Tuesday, 6 November 2012

The Etherington family cross the Plains: June to September 1855

John and Elizabeth Etherington, aged 61 and 56, were travelling with four of their children: their two youngest, Thomas (19) and Mary (20); Elizabeth (28) and her husband John Pugh, with their toddler and six month old baby; and Ann (25) with her small son and new baby. 

Ann's husband Thomas Heslop had remained behind in Liverpool and Mary was keeping secret her marriage to George Stanger.

They travelled in the 2nd Company led by Captain Jacob Secrist, a 36 year old who was returning from mission in Germany.  The Captain of the First Ten was Osmyn Merritt Deuel, with whom they had travelled on the Siddons.

There were 368 people in 54 waggons.  More than half of the travellers were Danish. These were self-funding people who had been able to buy up their own supplies for the journey and their new life.  Consequently their problem was not that they were short of provisions, but rather that they were overloaded.

They set out on Thursday 14 June, but they soon encountered difficulties.  There was cholera and measles in the camp and on the 11th day, at Elm Creek on the way to the Big Blue River, they met with disaster.

They had been sorting out the problems of the overloaded waggons, by arranging for people who had excess baggage to pay for their surplus to be carried by others who had enough space, when a government waggon train passed by so close that it spooked four of their riding horses.

Captain Secrist set out in search of them, taking with him several men, including the Etheringtons’ son-in-law John Pugh, who had been a coachman in London.

They were gone five days, during which time there were deaths from sickness amongst those waiting in the camp, when at last John Pugh returned with all but one of the horses and the news that Captain Secrist had fallen sick with cholera.  Pugh had ridden to the next company to borrow some means of bringing the sick man back to camp, and he had come back ahead to warn the Company.

The other men brought Secrist back to his camp, where he died.  They thought to make him a tin coffin, because one of them was a tinsmith and had with him a load of tin for Utah, and they hoped to bring his body back to the Valley.  But the tinsmith could not make it “tight enough to keep the stench from leaking out” as the Danish Captain of the Guard recorded, so they had to bury Secrist by the Trail.

They voted in a new captain, Noah Guyman, who was 35 years old, originally from Tennessee, and was returning from mission.

In the midst of it all, someone kicked an old stovepipe hat, and set off a cattle stampede.  Several teams took fright, five waggons were upset, one axle-tree was broken, and James Faulkner from Nova Scotia hurt his shoulder.

They had been a month into the trail, and they had already buried a dozen people.

James Faulkner had lost his wife and three sons aged between 2 and 14, together with another woman from his party (possibly his sister) and her boy.  He carried on with his young daughters and surviving son.

After this terrible start, the Company's journey was fairly uneventful.

They met with Indians several times – a few Cheyenne out hunting Pawnees and some Lakota who came to camp and were given provisions.

James Faulkner remembered at Ash Hollow
“We saw scores of Indians, all very civil, very much for shaking hands”.
They had the occasional accident on the long hard road.  One man fell out of his waggon and had his thigh broken when the wheel went over his leg.  A Danish woman was bitten by an insect soon after crossing the Green River.  She became very ill and died at their last camping ground, only hours before they reached the Great Salt Lake Valley.

At last they were nearly within sight of their goal, and excitement was growing.  Although they knew that there was dusty road still to come, the travellers washed and dressed themselves in clean clothes in preparation for their arrival in Salt Lake City.

James Faulkner wrote
“on the 7th of September I was sitting in the front of my wagon passing around a mountain when the first thing that caught my eye was the appearance of the Great Salt Lake. It appeared like a great sheet of glass just as the sun was setting.”
and Boletta Johnsen remembered:
“When we arrived in the great Salt Lake Valley to our great surprise, instead of finding a garden of Eden as we expected, we found grasshoppers by the millions, and not a blade of grass.  All the leaves was eaten from the trees and bushes.  A large Valley covered with sagebrush, and some places was bare and white.  Not a blade of grass just white salt beds.”
The Valley had been blighted by a terrible plague of grasshoppers.  They would eat anything green – clothes on the line, paint on the windows – and had stripped everything.  Seventy per cent of the crops had gone and Utah would be near starvation until the next harvest.

The Etherington family arrived with their own particular grief.  Elizabeth Pugh had caught Mountain Fever - this was probably one of the tick-borne diseases - and she died soon after arrival in the Valley leaving her husband John with two very young children.

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