Emeline Bigler Hess
To tell Emeline’s story, we begin in the picturesque land of tulips and windmills. Her great-grandfather, Mark Bigler, came to America from the River Rhine, Holland. He was born about 1705 and died in Pipe Creek, Frederick, Maryland, when about 82 years of age. He had married a girl we know only as Catherine. She had been born about 1712 and lived in Frederick County, Maryland.
About 1752, Jacob was born to Mark and Catherine. Jacob became a farmer in Summerset County, Pennsylvania. He married Hannah Booker and they had ten children. Jacob died in September 1829, at the age of 76. Hanna lived until July 18, 1853. She was 93 at the time of death.
The sixth child of Jacob and Hannah was named for his father. Jacob Jr., was born June 9, 1793 at Harrison County, Virginia, where his family had lived most of their years. When Jacob grew to manhood, he married Elizabeth Harvey on May 24, 1814. Elisabeth had been born January 10, 1795 at Montgomery County, Maryland, to Basil Harvey and Polly Hall Harvey. Jacob and Elizabeth had five children: Henry William, Polly Hannah, Emeline, and Bathsheba. Little Bathsheba was buried when she was but 14 months old.
Jacob and Elizabeth were poor, humble, hard-working, honest and religious. They arose by candlelight and worked until late at night. They loomed the flax of their fields, made their own clothing, including shoes. The simple log home was furnished with plain furniture, fashioned by Jacob. Education was important to these parents, for the children went to school and were tutored by David Masters, a Methodist minister. The curriculum consisted of the usual three "R’s" with a spelling bee "thrown in for fun." Whenever the weather would permit, it was barefoot time. On Sundays the girls would carry their hose and homemade shoes until they almost reached the little church. Jacob was a farmer, not a shoemaker.
The beautiful State of Virginia was rich in resources. Game was plentiful. The family lived on fat venison, wild turkey, honey, acorns, nuts, and pigs, which ran wild in the forest to be fattened. One of the highlights of the year was "sugaring." Families for miles around would gather and make camp. Large buckets were attached to the trees, the oozing sap collected and poured into huge kettles, to be boiled and processed into the delicious sugar. The children loved to sample the tempting sweet, and happily licked their sticky fingers.
Emeline was three years old when her mother contracted consumption. Elizabeth realized that she would soon have to leave her five little children; therefore, she made Jacob promise that he would soon remarry so her beloved children would have a mother to love and care for them. This brave and thoughtful little mother even picked her successor – Sally Cunningham, who was but 17.
Henry William, the eldest child, was 12 years at this time. Within a few years, Henry found the answer to his sad questions. He was converted to the Church. This was a great turning point in their lives. In the fall of 1838, when Emeline was 14 years old, the family moved to Farr West, Missouri, to join the Saints. More challenges were in store for Jacob – no sooner were they settled in Far West when with 15,000 other Saints, they were forced to flee from Missouri. Jacob, his new wife, Sally, and his four children arrived at Quincey, Illinois in the early spring of 1839. The father rented a farm near Payson, Illinois, to start over. Henry was now 24. To help the family, he went to work on a steamboat. However, this job was soon terminated because Henry answered the call of the Lord and went to preach the gospel.
The beautiful City of Nauvoo was now the headquarters of the Church, so Jacob and his family moved to Bier Creek, 16 miles from Nauvoo. Once again dark clouds threatened Jacob’s world – persecution forced him to move into Nauvoo for the safety of his loved ones.
Emeline loved the City of Nauvoo, especially after she met a tall, dark and handsome Dutchman, named John Wells Hess. Emeline had a genial disposition and a gentleness which attracted people to her. And perhaps there was a sense of fellowship because long ago, Emeline’s great-grandfather, Mark Bigler, had called Holland his native land. This lovely, sweet girl was 24 when she married 24 year old John. On a cool, crisp day, November 2, 1845, they exchanged vows. They were endowed on January 29, 1846.
The Saints were forced to leave Nauvoo and John and Emeline left April 3, 1846. John was the oldest at home in his family and felt a responsibility for his father, mother, and their four children. His father had suffered a stroke and was an invalid. But John was strong and resourceful. He managed to secure two old wagons and two yoke of oxen. The ailing father was made as comfortable as possible in one wagon and their possessions were packed in the other. Of course, only meager necessities could be taken and the family had to proceed on foot.
