A handcart pioneer who lost her feet to frostbite while crossing the plains, yet remained faithful to the gospel throughout her life while suffering pain and poverty, was honored Aug. 3 with the unveiling of a sculpture and monument here.
President Gordon B. Hinckley, first counselor in the First Presidency, dedicated the monument to Ellen (Nellie) Pucell Unthank on the campus of Southern Utah University. Sister Unthank lived and raised a family in Cedar City after her arrival in the Salt Lake Valley. (Please see related story on page 4.)The life-size statue, sculpted by Jerry Anderson of Leeds, Utah, depicts Sister Unthank as a young girl before she began her trek to the Salt Lake Valley.
Some 1,000 spectators attended a program in the Randall L. Jones Memorial Theater on the campus. Led by the university bagpipe band, they then proceeded to the monument site, where sculptor Anderson unveiled the monument and President Hinckley offered the dedicatory prayer. The principal speaker at the program was the Baroness Caroline Anne Cox, deputy speaker of the House of Lords in the British Parliament. Other speakers were Gov. Norman H. Bangerter of Utah, Pres. Alan N. Garfield of the Cedar City Chapter of the Sons of Utah Pioneers, and university president Gerald R. Sherratt. Kenneth P. Rasmussen, national SUP president, conducted the program. The Southern Utah Choir performed musical numbers.
"I know it's hot here today," President Hinckley remarked before he gave the prayer. "That's good. It's good to suffer a little on an occasion of this kind as a reminder of those who suffered so terribly, so deeply."
He invited his listeners to forget the heat and move back in time to 1856, to the uplands of Wyoming, where the Pucell family and others were enduring hardship.
"They had been months on the way," he said. "Now, before them, they were faced with nothing but snow, cold, frozen clothing, inadequate fires. They could not find wood, and for weeks and weeks they endured such privation and hardship.
"Nellie's mother became sick, and her father put her in the cart and tried to pull her. Can you imagine pulling her in a cart of this kind right here?" He referred to an original handcart from about 1856, which owner Julius H. Geilman of the Ogden SUP Chapter pulled in the procession to the monument site.
Continuing his narrative, President Hinckley said: "And while crossing a river, [the fatherT stumbled and fell and was soaked to the skin, and his clothing froze. He died not long after that from starvation and exposure, and she died five days later. What a place to die, in that bleak and desolate area, the ground too hard to dig a grave, one's remains placed in a snowbank, a whited sepulchure as it was, where there was nothing but snow, drifting snow moved by the heavy winds that swept across that high plateau.
"She and many others suffered. This girl herself witnessed the death of anywhere from 135 to 150 of that company. She knew something of the meaning of sacrifice and of the cost of fidelity to a cause and purpose."
The Baroness Cox spoke at the invitation of Wendell J. Ashton, monument committee chairman and a former president of the England London Mission. While on a speaking tour in the United States in 1987, the baroness visited BYU. She was so impressed with the spiritual atmosphere on the campus that when she returned to London, she sought out Pres. Ashton and regional representative Arch L. Turvey.
The baroness said that as she was researching the life of Ellen Pucell Unthank in preparation for her talk, the name Pucell had caused her some reflection.
"The British and the French have engaged in relationships of all kinds, from fierce conflict to close friendship, and even to intermarriage," she said. "So I could not help wondering whether there might be some ancestral connection between this daughter of England, whose courage we are celebrating here today, and a famous daughter of France, whose real name was Jeanne La Pucell but who is better known as Joan of Arc. Both share not only the name Pucell, but of course they also share similar spirits. For both showed forth that quality of endurance which enabled them to triumph over adversity and to remain faithful witnesses to the ends of their lives."
Gov. Bangerter said: "If we can believe Harold B. Lee and David O. McKay and many other leaders who have spoken to us over many generations, the important things are done within the walls of our home. And according to my brief reading of this history, Nellie Unthank was a person, because of her difficulty, who rarely got outside the four walls of her home, and yet did a great work in doing that which was most important."
He speculated that if Nellie were present she would say it is not necessary to honor her. "And it won't move her any further in her station in the eternities. But we do it because we all need to be moved on a regular basis, and we need to honor people who took care of the important things in life, who took care of the basics. We need to do it as a reminder to ourselves of what is truly important, and that's to take care of ourselves and our families and those with whom we work and associate on a daily basis."
The Utah Legislature in a joint resolution proclaimed Aug. 3, 1991, as a day of praise for Sister Unthank. A copy of the resolution was presented at the program to Joseph William Millett of St. George, Utah, a descendant of Sister Unthank.