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A Pioneer Day Tribute

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Pioneer Day is fast approaching and although I don’t live in Utah, I still feel an attachment to the occasion. My great-great-great grandmother, Martha Spence Heywood, moved to America from Ireland, joined the church, and made the trek across the plains enduring loneliness, deprivation, and disease.

Fortunately, she kept a journal about it, and the discovery of her journal is a story of its own.

In 1933, with the depression in full swing, the federal government introduced the ERA (Emergency Relief Administration) and began paying people roughly a dollar a day to work on different projects.

One of the projects was collecting historical documents, personal writings and old newspapers, which were indexed, duplicated and preserved. Juanita Brooks, an LDS author and historian, was put in charge of the project in St. George, Utah and began gathering stories of ladies who had lived in that region.

Juanita found and fell in love with the writings of my great-great-great grandmother. She began collecting as many of Martha’s writings as possible and later published them into a book titled, Not by Bread Alone.

Juanita said, “Reading [Martha’s] journal was one of the most rewarding experiences of my life…A candid diarist, she wrote of…the loneliness of plural marriage with the same frankness she used to affirm her religious faith. Her story is different and memorable because she chose to tell it as fully and as honestly as her obvious intelligence allowed…This window into the past grows in value with the passing years.”

I couldn’t agree more. Even though she’s my ancestor, her sacrifice became part of the foundation that allowed the church to grow and survive. Her story really belongs to all of us.

So for a moment, let me share a glimpse into the life of this remarkable woman with a few excerpts about her journey to Utah in 1849:

Aug. 31st—Saturday—Last evening we corralled along side Elder Woodruff’s company and it was quite a pleasant meeting to those who were acquainted, but this was not my case…How much would I not give at times to see some choice spirits to mingle with as I was wont to do in past times and though “I go up to Zion in peace” how dreadful lonesome it is oftentimes. In the midst of spirits yet feeling all alone—yet what means more powerful to drive me to Him who is greater than all earthly friends.

Sept. 5th—Friday—My health has been remarkable better today and that suddenly. All day yesterday I felt much prostrated and hardly power or wish to live and today I am not only well in body but happy in mind and feeling. I feel that there is a protecting power over me who can say to the stormy feelings within my breast “peace be still” as man cannot. How many proofs have I had of this during my pilgrimage but yesterday I was reasoned with and comforted by one who seeks to do me good, but all to little or [no] purpose and I lay down at night full of grief and dissatisfaction. This morning I arose calm, confiding and willing to do anything to confer happiness on my fellow creatures and all around me looked like friends…

Sept. 9th—Monday—…Oh that I may have strength according to my day….the day passed very pleasantly and my health has been good. Rochester friends with all their endearments and their forbearances will pass before my mind and seeming to say, “Will you ever meet such again?” Well I enjoyed—I enjoyed them and their goodness in the day of it, and of my own will I left them to follow the fortunes of the Latterday faith and so far I have no serious cause to repent and I can say “Thus far the Lord has led me on”.”

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J. blogs about her three precocious children, gluten-free living, life as a nomad and other random things at

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