Nancy Kennedy Wilkins

The life story of this pioneer woman of 1852 was dictated by her daughter, Nancy A. Wilkins Colton

In the year of 1810, on the fifth day of March, to Alexander Kennedy and Jane McEwan, was born a little girl. She was christened Nancy and grew to womanhood in her birthplace, Hadley, Saratoga County, New York. Her parents were Scotch and were well-to-do farmers of New York State. Mother often spoke of their large, comfortable home; and especially do I remember her stories of the great feasts made ready for the holidays, when cooks were brought in to help with the preparations. Their home was evidently well supplied with all necessities and a great many luxuries.

In the year 1830, she was married to John G. Wilkins and soon after their marriage they moved to Perth, Ontario, Canada, where Father had a saw mill. He was what we would now term as an engineer and they were financially successful. Two of their sons, Edward and Alexander were born here; and what is of great importance, William Page brought to them the gospel of Jesus Christ and with it the spirit of gathering. They soon made preparations to join the Saints in Nauvoo. Mother had many beautiful things--china, linens of all kinds, quilts, blankets, counterpanes, etc. Most of these were boxed and sent by water to Nauvoo and the family left by team overland. They arrived safely, but none of Mother's beautiful things were ever received.

When Mother's family in New York learned that Father had joined the "Mormons" they immediately wrote to her, promising that she should never want for anything if she would leave him and his hated religion. But, although Mother had not as yet joined the Church, she did not consider the proposition for a minute and was therefore disowned by her parents and did not hear from them for fifteen years. Arriving in Nauvoo, they bought a nice farm where they again prospered. Mother often spoke of their livestock--hogs, turkeys, chickens, corn, etc. When the persecution of the Saints began they suffered with the others and at one time their entire drove of hogs was stolen. Oscar was born in Nauvoo, and while Mother was still in bed with this new babe, the mob came to their home saying, "Now, Wilkins, we have nothing against you personally, but we can't stand your religion. Deny it and Joe Smith and we will not harm you; persist and we will burn your home." Father said, "Burn and be damned." They turned to Mother and although still not a member of the Church, she would not deny the Gospel and said she knew Joseph Smith to be a righteous man. She was carried out on her bed and our home fired before her eyes. The mob even took our chickens and threw them into the flame.

Soon after this the Prophet Joseph took the baby Oscar into his arms and blessed him. Every one's life was really in danger from this time on, the mob element being no respecter of persons. One night they came to our home in search of Father. They questioned Alex concerning Father's whereabouts, but with wisdom born of fear the child denied knowing anything at all about Father. Then Alex's life was threatened, one of the mob saying, "Nits make lice. We had better do away with this boy." For some reason this was not done, however, but from that time on all the family was forced to hide by day and gather the crops by night.

Mother heard the shot that killed the Prophet, and was found very soon after very pale and shaken, leaning against the well curb. When the frightened children asked her what was the matter, she said she was afraid something had happened to Father. But shortly after that members of the mob came by and called to her, saying, "Well, you have no Prophet any more." And then she understood why she felt so terribly.

With many others, Father and Mother were soon forced across the river to Winter Quarters, where they suffered greatly. Later they moved to Punkaw Camp, where the Indians came and demanded their corn, making it necessary for the Saints to be rationed to one pint of corn, much of which was rotten. Here little Eunice Marie was taken ill and died. Mother had to wash, dress, and lay her away alone.

Here Edward, the idol of Mother's heart, took sick. Poor little youngster, he just could not swallow the nasty bread made from this rotten corn, and so failed daily. He was so thoughtful of his Mother that he asked to be allowed to eat out doors, and there she later found that he would chew the bread, and being unable to swallow it, would drop it carefully at his side. Mother denied herself almost everything that he might be properly nourished, but still he became weaker every day. Once Edward said to Mother, "Oh Mother, why did you pass all the places where we could get good bread and molasses?" This was a great trial for Mother's faith and she sometimes felt rebellious. When Edward died, Mother felt really bitter, almost as if she had sacrificed this child. Her grief was so great that she would hurry with her work and go out to the spring and stay there for hours mourning and grieving.

Now, it must be understood that Mother was not an emotional woman; nor was she a believer in supernatural happenings. But one day while at the spring, she thought she heard her name called. She listened and again she heard, "Mother," followed by, "I cannot rest while you grieve so." She immediately dried her eyes and from that time "put her shoulder to the wheel" with even greater effort.

At this camp Father worked for the government and they began buying provisions and necessities for crossing the plains. One day when her shelves were almost full of supplies, Mother found her closet where she kept her supplies on fire. She sent sister Jane to call for help, but Jane was so overcome with fright that she could only call "Fire, Fire" in a whisper. But Mother's presence of mind saved the day as she doused the fire with pans of milk.

To begin their long trek, they purchased two yokes of oxen and a cow. Alex was old enough to drive one yoke of oxen and Father drove the other. Jane took charge of John, who was the baby and had been born in Little Pigeon, Iowa. Mother took charge of the cow; in fact, she would not trust it to anyone else's care. Many nights she came into camp long after the wagons had stopped, having walked slowly and allowed her cow to graze by the way. She would then bathe the cow's feet and fashion shoes for it from canvas or whatever came to hand. Of course she did this that her children might be insured milk when they arrived in the Valley. It must be added that she brought the cow safely through.

Many interesting things, some sad and some pleasant, befell them on their journey. At one time the company was very short of food and with great joy a herd of buffalo were sighted in the distance. Alex borrowed a horse and, accompanied by a dog, rode after the animals. He had no gun so he leaped to the back of one of the buffalo from his horse and cut it's ham strings, thus securing a supply of fresh meat for the company. In later years, when telling of the incident, he would say that he and "another dog" killed the buffalo.

