Blog on hiatus–check back in a year

I do not have the time to give this blog the attention it deserves. I am therefore putting it on hiatus and will resume blogging once I graduate in a year or so. will be continued to be updated twice a month.

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Martin’s Cove: Guest Bloggers

handcart handcart filled handcart image cactusI

I first became really interested in compiling a full social history/biography of Levi Savage when the movie 17 Miracles came out a couple of years ago with Levi Savage as one of the stars. The true story culminates in Martin’s Cove (Wyoming), where pioneers pulling handcarts from Nebraska to Utah got stuck in heavy snow and had to wait for rescue from Salt Lake City. Many people died, but the amount of faith people had is incredible.

My parents were there recently. My mom is descended from Levi Savage, who survived, and my dad is descended from the sister of Rhoda Oakey. Rhoda survived Martin’s Cove, but was the last person of the group to die prior to entering Salt Lake. I asked my parents to guest blog about their feelings about visiting the site where their ancestors had been, knowing the dire circumstances that they were in and what the outcome was.

Picture of my mom and dad in Idaho:

mom and dad

Here are my mom’s thoughts:

As we walked around and saw the dry, dusty land, the cactus, the rolling hills and mountains, I wondered how anyone could walk from Iowa to Utah and survive, even in the best of conditions. The wind was blowing, but not nearly as bad as it usually does. How did the pioneers have the strength to walk all day, hunt food, set up tents, make fires and try to cook every night? I thought about the women who lost their husbands because the men gave their meager rations to their wives and children. Now the children were  freezing and crying for food and there was none. What were the thoughts of Levi Savage as he saw the people dying and wondered if he would be able to see his own son again? As the snow became deeper and the temperature dropped, how many people wanted to just lie down and die, but kept fighting to live so they could take care of their friends and family? What about the youth who suddenly became adults as their parents became ill or died and  the teenagers were caring for their whole family and pulling their parents in their handcarts. ( I think I may have  wanted to quit, lie down and die about this time).

The Donner Party had some of the same problems, but the endings are entirely different. The Mormon pioneers were rescued by other church members who trudged  for weeks in heavy  snow looking for them, bringing them supplies and helping them get back to Utah. The real story of the Handcart pioneers is not how many people died, but the  much larger number of people who were  saved. I think Levi Savage was very pleased to see how the people worked together to get to Utah, even though I’m sure there were many different opinions and the people were not perfect. I think the example of caring for others is the most important story of Martin’s Cove. We could feel the peace there.

From my dad:

As I went from painting to painting depicting the misery, the suffering, the winter cold, the burying of loved ones, I could not help but feel of the enduring faith these pioneers had, their belief in a higher power than themselves that carried them on.  To know that I had ancestors that endured the trials and tribulations made it even more special and gives me courage to carry on despite my small challenges compared to theirs.

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Deliver us from Doctor Sanderson

Once the Mormon Battalion was on their way, a common refrain in the diaries is “Deliver us from Doctor Sanderson.” As a social historian, this immediately raised red flags and I started asking questions. Who is Doctor Sanderson? What was he doing? Why did the men think they needed to be delivered?

Further reading of the diaries revealed that Doctor Sanderson was the battalion surgeon and doctor. All men that were too ill to march had to see him and be treated by him. He was from Missouri. If you know anything about Mormon history, it’s a understatement to say that the Mormons and Missourians did not get along. Dr. Sanderson apparently openly boasted that he would send as many Mormons to hell as he could. In this situation, would you want to see him if you were ill?

Many men thought along the same lines I did and tried to hide their illness as long as possible. Many healthy men did what they could to care for their sick comrades and help them avoid going to see Dr. Sanderson.

The diaries mentioned that Dr. Sanderson treated illness with calomel (mercury) and arsenic. Today we automatically assume that is horrible and might agree that Dr. Sanderson was doing his best to send as many Mormons to hell as possible.

However, we shouldn’t jump to conclusions like that. By doing a little digging into medicine of the time period, particularly in the military, I found that calomel and arsenic were standard treatments of the time. So, as horrible as these treatments seems to us today, he was giving the Mormons under his care the best that he knew.

Asking questions during our research can open so many doors to a greater understanding of the period. Which questions have you asked that led you to interesting findings and helped you better understand your ancestors?

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The ones left behind

It is very important to look at where our ancestors were are at any given time, and understand their challenges and successes. It is just as important to look at those they left behind. Did our ancestor come to America and leave family behind? Did they migrate west and leave family? Did they join the military, like Levi Savage, and leave family behind? Understanding what was going on with the people that were left behind may give you insight into how the family members that left felt about leaving and some of the worries they may have had about those left behind.

In order to understand Levi better, I have looked in general terms at those he left behind–his parents and his siblings. I have read part of the “Saints in the Wilderness: A Day-by Day Pioneer Experience” by David R. Crockett. This book details what was going on in the various places that the Saints were stationed: In Nauvoo, crossing the plains to the Missouri River, camped on the banks of the Missouri River, in the Mormon Battalion and more. A sampling of the entries are given below for those who were camped on the banks of the Missouri (which is where I believe Levi’s family was). Keep in mind that during the summer wagons were the only shelter available from the heat, the cold, and severe storms.

July 27, 1846: Mention is made of the terrible sickness, likely malaria, passing through the camps. So many were sick in some places that few people were left to care for those who were ill.

