Sunday, September 26, 2021

My Handcart Ancestor and Her Traveling Companion

 he evidence is pretty solid that our Elinor* (1789-1861) was the traveling companion of Mary Taylor Mayo (1791-1856) in their travels to America and on the Pioneer Trail. Mary is the one who died just short of South Pass on the Overland Trail. She died September 13, 1856, in Nebraska Territory and was buried in Oregon Territory when the Ellsworth Handcart Company stopped for the night at Pacific Springs.

There are two contemporaneous lists of the members of Ellsworth's Company that departed Iowa City on June 2, 1856. Neither one is in alphabetical order. The people are generally grouped by families. Interestingly, Elinor is not grouped with her daughter, Jane Vaughan Lewis (1827-1890) and her family. They travelled from Britain to the United States in different ships within weeks of each other. However, Elinor and Mary Mayo are listed together on both lists.

CHL MS 1964 Ellsworth Folder 1, Journal list, Image 11,  p. 6, Eleanor Vaughan, Mary Mayo.

CHL MS 1964 Ellsworth Folder 2, Image 6, Co. List, Eleanor Vaughan No. 35.

CHL MS 1964 Ellsworth Folder 2, Image 7, Co. List, Mary Mayo No. 36.

The first thing to notice is that Elinor's age is given as 68 on these lists. This is much more accurate than most other records of the time. She is listed on the Enoch Train ship manifest as 78, and as various other ages in the records. 

As a service missionary in the LDS Church History Library (CHL), I have had the opportunity to discuss Elinor and Mary Mayo with the professional historian who is in charge of the Pioneer Database. In a recent conversation, she confirmed that seeing Elinor and Mary together on these lists was a good indication that they had been assigned as traveling companions, most likely when they both boarded the Enoch Train, as neither of then had any family to be with them on that stage of the journey. Their natural inclinations as elderly widows would be to look out after each other and that would have suited the Mormon Elders in charge of the passengers.

This likely continued on the trail. While "family" may be an important unit and would have usually slept together in the same tent, the handcart companies were often divided based on needs of the group as a whole. The youngest children able to walk were led out together in the morning before the families packed up. Mothers would be expected to carry infants. Young men were often assigned as teamsters, to drive stock, to assist the elderly and infirm, or other duties. Generally, each handcart was for five individual and each canvas tent slept twenty. In the second list above, the company appears to be counted by tens and twenties that may have reflected the "captaincies" and the tent assignments.

Another matter that I have yet failed to discuss with professional historians is that Mary Ann Jones (1836-1925) who later married Edmund Ellsworth, told of two elderly women who were not happy with the weight limit for their personal goods on the handcarts. One, who has been identified as Mary Mayo, carried a hatbox in her hands. The other, whom we believe to be our Elinor, had a teapot and colander tied to her apron strings. It makes perfect sense that these two traveling companions would have devised similar strategies. No one apparently challenged the two determined matriarchs.

The Enoch Train left England on March 23. Mary Mayo died September 13. That is six months that these two women likely spent in each others company day and night, in sickness and travail. When Mary died of dysentery, Elinor was most likely with her. The sick wagon, driven as a sweep behind the company to pick up any dead or ill of the company left aside the trail, would have come upon Mary and perhaps Elinor as well. Elinor would have walked with the body as they carried it to the grave on the side of Pacific Butte. She may have carried Mary's hatbox and placed it with her.

Twin Mounds on Overland Trail just east of South Pass.
Pacific Butte from Trail Marker at Pacific Springs - Burial Place of Mary Mayo

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