Friday, April 20, 2012

Johann Lebrecht Baer

Autobiography of Johann Lebrecht Baer

. . . On the 15th, I preached my farewell sermon in my father's house. There was quite a number there. The next day we started on our journey. The parting from my father, brothers and sister was a hard one. One said: "Brother, I would rather see you carried to your grave than go to America." Sister said: When you get there write and tell me how you found everything." I answered that I would write her the truth. As we arrived at Hedington, the next village, there on the side of the road was a woman calling me to come into the house and pray for her little baby who was very sick for many weeks, had 3 doctors and all said there was no hope. I asked her name and she said it was Mary Schmid. Her husband heard me preach yesterday. It was my cousin. I went in, knelt down by the cradle, and asked our Heavenly Father to heal the babe and spare his life. The rejoicing mother thanked me and wished me God's blessing. Arriving in Zurich we boarded the cars which carried us swiftly away from our native land, but before we came to the city of Basil situated on the boundary line I turned my face to see once more the land of my birth. With the snow-capped mountains which glittered like gold from the suns rays - a beautiful picture it was indeed, but a feeling of sorrow with evil foreboding came over me, impressing on my mind that troubles and hardships of a serious nature were awaiting me in the future in the new world. I could not refrain from weeping, the tears rolling down my cheeks. I tried to console myself with the thought that I was leaving my native land for the gospel's sake and for my salvation, remembering the words of Christ, "Whosoever cannot leave father, mother, brothers and sisters, houses and lands for my sake is not worthy of me." But it was hard, hard, hard. Farewell my native land, farewell ye mountains, farewell to all my loved ones. [p.15]

At Basil we took a steamboat down the river Rhein to Rotterdam, Holland. There were 70 persons on board from Switzerland. I had to see that none got lost on the way to Liverpool. At Rotterdam we took the steamer for Hull, England and encountered a heavy sea. The storm was indeed fearful, water came down in gushes into the ships hold, where we were huddled together, women and children crying from getting bruised and knocked about. There were a few families from Holland falling on each others necks and saying good-bye and so on. The ship had 3 masts, one broke off on the deck floor and fell over the ship. Some cattle tied with chains on deck were washed overboard. Then the boat ran on a rock and stood there while they used all the power of the machinery to get it off and down it went with a fearful plunge, but came up again with some machinery broken and our progress was then very slow. In Hull we stayed a number of days. I suppose not to get to Liverpool before the ship was ready to sail the Atlantic. In those days the journey had to be made on sailships as steamers just began to come into use, and would have cost a lot of money to travel on. Underwriter was the name of our boat with 600 passengers, all Mormons, so called from the British Islands, except us Swiss. After all was settled the ship did plow its way over the briny deep and what did we the Swiss hear and see. Hand organ, violin music and then dancing. We did not like that and asked one another what kind of people is this? One of our elders, the very one I first saw in my country went to England sometime ago and could now speak English fluently, told us they were all Mormons. We were horror stricken in hearing this. We never expected that Latter-day Saints would indulge in such worldly pleasures. We were disgusted. I always abhorred dancing. I said: "Mark now, we will have a storm on top of this. Remember what is written in the Book of Mormon when Nephi's brethren and the sons of Ishmael and their wives began to make merry inasmuch as they began to dance and so on - and there arose a great storm and the compass did cease to work. Now we did get a storm so they had to quit too. By and by the storm quit and the ship glided smoothly so the dance went on. I said: "Now mark, there will be a bigger storm and indeed a contrary wind did arise which did drive us back 30 miles before the wind changed in our favor.
I was married to my betrothed by J.D. Ross, a Scotch Captain, along with another couple, Brother Mark H. Forscut [Forscutt] leading the singing.

We landed at New York after 35 days, then on board a steamer up the Hudson River to Albany, from there on the cars to St. Joseph, Missouri. The Hannibal & St. Joseph Railroad was just finished in the fall of 1859. At St. Joseph we boarded a steamer bound north (in those days they went as far as Ft. Benton, Montana). We landed at Florence, 2 miles above Omaha. There we were left on the sand bank of the river. Soon some vehicles came down. People began moving away till all were gone except us, nobody taking any notice of it. At last I went up to see what could be done, so a Swiss brother informed me that there was a handcar standing in an alley saying: "If I were you, I would take it and go and get your things up." I hesitated afraid that they might take me up and he answered: "What else in the world can you do? You cannot stay down there on that sand bank. I would risk it if I were you." So I took the car and going to start I heard a shouting and [p.16] looking back there was a big man and I recognized him as John Smith, Hyrum's son, patriarch in Utah, who I had seen in Zurich. What I could make out of his hollering was he wanted me to leave the car alone. But I started with it in full run down the hill, speaking to myself; "Let him come and catch me if he can." So we got our stuff up and crowded with others into one of those deserted houses. Then I put the car back from where I took it. We had to stay there a few weeks till our teams arrived. I was informed that we could not take our trunks with us. The wagons will be overloaded. I did not like to leave them behind, as they were strongly built, bound with iron and put together with 2 inch screws. They did cost me 14 dollars, even though my older brother made them. There came a man, they said he was a Josephite (that was the first time we heard of Josephites) that wanted to buy some trunks. No doubt he knew that some could not take them along across the American desert and that they could be bought for a song. Well, he offered me so little for it that I considered it a shame. I don't know if it was 25 or 50 cents now for both. I told him the screws alone cost that much and before I would sell at that price I would take the screws and locks and use the wood for kindling. I considered him a very poor specimen for a Latter-day Saint. Well, they all came in very handy in the rocky mountain valley, as we had to stay in Florence quite a while.

