- Life Story of Robert Sweeten
- History of Robert Sweeten
- Pioneer of ’47 Dies
- Passing of a Venerable Pioneer
Life Story of Robert Sweeten
I was born December 14th, 1840, in the township of Brooke, Kent County, Ontario, Canada. My father, George Sweeten, was born in North Ireland and my mother, Mary Gardner, was born in Scotland. When I was two years old my father died of overwork, the immediate cause being a broken blood vessel. About two years later my mother married Roger Luckham. About this time the family became interested in the Church. Two missionaries, John Borrowman and an Elder Bolton, converted the whole family of uncles, aunts, parents and sisters. Shortly after our conversion we left Canada for the west, having no idea where we were going, only that we were going “west” and join the Mormons. This was in 1846.
By the time we reached the United States there were about one hundred wagons in our company. After leaving Canada we heard that Nauvoo was peopled by “Mormons” so we headed for there, but when we arrived we found that they had been driven from the city about a week before. We rested a few days in the deserted houses before continuing our journey and it rained all the time. I can remember that the roofs leaked in some of these houses. I saw the Nauvoo Temple and can remember one of the oxen under the baptismal font had a broken horn. After our stay there we went on to Winter Quarters where the houses were just huts. While there we had almost continuous rain; I remember bringing the oxen home one time and falling in a large puddle of water.
The following spring (1847) the different companies began leaving for Salt Lake, which was to them an unknown country. The first company reached Salt Lake on July 24th, 1847 and we arrived in either August or September of the same year. (The record says October 1st, 1847.) Although I was but six years old and it being eighty-six years ago, yet I remember a few things about the trip I would like to tell. My first sight of Brigham Young was when we met him at Green River, when he was on his way back to get his family and assist more Saints across the plains. Our only means of crossing rivers that were too deep to wade was to chop down trees, chain them together and make a raft upon which we would pull one wagon across at a time. We were crossing a narrow deep stream one time and most of the wagons were across and they were just starting to take ours across when mother shouted for them to let the children out before crossing. We got out and when the wagon was half way across, it flopped bottom side up in the stream. Everything we owned was in the wagon and everything got soaking wet. Mother jumped in the water with her clothes on to save what few things she could. She had to sleep in wet clothes that night and she caught a cold, which ultimately caused her death in 1857 at Spanish Fork, during our Move South to escape the Johnston Army.
Every night I remember, the children would play around the wagons and camp fires; after supper the older folks would get out the fiddles and have dances around the fires, some of them dancing in bare feet, as they had no shoes. Every week we would have religious services. I walked most of the way cross the plains, with but an occasional ride. One time while I was driving two yoke of oxen so my stepfather could ride a while and rest, I stepped on a prickly pear and being barefooted the needles ran into my feet and mother had to pull them out. Every night we would pull the wagons in a large circle and form a corral for protection against the Indians and to form an enclosure for the animals. I believe I could take a hundred wagons right now and form a corral as we did then.
While following the Platte River we saw many buffalo, sometimes in herds so large we had to stop the company and let them go past. One day I became lame from walking so much and fell behind he company. Suddenly I heard a strange noise and looking up I saw a large buffalo bull intently watching me. His fierce snorting frightened me into screaming. The driver on the last wagon heard me and shouted for me to run, but I was too frightened to move. Some men came back and were going to shoot the animal, but the captain stopped them saying that Brigham Young’s orders were to shoot only those animals that were to be used for food. During our stay at Fort Bridger, Jim Bridger told us he saw the captain of Brigham Young’s company riding quite a way ahead of the rest. We learned there was no such a man riding ahead of the company, but he was believed to be one of the Three Nephites, guarding the company and leading it to the proper place.
As we reached the top of Big Mountain we could see the lights of another camp ahead of us, so we came down the mountain at the head of Emigration Canyon in the dark. The Canadian wagons were lower than the American wagons and they struck stumps the others would pass over, so we had to chop the tops off all the stumps our wagons struck. We finally reached the company ahead and camped with them for the remainder of the night and traveled together the next day. During the day the call was passed down the train, “There is the Great Salt Lake.” We reached Salt Lake that night and camped with Brigham Young’s company. The children played “I Spy” in the grass and sage.
