Margaretta Unwin Clark Call

by Willard Call

In 1847 while Mormonism was very young in England, Margaretta Unwine Clark Call, a girl of about 19 years, returning from her work in a factory in the big stocking and lace city of Nottingham, was attracted by a street meeting, the singing, not at all like the chanting in the churches, the hymns so entirely different, the preacher a young man dressed more like a laborer in his best, his manner different, his subject matter different, all had a magnetic power entirely unexplainable to the open mind and unburdened soul of this carefree girl. It fitted in so naturally with her unspoiled self, that she didn’t even notice the newness of his logic; but just hugged to her heart the newfound truth, and with impetuous impatience tried to make her parents and family understand the message now bubbling over in her young heart. In this she had better success than many another has experienced, for her mother, her sisters Ann, Mary Ann and Eliza each espoused the revealed religion of the Latter-day Saints. And through their lives remained true to their new found faith.

Dear Mother was one of the earliest to receive the Gospel in Nottingham, being baptized on the 8th of September 1848 by Elder Lees. She was hardly a full fledged member of the church until the idea forced itself upon her that she should gather with the body of the church. Daily growing within her was the wish to enjoy the advantages, of the close association with the church and the prophets of the Lord in Zion; but quite early this girl of tender years, and of still more tender home training discovered that to emigrate to America would mean a separation for the rest of her mortal life from affectionate parents, loving brothers and sisters, home and all that nature had endeared to her young heart.

Paraphrasing the poet, “Ah, could not woman’s duty be less hardly reconciled between the ties of nature and the future of her child?”! Then followed eight years of struggle from within and from without, anticipated joys reaching into the eternities, daily remorse as she contemplated her seeming imperative filial failure. Eight years in which she could not cover from those whom she loved, her consuming wish to go to a foreign country, even though she knew that she must go alone. Eight years of constant training under the Elders of the church doing all that a girl could do to advance the work of the church. Eight years of almost penurious saving to accumulate money for a ship passage over the Atlantic ocean, for railroad fare to Iowa City, Iowa, which was as far west as the rails were layed in 1856, and for the expenses of a thirteen hundred mile walk out into the almost unknown west. In her eight years of financial struggle we are now willing to overlook her error in preparing to look nice when she should arrive in this great wilderness waste. We can afford to take into account the shock which Mother’s sensitive nature received as piece by piece her hope chest and her wardrobe, probably quite ample and of course entirely suitable to the requirements of an attractive handsome girl in an English city of five hundred thousand, were left by the roadside to lighten the load.

The time of separation came and with a few girl acquaintances, who like her realized that their star led them west, Mother booked passage from Liverpool to New York on the ship Husom, on May 22. By the 25th their clearance papers were signed and the day after she was twenty eight years old she sailed down the Mercer River and for days and weeks they wandered on the waves. She was lashed to the rigging in the brow of the ship which was driven an tossed by the winds; that she might receive the full dip, and rise and rook of the vessel, and the quicker overcome the nausea of sea sickness. Being trained as a nurse, her services were needed by the hundreds of Mormon Emigrants with her headed for Great Salt Lake City, a mere village away out among the wild Indians, from which at that time there was no returning except on foot, a fete which none but the Elders going on missions could be expected to attempt, and so our little heroine remained. Staunch as she was to be with Latter-day Saints, conditions were so entirely different, that again we are going to forgive her if a few times she was found to be “sighing for the leeks and onions or the flesh pots of Egypt.”

