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 you.

Or: Write about someone you know who had an interesting immigration experience.