Newsletter of the Utah Crossroads Chapter
Oregon-California Trails Association

Winter 1997 - Vol. 8, No. 1
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Table of Contents
The Editor's Corner
Kristin Johnson
Rustmarks Along the Trail
George Ivory
An Evening With Will Bagley and Thomas Bullock
Reported by Lyndia Carter
150 Years Ago
James F. Reed at the Battle of the Santa Clara
Trail Dust
Al Mulder
Reed Joins the Russell Train: Letter to James W. Keyes, May 20, 1846
James W. Keyes Papers, Illinois State Historical Library, Springfield, Illinois
That Old Grave
"Grandma Keys' grave, who was one of the historic Reed-Donner party..."
Patty Reed Remembers
"Dear God, ... protect dear Grandmother, and don't let the Indians dig her up."
Nicholas Clark
One of the Rescuers of the Donner Party
New Mormon Battalion Book
By Utah Crossroads' Norma Ricketts
Don't Vote For Me
Kristin Johnson
News from Winter Quarters
Eldon Fletcher


[ Table of Contents ] Crossroads, Winter 1997 - Vol. 8, No.1

The Editor's Corner

Kristin Johnson

You can't say I didn't warn you. Two years ago (has it really been that long?) I wrote in my very first column that I was a Donner Party buff and that you'd probably be reading a lot about those hapless pioneers, and read about them you have. I hope you're not of sick of them quite yet, because there's some good stuff in this issue.

For starters, "150 Years Ago" features James F. Reed's letter to John A. Sutter describing the Battle of Santa Clara, fought in January 1847. There's also a minor article about Donner rescuer Nicholas Clark. But the pièce de résistence is Reed's letter to his brother-in-law James W. Keyes, dated May 20, 1846--the day after he joined the Russell train--which has never been published before. This letter and other items were donated to the Illinois State Historical Library by a descendant of the addressee. I am very grateful to Nancy Spinner of Sherman, IL, for her help and information, and also to Claire Fuller Martin of Springfield, who first alerted me to the letter's existence.

You will be relieved to know that this is the last Crossroads with a heavy Donner emphasis. There'll be tidbits in future issues, no doubt, but it's time to move on to the Mormon pioneer 150th anniversary. I'm happy to welcome John Eldredge aboard as associate editor in this issue. The way it's supposed to work is this: he roughs the copy into the format, scans the illustrations, and then we get together and tweak it into something resembling a newsletter. ("Tweaking" is an arcane process consisting primarily of cutting text, fudging margins, and scrambling frantically for tidbits to cram into blank spots; if I'm working by myself it tends to be accompanied by a low grumble punctuated by explosive monosyllables.) The first draft is printed out and distributed to the proofreaders, who always manage to find an annoying number of errors (except the ones that escape everybody until it's too late to fix them). Then we deliver the final proofs to George Ivory to be printed and mailed. The result is yet another issue Crossroads. Since nobody's complained (so far), I conclude that: 1) you like it; 2) you don't mind it; or 3) you're all extremely polite. It's certainly been an interesting two years.

Kristin Johnson


[ Table of Contents ] Crossroads, Winter 1997 - Vol. 8, No. 1

Rustmarks Along the Trail

George Ivory

Are you ready for the sesquicentennial? One hundred fifty years ago final preparations were in progress at Winter Quarters to send a vanguard out under the leadership of Brigham Young to find a new home for the Mormon people. A newcomer that spring at Winter Quarters was Matthew Ivory, my great-grandfather, who was selected as a member of that company, giving him the opportunity to enter the Salt Lake Valley on July 22, 1847, two days ahead of Brigham Young.

But now it's 150 years later and interest in those first pioneers is evident all around us as schools, family and church groups, newspapers, television, and government agencies all get involved. By late spring will there be anyone in Utah or the states back along the trail unaware of the celebration? Not likely, but no one has better opportunities for participating than members of Utah Crossroads.

At our January membership meeting a sign-up sheet was passed around to determine interest in a field trip on the trail from Fort Bridger into the Salt Lake Valley. The results were overwhelming and it was obvious that one trip could not handle all who wanted to go. After discussion with tour leader LaMar Berrett, we have determined to do this trip on two weekends: June 7 and 8 and August 23 and 24. For practical reasons, we must limit the number of vehicles (four-wheel drive only, by the way) to twenty and ask that everyone double up so that all vehicles are filled. This field trip begins at Fort Bridger at 8:00 a.m. on Saturday morning, and arrives at the Wyoming-Utah border at the Needles. Most participants will spend the night in a motel in nearby Evanston and travel the Utah portion of the trail on Sunday.

Utah Crossroads members will also be involved in numerous other sesquicentennial activities through the summer. We are sponsoring, along with the Deseret News, historical bus tours for school teachers, including a special tour on June 7, National Trail Day, which will include a hike from Mormon Flat to the pass at Big Mountain. We're expecting two full buses of teachers for that hike.

We are also involved with helping the public contact the commemorative wagon train after it enters Utah in July. The chapter will probably be part of a bus shuttle system to help the maximum number of people visit the wagon train while it's camped in East Canyon on Saturday and Sunday, July 19 and 20. If this works out, we will be asking for volunteers to help with tickets, crowd control, loading buses, etc. On July 21 and 22, we may need to help as the wagon train moves from East Canyon to Little Mountain and then to This is the Place State Park. This wagon train is certain to create great excitement and interest, and we anticipate that thousands of people will want to experience this event. Utah Crossroads members can do a real service in helping this come to pass, so plan to make yourselves available in mid-July to be part of this "once-in-a-lifetime" opportunity. I have informed other organizations that our members would help and I thank you in advance for your support of this summer's activities.

