A Story of Trek

Ann Findley Westover is my fourth great grandmother, the wife of Edwin Ruthven Westover. In researching for her profile here on WestoverFamilyHistory.org we wanted to learn more about her upbringing in Scotland and whether or not there was a story or two that survived of her trek in the Daniel D. McArthur Company, the 2nd handcart company overall that arrived in the Salt Lake Valley on 26 September 1856. Ann was 17 when she made the trek and she came with her parents, William and Lindsay. From what we can tell they joined the Church about ten years or more before they made the trek to Zion. While we could not find much specific to Ann about trek we did find her brother, also named William, who came to Zion before Ann and his parents arrived. While we are not directly descended from William Findley Jr. we will most certainly claim him. His story with that of his sister Ann are so very much connected. William and his wife Sarah moved to Mendon, Utah not too long after arriving in Salt Lake and it was his death that caused Ann to move there with her children. William was one of the first to be buried in the cemetery there in Mendon. His trek story bears repeating and it includes a neat tradition within the family of his descendants that is worthy of our attention. This is his story:

William Finley, Jr. was just a small boy when his family joined the Church. His family was one of the earliest convert families in Scotland in the mid-1830s. Just as he was coming of adult age he met and fell in love with his bride, Sarah.

Sarah was not a member of the Church but joined the Church just before she married William. Not long after they were married the call came to all the Saints living in Europe to “come to Zion”.

As they discussed leaving England William and Sarah disagreed. He wanted to heed the call to go to Zion but Sarah was afraid to go. Her family already disapproved of her joining the Church, though they loved William deeply. Sarah was concerned that she would never see her family again nor the land of her upbringing. Worse, she feared they would hate William for taking her away.

The issue divided them. At one point Sarah told her father she was leaning towards going to America with William and, as she feared, her father was not in favor. His rebuke broke her heart.
William prayed and determined that he was going – even if that meant leaving Sarah behind.

As he made his preparations he told her that he would leave money for her with the agent at the dock if she changed her mind. William left and did as he promised. Feeling a little lost and burdened by leaving his wife behind, William hesitated, opting to allow one ship to leave in favor for a ticket on another that was leaving a few days later. He hoped one final letter to his bride would convince her to come and would reach her on time so that she could make it to Liverpool to join him.

The letter did not make it on time. But it didn’t need to.

After much suffering and much prayer, Sarah determined that her place and her future was with her husband in Zion – even if that meant leaving her family behind. She packed her things, bid a tearful farewell to her family and went to Liverpool – hoping to get a ticket to America where she hoped to find William.

She arrived just in time and rejoiced to be able to make passage over with her husband.

When they arrived in America they took a train west to Chicago, as far as it went at the time, and then made way to Iowa City to find a wagon train west to join. They were able to do this but it would require them to pack light and walk a great deal. They had to get rid of many of their belongings because they were only allowed to bring a small amount that could fit in the wagon.

William had a cap that he would wear and being fastidious in his dress he liked to have it pressed, so that there would be no wrinkles in it. He liked the same for his shirts but his cap, since it was on his head, had to be perfect. It pained him to have to give up the small iron Sarah would use to press his cap, but it was weighty and could not make the trip. Together William and Sarah decided on which items would make the trek and which would not. The little iron was out.

This was on a trip before handcarts. They were joining a company headed west that had many families. Since William and Sarah did not have children and were adults, they were not allowed much room for their stuff. They were shocked to learn that for all the things they left behind they had to cull it down again because they still had too much.

Sarah did not want William to go without his ironed cap. So she strung the little iron – which weighed about 4 lbs – on a string and tied the string around her waist, under her skirt. The iron would make its way west, banging into Sarah’s legs now and then as she walked the 1300 miles to Salt Lake City.

The iron, though little used on the trip, was used all the years of their married life.

When William died suddenly in 1869, in Mendon, while still a relatively young man, Sarah used the iron on William’s burial clothes. By this time William and Sarah had a much larger iron, an appliance that would have made quicker work of the job. Their eldest daughter asked her mother why she was using such a little iron on her Daddy’s clothes. So Sarah told her the story of the iron.

This daughter recorded this family event in her journal and, years later when Sarah passed away as an old woman, told the story of the iron at her funeral.

For generations the iron has passed from mother to daughter in the Finley family, where it remains today. (The iron always remains with a descendant named “Lindsay”, after William’s mother).

As it passes to each generation the love story of William and Sarah is retold and the testimony of their sacrifices in coming to Zion are shared again and again.

Family Witnesses of the Transfiguration of Brigham Young

When the Prophet Joseph Smith was martyred in 1844 many people later claimed to have witnessed what some called the “transfiguration” of Brigham Young into Joseph Smith. Among those making the claims are some rather high profile early members of the Church and members of the Westover family.

This much debated chapter of LDS history comes under fire from even some LDS scholars if only because written accounts of the event happened years after it occurred. They take issue with the fact that someone didn’t write it down when it happened.

In my mind there are questions for the doubters. For example: we don’t question the spiritual manifestations that occurred at Kirtland — and yet, no journal entries survive describing those very public events from the very time that they transpired.

Likewise we don’t question the statement of the Eight Witnesses or even the Three Witnesses of the Book of Mormon even though no independent record of the spiritual manifestations of those events exist either.

I have no trouble accepting the word of those who recorded the event even decades after it occurred. With the rare exception of Albert Smith, I can think of no one in our family history that recorded a daily journal that has survived all these years. Like people now, keeping journals was not something most did then. That they made a record of it later is no different that what we mostly do today and we have cell phones, iPads and all manner of technology surrounding us that makes instant record keeping possible.

Historians say that more than 80 people later claimed to have witnessed the event when Brigham Young addressed the gathered Saints for the first time after the Martyrdom when he took on both the likeness and the voice of Joseph Smith.

