BRIGHAM, BATTALION AND A BURRO
Arriving in Nauvoo during the summer of 1845, Eph was impressed with the beauty of the city and hospitality of the people. Within days of meeting the Mormon leaders he sought affiliation with the Church and was soon baptized by Horace S. Eldredge.31 After being ordained a Seventy,32 he commenced work on the Nauvoo Temple that was nearing completion, continuing in that effort for several months until Brigham Young requested his services in Indiana.
During the winter of 1846 relentless persecution forced between twelve and fifteen thousand Mormons from their Illinois home into exile. It was at the height of this trouble that Eph was sent to Indianapolis to pilot a group of church members to the troubled city.33 With a small caravan Eph arrived in Nauvoo just in time to join Brigham Young and four hundred families in crossing the icebound Mississippi River, February 11, 1846, to begin their westward pilgrimage.34
Eph was temporarily quartered at the Mormon settlement of Mount Pisgah, Iowa, when Captain James Allen arrived there with authority from President James K. Polk to recruit four hundred Mormon volunteers for the Mexican War. With encouragement from authorities of the Church, the desired numbers of young men were soon recruited, even though it meant leaving wagons without drivers and adding an even greater burden on the women. Eph was among those who offered their services.35 Sidney continued west with the main body of pioneers and later fulfilled a mission to the Society Islands for the church. Organized into companies, the volunteers marched to Fort Leavenworth, Kansas, where they were outfitted prior to departure for their California destination on August 12, 1846. Before reaching Santa Fe and the completion of the first leg of their 2,000-mile journey, many volunteers suffered unnecessarily at the hands of the Battalion surgeon, Dr. George B. Sanderson.36 His insistence on administering calomel and arsenic to all his patients, notwithstanding the nature of their sickness, created general discontent among the recruits. When these "cure all" pills were prescribed to an ailing friend, Eph demonstrated his contempt for the cure by loading the pills together with some shot into his gun killing a sage hen with the load. He then cooked and served the bird to his ailing comrade.37
While enroute from Santa Fe to El Paso, as the Battalion traveled southward down the Rio Grande Valley, Eph saw an opportunity for augmenting the camp's dwindling food supply. Slipping away one night on horseback, he rounded up twelve wild steers, which he, with considerable difficulty, drove into camp the following morning just as the day's march was resuming. Excitement ran high as the stampeding animals succeeded in partially wrecking the camp before finally being disposed of.38
Heading westward through Tucson, the Battalion marched through to San Diego without incident, arriving there January 29, 1847.
While the volunteers were garrisoned in San Diego, they apparently enjoyed a friendly rivalry with their Mexican neighbors. The "gringos" were often invited to fight the bulls in the arena and on many occasions Eph and others accepted the challenge.39 Being superior horsemen, the Mexicans usually bested their northern guest in riding skill, but not always. One Saturday morning the sporting Mexicans led a large blindfolded burro into the main town plaza and offered a five dollar gold piece to anyone who could ride him. Eph stepped forward and swung into the saddle expecting the worst; however, the animal stood relaxed and calm. But when the owner suddenly ripped off the blindfold, the burro came to life. The animal's owner scrambled for the safety of the saloon porch but the enraged animal followed right behind, nipping at his seat. With Eph still astride him, the burro bounded into the saloon upsetting tables and chairs, pausing long enough to glance at himself in a large mirror standing against the bar before crashing into it headfirst. The patrons inside rushed for the door with Eph and the charging burro close behind. Once in the street the still bucking burro was lassoed and Eph, jarred and shaken, slipped to the ground to collect the wager.40
On July 16, 1847, Eph, along with other Battalion members, was discharged at Los Angeles. Although nearly half of the volunteers who were mustered out of service remained in California for the winter, as advised by Brigham Young, Eph and others pushed on to the Mormon capital, arriving in Salt Lake City, October 1.41 Before leaving California, Eph and a friend, William Casper, gathered together a fine string of Spanish horses, which they drove to the valley.42
