Sunday, July 26, 2009

Blessed, Honored Pioneer

I was asked to talk about the pioneer journey west in Church today and as I was looking around for a great story to include I felt impressed to retell Rachel Fielding Burton's story. I think it's a fairly common story... in my own family history documents I found two slightly different versions and that made me curious enough to google it where I found several more. I've tried to edit some of the details together into a unified voice here.

Rachel was the oldest of the 3 Fielding sisters who were married to my great grandfather. She was the only one old enough to remember and write about the experience of coming to Salt Lake as part of a wagon train. She celebrated her 9th birthday while crossing the plains. Her story, in as close as I can approximate today, her own words:

“I was born in Preston, Lancashire, England on the 27th of June 1839. My father’s name was Joseph Fielding and mother’s name was Hannah Greenwood. I left England and came to Nauvoo with my parents before I can remember, when I was near two years of age.

In Nauvoo, father bought some land (at $8.00 per acre) and planted a garden and a dug a well. He planted some raspberry bushes. When they got big enough to bear fruit Ellen and I were delighted. One morning we got out of bed and stole out the back door and ate our fill of raspberries. We got some juice on our dresses and mother reproved us, so we did not do it any more.

Once after we went to a Church meeting, we went home with Uncle Hyrum’s family. The children, our cousins, had a little wagon and we had a good time with a rocking horse. I fell down the stairs and it left a scar on the back of my head. “Uncle” Joseph used to enjoy a romp with the children and played with us many times. The day I was 5 years old, the persecutors killed my Uncle Hyrum and his brother Joseph Smith. I remember well the sorrow and excitement at that time.

When the mobs were raiding Nauvoo, the men were often gone, and my mother and Aunt Mary were alone with us children, so they brought the pitchfork, hoe, rake and axe into the house, filled the stove with hot water and put the cayenne pepper on the table ready to use if it was necessary to defend our home and family.

After our enemies drove us out of Nauvoo our parents had many worries and a great deal of hard work. We had two heavy covered wagons – a span of horses on one and two cows pulled the other. At Winter Quarters we were often hungry. We ate pig-weeds and cornbread, our only food until our vegetable garden grew. There my little brother, Hyrum Thomas, died as did Auntie’s baby John. They were buried together in the same grave.

When we started for the Salt Lake valley we were rather destitute for my parents had spent all they had in bringing us from England to Nauvoo and then to Winter Quarters.

Still we had many enjoyable times on the plains as well as sad ones. Some nights we camped early and in the evenings we had immense bonfires and the Saints would gather around the fires, sing hymns or dance and make merry. The bigger the fire, the better it seemed and spirit with which the hymns were sung was an inspiration.

When we camped, our wagons were placed in a circle thus forming a corral for the cattle for the night. Some nights we had to travel late before we found a good camping place, for in many places the grass was scarce or else water was inadequate. We often saw large herds of buffalo and then the men would kill one and we would all have a little meat. Once we saw a herd of deer and it pleased me so much to see how nimbly they ran.

I remember one time we came to what seemed a large lake of saleratus (naturally occurring kind of crystallized sodium bicarbonate) and all the women gathered some. I helped my mother and we both filled our aprons full. It was in cakes. Mother took care of it so we were supplied with saleratus for a long time. We used it for baking soda, so we were glad to have it when our bread was sour, which was quite often owing to the way in which we had to neglect it on our travels.

Once while traveling on the plains, one of Aunt Mary’s oxen became sick, so sick it seemed it would die, but my father poured oil on it and administered to it. It lay perfectly still a few minutes, got up, shook itself, ate a little grass and it was alright after that. So father hitched it up and we were on our way rejoicing.

We had lost one of our horses, but we had a couple of oxen on one wagon with a horse in front of them forming a spike team and two cows on the other wagon. The third ox and one of Aunt Mary’s made a yoke of cattle. Mother and Aunt Mary drove the first wagon with all the children in it, until the lines broke and then I had to lead it. Father drove the other with all our earthly possessions in it.

I was bare-footed and I walked most of the way from Winter Quarters to Salt Lake (nearly 1200 miles) for our harness was old to start with and we had not gone far when the lines gave out and I had to lead the horse by the bridle. It was difficult sometimes on the rough roads for the horse stepped on my heels so often it kept them sore.

