The Story and Life of Sarah Crossley Sessions
In the little town of Radcliff, Manchester, England lived the family of my father, James Crosley, Mary Jarvis Crosley, Sarah, Hannah, Ephraim and Joseph. Joseph, the eldest, a half brother, was a cripple. He had suffered from hip desease when a child and was left a cripple for life, but of a sweet, cheerful disposition. We were a very happy family and in good circumstances. My childhood days were very happy ones as I ran and played with my companions, carefree and gay, in the pretty little village of Radcliff. A neat trim little cottage, full of love, comfort and happiness; this was my home.
My father and mother belonged to the Methodist Church and took us children there on the Sabbath, until the gospel 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 then nine years of age. Many of the Elders came to our home and stayed with us; our doors were ever open to them, and among them came Elder Sessions, President of the Manchester Mission. I was very fond of him and would creep near and listen to his every word. Sometimes he would take us children on his lap and tell us stories of his home, and his wonderful experiences in his work with the Church.
He often urged my father to go to America and unite with the Saints in the Rocky Mountains. This in time my father did, leaving mother and us children to follow as soon as he could make a home for us. But this was not so easily done, as work was scarce and money hard to obtain. We almost dispaired of ever seeing him again, but after two years the way came to us.
The hand cart plan was introduced into England and it seemed so cheap and easy, only nine pounds, or forty-five dollars in American 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 small, frail woman, and there was Joseph, our crippled brother, who could never walk that thirteen hundred miles across the plains, but Hannah and I were strong, healthy girls and Ephram was quite a lad and very willing so we gathered together what clothing and bedding we would be able to take, and sold our little home and all else we had, and bade farwell 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 of the hand cart companies. There we were detained several weeks for lack of carts and provisions, so it was the last of July before we started on this long and terrible journey, but we knew not then of 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 over the plains before and he tried to discourage us when we got to Florence, Nebraska, telling the Captains that it was all too late for us to make this trip, but we were so anxious to go, and in fact there seemed no alternative. How could we live there all winter when we had only money 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 and it seemed so easy to us then, but soon the grass turned brown and the flowers dissappeared and the plains rose up into the great Rocky Mountains. Many of the carts gave out and we had to wait for repairs; 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 of fourteen, robust and strong. All went well until our supplies ran low, then we were put upon rations and began to weaken making travel slower every day.
September came and the first frost fell 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 that we should cheer dear little mother and help her all we could; but poor Joseph—it was so hard upon him, jolting over the uneven road, and he suffered greatly and became so thin and pail. I would do my best, almost anything to keep his spirits up, not let him grow sad as he was really a bright, happy, cheerful fellow. 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, only seemed to dwindle away in body and spirit.
At Wood River we were overtaken by some Elders from England. Among them were Franklin Richards and Joseph A. Young. They encouraged us and promised to hurry along and report our condition to the Saints and send us food and help. So we struggled on day by day. We came upon the Platte River’s icy water, and this we had to ford or wade. Some of the stronger men carried the women and children across on their backs. Here we met large heards of buffalo; they would frighten our cattle and cause them to stampede. At one time we lost thirteen head which handicapped us greatly as they had been used to pull the provisions, and now we had each to take a hundred pound bag of flour on our carts to share the load, so we could not make more than three or four miles a day through ice and snow, half fed, and half clothed.
A terrible disease had crept into our fold and death became a frequent visitor to our little train. We were obliged to leave our loved ones in graves that marked the path of the struggling band.
Lower and lower our rations became and no food or help in sight. We were finally rationed to one tablespoon of flour to each person a day, no salt nor sugar nor meat. Mother would make a gruel of this and we would drink it and glad to get this much. Once in a while we would have to kill one of our cattle which were used to pull the supply wagons in the train. This would give us only a small taste and would add some small weight to each loaded cart.
Many were dying each day, and 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 any wonder that our dear brother Joseph was stricken with this terrible disease? We each gave him of our clothing to keep him warm, but when the morning came we found his suffering over; he was gone and frozen stiff in his bed. We were so calloused and numbed with our suffering and the sight of death that I think we were almost glad that he was gone as we all looked forward to the end and felt that he had only gone a little ahead of us and 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 spoonful of flour. I cannot tell the pang that smote my heart as he counted our spoonfuls and he came to Joseph’s name and said; "Oh Joseph died last night, didn’t he? Well that will be one spoonful less!" I had lost my dear little brother’s portion and it hurt me worse than that first look upon his still, white face had done.
We left him by the roadside. There were five deaths that night and the ground was so frozen that we could not dig a grave, so we wrapped them in a large blanket and left them by the side of the trail, but before train was out of sight the wolves had reached it. This was an awful trial for my mother to bear but she did not complain of the Lord and did not lose faith in Him. I think she felt that it had been a merciful hand rather than a hard one, that had bereft her of her son.
We now neared the Sweet-Water River and our provisions were gone. We found a small ravine, since named Martin’s Ravine, here we made our camp in a clump of willows that grew close together, and settle down—we could not go farther, we must wait for help or death to come to us, and 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 we were to go nor the direction from which we had come. Here we were—lost, starving and buried in two feet of snow.
Three days we lived thru this and then at the sunset from over the rim of the ravine came a covered wagon and men breaking a road for the horses. Such cries of joy were never before heard, I am sure. We laughed and cried and shouted all together. Here was help and food coming! We were cheered but could eat only a small portion or we would have all died, as several of them did. In the morning there were thirteen dead and two more died during that day while we were preparing to go on. They were left 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.
We were met by our dear father and many friends, in fact, most of the city came to look upon the suffering of this company and to give them aid, to take them into their homes and nurse them back to life from the very jaws of death thru which we had passed.
I lived with my father and mother for several days, then Elder Sessions came and begged to be permitted to take one of us to care for as he felt very near to my father for his many kindnesses to him while on his Mission in England, so I was allowed to go with him. I lived with his sister and she cared for me very kindly and brought me back to health, although I never did fully recover my former strength as long as I have lived. I have been a weakling.
I lived most of the time in Mr. Session’s family and at the age of eighteen I was married to him. I think that I had loved him from my very childhood, and although I was his fourth wife and many years younger I was the happiest woman in the world.
I went to live with his other wives in the large White House until some years later, when Esther, his youngest wife, and I lived together in a log house of six rooms. Here I had my family of eleven children, and Esther had ten. We loved each other dearer than sisters. She always cared for me most tenderly, doing all the heavy work and allowing me to do only the lighter things about our home. For seventeen years we lived together in perfect happiness, then we were each given a nice new home of our own, but we parted with many regrets, and always remained the dearest of companions.
I was left a widow at the age of fifty, with my family in comfortable circumstances and the 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 the winter which she so dreaded, came we layed her to rest in the Bountiful Cemetery, January 28th, 1906, beside her husband and several children who had gone before. But we who are left can always thank our Heavenly Father for having had so grand and noble a mother—frail and gentle, patient, unselfish cheerful always. These are the dearest memories of my life.
Hannah Sessions Burmingham. (Signed)
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