Keepapitchinin, the Mormon History blog » Gaston L. Braley: Leaves from a Life’s Journal (5)

Gaston L. Braley: Leaves from a Life’s Journal (5)

By: Ardis E. Parshall - June 15, 2011

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During the dictation of the above hour’s work, Brother Braley was abed, but he seemed a little stronger. He expressed the regret that he was not himself on account of his illness. He said that if his mind were clear and strong as before, his vocabulary would be much improved. He has been seriously ill for two years. He resumed the narrative the next day.

While on my way back to South Carolina I saw a man traveling in the same direction in which we were going. The road that he was on and the one we were on came together right at the river.

When we met the man, he asked if we were Mormon missionaries. We told him that we were. He said he had read one of the tracts that had been left somewhere and sent to Salt lake City and had received other literature. He said, “Now I am a thorough convert, and would like very much to be baptized.”

I spoke to my companion in the language of the Eunuch, “Here is water, what is to hinder me from being baptized.” I asked my companion to baptize him, and he at once performed the ordinance. The man sat on a log, after baptism and I confirmed him a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. We never saw him again, but learned from other elders that he was rejoicing in the work of the Lord.

Elder Shumway, my companion and I were on our way to attend a conference held at Lake City, South Carolina, near the sea, and had to cross the river where we were. There was no bridge there. After the baptism he turned to me and said, “Now Elder Braley, inasmuch as I am already wet, there is no use of your getting in the water; and so, if you will get on my back I will ferry you over the stream.” I climbed on and he crossed, successfully. We had many a laugh over that experience.

Elder Shumway weighed about 140 pounds and I 220.

A humorous thing happened when we were separating from that conference. It was necessary for some of the elders to take the train. When they arrived at the depot, they were met by a Baptist minister, and some of his followers. When the elders started to get on the train, they were fired upon by the Baptist minister and those with him, with rotten eggs, none of which took effect on the elders, however.

The train men got a good share of them and many eggs were smashed on the side of the car. It was not long before a group of special railroad agents, and detectives were there on the job, investigating the affair. Very little was ever done about it.

We were later directed to the home of a man who was supposed to be a member of the Church. On reaching his home, we found that he and his wife had joined the Church some years before, but had not been visited by the elders, more than a very few times.

This man was sorely afflicted. His feet and legs almost to his knees had very nearly dried up, and were greatly reduced in size. He and his wife were two of the worst tobacco fiends that I had ever seen. They raised their own tobacco, which was of the strongest type, and used it constantly, both chewing and smoking.

I asked them if they had never been told not to do that? And they said, yes, they had. I said, “If you and your wife will repent, and stop using tobacco, and bathe your legs in hot packs, you will be restored to health.” He repented of that evil, and was seen restored to health, thus showing the blessings that come from obeying the Word of Wisdom.

Some time later I took what seemed to be rheumatism in my right hip. I had been walking as much as forty miles a day, distributing tracts in the country. My hip grew worse every day. The suffering was so great that I lost thirty pounds in weight. I got permission from the conference president to go back where I had previously labored, where I had friends and could est. My legs were almost completely paralyzed, and when I started to the train which was to take me, my companion had to carry my grip. With his help and the assistance of a cane I got to the train. A great fear came upon me that I might have to return home on account of losing the use of my leg.

I was in constant prayer that my leg might be restored so that I could prosecute my labors. I got on the train and rode to the end of the journey. when the train stopped, I picked up my grip automatically, as usual, and walked off the train and then walked out into the country several miles, without the slightest pain or uneasiness. I was completely healed of this distress some time on that train, although I do not know exactly when. This affliction in my hip and leg had been coming on for a long time. All the elders knew of it and kept inquiring, “How is Elder Braley’s leg?” Hence the story of this remarkable healing spread through the mission.

I stayed and rested for two weeks with Ben Daniels and Henry Bowers (bless their memories) and went back to my field of labor, fat and well. Old Ben simply worshiped the elders, though he had no fear of God, man or the devil. He never joined the Church, but always went where the elders were, whenever he knew that they were in the neighborhood.

