by Allen Hackworth
Perhaps we may feel sorry for the pioneers because of their primitive conditions and many hardships. But of course there is another side to their story. America in the 19th Century provided a time of change and excitement, a time of new frontiers and adventures. Roasted venison and potatoes tasted delicious in those days, as did melted butter on corn. And the sun felt good as it warmed sweethearts who watched boats float down the Mississippi River. The bees made clover honey which tasted scrumptious on hot rolls. And families laughed and played and dreamed together. Life was worth living.
This was a time upon which we look back and romanticize in our movies and folk songs. Into a milieu of abundant, wild game, horses, pistols, cowboys, and Indians, Peter Tidwell was born in Illinois in 1831 to Absalom Tidwell and Elizabeth McBride.
Not too long after Peter was born, Absalom began articulating a new dream. There had been talk in the neighborhood of new lands opening up in Iowa. The word was “this is fertile and choice ground.” Up until now, Iowa had only been a wilderness, inhabited by numerous bands of Indians.
Absalom might have asked Elizabeth, “Do you think you’d like to shove over into Iowa? I hear tell of lots of good land. But a man’s got to jump when the fire’s hot. So, what da ya think, Elizabeth?”
“Heavens, Absalom, how can we survive in Indian Territory? We have children. We’ve already lost three. And thank the Lord, he’s let us keep three. But I’ve got friends here in Randolph. Oh Absalom, Illinois a good spot.”
“Well ya know what’s happened, Elizabeth. While back, the Indians were real sore and fought back, led by Black Hawk. But peace is comin’. Negotiatin’s goin’ on.”
On the banks of the Mississippi in a tent, the U.S. treaty makers and Indians met to end the Black Hawk War. It was agreed that in exchange for a narrow strip of land about 50 miles wide, running north and south along the Mississippi River of present-day Iowa, monies and goods would be paid.
The payment to the Indians would be $20,000 per year for 30 years. Also, to those Indian families who had lost men during the Black Hawk War, cattle and abundant portions of salt, pork, flour, and corn were given. Also, accumulated debts of around $40,000 which had been levied against the Indians would be forgiven.
After the “Black Hawk Purchase” was ratified by Congress in February, by June 1st 1833 settlers started moving into Iowa. This same year Absalom and family moved into Iowa. But along with the new settlers, the Mormon missionaries came. They taught Absalom and Elizabeth the gospel. Absalom and Elizabeth believed the message and joined the LDS Church in 1833. At the time, Peter was three.
The family remained in Iowa for the next few years, and two more children were born, William in 1835 and Martha in 1836. But in late 1836 or early 1837, the family move to Jackson County, Missouri where another child, Sarah, was born.
But the stench of unrest hung low in the air. Around 1837, bitterness and hostilities forced the saints to flee from Missouri to Illinois. In Missouri the Saints’ oppression was intensified by weak men who held public office, for example, Missouri Governor Lilburn W. Boggs. On October 27, 1838, he signed a heinous document which historians call the “extermination order.” It reads: "The Mormons must be treated as enemies, and must be exterminated, or driven from the State, if necessary for the public peace" (quoted in History of the Church, 3:175). Peter was six.
Along with thousands of other Saints, the Tidwells worked their way to Nauvoo and stayed in the region for the next few years. While in Nauvoo in 1845, Absalom died leaving Elizabeth three sons and four daughters all under the age of 14.
Partial completion of the Nauvoo Temple allowed about 6,000 saints to attend the Nauvoo Temple for sacred, religious purposes and on January 22, 1846, Elizabeth had her temple work done. Soon thereafter, the saints began their exodus from Nauvoo. Peter was 15.
Imagining some of the experiences of these people, I wrote the following:
Clouds are forming in the East;
Blackened skies suggest no peace.
Thunder rumbles rock the ground.
Powder burns; the bullets pound.
Curses angry start a fight;
Riders raiding in the night.
Fires are raging; homes are burned;
Hopes are crushed; the Saints are spurned.
It’s America; we should be free
But the people run; they’ve got to flee –
to a new land under western skies,
to a new land in the mountains high,
to a new land.
Homes are lost; the mountains are sure.
We will slice that prairie floor
With our wagon wheels,
With our handcart wheels
We know how it feels – to go --
Tripping along with Company B;
Morning crossed o’er the Mississippi.
Well the river is tame in the winter time;
Sugar Creek camp is down the line.
February in ‘46
Well we left Nauvoo in an awful fix.
Chorus: Sugar Creek tickle. Sugar Creek tickle.
Grab your gal and stamp your feet;
This bouncing dance just can’t be beat.
Hold your honey then spin her around;
Laugh and sing, make a happy sound.
Times were bitter; we felt the cold.
West keeps calling but the winter is old.
And the storms were raw in April and May.
Kept us huddled up another day.
Tears were flowing, then Brigham said,
Dance the Sugar Creek tickle and get out of bed.
Cattle start pulling the the early light.
To make twelve miles is a mighty fight.
Council Bluffs on the Missouri
Is temporary quarters for you and me.
We’ll fire up the kettle and lift our heels;
We’ll dance the Sugar Creek tickle,
Oh, you know how it feels.
The young lad, Peter, with his mother, sisters and brothers, experienced Sugar Creek and moved on to Winter Quarters and Pleasant Grove. [See map.] At Pleasant Grove, the family stayed for a few years to make preparations for the trek west. During this time of preparation at Pleasant Grove, Peter met his sweetheart, Sophronia Hatch. Her family was also staying there and making preparations.
