Thursday, September 4, 2014

Fighting Jungleer: Harry Van De Riet, Jr.

Harry Van De Riet, Jr. served in the Army in World War II, fighting in the Pacific, mostly on New Guinea.  My Grandma LaVonne was his adoring little sister and she loved to tell stories about both Harry and also their brothers Jack and Ray, who served in the Air Force.
Ray, Harry Jr., and Jack Van De Riet

Tough guys are heroes in this family, and Harry was a tough guy.  He even looked tough: dark, tall and muscular, with one brown eye and one blue eye.  (Does that sound like a villain on a James Bond movie?)  Luckily he was also handsome and charming.  For his future wife, Irene, it was love at first sight when she saw him in his uniform.  (Well, second sight.  The two were babies together but their families hadn't kept in contact.)  The feeling was mutual but the couple agreed not to wed until Harry returned safely.

Irene and Harry Jr., March 4, 1945
Harry did indeed return, but not without some major close calls with kingdom come.  He came home bearing serious internal injuries, shrapnel, numerous medals and ribbons, a Japanese pistol and binoculars, and an ancient Samurai Sword won in mortal combat.

On the Pacific front, very bluntly, the main objective was to kill.  They got on those little islands and there wasn't really much of a system for taking prisoners, for either the Allies or the Japanese.  With that in mind, one day Harry was out in the jungle.  Possibly for reconnaissance, possibly hunting down any Japanese soldiers on the island, probably being hunted himself.  He looked up and saw a pistol pointed right to his forehead, held by a lone Japanese officer. (Harry could tell he was an officer, possibly high-ranking because only those with rank were allowed to carry regalia such as swords).  The pistols used by the Japanese army were infamous for misfiring, and sure enough, when the officer pulled the trigger on Harry, he heard a click and another click.  Harry reacted, knocking the pistol away and grappling with the soldier in hand-to-hand combat.  He was able to kill the man, breaking his neck.

Harry took the malfunctioning pistol, a small pair of binoculars that have since been lost, and the sword, because "He wouldn't be needing it anymore."

At some point during Harry's service, he received a stab wound to the left (brown) eye socket between the skull and eye, and also a defensive wound on his hand that left a raised, half-moon scar.  It is possible that he got either of those wounds in this fight (although Harry did keep the officer from drawing his sword).  The eye wound was serious and for a while it was thought that he would lose the eye.  The big question was, would he get another brown eye or a blue one to match?  The eye wound was stitched with a blond hair on the battlefield, the story goes that it was from a nurse, but Harry's daughter doesn't think there would have been female nurses in that situation, so maybe it was a restitch job that got the blond hair.  Medical supplies were notably short on New Guinea, so...

The men weren't really supposed to take souvenirs but many did.  Harry actually did make it legal by acquiring permission from the army to keep the sword, and his family holds the release document. Until the paperwork came through, though, it was a bit of a trick to have such a showy item.  He somehow managed to keep it hidden or maybe just wasn't challenged about it, until it was time to ship out.

The story goes that there was a commanding officer who was a bit green (perhaps a little unsure of himself) who had charge of Harry's unit.  The men had to stand at attention for several hours while they waited to board a ship.  This CO used the time to inspect the men.  Harry, aware that this might happen, had shoved the sword down his pant leg to hide it.  It wasn't a very good job, and the CO barked at him "Whatever you've got in there, take it out and throw it over there on the pile."  Harry stuck out his chest and told him in a threatening voice, "You can get this the same way I got it..."  The CO chose to ignore him, kept walking, and Harry and sword were off scot-free.

The sword was so sharp that Harry passed the time on the boat home purposely dulling it down.  When he got home he put the sword in the safekeeping of his father Harry Sr. and then he was off to Fort Lewis, Washington for another year of active duty.

Some years later, Harry was contacted by a federal official who told him that the family of the Japanese soldier wanted their sword back, and they were willing to pay a million dollars for it.  However..., the official claimed, Harry was not allowed to have any contact with the Japanese--he would have to give this man the sword and then the man would get him his money.  Harry told the Fed that he was willing to return the sword, but that he would only give it to the Japanese family personally.  The matter was dropped.  Good for you, Harry, sounds like a great big scam to me.  If you are wondering how anyone could have known Harry had the sword--the Army did have documentation that Harry had it.  As far as the Japanese family tracking him down, it's a stretch, but it's a slight possibility that Harry might have retrieved the Japanese officer's dog tags and turned them in with the documentation for the sword.  Seems pretty bogus though.  Also, as the current owner mentions, what would be the ramifications of returning such an item? In Japanese culture it may be considered a shameful or dishonorable thing to have war bounty returned.  It would only highlight that their family member was defeated.

The writing on the shank is only visible when the handle is removed.
Is it worth a million dollars?  Intrinsically, no.  As a family or historical artifact, though, it is priceless, especially since the Japanese characters for the successive owners, probably passed father to son, are inscribed on the shank.  The markings date back to possibly the 1600s.  Harry had a Japanese professor who worked at the GSA (General Services Administration) in Auburn, WA, examine the sword, and he couldn't translate the characters all the way back to the first owner because the language had evolved enough over that time to make them indecipherable to a reader of modern Japanese.

Is it a Samurai sword?  Yes.  Here is how wikipedia.com describes a "Samurai" sword, or "katana".

"Historically, katana were one of the traditionally made Japanese swords that were used in feudal Japan, also commonly referred to as a "samurai sword".  Modern versions of the katana are sometimes made using non-traditional materials and methods.

The katana is characterized by its distinctive appearance: a curved, slender, single-edged blade with a circular or squared guard and long grip to accommodate two hands. It has historically been associated with the samurai of feudal Japan."  (wikipedia "katana" if you'd like to see the example photo.) 

So, history detectives...how does our sword compare?  Curved, slender single-edge blade? Check.  Circular guard?  Check.  Long grip for two hands?  Check.  Dates from feudal Japan?  Check.  I think we can safely call it a Samurai sword.  It is also very beautiful.  The light areas on the handle are covered in cream/pinkish seed pearls. 
Can you see the hero worship on their faces?  My brother Jake Haynes and two of his handsome sons.
Did Harry have to use the sword?  No, he didn't use it, but there are blood stains on the blade.

