SARAH CROSSLEY SESSIONS
MEMBER MARTIN HANDCART COMPANY
Olive Sessions Howells
In a little town of Radcliffe, Manchester, Eng. lived a family by the name of Crossley. My father, James Crossley who married Mary Jarvis, the children being Sarah, Hannah, Ephraim, and Joseph. Joseph, the eldest, a half brother was a cripple. He had suffered as a child and left a cripple for life, but of a sweet disposition. We were a happy family under the circumstances. My childhood days were happy ones as I ran and played with my companions, carefree and gay in the cheerful little village of Radcliffe. A neat little cottage full of comfort and happiness was my home.
My Mother and Father belonged to the Methodist Church and took us children there on the Sabbath until the Gospel of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints came to us in the year of 1851, which we were eager and glad to accept. I was nine years of age at the time. Many of the elders came to our home and stayed with us. Our doors were always open to them. Among them came Elder Sessions, President of the Manchester Mission. I was fond of him and would creep near to listen to his every word. Sometimes he would take us children on his lap and tell us of his home and wonderful experiences in his work in the church.
He often urged my father to go to America and unite with the Saints in the Rocky Mountains. This time my father did, leaving Mother and us children to follow as soon as he could make a home for us; this was not easily done for work was scarce and money hard to obtain. We almost despaired of ever seeing him again, but after two years the way came to us.
The handcart Plan was introduced into England, and it seemed so cheap and easy, only nine pounds or forty-five dollars in United States money, for each of us. We were so anxious to join our father and many friends who had gone before, that we decided to go. Mother was a frail woman and Joseph, our crippled brother could never walk across that 1300 miles of plains; but Hannah and I were very healthy and strong girls. Ephriam was a lad and very willing, so we gathered together what clothing and bedding we were able to take and sold our little home and all else we had. We bade farewell to our many friends and merry old England, sailing from Liverpool early in the spring of 1856. We landed in New York City and went to Iowa city, the gathering place for the handcart companies. There we were detained several weeks for lack of carts and provisions. It was the last of July before we started on this long terrible journey; but we knew not the hardships that lay before us, and started off happy and gay singing as we went, a merrier company could not have been found.
Elder Levi Savage had traveled the Plains before, and tried to discourage us when we got to Florence Nebraska telling us that it was too late to make this trip. (See Note). We were anxious to go and there seemed no alternative. How could we live all winter when we had only enough to take us to Utah? By spring, we would be without funds, so we voted to go on as fast as we could. We were making fourteen and fifteen miles daily over the Plains covered with green grass and dotted with wild flowers. It seemed so easy to us then, but as soon as the grass turned brown and the flowers disappeared then the plains rose up into the Great Rocky Mountains.
Many of the carts gave out and had to wait for repair and we had to double up our loads as some had to be discarded and left. It was hard work. We always had to pull Joseph along but what was that to a girl fourteen and robust and strong? All went well until our supplies ran low, and we were put on rations and our bodies began to weaken, making travel slower every day.
September came and the first frost was upon us. Out in the open with few clothes and little shelter, then we began our real suffering. But we tried to be brave and not complain more than necessary to each other. We children felt we should help dear Mother all we could. Poor little Joseph, it was so hard on him jolting over the uneven road. He suffered greatly and became thin and pale. I would do my best, almost anything, to keep his spirits up. We had always cared so tenderly for him, and he missed the good nourishing food and the comforts he had always had, but he seldom complained. He seemed only to dwindle in body and spirit.
At Wood River we were over taken by some Elders from England. Among them were Franklin Richards and Joseph A. Young. They encouraged us and promised to hurry us along. They would report our condition to the Saints and send us food and help. So we struggled on day by day. Soon we came upon the Platte River’s ice waters and this time we had to ford and wade. Some of the stronger men carried the women and children across on their backs. Here we met large herds of buffalo which stampeded our cattle. At one time we lost thirteen head which handicapped us greatly as they had been used to pull provisions. Now we each had to take a hundred pounds of flour on our carts to share the load, so then we could not make more than three or four miles a day through ice and snow.
A terrible disease [probably Cholera] crept into our little fold and death became a frequent visitor to our little train. We were obliged to leave our loved ones in the graves that marred the path of this little struggling band.
