Stephen Forsdick (b. 1835): Emigration and Migration (Part 2) – Writing Lives

Stephen Forsdick (b. 1835): Emigration and Migration (Part 2)

I had to sleep on the ground under the wagon, rain or snow, ice or mud, it was all the same.

When Stephen Forsdick reached America, he was aware of the travelling and hardship he was about to undergo. However, he was unaware of the power struggles and conflicts he would find himself involved in throughout his time in the Mormon community in the US.

Coming from a working–class background in Watford, England had arguably developed and enforced Stephen’s drive in life to work hard and achieve his ambitions, which he did by travelling to America to join his fellow converts, however it did not prepare him for this type of lifestyle he had now committed to. Stephen was extremely proud of his working–class background and maintained respectability for this which perhaps led to the conflicts he experienced with those who considered themselves as a higher class. For instance, in my previous post entitled Purpose & Audience, I addressed his experience and annoyance with a man of the middle–class community, which is again reflected through his struggles against those who led the Mormons across the Great Plains.

Stephen often recalls disagreements with a man named Bignell who led the troop to each destination: ‘Presidents are found to in charge of expeditions to establish new settlements, and of groups of converts bound for Utah.’ (Taylor, p61) Bignell was a ‘young hot headed fellow’(p, 47) who often involved himself in conflict but, Stephen states, ‘Without his gun, he was no man at all.’(p, 37) Stephen often disagreed and challenged Bignell’s proposed ideas and this created conflicts, which led to Stephen’s choice to separate when he married his first wife and began to build a life of his own in America, which eventually led to getting his citizenship for the States.

Mormon migration across the Great Plains in the 1850s.

Despite the issues between the Presidents and the converts, the most evident threat that followed migration were the attacks from the Native Americans. Stephen mentions briefly that when camping overnight in the mountains on route to Utah, they would often awaken to missing or butchered cows that would prevent their travel, which he states the leaders always assumed was the fault of the ‘Indians’.

The most striking event within Stephen’s memoirs is described in Chapter 22, ‘THE FIGHT AT ASH HOLLOW’ (p, 46). In this chapter dedicated solely to this brutal and slaughtering attack against a troop of Mormons in 1854, Stephen illustrates the scene although he was not actually present, as a surviving Lieutenant who was attacked crawled his way to the nearest camp site and narrated the fight to Stephen’s group. The struggles between the Native Americans and the settlers in America was growing in this period, and this chapter highlights this important part of American history.

Joseph Smith, original Mormon settler in US, attempts to resolve issues with Native Americans.

In the year of 1854, the Mormon camp had left a cow as it had become lame, however when they returned the next morning to retrieve it, they ‘found that the Indians had butchered it and taken the meat across the river to their camp.’(p, 47) The officer of the troop immediately decided to confront the Native Americans who they believed were to blame for this incident that prevented them from continuing on their journeyL ‘he marched all his men and gun right down into the camp.’(p, 47) When the officer confronted the Chief, he denied touching the animal, to which the officer threatened, ‘if he would not surrender the man who killed the cow, he would take him (the Chief) prisoner.’(p, 47) However, this move led to an instant deadly attack and all but one man were killed as they advanced towards the tribe, ‘every tent belched forth smoke and every soldier fell, either dead or wounded… The wounded were soon killed and the whole company scalped.’ (p, 47) This violence was reported to Stephen’s camp by the only surviving member of the troop and Stephen felt it was important to document this in his memoirs the best he could: ‘I have told no exaggerated Indian stories, as I had none to tell.’ (p, 66)

This story of the massacre in Ash Hallow identifies the danger Stephen encountered upon his travels i and the constant threat of attack and conflict that he was vulnerable to, although he never experienced it directly: ‘we were never molested by them.’(p, 47) This is a very interesting theme within the culture to look at as we cannot compare it to a working–class life in England in the 19th century and Stephen’s life and experiences would evidently be extremely different if he would not have chosen to join the British Mormon converts in America. However, if he had not emigrated, he would not have met both wives and would not have been blessed with his 8 children and his loving daughter who cared for him for the remainder of his life in America, which he acknowledges towards the end of his memoirs, ‘I have lived to see many things.’ (p, 66)

  • Forsdick, Stephen. ‘Untitled’, Burnett Archive of Working Class Autobiographies, University of Brunel Library, Special Collection, 1.242a 
Images Used:
  • – for image of Mormon migration
  • – for image of Mormons attempting to settle conflicts with Native Americans

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