The first night, weary and drenched with rain, they camped on the Iowa side. Their progress was slow and tedious because they could only make from five to eight miles a day. Through rain and mud, sun and sleet, they trudged on. At night they cut willows and piled them into crude mattresses, then fell upon them, exhausted - to sleep in wet clothing, and arise the next sunrise to plod on again.
Two and a half months later, on June 15, 1846, they limped into Mount Pisgah. There they made a temporary shelter of bark. John was faced with a difficult decision. His father was too ill to travel any further. Food was running perilously low. John and Emeline decided to push on, promising to return for his family later. After John and Emeline left, his father’s little remaining strength failed and he was buried at Mount Pisgah on June 22, 1846.
Emeline and John made their way west to Council Bluffs, Iowa. They stayed a short while, building shelters, securing food and planting crops to be harvested by those who would follow.
Another decision faced John and Emeline at Council Bluffs, because on July 1 word came that 500 men were to be enlisted into the United States Army and sent to fight Mexico. John loved his country, even though he and his people had been cruelly treated. He enlisted in the Mormon Battalion. But what of Emeline, who loved her husband devotedly? She learned that with every company, a woman was hired to go as a laundress. Emeline was quick to volunteer so that she and John might stay together. Emeline was strong and courageous - as well she needed to be. The journey of the Mormon Battalion was long and full of many hardships. She was a great source of joy and strength to her husband. History tells us that the women endured the trek better than did some of the men.
So the Battalion marched out from Council Bluffs to Fort Leavenworth, a distance of 200 miles. This was accomplished in ten days. On August 13 they started for Santa Fe, Mexico, 720 miles away. The heat, dust and sunbaked stretches took their toll. Many soldiers became ill and disabled. The Battalion was slowing down. When it finally reached Santa Fe, Colonel Phillip St. George Cook, the Commanding Officer, ordered the sick to return to Pueblo, Colorado. All women and children were to return also.
John Hess was very upset. He didn’t want to go without Emeline. How could he bear to see his beautiful, young sweetheart march away with a company of sick, heat-deranged men, with none but woman and children to help protect her.
Again John made a decision. With courage and daring, he approached the Commander, General Doniphan, with a proposal. He secured permission for the husbands of all the women to return with their wives to Pueblo.
Even though the trek back was severe, John and Emeline were still together, for which they were happy and grateful. But the way was hard and long. Here was a company of women and children, tired and discouraged, traveling those many, many miles, saddled with the care of the sick and disabled men. Food was scarce, so half rations were doled out the first part of the journey, and these were cut to quarter rations the second portion of the torturous journey.
The winter was spent in Pueblo recuperating. In the spring of 1847, with renewed bodies and hopes, Emeline and John started on the trail to Fort Laramie. Joyfully they joined with a company of Saints and came on into the Salt Lake Valley, arriving July 28, 1847. Thus ended two years of wandering over deserts, rivers and mountains, and through rain, snow, heat and cold. At last a place was found where they could live and build homes in peace. John and Emeline had the same experiences of all the early pioneers – struggles and failures, heartaches and discouragements, but they were dedicated disciples of our Father in heaven, and overcame all obstacles with strong courage and determination and thankfulness in their hearts that they had each other.
John made Emeline a home in Salt Lake, but after a short while they moved out to Mill Creek, where John cut timber to earn money. But John still had a pledge to fulfill and on September 9, 1847, he left Emeline with friends and family and returned to Mount Pisgah. He was saddened by the news of his father, but brought his mother and his brothers and sisters back to Salt Lake Valley, arriving on July 27, 1848. His joy at seeing his beloved Emeline again was multiplied when he beheld his beautiful son, born on January 6, 1848. Little Jacob was named in honor of Emeline’s father.
It’s moving time again. Once more John gathered their possessions and with his wife and baby, his mother and her family, journeyed to Farmington. A home was established there. John performed a mission to the Indians and was a Bishop and Patriarch in that area.
Emeline was "beloved Emeline," the light and joy of John’s life. She yet faced many other problems