Much has been said and written about crossing the great plains, but not so much about crossing the ocean, which in itself was a real adventure in 1867.
As far back as I can remember a vision of plowing the turbulent waters, walking hundreds of miles over mountain and plain, and finally reaching Zion was constantly before me. I was too young to think about trials and hardships, but I quite sure that travel and romance were appealing to my nature. The conversations I often heard and the songs my father and others used to sing no doubt served to glint m y dream of glory.
Whatever the reason, when the time came for our departure, I was in the seventh heaven. The lady who was to be my stepmother, and her daughterâ€” [p.406] who was my own ageâ€”and myself left our home under the stars we boarded the train to Liverpool. Arriving there, some necessities, peculiar to steerage passengers, had to be purchased and then came the novelty of climbing into a great steamship. To stand on a floating city and gradually pull away from the wharf with hundreds of people waving their hats or handkerchiefs in a fond adieu and hearty "Godspeed you," is an event never to be forgotten.
We had secured berths in the steerage which meant that we must descend through a trap door to our quarters below deck. The sleeping accommodations consisted of a large shelf or platform on either side of the vessel which, by means of boards, could be divided into spaces just large enough to accommodate one person. If a family preferred to sleep closer together the boards could be removed, thus giving more room and perhaps more comfort, if comfort could be thought of under such conditions. As I remember, there was absolutely no privacy, no provision even to hang up a pair of hose for protection from the eyes of the curious. On the same level were great long tables where we sat to eat our meals, the usual menu being soup, rice, hardtack, and sour biscuits. This, then, was to be our abode so far as eating and sleeping were concerned. Of course, we were free to sit and walk, even lie down on the deck if we were fortunate enough to make the climb, so no dissatisfaction was voiced by our little family, we got what we paid for. It happened that an old gentleman from Lancashire and his wife occupied berths next to ours. They were to join their son in that Mecca of freedom and opportunity to which so many hopeful hearts turned to escape some of the miseries of the Old World.
Man fashion, this passenger was very much interested in his meals and every day for at least half an hour before the soup was served, he would entertain himself and annoy the rest of us by hammering his hardtack into little bits so that it would eventually absorb sufficient soup to make its passage down the esophagus more easily.
Everybody used to have a storm at sea. Indeed, what would a sea voyage be without one? So one night we had ours, which meant that steerage passengers were locked down and told to be comfortable, everything would be all right. This same old gentleman resented this kind of treatment and paced the floor frantically, declaring that "somebody ought to be up on deck." Meanwhile, his good wife sat up in her berth swaying to and fro crying out,"I canna tarry here! I wish I were whoam! I wish I were Whoam! I canna tarry here! I canna tarry here!" Whereupon her husband shouted: "Owd thee noise with thee; how canst thee be whoam when thees in th' middle of th' ocean!"
The old ship rolled and tossed, but I have no recollection of being afraid. We had brought a bottle of bitters with us which happened to be under my pillow, so to avoid seasickness I occasionally took a swig at the bottle. But fear--I had none. We were Mormons, our family at least, going to Zion, and no ship would think of going down with such a precious cargo.
After one gets over the usual sickness there are many pleasant occasions to be enjoyed on board a ship. One makes friends and acquaintances, takes walks with them from end to end of the vessel if it be possible to keep one's equilibrium. And then the wonder of it all! The vast expanse of water, the mystery of the starry sky, waves rolling mountains high and splashing over onto the deck, while passengers scrambled to avoid a wetting, and then to have a great calm when the water is so still that not a ripple breaks on its surface and the great craft appears to be sailing on a sea of glass and three long weeks are almost ended. What's that we hear? Oh Joy, "Land in sight!"
Now for thrills! Everybody must see land, and joyously watch the vessel going nearer and [p.407] nearer to the shore. But things must be gathered up and packed. Trunks must be brought up from the hold. Goodbyes must be spoken. Everybody is busy and excited, each vying with the other in seeing who shall leave the old ship first. At last we are landed at Castle Garden and there we must stay until friends or relatives learn that the Louisiana is in port. Meanwhile, a dozen officers are opening trunks, sometimes turning the contents out to be sure that no smuggling is in evidence, while others are OK'd without opening them. All but one of our trunks were thus passed.
