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The book version of James Gammell's life story is now available. Click on this image.

Monday, December 20, 2010

Merry Christmas from our family to yours!

The Hedquist family
Descendants of James Gammell and Hannah Jane Davis
taken June 2010 at Bear Lake, Utah

It has been an amazing and productive year of research on the life of James Gammell.   I thank those of you who have been so helpful with your contributions of information and photos. 

Looking forward to another year of research on James Gammell/Gemmell and his siblings......

Have a Happy New Year!

Saturday, November 27, 2010

Maria and Hannah Jane Brown

James Gammell was married five times.  His first wife, Harriet Fitzgerald, died in Michigan in 1848.  His very short marriage to Mrs. Editha Clark of Michigan in November 1849 ended in early 1850.  In October 1851 his third wife, Elizabeth Hendricks, died.  His fourth wife was Susan Maria Brown, and the fifth was Maria's sister-in-law Hannah Jane Davis Brown.

Susan Maria Brown
Maria and her family lived for a time in the Ambrosia Branch of the The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints near Montrose in Lee County, Iowa, where she was baptized in the Mississippi River.  At age nineteen (1850) she crossed the plains with her widowed mother, Avis Hill Brown,(1) and her two brothers, George Washington Brown, age twenty-three, and Sidney William Brown, age thirteen.  Her oldest brother, Isaac Hill Brown, and his wife, Hannah Jane Davis, had entered the Salt Lake Valley three years earlier on September 25, 1847, as part of the Daniel Spencer/Perrigrine Sessions Company.(2)


Hannah Jane Davis
Hannah Jane and her family became members of the Mormon Church while living in West Township, Columbiana, Ohio.  A few years later her father, Isaac Davis, moved the family to Lee County, Iowa, about four miles from Nauvoo, where he bought nine hundred acres of farmland.  At this time many members of the Church had fled the persecutions in Missouri to settle in Illinois and Iowa. Although Nauvoo, located across the Mississippi River in Hancock County, Illinois, became the center of Church, there were also several Mormon congregations organized in Lee County, Iowa, under the direction of Stake President John Smith, the uncle of Joseph Smith.

At the time of the martyrdom of Joseph Smith in June 1844, nineteen-year-old Hannah Jane was living in close proximity to Nauvoo.  Here she met Isaac Brown, and they were married in the Nauvoo Temple in spring 1846, before being driven out of their beloved city by intense persecution.  They made the 300-mile journey across Iowa along with hundreds of other Latter-day Saints.  The following spring, while they were camped at Winter Quarters, Nebraska, Hannah Jane gave birth to her first child, Emily Jane.  On May 20, two days after the birth, Hannah Jane’s father, Isaac Davis, died of bilious fever.(3)  Emily Jane died six days later and was buried in a tiny grave next to her grandfather and her aunt Sabina Ann Davis Harrison, who had also died in Winter Quarters in February 1847.(4)

Leaving behind the graves of loved ones, Hannah Jane and Isaac Brown began the trek across the plains with the Spencer/Sessions Company consisting of 185 individuals and 75 wagons.  Although Perrigrine Sessions was a captain of fifty, his company was called “Parley's Company” after Parley P. Pratt of the Council of the Twelve Apostles, who was a member of the company.  Parley was traveling to the Great Salt Lake Valley for the first time, having just returned from a mission in England.  An excerpt from one of the trail journals recorded this incident, “I recollect one day that a large heavily loaded wagon ran over one of Bro. Pratt's little boys, about two years old; he took up the child and laid hands on him, and the child never complained, and soon was as well as before to all appearance.”(5)

For the most part the company followed the trail on the north bank of the Platte River, “sometimes leaving the river some miles, crossing streams and sand hills and passing long reaches without a single tree to relieve the sameness of the river valley.”  Along the way they had access to plenty of buffalo meat and other game.  As the journal stated, “…one Isaac Brown [husband of Hannah Jane Davis Brown] of our fifty was an excellent hunter and kept the camp supplied with fresh antelope meat.”  On the trail they met Willard Richards and other Church leaders from the Salt Lake Valley who were headed back to Winter Quarters to give support to the continuing exodus of Mormon pioneers.  Richards assured them that “they had found the place for the gathering of the saints, that they had laid off a city and named it Great Salt Lake City, Great Basin, North America."  The company arrived in the valley on September 25, 1847.(6)

By 1851 the Browns were settled in Utah County.  The widow Avis Brown was living with her children, Maria, Sydney, and George, and according to the census, her son Isaac H. Brown’s family was living in the house next door.  Hannah Jane Davis Brown, twenty-five years old, is listed, along with her three-year-old son, Isaac, and year-old daughter Hannah Jane.(7)  Isaac Brown, who worked as a freighter and could have been traveling at the time of the census, was not listed.  The more logical explanation is that he had already died or was missing.  Isaac was reportedly killed by Indians while building railroads in Nevada.  Another version of the story claims that Isaac was actually killed by his partner, and it was blamed on the Indians.  It is estimated that Isaac died sometime between 1850 and 1852.  The actual date and specific circumstances of his death are unknown. Even his wife didn’t know the full story. Hannah wrote that she “lost her husband sometime in the 50's.”(8)

On August 11, 1851, James Gammell married Susan Maria Brown as a plural wife.  (In the early days of the Mormon Church men who had the financial means to support more than one wife were sometimes asked by Brigham Young or other Church leaders to enter into plural marriage.  The practice was formally discontinued in 1890.)   On this same day James was also sealed to Elizabeth Hendricks, his third wife, and to his deceased wife, Harriet Fitzgerald.  One year after the death of Elizabeth Hendricks, James married Hannah Jane Davis Brown as a plural wife on October 7, 1852.(9)
____________________________
  1. Avis Brown was converted to Mormonism and baptized in 1838 in Chautauqua County, New York. Maria was baptized in 1840 in Ambrosia.  (See “Ambrosia Iowa Branch Register”, Church History Library, Salt Lake City.)
  2. See lds.org , Mormon Pioneer Overland Travel (1847-1868). Avis Brown and her children traveled in an unidentified wagon company (1850).
  3. Bilious fever is an archaic medical term that could refer to malaria or typhoid.
  4. “Biography of Elisha Hildebrand Davis”. (Elisha is the brother of Hannah Jane Davis.)
  5. Source of Trail Excerpt: Smith, Jesse Nathaniel, Journal of Jesse Nathaniel Smith, The Life Story of a Mormon Pioneer, 1834-1906 [1953], 11-12.
  6. Ibid.
  7. U.S. 1850 Census, p. 127, image 256. (This is actually an April /May 1851 enumeration.)
  8. Hannah Jane Brown, letter to the Daughters of Utah Pioneers.
  9. IGI Extracted Marriage Records.

