At the trapper's cabin were found the frozen carcasses of some beaver, which it was thought could be utilized as food. But frozen beaver even when roasted failed to satisfy the hunger of the men. Captain Richards tells of one member of his company, George W. Brizee, who, as a result of exposure was suffering from a severe case of toothache and very sore feet. Finally, the pain in his feet grew easier. But "his tooth reminded him that it needed his attention; and after lying down and trying to sleep, frequently reiterating that he knew he should die, he got up and went out and returned with a hind-quarter of beaver and began to roast it over the coals; and in a half-reclining position he spent the entire night roasting and trying to eat the tough, leathery meat, first consigning his feet to a warmer climate, and then as his toothache for a time attracted most of his attention, giving us a lecture on dentistry; when his tooth was relieved for a short time he would, with both hands holding on to the partially roasted quarter of beaver, get hold with his teeth and try to tear off a piece ! The picture by the weird light of the fire was a striking one
The party did not tarry long at the Irish settlement, which was reached on the evening of the next day, since it was evident that the settlers had barely sufficient food to keep themselves alive and would surely suffer if the command remained for any length of time. The day of leaving Medium Lake was a cloudy one and rather warm‐just such a day as is sure to start the water running from rapidly melting snow. Only a short distance had been traveled when rain began falling first as a drizzle, but by the time Cylinder Creek was reached it was a downpour. The prairies were flooded, while Cylinder Creek was about half a mile wide, completely covering its rather narrow bottom, which was under from two to five feet of water, while the main channel had a depth of fifteen to twenty feet and was from sixty to eighty feet wide. Obviously the problem of crossing would be a serious one. Arriving at the border of the valley about two o'clock in the afternoon the command vainly sought a passage. Then suddenly the wind veered sharply to the northwest and became a gale‐the rain changing into a blinding fall of snow. This was the fearful blizzard of April fourth that overtook the Johnson party on its return from the Gardner cabin.
Captains Richards and Buncombe, not despairing of being able to effect a crossing of the main channel, undertook to improvise a boat out of a nearly new wagon box. With very little effort this wagon box was caulked water tight with bedquilt cotton. Solon Mason and Guernsey Smith were the men chosen to assist in getting the boat across the channel. But the wind blew so hard that, although Richards and Buncombe bailed water as rapidly as they could, the party scarcely reached the opposite side of the channel before the make&dashbelieve boat sank‐the men barely saving themselves from drowning. Thus the attempt to take all across in that manner failed.
Having no blankets and unable to assist their comrades on the opposite side, there was nothing to do but hasten on to Shippey's Point which was two or three miles distant. This point they reached about nine o'clock at night. Here they were liberally fed, and by sitting around the fire all night were able to dry their clothes by exposing first one side and then the other to the fire.
When morning came the storm had abated somewhat, and so it was decided to return to the creek in an effort to locate the command. Mason had not gone far when he succumbed to the cold and had to be taken back. It seems that in crossing the Cylinder he had lost both overcoat and cap. Upon their arrival at the east side of the bottom the men could see nothing on the other side to indicate the presence of their comrades. After spending some time in trying to accomplish a crossing, they gave up the attempt and returned to Shippey's. There they remained until about the middle of the afternoon when they again returned to the creek. This time they were no more successful than before. Resigned to the thought that the remainder of the command had either perished or returned to Medium Lake, they wandered back to Shippey's. Shortly after their return, Hoover and Howland came in and reported that when they left the command all were safe on the west side, though suffering considerably while waiting for the channel to freeze.
Early on Monday morning, while the blizzard was yet raging and the cold was still intense, the little group at Shippey's once more started for the creek in an effort to locate their companions. Reaching the creek, the little group saw the men on the opposite side making preparations to cross‐the storm by this time having abated so that a crossing might be attempted. The creek was now solidly frozen so that the task of crossing was easy. The way to Shippey's was soon made. Here they told the story of how they had saved themselves from the terrors of the awful storm.
From this story it appears that no thought of returning to the Irish settlement had been entertained by those who had been left behind. Major Williams and two or three others had, indeed, returned, hoping that they would there find the burial detail and guide them to the Cylinder Creek camp. Those at the latter place resolved to remain and await the dying down of the storm before making any further attempt at crossing; and they set to work to improvise a shelter. Again the tarpaulin wagon covers were brought into use and supplemented with blankets, which when fastened together were stretched around and over the wagon frames and then staked down to the frozen ground. This improvised shelter was completely closed excepting a small flap opening on the south or lea side which served the purpose of a door. Then with blankets and other covers a common bed was made; and into this the party crowded, wet from head to feet. Here they remained from Saturday night until Monday morning when a few ventured out to examine the state of the weather. Finding conditions satisfactory they began the crossing after having tarried "over forty hours, without food or fire, on the open prairie, with the mercury at 32° below zero."
