Who’s That Pioneer?: Reconstructing a Life Using the Church History Library (Part 3 of 3)

by Jay G. Burrup, Church history specialist and archivist
27 October 2020

In his previous post, archivist Jay Burrup detailed Franklin K. Shedd’s journey to the Salt Lake Valley. Here, in the final chapter of a three-part series, read what became of Franklin as he made a life on the frontier.

At the end of my last post about Franklin Shedd, I noted how I’d found a letter written by Franklin Shedd in January 1848. Judging from the letter, things were going well for Franklin; he had settled in the Salt Lake Valley, where he was planning on obtaining a city lot and building an adobe house. He had purchased his first cow and was saving to buy another. Inspired by the local American Indian tribe’s ability to live off the land, he was trying to learn which wild plants in the region were edible.

Sadly, young Franklin K. Shedd apparently became confused about which plants’ roots were nutritious and which were poisonous. Lorenzo Dow Young, who was visiting Jedediah Grant’s house on February 22, 1848, lamented in his journal, “Br houd [probably Simeon F. Howd] called to the dore [door] and toled [told] us that Br shed was on the perarie [prairie] in a fit we ran to him as soon as posabl [possible] and he spoke twice we carr[i]ed him to the house and did all we co[u]ld for him he lived about half anour [an hour] then died it was one of the most melonclly [melancholy] seanes [scenes] ever past [passed] through.”1

Several other Salt Lake pioneers noted Franklin’s untimely death in their diaries: James Smithies, Daniel Spencer, Patty Sessions, and Eliza R. Snow all recorded that Franklin died on the 22nd. Snow stated, “F. K. Shed died suddenly suppos’d by eating poisonous vegetables.”2

In a conflicting record, Levi W. Hancock claimed that Franklin had been out hunting wolves and fell off his horse, critically injuring himself. Hancock’s account of rushing to Franklin’s aid with Lorenzo Dow Young and Jedediah M. Grant included the detail that among Franklin’s last words were “I know you, Brother Grant”3 as the men carried him to the Grants’ home, where he died soon thereafter.

At the time of his death, Franklin was living with his friends Willard and Melvina Harvey Snow, whose twin daughters, Helen and Ellen, had been born two weeks earlier on February 8. Tragically, baby Helen died the same day as Franklin, and several pioneers’ diaries suggest that she and Franklin were buried in the same grave. The diarists remarked that the day following the two deaths was the most frigid day the pioneers had experienced that winter.

The exact location of the pioneer cemetery containing the two was lost to public memory over time; however, the cemetery was rediscovered in early July 1986 when excavation began for buildings on Block 49 (200 West between 200 and 300 South) in downtown Salt Lake City. Subsequently, the pioneers’ remains were reinterred at This Is the Place Heritage Park.

Franklin K. Shedd’s grave at This Is the Place Heritage Park. Note the two white headstones in the lower-left corner of the photograph. It is suspected that Franklin’s is the larger of the two. (The smaller headstone is thought to belong to an infant named Helen Snow, who died on the same day as Franklin, hence the headstones’ close proximity.)

On February 28, 1848, Eliza R. Snow composed a poem lamenting youthful Franklin’s sudden passing. Near the end of the poem, Eliza revealed that Franklin and a young woman, unmarried at the time of Franklin’s death, were in love:

But there is one whose affectionate heart

More acutely than others feels the smart

A fair maiden mourns in her loveliness

O’er his loss whom she felt her life would bless

Yet the morn of the resurrection is near

When in greater perfection he’ll re-appear;

Yes—Franklin and Mary Jane will meet

Where happiness will be more complete.4

The poem reminded me that I had seen a Mary Jane in the list of people to whom some of Franklin’s possessions had been entrusted before the items were to be sold at auction: Miss Mary Jane Dilworth, a 16-year-old pioneer schoolteacher who had traveled in the same wagon company as Franklin. The items’ value seems to confirm her close relationship with Franklin: an accordion, a silver watch, two brass candlesticks, three books, a purse of copper coins, a rug, 6 issues of The Ladies’ Repository (a Methodist Episcopal Church literary magazine), and a small “likeness” (possibly a daguerreotype image).

(What happened to Franklin’s beloved Mary Jane? It appears she overcame her grief and, about nine months after Franklin’s death, married 25-year-old Francis “Frank” Asbury Hammond. Subsequently, she served a mission with Francis in Hawaii. Mary Jane passed away in 1877 at the age of 46, shortly after the birth of her 12th child.)

Despite the lengthy list of Franklin’s personal possessions—including a jack plane, an auger, a garden hoe, several books, a clarinet, bullet molds, a carpetbag, two muskets, a powder flask, a hair mattress, blankets, seeds, house logs and poles, a fur hat, and numerous articles of clothing—the auction of his belongings only netted a little over $67. Hard cash was in very short supply in Salt Lake Valley at the time, even if hard times were not.

Levi W. Hancock also composed a poem mourning Franklin’s death. A copy found its way into the papers of Susan Fairchild Noble Grant (widow of Jedediah), and it is preserved in the Church History Library. The last stanza of Hancock’s poem held a hopeful message for Franklin’s friends:

And now for him his friends do mourn

Although one day he will return

Receive his body from the dust

And reign on earth with Christ we trust.5

Eliza R. Snow concluded her tribute to Franklin with a similarly comforting perspective:

Therefore dry your tears & weep no more

For with him the toils of this life are o’er

In the regeneration he will come

Cloth’d with glory, pow’r & immortal bloom.6

It often takes many sources to reconstruct a life history; fortunately, as seen in this post, the Church History Library contains many records to help you do it. Begin by searching in our catalog, or ask a specialist for help with your research interests.

Top Image: Salt Lake City in 1850, as drawn by Samuel Manning (image taken from Manning’s American Pictures Drawn with Pen and Pencil, 1876)