“Is This, by Chance, Your Party?”
Custer—Washington—Grout. The names came to me with such impact that I couldn’t ignore them. Yes, they did stir something in my memory, but it was the way they came that jarred me. I felt they must be important.
I had been accustomed to spending half an hour each morning reading the scriptures, and at the end of that study period I enjoyed a private talk with my Heavenly Father. On this particular morning I had finished reading and was kneeling in prayer when my thoughts were interrupted with those words: Custer—Washington—Grout! I tried desperately to ignore them and continue my prayer, but they persisted, so I searched for a pencil and paper and wrote them down.
As the day passed, I reflected on the possible reasons these words should keep coming back to me, and my thoughts went back to my childhood. My mother had died when I was three years old, leaving me and two older brothers in an orphanage for a time. Then I had been adopted by an inactive Latter-day Saint family, but my two brothers had to remain in the orphanage until they were old enough to fend for themselves. My foster parents could not afford to adopt them, too.
I did meet my brother at high school, and he told me that we had half-brothers and sisters living, but he didn’t know where or how many.
After I married, and my knowledge of genealogy grew, I developed a strong desire to honor the mother who had given me birth by doing her temple work. After diligent research I obtained from one of my brothers the address of a half-sister who might be able to give me enough facts to do this work. I wrote her in 1948 and subsequently did complete my mother’s endowments. This half-sister lived in Oregon—or Washington—I had forgotten which. And the little correspondence we did have had long since been forgotten.
The names that came to me during my prayer that Wednesday morning kept nagging at me, and I discussed them with my husband that evening. He had business in Portland, Oregon, and invited me to drive up with him. “If you could find your half-sister’s address, it just might be worth checking into,” he said. “We’ll be in Portland a couple of days.”
That evening I dragged a box of old genealogy records from the basement upstairs to the living room and emptied the whole thing on the floor. I was searching for a 20-year-old envelope with an address and the only word I could remember: “Custer.”
After the third futile search, I shoved the papers back into the box. “What’s so important about an impression anyway?” I asked myself. “Why can’t I forget the whole thing?” Then, on impulse, I emptied the box one more time. As I was putting the papers back, an envelope fell out, and the return address almost leaped out at me: “Vivian Grout, Custer, Washington.” I stared at the words with a feeling of complete disbelief.
A look at our atlas showed that Custer was almost on the Canadian border, and so far from Portland that it was ridiculous to think any of them would live near that city—if they were on the west coast at all. “You might as well forget it,” my husband said. “Even if they still live in Washington, the chances of a letter reaching them in time to meet us is practically nil.”
I realized he was right. So I went to bed and tried to forget it. But the words wouldn’t go away. The next morning I composed a letter to Vivian, explaining our trip and giving her our telephone number—just in case. I sent the letter out airmail Thursday night.
The remaining time before our trip was hectic, and by Saturday morning the letter had been all but forgotten. And then one of the children called me to the phone saying, “It’s for you, Mom, and it sounds like long distance.”
The words I heard that morning gave me the strangest feeling I have ever had. “Jeannette, this is Vivian, your sister. I received your letter just this morning. It was forwarded from Custer. We haven’t lived there for many years. We live in Bellingham now. I’ve been crying for three hours—I just knew some day you’d get in touch with me again. My husband says I can fly to Portland to see you.” I was elated.
Yet on the drive to Portland I had misgivings and wondered how Vivian and I would get along. By the time we arrived, however, I was skeptical we’d ever find out. The motel where I had told her we’d be staying had no vacancies—and the whole city was crowded. A roller derby and several conventions were being held and accommodations were hard to come by. We tried desperately to explain our plight to the motel owner, but to no avail. So we asked that if someone named Grout called for someone named Partridge, would they please tell them our location, and we left.
We called another motel recommended to us, but it was too high-priced. We called several others. No luck. Yet, strangely, each one recommended the higher-priced accommodations we had turned down. Finally, in order to have a place to sleep, we took the available room and telephoned our location back to the first motel. But I just knew that would be the end of it. They would forget all about it. We’d never know whether Vivian came or not—or whether she just couldn’t find us.