Monday, November 8, 2010

Funeral at the Bowery

Less than one year later the same guests who attended her marriage at the Bath House gathered on Sunday morning, October 19, 1851, in the Bowery for the funeral of Elizabeth Hendricks Gammell.  The mother of a three-year-old son and an infant daughter, she was just twenty-three years old.  Orson Pratt preached the funeral sermon.(1)


The Old Tabernacle and Bowery
as it appeared in the heart of Salt Lake City between 1847-54
Harold B. Lee Library, Brigham Young University
In public domain

In the above photograph the Bowery is the crudely built structure on the right.  The street in the foreground is South Temple Street.  On the square now known as Temple Square “an immense shed had been erected upon posts, which was capable of containing three thousand persons.”  It served as a temporary place for religious worship and public gatherings.(2)  The Old Bowery, as it came to be known, measured one hundred feet by sixty feet:

It consisted of posts set up at convenient intervals around the sides of a quadrangle, the tops of the [one hundred and four] posts being joined by poles held in place by wooden pegs or lashed in position by rawhide thongs, and upon this skeleton-roof, willows, evergreens, sagebrush, and other shrubs were piled, resulting in a covering which was a partial protection from the sun, though but a poor barrier against wind and rain.(3)

That first winter (1847-48) in the Salt Lake valley, nineteen-year-old Elizabeth Hendricks married Frederick Nantz Bainbridge, age twenty-three, who had crossed the plains at  the same time in the Edward Hunter/Jacob Foutz Company.(4)  Not long after their marriage, Bainbridge grew disenchanted with the hard labor required to survive in the Salt Lake Valley.  As Drusilla Hendricks wrote, he had his heart set on greener pastures:

When hard times came on and he had to irrigate, he could not stand it so he wanted his wife to go back to the States with him or to California.  But she knew too much to do either.  He did not think that the Lord required him to stay here (Salt Lake Valley) without bread or to irrigate and he would not stand it.  I told him we would have to stand up to our rack, hay or no hay, and if he could not do it, he would have to start and take himself off, but that he could not take my daughter, so he left.(5)

Frederick Bainbridge went to California at the time of the Gold Rush (1849), and for the next twenty years he moved from mining town to mining town.  He was never heard from again.  Some sources say that he died in 1877.(6)

In contrast, four discharged veterans of the Mormon Battalion who were already in the Sacramento area and were working at Sutter’s Mill when gold was discovered on January 24, 1848,(7) ignored the chance to make a fortune and returned to their destitute families in the Salt Lake Valley.  However, they did take home with them $17,000 in gold dust, which they freely contributed to the economy of the State of Deseret.  Instead of being circulated as coin, most of the gold was kept in a reserve fund and paper currency was issued.(8)

It is interesting to note that James Gammell, as far as we know, never ventured to the gold fields of California.  Instead, he seemed content to stay in the Salt Lake Valley to carve out a life for himself and his family there, in spite of the lure of gold just eight hundred miles away.  In 1849 and 1850 an estimated ten to fifteen thousand gold seekers passed through Salt Lake City and provided an economic windfall for the Saints.

When Fred Bainbridge and Elizabeth Hendricks (or Libby, as she was called) separated, Libby returned to live with her family and helped them run the Warm Springs Bath House.  She and her son, James Wesley Bainbridge, lived there until she met and married James Gammell.

James Wesley Bainbridge, born October 21, 1848,
son of Frederick Nantz Bainbridge and Elizabeth Hendricks
Courtesy of Karen Bainbridge DeBow



Elizabeth Gammell, born July 23, 1851,
daughter of James Gammell and Elizabeth Hendricks

In April 1851,(9) James Gammell, living with his wife, Elizabeth, and two-year-old stepson, James Bainbridge, was the supervisor of roads and actively employed in the building of the new city.  On July 23, 1851, one day before the fourth anniversary of entry of the first group of the Mormon pioneers into the Salt Lake Valley, Elizabeth Harriet Mahala Gammell was born.  Apparently Libby, whose health was fragile, did not recover from the birth of her daughter, and she died three months later.  She was likely buried in Block 49, the first pioneer cemetery in the Salt Lake Valley.(10)  The remains of nine adults and adolescents and twenty-three infants were unearthed during the excavation for an apartment complex on this site in summer 1986.  Plans were to re-inter the remains in the Pioneer Trails State Park at the mouth of Emigration Canyon and to reconstruct the old pioneer cemetery faithful to the original configuration.(11)
___________________________
  1. Journal History of the Church, October 19, 1851.
  2. Edward W. Tullidge, History of Salt Lake City, pp. 56, 59, 737.
  3. James E. Talmage, The House of the Lord, pp. 201-2.
  4. Mormon Pioneer Overland Travel, 1847-1868. No other members of Fred Bainbridge’s family were traveling with this company, which arrived on October 1, 1847.
  5. Robert Raymond, ed., Historical Sketch of James Hendricks and Drusilla Dorris, chapter 9.
  6. See Karen Bainbridge DeBow’s website: http://www.karensarchives.com   Frederick Bainbridge married Elizabeth Almira Pond on 25 Feb 1849. She was possibly a plural wife, but this marriage ended as well when he left Salt Lake City.
  7. One of the men was Henry Bigler, who recorded the discovery of gold in his diary on that day. The diary is now on display at the Huntington Library in San Marino, California.
  8. Jean S. Greenwood, The State of Deseret, pp. 67-71.
  9. Utah became a territory in September 1850. Its federal census began in April 1851, taking two months. The 1850 census, therefore, is actually an 1851 enumeration.
  10. The cemetery was located between Third and Fourth South and Second and Third West.
  11. Deseret News, Section B, page 1, Sunday, March 8, 1987.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

The Warm Springs Bath House

Four days after his arrival in the valley, Brigham Young designated the location for the temple and initiated a project to map the newly established “Great Salt Lake City”.  On August 3, 1847, Orson Pratt fixed the baseline (east-west) and principal meridian (north-south) coordinates at the temple site.  All of the streets were laid out in a grid pattern from that point.  In general, all neighborhoods in Salt Lake City are named and numbered by how far distant they are from Temple Square.

(Click on this link to see a short video about the Base Meridian Marker:
http://www.deseretnews.com/video/1,5143,620,00.html  )

The city was divided into nineteen sections or wards.  Each ward, originally made up of nine ten-acre blocks, was presided over by an ordained bishop.  In this early period, before the regular incorporation of the city, each bishop acted as a chief magistrate or mayor of his ward, as well as the ecclesiastical leader:

Under their temporal administration all over Utah, as well as in Salt Lake, cities were built, lands divided off to the people, roads and bridges made, water-ditches cut, the land irrigated, and society governed.  In fact, under them [the bishops] all the revenue was produced and the work done of founding Great Salt Lake City.(1)


Plat of Salt Lake City, Utah
photograph produced in the late 1860's by E. Martin, photographer
Courtesy of Harold B. Lee Library, Brigham Young University
in public domain
(The location of Temple Square is designated by No. 1.)

Bishop Newel K. Whitney was called as the Presiding Bishop over all the bishops, and at the same time he served as bishop of the Eighteenth Ward.  James Hendricks was ordained and set apart as bishop of the Nineteenth Ward, located in the northwest corner of the city. (See Plat.)   He served as bishop from 1849 to 1856. 

Located within the boundaries of Bishop Hendricks’ ward was the Warm Springs, one of several mineral water, thermal springs that flowed from the base of the nearby Wasatch Mountains.  The first company of Mormon pioneers discovered the springs within days of their arrival in July 1847.  It didn’t take long for the Warm Springs to become popular for bathing and for the healing qualities of the mineral water.  As a child, Margaret Judd Clawson made frequent visits to the springs:

In those days we could have two free baths a week by taking a walk out to the warm springs.  It was a large pool of warm sulphur water, flowing constantly out of the mountain.  President [Brigham] Young made the rule that Tuesdays and Fridays should be women’s days, and no peeping Toms allowed…. It was great fun for a lot of girls to go out there together to play and splash in the water for hours.(2)

Most early reports called the Warm Springs “very pleasant and refreshing,” but others were not so glowing. William Clayton wrote, “The smell arising from it [the water] is truly nauseating and sickly, though generally supposed to be in no way unhealthy.”  Thomas Bullock wrote just one comment, “It was very warm & smelt very bad.”  But later in 1847 he highly recommended the experience, “Every person who was sick that bathed in it recovered…those who once bathed there want to go again.”  Bullock made the first improvements to the springs by digging the natural basin deeper to accommodate more bathers at one time.(3)  The spot became increasingly popular, especially among visitors.  John Hudson, one of the “forty-niners” headed for the gold fields of California, wrote his impressions:

It is a very strong spring and forms a pool about 20 feet square and 15 inches deep.  The water is as clear as crystal.  The bottom is covered with pebble stones of a delightful greenish hue.  The water is strong of sulfur and is said to be healthful. We nearly all took a bath.  When you first get in the water it is uncomfortably warm, but after a minute or two it is delightful.(4)

Soon after James Hendricks was called as bishop of the Salt Lake Nineteenth Ward, he moved his family to the Warm Springs to help build a public bathhouse (a project initiated by the High Council of Salt Lake City.)  In as much as the proposed bathhouse was within his ward boundaries, Hendricks would act as its proprietor.(5)  The newly constructed Warm Springs bathhouse also served for a time as a meetinghouse for Sunday services of the Nineteenth Ward, and it was here that Bishop Hendricks’ daughter Elizabeth and James Gammell were married.

