It Is American Migration History

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I am not sure why I found myself agitated after reading the book, and in talking to my husband who has written and published his own book ‘And Should We Die’ on the same subject, I came to realize some of the reasons for the agitation. My husband, is a descendant of one of the ancestors of the Martin handcart company; Mary Jarvis, who married James Crossley, thus my husband’s ancestral lineage. He did not know that when he wrote his book, and the sensitive and tender manner in which he handled the characters and subject is one of his many attributes which attracted me to him.

In appreciating, respecting, and admiring that he has such a proud ancestral heritage and lineage, I began to feel like I needed to learn more about my own lineage. And I set about to do so, learning of a strong maternal Norwegian emigrant lineage and an equally strong paternal German emigrant lineage. But that is as far as it got for me – people’s names but not so much their stories. I have to admit I envied my husband who had actual accounts and stories of his emigrant English lineage in the Mormon migration under Brigham Young . Having learned of and read my husband’s book, I had a great empathy for the hardships the people of the handcart companies endured in their pilgrimages, with the Willie and Martin handcart companies enduring the unendurable.

Reading the later book by David Roberts, ‘Devil’s Gate, Brigham Young and the Great Mormon Handcart Tragedy’ I found myself in an uneasy place in recognizing this historical migration does not belong strictly to Mormon history but more appropriately belongs to American history. The unease for me, I think, comes in the efforts by the LDS Church to minimize the extent of the cruelties and hardships endured by the emigrant migrants in making their way from native countries to the great Zion of Salt Lake Utah by a means prescribed by one man – Brigham Young and adhered to by his ardent followers – the early Mormons.

Essentially I am struck by how it was conceivable in his mind (Brigham Young) that women, children, men should travel in approaching winter months across the Rocky Mountains with so little in the way of clothing and food; much less the tortuous manner of travel in the energy required to be exerted in pulling handcarts minus anything resembling conditions facilitating the necessary amount of sustenance required to do so day after day.

With an inaccurate record of the recorded deaths along the treks of both the Willie and Martin handcart companies, it is nonetheless considered by history to be one of the greater tragedies of the American migration westward, with an exceedingly high number of (un-necessary) deaths. The number of deaths from the combined Willie and Martin handcart companies could be put at approximately 200, exceeding the number of deaths on the historically famously known Donner Party pilgrimage.

In what appears to be a long term historical effort by the LDS Church to turn human travesty and needless suffering into a story of faith and testimony elevating the LDS Church and beliefs, at the expense of the real faith of those who suffered, I find that I have come to resent the presentation of this history that has been so guarded by the Church in a false belief that it belongs to Mormon history. As long as it is permitted to belong to Mormon history, the narrative of the story is colored by the agenda of the LDS Church. That I do not resent, but rather understand and permit that the Church like any other institution wishing to present itself in a more favorable light will write the narrative to it’s own agreeable satisfaction.

However, the history of the Willie and Martin handcart company does not belong strictly to Mormon history, nor does the LDS church have ownership of the narrative. It is a history that better belongs to the whole of American history, and not in the glorious form of hardy, valiant and persevering souls as is presented in Mormon history but to be added to the numerous tragedies that abound in the American history of westward migration.

I recommend the book and even taking into consideration that the author wished to compile the content in a way as to point to accountability and culpability of Brigham Young and his adherents in this fatalistic crossing, one cannot help but come away from the book disturbed with the mechanisms that fostered the horrific conditions suffered by the people of these two handcart companies who undertook the journey. Their Personal Faith is a testament to Faith with a capital F. I am not sure it is a testament or testimony to the belief set of the LDS Church or Mormon beliefs, but I absolutely know it is a testament of Faith.

How dare the LDS Church take credit unto itself for the strength and determination of the personal faith of those pioneering souls!They came and they persevered with an internal and personal faith beyond the comprehension of the LDS Church. I claim their courage as a testimony to human capacity of internal faith that fosters extraordinary human endurance in the face of great odds. I believe such faith rarely belongs exclusively to any Church but is unto itself the depth of which faith can help humans to persevere in the face of much adversity.


Slow work — keeping some of our history

In encountering one of my earlier blogs, where I was able to import some blog posts from other of my blogs, I discovered that I no longer know the log in information for the email accompanying that particular blog.  Oh no, it has some of our history from the time we lived in our great old house in Bay Center, WA, on Willapa Bay.  Not wanting to lose the information, I have been painstakingly bringing each blog post to this account employing a copy/paste method.  I’m not at all sure what the finished product looks like to others, looks okay to me each time I view the finished posting.   Idea though is for me to preserve a bit of the enthusiasm, sadness, and historical bits from the postings at my ‘former’ blog.  Thanks for your patience, and understanding as I plod through …


Wednesday and we started reading

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Earlier in the week my Sweetie and I watched a bio-video of historian Howard Zinn on link TV.

If you want to learn something rather than sit in front of the boob tube like a zombie in an opium den, go find LINK TV on your cable channel. Scary, but you might actually learn stuff.

Howard Zinn wrote, “The People’s History of the United States,” a few years back. Colleagues – historians who have traditionally defined history as all stars in all-star events like war, scientific breakthrough and capitalist success stories, pooh-poohed the book because it was unorthodox.

