A Different Kind of Pioneer: my Greek Heritage.

My Great Grandfather Christos Tsournos brought two of his sons to America where they labored hard in the Magna mines and for a time on the railroad. Christos then returned to Greece with his son’s (my Grandpa Nick Chournos’) entire life savings of $600.

This puzzled us, to think that a father would leave his sons basically stranded in a country to fend for themselves at such a young age. My grandpa was only 16 when he arrived.

A Greek specialist LDS service missionary for family history recently shed some light on this story. When she heard it, she said, “No, you have it all wrong. Christos was trying to save his sons, not take advantage of them.” She told us that at the time Greece was in the middle of a string of wars. The Turks would often attack villages, kidnapping youth and pressing them into fighting against their own countrymen or be killed. When the young men were a recruit able age, they were pressed into fighting for the Greek army. Those who refused were sometimes killed in front of their families.

In this light, suddenly stories about hardships in Greece made more sense. I remember grandpa telling me that he was shot at once for picking an apple from a tree when he was hungry, but he didn’t mention the political climate. He often told me, “This is a great country. There is no better country on this earth.” Now I understand better why he said so.

My Grandpa Chournos could not return to Greece. He had no money. After years of hard labor, he began to herd sheep, and received sheep of his own for wages. He increased his herd and began homesteading to have range for his herd. Everything he earned, he put back into his business. He met my Grandmother on sheep business, when Grandma’s dad had been too sick to go out, so Grandpa went to their home. They courted and were married, and spent their honeymoon at the Utah Wool Growers Convention.

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Trailing sheep between summer / winter ranges

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As a young married couple

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Eccles Peak, Monte Cristo

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Interview picture from the National Geographic

Grandpa was an amazing and hard worker. In his life, Grandpa never did join the LDS faith, though he was supportive of my Grandmother’s LDS faith. He was so devoted to his ranch work that I could hardly imagine him thinking much about faith, but he was also hurt when some ‘member in name only’ Mormons ignored his legal claim to ground he owned. His life was threatened and the uncharitable party told him openly that he would never have the ground because he was a foreigner and a non-Mormon. Thankfully, the courts, and more honorable Mormons serving there preserved the rule of law and Grandpa’s claim prevailed.

There are many good men and women in his very large, mixed posterity. I learned much from this gruff man, who I worked for as a teenager. He had softened a lot in his old age when I knew him. He cared for his family as best as he understood how. I remember my sister saying how she didn’t know how she could pay her college fees, when he suddenly, without knowing her situation he insisted that she take money that enabled her to pay. He knew poverty himself and didn’t want any to suffer. I love my Grandpa Chournos, and his father Christos, different kinds of pioneers, but I claim them as part of my pioneer heritage. They prepared the way for me!

A Change of Heart: My Pioneer Ancestor Thomas Harper

In our society today, I would that people talk to each other instead of believing hateful things being spread to gain power over people’s hearts. When we take the time to know someone, blinding scales of distrust and prejudice fall from our eyes and we can have honest dialog. Thomas Harper’s story is an example of this. He was the first convert in my patriarchal line.

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He lived in Riccall England when the elders first arrived. Young Thomas heard that the missionaries of the Mormon church were in the vicinity, and he had heard so much bad about them that he and some other boys decided to rotten egg them and drive them out of town. They armed themselves and started for the place where they knew the elders were preaching. When they arrived in the vicinity, the elders were singing, and he said that such a feeling came over him that he could not bring himself, nor could the others, to do the thing they had come to do. So they slunk away home.

After that, Thomas made it a point to listen to them on his way home from work. Then, feeling he had found the truth, he had a desire to share it with the rest of his family. They heard it with horror and commanded him to stay away from ‘those wicked Mormons’. This he found impossible to obey. At age 22, he asked for baptism and after a year, feeling the pressures against the church began making preparations to migrate to Zion. In December 1852, he departed England on a ship with 332 saints on board. It was a hard voyage. They saw five deaths, five births and two marriages.

He migrated to Utah, settling in the Calls Fort area North of Brigham City. He became the bishop of the “Harper Ward”, as it was named for many years even after his death.

At one point, as a bishop, Thomas submitted himself to the requirements of a law against polygamy. He was imprisoned for having taken a second wife, received a large fine and spent 6-months in a bed-bug ridden jail. He and his cell-mate dedicated their cell as their “home unto the Lord”, and vowed to keep it clean and maintain morning and evening devotions.

