My Pioneer Stock (A Pioneer Day Re-post)

Ever since I left the Mormon Church to join the Church of Sleep-in on Sunday and go to Brunch, I have experienced a significant improvement in quality of life. But that doesn’t mean that I don’t still love my Mormon ancestors. I am particularly proud of the Mormon women. The men did a lot of interesting stuff, and the polygamists are just wacky fun. But the women? The women could give birth in a back room with nothing for pain management but a stick between their teeth and not even wake up the other wives sleeping upstairs. And then they got up and washed the sheets. Those women were ballers.

In honor of Pioneer Day (or, as we heathens call it, Pie and Beer Day), I want to write a brief biography of my Great Great Great Great Grandmother, Phebe Draper Palmer Brown. Phebe was the daughter of William Draper, for whom the town of Draper in Salt Lake County is named (or for her brother William Draper – I have heard it both ways). She was born 1797 in Rome New York. The Drapers moved to Canada when Phebe was a girl and she married her first husband George Palmer at the age of 18. The Drapers joined the LDS church a few years later (though George never did) and Phebe was baptized by Brigham Young. George and Phebe had six children and another on the way when he up and died on her in 1833. She was 38.

Phebe packed up her family and followed the Drapers back to the states. They met up with other Canadian Saints but were driven out of Ohio and then Missouri by Mormon-haters. They eventually settled in Nauvoo, Illinois. She received a patriarchal blessing from Joseph Smith who told her to be good and that she would get another man. This was a little ahead of the polygamy trend, but I don’t think Joseph would have snatched her up in any case. He preferred 14 year-olds who had not yet pushed a half a dozen babies out of their vaginas. Phebe was 40 and she looked like she had pushed two of her seven children out of her eyes.

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My sisters and I often joke about having inherited our looks from Phebe.

Phebe worked hard to support her family and I have read she had some talent for nursing. Luckily she wasn’t too good at it, because after Phebe failed to nurse her friend Ann Brown back to health, she married her widower, Ebenezer. That was in 1842. Ann left him with four young children and it just made sense to join forces. He was a looker, also.

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The Mormon situation in Illinois was becoming untenable. In 1844 Joseph Smith was killed. In 1846, Phebe and Ebenezer joined the group of Saints who were following Brigham Young (now president of the church) west to the new “Promised Land.” They were passing through Council Bluffs Iowa in July and were met by US soldiers. The war with Mexico was in full swing and the soldiers asked Brigham to give them 500 men to take to California to fight. He complied – hoping to obtain government aid for the migration (because he was a “taker”).

Along with another 550ish Mormons, Ebenezer and Phebe both volunteered – probably to get away from the children. Actually, Phebe’s 14 year-old son Zemira Palmer joined also. They pawned the younger children off on relatives in the wagon train.

What would come to be known as “The Mormon Battalion” marched 2,000 miles from Council Bluffs, Iowa to San Diego, California. Phebe worked as a cook and laundress and Zemira served as a Colonel’s aid. The trek was pretty miserable, by all accounts. They walked through the deserts and mountains… for a year. Phebe was one of only four women who made the entire trip and at 49 she was by far the oldest of the four (the second oldest was 22).

Considering the distance and the difficulty of the terrain, they actually made pretty good time. But by the time they got to San Diego, the war was over and the Battalion was dismissed. (There is one story about a herd of wild cattle attacking the Battalion as they crossed through Arizona, so they did see some action.)

Ebenezer and Phebe were out of money so they re-enlisted for another year. They were sent to Sutter’s Mill and were among the group who found flakes of gold in the American River, a discovery the led to the California Gold Rush. They collected a small amount of gold but then received the call from Brother Brigham. It was time for them to re-join the Saints in Salt Lake City.

On their way back through the California mountains, they were part of the group that discovered the remains of the Donner-Reed party. (I know what you are thinking. “What? Not possible! Was your GGGG Grandmother Forest Gump?” I don’t know how much of it is true. I just know what I have read.) The survivors and rescuers of the Donner Party had been unable to bury the dead due to the ice and snow, so the Mormons stopped and buried all the bodies they could find before pressing on to Salt Lake City.

Phebe, Ebenezer and Zemira arrived in Salt Lake in 1848, at the end of a 3,000 mile journey. Phebe had a mule to ride by then, so that’s nice. They settled in Willow Creek, which would later be renamed as “Draper,” as I mentioned before. Ebenezer became the Postmaster, but he couldn’t read so Phebe (who was well educated for the time) served as Postmistress. She also ran a school for small children. Zemira was sent to work in Orderville, which was Brigham Young’s big communist experiment. Two guesses as to how that turned out.

Unfortunately, Brigham Young wasn’t finished with the Draper-Palmers yet. Brother Brigham told Ebenezer that he wanted him to become a polygamist and have more children. Phebe is said to have approved, and in 1853 and 1854 Ebenezer married two more women. One of them died a decade later, leaving Phebe with yet another brood of small children to raise.

Phebe died in 1879 at the incredible age of 82. (Granted, in the photo she appears to be about 127, and it looks like she made at least part of her 3,000 mile march by walking with her face.) That lady was a stone cold badass, and I’m proud to be her descendant.

Also, in reading up on all of this stuff, something has occurred to me that may be a brilliant bit of insight as to how Mormon services are operated. Perhaps the reason that those damn meetings are three hours long is because it was the only time those poor people got to sit down! It HAD to be as long as they could possibly get away with!

