By Tiffany Taylor
Based on the Writings of James Holt
The following narrative includes excerpts from the journal
of James Holt, a Mormon pioneer, who, with his family, ventured from Nauvoo, Illinois
into Iowa and the Nebraska Territory where they lingering for several years
before continuing on to their final destination of the Salt Lake Valley.
Text in italics comes directly from James Holt’s journal.
The other material, including the pictures, has been added to help illustrate
the Holt’s journey across the Midwest.
Emmett came after me to go with him; he said he had been appointed before
Joseph’s death to choose a few families and travel among the Indians, and to
the Rocky Mountains. Bishop Miller testified to me that Emmett
had been appointed by Joseph as he said, and that he had the privilege of
choosing who he pleased to accompany him, so I concluded to go; he also chose
John Cutler to go with him and he wished us to reveal it to no one, not even
our wives, where we were going, for everything was in such an uproar that he
was afraid a great many would follow, and it might cause suffering. A whole
settlement on bear Creek joined us.
We traveled up the
Iowa River and all met five miles above Kitchen’s
Settlement, which was the highest
settlement at that time on the Iowa River.
Here my wife died and was buried; she left a child about two months old; my
wife died in October and the child soon afterwards. Leander, my eldest son also
died there in November.
The exact location of “Kitchen’s Settlement” is uncertain;
however, the Iowa River runs through central Iowa,
so it is assumed that, if the James Emmett Company was somewhere along the Iowa River, they took a northwesterly course after
leaving Nauvoo. According to the following excerpt, they were still along the Iowa River in 1845.
January first, 1845 we
started again, still traveling up the Iowa
River, about fifty or one hundred miles, where we rested and made sugar. Here
we were visited by Brothers Fullmer and Lyman who
were sent by Brigham Young to stop us from going any farther at present, and
have us go back, as he thought there were too many following us. Here, on the
11th day of February, 1845, I married Parthenia
Resumed our journey in
March and went to Vermillion, a French
trading post, and before arriving the French and Indians saw us and came to
meet us to learn our intentions. After being informed, they escorted us to the fort
where we arrived June 17th. Bennett went about fifteen miles to see
the Indian Chiefs who were drying their Buffalo
meat for their winter’s provisions. They were of the Sioux Nation. After he
told them his business (being able to converse with them in their own tongue)
he returned with seven of their chiefs. One of the chiefs named Henry, who had
been educated in Petersburg
College and had settled
at this place. They brought several bales of dried Buffalo meat as a present, which was very
acceptable and we made a feast for them of the best we had. Emmett gave Chief
Henry the Book of Mormon to read and after he had read the preface and
explained it to his comrades they all gave a great shout for joy; they danced,
sang, shouted and had a joyful time. Emmett asked them why they were so happy;
they told him their great chief, who had died twenty years before, had told
them that the whites would bring them, this very year, the record of their
forefathers, and they had almost forgotten it until he presented them with this
book, and they felt to rejoice. They wished him to stop with them and teach
them to farm. We sent out in a few days and killed two or three loads of
buffalo which helped us in the line of provisions greatly.
Map from http://www.usd.edu/gifs/vermillion/map.gif
The following is from http://www.preserveamerica.gov/PAcommunity-vermillionSD.html:
“Vermillion, is a community of 10,000 atop a bluff on
the Missouri River in the southeastern corner of South Dakota. Its name is derived from the
original Sioux name meaning “red stream.” The junction of the Missouri River
and Vermillion River had for generations been the
camping ground of a band of the Yankton Sioux Indians.
“The present site of Vermillion was first visited by French fur traders at
the close of the 18th century. On August 24, 1804, Lewis and Clark camped at
the mouth of the Vermillion
River and from there made
their trek to Spirit Mound. Afterwards, numerous trappers and fur traders went
up and down the river, and the Columbia Fur Company established a trading post
at the river’s mouth. John James Audubon, the famous artist, visited the
Vermillion ravine in 1843 to enjoy the abundance of bird life.
“On August 8, 1844, the first white settlers to the area were a group of
Mormons seeking a new home after being driven out of Illinois. This group eventually moved down
river near Omaha, and from there they continued
to points west until they arrived in Utah
in July of 1847.”
