Autobiography of Sarah Ann Sturgess Hill

By Sarah Ann Sturgess Hill

I was born on the 4th of October 1832 at Oadby, Leicestershire England. I am the daughter of William Sturgess and Hannah Gumley Sturgess. My mother died of consumption when I was about five years old. My father died a few years later. I am the youngest of eight. Three died in infancy. There were five of us left orphans. One brother was away, a soldier in the East Indies. Young as I was I had to stay at home and keep house while my brother John and my sister Hanna worked to help keep us all.

We were very poor as all the laboring class are in the old country but we got along very well until father married again. He married a woman with a family and then poverty brought trouble and plenty of it. My stepmother made life very unpleasant for all of us. Then father took sick [garbled] developed and as we were unable to care for him at home he had to go to an infirmary. While he was there my oldest brother came home from the East Indies in the last stages of consumption. My oldest sister had recently married so she took him to her home and took care of him. He lived just six weeks after he arrived home. He died in July and in November my youngest brother died of pleurisy, age 19. My stepmother had a young baby and I had to nurse and care for my brother through all his sickness and then father died. They all three went within nine months.

I was a very delicate girl and was not able to do much work. My sister Susanna took me to live with her. Sometimes we had work and sometimes none and to be out of work in England means nothing to eat so we did not have much to get fat on. I was then about 12 or 13. I lived with my sister and her husband till I was 17 and then the gospel found me. I was baptized a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of the Latterday Saints when I was 17 years and one month old. My sister was very much opposed to the teachings of the Latterday Saints and after I was baptized she made home so unpleasant I had to leave her.

When I was nearly 18 I went to Leicester where there was a branch of the Church and found work. I worked two weeks in a stocking factory, then work fell off and I had no more for ten weeks. I paid one shilling a week for my room. I got a little sewing sometimes and managed to pay my rent ‘till the last three weeks, but how did I live? Very often on a four pound loaf of bread a week and nothing with it.

I tramped all over Leicester but could not find anything to do. Then a girl went insane and I got her place when they took her to the insane asylum. I kept in work from that time ‘till I left for America.

I am the only one in the family that has obeyed the Gospel. I stayed in Leicester three years and while there met the man who later became my husband, William Hill. We kept company nearly three years. He was called as a traveling Elder soon after he was baptized so we did not see much of each other ‘till after we left for America. We were married on the Atlantic Ocean the day the ship set sail. That was on the 12th of March 1854.

We had a pleasant voyage across the ocean. We came over on the sailing vessel, the John M. Wood. We were on the water seven weeks. We landed at New Orleans and on the 3rd of May started up the Mississippi River. We landed in Kansas City May 24th and remained there ‘till the 2nd of July, breaking in cattle, getting our wagons and other things in good shape, securing provisions etc., for our trip across the plains. We left camp on the 2nd of July and arrived in Salt Lake City on the first of October. What a joyful scene to behold, the valley of Great Salt Lake, our future home.

We camped on the old Pioneer Square but did not stay there long. Joseph Tyrell came and took us to his home. We stayed there two weeks, then Richard Hill (no relation) came and took us to Ogden, where he had located.

My husband took up a city lot and although he had only ten cents to his name bought logs and I helped him build a house. We moved into it in two weeks. It had a dirt roof, neither floor, door nor windows. My husband made a bedstead, two chairs and a table. We had no dishes or kitchen utensils, only what we used for camping on our trip across the plains. My husband made spoons and other useful things from wood. My broom was a bunch of willows tied together. I made candles from tallow when I could get it. We often had nothing but a witch (a rag in a cup of grease) which was a little better than nothing. I did most of my sewing by firelight. For a long time all our cooking had to be done over the open fire. For baking we had our bake kettle (a dutch oven). We used to go to the alkali land and scrape up the salaratus to use with sour milk or buttermilk to raise our cakes and biscuits.

