Mary Melissa McAdams Robertson reminiscences in History of John Henry Robertson and his wife Mary Melissa McAdams by Alice Bates Cutler in Robertson family life sketches, circa 2012, 3-12.
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- Source Locations
- Church History Library, MS 25748
- Related Companies
- Lewis Brunson Company (1862)
- Related Persons
- Matilda Caroline Backus
- Lewis Brunson
- Emma Louisa Gittins
- John Henderson
- John Jones
- William Washington Mail
- Edwin Robertson
- James Henry Robertson
- James Lyman Robertson
- Jane Hunter Robertson
- Jasper Robertson
- John Henry Robertson
- Mary Jane Robertson
- Mary Melissa McAdams Robertson
- Nephi Robertson
- Mercy Ross
This was our company as we prepared to leave with the Saints. My father found out and he became very angry and threatened the life of my husband. At last I went to my father to try and reason with him and bid them goodbye two days before our departure. He kept me and would not allow me to leave the house. My husband dared not come for me. I was expecting to become a mother in a short time so I could not do anything but remain. I was nearly frantic for my husband and two small children, Matilda [Caroline Backus], 6, and Mary, [Robertson] 2. The company left on schedule – my husband [John Henry Robertson], his mother [Jane Hunter Robertson] and brothers and sisters. I knew my children would be in safe hands – but would I ever see them again? So many things could happen and I dared not say a word. The company left at sunrise, I knew. My husband and children were gone and oh my baby. My father did not know the time they were leaving and they had been gone three days before he discovered it. They were so angry that I dared not tell which road they had taken. I knew and feared there would be a terrible struggle. My father and two brothers put on their guns and started out to find them. They did not return. You can imagine the anguish and pain I endured.
After three days and nights of terrible anxiety, I heard footsteps on the walk, and in a short time I heard some pebbles thrown in the window or porthole, then the voice of my husband, John Henry. I was in the upstairs room. He told me they had crossed the river but that he could not go on without me and that I must come. He had a horse and cart at the lakeshore that was near our, that is my father's home. I flew into my clothes and gathered up a few things and slipped down the stairs. To my surprise, my father and brothers had not returned yet. I called gently to my mother. She had heard us and was fully dressed. She came with me and broght such things as medicine and things that I would need. So, with her loving arms around me and her kisses and blessings upon us, we left. I shall never forget that parting with tears of joy and sadness..never to meet again in this world.
My husband and I were together again, John telling me of the children as I clung to him with the horse and cart bouncing over the rough roads to my children and to the West and Zion. We traveled almost constantly, only stopping long enough for the horse to eat a little and to rest our weary backs. When John Henry and I reached the company, there was great rejoicing between mother and children and relatives and friends. I was very weak and sick for many days. We heard nothing from my people and we started on our pioneer trail and travels to the land of Zion and the West for better or worse.
We arose the next morning and were called together. We sang a song and our Chaplain John Henderson offered a prayer for all concerned and gave us fine instructions. He bade us all stay close together. With a song in our hearts and a prayer, we were on our way.
We traveled over some broken country and crossed over rivers but only one of the teams required help. We doubled the last two teams and came right through without much difficulty. We reached the Elkhorn River at 7:30 and camped for the night. It was an open country with grass but no wood. We had passed Winter Quarters the previous day where they had rested and waited for us. The men cut grass with their knives for the stock horses and mules. We went on the next day, passed the Elkhorn and went on three miles further and camped for the night, having traveled 33 miles or 9 miles from what they call the haystacks.
Next morning, always with a song and prayer, we formed a circle and were instructed by our captain. There was a captain over every ten men, Henry being one. The captains chose 10 and he was placed over them to guard one-half of the night. These men were responsible for the camp and could not leave the immediate vicinity of the wagons. We traveled on. We reached the Platte River Pioneer Camp. The weather was sometimes clear and sometimes stormy and the roads would be very slick and slippery and dangerous in places.We passed some traders wagons and purchased some salt and other things from them and sent letters to our people. Their wagons were loaded with pelts, hides and things they had traded with the Pawnee Indians. Some buffalo meat was secured from these traders for our company. This we enjoyed very much.