Shortly after arriving among the Saints, Eph overheard a bishop warn the girls in the community to beware of the returning Battalion members as they were looking for wives to whisk back to California. Disturbed at the false charge, Eph rode to the bishop's house located inside the old fort wall, and in the early dawn hours backed his animal onto the church official's porch, ramming his front door and banging it open. Scrambling from his bed into the open doorway, the bishop, not yet fully awake, listened to Eph's ultimatum. Either he retreat his statement within a week or not one log of his house would be left standing. Eph's determination and sense of dramatics impressed the bishop to publicly apologize the following Sunday.43
Because Salt Lake City was on the California route, transient emigrants were not uncommon among the Mormons in these early years. Relations were generally cordial between the settlers and the emigrants, but there were exceptions. The leader of one of these forty-niner groups, not being particularly fond of Mormons, boasted before entering the Valley that he would "lick the first damn one he saw."44
When the burly traveler repeated his threat from a wagon in front of the old tithing house, Eph obligingly came forward, inviting the stranger to "Come down boy, come down off your wagon. Here is your chance."45 The bully sprang to the ground and in a matter of minutes Eph had him successfully pinned in the dirt to the delight of the partisan crowd that had gathered.46
Since Eph's first meeting with Brigham Young years earlier in Nauvoo, a growing understanding between these two men developed. Evidently, Brigham found in Eph a man he could trust, but not before putting him to the test. On a fall morning in 1848, President Young drove to where Eph was building an adobe house inside the Old Fort. Looking over the completed foundation, he inquired as to the thickness of the rock wall. "Eight inches," replied Eph.47 "Tear it down and build it twice that thick,"48 suggested Brigham, who then promptly drove away before Eph could answer. To rebuild meant hauling more rock and doing twice the work they thought was necessary. Eph's mason helper was against following such counsel. Nevertheless, they widened the foundation to sixteen inches according to the leader's instruction. Eph was fitting the rafters on the house a month later when a heavy rain began falling, ultimately causing widespread flooding and considerable damage in parts of the Valley. Eph's reinforced walls stood firm against the resulting deluge, however, thus preventing a possible collapse of the entire structure.49 Others were not so fortunate. From then on when Brigham talked, Eph listened.
Not long following this incident with Brigham Young, Eph met the Mormon leader at a dance in Salt Lake City. Again he counseled Eph. This time Eph was to go home and shave his face. Like many men of his day, Eph wore a beard almost to his waist. Somewhat puzzled, he left the social and rode home, pondering the unusual request. In an hour, however, he returned to the dance without a beard, but still wearing a mustache, which he hadn't shaved. Still not satisfied with his appearance, Brigham Young indicated with a sweep of the hand across Eph's face that he wanted a clean shave. Excusing himself a second time, Eph complied by shaving his entire face.50 It was perhaps this type of obedience to counsel that prompted the Mormon Church president to later say of Eph "Here was a man always ready to lay down his life for the authorities of the Church as well as for the cause of Zion and her people."51
The day Eph rode into Salt Lake City from California, he met his future wife, Harriet Decker Little, a fine looking widow girl. She recalled later how particularly impressed she had been with Eph's fine horse and Spanish-Mexican silver trapped black saddle.52 On September 22, 1848, they married and settled on a farm near Mill Creek, close to where John Neff erected the first flourmill in the Territory.53 From this union four sons and three daughters were born.
Eph's fields remained untilled that first season, however, because of a call from church authorities to meet Brigham Young and a group of pioneers encamped on the Sweetwater River of Wyoming and assist them into the Salt Lake Valley.54
Eph was selected Salt Lake City's first pound keeper, with Horace S. Eldredge as his assistant.55 But farming and pound keeping did not sustain his interest for long. Perhaps his navy training and battalion experience inspired him to more adventuresome activity. Whatever the reason, we find Eph, after a brief flirtation with the soil, engaged in the more adventuresome occupation of carrying the mail between Salt Lake City and the Missouri River,56 a job more adapted to pacifying a restless disposition.
