Faith of the Latter-day Pioneers
Family faces are magic mirrors. Looking at people who belong to us, we see the past, present and future. Gail Lumet Buckley (1937)
Topics in this Section of "Errand of Angels"
Debra Coe 1997
I have many ancestors that were pioneers. Some came from Nauvoo and had joined the church in Rochester, NY or in PA and knew Joseph Smith as he was translating the Book of Mormon. Others were in England and were converted there; then came by ship to American and across the plains to Salt LakeValley.
I had not really read many of my family history stories previous to this year. As we participated in the many events in celebration of the Sesquicentennial, it caused me think about and search the many pages of writings from and about my ancestors. As I read, I couldn't help but notice that most of them barely mentioned the walk to Salt Lake City. One had only a single sentence that read something like this: "I crossed the plains to Salt Lake in the summer of 1852." Yet his history was full of many other stories and difficulties. From the way my ancestors wrote about their lives, the walk was such a small thing. They went through so many trials of family disowning them, mobs of people after them, family members and friends leaving the church then trying to take them away from it too, and the list of trials goes on and on.
When they arrived in Salt Lake, it was a desert and very difficult going for those first several years. Some of my ancestors even spent years working and saving any money they could so they could help many other family members cross the ocean as they too joined the church.
Most of my ancestors spent their entire lives with few material possessions because so many others needed assistance. They willing gave what they had. It has caused me to wonder if I would be so willing to share.
This year of celebrating this great event has caused me to realize that a pioneer is one who paves the way for those who follow. As a mother I pave a way for my children. My ancestors had a view of the eternities and so to them no sacrifice was too great for their posterity to have the advantages of the church and in helping make the church grow.
As a mother, I wondered if I too have this same view of the eternities. How well do I pave the way for my children. Do I teach my children to follow the prophet, or do I teach them that it is okay to skip Family Home Evening if you are too busy, or to skip scripture study, and family prayer? Do I teach them to reverence the things of God or do I bring movies, books or magazines into our home that would take His Holy Name and use it in unholy ways and say "well its just entertainment" and everything is like that? Am I mindful of the spirit of our home at all times?
Through so many trials, my ancestors clung tight to the church and its teachings. Many said their main goal was to have all their family together in the Celestial Kingdom. I would hope that I would cling as tight to the gospel and not miss heaven for anything in the world. I hope to pave a way for my children to understand how great a blessing the gospel can be in their lives.
No wonder this dispensation was opened with the scripture in Malachi 4:6. "And he shall turn the heart of the fathers to the children, and the heart of the children to their fathers. . . ."
As I have turned to my fathers and appreciated their sacrifice, it has caused my heart to turn to my children. How well I now see that the path I pave will affect generations to come.
I love the theme for this year in the church and the idea of celebrating what our early brothers and sisters sacrificed. As I read the early accounts, I am profoundly grateful for their great devotion.
I recently read a story about Mary Fielding Smith, widow of Hyrum Smith. She is a great example of faith with many footsteps to accomplish. To me her story is inspiring and an example of the kind of hope and faith every mothers should have knowing that God will help up us through. Here is just a small part of her story:
At the death of the patriarch [Hyrum Smith] the care of the family fell upon his widow, Mary [Fielding] Smith. Besides the children there were several helpless and inform people, whom for various charitable reasons the patriarch had maintained; and these also she cared for, and brought through to the valley the major part of them, under unusually trying circumstances.
Passing over the incidents of her journey to winter quarters, after the expulsion from Nauvoo, we come at once to her heroic effort from winter quarters westward. In the spring of 1848 a tremendous effort was made by the saints to emigrate to the valley on a grand scale. No one was more anxious than Widow Smith; but to accomplish it seemed an impossibility, for although a portion of her household had emigrated in 1847, she still had a large and comparatively helpless family -- her sons John and Joseph, mere boys, being her only support. Without teams sufficient to draw the number of wagons necessary to haul provisions and outfit for the family, and without means to purchase, or friends who were in circumstances to assist, she determined to make the attempt, and trust in the Lord for the issue. Accordingly every nerve was strained, and every available object was brought into requisition. Cows and calves were yoked up, two wagons lashed together, and a team barely sufficient to draw one was hitched on to them, and in this manner they rolled out from winter quarters some time in May. After a series of the most amusing and trying circumstances, such as sticking in the mud, doubling teams up all the little hills, and crashing at ungovernable speed down the opposite sides, breaking wagon tongues and reaches, upsetting, and vainly endeavoring to control wild steers, heifers and unbroken cows, they finally succeeded in reaching the Elk Horn, where the companies were being organized for the plains.