It was late evening and quite dark save for the lamp-light when through the crowd I heard my father say. "There she is. Bless her dear little face."
We immediately boarded a train for Manayunk, a manufacturing town a few miles out of Philadelphia, where father had provided rooms for us--he had preceded us five months--and there the marriage knot was tied and we settled down to family life. My new sister and I, thought not yet twelve years old--and I was small for my age--went to work, in a cotton mill which, I am sure, was no place for good girls.
However, we soon moved to Philadelphia and found employment, most of the time with families. My wage was a dollar a week and board. Thus we began to save and prepare for the journey to the Valley.
In July, 1867, we started for North Platte, which was then the terminal of the railroad and the outfitting place for those who were going West. It took us nine days to reach our destination. Emigrant trains did not travel very fast in those days; then, too, they were switched off on every possible occasion. We had to change trains at Niagra Falls and to our delight had a few hours' stay near that awe-inspiring torrent which is forever dashing over the brink to the foaming depths below.
One night we spent on a cattle boat sailing up the Missouri River. The cattle, judging from their bellowing, seemed not to enjoy our company any better than we enjoyed theirs.
Arriving at North Platte, which was then a little railroad town, we found that the company would be delayed one month. This situation was a serious one: every day meant loss of time and means. Several excuses were given for the delay. One was that some of the brethren were in the east on business. They had been detained, and must return to the Valley with this company. Another was that the Indians had burned a train-load of provisions and more supplies must be purchased. Still another was that here was fine grazing and the cattle must start out in good condition.
Meanwhile, there we were with out trunks and traps. The full quota of wagons had not yet been purchased and the housing of men, women, and children was a real problem. Finally the railroad people tendered us the use of a great barn of a building which happened to be empty, and here we set up some kind of housekeeping for the coming weeks.
At night we made our beds on the floor, and with gratitude let me say, we could hang up a protection from wandering eyes. My father, after deducting other expenses, found that he had only money enough to buy one yoke of cattle and two yoke were necessary to pull the heavily loaded wagons across the rough way.
It so happened that a certain brother had a wagon and one yoke of cattle, so the bargain was made that father join his cattle to this outfit and drive all the way for his share in the wagon. The owner of the outfit had a wife and seven children. Our little family consisted of five, as father was bringing a little girl across the plains to join her relatives in Salt Lake City. So you see there were fourteen persons with all their worldly possession in that one wagon. The owners of the wagon used it for a sleeping apartment and my father bought a small tent, just large enough for the five of us to lie down in side by side like sardines in a can. This we unstrapped every night and fastened again to the wagon each morning.
Imagine if you can these would be drivers, who had, perhaps, never seen a Texas steer before, go through the procedure for the first time of yoking their cattle. Truly no rodeo could match the scene. The men had to be instructed in this art and some did not learn very quickly. The same was true of the use of firearms. Every man was supposed to have his own gun and ammunition though he had never fired a shot in his life.
Indeed there were many things for an immigrant to learn. He must be willing to understand and accept the discipline of the camp, become used to having his flour, potatoes and bacon measured out to him each day according to the number in his family. . . . [p.408]
. . . Our last pull was through Parley's and up to the top of the hill. This was accomplished at twilight and here we got our first glimpse of the little city of Salt Lake.
I have to admit some disappointment as I exclaimed: "Oh, have we come all this way for that?" We continued on to the campground that night. Next morning was the Sabbath.
The sky was blue and radiant. The valley fair and the grand old mountains proudly guarded the home of the prophets. The family took a bath in a wash basin, put on our best clothes and went to the tabernacle services. My dreams came true and all was well in Zion. . . . [p.450]
BIB: Fox, Ruth May, "From England to Salt Lake Valley in 1867,"
Improvement Era 38:7 (July 1935) pp. 406-408, 450. (CHL)