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
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
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
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
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
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
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.