Warm Springs Bath House
built in 1850
Date of photograph is unknown
 in public domain

For copyrighted photos, see the following links from University of Utah Library:

This first link is another view of the photo above.  It is supposedly a later photo of the original bathhouse built in 1850.


The second link is a 1939 photograph of the modern replacement of the old bathhouses and was known as the Wasatch Warm Springs Plunge.  (The Mission style building, erected in 1921, served as a city swimming pool until 1976.  It has been abandoned, but still stands as of 2010.)


This original bathhouse was built a short distance south of the Warm Springs.  The water was diverted to the building by hollow pine logs.  First the Hendricks built a log house to live in while they built a larger adobe cottage and then the bath house, “which contained twelve rooms, six on each side and a large room in front…the warm water [100 degrees] was to be brought about l/3 of a mile in pipes, and they had to be made of logs bored through the center lengthwise (these were called pump logs) which required considerable labor.” (6)

When completed, this “commodious bathhouse” consisted of

…one inner pool for women, an outer one for men and boys, with several private rooms fitted with wooden bathtubs.  They also furnished a winter swimming pool with hot baths for all…In front of this bathhouse was an adobe cottage for the caretaker, and soon an immense dancing hall, also built of substantial adobe, was added, with a roomy dining room equipped with kitchens, all fitted with benches and tables.  Public parties and theatrical entertainments were given here, even after the completion of the Social Hall …this building was probably Salt Lake City's first hotel.(7)



The Warm Springs
photograph by Steve Hedquist
October 20, 2010

Too bad there isn't a way to digitally transmit smells.  Let me personally verify the truth of Thomas Bullock's 1847 assessment of the springs:  "It was very warm and smelt very bad!"   (Just think of rotten eggs.)  Notice the green color of the minerals in the water.  The warm water still flows continuously, but apparently not at the same rate that it did in the early days.


View of the Wasatch Springs Plunge building from Victory Road.
( Site of the original Warm Springs Bath House)
800 North 300 West, Salt Lake City
photograph by Steve Hedquist
October 20, 2010


A plaque commemorating the original Warm Springs Bath House

James Gammell and Elizabeth Hendricks were married in the Bath House on the day of its dedication.


Here is an advertisement printed in the Deseret News in March 1851:

DESERET BATHING HOUSE!!

The Inhabitants of Deseret are hereby respectfully informed, that the Baths are now open, and printed tickets ready for issue to accommodate families by the quarter, half year, or year. The following are the terms for privilege of the Baths, viz:

For single person per quarter,               $0,50
Families of from 2 to 4 persons per qr. $1,00
       “           “    5 to 8       “                    $2,00
       “           “    8 to 16     “                     $3,00
       “           "    16 to 24   "                    $3,50
Families to furnish their own towels.
Tickets for sale at the Tithing Office, and also at the Bath House.

JAMES HENDRICKS, Proprietor
March 24, 1851(8)

At 2:00 pm on Wednesday, November 27, 1850, about one hundred townsfolk, including the First Presidency of the Church and several of the apostles, gathered at the newly built Bath House(9) to celebrate the “Festival” of consecrating it.  Brigham Young called the meeting to order.  He announced, “we intend to solemnize a marriage, and then a dedication prayer by Heber C. Kimball, as we intend to dedicate this room and ourselves unto the Lord – as this is the first meeting in this room.”  Next Brigham Young performed the marriage of James Gemmell and Elizabeth Hendricks.(10)  In his dedicatory prayer Heber C. Kimball mentioned James and Elizabeth: “Bless this couple now married that they may be a comfort to this family [Hendricks family].”  The service was followed by “an afternoon and evening celebration of feasting and dancing, interspersed by songs, fancy dancing and addresses by President Young and his associate brethren.”(11)

For James Gammell his marriage to Elizabeth marked the beginning of a new phase of his life as a member of the Hendricks family, as a husband and father for the second time, and as a newly baptized member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

The Hendricks family moved from the Warm Springs in 1852.  Drusilla recalled that during those three years they had “six marriages, one death and four births and I could not tell the hardships we passed through while we were there.”(12)
 ___________________________
  1. Tullidge, Edward W., History of Salt Lake City, p. 58.
  2. Quoted on a plaque in Warm Springs Park, Salt Lake City, Utah. See “Rambling Reminiscences of Margaret Gay Judd Clawson Talking of ‘Those Days’,” microfilm 40, LDS Church History Library.
  3. Darrell E. Jones and W. Randall Dixon, “Warm Springs and the First Bath House in Salt Lake City”, Utah Historical Quarterly, Summer 2008, Vol. 76, No. 3., p. 215.
  4. Quoted on a plaque in Warm Springs Park, Salt Lake City, Utah. See Jones and Dixon, p. 217.
  5. Jones and Dixon, pp. 218-219.
  6. Raymond, chapter 9.
  7. Raymond, chapter 11. (Suza Gates Young, Our Pioneer Heritage, Vol. 20, pp.270-272.)
  8. Jones and Dixon, p. 220.
  9. The street now known as Reed Avenue (abt. 750 North 300 West) was laid out where the original Hendricks Bath House stood. (Jones and Dixon, pp.219, 225.)
  10. Church History Library document: Pre-Endowment House, CR 334/13, folio 2. Thos. Bullock, clerk, recorded that James Gemmell and Elizabeth Hendricks were married by Brigham Young at Hendricks’ Bath House on November 27, 1850 at 4 pm, “one hundred witnesses.” Other marriages listed in this same record mention “sealing by B. Young, time and eternity.” James and Elizabeth’s marriage record does not. They were sealed one year later on August 11, 1851, in Brigham Young’s office. At this same time James was also sealed to Susan Maria Brown, as a plural wife, and to his deceased wife, Harriet Fitzgerald. (End. House #126, Book A1, page 10.) Previous to the completion of the Endowment House (1855), ordinances were performed in other dedicated places. The Salt Lake Temple was not completed until 1889.
  11. Thomas Bullock minutes, MS 4357, Church History Library, Salt Lake City, Utah.
  12. Raymond, chapter 9.

Saturday, October 2, 2010

Note from a Gemmell/Garrity Cousin

September 25, 2010

Hello Liz,
My name is Catherine Hutchens Hall.  James Gemmell is my great great grandfather.  My grandmother is Lucille Garrity, the daughter of Virginia Gemmell and William Garrity.  Virginia is the daughter of James Gemmell and Susan Mariah Brown.

I found your blog, and I actually started to cry.  I've been wanting to do research on the Gemmells for a long time.  My father was an only child, so we never got to know anyone on this side of the family.  All these years I thought my father came from a small family.  Boy was I wrong!

Love the site and I've sent it on to my father, George Hutchens.  I know he will appreciate it very much.

Looking forward to hearing more about the family.  If there is any information that you would like me to send, let me know.

