Keepapitchinin, the Mormon History blog » Pioneer Father

Pioneer Father

By: Ardis E. Parshall - September 15, 2011

Pioneer Father

By Helen M. Livingston

He came from Scotland in his youth
To pioneer in this our land.
The fortitude of hills was his,
The strength of mountains in his hand.

So day by day in industry
He toiled away with pride and pain
Till rocky hills bore orchard blooms
And sagebrush lands were fields of grain.

And growing boys and girls were his;
And so with purpose, care and thought
He worked with them, he prayed with them,
He sacrificed, he planned and taught.

An active man, with future hopes,
So in his mind there was no room
To pine. But once I heard him say,
“The heather now would be in bloom.”




  1. Wow — I hadn’t expected that ending (“But once I heard him say”). Makes me remember my high school English teacher telling us to pay close attention to the word “but” in poetry. She’d call it the “big but” because of its power to change everything that came before.

    Comment by David Y. — September 15, 2011 @ 1:16 pm

  2. Oh, I’m so glad to see your response, David! I was choked up by this, and I suddenly understood something new about what conversion meant to so many early Latter-day Saints.

    Comment by Ardis E. Parshall — September 15, 2011 @ 1:23 pm

  3. Wow, I thought the poem was fairly pedestrian until the last line, which really hit me.

    Comment by DCL — September 15, 2011 @ 4:06 pm

  4. A great example of a fairly typical expatriate Scottish response: to settle down and make a new life, but to just occasionally let yourself think of what you’ve left behind. Even more poignant for those who were forced by economic and other circumstances to leave, as opposed to choosing to emigrate.

    Comment by Alison — September 15, 2011 @ 4:29 pm

  5. I wonder if Ms. Livingston was writing this poem in tribute to a particular person, or Scottish immigrants in general.

    In a future world, when the books of life are opened and communication is perfect, I think we’ll all be surprised at the longings and heartaches so many of our neighbors silently bore.

    Comment by The Other Clark — September 15, 2011 @ 7:22 pm

  6. What a moving poem. The more times I read it, the better it gets.

    Comment by KFITZ — September 15, 2011 @ 9:14 pm

  7. awwwwww. I get the impression the Scots were far more sentimental about the places they left behind than they would have us believe (see the names they gave to their townships and landscape features, showing their roots). Moving from the climate and landscape of Scotland (damp, (aka damp, snowy, windy, damp)and green respectively) to the Utah climate would be a challenge today, let alone back then with no air con, skype, email or phone. They truly put all their eggs in the one basket.It’s easy to overlook the true cost of their obedience unless taking into account a thousand years of heritage.

    Comment by Anne (UK) — September 16, 2011 @ 4:36 am

  8. Helen Stevenson McDonald Livingston (1900-1992) wrote from time to time for the Relief Society Magazine. Her father, Francis McDonald (1851-1920), seems to have been born in Forfar, Scotland, in the East Central Lowlands.

    It’s a little hard to find information on him; there do not seem to be any histories put online by his family. His baptism is listed in New Family Search as May 1868, which was just a month before he left Liverpool on the Constitution. The ship records show that he was a shepherd.

    He traveled overland by train and then in the John Gillespie Company which started in Benton, Wyoming, and traveled to Utah. He was 16 at the time, had 70 pounds of luggage, and had no other people named McDonald traveling with him.

    There is a history of him in the DUP collections. Too bad those aren’t online!

    Francis McDonald served a mission in the Southern States and was there at the time of the Joseph Standing murder and faced threats and persecution for his beliefs.

    He was a farmer in Salt Lake County. He is listed in Utah state records as having a registered brand.

    He had two wives, Zenobia Anderson (1847-1904) and Emily Rozella Stevenson (1865-1946), and large numbers of children. It’s hard to tell exactly how many in New Family Search with the merges and disputes, but probably around 18-20. His first son was named Francis, after himself, and then his next two sons were named William Wallace and Robert Bruce.

    You’d have to say he was proud of his Scottish heritage!

    The author of this poem was one of the later children of his second marriage, and by the time she came along, he may have not spoken much about the home he left when he was a teenager. In fact, his second wife provided the information for his death certificate, and his place of birth, Forfar, or Forfarshire, was listed as “Fordforshire.”

    So, in answer to Clark’s question, I think it’s fairly safe to say that the “Pioneer Father” of the poem was Francis McDonald and any history of the man should include this lovely poem by his daughter.

    Comment by Researcher — September 16, 2011 @ 7:44 am

  9. Another sterling (Scottish name/word advisedly chosen) example of the value so often added by Researcher! Thanks.

    I’m glad so many appreciated the same thing in this poem that I did. DCL noted something important, I think — the stolid, pedestrian nature of the poem right up to the kicker line. That may have been deliberate on the poet’s part: not only did it make the contrast with David Y.’s “bit but” so great, but it also perhaps reflected the steady, sturdy, unremarkable daily plodding of the pioneer … until you unexpectedly caught a glimpse of his soul. What secret yearnings lie hidden in any of us? as TOClark poignantly notes, and what unacknowledged sacrifices for the gospel.

    Comment by Ardis E. Parshall — September 16, 2011 @ 8:11 am

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