August 2, 1846: Luman Shurtliff began working on a house for the winter. “I built my house of rough split logs. We had no lumber, glass, or nails. I had for my floor the earth, for carpet, hay and bark, for a door, split wood, for windows, holes between the logs, and for a partition, a wagon cover.” This is probably one of the better shelters that was available during the winter of 1846 and 1847. It’s no wonder that so many people were sick and died during that winter due to exposure.

August 5, 1846: Severe illness, primarily chills and fever, continued in the camps.

August 6, 1846: Mary Richard wrote that “the misskatoes haveing taken possession of our tent we was [not] permitted to sleep all night”. Mosquitoes are mentioned as being a problem throughout the summer.

August 8, 1846: Lorenzo Snow wrote that a “great number of deaths occurred and it was often very difficult to get their bodies decently interred. In one or two instances, bodies were put into the ground without any coffin or box. Scarcely a family escaped sickness and very few where death did not make an inroad.”

Despite the severe illness present in the camps, there were good times as well. Church meetings on Sundays were spiritually uplifting. Much is said in this book about people serving each other. Dances and other social activities were held occasionally. And the people still found beauty in the word around them. On August 12, 1846, Mary Lightner wrote that “when the camp fires are lit at night is it is a beautiful sight. It makes me think how the children of Israel’s camp must have looked in the days of Moses when journeying the wilderness.”

Did anyone die in Levi’s family? I’m not sure yet–but there is a high likelihood that one or more of them was sick during this time. Did they appreciate the beauty of the campfires, or was it some other beauty that drew their attention? Were they able to write to Levi? Did he write back? While I don’t know the answers to these questions, I have a sense of some of what they may have been feeling or doing based on what others wrote.

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What did Levi’s family do while he was gone?

One of my questions about Levi Savage’s family is what happened to his parents and siblings while he was serving during in the Mormon Battalion. I have found a record that shows his father and a brother crossing the plains in 1847 to Utah. I have a death date (not documented though) for his mother that shows her dying in Winter Quarters in the winter of 1846/7. I know that he had other siblings that eventually ended up in Utah, including his sister Hannah. I have not really known where to try to find out where they were because I was not sure where to locate the records. I just purchased two books that I hope will help lead me to the answers to the questions:

The first is Kip Sperry’s “A Guide to Mormon Family History Sources” published in 2007. It has chapters on indexes and finding aids, on emigration and migration, and original records. As I start working through this, I hope to find some answers to my questions.

The second is David Crockett’s “Saints in the Wilderness: A Day-By-Day Pioneer Experience, volume 2” published in 1997. This focuses on Winter Quarters and the Mormon Battalion. He gives a day by day account of what was going on in this time period, including sources for each day. Even though I may not find Polly’s death in this book (she doesn’t appear in the index), I hope that some of the sources may be useful.

Two other sources that I plan to use include the FamilySearch wiki & the Early Church Information File (available on microfilm at the FHL). I will hire someone to do a lookup on the Early Church Information File.

What are some of your favorite books and resources that you use in your genealogy research?

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Schedule Change

I will post to this blog the 1st Monday of every month, rather than every Monday.

However, I will post more frequently to my new Bridging The Past Facebook page. Posts will include websites, quick thoughts, and upcoming events. Please check out this page.

I also have a Pinterest page dedicated to genealogy and social history.

I hope that you will keep in touch with me through this blog, Facebook and Pinterest!

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Enlisting for the Mormon Battalion

One of the unique aspects of the Mormon Battalion is that it is on the only US military unit that was also a religious unit. According to Norma Ricketts, only a handful of non-Mormons were included in the Mormon Battalion. Most of the officers were Mormons, and at the unanimous request of the enlistees, were nominated by Brigham Young and the Council of the Twelve. This committed the men to be obedient to their officers for religious reasons, in addition to military jurisdiction.

On July 16, about 450 men gathered in the square at Council Bluffs, and under an American flag, the enrollment commenced. The men stayed in Council Bluffs for a few more days as the army sought to list additional volunteers. On Saturday, July 18, Brigham Young and the Council met with the officers while the enlisted men cleared an area for the double cotillion that was held that evening. On Sunday, the enlisted men went with the Saints to church and the first four companies (A, B, C, D) started their march. Levi Savage was in Company D.

The Battalion was made up of 500 men, ranging in age from 14 years to 68 years. They enlisted at the urging of their church leaders, and thus saw this a mission for their church. They had no knowledge of army regulations, so the first few weeks must have been very difficult for them as they adjusted to military life. Due to height requirements, some men stood on stumps or on the tips of their toes to meet the qualification.

Their first assignment was to march to Fort Leavenworth in Kansas, about a 10 day march. They arrived August 1, 1846 and received their equipment and other supplies. They chose to wear their own clothing and sent the clothing allowance of $42 back to the church and their families.

There aren’t a lot of diary entries or other sources that directly discuss what the men were feeling as they enlisted. Despite the hardships of leaving their family, did enlisting under an American flag inspire thoughts of patriotism? Was there a sense of adventure to see new lands and people? Was there an overwhelming sense of despair at leaving their families behind? While we don’t know, if we think about other wars in which men enlisted and left families behind, such as the Civil War and World Wars I and II, it’s quite possible that the men were feeling all these emotions and more.

For more information about some of the specifics mentioned here, see Norma Rickett’s “The Mormon Battalion: U.S. Army of the West, 1846-1848, pages 6-17.

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