Saturday, June 18, 2011

Book Review: John Jaques, reminiscenses, from Church History Lbrary

In 1878, 22 years after the Martin Handcart Company, John Jaques wrote a series of newspaper articles which where published in the Salt Lake Herald. As far as I know this was the first published material about the handcart company. They are available through the Church History Library:,16272,4019-1-192,00.html
John Jaques had been the company historian. I have other writings from John Jaques put together by Stella Jaques Bell which I will review at another time.

There are lots of things to like from this article and great quotes. There are a couple of things to not like. John Jaques tries to compare the handcart ordeals to the retreat of Napoleon. That just doesn't work. He also uses the third person when he talks about himself and his own family. I guess he didn't want to sound egotistical, but it causes confusion..

Now for a couple of the good quotes. John Jaques describes the last crossing of the Platte River. "That was a bitter cold day. Winter came on all at once, and that was the first day of it. The river was wide, the current strong, the water exceedingly cold and up to the wagon beds in the deepest parts, and the bed of the river was covered with cobble stones. Some of the men carried some of the women over on their backs or in their arms, but others of the women tied up their skirts and waded through, like heroines as they were, and as they had done through many other rivers and creeks. The company was barely over when snow, hail, and sleet began to fall, accompanied by a piercing north wind, and camp was made on this side of the river."

John Jaques also described the duty of those who dug graves, as well as one particular story. This interests me as Isaac Wardle, my ancestor, helped dig graves for those who passed away. "I have mentioned the generally prevalent abnormal indifference to death and the dead, induced by daily familiarity therewith, in the company. In some, if not all, of the hundreds, men were specially appointed to be grave-diggers, and the feelings of these men would naturally grow more callous than those of others of the emigrants, from usage, as well as from the fact that the exigencies of travel would frequently require the interment of the dead in what, under other circumstances, would be considered indecent haste. But on one occasion, at least, the old sensitiveness or normal nervousness returned and re-asserted itself unexpectedly and suddenly though temporarily, to two of these grave-diggers. One evening, on the other side of Devil's Gate, after the tents had been pitched, these two men dug a grave, buried two corpses in it, and filled it up again, out- side of camp. Scarcely had they finished their work, when some unaccountable, irresistible and uncontrollable nervous impulse simultaneously seized them both. Without saying a word to each other at the time, each shouldered his spade or his pick and ran back to camp as fast as his legs could carry him, or in a popular parlance, as if the very Old Harry were after him. This was the only time, one of those grave-digging and pedestrian Tam O'Shanters subsequently declared, that he ever felt frightened over that part of the camp business." I have found lots of other good quotes. I would recommend that people check out the church history website, and this series of newspaper articles is a good place to start.

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