There was a fort constructed and within the fort we build a house from adobe brick. We planted twenty acres of wheat, but never harvested it the next fall as the now famous crickets destroyed it. I remember my stepfather, sister and myself making instruments similar to huge fly swatters. We would walk through the grain with these swatters killing and frightening the crickets. The battle was rather discouraging and one day after a hard struggle we looked back of us and saw the crickets were as bad behind us as they were in front of us; father cried like a baby and said “It’s no use, we’re goners.”
The next year we moved to Mill Creek, hoping to escape the crickets, but when the grain and other crops were up they came and practically cleaned us out again. We saved our potatoes and planted corn where the grain had been and had a good crop, most of which we gave away. At a time when we thought our cause was lost to the crickets, I was herding cows and suddenly saw swarms of seagulls gorging themselves on crickets— then we knew our crops were saved. During these trying times many of the Saints went from door to door begging for food. One girl I remember in particular came to our door regularly for weeks, and for quite a while had the story that “mother had a baby last night and there is nothing in the house to eat.”
It was about this time that gold was discovered in California and there was a continuous string of wagons loaded with men, families and supplies; other men rode horses or walked going through Salt Lake on their way to the gold fields. During a time when things were extremely expensive in Salt Lake, Heber C. Kimball in one of his sermons said, “The time will come when goods will be sold cheaper on the streets of Salt Lake than they are in New York.” As he was leaving the meeting I heard someone say, “Brother Heber, aren’t you afraid you have overstepped the mark this time?” He replied, “Well, I don’t know but what I have.” His prophecy was fulfilled when these people rushing to California found they could take their goods no further, so they practically gave them away in Salt Lake.
On the day of the Saints,’ arrival in Salt Lake on July 24th, 1847, Brigham Young said, “If our enemies leave us alone ten years we will ask no odds of them.” The Saints were unmolested for ten years, and on July 24th, 1857, were assembled at the head of Big Cottonwood Canyon having a celebration, when Porter Rockwell and another man approached the crowd from the east and told Brigham Young of the coming of Johnston’s Army. It is a matter of history that word reached Washington, D. C. that the ‘Mormons’ were in open rebellion against the government and the army was being sent to put down the rebelling Mormons and bring them back to order, but the whole thing was a mistake, as the Saints never were in a state of rebellion.
When the news of the approaching army reached Brigham Young he stood upon the speaker’s stand and called the people’s attention to what he had said ten years before and said as he promised he would say, “And now we ask no odds of them.” The group returned to Salt Lake and immediately a company of volunteers was formed to go to Fort Bridger and stop the army. I was called upon to go, although I was but sixteen and father got my outfit all ready for me, but I was needed to help the family move south so I didn’t go. Brigham Young gave the command that all Saints leave Salt Lake and Move South, leaving just a few men behind to burn all houses, stores, barns, etc. saying that if the army were not stopped they would find nothing but ashes upon their arrival in Salt Lake.
After mother’s sudden death in Spanish Fork, as a result of a cold she caught while crossing the plains, I was sent back to Mill Creek to help burn things there. While waiting for the signal to set fire to the buildings we had free access to the settlement’s best gardens, orchards, watermelon patches, etc. After we had the houses all kindled and ready to touch a torch to, we had nothing to do but walk around and look at the deserted village. The men who went to meet the army finally had to burn their wagons and stampede their horses and cattle to stop them. The army was forced to stay in Fort Bridger all winter, as our men brought the horses and cattle to Salt Lake and I can remember their arrival and seeing the animals driven down the street.
The next year the government sent a new Governor to take the place of Brigham Young, who had been the acting Governor of the Utah Territory. As he was coming through Echo Canyon there were two groups of Mormons that would stand by the road and salute him as he went by, and when he had passed would go back in the brush and appear in the road ahead of him and salute him again as he went by. They kept doing this until he thought there were thousands of them and was willing to promise that if the army was allowed to enter Salt Lake it would not set up a permanent camp within forty miles of the city.
