Excerpt from the Biography of Martha Cox

Library of Congress Collection of Mormon Diaries
LDSCA MS 8620 reel 2 or FHL 0485333, item 9

Title on cover is “Biography of Martha Cox 1814–1932.” Martha was born in 1852. She is a daughter of James and Eleanor Lane Cragun, who were pioneers of 1849. Martha was born in 1852 in Salt Lake City, so these are her parents’ stories.



    In the spring of forty-nine when companies were being organized my father was advised to wait at Council Bluffs on account of the delicate condition of my mother, but she pleaded to go, said she, “To die on the plains is preferable to living here menaced by bad men, and if I die it will be with my face toward the west and Zion.” Father had held the office of Sheriff and had brought the toughs to justice. She desired so much to go that he was permitted to join the company. It was the last of one of the two companies to come out in ’49. They left July 14, Ezra T. Benson Captain of the first company, George A. Smith of the second. It must have pained my mother’s heart to leave the little grave on the hill side.

    Once in a while the pressure would be too great and they would rise in rebellion with a spirit that would not die down until the Lord rebuked them. Ox teams and wooden wagons made slow travel and mothers grew weary, but on the whole as I have heard the women bore their trials with more fortitude than the men.


    One day two men from the west came into camp, one of them Babbitt, put the people into a flame with the question of “Why not divide your camp into bodies of them that you may travel with more speed?” The heads of the Church had ordered the Saints to travel in large companies for safety from warring Indians to which Mr. B. replied that there were no Indians on the route east of the Rocky Mountains. In all his days of travel from Salt Lake he had seen no Indians. B’s word acted like wildfire upon many and so petitions were brought to Captain Benson to allow a division of the train. A meeting of the heads of Families were called to which he explained the policy of B. Young as revealed by the Lord and in nowise could he listen to a change. But like the children of Moses they persisted in their desires. They wrangled until late and finally decided to go together the following night and throw off the authority of Captain Benson and chose their own. At the close of the meeting Captain Benson said, “Brethern I can do no more I must leave you in the hands of the Lord to do with you as he will. As for me and all who stand with me we will continue to travel as the Lord has directed.”

    On the following morning the teams were yoked silently and the camp underway, traveled on. They had not gone far when a dark cloud loomed in the west, soon realized their worst fears for Three hundred painted Indians on the war path, their tomahawks glittering in the sun. The people were satisfied to travel as the Lord commanded.

    The weather had been excellent. Now the teams grew weary and footsore, but not more so than the women and children, many of whom had walked the whole distance from Council Bluff. Oh for a few days rest in which to wash, to bake, repair wagons, etc. The tired oxen, the mothers, the little children all cried out, rest! Push on, no rest! until we reach the valley, was the command of the captain who knew something of the terror of winter storms in the mountains. Again the dissenters in Isreal began to oppose their leaders. “We will rest”, cried they, “The weather is yet good.” Arguments with the dissenters were of no avail, though their leader was one of God’s chosen apostles and like Moses he resigned them to the care of God. [p.11] That night he made this announcement at the close of their meeting, “All who will travel with me must be ready in the morning for a daybreak start. Tomorrow morning, in accordance with the command of President Young to the traveling Saints, I move towards the valley, even if I go alone.”