Adequate communication with the rest of the country had been a growing problem for the Mormons since their departure from Nauvoo. Occasionally, special couriers on speedy mounts dispatched urgent messages eastward to the Mississippi River or westward to California. But more often it was the occasional caravan departing for distant colonies, or the passing emigrant train, that was entrusted with the mail for the settlements through which they passed. And, although the mail was cheerfully dispatched by these accommodating pioneer couriers, a more feasible and regular service was urgently needed.
Realizing the desirability for an improved communication service with Utah, the federal government established a post office in Salt Lake City in the winter of 1849,57 but it was not until 1850 that an acceptable bimonthly mail service was established between Kanesville, Iowa, and Salt Lake City.58
In August of 1851, Samuel H. Woodson subcontracted the carrying of the mail between Fort Laramie and Salt Lake City to Eph Hanks and Feramorz Little for $8,000 a year.59 They were to meet at Fort Laramie on the fifteenth of each month for an exchange of the east and westbound mails. Passengers, too, were transported over the five hundred mile stretch, which at the time was supported by only a single fort.
On their initial trip, Hanks and Little, with passenger Apostle Orson Hyde, while traveling near South Pass, met D. B. Harris, Perry E. Brocchus, and L. G. Brandebury, the newly appointed government officials for the Utah Territory, on their way to Salt Lake City to assume their new responsibilities.60 Learning from the officials that the Bannock Indians near Willow Springs were unfriendly, the trio, in order to avoid trouble, made camp that evening a distance away from the main road. However, still concerned for their safety, the party, after appearing to have retired, slipped from the fire under the cover of darkness and continued on their way to Red Buttes, hoping to have outwitted any would-be guests. After a few hours' sleep in their new camp, they awoke the next morning relieved at finding no sign of Indians, but were startled to discover mammoth grizzly tracks around their sleeping bags. In spite of their precautions they had indeed hosted an unwanted guest during the night, but this visitor left behind a thirteen-inch footprint.61
The scouts successfully reached Fort Laramie in nine days, but so used up the animals in their hast they were not fit for the return trip. The only other available animals were five wild Mexican mules, which they purchased from a Mr. Goodall who owned a farm a short distance from the Fort. Feramorz Little provides us with an insight into frontier resourcefulness with the following vivid account of their return trip to Salt Lake City:
Mr. Goodall with some of his rancheros insisted on bring them [mules] to Laramie. They also brought along lariats, blinds, etc., with which to handle them. Four of the mules were thrown down, bound with lariats, blinded, and the harness put on them. By a similar process Mr. Hanks put his saddle on the other one. When everything was in readiness, Mr. Little got into the wagon and took up the lines and Mr. Hanks mounted his mule. The blinds were removed and a lively performance commenced. Mr. Hanks took the lead, which assisted to keep the team in the road. The saddle mule was guilty of all the antics that a wild Mexican mule is considered capable of performing under such circumstances. Those on the wagon ran, bucked, and kicked over the traces and over the tongue of the wagon and back again. The mail and baggage danced about in a general jumble and some of the provisions were thrown out. Chances had to be taken for there was no stopping for anything.
The animals had things pretty much their own way for seven or eight miles until reaching the Black Hills, when they became somewhat calm and a little more manageable. They made a successful days drive with the new outfit. At night the wild animals were secured with lariats and were given such limited opportunities to feed as would insure safety. While traveling the second day a short distance from the road, they saw a large grizzly bear digging roots. His head was so far under ground in the hole he had dug that his sense of hearing gave him no warning of intruders until Mr. Hanks had ridden near enough to use his revolver to advantage. The bear ran and Hanks alongside, forcing his animal up to the work with a huge pair of California spurs. He made four successful shots. The last one brought the bear down.
