Question: Before her husband passed away, what did Eliza promise her husband that she would do?
Answer: Eliza Cusworth was born January 19, 1824, in Yorkshire, England. Her parents were well-to-do farmers. Eliza attended the English schools as she grew up. One special occasion that she always remembered was the day when she served along with many other little girls as a “flower girl” at the coronation of Queen Victoria, carrying armfuls of flowers and singing “God Save the Queen.” Her father died when she was thirteen.
Eliza married Joseph Burton in 1846, and they soon heard the preaching of Mormon Elders Cyrus Wheelock and Joseph Young. Joseph Burton attended the Mormon meetings and believed what he heard. He purchased a Book of Mormon and started to read it. Soon there were many rumors going around about these Mormon Elders, and Eliza heard the stories and began to worry. She coaxed her husband not to read the book or have anything to do with these Elders. He told her not to worry.
After retiring to her bed one night, she could not sleep. It was very dark, and as she lay there thinking and praying about her trouble, the room suddenly began to get light, and the light increased until the room was as light as noon day. Then the light disappeared as it had come, until all was dark again. After seeing this, she could never say a word against the Mormons, and it was a testimony to her that their Gospel was true. Soon after this, she and her husband were baptized and then began saving money and making preparations to emigrate to Utah. In the meantime, two children were born to them--a son whom they called Joseph and a daughter Martha Ann.
Joseph was what they called in England a “carrier.” He delivered goods from the depot to the stores. One day he lifted something too heavy and broke a blood vessel, which caused his untimely death. His dying request was that Eliza gather with the Saints and do their work in the temple and raise the children among the Latter-Day Saints. She promised him she would.
Eliza’s relatives and her husband’s relatives were very much against her leaving England. They tried everything they could think of to induce her to stay, but she was determined. So in the spring of 1856, she packed her trunks and left her home on a journey of six thousand miles with two little children. The only relative who would go to see her off was Benjamin Burton, her husband’s brother, who carried her little girl Martha to the depot and bid them good-bye. This was the last she saw her relatives. [Her mother died eight years after she left for America.]
Eliza took the train to Liverpool and then took passage on the ship Horizon. They were seven weeks on the ocean, and she suffered a great deal from sea sickness. After arriving in New York, they went by train and boat to Iowa City, Iowa. Here they found that they were too late to go by wagon, so they waited for handcarts to be made. They did not realize the danger they were putting themselves in to start so late in the season, and so found themselves part of the ill-fated Martin Handcart Company. Eliza was thirty-two, Joseph was seven, and Martha Ann was four.
They left Iowa City on July 30, 1856 and did not reach Salt Lake City until November 30, partly because their hastily constructed wagons were continually breaking down. Eliza had to leave behind her trunks of silverware, linens, and valuable clothing. She pulled the cart, and her little boy Joseph (aged seven) walked all the way. Little Martha, four years old, rode in the cart.
There were 500 men, women, and children in this company, and one-fourth of them died before reaching the Valley. Eliza waded the Sweetwater River three times in one afternoon. First she took her boy across on her back. When she reached the other shore, she put him down but he was frightened and tried to follow her back. She [asked someone to watch him] while she went back to get his sister. She then had to make the third trip to get her handcart.
Toward the latter part of their journey they were told that their food was almost gone, and they were put on very short rations--one-fourth pound of flour for each person per day. Eliza had gold in her pocket, yet she and her children were starving. When they reached Wyoming, they were entirely out of food, and they still had one month’s travel ahead of them in order to reach Salt Lake. The ranchers they met would sell them no food, but sold them some skins of deer and mountain sheep that were dry and old. These were soaked, scraped of hair and cleaned the best they could be, and cooked. The soup was thickened with their last remaining flour. Little Joseph carried the marks of their journey to his grave, as his foot was frozen and he lost two of his toes.
When Eliza reached Salt Lake, she inquired for her cousin William Cusworth with whom she intended to live for awhile, only to learn that he had left the Church and returned to Iowa. She was cared for by the family of Isaac Laney, and then she was taken to Pleasant Grove where she was introduced by the Bishop to Nathan Staker. The Bishop advised Nathan to marry Eliza, as his first wife had died, and he needed a mother for his children, and Eliza needed a father for her children. Eliza and Nathan had a son and then four daughters. In 1865 Eliza was sealed to her first husband, Joseph Burton, in the Endowment House, as he had requested. Her two children were sealed to them in March 1889 in the Manti Temple.
Eliza died on April 14, 1914, in Fairview, Sanpete, Utah, at the age of ninety. She was always a faithful Latter-day Saint and taught her children to be the same. When she died, she had 96 descendants. She was buried in the Mount Pleasant City Cemetery in Mount Pleasant, Utah.
Source: Ensign, December 2006, “Go and Bring Them In,” by LaRene Porter Gaunt and Linda Dekker; Eliza Cusworth by Edith Larsen Baker, FamilySearch.org; FindAGrave.com