    Everything in my father’s quarters were put in readiness for the start. Others seeing his preparations also put themselves in order. I am proud to tell that my father was always found in the path of duty in those days. The evening had set in with a brisk wind and a few clouds. It soon turned icy cold. My mother put her infant to sleep and crept out of the wagon to see that was all was right and took an oven full of hot coals and crept back, ate her supper, browned her coffee and leaving a pot full of the steaming beverage on the coals in the stove for my father when he should come in from the cattle guard, crept into bed with her two youngest children. The guards, however soon came in for the cold had become so intense that it was impossible for human beings to remain abroad. None in the company had ever seen a storm so terrific. So fierce was it that no fire could be made in the camp and many of the people ran out of prepared food. At length some Norweigans managed to set up a tent in which they made a fire. My father took some meal and a kettle to this fire and made a kettle of mush which was all the food his children tasted for a day and two nights. After raging for  thirty-six hours longer the wind ceased as suddenly as it began. The sun came out to cheer the poor travelers and they began to dig the drifts of snow from their wagons and to unearth their effects, many of which were never recovered. The drift against on of my father’s wagon was seven feet deep. Those who had not put their things in order lost chains, shovels, cooking utensils etc. Their cattle which had been turned loose to browse had strayed away in the first of the storm and some  were also lost. We lost under the snow the lid to our small iron kettle. (Kettle now at the Bureau of Information) The dissenters were calmed. No one ever asked again to delay on the journey, but with one accord [p.12] hurried on. After wading through deep snow for a mile or two the travelers came across bare ground, showing the storm to have been but a freak of the elements. Hurry as they could cold weather and its storms caught them. Father when asked what they would do if they had to stay all winter said, “Do? why we’ll smooth down an icy even floor and take the skins of frozen cattle for roofing and sides for a dance hall and we’ll merrily dance till spring opens.” There were bright days now as the mountains began to gather around them on either side. The captain was all anxiety and worry from front to rear of the train he was continually riding, urging the tardy cattle who were inclined to linger to browse, keeping a sharp outlook to see that none were lost, never leaving his saddle except one in a while during a cold storm to creep into my father’s wagon to get a cup of coffee made over coals kept in Mother’s little stove. While father let his horse by the side of the wagon. I  remember his saying to Mother, “There was never any good coffee except that you made on the plains on that little iron stove.” The monotonous slushing of the mud day after day under the oxen’s feet and under the wheels of the wagon wore heavily on my mother’s nerves while she sat by her little stove and held upon her lap the puny babe growing weaker each day. A great fear fell upon her least she should leave that little one by the wayside and in her prayer for his behalf she made this promise to the Lord that if he would spare her life and all her little ones until she found shelter in the valley she would never complain of any hardship he might call her to pass through. His spirit whispered peace to her soul. My mother kept her promise through all the years that followed those gloomy days. On October 27 or 28 the wind came down upon the camp with a fury not equalled in many days past. It was impossible to make a fire or stretch a tent or make a light. The rain came in torrents. Children crept supperless beside their discouraged mothers or cried themselves to sleep. Some sat by their sick. Father wrestled with the wind trying to save the coverings of their wagons. A rumor ran down the long line of wagons. It was called from one to the other, “To morrow we shall reach the mouth of the canyon [p.13] and camp in sight of the valley. Scouts had come in from Salt Lake City. Joyfully the word was passed on from one to the other and the shouts of joy mingled with the roaring of wind. Mothers sang their children to sleep with songs of Thanksgiving. Elder Benson had intended to hold a Thanksgiving meeting but each soul alone went up his prayer of thankfullness that the Lord had preserved their lives and none had been left by the wayside. The day dawned bright and clear giving a spirit of exuberance to the camp. Their long treak across the planes had ended. It was a chapter closed, never to be opened again. It was yet early in the day when the train emerged from the canyon and the tired travelers looked upon S. L. Valley. My mother did not rush forward for the first view. She was content to know that she was there. She tells of craving something green and paying fifty cents for that bunch of what turned out to be husks of onions.

    It was a wonder to me and to many others that of all the hosts of Saints who came to Utah in those days so few ever turned their faces towards the east again. One woman tried to go back and her family would not receive her unless she renounced the religions, and so the impassable barrier between the exiles and their natural kindred in the east was  laid. Far sweeter the Gospel of Christ in the new land. I’ve heard the story of a young girl who had come out with her parents but concluded to return home. She started with a wagon train after a night and day out her heart began to turn so strongly to her people that she braved the dangers of the mountain roads and returned alone to Slat Lake Valley.

    My parents finally found a place of living in the Old Fort, now Pioneer Square. Here their quarters were most impossible, dirt roofs riddled with mouse holes through which the water ran, the old adobe walls were filled with flees and bedbugs, the room dark and smokey. ...

[The Craguns soon move to Mill Creek and have a nice little farm.]


The camp journal places Almon Babbitt’s visit on Tuesday, 21 August 1849. It does not mention any controversy. Their encounter with the large band of Sioux was five days later, on Sunday, 26 August. The two groups camped across the Platte River from each other, and the Sioux, a well-dressed, disciplined group, came in a group to the Mormons’ camp to trade. The camp journalist describes the visit as friendly. See Journal History of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, 27 Oct. 1849, pp. 10–11.

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