

Life in Saint Louis
My Father rented a small room in the southern part of the city, and then we had to secure work. I decided to try the boats, as they came in from all parts of the country. I went down to the levee and as soon as I arrived a boat came in. I was employed for six or seven hours at 20¢ an hour. The men working on the boats were of the lowest class and their language was horrible. As this was my first experience in America, I was not impressed, but I tried to mind my own business and got along very well. After the work was finished, I hired myself to a farmer for $12 a month and board, and if I gave satisfaction, he said he would raise my wages. By this time Father had gone to work in a foundry for a dollar a day, and we soon were surrounded with the comforts of life. I only stayed one month on the farm, although he offered me higher wages, but I had become acquainted with the President of the Branch who wanted me to work for him, and also to act as a visiting teacher. In 1850, I had been ordained to the office of Priest, and now was put to labor with Thomas Latimer as a visiting Priest, also as the President of the Branch.

John Carns, who was the owner of a large soda water establishment, hired me to wash bottles, and started me with 5 dollars per week but I soon was raised to $6. In the month of August one of the teamsters left and I was chosen to take his place. I was advanced to two dollars a day.

My Father did not have steady work, but he was hired for a while to help put up grain about five miles from where we were living. He only came home once a week. My sister Elizabeth was also living away from home. Cholera was very bad where we were living, and one night Mother was taken ill with the disease.

New Responsibility
It was now getting towards spring, and as there was talk of gold in California, hundreds of people were going there. The foreman of the dairy was to leave for the gold fields in about three weeks, so Mr. Fern told him to choose the best man he had on the farm to take his place. Although I was the newest hand, he selected me, and asked if I thought I could take his place. I told him I had had no experience whatever, but he said he would stay until I got a good idea as to how to run the business. I felt the great responsibility. Some of the older hands were very jealous of me, but Mr. Fern gave them to understand that if they did not obey me, I was to send them to his office in the city, and he would send me other hands. About 30 of the milkers and the men who washed the tinware, got together, and were going to run things, but I took a firm stand in the beginning and after that managed them very well. [He went back to New Orleans and prospered as a milk manager.]

In the winter of 1861 and 1862, we made all preparations to go to the mountains in the spring. Father Kirkham [wife's father] thought he would not be able to go, as his daughter Mary said that if he went to Salt Lake City she would end her life.

Beginning of the Journey to Utah, 1862
About the middle of April, 1862, my wife and I, and four children, started for Salt Lake City, a distance of over 2,000 miles. We packed what few things we could and started out alone. I was not very well acquainted with the road, but trusted a good providence to guide us. The further west we got, the scarcer became the vegetation, and our horses began to lag behind. We sold first one thing, and then another, to lighten our load. There were so many large spring holes, and the country was so thinly settled that sometimes we would travel 20 or 30 miles before we reached a house. A short distance from where we were at the time, I saw a man in a field husking corn, so I went to him and asked him which was the best road to take to cross the marsh. He told me the first half of the road was very difficult. After I talked to him for a while, he said he would take me across the worst places and give me a mark on the other side to drive to. He went nearly half way with us. I asked him what he charged and he told me all he wanted was if I found a man in the same fix to help him.

We arrived safely and by this time it was getting towards night and our team was give out. There were only a few houses in sight. When I reached the last house, they told me that there was a tavern about ten miles across the prairies, but there were no houses between. As all the roads were very bad I hardly knew what to do, but I got a boy to tell me which he thought was the best road. We had traveled a mile or two when the stars began to shine, so I took notice of one of the stars for my guide, and we got safely through all the swamps but the last one. Here we got stuck with the front wheels on good ground and the hind wheels in the mud, so the horses could not move the wagon. I thought we were nearly across the prairie, so I left my wife and family in the wagon and set out to find the tavern. When I had traveled about a quarter of a mile, I came to a pole fence and found the house I was looking for. It was nearly midnight so I had to wake the man up. He got his team and came along with me. He hitched his team also on my wagon, but they could not move it as the wheels had sunk to the axle. I got into the swamp with a pole, and tried to lift the hind wheels, but in doing so, I hurt my left side. Before we got out we had to unload most of the things and it was two o'clock in the morning before we arrived at the tavern. We started off the following morning and drove about two hours, then had to stop as my back was so bad. We stopped at this place three weeks, which made it very expensive.