We did a bit of shopping, and then, on impulse, went to the desk clerk and asked if there was any message for us. The clerk said she had had no inquiry, but as we started out the door she called, “Wait a minute. Did you say Grout? I believe we have guests here by that name.”
We held our breath. “Yes, they called from Washington yesterday—Bellingham, I think—for reservations. They are in room 210, just three doors down the hall from you. Is this, by any chance, your party?”
I spent the following day with them while my husband conducted his business, and I learned a great deal about my family.
A testimony of the importance of genealogical work came to me through this experience, and perhaps this sharing of friendship and information will one day unite our scattered family.
Faith and Old Faithful
Summer jobs have several advantages for the college students fortunate enough to find them: money, work experience, and new friends. But the Latter-day Saint youth who work in the national parks or other holiday areas have an added blessing: they can be a part of an unusual missionary program. One such place is Yellowstone Park in Wyoming, where enthusiasm is high in the “every-member-a-missionary” program.
Spreading the gospel there is easy, according to Lynn Dudley of Rupert, Idaho. “When people find out you’re a Latter-day Saint, they come up and ask you questions. And we have to keep studying so we can answer them. In this holiday atmosphere, people are really open and honest, so it’s easy to talk to them.” Church members call it the “Spirit of Yellowstone.”
Two years ago Kathy Wipfler went to work in the park. After meeting a girl across the hall from her in the staff dormitory who was a student at Brigham Young University, she exploded, “Wow! Have I got some questions for you.” Apparently Kathy liked the answers, because she was baptized in Yellowstone Lake later that summer.
Last summer she was back again, and doing her share of missionary work. “Firesides up here are great,” she explained. “They really are right by the fire, and they’re an excellent setting for missionary work. Young people up here are always looking for something different to do.”
Apart from gospel conversations, there are many activities to spark an interest in the Church. Youth conferences are held once a month, each in a different area of the park. A Pioneer Day celebration is part of the July schedule. Last year there were 150 participants in a steak fry and mammoth game day.
Betsy Goddarn, who teaches spiritual living lessons in the Yellowstone Lake Branch Relief Society, says friendshipping at Relief Society and visiting teaching are prime methods of sharing the gospel. “Often young people go to beer parties just to be with others. We offer them a different way to meet people.”
James (Kimo) C. Lemes warned those teaching him, “You aren’t going to get me easily, because I don’t believe in organized religion.” Kimo (who says the word is a nickname he was given in Hawaii) first became interested when a nonmember dorm mate told him he “was just like one of those darn Mormons” after he had declined a beer party invitation. Another friend gave him a Book of Mormon and then asked him to read James 1:5 in the Bible. He attended a Church service and was impressed with the warmth and honesty of the members. “The spirit they showed me was beautiful, and the next thing I knew I was set up for the missionary discussions,” he said. “I asked God and Jesus Christ if this was the true Church, and I knew they wouldn’t let me down. I’d be sitting there thinking about a question, and before I could ask it, the missionaries would answer it.” Later that summer Kimo was baptized in Yellowstone Lake.
Linda Jordin of Tucson, Arizona, firmly believes that working in such an area is testimony-building for the individual. “I think it’s a kind of holding together. There are so few of us that we have to make our own atmosphere.”
Risking Death for the Prophet
“One morning I was standing at my gate when two men drove up in a two-horse wagon and asked me to get in and go home with them. About a quarter of a mile distant, on the way, one asked me if I had heard the news, and informed me that four men had come to Kirtland with a ‘Golden Bible,’ one of them had seen an angel. They laughed and ridiculed the idea, but I did not feel inclined to make light of such a subject. I made no reply, I thought that if angels had administered to the children of men again I was glad of it. I was afraid, however, it was not true. On my return home I told my wife what I had heard.
“The next day I was intending to go fifty miles south to the town of Suffield, Ohio, to pay some taxes, but my wife, thinking that one or two days would not make much difference about that, proposed that we should hunt up those strange men in Kirtland. … On arriving there, we were introduced to Oliver Cowdery, Ziba Peterson, Peter Whitmer, Jr., and Parley P. Pratt. I remained with them all day and became convinced that they were sincere in their professions. I asked Oliver what repentance consisted of, and he replied, ‘Forsaking sin and yielding obedience to the gospel.’
