Sunday, October 12, 2014

Motherhood During the Pioneer Exodus

The great Mormon pioneer exodus began early in 1846, during winter conditions that caused considerable suffering for the Saints. Eliza R. Snow was among the number who departed during that time. One of the most-quoted statements from Sister Snow reflects on this period:

"We had been preceded [from Nauvoo] by thousands, and I was informed that on the first night of the encampment, nine children were born into the world, and from that time, as we journeyed onward, mothers gave birth to offspring under almost every variety of circumstances imaginable, except those to which they had been accustomed; some in tents, others in wagons -- in rainstorms and in snowstorms. I heard of one birth which occurred under the rude shelter of a hut, the sides of which were formed of blankets fastened to poles stuck in the ground, with a bark roof through which the rain was dripping. Kind sisters stood holding dishes to catch the water as it fell, thus protecting the newcomer and its mother from a showerbath as the little innocent first entered on the stage of human life; and through faith in the Great Ruler of events, no harm resulted to either.

"Let it be remembered that the mothers of these wilderness-born babies were not savages, accustomed to roam the forest and brave the storm and tempest -- those who had never known the comforts and delicacies of civilization and refinement. They were not those who, in the wilds of nature, nursed their offspring amid reeds and rushes, or in the recesses of rocky caverns; most of them were born and educated in the eastern states -- had there embraced the gospel as taught by Jesus and his apostles, and, for the sake of their religion, had gathered with the saints, and under trying circumstances had assisted, by their faith, patience and energies, in making Nauvoo what its name indicates, 'the Beautiful.' There they had lovely homes, decorated with flowers and enriched with choice fruit trees, just beginning to yield plentifully.

"To these homes, without lease or sale, they had just bade a final adieu, and with what little of their substance could be packed into one, two, and in some instances, three wagons, had started out, desert-ward, for -- where? To this question the only response at that time was, God knows." (See Tullidge, _The Women of Mormondom_, p. 307)

Carol Lynn Pearson, well-known LDS poetess, wrote an article in _BYU Studies_ (21:4) about the episode and tells of finding a statement of a midwife, Jane Johnston, who personally delivered nine babies on the first night in September when the so-called "poor camp" was camping across from Nauvoo. Conditions during this exodus were much different than the one seven months earlier. The Saints who had remained in Nauvoo during 1846 were mostly those who could not afford to outfit themselves for the exodus (hence the name "poor camp"), or those whose health or other conditions prevented them from traveling. But when the mobs came to Nauvoo in September 1846, they cruelly drove all the Saints from their homes regardless of condition. The account of Jane Johnston, describing conditions across the Mississippi from Nauvoo, reads:

"Had nothing to eat only half a bushel of meal and half a dozen cucumbers that were given to me by Martin Littlewood. There were a great many sick among the Saints and nothing to comfort them, and nourish them, but corn meal, until the Lord sent quails amongst us, which supplied our wants.
"I then got a tent from Brother Johnston and had women that were being delivered of child put in it. I was the mid-wife, and delivered nine babies that night. We had nothing to sweeten anything until the Lord sent honey dew, which we gathered from the bushes until we got all the sweets we wanted. I also boiled maple juice and got cakes of maple sugar." (From the diary of Joseph Smith Black, BYU Special Collections; quotes in Pearson, op. cit.)

It seems much more likely that the events Eliza described occurred during this time, and the midwife's account supports this idea. Eliza mentions that she "was informed" that the nine births occurred on that first night, but she (or her informant) probably confused the date.

However, the poignancy and tenderness of Eliza Snow's description still touches the heart. The suffering of these mothers is beyond our conception, and is a tribute both to their faith in God and to their patient commitment to what they viewed to be a divine cause.

Compiled and Written by Dave Kenison

The First Vision of Joseph Smith

Only A Stonecutter- The story of John Rowe Moyle

A Search for Truth- Story of Wilford Woodruff

A Treasure in Heaven- Story of John Tanner

One of the most inspirational early saints. His written story is also found on the blog.

Joseph Millet - Known to God

Joseph was another of the faithful early settlers in southern Utah who sacrificed much because of his commitment to the Lord. By the time he wrote this little paragraph, his oldest daughter had died of typhoid, and he and the rest of the community had suffered great sickness and hunger.


"One of my children came in, and said that "Brother Newton Hall's folks were out of bread. Had none that day." I put our flour in [a] sack to send up to Brother Hall's. Just then Brother Hall came in.

Says I, "Brother Hall, are you out for flour?"

"Brother Millett, we have none."

"Well, Brother Hall, there is some in that sack. I have divided and was going to send it to you. Your children told mine that you were out."

