Mormon Literature Sampler:

Some Early Mormon "Fast-Days"

Daniel W. Jones*

The mail company went down fifty miles to Platte bridge to winter. Marshal Heywood decided to remain with us and live or die, as the case might be, preferring to be with his brethren. There were no provisions to be had at the Bridge, for three of us had been down to see if we could get supplies. We barely got enough to last us back. The mountaineers there had some cattle but no bread, they lived by hunting.

Game soon became so scarce that we could kill nothing. We ate all the poor meat; one would get hungry eating it. Finally that was all gone, nothing now but hides were left. We made a trial of them. A lot was cooked and eaten without any seasoning and it made the whole company sick. Many were so turned against the stuff that it made them sick to think of it.

We had coffee and some sugar, but drinking coffee seemed to only destroy the appetite, and stimulate for only a little while. One man became delirious from drinking so much of it.

Things looked dark, for nothing remained but the poor raw hides taken from starved cattle. We asked the Lord to direct us what to do. The brethren did not murmur, but felt to trust in God. We had cooked the hide, after soaking and scraping the hair off until it was soft and then ate it, glue and all. This made it rather inclined to stay with us longer than we desired. Finally I was impressed how to fix the stuff and gave the company advice, telling them how to cook it; for them to scorch and scrape the hair off; this had a tendency to kill and purify the bad taste that scalding gave it. After scraping, boil one hour in plenty of water, throwing the water away which had extracted all the glue, then wash and scrape the hide thoroughly, washing in cold water, then boil to a jelly and let it get cold, and then eat with a little sugar sprinkled on it. This was considerable trouble, but we had little else to do and it was better than starving.

We asked the Lord to bless our stomachs and adapt them to this food. We hadn't the faith to ask him to bless the raw-hide for it was "hard stock." On eating now all seemed to relish the feast. We were three days without eating before this second attempt was made. We enjoyed this sumptuous fare for about six weeks, and never had the gout.

In February the first Indian came to our camp. He was of the Snake tribe, his people were located a day's travel up the river. At the time of his arrival we were out of everything, having not only eaten the hides taken from cattle killed, but had eaten the wrappings from the wagon-tongues, old moccasin-soles were eaten also, and a piece of buffalo hide that had been used for a foot mat for two months.

The day the Indian came was fast-day, and for us fast-day in very truth. We met as usual for we kept our monthly fast-day. During meeting we became impressed that there were some wrongs existing among the brethren in camp that should be corrected, and that if we would make a general cleaning up, and present our case before the Lord, He would take care of us, for we were there on His business. On questioning some of the company privately, we found that several had goods in their possession not belonging to them. When we felt satisfied all goods were replaced we went en masse and cut a hole in the ice on the river. There were several carcasses of cattle that had died lying near the fort, that the wolves had not devoured. Some of the boys, contrary to counsel, had cut steaks from them during the time we were eating the hides; it made them quite sick. There was a pile of offal in the butcher shop from the poor cattle killed. But what looked more tempting than all to starving men was a pile of more than one hundred fat wolf carcasses, skinned, piled up and frozen near the fort. They looked very much like nice fat mutton. Many of the company asked my opinion about eating them. I told them if they would all do as I advised we would have a good clean supper of healthy food; that these carcasses were unclean; that we were on the Lord's service, and did not believe He wanted us to suffer so much, if we only had faith to trust Him and ask for better.

We all became united in this feeling. Accordingly we hauled all these carcasses of cattle, the wolves, also the offal from the store-house and shoved them into the hole cut in the ice, where they floated off out of our reach. We then went and washed out our store-house and presented it before the Lord empty, but clean.

Near sundown the Indian spoken of came to our quarters. Some of the boys hunted up a small piece of raw hide and gave it to him. He said he had eaten it before. None of us were able to talk much with him; we invited him to remain with us over night. Evening came on and no supper; eight o'clock, no word from any one. And the word had been positively given that we should have supper. Between eight and nine o'clock all were sitting waiting, now and then good-naturedly saying it was most suppertime. No one seemed disheartened.