He had been educated to be a Baptist minister, but later discontinued all Church connection.

It fell to my lot to assist in building the first two Latter-day Saint chapels that were erected in the state of South Carolina. The first one was built in the vicinity of the little town of Foreston, Clarendon county. A Mr. Collins and I went out one morning into the forest and cut down a couple of turpentine trees. I, personally, hewed the sills to go into that chapel. The Saints hauled logs to a mill, and got lumber sawed, and a beautiful little building was erected by members and non-members on some ground donated by a gentleman whose name I have forgotten, but who was not a member of the Church.

When the chapel was completed, the Saints proceeded to beautiful the grounds, making it one of the most beautiful spots in that section. Plantings consisted of many different kinds of flowers, and evergreens. We painted the building white. A few people, not members of the Church, volunteered help, both labor and money. The Saints, especially the sisters, were very proud of that little chapel and kept everything in perfect order.

There was a Baptist community not far away, and they were very bitter towards the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. The Fourth of July was coming on. We made big preparations for the celebration, which, by the way, was the only Fourth of July celebration held in the state of South Carolina. Our chapel was located about seven miles from the county seat. We went over and invited a number of leading citizens to join us in the celebration. This they did. Two of them were asked to speak and they said many things in praise of our efforts. That night the Baptist minister and his congregation turned out and burned our chapel to the ground. We did all we could to bring action against them, but the court refused to grant our pleas.

During my missionary work, in order to perfect our organization, it sometimes became necessary to use people who would not ordinarily be used. We had, also, previously built a small chapel at a place called Sharp, Keshaw county, South Carolina. In organizing a Sunday school, we found suitable materials very, very scarce. All offices had been filled with the exception of a teacher for the parents’ class. There was an old gentleman by the name of Wilson, who was well qualified to teach this class, but he did not belong to the Church. Still we consulted him about the matter. He accepted the responsibility and we sustained him in that position.

A day or two later he came to me and said, “Elder Braley, I know that my being installed as teacher in the Sunday school is more or less foreign to the rules of the Church. Therefore, inasmuch as you have been kind to me, and have placed so much confidence in me, I now make application for baptism, a thing I should have done long ago.” His wife and family had previously joined the Church. Mr. Wilson was baptized soon after that, and has been very faithful and remained useful to the branch.

This took place at Fort Dearborn, South Carolina, where the English troops were fortified, preliminary to fighting the Battle of Camden during the Revolution.

I was in the northern part of the state when I received a letter from a Mr. Sibley inviting me to join him on his annual fishing date. I received permission to make the trip. When I reached Mr. Sibley’s home I found every thing in readiness. A team of mules was hooked up, an abundance of roasting ears (young corn) and all the necessaries were loaded in the wagon. He had two negroes who were well trained in catching cat fish from the Catawba River, which at this point was about a mile wide and was full of rocks of all sizes.

The method of catching was to place a seine around a rock, one edge of the seine being on the bottom, held down by a lead line, the other on top, held there by floats. In this way, the fish that happened to be hiding under the rocks were trapped. We then prepared to catch them, by putting on canvas gloves to keep from being stung by the cat fish, and then getting inside the net and catching the fish with our hands. The fish were all sizes, weighing form one pound to fifteen pounds.

When we caught them they were turned over to the negroes who skinned them, put them in kettles and boiled them until all the meat came off the bones, being completely boiled to pieces. The “soup” was then seasoned with corn, cut from the cob, very fine. Smoked bacon and salt were then added and the whole again cooked. The method of eating consisting of “drinking the soup.” After we had “bloated” ourselves thoroughly we laid down and took a nap. On waking up we would be ready for another quart of soup. This outing continued for a week.

Our sleeping quarters were in the old Arsenal, built by Lord Cornwallis while he was fortified there. The walls and floors were in good condition. Mr. Sibley had put a roof on it some years previous. It was located in a deep gorge a short distance from the river. The fishing party consisted of Mr. Sibley and his two sons, my companion, Oliver Shumway, and myself, and two darkies. While in the act of catching the cat fish we would sometimes catch a large turtle, and give it to the negroes. They tied it to a tree, and when the fishing was over, would take it home and have a feast.