Lower and lower our rations became and no food or help in sight. We were finally rationed to one tablespoon of flour per person a day, no salt, sugar, or meat. Mother would make a gruel of this and we would drink it, glad to get even this much. Once in a while we would have to kill one of our cattle which were used to pull the supply wagon in the train. This would give us only a small taste and would add some weight to each loaded cart.
Many were dying each day. Men and women who started strong and well were dropping out. Each morning we would dig a grave and bury our dead before we could leave camp. Was it no wonder that our dear brother Joseph was stricken with this terrible disease? Each morning we gave him our clothing to keep warm. His suffering was over one morning as we found him frozen in his bed. We were so numbed with our suffering and the sight of death that I think we were almost glad he had gone. We felt that he had gone only a little ahead of us, that we would soon be with him. I did pray though that the commissioner of provisions would not know of it until I had received Joseph’s portion of flour. I cannot tell you the pang that smote my heart as he counted out the spoons full and when he came to Joseph’s he said, “Oh Joseph died last night didn’t he”? I had lost my brother’s portion and it hurt me worse than it did to first look upon his still white face.
We left him by the side of the road. There were five deaths that night and the ground was so frozen that we could not dig a grave. We wrapped him in a large blanket and left him by the side of the trail; before we had got out of sight, we heard the wolves had reached it. This was a terrible trial for my Mother to bear, but she did not complain to the Lord and did not lose faith in him. I think she felt it had been a merciful hand rather than a hard one that had taken her son. We had not reached Sweet Water River and our provisions were gone. We found a small ravine since named Martin’s Ravine. Here we made or camp in a clump of willows that grew close together. We settled down as we could not go on farther. We must wait for help or death must come to us. Few of us cared which. In the morning to add to our suffering a heavy snow had fallen upon us. We had camped in a circle so we did not know which way to go or from which we had come. Here we were lost, starving, and buried in two feet of snow. Three days we lived through this and then at the sunset from over the rim of the ravine came a covered wagon with men breaking a road for the horses. Such cries of joy were never heard before. We laughed and all shouted together, here was help and food coming, but we were careful, we could not eat but a small portion or we would have all died. In the morning there were thirteen dead and two more died during the day. While we were preparing to go on, the dead were gathered and placed in one large grave.
We started on with new hope and courage. As we came to South Pass, the weather moderated and we did not suffer so much. On the thirteenth day of November, we arrived in Salt Lake City, what was left of us. There was five hundred and eighty-four members in the company in Iowa City, and one hundred and forty-six of this little band were left along the plains and in the mountains to tell the tale of our experience.
We were met by dear Father and many of our friends. In fact most of the city came to look upon the suffering of this company. They gave us aid by taking us into their homes to nurse us back to life-from the very jaws of death through which we had passed.
I visited with my Father for several days then Elder Sessions came and begged to be permitted to take one of us to care for. As I felt very near to him for his kindness to us while on his mission in England. I was allowed to go and live with his sister. She cared for me very kindly and brought me back to health. I never did recover fully to my former strength as long as I lived, I have been a weakling.
I lived most of the time with Mr. Session’s family and at the age of eighteen I was married to him. I think I had loved him from my very childhood; and although I was his fourth (plural) wife and many years younger, I was the happiest woman in the world. I went to live with his other wives in a large house until some years later Ester, his youngest wife and I lived together in a log house of six rooms. Here I had my family of eleven children and Ester had ten. We loved each other dearer than sister. She cared for me most tenderly doing all the hard work, allowing me to do only the lighter thing about the home. For seventeen years we lived together in perfect happiness. Then we were given a nice new home of our own, but we parted with many regrets and we have always remained the dearest of companions.
I was a widow at the age of fifty with my family in comfortable circumstances and loving companionship of all the other wives. There were six of us at this time and we have always been a great blessing to each other.
This is the story of my Mother, always faithful, sweet and gentle. She lived to the age of sixty three and when winter came which she dreaded, we laid her to rest in the Bountiful Cemetery, the 28th day of January l906. She rested beside her husband and several children who had gone before.
We, who are left can always thank our Heavenly Father for having had so grand and noble a Mother, frail, gentle, patient, unselfish and cheerful as always was.
These are the dearest memories of my life,
Olive Sessions Howells
Elder Sessions is Perrigrine Sessions my great-great grandfather. Perrigrine Sessions was the first settler of Bountiful, Utah, or as it was called then, Sessions Settlement.
Levi Savage was with the Willie Handcart Company
Picture Credit Clark Kelly Price
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