Saints without Halos
Leonard J. Arrington and Davis Bitton
Charles L. Walker: Sage of Saint George
[p.63]It was Sunday, 19 August 1862—a pleasant day, Charley Walker noted. He and his wife Abigail were listening to the Brethren in the Bowery on Temple Square. “Bro D Spencer and HC Kimball gave us some good exhortations pertaining to our duties. At the close of the meeting 250 men were called to go to the Cotton Country. My name is on the List.”
Cotton country. That meant Saint George. A year before, Brigham Young had called several hundred Saints to southern Utah—Dixie—to raise the crop most in demand since the War Between the States began. Now, only a year later, the success of the cotton mission was far from certain.
Charley had emigrated from England to build the kingdom and there would be no turning back. Still, moving again was not easy. “Here I have worked for the last 7 years thro heat and cold, hunger and adverse circumstances, and at last have got me a home, a Lot with fruit trees just beginning to bear and look pretty. Well, I must leave it and go and do the will of My Father in Heaven who over rules all for the good of them that love and fear him, and I pray God to give me Strength to accomplish that which is required of me in an acceptable manner before him.”
[p.64]Saint George was dry and forbidding. When he arrived, Charley observed, “St. George is a barren looking place. … Very windy, dusty, blowing nearly all the time. The water is not good and far from being palatable. And this is the country we have to live in and make it blossom as the Rose. Well its all right; we shall know how to appreciate a good country when we get to it, when the Lord has prepared the way for his People to return and build up the waste places of Zion.”
Charley was allocated a city lot and a two-and-a-half-acre garden plot, but his farming experience was minimal. In Salt Lake City he had worked as a blacksmith. His peach trees had succeeded, though, so he planted seventy-five in Saint George. Unfortunately the water supply was meager, and the crops for the first season were “light, very light, in fact I might say a failure.” All but six of Charley’s peach trees died. He supported himself and Abigail, and daughter Zaidee by blacksmithing, gardening, and doing various odd jobs. Later he worked as a stonemason on the Saint George Tabernacle and Temple, and served as assistant marshal and as lieutenant in the local militia.
As for the Church assignments, Charley, who had served as the president of the Saint Louis teachers quorum in 1854, was appointed “Seventies Teacher” in 1863, arbitrating disputes between seventies and enjoining faithful obedience to the commandments; and in 1869 he was called to the bishopric of the Saint George First Ward.
In 1864 Charley received the disappointing news that his father and stepmother had left Salt Lake City and returned to the States. “Alas poor man,” Charley reflected,
left the Kingdom of God after being in for many years, and now has left the only place of Safety. Strange how blind men will get. In my experience when a man or Woman raise ther heel against the Lord’s annointed, tenfold darknes shrouds them. Then the Devil binds them with his chains and leads them wither so ever he will. A man may lack money, Bread, friends, and the nessesary comforts of life; he may be hunted and persecuted and driven by ruthles mobs; his Family may turn against him; his bosom friends may betray him. All these he may suffer and get rewarded for, but when he loses the Holy Ghost he is then in hell and his [p. 65]con[s]cience continualy upbraids him of once having had the light of the Holy Spirit but through Sin and transgression has lost it with no hope of ever receiving it again in this world or the next. Oh, how child like a saint ought to live, to secure Salvation and Eternal Life.
Charley was soon to learn what it was to lack both money and bread, for the drought of 1864 destroyed the crops and many went hungry. But he retained his inherent optimism and good humor. In 1867 he composed new lyrics for “Marching through Georgia,” recounting the struggles of pioneering Saint George. One of the seven stanzas goes:
Some six or seven years ago this country looked forlorn,
A God-forsaken country, as sure as you are born.
The lizards crept around it, and thorns immense had grown,
As we came marching to Dixie.
Hurrah! Hurrah! The thorns we have cut down
Hurrah! Hurrah. We’re building quite a town.
St. George is growing greater, and gaining great renown,
Since we came marching to Dixie.
We’ve battled with the mineral, we’ve battled with our foes,
We’ve battled with the Virgin, that everybody knows;
Our deseret homes are pretty and blossom like the rose,
Since we came marching to Dixie.
Charley was a popular toastmaster, poet, and singer. He played in the brass band which played on festive occasions, and marched with the militia. (“Went to the regimental drill on the public square. Quite a bungling time of it. Played twice with the Band, and sang the ‘Loafers-lament.'”)
For the young people’s literary club he wrote poems, composed and sang songs, lectured, acted, and debated. (A typical debate topic was, “What has done more for the benefit of mankind, the honeybee or the silk worm?”)
The club members decided to publish a newspaper, but they didn’t have a printing press. So they took a large sheet of [p.66]paper about legal size and folded it in half, producing a four-page folio. Across the top they wrote the title Veprecula (Latin for “little bramble bush”). The titled but otherwise blank “newspaper” was handed to one of the members of the club, who became responsible to fill in the first column. He or she wrote a little essay, joke, or story, and handed it to the next person, and so on until the sheet was completely filled. Then another sheet was folded, titled, dated and started on its way.
