A Schoolmarm All My Life
Joyce Kinkead, editor
Lucina Mecham Boren
[p.47]In the early days of the LDS church, being a Mormon in the midwest meant being an outcast. Moses Mecham and Elyira Derby, Lucina Mecham’s parents, converted in 1839. As a result of their joining the church, a group of anti-Mormon vigilantes destroyed Mecham’s farm and business. By the time their tenth child (of seventeen), Lucina, was born two years later, Moses was employed by the church, sometimes serving as a bodyguard to Joseph Smith.
At Nauvoo, Lucina attended school during the few peaceful years them, working outside the home to earn money for spelling books. Spelling was obviously her strength as she notes that she had never been “spelled down” in a bee, not even by an adult. Violence interrupted her education when Smith was murdered in 1844. Part of the mass exodus from the city, the family moved to Iowa, living in several different communities before settling for a time in Kanesville (Council Bluffs) in 1847. At the hotel where Lucina worked to help her family finance the trip west, the proprietor offered her mother $1,000 if she could stay behind when the family left for Utah. The offer was refused.
Even though Lucina notes in her journal that the children had to walk most of the trail to Utah in 1853, they were lucky to be in a company of covered wagons and not in one of the handcart companies that would start three years later. Mecham credits prayer with keeping them from starving, noting specific instances of food or opportun–[p.48]ities for employment that presented themselves when the family seemed to be on the edge of disaster. Other relatives who had already migrated to Utah provided the Mecham family a welcome upon arrival. Occasionally Lucina attended school, but most of the time she hired out to other households, sometimes getting paid for her work, sometimes not. When she did go to school, she often tutored younger students.
In her autobiography, recollected in 1910, Lucina recounts matter of factly her Utah experiences: being shot with an Indian arrow receives as much attention as her distress at having to kill a chicken for dinner.
Settling in Provo, Utah, she married Jasper Boren in 1859 (apparently not a plural marriage). Four years her senior, Boren was born in Illinois and made the Utah trip in 1851. Lucina married for love and never regretted her decision to wed a man her parents disapproved of; Jasper believed that neither partner should be “boss” but instead “counselors to each other” (Boren, 313). Eventually Lucina’s parents found Jasper to be the best of their nine sons-in-law (Boren, 314). When they married, all they had was “a team, a frying pan, and a quart oyster can” (Boren, 315). A child arrived annually during the first years of their marriage. Their fourth child died of scarlet fever at one year of age in 1865; a fifth child was born the next year. With this brood, Lucina opened her own school to keep her children and those in the neighborhood from “running around with nothing to do.” No doubt she drilled them especially hard in spelling.
The first schoolteacher in Wallsburg, Utah, she spent much of her time outside the classroom helping with the harvest of crops. Her husband served in the army of 1866 during the Black Hawk War while the family lived in an empty granary. When he returned, he served as watermaster and a member of the school board. A diabetic, Jasper died at the turn of the century. To battle loneliness, Lucina became a midwife and studied music, moving back and forth between Provo and Wallsburg.
Lucina’s autobiography covers events in her life from 1841 to 1910—not always in chronological order.
The journal of Lucina Mecham Boren was written during the evening of her life from notes, records and accounts which she had kept through the years.
Father was a successful merchant, having a mercantile business and a hop farm. When he joined the Church, the mob came and destroyed everything he had, leaving him destitute with a large family. He then spent much of his time in the interest of the Church. He served as Church police for three years. He was at one time a bodyguard for the Prophet; was also a member of the Nauvoo Legion; he suffered many provocations from his one-time friends. After my mother joined the Church, her father would have no more to do with her.
I am the tenth child of a family of seventeen children. My Father, Moses Mecham; my Mother, Elvira Derby. I was born March 11, 1841 in Lee County, Iowa.
I shall never forget when Mother took me and my baby sister, Elyira, to see the Prophet and Patriarch after they were killed by the mob. Mother did not want to take me, as I had no shoes, but I wanted to go. She said, “I will take you so you can always remember you saw the Prophet and his brother.” The night they were killed the dogs were howling all night, the people of Nauvoo beat their drums to let the mob know we were on the lookout for them, and now I am eighty-three years old, I cannot help crying whenever I hear a dog howl, or a drum beat.
While we were in Nauvoo I was burned very bad, then caught cold and was very sick. Father was not home; Mother sent for the Elders and a Brother Goddard came and administered to me. He told Mother to wilt a cabbage leaf and put it on the burn and I would be all right. I never suffered any more pain and I have had faith in the Elders ever since.
