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Twila Van Leer: The story of Kaysville's early families includes determination, grit

Anywhere you live in Utah (and large parts of surrounding states), the dust you tread likely was trod years before by intrepid pioneers. It was not for nothing that they called Brigham Young "The Great Colonizer."

During his leadership of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, from the arrival of the vanguard camp in the Salt Lake Valley in July 1847 until his death in 1877, he was busy scouting the land and sending small groups of settlers to make their homes wherever it appeared they could scratch out a living. More than 400 colonies created during his era , according to the Encyclopedia of Mormonism.

So, I've been living in Kaysville now for just over a year and what do I know about its beginnings? Not much, but I'm learning.

A new friend, Laurel Barton, has shared a book titled "The Grim Years," written by Claude T. Barnes, which follows the life of his mother, Emily Stewart Barnes, whose life from childhood on was woven into the very fabric of this Davis County town. The book was printed in 1964.

In the 1840s, Emily's parents, William and Mary Ann Marriott Stewart, were struggling for survival in Colmworth, Bedfordshire, England (much of Europe had been devastated by failure of potato crops). Both were converts to The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and they hoped to join like-minded emigrants, both to be part of the main body of the church and to escape the dire conditions in England.

They scrimped, saved and went without anything that was not absolutely vital to their existence for more than a year to scrape up the $19.40 sailing fare for each parent and another $19.40 to pay the half-fares for their two young daughters. Emily was 4, having been born May 3, 1846. They set sail on Oct. 2, 1850, and arrived in America with $5. When it was gone, William sold his watch to get them to St. Louis in preparation for the trip across the Plains. A shoemaker by trade, he used his skills whenever possible to eke out a basic living.

Their trip to Utah Territory included a harrowing experience with buffalo, which rampaged through their camp. When the men in the company were able to kill one of the beasts to provide meat, it helped take the scare out of the ordeal, Barnes wrote, based on recollections his mother had written on small scraps of paper.

While the Stewarts were slowly closing the gap between England and Zion, William Kay and Edward Phillips were setting up in the area that was to become Kaysville. The Stewarts joined them in the fall of 1851, living in the box of their wagon for their first few months in "Zion." Some others who joined the fledgling community dug rooms into the mountainsides and made "dugout" homes until they could do better.

Emily's job as a child was to bring the Stewarts' cows home from the communal pasture each day. She wrote that she wasn't afraid of Brother Hector C. Haight's bull, despite his reputation as a dangerous one.

There were, in fact, very grim years as the Kaysville settlers learned to cope with new weather and geographic realities and to coax a bare living out of the soil. Little Emily learned to plant flax, hackle it, comb it and spin it into linen threads that her father used in making his shoes.

The clothes they wore in the winter were the same clothes they had worn in the summer — and the seasons in between. In many instances, they wore the clothes they had been wearing when they left their homes to join fellow church members in Utah Territory. Patches multiplied on top of patches until there was nothing left to hold more patches. Even with a shoemaker in their midst, many of them worked and played barefoot.

On one occasion when she was a young lady, Emily pranced to a dance (probably in a log cabin so small the dancers had to take turns) in a pair of shoes her father had made from a dog hide. It rained en route and by the time the dance was done, her wet shoes had shrunk and warped until she was near crippled and in terrible pain trying to get home again.

They learned to live a lot like the Weber Shoshone Indians who frequented their town: on what the land provided. They ate Indian parsnips and sego lily bulbs, buttercups and mushrooms, watercress, choke cherries and acorns.

The Kaysville settlers in general got along well with their Native American neighbors, but in 1853-54, they were directed to build a fort. It began at the Barnes Bank Corner. (I must find out where that is, or was!) The east and south sides of the fort were completed, but not the north and west walls. The Stewarts pulled down their tiny cabin and rebuilt it inside the fort.

The Stewart family joined others in Kaysville to gather the crops of men who were called to prevent Johnston's Army from entering Salt Lake Valley in 1857. The men, including John R. Barnes, whom Emily was to marry some years later, marched off to harass the U.S. troops (successfully, by the way) singing "The Johnston's Army Echo Canyon War Song."

Emily and John married Nov. 29, 1869. She was his second wife in what was then the accepted LDS practice of polygamous marriage. They were sealed in the old Endowment House. She brought to the marriage a cow and calf, a hen and 12 chicks. Her first child was stillborn at seven months into the pregnancy. She had eight more, whom she described as "good and obedient children."

"The Grim Years" for the Stewarts and others who tackled their little wildernesses and produced thriving towns paid off. The family names still pop up in tales of success and worthwhile contributions. Late Gov. Henry Blood is one of the Barnes family relations, among many who point with pride to their Kaysville beginnings.