Chapter Six: Train Ride Across the United States to Iowa City, Iowa
“Stayed There 2 days, then took train for Iowa City, State of Iowa”
TO THOSE PIONEERS WHO DIED ON THE PLAINS
AND WERE BURIED IN LONELY GRAVES ALONG THE TRAIL
Lay him down tenderly under the willows;
Dampen the warm brown earth with your tears;
Then turn your face again to the prairie,
Harden your heart to the lonely years.
We must relinquish him to this wide darkness,
Push toward the goal again, smiling and brave;
The willows will guard him silent and weeping,
No one will know that they shelter his grave.
Lay him down quietly under the willows,
Lay him down gently, gently, and then
Run away quickly, softly, on tiptoe--
We cannot come back to the willows again.
by Lisbeth Wallis, Improvement Era, July 1943 (Skousen)
In addition to the Saints that died at Boston Harbor, there were also a few deaths during the train ride west. From July 2 through July 8, the days of train travel, John Jaques recorded seven deaths. The rate of death was higher than on the ship. On the sea voyage, between May 25 and June 30 there were five deaths. While in port there were two deaths. The wear of the journey, and communicable diseases were beginning to catch up with the Saints, especially the children. (Jaques, Bell) There were deaths recorded in Boston, Buffalo, Cleveland, Toledo, Chicago and Rock Island. As in the case of Elizabeth Ashton, the Saints did not always have the luxury of seeing their loved ones buried, leaving them to the care of others, and in graves to which they would never return.
Before landing in Boston, the Saints had been instructed on proper conduct while in Boston. This included informing them they only had 48 hours to leave the ship after docking. Also no person should leave the ship without permission. The first day in Boston, only the Bishops of 100 and a few from each ward were allowed to go ashore. The next day they all had this privilege. (Jaques, Bell)
Mormon immigration ships were met by a Church agent when they landed in America. Brigham Young had instructed President Richards in this manner with regards to the agents on the eastern coast. “Be careful to forward to Elder John Taylor at New York City, a correct list of the names of the persons of each company with the occupation and approximate amount of property or means and forward it in season for Elder John Taylor to receive it before the company arrives in port that he may be advised as to be able to meet them, or appoint some proper person to do so” (MS XVII 1855 p 684) John Taylor was president of the agents who met the emigrants in Boston. Nathaniel H. Felton, who worked with John Taylor, and the Church mission in New York, met the ship. He sent information back to the European Mission about the progress of the journey. The mission office arranged for transportation across the eastern United States to the rail terminus. In 1856 this was Iowa City, Iowa. (Taylor, P.A.M. p 215) Elder Felt recorded their progress by letter to “The Mormon,” a short lived New York weekly newspaper defending the Church and published by John Taylor:
I arrived here on the Tuesday morning following, by Fall River route, and found Elder Martin with his excellently organized company quietly waiting the arrival of some one from New York to give them counsel and advice.
On Tuesday afternoon, we had all the luggage excepting the beds and bedding out upon this wharf, and forwarded to the Worcester Depot before dark; and the following morning, at 11 o’clock, the remainder of the luggage and nearly 700 souls were safely upon the cars and started for Iowa city. (Mormon II 1856 p 3, Felt)
The fare for the railroad passage was $11. (See Larson p 199) This represented about 20 percent of the total cost of the trip. Elder Felt helped with the transfer of the luggage to the rail depot. This was a major operation as the Boston Albany Train line started from Worcester, which was over 40 miles from the harbor. “All was hustle getting past the customs officers and getting our belongings into the cars and started westward for Zion.” (McBride, BYU) John Taylor expressed some trepidation about the lateness of the season, but sent them on all the same. (See Roberts p 117) It is likely Isaac helped with these arrangements, in addition to seeing to his own luggage.