Thanks for all your hard work.

Sincerely,
Cathy Hall
Cranbrook, BC, Canada

P.S.  I find it interesting that James lived in Canada for a time.  Of course, now my husband's family says I was meant to be Canadian :)

Note by Liz:
Cathy will send some photos.  I'll post them soon.  I was happy to send Cathy a copy of a letter dated February 1955 that was sent to my dad, Raymond W. Gammell, by Cathy's grandmother Lucille Garrity Hutchens of Anaconda, Montana.  Cathy provided a list of Virginia Gemmell's descendants.  (See February 2010 post "The Descendants of James Gammell or Gemmell.)

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

The Hendricks Family Flees to Illinois

Drusilla Hendricks demonstrated remarkable strength and heroism as she and her family continued to persevere through unimaginable trials.  Her husband, James, remained completely paralyzed.  Even with the help of ten-year-old Elizabeth [James Gammell's future wife] and nine-year-old William, she could not lift the weight of his body.  In addition to caring for James, she bore the full responsibility for the needs of her family, including two younger children and a nursing baby.  In mid-January 1839, Joseph Smith, Sr. (father of the Prophet), Isaac Morley, and several others came to the Hendricks home and anointed and administered to James.(1)  When they had completed the blessing, they stood James on his feet and held him upright, and “he began to work his shoulders.”  In the days to come Drusilla continued to “rub him with strong vinegar and salt and liniments.”(2)

As the winter wore on, many families were leaving Missouri as quickly as they could, but Drusilla had no idea how she could possibly go, until Brother Leaney “came to see us and said we should not be left behind.” Leaney had been shot and wounded at Haun’s Mill a few months before.  He “had been shot through and through from both sides, the balls passing through the lungs, but he was miraculously healed.  He had twenty-seven bullet holes in his shirt. I [Drusilla] counted them myself.  He only had eleven wounds to be dressed.”(3)

By the time Drusilla and her family left Missouri and started for Illinois, James Hendricks had learned to pull himself to his feet without help. On the first day of April 1839, when Joseph Smith, Sr. learned that the Hendricks family had arrived in Quincy, he went immediately to visit them at their campsite. Father Smith, as they called Joseph, Sr., assisted by several other brethren, gave James a second priesthood blessing. They “then assisted him to his feet and he walked, between two of them, some thirty yards and back.”(4)

Quincy, Illinois (2008)
on the Mississippi River
from http://www.mormonwiki.com/
in public domain

Drusilla was now faced with the responsibility of finding lodging for her family, and she soon found out how difficult that would be.  Quincy, Illinois, a town of about two thousand residents, was completely unprepared for the influx that winter of five thousand refugees,(5)  members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints who had been driven from their homes in Missouri.  Nevertheless, the people of Quincy responded with great empathy and kindness, and did all they could to provide the exiles with food and shelter.  Soon Drusilla was able to find makeshift lodging for her family, a small room, “partly underground and partly on top of the ground.”(6)

Living in such damp and confined quarters, James fell ill.  Within two weeks they ran out of food and lost their small heifer that had provided them with a little milk twice a day.  As Drusilla described, “we were like Job of old and my husband was as sore, for his blood cankered and he broke in sores all over his body so that you could not put a pin point on him without putting it on a sore, from the crown of his head to the soles of his feet.”(7)

Though Drusilla’s trials were of biblical proportion, so were the miracles that sustained her and her family. As she prepared mush for her children with her last spoonful of sugar and last saucer of corn meal, doubt and conflict began to fill her mind.  She answered it with her usual faith and courage.  Soon a feeling of peace came over her, and these words came into her mind: “Hold on, for the Lord will provide.”  She resolved that she “would trust Him and not grumble,” and then went about washing everything and cleaning her house thoroughly, saying: “If I die, I will die clean.”  That afternoon Brother Rubin Allred drove fifteen miles to the Hendricks’ home and delivered a sack of meal.  “I felt you were out of bread,” he said, “so I came by the mill to get my grinding done before I came here and it made me late.”  A few minutes later her son William came home with fifty cents he had earned, and with that Drusilla bought six pounds of flour, a few pounds of pork, and half a bushel of potatoes.  Though they ate sparingly, the supply was gone in two weeks, and again they had nothing.  Drusilla recalled, “I felt awful, but the same voice that gave me comfort before was there to comfort me again, and it said, Hold on, for the Lord will provide for his Saints.”  She washed and cleaned, the same as before, and soon Brother Alexander Williams appeared at the back door with two bushels of meal on his shoulder:

I looked up and said, Brother Williams, I have just found out how the widow’s cruse [of oil] and barrel [of meal] held out through the famine.(8)  He asked how.   I said just as it was out [empty] someone was sent to fill it.  He said he was so busy with his crop that he could hardly leave it, but the Spirit strove with him saying Brother Hendricks’ family is suffering, so I dropped everything and came by and had it ground lest you would not get it soon enough.   I [Drusilla] soon baked a cake of the meal and he blessed it and we all partook of it and water.(9)

Brother Williams promised to bring more corn meal to the Hendricks when their supply ran low.  At that time he was living with a family named Edwards and tending their farm.  When he approached him for more corn, Mr. Edwards replied, “You shall not work for me for corn and take it to the Saints who have been driven and robbed.  Tell me where you go and I will go myself.”  Edwards arrived just in time to refill the Henricks’ empty barrel with cornmeal.(10)

View of Nauvoo on a bend of the Mississippi River
Unknown artist.  Oil on canvas, 1848-50
Painted after the Saints fled to the West in 1846,
and after the temple (center white) was burned by a mob in 1848.
in public domain

In late 1839 the Mormons purchased the small town of Commerce, Illinois, located forty miles up the Mississippi River from Quincy.  In April 1840 they renamed it “Nauvoo”.(11)  (Within four years, Nauvoo's population had grown to twelve thousand, rivaling the size of Chicago at the time.)  Brother Lewis moved the Hendricks family to Nauvoo in March 1840.  The High Council “voted to donate a city lot to Brother James Hendrix (sic), who was shot in Missouri; also voted to build him a house.”(12)

At this point Drusilla was supporting her family herself by taking in washing and sewing.  She was able to hire a man to cover the newly built log house and build a chimney.  She and Sister Melinda Lewis chinked and plastered the house, while the hired man plowed her lot and made it ready for a garden.  Her husband, James, was strong enough now to “turn on his elbow, turn his feet out of bed, and take things in one hand.”  He contributed to his family’s support by borrowing enough money to a buy large quantity of flour at the mill to sell for profit.  They took in boarders to earn money, and were able to pay a carpenter and a mason to build a new brick house, finished in 1842.