We were happy and contented although we had none of the luxuries of life. I knew I had come here in obedience to the commands of God. And I had a good husband, as good a man as ever walked on the earth and that alone gave me joy. My husband went to work for Captain Brown and got something to eat. In a month or so we bought a cow. Paid $40.00 for her.

On the 14th of August, 1855 my first child (a boy) was born. We named him William Sturgess Hill. We could not buy any clothes for him as there was nothing in the country to buy at the time, so I had to cut up my own clothing and make it up for him. We got along fairly well until the spring of 1856. The grasshoppers and crickets were so bad. They cleaned up everything before them. There was nothing left to harvest and there was no breadstuff in this part of the country. That was a very severe winter. Hundreds of cattle died of starvation and there was much suffering among the people.

Towards the spring I never saw bread for many weeks and was nursing my baby at that time. I did not murmer, I knew I was where the Lord wanted me and that He was able to sustain. When the weeds began to grow I would go out and gather them and cook them three times a day. The cow was giving a little milk. Some times I had a spoonful of flour for thickening the milk for gravy but often did not even have that. We ate our greens and our hunger was satisfied. Brother Lorin Farr had a flour mill. My husband often worked for him. I have sat for hours in his house waiting for the mill to grind some flour and then got three pounds for my share. We thought we were rich when we got a bushel of barley and had it ground into flour and make cakes of it. We were so happy we invited the neighbors in to share our feast. When the harvest of wheat came in we did fairly well until the grasshoppers came again.

Through al our trials we did not forget the social side of life. My husband and I were both singers and it was through our efforts that the first choir was organized in Ogden and I was a member of the Tabernacle Choir from the time it was organized until I was past 60 years of age. In the early days we would go to practice through mud and slush ankle deep. We had to take our own candles or we had no light to sing by. We had some jolly good time, there was no class distinction. We had the Spirit of the Lord with us and were happy.

On June 26th 1857 my second son was born. We named him Henry Albert Hill. I was not very strong at the time. We did not have much to eat but bread and corn meal and lack of nourishing food was beginning to tell on me. During the summer there was some talk about the United States Army coming to exterminate the Mormons. The Brethren organized themselves into companies for self defence. My husband with others was sent out to herd the horses at night. He took severe cold and mountain fever developed. He was sick a long time and never seemed to entirely recover from it. Then I broke down. This was in October 1857. We were both very sick all through the month. My husband was very weak and was unable to do much work at all through the winter. In November the Soldiers was called out to march to Echo Canyon as the United States troops were trying to come that way. On December 4th they returned as the United States troops had settled down at Fort Bridger for the winter as their teams were too weak to bring them on and Col. Johnston has sent to New Mexico for three hundred mules to bring them to the valley in the spring. Brother lot Smith with a company of fifty men was left out to match the enemy. The five hundred from the north district was under the command of Col. Chauncy G. West, who was then Bishop of Ogden. March 21st news came that the U S Troops was determined to come into the valley and that we must prepare ourselves to leave. We were ordered not to plant any more grain. The plan was to move all the grain as far as Provo to save it from falling into the hands of the army.

At this time we had a small adobe house of one room. My husband made the adobes and built the house himself. We had it furnished pretty well for those days. We had just got a good table made from box elder wood and was getting a few things around us to make us comfortable when the call came to move south. We gathered up our few clothes and they were very few. We had scarcely enough to cover our backs. I sewed rags together and made shoes for myself and I took towels that we brought from England and had used for a bedtick and made a shirt for my husband as he did not have on to his back. All the clothes we brought with us were worn out or had been cut and made over for the babies.

We left our home and all we possessed not knowing whether we would ever see it again. After number delays we left Ogden for Salt Lake City on April 10th and arrived there April 13th. He left us there while he made eight trips to Ogden hauling grain. On June 1st we left Salt Lake for Provo, a distance of about 50 miles, where there were thousands of the Saints camped to get out of the way of our enemies who were determined to destroy us.