Although the mules were shy, by good management, Mr. Little got them in the vicinity of the game. Mr. Dutton, a passenger, held the lines while Mr. Little dropped the traces. In doing so, one of the mules kicked as only a Mexican mule can kick and hit him in the breast. The blow was received on his pocket book, which he carried in his coat pocket. This partly neutralized its effects. Still it was of sufficient force to knock the breath out of him, and he fell to the ground as suddenly as though he had received a death shot. In a moment, however, he recovered and was on his feet. When Mr. Hanks saw that he was not seriously injured, he spoke a little jocularly of the affair. They soon cut out a supply of bear meat and threw away their buffalo beef, but afterwards concluded that they had made a poor exchange.
When they were again attaching the mules to the wagon the one mule that had kicked Mr. Little gave Mr. Hanks a severe blow on the shinbone. He did not drop suddenly but turned white about the mouth and gradually wilted down with severe pain. The tables were fairly turned on him. His companion, while really sympathizing with him in his distress, could not well avoid being a little humorous at his expense. Nothing further of special interest occurred on this trip.62
Carrying the overland mail called for courage as well as resourcefulness. On another trip east in September 1851, Hanks and Charles Decker, along with bodyguards George Clawson and Alfred Higgins, escorted Dr. John M. Bernhisel, Utah's first territorial delegate to Congress, to Washington, D. C. Outfitted with three pack animals loaded with mail, two saddle horses and a light wagon drawn by two mules, they traveled safely over the mountains to Fort Bridger without incident. However, while they were there they learned the Crow Indians, along their intended route, near Box Elder Creek, had been of late intercepting travelers.
Following a brief rest, the group traveled to Deer Creek some ten miles this side of Box Elder Creek where they met a Mr. Jones, who with a good outfit and five well-armed men was photographing the route across the continent. Mindful of the advice at Fort Bridger, the couriers suggested the two parties travel together for mutual protection from the Crows. And even though the mountaineers agreed to travel a little slower if Jones and party would travel a little faster, Jones declined the offer, replying that "if he [Decker] were afraid of the Indians he had better go on.63
When approaching Box Elder Creek, some twenty-armed Indians swarmed across the road ahead of the wagon making signs they wanted to talk. Fearing for the safety of their distinguished passenger, the couriers made no attempt at escape but pulled off the road into a nearby hollow as directed. Being assured that after a smoke together they would be free to continue their journey, they reluctantly joined a circle of Indians seated on the ground. Following a short visit the chief, as promised, waved his guests on their way, but before they could locate the mules that had been unharnessed and led away, a number of braves pounced upon the wagon helping themselves to provisions and blankets. One brave grabbed the muzzle end of a revolver, which lay in the bottom of the wagon, with both hands, whereupon Decker, with one motion, seized the handle of the weapon and cocked the hammer. With the weapon pointing directly at him, ready to fire, the redskin quickly release his hold. In spite of the excitement caused by the incident, the chief unexpectedly motioned his braves to lower their rifles and tensions were eased. Hastily, the couriers recovered what supplies they could and made preparations to leave before the Indians had a change of mind. As the mules were being hitched, Higgins noticed an Indian sitting on his stolen rifle. Without saying a word, he "laid him out with one blow,"64 and retrieved his weapon. Dr. Bernhisel, who had remained in the wagon during the excitement, appeared to take matters "quite philosophically."65
Once back on the road they saw why the Indians had a sudden change of heart toward them, for a short distance beyond the hollow, photographer Jones was setting up his equipment. Grateful to him for distracting their conniving hosts, but feeling he had been sufficiently warned about the Crows, the mail carriers continued on their way, traveling without further mishap until they reached the upper crossing of the North Platte. The near loss of Congressman Bernhisel during the crossing prompted an amusing narration of the adventure by Solomon Kimball:
Here they found no ferryboat, but, having brought four ten gallon kegs along in case of just such an emergency, they loaded everything into the wagon, ran it into the river, lashed a keg to each wheel and tied one end of a long rope to the wagon tongue; then, with the other end, Eph and Charley swam to the other side. In the meantime, Clawson had gone over with the animals, taking the harness and saddles along with him. The scouts then hitched the team of mules to the end of the rope, and in this way the wagon was hauled over.