In the spring of 1859 my father, two sisters, with two other men and their wives and I moved to Mendon, Cache Valley and settled there. (The sister, Margaret, eventually married Abraham Hunsaker and at her death her sister Mary married him and brought up her sister’s children and four of her own. The third sister, Susannah, married Gordon Beckstead and lived in Preston, Idaho.) After our crops were planted I got a desire to see Logan, so took a four horse team and a crowd of young folks and went to the settlement and was quite disappointed, as there were just a few wagons with no kind of a town. Providence consisted of several families camped in the brush, hiding from the Indians.
As soon as there were enough settlers in the Valley there was organized a Minute Company for protection to the citizens. We would take turns standing picket guard watching for Indians and if we saw any it was our duty to arouse the other Minute Men and all go to protect the settlement upon which the Indians were preying. One night as some of us were standing guard we saw what we thought was a cloud of dust in the Valley. Our horses were standing below us and we were just getting ready to sound the alarm when we discovered that what we saw was the moon shining through the clouds and looking like clouds of dust; while we were off duty we had to keep our horses in the stables with a week’s supply of provisions tied on the saddle, as every few days and even in the nights we were called out to settle Indian disputes.
When I was about twenty-five someone had to go to Canada to settle my father’s estate. At first I was going and then decided not to and after this decision I met Apostle Ezra T. Benson on the streets of Logan and he advised me strongly to go, but said a moment later that it would take a load off his mind if I would go to see Brigham Young before I left. I called on President Young, but he didn’t advise me to go or not to go. He was very cautious in the things he said, but finally he said that if I did go I should study law. At the time I did not know that I would have any use for law, but later found that he was wise, because I was involved in law continuously for the four years I was in Canada.
At the time the railroad came only to St. Joseph, Missouri, so I had to go by stage to there. I stayed over night in Salt Lake the night before I left and slept on a pile of wheat sacks at the stage depot as I was afraid of missing the stage. On the journey we would stop and change horses about every eight or ten miles and stop for food about every hundred miles. I was the only passenger from Salt Lake to Denver. At Fort Bridger the soldiers were going to hold me until a company formed, as the Indians were so bad that it was very dangerous to travel alone, but they finally let me go on, as I was with the U.S. Mail and they weren’t allowed to stop that. About fifty miles from the fort a man stopped the stage and said he had been shooting among the Mormons and they were after him and he wanted a ride so he could escape. He got in the coach with me, and as part of the mail was piled inside the coach, it made riding a bit crowded. After we had a change of drivers this fellow ordered the driver to put the mail where it belonged, but the new driver had been told about him so he said, “Now you get out of here and run and don’t look back or I will shoot you.”
We were supposed to meet a coach everyday, but the day passed and we saw no coach; neither did we the second day. The driver said he would drive clear to the Missouri River but what he met one and he did drive steadily for three days and three nights before we met one and than we met three in a group. We met in the night and during the change of horses and drivers one of the passengers shot one of the drivers and I could hear him groaning right behind my coach. After the shot everything was deathly silent, with the exception of the man’s groans, then someone said, “Who fired that shot?” Being alone and having a gun on me, I was afraid I would be suspected of the deed and lynched, but they didn’t bother me. We changed drivers and went on our way. The next day I found some of the spokes in the wheels of the new coach were splintered and I suppose it was by the bullets of the Indians who had been holding them up for the three days.
All I can remember of Denver at that time is that it had one street and that had a bend in it. (This was about 1865.) It took us about ten days to get to St. Joseph, Missouri. There are about three things I distinctly remember about St. Joe. One is the railroad station, which was made from logs, with grass growing all around it. I was looking around the station when someone shouted, “Here comes the train!” So I rushed out and stood by the tracks to get my first look at a train. I was intently watching it come toward us when the engineer blew the whistle. It took me so by surprise that I jumped straight in the air and screamed, “A bear—” and then went in the station thoroughly ashamed of myself.
