Pioneers in our families: Learning about vanguard company pioneer from both written and unwritten records

Tunis Rappleye was a wagon driver in the 1847 vanguard company, and his life shares an unwritten testimony of the gospel

Some Latter-day Saints have pioneer ancestors going back almost 200 years. Other Church members are themselves the pioneers in their families. In the weeks surrounding Pioneer Day July 24 — the annual celebration of the first wagon company entering the Salt Lake Valley — Church News staff members share stories of pioneers in their families, some from the 1800s and some from the 1900s. This is the sixth in the series.

My Grandma Avonell Rappleye would say: “All Rappleyes are related. It’s just a matter of how.”

Tunis Rappleye was part of the 1847 vanguard company to Utah with Brigham Young.
Tunis Rappleye was part of the 1847 vanguard company to Utah with Brigham Young. | Rappleye family photo from FamilySearch

It’s because of Tunis Rappleye, my great-great-great-grandfather. He was born in 1807 in Ovid, Seneca County, New York, which is about 50 miles southeast of Palmyra on modern roads. 

The Rappleyes, as the story has been retold and passed down, were French Huguenots who went to the Netherlands. From there, they were part of the group in the 1600s establishing New Netherlands, as New York is known today. (And through the years, Rappleye has been spelled a variety of ways.) 

In upstate New York, Tunis was the only member of his family to join The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. He was baptized by Shadrack Roundy on Nov. 20, 1832, according to biographies on FamilySearch. 

He moved to Kirtland, Ohio, where he met Louisa Elizabeth Cutler, and they were married by the Prophet Joseph Smith on Jan. 17, 1836. Births of their children show them living in Missouri, Illinois and later Iowa and Nebraska, as they moved with other members of the Church. 

The monument to Tunis Rappleye in the Kanosh, Utah, cemetery.
The monument to Tunis Rappleye in the Kanosh, Utah, cemetery is shown in June 2013. He was a wagon driver in the 1847 vanguard company. | Christine Rappleye

In 1847, he was a wagon driver in the vanguard pioneer company with Brigham Young. A few weeks after arriving in July, he was in the group instructed to head back to help bring others to Utah — which Tunis did, and he brought his family in 1853. His son David Franklin Marcellus Rappleye is my ancestor. 

The Rappleyes eventually settled in Kanosh, Utah, and Tunis was buried there. It’s there that his descendants have placed a monument to his life. 

Much of what is known about Tunis comes from others — birth, land and Church records and mentions in others’ journals, among other sources. As I’ve learned more about the Church’s history and the conditions many faced, I’m trying to see beyond the dates and places and see Tunis’ and Louisa’s testimonies, strength and determination as they continued faithful through many trials and left a great legacy for those with the name of Rappleye in their family history.

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1847 trek: Day-by-day summary of vanguard company's last weeks on the trail
Pioneers in our families: Church News staff shares stories of their families’ pioneers
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