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Frances Swan Clark: A Kindness Remembered

By: Ardis E. Parshall - May 18, 2008

Many of Utah’s early pioneers did not remain long in the Valley. In defiance of counsel, some rushed to the California gold fields. A few went to California as missionaries, and the two apostles who founded a ranching colony in San Bernardino found no shortage of volunteers to accompany them there. Still more drifted west in apostasy or because they were unable or unwilling to dedicate themselves to the difficult task of building the new Zion.

In the fall of 1857, when fully a third of the U.S. Army was marching against Utah in what threatened to be a larger, more terrible repeat of the Missouri and Illinois persecutions, there seemed to be only two kinds of Mormons in California: those who packed their wagons in obedience to the call to return to Utah, and the hundreds who angrily rebelled against their former brethren, vowing to destroy the Saints in California and form a volunteer unit to attack Utah from the west. By February 1858, no Latter-day Saints remained in southern California.

Or so the mobbers thought …

Frances Jessie Swan and her family joined the Church about 1840. Frances married Heber C. Kimball in Nauvoo, buried their infant daughter in a refugee camp in Iowa, and emigrated to Utah in 1848. She left her husband and moved on to California with her father by 1853. There she married George L. Clark, who had followed a similar path from Nauvoo to Utah to California. The Clarks did not return to Utah when called home by Brigham Young.

Neither did the family of Alden Jackson. “Colonel” Jackson, as he was known in California, was a faithful supporter of the Church. For some reason, however – perhaps because he was a lawyer who seemingly defied the summons of Brigham Young – the apostates of San Bernardino assumed that he, too, had abandoned his faith. To the contrary, his family quietly watched for missionaries who trickled into San Bernardino on their return from foreign lands, and aided them on their way.

One evening in February, 1858, Col. Jackson was at work in his office in the front of a San Bernardino hotel, when he noticed a feeble, travel-weary man arrive. Something about the man, who had registered as “Dr. Osborne,” seemed familiar, but Col. Jackson could not place his face. He sent his card to Dr. Osborne and was invited into the man’s room.

He learned that Dr. Osborne was seeking some rapid transportation to Salt Lake City. Although he did not confide his business, he impressed Col. Jackson as a friend, and Col. Jackson promised to help him.

Within a day or two, rumors of Dr. Osborne’s plans began to circulate. Threats were made: “He … escaped lynching once, but the Vigilance Committee would not be fooled again,” read one newspaper.

The danger seemed so imminent that Col. Jackson asked the hotel landlord to distract a gathering crowd while he spirited Dr. Osborne out of the hotel by a side door, giving him no time even to snatch up his extra clothing and personal papers. He hurried Dr. Osborne to the farm house of George and Frances Clark, whom he knew could be trusted.

Frances Clark, aided by Caroline Jackson, began to prepare for Dr. Osborne’s journey. They baked bread and cake, and bottled milk, and gathered blankets and a thick comforter for his travel bedding.

“When I found out who was going to accompany him to Utah,” Frances wrote later, “I knew they were not suitable men to take care of a sick person. I proposed to the Doctor to let my husband go along with him, as … he had had a great deal of sickness in his own Family.” Dr. Osborne didn’t want to take her husband away from Frances, who would be left alone in a hostile land, but Frances insisted.

Finally, just before embarking on their dangerous winter-time dash to Salt Lake City, “Dr. Osborne” revealed that he was really Thomas L. Kane, the Pennsylvanian who had aided the Mormons during their desperate days in Iowa. He was hastening to Utah (via Panama and California) to act as peacemaker and prevent bloodshed between the Saints and the approaching federal troops.

Frances startled the group with her response: “Colonel Kane, you did not deceive me. I knew you the night you were brought here. You came to my wagon when my child lay dying, on the bank of the Mississippi river. I knew your voice, you could not disguise your eyes – did you think I could ever forget you?”

The men departed, and Frances penned a letter to Elizabeth Kane back in Pennsylvania, assuring her that her husband had safely reached California on his hazardous journey.

This was posted on Times and Seasons in October 2006.



9 Comments »

  1. Thanks for reposting.

    Comment by Edje — May 18, 2008 @ 8:33 am

  2. Thanks for commenting, Edje. I’m not sure why this story isn’t better liked — one comment this time, only two comments on its first appearance. Of all my sisters’ stories, this is my favorite. That may be because of the challenge in putting it together from just one or two clues in each of several obscure places. Even coming up with Frances’s name was difficult. Oh, well. It’s here if it’s ever wanted.

    Comment by Ardis E. Parshall — May 19, 2008 @ 5:22 am

  3. You simply left us all speechless. “How do you follow an act like that?” as my grandpa said one time about my grandmother.

    Comment by Amy T — May 19, 2008 @ 6:33 am

  4. Ardis:

    This is a brilliant piece. I don’t usually comment to say how much I like a post, but you sound rather whistful in comment #2.

    Of course I think most of your posts are excellent, but this story of Colonel Kane rushing across the continent, in danger from the mob hoping to avert tragedy for a people he admired but would not join, hiding behinf an assumed identity and ultimately using an impromptu evasion net–well that is story enough for a movie.

    Comment by Eric Boysen — May 20, 2008 @ 9:18 pm

  5. Researcher, and Eric, thanks for taking the time to comment. I *do* like this story, all the characters in it and the selflessness of what they did. Our history is made up of the people and their private actions. In the case of mostly undercover actions like those here, the people couldn’t have received thanks and recognition in their lifetimes. We can cheer for them now, though.

    Comment by Ardis E. Parshall — May 20, 2008 @ 9:44 pm

  6. Huh. I missed this one the first time, and almost missed it a 2nd time, but I’m glad I didn’t. Thanks, Ardis.

    Comment by Mark IV — May 20, 2008 @ 10:19 pm

  7. I also missed it the first time. This truly is inspiring.

    Comment by Ray — May 21, 2008 @ 7:50 am

  8. WOW! a piece of history has been opened to me !

    Thank you so much for sharing it. :)

    Brother Eric – thank you for forwarding it !

    Comment by Christie Wagner — May 27, 2008 @ 11:12 am

  9. Thanks, Mark and Ray, and especially first-time commenter Christie. I hope you’ll be back.

    I gave a paper this weekend at the Mormon History Association meetings about the roll-up of the California colonies at the time of the Utah War. Somebody asked a question that let me work in Frances’s story — but I couldn’t recite Frances’s words exactly as they are quoted here, because I would have teared up in front of all those hard-headed historians. None of them seem to ahve been aware of Frances’s role with Thomas L. Kane, much less about the earlier crossing of their paths.

    Comment by Ardis E. Parshall — May 27, 2008 @ 1:39 pm

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