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The Justus Wellington Seely family converted to The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in Iowa. They experienced persecution, and were part of the great Mormon exodus West in 1847. They arrived in the Salt Lake Valley in September 1847 by wagon, as part of the John Taylor company with the first three of their eventually eleven children. At last, the young family believed this new land in the shadow of the mountains far away from their enemies they would be able to build a permanent home, raise their children, and plan ahead for the future. Justus worked hard to clear the land for crop planting and Clarissa Jane was proud of her garden that provided fresh vegetables for her family. She even grew enough produce that her seven-year-old son could sell the surplus for calico fabric. Clarissa Jane had discovered a talent for weaving straw hats, which she sold. That income contributed nicely to the family finances. Two more children were born. But the valley was not to be their home for long.
In 1851 President Brigham Young issued a calling to five hundred families to assist in the settlement of San Bernardino in Southern California. This California valley is located inland from the Pacific Ocean and is a few miles from the modern-day city of Los Angeles. Justus and his brother David were among those chosen to help colonize. Here was another test of their faith, but they firmly believed that Brigham Young was the prophet on the earth, and that this was a call from God. Thus, they bravely left behind Clarissa’s aging parents, and their beloved Utah home in a wagon with their five young children, and became pioneers of two states – Utah and California.
When the family arrived in California, after many struggles and adventures, they had to spend several months living in a grove of trees while title to the land was obtained and a home could be built. One of the favorite family stories is that Justus chose to build camp under a large Sycamore tree. When it would rain, (and sometimes it rained very hard), the water would roll off of the tree branches and neither they nor their belongings ever got wet. This was certainly a tender mercy from the Lord.
The Seely’s eventually built a beautiful home. The settlers planted olive trees to provide the church with a fresh supply of consecrated oil, along with planting many other crops that sold well and establishing a thriving farming community. The Seely family began to enjoy peace and wealth and had a comfortable and successful life in San Bernardino. Three more children joined the growing family.
Now, just about the time our lives get peaceful and prosperous, we invariably have something come along that really tests us. The Seely family was no different. They had already experienced this many times. Certainly one would think they had sufficiently proven their faith. However a new and larger test was on the way. Word was sent from Brigham Young that all the saints in San Bernardino should return to Utah in order to present a united front against the United States Army who was marching from the East to quell a non-existent rebellion. Imagine the faith it took for these people to sell their beautiful home and property at a loss, and pack a few things into a wagon box. Once again they were leaving everything they had worked so hard to build, and head back to the desert plains of Utah. For Clarissa Jane, this included preparing eight children for the trek, including a baby less than 6 months old she was nursing.
Some of the San Bernardino settlers couldn’t do it. They did not have the faith to leave, and refused to return. I can’t say I blame them for feeling that way. I don’t know how I would stand up to that kind of test. Many became angry and bitter that this was being asked of them, and wanted to hold onto their comfortable life.
Justus and Clarissa Jane heard the news with heavy hearts at first, but they also knew that it was the right thing to follow the prophet and to return. One bright note for them would be to see Clarissa’s aging parents and other relatives who were living in Utah, and all of their former friends. It is interesting to read that they started out their return journey to Utah on Christmas Eve, Dec. 24th 1857. The history does not state why they left on that particular memorable date and so late in the season, however it must have been the soonest the large group could make arrangements and leave together, and they didn’t want to delay any longer. They arrived at Cajon Pass that evening and the air was chilly. They were not used to the cold. The children huddled around the campfire, and then something very exciting happened. The air was filled with fluffy flakes of snow. This was the first snow that the youngest children born in California had ever seen, and for the older children, it was a distant memory. It seemed like a miracle to all of them. Little five -year-old Bill stood in awe wondering: “where are so many white feathers coming from?” They all thought the snowfall was an appropriate Christmas gift, and they sang carols around the campfire all night, and cherished the memory for the rest of their lives.
Taken from: http://mormonsoprano.com/2008/07/24/pioneer-stories-past-and-present/