Harriet Wheeler Decker Young

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Question: Was Harriet Wheeler Decker Young one of the three women who was in Brigham Young’s Vanguard Company in 1847?

Answer: Harriet Page Wheeler, daughter of Oliver Wheeler and his wife Hannah Ashby, was a native of Hillsborough, Hillsborough County, New Hampshire, and was born September 7, 1803. She was the eldest of five children. The ancestors of the Wheeler family were from Wales.

A year or two after her birth, Harriet’s parents moved from Hillsborough, her father's birthplace, to Salem, Massachusetts, the birthplace of her mother. There Harriet was reared to womanhood. She was kept at school from five to ten years of age, after which she went to work in one of the Salem factories, where she learned to spin flax and wool, and became an expert. Her mother taught her to weave, and she was also an accomplished milliner and an excellent cook.

Harriet married Isaac Decker of Phelps, New York, in 1820. At the time of her marriage she was seventeen years of age. Her three eldest children born at Phelps were: Lucy, who married President Brigham Young; Charles, the well known "Charlie” Decker of early times; and her name-sake daughter Harriet, who became Mrs. Ephraim H. Hanks. Her fourth child, Clarissa Caroline (abbreviated to Clara; became a wife of President Brigham Young) and her fifth child, Fannie (who married Feramorz Little) were born at Freedom, Catteraugus County, New York.

The Deckers had migrated to the state of Ohio and had settled at New Portage when they united with the Latter-day Saints. Subsequently they removed to Franklin, a day's travel from Kirtland, the headquarters of the Mormon community.

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During the winter of 1836-1837, the Prophet Joseph came to Isaac for help. Isaac Decker was a well-to-do farmer. The Kirtland Bank was in financial trouble and on the verge of bankruptcy. The Prophet was hopeful that faithful saints such as Isaac could contribute enough money to save the bank. Isaac had given all of their resources in good faith, but it was not enough to save the bank. Many other similar institutions throughout the country, for it was a year of general financial disaster, suffered the same fate in what was known as the ruinous crash of 1837.

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The homeless family, in the latter part of 1837, moved to Kirtland. The Church was then on the eve of its exodus to Missouri. The Deckers desired to go, but were without means to undertake the journey, one of a thousand miles. They found a kind friend in Lorenzo D. Young, who selling his farm, fitted out several teams to convey himself and his family to Missouri. He gave one of his teams to Isaac Decker, and otherwise helped to prepare him for the journey.

They arrived at Far West in March 1838, having traveled part way with the Prophet Joseph Smith, his brother Hyrum, and Lorenzo's brother Brigham, all refugees, fleeing from mob violence. The Decker family settled in Daviess County where Lorenzo bought a farm and Isaac rented one. They diligently set to work building homes in this new country. But it was not to be.

The following August in 1838 in the town of Gallatin, just eight miles from their farms, the war between the mobsters and the Saints began in earnest. They then moved to Far West. After the fall of that city, they fled to Quincy, Illinois, and next resided at Winchester, Scott County, Illinois. The Isaac Decker family and the Lorenzo Dow family continued to be very closely associated. There Harriet's son Isaac Perry Decker was born in 1840.

In 1841 they took up their abode at Nauvoo, where Harriet separated from Isaac Decker and married Lorenzo D. Young. With her husband and children she crossed the frozen Mississippi in February 1846, and proceeded with the migrating Saints to Winter Quarters.

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In the spring of 1847 she was permitted to join Brigham Young’s Vanguard Company and go with her husband to the mountains. With them went her little son, Isaac Perry Decker (age 6), and Lorenzo's son from his first wife, Lorenzo Sobieski Young (age 6). The women were a great help doing vital tasks such as cooking, sewing, etc. But best of all Harriet brought her milk cow and some chickens which she had in a chicken coop that was built on the back of the wagon where she could tend them carefully and keep them laying eggs. And she said they laid three eggs a day all across the plains. They entered the Salt Lake Valley on the 24th of July, 1847, in company with President Brigham Young.

The three women who accompanied their husbands to the Salt Lake Valley in 1847 in Brigham Young’s Vanguard Company, were Harriet Wheeler Decker Young, wife of Lorenzo D. Young (age 43); Clara Decker Young (age 18, daughter of Harriet), wife of Brigham Young; and Ellen Sanders Kimball (age 22), wife of Heber C. Kimball.

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As they gazed upon the Salt Lake Valley, Harriet's heart sank within her, brave as she was, and she was ready to burst into tears at the thought of passing the remainder of her days amid such surroundings. "Lorenzo," said she to her husband, "we have traveled fifteen hundred miles over prairies, deserts and mountains, but feeble as I am I would rather go a thousand miles farther than stay in such a desolate place." Her daughter, Clara Decker Young, expressed her and her mother, Harriet’s, feelings when they first saw the Salt Lake Valley. “My poor mother was heart-broken because there were no trees to be seen, at least that could be called a tree.” One of the first things Harriet did at her new home was to plant the Black Locust tree seeds that she had brought across the plains in the toe of an old sock. Only those starts survived that she covered with buckets.

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Her gloomy feelings may be partly accounted for from the fact that she was soon to become a mother. On the 20th of September, less than two months after their arrival, she gave birth to a son, the first white male child born in Salt Lake valley. He was named for his father, Lorenzo Dow Young, Jr. and was a healthy little boy, but died five months later.

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The family first camped upon the south branch of City Creek, and then upon the north branch of that stream. They next lived in the Fort on Pioneer Square, but in December moved into a new log house outside the fort built by Lorenzo. It was against the advice of their friends at the fort that the Youngs moved into their new home, the first house erected outside the enclosure. It was feared they would be molested by hostile Indians, which did occur at times.

One day Harriet was alone with her three-month-old baby boy, when a fierce looking Indian came to her door and demanded bread. She gave him all she had, three small biscuits. But this didn’t satisfy him, he wanted more. When she refused him he drew his bow and aimed his arrow at her heart. She feared her last moments had come, as well as that of her baby, and then she remembered that in the other room was a large dog, a powerful mastiff her husband had given her for protection. She quickly made signs to the Indian as if she would get more bread. She stepped in the next room and released the dog with a command to seize the Indian. The dog bounded through the door and bore the Indian to the ground. He begged her for his life. After Harriet had relieved him of his bow and arrow, she called off the dog, and after washing and binding up the wounds of the Indian, she set him free.

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Excepting a journey to the East in the spring of 1849, from which she and Lorenzo returned to Utah the following summer (1850), her life passed amid the scenes and circumstances familiar to the early settlers of this region. Harriet Page Wheeler Young died at her home in Salt Lake City on September 22, 1871 at the age of 68. She was buried in the Salt Lake City Cemetery.

Source: “Harriet Page Wheeler Decker Young” from History of Utah, vol. 4, A Historical Sketch Of Harriet Page Wheeler Early Pioneer, DUP, FamilySearch.org; FindAGrave.com