Blessed, honored, traumatized pioneers

by Mrs. Smith on July 17, 2022

“We should cherish what is correct (the truth), recover what has been omitted (the whole truth), and remove what was added later (nothing but the truth). Then we should serve another slice of pie while telling pioneer stories that are more than true.”
from this article

STORY TIIIIIME! Here’s an example of a watered-down, passed-down family legend, without my checking any facts and just spouting off the tall tale as I remember it.

My favorite family history story is by far the most nuanced. When the Saints were being kicked out of Missouri, the mom left the church and ran off with some guy to New Orleans (or something like that).

Gasp! Not your typical “blessed, honored, pioneer” story, ammiright?

I absolutely wonder where she ended up and how her life went. I want to know the story of how her heart or mind (or both) broke. I want to know what she was suffering through that could possibly have driven her to abandon two young children. Did she fantasize about it for weeks and months, or was it a spontaneous “I can’t handle this any more” impulsive decision? Was she mentally ill? Were things with her husband just not all that great? Or was this other guy predatorial? Was she burned out from the persecution going on? Was the religion just not doing it for her anymore after the addition of polygamy? (That would likely have been my exit cue as well, if I’m honest. That’s where it crosses the line from a nifty new religion to a creepy messed-up cult. But. That’s not part of the story. Or is it???)

Did she originally try to talk her husband into leaving, too? When and how did she get together with this “other guy”?

I mean, this is soap opera material, for sure.

But I don’t know those details, nor how to dig them up. The story naturally follows the kids, one of which ended up being my great great great great grandma.

The dad left them to go across the plains and make a home, so there’d be something ready for them when they got there.

Why did he do that? Was he broken-hearted about the betrayal trauma and not thinking clearly? Did someone else talk him into this plan? Were the kids (ages 3 or 4 & 7, I think) wild little free spirits, and he just couldn’t fathom trying to build something out of nothing while also keeping them alive? Depression? Anxiety? Heart full of faith going on? Again, I don’t know.

But what I do know is that the family he left his kids with….
Oh man. More soap opera material, are you ready?

That family left the church, too! And they took all his stuff! Abandoned his kids to cross the plains with a wagon team where nobody in particular was charged with their care.

I assume this family was someone he knew well. He had trusted them with his kids AND a wagon full of all their worldly goods that he couldn’t take with them in the advance party. Dishes? Tools? Quilts? Clothes? Family heirlooms? The baby cradle he made with his own hands and couldn’t part with? For sure, the horses or oxen or whatever to pull it. I don’t even know what all would have been involved. But surely, it wasn’t an empty wagon, and surely he trusted them. Thought they were on the same team.

Can you imagine????

When these kids got to Utah, they were bone thin, filthy, and covered in lice. Nobody in the company had taken them in. I can imagine that they probably had some serious abandonment issues going on, with having lost their mom, been kicked out of their home by scary people who had legal license to kill them, losing for a time, their dad AND the family that was supposed to look after them…

We idolize them a bit, these resilient young humans who made it together walking across a continent. The tale is that the 7yo sister carried her little brother across the plains on her back. What is the real, whole truth? How did they handle their little hearts being broken over and over and over again? From an outsider’s perspective, my guess is that these kids REALLY needed help. Human nature doesn’t change, and trauma can make kids… difficult. And it’s not like anyone else would have been in a nice, peaceful, solid place to take on someone else’s kids. Everyone in that wagon company had been traumatized in some way. We talk about their faith and resilience, but when push comes to shove in the day to day, they were very much human. (And in my opinion, a whole bunch of humans in this story dropped the ball in a bad way.)

Thankfully, once they got to the Salt Lake valley, some sweet woman took them in. She lovingly cleaned them up and took care of them, and when at last their dad finally found them (months later), the kids utterly refused to leave her. Understandably. I bet they came COMPLETELY unhinged when dad was like, “Let’s go!”

Oh, hell no, daddy. Absolutely not. No way, no how, nu-uh.

She’s the hero of this story and my respect for her runs deep. I wonder if her heart melted the first time they said “goodnight mama” while she tucked them into bed. I wonder if she stood fiercely in the doorway, staring down this man who’d abandoned his children. I wonder if she had her arms crossed and joined the kids in feeling like, “Over my dead body will you separate us.”

No way to know, on that one.

But we do know that the dad was smart and married this angelic human. It was a good call, all around, and very nice of her. I hope she really was okay with that arrangement. Probably something of a marriage of convenience. Happened a lot back then.

But wouldn’t it be sweet if they had one of those love and first sight moments? Such an amazing, satisfying finale to that epic saga. I’m sure they lived as happily ever after as they could, carving out a life in the untamed desert.

So yeah. Happy pioneer day, y’all. <3 May the story of your life give your great-grandkids something to praise… and maybe even something to raise their eyebrows about. 😉

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