Most of those buried in Utah’s pioneer cemeteries came here early. One stone in Wanship, Summit County, though, marks the grave of a pioneer who completed his trek to Utah more than 50 years after he started it.
Nathan Young was born in Rhode Island in 1829. As a nephew to Brigham Young —
his father was Young’s brother; [*] his mother a sister of one of Young’s wives — it may have been inevitable that Nathan became a Mormon, baptized in the Mississippi River in 1844.
Nathan fled Nauvoo, Ill., in 1846 and started west. He got as far as Council Bluffs, Iowa, when representatives of the U.S. Army, responding to Mormon pleas for employment to help them move west, arrived in camp with an offer to recruit 500 men as soldiers.
At 17, too young to enlist, Nathan nevertheless found a place in the Mormon Battalion, signing on with Capt. Jesse D. Hunter as a personal servant.
Most of Nathan’s friends and family would reach the Salt Lake Valley in 1847 or 1848. But when he marched out of camp with the Battalion on that July morning in 1846, Nathan’s feet were on a path that would stretch for tens of thousands of miles and require more than 50 years of travel before he would finally “come home” to Utah.
Nathan accompanied the battalion to Fort Leavenworth, then through Kansas and New Mexico and finally to San Diego. He washed Capt. Hunter’s laundry, set up his camp each night and packed his gear each morning. Once he was caught purchasing meat illegally from the quartermaster’s servant and was sentenced to a night tied to a wagon wheel.
The battalion was discharged in California. One company re-enlisted, and Nathan, now of age to enlist himself, became a regular member of the U.S. Army in July 1847. Gold had been discovered by the time he was discharged in 1848, and Nathan headed to the northern California gold fields. He was moderately successful and wrote to his Uncle Brigham to report his whereabouts and his wealth.
Neither that letter nor Brigham Young’s reply survive, but all his life Nathan remembered the advice from Salt Lake: “Nathan, come home.”
Instead, the young man, flush with success and dreaming of even greater wealth, boarded a ship heading to the Australian gold fields. He dug in the dirt of New South Wales and Victoria, sometimes amassing a little wealth, more often turning up nothing. Without good news to boast of, Nathan did not write to tell his family where he was, and gradually he gave up hope of being able even to buy a ticket back to America. The years passed, then the decades. Nathan assumed that everyone who knew him must have died; in Utah, his family gave him up for dead, too.
A severe case of asthma ended Nathan’s working days, and he was glad to find a bed in Sydney’s Macquarie Street Asylum for the Infirm and Destitute.
He was there in 1899 when a Protestant chaplain visited the asylum. Nathan told him that he was a Mormon — albeit one who had lapsed for half a century! — and a nephew of Brigham Young. The chaplain told him that there were Mormon missionaries in town and generously sought them out to tell them about Nathan.
Those men called on Nathan, then wrote to Salt Lake seeking confirmation of his claims. His cousin, Mormon apostle Brigham Young Jr., wrote back saying he remembered Nathan, and sent money to pay his fare “home” to Utah.
Nathan came, sailing on the ship Moana in July 1900. He was greeted in Utah not only by his cousins but by his sister, Rachel Frazer, who took the old man to her home in Wanship. He died there in August after only a few weeks in Utah.
Few of us have had a longer or more delayed path to Utah, nor lived here a shorter time, than Nathan Young. But in the end, Nathan came home.
[*When somebody takes as much joy as I sometimes do in correcting the historical mistakes of others (see: any post where I prattle on about provenance, and especially where I challenge Mormon urban legends), I have to be prepared to be corrected when I blow it. I appreciate the quiet emails where some reader points out that I report the Church was organized in 1930 or somehow refer to John Taylor as James Taylor, and I silently correct those stupidities, or comment that I have corrected a more substantial error. Some errors are harder to correct, as in this error that was published in my Tribune column last week.
This particular error is especially embarrassing because it’s exactly the kind of error I shouldn’t have made. I pride myself (see: Proverbs 16:18) on my familiarity with Brigham Young’s genealogy, and yet I didn’t pause for even two seconds to review Brigham’s brothers’ names before I perpetuated an old error in my column. Valentine Young, the father of Nathan Young, is no known relative, certainly not a brother, to Brigham Young. (Nathan’s mother, though, was a sister of Mary Ann Angell, meaning that Nathan really was the first cousin of Brigham Young, Jr., as reported.)
Jeffery O. Johnson, who knows the Young genealogy much better than I do — and who actually checks his notes once in a while instead of relying on memory, courteously corrected this in private email.]