A tribute written for the Pioneer Cemetery Re-dedication
given July 21, 2009
I would like each of you to close your eyes for a moment and imagine you have suddenly been taken back in time to the 1850’s. You are a Spanish Fork pioneer. A number of years ago you were driven from a comfortable home and have since made a difficult journey to the Salt Lake Valley. Then you were called by Brigham Young to settle here in this area.
You possess only a small wagon and team with scanty food supplies. During the summer you live out of your four-foot-wide wagon box or in a tent. There is little to eat: jack rabbits, fish, and pigweed. You cook your food over an open fire. Without the means to construct a log or adobe home, you dig a hole in ground and pray for a mild winter.
In the first few years of colonization many families gather to this area and become your neighbors. Some settlers live along the river bottoms just below this site and others about three miles west. With so many dug-outs this settlement is soon called gopher town. Your sod roof becomes dripping mud in wet weather. Mosquitoes, snakes, flies, and mice are in your food, hair and blankets.
Most of your crops have been destroyed by a grasshopper plague and you don’t know how you are going to make it through the winter. You hope for mild weather, but soon discover that this winter is cold, harsh and filled with tragic accidents and disease. Cattle are dying; typhus fever and cholera are spreading.
Yet even in these trying times you fall in love, marry and work hard to provide for your new family. You are now expecting your first child. Then suddenly one day during a blizzard your wife screams your name you know there isn’t enough time to call for the midwife. As you desperately try to comfort your companion, you fear you are about to lose both your wife and child. Then, your tiny son slips into the world. You clear his mouth with your finger and listen to his first cry break the frigid air as you wrap him tightly in your own coat.
Wind howls outside your dug-out. You have only an old quilt between you, your family and a severe storm. Your wife is weak and tired so you huddle under the blankets with the baby safely between you. You speak of spring and warmer times ahead. You silently pray the whiteout will cease so you can go for help, but the snowstorm rages on. Then finally in sheer exhaustion, you, your wife and baby fall asleep.
When the first stream of sunlight breaks into your dug-out the next morning you wake and notice the wind has stopped. You are relieved the storm has past. Then you glance over to your wife. She is still asleep, but you notice your newborn son has grown cold. You try desperately to blow warm air on his face but your breath drifts like smoke into the frigid air. Your tiny newborn’s face is blue. And then you know for sure what you think you cannot bare . . . your child is dead.
Later, when you leave your wife’s side to go for help, a kind neighbor assists you with the burial of your only child by keeping a fire burning all day and night so he can get his spade into the frozen earth. The bluff of the hill just above your dug-out is your child’s final resting place. As your newborn son is slowly lowered into the earth, you look out over the snow covered river bottoms and raise your eyes to the majestic view of rugged mountains to the east. Then you kneel in the frozen snow beside his grave, whisper your last goodbye and weep.
This is the story of one person who is buried in the Spanish Fork Pioneer Cemetery. There are many more. Because I did the research to find the names and stories of those buried here, I now feel I should take off my shoes when I walk here; for this is sacred ground. This pioneer cemetery is the final resting place of those who lived and died struggling to survive during the difficult early years of building a new settlement in Spanish Fork. Their lives deserve to be remembered and honored.
So, to the dead who were laid to rest here we say . . . we remember you . . . we remember your name . . . we remember your bravery in the face of hardship. We remember the babies who died in your arms. We remember your pain and tears. We remember all you gave up for us. Yet we also remember your joy and your boldness to begin anew in spite of trials and hardship. Because of you we also desire to find new courage to move ahead with our own lives in spite of the challenges we face today. Because of you we remember spring follows the winter and a new dawn always follows even the darkest night.
We remember each of you with hope, optimism, love and deepest respect. We remember you . . . and we will never forget.