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Ellen Wasden's Journey to Utah

Taken from her Journal, with Introductory Notes by one of her Daughters

Another memorable exodus of sturdy, unswerving souls was the band of seven hundred English from the region of Sherwood Forest and the industrial area of Sheffield who set out in the spring of 1855--all endowed with the type of training for a livelihood that is demanded of citizens of this thriving, industrial section of England where apprentice to trades was required and obligatory.

Ellen Wasden was born at Rotherham, July 15, 1848, when Thomas was twenty-seven and Mary was thirty-two. Her parents were serious and pious.

Here in the center of Sherwood Forest with its mighty oaks, having been a Crown forest from the time of Henry II, were enacted the exploits of the famed Robin Hood. Today of the two hundred acres, there remains only a small portion intact, and this is around Rotherham. The rest is now occupied by county seats and private parks and Is for the most part bare of trees. From this nativity, Mother, at the age of seven, was taken when the family joined the pilgrimage to the new world.

Mother's life Story is related by her in a journal written over fifty years ago:

"I left England April 26, 1855 on the William Stetson ship, setting sail from Liverpool. It was a small sailing vessel with 700 people aboard, and we reached New York in May, landing at Castle Garden. I had such glorious ideas of the New Country and these dreams of America were somewhat shaken when I viewed the awful place with such a fair-sounding name--Castle Garden. But it was a relief to get on land and quit the little vessel which had been a scene of much discomfitures and peculiar experiences. We were in the water about a month. And the meals--for several days I did not care to eat and there was never a time when I felt very hungry, but hungry or not--there was but one cooked meal in three days and this bi-weekly affair was prepared while the vessel was rocking and the galley, so the kitchen was called, was in a state of shifting scenes and sometimes the sea was too rough for any culinary work at all. It was a time of picnicing without the usual picnic zest and spirit.

"We were all anxious to set our eyes upon the promised land, but landing at the unkempt immigration quarters was enough to dispirit the bravest heart. Then when we knew that the untried dangers of the trackless plains lay before us and our journey had just begun, we raised our petitions to the Keeper of all for strength to the end.

"I don't remember the names of the places we passed through during our railroad trip to St. Joseph, but we went by way of Niagra Falls and crossed lakes on ferries. We spent some time in Chicago which was a small city at that time. I remember washing our clothes in Lake Michigan and the dizzy sensation of looking into such a deep body of water. We finally reached the terminus of the railroad at the Missouri River where the city of St. Joseph stood. It was a thrifty growing place and was rapidly becoming the point for the outfitting companies for the West.

"When we reached Cincinnati, mother decided to recuperate and about five years were spent in this town on the riverbanks where father was postmaster and schoolteacher. Mother was frugal, but with the death of two children, she once again decided to go West--for they had saved enough to finance the journey. From St. Joseph we took a boat to Florence, a trip of two days sail and spent a month fixing up our companies for the trip across the plains. Father bought two yoke of oxen and a used wagon for which he paid over two hundred dollars. It was a stupendous task to equip such small space as a wagon for a thousand mile journey across the plains; but never was a band of pioneers more resolute and determined to face the hardships of privation and even death for "His Sake" than the band that left Florence, June 6, 1859 with their faces set toward Zion and the abode of the saints.

"There had been three great exoduses from Florence, in '56,'57, and '59, and our company escaped some of the suffering which many endured, for their trials will never be told by mortal pen; but I suppose it was all in the eternal program. Our suffering was bad enough, but we organized with deliberation and planning and did not start without preparation as many did, so we escaped some of their disasters. On our trip there were but three deaths. There were times when there was not food enough and the rations ran very short. Once there was but flour enough to stir up one cracker apiece and I took special care to see that no one's cracker was bigger than my own. I measured the exact size of our cakes and really, truthfully, I would much rather have eaten two.

"Our companies were organized into tens with a captain over each division. My father was head of the first company, and we were the first to set out upon the trail. We aimed to make fifteen miles a day, but often covered from eleven to twenty miles from one water hole to the next. Once we traveled all day and found no water, and tired and parched we had to bunk down until day-light.

"The pilot was a man chosen to go ahead and select camping places and mostly always he was a person who was familiar with the route and acquainted with the good bedding grounds; but at times even the ingenuity of the pathfinder could not guide us to water holes and grass for the oxen. Often the downpour of rain sank our wheels to slow moving and the accidents of flood and field caused a great many oxen to become lame and to expire on the roadside. There was pluck and perserverence and a faith in the good God above that pricked up jaded spirits and revived the failing strength, so that days came end went in good season and each day brought us nearer to the mountain top.

"There were nights when the memory of merry England came back and contrasted desperately with the awful lonesomeness of the barren unbroken plains; the terrible despair of the howling wolves; and the terror of the snakes skurring around us as we shifted our feet into the baked sand dunes. I was often so weary and footsore when I lay down on a quilt thrown upon the ground that I could not sleep. The food was so poor that it left a nightmare, memories of the bacon and flour masquerading in ghostly forms over the sandy mirage.