Two other stories from the front.

Harry was involved in a terrible jeep wreck.  Either the jeep was bombed, or drove over a land mine or was hit by a mortar shell.  Harry received some bad internal injuries.  They fixed him up as best as they could there, but when after he had been home for a short while, and married, he got sick and had to have his kidney removed.  His spleen was so bad that although the doctors left it in, they told him that if he jerked quick, like accidentally stepping off a curb or something, it could rupture.  He was discharged.  A few years later, it did rupture, and Harry got peritonitis.  He had to have it out, along with half of his stomach.

Harry's unit took part in the Battle of Buna-Gona, back on New Guinea, November 1942-January 1943.    It was a battle drawn out over a matter of months, and included three major skirmishes.  For an in-depth article about this battle on Wikipedia, click here



This picture of  3 Americans casualties at Buna-Gona was actually the first photograph of Americans dead on the battlefield to be published (LIFE, 20 Sept 1943), authorized by FDR, who thought we were becoming too complacent over cost of human life.  (From Wikipedia.)


Buna-Gona was notably bad.  Conditions were horrible: a difficult, swampy jungle environment, lack of food and medicine (that would rapidly disintegrate in the humidity, anyway) and ammunition, disease, even some evidence of cannibalism for both the Allies and the Japanese (who had basically been


abandoned there but were determined to defend their post).  Foxholes and bunkers filled up with water.
The men at the front in New Guinea were perhaps among the most wretched-looking soldiers ever to wear the American uniform. They were gaunt and thin, with deep black circles under their sunken eyes. They were covered with tropical sores. ... They were clothed in tattered, stained jackets and pants. ... Often the soles had been sucked off their shoes by the tenacious, stinking mud. Many of them fought for days with fevers and didn't know it. ... Malaria, dengue fever, dysentery, and, in a few cases, typhus hit man after man. There was hardly a soldier, among the thousands who went into the jungle, who didn't come down with some kind of fever at least once.[75]

One of the generals involved, General Eichelberger, likened the casualties at Buna-Gona to the statistics of a Civil War battle, instead of one in World War II.  From wikipedia:
In his book, Our Jungle Road to Tokyo written in 1950, Eichelberger wrote, "Buna was...bought at a substantial price in death, wounds, disease, despair, and human suffering. No one who fought there, however hard he tries, will ever forget it." Fatalities, he concluded, "closely approach, percentage-wise, the heaviest losses in our Civil War battles." He also commented, "I am a reasonably unimaginative man, but Buna is still to me, in retrospect, a nightmare. This long after, I can still remember every day and most of the nights."[87]
Lucky for Harry, his regiment, the 163rd of the 41st Infantry, were the reinforcements that were finally called

in January, "fresh from Australia", so hopefully he avoided the worst of the suffering.  (Although, I'm pretty sure I remember my Dad mentioning once that Harry had to eat monkeys.  Wonder if it was during this period?)  The 163rd "took over the two roadblocks and relieved the Australians".  It was on a detail while defending the Huggins Roadblock that Harry earned either his Silver Star for Gallantry in Action or his Campaign Service Medal, for service in an emergency situation.  Here is the description of the incident taken from 41st Infantry Division, Fighting Jungleers II.  Pardon the military shorthand--we'll try to make some sense of it.


  I Co. 163 Inf Storms Perimeter U

On 15 Jan. Nips got mad at us.  Sent up the trail from Huggins 200 yards to salvage a blitz buggy,[a jeep], a 1/pln squad walked into a Jap MG [Machine Gun] sighted on the buggy.  We dived off in all directions.  S/Sgt Van De Riet fell into a hole beside an old Jap Corpse, but did not mind the company.
With 2/Lt John Olson and Sgt Whitehorn, Van De Riet pulled us all back to safety.
     Back at Huggins, most of I Co. fearfully regarded a tall dead jungle tree with only a few green vines up its trunk.  Invisible except from a side view, a Jap sniper still hung by his safety rope.  Meanwhile, we worked on Sanananda Road again. And a large "I" detail also helped dig up the few Yank dead at Musket, to rebury them in a more suitable place.  The memory of this horror of corpses stayed with us in the next days of combat.
When Harry's daughter was describing this story to me, she mentioned Harry's recoil when remembering the maggots and the smell.  (She also described the whole incident as a "squirmish" instead of a "skirmish", which is one of the best Freudian slips I've ever heard.)  One location in the Buna-Gona Battle was in fact nicknamed "Maggot Beach" because of all the rotting bodies.  On New Guinea, Harry received a battlefield commission (Sergeant) and was sent to two weeks of officer's training in Australia. I don't know if it was before or after this incident, but the book here describes him as S/Sgt.

Some members of the family have heard a story that at the moment Harry was awarded one of his medals he reached up and plucked an emerging piece of shrapnel from his temple and tossed it.  Harry's daughter does not think he had shrapnel at his temple, but he did have it in other places on his body.  She also thinks that the Silver Star would have come in the mail to his home.  This version actually makes more sense of the shrapnel story.  I imagine Harry opening the official missive in front of his family (including his little sister who became my grandmother, who passed on the story) and tossing the shrapnel as an exclamation point, much to everyone's amusement.

Harry's wife Irene wrote that after they got engaged, when Harry was safely back on American soil, "[he] went back to Montana, to rest and relax, he saddled up his horse Chief, two packhorses and went up in to the mountains and spent some time by himself."

Chief, I hope you were an easy ride and a soothing companion for this warrior returned.

SOURCES:

Personal Visits and Interviews with Harry's children

41st Infantry Division Association.  41st Infantry Division:  Fighting Jungleers II.  Turner Publishing Company.  1997.

“Battle of Buna-Gona” Wikipedia: The Free Encyclopedia. Wikimedia Foundation, Inc., date last updated (28 August 2014). Web. Date accessed (28 Aug. 2014). http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Battle_of_Buna_Gona.

