A Road Trip with Living History…

A few years ago, I was driving across the state of Wyoming with a friend. It was a long road trip from Casper to Cody and we were remembering the many trips we had taken across some of our “flatter states,” like Kansas, Nebraska, New Mexico, Texas, etc. As one drives across the state of Nebraska you can’t help but count fence posts. Driving across the Mojave desert of California, one can see creosote bushes for hundreds of miles across the flat terrain and not much else. We both agreed that one’s traveling companion could either make or break the road trip.

Our conversation then drifted into a discussion of who we would prefer to have in the car with us. Since we began the trip at the Mormon History Association annual conference in Casper, our conversation naturally began with “who in Mormon history (living or deceased) would you like riding shotgun with you on a six hour car ride along 1-80 through Nebraska?”

What would it be like to speak to Emma Smith for six hours, listening to her memories of the early founding events of the church. What did she think of polygamy, Brigham Young, William Law, and others?  What was life like in Nauvoo after the majority travelled west? What questions would you ask Zenas Gurley and William Marks? I think about Sidney Rigdon’s daughter, Nancy, and her Nauvoo experience, Joseph Smith III and his battle to save his father’s legacy, and Alice Smith Edwards. So many incredible people that could easily consume a long ride across the Nebraska plains.

Eventually, we came to the conclusion that one person was impossible to select. The only solution was to fill the back seat with those pillars in church history whom we revere.

I imagined I would be driving our trusty Honda Accord, a vehicle that seats up to five people – allowing four extra passengers for the long trip across Nebraska. Here are my top four traveling companions:

1. Emma Hale Smith Bidamon riding shotgun, of course.

2. Jason Briggs, early founder of the Reorganization

3. Elizabeth Cowdery, Oliver Cowdery’s wife and sister to John and David Whitmer.

4. Ron Romig, Community of Christ archivist. Not only is Ron a genius in the subject of Mormon history, he could easily fill the time with great questions that I would have forgotten to ask. Besides, who doesn’t love Ron Romig?

It’s a challenge to narrow the selection to only four. I would love to talk with Grant McMurray, William Law, James Strang, George Jones Adams, and David Hyrum Smith. I have always been curious about John C. Bennett, William Smith, and William McLellin, but I don’t think we would all make it out alive with those three in the back seat.

Of course, no thought has gone into if these riders would actually get along. My thoughts are purely selfish in nature. The car ride would be more like an interrogation of questions for my poor unsuspecting passengers.

Since that Wyoming road trip, the question has been on my mind for nearly four years. Each time we host a visiting historian or church leader at a staff gathering in Kirtland, I can’t resist asking the Nebraska road trip question during the Q & A period. I believe you can learn a lot about a person by who they choose to ride in their car.

Who in Mormon history (living or deceased) would you like riding shotgun with you on a six hour car ride along 1-80 through Nebraska?

10 comments on “A Road Trip with Living History…

  1. Lyle II says:

    Hard to limit to a small number is right, perhaps harder still I know not the names of those who I would want to journey with, as while I would love to spend some time with the “known”; the ones whose names are less known call out to me more. To hear from those that represent the diversity that is Community of Christ today and in the past, the global history and present and not just the western institutional history. So perhaps One of the chorister or a member of the choir for the Kirtland Temple dedication, an early Tahitian member of the reorganization, a Community of Christ pastor from DR Congo, and a Community of Christ member from China, and hope that somehow the language barriers would fall apart as we commuted and shared together. If the vehicle was large drawing people from the history of the reorganization in India, Australia, South America, Russia, Europe… and upon those who lived in the worst housing in Kirtland and Nauvoo, someone baptized by one of the big missionaries of the church in the days of charts and more, those who attuned early reunions… would also be interesting to hear from, as would be those who stood up for equality, peace, and justice and were persecuted both from within and from without the church community perhaps even to the point of leaving…
    Thus giving me the option to expand my encounter and learn the history, present and potential future of a global family that follows the Living Christ…

    • James E Elliott says:

      This is really a comment on Barbara’s original post. I question her statement that Joseph lll tried to save his fathers legacy. He was a teen when his father died and he knew nothing of his works. He tried to whitewash his fathers legacy.

  2. Doug Gregory says:

    I guess I would love to ride with my great=grandfather, Frederick Gregory. He was a contemporary and associate of J. J. Cornish (wouldn’t I love to find out what faith was really like from listening to those stories), he helped establish many congregations in the Canadian plains, and with his wife, he raised (whenever he was there) three young boys, who all lived in a sod house during the turn of the century in Alberta.

    I think of the choices he made (right or wrong), of what he endured to share the gospel, and how his dedication to the church led my grandfather to barely maintain any ties at all to the church. My great-grandfather would accept only traveling money from the church, during a time when F.M. Smith allowed appointees to request their remuneration, while my grandpa and his brothers wrestled with the rocky soil at their homestead.

    But, generations later, much of the Gregory family remains in the church, in no small part, I’m guessing, because great-grandfather had such a strong faith (and was probably as bull-headed as the rest of us who share his name!)

    What an amazing trip that would be…

  3. I like most of the people you mentioned. Oliver Cowdery, David Whitmer, Martin Harris, would be real interesting. I’m not sure how you feel about Brigham Young, but it would be real interesting for him to see I-80 when he traveled by wagon across many of the same areas.

    It would be interesting to see how Sam, Hyrum, and Alvin Smith viewed their brother–and how did you leave out Joseph?

    • Barb Walden says:

      I have to admit, I wondered what the trip would be like with Emma and Brigham sharing the back seat.

      • Russel Lane says:

        I about fell out of my chair laughing when I read Barb’s post. I think you’d need to have Joseph Jr. sitting between them!

      • Russel Lane says:

        I about fell out of my chair laughing when I read Barb’s choice. I think it would be advisable to have Joseph Smith sit between the two of them!

  4. dhowlett says:

    I would want to take a trip with Joseph, Jr., Joseph III, and Fred M. Smith. However, I would want to pick each of them up along the way and drop off the one in car. I wouldn’t want to have the tension between a parent and his son present in such a conversation. (I would be nice, though, and put each one on a bus back to Independence rather than a ticket to Salt Lake.:-)

  5. I would definitely love to be on a roadtrip with Emma Smith as my first choice. I want to know what she thought about polygamy, why she did not like Brigham Young, and if she wished she had a priesthood calling.

    Joseph Smith would be my second choice, because there are questions I’d like to ask him…such as which church did he feel best represents the organization he established, what Nauvoo was all about, and why is Mosiah a basic word for word rip off of Isaiah?

  6. I would want David Smith to ride with me…before his breakdown, of course. David learned about his father’s polygamy in Utah and tried his best to convince his older brother of his findings to no avail. I would like to hear details about what he learned.

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