In this age of swiftness when the swallow’s flight is almost tedious and the wing of the dove is ridiculed by the achievements of men, that trip by rail is worth a mention from New York to Iowa City, a distance of 1300 miles. It is true that they stopped to rest over night in Chicago. Delays unavoidable in Iowa while hand carts were seasoning, being built and being commissioned for that tedious thirteen hundred mile trip, across plains, through the rivers and streams over the snow-covered Rocky Mountains, made it so late that the Martin Company really ought not to have ventured on that all but fatal hazard until the spring of another year, but the pleading of more than six hundred emigrants, none of whom had ever seen a mountain or an Indian and who knew very little of what thirst, hunger or fatigue meant, outweighed the better judgment of those in charge. And those 622 foreign people who would have taxed the ingenuity of anyone to maintain at this terminal frontier over winter. They started from Iowa City on Saturday, July 26. Their song, their cheer, their courage, their prayerful solicitous courage supported them through the drear, the dust, and the rivers of the flat country. They were terrorized by Indians. At one time they met 1100 of these warlike redmen. Buffalo in herds that numbered thousands, defied their march. They just waited until the way was clear, then marched on. Some days they suffered for water, and of course they had to wade the rivers and had to sleep in wet clothes. Mother seemed to stand these conditions better than many others, for she told us that she forded the North Platte many times to help those who were too weak to pull their carts across. John Jaques verifies this statement, of course without mentioning names and he says that the Platte River carried blocks of floating ice at the time.

By now they were hatless, shoeless and weary. Many were without courage, some had been overcome by the hardships, and their bones had been left to bleach upon the plains. They knew now that their food supply could not last them to the valley.

The heavy grade, the rough roads, the snow, shortened their previous daily marches, increased sickness among them and death became daily occurrences. Their rations already insufficient were necessarily cut from day to day, and should an ox starve and fall in the road his carcass was carried into camp and eagerly devoured. These conditions, together with their having to scrape away the snow, and make their beds upon the ground, and their often finding their beds covered with snow in the morning all being entirely new to these pilgrims from foreign countries, completely undid them and the wonder is that any of the Martin Hand Cart Company survived that unprecedented journey.

The Prophet Brigham Young became aware of their extreme condition, and urged volunteers to go to their rescue. My father, Anson Call, was at this time filling a colonizing mission at Carson, Nevada, under Apostle Orson Hyde. He came to Great Salt Lake with two teams about a month after the party of rescuers had gone to meet the emigrants, and he just continued right along the road to carry succor to these suffering brethren and sisters. But for the help, food, cheer and hope of these who were ahead of him, these worthy ones must all have died in the snow, and because of the hungry howling wolves, Father’s only office would have been to gather up their bones and bury them.

Willies Company some distance in advance of Martins was met by the advance party at Devils Gate. They were helped, fed and encourage, but surely were in sore need when later they met Anson Call’s party, which now consisted of ten wagons. Some of the men from Utah felt as though this company in distress would tax their ability to relieve; but Anson Call with his characteristic firmness said, “This Company with a little help and a lot of encouragement will reach the Valley, but those following never can. We much push on. My teams start now.”

The ravages of disease, starvation, cold and privation had reduced the number in Martin’s Company from 622 to 473 and when Brigham’s rescuing party came upon them, they were in deep snow, without hope, without food, almost without fire, reckless as to their sick and too weak to bury their dead.

They had struggled hard, but though they felt that although they were almost within calling distance of the Zion of their God; they knew that they had reached their limit. They had almost ceased to struggle.

We leave you each to picture for yourselves the joy of this dying company of loyal Latter-day Saints when Dan Jones and Abe Garr rode into their camp and lifted their hopes out of its snowy grave, with the glad shout that help was at hand that strong men of courage with food and good teams were only thirty miles away, and that they should be fed and taken on in safety. Oh, how they fell on each other’s necks and wept, of what prayers of praise ascended to the God of their deliverance, there is regrettably too little in the annals of history. Among all of those who sufferered to establish Zion upon the earth, whose children have greater reason to be proud of their mother, than those to whom Margaretta U. C1ark Call gave birth?

Anson Call already the husband of two wives, was advised by the prophet Brigham Young that he should marry two of these handcart girls. Emma Summers in the Willie Company, a sister of George Summers who drove one of Anson Call’s teams on this trip of rescue, was introduced by her brother and about six months later became one of the two of whom Brigham had spoken.

