Faith in Every Footstep

Faith in Every Footstep

Jemima Brown Rogers
Jemima Brown Rogers

Among my ancestors in the Berrett family are many pioneers who made the trek from England and Wales to Utah in search of religious freedom.  They traveled by ship, covered wagon, and foot to establish their new homes in the Salt Lake Valley.  One  great-great grandmother, Jemima Brown Rogers, was a handcart pioneer who arrived in Salt Lake City in 1856.  Her story, which I remember hearing from the time I was a young teenager, is remarkable, and I have always been in awe of her courage and determination.

Pioneer Pete
Pioneer Pete - far left

In June 2003 as Youth Conference attendees, Peter and I made a trek of 20+ miles along part of the same route that Grandmother Rogers followed through Wyoming.  The handcarts were heavy and awkward to maneuver – wooden wheels on rocky roads don’t pull smoothly. Our days were hot, the nights were cold (frost on our tents in the morning), and we felt near exhaustion when we crawled into our sleeping bags at night.  But our experience truly pales in comparison to the hardship Jemima endured during her trip many years earlier.  Some excerpts from her history as recorded by her grandson, Nephi James Brown, follow (in green print.)

The Elders found Jemima in her native land of England, and she was baptized [as a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints] about 1844.  She saved all the money she could, so that by the early summer of 1856 she had enough, together with some aid given her by her son Thomas who was already in Utah, to start on the long journey to Zion.  At that time she was fifty-three years old.  She and her adopted daughter Lizzie who was 8 or 9 years old, sailed from England in an old fashioned sailing boat, The Thornton.  It took them six weeks to cross the ocean.  This old vessel was at the mercy of the wind and the waves.  They did not have enough food or water on the ship.  They ate a kind of sea biscuit that were so hard they had to break them with a hammer and then soak them for quite a while before they could be forced down.

They continued traveling with a difficult journey across the States to the edge of the Great Plains, but their real difficulties had only commenced.  They were to cross the Plains by handcart.

Replica of a handcart
Replica of a handcart

Three successful handcart companies had crossed the Plains that summer of 1856, arriving safely in Salt Lake City the latter part of September.  However, the fourth handcart company, a group of about 400 under the leadership of Captain James G. Willie, and the fifth, numbering 576 led by Captain Edward Martin met with tragedy.  They were delayed at Iowa City and Florence while gathering tents and supplies and waiting for their handcarts to be constructed.  But rather than waiting until spring to begin the trek, the majority of the group allowed their enthusiasm to overshadow good judgment and they started too late in the year to be reasonably sure of reaching their destination before winter.  Their handcarts had been constructed of green timber and before long they dried out and began to fall apart, requiring repairs that caused further delays.

Area of Rocky Ridge Wyoming - June 2003
Area of Rocky Ridge Wyoming - June 2003

Wyoming is desolate in the summer.  I find it hard to imagine making that trip in the winter.

Grandmother Rogers and Lizzie were with the Willie Company.  They all had a scant supply of clothing and bedding and found it impossible to keep warm at night even by the middle of September because of the early  heavy frosts.  Heavy snows and extremely cold weather set in much earlier than had been the case for many years.  Their food supply was rationed, and they didn’t have nearly enough to eat.  Snow storms came every few days, and accompanied by fierce howling winds, piled the snow more than a foot and a half deep on the level.  A number of the weaker ones soon died of exposure and lack of food, and were wrapped in sheets by their loved ones and buried in graves hastily dug by the wayside and covered with rocks to keep away the hungry wolves which were a constant menace.

When will it end?
When will it end?

The courageous emigrants continued on pushing and pulling their handcarts,  but their food supplies were rapidly vanishing and there seemed to be no chance of having them replenished.  They slowly trudged forward seeking shelter in hollows and willow thickets until from sheer exhaustion and with scarcely any food, these destitute pioneers established a camp and decided with little hope of survival to await their fate.  Grandmother Rogers recalled that when their food was all gone, all she had to eat was what she called pepper corn – kernels of black pepper which only helped to keep her stomach warm.

Jemima used all the extra clothes and covering she had to keep her young daughter from freezing to death, and as a result suffered such exposure herself that her scalp was frozen and all of her hair dropped out.  She wore various little black lace caps all the rest of her life.

Already established in Salt Lake City, upon hearing of emigrants struggling to arrive in Salt Lake City, by inspiration President Brigham Young organized relief parties in early October, not knowing the real plight of these two handcart companies.  The rescuers started out to meet the handcart pioneers with horses, mules, good wagons and plenty of warm clothing and food.  As the caravans approached the camps of these starving Saints they saw some of the children eating bark from willow trees and in some cases they saw small groups of Saints huddled around and sitting on the bodies of those who had just died until the heat had left those bodies.  Most of the emigrants had given up hope knowing that death would overtake all of them very soon unless help arrived.

