Friday, July 24, 2009

Pioneer Day

31 Posts in 31 Days: #24

Today is Pioneer Day, in Utah. It is a celebration of the day the Mormon Pioneers entered the Salt Lake Valley. Actually, the 24th of July, 1847, is the day that Brigham Young finally straggled into the valley, with the small sick detachment, and made the arrival official. Most of the rest of the company arrived two days earlier, with two, Orson Pratt and Erastus Snow, actually arriving on July 21. For the next twenty-two years, until the railroad came to town in 1869, more than 70,000 Latter Day Saints, seeking freedom from mobs and persecution, seeking the freedom to worship as they chose, in a nation where that right is a guarantee, crossed the plains of the midwest and over the Rocky Mountains, to this new home in the high desert of the Great Basin. More than 6,000 of them never made it to the valley. They are buried along the trail, mostly in unmarked graves. There was little time for grieving along the trail west.

In 1856, in order to accommodate the many converts to the church in the British Isles and the lands of Scandinavia, who longed to come to Zion, but were often destitute, Brigham Young introduced the idea of making the trek in handcarts. A handcart was a small wagon, just big enough for essential supplies, that was pushed and pulled by the immigrants all the way from Iowa City to Salt Lake City. This is the way that Sophia Mason Crook came to Utah.

A native of England, Sophia, and her daughter Eliza, boarded the ship Thornton in Liverpool, May 1, 1856, with 759 other immigrants, headed for America. The ship arrived in New York harbor June 14, 1856. From there Sophia traveled to Iowa City, Iowa, by steamboat and rail, suffering much hardship and persecution along the way. When Sophia and Eliza reached Iowa, they learned that it was very late in the year for starting a handcart journey across the plains, and that they were not expected in Salt Lake City. Sophia and Eliza ultimately became part of the fourth handcart company in 1856, headed by a man named James G. Willie. A fifth company, headed by Edward Martin, would follow behind the Willie company, about two weeks later. The two companies would share a similar fate.

Running late into the year, running low on supplies and unsure if any would be forthcoming from the Salt Lake Valley, Sophia, Eliza and the rest of the two handcart companies, starving and freezing, came to a deadly halt in an early snowstorm on the high plains of Wyoming. They could go no further.

On October 4, Brigham Young learned that there were still two handcart companies on the trail. Astonished by this news, he ordered the saints to "go, and bring those people in". The subsequent rescue was the largest in the history of the settlement of the American West. But despite the valiant effort and sacrifice of the rescue parties, 210 of the 980 people in the two handcart companies, died before reaching the Valley.
Sophia and Eliza were there, on October 19, when the "Valley Boys" appeared like angels on the horizon. They would be on the trail twenty-one more days before entering the Salt Lake Valley, November 9, 1856.

Sophia Crook, who was, at the time, sixty-five years of age, suffered greatly from the hardship of this experience. She moved on from Salt lake to Farmington, the city in which I now live, where other members of her family, who had come to Utah earlier, were living. Sophia's feet and legs were frozen, and were amputated below the knees. Sophia died three weeks later, on November 26, 1856. She was buried in Farmington.
A year later, when the U.S. Army came to the territory to put down the supposed "Mormon Rebellion," Farmington was abandoned and Sophia's family moved to Payson, Utah, never to return. The location of the grave of Sophia Mason Crook was, over time, forgotten. To this day, nobody knows where she is.

Was it worth it? Was the sacrifice and pain of the journey worth the price paid in the end? The story of Sophia Crook and tragedy of the Willie and Martin handcart companies, I think, teaches all of us that there is something greater than ourselves out there. It is the story of laying your greatest sacrifice upon the altar of faith, and meeting God in the hour of your greatest need.

Sophia was my great great great great grandmother.


Izzy, Emmy 'N Alexander said...

Wow, what a very interesting story. I was even more surprised when I read the very last line. What a wonderful legend to be able to pass on to your children.

auntemy said...

It's fate that we are friends. My ancestors came across with the Willey and Martin handcart company too! Our families go waaaaay back! :)

Carrie and Troy Keiser said...

What a legacy they left behind.. I had to talk on pioneers, faith and temples on Sunday. it is always powerful when I read their stories. Thanks for sharing Sophie's.