“I was baptized October 16, 1830 by Parley P. Pratt. … While in bed that night I felt a hand upon my left shoulder and a sensation like fibers of fire immediately enveloped my body. It passed from my right shoulder across my breast to my left shoulder, it then struck me on my collar bone and went to the pit of my stomach, after which it left me. I was enveloped in a heavenly influence and could not sleep for joy. …
“I held myself in readiness to assist the [Prophet Joseph] Smith family with my money or my personal services, as they might require, as they were financially poor. They were living on a farm owned by F. G. Williams in Kirtland, upon which there was a debt of four hundred dollars due which had to be paid within a stated time or the farm would revert to its former owner. They could not raise the money. I told the Prophet I could raise the money, and he replied that if I could, I should be blessed. … I owned 1200 acres of land lying south of Elyria, which was worth three dollars per acre. In order to raise the money then I would have to sell a portion of it for one dollar and twenty-five cents per acre. I did and paid Joseph the four hundred dollars. …
“In 1832 I sold my possessions in Ohio. … I joined in with a company led by Brother Thomas B. Marsh and arrived in Independence, Jackson County, on the 10th of November.
“When the mob first began to gather and threaten us, I was selected to go to another county and buy powder and lead. Soon after I returned, a mob of about 150 men came upon us in the dead hour of night. I was aroused from my sleep by the noise caused by the falling houses and had barely time to escape to the woods with my wife and two children when they reached my house and proceeded to break in the door and tear the roof off. … The next day we heard firing down in the Whitmer settlement. Seventeen of our brethren volunteered to go down and see what it meant. When these 17 men arrived at the Whitmer settlement, the mob came against them and took some prisoners. Brother David Whitmer brought us the news of them and said, ‘Every man go, and every man take a man.’
“We all responded and met the mob in battle in which I was wounded with an ounce ball and two buckshot, all entering my body just at the right side of my navel into my stomach. Several others were also shot. After the battle I took my gun and powder horn and started for home. When I got about half way I became faint and thirsty. I wanted to stop at Brother Whitmer’s house to lay down. The house, however, was full of women and children, they were so frightened. The mob had threatened that wherever they found a wounded man, they would kill men, women, and children.
“I continued on and arrived home, or rather at a house in the field that the mob had not torn down. There I found my wife and children and a number of other women who had assembled. They assisted me upstairs. …
“The next morning I was taken farther off from the road, that I might be concealed from the mob. I bled inwardly until my body was filled with blood. I remained in this condition until the next day at five P.M. I was then examined by a surgeon who … pronounced me a dead man. David Whitmer, however, sent me word that I should live and not die. …
“After the surgeon had left me, brother Newell Knight came to see me and sat down on the side of my bed. He laid his right hand on my head, but never spoke. I felt the Spirit resting upon me at the crown of my head before his hand touched me, I knew immediately that I was going to be healed. It seemed to form like a ring under the skin and followed down my body. When the ring came to the wound, another ring formed around the first bullet hole, also the second and third. Then a ring formed on each shoulder and on each hip and followed down to the ends of my fingers and toes and left me. I immediately arose and discharged three quarts of blood or more, with some pieces of my clothes that had been driven into my body by the bullets.
“I then dressed myself and went outdoors and saw the falling of the stars. … It was one of the grandest sights I ever beheld. From that time on not a drop of blood came from me and I never afterwards felt the slightest pain from my wounds, except I was weak from the loss of blood.
“The next day I walked around the field, and the day following I mounted a horse and rode eight miles, and went three miles on foot. The night of the battle, the mob took all my household furniture, and after my recovery I crossed the river to Clay County, leaving behind me a drove of hogs, three cows, and all of my crops, which I never recovered. …
“In the year 1851 I moved my family to Utah, settling in Springville.”
(Philo Dibble died in 1895 and is buried in Springville Cemetery. Diary submitted by Evelyn Warren Deamer, great-great-granddaughter of Philo Dibble. Sister Deamer lives in Yale First Ward, Salt Lake Bonneville Stake.)