Friday, September 24, 2010

Oldest Pioneer Tells Own Story ~ Aunt Mary Wilcox ~ 1927 Newspaper Article

With the approach of the annual celebration of Pioneer Day by the Pioneer Association of Mt. Pleasant, it seems especially fitting to ask "Aunt Mary" Wilcox as she is affectionately called by everyone in Mt. Pleasant to tell some of the incidents in connection with the perilous trip across the plains and the soul testing first years in the pioneer colony in the Salt Lake Valley.  We will let "Aunt Mary" speak for herself and tell her story in her own words.

"My people lived in Canada north of Lake Ontario.  I was born at Whitbey, June 6, 1831.  Parley P. Pratt brought the gospel to us up in Canada and my people embraced the gospel and emigrated to Missouri in 1836. The persecution of the Mormons was at the height in Missouri then, so our stay there was a short one and in the spring of '39 we were driven out and settled on the Iowa side of the Mississippi.  We were a part of the Nauvoo Settlement.  There were about 15000 persons in the settlement and they stayed there seven years.  In 1839 the prophet and his brother, Hyrum were freed from prison in Missouri, came to Illinois and there they built a temple and built up the colony til there were between 25,000 and 30,000 when they emigrated to the west."

"In 1844 they killed the prophet and then the people that  persecuted the Mormons thought that now the settlement would fall to pieces.  'Now old Joe Smith is dead, they will soon disperse', they said, but when we did not, they started persecuting us harder than ever, and began to threaten. They told us 'You just yet, we have no use for you'.  Then Brigham Young told them 'Hold on, we'll go,' and they all began to prepare to go on a long journey.  At first they just started west in small bands whenever they were ready and reached what they called Winter Quarters.  That was in 1845.  They were strung out for a hundred miles whenever they could find feed for their stock and logs to build their cabins.  I can tell you what these cabins were like.  They had no floors, no windows no doors and no stoves.  We cooked on a fire on the dirt floor and the smoke found its way out through a hole in the roof.  They would bring in the wagon box, put on the bows and top and that was our bedrooms.  We cooked in the iron kettles and spiders we brought with us  but everybody had very little to cook.  The people died by hundreds that terrible winter."

"In the spring of '47 Brigham  Young said that all able to get together a year and a half provisions must follow on.  So we followed on the desolate trail and I drove my own ox team into the Salt Lake Valley.  I was just 17 years old and I drove that team every step of the way to Salt Lake Valley and on, but it was a barren desolate looking place-- just as nature had left it for thousands of years."

"Yes, there was between twenty five and thirty thousand people driven out into the wilderness to live or to die, whichever they could and many of them did die.  Brigham Young led the first company of 143 and they reached Salt Lake on the 24th day of July 1847. The company I came in was led by Apostle John Taylor and when we reached Salt Lake valley, he said, 'Sister Mary, it doesn't stand in the lids of history where a girl of your age has undertaken the responsibility you have on this journey.' I didn't know what he was taking any notion of me, not a bit."

"In crossing the plains we crossed the streams on rafts, but as we got farther west there wasn't a stick or a log to make a raft of and when we came to the Platte we went 400 miles upstream before we found a place we could cross.  That left us with nothing to burn, not even brush, so we had to gather buffalo chips and use to cook our food.  It was a terrible experience but it was a pleasure trip to us compared to what we had been through the nine years of persecution before it.
"I must tell you how we made butter on the way.  'We had four gallon churns and strained the night milk and the morning milk into the churn.  Then the bumping of the wagon during the day churned the mild and in the evening we had fresh butter and buttermilk to make biscuits with."

"Those first years in the Salt Lake Valley we had it bad.  We nearly starved.  We would drink a little milk, eat some wild greens and bit of buttermilk cheese and that was a meal.  We settled south of the city in what is now called the 'Sugarhouse Ward'.  We managed to get in some crop that first year and then the crickets came and ate it all and then the seagulls came and ate the crickets, but we had no more seed and there was nothing to get.  The people who settled north of the city were not visited by the crickets and they got a fair crop.  My husband worked all day grubbing oak for a part of the day and gleaned the stubble and sometimes got two quarts a day.  Then at night I would boil a little of what I had gathered and grind a little in a hand mill and made read and in this way we lived.  Then in '49 the gold rush to California  began  and we got a little flour and a little bacon from the emigrants  as they passed through."

"The second year we had a fair crop, but we did not understand irrigation and we had a hard time.  We never knew a comfortable meal in three years.  The first potatoes came to Salt Lake by pack animals from California and they were divided among all the people so everybody would have an equal chance, but we got only four potatoes to a family, and  we got a few beans to plant.  Some were discouraged and went to Oregon and California, but the leaders told us 'if you'll stay, we'll guarantee you won't starve to death and you'll live to see this a rich and beautiful valley'."

"We moved to Manti in 1850, but the indians robbed us of everything we had burned our wagons and our cabin and we were forced to go back to the Utah Valley.  We had three little children then.  For ten years we worked at anything we could get to make another start in the world and in 1860 we moved to Mt. Pleasant.  There was nothing but bare sagebrush then.  The early pioneers built a fort, that is, they built their houses one against another with a solid wall to the outside.  The second year those who could began to build houses for themselves, and others stayed in the fort a longer time."

Aunt Mary said she could have talked the rest of the week telling of their many struggles.  At the age of  96, she is clear minded, lively and a most entertaining talker.  She stands at the head of six generations and can count over 500 descendants.  She had four grandsons and three great grandsons in the World War, one of them,  Melvin Patton of Payson, fell on the field of battle.  Here was the first wedding in the new colony.  She married John Henry Wilcox when she was still a girl of 17; William S. Seely performing the ceremony.  She is the mother of eleven children, all of whom grew to manhood and womanhood and raised large families of their own.  Two have passed on to their reward within the past few years and Aunt Mary says she is "ready for the call........",but in the meantime she is taking a deal of pleasure in life and can justly be proud  of the long useful years she has dedicated to the difficult job of  opening up a new land.

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Genealogy Quote

"In all of us there is a hunger, marrow-deep, to know our heritage - to know who we are and where we have come from."

~Alex Haley

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