The Hendricks lived in Nauvoo for about seven years, then again “persecution began to rage and we had hard times again.”  By 1844 the family was again destitute.  Drusilla left Nauvoo and went to St. Louis for eight weeks to earn money for food and clothing.  Catherine went along; Elizabeth stayed behind to care for the family.  She started back to Nauvoo on Friday, June 28, and heard while on the riverboat that Joseph Smith, the Mormon Prophet, and his brother Hyrum had been martyred the day before.  Her grief was almost more than she could bear.  In Illinois “they killed our Prophet and Patriarch and drove us out again.”(13)

William Dorris Hendricks (1829-1909)
His sister Elizabeth Hendricks married James Gammell

After their winter expulsion from Nauvoo, Illinois, in February 1846, the Latter-day Saints began a 300-mile trek across Iowa.  It proved to be the hardest leg of their westward journey, averaging less than three miles a day.  Reaching the Missouri River they camped on both sides, Council Bluffs, Iowa, and Winter Quarters, Nebraska, near Omaha.  Here, while they were making preparations to continue the journey the following spring, William Hendricks was called to join the Mormon Battalion.  Drusilla was heartbroken: “…my son was all I had to depend on, his father being helpless and Joseph, my other son, being in his ninth year only and my girls not healthy.  One would say to me, Is William going. I answered, No, he is not.”  (At this time James Hendricks could walk with the aid of a cane.)  Drusilla said she knelt down and told the Lord if He wanted my child to take him, only spare his life and let him be restored to me and to the bosom of the church.”(14)

Drusilla’s prayers were answered when eighteen-year-old William returned to his family ten days after they reached the Salt Lake Valley in October 1847.  William immediately “went to work and built [them] a house in the Fort wall so we made ourselves as comfortable as possible.”(15)
____________________________
  1. The brethren laid their hands on James’ head, anointed his head with oil, and administered a priesthood blessing for the healing of the sick.
  2. Robert Raymond, ed., Historical Sketch of James Hendricks and Drusilla Dorris, chapter 5.
  3. Robert Raymond, chapter 6.
  4. Robert Raymond, chapter 6.
  5. “Eight to ten thousand Latter-day Saints migrated to western Illinois that season. The community of Quincy could not accommodate all the new arrivals. During the spring and summer of 1839 many people were forced into surrounding farmlands and adjoining counties wherever they could find a place to stay.” (See Church History in the Fulness of Times, chapter 17.)
  6. Robert Raymond, chapter 6.
  7. Robert Raymond, chapter 6.
  8. I Kings 17:16.
  9. Robert Raymond, chapter 6.
  10. Robert Raymond, chapter 6. (Alexander Williams baptized Mr. Edwards and his wife.)
  11. The name Nauvoo is derived from traditional Hebrew with an anglicized spelling. The word comes from Isaiah 52:7, “How beautiful upon the mountains...”
  12. History of the Church, Vol. 4, Ch. 4, p. 76.
  13. Robert Raymond, chapters 6, 7, and 8.
  14. Robert Raymond, chapter 8.
  15. Robert Raymond, chapter 9.

Monday, September 6, 2010

The James and Drusilla Hendricks Family

James and Drusilla Dorris Hendricks
with grandchild, thought to be
James Gammell's daughter Elizabeth
ca. 1852

The James Hendricks family entered the Salt Lake Valley on October 2, 1847, with the Jedediah M. Grant – Joseph B. Noble Wagon Company. James and Drusilla were accompanied by four of their five children: Elizabeth (19), future wife of James Gammell, Catherine (15), Rebecca (11), and Joseph (9). The Grant/Noble Company, consisting of 171 souls, had started its three and one-half month journey on June 19 at the outfitting post on the Elkhorn River about twenty-seven miles west of Winter Quarters, Nebraska.(1)

One year earlier (June 1846) William Hendricks, then age 16, along with five hundred other men, volunteered to join the Mormon Battalion. President James K. Polk had authorized Colonel Stephen W. Kearny to enlist a battalion of Mormon men to help fight the war with Mexico. Initially the Saints opposed the request for volunteers, but the negotiations proved to be a benefit to both parties: the United States would retain the loyalty of the Saints, whose persecutions had all but destroyed their trust in the federal government, and the Mormons could “earn desperately needed capital for the exodus.” They were able to purchase the necessary wagons and supplies with army wages totaling $30,000. In his effort to encourage support for the venture, Brigham Young said, “Let the Mormons be the first men to set their feet on the soil of California…This is the first offer we have ever had from the government to benefit us.” He promised that the families of the volunteers would be carefully provided for, and also counseled the volunteers to conduct themselves properly, and if they did so, they would not have to fight. (As it turned out, their only battle was with a herd of wild bulls near the San Pedro River in Arizona.) The 2,000-mile Mormon Battalion march from Council Bluffs, Iowa, to San Diego, California, was the longest single military march in U.S. history, and served to help the United States secure the lands of California, Utah, Arizona, and other Western states.(2)  The battalion was discharged one year later, and William Hendricks was reunited with his family two weeks after they arrived in the Salt Lake Valley.

James and Drusilla Hendricks were first introduced to the Mormon missionaries while living in Franklin, Kentucky, and were converted and baptized in March 1835. They left Kentucky to join other Mormons in Clay County, Missouri, in May 1836. Since childhood Drusilla had demonstrated a strong faith in God and in the Bible. Later in her life she was revered as a woman of great faith and courage. In her autobiography she wrote about one habit she struggled to overcome:

I had been in the habit of using snuff and was just out. I knew it was a disgusting habit and I had heard the Word of Wisdom read, also my husband desired that I discontinue its use. I went quite a way out of camp. I there pled with the Lord to take away the desire for snuff from me and if he would do this, it would be a sign unto me that I would know he had caused the revelation (Word of Wisdom) to be written.(3)   I then went back to camp, and forgot that I used snuff for four days after and I never wanted it again. I had often tried to quit but this time the Lord took the desire away from me and gave me a testimony of the truth of the Word of Wisdom.(4)

Drusilla recorded that the hostility and persecution against the Mormons in Clay County became so great that “we all gave up our land and agreed to go to Caldwell County. We were to be let alone there so we were glad to do so.”  By August 1838, James was called to take his turn standing guard to protect the settlement from the gathering mobs. On the evening of October 24, the mob began to burn the crops and take Mormon men as prisoners, in order to force the Latter-day Saints to leave Caldwell County. James and a large group of men tried to form a line of defense that night at Crooked River. At dawn Drusilla stood looking out her window:

I saw a Mr. T. Snider (he did not belong to the church, but a good man) get off his horse at the gate. (I saw him wipe his eyes, I knew that he was crying.) He came to the door and said Mr. Hendricks wishes you to come to him. I asked where. He said to the widow Medcalf's and that he had come for me. I asked where and how he was shot and he thought he was shot in the hip.(5)

Upon reaching the widow’s house, Drusilla saw nine of the men, “wounded and pale as death.”  She found her husband lying in a bed in the same room with Apostle David W. Patten, who was taken to the Winchester home, where he died that night.  (Patten is now considered Mormonism's first martyr for the faith.)  When she spoke to James:

He could speak but could not move any more than if he were dead. I tried to get him to move his feet but he could not. This was Thursday, October 25, 1838, and the next Tuesday was the Battle of Haun’s Mill,(6) where men and boys were slaughtered and thrown into a dry well 18 or 48 in number, out of which only one (Benjamin Lewis) received a decent burial.

My husband was shot in the neck where it cut off all feeling of the body. It is of no use for me to try and tell how I felt for that is impossible, but I could not have shed a tear if all had been dead before me. I went to work to try and get my husband warm but could not. I rubbed and steamed him but could get no circulation. He was dead from his neck down.(7)

Drusilla was advised that it wasn’t safe to return to their home, so that evening a neighbor came with a wagon with a bed in it for James and took them to Far West, while another neighbor went to their home to care for their five children.

Two days later on October 27, Missouri governor, Lilburn W. Boggs, issued the infamous Extermination Order, in which he instructed the militia to drive the Mormons from the state of Missouri because of their

...open and avowed defiance of the laws, and of having made war upon the people of this State ... the Mormons must be treated as enemies, and must be exterminated or driven from the State if necessary for the public peace—their outrages are beyond all description.(8)

(Governor Christopher “Kit” Bond rescinded the order in 1976, after nearly 138 years. He declared that the original order violated legal rights established by the U.S. Constitution, and offered his regrets on behalf of the State of Missouri.)