Brother Hall began to cry. Said "he had tried others. Could not get any. Went to the cedars and prayed to the Lord and the Lord told him to go to Joseph Millett."
"Well, Brother Hall, you needn't bring this back if the Lord sent you for it. You don't owe me for it." 

You can't tell how good it made me feel to know that the Lord knew that there was such a person as Joseph Millett.

- Joseph Millet, journal entry, 1871, Spring Valley.


That last line is remarkably profound, and still sends chills up my spine after many readings. Remember in the Lectures on Faith when the three requirements for exercising faith in God are taught? The third was something like an actual knowledge that the course of life you are pursuing is according to God's will. I think that's what Joseph Millet sensed. Having that awareness, that God really does exist and really does care about _me_, is a wonderful gift...

Compiled and written by David Kenison

Flour Miraculously Provided

Many of the pioneer settlers had experiences that convinced them that the Lord was not only aware of their trials, but was blessing and sustaining them. The Davis Family is a good example. Stanley Davis lost his wife during the 1852 crossing of the plains; she was buried near the Platte River, leaving the father with three daughters and a son. They made their new home in Salt Lake City.

The next year, the family's store of flour had almost become exhausted with little prospect of new supplies. One day, as the family ate a simple meal of boiled vegetables, a knock came on the door. It was a woman they did not know, a convert recently arrived from England. She tearfully explained that her son was dying of dysentery and begged them to give her a quart of flour. She had been told that a mixture of flour, water, and red pepper would help bring a cure, and was willing to give them her last dollar to pay for the flour.

Stanley Davis said to one of his daughters, "Emily, go upstairs and fill this cup with flour for the sister." Little Emily's face fell as she replied, "But Father, you said that we could have lumpy-dick from the flour that is left and the sack is almost empty now." (Lumpy-dick was a kind of pudding made by adding white flour to boiling water until it reached the consistency of mush, then adding milk and sugar.) The father promised, "You'll get your lumpy-dick. Didn't Brother Brigham Young himself say that if we would share with the in-coming Saints, our flour sacks would never be empty?" So the woman was sent on her way with not just flour, but also a large pan of vegetables from the family garden.

A few days later, Stanley Davis returned home from working in the fields, and told little Emily to go up and get some flour to make lumpy-dick for supper. She left, but soon came running back down the stairs crying, "Father, I'm afraid to go near the sack. There's a wolf or something hiding in it. It stands up now and when I filled that quart cup it was laying in wrinkles on the floor."

The family went upstairs to find that the sack was now full of fine, white flour, the source of which they never knew. They bore witness to the realization of "Brother Brigham's promise."

(See _Our Pioneer Heritage_, Vol. 7, p.563-4)

Compiled and written by David Kenison

Faith of a Soldier

This account was related by Don B. Colton, who served as the president of the Uintah Stake in Utah before representing the state as a congressman in the 1920's (when this account was written). He later served as a mission president in the Eastern States:

"There came into my office a few weeks ago in the city of Washington, a middle-aged man whom I could tell at a glance was more than ordinarily well educated and cultured. Introducing himself, he asked me if he could talk to me a little while and I told him he could. Said he: "I was educated for the ministry. I graduated from a college of theology and was ordained, and for ten years I was pastor of a church. Then the war broke out. I went as a chaplain with the regiment from my city to a foreign land. One night, as there was a good deal of sickness in that camp, I was out among the boys, giving them what comfort I could. My attention was called to a tent where an unusually sick boy was lying. Said the doctor to me: 'Go in there; you had better prepare that young man for the worst.'
"And I went in and said to the young man: 'Buddy, you are very sick?'

"'Yes,' said the boy with conviction, 'I am sick, but I am going to get well.'

"Something in his tone struck me with peculiar force. I went up and took him by the hand and said, 'Buddy, I am glad to hear you say that.'

"'Well,' said he, 'I say it and I know it is true.'

"I left that tent," said the major, "and went to others, but I could not get the words of the boy out of my mind; and before I could go to sleep, I went back again, and opening softly the tent door, I said to him: 'Buddy, are you asleep?'

"And he said, 'No, major, come in.'

"I went in and I said: 'Who are you? Where did you get that assurance with which you told me a short time ago that you were going to get well?'

"Then, he replied: 'You probably would not believe me, but I am from Utah and I am a Latter-day Saint and I have obeyed the revelation of God given to man upon which the blessing of health is predicated; and I had a promise given to me by those who had a right to give it that I would return to my home; and the other night, when stricken with my illness, there came to me a witness that I knew that I was going to get well. And so, with that conviction I am facing this ordeal.'

"Do you mean it?" said his chaplain. "Do you mean that you know whereof you speak?"

And the boy, with earnestness, replied: "Yes, I do."