In the spring we put in garden seeds
and were preparing to plant corn and raise a crop, when John Butler returned
from Nauvoo with James Cummings, bringing word from the Twelve for us to meet
the Church at the Bluffs; so we broke camp and traveled to the Bluffs, where we
met the Church and went about twenty-five miles beyond and camped at Keg Creek; some of the Brethren went
down the Missouri to work for corn; we obtained a load or two and were ready to
return with it to our families when word came for us to hurry up and join
George Miller’s Company which was waiting for us, ready to proceed to the Rocky
Mountains; we got our families and crossed the Missouri River, joining Miller’s
company, and were making for Pawnee, a
trading station, but learned that the men had all been driven out by the
Indians; we started to return when the men fell in which our company. Brother
Miller promised to haul their effects. The day before we were to arrive at the
station the men went on ahead to arrange things at the fort for our reception.
About noon Emmett came to me and said he was impressed that something would
happen to those men and wished to get my horse and overtake them. He went on to
the fort and found the Indians collected to kill them. He told the men to make
a feast for the Indians and treat them well and they would not harm them until
he could go back to camp and return with help. He reached camp about one
o’clock at night and called for a few men to go with him to the fort
immediately; about twenty-five or thirty responded including myself; it was
about fifteen miles to the fort. It was a perilous time, women were clinging to
their husbands and trying to prevail upon them not to leave them in their
dangerous position, but we commended them to the Lord and departed on foot and
arrived at the fort by the first glimmer of dawn. We found the Indians asleep
in a circle around their campfire; we surrounded them and pointed our guns at
them ready to fire at a given signal. Emmett spoke to the chief and he arose
with the well known, ‘Ugh,’ at which the Indians all arose; finding themselves in
a trap, they shook hands all around, led by their chief, and silently took
their departure. We now went back and met our teams which had been hitched up
by the men and women of the company and arrived at the fort during the day.
Keg Creek, Iowa
Photograph near Keg Creek, Iowa,. Tiffany Taylor, 2005.
The Keg Creek settlement was located in Keg Creek
Township. The original
Keg Creek Surveyor's Record reads as follows:
“Keg Creek Township
“T. 74 N. R. 42 W.
“The exterior survey was made in August 1851 and the subdivision survey
in November of the same year. John Cassidy, Deputy Surveyor with William Cassiday Asst. Surveyor had the following crew: James Shilledy and Thomas B. Gostage, Chairmen, Joshua E. Roberts, axeman, and John E. Shelledy, flagman. Cassiday's notes of the Township follows:
The surface of the Township is generally
broken although there is some land that is well adapted to farming with third
rate soil. There is no timber in the Township except at Highland Grove and that
is but little and principally cut down to make improvements at that place and
even the tops of that used for rails is built into a fence on the west of the
grove to secure the crops from the depredation of stock. There is seven
residents in the grove with about 150 acres of improvements which on the north
and east of the grove appear to be held in common and would be as follows two
settlers on the south 1/2 Sec. 18, from settlers on the NE 1/4 Sec. 19 and one
on S 1/2 Sec. 19. There is some springs and abundance of still water in every
part of the Township. Keg Creek, the principal stream affords abundance of
water to drive machinery of any kind if needed but the scarcity of timber
forbids any but a sparse population and that to be engaged in stock raising. The roads in the Township are on the divides and
good. The principal travel to Canesville and Traders
Point go through it (Mormon Trail). No appearance of rock or coal. There is an
improvement and house on west 1/2 Sect. 21 but no residents.
“Mr. Cassiday reports a road leading north from
HIghland Grove across Sec. 7 and into Sec 6 but does
not report its leaving SEc.
6. When Hardin Tonwship (75 N-42 W) was subdivided
Deputy Surveyor Baumgardner showed a road which he
called Kanesville road coming out of Sec. 31 and
bearing NE across Secs. 29, 28, 27 and 26 through a
settlement of Corbins and Fields as it is assumed
that this road enters Sec. 6 of Keg Creek Township on the north one threaded
south to Highland Grove settlement where it forms the Psga
road to Kanesville. The account is given of a road
leading North from Sec. 14 through Sec. 11 and into Sec. 2.
“When Mr. Cassiday made his survey of Silver
Creek Township T 14 N. R 421 he made reference to crossing a brok between Secs. 7 and 15 which
crossed the west line of SEc. 18, however he makes no
reference to that stream in his survey of this Township. This stream flows into
west fork of Silver Creek in Sec. 24 and is noted by dotted lines.”