The day we left Nauvoo, we had not had flour for weeks. Father purchased a little white flour and Mother made some light bread. We [p.50]children were so anxious to eat we would keep asking how long it would be until we could eat. Our dear patient Mother did not get angry with us as most mothers do, but when we did get to eat, what a feast it was; white bread and milk from old Muly! Never have I had such a dinner. We soon ran out of food, and none of us could get work. One day while traveling along the road, a man called to us from his field and asked if we wanted some turnips. My Father refused at first, thinking they might make us sick, then he changed his mind and took some. When we stopped that night, Mother cooked some turnips, seasoned them with pepper, salt and milk. Father thanked the Lord and asked him to bless it for our good. We ate and were satisfied. The next morning we had the same for breakfast, and, again, Father thanked the Lord and prayed that he and the boys might find work. We started on our way and soon came to Bonaparte, Iowa, where a man came to our wagon, a bachelor whose name was Cummays. He gave my Father and two brothers work and let us live in a good house. He was a Mobocrat, he soon fell in love with my oldest sister, Sarah. He gave Father a wagon and asked my sister to marry him. She told him she would think about it. She knew if she said “no,” we would all be turned out in the cold. He would take me on his knee and tell me when he and Sarah were married I could live with them and have a lot of nice things and, childlike, I wanted them to marry.
My Grandfather died at Bonaparte, also my cousin, Uncle Ephraim Mecham’s little girl, both of exposure. One day a woman came to Uncle Ephraim with a pig’s ham to sell. Aunt Polly, his wife, said she did not have anything to pay for it. Afterwards, Aunt Polly said she did not like the looks of it. In a few days a friend told Aunt Polly that the pig had died of “collory” [cholera] and the woman had said it would be good to kill the Mormons with. The man, Mr. Cummys, who had fallen in love with my sister wanted her to go with him to spend the evening with a neighbor the following night. She said she would if she was feeling all right. As soon as he left she began to plan to keep from going with him, as she was afraid. So when he came the next time, she was in bed. He looked at her and said, “she does not look sick.” Father said she had a fever. It was reported that he was planning to kidnap my sister, so we prepared to leave. We left without letting Mr. Cummys know.
[p.51]After leaving Bonaparte, we went to Van Buren County, Iowa, where a little brother was born, Moses Moroni, then we went to Pottawattamie County. My little brother William died of croup. At Kanesville, now Council Bluffs, my Father took up some land one and one-half miles from Kanesville. We had just got settled when a flood came and took about everything we had. We then built a house on a hill where we had to carry water three-fourths of a mile. I well remember how frightened we were going through the woods, as some of the men had killed a wild cat. We picked wild grapes, strawberries, raspberries, gooseberries, blackberries, elder berries, also walnuts, hazelnuts, hickory nuts and butternuts. Thus I earned my first pair of new shoes. I also got two or three new dresses and a spelling book. Up to this time my Mother had made moccasins of buckskins.
LIFE IN KANESVILLE
We moved to Kanesville in 1847.
When I was ten years old, a Mrs. Robinson of Kanesville, wanted me to go and tend her baby; she would give me fifty cents a week. It [the money] looked big to me, so I went. I was very bashful and a coward, but wanted to work. I was afraid that I would have a bed in a room alone, so I prayed, and when I told her I was afraid she told me to bring my bed in her room. She was very nice to me and praised me for my work. One day she told me to put a beef roast in the oven (it was the first stove I had ever seen.) I did not know what she meant, but after she explained it, I knew what she meant; we called it “dipping.” I made a cake and it was so good and they liked it so well, I ran all the way home to tell my folks. Mrs. Robinson was a very good cook and made wedding cakes and cakes for grand balls. She needed another girl, so my sister Emily went to work for her but she did not stay long as one day it was raining very hard and we were burning elm wood which takes up much water and Emily could not get the fire to burn. Mrs. Robinson scolded her, so Emily walked home in the rain. When the rain stopped, Father sent for me, which I regretted very much. I wanted to make my own living, but I would not disobey my parents; the lady cried and so did I.
There was a hotel just across the street from Mrs. Robinson that needed a girl to wait on tables. She recommended me. I was to work on [p.52]trial for one week, then I was to get a dollar and Fifty cents a week, the same as the older girls. He said that I must dress nice. I had a good dress, but I had to have some shoes, which he said he would pay for. He bought the most stylish shoes he could find. We were to have Sundays off. One Sunday he needed help, so I stayed. He gave me a dress pattern for staying. He gave me many other things. I stayed for one and a half years. When we were ready to leave for Utah, the proprietor said if I would stay with him he would give me all the things I wanted and a thousand dollars when I became eighteen. My mother said “no.” Then he charged me for all the presents he had given me while working at the hotel.
