Ballard, Margaret McNeil, Autobiography, 3-9, in Utah Pioneer Biographies, compiled by Yalecrest Camp, Daughters of the Utah Pioneers.
On April 27, 1856, we left Liverpool for America. There was a large company leaving. My mother was not well and was taken on board ship before the time of sailing, while the sailors were still born, with only one woman on board the ship to attend to mother. When the Captain and the doctor came on board the ship and found that a baby had been born, they were delighted and thought it would bring good luck to the company. They asked for the privilege of naming him. Brother Willis, President of the Company, thought it best to let the Captain name him, as there were eight hundred passengers and nearly all of them were "Mormons". So he was named Charles Collins Thornton McNeil, after the boat, Thornton, and Captain Charles Collins. We were on the ocean for nearly six weeks and at the end of this long tiresome journey, we landed at Castle Gardens, New York. During this time, we had many hardships to endure, but through it all we were greatly blessed. Because of my mother's condition and me being the oldest member of the family, and being blessed with good health, I had to share the responsibility with my father of taking care of the rest of the family, who suffered greatly with sea sickness. On board ship we had to prepare our own food and were permitted to take our turn using a stove which provided for the company. I was the cook for the family and sometimes experienced trouble in preparing our porridge, which was about all we had to eat. I was but ten years old and somewhat of a venturesome spirit and through this perhaps I met many more difficulties than I would have done otherwise. However, I was protected from accident and blessed with good health the entire trip. After landing, we planned to go west to Utah with the handcart company, but President Franklin D. Richards counseled my father not to go in that company. Afterwards, we were very thankful because of the great suffering, privation and cold weather which those people were subjected to. There were many of the company who were frozen that year on their journey.
My father was then advised to go to Sf. Louis, spend the winter there and then prepare to go through to Utah the next year. Instead of staying at Sf. Louis, he was called on a mission to help make settlement one hundred miles west of civilization. The place was Genoa. We left Sf. Louis on the steamboat and came up the Mississippi River. The measles broke out while we were on the boat and all of my mother's children, except me, took them and were very sick. When we landed we camped on the bank of the river until our teams and wagons came.
When we were all ready to start on our journey westward, my father’s team consisting of unbroken, five-year-old oxen, ran away and our family was delayed. My father [Thomas McNeil, Jr.] had never seen oxen and the animals allotted to him had to be roped and tied to get the yoke on them and fastened to the wagon. As soon as they were released from the ropes, they became unmanageable and ran away.
The Company had gone on ahead, and my mother was anxious to have me go with them, so she strapped my little brother, James, on my back with a shawl. He was only four years old and was still quite sick with the measles. Mother [Janet Reid McNeil] had all she could do to care for the other children, so I hurried on and caught up with the Company.
I traveled with them all day, and that night a kind lady helped me take my brother off my back and I sat up and held him on my lap with a shawl wrapped around him, alone, all night.
He was a little better in the morning. The people in the camp were very good to us and gave us a little fried bacon and some bread for breakfast.
We traveled this way for about a week, my brother and I not seeing our mother during this time. Each morning one of the men would write a note and put it in the slit of a willow stuck in the ground, to tell how we were getting along. In this way, mother knew that we were alright.
I arrived in the place which was to be called Genoa ahead of the company and was the first female in camp, thus, becoming the first female resident of the present city of Genoa.
The rest of the Company arrived on 19th of May, 1857. We stayed in Genoa about two years. During this time we had very little to eat as the people were poor. We raised corn, but the frost came early and it did not ripen well. We had to dry it in the oven and it was so nearly spoiled that we had to open the door while it was drying because the smell was so offensive, but it was all we had to eat. We had only one hand grinder for the Company to use in grinding, which belonged to a Brother Sleight. Of course it kept us very busy grinding.
During the settlement of Genoa, we suffered much from the hostile indians. They were very troublesome and we were always in danger of being molested.
After we had made this settlement, my father was called to go and help make another settlement called Woodriver, about one hundred miles west of Genoa, which made it two hundred miles from civilization. This was a very pretty place surrounded by trees, most all of them being elm trees.
One day while we were here at Woodriver, our cow got away from us, and when father found that she was lost, he sent my brother, Thomas, and me to hunt for her. We looked all that day but were not successful in finding the cow. We started out early the next morning to continue the hunt and looked all day until towards evening. We were going down along the Platte River about five o’clock and as we looked down the river, we saw three large Souix Indians coming across towards us on horses. They looked very warlike and I was afraid they would carry us away with them, so I said to my brother, “Let’s ask our Heavenly Father for His protection.” We were running as fast as we could and still kept praying all the time, although we did not have time to get down on our knees.