The next thing was to get Utah's first congressman, who was a poor swimmer, across the river. The scouts thought it too much of a risk to take him over in the wagon, so they adopted this plan: George and Charley, with one end of the long rope, swam back to where the doctor was and fastened the rope securely under his arms; then the three of them waded into the stream as far as possible, Eph pulling in the slack rope from the other side as fast they advanced toward him. The swimming then began in earnest, Charley and George helping the honorable gentleman, of whose Whig political inclinations they were well aware, as much as they could. When they reached the main channel they became separated, and then it was every man for himself. As soon as the boys let go of the doctor, he cried for help.
Eph, taking in the situation, and having the other end of the rope tied to the horn of his saddle, put spurs to his fiery steed.
For the next hundred feet, Honorable John M. more resembled a good-sized flutter wheel, with full head on, than a delegate to Congress. After working over him for some time, the company moved on.
Several days after reaching the Bluffs, the Democratic mail carrier scouts were convulsed with laughter when they read in the FRONTIER GUARDIAN the following communication from the doctor:
Sept. 28, 1851
Orson Hyde, Editor FRONTIER GUARDIAN
Dear Sir:--I arrived here this afternoon in good health. Should you deem it worthy of notice please say in the GUARDIAN that I am neutral in politics. In haste, I am truly yours,
John M. Bernhisel66
On the return trip from the Missouri River, the mail carriers, while traveling sixteen miles west of Ft. Laramie, happened upon photographer Jones dressed in ragged Indian clothing sitting on a large rock. When asked about this unusual attire, Jones replied that he had been "picked by the Crows."67 The same Indians who had earlier threatened the couriers had robbed him of everything except a buckskin bag containing $1,200 in gold dust.
Men and teams suffered much during these trips across the plains. On the return trip from Washington D.C., for instance, Hanks and Little trudged through snow from one to three feet deep for seventeen days before reaching Salt Lake City.68 Years later, in December 1856, the same couriers fought snow and cold for seventy-eight days on a run to Independence, Missouri.69 The fastest recorded time from Salt Lake City to Independence was "inside twenty three days,"70 made by Eph in June 1857. News of Parley P. Pratt's death arrived in this mail.71 Over a seven year period Eph and a handful of others made the 2,400 mile round trip better than fifty times. The journey normally required forty to fifty days for which they received one thousand dollars.72
On another trip east, that could be the longest on record, Eph and Charley Decker were caught in a devastating snowstorm that forced them into a cave with their animals for twelve days. During the internment, horses and couriers alike survived on jerked meat rolled in flour. It took ninety days to make that trip.73 In appraising the near superhuman effort of Hanks and Little on that particularly challenging cross country effort, an unidentified chronicler writes, "Probably no other men could have endured in such service and which few others if any of even mountain men could.74 Kimball suggests that Eph and Charley Decker probably crossed the plains more times than any other white men.75
Supplies were ofttimes a problem for the overland mailmen, especially in winter. While traveling together on one occasion, Eph and Charley Decker ran out of food after having been detained enroute. Unable to shoot any game because of wet ammunition, they were left to other resources for their food supply. When the travelers accidentally rode upon a buffalo herd, hopes for replenishing their exhausted resources brightened. Spurring his horse alongside a large bull, Eph grabbed the animal's mane and both hands and vaulted onto his back while running at full speed. After riding the beast until he began to tire, Eph then drew his knife and plunged it into the animal's heart. Jumping from the stricken buffalo before he plummeted to the ground, Eph then skinned and quartered his prize. With enough meat now to last them until Independence, the couriers continued their journey.76
The plains buffalo, on more than one occasion, apparently saved the lives of the mail carriers. On another trip, after being robbed by Indians of everything but his knife, Eph located several buffalo grazing near a small stream partially hidden by a growth of underbrush. Exhausted and hungry after several days of walking he cautiously made his way downstream to within a short distance of a full-grown cow lying in the sun. Edging closer through the tall grass to within a few yards of her, Eph, with drawn knife, sprang on to her back and with a powerful stroke succeeded in slashing a hamstring before scurrying back to the protective cover of the stream's narrow ravine. The wounded beast charged after him to the edge of the gully, as Eph hoped she would. Then with the enraged animal confronting him only a few yards away, Eph sent his dog to attack her from the rear. With the cow's attention now diverted, Eph slipped up from behind and with a well-aimed thrust severed the other hamstring. After disposing of the helpless creature, he cured what meat he could comfortably carry and continued his journey afoot.77
While attending a 24th of July celebration in Loa, Utah, in the 1880's, Eph was sitting on the speaker's platform with several others listening to a Brother Cannon relate the story of his trek to Utah and of a young man who rode into their pioneer camp on a wild buffalo:
He rode right into camp, stopped and pulling out a knife split the neck of a buffalo and jumped off as the animal fell dead.