It was in St. Joe that I ate my first orange. I had made friends with a fellow traveler and he gave me an orange to see what I would do with it. I had never eaten one before, so supposing it was to be eaten like an apple I bit into it and was not so very well pleased with the flavor of it. It took me about three weeks to get to Canada and with the exception of an occasional meal which my friends bought me, all I had to eat was some hard crackers my sister had made and put in a pillow slip for me. As I remember it, the railroad station at Chicago was built on a platform out over the water.
It was the custom in those days to entertain visitors by letting them look through the family album and while looking through the albums at my stepfather’s nephews I would find the picture of a young lady I imagined I could like very much. While I was visiting at a relative’s, the woman’s sister was giving a party for her husband so they insisted that I come along, but I was backward about going. I knew the girl whose picture I had seen was the girl the Luckham’s hired when they needed help and I was afraid she would be there.
When we arrived at the party she wasn’t there, for which I was very thankful. I sat by the kitchen door and was too bashful to join in the games. A little later in the evening someone shouted, “there’s Mandy!” and when I looked out in the kitchen I saw her shaking the snow from her feet. After she had warmed herself she came in and shook hands with me and joined the party. I could soon see that she was a natural leader, for when there was to be a change of games they always asked Mandy what to play next and this made me like her all the more.
I knew that I was in love with her and I also knew that it was against my religion to marry out of the Church. The nearest missionaries that I could visit were fifty miles away. I decided to ask the Lord for guidance; in answer to prayer a voice said to me, as plain as though someone were standing behind me, “Which is worse, to marry her and take her among the Saints where she can accept the faith or leave her here where she won’t have a chance of hearing it?” I concluded then to marry her if I ever got the chance.
Later on I was visiting at Tom Luckham’s where Mandy was working. One night while the hired man and I were watering the horses, Mandy’s sister (Aunt Emma Murphy) came to see her and when she was leaving Mandy was going to walk a way with her. I knew they had to pass the well so I asked the hired man to help me water the horses again, although we had just got through doing it. When Mandy and her sister reached the well Mandy said she didn’t like to walk back alone and asked if I would go along. Of course, nothing would have pleased me more. After we had left her sister and started back I told her I had something very important I would like to say to her. As she was willing to listen, I said “Mandy, I’m smitten on you and was wondering if there was any chance for me.” She seemed to feel the same way toward me and we were married in about a week (24th February 1869, at Warwick).
I found that she (Mandy) and her father were not on speaking terms and while we were staying at Tom Luckham’s her father and mother called on us, but I noticed he didn’t speak to Mandy all evening. When he went out to get his horses to go home I followed him out and told him I didn’t care for his actions and that I wanted him to go back and speak to his daughter. I finally persuaded him to do it and when he shook hands with her he gave her fifty cents, which was all she ever got from him.
We stated at Tom’s until one day when the ladies were preparing dinner, Mrs. Luckham said that if it took that many plates they might as well start a hotel. We immediately left there and stayed with my father-in-law for a while, then with Aunt Emma a few days. We moved into a little cabin by ourselves then, where our first child Martha was born. I won my lawsuits and was preparing to return home, but Mandy heard that anyone who went among the “Mormons” and did not join the church would be killed, so she refused to go home with us. I told her that on my word the “Mormons” would do no such thing and that she would be made welcome among them whether or not she was a member. But she had been so embittered against them that she found it impossible to believe otherwise, so I was going to be forced to leave without her. She helped me pack my satchel and I was just going to tell her goodbye and kiss her for the first time, when she broke down and cried and said she would come with me if I would wait for her to pack.
Some men that I knew were aware that I had won my lawsuits and had some money on me, so they followed us to Chicago and tried to rob me. They put their hands in my pocket and got a box of jewelry that Mandy’s friends had given her. While I had been gone the railroad had been built on to California so we came all the way home on the train. We got off at a little log cabin station north of Ogden. Charles W. Nibley was in charge and I went to Brigham City to get a team and wagon. While I was gone Brother Nibley asked Mandy if she was a Mormon. Of course she was frightened but remembered that I had promised her no harm would come to her, so she told him she wasn’t. Brother Nibley said, “Well we didn’t think that Brother Sweeten would marry anyone outside of the Church.”
