Heritage Gateways

Official Sesquicentennial K-12 Education Project
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Pioneer 1848-1868 Companies

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1863 (age 35), Rollins (Lightner), Mary Elizabeth

Elizabeth was the second child of John B. and Keziah Keturah Van Benthuysen Rollins, [born 9 Apr 1818]. Her father perished in a storm at sea when she was a small child, after which the mother and her children moved to Kirtland, Ohio where they lived with an uncle, Algernon S. Gilbert [partner in the mercantile business with Newel K. Whitney] and wife Elizabeth. They received the message of Mormonism which was preached in their neighborhood by Oliver Cowdery, Peter Whitmer and Ziba Peterson. Mary Elizabeth became the wife of Adam Lightner by whom she had ten children. The following excerpts are taken from her autobiography:

Quite a number of the residents of Kirtland were baptized, among them mother and myself, in the month of October, 1830. A branch of the Church was organized and Father Morley was ordained an elder to preside over it. He owned a large farm and meetings were held at his place.

[The next 23 years were quite eventful. She moved with her uncle to Independence, Missouri, where he was tarred and feathered. She and her sister rescued a few copies of the Book of Commandments from a mob. The family was driven to Clay County; there her uncle died of cholera. She married Adam Lightner, a non-Mormon, at age 17. He was favorable to the Mormons and could help them in circumstances where a Mormon couldn't. Elizabeth bore him 10 children as they moved about. Lightening hit their house and almost killed Adam. While living next to Joseph Smith in Nauvoo, Joseph asked Adam to be baptized. He refused because of a smoking habit. Joseph correctly predicted he would never become a member. The Lightners moved to Wisconsin, Minnesota, Hannibal (Missouri), and back.The Civil War them to consider moving to Utah.]

Effects of the Civil War on Boat Travel
On May 25, 1863 we embarked on the steamer Canada for St. Louis. Our quarters were neat and clean, but we had to sleep with our baggage. The next day they began taking on wheat until the boat was heavily loaded. The two young children came down with the measles, but we had no comfortable place for them. When we arrived at Rock Island bridge, which is a very dangerous place for boats to pass through, we saw several boats or vessels nearby ruined. Our passengers were panic stricken after we tried five times to pass through before succeeding. Two days after they took on 17 horses which made the air so foul it was unbearable. In the evening some soldiers came aboard. On the 29th, they unloaded grain at Montrose. Nauvoo lies on the opposite side of the river and looked deserted.

On Saturday we arrived in St. Louis and went aboard the steamer Fanny Ogden for St. Joseph. We were to have a cook stove, so laid in a supply of provisions. We were transferred to the upper deck until the storing of government supplies was completed. Then 500 mules were taken aboard, so we had to stay on the upper deck all the way from there to Omaha with just dried beef and bread to eat as the deck hands had stolen our supplies. We were crowded and for two days sat by a box containing a corpse. Progress was slow; half the time on sandbars. A steamer passing gave word that the rebels were gathering in great numbers. There was a cannon and soldiers on board for our protection. The men built a breastwork of sacks of grain and tobacco and all hands prepared for action. June 3rd was all excitement. At Lexington the town was almost destroyed by cannons. There my husband's brother was killed. We passed a gloomy night, some doubled up on trunks; anyway to get a little sleep. Strange as it may seem, not a shot was fired at us though we were in a rebel community.

Life at Omaha
On June 6th we arrived at St. Joseph, found the river banks lined with Indians who were being removed by the government to Minnesota for massacreing the whites. From there, we boarded the Emilie for Omaha; some Saints came aboard for Utah. I rejoiced at seeing them for I had not been with any of the Saints for 1 year. Landed at Omaha in a heavy rainstorm, rode 6 miles to Florence without a cover on the wagon. Stopped at a cabin, all wet through and no chance to make a fire; had to get as much rest as we could with wet bedding. The next night I had the cholera and the baby had a bowel complaint. Thursday, some immigrants arrived with small pox. Two died and ten more were sick. One of them spent the evening with us; we shook hands but he said nothing about the disease. The next day they were sent to the hills where tents were provided for them. On Saturday many persons arrived from England en route for Salt Lake City. This was the gathering place for those who intended crossing the plains. Each day more arrived from Africa and Denmark. Their tents were scattered all over the hillside and when the camp fires were lighted at night it was a beautiful sight; it made me think how the Children of Israel's camps must have looked in the days of Moses when they were journeying in the wilderness. Three deaths occurred in the Danish camp, also three weddings. My children picked three dollars worth of wild strawberries that helped much with our food as they sold most of them. On the 20th my sister's husband, Edwin Bingham (this was a half-sister), arrived from Utah to take us to the valley of the mountains. How glad we were to see him. Sunday we prepared for a march and Monday we started in a terrible rain. The night before, the thunder and lightning and wind were so terrible we did not sleep; also rained our first night on the road. The next morning we dried our clothes, milked the cow and were ready for another day's journey. One company of 60 wagons was just ahead of us and a number behind. At night a corral was formed of the wagons and the cattle all driven in the center to keep them safe. Meetings were held each evening after camping.

On the Plains
July 3rd we were up with the dawn, cooked breakfast with buffalo chips. 4th: Caught up with the company ahead, John R. Murdock, Captain. Had a dance in the evening. Traveled well the next day. We saw many beautiful wild flowers. 10th: We are on a vast prairie, seeing many buffalo herds. Passed through a prairie dog village; cunning little fellows dodging in and out of their burrows.

