Here are some things that first come to my mind when I hear the term “pioneer woman”. Stoic devotion. Hard work. Faith. Babies buried in shallow, icy graves. Long, dusty dresses. Bread.
Want to know what never comes to mind? Fashion. Parties. Star crossed love.
She was very much in love. She looked forward with great anticipation to her wedding day. But her fiance died before that day. His family loved her and took her in. She was gifted at sewing and her late fiance’s family was wealthy and loved parties. She and his sisters loved to dance, and they changed gowns several times a night during a party. She loved this beautiful life, but a new found faith and a burning in her heart pulled her West. Her decision to follow this desire led her to lose many material possessions, including her beloved gowns, slips, stockings and other fancy things. She even left her beloved late fiance’s family.
She set out on her journey. Along the way, she married a man who neglected her and they divorced. Eventually she remarried a kind man and they settled in a rugged desert place. There were no lavish dances. She baked dozens of loaves of bread every day, not just for her family, but for others in the town who needed it. She smiled and laughed. She had friends. She opened her small home to share with other people who decided to also settle there in that desert place, and she took care of them while they were trying to get places of their own. She was kind, good and faithful. Living her faith wasn’t always easy, but she did it anyway.
One night, her late fiance from so many years before visited her in a dream and told her he missed her very much. The next day she woke up like she did every other day and pressed on. I wonder what kinds of places there were in her heart that went so far beyond just being able to sing as she walked and walked and walked and walked, as the popular LDS childrens’ song goes.
Who is she? Flora Washburn; a woman who helped weave rag carpets that originally adorned the floors of the magestic LDS temple in Manti, Utah. I still believe she, as a pioneer woman, had to sacrifice more than I could possibly understand. Was she tired? Stoic? Maybe. But knowing just a few more details really brought her to life to me and made her more real, more human. And then all at once, as I read about her, her humanity actually made her more amazing to me, too.
A while back, my friend Clive Romney commissioned me to write a song about the Manti temple. I love the temple there. It’s stunning, but I wasn’t sure if it was the most exciting thing I felt like writing about at that time. I saw the stoic faces of all the people from that time period in the pictures I found online. I admired these people. But what about them could I possibly ever relate to? Turns out, there’s plenty of stuff we’d understand about each other if these folks were still around. I found this to be especially true of the women. They were not just frowning, tired looking women in cotton bonnetts. They were real humans with passionate hearts.
I was at a loss when I first started trying to write this Manti song. All of that changed when I began to include real names of the people I studied. A name is such a sacred thing. I almost felt like these new kindred friends from beyond the veil could see me and that they might be happy to have their story told.
If my heart could be captured in such a profound way by learning about these people who are only tied to me because of my faith, think about family. What more would we realize about ourselves if we knew more about our roots?
I recently had the opportunity to perform my Manti song right in front of the temple, for a group of pioneer heritage explorers. Enjoy the video.
Learn more about Clive Romney’s work with the Utah Pioneer Heritage Arts foundation here: