Monday, May 17, 2010

A May evening at Garden Grove


My cousin, Helen, at a sign marking the site of Garden Grove, Behind her, a swath of mown grass follows the Mormon Trail down over the hill to a creek crossing. After that, the trail continued northwest to Mt. Pisgah.
My cousin, Helen, pulled out after church yesterday headed for Nauvoo. Before arriving here Thursday evening, she had driven from her home in Utah to Minneapolis to spend a few days with friends, then to Winterset for a few days with more cousins. Between Winterset and Chariton, there had been a side trip to Pella to see the last of the tulips.

None of this would be remarkable if Helen weren’t 88 --- and undeterred.

Such behavior from someone so rich in years does give her daughters and grandchildren fits sometimes. And those of us on the receiving end of her visits wish that she would agree to sleep in our guest bedrooms rather than in her van, fully equipped for life on the road.

But she’s done this for many years in a series of adapted vans and has the technique down pat (Wal-Mart parking lots for overnight stays in unfamiliar towns --- or check in with the police upon arrival and ask them for advice). Although she doesn’t hear well (wearing her hearing aids would help), she is an excellent driver.

This may be her last trip of this sort, Helen says. When the journey is done, the current van will have traveled considerably more than 100,000 miles and, quite frankly, she’s getting a little bored with the process. And then she’s been eyeing something smaller and more maneuverable at a Utah dealership --- a lime green jeep. If the trade happens, she plans to do less driving and more flying.

But for the time being, she’s on the road again. If current plans hold, she’ll drive on from Nauvoo Tuesday to the home of a daughter in Indiana for a few weeks, then drift southwest through Kentucky and Tennessee, perhaps Mississippi, definitely Arkansas and Missouri, Texas, New Mexico and Arizona before heading back to Utah for Thanksgiving with her family there, including seven grandchildren and 18 great-grandchildren.

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While here, we spent some time at a couple of historic sites along the Mormon trail, partly because Helen is intensely interested in nearly everything, but also because these sites are as significant to her Utah family, all Mormon, as they are to those of us who live near them. Helen, by the way, is Baptist --- she would want me to point that out.


Grassy outlines behind interpretive panels here mark cabin sites at Garden Grove. Yes, the cabins were very close together, creating an effect something like an 1846 log motel.

So that’s why Helen is in the foreground and Mormon Trail is in the background in these photos --- they were taken with her grandchildren and great-grandchildren in mind.

In Nauvoo, she’s been instructed to find someone to take her picture standing in front of the rebuilt Mormon Temple.

After supper in Osceola Friday we drove down to Garden Grove, the first of the major way stations along the trail constructed in the spring of 1846 so that Saints fleeing Nauvoo would have a place to rest before moving on west.

Brigham Young and the advance party he was leading arrived here on April 24, 1846, after negotiating the troublesome stretch of what now is known as the Pioneer Trail through southern Appanoose and Wayne counties. Trees were cut and closely-grouped log cabins built, gardens and fields planted to supply those who came later. The temporary settlement remained in use until 1852.

What remains or has been reclaimed of the settlement today is a place of intense peace, no sounds other than birds and the wind, so green it almost hurts. The old cemetery is a Decatur County Conservation Board site; the settlement itself, on private land but open to the public. To reach it, drive west out of the small Decatur County town of Garden Grove, but instead of turning south when the pavement does continue straight west for about a mile on gravel. There are plenty of markers.

Garden Grove has a good deal of significance to Lucas County History, too, because Young and other leaders of that first party decided here that the trail they had just blazed was too rough and hazardous for other Saints to follow.

Scouts were sent back east to what now is Drakesville, where the trail veered south toward Missouri before looping up to Garden Grove, to instruct others to follow instead the broad ridge paralleling the north side of the Chariton River instead. That brought a majority of the early Saints through Chariton.

From Chariton, the new trail (known today as the Mormon Trace) angles southwest from Chariton Point to Smyrna Friends Cemetery, just over the line in Clarke County, where it forks, one branch leading down to Garden Grove and the other west toward the second of the major way stations, Mt. Pisgah, located east of Afton in Union County.

A couple of years later, a convenient place to ford the Chariton River was discovered almost due west of what now is Icononium (or northeast of Confidence) and a third major branch of the trail was blazed through northern Wayne County directly to Garden Grove.

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It rained here again overnight, continuing a trend especially frustrating to farmers (gardeners are frustrated, too, but as a rule our livelihoods aren’t on the line). Iowa mud was one of the reasons those first Mormons found the trek across Iowa the most difficult part of their journey west to Utah. That, we can identify with this year.


A monument in what now is a Decature County Conservation Board park identifies it as the pioneer Garden Grove cemetery, where Saints who died while encamped nearby were buried. There are no individually marked graves.

1 comment:

Lynne said...

Enjoyed this blog very much. Your Aunt Helen is a remarkable lady and goes to show we old ladies can do whatever our hearts desire.