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Thomas Harper (disputed) second to left, pictured with George Q. Canon of the first presidency (sitting in center)

He was known as a defender of the faith and one who cared for and shared what he had with others. I present to you my beloved ancestor, Thomas Harper.

Polygamy Sidenote: The Book of Mormon teaches clearly, “For there shall not any man among you have save it be one wife… For I, the Lord God, delight in the chastity of women… For if I will, saith the Lord of Hosts, raise up seed unto me, I will command my people; otherwise they shall hearken unto these things.” (Jacob 2).  I am grateful the Lord commanded for a brief, critical period of our church history to allow polygamy, as it enabled me to be born into a gospel home. The Lord withdrew this command in a revelation given in 1890. Since then the Latter Day Saints have only one spouse.

Pioneer Ancestor: Thomas Steed

It takes a faith-filled heart to realize the Lord’s promise that those with real intent will be shown the truthfulness of the gospel. Real intent to follow what the Lord teaches is at the core of revelation.

My relative Thomas Steed is one of these men with a life full of miracles. I share inspiring excerpts from his own writing.

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Thomas Steed was like a brother to my direct line grandfather, his cousin, Henry Steed. They each married one of two Reed sisters and worked with and cared for one another for many years. He wrote this life history four years before his death in 1910.

Great Malvern, Worchestershire, England, 1840.

CONVERSION: I was then in my fourteenth (14th) year, and almost a skeptic in regard to the religion of the day. In the Sunday School I had asked my teacher if anybody knew that God lived, and if Jesus was the Redeemer crucified 1800 years ago. He answered: “My boy, you ought not to as ask such a question, you ought to believe; I don’t know and I don’t know who could tell you!” The same question I asked of a number of other individuals who I thought could know, and received the same answer. That caused me to think that there was nothing in religion, if nobody knew anything about these things, and I made up my mind to have nothing to do with it.

One day of that summer of 1840, 1 heard that a meeting was to be held in my father’s house, (called Pale House) by Apostle Woodruff. My sister Rebecca gave an invitation to attend, saying: “One of the second twelve Apostles is going to preach this evening, and added that he had the same authority as the first twelve and that the Church was again organized as it was primitively.” I very much wondered at such statement, as I had never heard any intimation of the existence of twelve Apostles; but I said I would go and hear for myself. Accordingly I went and heard the first principles of the Gospel. A Gospel sermon preached in all simplicity and plainness, for the first time in my life. I was convinced in my mind that the principals he advanced are true, and; his closing words I ever remembered. He said: “My dear friends, if you will receive my testimony and obey the Gospel in sincerity of heart, you shall know that God lives and that Jesus is the Redeemer, and that he has raised up a Prophet in our day and restored the Gospel with the authority to administer in its ordinances; and if you will obey it in sincerity, you shall know as I know that God has spoken from the heavens again and organized His Church upon the earth with all its gifts and blessings.”

PROPHECY AND TONGUES. Those words sank deep into my soul; they have remained with me all my life. My parents were baptized together with my eldest brothers John and William, also my sisters Ann, Elizabeth and Rebecca. I followed the meetings around in the neighborhood and was convinced that the message sent to us was from God, and in the month of November 1840, I was baptized and confirmed by Elder Thomas a missionary sent to us from Lancashire. My two younger brothers, George and Henry, were also baptized later on; and thus, with the exception of my oldest sister Jemima, who was 32 years old and married to Thomas Rowley, our whole family joined the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. We attended the meetings regularly, being happy and joyful. I went on in this way for some time, without extraordinary manifestation; but at the close of one evening meeting, the presiding Elder, Samuel Jones, crossed the room to where I was standing, the meeting being dismissed, and laying his hands upon my head he said: “My boy, if you will pray earnestly to the Lord, you will receive from Him a wonderful manifestation as a testimony of the truth of this divine work.”

Six weeks later I met with the Saints at 10 a.m. at Jonathan Lucy’s home in Colwall; there were two rooms full; the service opened as usual with singing and prayer. When the presiding Elder, my uncle William Steed, was preaching with much power, he stopped all at once saying: “The Spirit has left me and rests upon someone in the room. Will they please get up? If they will we will have one of the greatest manifestations of the power of God that we ever had in this branch.”