 “Katana.” Wikipedia: The Free Encyclopedia. Wikimedia Foundation, Inc., date last updated (28 August 2014). Web. Date accessed (28 Aug. 2014). http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Katana

 Van De Riet, Irene.  "Life with Harry". Manuscript. Van De Riet Family History Binder.  Compiled by Sheila Jackman, 2002.  Privately held by Jaclyn Day.





Friday, July 25, 2014

A Ponca Winter Saint: D. Newell Drake

D. Newell Drake[1]  (1819-1879) was an early member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints. When he was a young father, he found himself in an overturned world. Joseph Smith the Prophet had been murdered.  Thousands of people were in flux, forced from their beautiful city Nauvoo, Illinois.  Most, including Newell, chose to follow the prophet Brigham Young, pioneering across the plains to what would become Utah.

Newell’s pioneer experience really illustrates the learning curve of an entire people trying to figure out just what it means to follow a Prophet of God.  His story is unusual and deserves a full telling, particularly of the winter he spent with a small group of Saints among the Ponca Indians.
D. Newell Drake, II.  Utah Pioneer.

Before the Journey

At some point in Newell’s childhood, probably around 1826,[2] the Drake family had decided to move “west” from eastern New York to Ohio, and then to Illinois around 1835,[3] the rest of their large clan (Newell’s mother was one of 13 siblings) remaining in Vermont or New York, (save one Aunt Sally who also came to Ohio).[4]  Perhaps this already-established separation from the family greased the wheels a bit when, years later, they made another huge life change—joining the church and then moving much further west.  One notable exception was Newell’s elder sister Diantha Drake Barnes.  She had married in Trumbull County, Ohio in 1835 and remained there with her husband, eventually moving to Michigan.[5]  The Barnes’ did not join the Mormon faith.

Newell joined the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints at age 22, in the spring of 1841.  Genealogy records online indicate that his little brother Orson might have joined as early as 1839, but other accounts indicate that the entire family (Daniel Sr., Patience, Newell, Sarah, Orson and Horace) joined together in either March or May of ‘41.[6]  Newell was baptized in La Harpe, Illinois, just weeks within the establishment of a branch of the church there.[7]  As far as I can tell, both of Newell’s parents were the only members from each of their families, which may not have even been religious in the first place—Daniel Sr. and Patience had been married by a Justice of the Peace instead of a minister of any particular church.[8]

From Church History in the Fulness of Times Manual
The Drakes had moved to La Harpe, Illinois, in Hancock County (about 25 miles east of Nauvoo) sometime around 1835[9], the same year as sister Diantha’s Ohio marriage.   La Harpe had no special connection to the church until about four years later, 1839, when dislocated Saints from Missouri, particularly Erastus Bingham Sr., moved there.[10]  In other words, the Drakes were there a few years before the Mormons arrived.  

 La Harpe is described by church historian Donald Q. Cannon as one of several “’missionary towns’ in Illinois—places where the Saints lived among nonmembers, whom they hoped to convert to the gospel”.[11]  This plan apparently worked for the Drakes, although the Saints never became a majority in the town. [12]  Erastus Bingham was the earliest Mormon settler there and did much missionary work, also a man named Zenos Gurley.  Either of these two men could have been the missionary that taught and baptized the family, but regardless of who performed the ordinances, Bingham particularly was to play a significant role throughout Newell’s life, always seeming to be present at the turning points.  He served as his ecclesiastical leader[13] and eventually became Newell’s stepfather[14] after Daniel Sr. died in Utah, and was Newell's longtime neighbor in Utah.  (Bingham's original pioneer cabin-- that would have neighbored Newell's-- is on display at Lagoon's Pioneer Village in Farmington, Utah.)  

Erastus Bingham
Newell was married in La Harpe to Cynthia Parker Johnson on 4 Jan 1844.[15]  He was 24, she was 19.  They took up residence with or near the family and by the end of the year had a baby girl, Lucy.[16]

For the young Drake family, life was just beginning and this could have been a time of peace and prosperity.  Instead, it became a time of tumult, growth, and hard choices.  Unfortunately, Newell did not leave a journal or memoir, so we don’t know his day to day thoughts, motives, or activities.  The best we can do is piece together possibilities of what might have happened from the facts that we do know.  Luckily, several of his contemporaries did keep descriptive records of their common experience.

On 27 June 1844, the Prophet Joseph was martyred.  In August, Brigham Young and the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles were sustained in a General Conference as leaders of the church.  We don’t know if Newell attended this conference, after all, La Harpe was 25 miles away from Nauvoo.  What’s important to note is that he continued to support the church leaders by his actions, confirming that he was in agreement with the decision.

The year after the prophet was killed, the Saints were busy trying to complete the Nauvoo Temple.  They also continued to face persecution.  Once again, I don’t know how likely it is that Newell helped in the temple construction because he was not that close to Nauvoo—unless he had moved there.  Neither does it seem that he nor his parents or siblings received their endowments there, once it was finished.[17]  It is possible, however, that the Drakes did in fact move to Nauvoo for this interim.  One history of Erastus Bingham claims that the Saints living around Carthage (this would include La Harpe) were exceedingly nervous of mob violence after Joseph was martyred, and so, the Binghams moved to the opposite side of Nauvoo in the spring of 1845.[18]  Their neighbors the Drakes might have done the same, although we don’t know exactly where they might have stayed for that last year the Saints were in Illinois. 

As far as evidence of persecution that might have threatened the Drake family directly, there is one story of note. A mob in La Harpe threatened a prominent church member, a miller, Lewis Rice Chaffin, when they found him secretly grinding grain for other members of the church in the dark of night. 

“If you grind a grain of flour for the Mormons, we will blow your brains out!” Chaffin replied: “Let me grind my own toll.” The mob retorted with taunts and foul language, but they left him to grind all the grain he had brought.”[19]

Iowa Crossing and the Ponca Camp

By February of 1846, the forced exodus was underway, the slow and arduous first-leg of the journey west, across Iowa, was ahead.  We don’t know what company Newell was aligned with for certain or what the circumstances of his Iowa crossing were, but it is possible to have a pretty good theory based on where he ended up that winter, and with whom. 

