Mattinson, Robert, Reminiscences, in Frances Rushton Hutchens, Life stories of my ancestors 1996, 1-3.
At the age of twenty I, with my parents, who had joined the Church in 1847, immigrated to America. We landed at Boston and from there traveled to Chicago by railroad. It was then a mere village. The first night we spent there was the third of July. The noise was terrific, as they were starting to celebrate the Fourth of July.
From there we traveled to Iowa City, where I, with my parents, two brothers and one sister joined the Martin’s Handcart Company and commenced our journey of thirteen hundred miles to Utah.
We crossed the Missouri River and traveled three hundred miles to Florence to refit and lighten our loads. The company set forth from Florence the last of July. On each handcart was placed flour and our clothing, as the wagons would not hold the entire load. At first we traveled fifteen miles a day, although delays were caused by the breaking of wheels and axles, the hear and dryness making many of them rickety and unable to sustain their loads without frequent repairs.
We traveled along, standing guard at night. We had ox teams, which hauled the tents and what provisions we had, and when we came to a sandy, bad road, we helped the teams what we could by pulling. We took turns in herding the loose cattle, and all that were able helped stand guard at night.
There was plenty of game and hundreds of buffalo but too far away to be shot.
We now came to the open prairie country, where nothing could be seen but grass and passed the remains of the outfit of W. A. Babbit, Thomas Margetts and one woman, who were killed by the Indians and everything burned.
There were other companies ahead, and we could read on the bleached buffalo heads how far ahead they were.
Provisions were scarce, and we were cut down to one pound of flour a day. After that, my father began to weaken but never failed to do his share of the work and help pull the handcart. He worked all day with little to eat, and when night came, he gathered wood to build a fire, set up the tent, then went to lie down. When he was called to supper, he could not be awakened. He died that night, but we could tell nothing about his death, only by the breathing and rattling of his throat, as we had no light. He was buried the next morning near Deer creek.
Nights were getting colder and guarding began to be very oppressive. Deaths were frequent. Gradually the old and infirm began to droop, even able-bodied men, a few of them continuing to pull their cars until the day of their death.
Rations were again cut and we had not enough to keep up our strength.
When we reached Laramie, I tried to buy a little food of some kind, but could get nothing but a quart of corn, which we ate without cooking. Traveling began to get very tedious. Every day brought its hardships, fighting against hunger and cold weather and bed covering was not sufficient to keep us warm. It would be midnight, many nights, before all the company would be assembled. Men were detailed to help the weak ones into camp, and many were frost bitten, losing fingers, toes, and ears and dying from exposure.
After leaving Laramie, rations were cut to a quarter of a pound of flour a day, and at one camping ground thirteen corpses were buried. After crossing the North Platte, we had our first snow storm. We could not make distances. Cattle were too poor, so we had to hive up night herding. After the snow, we stopped for two or three days to get rested and grease the carts. Some shod the axles with old leather, others with old tin from their mess outfit, while for grease they used their allowance of bacon and even what soap they had.
We made very short drives. Days were getting shorter and the people weary. The snow fell and many of the cattle were devoured by wolves, while others perished from cold.
Here we saw the first Salt Lake man, Joseph A. Young, the first of the relief party that came to find us. After seeing this brother, it seemed to give the people strength and were allowed a little more flour out of the two remaining sacks.
In the evening as we neared Devil’s Gate, there were many who did not expect to see the light of another day. It had stormed all day and was one of the worst days. We traveled on through the storm and it was hard to keep the people alive. The night was terrible. Part of the stockade was cut down to burn, and the other part was left to shelter us from the piercing cold.
The next evening we crossed Sweetwater to Martin’s Ravine, where there was plenty of cedar wood. The water was waist deep and just freezing enough to let us through the ice. It was a bitter cold night. Some of the relief party that were with us carried the women and children over. People too weary and cold, ate their scanty bit of flour dry. We put up our tent, cleaned out the snow, and that night the wind did not blow.
After leaving this camping ground, we traveled about seven miles a day and it was the first time I did not pull a handcart. The relief party that were with us carried the women and children in their wagons. Even those short distances, it was hardship to walk. Every day brought a few more of the relief party, and from that time on we began to get a little more to eat.
We next stopped at Green River, and the day we crossed, it was given out by the captain that everyone who was able must cross on the ice, the river being frozen over. The weather was bitter cold, but we had good fires as the relief party found the most convenient places where there was wood.
In the meantime there were from seven to ten deaths a night. The next morning they were buried, nothing to put them in but the grave. I was called to help bury the dead. It was a terrible job, as they are buried just as they were dressed.
At last we arrived at the foot of the Big Mountain. The cattle and wagons had broken track, so it was possible for us to walk over, and everyone who was able was ordered to walk. It took just one whole day to get over it, and we camped in between the mountains.It was a cold night and nothing but green willows to burn. But we had plenty to eat for the first time, together with some clothing and buffalo robes for the worst off.
The next day, being the last day of November, brought us into Salt lake, Sunday, November 30, 1856.