The Strength of my Ancestors

12:31 AM

There have been many times in my life when I have heard stories about my pioneer ancestors and the hard things they did when crossing the plains and settling in Utah and Idaho. In the past, I have always reacted with comments such as, "There is no way I could have done that!" or "I would have never made it to Utah because I for sure would have died along the way!" My reaction to the stories of my ancestors and the hard things they did, has now changed. As I have researched their lives and studied their faces in photos, they have become more real to me. 

My Aunt Zera Diane told me the following story 
which was shared to her directly by her Grandmother, 
Mary Jane Sharp Griffith.

L-R Mary Jane and granddaughter, Zera Diane
Front - Left to Right: Mary Jane Sharp Griffith and her mother, Frances Alveretta Oviatt Sharp (center-front)
Mary Jane spoke about her mother, Frances Alveretta* Oviatt Sharp's 
unique birth and entry into this world. Frances was very proud of the fact that she had been born in a covered wagon on the way to Utah and shared this frequently with her children and grandchildren. These are her words,**

Young Frances Alveretta Oviatt
 "I was born August 18, 1851 within a half days ride of Fort Laramie, Wyoming. I hadn't been expected until journey's end at Salt Lake. My early arrival was brought on by the heroic acts of my mother, Mary Jane Whitlock. She was very pregnant with me when jumped out of her wagon and threw her apron up waving it in the direction of stampeding oxen, which had been frightened by some Indians. Her actions redirected the herd and, saved an elderly lady by the name of Grandma Albridge from a certain fall. This act of bravery caused her to begin her labor and deliver me early.

My father, John Franklin Oviatt made the decision to pull off the trail and fall back behind the rest of the company.*** I'm sure that this was not an easy decision to make since this required him to possibly part from other family members and friends who were traveling with them. They were both so young at just 21 years of age and I was their first baby. John and Mary Jane had just married the previous year on November 28th in Winter Quarters Pottawattam, Iowa.
 So, my young father made camp, then brewed his wife some tea, and awaited my arrival. While he was cooking over the campfire, some hostile-looking Indians approached and watched him hand the tea into the wagon to my mother. One of the Indians asked, ["Squaw sick?" My father, then answered, "Yes, Squaw heap sick! Maybe so die. Got smallpox!" ] This was quick thinking on my father's part since the Indians had been dying of smallpox. Without any other further exchange, the Indians turned about and then left quickly, leaving us all unmolested. 
 John Franklin Oviatt - Frances Alveretta's father
Mary Jane Whitlock Oviatt - Frances Alveretta's Mother
Frances named her first daughter, Mary Jane after her mother
After my healthy arrival into the world, my father and mother continued their journey to Fort Laramie where we all stayed for a day before traveling on to the Salt Lake Valley where we joined our family and friends. I was just a small infant when I entered Utah. My parents made their first home together in Farmington, Utah where they raised me in the gospel of Jesus Christ and to adulthood ."

When I read this story now and tell it to my children, I feel different about the inspiring lives of my ancestors! They aren't super heroes to me. They are human and real. I feel a connection to them now

I am sure Mary Jane was scared in the covered wagon with the potential threat of violence just outside, while she labored to give birth for the first time. I know that she prayed out to God. I can imagine John prayed also, for strength and comfort as he worried for the safety of his small family. Because of his prayers, he was inspired by God to say and act in such a way that protected his wife and new baby.  They were probably both very emotional and joyous when Frances was born healthy despite being early! Afterwards, I am sure they were extremely grateful when they carried their baby to Zion and didn't have to bury her like so many pioneers before and after them. This gratitude has been the motive behind this story being told again and again for many generations, since that day in the late summer of 1851.

When I ponder this story now, I don't think like I use to and tell myself that I could have never done what they did or that they were so much stronger than me! Instead, I think about all the hard things I have done in my life. Just like John and Mary Jane Oviatt, I have prayed out to God for peace and comfort because of adversity and pain. I have also felt extreme joy and gratitude for the miracles in my life.

Now these family stories help me to remember that there is a little bit of Frances and Mary Jane inside of me and I am a strong.

Frances Alveretta's Family
Husband -James Robertson Sharp Jr., daughter -Mary Jane, son-James Ray, and Frances 
L-R, Front Row - Frances Alvaretta, James R Sharp Jr., and his sister, Sarah Emma Sharp Keplinger.
Back Row - Mary Jane and her brother, James Ray, their cousins (and Sarah's sons) Andrew, Frank and George.
*There is a discrepancy in the spelling of Frances' middle name. It is listed as Alferetta and Alveretta in family documents and letters. She was also called Rhetta by those close to her. Her gravestone lists her middle name as Alfaretta. According to her daughter Mary Jane, she was named after a popular song about a little Indian maid, pretty Alfaretta. Probably because of the Indian scare during her birth.

**The author took writer's liberty to tell the story of Frances Alveretta Oviatt in first person, based on the third person factual account found in the Sharp Family History compiled by Zera Diane Griffith Ekins Rees.

***100 wagons were in the Easton Kelsey Company when it began its journey from the outfitting post at Kanesville, Iowa (present day Council Bluffs). They originally departed about June 10, but turned back due to Indian trouble. They left again June 29. Luman A. Shurtliff was captain of the 1st Fifty and Isaac Allred was captain of the 2nd Fifty. 


Ira and Ruth Oviatt (John's parents) are listed with Captain Allred and so it must be assumed that John and Mary Jane were traveling with their parents and in the same company, since they are not listed separate from their parents.

The company arrived in Salt Lake City between September 22 and October 7, 1851. Mary Jane was due to have Frances in September, approximately.

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  1. Wendy, you told her story beautifully

  2. What a story! I like to think of the pioneers not as super heroes, too. They were just regular people doing really (REALLY) hard things for something they believed strongly in.