I am tracing my Mormon pioneer roots because my story began with those who came before.
Mormon settlers took land in Utah, which indigenous people were already using.
I remember a painting showing the prophet Brigham Young looking over the Utah Valley on July 24, 1847. He is wearing a dark, knee-length coat. He holds his hat in one hand while the fingers of the other hand point confidently toward the valley. “This is the place,” he said. He did not say, “This is the place if the current occupants of this land agree to sell it to us.”
Mormon pioneers believed God led them to this spot. God’s blessing meant they could claim the land as their divine birthright. In exchange, they were to build a righteous kingdom on earth.
When Daniel, Mary, and Peninah arrived, church leaders had already divided Salt Lake City into small parcels. More significant properties intended for farming were outside the city limits.
After the turmoil that led them here, Daniel and his family wanted nothing more than to put down deep roots. For Daniel’s loyal service, church leaders gave him land near South Temple.
After the Wood family ate lunch the day they arrived, they began plowing the land. They worked together to plant crops like corn and potatoes as quickly as possible to avoid starvation during winter.
Crickets and grasshoppers had recently decimated the crops grown by the saints already living there. So, until the next harvest, their diet would include thistle, Sego lily bulbs, and cooked rawhide. Daniel would learn that digging trenches filled with water protected his crop from greedy grasshoppers.
In the future, not all of Daniel’s wives and children lived under the same roof. But for now, they all shared a one-room log cabin for their family of eight. The family included Daniel, his wives Peninah and Mary, Mary and Daniel’s teenage children John, Harriet, Elizabeth, and Peninah, and Daniel’s toddler Daniel and newborn Heber.
Peninah lived in the house with the children, while Mary lived in one of the wagons they pulled close to the cabin. They bathed and did most of the cooking outdoors.
Eventually, Daniel acquired multiple pieces of land he used for pastures, farming, and his growing number of wives and children.
His most extensive homestead he found while traveling over the valley. At over a hundred acres, some of it was swampy and covered with willows. Once his soil testing showed fertile soil, Daniel filed for ownership and had it surveyed. Initially, it was called the Daniel Wood Homestead. Later it would be known as Woods Cross. Daniel was responsible for paying the surveying and recording fees.
He built a large two-story adobe home at what would become known as Woods Cross called the Big House, the most prominent house in the area. Compared to their two hundred square foot cabin, this house was mammoth. The first floor held the kitchen, workroom, living room, and children’s rooms. The upper floor had four more bedrooms.
Education was important to Daniel, so he added a schoolroom to the back of the Big House for his children and the children from the community. Another room provided the only religious meeting space in Davis County for years.
The Mormon tradition of saints helping one another meant Daniel’s neighbors helped form the adobe bricks, which baked in the sun before being used. Daniel helped cut and haul timber from the mountains to build the Bountiful Tabernacle.
Daniels’ work ethic, skills, and ability to own land lifted his family’s financial status within the community. Hard work without land ownership would not have provided the same stability.
Free land given overwhelmingly to white men built wealth and provided opportunities for their present and future generations. Some of Daniel’s land is still in the hands of family members. Others, like my grandmother, sold their inherited parcels.
While Daniel tested the soil for his homestead, either he didn’t test the soil of Mormonism or agreed with it. Meaning he was either blind, overlooked, or embraced the doctrines which poisoned hearts and souls.
Polygamy multiplied exponentially the number of relatives I have. Most I have never met. Based on the white supremacy taught in church, I wonder what kind of people we are. How many are, without reservation, grateful for the heritage Daniel Wood left for us? And how many like me are conflicted?