Friday, December 31, 2010


I made a brief trip this summer, but most of my pictures were deleted.  Here are the ones that remain.  Promontory Point was the site of the Golden Spike where the railroads came together in 1869 and created a rail line across the United States. 

Chinaman Arch

Saturday, December 25, 2010

Rescue of the Handcart Companies 1856; Brigham Young

Brigham Young must have approached the general conference with heavy heart.  He had been informed the day before that close to 2000 immigrants were on the plains, two handcart companies, two wagon companies, several freight companies.  It was already early October.

Brighan Young had met with church leaders the evening before to discuss what was needed.  The handcart plan was established with the idea that the Saints would be met on the plains with resupply wagons.  This was lacking, and the handcart companies would be facing starvation rations.

And so Brigham Young introduced the theme of the conference:

"I will now give this people the subject and the text for the Elders who may speak today and during the conference.  It is this.  On the 5th day of October, 1856, many of our brethren and sisters are on the plains with handcarts, and probably many are now seven hundred miles from this place, and the must be brought here, we must send assistance to them.  The text will be, 'to get them here.'  I want the brethren who may speak to understand that their text is the people on the plains.  And the subject matter for this community is to send for them and bring them in before winter sets in.

That is my religion; that is the dictation of the Holy Ghost that I possess.  It is to save the people.  This is the salvation I am now seeking for.  To save our brethren that would be apt to perish, or suffer extremely, if we do not send them assistance...

I will tell you all that your faith, religion, and profession of religion, will never save one sould of you in the Celestial Kingdom of our God, unless you carry out just such principles as I am now teaching you.  Go and bring in those people now on the plains."

An so was put into motion one of the greatest rescue operations of the Mormon migration.  The rescuers would be successful in bringing many Saints to the valley, while over 200 of them would die along the trail.  By the time the meeting had concluded men were making preparations to be part of the rescue.  Women removed underlinens to donate to the cause.

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Mormons in the Donner Party

I knew there were Mormon rescuers of the Donner party, but did not realize some of the party were also Mormon.  This site tells the story of Levinah Murphy.  The only correction I owld make to the story, is it mentions that the rescuers are from the Mormon Battalion.  That is not accurate.  The two Mormon rescuers, Dan and Thomas Rhoads were fellow pioneers with the Donner party.  The separated at the Sublette cutoff, the Donner party trying a new route, while the Rhoads went with a group that traveled the traditional route to California.  The result is well known.

Levina and three of her children passed away.  Three of her children survived.

Saturday, December 11, 2010

Book Review: *****Silent Night:

A couple years ago, Charity and I did a Christmas presentation.  We told the story of the 1914 truce.  In 1914 the troops spontaneously ceased hostility and a truce ensued, which lasted more than a week in some places along the front line. This book tells the story of this Christmas season along the front in France.

It seams many people called for a truce this Christmas time.  The bloodshed along the front had been horrendous.  Pope Benedict XV, who had just been nominated as Pope, called for a truce.  However the governments involved in the fighting did not think a truce was a good idea.  And so the ment took matters into their own hands.

Along the front on Christmas Eve, the truce was gained in a precarious manner.  It started for the most part with the German troops  share their Tennebaum, putting their Christmas trees on the parapets, and shining flash lights on them.  The strange lights were seen by the soldiers on the line opposite them.  The truce continued as with men along the front saying, "Come over here" and the reply "no you come over here."  "Don't shoot" and finally, small groups ventured out.

Songs were heard along the lines.  In one place a German baritone mounted the parapets and sang, "Stille Nacht, Heilige Nacht."  The book talks of this night in this manner.  "Voices reached them across the dark void of No Mans Land.  The the Scots saw dim figures silhouetted on the German parapet, and about them more lights.  With amazement Maddison realized that a Christmas tree was being set there, and around it Germans talking and laughing together.  "Hoch!  Hoch!  Hoch!" they shouted happily."

Another story of this day involves a German Baker who was making  marzipan balls for the holidays.  Opposite this part of the German front was a group of Algerians fighting with the French.  The Christmas holiday meant nothing to them and the kept up a steady fire upon the Germans.  A shot got too close to he baker, and he had finally had enough.  He grabbed a Christmas tree and headed into No Mans Land with it.  He struggled over the hills ca, now you rrying the tree.  The Algerians held their fire, thinking the baker was too comical or just crazy in his baker's hat.  The units next to the Algerians also informed them what was taking place.  The baker got to the middle of the field, and their he set the tree.  He calmly took some matches and lit the candes and said, "There you blockheads, now you know what's going on.  Merry Christmas!"

along the lines troops from opposing sides came together and shared their provisions.  This included special rations and packages for the holidays.  In some areas the truce lingered.  During the following days, spontaneous soccer games broke out.  The men played in their bulky boots.  Most often score wasn't kept and the men just played.  A more formal game was played in one location.  The German's won 3-2, but one solider commented in may have been because the British official had too much Christmas Spirit towards the Germans and missed an off sides call.

