July 24 is honored as Pioneer Day in Utah. It commemorates July 24, 1847, when Brigham Young and the first group of Mormon pioneers entered the Salt Lake Valley. Mormon pioneers were members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints that traveled across the United States from the Midwest to the Salt Lake Valley. Although some came across in horses and wagons, many crossed the plains using handcarts to save money. It is estimated that from 1847 to 1869 between 60,000 and 70,000 pioneers traveled across the lonely plains to find a new home in Utah territory (source).
Today is a celebration of all those pioneers that have gone before and led the way for each of us here in Utah, regardless of faith and nationality.
In honor of this celebration, I wanted to share a story from my own history; the story of Elizabeth Griffith Davies.
I think I am drawn to Elizabeth as we share a name, but it is more than her name that draws me in. Her story is one of strength, fortitude, and determination. Her life is representative of resoluteness and long-suffering. I almost feel that I can draw strength from hers. Perhaps there may be a little of that in me.
Elizabeth’s parents, Joseph Griffith and Margaret Price traveled to the United States from Liverpool, England after they converted to the LDS church. Elizabeth was born in New York City on March 2, 1857. She was their third daughter. Shortly before they crossed the plains, Joseph and Margaret had daughter number four, Josephine. The family began their journey across the plains in 1859 using an oxcart. Young Josephine was only an infant. Elizabeth was two-years-old.
On the journey, baby Josephine died. She was buried at Chimney Rock, Nebraska. She was about five months old.
Elizabeth spent her childhood years working with her father on the salt flats of the Great Salt Lake, boiling salt to sell for their family. There is a story of how she would have to scrub her feet until they were red for public occasions, because she had no shoes. She knew the value of work, and took little for granted.
She grew and married William Maxwell in 1879. After being married four years, and having two sons, William died, leaving Elizabeth a widow. She remarried Brigham Davies in 1891 and began raising his four daughters. Brigham left for two years in 1893 to go on a mission to England for the church. She stayed at home, raising their children and keeping a store to support herself and the family.
Elizabeth and Brigham had five children together. When Brigham’s oldest daughter died, she left an infant son, Jack. Elizabeth took Jack in and raised him as her own. Imagine the strength it would take to raise that many children. If my count is right, that adds up to an even dozen.
On July 24, 1948, Elizabeth Griffith Davies was honored by President George Albert Smith as a part of the Days of ’47 celebration at the Hotel Utah in Salt Lake City. She was 91 at the time. She lived two more years.
I cannot imagine the physical and emotional toughness that these pioneers had. I cannot imagine leaving a comfortable home, crossing the plains to live in a place never before seen, not knowing what to expect. I cannot imagine losing an infant child, and leaving them to be buried in a place you may never visit again. I cannot bear to imagine the heartbreak left on those barren plains.
Even though I cannot fathom what they went through, I can express a deep, heartfelt gratitude for what these forebearers have done for me. I can express my deepest gratitude for their example to me.
I can only hope I have a bit of these ancestors in me. Perhaps, if the gene pool has been kind, I have a little bit of that strength, toughness and fortitude.
And maybe, just maybe, I can pass that along to my own children.
Thank you, Elizabeth. Thank you.
Special thanks to Farrel Davies, who has since passed on, and my own parents for sharing this information with me. If there are any faults in the relating, they are purely mine.
Happy Pioneer Day, everyone. Celebrate those who have come before!!