We went to Mendon and lived in a log house I had moved from the fort. (A year after they arrived in Mendon Amanda joined the Church. On May 28th, 1871, she was baptized by Bishop Henry Hughes.) I started cutting wheat as soon as we got home, using a scythe or cradle, as we called it, with prongs on it that caught the wheat and bunched it. We later threshed it by letting horses walk around and around on it, or by beating it with flails. Brigham Young and his company occasionally came through Cache Valley on a preaching tour.
I rejoined the Minute Company and was mixed up in one of the most exciting affairs we ever had with the Indians. While some Indians were camped near Providence a white man came along and saw a half-breed papoose and claimed it was his brother’s child. The squaw wouldn’t give it up and she claimed its father was a miner on his way to the gold fields of California. The white man went to Salt Lake and got some soldiers, who fired on the Indians and chased them to the mountains. The Indians chased them back and they went on to Salt Lake. Some of the officers remained behind, however, and devised a scheme for getting the papoose. They sent a man to tell the Indians that the soldiers had left and for the mother to bring her baby. The head chief and one or two others came to Providence, believing they were safe, but at the point of a gun the officers took the baby from them and took it to Salt Lake.
The Indians were soon on the warpath. We feared trouble so the Minute Company was called out. I, with others, was standing guard where the Logan Temple is now located. We saw what we thought was a thousand Indians ride out of the mountains toward Providence. We ran to the tithing granary where the rest of the company was waiting and we all started for Providence. When the Indians saw us they got in formation like soldiers and came toward us. We got closer and closer together and every minute we expected to hear the command to fire; instead, we got the command to “bleke to the left” and were halted behind a bunch of brush. Two men were sent out to make a treaty with the Indians, who were still out in the open. There were not nearly as many of them as we thought, as they rode criss-cross and in every direction to deceive us. They would not make a treaty with the men we sent to them, but they said if we would ride ahead and go to our ‘chief’ they would follow and make a treaty with him. This we did and we had to pay them thirteen oxen and several hundred sacks of flower to satisfy them. I gave a fine yoke of oxen and was supposed to get paid for them but never did. Most of the people in the Valley knew nothing of the affair with the Indians.
I first came to Holbrook for a range for my horses and cattle. While watching them through the summer and at odd times when I was not riding the range, I cleared and farmed twenty acres of land. The spirit of pioneering was with the people and I moved my family to Holbrook where there was more land and where each of my sons could have a farm. Mandy died about this time and I wanted to stay in Mendon where I could at least have memories of her, but my family said I had gotten them into this valley so now I would have to stay with them.
In conclusion, I want to bear testimony to the truthfulness of the Gospel. I believe that Joseph Smith was a true Prophet. In my opinion, Brigham Young was the smartest man we have had in the Church and I have been acquainted with them all with the exception of Joseph Smith. I proved to my satisfaction that President Young was a very cautious man. I’ve never had a doubt from the day I was baptized that the Church is true. I came to Utah for the Gospel’s sake, went back to Canada and was married and returned to Utah because of the Gospel. I married out of the Church with my eyes open and in answer to prayer, a voice asked me, which was worse, to marry her and take her where she could accept the Gospel or leave her there where she would never hear it.
I have believed in a Savior ever since I can remember and have never doubted Him and have believed as the Savior said, that the Father was a Being as well as He. I read the Book of Mormon when I was little and have never had any doubt as to its origin, as related by Joseph Smith.1
Grandpa lived three years after he related the foregoing story of his life. He died on January 19th, 1936 and after funeral services in Salt Lake City, was laid to rest beside Grandma in the Mendon City cemetery on January 23, 1936. Services were also held in Mendon.
1. Story of the Life of Robert Sweeten, as given by him in 1932 to his grandson, Melvin S. Atkinson.
History of Robert Sweeten
Robert Sweeten was born December 14th, 1840, in Brooke, Ontario Canada, the son of George Sweeten and Mary Gardner. Two years later, on Christmas Eve, 1842 George Sweeten died, leaving his widow the care of two small children, Robert and an older sister Margaret. Then the missionaries of a strange new faith visited the little Canadian settlement and the message they brought was welcomed by the young widow and her parents, Robert Gardner and Margaret Calinder and her brothers and sisters. Soon they were all baptized and became members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Two younger brothers were soon ordained Elders and were set apart to preside over the newly formed Canadian Branch.