The Christmas of 1914 was remembered fondly by the survivors of the war.  It was brought to our memory a few years ago by the Mormon Tabernacle Choir with Walter Cronkite providing the narration and telling this story.

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

December 7, 1941; Captain Mervyn Bennion

Today is Pearl Harbor Day.  Next year it will make 70 years the Japanese attack on Peal Harbor.  That day Captain Bennion was killed, and he was later honored for his courage.

Captain Mervyn Bennion was aboard the USS West Virginia.  He was the closest I have to a relative at Pearl Harbor.  My father's brother-in-law was a cousin to Captain Bennion.  My father at this time was two years shy of graduating from high school.  His oldest sister, Audrey, had married Ellis Chase.

Captain Bennion was aboard the USS West Virginia when it was torpedoed.  It was on the outside of a row of ships.  However it wasn't a bomb striking his own ship, but a bomb strike on the USS Tennessee which was inboard of the USS West Virginia, that mortally wounded Captain Bennion.  He was struck by shrapnel in the abdomen.

He refused to leave his post.  The USS West Virgina was struck by 6 torpedoes and at least two other bombs.  The Captain held his wound closed with one hand, while commanding his crew.  He initially refused to leave the deck, and was instrumental in keeping the ship from listing so it was able to be later recovered.

He was eventually carried from the deck, but died from his wounds.  Captain Bennion was awarded the Medal of Honor.  I know one of the camps at Pend Orielle (Navy Boot Camp) was named for him.  Also the USS Bennion.

Book Review: Westward America

Driggs, Howard R., Westward America, American Pioneers Trails Association, New York, 1942; water colors by William H. Jackson.

This book is a fascinating read, and  just as fun is to browse the water colors.  The author, as well as the illustrator lived or knew those who had lived trail.  This story tells of U.S. Westward expansion from a 1942 mentality when it was OK to be proud of American accomplishments and manifest destiny. 

This book tells many stories from Lewis and Clark and Sacajawea, to the coming of the railroad and the Golden Spike.  A few samples of the book follow:

Death took its heavy toll during these crowded years.  Thousands of men, women and children, unable to endure the strain, or seized with some dread scourge like the cholera, went into their graves all along the painful way.  Most of their resting places are unmarked, for the simple reason that there were few lasting materials on the prairie lands with which to erect enduring monuments, and precious little time while the trains were in the mountain lands to carve lasting inscriptions on any stone that might be set at a grave.  P 34

Education of a lasting kind was gained through this frontier experience.  The pioneer trail tested the mettle of every one, young or old, that dared to follow it.  It brought out the best and the worst in human nature.  Weaklings usually went down; wickedness was generally brought to swift and certain punishment.  Only strength of body and of character stood the test and came through strengthened and trained for the conquest that lay ahead.  P 35

These were the Mormons—a devout band of Americans—made homeless a second time by an un-American persecution.  Their youthful prophet leader with his brother had been slain two years before in Carthage jail—victims of religious and political intolerance.  P 37

Not all the stories, however, were of trouble and sorrow.  For the younger ones, and for many of their elders, the journey across the plains was one of thrilling adventure.  The prairie lands in spring and summer were bright with blossoms. There was the fun of gathering new flowers, and sometimes wild fruits, along the way.  Prairie dogs barking from their populous villages, buffalo and antelope on nearby hills, wolves and coyotes slinking about, all added to the excitement of travel.  Besides there were the various birds that brought life to the plains—wild geese and ducks, prairie chickens, owls and eagles, and such songsters as the meadowlark and the robin to cheer the way with their songs.

