Thursday, June 07, 2012

Dedication of the Nickerson memorial

Plans for dedication of a memorial to Mormon and Lucas County pioneer Freeman Nickerson in Chariton on Friday, June 15, are fairly well finalized by now --- and that makes me happy --- although a few details remain to be worked out.

I've written earlier about the new memorial, located just inside the south entrance of the Chariton Cemetery, as well as about the Nickerson family party, which became stranded by weather and and other factors at Chariton Point during November of 1846 after fleeing Nauvoo, Illinois, and while attempting most likely to reach Mt. Pisgah (in what now is Union County), the larger of two way stations eastablished during that year by Brigham Young as he led the first parties of Utah-bound Saints west.

Elder Freeman Nickerson

Freeman Nickerson and most likely other members of the party died while encamped here and most likely were buried on the pleasant rise just southeast of town that became what now is known as the Douglass Pioneer Cemetery.

As of Monday, 57 Nickerson descendants affiliated with the Freeman and Hulda(h) Nickerson Family Organization, plan to be in Chariton for the dedication next Friday, most flying into Des Moines Thursday, driving down Friday morning and then continuing on down the Mormon Trace and Mormon Trail toward Nauvoo later in the day. A reunion for Nickerson descendants begins at noon on Saturday, June 16, in Nauvoo.

The gathering point late Friday morning will be the Lucas County Historical Society campus in west Chariton. There will be a simple lunch around noon in the barn for the family as well as a brief program, probably in Otterbein Church. Then we'll go to the Chariton Cemetery at 1:30 p.m. to dedicate the monument. After that, we'll most likely take a brief tour that includes the Mormon Trace monument and marker in the courthouse square, the Chariton Point monument along the Blue Grass Road southeast of town and, of course, Douglass Cemetery.

Anyone who would like to will be welcome to stop at the museum over the noon hour to visit with family members. The dedication program at the cemetery will be open to all interested in attending.

Douglass Cemetery

It's useful to understand a little about Mormon Trail/Trace routes through Lucas and Wayne Counties as background to Nickerson events. Brigham Young led the first party of Saints driven out of Nauvoo westward from southeast Iowa as soon as grass began to green in the spring of 1846. Just west of what now is Drakesville in Davis County, Young and his party veered southwest along a route now known as the Mormon Pioneer Trail, crossing the Chariton River very near the Missouri state line, then swinging up through what now is Wayne County to reach Garden Grove on April 24, where a way station for Saints who would follow was established.

That southerly route was very hazardous, however, so immediately upon reaching Garden Grove, Young sent scouts back to Drakesville and places farther east to instruct other emigrant parties to follow the broad ridge that divides the Des Moines/Mississippi and Chariton/Missouri river drainages west from Drakesville to the approximate location of Iconium in Appanoose couty, then northwesterly through Lucas County to Chariton Point.

As a result, all Mormon emigrants other than those in the earliest parties followed what became known as the Mormon Trace through Chariton until 1849. From Chariton, the trail followed the north bank of the Chariton River southwesterly to a point known as Smyrna in Clarke County where it branched, one branch leading south to Garden Grove and the other, west to Mt. Pisgah, where a second and considerably larger way station had been established. The Trail and the Trace came together in Clarke County and continued westward as one through Mt. Pisgah to Winter Quarters on the Missouri.

During 1849, a safe Chariton River crossing was discovered west/southwest of Iconoium that resulted in a third thread of the trail system through northern Wayne County directly to Garden Grove and traffic on the route through Chariton diminished somewhat as permanent settlers moved in.

But from early summer 1846 until 1849, the route through what now is Chariton was the principal road west for emigrant Saints and others. There are stories, perhaps just a little exaggerated, of a nearly constant stream of emigrant wagons through Lucas County during prime traveling weather in those years.

After enduring that harsh winter of 1846/47 at Chariton Point, members of the Nickerson party came up from alongside the river, where they had found shelter, and built log shanties on pre-emption claims along the east flank of the Point. Although Lucas County had opened to settlers during October of 1845, there was no practical way to actually buy the land. There were no permanent settlers in Lucas County that spring, so far as we know.

Pre-emption claims for up to 160 acres were legally binding, however, until land could be purchased and these claims became commodities that could be sold or traded, although not formally recorded until permanent settlers made their way to land offices and laid down the going rate, $1.25 an acre.

The Nickerson party moved on from the Point during 1847, most likely selling or trading their claims to others who followed, thus generating a little revenue in cash or kind. There are indications that Chariton Point became a minor Mormon way station itself, a miniature Garden Grove and Mt. Pisgah, during 1847 and into 1848. Several of the earliest permanent settlers at Chariton Point, arriving in 1848, reported purchasing the claims of Saints who had stopped there briefly before moving west.

The Nickersons made it to Utah eventually, where Elder Freeman's widow, Huldah, died during March of 1860. She is buried in the Provo City Cemetery, a considerable distance from the unmarked graves of her husband and others who died along the trail in south central Iowa and whose descendants now are retracing their route, west to east, using forms of transportation that would amaze the ancestors.

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