When we reached Big Mountain, Mother and Aunt Mary happened to be walking behind with my little brother Joseph and sister Mary in the wagon. I remember the descent looked long and steep, but I went down without waiting for my parents. The hill seemed worse than I’d first thought for the wagon pushed the oxen so that they hooked the horse and I had to run to keep up. I called to the children to sit and we came down Big Mountain rather fast. The people at the bottom were very much alarmed and shouted, “That child will be killed, that child will be killed.” However, we arrived at the bottom in safety. I would not think of letting go of that bridle because the children were in the wagon. But my feet were dreadfully cut and bruised and my steps could be traced some distance by the blood.

We arrived in Salt Lake on the 23rd of September 1848. I remember feeling so glad that we were in Zion and that we did not have to travel any more. I ran up onto the temple square and all over; my parents could scarcely keep track of me.

For awhile we lived with my Aunt Mercy Rachel Fielding Thompson, who came to the valley the year before us. Then my father obtained a piece of land in South Millcreek. There was no house on the farm, so we lived in our two wagons. Aunt Mary had one and my mother the other. This was in the fall. Father went to the canyon for logs and our old horse dragged the logs home. Then my father notched them together and soon we had the walls for a one room house. Someone let us have some straw and this was our floor and then father stretched the tent over the top and we had a living room, the wagons still being our bedrooms. Father plastered the cracks between the logs forming the walls with mud and making the room warm and comfortable.

In January, Aunt Mary had a little daughter, Josephine, and my mother was her doctor, nurse and housekeeper. In May, my mother had a little daughter, Hannah Alice, and Aunt Mary did everything for her.

In the spring, as early as possible, Father ploughed and planted a garden and some wheat. As soon as the wheat ripened in the fall, he cut it and thrashed it with a flail then took the wheat to Brother Neff’s mill and had it ground into flour. When he brought it home, mother made some hot biscuits and cooked some green peas from our garden. I am sure I have never eaten anything since in all my life that tasted so good. When this meal was cooked, I was about a mile and a half away from home watching the cows so mother sent my meal to me. I never shall forget that delicious meal. We had been on rations so long while crossing the plains, for during that time our food was divided out to us to make it last until we reached the valley. Then all winter we had been using as little as we could, waiting until we could plant our crops and get returns. Often I had just one half of a pancake to a meal, so I had been hungry so long I could scarcely get satisfied.

There were no stores here at first and they developed very slowly, so it was difficult to get the necessary food and clothing. We were entirely on our own resources and had to do everything for ourselves, even to making our shoes.

In place of the matches of today, we used to keep a tinder box – which is a tin box full of scorched cotton cloth. We would strike our flint rock with a steel and let the sparks fly on to the cloth, which we put in paper and fanned into a flame. If we ran out of tinder, we borrowed fire and red coals from our neighbors.

We made lye from wood ashes. The strength varied. If the lye would not eat feather fiber, it was not strong enough to make solid soap. Often we saved the grease that collected on our dish pans in order have enough grease to make soap. We counted ourselves rich if we could get enough grease to make two or three kettles of soap and enough tallow to make two or three dozen candles.

We scrubbed our floors with sand instead of soap and brushes. The cry was “Use plenty of elbow grease and spare the soap.”

Ragweed often served for brooms, until we could raise broom corn to make our brooms.

Sugar was so scarce that we used a syrup made from frozen squash and beets for anything sweet.

We grated potatoes and thoroughly washed the pulp, strained it and let the water settle. The settlings was our starch. If potatoes were scarce and we had green corn, we used that for starch.

We saved our straw and braided it to make our own hats.

We made yellow dye from the blossoms of the rabbit brush. We used indigo for blue dye and to get green, we dyed the article first with the yellow and then dipped it into the blue. For red, we used sour bran water madder.

We saved all ravelings, especially the long ones. These we twisted into thread and used it in our sewing.

We prepared our own yard goods and knit our own stockings, gloves, shawls, scarfs, etc. if we were fortunate enough to have them at all."

There are a number of things about her story that I find striking. First the degree of hardship is nearly unfathomable but I was also struck by their resourcefulness and ability to make do with what they could find. What impressed me the most, however, is that she still found joy in the journey. Here she expressed it many times and I am so impressed that she saw all of the tiny gifts in the everyday that Heavenly Father gives us as evidence of His love for us.

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