General Samuel D. Lucas, leading a militia of 7,000 men, informed the Mormons at Far West that "...they would massacre every man, woman and child..." if Joseph Smith and several other church leaders were not given up. Joseph Smith, Sidney Rigdon, Parley P. Pratt, Lyman Wight, and George W. Robinson surrendered the first day of November.(9)  Soon after the surrender, Drusilla and James ventured to leave Far West and return to their home and children. They found that the mob had “robbed the house of [the] bedding and in fact everything but [the] beds.” James was still paralyzed from head to foot, leaving Drusilla with the task of settling their business matters and preparing to leave the state of Missouri. She sold what she could and gave up their land for enough money to buy two yoke of cattle.  The following spring they left behind everything, except what they could fit into their small wagon.(10)
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  1. http://lds.org/churchhistory/library/pioneercompanysearch
  2. Church History in the Fulness of Times, chapter 25.
  3. For an explanation of the Word of Wisdom see http://www.mormon.org/commandments/ then scroll down to “Obey the Word of Wisdom.”
  4. Robert Raymond, ed., Historical Sketch of James Hendricks and Drusilla Dorris, chapter 4.
  5. Robert Raymond, ed., Historical Sketch of James Hendricks and Drusilla Dorris, chapter 5.
  6. Haun’s Mill is in Caldwell County, Missouri. The fifty-five perpetrators of the massacre were known by name, but never prosecuted.
  7. Robert Raymond, ed., Historical Sketch of James Hendricks and Drusilla Dorris, chapter 5.
  8. See Wikipedia.com: Although the Haun’s Mill massacre took place a few days after Missouri governor Boggs issued the Extermination Order, most historians have now concluded that the militia unit had neither the time nor the opportunity to have received news of the order.
  9. Orson F. Whitney, Life of Heber C. Kimball, 1888, p. 229.  Joseph Smith, Parley P. Pratt, and others were incarcerated in Liberty Jail for more than four months.
  10. Robert Raymond, ed., Historical Sketch of James Hendricks and Drusilla Dorris, chapter 5.

Sunday, August 22, 2010

Valley of the Great Salt Lake

Brigham Young Monument
Salt Lake City, Utah
(from Wikimedia Commons)

At the trapper’s camp in Cache Valley, Utah, Jim Bridger built a bullboat out of thick willows woven into a basket with buffalo hide stretched over it.  He used it to settle an argument about where the Bear River ended.  Bets were laid, and Bridger set off down the river in his leather tub.  At the mouth of the Bear he discovered a great body of water.  The water tasted like brine! When he returned to camp to relay the news to the other trappers, one of them exclaimed, “Hell, Jim, you done found the Pacific Ocean!”  It was fall 1824, and Jim had actually discovered Great Salt Lake.  “Jim always felt peculiarly possessive of Salt Lake Valley. No wonder.  He had found it; he loved it; it was his!  It might well have been called Bridger’s Hole….”(1)

On July 24, 1847, the Mormon pioneers claimed the valley that Bridger loved so well.  Brigham Young was ill with mountain fever when his wagon company emerged from the mouth of Emigration Canyon.  Here they stopped, and Brigham arose from his sick bed to survey the valley below.  After several minutes he said, “It is enough. This is the right place. Drive on!”(2)   An advance company of pioneers had entered the Salt Lake Valley two days earlier on July 22, and had started immediately to create a crude irrigation system and prepare for planting.

In 1847 James Gammell had no connection whatsoever to the Mormons or to their exodus from the United States, but he would soon find himself a participant in the establishment of the State of Deseret,(3) as Brigham Young called the Great Basin:

The Saints(4) were virtually the only white settlers in the vast Great Basin, the name for an area about the size of Texas between the Rocky Mountains on the east, the Sierra Nevadas on the west, the Columbia River drainage on the north, and the Colorado River drainage on the south. The area was relatively isolated and arid and short on timber and game. The Saints realized that settling here would require considerable faith and their best efforts, but they believed that with God’s help they could succeed.(5)

Map of the Proposed State of Deseret (1849-1850)
(from Encyclopedia of Mormonism, Vol. 1, "Deseret, State of")

James visited the Great Basin area several times between 1843 and 1849.(6)  Upon his return to Spring Arbor, Michigan, after one of his trapping expeditions, he learned that his wife, Harriet, was ill.  We don’t know if he was at her bedside when she died, or if he arrived later, only to be told the tragic news of her death (August 20, 1848.)   But now, dealing with a burden of grief, he was anxious to be on the move again.  Early in 1850 he left his three-year-old son, Orlin, in the care of Harriet’s parents and headed west, this time arriving in Great Salt Lake City.

James must have been successful in finding employment among the Mormons almost as soon as he arrived in the valley.  Perhaps Brigham Young had met him and become aware of his skills during one of James’ earlier expeditions from Michigan.  In any event, not long after his arrival he negotiated a contract with Brigham to dig 100,000 rods (312.5 miles) of ditch at one dollar per rod.(7)   Making a ditching machine, probably like the one he had referred to while in Van Diemen’s Land, he was able to finish the contract.  James has been given credit for other public works during this period, such as building the bridge at Ogden and one across the Jordan River, and inaugurating the planting of trees in the valley.(8)

The year 1850 was an eventful one in the growth and development of the Salt Lake Valley, as well as in the life of James Gammell.  Although we have no details about his conversion, James made the decision in 1850 to become a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.  In August he was baptized by Apostle Parley P. Pratt.  A short time afterwards James also received the priesthood, and was ordained to the office of a Seventy by E. [Ezra] T. Benson.(9)  (See note below for an explanation of the Mormon doctrines of baptism and priesthood.)

In September 1850 the United States Congress formally established the Territory of Utah and appointed Brigham Young as governor.

On September 14, 1850, “Daniel H. Wells moved that the Supervisor of roads be instructed to proceed forthwith to improve the streets and roads, by making ditches, turnpike roads, and making good and sufficient bridges, aqueducts, &c…and that he employ Mr. Gammel [sic] with his improved ditching machine and scraper, to work under his direction upon the public works…”(10)

On Saturday, October 5, 1850, “The General Assembly of the State of Deseret met at the Bowery, Great Salt Lake City, pursuant to adjournment… The resignation of Robert Pierce as Supervisor of roads was accepted, and Mr. Gammell appointed in his place.”(11)

On November 27, 1850, James Gammell married Elizabeth Hendricks, daughter of James and Drusilla Hendricks.

Note:  Baptism is a sacred, saving ordinance in which one follows the example of Jesus by being baptized by immersion in order to “fulfill all righteousness” (Matthew 3:15.) It is a covenant or promise with God to accept His Son Jesus Christ as the Redeemer, and to obey His commandments. If a person honors this sacred covenant, God forgives his sins, and he is cleansed from all unrighteousness. First, a person is baptized by being lowered under water and raised again by a one having authority from God to do so. This action symbolizes Jesus’ death, burial, and resurrection, and it also represents a willingness to live as true disciples in obedience to God’s commandments to the end of one’s life. Following baptism, a person is confirmed a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, and receives the gift of the Holy Ghost. Priesthood authority, the same that existed in the original New Testament Church of Jesus Christ, is the authority and power to act in God’s name for the salvation of all God’s children. It is delegated or conferred, also by the laying on of hands, upon all worthy male members of the Church over the age of twelve. (See http://www.mormon.org/ )
_____________________________
  1. Stanley Vestal, Jim Bridger, Mountain Man, p. 64. (Some scholars claim Etienne Provost was the first white man to see the Great Salt Lake.)
  2. Church History in the Fulness of Times, chapter 26.
  3. “Deseret” is a word from the Book of Mormon meaning honeybee, a symbol of work and industry (see Ether 2:3.)
  4. Members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (Mormons).
  5. Church History in the Fulness of Times, chapter 27.
  6. Wheeler, pp. 333-34.
  7. James Gemmell obituary, The Dillon Tribune, April 9, 1881.
  8. Hardin, “Sheridan’s James Gemmell”.
  9. Baptism and ordination dates found by Weeks & Haslam research into early Church records, recorded in a letter to Raymond Gammell, dated 10 Oct 1973.
  10. Journal History of the Church, Church History Library Archives, Salt Lake City.
  11. Journal History of the Church.

