The Unfriendly Dinner - Apostle Cannon - Joe Smith - The Mormon Doctrine - Alkali Station - The Mormon Train - The River Crossing - Champagne with Bancroft - Elston's Prophecy
SHORTLY after the Captain reassumed command of the Post, he and I were invited to the stage station, one day, for dinner. There was a long table with about ten on each side. They were the drivers of the stage line, about as rough and jolly a lot of men as I ever saw. They were talking about the Indian scare, and the probabilities of an Indian outbreak, and how General P. Edward Connor was coming through from Salt Lake to take charge. And the whole dinner was a loud and uproarious occasion. The profanity was pyrotechnic.
One of the stage-drivers who was pretty loud, got to talking about the dangers that would follow an Indian outbreak. Every man at the table had on a revolver; some of them two. This loud-talking and vivacious stage-driver said he believed that the Cheyenne Indians could come and take the post. Captain O'Brien asked him what made him think so. He made some sort of a flippant reply which brought on a controversy, and this stage-driver pretended to take offense at what the Captain said, and told the Captain that he, the stage-driver, had a notion to go across the table and break him in two.
Thereupon the Captain quickly arose with his hand on his revolver and told him that he must not talk that way, and if he wanted to do any shooting that he could always get satisfaction; that he, the Captain, would shoot toe to toe, or across the table, or across the corral, or across the prairie, or across the river. The fellow was inclined to be ugly, but as he looked at the Captain he did not think it wise to say much more.
I do not know how many of those present had their hands on their revolvers, but I guess everyone around the table. I had mine ready. The Captain said he believed he did not care to eat any more dinner where such discourtesy was shown, and he withdrew from the table with his hand on his revolver, passing out of the door, and keeping his eye upon those present; I did the same. We went out, got on our horses, and went up to the post.
It was without doubt a put-up job to get us down there at dinner and have some fun with us. Some of them had been Confederate soldiers. Of course we never knew whether there was a design to be gay with us, but we took good care not to get into such a situation again. Some of the stage-drivers we knew personally; some we did not know, but had generally regarded them all as good fellows, and, singly and personally, they were; but, in bulk they were not very desirable acquaintances for officers in blue uniform.
One day, early in December, I was up on top of our stable gazing around with my field-glass, as I often used to do, to see if anything suspicious could be seen on the horizon, or up on the hills, when I noticed a dark speck up Lodgepole Creek. It was so much enveloped in haze that I could not make it out for a long time. Finally I saw that it was a covered wagon. I bad a corporal and five men immediately go over to where it was, for fear that some Indian might rise up out of the grass and kill the traveler.
When he arrived at the post the occupant of the vehicle introduced himself to me as Mr. Cannon. He had a driver and a large, fine four-mule light-running wagon with rubber cover. I told Mr. Cannon that he would have to stay until a hundred armed men were going East. He very much opposed this, and did his utmost to persuade me to disobey my orders in such cases. He told me that he was one of the twelve apostles of the Mormon Church, and he was going East to meet an appointment, and if he were long delayed it would be very unfortunate. He told me, as every other Mormon did, that he was not afraid of the Indians, and that no Indian ever killed a Mormon. But I was compelled to hold him; told him that I could not permit the orders to be violated; would have a train ready for him as soon as possible, and that there were already quite a number of wagons in corral near the post.
Cannon was a very fine, dignified-looking gentleman, and very much inclined to talk. And when I found he was a Mormon apostle, I was very desirous of hearing what he had to say, having already had the advantage of desultory conversations with his predecessor, Elder Sharpe, of whom I have spoken. As an evangelist and lecturer on the Mormon faith, Cannon was very much superior to Sharpe. Cannon saw the dogs, and wanted to see a wolf-hunt; so I with ten men went out on horseback with him. While on the hunt he got to telling me about the Mormon faith, and its introduction by Joe Smith. There came between us a series of very interesting colloquies. I would now be unable to depict these, except that I not only made full notes of them at the time, but I also wrote them out fully in letters to my Mother, upon whose death I found them all preserved. I am able, therefore, to go into the matter with more detail than I otherwise would, but will have to condense them very much here.
I asked him how be knew that the Indians were the lost tribes of Israel. He then went on to tell me how the lost tribes of Israel wandered from their country, came to the United States, and how they increased and spread out, and prospered. Then he gave me a long history of the wars that took place between them. He told me of the battles which were fought, one after another. At the place where Cincinnati now stands a great battle had been fought. There were pursuits by one tribe of another. One tribe endeavored to annihilate another. There was a great battle where Charleston, South Carolina, now stands, and there were secretaries who acted as historians to keep run of the vicissitudes of these wide and bloody wars.
