What’s your favorite thing about The Little House on the Prairie books? Want to know mine? The Ingalls family themselves. Their adventures and trials and joys were all wonderful to read about but it was their family that I loved the most. Don’t we often think we’d like to try some pioneer living ourselves? There’s a way to do just that without even lifting a shovel or keeping a chicken. Can you guess what it might be?
Pioneer Living with Family History
I don’t know if you’ve ever done much in the way of family history study but it’s a huge part of my religious and family culture. We use free, online tools to search out our family history clear back to…well, as far as we can go, to be honest. Over the years, I’ve collected wonderful and poignant stories of the people who form the branches that reach out across my family tree. All of them were pioneers, in their own way.
What is a pioneer? By definition, a pioneer is certainly someone who goes into a new area and settles it, much like the Ingalls did. A pioneer, though, is also someone who helps create new ideas or methods, ways of doing things and even ways of thinking. By this definition, there’s isn’t one among us who doesn’t have a pioneer somewhere in their family history. Maybe that person is you.
Do you have a grandfather who came to a new land to learn a new language and begin a new life? What about a cousin who was the first to graduate college in your family? What about a single mother who just never gave up and who’s children grew to adulthood in praise and thanks for her sacrifices? What about a war hero? A teacher? A loving father? You see, pioneers in thought and belief and methods are all over the place!
Pioneer Stories from my Family History
My paternal grandfather’s grandparents were incredible people. Margret Gill Hyatt and Edward Hyatt lived in California in the late 1800’s; they raised their large family together and were active, engaged parents. Margret and Edward were both scientists and were simply fascinated by the world around them. Edward labored long and hard as an early California educator and several schools in that state still bear his name as a tribute to his contribution to the children of California. To learn a little more about Edward and Margart, visit this link.
What I mostly remember about them are the stories of their gathering beetles and leaf samples with their students and children all over the desert – sometimes forgetting time and distance in their search for fascinating objects. They were determined and strong willed. Margaret once decided to move, packed her belongings (including a large stove) and her children and relocated all in one, long day – a crazy hard thing to do in that day. They raised my great grandmother who, for the first six years of her life, was called “Baby” simply because no one could decide on a name for her. “Baby” eventually picked her own name, Phyllis, who went on to become her own breed of pioneer as the first female reporter for the Sacramento Bee.
“But, farming or teaching, there’s a lot to be learned. They’re a lot alike. Planting good, viable seeds in fertile soil is the same operation, essentially, as planting knowledge and ideas in the receptive minds of children. There’s a time that’s just right for the planting and a method that’s right for the cultivating. The farmer fights insects, weeds, frost and hail—he has a thousand hazards—and the teacher fights superstition, idleness, disinterested parents, and all the rest of it. But either of ‘em can learn the technique of fighting and can make a good crop. Whether it’s plants or whether it’s children. They both have the gift, the infinite capacity for growing.” – Edward Hyatt
Let Them Inspire You
Sacrifice and Service
Here’s a remarkable story of devotion and sacrifice, as told to me by Cheryl of Pasture Deficit Disorder:
My dad was raised on his father’s cattle ranch in northern New Mexico. He was the valedictorian of his high school class and received a scholarship to attend college. The summer between high school graduation and starting college, his dad became very ill with a ruptured appendix. The family only lived off what they raised and their cattle business. If his father couldn’t work, they could possibly lose everything. So my dad gave up his scholarship opportunity and, along with one of his uncles, kept the cattle ranch running until my grandfather recovered.
My dad tried going to college after that, but had lost his focus and his funding. His grades weren’t good, and he ended up getting drafted. He served in the Air Force and spent time in Thailand during the Viet Nam War, while my mother was pregnant with me. He didn’t “meet” me for the first time until I was six months old. Upon his discharge from the Air Force, he went on to work his way through college and earned a degree in chemical engineering. He enjoyed a successful career in engineering while never losing touch with his ranching roots, raising registered quarter horses until his untimely death in 2005.
And to think, I sometimes feel put out having to be in charge of everyone’s laundry! Can you imagine putting your dreams on hold at such a young age in order to serve your family in such a way? What a selfless thing to do.