—George Ivory


[ Table of Contents ] Crossroads, Winter 1997 - Vol. 8, No. 1

An Evening With Will Bagley and Thomas Bullock

reported by
Lyndia Carter

"...Bagley, a master historian, told Bullock's story with enthusiasm, giving his audience a very personal look at the man between the lines of the journal."

Will Bagley gave Utah Crossroads an intimate look at Thomas Bullock and Brigham Young's 1847 vanguard company during the winter general meeting, January 23, 1997. One of the most significant events in the history of Utah and an important event in the history of the westward movement in America was the arrival of Brigham Young and the pioneers in Utah. The story of the journey to "the Valley" was portrayed well by the "clerk of the Camp of Israel," Thomas Bullock. Will Bagley, a master historian, told Bullock's story with enthusiasm, giving his audience a very personal look at the man between the lines of the journal.

Thomas Bullock was chosen to come with the vanguard company not for his frontier skills but for his ability to write well. Bullock, an Englishman by birth, had been scribe to both Joseph Smith and Brigham Young. Sick with malaria, he had been left behind in Nauvoo until the last of the "saints" had been driven out. He was among the last to cross Iowa the fall of 1846 and was instructed to hurry up and get to the camps along the Missouri so that he could catch up the church records. He crossed the Missouri River to Winter Quarters 28 November 1846. He was indeed a great record keeper and as such was taken along with the vanguard company in April 1847 to keep the official journal of the company. This first Mormon company to cross the plains to Utah was extensively reported with about one-hundred-fifty primary sources, approximately fifty of which are journals. But Bullock's is extremely important, being wonderfully thorough and revealing the man behind the pen.

Bullock was thirty years old. He had joined the LDS Church in 1841 and was thoroughly committed to the religion and its leaders. In England he had been well-to-do. By 1847 he had two wives and was clerk of the Council of Fifty.

Like all the other Mormons, Bullock did not come west to gain riches. They sought a place where they could establish their own society and practice their own religion. Bullock was absorbed in the Millennial vision and the mission of establishing Christ's Kingdom. Although most in the vanguard company were highly religious, that was not a primary requirement. The men were chosen for practical purposes, and as such all types of people made up the company. This company of all the Mormon companies that went west was the best prepared in purpose, knowledge, skill and equipment. Most of the men were relatively young and possessed excellent pioneering skills. They managed to have a good time while traveling, sometimes to Bullock's and Young's dismay. The group was far from monotone in temperament, personality, background, or race. Some were not even Mormon. Three women and two boys completed the group.

Bullock's job was to keep the record, but he often complained to his journal that he was required to do everything else around the camp as well and did not have the time or energy to do his appointed job properly. Evident through the pages of his journal is the metamorphosis of an Englishman into a frontiersman. Though small in physical size, Bullock was large in intellect. His journal bears a subtle sense of humor, but he is seldom lighthearted, being of a more somber personality. Bullock was a naturalist and paid close attention to nature, often mentioning the animals and birds along the route. His sensitivity to the world that surrounded the wagon train is clear in his journal entries.

Thomas Bullock fairly worshiped Brigham Young and the commanding presence of Young is strong in the journal. It is clear that Young is a masterful leader and a great frontiersman and has the goals of an empire in the West and the building of the Kingdom of God. In addition to praising Young's greatness, Bullock writes of his human side. Brigham Young rises to power during the trek and clearly demonstrates his leadership. Bullock shows the evolution. He also gives insight into the personalities of other travelers in the group.

The venture west was a great gamble. The 1847 Mormon groups were always on the edge of trouble and disaster. They were destitute when they left Winter Quarters and were very short on draft animals. It was not an easy trek, not even for the vanguard company with its hand-picked crew.

Day by day, Bullock recounted the episodes of the journey until they at last arrived in the Valley 22 July 1847. The first activities, such as staking out the Temple grounds, are also carefully chronicled. It is clear that they felt that now no officer of the United States could control their lives.

When Brigham Young and many others returned to Winter Quarters, Bullock went along. The returners left in two divisions: one group by ox-drawn wagons, the others with horses as draft animals. The horse teams never caught up with the oxen; the feed was insufficient, the horses were worn out, and it was just too long a trip. In 1848, Bullock returned west with his wives. This time he did not have to complain of camp chores; he was content to let his wives do the work. One of his wives gave birth a week after they arrived in Utah. Bullock worked as a clerk in Brigham Young's office until 1865, when Young dismissed him. He was later sent to Summit County where he died in Coalville 10 February 1885. Few men have contributed more to the written record of the early LDS Church. He was a man of great character, integrity and honesty.

Will Bagley demonstrated his diligent research of Bullock's journal and life through his presentation. Bagley is a writer, editor, and full-time historian of Utah and the West. He has served on the OCTA national board and edited News from the Plains. He is the author of Road from El Dorado: The 1848 Trail Journal of Ephraim Green and Frontiersman: Abner Blackburn's Narrative. Bagley's newest book, The Pioneer Camp of the Saints: The 1846 and 1847 Mormon Trail Journals of Thomas Bullock will soon be available. He is currently researching the Mountain Meadow Massacre. Will Bagley with his knowledge of Western Americana greatly enriched Utah Crossroads members with his January lecture, sponsored by the Utah Humanities Council.