Eph spoke up, `why were you there?' Brother Cannon said, `I sure was.' Eph said, `So was I. I was the man who rode the buffalo.'
They went into each other’s arms like two children. It had been twenty-three years since the incident had occurred and they had forgotten each other.78
In a letter written by Eph's longtime friend, Allen Taylor, to Walter E. Hanks in 1890, we are informed of another method utilized by Eph in hunting buffalo.
...In traveling back on the plains, Bro. E. K. Hanks overtook me one evening just as we had camped. He was carrying the mail on horseback to the Bluffs. "Bro. Taylor," he said, "back here about a half a mile there is a herd of buffalo. I will unpack and go back and bring one in."79 He took his lariat, went alone, and lassoed a yearling. He brought him to camp, rolling and tumbling. My teamsters rode him and had their fun with him and then butchered him, and he made a fine piece of meat. Next morning Bro. Hanks left for the Bluffs. I think there is no danger of Bro. Hanks' suffering for meat as long as he has a horse and lariat.80
From the diary of George W. Bean we learn that Eph's expertise with a rope netted him "a live antelope by lasso method,"81 just before the two friends met near Bear River traveling east. As Eph journeyed along with the Bean party they encountered an old she bear with two cubs. After dispatching mother bear with his revolver, Eph succeeded in capturing one of the cubs alive which he later sold for fifteen dollars to Howard Livingston, a Salt Lake City merchant.82
That same evening when the party was camped on the Muddy River just north of Fort Bridger, the talk centered around Eph and the day's adventure. Bean notes the occasion:
I was relating to them the exploits of Brother Hanks that day, and how he used to catch his buffalo, by watching the herd come along, then dashing out to shake his blanket at one nearby to attract its attention, then he'd run to the bush to hide behind his blanket, as the buffalo bellowed and plowed into the blanket while Ephraim seated himself on the buffalo. Of course the buffalo shuts his eyes when he strikes. Well, this cowboy could have his bronco ride on the buffalo until he tired, then draw his boa knife from his belt, jab the buffalo in the pons of his neck and old "buffie" would begin to sway, then tumble over helpless, and thus Ephraim got many buffalo robes, meat too, for the big hump made good eating. As I talked, the Emigrants looked at each other smiling and questioning the truth of it all, so I added that the buffalo had a mane to cling to; and just then a bird flew over the fire where Ephraim was frying meat and he threw up his butcher knife, struck the bird, and it fell among them. Of course, that confirmed my stories without a doubt.83
Hunting was not his only forte, for Eph was a fine horseman as well. An entry in the Journal History provides us with an interesting look at his facet of his life. The writer of the narrative was camped six miles below Independence Rock when he saw Eph rope a wild mare, "the fastest and most beautiful animal of the horse kind I ever saw."84 After quieting her down somewhat, Eph dismounted from his animal to work with her at close quarters. At that moment, she whirled and started running again. Eph, not wanting to release his hold on the rope, was "drew half a mile over the sage plains until she was stopped by being chocked (sic) down."85 But still the mare fought Eph, desperately attempting to bite, strike and kick him, but "he fought her by whipping her with a rope until he conquered her and led her in triumph into camp."86
Another story related by Bean concerns a fat bronco mule Eph traded for while traveling with the party. After purchasing the animal, Eph was preparing to ride him when a friend of the mule's former owner remarked to Bean:
