Wednesday, July 23, 2014

A Song for James...

A few months ago, I was asked by my stake to write a song for them to use on TREK!!!  

I was SO excited to to have the opportunity to write another trek song, and was even MORE excited that THIS year I was actually invited to GO (by default, hehe)!!!  

Do you even KNOW how long I've been wanting to go to Wyoming and walk the sacred trails of the Willie & Martin Handcart Companies?!?!

EIGHT YEARS, I tell ya!!!  EIGHT YEARS!!!  And it was absolutely an AMAZING experience (but that's a whole other blog post)!

In preparation for writing this song, I spent months pouring through pioneer story after pioneer story. 

(In fact, it was not uncommon during that time for my husband to find me quarantined in my bedroom, curled up on my bed, tissue in hand, SOBBING...and just as he would begin to ask me what in the world was wrong, he'd notice the "pioneer book" in my lap, shake his head, and close the door.)

I admit, I tend to be an overactive cryer anyhow (hallmark commercials, mormon messages, etc), but whose heart would not be touched by these faithful saints who sacrificed and endured so much?  

When I came across the story of James and Joseph Kirkwood, I knew without a doubt I had found my song. 

Once again, I could not stop the tears from flowing as I read their beautiful story of love, courage, determination, and sacrifice. Those two young boys have forever left an imprint on my heart. 

I like to have some sort of visual inspiration, if possible, when I'm writing a song. As I was researching everything I could get my hands on regarding James and Joseph Kirkwood, I stumbled upon a beautiful painting done by Julie Rogers, entitled Determination. I absolutely LOVED it and attached it to my keyboard, referring to it often as the words and melody formed.

 Art by Julie RogersDetermination

Last week, as I had the opportunity to visit the Willie site and place my feet on that holy ground, James and Joseph filled my heart and mind. 

Although I did not get the opportunity to actually climb Rocky Ridge, I found myself facing that direction and offering a prayer in my heart; thanking God for those two young boys and their powerful example of sacrifice, faith, determination, and love. And promising Him that it would not be lost on me.

In honor of Pioneer Day, I'd like to share their story with you now...

James Kirkwood

 Art by Julie RogersDetermination
James and his family were among the first converts in Scotland in 1840. James was baptized by Elder James MacGregor on April 28, 1856, just prior to sailing for America. James’s father and two sisters had died in 1852, but his determined mother (Margaret) gathered her four sons and set her sights on Zion. 
James Kirkwood was 11 years old when traveling with the Willie Handcart Company.  He traveled with his mother Margaret , and his three brothers, Robert (age 21), Thomas (age 19), and Joseph (age 4). 
Robert and his mother pulled Thomas in the handcart as Thomas was crippled and could not walk. The task of looking over and caring for young Joseph, fell upon James.
One night Margaret put their only loaf of bread in bed with them to protect it from freezing. Joseph knew not to touch it, but was so hungry he began to pinch off small pieces. “The temptation was too great for such a hungry four year-old and by morning, Margaret and her sons’ day’s rations had disappeared.”
The most tragic and difficult day for the Kirkwood family and the Willie company was October 23rd. Joseph Elder described it as "an awful day...Men, women, and children were weakened down by cold and hunger, weeping, crying, and some even dying by the roadside. It was very late before we all got into camp" 

Margaret and Robert had struggled about 16 miles that day, pulling Thomas across Rocky Ridge in a fierce storm of wind and snow. Some families became separated in the struggle, including the Kirkwood family. James and Joseph were exhausted and fell behind the company.
They walked in the freezing snow all night and did not reach camp until the early hours of the morning. Joseph was so young that James carried him on his back. When the pair finally arrived at the campfire, James set his brother down, whom he had carried most of the way up Rocky Ridge, and collapsed from exhaustion and exposure.
Margaret was up waiting for her sons, keeping a small fire burning, but the warmth of the fire was not enough to revive James. Young James had faithfully carried out his task, literally giving his life for his brother. Later that morning, he was buried on the banks of the Sweetwater, in a common grave with three other children and nine adults.

Margaret wept at the loss of her precious son. Perhaps her tears, combined with the cold and strong wind, contributed to her subsequent blindness. On October 25th, Margaret Kirkwood wrapped her woolen shawl around her shoulders, bade farewell to the final resting place of her son James, and continued her trek to Zion. 

May we never forget the brave pioneers who crossed those plains, so long ago. 

We are all trekking. As we exemplify their courage, faith, determination, and love in our own lives, on our own personal treks, their sacrifice will not have been in vain.

James, this song is for you.


Happy Pioneer Day,

Barbara

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