[ Table of Contents ] Crossroads, Winter 1997 - Vol. 8, No. 1

150 Years Ago

James F. Reed at the Battle of Santa Clara

Links to other Utah Crossroads pages:

Kristin Johnson's Donner Party Page

Pueblo de San Jose, 12th January, 1847.

Captain John A. Sutter

Dear Sir: By this time you have heard of the battle of Santa Clara, which came off on the 2d. inst. between the United States forces and the Californians. Report reached this place about Christmas that the insurgents in the number of 300 or 400 had collected in the redwoods, some twenty five miles distant. On receipt of this information Lieutenant W. Pinckney, who commands here, dispatched a courier to Monterey to inform Captain Maddox and requested him to come up the coast by way of Santa Cruz in the pass, there to remain and if possible to intercept the enemy if they should retreat that way, while Captain Weber would go to Sanchez' ranch, within twenty-five miles of Yerba Buena, where he expected mounted volunteers to be sent from the latter place by order of Captain Mervine, who also was made acquainted by Pinckney with the position of the enemy.

We started (Weber's company), I having the command as First Lieutenant; proceeded to Sanchez'; from there to the Mission Dolores; from that place Weber went to Yerba Buena, and after waiting two or three days was reenforced by thirty-two marines, eight artillerists commanded by Captain Marsten and, I think, seventeen mounted volunteers of Captains Smith's and Martin's companies. Both gentlemen were present, and we had about twenty-eight men, making in all eighty-five men, with one piece of artillery. There was a request made to Captain Marsten that I should return with the marines and artillery, but I think by an order which Marsten received he was to proceed to the pueblo. However, we, the mounted men, or nearly all of us, cut loose from the marines and took to the mountains to find the Californians, and at the northwest corner of the redwoods came on their evacuated encampment.

We took trail, pursued them toward the Santa Clara Mission. In the evening we came up again with the marines, encamped at a place called the Sheep Farm, ten miles from this place. We, however, left the trail but a short distance from the camp, and on our way toward the mission fell in with it again when Captains Weber, Smith and Martin took in detached parties, about twenty-one men, to find the location of the enemy, while the rest of the forces moved onward.

We had not traveled over four miles when our advance guard reported that the advance of the enemy was in sight. On receipt of this Captain Marsten directed me to take as many men as I thought prudent to reconnoiter, which I did, and found the Californians lodged in a point of timber on the right and somewhat in front, with their scouts a little distance on a small plain, galloping, whooping and daring us for cowards to come on. When I had reconnoitered and found the position of the foe I halted the men and rode back to Captain Marsten to inform him , and I requested him to let me advance with the mounted troops to take possession of the woods on the right and bring on the engagement in our own mode of fighting, which he refused, stating at the same time he would have to wait the arrival of the scouts, Weber, Smith and Martin. In a short time they came in, when Weber's company advanced by order. Then commenced the play. We soon routed them (the enemy) from the woods, when we were on foot, firing from trees. Afterward we mounted and took position in two divisions, one on the right and the other on the left of the artillery and marines. Captains Smith's and Martin's companies were as rear guards. By this time the firing was general, and as we advanced the enemy gave way, but charging at times in beautiful style (they are, indeed, fine-looking horsemen), retreating and charging alternately until we came to a muddy piece of ground on the bank of a little branch, where it was nearly knee deep. There our horses could with difficulty get along, owing to the poor state in which they were from past service.

At this place the Californians made a desperate effort to make a complete surround. Finding us all huddled together in the mud, they all commenced firing, particularly on the right. When I commanded the second division of Captain Weber's company, nearly three-fourths of the enemy were popping away in fine style, and I do assure you we returned the compliments without much delay. Here one of the marines was slightly wounded on the head. Every now and then the cannon would discharge at them. Finally we drove them from the field. Their numbers (without a caballada, horses for remounts) were 100. Our of our eighty-five we had to place over twenty as guard on our loose horses.

At night the Californians sent in a flag of truce, sueing for terms with us, which were sent to Yerba Buena, and before the answer returned, Captain Maddox came from the Pass, where he had waited two or three days. It was in the evening when he came upon the enemy's camp before they were aware, and would have dashed into them in an instant had they not been expert in raising the white flag. He told me he never saw such an uproar as his appearance made. Finally he came to our quarters at the mission, about two miles from the enemy, when the courier arrived from Yerba Buena. The conditions were submitted to them, and after some time to deliberate they came to terms and laid down their arms on the 7th instant, and were permitted to disperse.

At first, the enemy would not admit that any were killed, but since the treaty they admit three killed and five wounded; and today there has been found one of their people on the plains nearly eaten by the wolves.

I think that there were more killed. Bartlett and the rest of the prisoners were released at the time of the surrender of arms was made; however, Bartlett was paroled when our flag of truce went out to meet the flag of the Californians next day after the battle.

The sickness has abated considerable within the last two weeks with the late emigration. There have been a great many deaths, principally females and children.

Since I left your hospitable house I have been scarcely out of my saddle. I have been riding all the time, often twenty-four hours, before we would eat anything, and at other times forty hours before we could have an opportunity of sleeping. It has rained on us two days and nights out of three, wet and drenched, like so many rats. We would unsaddle and lie down under a tree, or along a pole fence, or by an old corral.

The majority of the females of the Californians in the country had left their houses before the fight on the Santa Clara plains. A number of Spaniards from this place and vicinity were engaged in it.