Camping out at night under friendly stars was another rich experience.  Evening stories and songs round the fires, with an occasional dance on the greensward to the tune of fiddle, accordion or banjo, all helped to chase the darker hours away.  Then came the rosy dawn and the great red sun, rising seemingly “right out of the ground,” to light up the old trail for another day’s journey towards a dreamed-of home…   p 67

The first of these bridges, built by a French frontiersman, Reshaw, spanned the river just east of the site of Casper.  It was there in 1857 [6] when the belated Mormon handcart companies trailed by.  Members of those companies have told the writer that they would have used this bridge, but they could not pay the high tolls.  As an alternative they had to pull their cars through the cold stream, which nearly swept some of the women and children down with it.  That same afternoon a bitter wind froze their water-soaked clothing and bedding; and a snowfall at night took a heavy toll of lives.  This was the beginning of one of the major tragedies of the plains.  P. 87

I have thoroughly enjoyed this book.

Sunday, December 5, 2010

Documentary Movie Review: Paper Clips

This is a documentary film I watched on the documentary station of Dish Network.  It caught my eye because President Hodgman talked about the history of the paper clip in stake conference.  He related a story told to him by an older person he home taught.  She was from Norway, and told him the history of the paper clip.  It was an invention  from Norway.  When the Nazis occupied Norway during the war, the were unable to express open support for the Jews.  However many would wear a paper clip to silently express their support.

This film documents the story of the Witwell Middle School in Tennessee.  They embarked on the "Holocaust Project" as a means of learning tolerance for other cultures.  In the course of their study, and learning that 6 million Jews were murdered by Hitler, a student asked, "What is 6 million?"  That is what sparked the "Paper Clip Project;" the gathering of 6 million paper clips, so they would have some idea of the concept of a number so great.

The gathering of the paper clips was an interesting story, but the thing that made this movie moving was the interviews, and the presentations of survivors of the Holocaust and their children and grandchildren.  It was moving to hear the stories of those who were children and survived this experience.  (25 percent of those killed were children.)  Also those who related how they had missed grandparent relationships, the cost was greater than we can ever believe.

We were in Washington, and the family went to the Holocaust Museum while I went and got the car.  They were impressed with the exhibit of shoes, collected from those who had been murdered.

When I watched this story, I was filled with anger towards President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad of Iran.  That he would have a pulpit at the U.N. for his anti-semitic statements and denial of the Holocaust is upsetting to me.  Also that the U.S. would give him and audience upsets me.  However the goal of this movie is tolerance, and acceptance.  I just don't think that extends to those who are bigots in their own right.

This movie is available through Netflix Instant.

Angel of Marye's Heights

This is a script I wrote for  my son's 8th grade history assignment

Angel of Marye’s Heights

Narrator:  I am going to present to you the story of the soldier who became known as the Angel of Mayre’s Heights.  I am going to do this by portraying him, a gentleman who wrote a poem about him, and a fellow soldier.  The gentleman:

Mr Clark:  (at a desk writing) Mr. Walter A. Clark, 1908 The Angel of Mayre’s Heights:

A sunken road, and a wall of stone
And Cobb’s grim line of gray
Lay still at the base of Mayre’s hill
On the morn of a winter’s day

And crowning the frowning crest above
Sleep Alexander’s guns,
While gleaming fair in the sunlit air
The Rappahannock runs.

On the planes below the blue line glow
And the bugle rings out clear,
As with bated breath they march to death
And a soldier’s honored bier.

For the slumbering guns awake to life
And the screaming shell and ball
From the front and flanks crash through the ranks
And leave them where they fall.

And the gray stone wall is ringed with fire
And the pitiless leaden hail
Drives back the foe to the plain below,
Shattered and crippled and frail.

Again and again a new line forms
And the gallant charge is made,
And again and again they fall like grain
In the sweep of a reaper’s blade.

Richard Kirkland:  (best southern accent you can do)  I was born in Kershaw County, South Carolina, Camden town, August 1843, the second youngest of 7 children.  My mother passed when I was 2, so I owe my raising to my grandparents, father and older siblings.  We farmed three large tracts, which kept us busy. 

When my home state of South Carolina seceded from the Union; there was no doubt I would enlist.  You see the Union is like a marriage, if one party is aggrieved, it has every right to leave the union, and that is what my state decided to do, leave the Union.

I thought war was all glory, but quickly I learned otherwise.  Flags waved and woman cheered as we marched out of town to Charleston.  We had visions of easy victory and battlefield glory. 

I participated in most of the battles in the Eastern Theater, Manasses, the Seven Days’ Battle when we repelled the Union Army that was threatening Richmond.  We then fought in Maryland.  However I imagine you are most interested in the battle of Fredericksburg.

If the Union had been able to obtain the high ground, they’d have had us whipped.  The Rappahannock saved us. They had to cross the river, and when their pontoons did not arrive on time, General Lee lead us onto the high ground. We had two days to fortify, before the Union troops could cross the river and join us for the dance.