The Saints would travel 1700 miles by train, “We took the cars at Boston for Iowa City on the 2nd of July and got there on the 8th, the distance of 1700 miles.” (Durham, BYU) They took eight different rail lines, and two ferries in traveling to Iowa City, fifty miles inside of Iowa: Western Railway from Boston, to Greenbush near Albany 200 miles, steamboat across Albany River to Albany, to Buffalo 350 miles, to Cleveland 180 miles, to Toledo 100 miles, to Chicago 250 miles, to Rock Island 236 miles, ferry across Missippi to Davenport, train to Iowa City 50 miles. (See Openshaw, Samuel) Part of the reason for all the changes was the different sized gauges of the rails.
For the first leg they were loaded into cattle cars. “At this pier nothing but cattle cars could be obtained and into these we were loaded, bag and baggage. In those we road to Albany…” (Southwell, BYU) “After landing we all took shot might cattle cars, which was thought good enough for Mormons.” (Clark, Church History 3) They boarded the Western Railway July 2nd and left Boston at “twenty minutes to twelve and passed through a large extensive woodland country a distance of 200 miles.” (Openshaw, BYU) The luggage was transferred to the Worcester Depot, while the passengers took cattle cars at the pier.
John Beecroft added:
When arrived we got our things weighed and kept an eye on them till my wife and John came that we could go into our carriage, which was a cattle van. Our luggage had to be box for seats, and at night our beds. I felt highly delighted as we passed along in seeing the various streets and houses…. Our carriages were luggage vans, and our seats were our luggage which was in our way. We were uncomfortable in some things, but comfortable in mind. We were cramped with being confined, some slept in the carriages and some laid down on the ground and some walked about till we had orders to pack up and go a quarter of a mile to a camping ground near the ferry called Offman on a broad part of Hudson. We crossed the ferry and had near a mile to carry our provisions to station, (Beecroft, BYU)
The train took them to Greenbush, near the Albany River and opposite Albany, New York. The company crossed the river on July 3. “We took our luggage from the train and placed them upon horse carts and the carts and all crossed the river in steamboats to Albany from whence we started for Buffalo. At one o'clock p.m. a distance of 350 miles passed through a most delightful country. Fruit trees and vines all along the side of the railway, but the fruit were not ripe except the raspberries and currants.” (Openshaw, BYU)
The train leaving Albany had somewhat better carriages. “The carriages were box cars with seats built up inside very much like seats in a circus tent.” (Jaques, Church History) The train then travelled to Buffalo, going through Rochester and passing over the Genesee Falls Bridge. (Openshaw, BYU) “In 1852 a wooden railroad bridge was built over the Upper Falls at Portageville. It was the largest of all wooden bridges built at the time.” (Wikipedia) This was a trestle bridge, made of wood for rail traffic. It was known as the Portage Viaduct. It was 267 meters in length and 71 meters above the water. It was above the upper falls of the Genesee River but would have also provided a view of the middle falls. The original bridge was detroyed in 1875 and replaced by the current Portage Viaduct. (structurae.net)
Members of the company did see some fireworks, celebrating Independence Day. (Beecroft, BYU) Most of the company hurried to another train to take them to Cleveland, while about 50 of the men took care of the luggage and had a few extra moments in Buffalo. Buffalo was decorated with flags for the Fourth of July. (Openshaw, BYU) “[We] passed through Buffalo, July 4, while the celebration was in full parade.” (Rogerson, Church History)
From Buffalo to Cleveland they passed through Kirtland. However it is unlikely they saw the temple. “We reached Cleveland, O[hio] on the 5th, passing Kirtland with its temple, in the night.” (Rogerson, Church History) Because those who stayed took an express train to Cleveland, they both arrived in the early morning hours of July 5th. Brother Southwell remembered Fourth of July celebration in Cleveland. They then boarded a train to travel to Toledo, where they again changed carriages to travel to Chicago, arriving in Chicago Sunday evening, July 6. (Southwell, BYU)
While waiting in Chicago, most of the Saints were housed in a barn. After they had “retired for the night a mob of bullies including some females gathered around the barn and kept up for hours such a howling and bombarding with stones and bats…. Finally the presidency of the company found a person who it seemed had some authority, who persuaded the mob to desist and go to their homes. However, it left the people in a state of terrible excitement. Not a person closed an eye that night in sleep.” (ibid)
The next day they traveled to Rock Island, arriving in the evening, and spent the night in the carriages close by the Mississippi. The trains from Chicago to Rock Island were not very nice. “From Chicago, we had to ride in cattle and freight cars.” (McBride, BYU) The company crossed the Mississippi to Davenport from whence they took the last leg of the journey to Iowa City. “We crossed the Mississippi by ferry, and then took the cars from Davenport for Iowa City, Iowa, reaching there the same afternoon.” (Southwell, BYU) They travelled in two groups to Iowa City. “Crossed the Mississippi, thence to Iowa City in two companies.” (Jaques, Bell, p 108)
Getting rest and meals was difficult while traveling by train. It was traditional for the ships to give whatever rations were remaining to the passengers at the end of a sea voyage. As there had been periods of storms and seasickness, it is likely there were provisions for the company for a few days while traveling to Iowa.
