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WARNICK, Anders Peter: Stalked by Cholera in 1866

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From 1863 to 1875 cholera swept through Europe. The Austro-Prussian War in 1866 accelerated its spread. That fateful year 250 thousand people died from the lethal disease in Prussia and Austria, 90 thousand perished in Russia, and 113 thousand succumbed the next year in Italy. Hungary, Holland, and Belgium were similarly hard hit by the disease. Little wonder, then, that the virulent bacteria made its way on board the ship that the Anders Peter Warnick family boarded in Hamburg, Germany on June 1, 1866. Of the eleven family members who started the journey, only four survived the onslaughts of cholera and the arduous five-month trip to Utah.

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Being called a pioneer indicates that the person arrived in Utah before the completion of the transcontinental railroad in 1869, the key criteria being “arrived” and before May 1869. Limiting the term to only those who made it to Utah excludes the five to six thousand saints who perished along the way, many of them from cholera. In many cases, it was through their efforts that the survivors completed their journeys. A more robust definition might include all those who started the journey, whether they eventually make it to Utah or not. If this were the designation, Anders Peter Warnick and his wife Anna Helena Anderson would be pioneers.

Some pioneer immigration stories are depicted as individual efforts, but many people came as part of a family endeavor, often led and organized by senior members. In some cases, family efforts only marshaled enough money for part of the family to migrate initially, but the immigrants, in turn, often sent back money for others who came later. The Warnick family was an example of such an undertaking.

Anders and his wife Anna Helena Anderson began their married lives as tenants in a small one-room house located on three acres of land in Forsby, Skaraborg, Sweden. Their home was near Skövde in the central part of the country between Lakes Vänern and Västra. There, Anders “paid” for the use of the house and the small plot of land by giving the landowner four days of his labor each week. Their economic lot was only slightly better than oppressed serfs in other countries, except that most of their children received an education. Anders and Anna lived in these cramped quarter for the next 27 years and managed to feed, house, and raise seven children. Their second son, John August, was drafted into the army for four years. After his release, he married Mari Bengston and they also moved in with August´s parent.

In early 1860 LDS missionaries converted Anders and his wife. Soon other members of the Warnick family joined the church, except the husband of the oldest daughter, Inga Maria. Becoming Latter-day Saints had a price. Neighbors and former friends scorned the Warnicks and their landlord forced them to find another place to live. Eventually, Anders negotiated with a more tolerant landlord who gave them a larger home with more land, but, in exchange, the Warnicks were obliged to give him eight man-days of free labor each week.

Anders and Anna were energized by the call to gather in Zion issued by church leaders. Dreams of religious tolerance, living on a higher spiritual plain, and improved economic opportunities – especially having land of their own – guided their efforts for the next six years.

In addition to religion, other forces in Sweden caused emigration. For about 50 years Sweden had been free of war. Peace, combined with widespread smallpox vaccinations and the spread of potato cultivation, led to a rapid increase in population. But, in the mid-1800s, Sweden had few industries and cities were relatively small. This meant that the burgeoning population was forced to scratch out a living as tenants or as landless farm workers. Emigration became the major vent for this population pressure.

The wave of Swedish migrants to the US began during the 1840 and there was a surge in that migration after the end of the U. S. Civil War. A series of catastrophes in Sweden immediately followed the Warnick´s migration in 1866. The year 1867 was remembered for excessive rain that ruined much of the grain production. The year 1868 was the reverse with droughts and fires that destroyed a lot of crops. The following year, 1869, was remembered as the year of epidemics and begging. Sixty thousand Swedes migrated during these three years. From 1868 to 1914 more than a million Swedes, one-fifth of the total population, left for the U.S.

Anders and his wife were the driving force in their family’s efforts to migrate. This is a little surprising since they were both elderly people, near life´s end, by the time the family had means to migrate. After their hard life, the pair had dreams that their children and grandchildren would find a better life in America. Even with the assistance of the Perpetual Emigration Fund, the family faced a sizable bill for their share of the travel expenses. They agonized over how to save small amounts out of their meager earnings, little of which was in cash.

Because Anders and his oldest son, Adoph Fredrick, gave the landowner four days each a week in labor, it only left the two men enough “free” time to tend their small tenant farm. When Frederick was called on a full-time church mission, an assignment he filled for seven years, his younger brothers were required to give labor to the landlord without compensation, further restricting the family´s earning capacity.

