My Great Grandfather's Diary
Robert Mattinson, son of Robert and Ann Pshaw Mattinson,
was born July 16, 1835 in England. This is part of his diary.
At the age of twenty, I with my parents, who had
joined the Church in 1847, emigrated to America. We landed at Boston and
then traveled to Chicago by railroad. It was then only a village. The first
night we spent here was the third of July. The noise was terrific as they
were starting to celebrate the fourth of July early. From there we traveled
to Iowa City where I, my parents, two brothers, and one sister joined Martins
Handcart Company, and we began a journey of thirteen hundred miles to Utah.
We crossed the Missouri River and traveled three hundred miles to Florence
the last of July. On each handcart we placed flour and our clothing because
the wagons would not hold the entire load. At first we traveled fifteen
miles a day. Delays were caused by the breaking of wheels and axles; the
heat and dryness made many of them rickety and unable to sustain their
loads without frequent repairs. We traveled along, standing guard at night.
We had ox teams which hauled the tents and provisions, and when we came
to sandy bad roads, we helped the teams by pulling. We took turns in herding
the loose cattle. All of the men that were able stood guard at night.
There was plenty of game and hundreds of buffalo,
but they were too far away to be shot. We now came to the open prairie
country, where nothing could be seen but grass. We passed the remains of
the outfit of W.A. Babbit and Thomas Margetts. One woman was killed by
the Indians and everything was burned. There were other companies ahead.
We could read on the bleached buffalo heads how far ahead they were. Provisions
were scarce and we were cut down to one pound of flour a day. After that
my father began to weaken, but he never failed to do his share of the work
and help pull the handcart. He worked all day with little to eat. When
night came, he gathered wood to build a fire, set up the tent, and went
to lie down. When he was called to supper, he could not be awakened. He
died that night but we didn't know what he died of; we could only hear
the breathing rattling in his throat because we had no light. He was buried
the next morning near Deercreek.
Nights were getting colder and guarding began to
be very oppressive. Deaths were frequent. Gradually the old and sick began
to droop. Then the able bodied men began to get sick, a few of them continuing
to pull their carts until the day of their death. Rations were cut again
and we didn't have enough food to keep up our strength. When we reached
Laramie, I tried to buy a little food of some kind, but I could get nothing
but a quart of corn, which we ate without cooking. Traveling began to be
very difficult. Every day brought its hardships. We were fighting against
hunger and cold weather, and our bed covering was not sufficient to keep
us warm. It was midnight many nights before all the company would be assembled.
Men were assigned to help the weak ones into camp, and many were frostbitten,
losing fingers, toes and ears , and dying of exposure. After leaving Laramie,
rations were cut to a quarter of a pound of flour a day and at one camping
ground thirteen corpses were buried.
After crossing the North Platte, we had our first
snow storm. We could not make the distances. After the snow, we stopped
for two or three days to get rested and grease the carts. Some people shod
the axles with old leather; others used the old tin from their cooking
set. For grease they used their allowance of bacon, or even the little
soap they had. We made very short drives; days were getting shorter and
the people were getting weary. The snow fell and many of the cattle were
eaten by wolves, while others perished from cold.
Here I saw the first Salt Lake man, Joseph A. Young,
the first of the relief party that came to find us. After seeing this Brother,
it seemed to give the people new strength, and we were allowed a little
more flour out of the two remaining sacks. In the evening, as we neared
Devils Gate, there were many who did not expect to see the light of another
day. It had stormed all day and was one of our worst days. We traveled
on through the storm and it was hard to keep the people alive. The night
was terrible; part of the stockade was cut down to burn and the other part
was left to shelter us from the piercing cold. The next evening we crossed
Sweetwater to Martins Ravine. The water was waist deep and just freezing
enough to let you through the ice. It was a bitter cold night. Some of
the relief party that were with us carried the women and children over.
People too weary and cold ate their small bit of flour dry. We put up our
tent, cleaned out the snow, and that night the wind did not blow.
After leaving this camping ground, we traveled about
seven miles a day and it was the first time I did not pull a handcart.The
relief party carried the women and children in their wagons. Even those
short distances it was a terrible hardship to walk. Every day brought a
few more of the relief party and from that time on, we began to get a little
more to eat. We next camped at Green River and the day we crossed it, the
Captain said that everyone who was able, must cross on the ice; the river
was frozen over. The weather was bitter cold, but we had good fires because
the relief party found places where there was wood. In the meantime, there
were from seven to ten deaths a night. Every night we buried people, with
nothing to put them in but the grave. I was called to help bury the dead;
it was a terrible job as they were buried just as they were dressed.
At last we arrived at the foot of the Big Mountain.
The cattle and wagons had broken a track, so it was possible for us to
walk over. There was not one woman that crossed who had a pair of stockings
on. It took just one whole day to get over it, and we camped between the
mountains. It was a cold night. We had nothing but green willow to burn.
But we had plenty to eat for the first time together, with some clothing
and buffalo robes for the sickest people. The next day was the last day
of November, and it brought us into Salt Lake on Sunday, November 30, 1856.
My great grandfather was an immigrant who came to
this country for freedom. Our family treasures this diary. It is a part
of our family history. It reminds us of how difficult life was for the
people in our family who made it possible for later generations to live
well and to get a good education.
Writing topic: Write a story about your experience immigrating
to a new land. Think about what you want future generations to know about
Or: Write about someone you know who had an interesting immigration