However arrangements for sleep could have been more difficult. Often the company members would make do as best they could, sleeping in their clothes or having a “rather awkward place to lay in.” (Beecroft, BYU) The train journey was summarized in a letter sent back to England. “We have traveled upwards of seventeen hundred miles by railway to this place, most of the way in first class carriages, with stuffed seats covered with crimson silk velvet which was very acceptable as we had to sleep five nights in the carriages.” (Bleaks, BYU)
In 1856 Iowa City was very much a rural community. “Iowa City, Ia., was then the capitol of the state, and as I remember now didn’t contain over 3,500 to 5,000 population, with probably half a dozen brick stores—of any size—a score or two of brick houses and the balance lumber and log houses, but a goodly number of corn and wheat farms surrounding.” (Rogerson, Church History) The Mormon encampment was not in town however.
After arriving in Iowa City, the company was divided with half staying the night at the depot, and the other half headed for the campground:
We were informed that we must travel on foot four miles to the camp ground. All felt delighted in having the privilege of a pleasant walk. Accordingly, all took up their beds and walked. We had not gone far before it thundered and lightened and poured down with rain. The roads soon became very muddy and slippery. The noble 600, about 200 having stayed at Boston and other places en route, trudged along. The day was far advancing, and many did not reach camp until after dark. We were conducted into tents, packed very close together, and stood up all night in our wet clothes. In the dark parents and children became separated. Daylight in the morning brought fine weather and parents and children found each other with joy. This was our first "experience in our start on foot." (Bailey, CH)
We were informed when we left the train that we must travel several miles on foot to the camping ground. Everyone felt delighted in having the privilege of a pleasant walk, and we all took up our beds and started to walk the distance. We had not gone far before it started to thunder and terrific bolts of lightning shot across the sky followed by a downpour of rain. The road became muddy and slippery, and progress became very difficult. It was night before we reached camp. We were conducted to tents, and packed very close together we stood up all night in our wet clothes. (Jaques, Bell p 108)
If Isaac was staying close to the Baileys, he would have been caught in this storm. As such he would have spent a wet night in the tent. The walk of three or four miles generally would have been accomplished in an hour, if conditions were favorable. However the storm spoiled that opportunity. Ether Enos McBride, eight at the time, provided this description of the storm:
The night we arrived at Iowa there was one of the worst storms of rain, thunder and lightning that I ever experience. They had wagons and teams to haul our luggage to camp about three miles and we had to walk, it being so dark we could not see anything. Children lost their parents and parents lost their children and we had a great time there. A great number of tents put up on the camp ground and we got into one of them but everything we had was as wet as it could be, but we passed the night somehow and were all there when morning came and the sun shone bright and then their goods spread out to dry. (McBride, EE, CH)
His older brother, Heber, thirteen, and younger brother Peter, six, also described the storm:
We took the train for Iowa City. When we got there and our baggage unloaded, it was getting late in the day and our camping ground was 3 miles from the city….so a great many of the people started for the camp on foot. We had not gone very far when it began to rain and was so dark I got lost from the rest of the Company but made out to keep the road by the help of the lightning for Iowa can beat the World for thunder and lightning. After ascending a steep hill I could see a fire. (McBride, Heber, BYU)