Then he told about how finally the record was made which Joe Smith found. He described to me the size of the gold plates upon which the characters containing these records were engraved. These gold plates contained it all, and had been placed in a stone box, and hidden in a hill in New York. He kept using scriptural quotations continually. He told how Joe Smith had found these plates, and had translated them. I asked him what kind of characters were on these plates. He said that he had not seen them, but he had had them described to him. He said they were not like the Roman letters, nor the Greek letters, nor the Chinese, nor the Hebrew, but they were written in a sort of elegant, cursive hand, something not unlike Pitman shorthand, smoothly, but with an entirely different character and meaning. He said nobody could read the characters without they had the tools to read them with. I asked him what he meant. He said that with these plates in the stone box there were placed two transparent pebbles, one for each eye to look through. These pebbles were rights and lefts, and must be held up before the eye, each pebble for the proper eye, and that when looking through those pebbles anybody could read the writing; that the pebbles themselves illuminated the mind of the reader, so that the reader, so long as he was looking through the pebbles, could read and understand the script, no matter what his native language was, but that he could not understand anything by simply looking at the plates with his unaided eyes.
I asked him why it was that as an apostle he had never seen these plates. He said that he did not dare to look at them. I asked him where they were. He said they were in a vault in Salt Lake; that they were sewed up in a heavy buckskin bag. He had hefted the bag, and it weighed about 25 pounds. He said that he had felt of them, and could perceive the size and thickness of the plates in the buckskin bag, but if anyone should look at those plates with unaided eyes, and without the urim and thummim they would be stricken dead. (The pebbles were named "urim" and "thummim.")
I asked him if the Mormons had any proof of immortality that any other of the religious denominations had not. He said that they had, but that the proof only came individually to those who belonged to the church, and had been consecrated. In response to further questions he gave the Mormon theory of birth and life.
He said that every person upon the earth came to the earth from heaven; that everybody was born in heaven; that in heaven the person was simply a celestial spirit without a body, and had to come to the earth to get a body, and that having come to the earth and obtained a body, that is, having been born, then they on death became angels, capable of having children; but that the children born in heaven were celestial angels, who themselves had to come down to the earth to get bodies so that they in turn might be parents of other celestial angels. He said the object is, on this earth, to furnish bodies for as many celestial angels as possible, and thereby do good, because there are great numbers of celestial angels who need and want bodies, and who are waiting to be born on this earth so as to get them. And hence the father and mother of the most children did the most good, and it was for that reason that polygamy was advocated, and so much esteemed. He said the object of polygamy is to give bodies, as many as possible, to the celestial angels who are ready to inhabit them, and therefore the more children one has on earth the higher his standing in heaven.
I said, how did it come, if that were the case, how did it come that the human race was planted here on this earth? He said that the Lord was constantly making Planets, and places for human abodes. It is work that is going on all of the time. When the earth was created, and became ready for human habitation, it was a question as to who should be sent to populate it. There were three archangels in heaven, and they all wanted the privilege of starting the human race on the earth. They were Lucifer, Michael, and Adam. Lucifer claimed the right because he was the senior archangel, and had a pride to be the originator of the race on this planet. Michael advocated no particular claim, and Adam in a humble way said, "The Lord's will be done." On account of the meekness and modesty of Adam, the Lord delegated him to come to the earth, and inaugurate the new system. These archangels had their own hosts of friends, followers and retainers in heaven, as well as individual territorial jurisdiction, and when Adam was sent down to the earth, Lucifer revolted, and his cohorts stayed with him and there was war in heaven, and Lucifer was finally expelled. And then Apostle Cannon with a delightful gesture said, "And then, in the language of holy writ, be drew one-third of the stars from heaven with him."
After I got over being somewhat stunned by this new theory, I said to him. "Well, then, you said I was born in heaven?" "Yes," replied Mr. Cannon. "And came down from there?" "Yes." "Well, then, if I was in heaven, I was in that war." "Yes," said Mr. Cannon. "Well, now," I said to him, "why is it that I don't remember that war?" He said, "You are not expected to while you are in your corporal form here on earth, but you were in that war and you helped fight Lucifer," and as he said this he patted me on the shoulder as we rode along. "In that war I have no doubt that you fought bravely and well, because you are an officer in command of a company here now." This knocked me entirely out of the box, and was the end of the propaganda. I said, "Oh, rats!" and we changed the subject.
Cannon was a very delightful and companionable gentleman. I remembered him always as be appeared then. In a short time he went down the road with a caravan. Many years afterwards, in 1892, at the National Republican Presidential Convention at Minneapolis, Mr. Cannon's son was there as a delegate from Utah with a contested seat. I was one of the delegates to the National Convention. I went in, took a look at young Mr. Cannon, liked his appearance, told him that I knew and remembered his father, and that I would assist him in getting a seat in the convention. I worked for him in the caucus, listened with pleasure to his speech to the delegates, and voted for him. He was admitted.
Apostle Cannon left on December 7th, 1864, just as a storm of unexampled severity came with a hurricane from the northwest, and lasted for three days. We could not get outside of the post. Water was carried to the horses in buckets from the well, and everybody stayed indoors. But we were very snug in our quarters. They were thick, and heavily built with a heavy roof, which was about two feet thick, covered over with well-laid, nicely joined layers of sod. We did nothing but tell stories, and play cards, cook and eat. In fact, there was nothing else to do. The weather stayed cold for quite a while.
