Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Edwin Pettit Autobiography, Part 2

In February 1846, the people began leaving Nauvoo for the west, and my sister and her husband decided to go with them. At this time they were both good members of the Mormon faith. I was given to understand that if I wished to go West, there would be a way provided for me. I wanted to go with my sister but the rest of the children opposed my going, as did also my guardian.[1]

A man was sent from the Mormon camp to pilot me to the camp of my sister, which was some miles away. This young man took me to the camp; my guardian and brothers followed me, took me back on horseback—I riding behind my brother. I didn’t get to see my sister as they overtook me before I reached her. In a short time there was another man made his appearance in the neighborhood on the same errand, a man that I was acquainted with. We made an appointment to meet at a certain place and make our escape if possible. I got up very early in the morning, and went down stairs with my shoes in my hands. My guardian was dozing in his chair as I slipped out unknown to him, and put my shoes outside. I soon fell in with my friend, and we tramped all day without anything to eat to reach the spot where I was to join my sister. Instead of going into camp, I lay out in the prairie all night alone. The captain of this company called the people together and told them if there was anybody inquiring for me to tell them there was no such boy in camp—I was not in the camp at this time; I was staying out in the prairie. The parties were hunting for me again, but failed to find me.

Disguised as a girl, and in company with four or five girls, I crossed the Des Moines River on a flat boat; the boat man being none the wiser, supposing I was a girl with the rest. I was wearing side-combs in my hair, and false curls covered my head. I was also wearing a sunbonnet in order to make the disguise more complete. 

On landing on the opposite side of the river, an old friend met me on horseback, and took me on behind him. As is well known, girls are supposed to ride sideways, especially where there are a great many people to observe them, and I also took that precaution. In going along the road, the people would sometimes holler out: “Old man, that girl will fall—she’s asleep,” because I was trying to hide my face. He turned around and said: “Mary Ann, wake up. You’ll fall off and break your neck.” The people thought his little girl was asleep. People at that time were trying to get away from Nauvoo and all the surrounding country, and we passed a good many on the way. I at last reached my sister’s camp, near a place called Indian Creek.

In a short time the people broke camp and started on their long journey to the West. We crossed the State of Iowa, and reached Pigeon Grove, a distance of about three hundred and fifty miles. This was named after the wild pigeons which were very numerous. There were so many Seeleys gathered here that it was later on called Seeley’s Grove; located about twelve miles from Council Bluffs, where we spent the winter.[2] 

There were about twenty-five families in our company. We were located in a beautiful grove of trees and we fell to work cutting trees to build our homes. We cut the logs from fourteen to eighteen feet long and helped each other roll them up together to build the houses. There were my two uncles and their families; my cousin, Lorenzo Pettit, with his wife; my sister and her husband with four Seeley [they spelled it Seely] families, and others; my sister having married David Seeley. We built houses and put flat log roofs on; covered them with dirt. Wagon boxes standing outside of the door made room sufficient for a family, people mostly sleeping in their wagon boxes, although it was very cold. 

It was a hard winter and many cattle died for want of fodder. We used to take turns in going out with a herd of cattle where there was plenty of feed on a stream called the Buoyal [perhaps Henchal Creek], and some members of the camp had to stay with them all winter to milk the cows, make the butter, and herd the stock. The snow was very deep, but this was the only way we had of taking care of our stock. We used to cut down young trees and let the cattle browse on the leaves and bark in order to keep them alive. My uncle lost so many of his oxen that he could not move the following spring with the rest of the company. In the spring we planted radishes, lettuce, and onions, in a small place right in front of the door. 

With my brother-in-law, I went down into Missouri with two yoke of oxen and a wagon to get breadstuff and other things to do us on our way after leaving Seeley’s Grove. We traded off some little things we had for anything that we could use on the road—things that we felt we could possibly get along without on our journey, in order to get enough food to do us on our way. I was the one that always drove the team. When we got back to our log cabin again, the little garden seeds that we had sown were all up and it was a great help to us. They were the only things we had in the way of garden stuffs, and they looked pretty good to us.

To be continued...

I have added additional paragraph breaks to the story to make it easier to read. The picture of the Mississippi River viewed from Nauvoo is from http://www.flickr.com/photos/nanawriteon/2644612278/#/. The historical photo of the Des Moines River is from the Des Moines Public Library by way of http://www.flickr.com/photos/52460131@N07/4834640545/in/photostream/.

[1] Some of their descendants still live in the Midwest. Several years ago some of the Utah branch of the family was able to meet and tour the farm of one of the descendants of one of Edwin Pettit's brothers.

[2] I have not been able to find Indian Creek, Pigeon Grove or Seeley's Grove on any current map. The location names went went west with the settlers and can be found in biographies and stories of the Mormon migration. Here is a list of Mormon settlement names in Iowa: Settlement Listing. The linked map (Winter Quarters/Kanesville) shows Indian Creek but not the other two.

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