"The general history of this township is that of Silver Creek up to
[October 14,] 1873, when it was cut out of that township." It was given
its name when some early settlers found several kegs of whiskey hidden in the
willows along the banks of the creek running through the area." (History of Pottawattamie County, Iowa,
"KEG CREEK . Thought to have been at a site at headwaters of Keg Creek
when post office established, about 7 miles northwest of Treynor,
5 miles south of McClelland (SE/SE Sec. 29, Hardin Twp. 75N, R42W), but later
on the creek itself at a site 7 miles southwest of Treynor
(SW Sec. 21, Keg Creek Twp. 74N, R42W). Established August 3, 1874, Henry F. Mudge; closed August 16, 1875; reopened January 4, 1880;
closed November 28, 1881; reopened December 14, 1881, Mrs. Lucy A. Carson (Mrs.
James D. Carson); closed February 28, 1883; reopened February 11, 1892, Rasmus Campbell; discontinued February 9, 1899." (Ghost Towns of Iowa, 375)
Pawnee Camp, Iowa
“A few members of the Brigham Young, Heber C. Kimball, George Miller/James
Emmett companies stayed at the Pawnee
Station which is a few miles west of current day Genoa, Nebraska
instead of going to the Ponca Camp
in current day Niobrara, Nebraska. They arrived in August of 1846 and were recalled to Winter Quarters,
arriving there in October, 1846.” (“Pawnee Camp,” Winter Quarters Archive, Brigham Young University,
We stayed here about
two weeks, harvested grain and were ready to start, when a dispute arose as to
the leadership; we had been increased by two companies; one led by Kimball and one
called ‘Brigham’s Company.’ Miller wished to have the honor of being chief
captain because he had started first. Some of the brethren wrote to Brigham at
the Bluffs to settle the dispute, who advised us not to go further this
seasons, but to find a suitable place and winter and he would advise us farther
in the spring. We camped at the mouth of the Puncaw River,
and built shanties to winter in.
Niobrara sunrise, photograph courtesy of Pamela C. Johnson
It is assumed that what James Holt referred
to as “Puncaw” was actually a reference to the
aforementioned “Ponca Camp in current day Niobrara,
In the summer of 1846 the James Emmett Company was merged
into George Miller's Company. Most of the Emmett Company remained with Miller
and went to Ponca. Lyman Hinman and Gardner Potter went with Jacob Gates to Pawnee Camp.
Companies organized by Brigham Young, and Heber C. Kimball
at the Cold Springs Camp joined combined with Miller's Company and became the
advance party for the Church. They were told to stop and find a place to
winter. After considering their options, a High Council headed by George Miller
voted to go north to winter with the Ponca
(also commonly spelled as Punca, Puncaw,
Tribe on the Niobrara
(Running Water, Swift Water) River. They arrived in August of 1846 left in
April of 1847.
The group then reportedly moved back to the bluffs in 1847.
According to Allen Russell: "We (the Punckaw Camp) settled on a
little creek about 3 miles west of Winter Quarters, where the main body of the saints were located. Before we reached there,
the Pioneers had started for the west with President Brigham Young, at their
Camp, or part of the camp, stopped there and raised our crops and some went to other
places. We raised good crops of what little seed we had. In the summer, we cut
hay for Winter, hauled logs and made log cabins to
Monument to Mormon pioneers, Niobrara, Nebraska, photograph courtesy of Pamela C. Johnson
It would appear from the information given
that Ponca Camp was indeed located
near present-day Niobrara, Nebraska. Interestingly, the 1880 Johnson's
History of Nebraska includes an entry for a town named Ponca which was the county seat of Dixon County.
This present-day town is situated along the Missouri River and is 72.9 miles
It is thus assumed that the site of Ponca
Camp was where another town of Ponca,
Nebraska is currently situated in Knox County,
only 4.8 miles from Niobrara.
(Town information provided by Microsoft Streets and Trips, 2005)
For interest's sake, an excerpt from the Johnson's History of Nebraska, by
Harrison Johnson (Omaha: Henry Gibson, 1880) is included.
"The County Seat [of Dixon County], is situated at the confluence
of the west and south branches of Ayoway Creek, in
the northeastern part of the County, and is at present the terminus of the Convington, Columbus and Black Hills Railroad. It derives
its name from the Ponca Indians, who, in recent years, roamed over the hills
and plains in this vicinity. Since the advent of the railroad, in 1877, the
town has made wonderful improvement, and its business has more than doubled. Three years ago it was a village of three or four hundred
inhabitants; to-day it has eight hundred, and is the largest and most
flourishing town in this part of the State. It has two good weekly
newspapers, the Courier and Journal, a commodious Court House, excellent school
and Church advantages, and business houses representing the various lines of
trade." (page 331)
The grain we brought
from Pawnee Fort was not divided up.
