It is Pioneer Day, a state holiday in Utah commemorating the arrival of the first Mormon Pioneers to the Salt Lake Valley in 1847. Those Latter-day Saints trekked across the wilderness fleeing persecution in Illinois where they, through vision and hard work, had transformed a literal mosquito-infested swamp into the City Beautiful – Nauvoo. Their thousand-mile journey tried and tested each one of them. All struggled. Some suffered. Some survived. Some died. Regardless of the details, theirs is a legacy of tackling the difficult with resolve, grit, and faith. And whether or not we are direct descendants of those who came here first, all of us can love and appreciate their legacy and the pioneer spirit it evokes.
Although there are scriptures and promises regarding queens, I can find none regarding princesses. This is comforting to me. I don’t want to identify with or aspire to be a princess, and I’ll never encourage others to either. Too many girls, women, and wives wear that title proudly. They feel entitled to their every whim, excused in their every weakness, and endowed with every unfettered expectation that others are here to serve them and their needs, and they have no higher obligation to anyone other than themselves.
In Hans Christian Andersen’s The Princess and the Pea, the mark of a true princess was her sensitivity to every minor discomfort – as illustrated by her sleepless night attributed to a single pea, strategically placed under the tower of mattresses on which she slept. Sadly, some modern princesses are just as sensitive to their own personal comforts, which too often come at the expense of others and an insensitivity to the realities of life. All of us wince a little for those ‘subjects’ subjected to their realm.
Consider instead, women like Ellen (Nettie) Pucell Unthank – who, when she was nine years old, left her home in England with her parents and older sister Maggie, age 14. After a six-week voyage on the ship Horizon, they landed in Boston and then, in Iowa, joined the ill-fated Martin Handcart Company. Early winter snowstorms, frostbite, hunger, exhaustion, and hypothermia, first took her father and five days later claimed her mother. Nellie and Maggie trudged on. When they were rescued and brought to the Salt Lake Valley both of Nellie’s frostbitten legs had to be amputated just below the knee with a butcher knife and without anesthesia.
Both sisters later settled in Cedar City, Utah. Nellie married and gave birth to 6 children. Wooden legs and shoes were fashioned for her, but she found them too painful, choosing instead to crawl about on her knees, protected only by a leather apron. She lived in constant pain but took in washing, knitting, and crocheting to support her children – and once a year she and they cheerfully and gratefully cleaned the church house.
Nellie’s looks would never qualify her as a Disney princess, but she was most certainly a queen. Her exemplary story and the stories of those like her inspire and motivate me more than anything a Kardashian, a pop princess or any whiny, entitled woman has ever done. I’m grateful today for her and others like her who remind me to focus less on what injustices I may have been dealt and more on what I can do to make the best of my situation – regardless of the circumstances.
I don’t think a pioneer is just someone who does something new. I think I pioneer is someone who does something noble – like Nellie.
“Our Mission of Saving” – President Gordon B. Hinckley, October 1991
“Remember Who You Are!” – Sister Elaine S. Dalton, April 2010
“A Priceless Heritage” – Elder James E. Faust, October 1992