Pioneer Day Lessons

Pioneer Day is celebrated in Utah on July 24th every year commemorating the arrival of the Mormon pioneers into the Salt Lake Valley in 1847.   This year I am 47 years old and I have been joking that these are my days of 47.

In the traditional sense I do have a rich pioneer heritage, and I’ll talk about this a little later. But I also know that today, in 2018, there continues to be pioneering with many individuals and families who join The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in many parts of the world where the restored gospel is new and not as well established.

Elder Bringhurst and Elder Deray
Elder DeRay and Elder Bringhurst serving in Pau, France 1993

I served as a full-time missionary for the Church in the Bordeaux, France mission. One of the families we baptized was from Congo (then called Zaire). Etienne Kapinga Mwamba had been high up in the Zaire military when there was a coup and the government was overthrown. All of a sudden, he was a wanted man. He was able to escape with his wife and two young daughters. He was seeking political asylum in France when we knocked on his door. If he would have been sent back to Congo, he would have been executed. Despite being high up in the military and having a comfortable life in Congo, he now lived in meager circumstances and could not legally obtain employment. He was in a bad spot. I think this may have created an opportunity in his life where he was receptive to the Spirit and gave him time to study the Book of Mormon and find out it was true. As we taught them, he and his family embraced the gospel. Other missionaries in France also had success with refugees and immigrants from other countries. The humble seem to be more receptive to the gospel. Brother Mwamba was the first member of the Church in his family, and as such, was a pioneer in introducing the gospel to many of his friends and family.

A few years later, after Jen and I were married, my employer at the time assigned me to work in Almere, Netherlands just outside of Amsterdam. The missionaries there also found success with immigrants and those from other countries. While living there we had the opportunity to teach a young lady named Lenka in our home who was from the Czech Republic. She was in Holland working as a nanny. We were able to see her eventually join the Church. She later went back to her own country, where she introduced the restored gospel to her mother, and then her mother also joined the Church.

I was recently speaking with a returned missionary from Holland. He told me that his mission president is now a general authority serving in Africa.  He said that much of the Church leadership in Africa first found the restored gospel in Europe. This really struck me. I never thought of my missionary service as a pioneering mission, or as preaching to those who would be pioneers, but in many cases across Europe, that is what has happened. They found the gospel, and now are back in their home country, and they are the leadership and strong members of the Church in wards and branches sharing the restored gospel with their friends and family, and the Church is growing rapidly.

The Lord is accomplishing His work. We can’t always see what is happening, but we are all a part of pioneering in some respects. I now see many missionaries being called all over the world speaking Chinese.  I can’t help wonder if the Lord is preparing China for the gospel by finding its future leaders and stalwart families today in other parts of the world.

Paris-Temple-Open-House
Paris Temple Open House April 8, 2017

Last year my wife, my daughter Maggie and I were all able to go to the open house of the newly built LDS Paris temple. My mission president is now serving in the Quorum of the Twelve, Elder Neil L. Andersen.  He and Sister Andersen gave us and a few other missionaries who served under him, a private tour of the temple. It was a very special experience as we went from room to room in the temple and Elder Andersen would teach us about the importance of each room or tell us a story of miracles he had seen as a missionary, as a mission president, as a general authority, and now as an Apostle of the Lord Jesus Christ, all leading up to having this temple built. An accompanying French Area Seventy, Elder Matthieu Bennasar, thanked us missionaries and compared our work that we did as building the foundation of the temple. Again, I never thought of my mission as being a pioneer, or as me building a foundation of a temple, but in retrospect 25 years later, I can see the Lord’s hand in our missionary work. Elder Andersen shared a scripture with us: Doctrine and Covenants 64:3, “Wherefore, be not weary in well-doing, for ye are laying the foundation of a great work. And out of small things proceedeth that which is great.” He repeated. “Be not weary in well-doing.”

As I’ve thought about that, it seems that quite often we don’t recognize the small things that we are doing are accomplishing great things. It sometimes is not for 25 years or longer, until we can look back and see what has been accomplished.  