When father met the Martin Company Margaretta Unwine Clark became a passenger in his wagon, for many of the stronger ones were still walking, and the unromantic romance which four months later made her his loving wife began. This is how it started:

While loads were being arranged our half starved, thinly clad heroine waited in his wagon gnawing at a frozen squash which ho had intended for his horses. When the driver saw the situation through the back of his wagon cover he knew that his passenger was freezing to death. In his rough vernacular, acquired in the west, he told her of her condition and she replied, “Oh no, Sir, I have been quite cold but I am comfortable now.” When he took her by the hand she said, “‘old on, sir, my ‘and is a bit sore and you ‘urt it.” As she strug1ed he said, “I calculate to hold on,” and she landed out in the snow. With another man he ran her up and down in the snow to induce circulation and so saved for himself a wife, who later became the mother of six of his children. Father told us that he saw that she had passed the point of suffering in a freezing death, and that if left to herself her mortal life would soon be a thing only of memory. But mother always maintained that a gentleman from England would have been less rough and less persistent.

There are still many who remember that Margaretta was an attractive, handsome woman, but there is a question as to just how she appealed to this man of God, to whom the Prophet had said, “Marry two of these emigrant girls,” for when he found her out in the snow she was snow blind and emaciated by starvation. She had no rouge, no lipstick and probably no comb. She wore a bonnet which she had fashioned from her green apron and a pair of men’s hightop boots which, by permission of his sister, she had taken from the feet of a dead man further back on the journey.

Well, this thing called love is queer, isn’t it’? If you had heard her description of Anson Call with his bushy beard, his long coat and his slouch hat, you would surely wonder whether Cupid fired his first dart at the swain or at the maiden. But successes were many, we think they were even more common in those pioneer days than they are now; and this union was surely one of them.

Arriving in Salt Lake City, Mother found a home with earlier acquaintances from Nottingham. Brother Taylor kept a store and she made two men’s shirts each day which were placed in stock. She thought she was paying her way, but this store keeper soon began paying her compliments, and very soon asked for her band in marriage. Her reply was that she would not consider a proposition of that kind from any man until she had been in Zion at least one year. Now Anson Call had trained twenty-five years as a “minute man” and he never allowed himself to forget even for a moment, the injunction of the Prophet. And we believe that even before he had carried her in his wagon as far as Salt Lake, that he had seen her smile, and he knew that Margaretta had a heart. He didn’t lose sight of her, he liked the fit of the shirts which she was making for Brother Taylor and very soon he was inviting her to his home and wishing that she would always stay there. He pressed his suit with a little better success than Brother Taylor had and on the 7th day of February, 1857, Anson Call and Margaretta U. Clark were married in Brigham Young’s office by the Prophet. Mary, Anson’s first wife being the witness. The Endowment House was closed in February so dear mother received her endowments on the 28th of March, 1857.

Their wedding supper was a pot of cornmeal mush and plenty of good milk to which the hired men were all invited; and life on the farm began in good earnest, for her husband was a man of affairs, and one of the most successful farmers in the intermountain west. Mother had not done as she told Brother Taylor she intended to do, and probably blamed her husband some for that; at any rate, after they were married Father satisfied a board bill which Brother Taylor brought against her, for he didn’t want any man to hold a mortgage on his wife.

There may be stranger things in life than transforming a factory girl into a farmer’s wife; I have never heard Father’s opinion on this matter, but we could never get mother to agree that there could be a harder task.

There were lots of disadvantages, you know the war between the United States and England had been fought only a short while before and as her experiences were remembered from day to day, she began to wonder if the war was really over. We never appreciated this situation until we saw the humiliation of some of our German neighbors after the great World War. She was thousands of miles from all that she had known of faces, conditions and customs. If correspondents were promp ‘Twould be a year between letters. One little envelope carried the information, that her mother was dead, that her brother-in-law was dead and that her niece who was named for her was dead. Add to these conditions the fact that at thirty years of age, as a woman of a family she began to learn to cook, to sew, to spin and to do hundreds of other things just as new and strange to her. I wonder if at times dear mother didn’t get just a little lonesome, for you know her husband could not always be with her. He was a man of affairs and “Other sheep had he.”