The spirit said to me, “It is you, get up.” But I hesitated, as I was a bashful boy. I thought: “What can I say?” And the Elder stood pleading: “Will they please get up?” All at once a power put me on my feet, The Spirit of prophecy rested upon me and I foretold the gathering of the Saints of that Branch with the body of the Church then at Nauvoo, Illinois, and many things that the Lord was about to do in this land of England to gather up the honest in heart, and the judgments that would follow the testimony of the elders. When I thought I could sit down, I could not and suddenly the gift of tongues rested upon me. Then the interpretation was given (by Joseph Williams, said Aunt Sarah). Then I spoke again two or three times and the house was filled with the Spirit and the power of God, and every one present was thrilled with the convincing power of the Holy Spirit and which I could feel through my whole system, like fire shut up in my bones. It was then plainly made known to me that God Lives, that Jesus is the Redeemer, and that Joseph Smith was a prophet of the Most High God. Of the truth of this, a doubt has never crossed my mind from that day to this.

Thomas was led to an opportunity to earn money to emigrate to America in the employ of James Archibald Campbell. The Campbells liked Thomas, but he records,

“It had been discovered, by having the Book of Mormon in my room that I was of the LDS Church. Mr Campbell tried hard to convince meof my “errors” but failing in his own efforts, he secured some anti-Mormon literature for me to read. He also called on the Minister, Rev. Mason, to come to the Lodge and show me I was in error. I had to appear before them in the parlor and to answer questions about our doctrines. He asked me to explain what our people believed. I answered: We believe in the fullness of the Gospel, as taught by Jesus and His Apostles, to the primitive Church, organized with apostles, prophets, teachers, etc., as restored by the prophet Joseph Smith.  You mentioned a prophet. Go on and state what you believe about him.

At that moment, the Spirit of the Lord rested upon me, to testify of the truth. Those two learned men seemed as two school boys; all fear left me and I explained the restoration of the Gospel by an Angel who appeared to the Prophet of God. While I was speaking, the minister turned pale and trembled, and when I was through, he said; “Mr. Campbell, send that boy out of the room, we can do nothing with him.” Then in a calm voice the latter said, “Thomas, you can go now.”

Thomas earned money to migrate to America, going through New Orleans, and then by steamboat to Nauvoo, Illinois, where the prophet Joseph Smith met the group at the pier. There George Albert Smith warned them that they had come to the threshing floor. “And after you have been thrashed and pounded, you will have to go through the fanning mill where the chaff will be blown away and the wheat remain.”

This was true, for Nauvoo difficulties were already beginning. Thomas immediately joined the Nauvoo Legion because enemies had threatened to “destroy the city; to take our leaders prisoners and to drive us away. Martial law was declared, provisions became scarce and many suffered from hunger. We were required to stand guard night after night. I could sleep half the time in a barn, my gun for a pillow”.

Thomas recorded, “The day of the last speech of the Prophet Joseph Smith to the Legion, I stood at the foot of the platform. No man ever spoke as he did to my hearing; and never a company of soldiers more determined to live or die with him. After Joseph and Hyrum had given themselves up as prisoners, Governor Ford spoke to the Legion, saying that if we would lay down our arms, he pledged his honor and the faith of the State of Illinois that they would be protected and have a fair trial. Then he dismissed the Legion.

I went to work with Henry at the brickyard. Early in the morning of the 28th of June, 1844, a woman ran to us saying; “Boys, do you know that the Prophet and his brother have been martyred?” I stopped, astounded, immobile against a wall. Impossible! That could not be true! Alas! We soon realized it. All business ceased in Nauvoo; we were all bowed down in sorrow.

My ancestor, Henry Steed’s wife was very ill at the time. Thomas recorded that, “Sarah Layton Steed, Henry’s first wife, died of a broken heart soon after the bodies of the martyrs had been brought home. O thou man of God, whose delight is to instruct us in the glorious principles of Life! Thy Name and fame cannot be slain.”

Thomas moved to Iowa for a short time to earn money to emigrate once more. He worked with his cousins Henry and James and there found his wife Laura Reed. Thomas was one of the rescuers of the Martin and Willie handcart companies and served several missions. He was a faithful man, and shortly before passing on, had a vision of the hereafter that others recorded him as saying:

“I had a glorious vision of the Principles of salvation and how the faithful will stand with the Savior upon the earth in its glorified condition. It was shown me when I was awake, and the same as Job, I know that my Redeemer lives, and I will stand with Him on the earth in the latter days. It was made manifest to me that all the promises made to the faithful will be realized, fully realized. It was so grand and beautiful! Indeed, it is such a blessing to me to think of it! My soul is filled with joy and consolation! I could not help but shout: Glory to God! Yes, glory to God!”

 

Thomas Steed, 1826 – 1910, Church Historical Department: RES, M270, Z9C #10