When Peter visited with the Josephus Hatch family at Pleasant Grove, he found the Hatches and Tidwells had similar yearnings, albeit they had joined the church in different locations. Telling their stories one to another opened a world of common sympathy. That along with the natural attraction of a 21-year-old male for a beautiful 17-year-old female caused Sophronia and Peter to fall in love. Their dialogue may have been similar to this:
“Sophronia, how did your family first join the church?”
“Oh, it started early.”
“Well, where were you living when you first heard the gospel taught?”
“We lived In Vermont. My family farmed in Bristol. When I was six, Elder Sisson Chase came to us, and that’s how it started. The message he brought made all the difference. Although Father had a beautiful farm, all he could talk about was ‘being with the saints.’
It took some time to sell things, but in three years, in 1842, we took our journey to join the saints in Nauvoo, traveling 1,153 miles from Bristol to Nauvoo. It took us six weeks from June to August.”
[As one studies the stories, one finds inconsistencies. For example, the Josephus Hatch history says the family left Bristol for Nauvoo in the fall of 1843. Yet in a short history by Sophronia, she gives the date as June 1842. But the general outline is reliable. A.H.]
“Did others in your family join?”
“Yes they did. In addition to my sister, Mary Rebecca who was 14 at the time, my Grandfather and Grandmother Hatch [Jeremiah Hatch and Elizabeth Haight] joined. Also, Father’s brother, Hezikiah and his family joined, plus Mother’s brother, Francillo Durfee. Then we left Nauvoo.”
In Pleasant Grove, as Peter and Sophronia visited, they remembered life in Nauvoo. They remembered that the Saints were sad to leave their homes, farms, orchards, city, and temple, yet the people desired a place of refuge. Consequently, the dream of peace in the West was strong. That same yearning was expressed by Brigham Young in a letter sent to President James K. Polk in 1846:
"We would esteem a territorial government of our own as one of the richest boons of earth, and while we appreciate the Constitution of the United States as the most precious among the nations, we feel that we had rather retreat to the deserts, islands or mountain caves than consent to be ruled by governors and judges whose hands are drenched in the blood of innocence and virtue, who delight in injustice and oppression." (quoted in B.H. Roberts, A Comprehensive History of the Church, 3:89-90).
Later, after Sophronia and Peter had reached Utah, Sophronia looked back and described leaving Nauvoo. She said,
“We had difficulty in getting started -- my father having had a horse stolen. We took what we could in one wagon and left our home in 1846 — our family consisting of father, mother, grand-parents, my sister Mary and one brother [William Edson], and myself and mother's niece — her mother having died and her father [Francillo] had gone to the Battalion. I was then twelve years of age.
After crossing the Mississippi River, and while we were trying to locate the place where Cousin Jerry Hatch had stopped at which was called Mississippi River, as we were journeying along our wagon tipped over spilling most of our things. My sister at once went and found the place and Jerry came with a yoke of cattle and helped us, and we again started on our way. When we arrived at Zion, we spent a very happy evening — to think we were there among friends. There were five families there in a little log room.
The week after we were there, mother was confined in a tent where they had to dig trenches to keep the water from running over her, it rained so hard. Baby was born September 24, 1846. We stopped there two or three weeks, then moved to a place called Sugar Creek. It was a place in the woods where all kinds of timber grew, and it was there that Father learned to make baskets. He would take a load to Montrose every week; so you see the way the Lord blessed us, helping us to earn our daily bread. My mother and sister were sick all that winter, so it fell to me to do the cooking and work for the family and take care of my little brother. My father bought a house in Sugar Creek, and we stayed there and raised a crop.
In the fall of 1847, we started for Winter Quarters and arrived there about the first of November. We lived there through the winter, and my grand-mother [Elizabeth Haight Hatch] died on December 15th of that year. We then moved to Pleasant Grove, Iowa to get ready to come to Utah.”
It would be fun to have a first-person, journal entry describing how Peter and Sophronia first met. Perhaps they met at a church social or maybe at the school because for three year in Pleasant Grove, Sophronia attended school. However, their love did grow, and in March 1852, Peter married Sophronia.
Two months after the wedding, in May the family was finally ready to start for the west. By this time Grandpa Jeremiah Hatch was old and near death. He died in May in his son’s home at Pleasant Grove the same year Josephus started west. These people traveled with the Isaac M. Stewart Company (9th).
After arriving in the valley, after resting and visiting for two weeks, the Hatches and Tidwells moved to Ogden, Utah and stayed from 1852 until 1862. While in Ogden, Peter and Sophronia had children. Then the Tidwells moved to Richmond for two years and eventually settled in Smithfield, Utah in 1864. The town had only been settled since 1860, so they were in on the beginning developments. Just before they arrived, the Smithfield settlers had been living in the fort, but by now the Indians had become more friendly, and families started moving out of the fort.
Remembering their stories, remembering the move from Winter Quarters to Salt Lake, I wrote these lines:
Then we pushed o’er the flat lands; we climbed the rocky hill.
We floated tumbling rivers and found more mountains still.
The sun keeps burning softly; our faces show the wear.
But western lands keep calling; we’ll build our Zion there.
We lifted through the canyon walls; we daily touch the sky.
We’re living with the eagles now; it’s here — we’ve got to try.
Immigration is the canyon sweet; it’s coming soon they say.
We then see the valley but hope we will not stay.
But Brigham gazes slowly; he says, “This is the right place.”
It’s here the God of Eden will build a noble race.
We lifted through the canyon walls; we daily touch the sky.
We’re living with the prophets now; it’s here — we’ve got to try.