Plaque marking the site of the Willie Company rescue
Plaque marking the site of the Willie Company rescue

After initial contact with the rescue teams, the Willie Company waited two days hoping for more supply wagons before undertaking the worst ordeal of the journey – the five mile climb over Rocky Ridge in a howling blizzard.  The distance between their initial rescue and the campsite was about 12 miles and took some emigrants more than 20 hours to complete.

Rocky Ridge is aptly named.
Rocky Ridge is aptly named.

The surviving pioneers were provided with food and warm clothing and under the direction of the teamsters and their own Captains, they arrived in Salt Lake City the latter part of November 1856.

Grandmother [died] on 25 January 1891 when she was 87 years old.  She was one of the stout-hearted, noble and devout pioneers of Utah.  She did lots of good, her faith was unwavering, and she had a genuine and sincere testimony of the truthfulness of the Gospel.

I hope I never forget the feelings I had as I pulled a handcart over Rocky Ridge on that summer day in 2003.  I tried to imagine my grandmother struggling in a blinding snowstorm, worried about her young daughter, and cold, tired and hungry beyond my comprehension.  I was humbled as I considered the sacrifice she made – and the blessings I enjoy – because of her faith and testimony.

For a greater explanation of handcarts and the role they played in the emigration, go here.

Images of  handcart and Rocky Ridge here

Here we go again

Here we go again

I came home from my dad’s house last week with this.

Pratt family history
Pratt family history

And as I’ve starting sorting, I’ve created some messy piles.

Pictures and documents galore
Pictures and documents galore

This desk was clean a couple of days ago
This desk was clean a couple of days ago

I’m attempting to work the new treasures into my current filing system.

Our family genealogy files
Our family genealogy files

I think I’m going to need another file box.
And a lot more hours in my days.
But I don’t lack for enthusiasm.
Maybe I’ll create another blog  like this one, for my side of the family.
I love this stuff.

“. . . and everyone goes”

“. . . and everyone goes”

A Neil Diamond classic comes to mind when we pack the car to make our annual trek to Avon,
“It’s Love, Brother Love, say Brother Love’s traveling salvation show
“Pack up the babies and grab the old ladies and everyone goes
“‘Cause everyone knows Brother Love’s show.”

Loading the car for that trip is always an adventure.  Food, clothing and games for a week are standard, and the suitcases and Rubbermaid bins fill the back of the Trailblazer quickly.  We like to have a couple of portable camp chairs for lazy afternoons on the patio with a book and a little chocolate, so those purple and green cases take their places among the luggage.  We situate the bag of shoes beside the hanging clothes and then fill some random spots with a kick ball and Frisbee.  And of course, we can’t go anywhere without a couple of laptops!  Pillows, jackets, and an assortment of last minute “I almost forgot about . . . ” fill the remaining empty spaces – and we’re almost ready to go.

In addition to the necessities, we always take our recreational transportation.

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Our bikes ride securely on a rack on the back of the car.  The Vail/Avon area has some great bike trails for riding – with or without the grandkids – and we look forward to a daily ride.  We love peddling along the Eagle River while dreaming about which house will be ours.  I’ve imagined us living in everything from a tiny condo to a grand mountain home on the side of Beaver Creek Mountain.  That dreaming is one of my favorite pastimes!

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The canoe has also become a must have, so Don secures it to the top of the car.  He’s getting really good at that as evidenced by this year’s trip which was free of vibrating tie downs or a slipping  canoe!  We all love to spend a relaxing afternoon on Nottingham Lake, and even the young grandkids are learning how to paddle – sort of.

Due to some extenuating circumstances, this year we included a couple of new modes of transportation.

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Degenerative arthritis in her back is making it very difficult for Grandma Leona to walk long distances, so we added a cute little transport chair to our assortment of  rides.   Lightweight and easy to lift, it was small enough to fit in the back of the car (very fortunately) and provided easy access to the park and other attractions within walking distance.

IM000025

Just a few days before departure, Katie’s jump from the top stair resulted in a broken leg and the doctor’s instructions to put no weight on that leg for 10 days.  Briefly we thought the Sandbergs would have to cancel, or at least be very restricted in activities, because carrying Katie any farther than the couch or the bathroom is taxing.  But when I remembered the jogging stroller I picked up at the thrift store several months ago (I couldn’t pass up that $30 deal!), we were set – once Don got it strapped to the back of the bike rack.  Katie is still small enough to fit in the stroller, even if not real comfortably, and we were able to wheel her out and about with relative ease.  And Sam enjoyed it on some early morning jogs with his Daddy and Auntie Em.

Grandma and Katie sporting their rides
Grandma and Katie sporting their rides at a park in Vail

By the time we get everything in and on, we’re beginning to look like the traveling salvation show, and I’m wondering if it will all stay in place at 70 miles an hour.