One more thing – this is a letter from Zemira to Phebe from Orderville. I think it is adorable in its presciently passive/aggressive tone, which is still the Mormon modus operandi.  I especially love the way he waves off his inheritance and then signs the letter from “your unworthy son.”

Letter from Zemira Palmer to his mother Phebe Draper Palmer Brown

None Shall Pass… Without Cake!

When I asked Ethan what he wanted his 6th birthday party theme to be and he said “knights,” I had to double check that I understood.  After all, it wasn’t that long ago that I asked him what he wanted to be when he grew up and he responded, “Nocturnal.”

“Knights? Like, Knights of the Round Table?” I asked, knowing there was a better way to phrase this to a kindergartner.

“No,” Ethan said.  “Like knights that fight.”

“Okay,” I said.  “I got it.”

I was a little concerned that I wouldn’t be able to find good decorations easily.  At least, not as easily as if he said, “Starwars,” for instance.  But it wasn’t a problem.  I ordered a dragon pinata, foam swords for a melee, and foil crowns and stick on plastic gems for a craft station.  Easy peasy.

There were about 40 people on the guest list, so we had the party at a park in the neighborhood.  This took care of seating and shade.  Also, I thought if no one wanted to sword fight or decorate a crown, there was a playground.

I’ve never thrown a child’s birthday party before, and I admit I stressed over it more than I should have.  I didn’t sleep much the night before and then I went to the park early and claimed some tables (they don’t take reservations).  I did my best to plan for all contingencies, but there are always things beyond one’s control.  For example, a block away, a sewer pipe burst and each time the breeze shifted there was a distinct barn-yard smell.  I could have been upset, but I decided that it gave the medieval theme an air (pun intended) of authenticity.  Hopefully the guests felt the same.  (They did not, but they were very polite about it.)

The final touch were two figurines to decorate the cake – a knight and a dragon.  Once everything was set up and we were waiting for the guests to arrive, there was nothing to do but sit and wait.

“You know,” Matt – my history teacher boyfriend – said, pointing at the cake, “there is a historical problem there.”

“Oh yeah?” I asked.  “What’s that?”

“Yes, I think the knight should have a sword.  I was just reading that knights, who usually came from the aristocracy, actually looked down on archery.  Archers were from the lower classes.”

“That’s interesting,” I said.  “Also, there’s a dragon.”

“True,” Matt said.  “Very true.”

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Auntie Fail

Auntie Rae tries to talk to the kiddos about bullies:

Me: So she bullied me from second grade through the sixth grade, and it was terrible. And I didn’t handle it well but I learned from it. And then, the last I heard, she was a single mom, working at the American Fork Walmart. The end.

My Nephew (9 years old): I don’t understand. How can you be single and a mom?

Me: um…. what? I don’t think I said that. Time for bed!

Sisters in Seattle

I went to Seattle for a few days to visit my sister Andrea and meet my brand new nephew who arrived too soon – at just 25 weeks – over the New Year’s weekend.  I flew up to help out while her hubby was traveling for work.  Mostly I went to give my five year old nephew some attention.  Also I talked Andrea’s ear off.  (I really need to call her more.)  I also cooked a little.  I loaded the dishwasher once.  I barely helped at all, truth be told.  I always think I’ll be more helpful when I’m projecting the future in my mind then when I get into the future and see what reality allows.

Still it was a great trip.  Frog (my new nephew’s nickname) is so tiny!  Just 2.7 lbs when I left, but growing a bit every day.  I was watching him fight against his breathing mask and squirming to get his arms and legs free of the swaddling wraps and I was amazed.  He is so little and he looks so fragile – like a pink baby bird that fell from a nest – but he is fierce!  He can lift his head already, and he can voice his displeasure.  It made me happy.  I don’t want him to wear himself out, but I can’t describe the joy I felt watching him fight.  I’ve been so worried about this kiddo for weeks but now that I’ve seen him, I’m reassured.  He is a warrior and he is firmly in this world.

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My other nephew, the kindergartner, is really struggling with the changes.  He seems angry.  He’s not listening or asking for things with politeness or patience.  He is demanding things with a force that suggests his wants and needs are consuming him.  I’m not sure he gets what is wrong exactly, but there is a level on which he is aware.  He even commented on the fact that there are suddenly a number of photos of his brother on his mom’s phone.  “Why are there so many pictures of Frog on here?” he asked like a jealous boyfriend.  Like, “Who is this guy and what does he mean to you?”

Oof.  Just wait until the little one actually gets sprung from the NICU and comes home!  Then the real pain will begin.

On one hand my heart is breaking for him because it is hard to see him hurting.  But on the other hand, the one where I’m looking at it from the perspective of a second sibling, I’m less sympathetic.  “What? You don’t get to have your parents all to yourself? What would that be like?” [insert eye roll]

I’m told that when I came home from the hospital my older sister tried to smother me with a diaper.  She was wearing it at the time, just so you understand.

He is such a sweet kid and I believe he will be fine once he has had time – lots of time – to adjust.  He’s so funny.  I’m not sure how to describe him except to say that he has a dynamic inner life.  He is so imaginative and precocious.  He spent one entire day of my visit dressed as Yoda.  Not for any special occasion.  He just loves Yoda.  When I arrived he presented me with a drawing he did for me at school.  It’s a portrait of me.  “What’s this red part?” I asked.

“It’s a bloody thumb.”

“Of course it is, kiddo.  Of course it is.”

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What I wouldn’t give to spend some time in that kid’s head.  Frog is going to have the best playmate in the world.  Maybe not soon, you know.  But in a little while.