Elvira Stevens Barney

Faith of an Orphan Girl

Elvira Stevens Barney was born March 17, 1832. “When twelve years old Elvira heard the gospel preached by a Mormon Elder, and from that time daily prayed in secret till the Lord gave her a testimony that satisfied her heart. She was baptized in 1844, and went with her parents to Nauvoo, where her father died after a brief illness, on October 4th. In the January following Elvira and her mother were preparing for the journey across the wilderness, parching corn, etc.; but her mother, overcome by toil, grief and exhaustion, died the 6th of the month. Their farm, household goods, etc., were sold, and the five children received ten dollars each to fit them out for a western journey. Elvira parted with her twin brother, fourteen years old, with tears in his eyes, and she never saw him again. He died six years after. Elvira was taken some twenty-five miles across the prairie among strangers, and there spent the winter. There were no children for her to mate with, no one to feel tenderly for the lonely, quiet aching heart of this orphan girl” (“Dr. Elvira S. Barney,” in Representative Women of Deseret, comp. Augusta Joyce Crocheron [Salt Lake City, UT: J. C. Graham & Co., 1884], 76–77).

In 1846 the early members of the Church dedicated the temple in Nauvoo. Like Elvira Stevens, many of the Saints had already crossed the Mississippi River and left Nauvoo to begin their journey to Winter Quarters. “Few of those already on the trail to Winter Quarters returned for the dedication, but one who did was fourteen-year-old Elvira Stevens. Orphaned in Nauvoo and traveling west with her sister and brother-in-law, Elvira crossed the Mississippi three times to attend the [dedicatory] services, the only member of her wagon company to do so. ‘The heavenly power was so great,’ she wrote, ‘I then crossed and recrossed to be benefited by it, as young as I was.’ Elvira had not yet received the temple ordinances, but the spiritual power of the edifice itself and the circumstances of its dedication remained prominent memories of her . . . life in Nauvoo” (Carol Cornwall Madsen, In Their Own Words: Women and the Story of Nauvoo [Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, 1994], 23).

Years later Elvira wrote about her experience on the back of a postcard that depicted the Nauvoo temple in 1846 and then later when it had been left in ruins.

“The temple appears as I last saw it in 1846. I left there after returning three times across the Mississippi River (the only one from our company that was westward bound) to witness the dedication, 1st, 2nd, 3rd days of May 1846, I then only 14 years, an orphan. The Heavenly power was so great I then crossed and recrossed to be benefitted by it as young as I was.” —Elvira Stevens