One hundred and seventy years ago, Theodore Turley was in a wagon train en route to Salt Lake City. On the morning of July 24, 1849, Theodore woke up with other members of the Silas Richards Company in their encampment on the Loup Fork in eastern Nebraska. They were only two weeks out from Winter Quarters, but their heavy wagons were moving too slowly for the lateness of the season. The night before, on July 23rd, men from the company were sent to see if a crossing across the Loup River could be found. One of those men, Albert P. Rockwood “came very near being drowned. [T]hey reported no chance of fording.”1
Descendants of Theodore Turley have long known that Theodore and his family members crossed the plains with the 1849 Silas Richards Company, but we had few details about their journey to Utah. We now have a much better picture thanks to the Pioneer Database2, a joint project of the Church History Library and FamilySearch.3
If you look up the 1849 Silas Richards Company in the Pioneer Database, you can see basic information like departure and arrival dates, a list of company sources, and a list of individuals in the company. Right now we’re going to highlight some of the company sources. These are historical documents that provide or confirm information about that company. There are at least three on that list that shed light on the experiences of Theodore Turley and his family members:
- Richards, Silas, to Brigham Young, 24 August 1849, in Brigham Young, Office Files 1832-1878. – Transcript of a letter written by Silas Richards while on the trail giving a status report to Brigham Young. (View the original handwritten letter here.)
- “Silas Richards company, 1849 September.” In Camp of Israel schedules and reports 1845-1849. – A full company roster listing each individual’s name and age as well as each family’s equipment and livestock. A transcript is not available, so you’ll want to view the original handwritten roster here.
- Silas Richards diaries, 1846 May-1855 July, Diary, 1849-1853, 1-36. – A transcript of Silas Richard’s personal diary from the organization of his company in Winter Quarters on July 7, 1849, until the company’s arrival in the Salt Lake Valley on October 25, 1849. (Unfortunately the original handwritten copy isn’t available to view publicly at this time.)
According to the company schedule, when the Turley family rolled out of Winter Quarters in the Silas Richards Company, they consisted of 8 individuals: Theodore Turley (45), Mary Clift Turley (35), Mary Ann Turley (22), Frederick Turley (16), Sarah Elizabeth Turley (13), Isaac Turley (11), Charlotte Turley (9), and George Augustus Clift Selwyn (8). George was Theodore’s stepson, so he appeared on the company roster (and a later census) as “George Turley.” The family’s listed possessions were 3 wagons, 12 oxen, 1 cow, 4 loose cattle, 1 dog, and 3 guns.
Silas Richard, as company head, was considered a “captain of fifty.” Each company was then subdivided into five groups called “tens.” From the company schedule, we learn that the Turley family was assigned to Captain Elam Luddington’s group of ten. This group consisted of 45 individuals. Others in that group were the Luddington, Robison, Green, Potter, Alvord, and Smith families.
But what about the actual journey? Silas Richards’ August 24th letter to Brigham Young provides a good summary of the company’s outfitting and general travel conditions. Silas Richards wrote,
I was appointed by Bros. G.A. Smith & E.T. Benson, Captain of the 3rd fifty to lead a camp of 70 wagons from Winter Quarters to the Salt Lake Valley, the appointment was confirmed by the camp, we left Winter Quarters 10th July[.] 68 of our wagons being drawn by from one to four yoke of oxen & cows, the other two by a span of horses each, (Bro. Hiram Clark’s and my own)[.] our teams are generally rather heavily loaded for the state of the weather & the roads, it having been very warm and rainy most of the way, though we have had no rain for a few days, but the heat continues very opp[r]essive, consequently we have traveled very slow, being determined to take good care of our teams, many days we have only traveled from six to ten miles, we are aware that we are late, yet it will not do to kill up our teams if we can avoid it, we have been very fortunate, even so than our brethren that are before us & behind us. we have had no death in our camp, and very little sickness. have lost no cattle except 3 cows that died, and one old worn out ox that we left-by the way, not broke a wagon materially, and in fact we have not had any serious misfortune, we are getting along very well, and are thankful to our heavenly father for it. peace and union prevails in our camp, though our cattle are generally in good condition yet, it is probable we shall need considerable assistance. as our loads are heavy. in consequence of the council we received from the Valley just before starting in relation to provisions, and the lateness of the season will not admit of much delay. Esqr. Babbitt informs us that feed will be very scarce and the weather very cold before we get through and that we are sure to need assistance, I think our horses will not be able to draw the wagons, though if we can get them along at all. and in fact I do not know many wagons that can spare a single Yoke of oxen, and travel a long comfortably with their present loads, we have many good faithful brethren in our camp, quite a number on [sic] the Battalion boys, and many of the citizens of Kanesville & vicinity but not much wealth except our wagons, teams & other stock[.] we have 70 head of loose cattle mostly to[o] young to work, 100 head of sheep, only nine horses, no spare or loose hands when the teams are going. I need not say any thing farther relative help, as you will, no doubt send what you can, wagons will not be necessary, only send oxen and men enough to bring them, our journey will be very lengthy & much more provisions consumed than was anticipated….
