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Autobiography of James Dunn

Excerpts from the Autobiography of James Dunn

I was born in Kirkintilloch, Dumbartonshire, Scotland on the 12th day of July 1837. My father's name was John Dunn, and my mother's name was Jean Stirling. . . . [p. 1]

. . . I was baptized in Campsie Glen by Elder William E. Shaw on the afternoon of Saturday of the 12th day of August 1854, and confirmed a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in Kirkintilloch on Sunday afternoon on the 13th day of August 1854, by Elder William E. Shaw. . . . [p. 5]

. . . At that time, during the crime on war at least, there as always a sergeant or two in every regiment who was always busy on the streets of a city to hunt up the loafing men and try and induce them to join the army, and so it happened that one of them met me and asked what I was working at. I talked, I was not doing anything but was thinking to try and join the Army. With a clasp of my arm he had me soon on the way to the general recruiting office. Strange to say, I was up to the standard and with a lie I reported myself a year older than I was, and after going under the doctors examination, I was then sworn in as one of her Majesties soldiers. The very thing I had run away from home to do. . . . [p. 7]

. . . I am not quite sure, but I believe it was in 1857 that I returned home from the army with two very important resolutions in my mind; first, to live up to my religious duties as a Latter-day Saint, and second, to try and get means enough to take me to Utah, as I read in the papers that the government of the United States was organizing an army to go to Utah to rule over the church in that far away place. I read with sorrow and shame of the killing of our Prophet Joseph Smith and his brother Hyrum in Carthage Jail and the driving of the Saints from Nauvoo and other places, and I had made up my mind to be with the Saints to share their sorrows and privations that seemed to be before them all the time.

Such was the resolutions I had formed in my mind and I had resolved to follow them up, if it was the will of the Lord that I should do so. So I kept on praying until I had an answer to my prayer. One time while praying for an answer the spirit said this to me, "In a little while in this conference a call will be made for a few volunteers traveling missionaries and if you will volunteer to be one, your father will let you have the money so you can go to America but, on no condition are you to tell any person what I am telling you."

This command I marveled much at the time. It was not long after that before a church conference was held in the city of Glasgow, and before the conference was ended a call was made for some volunteers traveling missionaries. When the call was made I stoop up and told them I would be one. What is your name? asked the president. I said, "My name was James Dunn."

"Dunn," said he, "and well done." A saying at that time that made all the people laugh that were present.

I was called to stand and after a little consultation by those who were on the stand I was ordained to the office of priest and was sent out as one of the traveling priests of the Glasgow Conference. . . . [p. 10]

. . . After laboring in the mission field for a time, I was moved upon to return home and have a talk with my father about advancing me the money to take me to America and just as I had been told, he really made no objections to advancing me the money but said I could have the amount that would take me to New York. That very same day, I wrote to the Church Office in Liverpool and asked when the next vessel sailed to America. I then returned again to the mission field as I thought it would be best for me to do as it would be three or four days for an answer to my letter.

In three days, I returned home again and there was an answer from the Liverpool office stating that a vessel was just going to start to New York and that would be the last vessel that would sail with Latter-day Saints for some time to come as under present conditions, the Church would send no member to America for some time. As soon as I got the letter, I left for Liverpool so as to try and catch the vessel before she sailed.

When I got to Liverpool the ship had left its dock but on account of some orders misunderstood, she was stopped just a little ways out at sea. In the Church Office I reported myself and they told me there were a few Latter-day Saints on board and I was to hunt them up and take charge of them till we landed in New York. There I was to report myself and then to Apostle John Taylor, who was at that time in New York publishing a Mormon Newspaper and overseeing the Church work there. When I was ready one of the brethren from the office took me to the ship office and we soon got a small fast sailing boat that took me to where the big ship was moored and I was soon on the deck of the vessel that was to take us to New York. The ship we sailed on was called the Dreadnought, but it took three weeks to land us at Castle Garden, the place where all emigrants were landed in New York in those days.

On trying to hunt up the few Saints that were on the vessel, I could only find some three or four on the vessel. If there were any more I could not find them out.

