Monday, July 21, 2008

When Life Gets You Down

I became familiar with the story of John August Peterson in recent years. I cannot claim to be a direct descendant of John's. I was lucky to marry into the family. My children, however, can claim this heritage and appreciate the family traits that fill their veins. No matter your ancestry, this is a story of hope and courage, and it can be appreciated by all.

My husband's family comes from early Mormon stock. For those unfamiliar with the term, this refers to the early members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (LDS) also categorized as pioneers. The Peterson family joined the newly organized church in 1852. They were living on the Danish island of Bornholm at the time. Persecution was great for those of the LDS faith and the family's only desire was to go to America to be with the Saints in Zion. They sold their farm and home, but didn't have enough money to take the entire family. Fifteen-year-old Carl was left behind. It would take six more years to earn his fare and reunite the family. John August was the oldest living Peterson son. He had a wife and new baby. Altogether, seven family members made the voyage. The family records indicate a rough, but manageable ocean passage. It was after they had made their way to Wyoming and loaded the wagons that their dreams began to unravel.

Most of the family immediately became ill with mountain fever. The wagons started out in early August. Within a week the baby had died. The grave was dug and having no coffin, the women in the party filled the hole with a thick layer of wild flowers so John would have a cushion on which to rest his infant. The next day, John's wife died. John's mother and one of his sisters continued to suffer the effects of the climate change and laborious travel. Winter came early and added to their misery. Just as they family made their way down Immigration Canyon in the Salt Lake Valley, sister, Sophia died. A grave was dug in the snow near what is now the state monument "This is the Place." Another woman died during breakfast, so the grave was made wider and the women were buried side by side.

Whenever I think life is hard, I think of John August Peterson and all that he endured. Suddenly, my problems seem pretty minuscule. John never gave up. He made a new life in the Salt Lake valley. He married a wonderful woman by the name of Metta and together they had eight children, one of which is my husband's great-grandfather.

July 24th is a big holiday in the state of Utah. We always look forward to the celebrations and try to spend a little time reflecting on what got us to this point of our lives. It was one hundred and sixty-one years ago that the first Mormon pioneers courageously looked around and and decided to call the barren desert home. Familiar with Salt Lake City? Not so barren anymore! The moral of their stories? With courage, tenacity and faith, you can do anything. Scratch that, we can do anything!

"This great pioneering movement of more than a century ago goes forward with latter-day pioneers. Today pioneer blood flows in our veins just as it did with those who walked west. It's the essence of our courage to face modern-day mountains and our commitment to carry on. " ~Gordon B. Hinckley (read full article here.)

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