In 1844, Mary Gardner Sweeten married Roger Luckham, a young Englishman. To their union were born two daughters, Mary, who was born in their Canadian home, and Susannah, who was born in Salt Lake City in 1848. A desire to gather with the main body of the Saints came upon the members of the Canadian Branch and led by Archibald and Robert Gardner, they set out for Nauvoo, Illinois. When they reached Nauvoo they found it a deserted city, with evidence of every side that the Saints had fled in haste. They caught up with the last of the line and continued on to Winter Quarters where they, with others spent a winter of suffering and hardship. In October 1847, they arrived in the Valley of the Great Salt Lake. Then followed years of toil and adventure and miracles long-remembered by the boy Robert and his sisters.
William Gardner, concerned with the business of establishing mills in this new country, had gone north into Cache Valley and had started building a mill at Gardner’s Creek, two and one-half miles south of the present community of Mendon. In 1856, Mary and Roger Luckham and their family paid them a visit and were favorably impressed with the country and decided they would return and make their home there as soon a they could. They were not able to realize their ambition, for with the summer of 1857 came news of the approach of “Johnson’s Army” and the order to move south. During this move, Robert’s mother suffered from exposure and as she had not been very strong since her illness while enroute to Utah, this additional exposure let to her death June 12th, 1858, at Spanish Fork, Utah.
The next spring, Roger Luckham with his two daughters, Mary and Susannah and his stepson, Robert, now a lad of eighteen, arrived where the city of Mendon now stands. The following is from the journal of Daniel B. Hill Richards: “About May 1st, 1859, Roger Luckham, his daughters Mary and Susannah and his step-son Robert Sweeten, two Englishmen, Charlie and Alfred Atkinson and their families, arrived where Mendon now stands. Following them in quick succession were James H. Hill, Isaac Sorensen and Peter Larsen, also of Mill Creek and James G. Willie, who had been Bishop of the 8th Ward in Salt Lake City.”
Robert was a tall, raw-boned type. He was not afraid of work and worked side by side with his stepfather and others in breaking land and planting crops. It wasn’t long until these first settlers were followed by others, and another community came into existence. In August 1859, John H. Richards and young Robert assisted a surveyor from Salt Lake City in laying out the plat for Mendon and adjoining farms. That winter the men spent their time getting logs from the canyon to build a community meeting place. At the suggestion of Heber C. Kimball, the settlement was named Mendon, in honor of Brigham Young’s New York home.
In October 1862, Robert received word that his sister, Margaret, wife of Abraham Hunsaker, had passed away in Brigham City. He started at once, but as he left the canyon he could see the gathering at the Brigham Cemetery. He tried in vain to attract their attention so they would wait for him, but by the time he arrived the grave had been filled in. He always regretted that he didn’t get to see his only full sister before she was buried.
In 1866, Robert found it necessary to return to Canada to settle a question of some real estate belonging to his father, George Sweeten. On this journey, which began by stagecoach, he had his first encounter with the iron horse of the railroad. The tracks had been laid as far as St. Joseph, Missouri. He said that at the first sight of the huge locomotive he jumped in the air and shouted, “a bear— a bear!” Up until that time a bear had been the most formidable object he had run into. It was also here that he tasted his first orange. Someone gave him one and neglected to tell him that he was supposed to peel it before he ate it. As a result, he had a low opinion of oranges for a long time. His main food for the trip was some hard cookies that he carried from home in a pillowcase. Unaccustomed to traveling as he was, he was always fearful of missing connections with the next ride. Suffice it to say he suffered from constipation ever after.