I was seasick nearly all the time I was on the boat and if it had not been for an old Irish lady whose berth was near mine and who found me sick in bed. I would have been in a poor condition as she nursed me and fed me like a mother when I was so sick I could not take care of myself. A kindness I never forgot. Of course, as soon as I had landed in New York I went to report myself to Apostle John Taylor whose address I had but when I found his office he had gone to Utah and T. B. H. Stenhouse was in charge. To him I reported myself and the other few Saints I found on the ship as they knew where they were gong to land. Elder Stenhouse told me to call again in the afternoon and when I called, he handed me over to a Brother Simonds, who was in the office and I was turned over to him who was to take care of me until I could find work to do when I could take care of myself.

It must have been August or early in September of that year 1857, when I went to live with Brother Simonds family who lived at that time on 42nd Street. For a time, I tried to find work in many places in New York, but after a long search I could find no work to do. I then concluded to go up into the country and very shortly found a job on a farm about two miles from a town called West Farms. I was paid by the day and the wages were small. I had to board with the family whose husband had charge of the place, but with [p. 11] it all, I did save a little every week. The people I lived with were fine people. Morning and night they had family worship, the mother of the family always quoting from the scripture and reading the prayers morning and evening from the prayer book. She was an educated lady and one of the finest readers I ever listened to, either reading scriptures or reading the prayers. Her gift of reading was always music in my ears. The family treated me as one of themselves, which made me feel very much at home.

Just at this time, one of the greatest financial panics the United States ever underwent burst over the whole nation, but seeming more particularly to center right in the city of New York. The newspaper of the city and in fact over the whole nations, were filled with the story of the great catastrophe. Many of them giving their account of how the great calamity came about. The bankers, merchants and the big mill owners soon found out how it came about and it came about in this way when the while facts were brought to light and the case was summarized as it stood.

President James Buchanan because of some false stories that a federal judge by the name of William W. Drummond, acting in Utah, sent the president the news that Brigham Young and the Mormons were in rebellion against the United States Government, concluded to send an army against the rebellious Mormons and whip them into subjection. By the orders of President Buchanan, an army of nearly twenty-five hundred men was organized to march to Utah.

After the army was organized, there was one great drawback in order to get them to Utah. There was near fifteen hundred miles of plains and mountains that an army had to carry all its provisions and supplies in teams as between that distance there was no city or town where any supplies or provisions could be bought or secured. The plains in those days were only a wilderness with no highways or railroads for the convenience of man or beast. When the army was fully organized an all ready to march, the question of feeding the army over the long journey was next in order. After the whole matter had been canvassed, it was said that the president gave orders to the treasury department in Washington to secure six million dollars from the banks in New York to purchase the supplies necessary for the army in their long journey across the plains on their march to Utah. There money was secured from the banks, but it took about all the money the New York banks had on hand at that time. When the merchants and the mill owners, as was their usual custom to get money form the bank to settle their monthly business and found no money there, there was no other way left for them but to shut their doors and to close their mills, which was the reason that brought on the great panic of 1857. [p.12]

. . . When I came to America, my greatest desire was to get to Utah to be with the church I loved so well, for I new it was the church of the living God from the many testimonies I had received. I had now been in America one and a half years, but everything seemed to be in the way of me having the desire of my heart fulfilled. There was a large army on the way, so it was said to exterminate the whole body of the Church in Utah, and my greatest desire was to be with them and share their trials and afflictions but everything seemed to be against me in having the first chance to be with the body of the Church. Not for a moment did I think that the whole United States Army could exterminate the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints any more than the martyrdom of Joseph Smith and his brother Hyrum Smith exterminated the Church when they were martyred. It was the Church of Jesus Christ established for the last time and there was no power on this earth that would exterminate the gospel that had been restored for the last time. It seemed to me that my chance of getting to Utah would never come it everything was to work out as things had worked out with me as they had done since I had landed in New York on year and a half ago. Of course, I knew there had been no emigration of the Saints to Utah during that time, on account of the army going that way. But, if there had been, I could not have gone for the want of means as it had taken all I could make on account of the hard times the panic had brought to every state of the union.

