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


Our family had outgrown those little rooms in the Fort, but it took time in those days to build a home large enough to hold that many comfortably. Meanwhile, they must be fed and clothed. We were 7 years building the home we called the "Big House". It still stands in sound and perfect condition one block west of Main Street on the south side of Depot Street. We moved in the new house about 1861 or 1862. There were 4 wives, 7 sons and 16 daughters, besides Fred's wife. It seemed so good to have whole rooms to work and play in. At this time young people were visiting our home, and we were getting grown up. Young men were making shy advances, and the older girls were enjoying dances, the theater, and other social affairs. We enjoyed our home life, and memories will cling to us while life shall last.

Our parents were resourceful at all times, and few pioneers have struggled harder than they to make families and neighbors more comfortable. Having vegetables filled the lack of fruit in a way. Father made long legged stools with a sharp wooden peg standing in the center. On this pin he would drop a pumpkin, and then with the drawing knife, he would peel the upper half. Turned over, the other half was similarly peeled. Then it was cut into round spiral rings and a slender pole run through them like a string of beads. When the pole was full, it was raised overhead where it was dried and ready to put in a sack and hung out of the way until needed. At times the little rooms were festooned from side to side with yellow pumpkin. Then with molasses, it was made into pies and sauce for our bread and butter. We used molasses a lot for sweetening and flavor.

We used salt rising bread until way into the eighties, as we raised everything necessary for it here at home. Flour and water and a pinch of salt was all that was needed. We had a large dutch oven built in the dooryard to bake our bread. It would hold 12 or 14 large loaves.

We refined salt by dissolving rock or red salt in water, letting it settle until perfectly clear. The water was carefully dipped off and the remainder put in a vessel over a fire. The extra water was boiled away and then the residue was spread in the sun to dry out. In this way, if handled carefully, it would be as white as snow.

When soda was needed, like everything else, the people got the best to be had. The men were on the lookout for storms, for as soon as it dried fairly well, the southern bottom lands would look like snow in what was called saleratus beds. The storm would dissolve the alkali in the saturated beds and bring it to the surface where it lay in a loose coating all over the land. The wagon was made ready with the oxen or the team of horses hitched on. Boards were laid across the wagon bed for seats for the larger children and the younger children climbed in back. All were fitted out with a sack, shingles, and a lunch. At the saleratus beds each took his shingle and carefully scraped the white coating into small heaps until we had all we needed for a time. We would then carry a sack from pile to pile until all the sacks were full, then they were loaded into the wagon. After our picnic lunch we turned merrily homeward. It was a sight seeing day, too, for there were large hideous snakes to shudder at, and wild birds we had never seen before and that were not afraid of us.

To use the saleratus, 2 or 3 teaspoonfuls were put into an earthen bowl and boiling water added. When it stood long enough to settle, it was ready to use. With lots of practice the biscuits often looked better than they tasted. Saleratus was a useful item to the pioneers, for they used it in many ways--in making soap; scouring wool; washing clothes; scrubbing floors, tinware, knives and forks. It was a cleanser for everything and everybody. We used the leach, too, to get lye from the wood ashes. As every good housewife made her own soap, she saved every scrap of fat for this purpose.

Pioneer families learned not only to make everything for themselves, but also to take care of everything. Even the scraps of clothing were used. The calicos and light fabrics were pieced into quilts. Aunt Jemima made up the heavier goods into shoes for our holiday and summer wear. Once a year we went to Brother Ipson or Brother Braithwaite and had our feet measured. Then we were furnished with a pair of cowhide shoes which must last while the cold weather lasted. In warm weather our feet went bare. Our feet got hardened in a little while, so that it was in our pride, not our flesh, that we suffered. Many times when we were going places and could see some of our beaus riding toward us, we would shy off to the side of the road and sit down by the side of the ditch in order to let our feet hang out of sight. It was the same when we went to work in the fields to glean, to plant potatoes or to weed them. We would slip out of sight, if possible. William laughed at us, and once when we had been planting in a hurry and wishing to be done early enough to go with a crowd of girls to the warm springs, for next day was Sunday--beau day, Will said to Haze, "Say Haze, if you want a wife who can plant potatoes, she's a dandy. She planted an acre yesterday!" If the earth could only have opened for me!

