Early Pioneer Life in Manti

as lived and told by the children of Frederick Walter Cox

Edited by Carl Cox, June 2007
  1. Prologue
  2. Getting There
  3. Fort Manti
  4. Mission
  5. Pioneer Skills
  6. The Big House
  7. Epilogue


From Sylvester Hulet's house we moved into the stone fort. It surrounded 5 acres of ground on the block that now houses the National Guard Armory, Sewing Plant, residences, stores, and the road to the east of this block. The walls of rock were 9 feet high. One entrance in the center of the west side was large enough for teams to drive in and out. There was also a doorway for the people to use. There were bastions built 2 stories high, one in the northeast corner and the other in the southeast corner. Both the fort and the bastions had portholes for defense. The dirt roofs slanted toward the inside so there was no danger of Indians setting fire to our houses. There were 10 or 12 rooms on the side, making room for 30 or 40 families.

We lived in the fort 9 years, and 9 of the children were born there. There were only a few houses outside the fort, and they were close enough that the people could be inside the fort at a moments warning. There were no fences. The streets were hills, hollows, and washes, and the scrubby cedars and brush made it so an Indian might start at you from almost anywhere. It is not strange that we little folks were almost afraid to go one block to the mill when it was built where the Becker Mill (Stringham Mill) now stands.

Note: Evidently the family built a barn on their lot where they were building the big house. They used that area for school during the day, and when it was safe some of the family slept in the barn.
All the early recollections, except during the winter months, are full of fear of the Indians, snakes, wolves and other wild animals. We were always afraid to leave the fort. How I would cling to mother's skirts when she took me just outside to feed the pigs at nightfall. I was always thankful to hear the clang when the old gate was shut behind us. And how we would enjoy the security of that same gate and those high rock walls as we cuddled down to sleep on the floor, while the wintry winds roared over the old fort.

The first flour mill was built at the mouth of Manti Canyon, but it was destroyed by the Indians 1 Oct 1853 and the millers killed. So our first mill for grinding was a large coffee mill which went from house to house as needed.

After the mill was built, it was not long until we were glad to go even when papa was not there. We would clamber into the great water wheel and run up the side. Our weight would start the wheel over, then we would tumble over and over like a wheel within a wheel. Soon it was safe to go in every direction, and Temple Hill was our special delight. In the spring we gathered little round rocks for "play biscuits" and flowers. Sego lilies and garlic decked our play places.

It is needless to say that it was hard to get along in this new country. We youngsters didn't realize the many hardships and self-denials of our dear parents. Even actual necessities were scarce. It was hard to live without bread, but at times we had to, and we got along without it by substituting corn bread and the greens which sprang up so miraculously at the foot of Temple Hill and which grew so abundantly we gathered them day after day. We raised vegetables as the summer advanced. They helped our diet.

Like most children, we hungered for sweets. Our parents tried to fill this want by crushing watermelons, cornstalks, and beets, and boiling them down into molasses, which was also used to make cake pumpkin, butter custards, and other simple desserts.

There was no fruit in Manti until we had lived there many years, except for a few wild currants, and occasionally there were red and service berries. One year when the service berries were quite plentiful, our children and Uncle Orville's went south on the road which now leads to the Sterling mines. We gathered all of the berries that were ripe, and then Ada climbed the highest tree there. When she got as far as she could, she snatched her bonnet off, and swinging it hard, she called, "Three cheers for the Red, White and Blue". The echo answered back, "Three cheers for the Red, White and Blue". Not only was this the first time it was ever voiced in these distant wilds, but the first time I ever remember hearing it. We little ones envied her. We thought it was so grand!

Unless one has been without fruit for many years, he cannot sense the longing for it so natural to growing children. The older girls have spent the whole day picking two quarts of wild currants that we might have some. Only someone famished for them could tell how good they tasted.

Father and the boys never lacked for employment. They grew ambitious to put our large family into a better home, so, when the sun shone, there was the rock to quarry out of the hills. When it was cold and stormy, they worked on the looms, spinning wheels, swifts reels, shurrier, and all the other tools for the women to work with. Then there were sleds, sleighs and everything made of wood which was needed in our home or on the farm to be made by hand. The wagons were always being refitted with bows. The men always tried to have things made better and more convenient. There was all the farm work to do, and more land to be cleared. While Father, Fred, and William grubbed the land of the heavy rabbit and sage brush, the children who were large enough to help went along to pile the brush to be burned. We made row after row of brush piles. When it was ready to burn, a match started the first pile, then the fun began. Snatching a burning brush, we ran to the next pile, then on and on until it was all a mass of roaring flames. Then we raced between the long rows of smoke and flame shouting, singing, and laughing. It was a happy band of toilers!

We sang all the way to and from work. Father was a good musician, and played his flute. He played all kinds of music. He and mama sang in the choir in the old Council House for years. It was where the Carnegie Library now stands.

When harvest time came, the whole family, except the mothers and smallest children, went to gather the crops. Father or Fred would swing the cradle. The other boys raked or helped Will to bind. The girls followed behind, picking up every head that fell to the ground. We have heard Father say that it would make the "old cylinder" hum when a bundle made up of the gleanings went through it.