Until he returned to Canada he had always been content to go by his stepfathers’ name. Now, if he were to be successful in proving himself the legal heir to his father’s property, he must be known as Robert Sweeten, so he started signing his name as such. One piece of land involved in the suits was in Brooke and the other near St. Thomas. One suit took place at London and the other at St. Thomas. His attorney was Phillip McKenzie. He was successful in establishing his identity as heir to the real estate. These lawsuits required considerable time and there were long periods of waiting. He secured work with Thomas Luckham, his stepfather’s brother. At this time a young neighbor girl, Amanda Hagle, was helping Mrs. Luckham. As he helped her care for the milk and other household chores, Robert fell in love with her but she had other plans, as she was engaged to marry a local boy named George Harper. It took some time and considerable talking to change her mind, but Robert and Amanda were married on February 24th, 1869. For a time they made their home in Canada, where their first child, Martha Emma, was born.
Life in Canada would have been comparatively easy for Robert Sweeten. The courts had declared him the legal heir to his father’s property, which probably would have provided a comfortable income, but he was homesick for the west and anxious to return to Utah. He had the spirit of a true pioneer and was impatient to get back to where men were building up a new way of life. By this time the railroad had been completed and he and his wife and baby made the entire trip by train. In the years that followed, he worked hard helping to build up the community of Mendon. He served as a member of the school board, was a member of the city council for nearly twenty years and for eight years was mayor. Ten more children were born to the couple in their Mendon home. Amanda had been baptized into the church and both were active in religious as well as civic affairs.
The old two-story home was the center of much activity and housed many fond memories. Robert used to say that his children got their musical talent from him and that they got it all, that he didn’t even keep enough to enable him to carry a tune. He did give them lots of encouragement and with the help of their more talented mother, all of the family developed considerable musical ability, which they gave generously. They provided music for dances in their own and neighboring communities and assisted with the music in church gatherings and socials.
By 1898 Mendon was well-established community and all the surrounding farmland had been taken up. The Sweeten boys had grown up and the family felt the need for expansion. The old farm west of town was dear to their hearts, but was not adequate to meet their increasing needs. Still full of the spirit of pioneering, Robert Sweeten and his boys set about looking for possible farm sites in virgin territory. They investigated the section about twenty-five miles west of Malad City and set about building a log cabin and clearing the sagebrush from their homestead sites.
For the next few years they traveled back and forth between their new farms and Mendon. Amanda spent much of her time looking after their Mendon interests while her husband helped clear the land. Two married daughters, Martha Holbrook and Mary (Mame) Atkinson and their husbands had also taken up claims there. The community was named Holbrook, after Martha’s husband, Heber, who served as the first bishop. The Sweetens’ would spend the summers on the farm and return to Mendon for the winter months. After their mother’s death in the spring of 1903, the family leased their Mendon property to a neighbor and moved to Holbrook. Iduma and her husband, Wallace Cragun, had also moved there and had established a store.
Because of the wide experience he had already had in building up a community, Robert Sweeten was readily accepted as a counselor and leader in this new venture. His judgment was sound and he had courage and faith. He was always interested in bringing underground water to the surface and many of the early wells were dug at his insistence and under his direction. Beards were the accepted thing in those days and his was an outstanding one. In his younger days it had a definite red coloring, but as the years passed his snowy white hair and long flowing white beard made him stand out in any crowd. At a Pioneer Day celebration in Logan, he was presented a watch for having the longest beard of all those present.
He developed a cataract on his eye and blindness was his lot the last twenty-odd years of his life. Although he could not see, he never lost interest in what was going on around him. Grandchildren would lead him around the yard to enable him to pump a bucket of water or do some chore he wanted to try his hand at. Once, while staying with Alberta, he set a bucket of water down and she found it balanced perfectly on top of a small glass. He always tried to help. Even when age was telling on his stalwart body, he would turn the hand-powered washing machine or the big churn. Often he would dry the dishes. He loved to bounce the little ones on his “good foot” and was never so happy as when someone was combing his hair.
In his lifetime came most of the inventions that make modern-day living possible. He spent much of his time in Salt Lake with his daughter, Alberta, who was a widow. A radio, in the headphone/crystal stage, was a wonderful thing for him as it kept him informed of what was going on. Later, his family bought him a larger radio and he spent many hours listening and dozing. He loved to hear Ted Malone read poetry and one of his favorite programs was “Myrt and Marge.” He met the leading characters once while a guest at KSL. They were amazed that a sightless man of his years would have such and interest in their program and know so much about it. Somehow he always managed to have a sack of old-fashioned peppermints in his pocket. He could make them last an unbelievably long time in his own mouth, but was always free to dole them out one at a time to the small fry. He sat quietly until he could tell you were ready to clean where he was sitting, then with great effort would hold his feet up while you swept in front of his chair. The nearest he ever came to swearing was a forceful “Zounds.”
