My father was a master story teller, though the versions he shared always taught lessons and perpetuated high moral character. Some were about the family during adolescence, others were well-known generally. Their importance to him was so high, he was known to have written: If I were to lose everything I had, and could only save a couple things, I’d grab my scriptures and John S. Stucki’s Journal. John Stucki was my dad’s grandfather, whom he admired and appreciated greatly.
Below are a few more of my favorite stories, which I have carried with me throughout my life, which continue to lift, inspire, and motivate. I think they will inspire you as well.
These stories are of particular interest and meaning to me because they are about my ancestors and people whom I would like to emulate. Their experiences literally helped shape my life and determine the kind of family and circumstances surrounding my birth, rearing, and ultimately adulthood. In another sense, all pioneer stories are about our gospel family; combined and shared experiences encourage, strengthen, and lift us all. These are the words of my ancestor, sharing his own stories.
SAVED FROM DROWNING
I will now relate a wonderful experience which I had while we were living near the Jordan bridge in the Spring of 1861 when I was ten years of age. Having sometimes seen boys come out to the river to catch fish on Sunday forenoons the same as on week days, and seeing some boys fishing one Sunday, I got a hook and line ready, but felt that perhaps I ought not to try it on Sunday. The thought came to me that those boys must be of good Latter-day Saint parents and if their parents allowed their boys to catch fish on Sunday it would not be more sinful for me than it was for them to try it for a while.
I threw my line into the water and while standing on a high bank. The bank caved in with me and let me down into the deep river. I did not know the least thing about swimming and the water took me along till I sank to the bottom. I thought that was the end of my life. Then I thought that it would still be possible for God to save my life; so in my thought I prayed to God to save me. Just then a voice said to me, “Grab hold of that sticky clay in the bottom and crawl out.” At the same time I found that I could cling to the clay and so I crawled toward the shore. I happened to crawl right toward where my mother was standing on the bank with a large, long stick to reach down to me. It seemed for a little while that I could not get my breath anymore after I got hold of the stick, but I made up my mind to cling to the stick with all my might so long as I could. After a little while I could start to breathe again. It surely is wonderful to me how the Lord heard the prayer of my thoughts deep down in the bottom of the river and that I was led right toward the spot where my mother was standing on the high bank. She walked along the bank and, keeping my head above the water, led me down to the bridge where I could climb out, over a rough rock wall. Oh, how thankful I am to my kind Heavenly Father for having heard my humble secret prayers, and protected me from great danger and death in so many dangerous times and places. He has made many things known to me through heavenly dreams and visions, and by heavenly voices telling me things in answer to secret prayer. I often feel that I can never thank Him enough for all the many wonderful blessings with which He has blessed me. Trying to fish on Sunday has taught me a lesson for life (even though I was only ten years of age then), to keep the Sabbath day holy.
Lots of times when I had hay partly dried, laying on the ground there came a stormy looking Sunday morning. I lived right by the side of one of the main field roads and would see some of the farmers hurry by with their hay rakes to rake their hay, but I never worked with my hay no matter how much it looked like we might have a bad storm on Sabbath morning. I was lucky nearly always to get good hay. We sure were greatly blessed with plenty of everything if we did not do any work on Sunday and the Lord heard the prayer of a child’s thought deep down in the water and saved it.
Another story about this young pioneer boy can be found in the video below.
ACROSS THE RIVER
By the time the Martin handcart company reached Devil’s Gate in eastern Wyoming, they had already encountered severe hardships and many deaths. Only a fourth of the handcarts had been constructed in St Louis and were well suited to the punishing conditions of rough terrain and inadequate maintenance by amateur pioneers; the other three-fourths were made of green wood and poorly constructed. In addition, they had started out from Iowa City much too late in the season for a reasonable expectation about fair weather. They had already crossed and re-crossed the Sweetwater five or six times before that fateful day on November 4, 1856 when, in their exhaustive push to move ahead before more snow and cold, they came to the Sweetwater one more time. By now there was three or more inches of ice on the river in places and the water was two to three feet deep with sandy bottom.
The few wagons they had with provisions were first to go across and break the ice such that the handcarts could follow, but the path across this relatively narrow river of 30 or 40 feet was actually much longer than that, because they had to turn downstream midway and follow a more shallow section of the river until they could turn toward the opposite shore and climb the bank. To those struggling to push their handcarts along the rough path, the encounter with this icy river was simply too much. Some sat down and wept as they looked out at what to them was an impossible task. They simply did not have the energy to ford that cold river while pushing and pulling their loads along such a formidable river bottom. A few children could ride the wagons, but there were so many sick and aged among them that the wagons couldn’t even begin to take the many who could not traverse on their own.