August 1st: Among the hills and rocks but dust inches thick. Saw a telegraph station, two log houses and a good well of water which was appreciated. Baked a shortcake for supper and fried bacon, all after dark. Lost the children's pet rabbit. 2nd: A train of government soldiers passed us to settle some difficulty among the Indians and gold seekers. The young folk danced and played till midnight. We always have prayers in the evenings. 3rd: Saw some returned Californians; they spoke well of the Mormons in the Valley. One of our cows died from drinking alkali water. 4th: A child fell out of a wagon, both wheels run over its legs but it doesn't seem to be much hurt. 8th: Stopped at a telegraph station. Saw a long freight train. Had some coffee, bread and thickened milk for dinner, then caught up and passed through the train ahead. 10th: Passed another station, crossed the Platte River bridge-a good structure. Elizabeth crazy all night with toothache. 11th: The anniversary of our wedding-twenty five years of joy and sorrows never to be forgotten. Came to the Devil's Backbone [Avenue of Rocks], a long range of rocks, looks as though it had been thrown up from beneath, and pointing up like ice in a jam. A company of gold seekers camped near us. 13th: Passed another station, also a place called Devil's Gate, which is two mountains of rocks so near together that a wagon could just pass through, perpendicular walls so high. 15th: Had a breakfast of bacon, fried cakes and coffee. Traveled on good roads. When we stopped to cook dinner the wind blew a gale of sand all over us. We will get proverbial peck of sand or dust long before we get through. Had sage hen and rabbit today. We have had fresh meat just once since leaving the Mississippi. On this side of the mountains the rivers flow toward the Pacific Ocean. 17th: Saw snow on distant mountains. Been going up and down hills all day. Camped in a good place for a wonder. I am writing by firelight while baking bread, poor sinner, while everyone else is at prayers. I don't much like our preacher, he strokes his beard too much and speaks too low. 18th: Saw many antelopes-two were killed. Captain gave us a nice piece. Camped on a hill, a clear day, so cold the ice formed thick in our buckets. The Captain says we are greatly blessed to what some companies are. We are on the highest land on this side of the Mississippi. A 400 pound bear was killed. It was divided among the company but I did not eat any. Crossed Green River Sunday evening. A beautiful stream with trees lining its banks. Two trains of wagons are behind us. Makes us hurry to keep ahead as the roads are so dusty we can hardly see ahead. Stopped at a station where our men were required to take an oath of allegiance to the United States Government. Our wagons were searched for powder. Mr. Lightner says if he finds the people in the Valleys as good as these in our company he will join the Church. Still looking at the acts of men, instead of the principles of the Gospel. Saw stage coaches and wagons passing today which makes it seem a little more like in the land of the living. Snow in the mountains and down here we are almost smothered with dust. A stage passed with two missionaries, one was Brigham Young, Jr. Arrived at Fort Bridger, a substantial building-looks comfortable. Days very warm, nights cold. Last evening we bought some onions and potatoes which were a treat. They did us good as were getting canker from so long a diet on salt pork. 31st: Passed through mountains in a round-about way, they look solemn in their grandeur, rising so high with verdure of many colors. I would like to paint them. A curiosity here is a spring of tar-they use it for the wagons. The rocks here are reddish and sprinkled with pebbles. The earth looks like burnt brick. Nearby is a large cave in a rock called the Cascade [Cache Cave]. Some fruit was brought in at famine prices, apples eleven cents each.

September 1st: Passed through Echo Canyon. Scenery beautiful to behold-such rocks I have never seen. Passed a few houses and potato patches. I am weak today as we have been on short rations for a week and breathing so much alkali dust no one feels well. 2nd: Camped near the town of Weber. Then over the narrow side of the mountain. Looks dangerous. Came to W. Kimball's place, a ranch. He is rich in cattle and sheep. 3rd: Rained last night. The first since leaving the Platte River. 15th: Arrived in Salt Lake City on Emigration Square. Went through some of the streets, some beautiful homes, orchards and shade trees. 17th: My brother Henry whom we had not seen for twenty years came to meet us with his mule team and we started our journey southward toward Beaver County. Stopped at an old friend's house in Springville. Had a nice visit, plenty of fruit to eat. Traveled on through lovely country. Saw a boiling spring and a cold one so deep that they never found bottom. It was full of fish. Arrived in Minersville on September 20th, 1863. There were my dear mother and sister Phoebe, all well and happy to see us. We were truly thankful to find friends and a home after an arduous journey of over one thousand miles with an ox team and wagon, besides our awful trips in the steamers from Stillwater to Omaha. At last, as Joseph the Prophet, my friend, had prophesied, I was back to the Church and Saints. In time we got settled and Mr. Lightner, being a carpenter, there was plenty of work and odd jobs. I could always have sewing, making men's suits etc., and they came from all around to have me make buttonholes as I was quite proficient with the needle. I taught school, even having married men in the classes; plenty of everything to keep me busy with my five children, the youngest a year old. For my teaching I was paid in vegetables. My noon meal was of raw vegetables. Our bread was very coarse and brown but I've since learned that such food was good for me.

We had many ups and downs through the years. The children all married except Adam who died at the age of 28. The Church authorities stopped at our home whenever in the town and Brigham always came to see us. He would have moved us to Salt Lake City if I would consent to go. It seems I was destined to live in Southern Utah until after my husband passed away, then I went to Ogden to live with my son and finally, years later, I came back to Minersville to live with my daughter, Mary Carter.

At one time Amasa Lyman came to Minersville and wanted me to join the Godbeites. My husband said he would join. Amasa said I would be well taken care of and be as high up as anyone. He gave me every inducement but I was not converted to his idea. ...I told my husband there would be no joining Godbeites; that we were in the right place if he would only do his part. End of Journal

On December 17, 1913 Mary Elizabeth Lightner passed away in Minersville, Utah. She was nearly 96 years of age. Her husband died twenty-eight years before, never a member of the Church but always a staunch friend of those who espoused its cause.

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.