The early years in the Salt Lake Valley were years of shortages. The seagulls may have beaten back the crickets and saved part of the crop, but no seagull – nor anything else – could prevent wear and tear to a laborer’s clothing, nor produce the fabric to make new clothing. Cloth was one of the scarcest necessities in the early settlement period, and family histories and the amused comments of travelers often record the scarecrow-like appearance of the Mormons of the 1850s.
Samuel Lorenzo Adams (1833-1910) and his wife Emma Jackson Adams (1830-1885) typified the problem. They had emigrated from England in 1852, marrying just three days before the ship sailed from Liverpool. 19-year-old Samuel and 22-year-old Emma crossed the plains with the first company to be fitted out by the Perpetual Emigrating Fund, which severely limited the amount of personal property, including clothing, they could bring with them. They had the clothes they wore, plus a change, and that was about it.
Samuel, young as he was and untrained for any of the limited occupations needed by settlers at that early date, found work as a blacksmith’s helper. He built an adobe room, 12 x 14 feet, with one door and one window; he roofed it with wooden slabs covered with dirt, and he and Emma moved into their first home. They furnished it with a homemade bed: poles driven into the dirt floor, and wound around with rawhide strips to support a straw-filled bed tick (as Samuel humorously put it, “Our feathers were from the threshing floor”). There was no table, no chairs, no cupboards – just that bed and whatever boxes they had collected to hold their meager possessions.
That bed tick didn’t last long, either, at least not in its original condition. Emma soon had to cut it and remake it a foot shorter than at first – the fabric taken from the tick was needed to patch the knees and seat of Samuel’s trousers.
Emma did all right, at first, in keeping herself clothed, but by the spring of 1853 she was in trouble. The Adamses were expecting their first child soon, and not only did Emma need to remake her dress to fit her expanding waistline, but she also had to prepare for the baby. Somehow, perhaps by cutting back her flannel petticoat and sacrificing her only change of clothing, she was able to prepare two small nightgowns and two diapers for her baby.
So imagine their feelings on August 3 when not one baby, but twins – both girls – were born to Emma. Eleanor and Emma “were made welcome to all we had,” wrote Samuel, “and it took it all to clothe them once and nothing left.”
Proud as any other new father, Samuel strode out to announce the news to his neighbors. “A young lass came running towards me and said:
“‘Brother Adams, how is Sister Adams?’
“‘Oh, she is feeling first class.’
“‘Is she over with her troubles?’
“‘Yes,’ I said.
“‘What is it – a boy?’ she said.
“‘No, it is two girls.’
“This ended our conversation, and she turned and ran for her home.”
Less than an hour later, a lady rode up to the Adams cabin on an old gray horse. She brought a basket with two lumps of butter – the first butter, Samuel said, that had ever entered their doorway – and a cooked chicken, and a large pan of buttermilk biscuits – “the first pan of white flour biscuits I had seen for months.” The visitor was nosy. She asked all kinds of questions designed to find out what the Adams parents needed, but they assured her that they were just fine, all was well, thank you very much. Finally the visitor took the neighbor woman who was acting as Emma’s nurse outside and pumped her until she had extracted the information she sought. Then she mounted her horse and rode home.
The lady – her name was Mary – was a widow, not well off, but better fixed than the Adamses although she had a large family of her own to support. She called her daughter and stepdaughters to her – 17-year-old Jerusha, 16-year-old Sarah, and 12-year-old Martha Ann – and reported what she knew. As Samuel recreated the conversation in his mind, it went like this:
“‘Well, Auntie,’ said Sarah, ‘we can take the skirt of my white dress; I have only worn it five or six times, also my new flannel petticoat.’
“‘Yes,’ said Jerusha, ‘and you can do the same with mine.’
‘”Then,’ said Martha Ann, ‘that piece of white flannel just come from the loom of mine can be used.’
“‘Yes,’ said Auntie, ‘and we can take such-and-such sheets that we brought from home’ (meaning Nauvoo).”
Mary and her daughters went to work. They must have been up much of the night, because by 9:00 the next morning, the three girls were knocking at the Adams door. “Sister Adams,” said one, “we have come to see your prize, and ask the privilege of washing and dressing them both.” Emma thanked them and promised that they could do that another time, but she told them that morning was not convenient.
“Said one of the girls, ‘We cannot be put off that way; we realize how matters are and have come prepared to carry out our wish.’” They brought into view a large clothes basket that they had until then concealed. “We have worked nearly all night, and from the time Auntie got home yesterday, and we are going to dress those children.” So they did – and presented to the parents as well a basket filled with everything good to eat that they had managed to find in their own home.
“And God has been thanked scores of times,” wrote Samuel, “for the kind hand extended by the family” that day.
The two baby girls thrived, until just past their first birthday baby Emma caught whooping cough. She died on 9 September 1854. Eleanor lived, and eventually had a large family of her own.
When Eleanor was 12, she witnessed another family tragedy: in June 1865 her brother and sister died of diphtheria on the same day. The double blow was especially hard on Emma, the children’s mother. Their loss wore on her spirits. As Samuel reported it, “She burst forth with ‘Oh, that God would only lighten my heart with knowledge of where my children are, or if anyone has the care of them.’” Apostle Erastus Snow, their neighbor in St. George, promised Emma that if she would fight back against her despair, “God our Father shall give you a witness of where and by whom your children are taken care of.”
That promise was fulfilled in two parts, the first involving 12-year-old Eleanor.
It was late in July or early in August, the sun had set. The mother said to her eldest daughter … “Eleanor, go to the bedroom and get me Ettie’s night dress.” The girl obliged and started through the dining room … to the bedroom door. No sooner was the door pushed open than she, in a transfixed condition, beheld one of the most lovely sights the eyes of mortals ever beheld. A lady dressed in white apparel with long dark flowing hair hanging over her shoulders and with the most pleasant, happy countenance smiled upon her, and having two children upon her arms. Fear had fled from the mind of the little girl and she looked till her mind was satisfied. She identified the two little children; she had nursed and cared for one of them about two years, the other a few months, but there was still another personal whose age and face she could not comprehend. She viewed this to try and discover who it was. The vision presently passed away.
She returned to her mother in a very excited condition, saying, “Oh, Mother, I know you will not believe me, I cannot tell you what has happened.” She continued in this mood till about 9 o’clock next morning when to our joy she disclosed the foregoing story. After telling of John and Minerva she said, “Who was the little girl holding on to the skirt of the young lady and appeared to be about 12 or 13 months old?” We immediate informed her that she once knew the little girl but had forgotten her as she died at 13 months old and was her twin sister. She described the suit she was dressed in, even to the narrow satin ribbon her shoes were tied with, so that her mother could not fail to know it was her darling Emma.
A subsequent dream allowed the mother to identify the young woman in Eleanor’s vision – a niece who had introduced the family to the gospel– as the one caring for Emma’s children, and she was comforted.
Oh, and the last loose end of this story –
The women who had sacrificed their own clothing and sewed the layette for the Adams babies were named Smith. Mary was Mary Fielding Smith, and Jerusha, Sarah, and Martha Ann were daughters of the martyred Hyrum Smith.