Faith of Our Mothers: An Award-Winning Story


By Emily W. Brewer
This story originally appeared in the Jan-Feb 1971 edition of Pioneer Magazine”O William, go along with ye now lad. This is no time for pest ing; you know how busy l am with the packing.”

“Mother!” the sternness in his voice made Margaret Ann hesitate. ” Mother, I am not jesting! I have joined the army.”

Margaret Ann’s arm fall limply to her side letting the clothing she held fall into the trunk. She looked into her son’s face. The remorse she saw there told her he not only was not jesting but he was frightened and for all his eighteen years he looked like any little boy in trouble. Her first impulse to anger subsided and in her natural warm compassionate way she put her arms out and drew him to her.

“Tell me lad, how did it happen?”

“Well, my friends and I had been watching the cavalry parade and… O Mum, you know how they look in their plummed hats and mounted on white horses all just alike and stepping high with the precision of soldiers. . . well, we just got carried away. We were near a recruiting station and the lads dared me to join up and that I did before I knew it.”

Yes…before he knew it…Margaret Ann thought. That was her William, impulsive, adventuresome, lovable and handsome, acting first and thinking after. Just like his dear father had been.

“Well, no use crying over spilled milk, what’s done is done.”

“But Mum, how’ll ye get these bairns to America. I had counted on helping and when I got there I was going to find father. I’m sure he’s alive somewhere.”

“Robert and Thomas will have to help me. It isn’t like you had been molly-coddled, any of you. Elizabeth and Agnes have become quite helpful even if they are little girls. I could never have managed this boarding house and our emigration money if you hadn’t all been so good since your father left.”

No Release

“Mum,” William faltered, “Won’t you see the authorities and try to get me released?”

“That I will lad, but you know that isn’t often done. Off to bed with ye now.”

As William’s dark curly head disappeared up the stairs Margaret Ann sank into a chair and allowed herself the long denied luxury of tears and even a little self pity.

Sixteen years had passed since that happy day when she had been baptized at the bridge of the River Weir. One year later her husband had joined and as the children became of age each one went into the waters of baptism until they were all members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter- day Saints.

Fortunately that great joy more than balanced the larker side of the ledger, the side with which Margaret Ann must deal at the moment.

Six years ago William, Sr, had bid his family good-bye and sailed for Canada where his parents had settled. Margaret Ann stayed behind to run her boarding house and save passage money. As soon as William found work he would send for her and their five children.

Only Margaret Ann’s great faith in her Heavenly Father had sustained her through those six years. First she received word that William had enjoyed a reunion with his parents but was leaving for the United States to find work. Next she heard from his parents that he had left for St. Louis by way of the St. Lawrence River. The boat had capsized and they could not locate William. He was not listed among the known dead nor was he registered among the survivors.

Mission Mother

All through the years since joining the Church Margaret Ann had kept an open house for the missionaries and with their encouragement she was now ready to set sail for Zion. At least she had been ready until William had made this foolish mistake.

Next morning she approached the officials and tried in vain to get William released. She learned how adamant the Scotsmen can be on a point of law.

With her heart almost breaking she held back the tears and saw her boy fully inducted into the army. Then she made one last trip to the grave of her little Mary and finally with mixed emotions the little family said good-bye to the beautiful city of Glasgow. Many happy days had the children spent on the green of “bonnie auld Scotland,” but a choice had to be made and Margaret Ann determined to rear her family in Zion at all costs though little did she know then what the cost would be.

At 3 a.m. on May 4, 1856 the ship Thornton sailed from Liverpool and after seven long weeks on the ocean they landed on Castle Gardens which is now Ellis Island.

Margaret Ann McFall Caldwell was an industrious woman endowed with wisdom, courage and foresight. It was these attributes that enabled her, after traveling by rail to Iowa City, to prepare for and endure the long, hard trek to Utah with the Willy Handcart Company, pushing, pulling and walking, sometimes through eighteen inches of snow. Thomas, whom she had counted on to do much of this broke his shoulder while wrestling a wild cow. Elizabeth had her feet so badly frozen most of her toes had to be amputated.

Before leaving Iowa City, Margaret Ann with her usual foresight, sold a quilt and bedspread and purchased food and trinkets. When the frost and snow overtook the company and rationing tightened she traded the trinkets to the Indians for buffalo meat. When boiled and thickened it made a nourishing dish which she shared with others.

Tragic Journey

There were 77 deaths, three marriages and three births on the trip. Fifteen died in one night and were buried in a common grave. Even after a relief train met them in late October the traveling was extremely cold and difficult. President Heber C. Kimball saved the life of little Agnes by forcing her to run behind the wagon until she could run no longer then wrapping her in a blanket and holding her close to his body.

Still this courageous little woman plodded on, pushing, pulling and singing for she felt sure she would find her lost husband sometime, somewhere and when young William finished his service they would all be reunited.

At long last on Nov. 8, 1856, this eventful journey ended and could be relegated to the annals of history. Not so with Margaret Ann’s problems. She did not find her husband in Zion as she had hoped. She corresponded with his parents but neither they nor she ever were able to find any record of him after he boarded the boat on the St. Lawrence River.

The children found work in various homes. Then as things began looking up for them Johnston’s Army came on the scene and the Saints abandoned their homes and went south, Margaret Ann had only one ox and one milch cow to hitch to a cart. It was an unsatisfactory arrangement and she could not keep up with the rest of the party.

One day she realized she was far behind and the children were fearful. ‘Children,” she said, ‘We have to have help. Come, let’s kneel in prayer.”

So great was her faith that she was not surprised when in the distance she saw a yoke of oxen coming from the south. Though her children protested, saying they belonged to someone else and she would get in trouble she quietly approached the beasts and thanked her Father in Heaven that they did not bolt and run.

Hooking them to her cart she journeyed until she met a man on horseback. He had traveled all day looking for his oxen that had escaped the night before. He could hardly believe she had been able to walk up to them. He said they were wild and no one but he could handle them. He offered to let her drive them until they reached his camp and there he had a spare ox she could team with hers. Her faith had been rewarded.

When the army scare was over Margaret Ann settled her family in Brigham City and worked very hard, saving all she could to help young William pay his passage to America when his service ended. What a joyous day it was when she learned that he was in Laramie, Wyo. and would soon be with her. Her joy was short lived, however, for William contracted pneumonia and died without ever seeing Utah or his beloved family again.

Margaret Ann relied on the soothing balm of service to others to heal her wounded heart. Bringing the sick and aged into her humble home until she could no longer carry on and was laid to rest in March of 1887.

She had walked, she had bartered, she had nursed, in times of necessity she had even lain on hands for the healing of the sick.

Truly behind the great pioneer movement lay the faith of our .

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