If that man is your friend, keep him off that mule, for he throws everything that gets on him and has killed one man while on this trip, and will neither work, ride, nor pack. I said, never mind. If he gets away with Hanks it's all right, for I know the good riding qualities of my friend. Then when Hanks got on that fat bronco mule, it did its very best in bucking and trying to get ride of its rider, using every possible means, but Hanks won out and the mule finally gave up, mastered, and soon became one of the most useful animals on the mail line.87
Courtesy on the trail was an accepted fact for the seasoned traveler. Often a helping hand meant the difference between life and death when traveling the plains. Eph's generosity in helping those on the road and others prompted Kimball to accuse him of being "liberal to a fault."88 Philemon C. Merrill lends support to this statement. In a letter written to Willard Richards while camped at Chimney Rock, Merrill records the following account:
When we arrived at Ft. Laramie, Bro. Ephraim K. Hanks met us and was glad to see us and treated us very kindly. He gave us by way of trade, a span of good fresh mules for two worn out horses and we feel to bless him for his kindness.89
Eph also made many trips to California with the mail. He and Brigham Young counseled together often concerning mail deliveries to both the east and west coasts.90 The church leader evidently had full confidence in Eph's abilities. A letter under signature of the First Presidency of the Mormon Church, written to Congressman Bernhisel in 1850, advocating a monthly mail service to California reads in part:
The mail route from that place [Iron County] to the Cahoon Pass (sic)91 is passable at any season of the year and the name of Ephraim K. Hanks is suggested as a suitable man to have the contract; he is a man eminently qualified for the business being well accustomed to mountain life, Indian habits, etc.92
On March 19, 1853, Eph left Salt Lake City with passenger Franklin Pierce, nephew to the President of the United States, and the mail for Fillmore, Parowan, San Bernardino, San Francisco, Sacramento and San Diego, California.93 When the Sierra Mountain snows were too deep for horses "he also carried mail to California afoot on snow shoes when the snow was six feet deep and more, in the perilous times of Indian troubles, passed right by Lake Tahoe."94
The following entry from Brigham Young's History helps sharpen our appreciation for the unexpected challenges these mounted mailmen constantly faced:
Brother Charles Decker arrived from Laramie with the eastern mail. He had to swim every river between this and Laramie. The mail coach and mules were lost at Ham's Fork, where the mail lay under water from one to seven P.M.; the lead horses were saved by being cut loose. Brother Decker was in the ice water with the mail all the time, and then exhausted, had no resource but to wrap himself in robes and blankets, wet as water could make them, till morning, when he found himself in a free perspiration, fully relieved from the fever he had been laboring under most of the time since he left the city.
Brother Ephraim K. Hanks about the same time had proceeded as far as Bear River with the eastern mail. At Weber River the raft on which he and party crossed was sucked under, forcing them to swim for their lives; the mail was carried down the stream and lay in the water upward to two hours. After a great deal of trouble and at the risk of their lives they secured it, but in bad condition. On reaching Bear River, which was foaming torrent extending from mountain to mountain, they found it impossible to proceed.95
Commenting on these and other courier experiences, B. H. Roberts concludes: "These instances of adventure do not exhaust the list of those encountered by these contractors or those in their service, they are set down only as typical of many that occurred."96
Because Feramorz Little was the only known courier to keep a diary during these years, most of their adventures are regrettably lost to history.