Bro. Heywood was still with us. All at once we heard a strange noise resembling human voices down the road. Brother Heywood rushed out exclaiming, "Here comes our supper." The voices were loud and in an unknown tongue. Bro. H. came back a little frightened saying there was something strange going on down the road. Several of us, taking our arms, started in the direction of the noise. On getting nearer we recognized the voices. The Magraw party under Jesse Jones was making another effort to get through with their coaches; they had got stuck in a snow drift and the noise we heard was Canadian Frenchmen swearing at their mules. We helped them out and guided them into the fort. It was a bitter cold night but we had good houses with rousing fires.

After unhitching and turning out Jesse said, "I am glad to get here?" I replied, "I am as glad to see you." "Why are you so glad to see us?" he asked. I told him we had not a mouthful of anything to eat, nor had we tasted food that day, "Then what are you stopping here for?" I replied, "We were waiting for you to bring our supper." He laughed and said, "Well you shall have it if it takes the last bite we have got." He gave to our cook all of his provisions. About ten o'clock twenty-six hungry men sat down to about as thankfully a received supper as was ever partaken of by mortal man.

In January when this party passed through to Platte bridge, I sent word by them to the mountaineers there that we would pay a good price for meat brought to us. Two of the best hunters, Messrs. Maxim and Plant, made the attempt to get us meat, but failed, almost starving themselves on the hunt. They never reached our fort but returned to their homes on the Platte.

When Jesse Jones left us going down we had but little provisions on hand. Maxim and Plant's failure to reach us with food caused the people at Platte bridge to suppose we had all perished. Jesse told me he fully expected to find our skeletons.

Some may ask why we did not leave. There was no time during the winter but what the attempt would have been certain death to some of us. The company at no time was strong enough to make the trip to Platte bridge, neither did we wish to abandon our trust that we had accepted with our eyes wide open to the perils around us.

About this time another Y. X. company, under Porter Rockwell and John Murdock, arrived going east. They gave us a little flour and other provisions; they also brought us letters telling us when the relief train would arrive. With the three head of cattle and what this company furnished us, we felt safe for supplies until time for the relief trains.

Here I will give an account of a little personal matter that may seem like boasting, but I do not intend it so. This company stayed with us two nights. They were picked men, thirty in number, able-bodied, tough boys. On hearing of our sufferings many remarks were made showing deep sympathy for us.

At this time we were well recruited, having had plenty of meat for some time but scarcely any flour for some five months. Bread we had hardly tasted. In fact, the first biscuit I got almost choked me, I had entirely lost my appetite for it.

The morning the Y. X. company were getting ready to start on, a young man, Mr. Eldredge, who was going down as a passenger, expressed much indignation, saying that there could be no excuse for leaving men to suffer as we had. I did not like to hear this said, for I knew there were justifiable reasons for leaving us to take care of the goods. I also knew Brothers Grant and Burton would have sent us help if they could. It was expected that the cattle left would have been better beef than they turned out to be.

I had neither time nor disposition to explain all these things, so to stop the talk that I had got a little tired of hearing, I said to Mr. Eldredge, "We do not need your sympathy; we are all right now; none of us have died, and I am a better man than any of your company, picked men as you are."

"How do you propose to prove this, Mr. Jones? Will you pull sticks with our best man? I will not allow you rawhide-fed fellows to banter the corn-fed boys that way."

I was a little fearful that I was "sold," for I knew there were some stout men in their company; but as the banter was made, to back out would be worse than to get beat, so I said, "Bring him on; I will hoist him."

Mr. Eldredge came back with John Murdock, who was smiling. Now I really wished I had not made the banter, for John was an old friend who was hard to pull up.

A ring was formed, both companies helping to form a circle. "Rawhide against corn" was the cry. We sat down and got an even start. It was a hard pull, but "Rawhide" won, and we got no more pity from that company.

Making a close estimate of the food we now had, we found it would last us till the promised provisions could arrive, which would be about the 1st of May.

