On August 15, we’ll be hosting an open house at the home Nels and Emma built in 1887. It made the National Register of Historic Places last year. More details on that are available here.
In honor of Sesquicentennial Plus One, I’m devoting the Speaking of Idaho blog to my family’s history during August
The Journey of Emma Thompson
Emma was three years old when she left England with her parents for the United States in 1853. Her father, George, was 27. Frances, her mother, was 26. George Thompson’s sister, Jane, and her husband Charles Higham were also on board. Both families would lose children while at sea. The Highams lost their two-year-old daughter, Elizabeth, on the voyage. The Thompsons lost their infant daughter Georgiana.
The Thompsons and the Highams were among the 209 passengers who sailed aboard the Onward from Liverpool. They were the only Mormon converts on the ship. The Onward docked in New Orleans on January 17, 1854.
The Mormon converts stayed in New Orleans long enough for Jane Higham to give birth to a girl, Polly, on January 30, and for Frances Thompson to give birth to George William Thompson on April 20. Two-month-old George William died on June 13 in St. Louis while on their journey west.
Emma had few memories about the journey since she was so young at the time. Years later she wrote this about the wagon trip to Utah:
“My father drove an ox team for an invalid who had a good outfit but was unable to drive. We started from Ft Leavenworth Kansas. I cannot remember much about it, only days and days in a covered wagon. Once the whole train had to stop to let a big heard of buffalo pass. We could see the long black string making a big dust as they shuffled along with their shaggy coats. They were the only ones I ever saw, yet we have owned many of their robes. Dad had a coat as late as 1876. Another incident I can recall, of some painted Indians. Two or three were sitting in the front of the wagon asking for many things. The sick man told my mother to give them anything they wanted, if they would only go. After getting a few articles of food they left, to great relief of us all. The next circumstance is of a young woman being killed; fell out of the wagon one night when we were driving late and was run over. I can distinctly remember seeing her lying in a tent, one ear was bloody, her name was Fisher.
“On arriving in Salt Lake, the invalid, his team and all his belongings were given over to the Mormon Elders, whom he had seen in England. Never knew what became of his property, he died soon after. His only wish was to live long enough to see ‘Zion.’”
The Journey of Nels Just
Nels Just came to the United States and went on to Utah Territory four years after Emma and her parents. He was 10 when his parents became Mormons and left Denmark. The Thompson and Higham families were the only Mormons on board the Onward. The ship the Justs travelled on was packed with LDS converts.
In 1857 the immigrants traveled to England where they boarded the huge ship, Westmoreland at Liverpool. There were 340 Scandinavians and four presiding elders. The trip took 36 days to cross the Atlantic and they landed at Philadelphia on May 31, 1857. The group traveled to Baltimore, Maryland, then to Wheeling, Virginia and finally arrived at Iowa City, Iowa. Later, by wagon, they traveled to Florence, Nebraska where the trek to Utah began.
There, two companies were formed. The Justs were assigned to the Christiansen Handcart Company. These two companies were the last to leave Florence that year. They left one day apart, and arrived in Salt Lake the same day, September 3, 1857.
In the Just’s Company, there were 68 handcarts, three wagons and ten mules. Strong men, women and children pulled the handcarts. Ten-year-old Nels probably did his share
of pulling a handcart. Often in adverse conditions such as mud, deep ruts, sand, each handcart had to be pulled and pushed to make progress.
The three wagons carried treasures the immigrants brought from Denmark for their new homes in Salt Lake but it was not long before most of the treasures were discarded to make room for the sick and others unable to walk. The group encountered bad storms and extremely hot, dry weather. Often they camped where there was no water. They had to ration their food and ford streams and rivers. At one such river, several Indians helped them across, riding their horses while a pioneer woman or child behind them clung to their naked bodies. The travelers had
little clothing of their own.
The trek was hard on shoes. Many ingenious repairs of shoes were made so the pioneers could keep walking. There was much sickness and as many as one in ten died and were buried on the trail. There were some births. One night one of the women disappeared and returned bringing a baby girl in her apron. That baby survived and still was living in Utah at least in 1911.
Some days they practically starved although they saw herds of buffalo. According to the diaries of the trek, they did not kill any for food, fearing a buffalo stampede. At one point the group encountered a troop of military men who offered them a crippled beef, which they gratefully accepted.