Harriet Shoell—A Handcart Pioneer

Harriet Shoell—A Handcart Pioneer
by Emma L. Cobbley

My great grandmother, Harriet Shoell, was born in England, in the year 1825, in the month of June. She died in Pleasant Grove, Utah in the year 1892. Her father was Daniel Shoell of Down Court, Glouchestershire, England. Harriet Shoell worked as a servant girl in England starting to work when very young and staying with one family for twenty years. At one time when young she and her lover planned to marry and she served notice to the people for whom she worked that she was leaving. However the wedding did not take place as a result of a quarrel and Harriet returned to her former work.

She heard the gospel message in her native land and accepted it there, as did most of her family.

Strange but true is the fact that in the same company of saints on board the steamship, New Thornton, was a tiny babe whom she helped to care for on the long journey across the Atlantic Ocean later became her own son-in-law. This man is my grandfather, Charles A. Cobbley. At this time my great grandmother was not married. They sailed on May 4th and arrived in New York June 14th being on the water forty days.

From New York they went directly west to Iowa, where they prepared almost immediately to leave for Zion. She and her sister, Ellen, were in the company of Capt. James E. Willie. The start was made on July 15th 1856.

It was not until late August that this company crossed the Missouri River, however they pressed on with great haste to reach the valley before winter set in. With this company was 120 handcarts, 500 souls, 5 wagons, 24 oxen, 45 beef cattle and cows.

The journey from Iowa City to the Missouri River was pleasurable in every particular. The roads were good, game was plentiful and the grass was high for the cattle. Arriving in Florence, Nebraska several days were spent in repairing old carts and making new ones and obtaining food supplies. They left Florence on August 17th.

On the plains they had many experiences. The Indians drove off the beef cattle of the company which was an unfortunate occurrence. When the company reached a point about 300 miles west of Florence they barely escaped being tramples under foot by a herd of frightened buffalo. The roads were somewhat rough now and much rawhide had to be used on the rickety carts to keep them from falling to pieces. The axles wore through before the journey was half ended causing much trouble and delay all along the trail. The early frosty nights made it cold for the immigrants but they pushed on until they reached Fort Laramie, where they obtained some buffalo robes and a few more provisions.

My great grandmother did not fare so well in the matter of eatables until she became the cook for the captain. This was better for her until the supplies ran out. She has told of scalding the hides of the dead cattle and scraping them to remove the hairs after which they made soup upon which the company existed for some time.

On they traveled and with the consuming of food it was discovered that rations must be meted out to the families. On October 10th it was decided to apportion ten ounces to each soul and on the 14th another reduction was made. On the 19th the last ounce of flour was doled out. What made matters worse was that snow was now flying and it was already eighteen inches deep then on the level.

They pushed on but were compelled to make camp on the Sweetwater. They were suffering from over-exertion, hunger and cold. Sixty-six of their number had died and all were in a sad plight. A company of men passed which was headed by Franklin D. Richards, who did all they could to relieve the suffering and hurried on to report their plight to President Young.

The October conference was in session when they arrived in Salt Lake City. President Young, upon hearing of their plight immediately called for volunteers from the assembly to go to the rescue of these people. Two experience plainsmen left immediately with twenty teams and provisions. They carried with them quilts, underwear, mittens, socks and many took from their own backs to send to the relief of their brethren.

The rescue party encountered stormy weather from the first and did not make as quick time as they expected. On reaching the Green River and hearing nothing of the immigrants Joseph A. Young and Angus Wheelock were sent ahead to meet them and let them know relief was coming near. Near the South Pass the wagons reached the company. They had had nothing to eat for forty-eight hours and were freezing and starving to death. Wood was drawn to a hurried made camp and bonfires were lighted. Food was doled out and the immigrants took new courage. Yet nine died that night after the relief came.

They continued on under the direction of William H. Kimball. It continued to snow and the nights were bitter cold. It was necessary to sleep around fires and some had to be constantly gathering wood so that clothes could be dried and fires made to keep warm by whenever they stopped. The company finally reached the Green River where they were again met by supplies and wagons and in November they were welcomed at Fort Bridger. Here there were fifty wagons to meet them and carry them to the valley. Seven day later the party arrived in Great Salt Lake City.

Within an hour of the arrival of this company every soul was being cared for in the home of a brother saint. This company lost one-sixth of its number through cold or hunger.

Harriet Shoell went directly to Pleasant Grove to work for a family by the name of Thorne. There she stayed until she met my great grandfather, Joseph Daniel Davis, whom she married. They had three children named: Joseph, Edwin and Emma (whom I was named after). They helped till the soil and plant the seeds for the community building. Joseph died September 7, 1865 when the third child, Emma, was just four years of age. She is my Grandmother Emma Louise Cobbley. She is the only one left now of these three and is getting along in years.

Harriet Showell Davis lived to be 67 years of age as death came to her in June 1892.

When I think of the journey made by Harriet Shoell and of the conditions she survived to reach this land and of the suffering that was hers I marvel. The question that confronts me is, “Would I do as much for my religion?”

May she reach the peak for which she sought and may God look upon her as one of the noblest and most worthy of those who can be called saints is the wish of her great granddaughter.

May I inherit some of her most noblest heritage and “Carry on” as she would have done is my desire.

This story is attested by the daughter of Harriet Shoell, my own grandmother

signed by Emma L Cobbley dated March 1993


Lo: issuing from the canyon’s rough defile,
Where frowns on either side a lofty pile,
A little band of sun burnt pioneers
Halt on the ridge whose milder summit rears
The towering peaks and plain to intervene,
And gaze with wonder on the glorious scene.
Ah, marvel nothing if the eye may trace
The care lines on each toil-worn face,
Nor yet if down his cheeks in silent show
The trickling tides of tender feeling flow—
Would e’en the coldest heart forbear to say,
Good cause had gratitude to weep that day,
Or censure for a for a flow of manly tears
That brave souled band, IMMORTAL PIONEERS!


“Some must push and some must pull
As we go marching up the hill.
As merrily on our way we go,
Until we reach the valley, oh!”

According to the Sheepscombe Branch records, in Cheltenham Conf., British Mission Harriet at the age of 26 was baptized on 24th of June 1850. Her sister Ellen was baptized the same year in December and Elisabeth also the same year in July. Her Father was baptized in February 1850 and her brother Edwin was the first of the children to be baptized, in March of the same year and Fred was baptized in November. Their mother died two year before these events took place. Her father never left England but died there in 1855. Her sister Eliza also died before going to Salt Lake City. The boys came to the United States before the girls, sounds a lot like the Jensen family, a few at a time and helping the others. Harriet and her sister are on the list of the PE Fund. The whole family ended up in Pleasant Grove, Utah.

(from the files of Mary Jean Caldwell)

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1 Comment

  1. This account of her great-grandmother, Harriett Shoell, was written by Emma Ash Maxwell (my mother) and signed by her grandmother, Emma Louise Davis Cobbley. We have the
    paper with Emma Louise’s signature on it and it is dated March 1933 not 1993. Emma Louise died October of 1934.

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