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Recent Article on James Gemmell

Dr. John C. Carter, Museum and Heritage Advisor for the Ontario Ministry of Tourism and Culture in Toronto, is an expert on the Canadian Rebellion, and has done extensive research in Tasmania.

On August 13, 2010, he published an article about James Gemmell in an online magazine called Thousand Islands Life:

http://www.thousandislandslife.com/

I encourage the Gammell/Gemmell clan to leave comments at the end of the article.


Another excellent website, Rebels and Raiders by Shaun McLaughlin, mentions James Gammell at the end of the following article, and refers to The James Gammell Chronicles under "Further Reading":

http://www.raidersandrebels.com/2010/06/benjamin-wait-samuel-chandler-2.html#more

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

James Gammell's Yellowstone Expedition Revisited

August 3, 2010

Hi, Liz,

We are part of the Montana bunch of James's offspring.  We live in southwest Montana in Gallatin Gateway, near Bozeman, and we operate a ranch on the Yellowstone River north of Yellowstone Park.

My daughter Anna and I just spent eight days on horseback exploring part of the route that James and Jim Bridger took in 1846 through the area that is now the remote southeast corner of the Park.  James described the trip to Wheeler as starting in the Jackson Hole area and traveling north into what we now call the Thorofare River-Yellowstone River confluence.  We rode the entire Thorofare-Upper Yellowstone Valley and went over the divide into the Snake River headwaters that James came into with Bridger.  We came out of the backcountry at the South entrance to Yellowstone National Park, loaded our stock and drove home to the ranch on the road along the west of the lake.  James did the whole trip on horseback, of course, passing by what is now our ranch, north of Mammoth, and on to "Benson's Landing" which is now Livingston, Montana, on his way to the Big Horn.

Needless to say, we talked a lot about how we were riding the same drainages that James had traveled.   Thanks to the National Park Service, the country looks very much as it did in 1846, except the trails are much better.


I have been an outfitter and guide in the Park, and I think James probably followed the Snake from Jackson Hole to what is now the vicinity of the South entrance of the Park, then followed the river up to its origin at Mariposa Lake, high on the western side of the Continental Divide, where you can step across the river.  From there it sounds like they crossed the divide, dropped into the upper Thorofare River Country, and probably followed the Yellowstone to the Lake and went back west, over the divide again and up the West side with an excursion to the geyser basins at the head of the Firehole River which runs into the Madison.


Moving through the mountains in 1846 had to be a tough way to travel, as there was no government to cut out the trails.  He mentions a trail along Snake Lake, which must have been a combination Indian, trapper and wild game trail.  It is still there today.  It must have been a hell of a trip through paradise.




I wanted to contact you and thank you for the Chronicles.  James was my great, great grandfather.  His daughter Jeanette (Duncan) was the mother of my Grandmother Hazel, who married Charlie Brown.  Their daughter Jane was my mother.

Dick Kendall
Gallatin Gateway, Montana

See Anna's website for all seventy-five Thorofare Photos: 
https://cid-0860f55303d29bcd.photos.live.com/play.aspx/Thorofare%20Pictures?Bsrc=Photomail&Bpub=SDX.Photos

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Newly Discovered Photo of James Gammell

James Gemmell and his wife Susan Maria Brown
c. 1860
from Sandra Baril's website
http://montanaroots.net/

This is one of the most exciting finds of the last fifty years... a second photograph of James Gammell!  I was convinced that only one photo of James existed, until I discovered this one just yesterday on Sandra Baril's website.  (Sandra is a descendant of James' daughter Jeanette. ) 
Thank you, Sandra, for sharing it!   I hope to find out more information concerning the photo.

Monday, June 14, 2010

Expedition with Jim Bridger

Jim Bridger, 1804-1881
(Wikimedia Commons)


The next chapter in the life of James Gammell involves one of the greatest frontiersmen in American history. Jim Bridger knew more of the Rocky Mountains than any living man of his time. He and James Gammell seemed to be cut from the same cloth:

Naturally shrewd, and possessing keen faculties of observation…[Bridger] became one of the most expert hunters and trappers in the mountains.  Eager to gratify his curiosity, and with a natural fondness for mountain scenery… he familiarized himself with every mountain peak, every deep gorge, every hill, and every landmark in the country… No object of interest escaped his scrutiny, and when once known, it was ever after remembered.  He could describe with minute accuracy places he had visited but once, and that many years before; and he could travel in almost a direct line from one point to another…always making his goal…He never lost his bearing…As a Guide he was without an equal, and this is the testimony of everyone who ever employed him.

He was a born topographer; the whole West was mapped out in his mind…He could make a map of any country he had ever traveled over, mark out its streams, mountains and obstacles correctly…He never claimed knowledge of the country that he did not have. (1)

On the other hand, Bridger was ignorant of all knowledge contained in books; he didn’t even know the letters of the alphabet, and signed his name with an X.  Although totally uneducated, he spoke English, Spanish, and French equally well, besides nearly a dozen Indian tongues.(2)  Gammell must have had quite an education in the company of “Old Gabe,”(3) who was ten years his senior. Both strong-willed men, their relationship was at times rocky, as indicated by a lawsuit filed in Salt Lake County Court in April 1853.(4)   Bridger and Gammell died the same year (1881).

Enjoy this song by Johnny Horton honoring Jim Bridger:

After his escape from captivity in Van Diemen’s Land and his return to the United States (June 1842), James Gammell settled in Jackson, Michigan,(5) where he could have possibly created an idyllic life with a house, a farm, and white picket fence. But, as we know, that scenario would never be consistent with the temperament of our James Gammell.  There were still many more mountains to climb, more trails to explore, and more trials to endure before he would rest.

James married Harriet Fitzgerald on September 29, 1843, in Jackson, Michigan, and very soon after that, according to William F. Wheeler, he succumbed to his wanderlust, and ventured out on the plains.(6)  Although Wheeler includes no details about this first expedition, it is possible that James followed the Oregon Trail, where he may have met Jim Bridger for the first time at the newly built Fort Bridger (December 1843). James returned to Michigan sometime in 1845, and left again in 1846, probably before the birth of his first son, Orlin (July 5, 1846.)(7)

James didn’t settle long in Michigan before he decided to reenlist in the conflict with the British, this time over the Oregon boundary.  Nearly four years of captivity under what he described as British tyranny had only served to strengthen his quest for justice:

The controversy between the United States and England, concerning the Oregon boundary question, rose shortly after this to fever heat, and [James], with many others, believing it could only be settled by war and actuated by the feeling that he could be of some service to the United States, together with the desire of being upon the scene of conflict, started overland for the Pacific coast, intending to join in the war and to repay England as far as lay in his power for the injury she had done him. Before he had crossed the continent the boundary question had been settled by treaty, which, to his great satisfaction, included the release and restoration to their homes of the citizens of the United States who had taken part in the Canadian rebellion.(8)

Map of the Oregon Trail

In the early 1840s American settlers poured into the Northwest via the Oregon Trail. Possession of Oregon Territory became a huge issue in the 1844 election.  Democratic candidate James K. Polk advocated the placement of the border at 54ยบ40' north latitude, thus the famous slogan, "Fifty-four Forty or Fight!"  When he took office in 1845, Polk made it clear to the British that joint occupation was not acceptable.  Secretary of State James Buchanan quietly entered into diplomatic discussions.  On June 15, 1846, the Treaty of Washington was signed by Britain and the United States, setting the boundary between Canada and the United States at the 49th parallel.

