Question: After Rodney Badger traveled to the Salt Lake Valley in Brigham Young’s Vanguard Company, what later event caused him to loose his life?
Answer: Rodney Badger was born on February 4, 1824 in Waterford, Vermont, to John Badger and Lydia Chamberlain. It was in July 1835 in Charleston, Vermont, where John had moved his family, that Orson Pratt and Lyman E. Johnson taught the family the Gospel and baptized John and Lydia members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. They were among the first converts of the Church in Charleston. John was soon ordained a high priest, and took a prominent part in church affairs. Rodney was only twelve years of age at the time.
The family next moved to Kirtland, Ohio where they became closely associated with the Prophet and his people. The eldest son, Rodney Badger, lived for a time with Hyrum Smith, while John Chamberlain Badger lived with William Smith, and went with him to Far West, Missouri.
This family went through many of the trials and persecution of the Saints in Missouri. It was on December 13, 1838 that John Badger was made a member of the High Council of Far West, Missouri. The next move took them to Nauvoo, Illinois. It was at Montrose, Lee County, Iowa, on October 30, 1838 that John died of lung fever. Rodney was baptized on January 1, 1839 at almost sixteen years of age. His mother, Lydia passed away in Nauvoo on September 4, 1844.
At age twenty-one, Rodney married Nancy Garr on March 3, 1845. Nancy’s mother had passed away in Nauvoo on November 4, 1844. On February 27, 1846, at LaHarpe, Illinois a daughter was born to Rodney and Nancy Badger, who they named Nancy Marie.
At age twenty-three years Rodney was a strong athletic-type young man, well trained as a woodsman, frontier scout and excellent swimmer when he accepted the assignment to accompany Brigham Young’s Vanguard Company to Utah in April 1847. The Company made it to Utah on July 24, 1847. After the company built a fort, some of the men planted seeds and made other preparations necessary to start a settlement in the Valley.
The first part of August, Brigham Young then took some of the men and headed back to Winter Quarters. Rodney went with him. They knew that there were four or five more companies on their way to the Valley, having left Winter Quarters in June 1847. Rodney knew his wife and baby were somewhere on their way with her father Fielding Garr, in whose care Rodney had left them. On September 7, they met the Jedediah M. Grant Company. Here Rodney found his wife and baby. Rodney turned around and went back to the Valley with his wife and baby and reached the Valley on October 2, 1847.
The next few years were busy years for everyone in the Valley. Rodney took an active part in Church and civic life. He was in charge of the cattle of the Perpetual Emigration Fund and Lieutenant of the Territorial Militia. He was a member of the Bishopric of the 15th ward and Sheriff of Salt Lake County. On September 6, 1848, a son, Rodney Carlos, was born to them. On October 26, 1850 another son came, who was named George William. Two years later, July 27, 1852, a daughter, Charlotte Louise, was born.
On April 29, 1853, a company of California emigrants were trying to cross the Weber River. The spring runoff was at its height, and the waters were muddy and filled with brush, logs and debris. The emigrant was warned by Sheriff Badger to take his family out of the wagon before trying to cross, but he refused. When in midstream, the oxen became unmanageable, and the wagon box floated off with the woman and six children. Now, in spite of the disregard the owner of the wagon had given to Sheriff Badger, when he saw the circumstances, Rodney Badger plunged into the raging torrent again and again until he saved the mother and four of the children. He then evidently was weakened by the cold water, cramps and/or fatigue and was whirled under by the cold icy water. Nobody seemed to be able to do anything to save him, although there was several men trying to help as the family members were brought to the bank. It is presumed there was no one who dared attempt to swim in the raging torrent of icy water.
Nancy Maria, the oldest daughter, was seven years old when her father was drowned. The family story is told of how he kissed each of the children before leaving on any extended journey, but how when he left this last time he said, “Be good children and mind your mother. It may be a long time before I come back.” The family seemed to think that he may have had a premonition that something was going to happen.
The following is a copy of a letter written by William H. Hooper to Nancy Badger:
Weber, April 30, 1853
It becomes my melancholy duty to impart to you the supposed loss of your worthy husband. Yesterday in attempting to ford the Weber, an emigrant, [Mr. Williams], who was traveling in our train with his own wagon and family, made the attempt after one of our wagons had crossed safely; his wagon being light, our wagon-master with Mr. Badger, Allen Taylor and John Hess, insisted on his taking out the family, but he refused, and had I been present I should have advised the same; the cattle became unmanageable, and the wagon went into deep water, and the bed with his wife and six children floated off. Mr. Badger, without hesitation heroically threw himself into the stream, and risked and lost his own life to save others. The accident occurred yesterday at 2 o'clock, and yet the search has been and yet is making—he has not been found. To offer you condolence for such a loss would be useless, as my feelings while I write overpowers me, and what must be yours, his wife, to lose a husband who was beloved by all men who knew him and as a proof of his worth and goodness of heart, risked his life for strangers. It is useless to say the shock to me is great and the camp is in gloom. (William H. Hooper)
Rodney Badger was the first Utah law enforcement officer to lose his life during the performance of his sworn duties. He died on April 29, 1853 at age twenty-nine. Rodney’s remains were found on Thursday, October 19, 1853, by James Heath, on a small island about a mile and a half below where Rodney was drowned. His remains were put in a coffin and taken to the Salt Lake City Cemetery for burial. The two children’s bodies were also later found.
Source: Our Pioneer Heritage, Vol. 2, p. 628; “Biography of Rodney Badger” by Robert L Ashby, Son of John Badger and Lydia Chamberlin, by Robert L. Ashby, a grandson. This information was gathered from various members of the family and particularly the writings of W.H. Ashby Jr. and Carlos A. Badger, other grandsons, FamilySearch.org; FindAGrave.com