The Life of Caroline Amelia Pratt Van Cott

Caroline Amelia Pratt Van Cott was born January 20, 1840, in a little village called Hamtramck, which is now absorbed by the city of Detroit, Michigan.

She was the youngest child of Anson Pratt, Sarah Barber Pratt.  There were three older sisters.  Mary Ann (Marian), who died of erysipelas.  She was born in 1828 and died in 1849, unmarried; Sariah, born June 12, 1833, died January 1, 1898, she married Dewitt Clinton Tyler, May 14 1850; Jane born October 22, 1835, died November 23, 1912, she married Frederick Kesler, a bishop of the Sixteenth Ward, Salt Lake City, Utah.  The three sisters were in Hurlgate, Long Island City, Queens County, New York.  A brother Joseph born in Hamtramck, Michigan in March 15, 1838, died October 10, 1914, married Mary Robbins, November 1865, Joseph came to Salt Lake, stayed for awhile, then moved to California, at a very early age.

Caroline’s father was Anson Pratt, born January 9, 1801, in Central New York, son of Jared Pratt 1769-1839, and Charity Dickinson 1777-1849.

Jared and Charity had five sons, Anson 1801-1870, William Dickinson 1802-1870, Parley Parker 1807-1857, Orson 1811-1881, and Nelson 1815-1889.  They all joined the Mormon faith in the east and crossed the plains.

The Pratt family lived Central, Canaan, Hurlgate Long Island City, all in New York City; various places in Connecticut; Hamtramck and Detroit, Michigan; Nauvoo, Illinois; and all of the children, but Mary Ann, crossed the plains to Salt Lake City, in 1849 (not the parents).

In New York and Connecticut, the family lived where there were beautiful rolling hills, but moved into the wilderness of Michigan.  It was nothing but a dense, and uncultivated forest.  There were many hardships and too rough a life for her mother, Sarah.  She died in December of 1843.  Caroline was just three years old.

Her father, Anson, married a kind motherly woman, Lucy Ann Lord.  She did her best to keep the children together and happy.  Soon after they were married, the family moved westward with the Mormon Migration to Nauvoo, Illinois.

Again the land was cleared and a home was built.  All went well for a time and then the mobs began persecuting the people and much suffering resulted.  Homes were burned, farms destroyed, destruction and mob rule was everywhere.

One time as the mob was approaching their home, the stepmother hurried the children down a trap door under the house, the mob broke up the furniture, and carried off whatever appealed to them, but luckily overlooked the trap door, which was covered by an old rag rug, that nobody wanted.  They all feared that the house might be burned, but with their prayers, it was saved.  The Lord was with them.  It was during this mob scene that my grandmother saw Joseph Smith.

The Pratt family then fled with other Mormon refugees to the Mississippi River (I believe it was the Mississippi) under the cover of darkness.  The stepmother now gave up and refused to follow the people through all of the hardships and went back to her people.

Again, the children were motherless and suffering as only children can.  In crossing one of the wide rivers, by a ferry-boats terrible downpour of rain ensued and an umbrella was the only shelter.  The cattle chained to the deck o the boat, bellowed and strained at their tethers.  It was a frightening situation, and worst of all there was no shelter of any kind when they reached the opposite shore.

There were steamboats on the Mississippi at this time and the family had a ride on one of the luxurious vessels to St. Joseph.  There were a number of distinguished travelers on the boat, who played quite an important part in the history of the West.

After the wife, Lucy Ann Lord, went back east to her people, Anson met a rather young woman by the name of Sarah Ann Walleigh (born May 16, 1818, in Chester County, Elverson, Pennsylvania) and married her.  Three months later, Anson died of cholera.  This time the children were indeed orphans, for the young wife sold what belongings there were and went to Pennsylvania. 

In due time, she gave birth to a son, John Walleigh Pratt, born January 3, 1850, in Lionville, Chester County, Pennsylvania.  He later become a doctor.  He married Katherine B. Mullens and lived in Coatesville, Pennsylvania.  John was not known of until he came to Salt Lake City to visit his two half-sisters and then to Fresno, California to meet his half-brother Joseph.

Sariah, Caroline’s older sister, was about sixteen or seventeen years of age, did her best to mother the other three children.  So, when a cavalcade of covered wagons were organized in 1849, these children were taken along with the Orson and Parley P. Pratt families in their covered wagons.