Altho we are traveling slow in consequence of the heat & heavy loads yet we are getting along well. the weather is beautiful and pleasant-it being cooler the two last days. having to write in haste and on my knee I will close, being over burthened [burdened] with camp duties
In full faith and expectation of meeting you in joy & peace I remain your Brother in the Gospel of Christ
Silas RichardsLetter from Silas Richards to Brigham Young, dated 24th August 1849 (transcription by Church History Library staff)
A final resource is Silas Richards’ diary which provides the day-by-day account of their travels. His description of their first week on the trail conveys a sense of the daily rhythms. The company rolled out of Winter Quarters on Tuesday, July 10th, at 8am.
10th The camp started at 8 O clock[.] we traveled 12 miles. camped on the prairie[.] Strong wind from the south
July 11th delightful morning. started at 8 Oclock. haulted for noon at the papea [Pappea]. 7 miles from our encampment. Started at 2.Oclock. traveled 7 miles to Elkhorn River and encamped for the night. very warn weather. our manner of encampment is to form a Coral with our wagons, into which we put our Cattle[,] horses & sheep and keep a sufficient armed guard dividing the
watchnight into two watches.
12th morning very warm & clear[.] we prepared for crossing our wagons on a raft. and at 6. Oclock in the evening had 35 wagons over safe and some of our cattle & horses which we crossed by swiming. the wind turned
andabout 5 O’clock and blew strong <& cool> from the N.W. our camp being a portion on each Side of the river and the coral broken whe had a strong guard placed to keep the cattle.
13th morning cool N. wind. we Crossed all our cattle except some Oxen to draw the wagons to the raft & work it, from 9 O clock till 2 crossed the rem[a]inder of our wagons (34)[.] at 3 oclock gave orders for bringing up the cattle ready for yokeing. was ready to start at 1/2 past 4 & went about 3 miles to a delightful Camping ground on a small Still Creek. water very warm[.] no springs[.] weather delightful
14th morning clear and fine[.] Cal[l]ed a Council of the officers of the Camp & gave some instructions and adopted more spedy & efficient regulations for the guard. ordered the Marshall to call out all the men of the camp at 4 Oclock in the evening & inspect their arms. Council dismissed[.] evening beautiful. Marshall made report of inspection of arms as follows[:] 61 men in camp. 54 on perade. 44 well armed[.] 4 in bad order. 3 without arms
Sunday July 15th morning some clouds[.] wind south. camp assembled for meeting at 10 Oclock A.M. much good instruction was given and a good spirit prevailed, the president, his counsel, & all the captains spoke and expressed themselves satisfied with the Camp Rules. (which had been read) and recommended a strict adherence to them[.] in the evening Capt. Jones & Capt. Hopkins arrived at the [Elk] Horn.
A poignant moment in the record is on August 3rd, a day before reaching Grand Island, Nebraska. Silas Richards describes coming across the grave of a fellow Latter-day Saint.
