By Nellie VailBlow gently oh Breeze Across the wild prairie Send a cool fragrant breath O’er the hot sagebrush plains. Fall softly, oh sunbeams On the lone helpless wanderer. Oh traveler make haste E’re your help be in vain.
Heat waves poured down upon the little company of travelers as they wound their way across the endless miles of desert country. Many days they had traveled thus, till horses and men were worn thin and women and children were tired of the ceaseless heat, nervous and unsmiling.
Warren Johnson’s family going to the Big Horn Basin at that time consisted of his first wife, Permelia, their daughter Nancy and her husband James Bruce smith; another son and his wife, Jerry and Annie. Jerry was the son of Warren’s second wife, Samantha. Because Permelia needed help since Warren Johnson had a broken back, and needed much care, they had brought two of Samantha’s daughters along on the trip, Mattie and Lucy.
Warren knew that he would never be able to walk again, but the Big Horn Basin sounded like a good place to settle and have all of his married children close around him. Together they could build up a profitable empire.
At this time they were out on the Wyoming desert with no water available except that in the barrels.
They found themselves in a hot, dry desert, covered with sagebrush, cactus and sand. It was late afternoon, and the stops for drinks were unsatisfactory since the barrel water tasted worse than nothing. Someone in the first wagon thought he saw a bird that had swooped down for a meal. It seemed to be moving, but the sun made mirages in the sand. It really seemed to be moving around, but what was it? Some thought it might be a coyote stalking a prairie dog.
The heavy wagons lumbered slowly on, and when they approached the object it really began to look like a little child. Mattie and Lucy were walking behind their wagon, so Aunt Permelia called for them to hurry ahead and see what was out there in that awful desert.
The girls put on a brave show, but secretly worried about what they would do if it began to chase them
When they drew near, Mattie called out, “Oh, it is a baby” and the girls ran and tried to pick up the little fellow.
What a pitiful sight! Swollen tongue was hanging out of his mouth, eyes were red and swollen almost shut, and his little face seemed to be blistered from the sun!
Instead of coming to the girls, he was afraid of them, so Aunt Permelia came to the rescue.
The little boy cuddled up to the woman and cried “Mama” over and over. This Mama knew what to do for him and did it using the water that they had sparingly to bathe him and let some liquid trickle into his mouth. Soiled clothing stuck to the delicate skin and had to be soaked before removing. After being fed a small amount of gruel, the little eighteen months baby fell asleep.
When night came on and they made camp, the little fellow clung closely to the mother who cared for him through the night.
Sometime later, possibly the next day, a mail carrier overtook them going toward the settlement or camp they had passed the day before. The mail carrier thought he knew the family who was missing the baby, so he offered to take him back to the settlement.
The travelers kissed him good-bye and gave the mail carrier many instructions about the care and feeding of the baby.
Many weeks later they heard by the Pioneer grapevine that the mailman had restored the child to his own family.
He had wandered off into the desert when his mother thought he was asleep. There had been searchers out in all directions, but it was like a miracle when the child was returned. We do not know the name of the child or his parents, but have heard Mattie and Aunt Lucy tell about finding the lost baby in the dry desert.
Note by Lucy Cox, February 6, 1993: Nellie Vail wrote this for a Relief Society writing contest. She was given a first place award. I remember when these were read in a meeting held in the Old Armada Theater. I have added named and have edited it and shortened it a bit. The original is in Jim Smith’s Big Genealogy Book.