What lessons can we learn from our pioneer heritage? As for my ancestors, I have pioneers on both sides of my family.  I love reading journals of my ancestors and hearing stories about them. One thing that is interesting to me is that I actually know people who knew people who crossed the plains. I was close to my grandmother who was born in 1918. She would tell me stories of her grandmother and grandfather who both crossed the plains when they were young. As I have learned about my ancestors I have learned some lessons.

Lesson # 1.  Keep a journal.  You may think most  of your day-to-day life  is boring and not worth mentioning,  but one thing the Book of Mormon teaches us is how important keeping records is.  Most of us need improving in this area including  me. Record your testimony. Record what life is like. Record your blessings and miracles.

I  really  enjoy reading  about what life was like on my great-great grandfather’s farm. Hearing things  about his beehives, about how he’d bring in a bucket of warm milk each morning, how they’d churn butter, what the  meals were like that my great-great grandmother would fix, and how as bishop, members would bring produce to his home for tithing. He would then sell the produce so he could turn in the money for tithing.  I’m sure this all seemed like boring everyday occurrences,  but it’s a great glimpse for me into life on their farm.

Going way back on the Bringhurst side, the  earliest mention of a Bringhurst by name was Robert de Bringhurst dated in 1260. Bringhurst  is actually a township in England in Northhamptonshire.    So as was the custom back then, those who left a town such as Bringhurst were called “of Bringhurst”. In other words, if I were born in Port Angeles, and then I left, I would have been called Jason of Port Angeles.  Eventually the “of” or “de” was dropped. The hard thing about this is  that these people may or may not have been related. So before the emigrating  of my Bringhurst line, I can’t be 100% sure that they are my people. But I’ve picked a few who are related.

While  in England,  I was fortunate  enough to go to the  small village of Bringhurst. There is a small church there  and maybe 30 homes. I spoke to  the curator at the church and he said  that there are actually no records in the  church that indicate anyone named Bringhurst  ever lived there as far as he knew.

In the 1600’s  John Bringhurst  was a printer &  publisher in London.  He was a member of the  Religious Society of Friends.  He was a Quaker. Quakers focused  on a direct relationship with Jesus  and reading the Bible. This didn’t go  over well with many other religions of the  time.

He  became  the main  publisher in  the area for the  Society of Friends.  In 1683 John Bringhurst  printed a Quaker book that  included his testimony. It got  him into trouble with the law and  he was arrested. He continued to be  persecuted because of his faith and eventually  fled the country and lived the remainder of his  life in Amsterdam, Holland where his four children  were raised.

Lesson  # 2. I  learned from  John Bringhurst  that sometimes you  need to stand up for what you believe even when  society thinks otherwise. He could  have kept his business and stopped publishing  Quaker material, but his faith was strong and he  wanted religious freedom. John Bringhurst Jr. was born  in Amsterdam and moved with his mother and family to Philadelphia  after his father John Sr. died.

He  apprenticed  as a cooper,  which was the skill  of making the wooden barrels  with metal bands around them for  storing and shipping dry and wet goods. As a side note, I have had the thought that you really shouldn’t name  your kids the same name that you have! It makes it very confusing for people like me trying to figure  out which John Bringhurst they are talking about. So as I mentioned, John Bringhurst was a popular name among  these Bringhursts, and another John Bringhurst in 1768 was also member of Society of Friends. There are records  that he was associated with Benjamin Franklin. He was a carriage builder. This John Bringhurst was actually contracted  by General George Washington to build him a chariot. (or a carriage). The receipt still exist and according to the record,  the carriage or chariot as it is described, cost 210 pounds in gold and George Washington was given 27 pounds in gold for  a trade in.

George  Bringhurst,  son of John,  was a patriot in  The Revolutionary War  and in 1776 served as  2nd lieutenant. He later  followed his father by becoming  a carriage and coach builder. This  was a family trade for many generations. I can’t help  wondering if I get my love of cars from the carriage-builder  Bringhursts.

