Baby's burial to be re-enacted

A baby who didn't live to see Zion has brought together pioneers from two centuries along the Mormon Trail.

For little John McBride Belnap, the Mormon Trail ended almost as it began. The 13-month-old son of Gilbert and Adaline Knight Belnap contracted cholera, a common killer among the immigrants, during a camp epidemic and quickly died near the Salt River at what ultimately became Ashland, Neb.The year was 1850 and Gilbert and Adaline were anxious to join the Saints who already were gathering in the Valley of the Great Salt Lake.

Living in the temporary Latter-day Saint communities on both sides of the Missouri River, they anxiously prepared to join in the migration to the Great Basin. Twice, Gilbert was called on "grain missions" to procure foods from Missouri settlements. His history tells that he lost a coin toss to be among those who accompanied Brigham Young in the first party. He and Adaline settled in Fremont County where he worked as a carriage and wagon maker and at carpentry to earn money to provision his family for the trek west.

In May 1850 they were ready to go. He became a captain of 10 in the Warren Foote Company. A couple of weeks into their trek, a cholera epidemic hit the camp. Twenty-six of the 475 members of the company died, including John McBride. He took ill on June 21 and was dead early the following morning.

With no wood to build a coffin, the grieving father wrapped the remains of his son in a quilt and put him in his oak tool box. Buried on a hill overlooking Saline Ford, near the current town of Ashland, the toddler was left behind.

This April, the re-enactment of the pioneer trek along the 1,000-plus mile Mormon Trail will revive the baby's story and create a permanent memorial to him.

The long-abandoned grave is on the Oxbow, or southern, Trail, which is being followed by one of the groups participating in the 150th anniversary trail re-enactment. The trek began April 19 from Council Bluffs, Iowa, and will pass through Ashland.

On April 27, dozens of Gilbert Belnap's descendants will gather in Ashland to put a five-foot gray marble marker in the vicinity of the baby's final resting place. They represent more than 9,000 descendants born to Gilbert Belnaps' 17 children, the great majority of whom have remained active in the Church he espoused in the 1800s, said Bishop Brent Belnap. He is bishop of the Manhattan 3rd Ward for single members in the New York New York Stake and a past president of the Belnap Family Association, which raised the money for the five-foot tall marker of Utah gray marble that will commemorate John McBride's short life.

Bishop Belnap said he was inspired to seek out the approximate site of the baby's grave while traveling to the eastern United States to set up a home. While passing near Ashland, where his family research had indicated the baby was buried, he felt inclined to make this little pioneer a more recognized part of the family.

The story has a sequel. Part of the family recognition will be an oak carpenter's box as much like the one in which the baby was buried as it is possible to guess, Bishop Belnap said. It is patterned after one owned by Heber C. Kimball, now the property of the Church. An Amish worker in Iowa was commissioned to construct it. It will hold an antique Bible, a Book of Mormon, tools, newspapers and other artifacts and will become the Belnap family's own "time capsule," to be opened in 2097 as a reminder to yet later generations of the family's pioneer legacy.

The box arrived in Ashland in a wagon driven by some of the Church's new pioneers, Raymond and Pat Hailey, whose roots do not go back to pioneer times. He joined the Church while serving in the U.S. Navy in Hawaii years ago after hearing the gospel taught by a buddy. She was baptized four years after they married.

The couple, now residing in New Virginia, Iowa, are members of the Osceola Ward, Des Moines Iowa Stake.

The interweaving of lives and histories in the Ashland event is indicative of the ongoing spirit of pioneering, Bishop Belnap said.

Subscribe for free and get daily or weekly updates straight to your inbox
The three things you need to know everyday
Highlights from the last week to keep you informed