We built a shelter of willows and he went to work hauling grain and other things between Provo and Salt Lake. The Soldiers were still at Fort Bridger, making no move toward coming into the valley. Men were left behind to burn up the homes if the army attempted to come. The government was in a quandary to know what to do with the Saints. Some of the congressmen were in favor of sending more troops and some were against it, causing a great deal of confusion.

The enemy tried to influence the Indians against us causing them to steal our cattle and destroy life. Brigham Young advised the people to keep cool and not get excited. It was better to sacrifice property than destroy life.

Delegates came from Washington to try to make peace. It was decided to let the troops, which had been on our borders for ten months come in on certain conditions. Those conditions were that they should pass through our cities and not molest anything or anybody, to which they agreed, and to take part of the army to Cache Valley and the other to Bush valley. The delegates also came to Provo and held a meeting and said all would be well with us. The soldiers would not molest us but would protect us in all our rights and from the Indians. But they had been treacherous so many times it was hard to believe they would do as the promised. On June 21st my husband went to work in Provo canyon, helping to make a new road. He was there ‘till July 3rd when we were told that we could return to our homes. We started on our journey home on the 5th and arrived home on the 11th of July. We found the house and everything just as we left it, but my chickens were all gone except two hens and a rooster. Just another start.

We were very thankful to be home again. In a few days my husband began to harvest his wheat. We had a good crop. Many had not planted but some very good crops of volunteer wheat was harvested, but there was a great scarcity of vegetables.

The Hand of the Lord has been in all our movements and we have caused our enemies to be ashamed of their acts to attempt to destroy a worth people.

We continued to work to improve conditions and surround ourselves with what comforts we could get. When my husband was not working on his farm he worked at almost anything he could get to do. Making adobes, clearing land, helping to build homes, roads, canals, etc. He worked hard for the advancement of his own and the communities interest. He never neglected his duties in the church and was always read for any call that was made on him. On Wednesday, May 25th 1859 my first daughter Adah Sturgess was born. November 13th 1860 my fourth child a fine big boy was born. We named him John Alvin Hill.

On the 15th the worst wind I had ever witnessed commenced. It lasted 40 hours. Something like 75 houses were blown down in Ogden and the surrounding settlement shared equally bad. Practically all the hay and straw stacks in this part of the country were blown and scattered. My second daughter Alice Rebecca was born February 11th 1863. On the 15th of April my daughter Adah died. Her death was caused from whooping cough.

When Weber country was divided into districts and organized as the Weber Stake, Chauncey W. West was release as bishop of Ogden and appointed president of the Weber stake and my husband was appointed bishop of the 3rd district in Ogden, on the 7th of November 1863. He labored faithfully to advance the cause of truth and to do good where ever he could. He worked hard and was beginning to get things around us to make us comfortable when he was taken sick with typhoid fever. He died December 4th 1865 (1864) leaving me with four little children and one yet unborn.

My baby, girl came on the 8th of March 1865 and I named her Sarah Ann. I was left with no one to help me and after a hard struggle to support and care for my family I decided that it would be best for me to marry again so that I would have someone to help me. But there in where I made a mistake. On July 23rd 1866 I married Christopher Woolman, a man who I knew in Leicester and during that time another baby girl was born, making one more to feed and care for. We separated and on the 24th of December 1869 I was granted a divorce.

I had my little farm which I let on shares. It kept us in breadstuff. I kept a cow, a couple of pigs, some chickens and a few sheep. I worked very hard but through Gods blessings I had managed to keep my children well fed an clothed. I spun and carded the wool from my sheep and had it made into clothing [for] us all. I also made it into yarn and knitted all of our stockings. [I] went out to work doing washing, house cleaning, nursing the sick, in fact anything I could get to do to earn a dollar.