Dear sir, I am heartily glad that I had such an opportunity to fight for my country. I feel by so doing I have done my duty and no more; but I am still ready to take the field in her cause, knowing that she is always right. I tell you, my friend, many were the dodges I made with my head from the balls that whistled by me, some almost touching my left arm; a gentleman's right and a ball passed through between our hands [sic]. We soon gave them an exchange, and I called to me a Delaware Indian who had a rifle that would carry up well; he fired, and I think wounded one of them.

Every man in the fight acted well his part. The reason that there are so few killed was because we could not get close to them. Their horses were fine, while ours were broke down.

From Edwin A. Sherman, "An Unpublished Account of the Battle of Santa Clara, Written by John [sic] Frazier Reed Using His Saddle Horn as a Desk." San Francisco Chronicle, September 4, 1910.

Reed’s Masonic Mark

At Donner Lake Margret Reed gave this emblem to Patrick Dolan as security for cattle she purchased. Dolan died while attempting to escape with the Forlorn Hope snowshoers, but passing Indians recovered the medallion from his body and brought it to the settlements, where the Reeds reclaimed it.


[ Table of Contents ] Crossroads, Winter 1997 - Vol. 8, No. 1

Trail Dust

Al Mulder

As I read the newspaper articles and watched the television newscast reports of the winter blizzards and sub-zero temperatures raging in the Dakotas, Nebraska, and other parts of the Midwest a few weeks ago, my thoughts were of the cruel living conditions the Mormon pioneers experienced at Winter Quarters, Nebraska, during the bitter cold winter of 1846-1847. It is difficult to imagine the miseries that subfreezing temperatures can bring to poorly clothed and underfed people while we sit in the comfort of our warm homes, reclining in our favorite chairs and snacking on leftover Christmas goodies. The remarkable journey of the advance group of those who endured the harsh winter at Winter Quarters began April 5, 1846. An interesting chronological account of that pioneer trek was written by Andrew Jenson, Assistant LDS Church Historian and was published April 5 to July 24, 1897, in the Salt Lake Tribune. It's worth rereading during this sesquicentennial year of the Mormon Pioneers' arrival in the Salt Lake Valley--they traveled for 111 days over the route now recognized as the Mormon Pioneer National Historic Trail. This year's refresher reading list should also include Wallace Stegner's The Gathering of Zion, a classic story of the Mormon Trail.

Yuji Aisaka
I recently heard from Yuji Aisaka, our Utah Crossroads member from Kyoto, Japan. He is an avid enthusiast of Wester American history and has an appetite for anything written on the American West. He recently finished reading books written by Dave Bigler and Will Bagley and tells me he has read 11 books since the OCTA convention. He is now working on his own journal. He appreciated the kindness shown him by Garn Hatch who drove him to Salt Lake City from the Elko convention.

Pony Express
The Utah Division of the National Pony Express Association is working on a project to restore the station markers on the PE trail from Fairfield to Deep Creek. The Salt Lake District, BLM, has the plaques and Utah Division members will repair the stone markers and install the plaques. A follow-up project will be to mark the trail route with Carsonite posts.

Mormon Battalion
A celebration commemorating the arrival of the Mormon Battalion in San Diego was held there recently. The Battalion, composed of 500 men, was organized at Council Bluffs in June 1846 and started on its march to California on July 20. The Battalion arrived in San Diego in January 1847, after an epic march of 2,000 miles.

"Lost '49ers"
The group retracing the route taken in late 1849 by emigrants seeking a shortcut to California's gold fields finally finished their 376-mile hike from Utah to Death Valley. The five members of the party arrived at Furnace Creek in Death Valley National Monument on Christmas Eve, 32 days after departing from the trail marker near Enterprise, Utah. It is probably the first time the entire route of the "lost '49ers" has been traveled since the gold seekers left the Spanish Trail in November 1849.

Be Prepared
Reviewing some pictures of our Hole-in-the-Rock field trip, I was reminded of the incident when, a few days after our outing, a man was trapped in a slot canyon near the Dry Fork trail, just off the Hole-in-the-Rock road. We passed the trail head and commented on the remoteness and ruggedness of the Escalante canyon country. Fortunately, the man was rescued after eight days when his pickup was spotted at the Dry Fork trail head. It is a reminder for all OCTA trail buffs to never venture in remote areas alone and to be fully prepared and equipped whether hiking or four-wheeling.

It will be a great year for historic events. Remember the movie set model in the Baker City museum? It's time to polish the harness and Paint Your Wagon!

—Al Mulder.


[ Table of Contents ] Crossroads, Winter 1997 - Vol. 8, No. 1

Reed Joins the Russell Train: Letter to James W. Keyes, May 20, 1846

"...Several moaved that I be admitted with my 9 wagons and the question being put carried unanimously..."

Links to other Utah Crossroads pages:

Kristin Johnson's Donner Party Page

Crossroads is pleased to publish this letter from James Reed to his brother-in-law. It was written the day after the Donners and Reeds joined the wagon train captained by William Russell and contains details not found elsewhere. It also reveals much about the personality of its author: Reed's reference to "his" nine wagons, the absence of any mention of the Donner families, and his remarks on his fine "family waggon" are suggestive. The details about the health of his mother-in-law, Sarah Keyes, are poignant in the knowledge of her subsequent death. Despite difficulties in deciphering the text, the letter is an interesting addition to the sources of the Donner story. The letter is from the James W. Keyes Papers, Illinois State Historical Library, Springfield, Illinois, with whose kind permission it is published here.

