"It began to seem like my children were only born to die" Alice Ann Richards Smith, Pioneer Day story

This is an embarrassment of riches. That’s what I thought when I looked around my leaking and smallish camp trailer, while reading the pioneer story (below) pulled from a research stack I had brought into the woods. The experience that follows touched me deeply, and I wanted to write a Pioneer Day article about remembering and showing gratitude. This experience made me ask the question:

What would my pioneer ancestors say to me?”

As context, my little family drove to Glacier National Park, through such heavy rains we had to stop on the highway; we couldn’t see the road.  When we set up camp, we discovered that the trailer’s roof was leaking all over our beds. Ugh. My husband took duct tape and bailing twine measures to stop drips that night, and we discussed whether we should repair and keep it, or repair and sell it when we got home. Either way, we’d have to sink some money, and either decision would be fine because we had paid almost nothing for the trailer originally and had loved it well. It didn’t owe us anything.

Alice Ann's story showed that our little old camp trailer and my family are riches indeed

But as I did some pioneer research later in the week, I became immersed in the story below and all at once I saw my circumstances through an entirely different lens. Here is the story of Alice Ann Richards, who is not a part of my family but who I love just the same.

The Pioneer Story of Alice Ann Richards

Alice Ann Richards, photo from FamilySearch
Alice Ann Richards, photo from FamilySearch

Alice Ann Richards was born in a covered wagon parked on Main Street of Salt Lake City during a snowstorm in 1849. Her petite mother Nanny Lynn Longstroth was just 21 years old, and a wife to Willard Richards. As context for our Mormon friends, Willard Richards was a first cousin and good friend of Brigham Young. He served as church Historian and first Editor of the Deseret News and had been the private secretary to Joseph Smith. Richards was one of the men present in Cartahage Jail when Joseph Smith was shot.

Back to Alice Ann. At the time she was born, the family was so poor that her mother and mother’s sister Sarah had only one good dress and one good layette set to share between them. The two sisters alternated wearing the dress in public and using the layette set as needed, and were grateful for that much.

Why, you might ask, was little Alice Ann born in a covered wagon in a snowstorm? Because that was their home the winter after they arrived in the valley.

Wait, what?

That’s right. They lived in a covered wagon for an entire Utah winter until better shelter could be built the following summer. They lived with only canvas between them and the elements for whatever time it took to build a dwelling. Nobody had homes when they arrived. No building materials were purchased from Home Depot. No groceries could be picked up. After months of crossing the plains, no warm bath or savory meal greeted them in the Salt Lake valley. They faced more hard labor to scratch an existence from the sagebrush.

Alice Ann’s story was not unique and I have ancestors who spent a winter living in a covered wagon in Ephraim, Utah and another set of ancestors spent the first year huddled in a dugout carved from the banks of the Bear River. Mud dripped on their heads every time it rained. I cannot begin to imagine.

There is more to Alice Ann’s story. She later became a plural wife to the famous Lot Smith. As a girl, she heard of his heroism in stopping Johnston’s Army in the “Utah War” and she said “I’m going to marry that man.” When she came of age, she did marry him but it’s heartbreaking to think of how her girlish dreams faced an unforgiving landscape in those days.

"It began to seem like my children were only born to die" Alice Ann Richards Smith, Pioneer Day storyMy eyes filled with tears when I read this from her journal a few years later, “I was beginning to think my children were only born to die.” The family had been called by Brigham Young to settle a harsh part of Arizona and it was there that she buried four of her nine children. One boy drowned crossing a river, one toddler was scalded when he toppled the lye soap vat, and two died at about a year old. Childhood disease was a cruel thief in those days.  By the time she was my age, Alice Ann got word that one of her sons had typhoid fever at college in Provo and wasn’t expected to make it. His roommate had already passed away so she grabbed her children and chased time to Utah. She had no money, but she happened to cross paths with her husband on the way. He had just sold some animals and had cash for her train fare. They parted, expecting her to return but she never did. The fates next brought a mix of blessings and heartaches.

First the blessings. Her son recovered and at the same time, her father’s estate was settled. This gave her enough money to purchase a farm of her own. She bought land and a small farm in Fielding, Utah sight unseen because she had brothers there. As a plural wife for twenty some years, living in a failed “United Order” experiment, she now had a real home of her own. She described that period as the happiest time of her entire life.  Her husband made one visit but within a year was shot by a rogue Indian in Arizona, even though he had been good friends with the local tribe. Her youngest son Albert (Pinto) would never know his father.

By age 41 Alice Ann Richards had 9 children and buried 4 of them. She had been a plural wife for decades, and now lost her husband. The “happiest time of her life” was in the middle of establishing a homestead virtually from scratch and living in a home that her grandchildren described as having walls so thin the winter winds came right through. At least it wasn’t a covered wagon. Yet through the hardship, she was always considered a lady. She had received a top-notch education and had a keen intellect. She was a woman of faith and conversation and grit. One grandson described her as “the most loving person I had ever met,” although another grandchild added, “I never saw her smile.” I’d lose my smile too if I had to grieve six of my nine children. Only three outlived her own long life.

Related: An orphaned Indian’s Pioneer Story

Inside our cozy trailer reminds me how much more we have than pioneer ancestors, even while camping
Inside our cozy camp trailer

Luxurious Camping

I read all of this while sitting on a memory-foam cushion atop a queen sized bed in our cozy trailer. The cabinets were stocked with hamburger buns and marshmallows. The fridge was full of bacon and apple juice. We had dishes, paper towels and soap that we purchased – not made from an enormous vat of lye and lard. A vat like the one that took Alice Ann’s little boy. Warm water streamed from the trailer’s tap on demand, a little toilet was right inside and it even had a little shower if we were so inclined. A propane-powered furnace kicked on if the temperature dropped, and if I needed power for my laptop, we just started the generator. Our truck had hauled us 700 miles for the sheer pleasure of vacation. And after the roof leaked, my husband drove into town the next day and purchased a roll of sticky vinyl to cover the roof, keeping us dry the rest of the trip. The engineering and quality of materials in our “economical” camp trailer was astounding.

