Frances Swan Clark: A Kindness Remembered

Many of Utah’s early pioneers did not remain long in the Valley. In defiance of counsel, some rushed to the California gold fields. A few went to California as missionaries, and the two apostles who founded a ranching colony in San Bernardino found no shortage of volunteers to accompany them there. Still more drifted west in apostasy or because they were unable or unwilling to dedicate themselves to the difficult task of building the new Zion.

In the fall of 1857, when fully a third of the U.S. Army was marching against Utah in what threatened to be a larger, more terrible repeat of the Missouri and Illinois persecutions, there seemed to be only two kinds of Mormons in California: those who packed their wagons in obedience to the call to return to Utah, and the hundreds who angrily rebelled against their former brethren, vowing to destroy the Saints in California and form a volunteer unit to attack Utah from the west. By February 1858, no Latter-day Saints remained in southern California.

Or so the mobbers thought …

Frances Jessie Swan and her family joined the Church about 1840. Frances married Heber C. Kimball in Nauvoo, buried their infant daughter in a refugee camp in Iowa, and emigrated to Utah in 1848. She left her husband and moved on to California with her father by 1853. There she married George L. Clark, who had followed a similar path from Nauvoo to Utah to California. The Clarks did not return to Utah when called home by Brigham Young.

Neither did the family of Alden Jackson. “Colonel� Jackson, as he was known in California, was a faithful supporter of the Church. For some reason, however – perhaps because he was a lawyer who seemingly defied the summons of Brigham Young – the apostates of San Bernardino assumed that he, too, had abandoned his faith. To the contrary, his family quietly watched for missionaries who trickled into San Bernardino on their return from foreign lands, and aided them on their way.

One evening in February, 1858, Col. Jackson was at work in his office in the front of a San Bernardino hotel, when he noticed a feeble, travel-weary man arrive. Something about the man, who had registered as “Dr. Osborne,� seemed familiar, but Col. Jackson could not place his face. He sent his card to Dr. Osborne and was invited into the man’s room.

He learned that Dr. Osborne was seeking some rapid transportation to Salt Lake City. Although he did not confide his business, he impressed Col. Jackson as a friend, and Col. Jackson promised to help him.

Within a day or two, rumors of Dr. Osborne’s plans began to circulate. Threats were made: “He … escaped lynching once, but the Vigilance Committee would not be fooled again,â€? read one newspaper.

The danger seemed so imminent that Col. Jackson asked the hotel landlord to distract a gathering crowd while he spirited Dr. Osborne out of the hotel by a side door, giving him no time even to snatch up his extra clothing and personal papers. He hurried Dr. Osborne to the farm house of George and Frances Clark, whom he knew could be trusted.

Frances Clark, aided by Caroline Jackson, began to prepare for Dr. Osborne’s journey. They baked bread and cake, and bottled milk, and gathered blankets and a thick comforter for his travel bedding.

“When I found out who was going to accompany him to Utah,â€? Frances wrote later, “I knew they were not suitable men to take care of a sick person. I proposed to the Doctor to let my husband go along with him, as … he had had a great deal of sickness in his own Family.â€? Dr. Osborne didn’t want to take her husband away from Frances, who would be left alone in a hostile land, but Frances insisted.

Finally, just before embarking on their dangerous winter-time dash to Salt Lake City, “Dr. Osborne� revealed that he was really Thomas L. Kane, the Pennsylvanian who had aided the Mormons during their desperate days in Iowa. He was hastening to Utah (via Panama and California) to act as peacemaker and prevent bloodshed between the Saints and the approaching federal troops.

Frances startled the group with her response: “Colonel Kane, you did not deceive me. I knew you the night you were brought here. You came to my wagon when my child lay dying, on the bank of the Mississippi river. I knew your voice, you could not disguise your eyes – did you think I could ever forget you?�

The men departed, and Frances penned a letter to Elizabeth Kane back in Pennsylvania, assuring her that her husband had safely reached California on his hazardous journey.

(originally published September 2005)

2 comments for “Frances Swan Clark: A Kindness Remembered

  1. What a story! I haven’t spent much time thinking about pre-Diaspora diaspora Mormons like the Clarks and the Jacksons. How interesting that both the Jacksons and the Clarks appear to have been able to reconcile their dismissal of Brigham Young’s request with their faith… any whispers in the records of how they felt about their status, Ardis?

    Also—and maybe you’re planning a post like this—I’d LOVE to hear more about what sort of records you looked at, what led you to them, what’s involved in producing a finished piece like this.

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