Sunday we enjoyed the Sabbath Day. There was but little done on the Sabbath. In all the travels of the Saints, Pres. Young ordered that a trumpet should be blown and at 5 A.M. every man should arise and attend to prayers before leaving his wagon. Then cooking, eating and feeding of cattle and horses. They should not start to travel until 7 A.M. when the bugle was again sounded and the camp was expected to move on. Each extra man should travel on the off side of his team with his loaded gun over his shoulder, and each driver should carry his gun with flasks of powder and caps ready to lay his hands upon it at a moment's warning. In case of attacks from hostile Indians or any sign of danger, the wagons would travel in double file and would have one hour for dinner. In forming an encampment the wagons would be arranged in a circle with the mouth, or front of the wagon on the outside, and the stock and horses tied on the inside of the circle. At 8 P.M. at the blowing of the bugle, every man had to retire to his wagon and all but the guards be in bed by 9 o'clock. All fires were put out at bedtime. The rules were given to the members by the captains. All wagons were placed with the tongue outside and with the forewheel of one wagon locked in the hind wheel of the next wagon and the gate was carefully guarded. Many of the pioneers slept in their wagons; some in tents and these were pitched near the wagons on the outside. Sometimes the camps would be made near a lake or river. In this case the corral would be made by wagons being locked in a half moon shape from two points near the water. After driving for a few weeks, they could drive into their exact position even after dark, and could make camp in a very short time. It would look like a small city away out on the level prairie. It was quite a strange sight to see these emigrants traveling over these prairies and country with one small group of persons and animals crossing the plains in a compact body. When camped as described, it made quite a village. thus, where a short time before had been Indians and wild beasts, now would be created, as if by magic, quite a bustling village of men and women of all trades who had been selected to build up a new country – engineers, farmers, stockmen, lumbermen, doctors, lawyers, all kinds. These were the ones who were appointed to perform the labor of building up our great cities and our great Salt Lake City, as well as other parts of our great West.
We had many a scare from the Indians and one morning William Mails, a boy of 16, went to find a horse that had strayed from camp. We hears his screams and the men rushed to the place but were just in time to see four buck Indians riding at full speed over the hill. The horse was gone and also the boy's coat and gun. The Indians had killed the boy with a tomahawk. The whole company was in an uproar. The people were very frightened. More guards were put to guard the camp, and we lived in fear for many days. The boy's body was taken on for several miles; a coffin was made of some of our wagon boxes and he was buried beside a little creek and some trees beside the trail.
We now came to many beautiful trees, hills and mountains, also streams, swamps and prairies. We were at the south side of the Laup [Loup] Fork. Tall, dry grass and both blue and white daisies grew near the many sloughs. There was an abundance of small fish. The men cast a net and caught a great number of fish which were very good to eat. We women made cornpone as there was plenty of wood. We also gathered red wood for the wagons and after a short rest the barrels were filled with water and we continued on our way. We ran into some sloughs that had to be crossed and into some soft places, getting stuck in the mud. We had to unload some of the water and put six or eight horses and mules onto the wagons to get them through. Some went in so deep that it was over the hubs and the box drug the mud. At last we got through. The country on the north side of the river, Laup Fork, was becoming more hilly. There had been a terrible rain and the men had to build some road. It took several hours to repair it and the women and children worked with the men so that the road would be repaired for the next company that would follow us.
Once more on our way, we passed some ruined Indian villages that had been destroyed by a flood. We camped that night on Sand Creek, a clear stream of water. It was a beautiful moonlight night and some Indians crept up to our cattle as they were feeding and stole a couple of them. They tried to get them all but the calves were inside the camp so the cows ran to the camp to their calves and the Indians were afraid to come closer. The men on guard could not overtake them and thought more Indians might be behind the mountains so did not dare run into a trap. The next morning a hot wind was blowing—the dust was very bad. We started out at the usual time, a closer guard was kept and everyone was in readiness for we feared the Indians and we had been told they were very bad at this point in the road. We traveled on until about 11:30 a.m. when a wheel of our wagon hit a rock and broke the 'ex' in the wheel. We camped for a short time and our wheel was repaired. We traveled on until about 6:30 P.M. A halt was called and we stopped by a river called Grand Island. There were large rushes, cottonwood trees and plenty of grass for our animals and plenty of wood. We stopped early as it was Saturday. We did our washing that we might have clean clothes for the Sabbath Day. The men found and killed some young goats. Their meat was very fat and gave us meat and grease.
After our journey on Monday we found ourselves on a pretty stream called Wood River. Many small trees and all kinds of shrubs grew on the stream. The stream was about thirty feet wide with a good ford. After leaving this stream we traveled on a table land of prairie that ascended for four or five miles. very level, fine traveling. After noon we stopped for dinner and fed our animals—one or two of the horses were sick. It was very warm, the wind was blowing from the south and we had but very little water. A colt and a calf were born and we had to add them to our already overloaded wagons. We traveled on to the other side of Grand Island. The water was fine, the grass was tall and dry so after we were ready to move on, we fired the grass that it might grow up again and be ready for the next emigrants that might come along-as there would not be a great deal of moisture left. We had many hardships and were growing tired. A young man, Mercy Ross, 21 years of age contacted a stomach trouble and died.We made a coffin and once more buried one of our company. There was by this time some discouragement, some growling, and some complaining for there had been many hardships. Some of the wagons and carts were giving out, the clothing and shoes were beginning to show wear and the food was getting low, but Capt. Brunson had great faith and with his faith and ours and our prayers for the loss of some of our numbers, we pressed on and crossed the Wood River. It was here that the Union Pacific Railroad was later build. We did not see many herds of buffalo, as we had been told we would, but saw a few stragglers, of which one or two was killed. It was always early in the morning when they were seen-before the heat of the sun-as buffalos are a lazy animal and lay in the shade most of the day.