Somehow they scrapped together enough money by early 1866 to make the journey. Only two members of the extended family did not join the move: Frederick who stayed behind fulfilling his mission call, and the oldest daughter, Inga Maria, who was married and chose to stay behind. The group was comprised of 10 Warnicks and Charlotte Bengston who was betrothed to Anders Gustav, one of the Warnick brothers. Charlotte was also the 22 year old sister of Mari Warnick, August Warnick´s wife. Perhaps we should say that there were 11 Warnicks in the group, since Mari was pregnant at the time.

The group left their home the 1st of May 1866, gathered with a few others in Skövde, took the train to Gothenberg, and then boarded a vessel that took them to Hamburg. There they waited for almost a month for church agents to arrange for three vessels to carry the gathered saints to America: the Kenilworth, the Humboldt, and the Cavour. With about 200 other passengers, the Warnicks were assigned to the Cavour — only a bark — the smallest and least desirable of the three ships. It had three classes of accommodations: several modest staterooms, a few small private cabins, and steerage where most passengers, including the Warnicks, were crammed into whatever space they could find in the area below deck. They shared space with barrels of water, food containers, and other ship supplies.

The Warnicks joined a wave of 3,300 saints on ten different ships that left Europe in 1866. Like other travelers they suffered from rough weather, sea sickness, no privacy, primitive sanitary facilities, no fresh water for washing, and deplorable sanitary conditions. The stench below deck was impressive by the end of their long voyage.

None of the Warnicks left a detailed description of their trip across the Atlantic, but their accommodations and fare were likely similar, if not worse, than those described by Olof Jenson who embarked from Hamburg on the Humboldt the day after the Warnicks. He recorded that,

“The food on the boat consisted of soup, potatoes, beans, fish, bread or hard biscuits….. No bread was made on the ship, the biscuits having been made months before and (they) were extremely hard and dry. The potatoes were sour and soggy. The drinking water was taken from the River Elbe in Germany, put in wooden barrels, that had been burned on the inside, and was as black as coal when we drank it (the water)……..Pigs would object to the food and water but we had to take it.” He went on to say, “The beds on the ship were made of common lumber, with room for four (people) in width and were two tiers high.”

It took the Cavour longer to reach New York City than it did for the other two ships. The Humboldt took 42 days, the Kenilworth spent 52 days, but the Cavour lumbered along for 61 days before making port. The extended voyage meant that food and water on the Cavour were severely rationed during the latter part of the trip. Late in the trip each family was given only a quart of water each day. The woes of the passengers were heightened near the end of the voyage when cholera killed several members of the L. Larsen family. Charles Peter Warnick, Anders’ youngest son, also lost all of his hair after a serious illness and his mother feared immigration officers would put him in quarantine. She wrapped his head in a scarf to hide his affliction. The fact that cholera was aboard was also hidden from officials and the group was waved through immigration.

It is curious that cholera stalked the group on the Cavour so long before it raised its ugly head, given that its incubation period is sometimes only 24 to 48 hours between infection and the emergence of symptoms. Most likely, some people on the ship had mild cases of the disease early in the trip, but their illnesses were not severe enough to be recognized as cholera. The young and old, and people who have malnutrition, immune deficiencies, and blood type O are most prone to perish from cholera.

The wear-and-tear of the voyage, combined with wretched food and water, made many of the passengers candidates for lethal forms of the disease by the time they debarked in New York. Cholera´s severe symptoms include large amounts of watery diarrhea, vomiting, extreme muscle cramps, and severe dehydration. People with cholera react to the toxin created by the disease by their bodies drawing on every internal source of liquid to flush the toxin out of the system. If untreated, death can occur in a matter of hours. More than half of those infected perish without the modern treatment of being rehydrated and receiving electrolytes. In some cases victims may be symptom free, eat breakfast, and then be dead and buried by nightfall.