Charley, who used the pen name “Mark Whiz,” almost always came up with something lighthearted. For example, his recipe for Dixie soup:
As provisions are scarce and hard to obtain, we thought it would not be amiss to give our readers the following items to make a good soup. Take a pair of old stoga boots. Carefully skin them and take out the kidney tallow. Cut them into sizable pieces. Put them into a large iron pot with ten gallons of rain water. As soon as the water is warm, add three quarts of the best show pegs you can buy. Also 10 1/2 oz. of Hungarian tacks and a pound of brass buttons. Let it simmer for 2 hours, then add a trace of colts revolvers and a quantity of stone cutters mallets for dumplings. Let it boil for 1 hour. Stir in 5 oz. of indigo for seasoning. To be served in canteens with 10 penny nails for spoons. To be eaten while hot with nicely browned pieces of an old red flannel shirt.
Through times of hardship and deprivation Charley’s good-natured humor buoyed the Saints. “Oh poverty!” he once wrote, “thou poor man’s companion. How close thou dost stick! If thou wouldst leave me and visit some opulent scamp my tears would be few at our parting.”
But Charley Walker contributed more than humor. When construction of the Saint George Tabernacle began, Charley was among the first workers. In 1872 he wrote, “I have worked on this building for over 5 year[s], from putting in the Foundation to the capstone on the tower. Many weary toilsome days have I labored on the St. George Tabernacle, lifting the heavy rocks in the wind, dust, cold, and scorching heat of this climate, yet I have felt happy and contented. I was called to labor there by the Priesthood, letting my own affairs go, to work on those walls, yet through the hard times of scarcity and want of the necessaries of life I have been blessed.”
[p.67]Along with the blessings, however, also came trials. As Charley noted in 1866, “It seems there is always something to mar our little portion of happiness while sojourning here below. It is some consolation to know it will not last forever.” Occasionally even Charley Walker’s light heart became weighed down. One day “I felt as though I was alone and not a friend in the world above or below. Felt as solemn as tho I was passing thro the House of Death.”
Unfortunately, death was not a stranger to most pioneer families, and Charley’s was no exception. He lost four infants or young children to sickness, and two married daughters. On the death of his little Mary, Charley wrote,
I got home and saw the little thing in agony and great pain, its little hands clinched and writhing in convulsions. I took her on my lap, and in about an hour She breathed her last. I placed her in her Mother’s lap and said, here take your Baby; She’s dead. Then their was a shriek and wail that seemed to go thro me and chill my heart’s blood. Oh, God, how can I stand to have the little cherub torn from me by the hand of Death. … I sat up all night alone with the corpse. How quiet and solemn the hours passed away and as the grey twilight appeared I looke[d] forth with dread at that which was yet to come: the singing and other funeral ceremonies and the laying of the dear one away in its cold and narrow bed in the graveyard.
At the funeral service Charley “could not hear or understand much as my thoughts were on the contents of the little black coffin before me, and it seemed to me as tho I shou[l]d choke with grief. There was 9 wagons conveyed the People to the grave. Br Peirce offered up the dedecatory prayer, and the dirt soon hid from our sight our little angel Mary.”
Charley was not one to dwell long on tragedy. His native character was resilient and inclined him to be grateful for blessings rather than to lament his losses. He enjoyed life, especially the camaraderie of the Saints. On 14 June 1867 he described a local celebration. “Hot. With quite a goodly number of citizens I went 9 miles up the Santa Clara River and spent the day in recreation: eating, drinking, singing, [p.68]swinging, dancing, romping, and shouting. In short, casting off all but to make merry. A good feeling prevaild. No intoxicating drinks were used. No tabacco smoking (and a very little chewing). All were happy, sober, lighthearted, enjoying themsleves as Saints only can.”
From time to time Charley visited Salt Lake City to attend conference and see old friends. Returning to Saint George on one occasion he reflected, “This place when contrasted with the bustle and business of Salt Lake, seems very dull. A person can walk upon this town for hours and scarce see a man—no business, nor railroad nor locomotive whistle nor express wagon, no auctions nor saloon music, no theatres or circus or dances. All still and peace. In fact it seems more like the city of the dead than the living.”
If Saint George seemed like a “city of the dead,” it was not because there was nothing to do. It was because there was so much to do—so much work on the farms that the town seemed deserted. Somewhat apologetically Charley attributed the lapses in his journal to routine work: “Sometimes I don’t think it worthy of note to put down every day when it is the same thing every day over again, work, work, work, eat, sleep, work again, and not much time for mental improvement.”
In the spring of 1874 the United Order was organized in Saint George. Charley and the other Saints were rebaptized prior to entering the order: “Having Authority given me of Jesus Christ, I baptize you for the remission of your Sins, for the renewal of your covenants, and for the Observance of the Rules of the Holy United Order in the name of the Father, Son and Holy Ghost. Amen.” Confirmation followed.