I tracted the city of Columbia twice while in the state of South Carolina

Soon after this on November 15, 1895, I received an honorable release to return home to my family. I had visited the World’s Fair in September 1893 in Chicago on the way to my mission in the Southern States. Now on my way home, as the great Cotton-Belt Exposition was open in Atlanta, Georgia, I stopped there for a few days, a visit that I enjoyed very much. From there I went to Chattanooga, Tennessee, stopping there one day only. I then proceeded to Salt Lake City and visited there a few days with friends and returned missionaries, with whom I had labored. I arrived home in Franklin, Idaho on November 27 1895, having been in the Southern States mission a little over two years.

On this mission I had traveled on foot, approximately 6,780 miles; visited about 1,300 families; revisited about 1,040 families. I had labored in the states of South Carolina, North Carolina and Georgia. I had baptized nineteen converts, and had confirmed and blessed a number of others in addition. Although I was mobbed a number of times, I escaped unhurt in each instance. I witnessed many manifestations of the power of God in various ways. Thus my mission was filled. It was a source of great joy and satisfaction to me.

It might be permissible at this time to give the data of my confirmation to the different offices of the priesthood which came to me after gathering to Zion and during the rest of my life. I was ordained a Teacher in the spring of 1884 at Franklin, Idaho. I was ordained an Elder in November 1885 by S.R. Parkinson at Franklin, Idaho. I was ordained a Seventy, Sept. 23, 1893, by Apostle A.H. Cannon, at Salt lake City. On February 3, 1899, I was set apart to be president of the Eighteenth Quorum of Seventy by J.G. Kimball of Salt Lake City. This Quorum, by the way, was organized in Nauvoo, Illinois. On March 4, 1912, I was released from the office of president of Seventy, and ordained a High Priest by James Duckworth, president of the Blackfoot Stake in Bingham county, Idaho. On July 10, 1927 I was sustained as president of the High Priests Quorum, when the San Francisco stake was organized; with Norman B. Phillips as first counselor and J.T. Carruth as second counselor. Because of ill health I was released from the office of president of the High Priests Quorum. I was ordained a Patriarch in the San Francisco stake on February 18, 1929, by apostle George F. Richards which office I expect to hold the balance of my life.

During the winter in which I arrived home from the Southern States, which was the winter of 1895-1896, I was called to visit the wards and branches in the Oneida stake, which then comprised a good portion of the State of Idaho. A large part of the time I was traveling with team and sled, breaking roads in the deep snow for long distances and getting across streams as best I could. At times it seemed as though I would not be able to return home at all during that winter, as the snow fall was very deep and caught me in isolated places. I endured extreme hardships, traveling alone over long, desolate wind-swept distances. I reorganized a number of Y.M.M.I.A. associations, and assisted bishops, and branch presidents, in getting their wards and branches in order in a general way.

Some serious difficulties were encountered existing between the members of the Church. I spent some time in getting such people reconciled. In my journeys during this winter I finally reached Oxford, which was then a small place. I left my team, taking the train for Pocatello and other places, traveling by train altogether in this part of visiting. Idaho was a great wide, desolate, unsettled country, in those days. In the Bancroft county and in Gentile Valley one could travel for days without seeing a habitation.

I returned to my home in March, 1896, having been on this mission since December. In all that time I was home only two or three times. When I reached Oxford by train on my way home, I was very sick. I got my team at Oxford, where I had left it, and drove home along through the snow twenty-nine miles. I arrived home safely, but unconscious. I must have become unconscious soon after leaving Oxford as I remember nothing of the trip home. The team knew the way apparently, and brought me to the door safely. My wife and mother carried me into the house where I lay sick for several weeks, from exposure to the cold, and hardships of the trip. There was no doctor within twenty miles of our ranch at that time.

The family had just moved back to the farm that very day from Fairview, where my wife had been teaching school during the winter. They had been in the house only an hour when I arrived in my sick condition. The stove was the only piece of furniture in place and a fire was burning. it was about five o’clock in the afternoon, March 25, 1896.