--Kristin Johnson

3 miles west of the Cansas or Caw
and about 1/2 mile East of the last Year's encampment

20 May 1846

We arrivd here on Yesterday evening in the vicinity of the large Caravan Commanded by Col. Russle of Mo. consisting of 49 wagons, the[y] ware too large before and on the [evening?] before last divided and 21 wagons or familys Separated which Crossed the river before us and Kept on and intended to Camp 8 miles a head there ware Several applications made to Russle before I came up, by Gentlemen wishing to Join or in other words to be admitted to travel in the Caravan but ware universally reject[ed.] as Soon as I Could get some of the hare and dust off my face I went to the encampment and had a talk with Col. Russle who I found Kind and oblidging on my application he told me that he would be glad to have me alo[n]g and immediatly convened the whole of the men in the Center of or Carral the incampment and made a speech or talk to them stating at the Same time that he would vouch for me as a Gentleman that he had been well informed about me before he left Independ. and on the road Since he left after the talk Several moaved that I be admitted with my 9 wagons and the question being put carried unanimously and ther ware 5 Germans(1) that fell in with us on the road whoes Case I represented to the Col. with a request that he put it to vote which he did and carried, Russle said that he would vouch for them on my representations, as he had full confidence in what I Said as a Gentlem[an] He also took me asid and told me the division he wanted me to go in he said there w[are] Several families of the best Citizens of Mo. they are now Yoking the[ir] oxen far off and today will go about 7 miles we are all in good Spirrits Margrat and Your mother ware in low spirits on yesterd[a]y when the understood that there ware Somany[?] rejected

I am affraid Your mother will not stand it many week[s] or indeed days, if there is not a quick change Margrat this morning is in good hart. She was visited by several of the Caravan and Russle came with me last night to have an introduction to my family I have been talking this moment with Your Mother She says she feels very much like she was going to die one of her eyes pains her much and She is so blind that she cannot take her coffee or plate if it is set near her this morning She cannot eat anything I am of [the] opinion a few days will end her mortal carear(2) the Oregon waggons have gone on about Two Weeks Still ther are a number bound for that country Say Some [?]0 or [illegible] waggons Yet behind and I am informed that about 10 Californians are Yet behind the California Caravan is the largest this Year by about 26 [21?](3) families and I do assure You that there is no comparison between the individuals Comparing the different Car[arvan]s. it is at least Two to one in favor of California there are 3 distinct Comp[anies]. for Califo. in all about 120 waggons--I See no waggons bound for Cal. that is as good as my family waggon and I have the opinion of all that has seen it here to that effect although there is fine waggon[s] on the road ware I going to start a gain I would not chang[e] much in the plan-- I received Your Kind letter on Yesterday ev[en]ing by Mr. Webb one of the editors of an Independence paper who will take this to the States to our old freinds James Maxcy(4) and Wm S Stone, who treated us like as if they ware Brothers. My dear Bro Jas I never in all my life Saw a more beautiful count[r]y, than that which we have passed through Since we left Mo. it is as rich as the best land in Sangamon and so beautifully situated that a man could make a farm to suit in all directions but timber is scarce springs in all directions although we came in a dividing ridge [?] nearly all the time I have to close by sending our love to Lyd[i]a Mary Catharine Charles Ned Tom Henrieta Sue(5) give my best respects to my old freinds at the fancy Store(6) I shall write evry oppertunity I may have. I remain

Very Respectfully Your Brother

James F. Reed

Jas W Keyes Esq.

1. It is tempting to identify these as Heinrich Lienhard's "five German boys," but Lienhard makes no mention of Reed or Russell.

2. Sarah Keyes died nine days after this was written.

3. This number has been written over; it looks like 261 or 201, but both figures are much too high, if Reed is referring to the Russell train, or much too low, if he is referring to the entire California emigration of 1846.

4. James Maxey or Maxcy, formerly of Springfield, ran a store in Independence; Reed had written to him for advice while preparing for the journey the previous fall.

5. These are Keyes' wife and children; Mary Catherine Keyes was the cousin to whom Virginia Reed wrote her letters of July 12, 1846 and May 16, 1847.

6. Evidently a reference to Keyes' tailoring establishment Springfield.


[ Table of Contents ] Crossroads, Winter 1997 - Vol. 8, No. 1

That Old Grave

Blue Rapids Times, August 15, 1895

"Grandma Keys' grave, who was one of the historic Reed-Donner party, and who died at the crossing of the Big Blue river."

"I ... was only prompted to write it at all by knowing that many old settlers would be glad to know the truth about the grave of Grandma Keyes, who lay alone so many years in a western wilderness."

Links to other Utah Crossroads pages:

Kristin Johnson's Donner Party Page

We had in the Springfield, Ill., Morning Monitor, of the 30th ult., the following article about that old grave and Alcove Spring:

Springfield, Ill., July 27, 1895

Editor of the Monitor:

Dear Sir--In your issue of the 23d is a communication from Blue Rapids, Kansas, headed "Grandma Keys' grave, who was one of the historic Reed-Donner party, and who died at the crossing of the Big Blue river." No one had ever attempted to locate the grave until the summer of 1868, when James W. Keys and Mr. Reed went to Kansas to try to find it and have the remains removed to a cemetery. Mr Reed was always under the impression that they crossed the Big Blue river four miles from its mouth; and they went direct to Manhattan, which is situated at the mouth of that river. Mr. Reed had a sketch of the place where she was buried, taken at the time of the burial, showing the location of the grave and many landmarks surrounding it, the most conspicuous of which was Alcove, or Fremont spring. After spending several days in a fruitless search for a spot that was not there, Mr. Reed returned to California and Mr. Keys to his home at Springfield.