Although unable to see, he enjoyed traveling. The trip from Salt Lake to Holbrook with him was always interesting as he had an uncanny ability to judge where we were. He talked about it as he remembered it and also as he thought it must look at the time. At one time, he, in company with other pioneers, was permitted to fly back over part of the old pioneer trail he had walked as a boy. Numerous times in the last few years of his life he was honored with the remnant of the Pioneers of 1847. At the time of his death, he was the oldest of the group, which had dwindled to a half-a-dozen. In 1935, he underwent an operation on his eye, hopeful that new methods would enable him to have a last look at things around him. To the disappointment of all, this was not his happy lot.
Death came January 19th, 1936, in Salt Lake City, at the home of his granddaughter, Lucille. Funeral services were held in Salt Lake, January 22nd and in Mendon the following day. As the procession entered Mendon, It was noticed that by strange coincidence, workmen were tearing down the old Sweeten home. The funeral was a lengthy one and it neared its’ final stage, one of the speakers remarked to the effect that Robert hadn’t been in any hurry to leave this life and that we shouldn’t rush things with a short funeral. His body was taken to the cemetery he had helped plan as a boy and placed in its’ final resting place beside Amanda— his “Manda.”1
1. History of Robert Sweeten, Author Unknown, Unpublished Manuscript.
Utah's Oldest Pioneer of ’47 Dies In Salt Lake
The colorful career of Utah's oldest 1847 pioneer was closed quietly by death Sunday when Robert Sweeten succumbed to ailments incident to age at the home of his granddaughter, Mrs. Lucille Rasmussen, 561 East 33rd South Street.
The 95-year-old pioneer had been active in L. D. S. Church affairs ever since he joined the little band, which came west from Nauvoo, Illinois, in 1846-47. He characterized the spirit of that little band and for years had been signally honored by Salt Lake City citizens on Pioneer Day, always playing a dramatic part in the annual commemorative celebration.
Mr. Sweeten served as mayor of Mendon for eight years and was a member of the city council there for twenty ears. He served as a school trustee for several terms and was justice of the peace and city marshal. Mr. Sweeten was one of the famous Cache County minutemen for more that twenty years, he belonged to the Nauvoo legion under the leadership of the late Orson Hyde.
Mr. Sweeten had been blind over thirty years. Only last year a staff of eye surgeons gathered and performed a delicate operation in an attempt to restore his sight, but it was unsuccessful. Despite his handicap Mr. Sweeten continued to play an active part in Church and civic affairs.
Mrs. Sweeten died in 1903 at Mendon. Mr. Sweeten and his sons then moved to Holbrook, Idaho, being one of the first families to settle in the Curlew Valley.1
1. Salt Lake Tribune, Monday, January 20, 1936.
Passing of a Venerable Pioneer
Another member of that historic band of pioneer explorers and colonizers who came to an alien territory surrounding the great inland sea of salt and helped to create and fructify the commonwealth now known to all the world as Utah, has undertaken another pilgrimage at the age of ninety-five years.
It was an eventful life Robert Sweeten lived, as a boy in the historic city of Nauvoo; as a member of the exodus that followed Brigham Young across the plains and mountains; as a militiaman under the leadership of Orson Hyde; as a scout among the minute men of Cache County three-quarters of a century ago, on watch to warn the settlers of the movements of marauding bands of Redmen; as an active community builder and church worker all his adult life, even during thirty years of blindness, which never discouraged him nor made him helpless.
Within hailing distance of the century mark he laid aside his cares, his earthly interests, his infirmity and continued the long trek toward the setting sun as cheerfully, as hopefully, as eagerly as he began the memorable journey of his boyhood.1
1. The Deseret News, January 1936.