Nickerson descendants gather at the Chariton Cemetery Friday just before dedication of the monument around which they're gathered.
Friday was one of those days that affirms faith on several levels --- in family, in faith itself and in the near-miraculous ability of everything to just work out.
The occasion was a gathering in Chariton of descendants of Mormon pioneer Freeman Nickerson and his wife, Huldah Chapman Nickerson, to dedicate a new memorial in the Chariton Cemetery to his memory. Nickerson was the senior member of a family party locked in for the winter of 1846-47 at Chariton Point on the trek west to Utah. He died here that January.
One hundred and sixty-five years later, nearly 60 of his descendants (counting spouses) began to gather at the Lucas County Historical Society Museum campus at mid-morning. Some had driven in cross-country from such diverse places as Utah, Indiana and Pennsylvania. Others had flown to Des Moines, Kansas City and Molene and rented vehicles.
At least three families on flights to Des Moines from Salt Lake late Thursday ended up in Minneapolis because of fierce weather over Nebraska and parts of Iowa, spent a restful night in the Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport terminal, flew to Des Moines Friday morning, jumped into rented cars and arrived unruffled in time for lunch.
About noon we gathered in the barn for lunch --- kind of a loaves and fishes experience since there was exactly the right amount of food --- sandwich components from Piper's, fruit and vegetable trays from Hy-Vee, all wonderful.
I was so busy talking that I neglected to take a photo of lunch until after most already had moved back out onto the lawn, so I picked this view because it flatters the barn (sorry). Getting the barn back in order after years of use as a shop during blacksmith shop construction in time for three consecutive weekends of events, commencing with the Nickerson gathering, has been a major undertaking. Bill, bless his heart, even mopped the floor --- waay above and beyond the call of duty.
Several volunteers helped out prior to and during the gathering but I'm not going to try to name them because I'm sure to forget someone.
After lunch, we gathered in Otterbein Church for a program that included brief presentations by family members as well as myself and John Pierce, Lucas County's "pioneer" in the search for the precise route of the Mormon Trace through our county and the legends related to it. Here are several photos of speakers during the program.
Kevin Johnson, instrumental in organizing the event at Chariton from a considerable distance --- Utah --- provided the introduction.
Linda Beckman spoke about the value families gain from remembering their forbears, speaking among other things about the simple pleasure of discovering among the papers of her late father detailed hand-written instructions for playing simple pioneer games.
My friend Maxine Rasmussen is the author of "A Ripple in the Pond: The Life Story of Freeman Nickerson and Huldah Chapman." Sales of this book helped to fund the Nickerson monument. Maxine is holding a component of Otterbein's authentic air conditioning system.
Steven Lund, of Provo, also was among the presenters. With the legs of flights home from a business trip included, his trip to Chariton may have been the longest.
John Pierce brought along several conjectural paintings of Chariton Point and other places along the Trace as they might have looked at about the time the Nickersons were passing through.
After the program we drove out to the cemetery for dedication of the new monument. This was the first opportunity for most to see it. Clouds were beginning to gather as the program finished, then the shower began. I told the Nickersons they had broken our drought. And it was really kind of approriate, since Iowa mud is a familiar collective memory of the great move west.
After the program, with rain falling now and then, we drove down the Mormon Trace to visit the DAR Chariton Point monument and Douglass Pioneer Cemetery, where Freeman Nickerson and others in his party who may have died here, are we believe buried. Consideration had been given to placing the monument at Douglass, but because the location is a little obscure and the entrance is across private property, it was decided to place it in the Chariton Cemetery where any who pass this way in the future will be able to locate it easily.
It began to pour as we stood on the rise at Douglass and for some reason that seemed to make the moment even more meaningful.
Finally, after driving to the courthouse square to see the Mormon Trace markers there, family members headed on down the Trace toward Nauvoo, where a reunion of Nickerson descendants begins at noon today and will continue until Tuesday.
I don't think I'm telling secrets --- it doesn't take that much to move many Mormons to tears. And while I'm just an Episcopalian with Mormon roots, this is the song that gets to me, the great anthem composed during the early spring of 1846 by William Clayton while camped with the pioneer party on Locust Creek in Wayne County. The program at the cemetery closed as we sang it and the rain began to fall.