Newell probably traveled in company with his former church leader, Erastus Bingham, who at one point (timelines conflict a bit here, probably because things were being constantly reorganized) was made Captain of One Hundred in the Daniel Spencer/Ira Eldredge Company.[20]  The pioneers were governed into smaller and smaller segments modeled after the organization of the ancient Israelites, Captain of Ten being the smallest. It is likely that Newell was in Bingham’s division because
            1)of his previous and future associations with him
            2)they both were among a small group who wintered at Ponca Camp
            3)also because Newell’s parents and brothers later continued to Salt Lake in this same Daniel Spencer Company.[21] 

At this point it might be helpful to show a timeline of the forces and events that were affecting Newell’s family, drawn from well-established church history and also accounts of his siblings and other travelers who were closely aligned with Newell, such as Erastus Bingham, Joseph Holbrook, Anson Call, Newel Knight, and David Miller.


February 1846
Wagons start to cross the frozen Mississippi from Nauvoo.

Spring (March?)1846

Crossing the Mississippi

The Drake family, which includes Newell’s parents and siblings, crosses the Mississippi.[22]  Horace Drake claims that the family crossed at Fort Madison,[23] which is actually about 9 miles upriver from Nauvoo.  They progress slowly across muddy Iowa with the main body of the Saints.

12 June 1846

Miller vanguard








The Camp of Israel (Brigham Young’s name for the main body of travelers, which would have included Newell) is camped at Mt. Pisgah, about 2/3 of the way across Iowa.  Brigham Young is dissatisfied with the slow progress and creates a small well-equipped company of 32 wagons, under Bishop George Miller, to push ahead across the Missouri River (the Iowa border) with the intent to improve roads and bridges, locate campsites, collect firewood,[24] and continue to the Rockies. 
 We first meet George Miller, who becomes a bit of a villain in our story, in Section 124 of the Doctrine and Covenants, given in 1841.  At that time he is described as “without guile” and that he may be “trusted because of the integrity of his heart”.  He was called to be a bishop and accomplished many noteworthy things that built the kingdom.[81]  Like some others, though, in the end he struggled with fully accepting the rightful leadership of Brigham Young, disagreeing or disapproving of his decisions.  He was disfellowshipped not long after Newell safely arrived in Utah.  George Miller did not complete the journey, landing in various apostate groups in Texas, Wisconsin, Michigan, and finally back to Illinois.[82]
George Miller

Newell witnessed Bishop Miller’s downfall up close and personal.  Throughout the crossing of Iowa in 1846 Miller repeatedly disobeyed Brigham Young, pushing ahead with his small company and separating from the main body of pioneers.  I hope that Newell was not part of Miller’s company, but I don’t know when or with whom he crossed Iowa, although if I had to guess I’d put him with Erastus Bingham once again.  What I do know is that Newell Drake’s, Erastus Bingham’s, and Bishop Miller’s stories intersect at a place called the Ponca Camp.

 About the same time, a Presbyterian mission at a Pawnee village 114 miles further across the river in Nebraska is attacked by Sioux raiders.  With Brigham Young’s permission, the Presbyterians hire Bishop Miller’s advance company to go to the mission and retrieve belongings, etc.[25]  This chain of events directly affects Newell and his family. 

Early July 1846

Mormon Battalion recruited

Horace Drake
The Camp of Israel (includes the Drakes) has completed the Iowa crossing and camps at Council Bluffs on the Missouri, a site where Lewis and Clark had held “council” with the Indians about their journey upriver about forty years earlier. The Mormon Battalion is recruited and mustered here.  We know the Drakes are present because Newell’s little brother Horace Drake tries to enlist but is denied due to a bad arm.  Daniel Sr. does not allow little brother Orson to join without Horace.[26]  I don’t know why Newell does not enlist. (I suppose, then, that maybe there is a small case here for his association with the Miller group or some other distant task force—additionally, one member of the Miller group later reported that Miller did not even inform them about the call for troops, making it too late to enlist when they did find out since they were deep into Nebraska at the time.[27])

16 July 1846

Heber and Brigham companies

Brigham Young announces that another, larger group should be sent ahead into Nebraska to join the Miller company.  This larger group consists of a company of 68 wagons recruited by him (Brigham Young) and a group of 73 recruited by Heber Kimball.[28]  The Drakes[29] and Erastus Bingham were part of this 68, called Brigham’s Co.[30] (although Brigham Young was not traveling with them.) The rest of the saints would make temporary settlements, stopping the time being in the Council Bluffs/Winter Quarters area on the Missouri. 

1 August 1846

Loup Fork

After having journeyed into Nebraska along the Platte, Brigham’s Co. and Heber’s Co. and join Miller’s Co. at Loup Fork, near the Pawnee mission, making about 200 wagons and 600 people[31].  Also having joined the group was the “rogue” company of James Emmett, lately arrived from their Fort Vermillion, South Dakota, where several saints had basically been duped into moving west before the directive was given, by Emmett, who was kind of a hot-shot frontiersman.  (Church leaders had traveled to South Dakota and requested that the members there accept rebaptism as a token of their loyalty to the Twelve.)[32] Miller and Emmett together were a disaster waiting to happen, neither in open rebellion but both on the verge and full of their own grand ideas.

7-9 August 1846

High Council formed

Invited to Ponca lands

A message arrives bringing new orders from Brigham Young to form a High Council of Twelve with George Miller as President (thankfully, the council also included Erastus Bingham, Newel Knight, Anson Call, Joseph Holbrook and others, and notably, no one from James Emmett's South Dakota company).  The Council was told to make arrangements to winter in the area and to use their own judgment how to prepare for winter.[33]
 
This decision was not without drama.  George Miller was not happy about Brigham Young’s directive to stop forward progress and wanted to disregard the order.[34]  (Although the Holbrook account says there was “a good spirit with the brethren as to their duty”.[35]) The company tarried for three days discussing and deciding what to do.[36]   Ultimately it was up to the High Council and their unanimous vote although the blame of the decision somewhat erroneously falls on Miller. 