The night we arrived in Iowa, there was the worst storm I ever have experienced, thunder, lightning, rain coming down in torrents. There were wagons to take our bedding and luggage to camp three miles away, but we had to walk. Parents lost their children and children their parents, but we finally got settled in tents for the night, but were all glad when morning came as the sun was shining brightly. It was warm and the people could dry their bedding and clothes. (McBride, Peter, BYU)
This was not the only thunder storm they would experience while camped at Iowa City, and there would be more along the trail. (See Binder, CH 1) Heber further commented, ‘This was my first night in a tent.” (McBride, Heber, BYU) Perhaps, like Heber, Isaac had his first night in a tent. Not all the party walked to the campground the first night. Some stayed at the rail depot. They were subject to an engineer coming into the round-house, his engine whistling and hissing and waking the emigrants. (Jaques, Bell p 108)
When the Saints from the Horizon arrived at the outfitting camp, they made the population of the camp about 2000. (Binder, CH 1) A couple days later the Willie group would leave reducing the number. Josiah Rogerson provided a description of the camp in Iowa:
About three miles northwest of Iowa there was a large camp of our brethren and sisters, skirted on the west by the Iowa River and surrounded by hazel bush and young trees. Handcarts were being made here and fitted up as also wagons, tents, wagon covers, yokes, etc., steers and oxen being gentled and everything necessary for a journey of 1,300 miles over the plains being put in readiness.” (Rogerson, BYU)
Here we found hundreds in their newly-made tents, scores of young girls, others of more mature years, mother and grandmothers, busy as bees sewing on other tents and wagon covers. In the carpenter shops and sheds fifteen or twenty were at work on the handcarts, and we continued from break of day till dark of night, form this on till the last cart was finished for the last company.
Members of the Independent Wagon Companies, Hunts and Hodgetts, were breaking steers, with a rope around their horns and a log behind, before being trusted on the lead of a wagon.
…Everybody that could handle a saw, plane and drawknife was put to work, and the making of the carts was rushed early and late… (Rogerson, CH)
The environment at the Mormon Camp was not one of grassy prairie land. This area was wooded, which afforded access to firewood. It was also close to the Iowa River which provided drinking water as well as recreation and would have kept the air a bit cooler. The grasses were high, and wild flowers plentiful. The information at the Mormon Camp in Iowa City gives a description of the area:
The first group of handcart pioneers arrived in Iowa City in May of 1856. They were housed in the railroad depot for a few days before coming to this site where plenty of water and firewood were available. For the next two months this area was a bustling city of tents as each group of immigrants arrived, worked on their handcarts and made their preparations, then departed on their trek across the plains.
Ecological Data: Prior to the westward expansion of the settlers, Iowa was a rolling prairie dissected by forested river valleys. The flood plains were dominated by a gallery forest of cottonwood, elm, river birch, walnut, willows and others. On the steeper and cooler north facing slopes the settlers found maple and basswood. Oaks and hickories were the common trees of south-facing slopes and hill tops. In the spring, before the trees leafed out, the forest floor was covered with abundant wildflowers including blood root, hepatica, spring beauty, Jacob’s ladder, phlox, violets, bluebells, and Dutchman’s breeches.
