Heritage Gateways

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James Armitstead Journals

December 25, 1853

Location: Salt Lake Valley (the right place), Utah - The end destination for the trek across the plains.

Summary: From a letter to Ellis Holden:

Journal entry: G.S.L. Valley
U.T. Dec. 25, 1853

Mr. E. Holden:

Dear sir. It being Christmas, and having an opportunity, I feel like writing to you, and through you to all our relatives and friends in Eng.

We suppose you may have had occasion to think of us today ¯ where we might be, and how we might be spending our Christmas. We have indeed thought the same of you, and talked about you, and in our hearts we wish you a "Merry Christmas and happy New Year" ¯ yea, even a fullness of them, and that you may obey the Gospel and come to these peaceful and happy valleys.

Since we left our home in Illinois, and started west, we have sent three letters to England., viz. one to you about the 30th of June, from Winter Quarters, Nebraska Territory. One to R. Eatough, 300 miles from that place about 3 weeks after. And one to Bro. Jno. Coupe, Heywood, from Laramie about 500 miles from Winter Quarters. These we hope you have received, and that this may also come safely to had and find you all well ¯ even as it leaves us at this time.

From the above letters, you would learn the principal particulars of our journey as far as Fort Laramie. From that point we had 500 miles to travel, which I will now briefly notice. The road is one of increasing difficulty. Feed for stock is scarce; in consequence we were obliged to travel in smaller companies. September 1st traveled 24 miles without feed or water. Same night, 10 head of our stock strayed back over 30 miles, or at least some of them went so far. September 2nd, five of us buckled on our armor and started after them. Same evening, myself and another man found 6 head of them. Arrived in camp about midnight. September 3rd I started out again all alone in search of the other men, the women being almost crazy about them, went about 12 miles when I met them with the balance of the cattle. We found one steer in addition to the ones we had lost, which we killed when we got to camp. About this time our provisions were running short.

September 4th, resumed our journey. We have met with many natural curiosities ¯ such as mineral springs, mineral tar springs, hot springs, caves, etc. In the neighborhood of these springs we lost 16 head of our cattle ¯ being poisoned with the alkali. We met several companies of California gold-diggers returning home. And, who informed us that the Indians were hostile; which we found to be correct, for when we got to Fort Bridger, we found it in the possession of Mormon soldiers from Salt Lake. Mr. Bridger had eloped, others had been sent to Salt Lake City for trial, these were white men who had been stirring up the Indians to commit depridations upon the Mormons, and to cut off our emigration. Here we found the main body of our company. And, we continued together for the balance of the journey ¯ 100 miles, it being thought unsafe for small companies.

The last 100 miles was over lofty mountains, and thru difficult ravines; these ravines or kanyons, in many places, were over hung with rugged and fearful looking rocks. Some of the mountains are over 7000 ft. above the level of the sea. We descended the last mountain by a passage exceedingly steep and abrupt. And continued our gradual descent for 5 or 6 miles thru a narrow kanyon; when suddenly emerging from the pass, a full view of this beautiful valley opened before us, and the same instant that we caught a glimpse of the glistening bosom of the great Salt Lake; which lay expanded to the westward, some twenty five miles.

We arrived here on the 17th of September, all in good health and hearts full of joy, in having performed our journey, and arrived at home to enjoy the society of our brethren and sisters.

When we left England, our aim was to reach this place; and in all our wanderings we have never lost sight of it; and we have made it as soon as our circumstances would allow. In our circling around we have seen much of the country. We are not sorry that we left England. But, feel to thank God that we are here at last, safe and sound.

This valley is about 30 miles long and 25 miles wide; and almost walled in by lofty ranges of mountains on the east, west, and south; and on the north by the great Salt Lake. Two of the highest peaks are elevated about 1 1/3 miles above the level of the valley; which are capped with perpetual snow. The Utah Valley and lake are hid from this valley by a range of hills. A river runs through this valley, it heads in Utah Lake, and empties into Great Salt Lake. It is called the Utah outlet, or Western Jordan. The Great Salt Lake has some lofty islands in it, and it forms a delightful prospect as far as the eye can reach on the north and northwest. the opening on the north along the eastern shore, extends about sixty miles to Bear River; and on the west along the southern shore it opens into another valley, called Tooele. I have been there and also to Utah V. on the south.

The altitude of this valley is 4300 feet above the level of the sea. The soil is good, but requires irrigation to promote vegetation; as there is but little rain that falls in the valley, the showers of rain, hail and snow mostly fall upon the lofty ranges of the mountains; where the vapor is condensed by coming in contact with huge masses of snow, and immediately precipitates itself upon the surrounding hills and forests. This circumstance, and the situation of this city, most beautifully illustrates the words of Isaiah, c32, v 18, 19 and c 40, v 9. The city is "low in a low place" when compared with the surrounding mountains, and yet it is "high in a high place" when compared with the general level of the earth or the level of the ocean. There are numerous small streams which empty into the valleys from the mountains, which are well adapted to the purpose of irrigation, as well as to supply the city with cold and pure water continually, a stream of which courses down on each side of every street.

The streets are 8 rods wide, crossing each other at right angles, with shade trees growing on each side of the streets. The city is divided into blocks of 10 acres each, and each block is again subdivided into 8 lots, except such are reserved for public purposes of which there are several in different parts of the city. One block is reserved for a temple; a tabernacle is already built upon it which will seat 2500 persons; and which is crowded to overflowing every Sabbath, by as a respectable looking people as I ever saw in England. The foundation of the temple is laid. And the wall around the temple block is almost finished. And the wall around the whole city is in rapid progress. The city is 16 miles around it.

Materials for brick and stone buildings are abundant; but there is no timber in the valleys, though there is plenty in the kanyons of the mountains ¯ fir, pine, maple, and some mahogany and small oak. But it is unhandy to get at, which is the greatest drawback to the country that I know of. The roads to it are generally very rough; we have to climb the mountainside to get to it and then have to snake it to the wagons with horses or cattle, often we have to slide it down the mountains not being able to get the teams to it. It is a business I do not like.

The climate is dry, warm, and healthy. The nights, cool and refreshing; the mountain breezes are gentle and exhilarating, the winters are mild and pleasant. In many parts of the Territory cattle graze the year round. Good salt abounds at the Lake. Mill sites are excellent. The territory is 460 miles long by 350 wide. The settlements extend 75 miles north and 250 miles south of this city. I would enter into a more minute account of things generally if I were sufficiently acquainted to do them justice. Suffice it to say that people can live here, yea live happy, too, and acquire wealth, and that is what but very few can do in England, but all may do it here, if they will work and be industrious. We feel to like this place ¯ feel as though we had got home ¯ reached the end of a journey for the present at least.

We have been prospered and preserved all the time, in every place. True, I know it may be said, that little James Nephi died in consequence of the journey; I have often mourned his loss. Still, he might have died if we had stayed in England; and not only him, but our lives also. We are all in the hands of the Lord. We do not regret leaving England, but often wish that you and all our friends and relations were out from there. Nothing would please us more than to hear of you obeying the gospel and being on the road hither, except actually being here. I have travelled since I left England 9000 miles with my family, and 800 miles without them.

Farming is the principle business here as yet. I have rented a farm and put in 4 acres of wheat.

Source: James Armitstead Letters (1853)