However, accompanying them were many of the 27 men in the first rescue party that had reached them just days earlier. One by one, those men began offering rides on their backs for women, children, and others too weak to walk on their own. These men would carry the emigrants on their back through the icy waters and deposit them on the other side, then return across the river to help the next person. They continued this strenuous effort in cold water up to and above their waist for several hours; as they did this, their courageous acts inspired other handcart pioneers to venture on their own, many pulling their own carts, to make the crossing. What had seemed impossible just hours before was eventually completed for everyone. It was not only a miracle, but it was also a tribute to dedicated and selfless young men who placed their own lives at risk to save so many.
THE MIRACULOUS HEALING
They first gathered at Reber’s place where the Elder talked to them for a while. They had about a mile and a half to go from Reber’s house to where the water was deep enough to be immersed in, so my father and his brother each took turns carrying Mr. Reber until they had reached the place of baptism. After my parents and all the others were baptized the Elder also baptized the crippled-up Reber in the icy water. Then he layed (sic) his hands upon him quickly and blessed him for the restoration of his health. My father and his brother took hold under his shoulders again to help him home, but Mr. Reber said he believed that he could walk home without help and would not need their help any more. He then threw away his two short sticks which he had used for a year and walked home without any help.
Two or three days later, my parents sent me to their place on an errand again. When I was still quite a way from the place I saw a straight man come out and walk around the house. Having seen Reber walk nearly doubled up and hardly able to get from his bed to the table, even by using two short sticks, I thought it must be some other man. When I came into the house my aunt asked me if I saw how straight Reber now walked. Then I asked, “Oh, was that Reber that came out of the house walking so straight?” She said, “yes,” with tears of joy running down her cheeks. Then she said that it was on the very same night when he was baptized that his crippled-up hands and back were all made straight as any man’s. She told me that she never would have believed before that such a wonder could happen as had happened with her husband that night.
Everybody far-and-wide that had seen or heard of Reber’s awful condition and how he had been suffering up to the time when he was baptized, and then saw how straight and healthy he was from that night on would say that a great wonder and miracle had happened. Anyone would think that such a wonderful happening would lead people to investigate the Gospel, but the devil always inspires someone to turn the people to make them disbelieve the truth. If I remember right, some minister told the people that such things were not done anymore by the power of God; that this man must have done it through the power of the devil. That reminded me of how they accused the Savior of casting out devils through Beelzebub, the prince of the devils. Those that embraced the Gospel could see that the promise of the Lord became fulfilled when he spoke of the signs that should follow the believer in Mr. Reber having been so suddenly healed from his awful suffering and crippled-up condition. It was a strong testimony to them forever afterwards.
Oh, what a change came over the sad hearts of the Reber family between the time when they were in the deepest of sorrow. At the time I was sent to them last before they heard anything of the Gospel; when my aunt wept so bitterly after telling me that they had to sell their last cow and everything they had to pay the bill of the seventh doctor without any of the seven doctors having been able to give him any relief; that her husband had been getting worse and more crippled all the time; that she could see no earthly hope anymore; that her husband must lay and suffer until death would relieve him; that she with her children must be left in great poverty and distress. Thus the dark clouds of suffering, sorrow and despair were weighing down upon their hearts so heavy and almost more than they felt able to endure. Compared to the time when a man of God such as their mother had foretold they would live to see and hear was sent to them.
Then it was the beautiful morning dawned upon them for brighter future when the Elder brought to them the glad tidings of great joy–the saving Gospel message. Not only did he bring them relief from awful suffering, sorrow and hopeless dispair (sic), but he was leading them into the light of the true and everlasting Gospel and unto that straight and narrow path which leads unto Life Eternal, away from the bondage of sin and death. Thus, after the darkest clouds, came the brightest sunshine to cheer up their sad hearts forever.
As this has been wonderfully interesting to me, and as the old people who knew of these wonderful experiences have all passed to the other side without having written anything of these things, I thought that these wonderful things might also be interesting for their and my posterity to read in the future.
I am the only one living that saw their suffering, sorrow and distress. Those things are yet quite fresh in my mind and it seems to me that I would not be doing right if I did not write these things down for our posterity so that they could also know what wonderful things God has done for their forefathers and mothers. That thereby their faith might be strengthened to trust God by drawing near unto Him in humble, secret prayer for deliverance in times of trouble and sorrow.
Admiration, reverence, and appreciation are my reactions to these stories. I want to be a better, nobler person each time I hear them. These accounts have particular meaning to me since they involve my ancestors. Your family stories will affect you, too. Start now capturing your legacy, which will be cherished by your descendants, as well.
About Walter Penning
In 1989, Walter Penning formed a consultancy based in Salt Lake City and empowered his clients by streamlining processes and building a loyal, lifetime customer base with great customer service. His true passion is found in his family. He says the best decision he ever made was to marry his sweetheart and have children. The wonderful family she has given him and her constant love, support, and patience amid life's challenges is his panacea.