White Eagle and Chief Standing Bear were Ponca youths when the Mormons wintered near their tribe.  (Photo from firstpeople.us)
In the midst of the considerations, a chance visit from some traveling Ponca (or Puncaw) Indians offered a surprising new opportunity. The Indians warned them that they were not in a safe place because of warring Pawnee and Sioux. The Poncas were kind and the Chief, aware that the Saints were refugees having been driven out of the States,[38] invited them to camp for the winter “three sleeps” away near their home at Running Water or Swift Water Fork (the Niobrara River, tributary to the Missouri) where there was plenty of water, wood, and feed for the stock that they were welcome to.[39]

At this point Erastus Bingham stood up on a wagon wheel and declared to the crowd his intention to follow the Prophet Brigham Young’s orders to cease westward progress and invited the company to take the Ponca’s up on their offer of a safe camp until spring.[40] The High Council agreed in good conscience without any chance to confer with leaders still on the Missouri, leaving behind 14 families who refused to follow Miller[41] (about ten percent) to keep up relations with the Pawnee.  (Brigham Young recalled this last group to Winter Quarters in October, concerned about their “precarious” position and circumstances.)
“[Brigham]Young concluded that Miller 'was deceived in reference to the locality of Puncha and that he was running wild through the counsel of James Emmett.'...Young’s objections to Miller’s course were both political and religious.  They [the apostles] were well aware of Emmett’s sordid track record among the Indians and the unkind attitude both the Sioux and Indian agents harbored against him.  They also feared that an isolated Mormon encampment on the Southern borders of Sioux territory was an open invitation to serious trouble, a move that might endanger the entire Mormon settlements at the Missouri.  Emmett was a maverick, a wild-eyed dreamer in young’s mind.  On the other hand, Miller greatly esteemed Emmett.  “The excellencies of this man Emmit as a skilful hunter and pioneer cannot be too highly spoken of,” said Miller.  “He was perhaps never excelled, even by the renowned Daniel Boone.” But Young was convinced Miller and Emmett had been too easily persuaded to winter with the Ponca and might well become unwilling instigators of Sioux attacks.”[42])

12-23 August 1846

Arrival at the Niobrara

The company travels 150 miles north through Nebraska with the Ponca Chief to the mouth of the Niobrara River (across from South Dakota, much more than "three sleeps", proving right Brigham Young's prediction of incorrect estimation of locality).[43]  They had to make much of the road themselves but were able to hunt buffalo and have plenty of meat.[44]  It took them "ten sleeps."
Winter Quarters would have been near Omaha.  Also visible is the Loup Fork where the Ponca Saints headed north, and the mouth of the Niobrara where they camped.  The Saints later followed the North Platte route to Utah.  (From Wikipedia.)

When they arrived the Poncas flocked around them, “eager to see our Cattle, sheep, Hens, Pigs, and in fact almost everything we had was entirely new to them.”[45]   The Indians are good hosts, keeping order, offering the Saints a chance to look around and choose their campsite.  The Saints offer to put in corn in the spring and help with any blacksmithing needs.[46]

“The Winter Quarters period in church history, 1847-1852 has, until recently, been neglected in Mormon historiography.  It has now come to be considered one of the most important periods in Mormon history, "Mormonism in the raw," as one student put it. During these years Brigham Young became president of the Mormon Church (in 1847) and inaugurated many policies and practices that were later applied in the Great BasinParticularly important were the lessons learned from being in close proximity to Indians--how to understand Indian life and customs, how to trade with Indians, and how to prevent and punish Indian thievery, for example.  Equally important were the lessons learned about surviving on the frontier, and how to lead and hold together a people under adverse conditions…” (Mormon Pioneer National Historic Trail, “Historic Resource Study”, Stanley B. Kimball, Ph.D., May 1991, from mormontrails.org.)

The company of Saints at the Ponca camp was about to gain a wide variety of experience crucial to their success in settling Utah. 

August-early September 1946

Haying

The company explores options of various campsites and harvests the tall grass for hay for the winter.  There is some discord in camp; some of the men refuse to hay, others wish to travel down the Missouri (presumably back to Council Bluffs) alone.[47]

8 September 1946

Building the Fort

Winter Quarters established

Having decided on a site on the Niobrara about 2-3 miles from the Missouri, a fort is laid out, consisting of two rows of cabins facing inward, the rows being 106 feet apart, with gates on each end, divided into 110 lots, all taken.[48]  About 150 families settle here. They are the first whites to settle in upper Nebraska.[50]

Around this time Winter Quarters is established for the main body of Saints at Florence, Nebraska and includes many nearby temporary settlements.  (The Ponca camp is not at all close to this  web of settlements at Winter Quarters and has, therefore, frequently been overlooked by students of church history.)  The Saints at Winter Quarters also deal regularly with Indians—mostly the friendly Omaha and the Oto (not as friendly).[51]

Brigham Young could have ordered the company home at this time, but did not, perhaps because the resources available at Winter Quarters were already spread thin.  Instead, he sent strict instructions to George Miller and the High Council to fulfill all promises made to the Poncas, maintain strict neutrality between tribes, and ‘cultivate the spirit of perfect peace’. He also included the open invitation “If you want to locate your families here [Winter Quarters] you have only to build a boat and drop them down to this place where you can become partakers of such like blessings as we enjoy.”[52] 

13 September 1946

Daughter born

Consecration rejected

In the midst of construction, Newell’s wife Cynthia bears her second daughter, Cynthia Remina Drake.[xxxiv][53]  The Ponca chief (probably the one who had issued the company the invitation) died the day before and was buried somewhere on the bluffs.  Also, some Sioux come into the camp and smoke the peace pipe[54] which was probably a relief to the Saints (although the gesture didn’t amount to much).  Joseph Holbrook recounts at least two skirmishes between the Ponca and Sioux during their stay, aggravated by the threat of the Mormon-Ponca alliance.[55]

Also during September James Emmett and George Miller promoted a forced common property--a law of consecration, (a principle taught by Joseph Smith.)  This push might have stemmed partly from the relative destitution of Emmett's South Dakota company and occasional slights of selfishness toward Emmett's company.  The idea of common property was unpopular among the company and highly discouraged by the High Council, who considered it out of their authority to establish such drastic measures.  Miller argued that as a Bishop, it was within his right to attend to the properties of the church, trumping the high council, and that it was God's will that he do so (insinuating that he was God's mouthpiece).  Brigham Young caught wind of the disagreement and sent a letter discouraging the idea, specifically "until we are more perfect, all such attempts will end in poverty and confusion."  Resources were not pooled, but discord remained. [84]

End of September

Cannon arrives

Some members of the company return from a river trip (about 20 days round trip) to Winter Quarters, bringing with them a cannon and instructions from “the twelve”.[56]  (During this time the Saints acknowledged the Twelve Apostles as the leaders of the church--Brigham Young and the First Presidency were not sustained until the following December.  This may be one of the reasons Bishop George Miller felt he had just as much say as Brigham Young—Miller struggled to accept his leadership, feeling that the members of the Council of Fifty should have just as much authority.)