Plans Changed, went to Illinois
It was getting too late for us to cross the plains this year, and as my sister Elizabeth was living at Springfield, Illinois, we started for her home and arrived there in June.

Financial Failures
Their house had been a store, and there were two rooms in the back part where my sister and her husband were living. We were near the Western Depot so I thought a restaurant would pay, as there was considerable travel on this street. I partitioned the house leaving room in the front part for a restaurant and we made a little money from it. I bought some ducks and chickens and other things so we were able to clear expenses, but still we did not give up the idea of getting to the mountains, as that was the place we had started for and by the blessings of the Lord, we would yet reach the place. All this time I suffered a great deal with my leg, and so ended the year of 1862. At the commencement of the year 1863, my brother-in-law, Archibald Cannon, rented a stall in market and we bought butter, and eggs, and all kinds of vegetables, and gave up the restaurant. I bought the things, and he sold them in the market. We did very well through the summer, and in the fall we were beginning to lay up things for the winter, so that we would have something to sell when the roads were bad.

That year there was a heavy crop of corn all through the state, and very little sale for it. A few weeks before Christmas the roads were very good, and the weather cold and frosty. Teams came in from long distances with garden stuff, so this made everything very cheap. We had a cool place to keep such things so we thought we would do well to buy in; but about Christmas it began to thaw, and most of our poultry was lost. This was a great blow indeed, as we were intending to continue our journey to the mountains in the spring.

Financial Success
After deep thought, I went to the country to buy such things as butter, eggs and poultry, etc., borrowing a little money. The roads were so bad there was nothing coming in to the city from the country. I continued on until about the fore part of April, 1864 and up to this time I had made but little progress towards getting an outfit to take us the rest of our journey. As the time had arrived for us to start, I knew it would take considerable provisions and there was only time for me to make one more trip into the country. I found there was no butter in the city, as the farmers were very busy putting in their crops. I started about the middle of the week, intending to get back for market Saturday evening, so I told my wife and sister where I was going and what I was going to do. They thought we had better wait and go the next year when it would be easier for me; but I told them that if the Lord would help me, I would cross the mountains in 1864, and with this determination, I started on my last trip to the city. The first two days, I met with very poor success. My son Ephraim, who was then a little over nine years of age, was with me, and at between eight and nine o'clock Saturday morning we came to a small village. We only had a few chickens, turkeys, and some butter and eggs. I went to a small store and asked if they had any butter for sale. The owner asked me how much I wanted and I told him all that he could spare. He said he had a large box full, that it was good butter but he had spilled a lot of sugar in the box and this had spoiled the sale of it. If I would take it I could have it cheap. I tasted it and it was good; there must have been several hundred pounds. I paid the man his price, put it in my wagon, and acknowledged the hand of the Lord in it, as I had got just what I needed and at the last moment. We were 25 miles from home, and the butter must be scraped, the turkeys and chickens dressed for market that night, and I knew that I had not much time to spare. We had a very good team and we reached home a little before four o'clock. My wife and sister soon got some hot water and prepared the poultry, and also prepared the butter while I got ready for the market.

I was on the market and ready for selling by six o'clock and the main sale was from eight to eleven o'clock. We did not live far from the market, so I got my brother-in-law to bring me the rest of the poultry as they were prepared. There was no butter on the market, only the butter I had, so I could sell mine for 40¢ a pound, and before the market closed I had nothing left to sell. I went home rejoicing, as I had now sufficient to continue the journey to the mountains. Whilst I was getting ready, a number of people came, and made me a very good offer to start in business with them; but I was afraid to stay for fear the Lord would be displeased with me, for He had certainly blessed me the last few months.

My sister's husband said he would never go to Salt Lake City, and all the time I was getting ready, he was drinking. My wife thought we would never see my sister again, but I told her to dispel all her fears for she would follow us to the mountains. The morning we started was a very sorrowful one for us. I said to my sister's husband, "Archie, you will yet come to Salt Lake City and bring my sister with you.