IM000054

We don’t look too bad from a distance . . .

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but this is the view if you get behind us!
Yes, those flags are made of Christmas fabric.

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“Brother Don’s traveling salvation show”

My dad

My dad

September, 2000
September, 2000

There’s something like a line of gold thread running through a man’s words when he talks to his daughter, and gradually over the years it gets to be long enough for you to pick up in your hands and weave into a cloth that feels like love itself. -John Gregory Brown, Decorations in a Ruined Cemetery

Thanks for all the years of gold thread talking.

You’ve taught me more than you realize.

Happy 84th!

Remembering Eliza Brown

Remembering Eliza Brown

Eliza Brown White Brown

Eliza Brown White Brown
January 30, 1847 – January 28, 1929

For as long as I can remember, I have giggled at this great grandmother’s name (my father’s maternal grandmother).  After all, “Eliza Brown White Brown” has quite a rhythm – she was born Eliza Brown, married John White, then married Thomas Brown.  But after reading – really reading – her history, my feelings have been focused, and her unusual name has become a standard of hard work and perseverance and deserves my greatest respect.

As I read the account of her life, I found myself studying her picture and pondering.  How I wish I had known her!  My heart was touched when I thought about that little girl living in an unfamiliar home as a housekeeper and nanny when just a child herself.  What a heartbreak that must have been for her parents, and what a difficult experience for her.

In honor of her birthday, the following is an excerpt from her history written by her son, Nephi James Brown, detailing her early years.  In later posts I’ll share events of her adult life.  She truly was a remarkable woman.

Eliza was born in the country town of West Lavington, Wiltshire, England – the daughter of John Brown and Sarah Mundy.  When she was about three years old, her mother died of a sudden illness at just 34 years old.  Eliza went to live with her maternal grandparents, William and Elizabeth Mundy, who were very kind to her.  About the first things she remembered while she was living with them was having a little red chair and two or three very meager toys to play with.  The grandparents were not really in a position to keep her very long.  About a year later, Eliza’s father married Jane Wilkins, and Eliza then returned home to live with them.  When she was about five years old, she began to go to school in a little thatched roof schoolhouse where the morning was spent in reading, writing, and spelling.  In the afternoon she was taught sewing.  Owing to the poor circumstances of her father, she was only permitted to go to school a short time after she was eight years old.  It seems incredible that she ever learned to read and write as well as she could during her lifetime with such a meager amount of school.  At that time in England it seemed that child labor was encouraged rather than restricted, unlike later years when they were compelled to keep children in school until 14 years of age.  Eliza always greatly regretted that she only had about two and a  half years of schooling.

Her first employment commenced when she was a little past eight years old in a silk factory [winding silk threads on little spools] – hard work, and long hours for the unbelievable small amount of 10 cents a day – a ten hour day – one cent an hour – 6 days a week.  She continued her work at the silk factory for about 9 months.  She paid 12 cents a week for a place to sleep.

Eliza next went to Bristol as a servant girl for her Aunt Ann Dyer.  She lived there and at two other places in Bristol, working hard for her board and lodging.  She received however, in addition thereto, a salary of 12 cents a week. At the last two places, her work was very hard, and food in very scanty quantities.  From Bristol, she returned to West Lavington and worked in a bakery, where she was given quite fair treatment.

From there she went to Potterne and worked in a grocery store.  Here she endured the greatest hardships of any place she worked in England.  Besides her daily grinding routine of hard work, she had the care of four children, including a pair of twins.  Her living consisted of only bread and molasses, and was dealt out to her in meager quantities.  Her strength was so reduced, and her undernourishment through lack of food so apparent, she left and went back to her father and stepmother.  After regaining her health and strength at home through having sufficient food, she again went out into servitude.  At one home where she worked for a period of 6 months she was given her board and room, and in addition an increased salary of 24 cents a week.

Eliza worked at the silk factory and a driving, unrelenting housework for six years, from the time she was eight years old until she was fourteen.  She left the driving routine which had hounded her youthful years in March, 1861 – and also the harsh discipline of her hard-hearted bosses, and returned to her father’s home to live.  Her prior employers had demanded all work from her without giving her any time to play.  This change [move home] was made necessary because of the death of her stepmother, Jane Wilkins Brown.  Eliza kept house for her father and her brother George, , a rented house in the beautiful peaceful country town of West Lavington for a little more than two years.

Granddaughter, Myrtle B. Maathuis (my aunt) recalled that Grandma had marks on the back of her hands where she had been whipped for picking up scraps from under the table at one of the early places where she worked.

Granddaughter Afton B. DeHaan related that Grandma told her that while working in homes the days were hard and she had very little food.  In one home she had to sleep in the attic.  The lady of the house would give her one slice of “current bread” a day.  She [the lady] would butter it, then scrape the butter off – “bread and butter scrape.”

I am humbled.