The life of an outstanding Mormon pioneer and Westerner
As the title of this book suggests its author recalls a long period of his life in the American South- West of the nineteenth century commencing from 1847 when, travelling to take part in the war with Mexico as a volunteer, he was attacked by Comanche Indians. His first association with the Mormons, following a shooting accident, followed in 1850. Native American Indians and the Mormons from this point form the interlocking threads of this colourful autobiography. It is clear that the author has much sympathy for the plight of the Indians of his time and had frequent dealings with various tribes. These were, however, often violent times and the book touches upon the Echo Canyon War, the Black Hawk War and Apache outbreaks. Later, as an active member of the Mormon Church, Jones led a rescue of Mormon hand-cart company pioneers which necessitated his party wintering at Devil’s Gate under conditions of extreme hardship. The incident promoted much acclaim as an act of undoubted selfless heroism. Significantly Jones is credited with translation of selections ‘The Book of Mormon’ into Spanish, leading the first Mormon mission to Mexico and the foundation (at Brigham Young’s behest) of a new settlement originally called Jonesville, in the Salt River Valley Arizona which is now incorporated into the city of Mesa, Arizona.
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While Jesse Jones was in camp, one of his men gave me a small book of words in the Snake language. I expected the Indians around and studied hard every day. Soon they commenced coming in to see us. There were over one hundred lodges of Snakes and Bannocks came in from the Wind river country and camped about fifteen miles from us. Small bands camped around us in different directions. They soon learned we were short of provisions.
The first party that brought meat to us wanted to charge an unreasonable price for it. I talked with them quite a while before they would consent to sell it cheaper. They said that they themselves were hungry, showing us their bare arms, how lean they were. But I told them it was not just to take advantage of our circumstances. I weighed up a dollar’s worth of meat on a pair of spring balances, marked the scales plainly and told them I would give no more. They consented, and we bought hundreds of pounds afterwards without more trouble. In buying we had to weigh one dollar’s worth at a time, no matter how much they sold us.
We exchanged various articles with them, many of the company trading shirts, handkerchiefs and such things as they could spare. We had some coffee, for which the Indians traded readily. This helped us out for a short season; but game became so scarce that this camp of natives (several hundred) had to move out or starve. They came up the first day and pitched their lodges near us. We had but little provisions on hand, some meat and a few pounds of flour that we used to thicken our broth was all. We had about lost our appetite for bread. We were a little uneasy to have all these hungry Indians come upon us at once; the greatest care had to be taken to avoid trouble.
They were not of the best class, being a party made up of Snakes and Bannocks, who had left their regular tribes and chiefs and joined together under an ambitious young fellow named Tabawantooa. Washakie, the old Snake chief, called them bad men.
There was one little party under an old petty chief, Toquatah, who kept apart from the main band. From them we had procured most of our meat. Toquatah had informed us that the main band and his were not on the best of terms, and that Tabawantooa was “no good.” This naturally made us feel a little uneasy. We had some two hundred wagon loads of valuable goods under our charge, and only twenty men, the greater portion of them with no frontier experience.
The store rooms were blocked up with logs, and had been all winter.
By this time I could talk considerable Snake and many of these Indians understood Ute.
Tabawantooa and his band came in sight of our quarters about noon. They were all mounted and well armed. The chief with many others rode up in quite a pompous style, no doubt expecting to be looked upon with awe and treated with great deference.
I had time to get my wits together before they got to our gate where an armed guard was stationed. Brother Alexander was to be chief cook. Knowing that from such as we had we would have to make a great showing of hospitality, we concluded to make up in ceremony what was lacking in food. So all the camp-kettles and coffee-pots were filled and put on. The one for weak soup the other for strong coffee. We had plenty of the latter on hand.
The company were instructed to go into their rooms, shut the doors, keep quiet, and not to show themselves unless ordered to do so. Brother Hampton was to be general roust-a-bout, ready for any emergency; I was to meet these Indians outside and invite them in the gate, as we knew the chief and grandees of the band would expect to be entertained.
Soon the chief with some fifty others rode up to the fort, while hundreds more passed on a short distance and commenced to put up their lodges. I met the chief, shook hands, and asked him to get down and come in. He wanted to know if they could not ride inside. I told him no, and explained to him that we had a lot of men in the fort who were afraid of Indians; that they had gone into their houses and shut the doors; but the door of my house was open for them, but that these men, who were afraid, should not be frightened; they must leave their horses and arms outside the fort.
This the chief agreed to do and appointed a man to see that no one came in with arms. Soon my room was full. I explained to the chief that we had but little to eat and could not entertain many; but half we had they were welcome to. I talked and acted as though we were glad to see them, still I, with all my friendship for Indians, would have been willing for this band to have taken another road.
Brother Alexander soon had plenty of weak soup and strong coffee ready; cups were filled and the feast commenced. The chief sent word for those outside to go on to camp, probably seeing his rations would be short if many more came in.
Brother Hampton kept his eye on things in general and would come in and report from time to time. All except one respected our arrangements. Indians, like white men, have their bullies. One fellow in spite of the guards rode into fort armed. Brother Hampton took his horse by the bit, and guided him back out of the gate. He was quite saucy but went out all right.
We were asked how many men were in the houses. I told them shouts (great many). They then wanted to know if the men had guns. We told them “lots,” which was a fact as there were more guns than men.
Indians, when hungry relish anything that tightens their belts, so our friends filled and emptied their cups many times. Soon all who had remained were satisfied, bade us goodbye, mounted their horses and started to their camp, the chief inviting us to go up and take supper with him. Went up late in the day. Some coffee had been given the chief and at supper we feasted on poor antelope meat and coffee. We were told that but one antelope had been killed that day and the chief had been presented with it.
The whole camp were about out of food except thistle roots. These were not very plentiful, as we had already dug and eaten the most that could be found for miles around our quarters.
These natives moved on next morning. Toquatah’s band being still in the rear. In a day or two the last band came along and camped near us. We were glad to see them and wanted them to remain near us, but they were afraid of the Crow Indians and desired to keep in the vicinity of the larger band for protection against their common enemy.
We explained to them our destitute condition, telling them that we were again about out of provisions, and would be sorry to have them leave, for while they were near they had never let us suffer for meat.
Next morning the old chief said he would go out twelve miles to a gap in the mountains and camp, and if he could find any game he would let us have some dried meat he had reserved.
We waited a day and then went to see if our friends were prospered. Nothing had been found. Ten of us stayed all night with the Indians and we barely got enough for supper and breakfast. The chief told us to go back home; he would move on a little farther; if he found anything he would send it to us. His spirit towards us was something like a mother’s with a lot of hungry children.
Now some might ask why we did not do our own hunting and not depend on the Indians. An Indian will manage to kill game where it is so scarce and wild that but few white men would even see it. We were much safer to depend upon the Indians as long as they were around in the country. Again, they considered it their business to hunt, and if we had made the attempt it would have been resented by them.