By Jan Lawrence
It was while traveling along the South Platte River that the husband, Mac, suffered his greatest loss of the trip. Like most men of that day, he carried with him his keg of sustaining influence (better known as liquor). The keg was a ten-gallon one, very prized and always carefully protected when the way was particularly rough. Susan noted: “I never believed in the use of liquor in the vulgar sense, but I am sure I never objected to the friendly cup passed at the close of the day when the stress of going had borne too heavily upon our men.” She felt it seemed to lighten the load.
Well, one can imagine the heroic efforts made to secure Mac’s ten-gallon keg of whiskey when the wagon tipped over, crushing it! John L. Crow was nearly killed, being badly injured, but that was not known at first. All eyes saw only one thing…the crushed keg of whiskey, its liquid life refreshing an unappreciative wilderness. Mac told his wife, Susan, home seemed a long way off when that happened. The heroic efforts were only partially rewarded with one gallon of the ten being saved. ‘Better than nothing’ was the prevailing thought.
From Fort Kearny, the wagons crossed the North Platte River on a bridge of very primitive construction, but nevertheless a bridge. Many years later, Susan reflected that she could not bring herself to grumble when traveling across beautifully crafted roads and encountering an unexpected bump.
After crossing the North Platte, they traveled west to Laramie where they stayed a night before continuing. Not far from Laramie, they encountered a blinding sandstorm that made travel impossible. The wagon train stopped, but finally continued on toward Salt Lake.
Each day was filled with its unusual incident of great or small importance. While no one in their immediate train was killed or captured by the Indians, a friend of Susan’s, Mrs. Clement, who had come from another wagon train, was nearly captured by the same band of Indians that took a lady named Franny Kelley and kept her for a long time.
A tumbled-down shack was found near where Mrs. Clement’s party was attacked and there the men were able to hold out against the Indians. The wagon train had been abandoned to seek shelter in the shack. The Indians totally ransacked the wagons, burned them, destroyed the feather beds, scattering feathers to the wind and carried away the ticking. Mrs. Clement’s party was picked up and taken to California by a later train.
Between Laramie and Salt Lake, they crossed the Green River. The cattle had become very tired, but there was no stopover scheduled. Finally, they were forced to lay-over four days on the California side of the Green River.
Again they were forced to stop 106 days on account of Grandpa Crow being stricken with mountain fever. He was very ill, and no one thought he would see California. Still, he did recover, seeing California and live a prosperous life there.
Those 106 days were an anxious time, not only because of Rankin Crow’s illness, but also because of Susan’s pregnancy. Also, John McBee, Jr., Susan’s three-year-old stepson, nearly drowned when the riverbank where he stood collapsed into the whirling stream, but Susan was nearby and able to grab his hand.
The McBee wagon train stopped another four days in Big Canyon, about six miles from Salt Lake. There the Mormons took “for the Lord” four sheep. Mac was driving sheep that belonged to Mr. Brown. He and Brown picked up each other’s strays. Mac explained this to the Mormons who knew he was telling the truth but took the sheep anyway. John L. swore at them but they persisted. The men of the wagon train did have a stray…a big, fine-looking, brown, blind horse they had found swimming aimlessly in the Green River.
The horse could not find the bank, but by talking to it, the men were able to bring him close enough to the bank to throw a rope on. John L. showed the Mormons the horse, told them he was a stray, and dared them to take it. He was fined for swearing but kept the horse.
In August of 1853 they reached Salt Lake. From there they traveled right on toward the summit of the Rocky Mountains. As they reached the summit, the way was very gently slopping and smooth. The only way they knew it was the summit, was the rivers ran west instead of east. So they knew they had reached the Continental Divide.