When she had lived six months as a farmer’s wife, under conditions of which the above paragraph gives only a hint, the time came when the Latter-day Saints had lived measurably at peace in Utah ten years, and Brigham and the people were staging a great celebration in Cottonwood Canyon. As mother told it to us in the midst of their band music, their speech making and their singing, two men rode into camp. These two messengers from the east were A.O. Smoot and Judson Stoddard. They were disheveled, road- stained and noticeably under tension. After t short conference Brigham “Lion of the Lord” told the people that the flower of the United States Army had been sent against Utah and the Mormons; and at that moment they were at our borders. “We are mistakenly supposed to be in rebellion,” said he, “But Brethren, there is no time for argument. We will at once put ourselves on the defensive. If those soldiers come into these valleys with hostile intent, they will find them as we found them. Every house shall be burned, for the fruits of our ten years of hard labor our enemies shall not enjoy.” And right there the whole community, at Brigham’s suggestion, decided to put each one’s house in condition to be instantly burned and his property totally destroyed, should such extreme measures be found necessary. This extremity was not required, but the whole community prepared for it. The northern Utah settlements were all abandoned. Our folks spent the winter and spring on the Provo bottoms; and there in a wagon this bride of a little over a year gave birth to her first born, Mary, who lived to be the mother of ten children. All told Margaretta had six children-four girls and two boys, all of whom survived her. On the anniversary of her hundredth birthday, May 25, 1928, she had seventy-one grand children, one hundred seventy great grandchildren. In all her direct posterity now number 260. Oh, what are the possibilities of people who live close to nature and have a high regard for the revealed work of God! Would any of her posterity like to speculate as to the number of her descendants after another hundred years? Do any of you suppose that Elder Lees when he baptized that little Clark girl eighty-two years ago could have imagined the numbers that would be added to the Mormon Church because of the ordinance which he performed on Sept. 8, 1848? Of these 260 all are alive but _______

Looking backward we must all agree that this little hazel-eyed girl, brown hair, who was only about five feet tall, who lived single until she was twenty-nine years old because she wanted her children to be born under a covenant with the Lord, had surely been remembered of Him. She was born in Nottingham and she never left Nottingham until she left for these western wilds. She came to Bountiful, Utah and during her fifty-three years of residence here was never out of the state.

Mother was a natural nurse besides having had eight years of hospital training, so that her services, always gratuitous, were often demanded, and scores of mothers had occasion to feel obligated because of her skill and tender patience. She was sympathetic in the extreme and her loyal friends extended as far as her acquaintances. She was more generous than she could afford to be, particularly with her own children, and with the Elders who first brought her the Gospel.

It was easy for mother to forgive, and we believe that she went to her grave, Dec. 12, 1908, with no animosity toward any living person. Hers was a long, helpful and useful life, full of faith, hope and charity. During the last eighteen years she was well supplied and could almost satisfy her natural generosity.

She had some success as a Primary officer and diligently served as a Re1ief Society Teacher in this latter capacity. Father said that she always found someone who needed a piece of ham or something to add to their comfort.

She was one of the many Grandmothers who had a cookie can, and ’twas seldom found empty. There was one kind of cookie which her grand-children say, “no one but she ever learned to make, and even now they are spoken of as Grandma’s cookies.” Regardless of the time of day this “wonderful mother of mine” seemed to think that all callers were hungry, and ten o’clock four o’clock lunches always seemed to give her a lot of pleasure. Preparation for a lunch which would tempt one who wasn’t hungry usually took her about half as long as it did other women who hurried.

I shall refrain from detailing the real experience of her life, the bare mention of it marks her a heroine, and for all time to come places her in the front ranks of those who suffered in the establishment of this great inter- mountain west. Mother wasn’t thinking of the building of an empire, nor was she seriously concerned at this time in the future of this great country; but she wanted to plant her feet firmly, among God’s chosen people. In this as in almost every act of her life she was looking to the future of her posterity.

The “real experience,” above referred to is detailed by John Jaques by Robert T. Burton and by Thomas Steed. The first of whom traveled with the Martin handcart company from Iowa City 1300 miles west to the Salt Lake Valley. The other two were of the rescuing party and were among the real physical saviors of these 473 struggling, freezing, starving Latter-day Saints, all of whom but for their rescuers, would have died in the snow in the winter of 1858.

