The Trek West and the Death of James McDonald En route

The Mormon Tabernacle Choir paid tribute to our pioneer ancestors on the July 202014 – Music The Spoken Word by telling the account of Sarah Ferguson McDonald’s tragic loss of her husband and hearing the cries of her children giving her resolve to go on.  Sarah’s courage is an inspiration to all of us facing what often seem insurmountable obstacles in life.

William McDonald stated in his Autobiography that the family joined the Aaron Johnson Company, but the LDS Church records list them as part of the Benjamin Hawkins Company of 1850. What appears to be a contradiction is made clear to be an accurate account by reading a newspaper article from the “Frontier Guardian” June 12, 1850 .

“We have attended the organization of 350 wagons of Salt Lake Emigrants up to Saturday 8th inst., Capt. Milo Andrews [Andrus] is a-head with fifty wagons. Next follows, Capt. Benjamin Hawkins with one hundred; Thomas S. Johnson, Capt. of 1st Division, and —- Capt. of Second Division. We left them at Council Grove 12 miles from Bethlehem west of the Missouri river, on the morning of the 7th inst. Next in succession is Bishop Aaron Johnson with a train of one hundred wagons; Elisha [Elijah] Everett [Averett], Capt. of 1st Division, and Matthew Caldwell, Capt. of the 2nd Division. Next in order is Capt. James Pace with one hundred. Richard Session, Capt. of 1st Division, and David Bennett, Capt. of 2nd Division. The Emigrants are generally well fitted out with wagons and teams, provisions, &c.

There are some wagons quite too heavy. Those brought from St. Louis are good, but too heavy. A heavy wagon with a stiff tongue is unsuitable for the journey. Let no person hereafter buy a wagon for this trip unless its tongue has a joint in the hounds forward of the axletree. Light wagons that will bear from sixteen to twenty hundred pounds, are the most suitable for this service. These heavy lumber concerns should be left here, and not used by our people, neither by anybody else, unless they choose.”

Our ancestors began with the Benjamin Hawkins Company followed closely by the Aaron Johnson Company.   The tragic loss of their father at the North bank of the Platte River caused the family to fall behind, complete their journey, and arrive in the Salt Lake Valley as part of the Aaron Johnson Company.