Saturday, February 7, 2015

Just an Average Pioneer Woman

            When considering the lives of our pioneer heritage, how often have we declared, “I would have been a horrible pioneer;” or perhaps, “I’m so grateful that I didn’t have to go through what the pioneers endured.”  We oftentimes make these comments in the abstract, or in consideration of a single difficult aspect of their lives on the frontier of our rustic Utah.  However, it’s when we take the time to truly study the details of the lives of specific pioneers that we are able to view their simple lives as majestic—not with pity, but with true praise, admiration and gratitude.
            One remarkably faithful pioneer woman in our family was Lydia Pilch.  By pioneer standards Lydia would be considered “just an average pioneer.”  Lydia joined the church in England with her husband Thomas Thrower.  Their family life in England was happy and fulfilling.  However, Thomas wanted more than anything to join the saints in Zion.  His health was poor and family members chastised him for continuing to yearn for this.  In 1862 at the age of 53 he decided to emigrate to Utah with Lydia and two of his children.  One cousin commented, “Tom, you are a fool for starting on such a long journey you will never live to reach Utah.”  His determined reply was, “That doesn’t matter, my family will be there.”  Tom’s words proved prophetic—he died on the plains near Laramie, Wyoming.  At the time of his death, he courageously declared, “Whether I live or die, I’m glad I started this journey so that my family can be in Zion.”  As family members we love this story of faith and courage and grim determination. But perhaps the more poignant story is that of his wife Lydia and all that she endured.  Against this backdrop, it’s easy to lose sight of what she experienced. Her husband Thomas gave his life for what he believed—all she did was live. It’s the body of her life experiences that causes us to marvel and admire this woman as something more than just average.
Before immigrating to Utah, Lydia buried two infant children in England—Ester and John.  Thomas had become ill with pneumonia on the trek to Utah, presumably related in part to exposure to the cold weather.  She lovingly nursed him until the moment he died.  Her talent as a nurse on the stark plains of Wyoming portended a skill-set which later in life proved something to bless the lives of others on many occasions. 
She arrived in Salt Lake City on October 1, 1862 with two small girls having walked almost the entire way across the plains.  A month later she found herself working for Jehu Blackburn on his sheep ranch, seven miles outside Minersville, Utah.  Shortly thereafter, she became his fourth wife.  Lydia tried in every way to live the principles of the gospel, even polygamy on a remote ranch in the harsh environment of Utah’s high mountain desert.  It’s this part of her life that causes us to marvel at her faith and commitment to family.  The description of the grueling work she routinely performed on a daily basis is mind-boggling to us accustomed the every modern convenience.  The women and children cared for a “small” herd of 35 cows, producing 40 lbs. of cheese every 20 days and churning butter by hand.  They additionally processed the wool from the much larger herd of sheep, which meant hours and hours of back-breaking labor, washing, drying, picking, spinning and weaving wool.  The number of mouths to feed meant that bread needed to be baked daily.  The arduous work demanded of Lydia did not interfere with her true gift of nursing others in poor health. 
 Following the death of Lydia’s second husband, at the age of 60, she nursed the wife of James McKnight, the bishop of Minersville, until her death.  Shortly thereafter she married Brother McKnight, a kindly man who demanded that his family love and respect Lydia.  She considered this marriage one of her greatest joys and blessings.  There was no hotel in Minersville at that time and the McKnight’s had a large home, with spare rooms, which they rented out.  Again, this presented tremendous physical challenges for Lydia.  Brother McKnight was raising a number of small grandchildren who had been orphaned. At the age of 60, Lydia took on the responsibility of managing a large home and raising young children who desperately needed her tender care. Despite the grueling work associated with these responsibilities, Lydia considered this a “great joy and blessing” in her life.  Her children and step-children remembered her in glowing terms. “She taught [us] to see the true values in life.  She taught [us] to see dirt, for she said, ‘if you see dirt, you will clean it up.’  She taught [us] to be brave—that life was work and that through work and doing one’s duty comes joy.” 
Even though Lydia Pilch will never be recognized as one of Utah’s prominent or great pioneers, she lived a self-less life, dedicated to others—a life that when carefully examined causes us to pause and see her as anything but average.  Her life when measured objectively by physical and emotional challenges can only be seen as a triumphant representation of faith and service.  An examination of what she endured with joy and gratitude reminds us that, in deed, we are not the equal of even an average pioneer woman.   


Saimi said...

She sounds amazing ! I love stories like hers, thanks for sharing!!

Sydney said...

I loved reading this! So much I didn't know!

tom said...