Heritage Gateways

Official Sesquicentennial K-12 Education Project
sponsored by the Utah State Board of Education, the BYU-Public School Partnership and the Utah Education Network

Historical Pioneer Biographies

Agnes Caldwell (Southworth)

Born: 1847 Died: 1924

Agnes Caldwell (Southworth)Children's Story: Nine year old Agnes was a member of the 1856 Willie Handcart Company. She was blessed by the forethought and preparation of her mother and did not suffer as much as others.

Biography: © 1994 Deseret Book Company. All rights reserved.

Born: February 22, 1847, Glasgow, Lanark, Scotland
Parents: William and Margaret Ann McFall Caldwell
1856: James G. Willie Handcart Company
Age at time of journey: 9

On the twenty-eighth day of June, 1856, under the company leader of James G. Willie, we landed in the United States of America. Then began the noted tramp across the desert waste. Mother had one boy fifteen years of age, upon whom she was depending for the greater share of the pulling; when only a day or two out he was attempting to lasso a wild cow to be milked, his foot became tangled in the rope. He was thrown on his shoulder and dragged quite a distance, sustaining a broken shoulder. This of course threw the heavy pulling upon Mother.

Although only tender years of age, I can yet close my eyes and see everything in panoramic precision before me-the ceaseless walking, walking, ever to remain in my memory. Many times I would become so tired and, childlike, would hang on the cart, only to be gently pushed away. Then I would throw myself by the side of the road and cry. Then realizing they were all passing me by, I would jump to my feet and make an extra run to catch up.

Of the long cold journey, the suffering, and hardships, enough has been told and written, of that terrible night when fifteen were frozen and buried in one grave. My sister Elizabeth Caldwell had her foot frozen. Two of her toes were amputated upon our arrival in the Salt Lake Valley.

I have often marveled of the wonderful integrity of character of my mother's planning and successfully completing such a journey where more able-bodied and stronger-yes, even men-failed miserably.

Winter came in October with eighteen inches of snow, but in spite of this we did not suffer from hunger, due to Mother's careful and frugal planning. In Iowa City Mother sold a quilt and a bedspread for the sum of twenty-four cents. With this she bought food. She had a way with Indians: she traded trinkets for dried meat, which proved to be of great help to us on the journey. Frequently it would be stormy so that a fire could not be built; then mother would allow each of us to have a piece of dried meat on a piece of bread. As food became more and more scarce and the weather colder, she would stew a little of this meat and make a delicious gravy over it. I guess the reason it tasted so good is that we were allowed only a small portion at each meal.

One very cold night, some young men were on guard. Mother prepared some meat broth, thickened with flour, and a little salt; she gave each one of the young men a half pint. They often declared it saved their lives and never before or since had anything tasted so good.

For baking, Mother dug a hole in the ground. The food was placed in a heavy iron kettle with a tight lid on, then set in the hole and covered over with buffalo chips, which were set afire. This produced a nice, even heat, baking the food evenly.

One day we came to a section inhabited by rattlesnakes. Two of us, my friend Mary Hurren and I, would hold hands and jump. It seemed to me we were jumping for more than a mile. Due to the protecting hand of the Lord, we were not harmed.

The 30th of September we stopped at a station in Laramie, Wyoming. Mother, in company with her fifteen-year-old boy and a young lady, Christena McNeil, who was making the trip under Mother's care, visited one of the generals in command at the fort to obtain permission to trade some trinkets and silver spoons for flour and meat. The officer said he himself could not use any of the things but to leave the young lady in his office while mother went to another station, where he assured her she would be able to obtain the things she desired. He seemed very kind, and not wishing to arouse any feeling of ill will, she left Christena and Thomas. During her absence the officer used the time in trying to persuade Christena to stay there, proposing to her and showing her the gold he had, telling her what a fine lady he would make of her. Then he tried discouraging her, pointing out to her how the handcart company would never reach Utah, because of the severe cold, and that they would die of cold and hunger and exposure. Like all noble girls, and true to the cause for which she had left her native Scotland, her family, home, and friends just to be in Utah, she told him in plain language she would take her chances with the others even though it might mean death. She was greatly relieved to have Mother return. The officer, however, seemed to admire her very much for her loyalty to her faith and gave her a large cured ham and wished her well in her chosen adventure.

Just before we crossed the mountains, relief wagons reached us, and it certainly was a relief. The infirm and aged were allowed to ride, all able-bodied continuing to walk. When the wagons started out, a number of us children decided to see how long we could keep up with the wagons, in hopes of being asked to ride. At least that is what my great hope was. One by one they all fell out, until I was the last one remaining, so determined was I that I should get a ride. After what seemed the longest run I ever made before or since, the driver, who was Heber [William Henry] Kimball, called to me, "Say, sissy, would you like a ride?" I answered in my very best manner, "Yes sir." At this he reached over, taking my hand, clucking to his horses to make me run, with legs that seemed to me could run no farther. On we went, to what to me seemed miles. What went through my head at that time was that he was the meanest man that ever lived or that I had ever heard of, and other things that would not be a credit nor would it look well coming from one so young. Just at what seemed the breaking point, he stopped. Taking a blanket, he wrapped me up and lay me in the bottom of the wagon, warm and comfortable. Here I had time to change my mind, as I surely did, knowing full well by doing this he saved me from freezing when taken into the wagon. Agnes Caldwell and her family arrived safely in the Great Salt Lake Valley November 9, 1856. They settled in Brigham City, Utah, where Agnes met and married Chester Southworth. They became the parents of thirteen children. They lived in Dingle, Idaho, helped settle an LDS colony in Cardston, Alberta, Canada, and lived a short time in Gridley, California, where her husband died in 1910. Agnes moved back to Brigham City for her remaining years, where she was active in Relief Society and enjoyed sewing, quilting, and living close to some of her children. She was an excellent cook and made many Scottish recipes. She died September 11, 1924, in Brigham City at the age of seventy-seven.

Source: "Autobiography of Agnes Caldwell," typescript of interview conducted by Vera Southworth Fife, her daughter. Original in files of Daughters of Utah Pioneers Museum in Salt Lake City, Utah.

pp. 56-59 I Walked to Zion: True Stories of Young Pioneers on the Mormon Trail.

Source: I Walked to Zion: True Stories of Young Pioneers on the Mormon Trail © Susan Arrington Madsen. All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced in any form or by any means without permission in writing from the publisher. http://deseretbook.com ISBN 0-87579-848-9