“One of the Hardest Burdens that I Have Been Called to Bear”: The Story of Milo’s Second Crossing of the Plains (1855)

Milo led three wagon trains of pioneers across the plains to Salt Lake City in 1850, 1855, and 1861. What follows is an account of his second crossing in 1855. This account is gathered from journals and other historical records.

This was the last of the Perpetual Emigration Fund companies for 1855. Milo Andrus received the assignment to captain the train the night before the party was to leave Mormon Grove (just outside Atchison, Kansas Territory) and had just 12 hours to get himself ready. Two things made this last-minute appointment necessary: the season was very late and no one else with plains experience was available. Thus Andrus and his two assistants had an enormous responsibility. The company had few oxen, and many of these were small and unbroken, so they had to be trained en route. Part of the company left Mormon Grove on August 1; the rest left on the 3rd. Inexperienced drivers had to shuttle some wagons forward, then return with the teams to bring up others. One emigrant recalled that early on it took four men to drive one yoke of oxen. There were 461 individuals in the company when it set out.

No sooner had the company left Mormon Grove than the U. S. Marshall for Kansas Territory arrived with an order to “attach” the train for debts attributed to Brigham Young, Heber C. Kimball, and Jedediah M. Grant (at that time the First Presidency of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints). Captain Andrus convinced the marshall that the train belonged not to the First Presidency, but to the Perpetual Emigration Fund Company. The lawman then tried to take Andrus back to Atchison to “get sufficient good security from amongst the Citizens there to secure the debt & cost,” but the Captain refused to leave his train. At this critical moment, the marshall “was taken with the bellyache and wanted a little brandy,” which Captain Andrus quickly supplied. He then fed the marshall supper and drove him in a buggy to his lodgings. Nevertheless, the marshall ordered Andrus and three other brethren to appear at the October 3rd term of the U.S. court in Leavenworth, and when he got back to Mormon Grove, he attached four or five Mormon-owned wagons, “a few lame cattle,” and some calves.

The Andrus train overtook Captain Allred’s emigrant company on Big Grasshopper Creek; later, both parties camped on Walnut Creek. Tired of leapfrogging his wagons, Captain Andrus decided to leave a Perpetual Emigration Company thrashing machine in the care of a local farmer (Captain Allred left five wagons with this same man at that time). Andrus now set a pace that was “as hurried as he could urge, push, and cajole, the group over the plains, up and down the mountains, through the canyons, across the rivers, and through the miles of the thick dust of the trails.” At some point, the train encountered a large herd of buffalo that “ran across our train, while in motion, and knocked down and [bore] off the horn of one of the oxen.” The Indians that the train met were friendly. At Big Blue River the train used the ferry because the river was running high. Near there the party camped just a few rods west of Captain Harper’s company. It was here that Andrus “nailed our colors to the top of the mast.” From Little Blue River, the Captain wrote: “Two wagon axles, one wheel, and several tongues broke which has caused us some delay; but notwithstanding . . . I . . . am doing all in my power to push on this camp . . . as I am deeply anxious for their welfare.” Two elderly emigrants had died. The train followed the Platte River and must have crossed the South Platte. It stopped at Ash Hollow, where Andrus learned that General William S. Harney and about 700 soldiers had “found a party of the Sioux Indians about eight miles from Ash Hollow and a battle had ensued on the 3rd of October. The General sent over word to Andrus on the 5th keep an advanced guard stating at the same time that the best information that they could get was that they had killed one hundred and twenty Indians, taken about fifty-eight prisoners, mostly women; had four soldiers killed and five wounded. He stated, also, they were going to lay out a fort a small distance below Ash Hollow after which they calculated to proceed to Fort Laramie, and from thence to wherever they could find any of the Sioux Nation.”

“A few miles from where they were encamped there were about forty Indians that were in the battle near Ash Hollow. Nothing came of this. The company passed Court House Rock, Chimney Rock, and Scotts Bluff. By September 13 the company was 12 miles below Fort Laramie. It then passed Laramie Peak, Independence Rock, and Devil’s Gate. At the latter place, on September 28, the emigrants met brethren from the Salt Lake Valley. On October 4 the train crossed Devil’s Backbone, “a most awful mounting [sic] of stone.” That night “came on a dredfull [sic] storm of snow.” On the 6th the train crossed South Pass. Near Chimney Rock 20 oxen and 2 cows died “from something the[y] had eat or drank [sic].” Upon reaching the Sweetwater River many more cattle died. There was little feed for the animals; in all, the Andrus train “lost 11 animals above 50%.”

At the fifth crossing of the Sweetwater it snowed three inches. The train
crossed the Green River on October 11 and arrived at Fort Bridger four days later. From the fort, Captain Andrus sent word to Salt Lake that he needed fresh animals and that “many of the men, women and children were almost barefoot and very destitute of clothing.” By the time the train reached the Weber River, the emigrants were running out of provisions. They crossed Big Mountain and Little Mountain. A delegation of dignitaries from Salt Lake met them at the mouth of Emigration Canyon. Here the emigrants formed a circle around the welcoming party and “sang a piece of poetry composed for the occasion”:

“Come Zion’s sons and daughters,
Who seek this blest abode,
That over plains and waters
Have come to serve our God;

Our gratitude demanding,
Let praise to Him abound,
That we are favored, standing
On consecrated ground.

Oh! This we’ve long expected,
For this we’ve prayed and sighed,
Like Israel’s sons neglected,
By Babel’s limpid tide;

And now befo
. . . When on the way to Zion,
And every heart was hope,
The means we’d to rely on

Was fastly closing up;
But as the darken’d shadows
Declared a brighter sun,
We felt a power to glad us,
Th’ Apostles would make known.

Tho’ elements did battle,
As late the season pass’d,
And weakly seemed our cattle,
We’re in the “hive” at last:

No power should withstand us,
Declared Erastus Snow;
And Captain Milo Andrus
Thank God, has brought us thro’.

We come not here for pleasures
That carnal minds can prize,
Nor seek aurif’rous treasures
Of th’ West to aggrandize;

We come with spirits fervent
To fully serve the Lord;
To hear His holy servant,
And live by every word.

And as the arms of Moses
Required bearing up,
So every soul proposes
To be our Brigham’s prop:

Tho’ late and last our carriage
Across the mountains’ brow,
We hope, like Jesus’ marriage,
There’s best wine even now.”

The Andrus train, with “upwards of 50 wagons,” arrived in Salt Lake City October 24th. Because of the lateness of the season, Captain Andrus had pushed his people hard. Undoubtedly, this is why one of the travelers described him as “a terrible bully and tyrant.” However, another emigrant wrote, “It was not an altogether unpleasant trip.” For his part, Captain Andrus had been ill during much of the journey. He said that leading this 1855 train was “one of the hardest burthens that I have been called to bear in the midst of Israel during my sojourn in mortality” this from a man who had been with Zion’s Camp, who had been in Nauvoo at the time of the Martyrdom, who had “helped watch the city by night, and worked on the temple by day,” who had gone to Carthage at the time of the indictment of the murderers of Joseph and Hyrum Smith, who had experienced the persecutions leading up to the abandonment of Nauvoo, and who had participated in the Latter-day Saint exodus westward, a man who, himself, had led several other emigrant companies.


Learn More

This account is reprinted with permission from the LDS Church’s website Mormon Pioneer Overland Travel. On this website you will find more information including a list of all the people who traveled in this company as well as related journals and historical documents.


Got something to say?