Had either of them been familiar with the geography of the country they would at once have know that it was not anywhere near the mouth of the Big Blue where they would find the grave of Grandma Keys. The Reed and Donner party crossed the Kaw river only a few miles west of where it empties into the Missouri, and went in a northwest direction until they crossed the Kaw river more than a hundred miles almost due west from where they crossed the Kaw. They must necessarily have followed the old California trail clear through as that was the only trail in existence at that time through that section of country, and that trail ran almost due north from the Kaw river for many miles before it took a northwest course and struck the Big Blue many miles north of its mouth, and four miles north of the mouth of the Little Blue.

The writer of this lived in northern Kansas from 1856 to 1863, and having traveled all over the northern portion of Kansas, knew the old trail well long before it was entirely obliterated by the settling up of the country, and knows that it did not go within many miles of the mouth of the Big Blue. In January, 1875, I was in Blue Rapids, and one day in conversation with the postmaster, who was an old man and one of the earliest settlers in Marshall county (I have forgotten his name,) he said something about the crossing of the old California trail. I asked him where it was and told him I was glad to find that I was in the vicinity of it and told him the story of Grandma Keys' death and burial at the crossing of the Big Blue river. He said, I have read of the Reed and Donner party and of their sufferings in the mountains; he seemed to take a great interest in the matter, and told me the crossing was only four miles above there; that I could easily find it, as the road went directly over the rise on which the grave was situated; that there were several graves on the mound, one was marked with a stone--he could not tell me the name that was on the stone, but that it was a woman; the other graves, he said were Mormons who died at that place in 1871 (?) with cholera; that a Mrs. Armstrong owned the land and lived only a little way beyond there. He also told me I would know the place by the spring, which was called Alcove spring. The next morning I walked out there and had no difficulty whatever in locating the grave, although the tree that stood at the head of the grave had been cut down, but the stump was there. There had been a number of burr oak trees scattered over the knoll, but the great California emigration had cut them all down for firewood. I found the stone at the foot of the grave, a piece which was broken off, but enough of the stone was left to show the name of Sarah Keyes. At the spring, out a short distance from the grave, I found a large, flat, smooth rock on which was engraved a number of names, among which I remember was Milt Elliott, Hiram Miller, and John Denton, all of whom perished in the mountains. In the Blue Rapids communication the name of J. F. Reed is mentioned as being on the stone. I don't think I saw Mr. Reed's name there, but it was very cold weather and the stone was partially covered with a thin scum of dirt, which I could not remove, so I may have missed some of the names. If I remember right I think I counted seventeen names. I went to the house of Mrs. Armstrong and had a long conversation with her. She said she carried the piece of stone that was broken off the grave to her house to preserve it, thinking maybe some one would come some day in search of the grave. She told me the name and what was on the stone before I told her who I was and what I wanted to know.

Immediately on my return to Blue Rapids I wrote to Mr. Keys what I had found, and he sent me the sketch which Mr. Reed had given him when they parted at Manhattan, one to go west and the other east to their respective homes, both with sadden[ed] hearts at the unsuccessful attempt to find their mother's grave. The sketch did not reach me till after I had left Blue Rapids, but it corresponded with the place exactly, spring and all. At that time Mr. Reed had passed to the beyond, and I suppose he never knew but that Grandma Keyes lay somewhere near the mouth of the Big Blue river.

Mr. Keys often talked of going to Kansas and having his mother's remains removed to the Blue Rapids cemetery, but he was old and crippled from paralysis and it was neglected. During the last year of his life he talked a great deal about his neglect and regretted that he had not gotten his brother Gershom in his life time to go with him and remove the remains. I .... from that Blue Rapids article that the grave was still distinct, for I supposed that after the lapse of twenty years

it would be entirely obliterated, as it was at that time in a very exposed condition.

I cannot close this already too lengthy article without saying how astonished I was when I read Mrs. Virginia Reed Murphy's article in the Century (July number, 1891,) in which she says she had been told that her grandmother's grave had never been disturbed, but was now surrounded by the Manhattan cemetery. It was a cruel deception to tell her such a thing, nevertheless a pleasing one to her, provided she never found out differently as long as she lived. The town of Manhattan, with its cemetery, is situated on the west side of the Blue river, and Grandma Keyes was buried before they crossed the river, consequently was buried on the east side, so she could not by any possibility have gotten into the Manhattan cemetery without removal.

I have made this article much longer than I intended at first, and was only prompted to write it at all by knowing that many old settlers would be glad to know the truth about the grave of Grandma Keyes, who lay alone so many years in a western wilderness.

Wm. H. Van Doren

Blue Rapids Times, August 15, 1895.

Courtesy Sutter’s Fort, California State Department of Parks and Recreation

Sarah Handley Keyes

Sarah Handley was born about 1776 in Monroe County, Virginia, the daughter of John and Mary Harrison Handley (or Hanley). On April 24, 1803, she married Humphrey Keyes, a forty-year-old widower with five children. These remained in Virginia when Sarah, Humphrey, and their own family moved to Sangamon County, Illinois, in the fall of 1830.

