Buffalo Chips and Frozen Feet

Buffalo Chips and Frozen Feet

Charlotte Elizabeth Mellor was born at Bradford, England on January 16, 1841, the third daughter of James and Mary Ann Mellor. When she was very young, her parents joined the LDS church and she was raised in a very faithful family. A few years after joining the church, her parents began earnestly to try to prepare to “gather to Zion” which meant emigrating to Utah in the United States.

In 1856, when she was 15, the family made the trip by boat to Boston and then by train to Iowa City arriving there July 8. They were told that the season was late and winter would likely overtake them before they could reach their destination. Elder Savage felt that it was better that they remain in the states and find employment until the next spring. When the company voted that they go on, he said, “Then I will go with you and pray God to help us.”

The men had to help make their handcarts, and many of the women helped make the large tents that they were to use. The tents were carried by ox team and the families pulled and pushed the handcarts. This took time and it was July 28 before they were able to leave Iowa City. By the time they reached Florence, Nebraska, many of the handcarts were in bad repair. By the time they were repaired and they were ready to leave, it was August 25.

The plains were covered with grass, and they often saw herds of wild buffalo. “The only thing we could use for fire was dry buffalo chips or dung. The smoke made our eyes smart as we cooked over it and blew to make it burn up a little.” Charlotte once told her daughter.

At first they had a pound of flour per person each day to make into biscuits or scones, but by October when it was getting much colder they had to cut their rations because supplies were getting low. First they cut to one half pound per day, then to a quarter pound.

Captain Martin wrote in his journal,

“The suffering and distress is so great that I wish I could shut my eyes and not see ir and the memory of it be taken from my mind.”

The suffering was almost unbearable as they limped along. Some were pulling and others pushing the handcarts along the trail through the snow. They crossed the North Platte River, wading it. Charlotte and her sisters tied their dresses up and waded in the water to their waists as they pushed the along amid floating mush ice.

“On entering the water, our first impulse was to turn back and not wade across. The water was so cold that it sent pains right to the bone and the muscles cramped. We steadied ourselves as we held on to the cart and pushed. Father pulled. By the time we got across, our limbs were so numb that we could hardly keep from falling as we trudged along. The north wind cut like a sharp knife. We finally camped where we could get some cottonwood and willows for firewood,” Charlotte explained.

After crossing the river, a Brother Pucell slipped and fell into the water. He died that night from pneumonia.

That night in a tent near the Mellor family a sister discovered her husband lying next to her was dead. Nothing could be done until morning, and then they were only able to cover his body along with thirteen others who died that night with snow because the ground was too hard to dig a grave. They became too weak to put up the tents and the only food they had was to take a small amount of flour, brown it, and make a thin gravy which was boiled to thicken it a little. They also took rawhide stripped from their handcart and boiled it to make broth which they drank and then they chewed on the softened rawhide.

They prayed that the Lord would not forget them, and they tried to sing to bolster their spirits, but it was very discouraging.. They wondered if any would survive. Still James reminded his family of the promise he had received from Apostle Richards that if they traveled to Zion that his family would all arrive in Zion alive.

The company finally got moving, slowly limping along. Drops of blood could be seen along the trail. Some were barefooted or had rags wrapped around their frozen feet. James had his feet badly frozen. A tent was torn into strips and used to wrap people’s feet. The sick and very young rode in handcarts at this time.

They saw some tracks in the snow and asked what they were. James answered that they were wolves, but he assured them that, “The wolves won’t attack us if we keep close together.” Then to James and Willie he continued. Each of you keep hold of your mother’s hands and keep close behind Louise, and all will be well.” A few weeks previous Mary Ann had a spell of homesickness and became weary and persuaded them to let her stop and rest beside the trail. Louise had remained with her. When camp was made for the night, she was nowhere to be found in the company; so James followed along the trail back about five miles, and there she and Louise sat, right where they left them. It was morning when they finally arrived at the camp. He didn’t want her lagging behind again.

The company moved on, but came to a halt during the day to wait for those who were slower. They saw something dark moving in the distance. It was Joseph A. Young come searching to find them. He told them, “Help is on the way. Keep moving. That is the only way you will survive.” How that inspired them and fired them with new hope— all but a few who were sick and had given up in despair. Those didn’t respond.

On October 31 the wagons met the Martin Company at Greasewood Flats. The snow was deep. Every assistance possible was given them. Just a little food was eaten at a meal. They had fasted so long. The very sick ones were placed in the wagons. The rest walked and the company moved on. From day to day more teams with help, food, and supplies came and handcarts were discarded. In about two weeks enough teams had met them that all handcarts were discarded. Everyone was able to ride. It was about the tenth day after help arrived that a day passed in which no one died, but the suffering had not ceased. One hundred fifty had died on the trek. They arrived in the Salt Lake Valley on November 30, 1856. President Young had told the saints to take these travelers into their homes and nurse them back to health.

As the afternoon wore on, a horse drawn wagon moved along the street towards Widow Susannah Roper’s home and stopped. She had accommodations for a girl. The driver said, “There is a fifteen year old girl that would be very happy to be your guest, but she can’t walk. Her feet have been badly frozen.” Mrs. Roper called, “Enry, Enry, come ‘elp this dear into the ‘ouse.” Her son, Henry, a young man of 19, was also eager to help. He lifted Charlotte Elizabeth Mellor from the wagon. She was cooperative by holding her arms about his neck. Says Henry later, “As I carried her into the house, I looked into her dark eyes, and there was a romance born. It was love at first sight. This was November 30, 1856, and we were married February 4, 1857.”

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