Said this man to me, in relating this, "I left his tent; I wanted more knowledge concerning that faith. I asked the boy for books. He game me them -- the Book of Mormon, the Doctrine and Covenants, and others. I read them. All my religious life I have been seeking for a vitalizing force such as I felt that night in that tent in the camp in a foreign land. And when I returned to my home I sought out your elders. I have listened to them: I have read more of your books; I cannot stay away from it. I want more of that spirit; I want to feel what I felt and what I know that boy felt that night in France."
He came to our meeting the next day. I haven't time to relate all the conversation. I received a letter from him the other day, in which he said: "I must join you people; I must come out where you are. My soul cannot find rest elsewhere. I know you have the gift of the Holy Ghost for which I have been seeking."

(Don B. Colton, _Liahona_, 22:77; see also Nibley, _Faith Promoting Stories_, pp. 60-62)

Compiled and written by David Kenison

A Son's Death and a Busy Father

David O. McKay related the following story as part of a funeral sermon he gave in 1943. Further details were supplied in the second account, from Harold B. Lee.

"One day in Salt Lake City a son kissed his mother good morning, took his dinner bucket, and went to City Creek Canyon where he worked. He was a switchman on the train that was carrying logs out of the canyon. Before noon his body was brought back lifeless. The mother was inconsolable. She could not be reconciled to that tragedy -- her boy just in his early twenties so suddenly taken away. The funeral was held, and words of consolation were spoken, but she was not consoled. She couldn't understand it.

"One forenoon, so she says, after her husband had gone to his office to attend to his duties as a member of the Presiding Bishopric, she lay in a relaxed state on the bed, still yearning and praying for some consolation. She said that her son appeared and said, "Mother, you needn't worry. That was merely an accident. I gave the signal to the engineer to move on, and as the train started, I jumped for the handle of the freight car, and my foot got caught in a sagebrush, and I fell under the wheel. I went to father soon after that, but he was so busy in the office I couldn't influence him -- I couldn't make any impression upon him, and I tried again. Today I come to you to give you that comfort and tell you that I am happy."

Well, you may not believe it. You may think she imagined it, but you can't make her think so, and you can't make that boy's father think it. I cite it today as an instance of the reality of the existence of intelligence and environment to which you and I are "dead," so to speak, as was this boy's father.
(David O. McKay, Gospel Ideals, pp. 525-6)


Account from Harold B. Lee:

One of the General Authorities had a son working on the railroad that went up Emigration Canyon to the mines in the early days. This boy was found crushed to death under the train. He was working as a switchman. His mother had the feeling that someone had pushed him under the train and taken his life. When the services were held, she was not comforted. But after some weeks, the mother said this boy appeared to her. He said, "Mother, I've been trying to get to Father to tell him it was just an accident. I had thrown the switch and was running to catch on to the hand bars, but my foot tripped against a root at the side of a rail and I was thrown underneath the train. It was a pure accident. I've been trying to get to Father, but he's too busy at the office. I can't reach him." President McKay said, "Brethren, don't you get so busy at the office that spiritual forces are not able to reach you."
(Harold B. Lee, Relief Society Courses of Study, 1979-80, pp. 32-33)
This further illustration comes from Pres. Ezra Taft Benson:
President David O. McKay and President Harold B. Lee used to relate an incident from the life of Bishop John Wells that is instructive to all of us. Bishop Wells was a great detail man and was responsible for many Church reports.

A son of Bishop and Sister Wells was killed in a railroad accident on October 15, 1915. He was run over by a freight car. Sister Wells could not be consoled. She received no comfort during the funeral and continued her mourning after her son was laid to rest. Bishop Wells feared for her health, as she was in a state of deep anguish.

One day, soon after the funeral, Sister Wells was lying on her bed in a state of mourning. The son appeared to her and said, "Mother, do not mourn, do not cry. I am all right."

He then related to her how the accident took place. Apparently there had been some question - even suspicion - about the accident because the young man was an experienced railroad man. But he told his mother that it was clearly an accident.

Now note this: He also told her that as soon as he realized that he was in another sphere, he had tried to reach his father but could not. His father was so busy with the details of his office and work that he could not respond to the promptings. Therefore, the son had come to his mother.
He then said, "Tell Father that all is well with me, and I want you not to mourn any more." (See David O. McKay, Gospel Ideals, Salt Lake City: Improvement Era, 1953, pp. 525-26.)
President McKay and President Lee used this experience to teach that we must always be responsive to the whisperings of the Spirit. These promptings most often come when we are not under the pressure of appointments and when we are not caught up in the worries of day-to-day life.

(Ezra Taft Benson, "Seek the Spirit of the Lord," Ensign, Apr. 1988, p. 2)