Humphrey Keyes died in 1833, leaving his widow with their four surviving children. Mrs. Keyes made her home with her daughter Margret Reed. Her youngest and favorite son, Robert Cadden, went West in 1845, the same year her son-in-law James F. Reed began making plans to go to California. Although in poor health, Mrs. Keyes was determined to go along; she is said to have been loathe to part from her only daughter, and also to have hoped to meet "Cad" returning from Oregon. Unfortunately her wish went unfulfilled, as she died only six weeks after setting out. On May 29, 1846, she was buried at Alcove Spring in present-day Kansas, where her grave was noted by several passing emigrants. The exact location of her gravesite is no longer known and has become a topic of much debate among Kansas trail buffs.


[ Table of Contents ] Crossroads, Winter 1997 - Vol. 8, No. 1

Patty Reed Remembers

"Dear God, watch over and protect dear Grandmother, and don't let the Indians dig her up."

Links to other Utah Crossroads pages:

Kristin Johnson's Donner Party Page

Mr. Reed's family consisted of Mr. and Mrs. James Frazier Reed, their children, Virginia, known to her friends as Puss Reed; Martha Reed, affectionately called Patty Reed; James and Thomas K. Reed, also Grandma Keyes, who was in very delicate health at this time, and for that reason Mr. Reed thought it best for her to remain in Springfield, but she desired to be with them as long as possible, and so it was arranged.

Mr. Reed had a wagon fitted out for her and his wife's comfort, it was divided in two compartments, with comfortable beds, the one in the back for Grandma Keyes and the two girls, and the one in the front for Mrs. Reed and the two boys; steps were at the side and a stove inside for warmth.

Grandma Keyes seemed better at first, but by the time they had reached a place named by Mr. Reed, Alcove Springs, in Kansas, she became worse and died.

They had neither coffin nor anything available in which to bury her, so Nature was called upon, and a cottonwood tree was hewed down, split in two and hollowed out, the body placed therein and the halves bolted together, and they buried her there in the wilderness, and built a log cabin over her grave with an inscription cut in sandstone to mark it, which was correctly done, as they had a stone cutter with them. Patty Reed says it was the greatest grief to her to have her grandmother resting alone in that wilderness, and that night she prayed most earnestly: "Dear God, watch over and protect dear Grandmother, and don't let the Indians dig her up."

She has never forgotten this sorrow, and some years ago she proceeded to carry out her dearest wish to bring the remains of her grandmother to the foreign lands of California. Accordingly she wrote to the postmaster as Manhattan, near where she supposed the grave to be, and asked him to publish her letter that some one might locate the place. She received about sixty letters. Finally the little spring was found near Marysville, and an old man consented to plow up his fields for twenty-five dollars to try and find the cottonwood coffin if it had resisted the ravages of time, but he died before the effort was made, and Mrs. Lewis found so many difficulties in the way that she finally was obliged to abandon the plan with regret.

From Katherine Wakeman Cooper, "Patty Reed." Overland Monthly, January-June 1917, 517-518.


[ Table of Contents ] Crossroads, Winter 1997 - Vol. 8, No. 1

Nicholas Clark

One of the Rescuers of the Donner Party

"In February 1847, he crossed the mountains to the relief of the Donner party, returning about the 10th of April. During his absence his death was published in the California Star."

The Reno Gazette says: There is no country in the world with so many citizens who have strange histories, as the Pacific States, the people here have blown in from the four quarters of the earth, and many of them have lived lives of thrilling interest. On the shores of Honey Lake, on one of the finest farms in the valley, has lived Nicholas Clark since the year 1857, in a manner little like his early life. He was born in Massachusetts in 1816, and when 6 years old the family moved to New York State. When 9 years old he was bound out to work, and when his master flogged him he ran away to Patterson, where he worked for two years. From there he went to New York and learned the trade of shoemaking. At 18 he married a wife of 14, and in 1835 a son was born, before the father was 21 or the mother 16. It cost the mother her life. In the same year he started for the west through Pennsylvania. He went overland to Meadville and Franklin. There he bought a skiff for $5, and went to Pittsburg alone in it. The river was full of ice and a good many tried to prevent him, but he made the trip. He never landed to sleep for fear of wolves and other wild beasts. After several months of travel and adventure he got home again. In 1840 he went to New Bedford, Mass., and was there when Harrison was elected President. In 1841 he married a second wife in New York, and in 1842 he shipped aboard the ship "Draper." Captain Norton, a whaler, for the north Pacific. They rounded the Cape of Good Hope, and put in at the Society Islands eleven months after starting. He deserted there and took up his trade of shoemaking in Otaheite [Tahiti]. Thence he shipped in the British bark "Fawn," of London, and was discharged in the Sandwich Islands. In 1843 he shipped in the American sloop of war, "Sienne," [Cyane] and came to San Francisco. The vessel laid off at Saucileto for two weeks, and took wood and water. There they saw Captain Richardson, who furnished potatoes, etc. No one from the ship went to San Francisco. They went to Monterey and stopped a week, and then to Mazatlan, and to Blas and to Acapulco. There he let himself out of a port-hole and swam to shore, a mile and a half. Soon after he was arrested and lodged in prison, but escaped and struck right over the mountains for the interior. He was alone, barefooted, and got lost. The trip was very severe, and it took him three months to get to the City of Mexico. He got out of water on the way, and fell in with some Indians who were savage, but Catholic. A picture of Christ on the cross, on his left arm, saved his life. He was sent home from Mexico by the Consul, and after reaching the United States, worked his way to New York, after an absence of two year and nine months. Almost immediately he shipped around Cape Horn again in a whaler. In 1846 he was again helping to take wood and water at Saucileto. Six of the crew took a whale boat to go up the river. The pa[r]ty broke up; Clark went up on Russian river and made a lot of buckskin shoes for Morse [Moses] Carson, brother of Kit, the trapper. In the fall he went to Sonoma and built a shoe shop, working for Vallejo, Salvadore, Leese and other Spanish grandees. In February 1847, he crossed the mountains to the relief of the Donner party, returning about the 10th of April. During his absence his death was published in the California Star. His tools were lost, and he moved to Monterey, taking up his trade. Soon after, he shipped on the "Columbus" as ship shoemaker. For that service he received a land warrant, and afterwards sold it to Judge Haydon of Reno. In 1848 he was safe at home in New York. He took his family and again started for the west. He had heard that gold was discovered, and he thought of working his way through. He stopped in Wisconsin, taking up land and selling out when he got a chance. In 1852 he stared with a team for California, wintering in Iowa. In 1853 he came to Plumas country and worked at his trade. In 1857 he and his wife walked into Honey Lake Valley and lived the first winter in a house 12 feet square with a dirt floor. Their only food was boiled wheat. He got the land he now owns, and Peter Lassen plowed it for him with an ox team. Mr. Clark's first child is now living near by, and is greyer than his father. The old gentleman has never paid a doctor bill, and don't know what rheumatism or fever is.