October 1846

Venturing out

Some men of the company are sent downriver (it is not known if Newell or his brothers or father were a part of this expedition) to Missouri to buy grain, stopping at Winter Quarters where Bishop Miller was tried for some unnamed misconduct, possibly for ignoring a letter from Brigham Young that told him to bring everyone back to Winter Quarters.[57]  (If this particular rebellion is true, it had great ramifications for the Drakes, who suffered a death in the Ponca Camp that winter—of course, though, many also died at Winter Quarters.) While Miller was there, Young overheard his grumblings about Young and the Twelve and promptly blasted him.
"He [Young] handled the case very ruff.  He said that Miller and Emmett had a delusive spirit and that anyone that would follow them would go to hell, etc....that they would sacrifice this people to aggrandize themselves or to get power."  --Willard Richards [89]    
Another handful of men, including the chronicler Joseph Holbrook and James Emmett, are sent on a scouting mission West, probably along the Niobrara, intended to go as far as Fort Laramie, to look for a likely route to the Salt Lake Valley to use in the Spring.[58] (Holbrook does not mention any of the Drake clan as part of this small expedition.) George Miller and James Emmett seemed to have their hearts set on this more Northerly route for the exodus and desired the entire body of Saints to travel this way.[59]   Brigham Young favored the Platte route, which was in fact, chosen.  In any case, the scouting mission proves unsuccessful and difficult and the men come close to starvation; Holbrook reports learning to eat skunk.

December 1846
Fire

The company was living on short rations,[60] and their livestock were regularly stolen by Indians or preyed upon by wolves.  The Indians would also start prairie fires to hunt herds of buffalo, leaving no grass for the Saints’ livestock.[61]  Christmas Day brought a particularly frightening disaster, later colorfully described by camp member Wilmer Bronson, in the writing style of his day.
“At length the fire had got to within three miles of the fort.  The scene now became grand beyond description.  The massive flames soared aloft and lit up the horizon to such an extent as to make the smallest object discernible at any time of the night.  A death-like silence prevailed every bosom as we impatiently awaited the consequences of the coming catastrophe…
“On the evening of the 25th of December, 1846, a scene indescribably horrid was enacted wherein the element of fire became the aggressor, and our haystacks, cattle yards, woodpiles, and so forth, the sufferers.  The young and some of the old people of the fort were quietly and peaceably enjoying themselves in the dance when all of a sudden their apprehensions were aroused by a report from some of the company who had been out viewing the progress of the flames, that the fire had made its appearance on top of the hill about a mile distance.  At the same time the wind commenced blowing a fearful consternation throughout the entire fort.
“The dancing room was immediately vacated.  Men, women, and children rushed from their houses, running with all possible speed to the outside of the fort, where they could have a full view of the danger which threatened…
“A line was immediately formed including men, women and children extending from the river to the outside of the fort, with buckets, kettles, and so forth, by which great quantities of water were thrown on to the haystacks and sides of the houses most exposed to the flames.  Others were using every exertion within their powers to secure their household effects by carrying them down to the river, where it was hoped they would be secure. 
“During this time, the wind had increased to almost a hurricane, driving the fire with almost race-horse speed, which came rolling and thundering down the long slope of hills lying on the west of the fort.  Like a powerful avalanche consuming almost everything that came in its way, the dreaded crisis at length arrived.
“When the flames had reached to within two or three hundred yards of the fort, the cattle and horses became panic-stricken and broke out of the yards and ran in all directions, over wagons, fences, and other things which might be in their way.  Pieces of manure which had become hard through the effects of the sun caught fire and came rolling with lightning speed through the corrals and stockyards, setting on fire haystacks, woodpiles, fences and so forth.
“The scene now became grand, beyond description.  The smoke had become so intensely suffocating as to compel us at times to repair to the river, which was but a few rods from the east side of the fort, and throw water in our faces to prevent choking.  Mothers could be heard calling for their children and children for their mothers; while others were on their knees praying to the Almighty to preserve their lives and that of their property.
“The efforts of the entire camp was now directed to throwing water on the houses nearest to the burning haystacks in order if possible to prevent them from catching fire.  The entire night was occupied in this way.  When daylight made its appearance, the fire was so far under control as to indulge in the hope that the houses were entirely secure from the effects of this destructive element….Be this as it may, one thing was very evident, we were minus a great many tons of hay and other kinds of property.” [85]
Holbrook sums up the fire as follows:
“It spread over the prairie as fast as a horse could run.  The brethren undertook to backfire around the camp when the whole prairie in light presented one sheet of blaze.  It soon reached our camp.  The stacks of hay on the back of our house were towards the fire. 
“There were some 200 men and women engaged in bringing water from the river.  [Remember, this is at night in December, in what was probably bitter cold.] A number of stacks of hay took fire and five were burnt.  One good wagon for Brother Bartholomew and a number more badly injured.  About 11 o-clock this evening, we succeeded in stopping the fire.  The loss, some two or three hundred dollars, besides burning up much valuable feed, for thirty miles to the west and south, and greatly endangering the whole camp, and was the cause of a number of deaths afterwards from exposure in our camp.  If it had not been for the cabins being built of green logs, our Fort would have been burnt, and we some 200 miles from the nearest settlement in the midst of winter without provisions or other necessary comforts of life.  We cannot think but it is a narrow escape from almost utter destruction….It was a providential escape.”[62]

1 Jan 1847

Joseph Holbrook writes an especially thoughtful summary of the preceding year; we will include it here as it probably echoed the feelings of many of the Saints at the Ponca camp.
“The past year has been a year of suffering to our Church.  Driven from our pleasant homes and City of Nauvoo; traveling without friends across the wilderness of Iowa to the Indian’s country of the Pottawatomi’s. 

