By the summer of 1856, after five years in the Salt Lake Valley, Jonathan Grimshaw had had enough of Utah. Even with steady employment in the office of the LDS church historian, it was hard to find sufficient food and clothing for his wife and seven children. “I have nothing to say against the Church or its authorities,” Grimshaw told his boss, “but I think Utah is too hard a place to live.”
With two other families, the Grimshaws prepared to go to St. Louis and work until they could return to their native England. Grimshaw regretted that he could not travel with his friends Thomas Margetts and James Cowdy, who were leaving Utah with horses and a light wagon for a speedy passage over the Plains. The Grimshaws, though, could afford only a heavy ox-pulled wagon.
Grimshaw’s own three-wagon company, with 8 men, 3 women, and 16 children, followed four days later.
They reached Fort Laramie without incident, rested a day or two, then resumed their travels on the morning of September 10. Three days from Laramie, a lone Indian came in to their evening camp and spent the night with them. “He certainly did try to make us understand something of importance,” Grimshaw wrote to a brother, “but was unable, because of our utter ignorance of one word of his language.” The next day, the Indian continued westward, while the Grimshaws pushed on toward the east.
Two days later, they encountered another west-bound train, this time merchants headed toward Salt Lake. The merchants were appalled to see the small Grimshaw company, with so many children and so few men, “only mustering three guns and a worthless pistol among us.”
The freighters told Grimshaw that they were traveling in the midst of a war between the Cheyenne and the Sioux. The freighters had been attacked a few miles back and a woman traveling with them had been killed. A few days earlier, Utah’s secretary, Almon Babbitt, had been killed on his way to Utah, along with two traveling companions – one of whom, Thomas Sutherland, had been a close friend of Grimshaw’s. Even more terrifying, the Cowdy-Margetts company with whom they might have traveled had been slain. “And we were traveling unconcernedly, because unaware of our imminent peril, right into the very thick of the danger.”
The Grimshaws turned back to Laramie. There they found others in much the same circumstances as the Grimshaws, too fearful to proceed. They also learned that their Indian guest was a son of the Sioux leader Black Heart, who, through an interpreter, had told of the Cheyenne attacks – and Grimshaw finally realized that his guest had been trying to warn him of their own danger.
Col. William Hoffman, commanding the troops at Laramie, informed the stranded emigrants that a party of army dragoons was expected there within a few days. If the emigrants would push toward Leavenworth with all possible speed, he would assign the soldiers to accompany them out of the danger zone.
“We accordingly waited,” wrote Grimshaw, “and everything turned out as the Colonel anticipated. It was the 1st Regiment of U.S. Cavalry, under Captain Stuart [actually, Lieut. J.E.B. Stuart, who would become one of the Confederacy’s greatest generals], a perfect gentleman. He behaved very kindly, often relieving the necessities of some of our company, who were destitute.
“When we came to Ash Hollow, where there is a mountain to ascend nearly as steep as a house side, he ordered his men to dismount, and assist us with ropes, and even, literally put his own shoulder to the wheels. The troops traveled with us about 450 miles, warded off the Indians, and brought us through all danger.”
The Grimshaws reached St. Louis in November. Instead of returning to England as planned, they eventually settled in Jefferson City, Missouri, where Grimshaw and his son, Arthur, served terms as mayor. Jonathan Grimshaw died in Jefferson City in 1897.