The next day we were on Elm Creek where it empties into the Platte River. We were now many miles from the Missouri River. We had come to a long range of 'dog towns'. They were little light brown animals with fur and chubby heads. Their tails were short and they had a sharp bark. They lived in the short, stubby grass. It grew hotter and was very dry and dusty. The horses and mules and cattle could hardly move along. They moved slowly, their tongues out and nostrils extended-panting and sweating. We were nearing our half line mark. The sand was ankle deep. The next stop was Chimney Rock. The region was dry and somewhat sandy. There was a hot wind and it was very sultry. A number of our company were very sick from the heat and the stale water. Several of the teams gave out. We could see the Platte River at the foot of the mountain, but to reach it was some twenty miles. There was a tribe of Indians that had their village on the opposite side.
When we reached the river the next day, the Indians, in a small boat, crossed over and begged us for food and powder. They carried a white flag to show us they were a friendly tribe. We had now ca[m]ped at the half way point on our tiresome journey. The landmark, Chimney Rock, was not far from the Nebraska-Wyoming lines. After two days of travel we were camped on July 23, 1862 at the old Fort Laramie. The evening was very warm. We had sighted the old fort about 4 o'clock in the afternoon. Everyone rejoiced for it meant rest for a few days and protection while wagons were repaired and animals could be shod, barrels and shoes repaired, and washings could be done. All afternoon, I, Mary Robertson, had been in great pain and distress. Henry dared not leave me for long but I slept from exhaustion. July 24, 1862 Grandmother Robertson, being a midwife, stayed by my side all night and 'early this morning our son was born, a fine baby boy-mother and child doing fine.' (James Henry born Laramie, Whoming [Wyoming] ) All in the company were very concerned and kind.
Wagons were repaired, horses shod and everything put in readiness and our new son added to our company. With prayers, songs, and rejoicing, we started again on our way with new faith and hope. We traveled a few hours and came to the _______ River. It was very muddy and too high to ford, so we had to ferry all our wagons and animals across the river. This took a great deal of time. Old Fort Laramie was built of dobies. It was 144 x 103 x 9 x 9 x10 x 11. The walls were about 30 inches thick. There were 15 rooms and store rooms or partitions. On the south were shelters for the stock and horses. In the center was a square tower, 30 or 30 feet high with lookout holes to watch for approaching hostile Indians and prairie fires. The ferry was large enough to carry two teams and wagons at once. It was built of logs. There was a trading post where you could trade furs, hides, food, and salt. The Indians were very numerous here and cattle and horses were guarded very closely as there had been many stolen from the pioneers. Here at the trading post things were very high. Rope was $2.00 a pound, calico $5.00 a yard, tobacco $1.50 a plug, whiskey $32 a quart, flour .25¢ per pound and sugar could not be bought. There were a great many half-breeds at the fort—French, English, Sioux Indians, and many others waiting for their companies.
Sixty-five miles from Laramie we camped near a beautiful stream of water with a large spring of cold water flowing down from a high cliff overhead. The roads were smooth but steep but we had made good time. We were in the tops of some large mountains. You could look in almost every directions for miles around to the beautiful surrounding country. Almost every day we had thunder showers that seemed to come from the peaks of the mountain which were still covered with snow. The roads were washed out. Traveling had been slowed down and the men filled in the washes and fixed the roads for our company and for those who would come later. We had now reached the bottom of a small creek called Horse Shoe Creek. The roads were narrow and very steep there. The men went out hunting and killed a couple of deer—Henry killed one—and they were dressed and divided as usual.