'Five hundred of our best men being taken from us to go into the army of the United States against Mexico, leaving their families on the open prairie to suffer in a sickly country.  To think of our beloved brethren, the twelve, laboring with all their might to keep the people from despondency and starvation that they fail not is heart-rending.  To think of Pres. Young and Heber C. Kimball crossing the Missouri River with their company to the Indian country.  Forward, still forward, into the great wilderness going West.  Not knowing when we were to stop for winter quarters to the Pawnee country
'Our singular move from Pawnee to the Punca country where we now are situated on the Running Water River (about 3 miles) above its mouth on the Missouri River; together with all our brethren scattered over a country of 500 miles, in poverty, without friends, with many of the families of those men that had gone in the Battalion to Mexico on our hands to be taken care of and
Joseph Holbrook, pioneer chronicler.
provided for, and them still in faith was miraculous.
'Who cannot but marvel at the patience and long-suffering of the church as a people.  Say it is marvelous in our eyes and the doings of the Lord are past finding out.  He proves his people in the wilderness and provides for them in his mercies.  God be praised forever.” [86]

January 1847

Cannon Fired

Cynthia dies

Six Sioux in war costume appear to be spying out the fort’s condition.  The Saints had earlier heard rumors from mountaineers that the Sioux had threatened to massacre the fort because of the Saints’ connection with their enemy, the Ponca.  At this point, the lone cannon the brethren had brought up the river in September earns its keep—the Saints fire blanks five or six times, much to the terror of the Sioux warriors, who appear to never have witnessed such a weapon.  The Sioux do not bother the Saints for the rest of their stay.[63]

This monument was erected by the Knight family near the mouth of the Niobrara and serves as a memorial for all the Saints who died at the Ponca camp
























Newell’s wife Cynthia dies at 2 AM on 24th of January.[64]  Cause of death is
not given in the Holbrook journal, but several died during the month of January of lung problems, possibly pneumonia or complications from the fire.

  The dead included Newel Knight, a stalwart and early friend to Joseph Smith.  Scurvy also caused some of the deaths, making a total of 23 mortalities that winter.[65]  Cynthia also may have been in a weakened condition from short rations and/or complications from her September childbirth.  There was room for bitterness here, toward the Indians who most likely started the lung-damaging prairie fire in their hunting practices, or toward George Miller and the leaders who brought them to this out-of-the-way place, but hopefully Newell did not harbor these feelings.  In any case, he did not abandon his faith, as evidenced by his continuing choices to follow Brigham Young and the Twelve westward.
Her death left Newell grieving with two young children, Lucy, age 2, and Cynthia Remina, age 4 months, who at that age would have needed a wet nurse or to go through what was probably a difficult transition to cow’s milk or goat’s milk.  It is probable that he relied on his mother, Patience or his sister Sarah Drake Paine (mother of  two surviving children and six months pregnant[66]) to help with childcare—Cynthia’s family was not present at the Ponca camp.[67]  Both of Newell’s girls were probably too young to even remember their mother at all.

31 Jan 1847

“Many of our brethren are low in spirits, not knowing what they should do this coming season.”[87]  The livestock were dying, and in early February several men had resorted to hunting and eating wolves.

6 Feb 1847

Apostle Ezra Taft Benson, Lorenzo Snow and Orrin Porter Rockwell arrive at the fort.  Charged with teaching the Saints “The Word and Will of the Lord”, which later was codified as Section 136 of the Doctrine and Covenants (the only section given to Brigham Young), they explained how the pioneers were to be organized and how the westward movement would occur, also a call to greater righteousness.  The revelation in hindsight seems very sensible, but it still managed to raise the ire of George Miller who disagreed with certain points, probably that the Saints would be under the exclusive direction of the Twelve, or possibly that some would be planting crops and building homes near the Missouri for a second wave of pioneers to winter at Winter Quarters (he wanted to move west as quickly as possible), or possibly that they were still going to go west at all, Texas[68] also seeming a viable option.  He had returned from Winter Quarters a few days earlier, had already heard the revelation, and was probably still harboring some heated feelings about the whole thing. 

When the messengers returned to Winter Quarters a few days later, they reorganized the High Council,[69] essentially relieving George Miller of his duties.  Miller went with them and was soon disfellowshipped, following another apostate, Lyman Wight, to Texas.

End of March 1847

The Camp receives word from the brethren to come on back to the Bluffs,[70] echoing advice that Ezra T. Benson had already given them.  Besides the deaths that had already occurred and the lack of supplies,  frankly, it was just too dangerous for one settlement to be so far from the main body of Saints, particularly on the south border of the warring Sioux, where any offense might bring down wrath upon the entire body of Mormon settlements.[71]  Miraculously, no major mishaps of this variety occurred.

April 10

The Saints at the Ponca camp leave for Winter Quarters.  They leave their fort with cabins, outbuildings, etc., in tact, supposing that the Poncas might have use for them, but that night at camp three miles away they saw the flames of its destruction.  The blaze was attributed to Sioux warriors, quick to destroy any asset given to their enemy the Ponca.[90]  Subsequently, the exact site of the fort remains undetermined;[91] hopefully in years to come additional archaeological effort will bring it to light.

By mid-late April the main body of Ponca Saints reached the vicinity of Council Bluffs, where they dispersed among the many camps, including one on the Nebraska side which they also named the Ponca camp[72]  Their journey south was not along the river (also, nowhere does it say they went by boat, which would have been difficult with all the livestock, etc.) had them nearly out of food.  Joseph Holbrook, having gone ahead to do some trading, met the group along the way back.  “Found my family all well, almost out of bread stuff of every description, and so was the camp in general.  We were hailed with joy because we had some cornmeal for them….yet in all our tribulations, we felt joyful.”[88]  No doubt many of them were relieved to be united with the majority and also to have survived such a precarious winter.