There were twenty of us now. We quit rationing and ate all we wanted. As may be imagined, some big eating was done. Now the food soon began to diminish very fast. At this time we could go to the Platte bridge and get provisions, but on calling the company together all hands agreed to make the meat last by again rationing. We could do this quite easily, allowing one and a half pounds per day. We lived a few days on these rations and all seemed content.

One day Brother Hampton and I were out and on returning to the fort we learned that a small herd of buffalo had been seen passing within three miles of tile fort. All hands were excited, as they were the first seen for a long time. The boys were all sure that Ben and I could get meat and we could again go to feasting. We started out and soon came in sight of the buffalo feeding. We dismounted and crept close to them, but just as we got in shooting distance it commenced to snow so hard that we could not see to shoot with any certainty. We sat there trying to get sight of a buffalo until our fingers were too much benumbed to hold our guns. I had brought an extra gun in anticipation of having to chase the buffalo on horseback. We concluded to blaze away, hit or miss, and then take to our horses and have a running shot. At the crack of our guns all the herd ran away. We mounted and started in pursuit.

The horse I was riding could easily outrun the buffalo, but for the life of me I could not get him up along side of one. When I would follow straight behind he would get within about twenty-five yards, but when I would try to get him up nearer he would bolt and run off to one side. This game we kept up for some time. Occasionally the buffalo would get two or three hundred yards away from me, when the horse would start in after them and soon run up to about the same distance, then he would bolt again. I felt almost like blowing his brains out. I finally commenced shooting at the buffalo, but to no purpose. As none were killed we had to give up the chase and go home without meat, feeling quite chagrined.

We had not been in camp long until I was informed that there was a great dissatisfaction being manifested by some of the company about the rations. I immediately called the company together to see what was the trouble. Several expressed themselves quite freely, finding fault for being rationed when provisions could now be had, and saying that they thought I ought to go and get something to eat and not have them suffer any more. This grieved me very much as I had a kindly feeling towards all the company. We had suffered everything that men could suffer and live. We had often been on the point of starvation. Sometimes becoming so weak that we could scarcely get our firewood, having to go some distance to the mountain for it. We were now all in good health and had, as I understood, willingly agreed to be rationed for a few days, until relief came from Salt Lake City. I did not care so much for the trouble of going for provisions, but I felt a great deal of pride in the grit of the company and this was a sore disappointment for me, for no one had just reason to find fault. All I said was, "Well, brethren, I will go and get you all you want. Now pitch in and eat your fill. I will have more by the time you eat up what is on hand."

Brother Hampton felt very indignant at the faultfinders. He told them that they would soon be ashamed of themselves; spoke of the hardships we had endured uncomplainingly, and of the hard labors in hunting, and many efforts made to keep alive. Now when we were about through and no one suffering, some had shown their true colors, and marred their credit for being true men. Ben got warm and finally said, "You will regret this. Instead of having to wait twelve days there will be plenty of provisions here inside of twelve hours, and then you will wish you had kept still." At this he ceased talking, sat down and turned to me saying a little excitedly, "What do think? Will it come?"

I said "Yes," for I felt the prophecy would be fulfilled. Sure enough that same evening twenty men arrived at our camp bringing nearly a ton of flour and other provisions.

This company had been sent to strengthen our post. They informed us that there was a large company of apostates on the road led by Tom S. Williams. Before leaving Salt Lake some of this company had made threats that indicated danger to us.

The circumstances leading to the threats were these. The goods we were guarding belonged to the last season's emigrants. The wagon companies freighting them through agreed to deliver them in Salt Lake City. These goods were to be taken in and delivered as by contract. Some of the owners had become dissatisfied with "Mormonism" and were going back to the States. As their goods had not arrived in Salt Lake City, they demanded that they should be delivered at Devil's Gate. Quite a number settled their freight bills and brought orders for their goods and received them all right. Others refused to settle, but threatened that if the goods were not given up they would take them by force. Tom Williams' company was composed largely of this class and their backers. They numbered about fifty men. The twenty men coming to our relief were sent under the emergency. This is the way Brother Hampton's prophecy came to be fulfilled.

