I thought I would follow up my post about my Woolley ancestry with a story from my mother’s side of the family.
In the 1850s, my great-grandfather Robert Reeder’s family converted to Mormonism in Suffolk, England. Robert was 19 years old when he set out with his father and two sisters to make the trip from Suffolk to Salt Lake City, Utah. They didn’t know what they were in for. Robert wrote this account of their trek:
I was anxious to gather with the Saints in the valleys of the mountains where my brother George and sister Mary had gone in 1853. We were always talking and wishing to be with them, not having any idea of the trials and hardships to be endured along the way. But being moved by the spirit of gathering, my father David Reeder, my younger sister Caroline, my sister Eliza and her husband James Hurren with their three little girls from 2 to 8 years of age, started for Liverpool where we met with others from different parts. There were 721 persons very much all on the same errand. On the 5th of May 1856 we sailed out on the great ocean which took us a little over 6 weeks to cross. I was very sick on the way and could not eat such food as they had on “seafare” which consisted of what they called sea biscuits and salt pork and salt beef, also brown sugar and vinegar and very little other food. I got very feeble living principally on sugar and vinegar for 3 weeks. I was very glad when we arrived at Castle Gardens, New York, where we could get a piece of bread once more. We rested here for a few days then we pursued our journey by railroad and steamboats, changing from one to the other until we arrived at Iowa camping ground where we had to lay over 2 or 3 weeks waiting for our outfits. Eventually we got our outfits of four wagons with ox teams loaded with flour which was calculated to take us to Salt Lake City making calculations for 60 days and one pound of flour for each grown person per day and half that for all children under 12 years of age. Besides that we had one wagon with four mules loaded with bacon and groceries for the trip, and the rest were handcarts, about 120. As a general thing, one to each family, in some cases two young men and two young women to each. Those with handcarts were loaded with their baggage and children that were not able to walk. The company comprised of about 500 people.
There was one outfit belonging to A.W. Babbitt consisting of about five men, one woman, and one child about 3 or 4 years old, concluded to start two or three days before we were ready. I think we left this place about the 10th of September with an addition to our outfit of about thirty head of cows, some to give a little milk, others to kill for beef.
Our company came to where the Babbitt company had camped — the Indians having killed them all and burned their wagons, nothing being left only the irons and the bodies half buried. This looked very discouraging to us, but we travelled on looking back for nothing. We were surrounded by Indians on two or three occasions, but got out by giving them some flour and tobacco which some of our company had with them. When we got out about 300 miles on the road our cattle stampeded, most all of our best oxen leaving, which left us in a bad state to move any farther. We stayed there for several days hunting as far as we dared to go to find some of our cattle but could not find any, believing the Indians must have driven them away. Then some of the flour was taken out of the wagons and put on the handcarts according to the strength of the party drawing them. Some had one, others two or three, and, if my memory serves me right, Brother Hurren, being considered the strongest man the company had, had five sacks put on his cart besides two small girls that were not able to walk and all his baggage and cooking utensils. His wife helped in pulling the cart and walked the entire trail. We made up with the few cattle we had left, one yoke of cattle and one cow to each wagon, and on account of weak teams and handcarts loaded too heavy we travelled only a few miles each day. Our provisions were going fast while we were making but little headway. Our rations had to be cut down to half and some were sick with bowel and other sickness.
My father, David Reeder, would start out in the morning and pull his cart until he would drop on the road. He did this day after day until he did not arise early on 7 October. He was found dead in his bed and his fellow bedmate had not heard a thing during the night. Sister Eliza wrapped a cherished sheet around him and we placed him in a shallow grave hoping the wolves would not disturb. We must go on our way in silent mourning and in a weakened condition.
Our rations were growing shorter and we reduced them by common consent from day to day. Nights were getting colder and some would sit down by the roadside and die. My younger sister, Caroline, 17 years old, after traveling all day and seeing the camp being made for the night took off her apron to tie some sage brush in to bring into the camp. She sat down to rest, leaning on her bundle, exhausted. They found her chilled and dying and carried her to camp. She died without gaining consciousness. She, too, was placed in an unmarked grave near Three Crossings — Sweetwater. She died the evening of 15 October. Her death was another real loss to us but we must hurry on in threatening weather and colder nights on the Windriver Pass. So it was with others, as many as thirteen being buried in one grave at one time. I think fully 100 died on this trip.
On October 17 we awoke covered with 8 inches of snow and rations about gone. We pulled our carts in a blinding snow storm and arrived at Rock Creek where we sheltered against the hill as best we could to avoid the north wind and blowing snow. Weakened to such an extent and without food 13 died that night. All the able-bodied men dug one large grave, but not too deep. My brother-in-law James Hurren held out his 8-year old girl Mary to see her little playmate lying among the dead. They were laid in the clothes they wore, in a circle with feet to the center and heads out. We covered them with willows and then earth and slid rocks down the hill to keep the wolves from disturbing them. Two of the men who helped dig the grave died and were buried in another near by. We could go no further, the weather was severe and we had not a morsel of food in camp. We had heard assistance was on the road and we still had hopes.
We had one pony and one mule that were not entirely exhausted and two of the men took these animals and started out to find some relief which they did after traveling to Pacific Springs. The relief party had laid over at Pacific Springs, not knowing the dire straits in which the handcart company was at the time. When they heard the report, they left part of the wagons, doubled up teams and came to us as quickly as possible. They reached us after we had been in camp 48 hours. They dared not give us much food for fear of killing us all, which would most likely have done with the few that were left. Potato peelings and rawhide off old handcarts were good if we could get it. I, myself, sat by the campfire with Brother Hurren and scraped and singed the hair off a piece of hide, some that had been taken off discarded handcarts that had been pulled through the sands hundreds of miles. It was hard but we would boil and soften them and cut them in small pieces and put in our pockets to chew on the road the next day and it helped to keep life in us.
Through snow and wind we mostly walked behind the relief wagons about 300 miles to Salt Lake City and arrived on Public Square 9 November 1856.
After making it to Salt Lake City, Robert Reeder settled in Hyde Park, Utah. He became a successful cattle merchant, married two wives and fathered 14 children, one of whom, Martin Charles Reeder, was my mother’s father. Robert died in 1917 at the age of 80.