Starting on our journey across the plains or American Desert Brother Disam, a Swiss, helped us to continue our journey from New York. He bought 4 teams. I drove one, was to pay him after we arrived in the valley. This I agreed to do. Our train consisted of 35 wagons with 2 or 3 yoke of cattle to each. 8 wagons belonged to the Swiss. We proceeded fairly well until on a very hot day the cattle with their tongues hanging out with thirst about noon we reached Platte River where we watered our cattle. Our wagon was heavy loaded, 3500 lbs. on it with 3 yoke of cattle and 2 of us to drive. One of the oxen was half buffalo. We had him hitched with his mate which was as gentle as a lamb to the wagon tongue. I drove the front ones, my partner the back ones. I unhitched mine but he was afraid of the buffalo. He was a big stout man over 6 feet tall. He could have reached over the gentle one without going between them, but he would not. They had to be watered, no question about that or they might run down with the wagon into the river and mash things to pieces. I started to unhitch them. I was small and could not reach over. I had to go between them. As I took hold of the yoke ring, the buffalo commenced to jump and jump and the other one got scared and jumped too. I was knocked down on the wagon tongue and got pressed in between them with no way to escape. It seemed everyone was scared and kept their distance, leaving me to my fate. But as soon as the captain, J. D. Ross saw what was going on he came with a big stick right in front of the infuriated animals and in the twinkling of an [p.17] eye, they jumped to one side. The axle broke, a wheel fell off. It gave me a place to jump. I made the leap and fell exhausted. When the people came a Swiss sister who could speak three languages got some water and bathed my head and wounds. Brother Ross administered to me. As soon as a new axle was put in they lifted me into the wagon and we journeyed on again. They finally got the yoke off the buffalo, but it took the whole camp 2 hours to get it on again, so it was decided to trade him off the first chance we had, to a ranchman, which we did. In a day or two I was able to walk again, holding on to the wagon, as I had difficulty to breathe. In 2 weeks I was called again to take my turn as watchman from 8 to 12 that night. I tried to be excused as I did not feel well enough. In a short time blood came out of my mouth in lumps that nearly choked me. I had to take them out with my fingers. My lungs have been weak ever since. I had such faith in this Latter-day work that I thought when I could see that place of refuge I would fall down and kiss the very ground and praise God's holy name. But oh! How soon it changed. All along our way we had our morning and evening prayers and sang the songs of Zion. As we were getting closer to the Rocky Mountain Range, a strange feeling came over me, evil forebodings of terrible things, troubles and trials seemed to penetrate my whole system. I felt like the air was full of demons and evil spirits which made me feel so miserable I cannot describe it. The nearer we got to our journeys end the worse I felt. When we reached the top of the big mountain we could look down into that chamber and see teams on the Sabbath day going up and down the canyon hauling wood. I was so horrified and inquired who they were. They answered saying that they were Gentiles. Well, we were told in the old country that no Gentiles would come here as it is the Lord's chamber where the people of God had a hiding place till his wrath is passed over the nation. About 7 or 8 miles from Salt Lake City we made a noon halt. There came a few heavy set fellows from the valley, one of them offered up a prayer but they did not remove their hats. On inquiring who they were I was informed they were some of the twelve to meet us. Well, I did think very little of them, because they would not remove their hats in time of prayer, while all the rest of us were bareheaded. I also found out that those teamsters on the mountain roads were Mormons, Brighams, and Kimballs and others. Reader, you might think how I felt, coming from Babylon in full confidence to go to the Saints of the most high and found them such transgressors of the law, which would not have been tolerated in Babylon so called. O my God, my God, what shall the end be? O Israel of old has gone astray in spite of the warning of the prophets and here Israel of the latter days going astray, yea their prophets and leaders their seducers. As we arrived at the city square, which was dusty as could be and a strong wind blowing, we were in a puzzle, thousands of miles from home and friends, destitute and in a strange country, with little understanding of their language, no advice, no help, no assistance in any way, there you are to root or die. . . . [p.18]

BIB: Baer, Johann Lebrecht. Autobiography (ms 10240), p.15-18. (CHL)