It is little wonder that when they started to make the crossing the men had scarcely "strength enough to reach the opposite shore. . . . Every man's mouth was open wide, his tongue hanging out, and in some instances blood running from nose or mouth." Governor Carpenter, in commenting upon this terrific test of endurance notes that "since that experience upon Cylinder Creek, I have marched with armies engaged in actual war. During three and a half years' service, the army with which I was connected, marched from Cairo to Chattanooga, from Chattanooga to Atlanta, from Atlanta to the Sea, and from the Sea through the Carolinas to Richmond. . . . But I never in those weary years experienced a conflict with the elements that could be compared with the two nights and one day on Cylinder Creek.
After refreshing themselves at Shippey's the men held a consultation and reached the decision that henceforth the command should break up into small details‐a plan that seemed necessary on account of the increasing difficulty of securing food. Each group was to find its way home in the best manner it might be able to devise. Every man was ordered to rid himself of all surplus baggage, retaining only his blanket. Thus the expedition really came to an end with the crossing of Cylinder Creek. But the hardships of the men were not ended; before a number of the squads reached home they endured trials almost as severe as those encountered before crossing the Cylinder.
The experience of the little group which Frank R. Mason undertook to guide is perhaps typical of the hardships of the journey south from Shippey's. Mason had frequently been north of Fort Dodge hunting in the timber along Lott's Creek, and for that reason he was selected by a Webster City group to pilot them home. "With his party he struck out boldly across the prairie in a line which he thought would lead to a clearing in the timber where he knew they would receive a hearty welcome. As darkness came on the men began to show exhaustion; but the looked-for timber along Lott's Creek did not appear. One of the men, Hathaway by name, became wholly exhausted and had to be carried. Within a short time he became delirious; and then the united efforts of three of the party were needed to keep him under control, with only indifferent success. Finally passing into a stupor he was more easily managed.
When Mason and his companions reached the timber at about eleven o'clock the expected cabin could not be found. The men grew impatient and at times were inclined to criticize Mason as an incompetent guide. Having reached a slight elevation or ridge, and despairing of locating the cabin, they prepared to spend the night. Snow was cleared away until the bare ground was reached and upon this they threw themselves. They had had no food since the start; indeed they had not brought any with them, for they had expected to reach the cabin before nightfall. When they had lain sleepless for nearly an hour, voices were heard and out of the darkness appeared human forms. The newcomers were Mr. and Mrs. Elwood Collins who were returning from an evening spent at a neighbor's home.
The finding of the men is thus described by Mrs. Collins. "Husband and I, after having stayed later than usual at a neighbor's, started for home. . . . All at once the outline of dark objects appeared before us .... I at first thought we might be upon a company of Indians ! We were too near to retreat .... I then heard groans of distress, and I thought sobs .... We had a lantern, and as the light shone upon the place my pity was truly stirred. There, with the snow crushed beneath them, were eight men; some sitting, some reclining, and others lying flat upon their backs!
Having been piloted to the clearing the men slept that night in the cabin loft. In the morning they breakfasted hastily and resumed their journey to Webster City. Hathaway and Gates had to be left at the cabin as they were not able to proceed. This day's experience was but a repetition of the previous one. As darkness fell the men were again exhausted, but by crawling on hands and knees they managed to reach the cabin of a Mr. Corsau where they were taken in for the night. On the following day they were taken by Corsau to Webster City.
Thus ended, for this Webster City group, the fearful experience of attempting to relieve the settlers of the lake region from Indian attacks. For the Fort Dodge men the task of making their way home was easier, as it did not necessitate the crossing of as many streams‐which at this time were in flood condition. At the same time their trip was not lacking in incidents of trial. They arranged the march from cabin to cabin so that they might have no difficulty in procuring food, for they, too, made no attempt to carry supplies. More than once the men experienced trials similar to those encountered by the Mason party, and like them they too found the place searched for before hope was gone. Within three or four days after leaving Cylinder Creek, all parties had straggled in‐weary, worn, and wasted. They were met with a hearty welcome from friends who had thought them in all probability lost on the northwestern prairies. All who had volunteered in the expedition returned home in safety, except Johnson and Burkholder who perished in the snow.