The last member of the family to make record of that event was Eliza Ann Haven Westover in 1918, in a letter to her son. Eliza was the wife of Charles Westover, brother to Edwin Ruthven Westover and son of Electa Beal Westover. Eliza was just 15 years old when the “mantle experience” occurred. This is what she said:

The question was a general one what shall we do without our prophet? I was then 15 years of age and we all felt so sad. I was at the meeting when Sidney Rigdon arose and declared himself our true prophet and leader. Very few responded to his declaration. I am happy to say that not one of my father’s family felt he was the right one.

Soon after Pres Brigham Young came home from the east where he had been on a mission. I was at the meeting when the mantle of Bro Joseph’s encircled him. When he spoke it was in Bro Joseph’s voice. I arose to my feet and said to my mother our prophet has come to life, Mother. We have Bro Joseph back for there he stood as plain as I ever saw him in life and his voice and features were truly those of our beloved prophet. Shortly a mist seemed to pass from Bro Brigham’s face and there stood Brother Young talking in his natural voice but we knew he was to be our leader. Hundreds witnessed the same thing but not all that were there had that privilege.

Talitha Cumi Garlick Cheney (1824-1902), my fourth great grandmother, was 19 years of age when she too saw Brigham Young change when he addressed the body of the gathered Saints. Here is her report:

I was in Nauvoo when Sidney Rigdon came from the east after brother Joseph and Hyrum were killed to take lead of the church. There were none of the twelve apostles at home but Brother Taylor and Brother Richards.

Brother Taylor had been badly wounded so Sidney Rigdon thought he would have things his own way but he was mistaken he called a meeting and said the church was old enough to choose a guardian for itself it had been fourteen years since it was organized but Brother Brigham and the rest of the apostles got there in time to be at the meeting.

After Rigdon sat down Brother Brigham got up and said all who want Brother Rigdon to lead them can have him but I tell you the keys of the kingdom are in the hands of the Twelve Apostles they are the ones to lead this people.

As soon as Brother Brigham got up to speak I said to myself that is the man to take the lead of this people. He looked just like Brother Joseph and spoke like him I said surely the mantle of the Prophet Joseph has fallen on Brother Brigham.

I never had a doubt. I knew Brother Brigham was the man to fill the place of our beloved prophet I knew Joseph Smith was a true prophet of God and was the mouthpiece of God to the people and that brother Brigham was his lawful successor and a man of God.

James Chauncey Snow, my third great grandfather, often testified of this event. From Valiant in the Faith, we are told:

He [James C. Snow] was present at the meeting August 8, when Brigham Young spoke with great power, reminding the people that the Church was the Church of Jesus Christ. . . . All the powers of the Priesthood were vested in the Twelve until a new Presidency should be nominated by them through the spirit of revelation and sustained by the vote of the people. Both James and Warren [brothers] saw the mantle of Joseph fall upon Brigham Young as he spoke, an event of which they both often testified afterwards, and they were convinced that Brigham Young was to be their leader.

Critics of the Church and historians will debate this all for eternity. For me, our family connection to this event gives us serious reason to ponder. Of all the records left behind by these individuals we must take into account that steps were taken to make sure that we in our day know what they said they saw.

That should mean something to us.

Reference: Mantle of Joseph

Grandpa at Topaz

Finding Grandpa in Topaz

I have heard my grandparents — Leon A. Westover and Maurine R. Westover — speak of their time in Topaz, Utah many times. It was their unique part of the war experience, a chapter of their lives that took another unusual turn when Grandpa later joined UNRRA (United Nations Relief and Rehabilitation Administration) and went to Europe after the war. Topaz was a Japanese Internment Camp, a shocking chapter in American history that saw thousands of American citizens of Japanese descent forced into detention centers. Grandpa was the head of the math and science department at a camp school and Grandma taught Japanese children.

I saw an article in the Salt Lake Tribune updating the status of the project to erect a museum at Topaz. In browsing their website I found the above picture showing Grandpa with teachers of the math and science department — a picture I had never seen before.

My father was a small child when during the more than 2 years my grandparents lived there. I actually think that helped them to take more pictures there than they likely would have because Topaz itself is far from picturesque.

Testimony of Joseph Homer Snow

From the book Valiant in the Faith, which details the family history of Gardner Snow’s family, including many descendants, comes this testimony of Joseph Homer Snow, father of Muriel Snow Riggs, my grandmother’s mother.

“I have often wished that I could bear my testimony to the truthfulness of Mormonism, to the whole world.

I am very grateful for the testimony that my Heavenly Father has blessed me with, and I hope that whoever may hear this testimony may receive it in the spirit that I desire that they should, that the Spirit of the Lord may bear testimony to its truthfulness, for I do know that the Lord did send Peter, James and John to confer the Holy Melchizedek Priesthood upon the Prophet Joseph Smith and Oliver Cowdery, and that He also sent John the Baptist to confer the Aaronic Priesthood, with all the gifts and blessings, that it might be used throughout the length and breadth of eternity, and that the Lord will some day cause that this Church, known as the Mormon Church, will roll forth and subdue all other churches upon the face of the earth, because it is of God, and I bear you my faithful testimony that all the gifts and blessings pertaining to the work of the Lord, have been conferred upon the Prophet Joseph Smith and Oliver Cowdery, and that they in turn have the authority to confer it upon other men, if they so live that they are worthy to receive this Priesthood.

And I would like to have all people hear this testimony, that it might be carried, as it were, to the ends of the earth, that they might know that the work of the Lord is true, and I hope that the Lord will bless this testimony that it may bear fruit and do much good in the hearts of the people throughout the world. And to this end I bear this testimony, in the name of the Lord, Jesus Christ, Amen.” — Joseph Homer Snow