Today as you look around you, remnants of the forest and prairie remain much as they did at the time of the Mormon encampments. (Handcart Pioneer Campsite, plaque)
Joseph Beecroft kept a very good diary of the time in Iowa and the early part of the trail. He talks about attending Sunday meetings. They received good advice “some of which was we were to sell our surplus provision and to have prayer night and morn in our camps.” (Beecroft, CH) He helped make tent poles and stood guard. He talked of the “oppressive heat,” which caused him to “sweat profusely” and have difficulty sleeping, being called to prayer by the “horn,” meeting Indians for the first time, fetching water, watching another handcart company start their journey, full moon shining beautifully, being over the 17 pound allotment and selling a few things, playing his fiddle, Sunday meetings and Brother McAllister singing “a number of Zion songs,” putting 100 pounds of goods on a wagon, and preparing his “hand barrow.” Another list of tasks in Iowa was provided by James Bleak, “The past week has been spent in attending to Camp duties, cutting wood, Hunting Cattle, Pruning luggage. &c.” (Bleak, CH 2)
The boys, young men, and I imagine even older men when they could get away from their work spent considerable time in the Iowa River swimming. “…Swimming was the order of the day for all the small boys in camp.” (McBride, BYU) Langley Bailey and his brother John learned to swim during this time, and Langley related how someone almost drowned. “At this place John and I learned to swim in the river. A tall man walked in the river where I was treading the water, I saw him go down, then come to the surface twice then went down again. I called to those around me to form a line as quick as possible. I saw his hand come in sight. I grasped his wrist swam to the nearest man. We were both hauled out. It took a long time before he came to himself. Gave the reason for going in deep water, thought I was walking on the bottom of the river.” (Bailey, BYU) As Langley and Isaac were friends, it is likely he participated in this rescue.
The Company was met in Iowa City by more Church agents. “Daniel Spencer was in charge of emigration affairs at the frontier outfitting post, assisted by George D. Grant, William H. Kimball, James H. Hart and others.” (Larson p 199) The Church agents were very busy with making sure everything was ready. This would include the delivery of provisions, wagons and material to build handcarts, having animals for pulling the wagons, and for meat along the trail. (See Roberts p 228.)
“Chauncey G. Webb, who superintended the making of the carts at Iowa City, put every available man to work on construction of the vehicles, the women made the tents.” (Hafen and Hafen p 92) Isaac helped build his handcart, before he pulled it. The Church had hoped to have handcarts waiting, but when the number of emigrants was more than expected, 100 more handcarts were required. The Church had already contracted for 300 carts. (See Olsen p 55-56.) A visitor commented on the work in this manner, “Here is the place to try a man what he is. If a brother comes in camp and don't catch hold of an axe and cut down a tree for to make hand carts, or break in a pair of oxen, or make himself useful in some way, he is but little respected.” (Reese, CH)
The Church decided to make the last carts “in-house.” Chauncey Webb, “a skilled wheelwright supervised the construction” (Olsen p 56) However he was hampered in his efforts by a lack of seasoned wood which was essential to prevent warping and splitting. He was frustrated because the efforts to save money decreased the quality of the carts. The lack of wood also resulted in compromises. “Brother Webb, the man who superintended the work of construction, said, a penny wise and a pound foolish as they would be frequently breaking down and thus hindering the company’s progress in their long march. This remark of Brother Webbs proved true to our sorrow in many instances.” (Southwell, CH) “Needing to hurry the handcart companies onto the trail, they began using green wood from trees they felled themselves.” (Roberts p 228) Instead of metal rims, they used leather for most of the carts. Also most had wooden axles rather than metal. (See Roberts p 140.)