One day a boy asked me to go with him to a Presbyterian meeting about a mile and a haft from our house. I told him I would go if my sister Martha would go with us. She said she would. I asked my sister America if I could wear her bonnet that Mother had braided out of grass; resembled wh[e]at grass, that America had gathered. Artificial flowers were placed around the edge of the bonnet just inside so it would circle the face of the one wearing it. It was very nice and pretty, too. I did not like the meeting nearly so much as the one we had in our home. After meeting, our friend took us to the grocery store and bought us some brown sugar; we sure thought we were somebody having a boy friend that could buy us sugar.
THE YEAR OF 1853
In the spring of 1853 we started for Utah. We went a long way on a raft. I was always afraid of water. We crossed the Missouri River on a ferry boat, which frightened me very much, as the water was very high. Then we had to wait several weeks for a company to arrive. We left the Missouri River July 18th. My father started with two wagons, one yoke of oxen, two yoke of unbroken steers, and four cows. The man that sold Father the oxen had stolen them, and the man that he had stolen them from came and took them from us, so we only had one wagon and the cows. There were thirteen of us children and Mother and Father, with one wagon and one tent. John Brown1 was captain of one hundred wagons. Appleton Harmon was captain of fifty wagons, [p.53]and my Father was captain of ten independent wagons. The Indians were on the warpath, so we all had to travel together for safety. We were stopped once by the Indians, so many I have never seen before; I thought there was one thousand of them! They could easily have killed us all, but they were given provisions, by robbing ourselves, and suffering from want of food. We had the four cows and would give all the milk we could spare to other people that did not have much and many of them said that Mother saved their lives. The buffalo were so numerous at times we would have to stop and let them pass; there was no going until they had crossed the road.
We children had to walk most of the way. We stopped one day each week for washday, and we were always allowed time to keep ourselves clean. We had no brakes on our wagons, but used a chain to lock the wheels when we went down hill. The ten independent wagons were always in the rear. When we camped at night, the first wagon would stop, the next would stop at his side, and so on, till they were all in a circle making a corral of the wagons and we would stay inside for safety. After supper and the animals were taken care of, we would sit around the fire, sing songs, tell stories, and those that were not too tired would dance. One brother had a violin and he was very good at it for dancing.
My Father, my brother, and sister Polly were all sick when we left for Utah. People said they were foolish for starting, but by the time they were half way they were all right. One day we went twenty-six miles and we children walked all the way. We would always get to the camping grounds before the wagons. My sister Sarah and I stopped to rest one day and the wagons passed us. Sarah said she was not going any farther. I begged her to come with me, but she said she would rather be eaten by wolves than go on. She tried to get me to go and catch the wagons, but I told her I would not leave her. Then she said, “I will not see the wolves get you, so come on, let us go to camp.”
A man by the name of Bray, a non-Mormon, was in our company. He had two wagons, two buggies, two maid servants, and three men servants. His wife had been sick for ten years. Mr. Bray fixed her bed so she could see as she went along. He would gather flowers, pebbles or anything that might interest her. She died one day and Mr. Bray left camp and never came back. We stopped and the menfolk searched for [p.54]him, but could not find him. There were seven who died in our company.
When we were three days from Salt Lake, my cousin, Daniel Mecham, met us with a load of food, flour, meat, and vegetables, and what a God-send it was, for we were out of food. We arrived October 16, 1853.
HOME IN UTAH
We stayed in Salt Lake a few days, then my brother, who had come to Utah in 1852, came from Lehi and took us home with him. I stayed with my brother that winter, and my Father hauled salt from the Great Salt Lake. The next spring, my brother moved to Salt Lake. I never went to school as the children do today, so when Brother Stout came from Session Settlement, now Bountiful, and asked if I would go home with him and work for his wife and go to school—I loved my family, and it was hard for me to leave them, but I wanted to go to school and learn, so I went. I would get up before it was light in the morning so I could get my work done and get to school on time. I was so happy to think that I was getting an education. I stayed there several months. One day the lady told me to kill a chicken. I told her I could not, as I was very tender hearted. She made me do it. I became homesick and could not stay any longer.