Truckee Republican, October 24, 1885


[ Table of Contents ] Crossroads, Winter 1997 - Vol. 8, No. 1

New Mormon Battalion Book

"There's been a crying need for this book for decades."

Norma B. Ricketts' The Mormon Battalion: U.S. Army of the West, 1846-1848, just published by Utah State University Press, is destined to become a classic.

"There's been a crying need for this book for decades. Ricketts provides a day-by-day account of the march from her comprehensive survey of the journals; I had doubts about this approach, but it succeeds brilliantly. More than half the book is devoted to the Battalion's contributions after its discharge, and the author carefully tracks all the many detours and detachments involved in the whole outfit's adventures. The detailed lists of the battalion and its offshoots provide an invaluable references for historians and a great tool for genealogists," says Will Bagley.

Ricketts, a resident of Mesa, AZ, is a member of the Utah Crossroads Chapter of OCTA. We congratulate her and USU Press on this fine--and timely--accomplishment.


[ Table of Contents ] Crossroads, Winter 1997 - Vol. 8, No. 1

Don't Vote For Me

Kristin Johnson

"Everybody stared at the floor."

You thought elections were over in November, but it's that time of year again for OCTA.

Towards the end the last chapter board meeting, when everyone who wasn't asleep was twitching to leave, George Ivory called for nominations for a candidate to run for the national Board of Directors.

Will Bagley promptly nominated the eminently qualified Lyndia Carter, who equally promptly (and sensibly) declined. (She claimed she's too busy, what with all the Martin's Cove hoo-ha and a book coming out in the fall. Yeah, right.)

We all looked hopefully at Gar Elison, whom we'd suckered into running the previous two years. His response was not characterized by any noticeable enthusiasm.

An attempt to nominate Al Mulder in absentia was quashed.

Everybody stared at the floor.

In desperation, Will suggested the name of your unfortunate editor. True to form, I sputtered my profound disinclination to do anything of the sort. I mean, the title sounds awfully prestigious, but that and 50¢ plus tax will get you a cup of coffee, unless you go to Starbuck's, and I have a sneaking suspicion that more than my mere physical presence might be required. Heck, I have enough trouble staying awake at meetings, let alone alert.

The rest of the officers, relieved it wasn't them, entertained themselves by concocting a variety of remarkably bogus reasons why I should run for the Board, chief of which was that it doesn't matter if I'm incompetent because I have a book out and gave a talk at the Elko convention so I have name recognition which is what it takes to get elected which is all that really matters. (Why?)

They pointed out that just because I run, it doesn't mean I'll win--a thought we can all take comfort in.

I crossed my fingers behind my back and said I'd think about it.

In the following weeks Will launched an insidious campaign. Oh, no, he didn't say a word to me--nothing so crude. He just talked it up to everybody else. I wound up getting such a charming note from Lesley Wischmann that I was forced to capitulate.

So it looks like I've been hornswoggled again. I'm a candidate for a position on the Board of Directors of the Oregon-California Trails Association. But it wasn't my idea.

--Kristin Johnson

P.S. If elected, I promise to try to stay awake.


[ Table of Contents ] Crossroads, Winter 1997 - Vol. 8, No. 1

News from Winter Quarters

Eldon Fletcher

The new Mormon Trail Center at the Historic Winter Quarters opened to the public on November 28, 1996. The exhibits in the Center are not yet complete, but two thirds are in place, and the remainder are expected to be ready the first part of April.

From November 28 to December 23, the annual "Gingerbread on Parade" was held in the new center and of the 15,000 people who attended this event, approximately 10,000 viewed the exhibits. Everyone seemed very impressed.

The Mormon Trail Center will be dedicated on the evening of Friday, April 18, 1997. Many other activities are planned for that week as well. On April 21, the official wagon train commemorating the Mormon pioneer sesquicentennial celebration will leave Winter Quarters and spend the next 99 days to travel to This is the Place State Park, arriving on July 22.

--Eldon Fletcher

[ Table of Contents ]


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