In 1869 before the U.P. Railroad reached Ogden a shipment of stoves came in a I drove out to Riverdale, the end of the road and bought my first cook stove, about 1872 or 73. My family was growing up and we was badly in need of more house room. We had the one adobe room, with the dirt roof which leaked badly during heavy storms and the old log house (the second we built) was still standing. I sold a piece of my log 1½ by 8 rods. It spoiled my lot but I could think of no other way to raise some money to build another room. I only got one hundred and fifty dollars for it. I had an adobe room built with a shingle roof on both. I could not finish it, but later when they were building the Utah Northern Railroad I kept boarders and with my washing and other work finally saved enough to have it plastered and finished. Then a few years I added two more rooms.

My son William went to work at Bernard White’s lumber yard and later he learned the carpenter trade. He build a house on my lot and maried when he was about 22. Henry’s first steady job was driving a team for D.H. Perry General Merchandise Store. He married at the age of 19. Just as they were getting to an age where they could have been a help to me they made homes for themselves. John wen to work for John W. Taylor at his lime kiln in Ogden Canyon, getting out rock and burning and hauling lime. He also married young. Then the girls left me, one by one.

I think it was in the year 1885 my son William was called to go to Arizona on a colonizing mission. He had three children and one baby. [He] purchased two fine teams and a good camping outfit and with his family, his wife’s brother, T.H. Reeder and his business partner, George W. McNay, made the trip to St. Johns, Arizona. They remained their about five years and came home broke. We had to send money for their railroad fare. Two children were born to them while they were in Arizona, making five. He had sold his house and had nothing to make another start on so I gave up my home and all that was in it to them and went to live with my daughters. I rented the back part of my lot to a lumber company and received $12.50 a month for it. That with the help I received from my children was all I had to live on.

I had divided my farm, giving Alice and each of the boys a place for a home. Alice, Henry and John built homes there. I made my home with Elisa but visited with the others when I felt like it with Sarah in Dillon Montana. I was restless until I got into a home of my own again. In about two years William built me a little brick house by the side of the old home and I went to myself again.

In October my son William’s wife died of childbed fever. Her baby died at birth and she went eight days later, leaving a family of seven and a husband in very poor health. Later he married again to a woman who was not a member of the church. It was not a happy marriage and his health continued to fail. They moved from the old home and then rented it. (Note: her last entry in the record book) I am seventy years old and through God’s blessings I an enjoying fairly good health and I am still enjoying myself in the Gospel. My children are all around me and all are doing well and for these blessings I feel truly thankful to my Father in Heaven.

During the summer of 1903 my grandson, Herman Hill Jensen was sick. Tuberculosis developed and the doctor said he must go to Arizona and his parents were getting ready to take him there for the winter. Four of my son John’s family were down with typhoid fever then through September [] and October 10th his daughter Sarah Ann Sturgess died, aged seventeen.


By her daughter Eliza J. Jensen

After Sarah’s death and funeral was over we continued our preparations for our trip to Arizona. Mother was not well. She failed rapidly from the time William S. died. She dreaded the winter and want to go to Arizona with us but we could not take her, not knowing just where we would locate or what conditions we would find there, so we rented her little home furnished and on the 16th of September went to live with her eldest daughter, Alice Reeve. On Wednesday morning October 15th she came to my home to stay until we left. She kept herself busy by doing little odd jobs around the house and trying to help. The last thing she done was to wash out a pair of sox for my husband. She retired at nine o’clock and went to sleep. She awoke in an hour in awful pain, vomiting and running off the bowels. It continued in spite of all we could do until the doctor gave her an opiate from which she could not be aroused. He said she was completely paralyzed. She passed out early Friday morning October 17, 1903. Such a sweet peaceful expression came over her dear face. She looked so happy and after the long struggle through the trials and hardships of life I could not help saying thank God it is over. After a well spent life she had gone to join her loved ones who have been waiting patiently for her.

Eliza Woolman died April 1, 1926, buried on the 5th from 3rd Ward Church Biship M.B. Richardson in charge. Ruth Jensen died in a Westwood Hospital Marth 11th, 1926, buried 17th of March from the 3rd Ward Church.

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