- Jim Gemmell , letter to his sister, Jane, January 1, 1870. (Courtesy of Patricia Riddell Lococo.)
Friday, November 11, 2011
A Letter to Margaret Jane
It was New Year’s Day 1870. James sat down with pen and paper to write his annual letter to his sister, Jane. After an absence of thirteen months working on the railroad, he was ready for a rest, a home-cooked meal, and a peaceful homecoming around the hearth with Maria and the children. A bottle of Scotch whiskey also added to his reflective, nostalgic mood:
My dear sister Jane,
…know that warm harts and true friends still thinks of you and yours tho o’re the hills and far away…this gold Scotch…brings fresh to my mind the days of old lang-sine and many a pleasant reckolechion which can [never be] realized again for but few of the actors of our old play days remanes yet…I can think back on our Childhood with many a pleasant recklection which often drives the dull care of the present away.
He goes on to tell Jane that he was on the Bear River and far from the settlements when he received her letter informing him of the death of his brother William, who had died unexpectedly in April of pneumonia. “Jane, it was a hard blow…dear, dear brothers, they are both gone.” He reminds her that they are the only two left of the siblings that once bore the Gammell/Gemmell name. William, Robert and Andy have all died, as well as their half brother Fred Wylie. Henry Wylie is living in Massachusetts, and their half sister Mary is still living in Texas.
James had hoped to visit Jane in Houston before his return to Sheridan, but he had been gone from home long enough. The last time he had seen her was when they said goodbye on the Houston Bridge as James was leaving Texas in May 1857. Jane’s first husband, Captain James Andrews, was with them at that last parting, but he died the next year at age fifty. James had fond memories of “the Captain,” as they called him:
…the Captain, poore fellow, many a plesent reckliction I have of him, one of the most noble of Gods works…Generous to a fault. Yes Jane as I set and Look at your Pictor with that of your family and thinking of those that gone it makes me feel chills I almost fancey that I can feele the warm kiss and fond imbrace at the Last adieu on the Houston Bridge the holy warm kiss of A sisters love makes A deep impreshion upon the hart that never can be iraddecated the adieus of you all at that parting is the fondest treasure of my bosom and the greatest regreat at the present is that I can’t be one of your family circle on this annual festival of the new yeare and fill the invitation that William gave A year ago That dear Jane, would be one of the happiest days of my life but we know that today if we can’t mingle in your midst that we are still in your minds and wishes us as we do you A happy New yeare and many of them but as you say it can’t be A verry happy one for it must bring my recklections of the past and the recent [death] of many of our family will be sadly missed but so my dear sister is the destiny of man we must all shortly follow Let us be prepared for that Grand and certain event that we may meete it as our Brother did when you asked him if he had any thing to say to Jim he looked at you with A smile as much as to say, all is right.(1)
James also expresses his sympathy for William’s widow (also named Jane), for her grief and her loneliness: “Poore Jane, the loss of a bosom Companion that we have lived so many years with…is like tearing the sole from the body…I do regret that they had no Children to bare with her their burdon of greefe and Cheer her declining years.”
Thinking about his own mortality, James can’t help but feel grateful for the progeny that he will leave behind: “…with me Jane, it will be different for when this old hulk is layed Away there will be a lot left to laugh or cry as they may feele.” On this New Year’s day (1870) he can count eight children that are living with him in Sheridan: Orlin, Jeanette, Josephine, James, Charley, Andrew, Virginia, and Alice. “They are at present going to [school]…and Jane, I am proud of them. They are all smart and will pass in a Crowde.”
He doesn’t forget to mention his children who are not living in Sheridan. “My oldest daughter whose mother died in Salt Lake is married and got one Child. She has done well…no [polygamy] for her…I made my home at Liby’s [while working on the railroad in northern Utah] and had A great time with my Grand daughter.” And as for Hannah Jane’s children, “My other children with their mother home I left in Utah are all well. I have not saw them for seven years but hear oft from them.”
James adds a few concluding remarks. He states, “Mormonism is About played out… there is many divisions of them here.” (*) He mentions Eleanor Pratt, who is opening a school in Salt Lake City and doing well. And finally, he tells his sister Jane that he will shortly write to William’s widow, Jane, to Andrew’s widow, Hetty, and to his half sister, Mary Wylie Gregg. “Well [Jane] I have given you a long letter. Try and pay it back with interest. Give my Love to all. So says Uncle Jim Gemmell.”
(*) Note – If by “played out” James meant that Mormonism had run its course or reached its peak, and was then  in decline, here are the actual statistics: Church membership in 1869 was nearly eighty-nine thousand. Total membership at the end of 2010 was over fourteen million. The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is presently the fourth largest Christian denomination in the United States._____________________________