The Auto-biography of Joseph L. Rawlins
Delegate to the U.S. Congressfrom the Territory of Utah


U.S. Senator from tile State of Utah


(Edited and amplified by Alta Rawlins Jensen)

Excerpts including pp. 9-13 It was from Green County, Illinois, that my parents had come. My father, Joseph Sharp Rawlins, had been born there. His father, Charles Rawlins, had come from Rutherford county, North Carolina.

Where the older generations came from is uncertain. It is probable, however, that my ancestors came from England as a James Rawlins is known to have come from that country early in the seventeenth century and settled in Massachusetts. The name Rawlins, furthermore, is found on tomb stones and coats-of-arms in England extending back to the 13th century. Family archeologists claim that it was borne as Raul with William the Conqueror from Normandy. A little more conjecture might connect it with Rolla, the Norseman. In any event, that spirit of restlessness and migration which my parents possessed seems typical of the race.

My mother's family also seems to have moved about considerably. Her maiden name was Mary Frost and she was born in Tennessee east of Nashville. Later she migrated with her parents to Hancock County, Illinois, where she met and married my father.

Her father was of English and her mother of Irish descent. Her great grandfather on her mother's side, whose age at his death was 104 years, and whom my mother well remembered seeing and talking with, was born in Ireland about 1730. Possessed of a great-great grandchild at the age of eight-five years, and with all her faculties unimpaired, my mother thus had direct authentic connection for almost two centuries with the past, and no telling how far into the future. Octogenarians on my father's side, and centenarians on my mother's, have not been rarities despite the toils and perils through which they passed.

Born of such migratory families, it is not surprising then to find my parent in 1849 following Bingham Young on the trek to Utah, once they had been fired with the zeal of Mormonism.

This had come about in the following fashion. When my grandfather resided upon the banks of the Mississippi some Mormons in dire distress, driven from their Missouri homes in midwinter, after crossing the great river upon the ice, sought and found refuge in his home. In sympathy with their distress he lent a willing ear to their teachings and became a convert to their faith. He was bidden to "come out of Babylon and join the Saints of Zion." Hence he sold out and removed to Hancock County in the vicinity of Nauvoo. His family including my father also became proselytes.

It was under similar influence that John Frost, my mother's father, with his family came to Illinois from Tennessee. Soon after his arrival, however, he died from exposure in the northern climate, leaving his wife the burden of the three smaller children. Oddly enough, she never became a convert. Lafayette, the eldest son, and my mother after her marriage to my father, were the only ones of Grandfather Frost's family to become converts to the Mormon faith.

Following the fortunes of the Church and its leader, they migrated west, Lafayette enlisting as a member of the Mormon Battalion in the Mexican War, while my father and mother went to Utah, or Deseret as it was then called.

Their devotion to the Mormon creed, incidentally, seemed to take no account of the future of my Grandmother Frost. Left in Iowa, then a wilderness, with her three children, she must have been a fine woman, for her letters in my possession disclose no repining, but only her broad, charitable views and deep sympathy. Just the same, the great burden she bore was too much for her, and in 1855 she found somewhere an unmarked grave. Her children only survived because "uncle John Wood" took pity on them. Meanwhile, my father and mother, along with Nancy Jane, my eldest sister, born in 1845, my Uncle Lafayette and my Grandfather Rawlins, his family, and others joining in the Mormon exodus, had set out westward. Leaving Illinois and passing through Iowa they camped on the east side of the Missouri River above what became Council Bluffs, on "Honey Creek."

It was here that my mother's brother, Lafayette Frost, enlisted as a member of the Mormon Battalion in the Mexican War. Crossing the continent he showed great fortitude and was officially commended as exceptionally brave. As a result of incredible hardships, however, he died not long afterward in San Diego.

My parents remained at Honey Creek during 1846 and 1847, planting and gathering corn, potatoes and other food products, to provide for and last them until new homes could be found in the far and unknown west.

Several things of interest and importance occurred while at Honey Creek. I remember my father's telling that once when he, his father and Uncle Harvey Rawlins, his brother, were encamped up the Missouri River hunting, with their horses staked out grazing nearby, a band of Pawnee Indians approached. While some of them engaged in parley or bantering for a horse trade, the others contrived to frighten and stampede the horsed into breaking tether and running away. Immediately all the Indians were in hot pursuit, and the horses gone beyond recovery

It was there, too, at Council Bluffs, in 1848 that my sister Helen was born. Her birth occurred only a few days before it was necessary to start on the westward trek. As a result of the hardships, my mother remained an invalid throughout the trip. But such was her faith, as well as my father's, in Mormonism that she endured the ills of the thousand-mile journey with a staunch uncomplaining courage which was to become typical of her throughout her whole life.

So it was -- to my keen distress that midsummer day -- that my parents had come to this land of Mormons, domineered by Brigham Young.

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