Then I went to work for a Mr. Kelly in Springville. I had to do all the work, and it was too much for me. I was so young; I stayed four weeks and then went home. Mrs. Kelly gave me two pieces of calico of one and one-half yards each and my Mother made me two smocks. While in Springville an Indian shot an arrow through my dress, which frightened me terribly. I never had a girl friend until we came to Lehi. I had had many friends, some very good, and some not so good. There was one girl; her folks were very poor and a better girl never lived! But some of the girls shunned her on account of her poor clothes. I always befriended her, and one day one of the girls gave a party, and one of the other girls said, “Don’t ask Ann, for her folks eat crow’s meat, and she might bring a crow to the party.” I said, “Anna is a good girl and cannot help being poor.” She came to the party and brought some doughnuts that were very good. While we lived in Lehi, my mother’s [p.55]seventeenth child was born, a little brother. He lived one year and died in Provo.
Family Moves to Provo
In 1855 we moved to Provo. Father husked corn; Samuel and us girls went to Pleasant Grove to dig potatoes. It was a very slow job as we had to dig them with a hoe, but we earned our winter potatoes. Father bought a house with a dirt roof.
We girls gleaned wheat and picked ground-cherries and any kind of work we could find to do, but people were poor and could not pay for work. I went to work for a lady in Spanish Fork. I stayed with her for several weeks, then she told me she could not pay me unless I took her wedding ring. She wanted twenty dollars for it. I told her I could not, as I had borrowed the dress I had and must pay for it. I then went to work for Mrs. Bigelow where I learned to spin and weave and I wove on shares and made me a dress. I bought one ounce Indigo for blue cottonwood, and mahogany bark to color the yarn and that was my Sunday dress. We suffered for want of bread as there was little to be had.
In 1856, there was a shortage of wheat and few people had any. Coleman Boren, the father of the man I was to marry, had harvested a large crop of wheat and was offered as high as twenty-four dollars for a hundred pounds of flour, but he said, “No, the poor around us need it, and I will keep it for them.” He never turned anyone away; if they could not pay he let them have it without pay. I have heard people say that he saved them from starvation. It is said he took much more wheat out of his granary than he put in.
I went to Judge Bean’s to work for my board and room and to go to school, but instead of studying I had to teach the small children. I took my dinner to school but instead of eating it I would send it home to Mother for she was sick for the want of bread. One night Judge Bean came home and said to me, “They tell me you have never been spelled down. I am going to show you tonight that I am a better speller than you are.” He missed the first word that was given him; everybody laughed. They kept on giving me words to spell until they got tired, but I never missed a word.
[p.56]LOVE FINDS A WAY
I was always very independent. The first boy that asked to see me safely home, I told him I had come alone and I could go home alone. My sister told my father about it, and he said I should have taken his arm as he was a very nice fellow. I went to my brother in Salt Lake to weave for them, then I went to West Jordan to spin for a lady.
I was about seventeen years old and all the girls of my crowd went May walking. I stayed home to get dinner for my Father. A Mr. Cluff came to our house every Sunday and went to church with us. He would sit and talk with my father, but he never spoke to me only to pass the time of day. He soon got married and some of his folks told him how sorry I was that I did not get him. As for me, I always considered him a friend of my Father. Soon his brother came to our house and asked for me. He said, “I thought I would marry her, seeing my brother would not.”
When my future husband (Jasper Boren) asked me to marry him I did not say no, for I knew I loved him, but would I always be happy? He said he would call the next Thursday for my answer. I had just milked the cows when Jasper came for his answer, and we talked nearly all the night. I told him what I thought about marriage and how unhappy I would be if he turned out to be other than I thought. I am happy to say that I have never had cause to regret our marriage. Few people ever got along better than we did.
We were married July 3, 1859 by Jonathan O. Duke in Provo. My husband, William Jasper Boren, was the oldest living child of Coleman Boren and Melinda Keller, born December 30, 1837 in Peoria, Illinois. The family came from Tennessee and later moved to Nauvoo, Illinois after they had joined the Mormon Church.
A NEW HOME
In the spring of 1864, my husband went to Round Valley, now Wallsburg, to make us a home. We had three small children, and I was afraid to go on account of the Indians. On the 23rd of July he came back to Provo and spent the 24th, and on the 25th we went to Wallsburg, by way of ox team. Imagine how I felt with an unfurnished log cabin to live in without windows or door. There were only four families there.
The 1st of September, 1866 we went back to Wallsburg to harvest our crops. We had wheat, potatoes and hay. We had a good crop. We had plenty of deer, wild chickens, and rabbits to eat that winter. I did not like to see the children running around with nothing to do, so told the children to come to our home. We had two rooms and could hold school. I was the first school teacher in Wallsburg. We had no schoolhouse or place to hold meetings, so we held all the meetings in our home. The second week of school Alma Kerby brought a peck of wheat and wanted to enter school. I told him I did not want the wheat—that he was welcome to come to school.