"There were dried apples for the sick women, and some ought to have fallen to my lot, but I never let them know how I coveted the precious morsels. There were relief depots along the way where flour was stored for those who needed it when the supply in the wagon gave out.

"I remember when the supply of flour gave out, and we were one day's journey from Fort Bridger. We decided to make a collection of trinkets, and jewelry to purchase flour when we reached the commissary of the plains.

"At Fort Bridger we met the mountaineer and the trader and exchanged our jewelry for the staff of life. Than we pushed across Green River and Weber River through Big and Little Mountains down Emigration canyon to Salt Lake City, where we arrived August 26th, after two months, and three weeks of travel.

"The journey has many and varied memories. The rivers, sometimes swollen, had to be forded by pitiable diligence, and at times, the women found water above their waists as they trudged through the streams. We had to recross the Platte River, at least three times.

"When we come to Weber River, we camped long enough to "do out" a washing, and I used a bar of soap I brought from England . The process of washing at the creek was painfully laborious. We first selected a rocky place, then culled out a rock lined basin and pushed the clothes through and through the clean loose rocks as we rubbed them vigorously. Even then the color of the garments as they hung upon the bushes to dry in the Sun would not make a neighbor envious.

"There are many old by-gones which come to my mind. Things which came into our experience; as we ploughed along through the waste; for instance, we met the Pony Express as he galloped away toward the horizon; then occasionally we came upon the Overland Express; but more often, we met tribes of Indians or droves of buffalo. Both of these tenants of the plains gave us some anxiety, for we never knew when the spirit of the untameable wild might take possession of them, impelling them to sweep down upon us in fury. A stampeding band of buffaloes strikes as much terror as the war whoop of the Red man and was equally to be feared.

"Once a handsome buffalo broke into our circle of wagons and brought about a reign of terror, but the beast evidently was as much panic-stricken as we were, for he dashed headlong from one side of our barricade of wagons to the other until he found an outlet, then he scampered off to the plains.

"At another time a band of Pawnees swooped down upon us. They had been the victims of a ruthless trader who had given them "fire waterČ and it took unusual tact and courage to prevent a massacre, but we succeeded in buying our safety.

"Usually the Indians were friendly and followed us to beg "mormon" bread and trinkets, sometimes offering dried fruit to us in exchange, but they were crafty buyers, holding their stuff at many times its worth.

"Cooking a meal upon the plains, simple as It usually was, demanded much pains. There was no timber nor brush for firewood and part of a day's toil was to gather "buffalo chips" along the roadside for fire use. Often the fire making called for a great deal of manipulation and care. Then the flour was mixed with saleratus and baked in thick cakes in the "bake skillet" or Dutch Oven. A hole was dug in the ground then lined with hot "chips" and the "skillet" placed within, the whole affair heaped over with blazing "chips" and left lo bake the cakes to a turn. We possessed only a frying pan as our outfit of cooking utensil and found my young and green experience quite unequaled to producing a meal out of nothing but flour and with a frying pan. So many times we went hungry and thought of the times in England when we had had plenty.

"But in spite of all the hardships we sang as we journeyed, and many are the songs we fashioned to cheer our spirits. I do not remember the tune but this is the chorus:

"Some must push and some must pull,
As we go marching up the hills;
So merrily on our way we go,
Until we reach the valley, oh!"

"This is another bit from a song:

'Our wagons won't want grass to eat,
Nor will they run away,
They won't be eaten by the Indians, I dare say;
So we won't have to watch so hard
From eve to break of day, Heigh-o!
There's none can lead a life
Like the merry Mormons, Heigh-o!'

"Old Dan framed these words, I can't recall many, but they run:

'If pulling a wagon is a crime,
Then we're not free from stain.
With hearts as light as the air we breathe,
Hurrah for the Emigration Train!'

"We traveled all day and sang at night. Our prayers were said every night, and we held services an Sunday and special days.

"When we came into Salt Lake City, it was a small 'city' then, we camped on 8th Ward square, where the City and County Building now is. We drew our wagons into a circle and the saints hailed our coming by the band playing, 'Home, Sweet Home'.

"I shall never forget how my tired and weary body and soul responded to that song. We had reached our goal, worn and hungry, with nothing but the strength of a mighty purpose to support us. There were no comrades we had known before, and the solemn primal curse, 'Earn thy bread by the sweat of thy brow', was upon us. Within a short time we answered a call to take up same land farther south in Sevier County, and set out to our new fields of labor.

"Our first year, the crops were frozen, and we ate thistles and roots and traded with the Indians. The following year we planted our crops and when they were flourishing, in June, Black Hawk led his band down upon us, and we had to flee for our lives. There were no roads to follow, only Indian trails, and we came back as far as Ephraim. Later we moved to Gunnison where I met a Stalwart Dane, whose family had trecked from Copenhagen in 1852 and his family and mother came to Gunnison and put together the first house which was mud and dirt roof. I married at the age of 17 and spent a long life time in Gunnison seeing the place grow into a town where my family of nine children wore born. Both my sister Mary and I married brothers."

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Last Updated 27 April 2011