Come take a walk with me back in time, down a trail less traveled.
Pioneer children grew up in a remote world away from cities and most other civilization. Their environment allowed them to grow into healthy, strong and self-reliant people. Having survived travel across the plains of America into unknown and unsettled lands of what is now Utah, children learned quickly their limitations and the expanse of their new homes.
Learning responsibility at a young age, they helped tend younger siblings, herded sheep, cattle and horses, gathered eggs and milked cows. Often working in the fields with their dads, they learned how to harness a team and take the big animals to water. Sometimes walking in bare feet to save their shoes for winter, they ran and played after chores were finished, and slept well at night either tucked inside a wagon box wrapped in quilts or within the walls of their parent’s cabin upon a rope bed. Visiting the Pioneer Museum Complex on 55 E. Vine Street, you can see such a bed inside the Gowans Cabin on site. Pioneer children learned how to get along in crowded space since the cabins were seldom more than one or two rooms.
Little kids helped their moms by winding spun yarn into balls. One little boy watched his mother’s treadle sewing machine closely and decided to try and beat the needle with his finger. It sewed up his fingernail neatly before she could stop the wheel. The children helped with soap and candle making and, instructed carefully, carried supplies to the work area and put the freshly made soap and candles away.
Dangerous? Yes, but taught well and watched carefully, there was always something for them to be actively involved with. Even then accidents happened as journals relate a wagon rolling across a boy’s leg, breaking it. He had to ride in the wagon with his leg tied to two limbs to keep it straight after his dad set it. A little girl fell from a wagon and was run over. It killed her. She was buried near the trail with a sagebrush cross marking her grave.
Samplers were made using redwork linear style of embroidery done only with red floss. The child artist drew the pattern on the cloth and it might be of animals, flowers, birds, fruit, events or other subjects common in her life.
Children had fun as they traveled across the plains and later when they lived in settlements throughout Utah. Games rolling barrel hoops touching them only with a stick, foot races, marbles, dolls made from linen or cornhusks, horse shoes, and many more homemade toys were enjoyed and played by the children.
One family of four children lost their father in 1868. They all came down with the flu and during that time, their mother, a dress and hat maker, lost her eyesight to a recurring eye infection. Praying her eyesight be restored, she continued taking care of her sick little ones, and gradually her eyesight returned. Although at times each little girl only had one dress, their mom kept them clean and neat for special occasions. Children learned to take care of what they had since there was no way to buy new clothes, shoes or coats. They had to be hand made.
One little girl born in 1851, with her family reaching the Salt Lake Valley in 1854 to begin a new life of peace and permanence, recalled later in life that when she was 4 or 5 years old a messenger arrived with news that Johnson’s Army was coming to kill all of the settlers. Her family fled to southern Utah. They stayed there for six months, and then learned the troops had been called off and they could return to their home. She recalled how frightened her mother had been which conveyed the fear to her, causing trauma that she couldn’t sleep at night without nightmares.
A boy born in 1841 in Denmark learned to drive a team of horses when he was 7 years old and worked the fields with his parents. Later, at 26 years old, he emigrated to America and worked for Union Pacific Railroad as they laid track across the continent. A loyal and dependable employee, he never returned to his native land but pined for those he left behind.
A family of Scottish descent emigrated to America in 1865. Not being familiar with the west and distance between water holes, they set out in 1869 from St. Thomas and the Muddy River alone in their wagon. The father was warned by the locals to not venture out into the desert alone with his family. He went anyway. About a week later, some workers went to clean out and deepen a well at a watering place near Beaver Dam Wash. A horse wandered into their camp and they went looking for the owner. A short distance away they found the body of a 12-year-old boy who had apparently died from heat and thirst. After burying the boy and placing a rock for a marker they began looking around for anyone else. Shortly they found his parents lying dead beneath some brush within 5 miles of the well. They also were buried on the spot and a rock marker placed. Children suffered as well as adults in perilous conditions.
In what is now Payson, a young man lost his father to lung infection. His mother, with a large family and a farm to run, remarried. He left home at the age of 13, went to California and worked on a ranch breaking horses. After a short time he left there and was passing through southern Utah when a fine older couple who had no children of their own found him, stopped him and took him in. They had a hand in raising other lost children whom they gave second chances at a brighter future.
Pioneer children grew into adults of broad vision and tolerant of all others, even though they may not have had views in accord with their own. They were the kind of people of whom others held in high esteem with honored names, and made the world a better place for having lived in it.
Patricia Holden is the publicist for the Tooele County Company of the Daughters of Utah Pioneers. She is also a member of the DUP SheepRock Camp. She can be reached at email@example.com.