Samuel Bringhurst
Samuel Bringhurst

Seven  generations  after John Bringhurst  who left England because  of religious persecution, Samuel  Bringhurst was born in Philadelphia  in 1812. He was a wagon and carriage  builder. Samuel, his wife, and their three children moved to Nauvoo, IL after joining the Church in 1845.  His younger brother William Bringhurst and his wife also moved to Nauvoo after joining the Church  and their oldest child was born in Nauvoo.

I  don’t  have any  records of  this, but I  would guess that  Samuel and William,  knowing how to build  wagons, were busy in Nauvoo  building wagons and hand carts  for the emigration west to Salt  Lake City.  No doubt their skills were  needed in Nauvoo.

They passed through Winter Quarters. I don’t know much about their time there, but William lost their young baby Charles, and he is buried at Winter Quarters where his name is on the plaque by the temple with many others who died there.

Our daughter Julienne recently returned from serving a full time mission for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in Omaha, Nebraska where Winter Quarters was located. She got to see first hand what the winters might have been like. Winter Quarters for a short time became the headquarters for the Church after leaving Nauvoo, IL before heading west to Salt Lake City, Utah. By Christmas 1846, church members had built a large stockade and about 700 homes ranging from solid, two-story structures to simple dugouts in the bluffs. It’s estimated that 800-1,000 saints died during the winter of 1846–47 in Winter Quarters and Iowa and it is estimated that 4600 Latter-day Saints died in total on the trek to Utah. Source : https://www.lds.org/ensign/1998/07/i-have-a-question/i-have-a-question?lang=eng

As a side note, if you are LDS and are curious what relatives you have that were pioneers, you can go to a Relative Finder website that BYU put together and just log in with your regular LDS.org login. FamilySearch also has a section where you can discover pioneer ancestors. It shows their age at departure, where the departed from, and how many days they traveled with their wagon or handcart company.   

Lesson  # 3 – You are  needed in the Church.    “Lift where you stand” as  President Uchtdorf taught. These two Bringhurst brothers came to Salt  Lake with their families in the John Taylor  company. It is recorded that they suffered many  hardships and starvation on their journey to Salt Lake  as well as while they were trying to tame and settle the  land.

Willam (not my direct ancestor, but Samuel’s brother) was called as the president of the Las Vegas mission  and was directed by Brigham Young to build a fort in  Las Vegas. He spent two years there in what seems to  have been very hard circumstances. After two years he was  allowed to return and settle in Springville, Utah where he served  as a bishop. He was also one of the six founding trustees for the  Brigham Young Academy

Samuel went  to St. George  and helped settle  that area. He was later called  as bishop in Toquerville and lived the rest of his life there.  My line of Bringhursts stayed in this area for a long time.  Toquerville is where my father Gary was born.

I  like  to hear  about these two brothers because  I’m interested in what it might have been like  to be called by Brigham Young  to go settle a territory or area.  I imagine it would have been extremely  hard especially in the conditions that must  have existed in St. George or Las Vegas at the  time. After leaving Nauvoo, coming to Salt Lake, seeing  the new Zion being built, and then being asked to leave  would have been challenging. I’m sure it required tremendous  faith. It reminds me of Nephi who said, “I will go and do the  things which the Lord hath commanded, for I know the Lord giveth no  commandments unto the children of men, save he shall prepare a way for  them that they may accomplish the thing which he commandeth them.” (1 Nephi  3:7)

Willard C Burgon
Willard Charles Burgon Sr.

Now  a little about some  ancestors on my mother’s side. Willard Charles Burgon  came to Utah when he was 17  on the steamship Manhattan from  Liverpool, England with 221 saints.  It was a 14-day journey on the ocean.  They landed in New York, then they traveled  from New York to Salt Lake City, arriving July  4th 1872. His father James and mother Matilda had  joined the church around 1850 in Winchester, England. He  was named after Willard Richards and his brother Heber was named after Heber C. Kimball. Willard Richards and Heber C. Kimball  had apparently stayed in the Burgon home while they were visiting in  England.

