Heritage Gateways

Official Sesquicentennial K-12 Education Project
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Pioneer 1847 Companies

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Burton (Coray), Melissa, Mormon Battalion Wife

Melissa Burton Coray Kimball was the youngest of the four women who made the entire march of the Mormon Battalion. She was born March 2, 1828, in Western Canada, and at the age of ten, joined the Church. With the rest of her family, she began the march westward, with the body of the Saints. At Mr. Pisgah, she became the wife of Wm. Coray. She was living there as a bride of three months, when the call came for the Mormon Battalion. Melissa knew that her young husband would enlist. He was a military man, having served with the Nauvoo Legion. She was accustomed to placing her faith in God and to taking the advice of those in authority, nevertheless she rebelled at the proposed separation from her husband.

"If he must go, I want to go," she said. "Why must women always stay behind and worry about their husbands, when they could just as well march beside them."

When William told her that there were to be four women with each company employed as laundresses, she saw a way whereby she might go with him. He was a Sergeant in Company B, and if she were in the same company, it would be entirely safe and proper.

Grandmother said that one of the hardest parts of the journey was leaving her father and mother, but as it was a choice between them and her husband, she thought her duty was to her husband. She never saw her parents again. Once in a while she would tell us an incident of her journey that was especially interesting. She was inclined to belittle the walking she did, although other members of the Battalion said that she traveled on foot a large part of the 2,000 miles to San Diego and most of the return journey to Salt Lake. "I didn't mind it," she declared. "I walked because I wanted to; my husband had to walk, and I went along by his side." She said many times they had very little food and less water, but she and her husband got along very well. Many of the men in the Battalion ate until they were satisfied. The result was that they consumed their food at the start and did not have any later on when they needed it badly.

But not so with the Coray couple. Grandmother had learned differently from experience. She looked ahead and figured how many days the food would have to last until they met the next supply company, and then she used only so much each day. She tried to cook wisely, so that no food would be wasted. Although they did not have all they wanted to eat, they were never in danger of starving. She went from campfire to campfire, urging more care in the use of food. She used to relate how, weary and footsore, they had to walk miles and miles without water, and often the men thought they would die of thirst: "That is something," she said, "that only gets worse when you think of it. When I was thirsty, I tried not to think of it." It was at such a time that she learned to carry a pebble in her mouth. This caused the saliva to flow more freely and lessened her unquenchable thirst.

When the Battalion reached Santa Fe, Colonel Cooke decided to send the women and children and sick soldiers to Pueblo for the winter. At this, Melissa Coray almost lost courage. But it was not so with her husband. Along with Capt. Davis, Capt. Hunter and Sergeant Brown, he went to the Colonel to persuade him to let the four women continue. Just what was said at this conference, the women never knew, but they were permitted to accompany their husbands. Grandmother said it was a sad day when they had to bid their companions goodbye.

The nausea of early pregnancy made traveling harder for her, and she had to hide it as long as possible. Once, after marching two days without water, she saw a number of men crowded around a small spring from which trickled a little stream of water. As it seeped from the rocks they were sucking it through a quill. Grandmother said it was such sights as this that made one's heart almost fail.

William attempted to keep many of the trials of the trip from her, but she knew and shared most of them. One night in Arizona she had a scare that she didn't forget. Mexicans were in the vicinity, and the men were afraid they would be attacked, so they stayed up all night, but nothing happened. About this time, she was becoming extremely weary and footsore, and Col. Cooke seeing her fatigue, got down from his big white horse and offered it to her to ride on. In relating this to her grandchildren, she was always careful to designate "white horse" as though this made the event more important.

On January 29, 1847, the Battalion reached San Diego, and grandmother and Sergeant Coray, with others of the Battalion thought their journey ended. After two days there, they were ordered to the Mission San Luis Rey to do garrison duty and protect the place from the Indians. However, in six weeks or so Company B was ordered back to San Diego and grandmother said they camped at Old Town, near the site which is now known as Ramona's marriage place. Here she anxiously awaited the time when her husband would be mustered out and could make a home for her and the baby she was expecting. When the Battalion was discharged in early summer, her husband bought a wagon and some horses, and they started north. At Monterey, a baby boy was born to her, but he only lived a few days and was buried in the little cemetery there. As soon as she was able to travel, they started out again. She said the trip was hard; the country was new; and there were no roads. They had to pick their way as best they could. In one place they came to a gorge so narrow that they couldn't drive through it. They had to take their wagon apart and carry it through, a piece at a time. When they reached Sutter's Mill they found that gold had been discovered, and some of the Battalion stopped there. Although the Corays were anxious to get to Salt Lake, they had to remain there long enough to get the means to continue. Mr. Coray sent two sacks of gold back east to bring his mother and sister to Utah.

Grandmother said the worst night she ever spent was in Nevada. An advance guard of five men had been sent ahead to find the best route and notify the others. But they weren't heard from. Although the rest of the party thought it strange, they kept on. One night, just at dusk, they came upon the bodies of the five men. They had been killed by the Indians with poisoned arrows, and their bodies had been thrown in a gulch and partly covered with underbrush. The bodies were buried, and the small company camped nearby for the night. They had bought a small cannon before leaving San Diego. They were afraid of an attack that night so the cannon was fired off every little while to scare the Indians. "The firing of the cannon may have kept the Indians away, but it did us more harm than good, for it frightened our horses so that they stampeded, and we had a hard time getting them back, and some never came back. We arrived in Salt Lake City in December, 1848, and were glad to get here." Grandmother and her husband established their home in the first house built in the old Fifteenth Ward, and it was here that a baby girl was born to them, February 6, 1849. She was Melissa Coray Swan, who, in later years, made her home in Ocean Park, California.

Grief soon entered the Coray household. Sergeant Coray, weakened by the hardships and exposure of the trip, took seriously ill and passed away in March, 1849, less than three months after arriving here. Two years later, grandmother married William H. Kimball, eldest son of Heber C. Kimball. She spent the rest of her life in Utah and died in Salt Lake City, September 21, 1903.

Her picture was in the Utah Building during the San Diego Exposition in 1915. Several years before she died, she made a trip to California, visiting the places where she had been so many years before. She stopped at San Luis Rey mission, which was really her first stopping place in California. She talked with the priests there and could hardly get away from them, they were so anxious to hear her story. She also visited Monterey and tried to locate the grave of her baby, but the cemetery had changed so that she was unable to do so.

Source: Our Pioneer Heritage © Carter, Kate B., ed. 20 vols. Salt Lake City: International Society, Daughters of Utah Pioneers, 1958-1977. All rights reserved. No part of this material may be reproduced in any form or by any means without permission in writing from the publisher. Documents and images are exerpted by permission from the LDS Family History Suite CDROM from Ancestry.