Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Welcoming the Nickersons home

I've spent quite a bit of time over the Memorial Day weekend and in the days leading up to it thinking about the Mormon Trace and those who followed it west to Utah commencing in 1846. Driving out the Blue Grass Road with flowers to Salem Cemetery, where many generations of my family are buried, I followed in reverse the path of those early Saints down along the east flank of Chariton Point, then turned east with the Trace across what then was open prairie.

Salem itself, a couple of miles out, began according to legend when a Mormon pioneer died and was buried there at the intersection of the main Trace and a branch that meanders down past Ragtown before reconnecting at Greenville. As fence rows are buldozed out at Salem it becomes easier to appreciate the lay of the land, then as now.

But what really got me thinking was the new Nickerson Family Association monument to Elder Freeman Nickerson on a rise just inside the south entrance to the Chariton Cemetery --- as close to the original "point" of Chariton Point as it is practical to erect something of this sort in the 21st century.

I had a notion to write about this a little earlier, before Memorial Day, and then decided to wait. Some members of the association will be here themselves during June, heading down the Trace to a big family reunion in Nauvoo --- and since I am a self-declared (although somewhat wayward so far as communications are concerned) honorary Nickerson, I'd rather have it associated with that event.

Anyone interested will be welcome to attend the dedication I'm sure --- and I'll keep you informed about the timing. But in the meantime, take a look at the monument when you're in the neighborhood. It's very easy to find, which was the primary point behind putting it there in the first place. The inscription on the west face of the monument reads,


Lieutenant in the War of 1812, Vermont state wrestling
champion, father of 9 children, and Mormon pioneer.
Died and was buried near this place having fallen victim
to a vicious winter during the western migration.

Erected in 2012 by his grateful descendants numbering in the
thousands, who have been inspired by his heroic Christian devotion.

And here's the text of the inscription on the eastern face of the monument, which adds a face and facts to the legends concerning Lucas County's first long-term settlers:


When Freeman Nickerson and his family and friends erected
temprary shelters near here at Chariton Point in
November of 1846, they may have been the first non-native
American settlers in Lucas County. Freeman and about nine
others died from the extremities of winter on the open
plains, and were buried in pioneer graves. When spring
arrived, the beleagured party moved from the river up
onto the prairie, building a few log shanties where
the city of Chariton would eventually emerge. They stayed
until April or May of 1847 before continuing
 to the Utah Territory.

"He who has no feeling of veneration for his predecessors
should expect none from those who follow him."
By: William Emery Nickerson, founder of the Nickerson Family Association

It is almost certain that Freeman Nickerson and other members of his party who died during that harsh winter where the first graves at what now is Douglass Cemetery, on high ground northeast of what most likely was the site of the winter encampment at the base of bluffs along the Chariton River. And some thought was given to locating this monument there. Access to that cemetery, however, is across private land and its location is somewhat obscure. So, the decision was made to put the monument here, looking south into the Chariton River valley very near the original "point."

Although I had nothing to do with the decision to put it there, I'm really pleased. And how cool, too, that someone noticed Freeman's status as a veteran of the War of 1812 and placed a flag near it for Memorial Day.

I think I'll leave more of what there is to say --- and there's plenty of it --- to another time. But if you're interested in more about the Trace and about the Nickersons, you can look at these earlier posts, "Rock of Ages: The Mormon Trace", "Becoming Lucas County" and "Along the Trace: Douglass Cemetery."

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