Our mothers also made our sunbonnets and hats. With nimble fingers they braided the straw, sewed and shaped, bleached and pressed our hats, and I don't need to say we were proud to wear them. One holiday I had both hat and shoes of mother's make, but not a dress that was whole. What to do? Mother did not know. The last one had been worn to rags. Since it was a holiday, she did not want to stay at home all day with me. Well, she went to Aunt Jemima, and together, they fixed over one of Adelaide's, and how that day was enjoyed!

They would take 30 pounds of wool, wash and card it by hand, then spin and weave it for cloth. Of this hard earned cloth, dresses were made for us little girls. The cloth was white, so they sent for bark to make it a tan color. When our dresses were dirty, we were put to bed rather early while the dresses were washed, pressed, and made ready to wear again.

Aunt Emeline's oldest children were boys, so she was the tailor for the family, and made whole suits of clothes for father, Fred, William, and others. She was an ingenious person and her work was always admired. She also made fancy buckskin gloves, stitched them with silk, and they were equal to the fancy gloves of today. The material was prepared in the dooryard. While she basted the edges of 2 skins together which had been tanned by the Indians, the boys and father dug a small round hole or pit and made a strong smudge in it. By stretching and spreading the skins above the smoke with pliable sticks, they were smoked a beautiful unfading tan color. If the skins got blazed, they were ruined.

As a further example of their thrift, they took an old quilt of a neighbor, pulled out the stitches, washed and carded the cotton, spun doubles and twisted them, making thread to patch and darn our clothes. The neighbor got half of the thread, so in this way they helped both themselves and the neighbors.

The Indians were nearly always with us begging, and when we had bread we shared with them. About 10 or 12 would come to the door to perform and to beg. They had a drum made of an animal hide stretched over a wooden vessel shaped like a wash dish, only deeper. The hide was drawn together at the back and tied for a handle. They held the drum in one hand and beat the flat side with a stick and danced as they sang "hi yia, hi, hia ya yia" to keep time. They kept up the grotesque performance until given something to eat. Then they would go to the next door and repeat their performance. The children usually put as many people as possible between them and the Indians, whose deeds filled us with terror. Sometimes the Indians went away on trips or on the War Path with other tribes. If victorious on these escapades, we could usually tell because they brought back little Indian boys and girls to be sold. At one time they brought so many youngsters that nearly all the older residents in Manti had an Indian boy or girl. A great many of them grew to manhood and womanhood among our people. Of course, Father wanted no slaves in his family, and besides our homes were crowded with so many children in just one room, which served as a living room, bedroom, and kitchen.

One day when Francis was about 10 years old, he and Vet, who was smaller than Francis, were tending the sheep. They always carried their dinner in their hands, because they had to follow wherever the sheep went to feed during the day. On this particular day, a number of wandering Indians were trailing their tent poles and camp equipment along through the brush and stopped to arrange their packs. The two boys came up curiously to watch them. Vet turned to Frank, saying, "That Indian took my dinner from me." Handing his lunch to Vet, Francis strolled around among the Indians and came up behind a fellow who was greedily eating Vet's dinner. He raised his foot and kicked the Indian with all his strength. Amidst the jeers of the others, the culprit handed what lunch was left back to Vet, and the Indians moved on without further molesting the boys. Indians always admired acts of bravery.

It seemed to be a habit among the Indians to help themselves to the lunch of a boy who had fallen asleep while tending the sheep. The boys were glad to get off with that.

We watched the Indians sometimes while they were hunting rabbits on the hill. First, they would form a large circle, then they would ride round and round, drawing nearer and nearer together, until the poor bunnies were completely surrounded. Then they began shooting them with their bows and arrows. Even now I can hear their fiendish laughter as the poor animals fell one by one until none were left alive. They would take them to their "wickiups", where the rabbits were thrown on the fire, hide and all. When the meat was done they stripped of what was left of the hide, and dinner was ready.

Children of Frederick Walter Cox began to marry. William Cox & Lavina Emeline Cox were married 1 Dec 1866 in the Endowment House in Salt lake City. Ten years later 17 of father's sons and daughters had been married. Five of them went in a company to St. George at one time to be married and three at another time.

The Big House