SOUTH PASS (A STORIED HISTORY)

NOT FAR FROM LANDER, WHERE I SPENT MY BOYHOOD, IS SOUTH PASS. DISCOVERED  BY THE MOUNTAIN MEN IN THE EARLY 1800’S, IT BECAME THE HIGHWAY, SO TO SPEAK, FOR THE THOUSANDS OF PIONEERS THAT CROSSED THE PLAINS HEADED WEST. SOUTH PASS WAS THE WAY AROUND THE IMPOSING WIND RIVER MOUNTAINS.  IT WAS NO EASY CLIMB UP THE LONG TRAIL TO THE SUMMIT AND INVOLVED CROSSING SEVERAL STREAMS. MANY STORIES CAN BE TOLD OF THE COUNTLESS PIONEERS THAT CLIMBED UP THE LONG HILL TO THE SUMMIT OF SOUTH PASS.  I WILL WRITE A SHORT POST ABOUT ONE TRAGIC AND YET TRIUMPHANT  STORY  ABOUT A GROUP OF IMMIGRANT PIONEERS, MOST FROM ENGLAND AND SCANDINAVIA WHO WERE TRYING TO GET TO SALT LAKE TO JOIN THE MORMAN SETTLEMENTS.  

THE YEAR WAS 1857 WHEN TWO GROUPS OF PIONEERS GATHERED IN IOWA AT THE END OF THE RAILROAD TO BEGIN THEIR LONG JOURNEY OVERLAND TO SALT LAKE. IT WAS LATE IN THE SUMMER TO ATTEMPT SUCH A JOURNEY, BUT THE 1000 OR SO PEOPLE HAD NO PLACE TO STAY OVER A LONG WINTER, SO AGAINST THE ADVICE OF THE SEASONED GUIDES THE TWO GROUPS, THE WILLEY AND MARTIN COMPANIES, BEGIN TO PUSH THEIR TWO-WHEELED HANDCARTS ACROSS THE PLAINS. SUPPLIES WERE CARRIED IN A FEW WAGONS AND SOME LIVESTOCK TRAVELLED ALONG WITH THE PIONEERS. TROUBLE BEGAN NOT LONG AFTER THE PLAINS TURNED INTO THE MORE DIFFICULT TERRAIN IN WHAT IS NOW NEBRASKA AND WYOMING. A BAD STORM SPOOKED CATTLE AND THEY STAMPEDED AWAY AND SCATTERED. HAVING NO WAY TO PULL THE WAGONS, THE SUPPLIES REMAINING WERE LOADED ON THE HANDCARTS ADDING TO THE DIFFICULT TASK OF PUSHING THEM.  SICKNESS AND MEAGER RATIONS TOOK A TOLL AS WELL. 

IT SEEMED WAY TOO SOON, BUT SUDDENLY IT WAS OCTOBER AND THE NIGHTS WERE COLD AND STORMS CONTINUED.  AS THE WILLEY COMPANY APPROACHED NEAR TO SOUTH PASS, HAVING MADE A VERY DIFFICULT CROSSING OF THE PLATTE RIVER, NO SMALL STREAM, THE WEATHER TURNED VERY BAD. AS TEMPERATURES DROPPED, THE SNOW BEGAN TO FALL AND PILED UP TO AS MUCH AS TWO FEET WITH DEEPER DRIFTS. THERE WAS NO CHOICE BUT TO TRY TO WEATHER THE STORM BY STOPPING, AND NOT MAKING  ANY ATTEMPT TO CLIMB UP SOUTH PASS. BY THIS TIME MANY WERE SUFFERING AND THE DEATH TOLL CLIMBED QUICKLY TO MORE THAN 100.  THE STORIES OF THE BRAVERY OF SO MANY WHO SACRIFICED THEIR LIVES SO THAT OTHERS HAD A CHANCE TO LIVE ARE RECORDED IN THE PERSONAL DIARIES OF THE SURVIVORS AND IN THE HISTORY OF THE MORMON CHURCH. FINALLY THE TWO COMPANIES WERE RESCUED BY MANY WHO CAME WITH WAGONS, FOOD AND CLOTHING FOR THE BELEAGUERED  IMMIGRANTS. THE CLIMB UP SOUTH PASS WAS STILL AHEAD AND WAS A FINAL HURDLE FOR THE WEAKENED IMMIGRANTS. THE SURVIVAL OF SO MANY IS A STORY OF TRIUMPH OVER SEEMINGLY INSURMOUNTABLE ODDS AND IS AN INSPIRATION TO THOSE GENERATIONS THAT FOLLOWED.

MY PERSONAL INVOLVEMENT IN THIS STORY WAS THE CREATION OF A DVD CALLED “CAUGHT IN THE STORM” USING THE WONDERFUL ART OF JULIE ROGERS, A PROMINENT PAINTER OF THE MORMON PIONEERS. I HAVE INCLUDED ONE OF HER PAINTINGS OF THE TWO SISTERS THAT SURVIVED THE  JOURNEY IN SPITE OF THE SICKNESS OF ONE REQUIRING THE OTHER TO PUSH THE HANDCART ALONE OVER THE MANY, DIFFICULT MILES. IT HAS BEEN AN INSPIRATION TO ME AND I TOOK THE LIBERTY TO ADD A CAPION. PERHAPS YOU WILL BE INSPIRED AS I AM BY THE  COURAGE  OF THESE PIONEERS WHO LIKE SO MANY OTHERS CAME TO THE WEST AND MADE IT POSSIBLE FOR THOSE OF US WHO CAME MUCH LATER TO LIVE AND PROSPER.Poster