To the Missouri River (Wyoming, NE, 1864)
On the 9th of April, 1864, we started on our journey, not knowing any of the road, but we trusted in the Lord to be our guide. We had a good team, and a good wagon, and plenty of provisions, and nearly $80 in cash. We drove about fifteen miles the first day and camped besides a grove in a small ravine. Soon after it began to thunder and lightning, the rain came down in torrents and continued until morning. The water was over the fellies of the wagon and my horses looked like drowned rats. I cheered up my wife as well as I could, and when I looked at my children I could not give up. The eldest one was not yet ten years of age, and the youngest three years old, and I knew it would not do for me to faint by the wayside. The clouds hung very heavy and a small drizzling rain was failing when we started off again.

My leg got so bad that I could not harness my team, and my wife and children had to do it for me. We tried to make 25 miles a day. At last we crossed the state of Illinois and came to the Mississippi river, twelve miles below the city of Nauvoo. We then crossed the river into Iowa at Maycock. The first day's travel was over a plank road and after that it was very bad. The country was very rolling, many of the bridges were washed away and we had then to make our own. There was scarcely an able-bodied man in the country as they all seemed to be in the war between the North and the South. I found we were traveling along the same road as the Saints had traveled when they left Nauvoo in the winter of 1846. The trail was called the Old Mormon Bee Trail. I said to my wife, "Thank the Lord, we are worthy to suffer along the same road as our brethren and sisters have traversed before us. We are much better off than they were as we have plenty to eat and to wear and many of them had not." One day, after we had made several fords, we came to a stream which was about fourteen feet wide and four feet deep. The bridge was gone and there was a hill on the other side of the stream. Here my wife burst into tears as it was one of the worst places we had seen. I told her to be of good cheer, I would go back to the house we had just passed and see if we could get help. There were only some small children at the house so I returned to my wagon. We ate dinner, after which I went down stream to see if I could find some of the old bridge, or planks, but I could not find any. On each side of the creek there were a number of small cottonwoods, three or four inches through, but only about one inch at the top. I cut them and laid them across, a little wider than the wagon, then I put the trimmings of the poles on top as best I could and tested it. It seemed to spring considerable. I told my wife and children to stay where they were until I drove to the other side, as I knew that if I could get over with the team, they could walk across. I got in the wagon, whipped up my horses, and to my astonishment, I was soon across. My wife and children followed.

There was no timber in this part of the country but we had no more bridges to make. We had been traveling nearly four weeks, and as we had traveled every Sunday on this Sabbath we decided to rest. We were still on the old Mormon trail and the place we next came to was called Garden Grove. At this place, the roads forked, one road going North, one South and one West, the western road being the one which the Saints took from Council Bluffs. One road went to Nebraska City, so we took this road, and soon arrived at the Missouri River, opposite Nebraska City. It was night when we arrived, so we decided not to cross the river until next morning. In the morning there came up the river a steamboat, and as the whistle blew, I knew it was going to stop. I said to my wife, "Ann, if Archie and Elizabeth should be on the other side, what would you think?" She said she could not think of any such thing. In the morning we crossed the river on the ferry. When we arrived at the other side, there was my sister, and her husband, and thus the spirit of the Lord spoke to me, and we rejoiced exceedingly together. She said they could not rest after we had gone, and to think that we should all arrive at this place, at the same time, we could not but acknowledge the hand of the Lord in it.

About eight miles further up the river was a place called Wyoming, (Nebraska), where we were to stop. Very few of the Saints had arrived, and as there was an empty house, we rented it, for we found we would have to stay three or four weeks to prepare for our journey. We turned our horses out on the prairie.

To the Mountains
In a few days, the teams from the Valley came in for the English emigrants and others. There were several hundred wagons sent every year, to take emigrants across the plains, and all the merchandise had to be carried back this way. Freight began to come up the river and the first to arrive was the wagons. They had to be put together and I was hired to do this. Then more freight came and I was placed as night guard over it. This was a blessing to me as most of our means was gone. During this time, my wife and sister did the washing for the boys from Utah, and here I was advised to sell my horses and get a yoke of cattle.

