On this Day in Church History Heber C. Kimball was called to serve the first mission to England (June 4, 1837)
The other day I had a peculiar experience. I saw a caterpillar climbing a single strand of silk high up into the trees. Because the silk strand was nearly invisible, at first it looked as if he was floating, frozen in mid-air. Upon closer examination I could see how the little guy was using his entire body to wriggle his way upward, bit by tiny bit.
As if it wasn’t already difficult enough for the caterpillar, suddenly my toddler stomped over and knocked the invisible strand free, causing the caterpillar to wave wildly in the wind. Regardless, he held on and kept climbing until he disappeared into the foliage. Oddly enough, just a few hours later I saw a beautiful black-and-yellow butterfly. She fluttered past and gracefully landed on the driveway right in front of me.
This caterpillar and this butterfly remind me of my fourth-great-grandparents, Joseph and Alice. I want to tell you their story. It begins with a whisper.
In 1837 the Prophet Joseph Smith sat with Heber C. Kimball in the newly built Kirtland Temple. He looked at him and said, “Brother Heber, the Spirit of the Lord has whispered to me, ‘Let my servant Heber go to England and proclaim my gospel, and open the door of salvation to that nation.’”1
That single sentence, that call, opened the floodgate to migrating Saints from Europe. An estimated 70,000 Saints migrated in the 1800s.2 Among them were my ancestors Joseph and Alice.
They joined the Church in England and set sail for Zion on the ship Ellen Maria in 1853. They began the voyage as two young, single adults, but they left the ship as a couple. Their travels were not easy. Their ship endured a treacherous storm outside the Bahamas. Capsizing was imminent. The Saints on board prayed unceasingly for safe passage. The storm began to slowly melt away and on board that night the Saints enjoyed a glorious sunset.
After 47 days of arduous sea-travel they arrived in America where they began their long journey on the Mormon Trail. Joseph and Alice arrived in Utah and were finally married in 1855.
Food was scare. That winter Joseph walked 20 miles to gather wheat from a friendly neighbor. He gleaned 90 pounds and carried it home on his shoulder. On his way home a woman stopped him and offered him a crust of dry bread to sustain him on his journey. He didn’t eat the bread, though. He wanted to save it for his sick, pregnant wife waiting at home.
When he finally arrived, he found Alice in tears. He hugged and kissed her and offered her the bread. Alice replied, “No more do I eat alone. You must eat part of it. If we starve we will starve together.”
Together they survived until a few months later they welcomed their first son, my third-great grandfather. He was said to have been born weighing in at only 2 pounds. It was a miracle he survived. The next fall Alice gave birth to their second child, a daughter, who was also born prematurely and did not survive.
Joseph was serving in the Mormon Militia at that time. Upon hearing that his wife was sick, Joseph begged his captain to let him go visit his wife that night, promising to return for role call in the morning. His captain reluctantly agreed and Joseph rode like lightning to his wife’s bedside. When he arrived, he found his ailing wife with their stillborn daughter. Later that evening, Alice accompanied her daughter to the other side.
Heartbroken, the next morning Joseph returned to keep his promise to his captain. When his captain discovered what had occurred, Joseph was allowed to leave the company so he could bury his wife and daughter.
A few days after the funeral Joseph said, “The world is too cold and blue for me. I can’t stand it. I’m going back. And if we get into any more mix ups with the soldiers I will break ranks if necessary and get to the front where I can get killed and go to my wife.”
At that low-point, he was like the caterpillar flailing in the wind. They had already come so far, but now, he was alone, and wouldn’t it be easier to just let go? Even though he wanted to give up, he didn’t. He kept going. Kept fighting. He later remarried and fathered another five children. He settled in Ogden and died at the age of 61.
I’m grateful for my ancestors and the battles that they fought and won. Joseph and Alice didn’t give up. Because they made the choice to keep fighting, they gave me and all of their descendants the opportunity to make that same choice for ourselves.
In our daily battles will we despair and declare that life is just “too cold and blue”? Or will we fight on until we have become something more than we are today?—Something so big and so bright that we could live on for generations.
Have you been inspired by a story from one of your ancestors?
Source for Joseph and Alice’s story: Burr, Wesley R. Eatough, Norman, Farish, Jared and Burr, Ruth J. “A History of Joseph Wheeler and his two Wives (1828-1890)”