Company "A" of our regiment had been sent up to occupy a place about twenty-five miles east of us, called Alkali station, and Captain O'Brien went down there with Lieutenant Brewer. Going down, they passed a large Mormon train, consisting almost entirely of freight wagons, but all drawn by horses and mules. There were no ox teams, because at this season of the year there was no green pasturage. The train was laden principally with supplies coming west, and was going as rapidly as possible. They wanted to get through to Laramie before they made a halt. The Platte river at Julesburg was frozen over from shore to shore. Captain O'Brien telegraphed me from Alkali, and told me to use every exertion to speed the train; that it was liable to be caught and ruined by the weather before it got to Laramie; that at Laramie they could take care of the animals in the Black Hills near there, and could push on farther when ready. The Captain also sent me a letter in charge of the wagon-master, requesting me to do my level best to get them across the river as speedily as possible, for their hurry and their danger were great. I was very much worried over the order. I hardly knew what to do, but I made up my mind as to one thing, that a route across the river ought to be quickly chopped out of the ice. The ice was not heavy enough to hold up the teams. It was in some places, but in the shoal places, where the water was only two or three inches deep, the wagon would cut through, and down in, and the only way to do was to cut them a channel clear across the river. So I went above the post to the Mormon crossing, and by chopping holes, and testing the river, I selected what I thought was the best and firmest route. I then went back to the post and detailed fifty men to go up with me to chop out the ice. We had a large number of axes and picks at the post, and I laid out a route about twelve feet wide, marked it on the ice, and set the boys to chopping so as to break the ice. This was accomplished in one day satisfactorily, but the weather was quite cold. We started in again the next day to get the ice out of the proposed wagon channel. We did not get to work until about ten o'clock, and with pitchforks and shovels we tried to do some of it, but we did not accomplish much before dinner. We all went back, after dinner, about two o'clock in the afternoon, to work on the river. The weather had become quite cold, and it became necessary to get the ice out as soon as possible, as it was said that the head of the train could be seen coming from the east. There appeared no way that was convenient or effective to get the ice out of that gap. It was difficult to push it down under the ice on top, and it was very difficult to lift it out with any appliances we had. In some places the water was quite shallow, and the deepest was about four feet. The deepest of the water was the nearest to us on the south side. I ordered the men to jump into the water, and begin lifting out the ice with their hands. The men did not seem to take kindly to it, and did not seem desirous of obeying the order. It was a pretty severe order, there in freezing weather, to get men into the water, and lift ice, and get all wet. So in order to get my commands enforced, I jumped in and had the orderly sergeant jump in near me, and we commenced raising the ice and tumbling it over onto the down-stream side. In a very short time I was soaked, and the water was quite cold. And the men, seeing how the thing was going, all jumped in, and we went across the river throwing the ice out until we got the channel cleared.
Then I got the men all out on the bank, gave the command of "double-quick," and we all started to run to the post. We went to the post in good shape, and got pretty well limbered, and the men got into the barracks and took off their clothes, and dried off. I got on some dry clothes just as the train was going by, and I went out to it and took charge of the matter of crossing; I stationed the fellows along the line of the channel with the whips which the drivers generally carried, and started them all in, and before dark the Mormon train was across the river on the other side. There were about thirty wagons of them, and as the channel was narrow, and the mules confined to the road, it was one of the best crossings I ever saw made on the Platte river.
After the train had all gone I found that I had got pretty thoroughly wet again in seeing them across, and carrying out the orders given me. Mr. Bancroft, the man from whom we bought the ranch from which we made our post, was on the bank watching the proceedings. He had a little, light, covered wagon, and where he was going to or coming from I do not remember. Maybe he did not tell me, but he said to me: "That was the finest crossing I ever saw made, and I heard that you fellows got right into the water and lifted the ice out with your hands." I said, "Yes, that is the way we did it." He said: "I want to tell you that is mighty satisfactory work as viewed by an outsider, and I have got some champagne in this wagon, and I think you ought to drink a quart of it." I said, "I am capable of drinking a quart right quick." So be brought out two quart bottles of champagne, and on the windward side of the wagon I drank one of them in about two minutes by the watch, and he drank one of them. I never saw him again until at least twenty years afterward, when I happened to meet him down in southwestern Missouri, where he said be was carrying on a flour mill. Mr. Bancroft had undoubtedly got from the Government the money for his ranch, and was engaged in high living, when I met him on the bank with the champagne.
Charley Elston, the scout, was nominally attached to our post, but as there was no particular work for him, he divided his time between us and Cottonwood Springs. But he kept all the time saying that we were going to catch it from the Indians before we got through. He would take rides out into the country off the road, and there were stories of how he found tracks of Indian lookouts along the line. He also told us of many rumors which were brought through by the pilgrims on the trains, and he kept constantly advising us to always be on the lookout, because "the first thing you know," he would say, "they will be onto your post here with their war paint on."