I served in Kershaw’s Brigade, under General Joseph Kershaw.  By this time I had been promoted to sergeant.  We were stationed to the right of the heights, defending a draw near Hazel’s Run.  To our right were Jackson’s men; and it was there were the fighting began on the morning of December 13.  I understand the Federals gave quite a fight; but Jackson and his men were able to repulse them. 

After they were repulsed on the right the federals tried their luck against our center; the heights beyond Fredericksburg; Marye’s Heights.  This was defended by an old sunken road.  This road, over the years had had a wall built around it when stones were removed from the road.  This defensive position had been improved over the last couple of days.  It presented a formidable defense.   

Under the orders of General Burnside; Maj. Gen. Edwin Sumner's troops began their assault at noon. Targeted by Confederate artillery atop the heights that blasted holes through their formations, the Federal forces doggedly worked their way to a canal spanned by three partially destroyed bridges. Cannonballs continued to tear through their lines at this bottleneck, sending more and more soldiers to an early grave.

Eventually, Sumner's men established their lines under the cover of the canal ditch that afforded some protection. From there it was pretty much an open slope - with very little cover - that led to the fortified stone wall behind which our forces were amassed. The men fixed their bayonets, and, with a Yankee war cry, they charged.

Instantly, the artillery barrage, joined by almost uncountable rifle fire, rained down upon the advancing men, cutting most down where they stood. Those who were not killed sought out any cover they could find ... the lone brick house, a few scattered outbuildings, several slight knolls. Wave after wave, the Union soldiers left the safety of the canal ditch in an ill-fated attempt to breach our lines at the top of Marye's Heights.

The death toll was staggering: in just one hour, they suffered 3,000 dead.

For our part, we defended our front, but we were not pressed as hard as Marye’s Heights.  During this pitched battle, our regiment was called upon to move and reinforce the sunken road.  We first covered the advance of another regiment.  When we repositioned we came under cannon fire; so we double timed and made our way as quickly as possible.

The sunken road was a well defended position.  Our men were in three lines, each taking their turn at firing, so we were able to keep up a steady volley:  Shoot, step back, remove your ramming rod, clean the barrel, Place your powder and a mini ball, tamp down the ball, replace your ramrod, take a powder, open with you mouth, place powder in the flashpan, step forward, aim, fire. 

Despite the impossible odds, the Federals continued to pour out into the killing field where ceaseless cannonballs and bullets ravaged their lines. All through the day, more and more Union soldiers entered the fray, picking their way around the bodies of their dead and wounded comrades with most of the newcomers fated to soon join them. Charge after charge, they carried on, with some of the attackers making it within 25 yards of our line before being cut down in a deadly hail of gunfire.

The smoke lay so thick that we could scarcely see the enemy. The Federals rolled out their dead for shelter, and used dead horses for breastworks.

After 15 separate, unsuccessful charges up the hill, the fighting ceased for the night, leaving the slope littered with thousands of broken, bloody Union bodies. Around midnight, Union soldiers ventured forth under cover of darkness to gather what wounded they could find.

Although the fighting had ended for the day, the suffering continued through the night. With a cold north wind sweeping in across the field, temperatures plummeted below freezing, leaving the remaining wounded to cry out in anguish.

You may know, but perhaps you don’t, that being wounded, losing blood, creates a tremendous thirst.  Weird, unearthly, terrible to hear and bear, were the cries of the dying soldiers - lying crippled on a hillside so many miles from home.  They filled the air, breaking the hearts of soldiers on both sides of the battlefield.  “Help Me!  Water, water! 

As dawn broke, the two armies faced each other.  Our brigade occupied the road at the foot of Marye's Hill and the grounds about Marye's House, the scene of our desperate defense of the day before. One hundred and fifty yards in front of the road and stone wall, lay Sykes Division of Regulars, U. S. A.  Between them and our troops a murderous skirmish occupied the whole day, fatal to many who heedlessly exposed themselves even for a moment.

Still the wounded cried, "water ! water !"  I was grieved at the suffering of the Union wounded. All that day those wounded men rent the air with their groans and agonizing cries.

Finally I could take no more.  I visited the General Kershaw as he sat in his headquarters in the North room upstairs of Mrs Stevens' House. (With an expression of disgust in his voice) General, I can't stand this.  All night and all day I have heard those poor people crying for water and can stand it no longer. I come to ask permission to go and give them water."

