I was born November 17, 1843, in Bath, Somersetshire, England, and was the youngest son of Joseph Oborn and Maria Stradling of Wellington, England. My father's family belonged to the Plymouth Brethren Church, but joined the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints about the year 1843. Our family soon afterward received the spirit of gathering with the Saints in the valleys of Utah. [p.364] In the year 1856 all of our possessions were sold for cash and this money turned over to the Church Emigration Fund. Father, mother and I said goodbye to Sister Eliza and Brother Henry and other relatives and friends and took a last farewell look about the old home, realizing we would never again see that always-to-be-remembered "Home, Sweet Home." We had now cast our lot with the Saints of God and were on our way westward, little realizing and never fearing the terrible hardships between us and the valleys of Utah.
We traveled by train to Geverfod, where we met other Saints and on Sunday, the 4th of May, 1856, set sail in the good ship Thornton under the command of Captain Collins. It was a sailing vessel with very few conveniences. There was one cook stove for each deck and our family was allowed to use it for an hour each week. The ship's diet was largely bean biscuit soaked overnight. This would still be dry in the center in the morning. But we were happy and after a voyage of forty-one days we landed in New York, Saturday Evening, June 4, 1856. Our journey from New York to Iowa was by train and boat. . . . In Iowa we were assigned to travel with a handcart company under command of James G. Willie. Our one hundred was under the supervision of Millen Atwood. We left Iowa City, July 15, 1856. The train consisted of one hundred twenty handcarts, six wagons, and six hundred souls. We arrived at Florence August 11th and a week later, after repairs to our handcarts, we started. It was very apparent that the handcarts were poorly constructed We left Florence, following closely along the Missouri river, going about 10 miles a day. Father would usually pull and mother and I would push. At the end of the day's journey we would pull our carts into a circle, a meeting would be held and instructions given. I was but a boy of 13 years, but I never shall forget the testimony and the wonderful spirit of sincerity and loyalty of all members of our company.
Our guides kept us pretty well supplied with buffalo meat, which at that time was plentiful. There were thousands. On August 29 we encountered a tribe of Indians. They were friendly to us and told us of a murder that had been committed by another tribe of Indians a few days previous to this in which a lady and her child were the victims. Our train passed the scene of the murder and we buried the remains.
We passed through Fort Laramie on September 30, where a few supplies were bought. We soon began to realize that we had started our journey too late in the year. There were no more buffalo to be found, and our rations were getting low. We were reaching the foothills near Rock Springs. We had already had some snow and the weather conditions looked unfavorable. Our scant rations had reached the point where the amount ordinarily consumed for one meal now had to suffice for a full day. From here on it is beyond my power of description to write. God only can understand and realize the torture and privation, exposure, and starvation we went through. Now word reached us that we must hasten or winter would soon come upon us. Instead of speeding up, the weakened condition of our older members slowed us down.
Each day one or more would die. A few more days, and then came the most terrible experience of my life. This was October 20th. Winter had come, snow fell continuously. Movement in any direction was [p.365] practically stopped. Our scant rations were now gone. Then or twelve of our members, faithful to the last were buried in a single grave. Starvation was taking its toll. A day or two later my own father closed his eyes, never to wake again. He, too, had given his life cheerfully for the cause that he espoused. We buried him in a lonely grave, its spot unmarked. This was not far from Green River, Wyoming. During these terrible times it seemed only a matter of days before all would parish.
We resorted to eating anything that could be chewed; even bark and leaves of trees. We youngsters ate the rawhide from our boots. This seemed to sustain life. Then when it seemed all would be lost, already 66 of our members dead, like a thunderbolt out of the clear sky, God answered our prayers. A rescue party, bringing food a supplies from Great Salt Lake City, sent by President Brigham Young, came in sight. Those of you who have never had this experience cannot realize its intensity. I shoveled snow out of our tent with a tin plate belonging to my mother's mother. We were cared for by a dear brother who was very kind to us. He seemed like an angel from heaven. We left our handcarts and rode in his wagon and slowly, but safely, he brought us to Zion. We passed through Fort Bridger on November 2, and arrived in Great Salt Lake City, November 9, 1856. . . . [p.366]
BIB: Oborn, John, [Autobiography] Heart Throbs of the West, Comp. by Kate B. Carter, vol. 6 (Salt Lake City: Daughters of Utah Pioneers, 1945) pp. 364-66. (CHL)