“Although the expedition’s desperate march to [Fort Bridger on] Black’s Fork had brought it to a satisfactory haven for the winter, Johnson’s command was still not safely united. One detachment of calvary under Lt. Col. Philip St. George Cooke remained on the snowy road east of the new camp.
After their tour if duty in Kansas, during which time Governor Walker had called upon them only once, the Second Dragoons had hastily assembled at Leavenworth in mid-September preparatory to joining the rest of the Utah army. This force was needed not only to protect the expedition from the raids of the Mormons but also to provide an escort for the corpulent person of the Territory’s new governor, Alfred Cumming, and his charming, if loquacious, wife. . . .
From the first, Cooke’s party had experienced difficulty on its trek to Mormon country. At the end of the first four days it had traveled only twenty-two miles, the condition of the animals and the poorness of the road impeding its progress. y the time the Dragoons reached Fort Kearney, seventy-seven soldiers had deserted. West of Kearney the command met its first rain, then eleven days of snow and sleet, which decimated its horses, already weakened by the absence of sufficient forage. . . . Cooke’s orders would have permitted him to winter at Fort Laramie, but the conscientious officer had learned of the army’s need for calvary and pressed on.
This final march was an ordeal for everyone. Early in November a savage snowstorm scattered the troops and their stock near Devil’s Gate. On November 8, when the thermometer reached 44 degrees below zero, Cooke abandoned five of his wagons, hoping that thus unimpeded he could make more rapid progress, and struggled on through two feet of snow. On November 15 the severe cold inflicted serious damage when thirty-six soldiers and teamsters were frostbitten. Maddened by cold and lack of food, the mules destroyed the wagon-tongues to which they were tied, ate away their ropes, and attacked the camp’s tents, dying in great numbers. . . .
[O]f the 144 horses in his original command, 130 lay dead on the thousand miles of Plains behind him.”