3rd morning rainey. did not start till 8 O clock[.] fair through the day[.] road very bad for eight miles when we came to dry ground, also to the grave of Samuel Gully who died of Cholera 5th July 1849. he was well known to most of our camp and thus comeing to his grave by the way side, before we had heard of his Death Caused a general halt. and we gazed with feelings of emotion on the spot of ground that contained his body. this evening we encamped again on the prairie having brought a little wood with us. traveled about 15 miles today
A couple weeks later, on August 20th, the company was met by riders from Utah going eastward.
Augt 20 morning fair, wind west[.] started a little after 7 O clock, about 11 met Esqr. [Almon W.] Babbitt with the U S mail from Salt Lake to Kane Iowa, & stopped with him about two hours for the purpose of hearing the news from the Valley, and writing back to the States[.] Bro. Robt. Campbell, who was with the mail read a number of letters & interesting documents from the Vally which were gratifying & interesting to our camp, who were delighted & pleased to hear of the happiness & prosperity of the brethren in the west[.] we took leave of Bro Babbitt & Co, and persued our journey and passed over a sand Bluff which was very heavy on our teams, many having to double teams. encamped about a 1/2 mile from the w foot of the Bluffs. 10 1/2;.
The company made it to Scottsbluff, Nebraska on August 29th and continued slowly making their way into Wyoming. On September 21st, two days before arriving at Independence Rock, Wyoming, the company encountered Latter-day Saints coming from Utah with great news.
21st Morning fair & cool, some frost & ice. Our two companies traveled about 4 miles and coraled together and appointed meeting at 1 O clock. just as the congregation was assembling for meeting Bros. Fulmer & Joseph Young rode into our large coral from the Valley. they were greeted with joy and soon informed us that a train of 16 wagons, 60 or 70 Yoke of oxen were nearby coming to our assistance. this was welcome news to us, as also the good news from the valley. in the evening we had a dance & general time of rejoicing[.] at our meeting it was proposed that we all remain in camp tomorrow and send from 50 to 100 Youke of oxen to assist Bro Benson’s Co up to us, which was done in the morning.
The beginning of October brought a massive snowstorm, and the company was forced to halt for several days.
Oct 1st morning cloudy & very cool[.] freezing considerably[.] crossed over the rough rockey ridges, and encamped on creek one foot wide. drove our cattle down below one mile, for fee.
2nd morning pleasant. Started at 11 O'[cloc]k. Soon after clouded up, cold wind from the N.E. saw snow falling on the mountains on our right. encamped on willow creek at 4 O clock, began to snow & blow violently & continued for 36 hours a violent storm from the N.E. snow very deep in drifts[.] probably at least one foot of snow fell. continued in camp the
twofour next days. the snow not melting[.] many of our cattle perished in the storm[.] in our company 17 were found dead and six missing
Luckily, the company didn’t encounter any more severe weather before arriving at their destination. Silas Richards notes that the company reached Salt Lake City on Thursday, October 25th.
Want to know what happened after Theodore and his family entered the Salt Lake Valley? Check out the July 5th blog post “In the Valley of the Great Salt Lake.”
- “23rd morning & day cloudy, traveled 11 miles & encamped on the Loup Fork near Sarpee’s old trading house at 3 oclock[.] a beautiful place & good for camping[.] here we sent a detachment of men to examine the river to see if a ford could be found and one of the men (Col Rockwood), came very near being drowned. they reported no chance of fording.” Silas Richards diaries, 1846 May-1855 July, Diary, 1849-1853, 1-36.
- The Pioneer Database was previously known as the Mormon Pioneer Overland Travel Database.
- For background on the creation of the original pioneer database, see the November 1, 2010, Deseret News article “Pioneer database thriving and growing.” The database website was redesigned in 2015. For more information on that, check out the July 20, 2015, Daily Herald article “Mormon pioneers found, 57,000 named and identified.”
3 thoughts on “Crossing the Plains with the Silas Richards Company”
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Again, thank you, Mary Ann, for documenting “Crossing the Plains with the Silas Richards Company”.
Silas Richards is my ancestor. This is fascinating. Thanks so much for sharing!