Caroline related some of her experiences during the journey.  She rode some of the time, walked, and rode horseback, saw the circular camps at night, watched buffalo hunts by day, and the three-day encampments where the meat was jerked and dried for food.  She gathered buffalo chips for the fire and tried to do her bit around the camp.  Caroline was nine years of age when she reached the Salt Lake Valley in September 1849.  She lived among the families of both Orson and Parley, and especially in the home of Orson’s first wife, who seemed very fond of Callie (Caroline), as she called her.

To express the suffering privations, hunger, neglect, and worst of all the longing for parental love and care, were all inadequate.  I heard her tell how she would pass a lighted house at night and see the father and mother with their children seated around their table, and she would wonder how it would seem to live under such delightful conditions.

The most delightful thing she did was when she could go to stay with her sister, Sariah and her husband Dewitt Tyler, who lived in Farmington, Davis County, Utah.  Everyone was poor, but poor or not, they shared what they had.  Here she met a young man named William Palmer, whom she fell in love with.

At the age of seventeen years, although she was in love with William Palmer, Brigham Young advised her to marry John Van Cott, who was old enough to be her father.  People were afraid to go against the word of Brigham Young.  She respected and thought a lot of John Van Cott, but she was not in love with him.  Caroline was married in the Endowment House in Salt Lake City, Utah, February 2, 1857.  John also married Laura Lund, born in 1843 and the daughter of Lars Peter Lund and Magdalene Olsen of Copenhagen, Denmark (pioneers of 1856).  Laura was just fourteen years old, and both girls were married to John on the same day.

After the marriage Caroline ran away to Farmington, Utah and stayed with her sister Sariah for two weeks, until John came after her and brought her home.

Caroline had nine children, six sons and three daughters, seven of whom grew to manhood and womanhood.  Her children were: twin boys Orson and Anson, born April 1859, Anson lived only two hours, and Orson lived seventeen days; Viola, born June 19, 1860, married Joseph N. Madsen in Ephraim, Utah, she died May 17, 1931; Oscar, born September 17, 1863, married Ida Quale, died June 5, 1955; Marlon, born October 10, 1867 married Sarah Gabbott, September 12, 1894, died July 29, 1943; Ray born October 27, 1869, married Ida Moyle, June 4, 1902, died March 18, 1944; Harold, born July 8, 1873, married Ella M. Sheets, December 25, 1894, died May 15, 1934; Edith, born March 25, 1875, married Ezra Thompson Palmer, June 5, 1900, died February 22, 1941, in Los Angeles, California; Lovina born January 15, 1877, in Ephraim, Utah, married Joseph Alfred White, June 10, 1903, in Salt Lake City, died October 27, 1964.  All of the family were born in Salt Lake City, except Lovina, and all were married in Salt Lake City, except Viola who was married in Ephraim, Utah.

Caroline lived in a roofless log cabin on the big field farm of John’s.  This cabin stood about one hundred and fifty feet south of 13th So. and West Temple St. on the west side of the street.  The cabin was later replaced by an adobe house of four rooms and a lean-to-cook house.  In this spot she prepared the meals for farm hands.  Her only fuel being wood hauled from nearby canyons, two to five miles away.  The boys hauled this in their wagon. 

During spring floods the 13th South canal would run over and fill all the adjoining fields, sometimes rising to the height of the doorstep.  I can remember huge muskrats swimming in the water, under the ice in the winter.

The cows had to be led to higher ground when it flooded, and grandmother had to pin her skirts up, carried buckets of mashed bran to feed the cows, then milked while they fed.

Once she left Oscar, when he was a toddler, in the cabin alone while she did her chores, when she came back he was gone.  She was afraid he was drowned, later she found him between the valance of the bed and the wall, sound asleep.

Indians camped in great numbers along the canal and made hideous noises herding their horses throughout the day and night.  They came several times to the cabin and took all the food she had.

In the middle of the night, a band of five hundred Indians came hooting and shouting in their strange language and camped just across the field.  An Indian came kicked open the door and walked over and held out his brawny hand and said, “Bread”, she handed him the only loaf she had, she was afraid to refuse him.

Her nearest neighbor was on 5th So. and Main St., nearly a mile away, she needed a spool of thread, so walked through the dust and brush, as she did so the Indians all stood in silence, with their arms folded across their chests and watched her until she was out of sight.  She had left Viola in charge of Oscar, who was sitting on her lap.  An Indian came, pushed open the door and walked over to her, sharpening a knife back and forth on a piece of metal.  With each step grinning into her face and stepping closer and closer, as he stood in front of her he swung his knife above her head and cut a piece of smoked meat that was hanging from the ceiling and then left.  When Caroline returned, Viola was still sitting in the same position, too frightened to move.

