Abandonded Gear by the 49ers

More significant than anything that happened to the Mormon companies on the road in 1849 was the news that came back from the valley with Almon Babbitt early in September. The Gentile trains boiling toward the gold fields had not only suffered sever from cholera and measles, especially during the first half of their journey, but they had been reckless of their animals and equipment all the way, and they suffered the consequences after they left the easy Platte valley and came into the mountains. Babbitt reported that the gold seekers, convinced that warnings against salerarus water beyond Last Crossing were a “Mormon humbug” had suffered crippling losses of animals, and that the stretch between Last Crossing and Independence Rock was all but impossible to travel through because of the stench from the 2,000 dead oxen along it. And there was more than ox carcasses along the road. Furniture, clothing, food, tools, wagons, had to be thrown away or abandoned as the animals gave out and men converted in desperation to packhorse or shank’s mare. The profitable pastime of scavenging the trail, sometimes as far east as Fort Laramie, got its start among the Saints during this year. But they hardly had to scavenge the trail, for hundreds of California pilgrims limped into the Salt Lake Valley in a state of collapse, and most of them either sold off belongings to lighten their loads across the desert, or converted wagon outfits into packtrains for the last leg, or bought food and livestock to replace what they had lost. The Saints so enjoyed the experience of skinning the Gentiles that they were in danger of trading away too much of their hard-won grain crop and bringing another lean winter on themselves. Apart from that danger, the whole summer was a great profitable picnic. A man might get three or four good heavy wagons for one light one, six or eight worn oxen or mules for a single team of fresh ones, and after three or four weeks in the valley pastures the worn-out ones would be freshened up for another profitable trade. Cloth, clothing, tools, everything that great expectation had loaded up for California fell into Mormon hands at half its wholesale cost in the States, and in a single season corrected the condition of painful shortage in which the Saints had been living.