One of the most anxiously awaited events each year was the arrival of Brigham Young and company, for with the president came the advent of the most entertaining and spiritually uplifting season of the year. In 1876 Brigham’s party arrived on November 9:
At work on the Temple. At 2 o clock P.M. the workmen on the Temple marched up to the Court House in their working clothes two abreast to welcome Pres Young and Party. We had two Banners: on one was Holliness to the Lord, the all seeing eye; and [p. 69]Zion’s workmen on the other, which I carried. At the head of the column was “Welcome to Brigham Young our chief Builder.” We all formed in single line on the northside of the Road and as the Pres and Party passed, we took off our hats and bowed to them. They returned the salute. We then marched in the same order down to the Temple and resumed the work.
On another occasion Charley had an encounter with Brigham that he treasured all his life. He had written a special temple anthem, which Brigham heard in church. After the meeting, he asked for a copy and Charley
went home and got the song and took it to him. He treated me very kindly and asked me to sit beside him and take dinner with him. I spent the time very pleasantly and found him to be very polite, genial, and sociable, and I felt quite at home in Chatting over the work on the Temple, old times and other general topics. In bidding him goodbye He took my hand in both of his and said, God bless you Br Charley, and God has blessed you, hasnt He? It seemed that in an instant all the blessings I ever received were before Me. My emotion was too much to answer him and I chokeingly said, I have learned to trust in the Lord.
On 1 January 1877 Brigham Young presided at the dedication of the Saint George Temple. After Wilford Woodruff read the dedicatory prayer on the main floor, the choir and congregation sang Charley’s “Temple Dedication Song.” Then the ailing Brigham Young was carried upstairs and the Saints reassembled for the dedication of the second floor and sealing room.
Eight days later Charley stood at the baptismal font to witness the first baptism in the new temple. Brigham’s daughter Susa Young Dunford (Gates) was baptized for a deceased friend, and Charley “could not refrain from shedding tears of joy on beholding the commencement of so great a work in the Temple of our God. Hossanna [to] God and the Lamb.”
On January 12 Charley was married in the temple to Sarah Smith. “Glory to God in the highest,” wrote Charley. “In spite of tradition my wife [Abigail] acted a noble part … and showed her true womanhood. God bless her and preserve her in the truth forever.” Eventually, Abagail and Sarah each gave birth to eight children.
[p.70]Before leaving Saint George in the spring, Brigham Young organized a stake, and soon Charley was released from his position in the bishopric. “The Authorities here have appointed a Bishop and two councillors for each ward. … This relieves me of being a Bishop’s second councillor and presiding teacher in the ward in which I have acted for nearly 7 years. I feel it is all right that the change should be made … yet I always felt a pleasure in performing the duties, and [for] those that can do more good than me, I am willing to step aside that good may be accomplished.”
When word of Brigham Young’s death on 29 August 1877 reached St. George, stores and businesses closed and the Saints mourned. The next night a special meeting was held in the Saint George Temple. Afterward, Charley Walker remained alone in the temple as the night guard. Sitting there in the quiet, in the darkness of the night, he reflected on the death of his beloved president. “Felt calm and very solemn,” he wrote. “Well do I remember his words to me just before he left St George. ‘Well good-bye Brother Charley Walker, God bless you and may peace be Multiplied upon you.’ And now he sleeps. The greatest, best and most noble man of the age. Peace to his ashes and praise to his memory.”
Following the death of Brigham Young, the federal government increased its pressure on Latter-day Saints practicing plural marriage. The Supreme Court ruled the religious freedom clause of the Constitution was not a justifiable defense. The Court’s decision irked Charley, who wrote a poem expressing his feelings (as well, no doubt, the feelings of many other Saints):
An Address to the American Eagle
Illustrious Bird! Majestic Fowl!
Are you deaf?
Can’t you hear the nations howl,
Their sighs of grief?
I thought your pinions broad and strong—
Can’t you hear?
Would shield the right, redress the wrong:
[p. 71]And why that tear, most noble bird?
Ain’t you well?
Or is it what we’ve lately heard
Sounds like hell?
Illustrious Bird in doleful plight,
Can’t you cluck?
Or are you meditating flight?
Say are you stuck?
Your crest seems fallen, your plumage soiled.
What is the matter? are you riled?
What? going to cry?
The sickly bird said, “Pray, don’t joke.
I don’t feel well.
My Constitution’s nearly broke.
Can’t break the spell.”
The Noble Bird raised high his beak
And left them in the lurch
And made his home on Utah’s peak
And since has joined the Church.
In 1892 Charley was arrested and fined six cents for unlawful cohabitation (the customary charge made by the government against polygamists). Through the rest of his years he continued to write poems and songs and kept up his journal. Year after year he expected the call to return to Jackson County, Missouri. It never came, but he never lost faith.
A few newspapers published some of Charley’s essays and poems, and half a dozen of his hymns were included, at one time, in the Latter-day Saint hymnbook. But until his death in 1904, Charley Walker was mostly known to and loved by the pioneers of Utah’s “Dixie.”