Aurelia stood on the bank of the Mississippi River and looked back across it. Never before in her eleven-and-a-half years had she been west of the wide river, and now here she was in Iowa.
She shivered in the February cold and tucked one hand into her coat. With the other, she held George’s hand. He was only six and was her responsibility. Ellen, thirteen, and nine-year-old Catherine walked ahead with seven-year-old Howard; little Lucy rode in the wagon with Mama, who was still very sick. But Aurelia and George stood and looked back across the river to Nauvoo.
Nauvoo! How could they bear to leave their beautiful home? All was cold and gray across the river, but Aurelia remembered how the city had looked when she first saw it.
It was already a bustling, growing city when the Spencer family arrived. Thousands of people lived there, and more were coming every day. There were hundreds of log cabins and many brick homes. People were building, buying and selling, planting, working everywhere! Aurelia had never seen so many people—and most of them were Latter-day Saints.
Her family had rented a room until Papa could build a house for them. He had chosen a lot on a hill above the town, a little northeast of where the temple was being built.
Their lot, like most in Nauvoo, was big enough to plant a large garden and some fruit trees. Ellen and Aurelia had helped Papa plant the trees that first spring—peach and apple trees, Papa said, although they looked like twigs to Aurelia. She had asked Papa why he planted the tiny trees so far apart.
“They are small now,” he had said, “but if we want them to grow large and give fruit, they will need space to grow.” Aurelia had watched them grow until last year they had finally blossomed and borne fruit!
All of Nauvoo blossomed in the spring. The mud in the streets was deep enough to suck the boots right off your feet, but flowers and fruit trees bloomed in every yard. Aurelia wished she could see spring come to Nauvoo again. But the Prophet Joseph was dead, and soon his beautiful city would be deserted.
George had been too young to remember the first time he and Aurelia met the Prophet. Aurelia remembered it clearly. She had met a real, living prophet! He had come to their home to visit, and he limped very slightly when he walked, just like Papa! Papa told her later it was caused by the same illness that had caused his limp—typhus fever, which had settled in his leg.
Lucy was born there, and when Joseph saw her, he exclaimed, “Oh, what a little black head!” Even as a baby, Lucy’s hair was thick and dark. Joseph had laid his hand on Lucy’s head and blessed her. Aurelia had loved the Prophet from that moment. He was God’s own prophet and the most important man in Nauvoo, yet he loved little children and liked to be with them.
Aurelia shivered as she remembered the terrible day two years later, when Joseph and his brother Hyrum were killed by a mob in the nearby town of Carthage. Aurelia could scarcely believe that anyone could be so wicked as to kill a kind man like the Prophet.
Aurelia’s Papa had taken her to the Mansion House to see Joseph’s body. A great crowd was there, all crying and crowding to look. Aurelia couldn’t see, so Papa had lifted her up to the window from where she could see Brother Joseph one last time. That had been nearly two years ago.
Things had been hard since Joseph’s death. Nauvoo wasn’t allowed to use its police force, so bad men did what they wanted. They burned farms outside town and caused trouble in Nauvoo. Then some of the Latter-day Saint boys formed the “Whittling and Whistling Brigade.” When one of the bad men came to town, the boys followed him everywhere, whistling and whittling pieces of wood with their pocketknives. There were too many boys for the man to fight, and they wouldn’t let him out of their sight long enough for him to do anything bad, so finally he would leave and look for mischief someplace else. Howard and George couldn’t wait to join the brigade, but they were only six and four then, and Mama wouldn’t let them use her knives to learn to whittle. They practiced whistling, however. Finally, though, even the brave boys couldn’t keep the bad men away.
Aurelia squeezed George’s hand and pointed to show him the temple across the river. Even on this cold, gray day, the tall building seemed to shine on the hill. She remembered when its roof had caught fire one day. She lived only a block away and had run with a bucket of water to help fight the fire. It had been put out, and work on the temple had continued. Just two months ago, Mama and Papa had gone to the temple to be sealed together. Mama said that that was the hardest part of leaving Nauvoo—leaving the temple they’d worked so hard to build. It still wasn’t quite finished. “Heaven only knows when we’ll have a temple again,” Mama had said. “We’ve been blessed to have this one.”
Aurelia looked to the left of the temple to see if their house was visible from here. She couldn’t see it. But she did see Mary Ann Stearn’s house. Mary Ann and her cousin Ellen Pratt were Aurelia’s best friends. They had gone to school together and played together. Aurelia stared at Mary Ann’s house, but she knew that Mary Ann wasn’t there. She, too, was going west with her family. Aurelia wondered if they’d meet again on the way to the Rocky Mountains. Oh, she hoped so! It was hard leaving everything and everyone to travel to a strange land. Why shouldn’t the bad men have to leave instead? It wasn’t fair to be forced to leave friends, homes, gardens, orchards, the temple!
Thinking of Mary Ann made Aurelia remember something else. At the last general conference, in October, Mary Ann’s stepfather, Parley P. Pratt had spoken to the Saints. People had crowded into the temple to listen. Elder Pratt spoke about how hard the Saints had worked to build a beautiful city and temple and how hard it was to leave it all behind. But the Lord had other plans for this people, Elder Pratt had said. He explained that a small nursery could produce many thousands of fruit trees, but that as they grew, they must be transplanted. They need room to grow if they are to produce fruit. He promised that the Lord had a place for the Saints to grow, where they wouldn’t be crowded and where they would enjoy liberty and equal rights.
Aurelia knew that it was true. She thought of those tiny twigs of fruit trees she and Ellen and Papa had planted. She had seen them grow and blossom and produce sweet fruit. It was hard to leave Nauvoo, but it was time to be transplanted to a place where she and her family and all the Saints could grow strong and bloom.
Aurelia murmured, “Farewell, Nauvoo,” and turned with George to face the west. It would be a long journey to the Rockies, but she had her family and the true gospel. She was ready.
In February 1846, more than three thousand Latter-day Saints fled nauvoo, crossing the Mississippi River into Iowa. Many left without adequate food and shelter, and suffered terribly from cold and hunger.
One of those Saints was Aurelia Spencer. When her family had traveled only thirty miles, Aurelia’s mother died. The grieving family returned to Nauvoo to bury her before continuing their journey west.
Aurelia’s father, Orson, was called to preside over the Church in Great Britain, so she, her three sisters, and her two brothers spent the next winters in Winter Quarters with only kind neighbors to keep an eye on them. During the first, harsh, winter, their horse and seven of their eight cows died. Most of the money their father sent never reached them, and they suffered great poverty.
They left for the Salt Lake Valley in May 1848 with President Brigham Young’s company. In the Valley, they lived in a log room their uncle built for them, until their father’s return.
In 1851 Aurelia married Thomas Rogers. They settled in Farmington, sixteen miles north of Salt Lake City. There Aurelia gave birth to twelve children, only seven of whom lived to adulthood.
Concerned because Farmington’s boys were often getting into mischief, Aurelia asked Eliza R. Snow, the sister of Lorenzo Snow, if there should not be an organization to help little boys grow into good men. Sister Snow relayed the suggestion to the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, the governing body of the Church following the death of Brigham Young. John Taylor, the President of the Quorum, gave his approval, and Sister Rogers was called upon to organize and serve as the president of the first Primary in the Church. She wisely decided that girls should also be part of the organization, and the first Primary was held in Farmington Ward on August 25, 1878.