While on this mission at Trout Creek branch, in reorganizing the M.I.A., I was obliged to make a young an, who was not then a member of the Church, secretary of the Y.M.M.I.A. Thereupon the wrath and indignation of some of the ladies of the Branch was poured out upon me. The Bishop was not heartily in accord with the move but it was made nevertheless. The materials often necessary to use were very crude, and in some cases there was none at all. I questioned the young man above referred to, and he told me that he would do the very best he could. He did so. In July 1897 I related the circumstances to apostle John Henry Smith while sitting around a sage brush camp fire. When I had finished he said, “Elder Braley, how did that end?” I replied, “The last I heard of the young man, he was on a mission to Germany.” “All is well that ends well,” answered the apostle.

[This concludes Braley’s dictation; the final installment is a sequel written by an associate who read the first part of this life history when it was published in the Church News.]


(To be continued)



  1. I’m amazed he knows how many families he visited on his mission. It would never have occurred to me to keep track of such a thing on mine. And the miles walked — I wonder if he kept track or estimated it at the end.

    Comment by Paul — June 15, 2011 @ 8:06 am

  2. I don’t know about Braley specifically, but I’ve seen missionary diaries and read reports to mission presidents that track to the mile the distances walked and distances ridden during missions. Although I couldn’t point to a particular collection now, I’m sure I’ve seen forms for weekly reports from some period that included the number of families visited and miles walked. In other words, it wouldn’t surprise me one bit if those were actual figures tracked by Braley during the course of his mission. Amazing.

    Comment by Ardis E. Parshall — June 15, 2011 @ 8:49 am

  3. In the Liahona/Elders Journal and the Southern Star I have seen these kind of statistics collected biweekly and monthly by mission conference. I have made some feeble attempts at transcribing them, but I quickly lose interest when something else pops up (Ooo, Shiney!!)

    Comment by Bruce Crow — June 15, 2011 @ 9:25 am

  4. Understandable, Bruce — I wasn’t interested in my OWN mission stats — it’s hard to be attracted to the weirdly tracked stats of someone else’s miss– Ooo, I see the shiny thing, too!

    Comment by Ardis E. Parshall — June 15, 2011 @ 9:40 am

  5. We used to report families visited and discussion taught, but it never occurred to me they might track miles walked. (Driven, yes, for those who ever had a car, though I did not.) That’s because, of course, I’ve assumed that things have always been as I now know them. :-)

    Comment by Paul — June 15, 2011 @ 9:41 am

  6. What an amazing narrative. His mileage may have been underestimated, considering how much of the area he covered. I’ve got to get back to my Revolutionary War history books and find Fort Dearborn, named after Henry Dearborn a patriot general although fortified by Cornwallis.

    Later, Braley comes back to Idaho, stopping by Oxford, my wife’s birthplace, and where the first bishop was her grandfather’s brother and a famous pony express rider. He was the first bishop, but the presiding elder before was a son-in-law of Jefferson Hunt of Mormon Battalion fame. Hunt was visiting there when he saw the marshland grass and moved there and established a cattle ranch a few miles north at the location where Lake Bonneville drained into the Columbia basin via the the Snake River. Hunt died there and is buried behind a knoll where the geoliogical event is commemorated by a sign and monument.

    History is everywhere and it is all a great network.

    Comment by CurtA — June 15, 2011 @ 9:57 am

  7. Tracking miles kilometers on my mission (Hong Kong) would have been a waste of time, and certainly would not have added up to his total unless you counted the plane ride there and back. Each of my areas were seldom more than a couple miles few kilometers across. I probably walked more distance in stairways than along sidewalks. But we tracked lots of other [in my opinion] equally useful stats.

    Comment by Bruce Crow — June 15, 2011 @ 10:38 am

  8. I have 8 missionary journals from the SC Catawba missionaries of 880-1890. They all give how many miles they walked each day. I would love to know who he baptized.

    Comment by Judy Canty Martin — November 2, 2014 @ 5:33 pm