In beautiful Nauvoo, Illinois, there stands a restored blacksmith and wagon shop owned by the Webb brothers. The Webb family had joined the Church in New York, lived in Kirtland, Ohio, made a short stay in Missouri, and then reestablished their trade in the new gathering place of Nauvoo in 1939. The Webb brothers stayed until late 1846, when all those who wanted to leave for the west had left Nauvoo. Eventually, the Webb family set up shop in Utah continuing their work as blacksmiths and wagon makers. Their work and faith left a great legacy to be honored by those who trace their heritage to the Webb family.
In 1969, restoration of their Nauvoo blacksmith and wagon shop was begun on the original site and foundation. Today, the sound of the blacksmith is heard once again in historic old Nauvoo. However, the restoration would not be complete without the proper equipment. The large bellows and tools in the restored Webb Blacksmith and Wagon Shop have a story all their own.
As the Saints began to gather in the swamp known as Commerce, Illinois, Jedediah M. Grant, with his brother Joshua and several other elders, left their families and began a mission to the states of Virginia and North Carolina in June 1839. While in the mountain country of Wythe County, they met the Peter Shupe family. Sarah, Peter’s wife, soon joined the new religion while Peter waited a couple years, being baptized in 1841. By joining with the Saints, the life of Peter and Sarah would change considerably with the experiences of the Saints during those difficult early years.
In September 1843, Peter and Sarah gathered their family, including their two married children, Andrew and John, and moved to Illinois to be near the Prophet Joseph and the Saints. Arriving on 9 November, they settled south of Nauvoo in the area of Rushville in Brown County. Here, Peter and his sons worked as blacksmiths and wagon makers. Their son John settled just to the west in Adams County. Life went well in their new home among the Saints of the area until that fateful day in June 1844, when the Prophet Joseph and Hyrum were martyred at Carthage. As the persecutions became more frequent and threatening, they joined with the Saints in Nauvoo to prepare for the long journey to the west. As blacksmiths and wagon makers, their skills were in great demand during 1845 and 1846 as the Saints prepared and began their great exodus from Nauvoo.
Peter and Sarah traveled across Iowa eventually arriving in Council Bluffs by summer. Their son John, with his wife and two young daughters, stayed in Farmington, Iowa, while the rest of the family had moved on.
On July 16, 1846, two sons of Peter and Sarah, Andrew J. Shupe and James W. Shupe, enlisted in the Mormon Battalion and began the long march to California. James’ wife traveled with the Battalion until Santa Fe, where because of illness, they traveled north to Pueblo where they wintered with the sick detachment of the Battalion waiting to move to the Great Basin in the summer of 1847. They arrived in Salt Lake just five days after Brigham Young declared “This is the Right Place.”
Back in Council Bluffs, Peter and Sarah’s family struggled to survive the trials of life as a Latter-day Saint. Like so many camped across Iowa and on the banks of the Missouri River, they suffered with poor health and sickness. As fall and winter set in, so did death’s grip. Peter and Sarah both died in September and were buried in the same grave together. This left their daughter-in-law, the wife of Andrew, to care for their remaining children along with her own.
The plague of death did not stop with these faithful parents. Their son George, who was eighteen, died in November. Their daughter Nancy, who was eight, died in January, along with their fourteen-year-old daughter Susannah just a few days later. When John learned of his parents death, he left his family in Farmington and traveled to the Council Bluffs area to gather his remaining siblings and return home with them. John never returned home, dying in his attempt at Council Bluffs.
Andrew and James and their families went on to Utah and eventually settled in North Ogden. Martha, John’s widow, took their two remaining children to Utah and also eventually settled in North Ogden near her in-laws. As Andrew and James settled with the Saints in Utah, they opened their blacksmith and wagon shop with their tools brought across the plains from Nauvoo. Three additional brothers stayed in western Iowa.
As the reconstruction of the restored Webb Blacksmith and Wagon Shop neared completion, James L. Shupe of Logan, Utah, who had preserved his ancestors tools, donated them to the finished Webb Blacksmith and Wagon Shop. The circle was now complete. Two large bellows, two anvils, a bench vice and other tools brought across the plains were returned to Nauvoo to the enjoyment of thousands of people every year who visit the blacksmith and wagon shop.
Peter and Sarah Shupe left a legacy of faith, devotion, and sacrifice to their descendants. Thousands in the Church today trace their lineage to these two wonderful pioneers who died crossing the plains. Their sons, Andrew, James, and John, passed the legacy onto their descendants. And now, even the tools of their trade bare witness to thousands of people every year of their faith and sacrifice for the gospel of Jesus Christ.
“And all they who suffer persecution for my name, and endure in faith, though they are called to lay down their lives for my sake yet shall they partake of all this glory” (Doctrine and Covenants 101:35). “Blessed are they which are persecuted for righteousness’ sake: for theirs is the kingdom of heaven” (Matthew 5:10).
May we honor the legacy of those who laid the foundation of this great work in the last days. May we live lives of faith, devotion, and sacrifice for the gospel of Jesus Christ as we extend this great legacy to our children and grandchildren.
Barton M. Golding