Mary Goble Pay's Journal Account of Cold and Suffering

(Mary Goble Pay's experiences crossing the plains were typical of those who came in the fall of 1856. She was probably a member of the Dan Jones Company. Several handcart companies and wagon trains began the trip too late in the season and were hit by snowstorms that caused extensive suffering and death. Her family joined the LDS Church in England. This excerpt from her recollections begins in Iowa City as they prepared for the trek to Utah Territory.)

My sister, Fanny, broke out with the measles on the ship and when we were in Iowa City campground, there came up a thunder storm and we sat there in the rain, thunder and lightning. My sister got wet and died the 19th day of July, 1856.

It was about the last of September. We traveled from 15 to 25 miles a day. We used to stop one day in the week to wash. On Sunday we would hold our meetings and rest. Every morning and night we would be called to prayers by the bugle. The Indians were very hostile and were on the war path. Our captain, John Hunt, had us make a dark camp. That was to stop and get our supper, then travel a few miles and not light any fires, but camp and go to bed. The men had to travel all day and guard every other night.

We traveled on till we got to the Platte River. That was the last walk I ever had with our mother. We caught up with the handcart companies this day. We watched them cross the river. There were great lumps of ice floating down the river. It was bitter cold. The next morning there were fourteen dead in camp through the cold. We went to camp and went to prayers. They sang, ``Come, Come, Ye Saints.'' I wondered what made my mother cry. That night my mother took sick and the next morning my little sister was born. It was the 23rd of September. We named her Edith. She lived six weeks and died for the want of nourishment.

We had been without water for several days, just drinking snow water. The captain said there was a spring of fresh water just a few miles away. It was snowing hard, but my mother begged me to go and get her a drink of water. Another lady went with me. We were about half way to the spring when we found an old man who had fallen in the snow. He was frozen so stiff we could not lift him. So the lady told me where to go and she would go back to the camp for help for we knew he would soon be frozen if we left him. When she left I began to think of the Indians and looking in all directions. I became confused and forgot the way I should go. I waded around in the snow up to my knees and became lost. Later when I did not return to camp the men started out after me. It was 11 o'clock before they found me. My feet and legs were frozen. They carried me to camp and rubbed me with snow. They put my feet into a bucket of water. The pain was terrible. The frost came out of my legs and feet, but not out of my toes.

We traveled in the snow from the last crossing of the Platte River. We had orders not to pass the handcart companies. We had to keep close to them so as to help them if we could. We began to get short of food. Our cattle gave out. We could only travel a few miles a day. When we started out of camp in the morning, the brethren would shovel snow to make a track for our cattle. They were weak for want of food and the buffaloes were in large herds by the roads and they ate all the grass.

When we arrived at Devil's Gate, it was bitter cold. We left lots of our things there. We left our wagon and joined teams with a man named James Burgess. We had a sister, May, frozen to death. While there, an ox fell on the ice and the brethren killed it and the beef was given out to the camp. My brother, James, ate a hearty supper. He was as well as he ever was when he went to bed. In the morning he was dead.

My feet were frozen also my brother and my sister Caroline had their feet frozen. It was nothing but snow. We could not drive the (pegs) in our tents. Father would clean a place for our tent and put snow around it to keep it down. We were short of flour but father was a good shot. They called him the hunter of the camp, so that helped us out. We would not get enough flour for bread as we only got a quarter of a pound per head a day, so we would make it like a thin gruel. We called it skilly.

One night a man came to our camp and told us there would be plenty of flour in the morning for Brother Brigham Young had sent men and teams to help us. There was rejoicing that night. We sang songs, some danced and some cried. He was a living Santa Claus. His name was Eph. (Ephraim) Hanks.

My mother never got well. She lingered until the 11th of December, the day we arrived in Salt Lake City 1856. She died between the Little and Big mountains. She was buried in the Salt Lake Cemetery. She was 43 years old. My sister was buried at the last crossing of the Sweetwater.

We arrived in Salt Lake City at 9 o'clock at night the 11th of December 1856. Three out of the four that were living were frozen. My mother was dead in the wagon. Bishop Hardy had us taken to a house in his ward and the brothers and sisters brought us plenty of food. We had to be careful not to eat too much as it might kill us we were so hungry.

The next morning, Brother Brigham Young and a doctor came. When Brigham Young came in he shook hands with all of us. When he saw our condition, our feet frozen and our mother dead, tears rolled down his cheeks.

The doctor wanted to cut my feet off at the ankle, but President Young said no, just cut off the toes and I promise you, you will never have to take them off any further. The doctor amputated my toes using a saw and a butcher knife. The sisters were dressing my mother for her grave. When my feet were fixed, they packed us in to see our mother for the last time. Oh, how did we stand it?

(The family moved eventually to Farmington. Pay continued to have problems with her feet and it appeared several times she would lose them. But her father fixed a strip of wood on the wall to help her stretch, strengthening the muscles, moving it higher as she became more able to reach it. In the end, she was able to keep her feet, true to President Young's promise.)

Back to Tracing Mormon Pioneers Page