Sunday, October 16, 2011

The Groesbecks encountered buffalo on their 1856 trek to Utah.

The account of Nicholas and Elizabeth Thompson Groesbeck’s trip from St. Louis, Illinois to the Salt Lake Valley is continued from here.

After securing the release of their son Nicholas Harmon from prison, Nicholas and Elizabeth Thompson Groesbeck and family began their journey to Utah on June 3, 1856. They spent a few days with relatives in Schuyler County, Illinois on their way to the old Winter Quarters of Florence, about six miles above Omaha on the Missouri River, where Nicholas had sent all of his wagons and cattle. Their children, who traveled with them, were Nicholas Harmon, 14-years old, William, 12-years old, seven-year-old John Amberson, Helen Melvina (Mellie), four years old, and three-year-old Hyrum.

Their trek wasn’t without its share of blessings and disasters. Twenty days after their group left Florence they had to make a dry camp. That entailed digging wells to obtain enough water for culinary purposes. Their efforts provided very little water for their stock. The following morning as they started out, two of their teams became unmanageable and ran away. An eight- or nine-year old boy in one of the wagons attempted to jump from the front of the wagon, slipping. He fell in front of the wheels and was killed.

One night they camped by a shallow stream-let. A heavy rain fall during the night to the north turned the stream into a raging torrent of water six to eight feet deep. All were spared, however, they were required to continue camp until that night when the waters receded enough for them to cross over. When it rained again the next night raising the waters five or six feet, they considered themselves fortunate for they had camped on the south side of the river. They continued their journey, and camped on the south side of the next river. Unexpected deep stream waters weren’t cause for further delaying the Groesbecks’ journey.

The caravan saw their first buffalo on July 27 and some of the men took their guns and went out killing two or three. They brought in the first meat they’d had for some time which everyone enjoyed. The following morning, soon after they began their travel, they came upon some sand hills that were literally covered with buffalo. Two of their horses became frightened and ran into the midst of them. In the course of recovering the horses they came to the top of the hills and looked down on the valley below where, “we there saw the sight of our lives, for as far as the eye could see west, north and south it was a heavy mass of galloping buffalo.”

As the train proceeded they sent some men ahead shooting blank cartridges to scare the buffalo out of their way, and they traveled that way for a couple of hours. A row of buffalo traveling two abreast from the north then broke through their train separating the travelers. And it was with great difficulty they were eventually reunited. They traveled until reaching a bend in the Platte river where they stopped to camp for the night, turning their horses and cattle into the bend, and guarding the north side so their stock could not get our during the night, and the buffalo could not get it.

“It was a terrible night for all concerned for we were surrounded by those wild animals whose bellowing was like the roaring of the ocean.”

The following morning the company captains agreed to lay over a day to get some buffalo meat and jerk and dry it. During the day there was an accident that took the life of one of the Groesbeck teamsters. Solomon Hall was shot through the thigh, severing an artery, and causing him to bleed to death. They “buried him that evening in a very deep grave to keep the wolves from scratching him up.”

Four-year-old Mellie forever remembered her encounter with the buffalo, and for the rest of her life she recalled and retold the story of running into buffalo on her way to Utah.

They continued their travel for another ten days without incident, until they came upon a village of about three thousand Sioux and Cheyenne Indians who demanded a toll of provisions from the company. Through the course of a few days they experienced fear, they shared provisions, exchanged services, traded some and continued on their journey peacefully.

After they arrived west of Fort Laramie, Wyoming, their company split into five companies, each going on by itself. They crossed the Platte River--twice--and on September 4th they were in a great alkali bed where they gathered enough crude soda to last for years.

The day they camped east of Independence Rock, was the warmest they’d experienced on the road. The next morning they woke to six inches of snow on the ground and about “thirty head of oxen had been chilled to death. Fortunately there were some Indian traders there who sold us what cattle we wanted at a very reasonable price.

Notes: From Nicholas Harmon Groesbeck’s August 1916 autobiography. The copy in my possession is from cousin Karen M. Information about the John Banks Company may be seen here.

Thank you to cousin Nancy for the picture of "Brigham Young's Arrow." She took it three weeks ago about thirty miles east of Evanston, Wyoming, when she revisited the site where she'd walked on Pioneer Trek fourteen years earlier. She said there isn't a marker at the site. The rock arrow is fenced, and when she was on trek she was told this is the arrow President Young left, pointing the way for those who followed him. I assume the Groesbecks passed by that way also.

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