Westward and Onward

At this point, for some reason, Newell parts company with his parents and brothers.  Daniel Sr., Patience, Horace and Orson had an enjoyable journey[73] across the plains with the Daniel Spencer Company, arriving in September of 1847, just two months after Brigham Young had declared the Salt Lake Valley “the right place”.  Money does not seem to be a determining factor--both Newell and his father Daniel traveled with multiple wagons.[74]  Might the delay have been a simple case of family situation?  This doesn’t seem to be a strong enough case for delay, though, as little Cynthia would have been several months old when her grandparents and uncles departed.
.
Also staying behind was Newell’s sister Sarah Drake Paine.  She had delivered a son in April of the 1847, about the same time her parents and brothers would have been leaving. (The genealogy indicates the baby was born back in La Harpe[75], but this is very unlikely because Sarah’s obituary says she crossed into Iowa at the expulsion of Nauvoo in 1846.[76]Whether or not Sarah’s baby was the reason for these two siblings to wait and then travel together a year after their parents is not known, but in any case, Newell and his brother-in-law William Grant Paine are recorded as traveling together on The Trail by 1848.[77]
The most likely scenario for delay is that Newell was obeying the prophet.   The Word and Will of the Lord had specified that some of the families were to stay behind along the Missouri to raise crops and prepare for more of the Saints to take refuge there the following year.  Likely Newell was chosen out from his parents and brothers to stay and help.  It would be helpful to access any records from this fairly chaotic period in church history to see if we could find out what really transpired.

Somewhat surprisingly, Newell did not bring his toddler Cynthia Remina with him on the journey to Utah a year later in 1848, only his older daughter Lucy.  He must have been overwhelmed without a wife, and this arrangement was probably much for baby Cynthia's own good and safety.  The separation was long; Cynthia did not come to Utah until 1856, with her Johnson grandfather and 13 year old aunt Sarah Johnson, when she was 9 years old.[92]  She did rejoin the her father, sister Lucy, new stepmother and several new siblings, showing as present in Newell's household for the 1860 Federal Census.[93]  Counting Cynthia and Lucy, Newell eventually became the father of 14 children.[97]

Newell's journey across the plains to Utah and his subsequent settling in Weber Co. belongs to another chapter.  (For a well-put-together source on Newell's life in Ogden, including another fort he helped to build, please visit www.binghamsfort.org.)  There is one incident I would like to mention to contrast with his Ponca winter.  Newell was part of the Brigham Young company of 1848, along with his sister Sarah and brother-in-law William Grant Paine.[94]  At one point in the journey, the very crowded company was moving very laboriously.  Another Captain Miller, Daniel Miller, Capt.of Fifty, convinced a small group of wagons to buck Brigham Young's stay-together orders and venture out ahead of the rest of the company.  They hoped for streamlined travel and better grazing, despite heated protests from the other captains, including the argument that Miller would be absconding with a much-needed blacksmith and that "the rase is not to the Swift".[95]

That evening Miller's ten, including Newell and William Grant Paine, simply didn't stop when everyone else wanted to stop, and they arrived in Utah a few days ahead of the group.  Despite this need-for-speed rebellion, Miller and his men were so kind as to send back their rested teams to help the main body, and mercifully, Brigham Young remained on good terms with several in the group for the rest of his life, even calling Captain Miller to bring another company of Saints a few years later.[96]  It is surprising that Newell would take such a risk after all the friction with leadership he had witnessed at the Ponca camp--how quickly we forget!  This isolated rebellion is the reason why on some records Newell is listed in the Brigham Young company, and others, in the Daniel Miller company.


Choosing to Follow

To truly appreciate Newell’s pioneer legacy, it’s interesting to point out alternative choices he could have made that would have completely changed the direction of this family’s history.  And he could have easily chosen differently.  He wasn’t exactly surrounded by apostasy, but he was certainly, literally, rubbing elbows with it, as we have seen.  I don’t know what exactly kept him on course, but I am sure he was influenced by the Spirit, by his loyalty to his parents and siblings who forged on ahead, possibly by hard experience, and also by Erastus Bingham and others who were righteous and courageous in the face of controversy. 

Let's review some of the odds against him.
  1. In 1847 Newell had only been a member of the church for six years. 
  2. As far as I can tell, he did not receive what would have been a spiritually fortifying endowment at the frantically constructed Nauvoo Temple.[78] 
  3. He had an elder sister who never did join the church, who probably missed her family and may have welcomed him.
  4. He had grandparents and cousins back east who also probably would have made a place for him. 
  5. Another interesting possible detour for Newell could have been his in-laws.  Cynthia’s father did eventually come to Utah years later[79] bringing Newell’s little daughter Cynthia, but died in California.  I don’t know why he went to California—it could have been for an honorable reason—but it also could have been a falling-out.  Likewise, not wanting to color this the wrong way since there is so little evidence of the-rest-of-the-story, but Cynthia’s mother and several other members of her family did not come to Utah at all, even though they were members of the church.  They turned their wagons south to Texas and there they died.[80]  Although I know absolutely nothing of their particular circumstances, Texas is where at least one apostate group of Saints went to settle, including George Miller.
  6. Newell and his brother-in-law strayed a bit from the company rules, indirectly defying Brigham Young themselves for a short time.  Once your toes are wet...
  7. Being a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints was difficult.  It took huge sacrifice, hard work, courage and grit to brave the mobs, start over again and again, follow direction even through disagreement or discouragement, suffer physical hardships and even death.  Newell could have given up at any time.  Instead, he endured.
After Newell had been in Utah for more than ten years, he received a patriarchal blessing by John Smith, church patriarch.  The blessing, surprisingly, tells him to look to the future.  It mentions that he has been through much change and many trials and would receive his reward.  Also to recognize the Lord's hand because his life had been spared many times for a wise purpose.  It encourages him to work hard and seek wisdom with his remaining years.  Also that "the angel of His presence shall watch over thee, and give thee counsel in time of need, and make thee equal unto every test, and thy posterity shall be numerous and hear thy name in honorable remembrance."  Newell died ten years later in 1879.[98]