Yet with all that I still had the confidence and assurance that when the right time would come, the Lord would open the way that I would have the desire of my heart to be with the body of the Church wherever they might be located, as some of the papers had been publishing the news that the army as going to expel all the Mormons from Utah. In fact, it was reported that the Mormons had left Utah in a body and had gone South to find another land to dwell in before the United States Army could cross the plains and get into Salt Lake City where the great body of the Latter-day Saints were located. I had full confidence that President Brigham Young was the appointed leader of the Latter-day Saints and that God was with him. All the plans of men would be frustrated and the Church would rise and prosper, as they had never prospered before for God was with them and his plans would be worked out in spite of all plans of man to stop the progress of his church that was now established for the last time to usher in the great thousand years of peace and rest that had been promised by Gods holy prophets ages ago, and had been predicted by our own prophets and leaders, who had been raised up on our own days and gave us so much joy to hear and know of what was coming to pass. [p. 18]

The last letter I had received from home was a letter from my mother, and a very short and peculiar letter it was. All that the letter said and implied was that under no condition was I to join any theatrical or dramatical company that the dull times I was passing through might carry my thoughts that way. Of course, in my youth I was very fond of shows and other such amusements. In facet, I had taken a part in one of our own home dramatics; although, perhaps unknown to my mother. As a general thing, the Scotch people looked upon followers of the stage as too lazy to work and too fond of the whiskey. I had received the letter just when I was leaving Mr. Weatheralls place in Yorkville to go to New York to work in the coal yard. It is most wonderful how that letter helped to bring about the very desires of my heart and I will here relate.

When the winter of 1859 began to show the first sign of coming spring, I was soon on the streets of New York to find out what chance there was to find a job of any kind of work, as my means was all used up. Not only did I travel the streets, but I hunted up the newspaper to see if any jobs of work was advertized in them.

One morning, I found the following advertisement in one of the papers: "Wanted: A young man to joining a dramatic company. Call at No. so and so." As I read the ad, I concluded to apply at the place stated in the paper. No sooner did I concluded to apply at the place than my mothers letter came to my mind, then I began to reason with myself that my mother did not want me to join a dramatic company. I then began to reason with myself that I was out of a job and needed to do something for a living, and if my dear mother knew my condition she would not object for me to take a job even with a dramatic company. I started to find the place but my thought were divided. One thought was to obey my mother and my other thought was I needed the job as all my money was gone and how could I get a living any longer without money, as my contract with the Irish lady was just about up. To take a little honor to myself I did think I had some dramatic ability from the fact I had written quite a few verses on many subjects that I would sometimes recite to myself until I did really get a notion that I had some dramatic ability that might be useful to me some day. I went to hunt the place as it gave both the street and the number where to apply, a places I soon found out. Almost every step I took, my mother's voice rang in my ear, "Don't go Jimock." I did go until my hand just about touched the handle of the door when another voice whispered, "Don't go!" I knew it was the voice of the spirit! I turned around, went down the stair and soon was back in my lodging home agin. Wondering! Wondering! What it meant, but inside of three weeks I did find out. [p. 19]

The winter was fast passing away but it was yet too early to hunt for farm work in the country without a little money in my pocket, and I was burst up and would soon be owing a bill to my very kind and agreeable landlady. I concluded to spend a week or two more in New York City hunting for a job.

It certainly did seem to me that work was harder to get than it really was the year the panic first burst over New York City, and from there all over the other states of the union. I had still in my satchel the songs I had printed the year before and I began to wonder if I could not sell a few of them. At best, it could not be much, but even a dime looked very large in my hand at that time. I concluded I would take a few of the songs with me and if I could sell a few even at one cent, that was better than nothing.

On Monday morning, of the third week, I started out with the understanding and intention that would finish my hunting for a job in New York if I did not find one by the end of the week. Broadway was the great avenue that led you out or into almost every street or avenue of the city of New York. I believe it might be about ten o'clock in the morning I was walking down Broadway about three blocks from the city hall when a man came right up to me and said, "You are the very man we have been hunting for, we wanted you to go up to Baltic and take charge of a mall branch we have there." "But," said he, "I am going to Utah and if you like to come and drive team for me, I will see you will get something to eat." I instantly recognized him as President Thomas Lyon who was the president of the New York and Brooklyn Conference. What a joy his words were to me and my answer was, "It's a bargain!"

