Friday, July 11, 2008

Pioneer Heritage

Since it's July and at some point during the month, (usually around the 24th) our thoughts center on our pioneer heritage, I felt it would be fitting to touch on this item today and share a bit of pioneer culture.

I really like what President Uchtdorf said recently about the pioneers: "I have no ancestors among the 19th century pioneers. However, since the first days of my Church membership, I have felt a close kinship to those early pioneers who crossed the plains. They are my spiritual ancestry, as they are for each and every member of the Church, regardless of nationality, language, or culture. They established not only a safe place in the West but also a spiritual foundation for the building of the kingdom of God in all the nations of the world." (July 2008 Ensign, pg. 5)

He added in a further paragraph: " . . . we are all pioneers in our own sphere and circumstance." I wholeheartedly agree. It is my belief that we are all converts to the gospel, and that we have numerous opportunities to blaze a trail for those who will follow in our footsteps.

I have been blessed by the courageous example of pioneer ancestors. I thought today I would tell you a little bit about some of these people who have been an influence in my life.

My 4th-great-grandfather on my father's side of the family was a stalwart individual named David Foote. (The picture above shows David Foote to the left, and his son, Warren Foote to the right.) In 1833 after hearing the Gospel preached near his home in Greenwood, New York, David chose to be baptized into the LDS Church. His conversion made a huge impact on his son, Warren, who began studying the Book of Mormon. These two men were the first members of their family to embrace the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Their family wasn't terribly amused over this decision.

In a journal entry that Warren wrote on May 20, 1938 he shares:

"Oh, that my mother, and brothers, and sisters could see as I see, and understand the scriptures as I do, that we might not be separated, but journey together in this probation. For I most assuredly believe the Book of Mormon to be authentic, and that Joseph Smith is a prophet of God . . . But we must all act upon our own agency. They choose to reject the gospel . . . but I choose to go with my father to Missouri where God has commanded His people to gather together to serve Him."

My 3rd-great-uncle Warren kept such wonderful journals, the originals are kept in the archives of the Church as historical references. After proving our relationship to this man, my brother was able to access these journals. He spent a great deal of time hand-copying the entries. Then we discovered that someone else had done this for us---it was all online in a BYU historical file. ;) We still appreciated Tom's dedication.

We each have a copy of Uncle Warren's journal. It is a family treasure. He has recorded significant events that occurred in the history of our church. Among those entries is the record of what transpired during the carnage at Haun's Mill. Warren's future wife survived that ordeal---Aunt Sidnie was only ten years old at the time. Warren recorded that several of those who died were later buried in Sidnie's brother's well.

The entry that has possibly touched our hearts the most is the one that was recorded on June 28, 1844:

"Elihu Allen and I were working in the harvest field cutting his wheat when about 3:00 p.m. my wife came out and told us that word had just come that Joseph Smith and his brother, Hyrum, were shot in Carthage Jail yesterday afternoon . . . it so affected us that we dropped the cradle and rake and went home. We found that the word had come so straight that we could no longer doubt the truth of it. We all felt as though the powers of darkness had overcome, and that the Lord had forsaken His people. Our Prophet and Patriarch were gone. Who now is to lead the Saints . . . Yet after all the anguish of our hearts, and deep mourning of our souls, a spirit seemed to whisper, 'All is well. Zion shall yet arise and spread abroad upon the earth, and the kingdoms of this world shall become the Kingdom of our God."

On my mother's side of the family, we are descended from a wonderful man named Thomas Grover. My 4th-great-grandfather served faithfully as one of the body guards to the Prophet Joseph Smith. Steadfast and true to whatever he was asked to do, Thomas was severely tried when his wife, Caroline Whiting, died, leaving him with six young daughters to raise on his own. Thomas' duties were such that his daughters were farmed out for a time among several residents of Nauvoo. My third great-grandmother, Mary Elizabeth Grover, lived with Emma and Joseph until his martyrdom.

Mary was about eleven years old when this happened. She recorded the following about this sad event:

"The evening that the Prophet and Hyrum were brought home from Carthage, after they had been martyred, I will never forget. Everybody stood along the street holding hands, and bowed their heads in solemn reverence as the bodies were escorted through the street. Everyone's heart was so filled with sorrow, it seemed as if the world would come to an end. My father, Thomas Grover, helped wash and prepare them for burial. Their caskets were set on chairs side by side in the hall of the Prophet's home. Hundreds viewed their remains . . ."

In 1846, Thomas Grover and his family were driven from Nauvoo. Loading what they could inside a wagon, they crossed the Mississippi River on a flatboat. Half-way across, a young man from a nearby steamboat spit tobacco juice into the eye of one of the oxen. Both oxen began cavorting about until they plunged into the river, taking the wagon with them into the icy water. Destitute, the Grovers had to rely on the generosity of others to survive that harsh winter.

In the spring of 1847, Thomas was asked to be part of the vanguard company that would journey to Utah. When it was realized that they would have to cross the Platte River, Thomas, a former river boat captain, was asked to design and help build the raft that would carry the wagons safely across. The Prophet Brigham Young asked Thomas to remain with the raft, to ferry the Saints across who would be coming behind them. Thomas was told that he could charge those who were not members of the Church for this same service, to regain the finances necessary to eventually bring his own family to Utah.

In Susan Easton's Black book, "Who's Who in the Doctrine Covenants," a eulogy written by one of Thomas Grover's daughters is recorded:

"My father was loved by all who knew him. He never spoke evil of anyone; he did not boast, and he did not take honor unto himself. Many times he divided his last meal with a sufferer. His word was as good as his bond. He could neither be bought nor sold."

This is quite a legacy we've inherited. =) These were people who suffered, made courageous choices, and sacrificed so much because of their desire to heed the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

Last year I was able to spend some time in the Old Nauvoo Burial Grounds. Several of my ancestors are buried in this sacred location. Their graves are lost; mobbers broke the headstones as they wreaked havoc in Nauvoo to drive the Saints away from their beloved home. A small building serves as a memorial to these lost graves. The walls are filled with the names of those who were buried here.

One of my goals in life is to honor their memory, to live my life in such a way that someday, when they catch on that I'm one of their descendants, we'll have a pleasant conversation when they ask what I did with their name(s).

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josie said...

hi, i am josie (ipsen) grover. My mom is debi clark of bear lake. I grew up in montpelier and remember you as a leader in yw. I married a descendant of thomas grover and have a son (thomas aidan grover) obviously named after him. thank you for this post. there are some things her that I did not know about, i will be happy to them pass along to my son.

Cheri J. Crane said...

Hi Josie. =) It's always good to find more cousins. ;) And yep, I'm still a leader in YW. Never a dull moment. =D