Alma Elizabeth Comes to America

By William G. Hartley

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    Six-year-old Alma Elizabeth Mineer looked around the dark insides of the huge sailing ship, where a flickering oil lamp served as a night-light. In the shadows she could barely see some of the other passengers asleep in their berths.

    She liked to listen to the night sounds. As the ship gently rocked from one side to the other, its big wooden beams creaked and groaned. Mothers sang softly to quiet their children. Although Alma could not always understand the words, she discovered that English and German and Swedish and Norwegian and Danish babies all cried in the same noisy language! Sometimes before falling asleep, Alma felt sad thinking about her home and friends and village in Sweden that she had left behind.

    During the daytime Alma Elizabeth liked to climb up the stairs and walk out on the deck. At the front of the ship she would look and look, trying to see America. But day after day all she could see was the Atlantic Ocean in every direction.

    Alma Elizabeth liked to watch the huge canvas sails puff full with the wind. She wished she could climb up the ropes like the sailors did. New friends often invited her to play games with them. Occasionally she tried out new English words. When they reached Utah, she knew she would have to speak English instead of Swedish.

    Sometimes Alma Elizabeth crept into the part of the ship where the sailors lived. She became a favorite of the crew’s cook. He often gave her special treats, and she liked that because her family’s meals were not too tasty. They could cook only five meals each week. And the sea biscuits were so hard that she had to stomp on them with her shoes to break them open.

    For five weeks in May and June of 1861, their ship, the Monarch of the Sea, sailed across the Atlantic. When it finally docked in New York harbor, little boats took the Latter-day Saint immigrants ashore. They all stayed overnight in a giant hall called Castle Gardens.

    That night while the children tried to sleep on the floor of the building, Alma Elizabeth’s brother August discovered some sacks of brown sugar right next to him. One had a small hole in it and was spilling its contents. Alma Elizabeth and August had tasted no sugar or candy during the ocean voyage. So August found a spoon. Soon they had had a grand feast. But by morning they were sick!

    Alma Elizabeth, with her family and the other Saints, took a long train trip to Iowa. There they joined wagon trains going to Utah. She walked the entire way, except when she got into a wagon to cross a deep river.

    Alma Elizabeth’s father had trouble walking. In Sweden he had been a concert violinist and an orchestra director. Then rheumatism crippled him. Slowly he learned to use his hands and feet again, but it was difficult and painful. Elizabeth’s father was unable to keep up with the wagon train, and he insisted that his family go on ahead, promising to catch up with them.

    Her father struggled on until he spotted a light. It was a camp of soldiers on their way to the Civil War. One soldier spoke Swedish. When they learned that Alma Elizabeth’s father was a musician, they found a violin and he played it for them. In the morning they took him on horseback and caught up with the wagon train.

    When Alma Elizabeth’s family reached Utah they settled in Mount Pleasant. As a pioneer she worked hard. She learned how to card and spin wool, weave carpets, milk cows, knit and crochet, make gloves out of buckskin, weave hats out of braided straw, stack hay, and bundle wheat.

    One time she collected wheat left in the fields after the harvest and sold it for $10. With some of the money, she bought ten yards of calico for her first party dress.

    The day Alma Elizabeth turned eight years old she saw some elders baptizing people in a nearby creek. Her folks did not know about the baptismal service, so she ran home to tell them. With their permission she, too, was baptized in the creek. Afterward she walked to the meetinghouse to be confirmed. But after the confirmation, she felt very tired and fell sound asleep on a seldom-used church bench where people could not see her. When the meeting ended everyone went home. Alma Elizabeth’s family became concerned about her long absence, and they sent her big sister Helen to search for her. She found Alma Elizabeth still asleep in the now empty meetinghouse.

    On a hot July day when Alma Elizabeth was ten years old, she went to a ward meeting. The people felt very discouraged because their crops needed rain. President Brigham Young came to the meeting, and she listened carefully when he rose to his feet and spoke. He promised the people that if they would listen to his words, the Lord would open the heavens and send the rains.

    The words hardly left the prophet’s lips when Alma Elizabeth noticed the gathering clouds. Soon they filled the sky, and rain poured down in torrents. On that day she received a great testimony of the gospel that she remembered all her life.

    Courtesy of the Bettmann Archive

    Courtesy of London News; Stanford University Library

    Courtesy of Frank Leslie’s Illustrated Newspaper, New York Historical Society

    Courtesy of Harper’s Weekly; Stanford University Library