Brother Henry Lawrence persuaded me to go along with his company of about 25 wagons, and he hired my sister's husband to drive a team across the plains. The words which I uttered before we left Springfield were fulfilled, and on the 25th of June, we commenced our journey again. Brother Lawrence loaned me a yoke of cattle, which were well broken, and I had two yoke of cows and one yoke of oxen. Before I started on the journey, I purchased a stove, as I had been told that they were worth $250 in Salt Lake City and they were only $30 in Nebraska. I had about three dollars in cash, but we had plenty of provisions to see us through, and I had two cows giving milk, which we sold to the teamsters on the road.

The first few days went along very well, but my leg began to get bad and I was not able to yoke my cattle. The wagon master told the boys to yoke them for me and get me started, and as we were nearly the last, the oxen soon learned to follow the other wagons. When we got to Julesburg, the Platte river was so high we had to block up the wagon beds, to the top of the standards of the bolsters, and put about fifteen yoke of cattle on to each wagon. It took us about four days to cross the river.

George Merrick, the wagon master, let Ephraim have a horse to ride, so as to bring the cattle along, and at times he would be miles behind the rest. I began to be anxious about him, as he was so young, and the Indians were troublesome. During the night, we had to have a herdsman to watch the cattle, and my sister's husband was chosen to do this. He guarded the cattle during all the journey. Finally we reached Utah. We came down Echo Canyon and through a small place called Wanship, and here we camped for the night and the Saints brought us food. They brought us turnips, how good they tasted. We next came to Silver Creek, in Parley's Canyon, and when we reached the city of the Saints, where we could now rest, our hearts rejoiced and we forgot all our troubles. We arrived in the city of the Great Salt Lake, on the 4th day of October, 1864.

We soon made friends. We were not in Salt Lake City long when my wife met a woman with whom she was well acquainted. She was very pleased to see us. Her husband's name was John Vance. They were in very good circumstances, and as they did not live very far from where we camped, they told us to go to their place until we decided where we were going to settle. They had a fine pasture and they gave me the privilege of turning my cattle in it. I now wondered what course to take to earn a living, as things looked very bad for us. Here I was amongst strangers again, and everything was so dear, hay being from 40 to 50 dollars per ton, and flour 20 to 24 dollars a hundred.

In Utah
Upon my arrival in Salt Lake City, I had $40 in money which I had got for selling milk during the journey, and what Ephraim had helped to earn, by driving the cattle, but now I must find something to do to support my family. The thought came to my mind to inquire for Brother Joseph Reed, a man who I was acquainted with, in England, but I had not seen him for fourteen years and I did not know where to find him. As I came to the Temple block, something said to me, "go to the Deseret News Office, and inquire for him." When I got to the office they told me that there was a man by that name in Bountiful, ten miles north. The next morning I got on the stage and started for Bountiful. The fare was $1. I soon found him, and we had a long chat together. He advised me to settle where he was, as there was good feed for my cattle, and I could find plenty of work to do. He also suggested that I might go to Bear Lake where they had opened up a new country, but I told him that I thought I had traveled enough for one year. I decided to return to Salt Lake City and bring my family to Bountiful. We arrived in Bountiful Saturday evening, and the following day being Sunday, we all attended meeting, and this was a great privilege to us as it was the first meeting we had attended for over ten years. While in meeting, to my surprise, I heard the buzz of a threshing machine, so I asked Brother Reed what it meant, and he told me that quite a number of the people worked on the Sabbath. To this I said nothing but I thought a great deal. During the week Brother Reed had some corn to husk, and he received one bushel for every six as his share. He told me if I wished to help I could. I worked for two weeks and this gave us some corn for which we were very thankful. We were still living in our wagon. I soon rented a house from George Wintle, and paid three dollars per month. When we moved into our home we had no furniture, but we had a large box which we had used to put our clothing in and with it I made a table. I then bought a few slabs and made seats. It began to get very cold and we had only one room which was not plastered. We had no beds to sleep on so we had to sleep on the floor. What I was going to do during the winter I did not know, as I had a yoke of oxen, two calves, myself and four children and a wife to take care of. Even under these conditions we were very happy and thanked the Lord that we were in the valleys of the mountains with the Saints.

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.