How hungry we were when noon came! Father sat down by a little stream and drew the dinner bucket dripping from its cool depths. No food ever tasted half so good. Then we had an hour of rest. We waded in the creek, sat in the shade, or bent a young cottonwood down, then springing upon it, we would "take horse to ride". All the way home was a joyful ride. The smaller ones clambered onto Father's knees, and often with 4 or 5, he sat trotting or swaying them back and forth, singing happily:

Sailing in the boat, when the tide rolls high
Sailing in the boat, when the tide rolls high
Sailing in the boat, the colors how they fly,
Waiting for a pretty girl to come by and by.

Choose you a partner and dance away
Choose you a partner and dance away,
Choose you a partner we'll dance till day
And we don't care a fizzle what the old folks say.

When the milking and chores were done, he called us all together, and gratefully thanked the Creator for the many blessings we enjoyed. Then off to bed, and our slumber was sweet from honest toil in peace.

At times when the harvest was rushed, we would spend the whole week in the field. Rosalie and Lovina went back and forth bringing food from home as we needed it. One night they were a little late and were lost in the darkness and the tall sunflowers. They were glad to hear the voice of Joseph Chapman, who guided them to the camp and father.

At night the mosquitoes swarmed over us, feasting on our tender flesh. Our noses, lips, and eyes were often so swollen we could not help but laugh, though we often felt like crying. We all wanted to sleep by Father. To satisfy us and to be just, he had us take turns sleeping beside him. Besides our love for him, it was very comforting to feel him near in that wild sagebrush country where snakes roamed at will.

In the fort, Aunt Emeline's room was lighted by one small window. There was one door, an open fireplace, and room for 2 beds with the foot boards coming close together. There was scarcely room for her family to gather around the fire opposite the beds. The next room, being the corner one, had a door facing east and a window facing north. The partition walls were straight west from the door and south from the window. Aunt Jemima had 2 beds there, and Aunt Lydia had one. They had no fireplace, but used a step-stove for cooking and heating. Aunt Jemima had a family, but Aunt Lydia had not been married long. They lived, did all their work, and ate in this one room. Mama (Cordelia) had a small bedroom a little more than halfway up the side of the fort. In it was a space large enough for one bed and a smaller one on the floor. There was a corner fireplace with room for mother's "half" chair, where she sat to knit and where we gathered around her and the fire.

We had plenty of company, for there were no story books, papers, nor much of anything else to help us pass the time. When the long winter evenings came, story telling was our usual and popular pastime. Reading would have been difficult even if we had books, for we had no lamps and only a few candles, as there were no cattle to spare for the fat to make them. As a substitute, they used what was called a "slut". This was a saucer with a small piece of rag in the shank of a button. The weight of the button would hold the rag down in any kind of grease. It made quite a light.

Mother had read many stories in her girlhood, so when the neighbor children found what interesting stores she could tell, our evenings were not spent alone. As soon as the chores were done, the dishes washed, and the evening work over, they would gather at our corner fireplace and eagerly listen while Mama patiently told story after story. She repeated them evening after evening, until the children practically knew all of them by heart. Then they would hang up the bed curtains and present a dramatic performance of the stories.

As the children grew older, they joined their parents for evening meetings. The young folks learned to get up in those gatherings and bear their testimonies. Some of them became real preachers.

Our schools were very simple. Two of the more grown children would take their place and choose up sides until all were chosen. The teacher stood in the center, facing them. If a word was spelled correctly, another was given out, but if it was misspelled, he or she would have to sit down. Toward the last, it grew to be exciting and lots of fun.

We would occasionally take a ride in the sleigh to a dance in Ephraim.

The winters went by, and in the spring Father went to the stone quarry. All the children liked to run about Temple Hill. We found a soft clay bed, and we carried loads home. We spent hours molding clay, making everything from a horse to a frying pan. Edwin or Byron might have become famous sculptors, so perfect were the things molded by them. Our windows were full of all kinds of clay images, and we never tired looking at them. The girls fashioned every kind of dish for cooking and for the table. We enjoyed them as much as costly china is enjoyed today.

On Temple Hill we also found a soft rock which could be whittled into something like a pencil. It would make quite a decent mark if we could keep a point, but it was clumsy and had to be thick to keep it from breaking. However, it was the only pencil we had. Also it was so short that it almost made our hands cramp to use it.

Paper was scarce in those days, so we were allowed to write only 3 or 4 lines in our copy books each day. Neither were the text books suitable for our ages. We had only the books which our parents used in their last days in school. Think of a little tot trying to understand the figures and geography adapted for the 7th and 8th grades.

Our parents did all they possibly could to teach the children. Mother had taught school before we came to Manti and again in the "Court House" in the old Fort. One evening she was ready to call the roll. She had left the roll book at home, so she sent me back to get it. I got it and started back, when an Indian started to follow me. He was old Shintooth, the ugliest human that ever lived and an outcast even among his own people. At first I paid no attention to him, and I thought he would stop when we met someone. But there seemed to be no one about. He was slowly gaining on me. Feeling sort of creepy, I started to run. He ran, too. Mercy, where was everyone? I could hear his horrible breathing. Fear lent me wings, for I could almost feel his horrible claws grasping me. On and on I fairly flew, with him after me all the way. Reaching the door, which was unlatched, I fell through and dropped on the floor.

One night an Indian came to the Fort and told the people that Indians were coming to surround the Fort and kill all the Mormons before morning. The younger children had gone to the barn to bed. Father hardly believed what the Indian said, but he would take no chances. He came to the barn and got all of us into the Fort for protection. What an anxious night of watching we spent! But not a single redskin came in sight.