Some closing thoughts at the end of Cyrus Wheelock Week on Keepapitchinin.
As part of the research for this project I searched Utah Digital Newspapers for “Wheelock,” “Cyrus Wheelock,” “Elder Wheelock,” and “C. H. Wheelock,” and came up with some good material. Then the other night when I was tying up some loose ends in the research, I happened to search for “H Wheelock” and came up with a treasure trove of additional stories. In the style of Tuesday’s post I’d call them “Cyrus Tracks a Murderer,” “Cyrus Rescues a Child,” “Cyrus Preaches the Gospel,” and “Cyrus Suffers from Heatstroke.”
One of the items that turned up in the “H Wheelock” search was a talk Cyrus gave in the Tabernacle in 1857. It gives a hint about what might have happened in his marriages— having to disregard the feelings of his wives due to the greater duties involved in missionary work and church service. The Kingdom of God was first, the leaders and people of the Church second, and his wives perhaps third (and fourth, and fifth, and sixth…). He said:
If [the] words [of the scriptures and prophets] abide in me, and if they abide in this people so that the Holy Spirit is never grieved away, I believe that we can always obtain the blessings of the Lord; but if we have not that Spirit, we have neither ears to hear nor hearts to understand; and if we love the things around us, our comfort and our riches, our families more than we do the kingdom of God and his righteousness all these blessings will be of little permanent benefit to us.
Brethren and sisters, God bless you; I say so because my heart feels to bless the people of God, for my interest is with them and I wish to abide with them….I desire to live only as long as I can be useful in building up the kingdom of God….
I now feel that this shall be my motto, where God shall place me, where his servants shall put me, independent of my own feelings, of the feelings of my wives, independent of poverty and distress, there will I labor, there will I stay.
Cyrus’s speech brings to mind the words of the hymn, “My Native Land Farewell,” the hymn once attributed to him:
I go to break the fowler’s snare,
To gather Israel home:
I go the name of Christ to bear
In lands and isles unknown….
I go devoted to his cause,
And to his will resign’d;
His presence will supply the loss
Of all I leave behind.
When Cyrus Wheelock turned eastward to go up in the mountains and high plains to help his beloved converts stranded in the bitter cold of Autumn 1856 and when he arrived at their makeshift camps and saw their wretched condition, starving and dying of exposure, he said emotionally that he would give his life to save the lives of the emigrants. And give his life he did; not then, not in 1856, but in all his missionary work and in all his service to the Kingdom of God throughout all his days.
The life of the author of one of the best-loved missionary hymns, “Ye Elders of Israel,” echoed the message of the hymn. His was a story of missionary work, of consecration and dedication to the cause.
We’ll go to the poor, like our Captain of old,
And visit the weary, the hungry and cold;
We’ll heal up their wounds, and we’ll dry up their tears,
And lead them to Zion to dwell there for years.
One of my favorite stories about Cyrus came up in a discussion with my husband about a tension we’ve seen in the Church locally: when do you put the needs of the people first, and when do you realize your organizational resources are limited and leave the people to fend for themselves?
Thomas Belliston told a story about his family, English converts, crossing the plains.
We arrived in New Orleans, March 31, from where we went by streamboat up the Mississippi River, stopping at St. Louis one month. I think it was here where father [James Thomas Belliston] bought two cows, fresh in milk. A butcher bought the calves. Taking the cows with us we continued up the river to a place called Keokuk, which is across the river from Carthage.
It was at Keokuk where we received our oxen and wagon, and was on our way across Iowa in Claudius V. Spencer’s Company. We worked our cows in the swing, making three yoke altogether. The cows never failed to do their share, besides giving us a good supply of milk, which we appreciated very much.
Soon, after starting our overland journey, our Captain began complaining about some being overloaded. We were referred to as being among the number. Father then sacrificed a valuable set of tools, realizing only five dollars for them. Then to satisfy the captain, my mother’s stove had to go. Our team was young and not well broke, so father was advised to trade one yoke of them to a friend of the captain for an old yoke and pay five dollars difference, which he did. A few days later one of the old oxen got in a mud hole during the noon hour, and stayed there. Then father sold the other for twenty dollars, and allowed the train to go on and leave us.
A few days later, Brother Cyrus H. Wheelock came along with his train. When he saw father he asked him what he was doing there. After a little explanation he exclaimed. “If Brother Wheelock gets into the valley Brother Belliston shall if he wants to go.” We appreciated his kindness, and hitched up the oxen … and the cows … We were soon on our jou[r]ney again.
From there on we had a pleasant journey… Sometime previous to our arrival in Salt Lake City, one of our cows died, but Brother Wheelock borrowed another for us to work the rest of the journey.
We arrived, safely, in Salt Lake City on October 6, 1853…
This week we’ve gotten to share the stories of Cyrus providing a weapon to Joseph Smith, a few stories of missionary and church work, and the stories of a challenging family life. Regarding his wives, it may have been difficult to serve in a supporting role to Cyrus’s life of dedication and service, particularly when the needs of children entered the mix. We don’t know the details of their lives; except for a note here or there in the historical record, those details seemed to die with the people in the stories, but of all the many characters I’ve gotten to know in the story of the Restoration, Cyrus Wheelock is one of my favorites, and I’m glad that the author of one of my favorite hymns has a life story to match the message of the hymn.