I placed a good portion of cream in the churn that morning and put it in the back of the wagon. This we did each morning and at night we had butter from the jolting of the churn during the day's travel. We were now meeting many traders and pioneer trains each day, and it made us feel safer and secure. We found the feed getting much better, wild mint and sage were everywhere. We had gathered a great deal or medicine and poultices. We had traveled slowly all day over a prairie-like country and now came to high mountain and high rocky bluffs. The banks on either side were very steep. We came to a little creek called Sweet Water [Sweetwater]. Again the mosquitos were very bad, and a small fly called a horse fly had a terrible sting. While we were camped at noon the men went up into the pines and out onto a flat and were fortunate enough to kill an antelope. We had not had any meat for several days, only grouse and sage hens. Another emigrant train had passed through going to California a couple of days before us and had taken most of the feed so we had to move on. The baby was very good but had to be packed in pillows in a box to protect him from the jar of the wagon. I had walked several miles that day. We camped on Green River that night. This river was very swift and deep. There were large pines so the men made rafts and took the wagons across. Most of the horses and cattle were made to swim. Edwin nearly lost his life as he could not swim and when he was in the deepest part of the river, his horse began to lunge and threw him. He was rescued by John Jones and brought safely to shore. There were two beautiful buttes, their colors red and green, called 'church buttes'. There were large trout in the stream and wild geese in abundance. We enjoyed a couple of days here. I had grown strong and the baby was fine. A small girl, Louisa Gittings [Gittins], had come with the company. She walked a great deal of the way and helped out in every way possible to pay her way. She helped me with the children and baby. I gave her calico and linzy for a dress, also some shoes. She was a dear little girl and did much good in the company.
We now came to a canyon and a great rock. We had been traveling upgrade and the horses and mules and cattle were very tired and weak, so we stopped to rest a great deal and to help others up the grade. With great care we now had to watch our roads as they were rough. Here on the Sweet Water we met a number of traders. We sent letters back home to our friends and here one of our company also went back.
Our next stop was on the bank of the Upper Platte and we were able to find our directions marked on the skulls of buffalos stuck in the ground. The next part of the road was steep, crooked and with sharp turns, and we came to some deep ravines. We had to travel a long way to get to the bottom. The road was marked by pieces of board preserved for that purpose with the miles printed on them. They were marked for 200 miles. We passed some springs called Poison Springs. The mosquitoes were terrible; you could hardly see the sun for them. There was a swamp and two of the oxen got down in the mud and had to be pulled out. We left there as soon as possible. It was the rule for ten wagons to go forward in the lead each day and ten alternate ones the next day with the captain in the lead, in turn, until all the company had taken the lead. Thus every division would have their equal privilege of leading. We traveled 20 miles this day and camped on a small creek with 2 large red buttes near. They were in fantastic shapes and were named and marked by Pres. Wilford Woodruff. We were traveling very slow as the day was very warm. We could see something in the distance that looked like a huge pile of rocks. Some of the men got on horses and went on ahead to investigate, thinking we were on the wrong trail. They found it consisted of a vast pile of rocks 500 feet long by 100 feet wide. The rocks were large and piled on each other and on the top were thousands of names of emigrants and travelers and trappers marked in every way.
We again started on our way. A few miles and we crossed the Sweet Water that was about 4 feet deep. Where we crossed a pole bridge was made. This was a channel through the Sweet Water named Devil's Gate. The road passed through the high ridges of granite leaving a surface of about two rods on each side of the road. We traveled down the stream until we found water that was good and some feed. There were small cedars for wood. We traveled through beautiful mountain chasms and valleys of the Sweet Water, then we dropped down to the narrows where there were meadows about a mile above the canyon. We had a little difficulty in finding the trail as a hard rain had come the day before and washed out some of the roads. We camped in what was called the Ten Mile Canyon. Grass grew very high and soon covered the trails. We were getting very warm and tired. Our shoes and clothing were showing the effects of the long journey and some were completely [....e]. We came to Weber Fork. Willows grew very thick, bears were quite numerous... you could see their large tracks in the clay and mud. In the thickets by the large springs feed was plentiful for our animals and we had plenty of fish and game. We had been able to trade for some flour for our company with some of the traders traveling to California.
On August 22, 1862 we were very happy as we were expecting to reach Salt Lake in a few days, so our trials seemed light..on August 28 we were soon to reach Salt Lake. Our Chaplain John Henderson, a man of God, had kept his company full of courage and faith. We had been blessed greatly. The trip down Echo Canyon had been most wonderful. The hand of God has most certainly touched this beautiful country. We had had some hard rains, and the thunder and lightening, the rumbling of wagons, the sounds of the cattle, horses and mules seemed to say 'we are nearing home'. Everyone was happy the night we camped in Emigration Canyon. Grandmother and the boys, John, James L., Edwin, Nephi, and Jasper all together we met that night and tried to plan where to settle, but decided to wait until we could see Pres. Young, that he might direct us what to do. Next morning we were on our way. Even the animals seemed to know. The sun was very hot. We entered a canyon, very narrow on each side and a small stream at the bottom. Sulphur springs fell from high overhead down the granite walls. Some places we had to work for a day on the road to repair them from the rains that we might travel on. There was great rejoicing when the next day, August 29, 1852, we reached Salt Lake City. We were given a warm welcome by Pres. and all the Latter Day Saints. We were shown every courtesy possible by our leaders. We were given food and clothing and a place to rest and feed our cattle until we could decide what to do.