The General regarded me for a moment.  He finally said, "Kirkland, don't you know that you would get a bullet through your head the moment you stepped over the wall?" Yes, Sir, I know all about that, but if you will let me, I am willing to try it. After a pause the General said: "Kirkland, I ought not to allow you to run such a risk, but the sentiment which actuates you is so noble, that I will not refuse your request, trusting that God may protect you. You may go."

My eyes lit up with pleasure. Thank you Sir, I said.  I ran rapidly from the room and down the stairs. However I paused, turned around and bounded back up the stairs, two at a time, and reapproached the general. Certainly he thought my heart had failed me. He was mistaken.  General, can I show a white handkerchief? The General thought a moment, then slowly shook his head, saying emphatically: "No, Kirkland, you can't do that.”  All right, Sir, I'll take my chances. (salute)
Accepting these conditions, I collected a number of canteens from my fellow soldiers, left my weapon behind, and scrambled over the wall. I filled the canteens at the well behind Mayre’s house.  I then crept onto the field, exposing myself to enemy sniper fire.  The greatest danger was at the outset.  The Union soldiers did not know my intent.  They must have thought I intended to rob the dead and wounded.  I weaved like a snake as quickly as I could, and heard several balls whistle past, that were hurled in my direction.  My fellow Confederates watched expectantly, fearing a shot from the Union line would take my life. I scrambled to the nearest sufferer.  The Union soldiers watched, but did not fire.  I knelt down alongside the wounded man, gently cradled his head, and lifted a canteen to his parched lips. The Union line broke into a loud cheer. This done I laid him gently down, placed his knap-sack under his head, straightened out his broken limb, spread his over-coat over him, replaced his empty canteen with a full one, and turned to another sufferer.  The cheering subsided, and the Federal forces watched in silent awe as I went from wounded soldier to wounded soldier, bringing what little comfort I could to these dying men. After my intent was known, the danger was over.  I would give each wounded man a drink, and then replace their canteen with a full canteen, taking theirs to refill.  For an hour and a half I carried canteens back and forth, returning to replenish them at the well, and then venturing out into the killing field again.  I continued until all the wounded upon our front had been supplied with water, and the cries for water had subsided.

Mr. Clark: 
And then from out of the battle smoke
There falls on the lead-swept air
From the whitening lips that are ready to die
The piteous moan and the plaintive cry
For “water” everywhere.

And into the presence of Kershaw brave
There comes a fair-faced lad
With quivering lips as his cap he tips,
“I can’t stand this,” he said.

Stand what? The general sternly said
As he looked on the field of slaughter
“To see those poor boys dying out there
With no one the help them, no one to care,
And crying for water! water!”

If you’ll let me go, I’ll give them some.
Why, boy, you’re simply mad;
They’ll kill you as soon as you scale the wall
In this terrible storm of shell and ball,
The general kindly said.

Please let me go the lad replied.
May the Lord protect you, then!
And over the wall in the hissing air
He carried comfort to grave despair
And balm to the stricken men.

And, as he straightened their mangled limbs
On their earthen bed of pain,
The whitening lips all eagerly quaffed
From the canteen’s mouth the cooling draught
And blessed him again and again.

Like Daniel of old in the lion’s den,
He walked through the murderous air
With never a breath of the leaden air
To touch or to tear his gray-clad form,
For the hand of God was there.

And I am sure in the Book of Gold,
Where the blessed angel writes
The names that are blessed of God and men
He wrote that day with his shining pen
Then smiled and lovingly wrote again,
The Angel of Marye’s Heights.

Ario Niles:  I served with Richard Kirkland in many battles.  He distinguished himself at Gettysburg and was promoted to lieutenant.  After Gettysburg, we went with Longstreet’s Corp, to support the fight in the West.  We entered the fray around Chattanooga, the Battle of Chickamauga, on the second day of the conflict, September 20, 1863.  We fought back and forth charging and counter charging, for Snodgrass Hill.  Towards the end of the day we broke through the Union line; then met a stiff resistance from their reserves which forced us to make a temporary retreat.  A few of us, with Kirkland, were in front of the line when we found ourselves exposed.  I turned back quickly, but Kirkland insisted on facing the enemy and firing at their advancing troops, covering our retreat.  He was shot in the chest and fell mortally wounded.  James Arrants and I tried to carry him from the field.  “No I’m done for,” he said.  “You can do my no good.  Save yourselves.  Tell Pa I died right.  I died at my post.”  Those were his last words.