It seemed like ever since we left Sugar Creek, the plains had been fighting us with wind, rain, and bad trails. Father said, “We have done well to cover seven miles today, but our wagons are in bad shape and we’ll be spending the next few days repairing them. Besides, if there is a storm tonight—and the sky gives every appearance of delivering one—the ground will be too muddy tomorrow for the few tired teams we have to move the wagons.”
Just as we finished setting up camp, another storm set in. But in spite of the rain, the Jacksons came over to our tent and ate their dinner with us as was their custom. After dinner we sang a few songs, to the accompaniment of the wild wind and thunder. When the Jacksons left, we fetched our bedrolls and had prayer. Then father put out the lantern.
The dark tent suddenly seemed less homey. The wind shivered its sides and the icy rain drove right through the canvas. I felt sad thinking about our comfortable home we had abandoned in Nauvoo. But I was too tired to be bothered for long and was soon sleeping soundly.
It seemed like I had only been asleep for about five minutes when I awoke to find Father clutching my shoulder, trying to rouse me. “What’s the matter?” I grumbled.
“The storm frightened off some of the horses last night. All of the boys and men in camp are going out to round them up.” Father handed me my boots and added, “I don’t know about the rest of the families, but we’ll never get anywhere without all of our animals.”
I sure will be glad when we catch up with the other Saints, I thought. I missed my friends who had gone ahead and hated the idea of our family being stranded out on the plains alone for even a week waiting for another horse. I pulled on my boots and tucked in my shirt. Just then my stomach growled noisily. Father laughed. “Come on. Sister Jackson’s fixing some breakfast for us, then we’ll have prayer and start out.”
If there was anyone whose breakfast could make me get out of bed, it was Sister Jackson’s. She made the best biscuits I’ve ever eaten. On the way over to the Jackson’s tent, I noticed that the wind was still blowing, but it wasn’t as vicious as the night before. The sky was cloudless. We might be cold while we search, I thought. But at least we won’t get rained on.
After everyone finished breakfast, we had a prayer and then all the boys and men in camp divided up into pairs. I was to go with Brother Jackson. We headed out on foot toward the southeast, with some leftover breakfast biscuits in our pockets and two canteens of water. We searched for a good four hours and found nothing but a few blurred tracks on the muddy plains.
Brother Jackson and I finally stopped to rest and eat the biscuits we’d brought. We were discussing whether we should head back to camp when I heard it. At first I thought the sound was just the whimpering wind. But it kept coming, mournful and low, even when the wind dropped for a minute.
“Do you hear that, Brother Jackson?” I asked.
He cocked his ear forward as though he thought it would sharpen his hearing. “Don’t hear a thing, Jonathan,” he answered.
“Sounds like it’s coming from over there.” I pointed toward a patch of scrub not far off.
Brother Jackson plugged his canteen and pushed himself to his feet with a groan. “We better go and see,” he said.
About a quarter mile away we found our family’s horse, Josy, lying between two large bushes.
“She’s been bit by a rattler,” muttered Brother Jackson.
“How do you know?” I asked.
“Just look at that leg! Sore as can be. And her nose is all swelled up too. It was a rattler, all right, no doubt about it.”
“What can we do?”
“Not much.” Brother Jackson’s eyes looked a little misty.
“We can’t just leave her here to die!” I shouted. “We need her too much.” I was almost in tears.
Brother Jackson put his hand on my shoulder. “I know how you feel, son.” He paused and then added. “She might make it on her own if she keeps still and has water. Then again, maybe there’s time to get back to camp for some snake-master root for her. Anyway we won’t give up.”
“Let’s head back to camp then,” I said, ready to run all the way back if necessary in order to save Josy.
“Hold on, Jonathan!” Brother Jackson grabbed both my shoulders and looked straight at me. “You need to stay here to keep Josy calm and give her some water every now and then.” My face must have shown how much I didn’t want to be left alone. Brother Jackson gently added, “It may save her life.”
I looked around at the empty surroundings. Then I looked at Josy. She might die if I didn’t stay. All I could say was, “All right.”
“Good,” said Brother Jackson. He helped me build a fire and then took one last drink from his canteen and handed it to me. “Keep these canteens warm by the fire and try to get Josy to drink a bit. But mind you save some water for yourself, and don’t go getting yourself bit by no rattler either.” He gave me an encouraging slap on the back and then strode off toward camp.
I sat on a rock and put my head in my hands to pray, but mostly I just shed a few tears. A moan from Josy brought me around. I took off my neckerchief and wet it with the warmed water.
“There, girl, everything will be all right,” I murmured as I wiped the horse’s forehead. I wondered if she could tell how frightened I was. “Just relax.” I put a little water in my cupped hand for her to drink, and she was able to take some.
I reckon I nursed Josy off and on for about three hours. Between times I just lay next to her and tried not to think of the lonely plains. But every time the wind stirred a bush, my heart jumped, and I thought it might be another rattlesnake.
Finally the wind died down and it was warmer. I guess the sun made me drowsy because I fell asleep. When I woke up, I couldn’t remember where I was for a minute. It was getting dark and a mist was coming up. Then Josy made a noise. She was not lying by my side anymore, but was standing up! The swelling of her nose had gone down some, and her leg didn’t look too bad either.
Brother Jackson wasn’t anywhere to be seen. I thought he should have returned by now, so I called, “Hal-loo!” hoping that he would be close by searching for us. The mist made my voice sound like I was in an empty room. There was no answer.
The fog increased, and the little light there was began to fade. I decided to head back to camp. “Come on, girl,” I said, “let’s go home.” Josy seemed to understand and quietly followed behind me as I started back in the direction we had come.
The farther we walked the darker it got. The fog was setting in good and thick. At first I kept calling out, “Brother Jackson!” every few minutes. But after a while I quit. Josy seemed to be doing well. I thought she’d be fine if I could get her back to camp and let her rest.
We walked on and on. I wasn’t certain any longer in which direction we were going. All the time we walked I kept praying that we’d get back to camp and that Josy would live. I prayed for Brother Jackson, too, wherever he was. I had almost decided we should stop for the night when I heard a wisp of music. This is it, I thought. I just knew I was done for and that it was angels singing their choruses while coming to get me.
Then I recognized the song. It was “Gentle Annie!” And our camp band was playing it!
It was hard to tell exactly which way the music was coming from, because the fog did strange things to sound. But the music was getting louder, so I knew we must be headed in the right direction. I think Josy heard the music, too, for her spirits seemed to pick up just as mine had.
Before long I could see the glow of a campfire through the fog, and gradually the outline of the wagons appeared.
“Jonathan, is that you?” my father called as he ran out to greet me. He grabbed me and swooped me up off the ground. “I’m sure glad to see you. The band’s been playing for two hours, hoping you’d hear it—ever since we found Brother Jackson.”
“Yes. Brother Edwards and I found him as we were coming back from searching for the horses. Seems he fell and hit his head and knocked himself out. We couldn’t figure out what he was saying about you.”
I explained about finding Josy and the snakebite as we entered camp.
“We organized a search party for you, but the fog became too thick and we all had to come back.” Father looked at Josy’s leg and shook his head unbelievingly. “And to think that you made it back—and with Josy too.”
I smiled. “Will Brother Jackson be all right?” I asked.
“Yes, but he needs to rest for a few days. By the time we get the wagons repaired I hope both he and Josy will be ready to travel.”
I was happier at that moment than I had been for a long time. Josy was going to be fine. And I had learned that it didn’t matter where I was as long as I was with my family, for that’s where home really is!