Tracing my Mormon pioneer roots because my story began with those who came before.
Freeways cut through what was once Daniel’s homestead. Shopping centers have sprung up on land once filled with fruit trees in orchards surrounding his adobe home. A part of his west pasture became a community train station called Woods Cross.
The story of the Woods Cross Station was one my mother told many times. I imagine her father, Leslie, also shared it with her as a child.
My mother’s version described Daniel leaving to go on a mission for the church. Daniel took the train home at the end of his mission. He was unaware a railroad company had built a train station through his farm. Nearing his farm, the train conductor, whose job was to alert passengers to upcoming stops, called out, “Woods Cross,” to which my grandfather replied, “Yes, and he’s damn cross too!
My mom took joy in sharing this oral tale. I always giggled when she said “damn” since this word was sinful for Mormons. I would have liked this grandfather, I thought.
Through research, I was able to add more details to the story.
In 1869, Mormons had been in Utah for about twenty years. Salt Lake City was the hub for church and government activity. Brigham Young was still the church prophet, a role he would hold for nearly thirty years until his death. He had also served as Utah’s first governor.
The Union Pacific Railroad had built tracks in the Utah territory, but Young wanted to connect the forty miles between Ogden and Salt Lake City. The Union Pacific Railroad was not keen to take on his project, so Young looked at alternatives, including asking Daniel Wood to request he sells some of his acreages for a train station.
Brigham Young had a history of asking Daniel for things. He asked Daniel to stay behind and farm instead of emigrating with the first wave of saints. He asked him to take Peninah as a second wife, help rescue distressed saints, and adopt native orphans.
Daniel and Young had heated negotiations before agreeing to build a train station on the west pasture. A railroad company was formed, and community donations of money and labor were used to make the tracks.
Daniel and Peninah’s son Daniel Cotton logged and hauled tons of timber from a nearby canyon to make railroad ties. He took pride that each one he hewed was free of defects. He was paid fifty cents for each one.
A few months after the project was underway, Daniel, almost seventy, and his teenage son Peter left to begin a six-month mission trip to Canada. Even though his parents had died, Daniel hoped to persuade other family members to join the church. Daniel also wanted to research and record family genealogy. Peter, who could read and write much better than Daniel, was to act as a scribe.
Daniel was comfortable leaving with the railroad project underway since there were clear stipulations of land use, and the project was progressing smoothly.
Unfortunately, while in Canada, Daniel received a letter informing him that the train station was being constructed further in his field than he had agreed. He was not happy about this.
Upon completion, as part of the celebration, free rides were given. Daniel was not in a celebratory mood when he returned a few months later, for he knew the station was not where he and Young had agreed it would be.
Daniel traveled by train at night and awoke to the conductor signaling the upcoming stop by calling “Woods Cross.” He stood up and said, “Cross? Yes, and damn cross too.” Daniel’s anger continued when he stepped off the train in the middle of his cornfield.
Outraged, Daniel invited the community to a meeting at his home. He wanted the station moved from the middle of his field to an area closer to the existing road. He asked for his neighbor’s support by signing a petition he later presented to Brigham Young and other railroad officials.
It doesn’t say how much convincing it took or whether Daniel needed to remind Young of all the ways he had helped the church in the past. Eventually, Daniel got his way, and the station was relocated.
I was thrilled my bloodline included a man willing to swear and stand against religion and a corporation because his moral compass told him it was the just and right thing to do.
Why didn’t he use this same fury to fight against slavery, especially when Utah voted to make owning human beings legal within its territory? He did not call his neighbors for meetings to discuss the horrific treatment of native tribes and the stealing of their land. Nor did he create petitions asking to eradicate the ban on blackness which the church wickedly perpetuated.
Once again, I feel pride and disappointment in him. I am attempting to do what he did not do. And whether real or imagined, I believe he regrets his inaction and is cheering me on.