NY Times book review praised the hell out of it because it was readable, informative and truthful – with viewpoints rarely observed from the ivory towers of professional educators and their sponsors.

So last Sunday while in Portland, I went into Powell’s and bought the two-volume edition. Last night, we curled up in bed, set a lamp behind the bed post and I commence reading to  my wife. Now this usually lasts about five minutes and she’s out.

Not this time. She lasted for most of the chapter and when she finally gave up the ghost, I was ready to stop and go to sleep as well. It’s fun reading a college text this way and for the first time in my life, when I come to chapter’s end, the discussion questions will be useful cause she and I will want to talk before moving on.

Recommended: A People’s History of the United States, Howard Zinn.

Deersong’s husband

New Day’s Thoughts

New Day’s Thoughts

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Well it is a new day, and while yesterday’s problems have Not disappeared, changed, improved or gotten worse, it is a new day to look at it all again in a new way.

People in the family are reaching out in what ways they can to help ameoliorate the situation with granddaughter, and each effort that is offered puts me in tears all over again. I am deeply greatful to the supportive, caring manner that family has involved itself in this tragic drama.

There is no way to know what the end result will be and not even a way to know if it won’t, in fact, turn out for the best for everyone. Much of the plan is tied together by contingencies on other factors of the plan being put into place before a next step can ensue. Much can go awry with The Plan in which case alternative plans will have to be built.

I’m still holding my breath, keeping my silent vigil, but actively participating where I can to either influence the outcome or process my own feelings of loss and impotence, as the clock ticks away the hours till the August 15th deadline. That is when son-in-law is to board a plane and return to his base in Germany.

What becomes of the family after that date, while a plan has been made, decisions made, is still subject to all the factors and objectives being met.

Watched Dances with Wolves on tv station this week, again, for the umpteenth time. I never tire of that movie, and it continues to inspire me to try again, to try harder, to accept what appears to be inevitable and to act in grace in the midst of turmoil and disruption.

I also watched shows on PBS called “Back to the Sea” in which two families return to the outports of Newfoundland to live as their ancestors did in 1937, fishing for cod, having their survival supplies come in by boat only twice a year and having to stretch those meager supplies in all circumstances.

The men fish by handline with up to 400 hooks on a line to catch cod. They have to repay the Merchant who brings the supplies in their cod catch which can amount to tons of cod that has to go to the Merchant. If they fall short of the required due, they are then in debt to the Merchant against their next order of supplies. The men have to learn the nature of the Sea in all weather conditions and work from dawn till dusk.

Once the catch is in, all the families then come to clean and process the fish, using primitive tools and preserving in salt…exactly to specifications or the cod will be subject to rot, sunheat, overexposure, over-salted. The families work until the catch for the day is processed, late into the night and then when it is all done, they can all go and eat supper.

The women work primarily all day in the house, cooking (no refridgerators mind you and wood cookstoves), preserving, cleaning, gardening the vegetables that will sustain them through the seasons. It is demanding and draining work given there are few modern conveniences to ease the labor, so it literally beomes a woman’s work is never done.

And if the family gets “relocated” to the mainland, they have to haul their wood structure saltbox houses down to the shore for loading on the raft that will float them to the mainland. They have to build the wood slat rollers that will the house will roll on to the shore and then with sheer brute strength, they all get together and pull the house on ropes over the slats down to the shoreline to then load it onto the raft.

It seems it is too expensive to try to build a new house on the mainland and so hauling and floating their own house becomes the option. That is how the houses that were there in 1937 have, over the years, gradually, all been hauled off the outports to the mainland. It seems that often families could not “make it” on the outports and the government offered to pay them $200 per adult and $100 per child to relocate. I’m not sure I understood the why of that, but that is what the show presented. It seems as people came to the mainland they became more citified. Many yearn to go back to the outports where communities once stood, and this show had two families give it a try to see if they could be all that their ancestors were.

I like to watch these kind of shows, I’ve seen the Pioneer House (Canada), the Frontier (Montana homesteading) , the Victorian House replicating the Victorian era, this one Back to the Sea (Newfoundland) and there is one more recently that I missed seeing. Now I have forgotten what it was about, I had made a mental note to tune in but was not able to do so that week.

There was also a 1960’s filmography of a man in his 50’s who wanted to see if he could go it alone and live in Alaska wilderness for a year. He did, quite successfully, and stayed on in Alaska till he was 80 something years old when his health wore out and his brother insisted he come live with him in the United States.

We don’t get to test ourselves these days in quite the same way, we seem to have more emotional types of stressors and circumstances to navigate, it seems to me anyway. I don’t think we get to see, feel, experience as much satisfaction in ourselves in jobs well done as our ancestors who had harder daily lives to forge out. In each of these shows that I have watched, there is a kind of personal transformation for the volunteers that gives them a renewed sense of connection to who they are to themselves, to their families and their sense of place in the world. And it also seems to me that in these shows, the volunteers who bring their families and children along for the experience find a deeper meaning to how to be family without the distractions we have so much of in our own modern lives.

I am intrigued always by these shows while at the same time knowing I lack the stamina to do half as much as what these folks do, but I always wonder to myself, if pushed to the challenge, could I?