Willard  worked with  his brother George  saving money to pay  for their parents and  family members to come to  Salt Lake City. His first  job was working to help build  the Z.C.M.I. in Salt Lake City.  He learned brick-laying and granite  stone cutting. He then became an excellent  stone cutter and worked on the Salt Lake Temple  block. He would point with pride at the moon and star  stones on the temple which he had laid.

Lesson  # 4. Our love for the gospel can influence our children and future generations. I learned at a young age to love the temple.  I have always had a fascination and love for the Salt Lake Temple. I love staring at that beautiful holy building  that is a testimony of the faith and hard work of the pioneers. Every time I look up at the moon and stars high upon  the temple walls, I picture my great-great grandfather working to build the temple, and carefully carving and chiseling them  out. I have often wondered with all of these great craftsman genes, how I ended up not being able to build anything with my hands.

In  1876,  at the  Salt Lake  Endowment House,  Willard C. Burgon  married Emma Crouch,  also an emigrant from  England. While he was working  on the temple block, she was working  in the home of President Brigham Young,  which home is known as the “Beehive House”  on State Street and South Temple. We named our  Emma after her. Willard purchased several acres of  land and settled in Union, Utah. Union is now basically  the Midvale/Murray area, but back then there was a fort there  called Fort Union.

He was a  brick mason and built many homes and schools  throughout the valley. He was a justice of  the peace and a temple worker. He served two missions in England and returned there in his  older years in 1908 and was able to gather names for temple work. He was able to do temple  work for ancestors dating back to the 1600’s.

Willard  was baptized  at age 8, so  he was pretty much  brought up in the church.    His wife Emma had also been raised  in the gospel. 

William Crouch
William Crouch

I want to share the  conversion of Emma Crouch’s father, William Crouch, who was born in England in 1821. I quote him,  “My parents were  honest, industrious,  devout and God-fearing.  My father was a farm laborer,  very poor, for his wages seldom  exceeded a half dollar a day. I was  taken from school at nine years of age  and by my father, taught nothing but hard  work. “My mother, though in poverty and hardship,  was a woman of intelligence and refinement, and I  WAS HER BOY. So that I learned my prayers, my letters,  and general behaviors at my mother’s knee.” 

He  spent  seven years  in the British  Army during a time  of peace and said he  never fired upon an enemy.  He left the army in 1850.  His wife-to-be, Caroline Baker,  saved her money and purchased his  discharge.  He  said  they had  loved each  other from their  early youth.

One day he  was talking  to a young women who was staying  with them while she looked for work.  He relates this story, and I quote: “Saturday  we were sitting at the table talking and I said,  “We have just removed from a distant part of London,  and we don’t know where to go to worship tomorrow. I should  like to hear some eloquent minister.” The maiden answered, “You  had better go and hear the Latter-day Saints”. O dear! Oh dear! This  went like a dagger to my heart! I felt mad! Real mad for I had never  heard anything but what was bad of them, and I expressed myself accordingly.  I noticed the poor girl’s feelings were hurt and, being of a gentlemanly turn  of mind, I apologized and said if she had anything to say in favor of these people,  I would listen, and would not again say anything offensive. And, good girl that she was,  she bore a humble and faithful testimony to the truth of the gospel of salvation by Jesus Christ  as revealed anew from heaven, for the benefit of the world, through the Prophet Joseph Smith. But I  was terribly disturbed in mind. I thought it all a delusion; I was such a staunch Methodist. And was  in very bad condition of mind for about three days. I felt like taking a broom of destruction and sweeping  all the Mormons from the face of the earth. In my foolish rage I stopped short, and asked myself the question,  “Is it the Holy Ghost that I have been praying for all these years that is prompting in me all this bitterness and  hate against a people I know nothing about? Common sense says, “No, verily no!” Then I began to pray, and the light  of truth began to dawn upon me. I went and heard them, but I didn’t like them.The young woman ( found work and departed)  but left behind some tracts and the Book of Mormon. I prayed and read, and read and prayed, but my prejudice and conceit was  hard to overcome. Little more than two weeks from the time we first heard the gospel, we were both convinced of its truth and baptized.  I have held on to the truth and been greatly blessed by it ever since. And our belief in the truth has been graciously turned to knowledge  by the revelation of the Spirit of truth from the Lord. 