Hard Work and Experience
Here’s another early pioneer story from Chris at Joybilee Farm:
My husband’s grandfather, Gordon Brown, emigrated from Scotland in the 1880s. He moved his young family from Manitoba to Robson, BC, which was a transportation hub on the Arrow Lake-Columbia River steamboat route, and a new CPR supply hub to the mines in the Selkirk Mountains. They homesteaded and planted an apple orchard on the bench above Robson, BC, in hopes of supplying apples to the miners, and merchants that were settling the area. That first summer they hewed logs by hand to carry water from a mountain spring down to their homestead.
But BC is a lot colder than Scotland, and the water froze solid that first winter, cracking their log pipes, and cutting off their water supply. The next summer water was hauled by buckets from the Columbia River below their mountain homestead, an arduous task. Grandma Brown told of a neighbor that hiked up the mountain, along a dusty path through the forest, to visit her. On reaching the door to their house she was given a glass of cold water. The neighbor drank a few gulps of the precious water and then splashed the remainder on the pathway. That neighbor was never invited back.
I don’t think many of us think enough about our precious resources and the value of hard work. I mean, we like to think we value those things, until we actually have to work and alter our lifestyle to value them in truth. I think our times are going to require that we find a way to appreciate both and these stories can help educate us in attitude.
Extremity Produces Genius
High in the Andes mountains of Bolivia, it’s too cold to grow much in the way of fresh fruits and vegetables. Does that stop these intrepid families as they try to grow strong, healthy children? Nope. See their solution here.
Ever heard of a handcart? Early Mormon Pioneers of the American west experimented with these glorified wheelbarrows as a means of transporting their meager belongings along the trail when they simply couldn’t afford a team of oxen and a wagon – learn more about a handcart and how it was used here.
One story I remember well of such a handcart company was from a survivor of the ill-fated Willie and Martin handcart company which was trapped by icy winter storms and struggled just to survive the trek. To read the story of this company and what they endured, please click here. Many years later, this survivor stood in a company of fellow church members who were grumbling about the wisdom of such a handcart venture. As he heard them speak, knowing that none of them had been present in the company, he felt moved to address them with some details and his testimony:
“I ask you to stop this criticism for you are discussing a matter you know nothing about. Cold historic facts mean nothing here for they give no proper interpretation of the questions involved. Mistake to send the handcart company out so late in the season? Yes. But I was in that company and my wife was in it. … We suffered beyond anything you can imagine and many died of exposure and starvation. But did you ever hear a survivor of that company utter a word of criticism? … Everyone of us came through with the absolute knowledge that God lives for we became acquainted with him in our extremities.
I have pulled my handcart when I was so weak and weary from illness and lack of food that I could hardly put one foot ahead of the other. I have looked ahead and seen a patch of sand or a hill slope and I have said, I can go only that far and there I must give up, for I cannot pull the load through it. … I have gone on to that sand and when I reached it, the cart began pushing me. I have looked back many times to see who was pushing my cart, but my eyes saw no one. I knew then that the angels of God were there.
“Was I sorry that I chose to come by handcart? No. Neither then nor any minute of my life since. The price we paid to become acquainted with God was a privilege to pay, and I am thankful that I was privileged to come in the Martin Handcart Company.”
– in William R. Palmer, “Pioneers of Southern Utah,” The Instructor, May 1944, 217–18“
I often think about that phrase – “The price we paid to become acquainted with God was a privilege to pay…”. How often do I complain and find fault with my circumstances instead of exercising gratitude and some elbow grease? How often do I claim to truly believe something but produce very little in the way of truly showing it? What am I willing to give up to know Him better? In reality, not much. And I need to improve.
Call to Action
So, you and I can sit back and admire history OR we can choose to do something with it. I challenge you to take a few minutes tomorrow, on Pioneer Day, and think back to a place or person that inspired you to be a better man or woman. Don’t stop at being inspired, though! From there, come up with five goals in the areas of:
Focus these goals on action and service. They will ultimately serve to enrich you but don’t think about yourself right now – find a way to make a difference where you are, today. If true pioneers teach us anything it’s that the power of one person to effect change is one of the greatest forces this world has ever seen.
Because the people who are crazy enough to think they can change the world are the ones who do.
* To find more pioneer stories of inspiration, just search the hashtag #IAmAPioneer on social media – happy pioneering!