Pioneer Day

Updated: Jul 27, 2020

One hundred and sixty years ago this month, in 1860, Samuel Rigby at age 27, joined the James D. Ross wagon company near Omaha, Nebraska. He arrived in Salt Lake City on September 3rd of the same year. The trip was rather uneventful and successful yet challenging. They only suffered one death en route.

Samuel, along with his siblings and parents, had sailed from Liverpool, England to New York on the sailing ship ‘Picket’ on March 28, 1860, a trip that took six weeks. They had grown up in the small village of Ince of Wigan in Lancashire, England and in 1850 had joined the Mormon church. His brother, John, had previously immigrated five years earlier by borrowing money from the perpetual immigration fund. He then worked and sent the family money to help pay for the trip. In some history from his younger sister Ellen, she had said she “rode only a few miles all the way and left her footprints in blood the last half day coming into the valley.”


Seven years prior to Samuel’s arrival in Salt Lake City, eight-year-old Margaret Duncan had made the same wagon trip with her father Charles and mother Margaret and her extended family in the David Wilkins company. It was not as easy for them.

Her father joined the church in January of 1844 in Kirkcaldy, Fifeshire, Scotland. On June 28th of the same year, he married Margaret Bowman though she did not join the church right away, possibly because she was already pregnant with their first child, Margaret Duncan, who was born on February 6th 1845. Two years later, Margaret Bowman Duncan bore a son, Walter, on January 4th. Unfortunately, the baby passed away after only 6 weeks. Later that same year, she had another Son, William, born on December 28th, 1847. Three weeks after giving birth, on January 16, 1848 she was baptized along with her younger sister, Janet, in the chilly ocean waters near their home. Tragically, her new baby died two weeks later, living only six weeks. One can only imagine the highs and lows they experienced. While still living in Scotland, she had two more daughters, Isabella and Janet. Finally, after saving to come to Zion, they were ready to begin their trip.

On a frigid morning of January 10th, 1852, the Duncan family consisting of Charles and Margaret and their three daughters, Margaret, Isabella and Janet, boarded the sailing ship ‘Kinnebec’ along with 328 other LDS Saints headed for America from Liverpool, England. The rest of Bowman family left in Scotland would follow several months later on the ship ‘Osborne’. Charles almost didn’t make the trip. A few days prior, he suffered an accident working in a stone quarry which had crushed his arm. It was so bad the doctors wanted to amputate it, but Charles wouldn’t allow it.

On the first night at sea, Margaret sat by his bedside and pleaded with the Lord for help and guidance. In her mind came the reply. With the permission and help of the Captain, Charles was dressed and wrapped in a heavy woolen quilt, leaving only his injured arm free. He was to be placed in a lifeboat and lowered into the water with his injured arm hanging over the side. He became frightened and so Margaret got in the lifeboat as well. She removed the bandages from his arm and positioned it so cold saltwater could pass over it. He cried out in pain as Margaret reassured him. This was repeated day after day until his arm completely healed.

The boat was only carrying enough food for the expected journey of twenty-eight days, but due a hurricane, it took 52 days. Food had to be rationed and many were sick onboard. They finally arrived in New Orleans and immediately took passage to St. Louis on the old steamboat “Pride of the West”. From there, many of the other passengers of ‘Kinnebec’ transferred to the ill-fated ‘Saluda’, which exploded a few days later killing and injuring dozens in one of the worst tragedies ever recorded among LDS immigrants. Others traveled on the fine steamboat ‘Isabel’, which took many of the surviving ‘Saluda’ passengers the rest of the way to Council Bluffs, Iowa, arriving at the end of March. The Duncans had stayed with the rest of the Bowman family in St. Louis to purchase supplies prior to going up the river and thus avoided the disaster. Four of Margaret’s brothers and her younger sister and spouses had arrived in 1851 on the sailing ship ‘Olympus’ which had also been damaged at sea by a hurricane. The brothers worked in the coal mines in St. Louis to raise money for the family’s trek west.

Margaret Bowman’s entire family had arrived on three ships over 18 months. Cholera struck in Missouri and her son 20-year-old son George died. Then, two weeks later, her daughter Janet Bowman McNiell, who had married John McNiell the day the ship left England, succumbed to cholera and died. Finally, the following June, Archibald Bowman’s wife Margaret Herd died, leaving him with a 1 year old baby to care for as a widower.

After arriving in Council Bluffs, Margaret Duncan, who had studied nursing in Scotland, was immediately set apart as a mid-wife and nurse and put to work helping the cholera-stricken Saints. She was promised that if she would do this, neither she nor her family would contract the disease. Two months later, her daughter, Isabel age 3 died. Though heartbroken, Margaret continued to work that summer and winter and by late spring of 1853 all were ready for the trek west. That May, Janet age 2, died at Council Bluffs but not of cholera.

There were a total of 12 in their group that started out July 1st under the direction of 33 yr old Doc. Wilkin. After only a week the company stopped as Margaret's sister, Eliza, who was seven months pregnant, went into labor and delivered a infant girl, Julia. Within 2 hours, the baby died and was buried in a roadside grave. The company continued their journey the next day.

In early August, the company was in the Black Hills of South Dakota. Margaret's brother John and his wife were also expecting. John Wilkin Bowman was born to Agnes Bowman, He was named after his father, John, and the Captain of the company, brother Wilkin. He lived until the following spring. John and Agnes had now lost all 5 of their children within two and a half years. John went to the endowment house two years later and and shortly thereafter left the church.

Twenty souls had cross the ocean on 4 different ships, without a loss of life, and another four were born on the way to Zion. Only twelve of them made it to Salt Lake City.


Three and a half years after his arrival in the Salt Lake valley, Samuel Rigby married Margaret Duncan on April 10, 1864. She was 19 and he was 31. They lived in Centerville, Utah in a home built by Margaret’s father. After 10 years of marriage, Samuel would be the first in his family to participate in the illegal practice of polygamy (which they called plurality of wives) and on November 24, 1873, he married Margaret’s younger sister Agnes. Agnes was only 16 at the time and Samuel was 41. Ten months later, both Margaret and Agnes would bear him children within one week of each other.

Two years later, my great-grandfather John Rigby, was born to Samuel and Margaret in Porterville, Utah. His first daughter, my grandmother, was also named Margaret, after her three generations of strong pioneer grandmothers, grandmother Margaret Duncan, great grandmother Margaret Bowman and 2nd great grandmother Margaret Sneddon. Margaret Rigby passed away just 4 days after I was born.

In 1847, the first wagon train, headed by Brigham Young, had entered the Salt Lake Valley on July 24th. July 24th is now celebrated as Pioneer Day, a state holiday in Utah, and is remembered throughout the world among the members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

I honor my pioneer heritage and the struggles and challenges of all the pioneers as they sacrificed and built a new community and strived to practice their faith.

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