He  goes  on to  say that  they emigrated  to Salt Lake in  1873, “and we were  generously assisted by  a loan from the P.E. Fund.”    Now when I first read that, I didn’t  know what he was speaking about. It wasn’t  until President Hinckley introduced the Perpetual  Education Fund and explained that he got the idea  from the Perpetual Emigration Fund, that I put P.E.  Fund together with Perpetual Emigration Fund. I had never  heard about it beforehand. It was common enough among the  saints that William Crouch put it in his journal as the P.E.  Fund with no explanation. He ends his journal saying, “Now  children  – you have  our example before  you. Please honor it and  improve upon it.”

Another  conversion  story is a  little more well  known. Wilford Woodruff  was preaching in Staffordshire  England on Sun March 1, 1840. During  the meeting he heard the Spirit tell him,  “This is the last meeting that you will hold  for many days.” He left the next day for Herefordshire.  Wilford Woodruff had inquired of the Lord where to go and  had been directed to come to Herefordshire. Ishmael Phillips was  living in this area and was a member of the United Brethren. This  was a religious group that had broken away from the church of England.  Wilford Woodruff said, “I learned why the Lord had sent me there. … I  found a company of men and women, some six hundred, who had banded together  under the name of United Brethren, and were laboring for the ancient order of  things. They wanted the Gospel as taught by the prophets and apostles, as I did  in my youth. ”He quickly baptized 599 of the 600 members of the United Brethren. Many  of them only heard one sermon before asking for baptism. Ishmael was one of those. During  his 8 months there, Wilford Woodruff brought in 2,000 converts. I would say they had been prepared  for his coming. This was the true gospel for which they had been searching.

Although  most of those  baptized quickly  immigrated to Zion,  Ishmael and Mary remained  in England for another 23  years because the were too poor  to emigrate. In fact, they were so  poor that every Monday morning they would  go to the pawn shop to pawn their Sunday  clothes. Saturday, after he received his pay, they  would go to the pawn shop and redeem their clothes  to wear to church. On Monday morning they would be back  at the pawn shop. They were also able to come to Zion because  of the Perpetual Emigration Fund. After coming to Utah, Ishmael served  as the first Bishop of the Fort Union Ward. He also served a Mission to  Mexico and helped open the Juarez Mission.

Lesson  # 5 – I  need to honor  these ancestors who recognized  truth and took hold and grasped  the iron rod and  improve  where I can  as  I raise  the next generation.

Willard  Charles Burgon  Sr. a great stone  mason and brick mason,  had a son, Willard Charles  Burgon Jr. who was the father of my grandmother  Maggie Burgon Alldredge.

Side note. For family history’s sake, don’t name your child the exact same name that you have right down to the middle name. That  makes it really harder to keep stories straight! I do think that’s just fine to name your children after ancestors, just not the exact first, middle, and last name..  We actually named our daughters Emma and Maggie after ancestors. But you’ll note different middle and last names. 🙂

So, Willard  Charles Burgon Jr.,  my grandmother’s father,  who went by Charles, owned  the Burgon Market on 7200 South  and 900 East, in Union, Utah. Now I’ve  heard this story from many sources so I believe it to be accurate.    At his funeral, many people told my grandmother and others there,  that if it wasn’t for her dad, Charles Burgon, giving their family  food during the great depression, they would have starved. When they  went through the store and cleaned it out many years later, they found  a box full of IOUs of people he had given food to during the depression  without receiving payment, and apparently many of the IOUs were never re-paid.    