Related: Pioneer Stories Help us Work Harder

What would the ancestors say?

My baby girl inside our trailer. Riches compared to pioneer life.
My daughter and husband having breakfast in our little trailer the first year we got it.

Alice Ann, if we could visit together, what would you say to me? Would you scold me for being a spoiled brat? Or would you tell me to enjoy these blessings with my whole being? Would you remind me to clutch my baby? When I get cranky about my husband, would you tell me to stop being such a whiner and appreciate this man who does so much around the house? Maybe you’d say all of this at once.

An answer also whispered that Alice Ann and my own ancestors would tell me to look at my family and see, “these are your riches.”

We can’t know for sure what the dead would say, but on this Pioneer Day, I would like to tell Alice Ann and my own ancestors who laid the bricks for my comfortable life something:

“Thank you. Your stories remind me that I can do hard things. I am doing my best to remember, and I hope to honor your name.”

Alice Ann’s granddaughter honors her pioneer ancestors with this chart in her home.

And in case you wonder if her own family honors her, enjoy this photo taken in her granddaughter’s home. It is the best genealogy chart I have ever seen for how personal it is. This chart has been up for decades, with only first names to make each ancestor more approachable, and with hand drawings. Enjoy!

Related: My Uncanny Discoveries and a Prayer that Preceded Them

Finish your story with help from Evalogue.Life - cabin on the water photo

How can you get the most from Pioneer Day with your family?

We have a few ideas of how to really bring the Pioneer spirit into your home this week.

  • Read some family pioneer stories or enjoy a book about them. There are a some Gerald Lund classics we love: The Work and the Glory series (traces a fictional family all the way across the plains), Undaunted series (details the story of the hole in the rock pioneers).
  • Check out FamilySearch. If you don’t have an account, this is a great time to make one and if you do and then do a little searching you just may find a treasure trove of pioneer stories that someone has included in your tree. I just found a golden stash today and spent some quality time and shed a few tears reading some of my pioneer stories.
  • Watch a great pioneer movie. 17 Miracles or Ephraim’s Rescue are two that come to mind. Your children will be enthralled and it will open the floodgates with questions about your own pioneer heritage.
  • Visit a Family Discovery Center or a pioneer museum. The Daughters of the Utah Pioneers has locations in Ogden and Salt Lake City and they have amazing collections of artifacts and docents that have limitless knowledge and great stories to tell. We try to take to our kids every year.
  • And if you do nothing else, just take a moment, as a family or personally, to reflect on the sweet sacrifice of the forefathers of your family.

Enjoy these Pioneer Days festivities:

For our Utah friends, here are some quick links to 2017 Pioneer Day activities (week of July 24, 2017):

As a shout-out, we live in Ogden and think it has the best Pioneer Days activities anywhere. The parade is impressive but with a hometown feeling. The rodeo is amazing.

Rhonda Lauritzen
Rhonda Lauritzen

By Rhonda Lauritzen, founder and an author at Evalogue.Life, where we tell personal and family stories that inspire. (Let us help you tell yours!) Rhonda lives to hear and tell about people’s lives, especially the uncanny moments. She and her husband Milan restored an old Victorian in Ogden and work together in Evalogue.Life, weaving family and business together.

 

 

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4 thoughts on “Alice Ann’s Story Shows Me Riches

  • July 23, 2017 at 2:48 pm
    Permalink

    My mother’s name was Ann Alice Smith Nebeker.
    Her grandmother was Alice Ann Kimball Smith.
    Her mother was Ann Alice Gheen Kimball
    Her grandmother was Alice Ann Atkins Gheen.

    My son just named his little girl Alice Roselyn Diamond.
    So, I was particularly interested in this story of Alice Ann Richards Smith, who I wondered had any relation to my long string of Alice Ann’s and Ann Alice’s. I loved this story and appreciate the sacrifices these strong women made for us. It is something we don’t want to ever forget.
    Thank You!
    Catherine DIamond

    Reply
    • September 28, 2017 at 11:49 am
      Permalink

      How lovely to have a new little girl named Alice after such a line of strong women. Hmm, I wonder if there really is any connection to your Alice Ann and to ours or if it was just a common name at the time? I say this because we often find interconnections we didn’t expect to find. Thank you for your comment Catherine. The fact that you took a minute means a lot to us. (By the way, we would have responded right away but this comment got embedded in with other SPAM and we just saw it today).

      Reply
  • August 3, 2017 at 2:07 am
    Permalink

    Thank you so much for writing this article. My mom shared it with me on Facebook. Alice Ann Richards is my Great, Great Grandmother. I have grown up listening to stories about her from my Grandma. She loved and respected her so much. Growing up we made a memorial day trip to Alice Ann’s burial place in Fielding. We would also go by her home in Fielding. I learned a lot from your article that I either didn’t know or have forgotten. Thank your for this treasure!

    Reply
    • September 28, 2017 at 11:52 am
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      Kerri, I am delighted that you are a descendant of Alice Ann Richards and that you found this story. What a proud heritage you have to come from her line. She is not a blood relative of my own, but she inspires me a great deal and I have come to love her. It pleases me that you were reminded of details about her and that this article might add to the legacy of her life.

      Reply

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