From President Lyon, I was informed that the U.S. Government had found out that the reported rebellion in Utah against the government was all a lie, and that the army sent there had passed through Salt Lake City without any trouble, and that the Church emigration to Utah would start again in the spring. That was the reason he wanted me to drive his team. A number of companies were now getting ready to start for Utah just as soon as they could be fitted by rail and boat, and from Florence cross the plains to Utah by team and wagon, and that was the reason he wanted me to go with him to drive his outfit. Thus, the many prayers I had offered to my Father in Heaven was going to be answered. Not only that, but then I knew the reason why I heard the earnest voice of mother, and the whisperings of the Spirit not to go into that room where I was going to try and join that dramatic company I spoke about in another chapter. Had I joined that company perhaps President Thomas Lyon would have had no chance to meet me on Broadway again and give me the chance to go to Utah, a chance I so much desired and prayed for that come to pass. For it was for that very cause I had left my father and mother and all my relatives in Scotland, so I might have the chance to get with my brethren and sister in Utah, I loved so well. [p. 20]

I went home to my lodging house and fixed up with my very good and kind friend I had boarded with and told her what I was going to do. The songs I still had I left them in a barber shop thinking the barber would make better use of the paper than I had. I went to the home of President Lyon to help him get ready to go to Florence to start on his journey to Utah. It as a long dreary job to get ready for a start on our journey to Utah.

There was the two yoke of oxen and the wagon to secure before any move could be made, then there was the provisions for the journey for a family of six to last ten weeks, or perhaps more. When everything was finally arranged for the journey, we were organized as every camp was, with a captain over the company, a captain of the guard and other officers required for the camp in case they might be needed in an attack by the roaming Indians, as there was always safety in being prepared for any emergency that might arise in the long journey of one thousand miles before us. In fact, it was expected that every able bodied man in the camp would be ready at a moments notice to be on hand at the call of the captain, or any other officer of the company.

Every night on the journey the camp was guarded by the men of the camp taking their turn. Just as every night the cattle and horses were guarded the same way when they were turned out to grass after their days journey was over. They needed double watching that they might be well fed and well guarded, for we needed all the animals we had to pull us to our mountain home we all so desired to be.

In some of these duties, I had the advantage of some of my brethren, my training in the British army for one, and my work on the farm for another. Where I learned to drive oxen and horses and learned to take care of them a little better than some of my brethren that had spent all their lives in the city work shop or in the weaving factory, where many of them never did anything else until they left that work to go to Utah.

If I remember right, there were somewhere about fifty wagons in our train, with most of the wagons driven by two yoke of oxen. Only a few with three yoke and one small wagon by one yoke. We averaged about one hundred miles a week, which was about the usually average per week with ox teams.

When we came to the end of Echo Canyon, our captain took the road that passed Coalville, and Park City and came down Parley's Canyon instead of going into Salt Lake City by Emigration Canyon, the old Emigration Trail.

Two days brought us into Salt Lake Valley and no sooner did we get out of the canyon that I began to look around to get a view of Salt Lake City. Oh, how much disappointed I was! I could see the Oquirrh Mountains in front of us. I caught a glimpse of the lake on a line with the Oquirrh Range and all over the valley were farms and farm houses but no signs of a city in view. We had passed the Utah penitentiary and a little further down the bench, I happened to look to the north and there the great city came in view. The great tabernacle, the walls of the unfinished temple, the wide streets, with trees planted on both sides of the streets was a scene I had never seen or ever dreamed of before. To me it was one of the grandest sights I had ever thought of or ever expected to see. It was a scene to me worthy of the poets magic muse. [p. 21]

The captain of our train Edward Stevenson, marched our long train of wagons through some of the upper streets of the city until we came to Brigham Street and had the train drove down that street so as to pass the residence and office of our beloved President Brigham Young, as well as the Church Historians Office on the other side of the street. President Young stood on the porch of his office and watched the weary oxen and the worn out emigrants pass with a very pleasant and welcome look and when the long train of wagons came to Main Street, they then turned south and marched to the great city park some four blocks away and made their last camp on their long trying journey. [p. 22]

In a few days the emigrants and teams had all left the camping ground. Some to settle in one part of Utah and some in another. . . . [p. 23]

BIB: Dunn, James [Autobiography] pp.1,5,7,10-12,18-23 (copy in possession of Ron Shake).

Linked toJames Stirling Dunn

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