This is all recounted in the Archives of the Church, and will at any time be handed to whomever may express an interest, yet ire may be pardoned for just a few brief references. They sailed on Sunday, they landed in Boston on Sunday, they met Anson Call’s party on Sunday, they arrived in Salt Lake City on Sunday seven months and five days later. They were five weeks and three days being blown across the Atlantic Ocean, six days by rail to the end of the iron road and they went into camp on Iowa hill three and one half miles north west of Iowa on July 8th.

On the 10th of July, Willie’s Handcart Company left this same camp ground for Salt Lake via Council Bluffs, so that Emma Summers, a member of this company and our heroine, both of whom later married Anson Call, may have had their first meeting on Iowa Hill.

By Saturday, July 26, their two wheeled carts were built, appointed and provisioned and in high glee they turned their faces westward, singing in unison that characteristic Mormon hymn “Come, Come, Ye Saints, No Toil Nor Labor Fear.” Of course, they could not have known the next to impossible “toil and labor” just ahead of them. It is said that they always sang that hymn through to the end, the last verse which says, ‘And should we die before our journey’s through, Happy day, all is well.”

Let us hope that the hundred and fifty who really did die before their “mecca” in Utah was reached together with their loved ones still love to sing that song.

They reached Council Bluffs August 21, were ferried over the Missouri River on Aug. 22 and for three days camped close to the famous Winter Quarters near Florence, Nebraska.

In this camp a meeting was held at which Apostle Franklin D. Richards told these enthusiastic emigrants that they were one month late in starting, showed them the perils to be met on such a journey when the rivers would be full of ice and the mountains full of snow. They bad 1921 miles yet to go and he advised them that they go into a winter camp here and wait until spring. Of course they could not realize what was ahead of them nor be made to understand what such an undertaking portended. They voted with Uplifted hands to continue on. John Jaques puts it “Unfortunately ignorant enthusiasm prevailed over sound wisdom, judgment and good common sense.”

On Monday, August 25, they traveled three miles, crossed the Elkhorn August 20. They were at Fort Kerney Monday, Sept. 15, and Fort Larmy October 9. From Florence each cart carried one hundred pounds of flour with tent and baggage for those allotted to that cart.

There were 146 carts, seven wagons, six mules, fifty cows and beef cattle. At Laramie their rations were cut from one pound of flour to three quarters of a pound.

The North Platte River, waist deep, 100 to 150 yards wide, with stony bottom, and full of mush ice was crossed on Sunday, Oct. 19. They now fully realized what they had undertaken, for the next four days it snowed and blew without stopping and the thermometer registered zero weather and Robert T. Burton’s Journal says it got as low as eleven below. At Red Bluffs they met Dan Jones, Joseph A. Young and Abe Garr, who told them that if they could push ahead thirty miles to Devils Gate they would meet 10 wagons with food and supplies. Their flour supply had been cut to half a pound per day and just when they needed it most it was cut again.

Well, they were too weak and worn to go that thirty miles, and after they had lain in the snow for nine days almost without food or fire the rescuing party under George D. Grant found them on Grease Wook Creek on the last day of October. They were given food and some clothing and on Nov. 1st through ten inches of snow with all the help that this small party could give them they were encouraged to make a supreme effort to reach Devils Gate.

Robert T. Burton’s camp journal says that on Sunday, Nov. 16, they met Brother Call’s Company of ten wagons, camped in a little cottonwood grove on Rocky Ridge, with good water and feed.

(From Ray Walker’s Book of Remembrance)

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  1. I love this biography. I am glad to know that my Great Grampa was wise enough to write it all down.
    Would you happen to know if Margaretta kept a journal or if she had that recipe for the “Gramma’s Cookies” written down? Or if perhaps any of Anson’s other wives kept journals? I have Anson’s journal and wish a woman’s perspective on the times, food, conditions, work and social(-ity) of the wives. Did they all get along? That sort of thing. Thanks for any help you can give.

  2. Thank you for sharing this beautiful tribute! Anson Call was my 3rd great grandfather. Emma Summers Call is who I am decended from. (Anson Call’s 4th wife) I was so grateful to read how life was in the west at that time. Margaretta was a beautiful person with such faith and strength. It was wonderful to get to know her!

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