Eager to join the conflict over the Oregon Territory, James started out from Michigan “with his own outfit, consisting of six horses and two wagons, in company with William Gansen, a son of Gen. Gansen of New York.” Several weeks into the journey Gansen drowned as they were attempting to cross the Platte River. When James reached Fort Laramie, he joined up with a company of three hundred emigrants and became the hunter for the wagon train, reportedly killing six buffalo in one day. He later reported two incidents that opened his eyes to the law of the Wild West. At the fort a “Mr. Cox shot his own brother while quarreling over a game of cards. He was tried by a citizen’s court martial, [which] found him guilty and shot him on the spot.” Another man, who “killed his partner, was tried at once and hanged.”(9)

Upon hearing the news from other emigrants at Fort Laramie that the Oregon conflict had been settled by treaty, James had no reason to continue on to the Pacific coast.  He traveled as far as Jim Bridger’s trading post, located in a lovely spot on Black’s Fork of the Green River in present-day southwest Wyoming.  William G. Johnston wrote his impressions of the spot:

We came to Fort Bridger…at the foot of the Uintah Mountains, which loom up grandly above the beautiful, fertile valley, surrounding the trading post, one of the most attractive spots thus far seen… There are several log buildings, surrounded by a high picket fence, and having a heavy, wooden entrance gate…(10)

Drawing of Fort Bridger

Bridger built his crude fort in just eight days in December 1843.  It was hardly a secure fortification against an Indian attack:

I cannot imagine how the term ‘Fort’ came to be applied to these trading stations, for they have no one point of resemblance to such a structure, Fort Bridger being even more completely destitute than the others of any such feature.  It is simply composed of a few log huts, closely huddled together, without as much as a loophole to discharge a musket through.(11)

On July 17, 1846, Edwin Bryant wrote a vivid description of the buzz of activity that took place on most summer days around Bridger’s place, located in the middle of nowhere:

Fort Bridger is a small trading post, established and now occupied by Messrs. Bridger & Vasquez.  The buildings are two or three miserable log cabins, rudely constructed, and bearing faint resemblance to human habitations. It is in a handsome, fertile bottom, about two miles south of the old wagon trail… There is the finest quality of grass in great abundance.  The stream is pure and cold, and abounds in spotted mountain trout.  There are clumps of cottonwood trees… There are numbers of traders here from the neighborhood of Taos, with dressed buckskins, buckskin shirts, pantaloons and moccasins to trade with the emigrants.  The emigrant trade is a very important one to the mountain merchants and trappers… During the day I visited several of the emigrant corrals.  Many of the trappers and hunters now collected here were lounging about, making small trades for sugar, coffee, flour and whiskey. Several Indians visited our camp…

Circles of white-tented wagons may now be seen in every direction, and the smoke from the campfires is curling upwards, morning, noon and evening.  An immense number of oxen and horses are scattered over the entire valley grazing upon the green grass.  Parties of Indians, hunters and emigrants are galloping to and fro and the scene is almost one of holiday liveliness.  It is difficult to realize that we are in a wilderness, a thousand miles from civilization.(12)

On July 20, 1846, after a flurry of activity, all the wagon companies moved off from Fort Bridger, including the celebrated Donner-Reed party to its ruin, when it was trapped by an early snowstorm in the Sierra Nevadas.  James F. Reed wrote from Fort Bridger, July 31, 1846: “We have arrived here safe, with the loss of two yoke of my best oxen…I have replenished my stock by purchasing from Messrs. Vasquez & Bridger, two very excellent and accommodating gentlemen, who are the proprietors of this trading post.”(13)

In August, just a few weeks after the ill-fated Donner party left Fort Bridger, James joined Bridger’s trapping party headed for Jackson Hole and the West Thumb of Yellowstone Lake. They would be gone for eight months. Bridger had explored the Yellowstone region for the first time in about 1830, forty-one years before the first official U.S. Geological Survey of Yellowstone (1871) and its designation as the first National Park. William Wheeler recorded James Gammell’s account of his first visit:

In 1846 I started from Fort Bridger in company with old Jim Bridger on a trading expedition to the Crows and Sioux.  We left in August with a large and complete outfit, went up Green River and camped for a time near the Three Tetons, and then followed the trail over the divide between Snake River and the streams which flow north into Yellowstone Lake.  We camped for a time near the west arm of the lake and here Bridger proposed to show me the wonderful spouting springs at the head of the Madison.  Leaving our main camp, with a small and select party we took the trail by Snake Lake (now called Shoshonne Lake) and visited what have of late years become so famous as the Upper and Lower Geyser Basins.  There we spent a week and then returned to our camp, whence we resumed our journey, skirted the Yellowstone Lake along its west side, visited the Upper and Lower Falls, and the Mammoth Hot Spring, which appeared as wonderful to us as had the geysers.  Here we camped several days to enjoy the baths and to recuperate our animals, for we had had hard work in getting around the lake and down the river, because of so much fallen timber which had to be removed.  We then worked our way down the Yellowstone and camped again for a few days' rest on what is now the reservation, opposite to where Benson's Landing now is.

From here we crossed the present Crow Reservation and made our winter camp at the mouth of the Big Horn, where we had a big trade with the Crow and Sioux Indians, who at that time were friendly towards each other.  The next spring we returned with our furs and robes, passing up the Big Horn River and over the mountains to Independence Rock and thence home.(14)

Bridger returned the following spring (1847) in time to meet the advance party (Brigham Young, Orson Pratt and Erastus Snow) of the Mormon pioneers,(15) and Gammell took his earnings and returned to his wife and year-old son, Orlin, in Michigan.
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  1. Alter, J. Cecil, Jim Bridger, pp. 340-41. Words spoken by Major General Grenville M. Dodge, 11 December 1904, at the dedication of the monument he erected to Bridger in Mount Washington Cemetery, Kansas City, Missouri.
  2. Alter, pp. 172, 301.
  3. Jedediah Smith, who was known for reading his Bible around the campfire, gave Bridger a nickname. He called him ‘Old Gabe’ because Bridger, with his self-assured manner, reminded him of the angel Gabriel spreading the word of God.
  4. Salt Lake County, Utah, court files, April 21, 1853: “James Gammell, plaintiff, vs. James Bridger for trespassing. Settled by the Partys May 2, 1853. The plaintiff is to pay the cost to Sheriff. James Bridger has seized upon the above named goods ($500) without due process of law.”
  5. James’ letter to Mackenzie, dated January 24, 1843, indicates that he was settled in Jackson, Michigan.
  6. Wheeler, William F., “The Late James Gemmell,” Montana Historical Society, vol. II, p.332. Gemmell told Wheeler that he went out on the plains in 1843 or 1844.
  7. 1900 U.S. Census, Los Angeles, California, indicates that Orlin was born in July 1846.
  8. Wheeler, p. 333.
  9. James Gemmell obituary, The Dillon Tribune, April 9, 1881.
  10. Alter, p. 233. Quote from the diary of William G. Johnston, Sunday, June 17, 1849.
  11. Alter, p. 231. Written by William Kelly, 14 June 1849.
  12. Alter, p. 219. A quote from Edwin Bryant, What I Saw in California, pp. 135, 142-44.
  13. Alter, pp. 219, 221; Vestal p. 159.
  14. Wheeler, p. 331.
  15. Alter, p. 223.  "Brigham Young and the Mormon pioneers chanced to meet James Bridger near the mouth of Little Sandy. A granite monument bearing a bronze plate, in the town of Farson, Wyoming, marks the “Site of the Bridger-Young Conference” of June 28. 1847.”