After a miserable voyage, the Warnicks must have thought the worst was over as they entered New York harbor. Although the worse for wear, all of them survived the trip. Little did they know that they still faced their fire of refinement. After clearing immigration and taking a quick bath in cold water, they and others were wedged onto a steam ship that took them north to New Haven, Connecticut where they were loaded into cattle cars for the trip to St. Joseph, Missouri via Montreal, Canada. Then 16 years old, Charles Peter remembered being treated like livestock on that leg of their journey. Church agents were forced to use a roundabout rail route through Canada, and crude rail accommodations, to save money. They were also under pressure to rush the immigrants west to connect with the departure of LDS wagon teams from a jumping-off-point in Wyoming, Nebraska. A late departure increased the risks of being trapped by snowstorms in western Wyoming.

The first day of the train ride toward Montreal was relaxing. No more sea sickness, the weather was warm but pleasant, and the countryside reminded the Warnicks of Sweden. Their brief tranquil interlude was broken when a rapidly increasing number of the group became sick with cholera and died. Their bodies were wrapped in blankets and left on the platforms at many train stops. This ritual was to be repeated at almost every stop during the next two weeks. Soon after leaving Montreal, the matriarch of the family, Anna Helena, became deathly ill with cholera. She suffered terribly for more than two days before passing away on August 5th about the time the train crossed the Canadian border into the U.S. All illnesses and deaths are anguishing for friends and relatives, but cholera also causes an overwhelming sanitary problem for the patient and their caretakers.

For a funeral the Warnick family could only say a prayer, wrap their mother in two blankets, tie the bundle with cord, and attach a note giving her vital statistics. When the train stopped briefly in Marcella, Michigan, Anna´s two adult sons deposited her remains on the train platform. What a tragic ending for a woman who worked so hard to raise a family and to orchestrate their trip to Zion. Her reward was to be buried in an unmarked, pauper’s grave in a strange land.

Words cannot describe what Anders and other family members felt as the train pulled away from the station. What had been a loving wife, mother, and grandmother a few days earlier, was now indigent rubbish that strangers buried. Losing his long-time companion stunned Anders; he felt terribly alone without his co-sheppard.

Proving that bad situations can always get worse, only three days later John Gustaf, the three year old son of August and Mari, suddenly died of cholera and his remains were likewise left on an unnamed train platform in Indiana or Illinois. The grim reaper continued to play team tag with the Warnicks. Almost immediately after John August died, Anders and his daughter Christine exhibited cholera symptoms. A pattern was starting to emerge: those who tended the sick would likely be the next to be tagged “it” by the grim stalker.

By the time they reached St. Joseph, Missouri, both Anders and Christine were deathly ill, too sick to continue the journey. The extreme pressures of hooking up with their wagon train in Wyoming, Nebraska forced the survivors to leave poor Andres and Christina, still clinging to life, on the train platform in St. Joseph and rush off to take a riverboat north to their staging point. Adding further insult, the family was also forced to leave behind two large bundles containing Anders and Anna´s belongings. One of them included the family Bible. Not only did the family leave two loved ones on the train platform in St. Joseph, but they also left their ancestral history there.

With the death of his parents, the burdens of family leadership fell on the shoulders of August, who was 28 at the time. He must have felt guilt, mixed with fear, and that life was out of control. In just a week he left his parents, a sister, and his own son dead or dying on various train platforms from Michigan to Missouri. He had been surrounded by sickness and death for two weeks and his wife was enduring a difficult pregnancy. August didn´t speak much English so he had to rely on group leaders who herded them along trying to keep a pressing schedule that had no allowances for emergencies, including deaths. There was no way for August and the surviving Warnicks to escape this doomed group; they were on a people-mover that wouldn´t, couldn´t pause until they reached the Promised Land.

Conditions continued to deteriorate during the ride up the Missouri River. All the remaining Warnicks survived this leg of the trip, but nine more of their companions succumbed to cholera before they reached the small community of Wyoming, Nebraska. There, they buried the dead and lugged their meager baggage to a nearby staging area where Abner Lowry, the leader of their wagon train, was impatiently awaiting their arrival. Lowry and most of his teamsters were from Sanpete County. They had been ready for their return journey to Utah for about a month and were anxious to avoid winter travel. In two days 300 immigrants crammed their belongings into limited spaces in 49 wagons, and on August 13th the remaining Warnicks began their thousand mile walk to Utah.