Because Caroline was so brave, kind, and patient with the Indians, they became her friends.  She learned their language and they helped each other in many ways.

There was no street on West Temple, at time, below Seventh South, only great patches of willows and swampy ground.  There was no bridge across the canal and her only way to get to town was by of Roper Lane (13th So. and State St.) on foot and carrying her babies all of the way.  She had to stop at friends for a rest or for food or shelter.

John Van Cott was, at these times, on missions to Scandinavia, a three year period at one time and a four year period at another.  Mother and Laura, another wife, lived together and tried to eke out an existence of raising chickens and ducks besides making butter and raising the newborn calves.

Soon a new neighbor built an adobe hut nearby.  She was Hannah Snively, wife number five of Parley P. Pratt, and maternal grandmother of the Russell family (Samuel, Jared, Lysle, Frank, Lucy, and May) of Farmers Ward.

Grandmother frequently related to all of us the coming of the locusts.  She said the sky was like a black cloud.  They settled down on everything green.  They ate the curtains from the windows, the bark, leaves, and striped the trees.  They left fields bare as the dusty road.

Sunbonnets helped the women at that time, they acted not only as a protection from the heat, but from the saw-like legs of the grasshoppers.  She helped kill hordes of them by beating them with branches, driving them to streams and by burning them.

Frequently coals of fire had to be carried from Bishop Mousley’s home on 21st So. and West Temple, before she could have a fire, for matches were scarce and she couldn’t afford them at the prohibitive price of fifty cents for a small box of lucifer matches about two inches long and one inch wide.  Wood being her only fuel, the fire was not always kept through the night.

One hot summer afternoon, she saw what appeared to be a big metal wash tub glistening in the sun, she walked up to where it stood, but as she came nearer, to her surprise, it was a dozen or more snakes, that had entwined themselves around each other to sun themselves.  They scattered in every direction and so did she.

Caroline loved sweets, but sugar was almost unknown in early days, but sugar-cane was raised by nearly every farmer, and the juice made into molasses, which was used for sweetening peach pie or any other fruit.  Surplus fruit was always dried for winter.  Canning jars were unknown, but if anyone possessed a crock, some preserves were made.

Most of the early settlers in Salt Lake had their homes in town, but their farms were in the big fields south of the city.  Harvests were hauled to town and stored for the winters.

All the clothes for the family had to be made by hand and the stockings were knitted.  Wool was washed, dyed, and then carded.  Then the spinning wheel hummed by night, and the needles clicked, and no time was wasted.  For lights, a tin plate with a rag for a wick was used at first, then tallow candles, made by hand, and then at last the oil lamp came, it was indeed a luxury.

In 1876, the family moved to Ephraim, Sanpete County, in a covered wagon.  It was an eight day trip, and grandmother was six months pregnant.  The family lived there six years. Her last child, Lovina was born there, just there months after her arrival, January 15, 1877.  The people were mostly Danish and she couldn’t understand them.  However, she made many lasting friends among them.

John Van Cott died February 18, 1883, after that is when the family moved back to Salt Lake City.  They bought the McAllister home which stood at 1481 So. West Temple.  Here she raised her family, worked hard to send them to school, encouraged them to get an education, which she had been denied.  Six of them graduated from the university, Oscar taught school and finally became superintendent of the Salt Lake City schools; Harold became an eye, ear, and throat specialist; the others all taught school.  She lived to see them all married, prosperous, and respected citizens in the community.

Grandmother suffered with asthma, walked with a cane and stopping every few feet to catch her breath.  Grandmother stayed at our house during the day when Aunt Von taught school after her divorce from Joseph White.

One late afternoon she was sitting in the dark when her daughter, Lovina, came home from her school teaching job.  Grandmother said, “Lovina, where do you keep your candles.  I’ve looked all over for them.”  Lovina walked over and flipped a switch and the lights went on.  My Grandmother said, “Now how did you do that?”  Her mind was failing her and she had forgotten about electricity.

I was eight years old and I can remember Grandmother had a stroke on October 9th, 1915.  She had evidently began washing herself in bed, had the washcloth in her hand and just lying and staring at me as I peeked in.  She never regained consciousness and died the next day.

The funeral was held at her son’s home, Ray Van Cott.  We children all sat on the floor near the coffin.  It was a sad occasion.  The passing of dear Grandmother. 

[courtesy of Carol J. Larson, transcribed and proofread by David Grow, Mar. 2007]

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