Wight, Mary Hurren, [Reminiscences], in James G. Willie History.
I was eight years old when I crossed the plains with my parents in the James G. Willie Handcard [Handcart] Company. We left England on the 2nd of May, 1856, and Captain [James G.] Willie was in charge of our company, He had been in England on a mission and was returning to his family in Utah. We all loved Captain Willie. He was kind and considerate, and did all that he could for the comfort of those in his company. Many times he has laid his hands upon my head and administered to me.
I remember my father lived at Hyde Park at the time of the death of Bro. Willie. He had not heard of his sickness and he cried when he heard of his death. He said that if he had known that he had been sick he would willingly have walked from Hyde Park to Mendon to see him if need be.
I walked practically all the distance across the plains until we were snowed in. We had to be on the constant lookout for indians. We saw where members of other companies had been killed by the indians. They succeded in stealing a good many of our cattle, which greatly reduced our food supply.
During the last few days before relief came our small allowance of flour was cooked as a gruel and eaten that way. Pieces of rawhide on the handcarts were also cooked to secure what food value there was in them. I remember one morning my father [James Hurren] went out, and with a stick undovered from the snow a piece of rawhide about a foot square. After wa[s]hing it in snow water and scraping the hair off, he cut it into small strips and boiled it. Those pieces were then given to us to eat. We were very thankful to receive them, and chewed them as we would gum. until we secured what nourishment there was in it.
The snow was about eighteen inches deep and it was bitter cold in the wind. We lacked sufficient clothing and bedding, as we were limited in the amount we could bring. My shoes were wone [worn] out, and my feet and legs were badly frozen.
I remember being lifted up on the shoulder of one of the men, where I could see a grave which had been dug to bury those that had died during the day. I counted 14 bodies in this one grave. The grave was dug shallow, as no one had strength to dig it very deep, and the soil was frozen and hard. They were burried in the clothes in which they died. Two more members of our company died while these fourteen were being burried.
Captain Willie went ahead through the snow to meet the relief wagons and urge them to hurry as the people were freezing and starving to death. If help had not come when it did there would have been no one left to tell the tale. As a small girl I could hear the squeaking of the wagons as they came through the snow before I was able to see them. Tears streamed down the cheeks of the men and the children danced for joy. As soon as the people could control their feelings they all knelt down in the snow and gave thanks to God for his kindness and goodness unto them. The last supply of food in the camp had been given our [out] two days before the relief wagons came. They came just in time to save our lives.
I was placed in a wagon with two sick boys. The snow came down so fast and the wind blew so hard, that it drifted in the tracks of the wagon ahead, so that the driver of our wagon lost his way, and it was eleven o’clock at night before we were finally located by the rest of the company. During this time we had nothing but a few cracker crumbs to eat.
When we arrived in Salt Lake City we camped in the old tithing office lot, which was located where the Hotel Utah now stands. We were met by Uncle George Reeder. When he saw what a pitiful condition we were in he went for medical aid. Two doctors came back with him. In the meantime my mother had warmed some water and was ingaged in soaking the rags from off my frozen legs and feet. One of the doctors remarked, “She’ll never get over this. There’s nothing we can do here.” He did not expect that I would live more than a day or two at the most. They came back however in the morning and informed my father that the only way to save my life would be to have my legs amputated.
The doctors informed father that it would be necessary to amputate on[e] leg just above the knee, and the other one directly below the knee. Mu [My] father objected to this and said that his little girl had not walked for a thousand miles across the plains to have her legs cut off.
The flesh fell away from the calves of my legs, so that it was necessary to grow new flesh. My mother put sweetoil on my legs. I remember that on several occassions after coming to Brigham City that father walked to Ogden to secure fresh beef to mind on my legs. It was three long years be fore I was able to walk.
. . . I have always tried to do the best that I could. If I had my life to live over again I would not want to avoid any of the hardships that I have passed through. I would not want it any different.