The ill fated group did not leave misfortune behind. The stalker was still among them. Disease took another fifty people before they arrived in Salt Lake City, four of the victims being members of the dwindling Warnick clan. A newborn son of August and Mari died the same day he was born, shortly after the group started their walk west. On August 19th, Anders Gustaf, August´s 20 year-old brother, died and was buried in western Nebraska. Charlotte Bengston, his betrothed, followed him in death on September 8th and was buried in central Nebraska. On September 22nd the orphaned daughter of Christine Warnick, Charlotta Christine, died and was buried in an un-marked grave on a wind-swept portion of the trail near the border between Nebraska and Wyoming.

About the time the group reached Ft. Laramie cold weather became a problem and a blessing. The cold weather stopped the cholera, but added to the physical degradation of the immigrants. The group began to run low on food and they were happy to meet a relief wagon train from Salt Lake Valley that brought them much needed supplies. They encountered snow at South Pass and endured a blizzard near Ft. Bridger. The bedraggled remnant of the Warnick family reached the Salt Lake Valley on October 22, 1866. Of the 11 family members who left Sweden, only four were still alive: August and his wife Mari, their daughter Caroline, and Charles Peter Warnick, the 16 year-old brother of August. Years later, Charles Peter remembered being numb and uncharacteristically fatalistic during the worst trials of the trip. “We thought we were all doomed and (that) nothing mattered – the sooner (that death came) the better.” Of the two hundred souls who boarded the Cavour in Hamburg only half of them made it to Zion. The one hundred who died from cholera joined the more than 50 thousand other victims of the disease in the United States during 1866, including large numbers of Plains Indians.

The Warnicks and most of their Scandinavian companions were scheduled to continue on with Lowry´s wagon train to Sanpete County. On the way, however, they camped overnight outside Pleasant Grove where a Good Samaritan by the name of Paul Anderson offered the Warnicks refuge, an offer that August and Mari readily accepted. Mari had been deathly ill for six weeks and was at the end of her rope with grief, stress, and fatigue. Lowry and company continued on to Sanpete County without the Warnicks, where they delivered more than 50 cholera orphans who were later adopted by caring families.

Initially, the Warnicks lived in a fragile dugout in Pleasant Grove provided by Samuel Sevier, but being resourceful and hardworking they soon improved their economic lot. August and Charles worked building the railroad in 1868 and sent money back to Sweden to pay for the passage to Utah of their sister, Inga Marie, and her four children in 1869. Two years later their oldest brother Frederick joined them in Utah and he eventually settled near Delta. It took 12 years for their “pioneer” parent´s dreams to be fulfilled.

After enduring crushing sorrows, their surviving children and grandchildren were united and happily settled in Utah. Most of the family remained in Pleasant Grove and their children would become religious, civic, and educational leaders. Two of the grandsons later developed nationally recognized dairy herds. Poignantly, one of them, Wilford W. Warnick, named his best cow “Hope,” perhaps harkening back to the dreams of his grandparents in Sweden. From the small surviving nucleus, the Warnick family now number in the thousands and count themselves fortunate because their Warnick ancestors survived being stalked by cholera.

Appendix I

Fate of the Warnick Family who Left Hamburg, Germany June 1, 1866

  1. Anders Petter Warnicke, age 65, died August 10, 1866, St. Joseph, Missouri.
  2. Anna Helena, (Anders´ wife), age 60, died August 5, 1866, Marcella, Michigan.
  3. Anna Christina Warnick, (Anders´daughter), age 27, died August 10, 1866, St. Joseph, Missouri.
  4. Charlotta Christine, (Anna Christina´s daughter), age 1, died September 22, 1866 on plains in western Nebraska.
  5. John August Warnick, (Anders´son), age 31, made it to Utah.
  6. Mari Bengston Warnick, (Johan´s wife), age 22, made it to Utah.
  7. Caroline Warnick, (Mari and Johan´s daughter), age 5, made it to Utah.
  8. John Gustaf, (Mari and Johan´s son), age 3, died August 8, 1866 in Indiana or Illinois.
  9. Son Warnick, (Mari and August´s infant), born and died about August 15, 1866 in Eastern Nebraska.
  10. Anders Gustaf Warnick, (Anders´son), age 21, died August 19, 1866 in Central Nebraska.
  11. Charlotte Bengston, (Anders Gustaf´s betrothed), age about 20, died about August 21, 1866 in Western Nebraska.
  12. Charles Peter Warnick, (Anders´ son), age 16, made it to Utah.
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