Pioneers, and Pioneer Day in Utah is a big celebration for the church.
Sometimes I feel a little left out–but mind you, I do not like parades and women in long pioneer dresses and bonnets. In fact in light of the controversy over polygamous groups as LDS fundamentalists, it is probably not a good idea for us to parade around in the pioneer attire.
The Jewish community have some great holidays. We participated in passover with our Jewish friends, and they then wanted to be invited to a Mormon holiday tradition–like passover. I have yet to invite them.
Pioneer Day outside of Utah is usually celebrated with a talk at sacrament meeting. Hence my comments today.
However, that is not my focus, lest any of you may feel left out that you do not have Mormon pioneers akin to the handcart company, or its rescuers.
The stories we know about are the ones that are told over and over again. Some are church wide, such as the Martin and Willie handcart stories, some are personal. (my ancestors followed the handcarts in the Hunt/Hodgett wagon train)
We each have a story.
But they need to be remembered. They need to be written down. The hand of God is in our lives as we pioneer through this maze of an earthly life. We all have trials, troubles, joys and sadness. We have miracles in our lives, but often they are not remembered or even acknowledged as we fight for our livelihood during economic and personal trials.
I am a pioneer in that I have never done this before–married this man, had these five children, lived here for 30 years, and on and on. All of it is new to me, and all of it presents challenges that are successful or not so successful. I am a native Californian, 2nd generation on my mothers side. I studied bio chem and pharmacology in grad school. I have five children, 4 boys and a daughter, 1 granddaughter. Three are married living in Utah, going to school, one on a mission in Taiwan, and one at home–being home schooled. I am a pioneer in this field, and have been homeschooling now for over ten years. Two of my kids went through the public school system, and the other three were pioneers with me. I have many stories. But it has all turned out good, both went to top universities–Chapman and BYU.
I have a blog to write my experiences. It is different than my old journals, which seemed to be mainly cathartic. I try to write so that it will be uplifting, or helpful to my progeny to see how I saw life, how the gospel had an effect in my life. I have a favorite quote from Benjamin Franklin–
If you would not be forgotten as soon as you are dead and rotten, either write something worth reading or do things worth the writing.
I also love the conference address given by Elder Eyring about remembering, how he shared the story of writing in his journal every night and recording how he had seen the hand of God in his life. The more he looked for it the more he saw it. I can attest to that truth. I have not been as good at writing daily, but I am trying to do better.
We drove to Utah this month, and on the return trip I looked for a book to read on my iphone. Technology can be a wonderful help. I found a book on Google that was available to read–on the Donner party.
I became fascinated in their story; included in this version were journals kept by some of the people. It was 1846 when they left Illinois for Calif, there were young and old including many nursing babies and children. I read about the difficulties of traveling, of the mistakes they made, the conflicts that resulted in deaths. This was just one year before the Mormons set off for the Rocky Mountains.
After reading this, I wondered about the people in this Donner party that might have mingled with Mormons in Illinois and Missouri.
I did a little research and found that there was a family in this group– the Murphys — husband and wife had been baptized in Tenn by Wilford Woodruff and Reed Smoot in 1836–and had 7 kids. Wilford Woodruff wrote about them in his journal:
“Preached at Mr Alexanders and Baptized 2 Brother
& Sister Murphy. Brother Murphy was dissatisfied
because he had not received the Holy Ghost as he
expected. Probably looking for [a person was?] not
the [cause/case?]. We told him to consider the subject
well” (Wilford Woodruff Journal 1:79)
The husband died two years later, and it shows in journals that Lavina, the wife and children moved to Nauvoo for a season. But for some reason left and returned to the south. It was from there that she decided to go west to Calif. Her story is monumentally sad as she loses children, a son in law–but some did manage to survive and live on to tell her story–a daughter named Mary who stayed in Calif, married a catholic and was then rebaptized a catholic –Marysville, Ca is named after her. Lavina, the mother –She was one of the last women in the Donner camp, having stayed back to care for her grandchildren, her fate not so good– according to Wilford Woodruff–
The subject was brought up again concerning the
emigrant Company who perished in the Mountains
last winter. They were mostly from Independence &
Clay Counly Missouri And were A mob company &
threatned to drive out the mormons that were in
Calafornia & started for Calafornia with that spirit in
there hearts. But it seemed as though they were ripe
for Judgment. The snows fell upon them 18 feet
deep on a level & they died & eat up each other.
About 40 persons parished & were mostly eat up by
those who survived them. Mrs L. Murphy of Tenn
whom I Baptized while on a mishion in that Country
but since Apostitized & joined the mob was in the
company died or was killed & eat up. Her bones
sawed to peaces for her branes & marrow & left
stre[we?]d upon the ground-(WW Journal, 10 July 1847)
Mingled with this story is another–
I read that another family, the Rhoads, joined the church in 1835–and while living in Nauvoo, lost their home to the mob about this same time, 1846. They asked Bro Brigham if they could head out to the Rockies, to Calif, and blaze a trail for the saints to come later. Brigham gave them his blessing to go:
Go with my blessing. Your company will be the
Trailblazers that will pave the road to Zion When
the spring comes, I will follow with the strongest of
my company and after that, amther will follow me,
and so forth until all the Saints have been removed
from this place; and soon, we may be able to establish
the Zion of which Brother Joseph spoke of. . .
wherever westward that place may be (Crossroads in the West)
They happened to meet up with the Donner party and the Murphy family– and two men from that group came over to the Rhoads family and asked them if they could join their camps. They traveled together for some time, until they came to the Hastings cutoff. According to one of the daughters of the Rhoads family:
“Some of the discontented were strongly in favor of taking the hastings cutt off, while the conservative people wanted to continue along the mddle route, while donner and his followers declared their intention of following the hasintgs cut off. ” (Ibid)
The Rhoads family arrived safely in Sutters Fort by making this choice. And two of the sons became part of the rescue team that went back to save the Donners. John and Daniel Rhoads made 4 trips and John carried three year old Naomi Pikes of the Murphy family on his back 40 miles out of the snow. The two remained in Calif, but one of them was later baptized catholic with a second wife.
Samuel Brannan, who had led the Mormons to San Francisco, raised money for the Donner rescue as well.
The Mormon Battalion also had some connection with the Donner Party. Fifteen members of that group were traveling with a general back to Fort Leavenworth as guards, with John C. Fremont and came across the remains of the Donner party,
A more revolting and appalling spectacle [wrote one
member ofthe party] I never witnessed. The remains
were, by an order of Gen Kearny, collected and
buried under the superintendence of Major Swords.
They were interred in a pit which had been dug in
tbe centre of one of the cabins for a cache. These
melancholy duties to the dead being performed, the
cabins, by order of Major Swords, were fired, and
with every thing surrounding them connected with
this horrid and melancholy tragedy, were consumed.
The body of George Donner was found at his camp,
about eight or ten miles distant, wrapped in a sheet.
He was buried by a party of men detailed for that
The next year, 1847, the Mormons followed this trail, with one exception, they took what was called Pratts Cut off (after Parley P. Pratt).
The Part I did not tell: I started off with this talk, but turned and asked the bishop–Bishop Murphy–if he was related. He nodded, and I made a quick decision not to share the apostasy part of the story. No need to bring that part up in front of his congregation. And there is no way of knowing Lavina Murphy’s true sentiments without a personal journal left.