Tom Williams knew nothing of this company, as they had slipped out and got ahead of him and arrived long enough before him for us to get everything ready. We now had forty men well armed, the twenty sent us being picked for the occasion. As I cannot remember all their names I will simply say for the purpose they were all first-class men. Our old company were reliable. As Ben had said they would be, they were a little ashamed, but nothing farther was said, and the boys showed their repentance by doing their duties now.

Our instructions were to deliver no goods to anyone unless they presented an order from the right parties.

When Williams' company arrived they made camp near our fort. Most of our men were kept out of sight. There were rooms each side of the front door, where we had a guard placed.

A person that claimed a lot of goods had come on the evening before and presented an order that was not genuine. He had reported to his friends our refusing to let him have his goods. Soon Williams and a few others came up and said if we did not give up the goods that they would tear down the fort or have them. Williams was well known to most of us; by marriage he was my wife's uncle. I informed him that we intended to obey instructions. He raved and threatened considerable, but to no purpose. He started to his camp with the avowed intention of returning and taking the goods.

I now got my company ready for fight if necessary. We had prepared port holes in front of the fort and here I stationed some of the best shots.

Brothers Hampton and Alexander took charge of our company. The company that came to strengthen us working together under their leader. Soon we saw Tom Williams approaching with his backers. As he supposed double our number, but in reality near the same. I did not wish blood shed, and fully believed that Tom was playing a "bluff," so concluded to try and beat him at the game. I instructed some of the best marksmen what to do in case shooting had to be done.

As Williams approached I went out alone and stood about thirty yards from the fort, having only my pistol. As the company came up near me I placed my hand on my pistol and told them to halt. They halted but commenced to threaten and abuse the whole fraternity sparing none. I explained our situation, being simply custodians of the goods, not knowing whose they were; but only knew who left us there, and we could not consistently recognize any orders except from those under whose instructions we were acting. My reasoning had no effect whatever, but Tom called on his crowd to say if the goods should be taken. The vote was to take them.

Now that no one may suppose that I wish to appear brave, I will say that the way I had my men placed, and the instructions given, if a weapon had been drawn on me, half Williams' company would have been shot dead before I could have been harmed.

I said to Williams just hold on one minute and hear what I have to say: "We have been here all winter eating poor beef and raw hide to take care of these goods. We have had but little fun, and would just as soon have some now as not; in fact would like a little row. If you think you can take the fort just try it. But I don't think you can take me to commence with; and the first one that offers any violence to me is a dead man. Now I dare you to go past me towards the fort." This seemed to take them back. I meant what I said, and some of them knew my disposition, which in those days, was not the most Christian-like when a white man was before me as an enemy.

After looking at me a moment Tom said, "For your family's sake I will spare you, for I think you d----d fool enough to die before you would give up the goods." I thanked him and said I believed as he did.

After this we had no more trouble. Many times 1 have thought I should have shown our force openly to have deterred Williams, but he was such a known bully and so conceited that I felt just like "taking him down a notch," and this did it.

*Daniel W. Jones (1830-1915) was born in Boonslick, Howard County, Missouri. During the Mexican War he enlisted and spent some "wild and reckless" days in Mexico. He learned the Spanish language, and, after leaving the army, traveled as a sheepherder to Utah. Accidentally wounded near Provo, he was nursed to physical and spiritual health by the Mormons, whom he joined. He subsequently aided in translating the Book of Mormon into Spanish, presided over the Mexican mission, preached the gospel among the "Lamanites" and wrote the account of his remarkable life, Forty Years Among the Indians, from which this selection has been taken. He died in Mesa, Arizona. In the excerpt presented here, Jones demonstrates the remarkable resiliency of wit and spirit that sustained him through many difficult experiences. Having volunteered to join the rescue effort to save the freezing and dying handcart immigrants, he volunteered again, this time to remain all winter in the mountains as leader of the group protecting the goods abandoned by the unfortunate people of the handcart companies.

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