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Elaine Cole
Nikole Tobler, left, looks at a book about the history of Matilda Lawrence Price with her mother, Robyn McClellan.

Sisters in the Fallbrook 1st Ward of the Vista California Stake of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints had a summer soiree on Aug. 23 in which they were asked to submit a story about the first women in their families to join the church. The stories were put into a book for each of the sisters. Many had to go to their genealogy to discover the first woman who joined the church.

Nikole Tobler and her mother, Robyn McClellan, decided it was Nikole's great-great-great-grandmother, Matilda Lawrence Price, who was born in the small village of Bronsgrove, England, in 1821. Matilda's mother died two years after she was born, and her dad worked in a faraway city. She was left for her grandmother to raise. When Matilda was 15, her grandmother died. Matilda then became an apprentice dressmaker. She married Edward Price, and her married life was tranquil and happy, although she lost seven of her 15 children.

Matilda had always searched for a church that she felt was true. She had attended many but had never felt any were right. In the summer of 1842, she had a dream in which she heard a man preaching a strange doctrine. She said she had a feeling of contentment when she woke up and throughout the following week but failed to tell her husband about her dream.

In the late summer of that year, her aunt told her of a new preacher who was in town preaching a new gospel. She decided to go hear him, and when she got there, it was just like her dream. She went back to hear the missionary of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, and each time she went to hear him, a voice would come into her ear that would say to her "repent and be baptized." In December of 1842, they broke the ice on a canal and she was baptized.

Matilda also provided a room for the missionaries. One time when they got home from a meeting, there was a mob outside of their home, so Matilda told her daughter to rush the missionaries out the back. She went to the door and said, "Gentlemen, I am all alone, but two or three of you may come in and search my house if you do not believe me." Three of them came in and searched her house and found no one, so the mob dispersed.

When they were crossing the plains, Matilda walked 800 miles over the desert. She could have ridden in a wagon, but she gave up her seat to someone who needed it. One night when the company got to camp, they noticed that Matilda was not with them. Several of the men went to look for her and found her lying on the ground several miles back. Matilda was so exhausted from thirst and dust that she could not speak. It took several hours before swelling in her tongue decreased and she could talk again.

They arrived in Utah on Oct. 19, 1862. Matilda Price lived in Utah one and one-half years before she died on Jan. 21, 1864, three days after giving birth to her 15th child.

When Paige Hulan was ask to share her story, she went to her grandmother on her mother's side. She had heritage running back to the early Mormon pioneer times.

Her great-great-great-great grandmother Rebekka Hanson left Denmark for Germany on May 16, 1866, with her six children: Peter, 19, Kristine, 17, Lena, 15, Niels, 12, Annie, 9, and Mary, 7. They embarked on the ship Cavour from Hamburg, Germany. The trip was a tragic one with many of the 280 passengers dying of cholera on the way. They buried many of the dead when they got to New York. From New York they worked their way to Nebraska.

When they got to Nebraska, they joined the Lowry Wagon Train Company headed for Utah. It was then that her oldest son, Peter, died from cholera. Rebekka came down with the same dreaded disease eight days later and died. Her other children were distraught, especially 17-year-old Kristine.

As Rebekka lay there, she opened her eyes and spoke to Kristine, saying, "I have been permitted to return for a brief instant to you to beg you not to grieve for me and to tell you that you will be cared for. I have been taken to a beautiful place and had I known this I would not have mourned for my son Peter. Take care of your brother and sisters; be faithful to the gospel as long as you live. This brief return is to be a testimony to you and your children and your children's children." With these words, she departed once more. She and her son, Peter, were buried in a shallow grave on the plains.

Brigham Young sent a relief mule train out to meet the company 400 miles from Salt Lake City. The orphans were all loaded into a wagon, including Hulan's great-great-great-grandfather, Niels Rassmussen, and his four sisters.

Varna Elise Heesch wrote about her grandmother, Elise Zbinden, as the first woman to join the LDS Church. Elise said that two young LDS men were singing hymns in a tiny hamlet high in the Swiss Alps when her husband heard them and rushed home to tell her, "you must hear these boys sing. They sound like angels."

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Elise and her husband joined the church in the tiny hamlet of Guggesberg. The Zbindens sold their chalet and dairy herd so they could come to America and bring their large family with them. They brought Rose, who was Varna Heesch's mother, and came by boat through Ellis Island.

They crossed the plains on a train, and many people threw stones at them from roadways and railway crossings because they knew the train was going to Utah and had LDS people on it.

They settled in Logan, Utah, known as Little Switzerland where many other Swiss converts had settled. Here they started over and began farming to feed their family of 12 children.

Elaine Cole is an assistant media representative for the Vista California Stake in Southern California.