Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Cove Fort and Ira Nathaniel Hinckley

Said Brigham Young: " 'The worst time was n[ot when we] were poor and struggling, for then w[e worked with] each other and shared everything [that we had] with each other, and rejoiced in each [other’s joys] and wept with each other in bereav[ement. Oh]! so many dear little children as we saw [die! The] wailing of the mothers rent the air of the [de]sert, and we had to comfort them and be a [stren]gth to them, we men with our own hearts a-[breaki]ng.

"Here President Young buried his [fa]ce in his hands and sobbed, and for a long time kept silence, overcome by the recollections of that first winter. 'When I think of all that, I feel full of unspeakable tenderness for my people. And when I look about me and see the multitude of children of that band of pilgrims, and their children’s children, I feel like him who found honey in the carcass of the lion' "("Brigham Young at Home," The Weekly Sun, 19 September 1877).

Thanks to President Gordon B. Hinckley, we no longer look at the pioneer story only as the triumph of man over nature but as the setting for God’s power of deliverance. The handcart story speaks to the rescue of hundreds from certain death, and of the dozens upon dozens who perished in the cold. Today I speak of the rescue of one.

President Hinckley often spoke of his grandfather. Crossing the plains, grandfather lost his young wife. He dug the grave; he tenderly laid the body into it; then he lifted his little daughter to his shoulder and marched on. The rescue of one. That makeshift grave of the one dearest to him stirs into memory the words of Ben Jonson: “Underneath this stone doth lie/As much beauty as could die.” Grandfather now lifted to his heart the one dearest to both and came home to the Valley.

There’s more to the story. Grandfather, a lonely blacksmith, with a lonely child, remarried, and with his children built a way station in the desert. The way station, home to the weary traveler, was an oasis enclosed by eighteen-foot walls of black volcanic rock. The smithy and the telegraph were ever ringing and humming. At the heart of everything was grandmother’s long table covered with beautiful white linen and set daily with twelve loaves of bread. It was order surrounded by nothingness, a point of contact, of rescue.

Through its broad gates there poured the grand pageantry of humanity: the Ute, the Paiute, the Navajo, wild mustangs with cowboys holding on for dear life. There were soldiers: the Grand Army of the Republic in its blue uniforms; the outlaw, and the lawman, his pursuer; the aristocrat from over the sea. There were wagons heavy with gold bullion, the twice-daily stagecoach pulled by six fine horses: tinker, tailor, soldier, sailor.

And, then, there were children, pioneer children.

A boy, sent out by his parents with a load of fruit, found himself with a broken-down wagon. He walked four miles to the station in a cold storm. Grandfather and grandmother took him in. “I told my story, and your grandfather said ‘that was nothing.’ In the morning he had a man take his wagon and team and unload everything from mine and sent me on to Salem with his wagon. When I got back, my wagon was all fixed up, and he said I was ‘just as welcome to it as sunshine.’”

Late one winter night, two of grandfather’s wee daughters, bored beyond endurance, slipped outside the gate in search of a game. There was no game; so they made one up. It was a game everyone has sometime played. Aunt Nervy, I guess it was, the oldest, took a deep breath, tilted her head and . . . yelled. Little Jean, not to be outdone, thrust back her little arms, clenched her fists, drew her breath, tossed her head, ponytails flying, opened her mouth, and . . .

“What was that?” The sisters looked at each other. Was it the wind? A wolf? Indians?

Then Nervy yelled again. Now they knew: something was out there; something had answered. They ran back through the gate. “Pa, pa, pa, Something, something, pa.” I see Grandfather in his rocking chair, blazing fire on the hearth, book in hand, half-asleep. But something was up, and he let the girls pull him outside into the cold. He listened. Then he knew. Someone was out there.

He ordered a team to be hitched to a big sleigh, grandmother loaded it with heavy blankets, and, then, as the girls stared, grandfather was gone––pursuing a lingering wail. Then he stopped. It was dark. He got out and walked closer. Was it a coyote? It was a boy, a shepherd boy. He was alive, but a brother was dead. He lifted the living boy to his shoulder, set him in the sleigh, and wrapped him in blankets; he lifted the body of the brother, and brought them home. I can picture what happened next. He laid one boy, also wrapped in blankets, on a bed. He set the other boy in his own rocking chair in front of the fire. He was alive. Soon grandmother came in with something hot to drink in a large cup that she held tight in both hands, as the boy sipped. Time passed, and then, as if squeezed from him, his story tumbled out. He was a shepherd boy. Two of his brothers once had been sent to herd sheep. They had frozen to death. Now two more.

The sisters, standing off to one side, heard his story.

The brothers had died.

But this boy would live.

Grandfather would see to that. Grandfather would take the boys home to their mother; he would give comfort; he would talk to the parents. And they would listen to grandfather.

This boy, this shepherd boy, would live.

The girls had played their game well.

Grandfather, and his girls, ran a way station in the desert.

And now, as President Monson so often says: “Brothers and Sisters, To the rescue.” To the rescue.

Notes: The source for the statement of Brigham Young is "Protea," an unidentified governess to Brigham Young's grandchildren. The original is damaged, and I've had to reconstruct some of the wording.

The story of the shepherd boy was told to Bryant S. Hinckley by his sister Jean (Emily Angelena Hinckley Holbrook); the story of the broken-down wagon was told by Edwin S. Hinckley. Both stories come from Parnell Hinckley's biographical sketch of his grandfather and may be found in The Life and Family of Ira Nathaniel Hinckley, eds. Arden and Lorraine Ashton (2000), pages 17-76 (and see especially ps. 37-38).

Photograph (October 1974): Harold Alonzo Hinckley, grandson of Ira Nathaniel Hinckley, and his grandson, Val Hinckley Sederholm, standing in front of the room in Cove Fort understood to be the birthplace of his father, Alonzo A. Hinckley.

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