The missionaries overseeing the preparations were overburdened, resulting in delay. Even so the Martin Handcart Company outfitted faster than any of the previous handcart companies:
From the day the Willie group arrived to the day the Martin group left, the outfitting proceeded with all haste. Even inexperienced emigrants were put to work building and assembling handcarts… In the five weeks after the Willie group arrived, emigration leaders in Iowa outfitted nearly 50 percent more handcart emigrants than in the previous six weeks. During this time they also helped finish outfitting the 400 members of the Hunt and Hodgetts wagon companies. (Olsen p 59)
The outfitting of the Martin Company took 20 days from July 8 to July 28. This was as fast as the other handcart companies of the year, and faster than most. (Wikipedia. Mormon Handcart Pioneers) Even so, many of the pioneers later blamed the delay in Iowa for problems later encountered by the handcart pioneers. “We had expected to find our handcarts all ready for us but instead we had to delay two or three weeks to make them. Instead of iron axles they were poorly constructed of wood. The boxes were of leather.” (Kingsford, BYU) “The mechanics were very busy manufacturing handcarts with which to haul they and their small children. Many of the handcarts were built with wooden axles instead of iron and with leather boxes. They expected to find these vehicles already at hand on their arrival at Iowa City, but this work consumed between two and three weeks of their time in which they should have been wending their way to Salt Lake City.” (Curtis, BYU) “Being detained and delayed here from at least the 12th of July, three days after we arrived, till the 26th, cost the lives of at least one-fourth to one-third of those that fell by the way after the first snow struck us…” (Rogerson, CH)
Handcarts were of two types. Family handcarts were of better quality, and had a canvas tarp to protect children who may be riding from the sun. Josiah Rogerson described the two types in his newspaper series:
The open handcart was made of Iowa hickory or oak, the shafts and side pieces of the same material, but the axles generally of hickory. In length the side pieces and shafts were about six or seven feet, with three or four binding crossbars from the back part to the fore part of the body of the cart; then two or three feet space from the latter bar to the front bar or singletree for the lead horse or lead man, woman or boy of the team. The carts were the usual width of the wide track wagon. Across the bars of the bed of the cart we generally sewed a strip of bed ticking or a counter pane. On this cart of the thimbleless axle, with about a 2 ½ inch shoulder and a 1 inch point, were often loaded 400 or 500 pounds of flour, bedding, extra clothing, cooking utensils and a tent How the flimsy yankee hickory structure held up the load for hundreds of miles has been a wonder to us since then.
The covered or family cart was similar in size and construction with the exception that it was made stronger, with an iron axle. It was surmounted by a small wagon box 3 or 4 feet long with side and end pieces about 8 inches high. (Rogerson, CH)
Another difference between the two types of handcarts is that the family cart had an iron tire, while the open carts had only a hoop iron tire, which was fastened to the wood rim with nails or screws. (Rogerson, CH) Sister Kingsford described the less expensive carts. “The hand carts or many of them, were built on wooden axles instead of iron; and with leather boxes.” (Kigsford, CH 1) Other pioneers described the handcarts:
They had to be made on the campground. They were made in a hurry, some of them of very insufficiently seasoned timber, and strength was sacrificed to weight until the production was a fragile structure, with nothing to recommend it but lightness. They were generally made of two parallel hickory or oak sticks, about five feet long. …These were connected by one cross piece at one end to serve as a handle, and three or four similar pieces nearly a foot apart commencing at the other end, to serve as the bed of the cart, under the centre of which was fastened a wooden axle-tree without iron skeins. A pair of light wheels without iron, except a very light iron tire completed the “divine” handcart. Its weight was somewhere near 60 pound. (John Chislett as quoted in Hafen and Hafen p 54, notes)
One of these hand carts weighed about 15 pounds, It being made as light as possible. The two wheels were set far enough apart to permit them to follow the track of the wagon drawn by oxen or mule teams.
The tires were made of heavy sheet iron riveted to the felloes. The carts had no tongue but the strips of wood, bolted on to the axle of the wheels upon which the box rested, extented [extended] far enough in front[.] The cross pieces could be morticed to the ents [ends] leaving room for a person to walk between it and the cart.
Thus those who pulled got into this space and propelled a cart forward with their bodies. As a rule two persons pulled walking side by side, But a strong man could pull a cart alone. Often the man would pull while his wife or other members of the family pushed from the rear. (Loynd, CH)
The handcarts were of inferior quality, except a few which were made with metal rims and axles in St. Louis. Daniel MacArthur, captain of the second handcart company offered this description, “Our carts, when we started, were in an awful fix. They mowed [moaned] and growled, screeched and squealed, so that a person could hear them for miles. You may think this is stretching things a little too much, but it is a fact, and we had them to eternally patch, mornings, noons and nights.” (MacArthur, CH)
Even though the handcarts were poor, traveling in this manner represented a new mode of travel. Leroy and Ann Hafen in their book “Handcarts to Zion” described the handcart migration as “…the most remarkable travel experiment in the history of Western America.” (Hafen and Hafen) This was reflected by Violet Kimball.