Lesson  # 6 – I’ve learned to be generous. The generosity of my great-grandfather has  had a lasting impact on me through the years. I love hearing about this because  I know that he was a charitable man. He was bishop for many years in Union as was  his father. He cared about his neighbors. His example of charity has spanned generations.    As Mormon said in Moroni 7:47 “But charity is the pure love of Christ, and it endureth forever;  and whoso is found possessed of it at the last day, it shall be well with him.”

Maggie-Burgon-Alldredge
Maggie Alldredge

Lesson # 7 – Serving makes you happy. My  grandmother, Maggie Alldredge served  as Relief Society President three times. She  was always at the church for funerals and other  service projects. Her front room was often filled with  relief society sisters quilting. I would play with my Hot  Wheel cars underneath the quilts. We would run loaves of bread  all around to other sisters in the ward. I would try to find something  to do while they would visit. I knew my grandmother very well and we were  very close. She helped raise me while my single mother worked to support us.  However, my children never had the privilege in this life to meet my grandmother,  so to them she is an ancestor and as such, I want them to hear stories of her.  I will end with a few lessons she taught me. I  was  her boy  and I learned  these things at  her knee.

I  often  heard her  tell me of  how the Lord  blessed her because  she paid tithing. She told me of how one night  she prepared a meager meal  for the family, cleaned up, and went to bed knowing there was no  other food in the cupboard for the  next day. She prayed that the Lord might  bless them with something. The next morning  she woke up and there was a sack of potatoes  on the porch. She said that something like that  always happened.

Lesson  # 8. I  learned that  tithing brought  real blessings. The  Lord never let them go without because she always  paid her tithing. I walked into  my grandmother’s bedroom many times  to find her kneeling at the side of  her bed in prayer. I would always try  to get close to her without her hearing  because she would be quietly praying out loud  and I wanted to hear what she was saying. She  would usually be praying for her children.

Lesson  # 9. I  learned that  prayer was important to my  grandmother.

I  can  remember  a set of  cassette tapes  my grandmother had  of the Book of Mormon. They were in story form with  actors playing the voices. We would  listen to the sounds of Nephi building  a ship or Abinadi crying repentance to King  Noah. I didn’t like reading the scriptures when  I was very young, but I really enjoyed these tapes  and I got to know the stories in the Book of Mormon  very well.

I  would often  see my grandmother  reading and marking her  scriptures with a little red pencil. She made many notes in  the margins.

Lesson  # 10. I learned that my  grandmother believed in The  Book of Mormon. I now have  a love for the Book of Mormon  because of the seeds of faith my  grandma nurtured in me at a young age.

The  hardest  part putting together some thoughts on pioneer heritage is  narrowing it down. I’m blessed to have  had so many ancestors to look to as great  examples.  My wife has many more remarkable ancestors that are now added to my wonderful family history who our children can look to as examples. We all have great ancestors to look to. Many of them came from the humblest  circumstances with a common desire to follow Jesus Christ. They  were god-fearing people. They desired to be good people. They were  kind to others. They endured hardships of life. They had great sorrow  and tremendous joy. They had testimonies of the scriptures. As Pioneer Day, the 24th of July, is a fitting day to take some time in our own lives and remember those who have passed on to the other side.  Honor their good works. Learn more about them. Get on Ancestry.com, FamilySearch.org, or other family history sites and read some of the stories. Add some of your stories to these sites or your journal so other relatives can enjoy them.

As  President Gordon B. Hinckley would  say, the gospel  is to make bad men  good and good men better.  Let’s try to improve upon the  legacy of our ancestors and become  better people.

Whether laying the foundation for the temple in France, or the foundation the pioneers laid in establishing Salt Lake City in the desert, or the foundation of building up a stake of Zion in Port Angeles, WA, we are all modern-day pioneers laying the foundation for a great work.  Ultimately we are preparing for the return of our Savior Jesus Christ. I know He was resurrected. He lives and loves each of us. He directs the work of His Church in these latter-days.

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