Six bushels of corn, forty pounds of flour and a few oats fell to my share. Our
method of preparing our grain, was to pound it in a mortar, the corn we parched
and then pulverized in the mortar; we tried many things too; in order to
sustain life; even to make biscuit of Elm Bark, but it was a poor substitute;
we were poisoned from eating Gar eggs, and concluded they were not food for
The next spring,
Brigham sent word for us to come back to the Bluffs. We were now without
provisions and Emmett took a horse and started on ahead to obtain means to get
provisions; he agreed to meet us at a certain place, but did not until we got
to Mousquite Creek, near our journey’s end and we
suffered greatly for want of food, but by hunting wild animals and fowls, we
were kept from starving.
When James Holt mentioned “Mosquite
Creek,” he was probably referring to the Latter-day Saint settlement at
Mosquito Creek in Pottawattamie County Iowa. The location of the settlement is
illustrated on the map below.
Photograph near location of Mosquito Creek settlement,
Tiffany Taylor, 2005
The sketches below are by Matthew Chatterley and are
featured in the book The Iowa Mormon
Trail: Legacy of Faith and Courage, edited by Susan Easton Black and
William G. Hartley.
The image on the left is of the Mormon Battalion Ball,
supposedly held near Mosquito Creek in 1846.
The sketch on the right is of the Mosquito Creek
At the Bluffs our
company was broken up. Emmett and a few of us went down on the Waupensee Creek and took up farms, in Fremont County, Iowa, we sowed
buckwheat, planted potatoes and raised a crop.
My first child by my wife Parthenia died on the 10th of August 1847. We remained here for several years
and began to accumulate means. There was all manner of wild fruit, grape,
raspberry, blackberry, mulberry, strawberry and nuts of all kinds that would
grow in cold climate, a great amount of wild game, deer, elk, coon, turkeys and
other fouls, fish, honey bees, all kinds of timber.
The "Waupensee Creek" James Holt wrote
about was actually Wabonsie Creek. Wabonsie Lake
cane been seen in the map of Scott Township, Fremont
County, Iowa below.
James and Parthenia
Overton gave birth to a son, James Overton Holt, on 8 October 1848. The baby's
birth record lists him as being born in Bartlett, Fremont, Iowa.
(“Family Data Collection,” www.ancestry.com) Thus, it is assumed
that the family lived in the town of Barlett,
shown below in Scott
Map from the 1875 Atlas of Fremont County,
The Church went on to the
Rocky Mountains, the first company arriving in Salt Lake Valley July 24th,
1847, led by Brigham Young, who was now installed as President, with Willard
Richards and Heber C. Kimball as his counselors and others chosen to fill their
places in the Twelve.
Iowa was a very
unhealthy place, my family was sick a great part of the time and I was
afflicted with the flu.
In the Spring of 1852 I made calculations to go to Salt Lake
Valley; I tried to sell
my place but could only get three hundred and fifty dollars for it. We started
about the middle of July and went to Keg
Creek, about eight miles, left some of my stock and my three oldest
children here to care for them and I expected to return the next morning, but
having a presentiment that something would happen I unloaded and started back
about dark and arrived there before dawn and learned that William had fallen
from the back of the oxen and broken his arm which was set by those who had
bought the place. Started back to Keg Creek, taking the children and all my effects and arrived
before night. Started again in a day or two and went as far as Mousquite, where
I stopped about a week waiting for one Dr. William Isaac Smith to join us, as
he wished to travel with us as company as far as possible on account of sickness,
he was not a Mormon and was going to California. We were joined by a Brother
Levi and family, being then only three families. We crossed the Missouri River
on the 27th day of July and arrived in two days at Ash Hollow; the
next day we traveled only seven miles and next day July 31st my son,
born, and next day we continued our journey. One day we were met by about five
hundred Indians who blocked the road, but seeing our small number and thinking
we were brace, divided and let us pass through; they spread their blankets; we
gave them flour, sugar, coffee and a few other things we could spare; some of
them followed us for a day or two and helped drive our cattle.
We finally reached
Salt Lake Valley and went about forty-five miles north of Salt Lake City, to
the bend of the Weber River, arriving there on the 27th day of
October 1852, having been just three months on the way.
Journal excerpts are from Maurine Winsor Farnsworth Thompson, James and Mary Pain (Payne) Holt, James and Parthenia Overton Holt: Ancestors and Descendants (1995),