Hanging on the wall of the visitors center at Martin’s cove in Wyoming is a carved wooden sign that reads simply, “It is good to look to the past to gain appreciation for the present and perspective for the future.”
As I think of my own family history, I am reminded of a couple of years ago. My dad and I were sitting out on his porch swing and he was telling me the story of James Duncan.
James Duncan comes from my grandfather’s line from England. In the early years of the church, James was well to do, raising champion race horses was his trade. He gave a prized horse to our prophet Joseph Smith which came to be known as the Joe Duncan horse.
James immigrated to Salt Lake City with the early pioneers. He brought with him a casket of gold. He carried the gold this way to throw off any thieves making them believe he was transporting a dead body. Once he arrived to this valley, he gave a carriage to our Prophet Brigham Young-- the carriage is now downtown in the Church museum, and then helped to settle the Bountiful area. He owned 300 acres of land which he gave away in 10 acre lots to the immigrants as they came.
James’ story can be found in a book of the history of Bountiful. I love to hear and learn of James and other family members like him.
Generations later, I am thankful for James goodly name, for his faith and dedication, sacrifice and service. He lived well and was willing to part with his means to help build up the church. As part of his lineage it is my desire to emulate those same virtues that he was known for.
That same day as my dad and I sat and talked, I would just like to insert here that my dad and I have spent many hours on that old porch swing talking. I have been taught some valuable lessons, learned some life lessons, heard some great jokes, and been blessed with priceless memories there. It’s one of my most favorite places to be. It’s just one more thing I love my dad for. Anyway, we got on the subject of Martin’s Cove and Rock Creek. I had never been there. So My dad took out family there last summer. It was a short trip but one I am sure I will never forget.
There is a bronze monument and granite marker with the names of the thirteen people buried at Rock Creek. On it is a dedication from
Pres. Gordon B.Hickle,
“Rock Creek is sacred and holy ground… how tremendous their heroism in the face of odds that are almost impossible to understand… in terms of self sacrifice, in terms of courage, in terms of faith, in terms of facing up to adversity, there is no greater example in the history of this nation… we have a great inheritance… a tremendous responsibility to live up to it. God bless us to be faithful, to be true to that which meant so much to those who died here…”
As I look to the past I have a great appreciation for the present as I think of another pioneer who has had a tremendous influence on me.
That would be my own mother.
Many church members have no personal relation to pre-twentieth century Utah pioneers. But there are other pioneers. Many members of the church themselves are pioneers in the fact that they are the first in their family to accept the gospel. This is where my mother comes in.
She was a covert to the church in Denmark when she was 18. The Tabernacle Choir played a big part in her initial interest in the Church, which a few years later, she became a member of the choir.
She could identify with friends and relatives turning away from her for her beliefs. The day she came by ship to America there were very few family members to see her off. Indeed she put up with misunderstanding and unkindness for the sake of her gospel beliefs. But she had a testimony that could never be questioned and it was her faith and her testimony that defined my mother to her dying day.
She passed away of cancer eight years ago. Even when she had become bedridden, the love of her Savior was very evident in her actions. She had somehow managed to turn herself over onto her stomach and tucked her knees up under her to pray. She insisted that kneeling in prayer was a form of humility and respect for our Father in Heaven. She loved our Father in Heaven and had so much faith and respect for Him that even in her sick and weakened condition, she wanted to do all she could to show her reverence to Him.
Shortly after she passed away, a very young Bryan found me crying over my loss. He came and hugged me tight and while he patted my head, he told me not to cry. He told me he knew where grandma was. She was singing to Jesus with the other Heavenly Angels. I hope he’s right. That’s exactly where she’d want to be.
Her actions through her song and testimony is a great example of love for our Savior that I will always hold dear and cherish that memory in my heart.
Our later day Prophet Thomas S. Monson spoke of how we each can learn much from our early pioneer ancestors, whose struggles and heartaches were met with resolute courage and an abiding faith in a living God.
“We honor those who endured incredible hardships. We praise their names and reflect on their sacrifices."
“What about our time? Are there pioneering experiences for us? Will future generations reflect with gratitude on our efforts, our examples? You young [people] can indeed be pioneers in courage, in faith, in charity, in determination."
“You can strengthen one another; you have the capacity to notice the unnoticed. When you have eyes to see, ears to hear, and hearts to feel, you can reach out and rescue others of your age."
Elder Holland tells us in this months Ensign,
"What are we seeing in these examples of faithful pioneers? It is what we have seen down through the dispensations of time and certainly down through this dispensation.
We are seeing what we saw when the Saints fled New York and Pennsylvania and Ohio and Missouri and then fled their beloved Nauvoo across an ice-bound river with the temple soon burning in the distance. It is what we saw when those same people buried their dead in large numbers at Winter Quarters, followed by leaving isolated graves, sometimes as tiny as a bread box, in Wyoming near Chimney Rock or at one of the many crossings of the Sweetwater River or in a snow bank at Martin’s Cove.
What we saw then and what we see now among the blessed Saints the world over is faith in God, faith in the Lord Jesus Christ, faith in the Prophet Joseph Smith, faith in the reality of this work and the truthfulness of its message. It was faith that took a boy into a grove of trees to pray, and it was faith that enabled him to get up off his knees, place himself in God’s hands for the Restoration of the gospel, and ultimately march toward his own martyrdom scarcely two dozen short years later.
I don’t know how else mothers and fathers could leave those babies in those makeshift graves on the plains and then, with one last look, weep their way forward toward Zion. The fundamental driving force in these stories is faith—rock-ribbed, furnace-refined, event-filled, spiritually girded faith that this is the very Church and kingdom of God and that when you are called, you go."
I am grateful for my pioneer heritage then and now.
These stories I have shared and more are indeed faith promoting, they are a source of inspiration to me, they give me courage, they strengthen my faith, and these people are a blessing in my life. I marvel at the courage the pioneers had. They have set the way and made an example of the way in which I would like to pattern my life with their determination and their devotion to our Savior. May I find in my own life through good times as well as trials and tribulations, that I can have the same kind of dedication, fortitude, commitment.