The Mormons who went to Utah with handcarts forged a unique westering experiment. The carts were made of oak or hickory with wooden wheels, and they weighed up to sixty pounds. A few had canvas covers. The emigrants pulled the carts with their bodies as horses would a wagon. In large families several members could work as a team. (Kimball)
One of the most difficult parts of the stay at Iowa City was reducing baggage to 17 pounds; after being allowed 100 pounds on the ship. The 17 pounds included clothes, blankets, cooking utensils etc.:
The families came with feather beds, books, clothing, keepsakes, cookware, and other household items. Upon their arrival in Iowa City, many were shocked to discover they could take only a small number of their belonging in the handcarts. Each adult was limited to a total of seventeen pounds’ worth of items; children were allowed ten pounds each. While some people simply left their things behind in piles, others sold their belonging at bargain prices. (Kimball)
The members of the handcart companies were now advised that their 100 pounds of luggage allowed to each passenger on the sea and on the cars had to be cut down to seventeen pounds, and that this amount they would learn would be all they wanted to pull to the valley (Utah). This necessitated the selling and disposing of the men’s and boys’ Sunday suits, extra clothing and surplus coats, Etc. and the women folks their Sunday dresses and every other article of wearing apparel that they could possible dispense with.
A market was found for all this extra luggage with the residents of Iowa City, the buyer putting his own price on the article, the seller having to take that, give it away or burn it, and many a hundred dollars’ worth were thus bartered for one-third to half its value. (Rogerson, CH)
The seventeen pound allotment included: “bedding, cooking utensils, tin plates and cups, knives, forks and spoons, iron bake kettles, frying pans, coffee pot or camp kettle and what extra provisions we had brought…” (Rogerson, CH) Friends of ours, who lived in our ward in Cupertino, talked of their ancestor who walked the plains wearing 5 dresses because she would not leave the others behind. (McGhie, Tamara) Captain Ellsworth, of the first handcart company, described similar occurrences :
We were allowed 17 lbs. of baggage each, that meant clothes, bedding, cooking utensils etc. When the brethren came to weigh out things some wanted to take more than allowed so put on extra clothes so that some that wore real thin soon became stout and as soon as the weighing was over put the extra clothes in the hand cart again but that did not last long for in a few days we were called up to have all weighed again & quite a few were found with more than allowed. (Ellsworth, CH)
John Jaques added his own description:
As only a very limited amount of baggage could be taken with the handcarts, during the long stay on the Iowa city camping ground there was a general lightening of such things as could best be done without. Many things were sold cheaply to residents of that vicinity, and many more things were left on the camping ground for anybody to take or leave at his pleasure. It was grievous to see the heaps of books and other articles thus left in the sun and rain and dust, representing a respectable amount of money spent therefore in England, but thenceforth a waste and a dead loss to the proper owners. (Jaques, CH)
There were camp-wide meetings held on a frequent basis while at Iowa City, and these would have included 2000 Saints when all the groups were together. “The camp was furnished a stand for the agent to hold religious services three times a week where eminent sermons were preached… When the saints twenty one hundred sang the songs of Zion in concert it was grand making many souls happy.” (Bond, CH)
While at Iowa City, an initial decision was made by the company to go on rather than winter in Iowa. The meeting held by the Willie Company is well known, but with the Martin Company too, people unfamiliar with travel of the plains were asked to decide on their own fate. “The immigrants were wholly ignorant of the country ahead and unused to the rigors of camp life.” (Larson p 206)
The pioneers were unfamiliar with the country, and hardships involved in the trek. However some of them put their decision to God through prayer and received satisfactory answers to their prayers, deciding to make the trek. (See Housley, CH) There were of course those who decided against it and stayed in the Iowa area until a later season.
Even so, the decision to move on to Salt Lake Valley was made and with it, almost 700 members of the Martin Handcart Company (originally two companies) would leave Iowa City in late August.