ALPINE, Utah — It’s a beautiful summer morning and 9-year-old Stella Shurtz fastens a bonnet under her chin and pulls her dress on over her petticoat. She meets her cousins outside to do the morning work: making candles, churning butter and hanging the freshly washed laundry out to dry.
After a couple hours, Shurtz and her fellow “pioneers” get in their cars and drive home to their air-conditioned houses, trading their bonnets and dresses for jeans and T-shirts.
Although Shurtz and her cousins are not real pioneers, they are descendants of Mormon pioneer John Rowe Moyle, the man famous for making the weekly trek from Alpine to Salt Lake City on foot to help build a temple of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Every week, his progeny don pioneer clothes and meet at Moyle Park, the site of Moyle's old house, to share the legacy of their pioneer ancestor with others.
“We decided that this is a way we can tell his story and have our kids know our ancestor’s story,” said Jody Shurtz, Stella's mother and a direct descendant of Moyle.
Jody Shurtz said the extended family started volunteering at Moyle Park eight years ago. Every Tuesday in the summer months, they meet to tell stories of their ancestors and host pioneer activities for visitors to the park. Shurtz said they have almost 20 descendants volunteering each week, along with dozens of visitors. The activities, which include candle making, butter churning and dancing, give visitors a chance to see how the pioneers lived once they reached the valley. They are a big attraction for church youth groups and family reunions.
Shurtz's goal to educate her children about their heritage has been successful. Her daughters and nieces run around the park, clad in bonnets and pantaloons, telling visitors the inspiring story of their "grandpa."
“He carved the temple thing, but he died before he could see it finished,” said Margaret Moffett, 8. “And he had a wooden leg. He had to walk probably like 100 miles to get to Salt Lake, and he wanted to walk for the Lord.”
“I can be just like him when I grow up,” Stella Shurtz said. “I want to be a carver.”
John Rowe Moyle's story is one of a pioneer who just kept on walking.
As told in the LDS movie “Only a Stonecutter,” Moyle and his family migrated from England in the 1850s and joined the first handcart company — the Ellsworth Company — to make the five-month trek to the Salt Lake Valley.
A few years after Moyle and his family had settled in Alpine, Moyle received news that he had been called to be a stonemason for the Salt Lake Temple.
Moyle accepted the calling without hesitation. Leaving the family horse at home to help with the chores, he decided to walk the 22 miles to Salt Lake City. He would leave at 2 a.m. on Monday to arrive by 8 a.m. with the other workers, stay all week at his son and daughter-in-law’s house in Salt Lake City, and then return home by midnight on Friday.
Moyle repeated this process faithfully for almost 20 years of his life, until one day in his mid-70s when tragedy struck.
Returning home early on a Friday to help with the chores, he was milking the cow, which had a reputation for being grumpy. It suddenly kicked him in the leg, causing a compound fracture and a serious infection. His leg had to be amputated with a bucksaw. He survived the surgery but was left unable to walk.
He is quoted as saying, "The temple isn't done, so I'm not done." He carved a wooden leg with a hinge for an ankle and strapped it to his stump right below the knee. After practicing walking around his house and yard, at age 77 he decided it was time to resume his sojourn to Salt Lake City to work on the temple.
Moyle carved many of the granite steps inside the temple, along with the inscription of “Holiness to the Lord, the House of the Lord” on the outside. And his legacy of dedication and faith lives on.
One of Moyle's descendants who volunteers at the park every week, Hannah Emery, said she has been able to use Moyle's example in her own life.
“This is kind of cliche, but the fact that he lost a stinking leg and he still hiked all the way over the mountain once a week because he wanted to be a part of that work, the fact that he only had one leg wasn’t going to stop him,” she said. “You can do hard things. I'm always like, 'If John Rowe Moyle can hike a mountain with one leg, I can do this.' ”
Her cousin, Emma Shurtz, who also volunteers every week during the summer, recently returned from a youth trek with her LDS ward. She said she was walking for her great-great-great-great-grandmother Phillippa Beer Moyle, John Rowe Moyle’s wife.
“It was cool to see what they actually went though,” she said. “Even though the Lord had asked (Moyle) so much to even trek across (the plains), he was still willing to trek to the temple, too. Even though his circumstances became more difficult, he was just as willing.”
All of the volunteers at Moyle Park are descendants of John Rowe Moyle except caretakers Peter and Gina Hart, who volunteered to live on site and set up the daily tours. Peter Hart said they used to come to the park for family reunions and loved it, so they decided to apply to be caretakers.
“This is a special place,” Gina Hart said. “This place draws you in. There’s a peacefulness here. I love telling (Moyle's) story, and I think there’s definitely a story to be told. I ask kids all the time, ‘Would you have done it if the prophet asked you?’ And they all say 'yes.' I love telling people they can do hard things.”
Moyle Park is located at 770 N. 600 East in Alpine. It is free to the public and open every day for tours, although they must be scheduled in advance. Pioneer activities with Moyle's descendants are on Tuesdays from 10 a.m. to noon throughout the summer months and are also free of charge. Visitors can call the Harts at 801-756-1194 to schedule tours or for further information.
Erica Palmer is a writer for the Mormon Times and Features department. Email: [email protected]