CHAPTER VI. THE MORMONS.
On the 11th of October the troops commenced their march. Snow was falling heavily, and for several days they were compelled to cut a path for their wagons through the dense brush, their trains being still of such unwieldy length that the vanguard had reached its camping-ground at nightfall before the rear guard had moved from its camp of the preceding day. Meanwhile bands of Mormons, under their nimble and ubiquitous leaders, hung on their flanks, just out of rifle-shot, harassing them at every step, seven hundred oxen being captured and driven to Salt Lake City on the 13th!
There was as yet no cavalry in the force. A few infantry companies were mounted on mules and sent in pursuit of the guerillas, but the Saints merely laughed at them, terming them jackass cavalry.
The grass had been burned along the route, and the draught animals were so weak that they could travel only three miles a day. When the point was reached where Smith's detachment was expected to join the army, the commander, disappointed and sorely perplexed, called a council of war, at which many of the officers were in favour of cutting their way through the canyons at all hazard.
At this juncture a despatch was received from General Johnston, who was now at South Pass, ordering the troops to proceed to Fontenelle Creek, where pasture was abundant, and a few days later a second despatch directed them to march to a point three miles below the junction of Ham and Black Forks, the colonel stating that he would join them there. On the 3d of November they reached the place of rendezvous, where Johnston arrived the following day, with a re-enforcement of cavalry and the supply-trains in charge of Smith.
Albert Sidney Johnston was a favourite officer, and had already given earnest of the qualities that he displayed a few years later in the campaigns of the Civil War, on the Confederate side. The morale of the army was at once restored, and each man put forth his utmost energy at the touch of this excellent soldier. But their troubles were not yet ended. The expedition was now ordered to Fort Bridger, and at every step difficulties increased. There were only thirty-five miles to be travelled, but excepting on the margin of a few slender streams the country through which their route lay was the barest of desert land. There was no shelter from the chill blasts of this mountain solitude, where, even in November, the thermometer sometimes sank to sixteen degrees below zero. There was no fuel but the wild sage and willow; there was little pasture for the half-frozen cattle.
The march continued on the 6th of November, and on the previous night five hundred of the strongest oxen had been stolen by the Mormons. The train extended over six miles, and all day long snow and sleet fell on the retreating column. Some of the men were frost-bitten, and the exhausted animals were goaded by their drivers until many fell dead in their traces. At sunset the troops encamped wherever they could find a particle of shelter, some under bluffs, and some in the willow copses. At daybreak the camp was surrounded by the carcasses of frozen cattle. Several hundred beasts had perished during the night. Still, as the trains arrived from the rear, each one halted for a day or more, giving time for the cattle to rest and graze on such scant herbage as they could find. To press forward rapidly was impossible, for it would have cost the lives of most of the draught animals; to find shelter was equally impossible, for there was none. There was no alternative but to proceed slowly and persistently, saving as many as possible of the horses, mules, and oxen. Fifteen days were required for this difficult operation.
Meanwhile Colonel Philip St. George Cooke, who arrived on the 19th by way of Fort Laramie, at the head of five hundred dragoons, had fared no better than the main body, having lost nearly half of his cattle.
On the 5th the command of Colonel Cooke passed the Devil's Gate. While crossing what he calls a four-mile hill, he writes as follows: -
The north wind and drifting snow became severe; the air seemed turned to frozen fog; nothing could be seen; we were struggling in a freezing cloud. The lofty wall at Three Crossings was a happy relief; but the guide, who had lately passed there, was relentless in pronouncing that there was no grass. As he promised grass and shelter two miles farther, we marched on, crossing twice more the rocky stream, half choked with snow and ice; finally he led us behind a great granite rock, but all too small for the promised shelter. Only a part of the regiment could huddle up there in the deep snow; whilst the long night through the storm continued, and in fearful eddies from above, before, behind, drove the falling and drifting snow.