MILTON, Iowa — Brian Benson of Sioux Falls, South Dakota, called his invitation to the dedication of Richardson's Point in Iowa one of the most exciting pieces of mail he had ever received.
Benson’s ancestor, Edwin Sobieski Little, was buried in those woods next to 15-month-old James Monroe Tanner, who died of “brain inflammation” on March 17, 1846.
President Brigham Young had halted the migrating pioneers of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, at Richardson’s Point on March 7, 1846, due to heavy rains and mud. During their 12-day stop some 35 miles west of Nauvoo, Illinois, three babies were born, Willard Richards became postmaster for the moving camp, and Young organized wagon companies for the westward trek, according to history.lds.org.
William Pitt’s brass band performed in Keosauqua, Iowa, and earned just under $55 for the camp.
Despite miserable weather, the pioneers made the best of their situation. Eliza R. Snow found joy in a slice of fresh bread, while the men earned food by chopping wood for settlers.
Edwin Little had fallen into the icy Mississippi while helping Young get his wagon across. Unable to recover from a resulting illness, Little died March 18, 1846, at age 30.
For decades, rumors circulated about Mormon graves in the woods. They were even marked by family organizations in 1985. Yet it was the Klodt family of Milton, Iowa, that decided to honor the pioneers by helping the non-profit Iowa Mormon Trails Association commission an official marker designating Richardson’s Point as part of the Mormon Pioneer National Historic Trail. They approached members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints about dedicating the site.
President Marlan Hansen of the Iowa City Iowa Stake recognized an opportunity to express gratitude to local residents through community service. Public officials, neighbors, IMTA members and relatives of the Littles and Tanners were invited to attend, including Benson.
Tyler Melling came from Iowa City to sing during the dedication program — only to find out his ancestor, Benjamin Franklin Stewart, was associated with Richardson’s Point.
Stewart’s wife, Polly, was sister to George Richardson, who owned at property Richardson’s Point. The Richardson and Stewart families had homesteaded about 1,200 acres along the Fox River.
In 1842, Polly was gravely ill with “lung fever” and when two traveling elders asked for shelter, the Stewarts allowed them in. Finding Polly ill, they offered a priesthood blessing. Bradt Klodt recounted the story during the dedication program, detailing Polly’s miraculous healing and conversion.
Benjamin joined the church two years later. In fact, he was one of the 142 men chosen by President Young to travel ahead from Winter Quarters, Nebraska, to the Salt Lake Valley in 1847.
Fast forward to Saturday, March 29, 2014.
The overcast weather felt much like 1846, but Iowa City Stake families fanned out early to 10 different service sites in Bloomfield, Iowa, to do service before the dedication. Some visited residents of the Bloomfield Care Facility. Others brought food donations to the Lord’s Cupboard food pantry. Volunteers cleaned up cemeteries, swept winter debris from around the historic Davis County courthouse, washed windows, and collected garbage at the McGowen Recreation and Wildlife Area.
“The crew I had was a great bunch of people and we had a great time. There were a lot of brambles and it got to be kind of a game for them getting back in there to get out the trash," said John Schroeder, executive director of the Davis County Development Corporation. "When we were leaving, one young girl looked at another and said, ‘This is a lot of fun!’ I just looked at them and said, ‘Well, if you think this was fun, then I’ve got a lot to learn!’”
Two youths scrubbed the Richardson’s Point headstones clean of winter mud and planted flowers for the dedication. More than 250 people gathered to hear Sister Susan Easton Durrant, who is currently serving a mission in Nauvoo with her husband, George Durrant, share the history of Richardson’s Point.
Klodt reviewed the property’s history and Leon Wilkinson identified individuals who have championed Mormon Trail History.
President Eric Andersen, first counselor in the Iowa City Iowa Stake Presidency, offered the dedicatory prayer, invoking the Lord’s Spirit to “rest strongly upon this place. Let that Spirit touch those who visit here, that they may perceive the sacred character of the sacrifices and covenants of those who tarried here that they may turn their own hearts to Thee and dedicate themselves to Thy service.”
Upon being interviewed by local ABC affiliate, KTVO, President Andersen explained the event “helps us remember a huge effort and sacrifice made by a whole people who were forced to leave a very comfortable city they built and head off into the wilderness."
Klodt had one final message: “Do spread the word. If anyone wants to stop, they are more than welcome.”
Richardson’s Point is located at 11251 County Road J40, Milton, Iowa, about 12 miles east of Bloomfield, Iowa.
Susan Sims serves as Des Moines Iowa Coordinating Council director of public affairs. Her email at [email protected].