Here Widow Smith reported herself to President Kimball as having "started for the valley." Meantime, she had left no stone unturned or problem untried, which promised assistance in effecting the necessary preparations for the journey. She had done her utmost, and still the way looked dark and impossible.
President Kimball consigned her to Captain ------'s fifty. The captain was present. Said he:
"Widow Smith, how many wagons have you?"
"How many yoke of oxen have you?"
"Four," and so many cows and calves.
"Well," said the captain, "it is folly for you to start in this manner; you never can make the journey, and if you try it you will be a burden upon the company the whole way. My advice to you is, to go back to winter quarters and wait till you can get help."
"Widow Smith calmly replied, "Father ------" (he was an aged man), "I will beat you to the valley, and will ask no help from you either!"
This seemed to nettle the old gentleman, and it doubtless influenced his conduct towards her during the journey.
While lying at Elk Horn she sent back and succeeded in buying on credit, and hiring for the journey, several yoke of oxen from brethren who were not able to emigrate that year, and when the companies were ready to start she and her family were somewhat better prepared for the journey, and rolled out with lighter hearts and better prospects than favored their egress from winter quarters.
As they journeyed on the captain lost no opportunity to vent his spleen on the widow and her family; but she prayerfully maintained her integrity of purpose, and pushed vigorously on, despite several discouraging circumstances.
[During this journey, the famous incident of raising one of her oxen from apparent death by a priesthood blessing took place - see CH Story 49.]
On the 22d of September the company crossed over "Big Mountain," when they had the first glimpse of Salt Lake Valley. Every heart rejoiced, and with lingering fondness they gazed upon the goal of their wearisome journey. The descent of the western side of "Big Mountain" was precipitous and abrupt, and they were obliged to rough-lock the hind wheels of the wagons, and, as they were not needed, the forward cattle were turned loose to be driven to camp, the "wheelers" only being retained on the wagons. Desirous of shortening the next day's journey as much as possible, they drove on till a late hour in the night, and finally camped near the eastern foot of the "Little Mountain." During the night's drive several of Widow Smith's cows, that had been turned loose from the teams, were lost in the brush. Early the next morning her son John returned to hunt for them, their service in the teams being necessary to proceed.
At an earlier hour than usual the captain gave orders for the company to start, knowing well the circumstances of the widow, and that she would be obliged to remain until John returned with the lost cattle. Accordingly the company rolled out, leaving her and her family alone. Hours passed by ere John returned with the lost cattle, and the company could be seen toiling along far up the mountain. And to human ken it seemed probable that the widow's prediction would ingloriously fail. But as the company were nearing the summit of the mountain a cloud burst over their heads, sending down the rain in torrents, and throwing them into utter confusion. The cattle refused to pull, and to save the wagons from crashing down the mountain side, they were obliged to unhitch, and block the wheels. While the teamsters sought shelter, the storm drove the cattle in every direction, so that when it subsided it was a day's work to find them and get them together. Meantime, as noted, John had returned with the stray cattle, and they were hitched up, and the widow and family rolled up the mountain, passing the company and continuing on to the valley, where she arrived fully twenty hours in advance of the captain. And thus was her prophesy fulfilled.
She kept her husband's family together after her arrival in the valley, and her prosperity was unparalleled. At her death, which occurred September 21st, 1852, she left them comfortably provided for, and in possession of every educational endowment that the facilities of the times would permit.
(Edward Tullidge, The Women of Mormondom, 1877, pp. 344-49)
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