Before and After Mt. Pisgah -- Part 5
by Clare B. Christensen
Five Years in Iowa
When spring came to the saints in Iowa and Council Bluffs, “April conference at Winter Quarters was cut short. It had been planned to send as the first company just 144 select men to the Great Basin. Those plans were altered by circumstance. One man was sick. Three women and two children were permitted to go. A second company of whole families was to follow. F. Walter Cox had hoped to go in the second company but Brigham Young assigned Cox the job of inspecting wagons. No wagon was to start on the westward journey without Cox’s okay. (pp. 138-139)
Walter Cox’s willingness to follow the prophet meant that he and his families remained in Iowa until 1852.
“An ordinance was passed in Mills County against polygamy.” One man when confronted with problems from the law, disowned at least two of his wives.
F. Walter Cox began to suffer persecution. In the fall , he was summoned into court. He was told that it was not lawful for him to keep his two younger wives. Polygamy was a religious practice. F. Walter’s grandfather had fought in the Revolutionary War for religious freedom. Being an able speaker, he no doubt told the court so. He said, ‘I will never desert those two girls, so help me!’ Seeing his firmess, they agreed to leave him unmolested if he would move Cordelia and Jemima out of Mills County on or before January 15th. He went in search of a place for them to live. The only place that he was able to find was a deserted cabin in Carterville Pottawattami County.
“In compliance with his agreement, very early on the morning of January 15th, he loaded his wagon with provisions and some household things and hitched his team of oxen to it. Into the wagon were bundled Jemima, Cordelia and their five child, three years old and under. They began the journey toward Carterville, twenty-five miles away. The early morning was cold and they thought that they would freeze but after the sun came up it began to thaw and they were a bit warmer. It took them until nine o’clock that night to reach their destination.
“The building was not more than fourteen feet square. It was shingled with split timber about three feet long. It had one four light window. He hastily fixed it as comfortable as possible spreading straw for beds. That was how they spent the first night. The place had been used as a stable. In the morning, they took up the floor and cleaned under it. Then they washed the boards and put them back. F. Walter made shelves by using split timber for boards. Those he laid on pegs driven into the walls. His brother Amos Cox brought a stove for them. Across the end of the room, F. Walter built bunk beds. He used a pole across the room with a crotched stick. He made more split timber for slats upon which they put their straw mattresses. F. Walter cut some wood for a fuel supply and arranged with a neighbor man to cut more for them. F. Walter returned to Silver Creek to continue his preparations for the westward journey.
“The practice of plural marriage was new to the Latter-day Saints. Few were thoroughly convinced of its truthfulness. Fewer still, had a burning testimony of it. Among those not sure was Cordelia. One night she went to bed gloomy and depressed to the extent that she felt it was for her children only that she cared to live. She cried herself to sleep. She dreamed that there was to be a meeting and she went to it. The congregation was large. President Young spoke. He said that there would be a spirit go around the congregation to whisper comfort in the ear of everyone. Cordelia said, ‘It came to me -- that spirit -- and said to me, ‘don’t ever change your marriage conditions or wish it otherwise, for you are better of (as you are) than thousands of others’.’ It had been promised in her patriarchal blessing that, ‘The Lord by the power of His Spirit shall whisper unto thee comforting words.’ That dream was such a comfort to Cordelia that she never afterward had a doubt that plural marriage was right.
“They soon ran short on the wood that Walter had cut for fuel. Cordelia left the heavily pregnant Jemima with the children and made her way through the snow to the man who had promised to cut more for them. Walter had left them with a ow to keep them in milk. The cow took sick and they thought for a time they would lose her but she recovered.
“February passed. Walter Cox had promised to return but had been delayed. Jemima’s time had arrived. They needed help. Night came upon them. There was no one to go to but God. Cordelia said, ‘When it was bedtime we knelt down in humble prayer.‘ Soon a knock came at the door. They asked who was there. A woman’s voice answered, ‘a friend.‘ They opened the door and a strange woman entered. She was fully prepared with all the necessary things. There in the lonely cabin in the night of February 29th, 1852, Ester Philena Cox was born to Jemima. When the ‘kind woman’ had finihsed taking care of the new born babe and the mother, she departed. When F. Walter Cox arrived about three days later, all was well. He searched and inquired about the neighborhood to find the woman who had befriended them, but no one knew of a woman of that description.
“‘There are some experiences in life almost too sacred to tell’ -- those were the words of the writer’s mother [Maud Driggs Christensen] when she told the story to him. Maud had heard the story first hand from Cordelia.” (pp. 183-185)