They arrived in the Valley in 1852, having been three months on the way. They settled in Provo, where the first winter they lived in a wagon box, a small dugout and a one-room log cabin. They cooked over a grate fire with a skillet which had a heavy iron lid like a Dutch oven, and a crane. Their first home they built the following spring. It was a long adobe building, partitioned into three rooms with curtains. Later they built a nice adobe house on the corner of 5th West and 2nd South, in Provo.

Mother's hardships, after reaching the Valley, were greater than can be described; poverty and actual want often staring us in the face. The Indians always had to be taken into consideration, and Brigham Young had taught the settlers to divide with them and make friends with them. One old Buck, "Squash" by name, was particularly bothersome. He walked into everyone's home and helped himself to whatever he fancied. One time, during an inter-tribal war, he was about to be captured by the enemy. He ran into our home and hid beneath Mother's bed. His enemies saw him enter, however, so they followed him into the house, dragged him forth and scalped him.

About this time several Provo people took up homesteads where Charleston now is. It was beautiful meadow land and here the families would come every summer to make cheese and butter. It was indeed virgin dairy country. Mother often cared for twenty cows. Some of the cheese she sold and the rest was kept for winter use. She also made butter and the winters supply she packed away in a briny solution.

I must give here an instance showing Mother's bravery. All of the men in the little fort at Charleston had gone to Provo, leaving the women and children alone. Sometime in the afternoon a band of Indian warriors appeared on the West mountain, remembering back, it seems that there must have been over a hundred of them. It was at the time of the Black Hawk war. All afternoon they rode, pow-wowing and yelling, dressed in feathers and war paint. In the evening everyone gathered at Mother's and we sat frightened and quiet in a bowery where Mother churned and made her cheese. I can remember Mother telling us all to move to the back of the shed and we had hardly done so when an Indian pony, riderless by accoutered, dashed through the front of the shelter where some of us had been sitting. We know the Indians were very close to us, of course, and far into the night they danced and sang. Mother marshalled everyone into a log room and she herself stayed up all night by the window, her shelter a wagon box; her only weapon an ax. The next morning the Indians came into our door yard, caught one of our calves, and killed it before our eyes.

The men returned that day and deemed it unwise to tarry longer in Charleston. So everything was packed onto the wagons, even to a ball which we had made from a pigs bladder; and the little settlement began it's journey to Provo. Everyone was more or less nervous, not knowing whether or not we would be ambushed any minute. Going over a bump, the pigs bladder ball was dislodged from it's place, rolled off the wagon and was run over. There was a tremendous roar which reverberated up and down the canyon. Father jumped about a foot into the air, but Mother, with her ever present sense of humor, laughed and laughed. Father had to retort, "Those who know nothing, fear nothing, and only fools laugh." But the tension was relieved and the people arrived safely in Provo.

Back in Provo, with new immigrants arriving every day, Mother's knowledge and desire to help others was a great comfort to all. She taught them how to make salt rising bread, sour dough bread, soap of grease combined with lye leached from wood ashes; hand soap from grease and saltratus gathered on the flats near Provo. How to make sugar from honey dew that collected on the willows. And how to wash, pick, card and spin wool and weave it into cloth. How to dye it blue with chamber lye and poke berries, red with madder, brown with tag elder and kini-kinic. They even made the menís clothing.

Her charity knew no bounds, many a meal was sent from her stove to the sick, poor, or blind even before her own family was fed, although she religiously cared for her family at all times. She taught her children that it was better to feed ten undeserving people than to turn one worthy person away hungry. She taught her children honesty, reverence for the aged, and reverence for the Lord and His house of worship; but even so, she was never an orthodox Latter-Day-Saint, although she always had great faith.

Mother was very witty, never lacking an answer for anyone. One day an old polygamist came courting one of her daughters. She didn't like it a little bit, and in exasperation remarked that his legs looked like rat tails in a quart cup. Someone thought this was not a very respectful way to speak of one holding the Priesthood. Some gossip passed around and it was declared that sister Nancy Wilkins should publicly apologize. She agreed willingly and on the day set, arose and said she was very sorry that a certain man's legs looked like rat tails in a quart cup. When Father sold his homestead at Charleston, which Mother was not in favor of, he received a span of mules for it. She always said he sold it for a song and sang it himself.

When about 72 years of age, Mother fell down some steps and broke her hip and injured her back. The doctor did not think her back was badly hurt, but set her hip and put a big weight on her leg so she was unable to move or turn. After weeks of suffering, she finally told them they would have to turn her over or kill her as she couldn't stand the pain in her back any longer. On turning her over a piece of flesh as large as a dinner plate fell from her back, leaving six vertebra of her backbone exposed so even the joint fluid could be seen oozing from the bones. But due to her faith and determination to get well, she was healed and lived to walk again without even a limp. In fact, her pride was so great she would not leave her own yard until she could walk without a limp.

Mother lived to be 87 years of age. She was only sick a short time and so great was her desire to see her baby girl, Nancy, who lived in Vernal, that she lingered four days just to see her, but died six hours before she arrived.

She was a real pioneer woman, noble, brave, strong and true. She was ours and we loved her dearly. Other people loved her too and have said of her many times, "She had every good trait and was absolutely without guile." It is a sad thing that more of her wonderful deeds, done in love and unselfishness, will never be known by those of her family living today. She was modest and did not talk of the things she did, and many of those she helped are not here now to tell of her deeds of kindness.
        Story courtesy of Debbie Armstrong