The indians soon came right up to us and wanted us to go with them. We were trying to be brave and told them we were going home, and pointed toward our house, for we could see the smoke coming out of the chimney. One of the indians tried to pull my brother up on his horse, but he was heavier than the indians expected, and my brother slipped from his grasp and dodged right under the horse’s belly, between fore and hind legs, and we ran until overtaken again. The indians laughed and had a good time at our efforts to get away from them, but in our maneauvers we were getting near home. I asked them to go home with us and mother would give them coffe and biscuits. I was shaking all over with fright and could hardly speak, but pointed over to where the men were working. The indians left us and went over to where the men were working and then went to our house and mother gave them a nice warm supper and they went away peaceably. Our Heavenly Father surely blessed and protected us on this occasion, for which we were very grateful.
We did not stay at Woodriver very long. My father made all preparations to go on and when the next company came we were ready to travel with them, and the place was abandoned, regardless of splendidly growing crops, because the indians were so troublesome. The captain was very pleased to have us travel with his company and was kind to us.
We had to cross the Platte River in which there were so many sand bars that it made the crossing very dangerous. The men were helping the women over but my mother was so anxious to get over that she started out with a baby in her arms, thinking she could get through herself. She had only gone a little way when she began sinking into the quick sand and was going down very fast, when some of the men saw her and ran to her assistance. It was a difficult task to get her out safely and she had a very narrow escape.
We had many such experiences while crossing the rivers. One night our cow ran away from camp and I was sent out to bring her back. I was not watching where I was going and was barefooted. All of a sudden I began to feel that I was walking on something soft and looked down to see what it could be, and to my horror found that I was standing in a bed of snakes, large ones and small ones. At the sight of them I became so weak I could scarcely move; all I could think of was to pray, and in some way I jumped out of them. The Lord blessed and cared for me so I was protected from many other such experiences.
While crossing the plains my mother’s health was very poor so I tried to assist her as much as I could. Every morning I would get up early and get breakfast for the family and milk my cow so that I could hurry and drive her on ahead of the Company and let her eat in all the grassy places until they had passed on ahead and then I would hurry and catch up with them. The cow furnished us our chief source of food and it was, therefore, very important to see that she was fed as well as circumstances would permit. In this way the cow gave plenty of good rich milk. Had it not been for the milk, we would have starved.
Being alone much of the time I had to get across the rivers the best I could. Our cow was a Jersey and had a long tail. When it was necessary to cross the rivers, I would wind the end of the cow’s tail around my hand and swim across the stream with the cow.
I was always careful to watch for every bit of wood I could find on the way. Our only fuel consisted mostly of “buffallo chips” and each day I would gather a large apron full of these chips for the campfire at night and morning, on which we cooked our meals.
At the end of each day’s journey, I would milk my cow and help prepare our supper and then would be glad to go to sleep wherever my bed happened to be.
We traveled very slowly until we reached “Sweetwater”. Here there was a terrible storm. The Captain got on his horse and scouted around to see if he could find a place of safety. It was snowing and the wind was blowing a terrific gale and we would have perished out in the open. The Captain found shelter down at the bottom of a hollow. We camped here for several days until the storm abated. I was very brave and wanted to go out and explore this new camping ground. I had not gone far when I saw a large ox grazing a little way from where we were. I ran and told my father and he and some of the other men went, brought the ox into he camp and killed it for the company. The find of this ox I thought was wonderful, and, I felt, very providential, as we were almost starving.
In leaving this camp. we had not gone far when we met Patriarch John Smith and Brother John P. [John Y.] Green[e] who were going on Missions and were traveling with a mule team. Father went to them for council and told them of our circumstances. Brother Smith blessed my father and gave him ten dollars, and Brother Green[e] gave him five dollars. Brother Smith told father to leave the company and go on as fast as possible for it was getting cold and we were short of food. He also said to go through Weber Canyon to Ogden, as it was much quicker. With the money that was given us father bought fifty pounds of flour, it being twenty dollars a hundred at Fort Laramie. We also got a little meat. Brother Smith advised my father to stay in Ogden until he earned enough food to put us through the winter and then go to Cache Valley and take up land there.
We started out on our journey alone and had a very hard time of it. Our food gave out and we had nothing but milk and wild rose berries to eat. However, we had a good team and could travel fast.
We arrived in Ogden on the fourth day of October, after a journey of hardships and hunger, with thankfulness to our Heavenly Father for His protecting care. I walked every step of the way across the plains and drove my cow, and a large part of the way carried my brother, James, on my back.
[A brief edited version of this narrative is also available in "Utah Pioneer Biographies," 44 vols., 4:49-50 in the Family History Library, Salt Lake City, Utah.]