One night, young Sarah had been sleeping in the wagon box on the ground, in camp outside the new house. She woke in the night and cried out that Liz had pinched her. Liz denied it and Sarah got settled down. Later it happened again, until Green told her he’d lay down close to the wagon box by her to make sure Liz didn’t pinch her. All went back to sleep until they awakened by another scream, this time from Green! He jumped up and chased away a coyote! In the morning, one shot from James’ gun and there was no more coyote!
James and Agnes’ family set up the household and life was good on the farm in Utah. It wasn’t the same as a tobacco plantation that had provided them such luxury before, but here they could worship as they wished, and grow with the Saints in their new faith. The hurts from the past had begun to heal and they settled down with their three children William, Charles, and Sarah, and of course Liz and Green, members of the family too.
It was a bright Sunday in May of 1849, and the Flakes were all dressed up in the best Sunday clothes they had, sitting in church. From the pulpit, Bishop announced new missionary assignments from the Brethren. Agnes held her breath, but yes, James was called. This time he was to go to California to scout out a place for the poor Saints who would come by water to the West Coast. Once again, James was to be a colonizer and a friend to the poor and needy, as his son William would also become.
Agnes encouraged James to go on this mission and do his duty, though it had been a shock for her. She felt like she should be used to James being away from her. But he had tenderly stayed back from the original treks West, to care for her and the babies. She had so loved his help and watchful care. How great it had been here in Utah at last to farm together. Agnes focused on enjoying every day that they spent together, working the farm. She knew there were poor Saints arriving on the West Coast that needed his expertise. She tried once again to put her trust in the Lord.
October came, and then, the day of her James’ departure. Just before he left for the barn, to saddle up Molasses, the mule he’d be taking (he’d left the best of the animals to help work the farm), James called over William. He was now almost 11. “William,” said his father, “I am counting on you, son. You are to be the man of the family for now. Watch over your mother and your brother and sister. You know how to farm, and the Lord will bless you while I am gone.” James said a tender good-bye to Charles and little Sarah, not quite 3. Then he pulled Agnes close. “Lady Agnes,” he whispered, “my lovely bride. How I love you. How good you are, and true.” Tears streamed down both of their faces. They had been through a lot together. He had had so many assignments to help the Saints with their trek. But this seemed different, so final. Their embrace was extra long, and extra sweet. At last, Agnes pulled away. She knew she must be strong, and send her darling on this mission.
Then, crickets came to Utah in the winter of 1849-50, hundreds and thousands of them in a big dark cloud. Agnes and her family along with everyone else, were out fighting the crickets, trying to save their little crop. If they lost it, they would starve. But James was gone, and 11-year old William in charge. He had everyone, Agnes, Charles, and Sarah, and Liz whacking at those crickets as hard as they could, while Green kept the awful smoky smudge pots burning. As she whacked at those crickets as hard as she could with her hoe, while more kept coming, some even crawling up her dress, she suddenly started to laugh! “Mother, are you all right?” asked Charles. She had thought back to how as a little girl, she had tried to pick up a hoe in the backyard. Father had been furious! No daughter of his would handle a hoe! And Agnes had been sent inside to sit with the ladies and learn needlework!
The saints fought and fought until the people were falling from exhaustion and yet the crickets seemed to be increasing. At this point, the Lord sent another miracle. “Although it was a bright day, a shadow fell over the fields, and a noise of wings came nearer; they wondered if it was a new calamity. They looked up and the sky was full of gulls. For a moment they stood in wonder. Then the birds lit right at their feet, paid no attention to the people, but began picking up the crickets. The people stood in awe, and witnessed the salvation of the Lord.” The tame seagulls “filled their craw, flew to the stream, drank and disgorged and went back to their work, and never quit until the fields were cleaned. Then they flew away.” Agnes and her kin dropped to her knees in gratitude for this wonderful miracle, and they knew the Lord was watching over them. Today there stands in Temple Square, a seagull monument, the only monument built to honor a bird.
During his trip out to California, James and his company had their own trials. When they passed through what would later be called Death Valley, both the men and the animals were without water for a long time. When they couldn’t go any further, they unsaddled the horses, and lay down on the sand, thinking they would soon die. One man, Brother Rich, knelt down and told the Lord of their desperate condition and how much they were depending on Him. After his prayer, he went back to the other men, aroused them, and told them help was in sight. “They looked up at the bright, clear sky. He told them to spread their canvas out prepared to catch water. They looked at him, and he pointed to the West. There they saw a small cloud, so small it could hardly be seen. It grew rapidly, and they had no more than made their preparation, than the rain fell, and they caught all the water they needed for themselves and their horses. They prepared a meal and went on their way rejoicing in the great blessing the Lord had showered down upon them. The cloud had quickly disappeared, and the sun beat down on them as before. Only a few rods from their camp, there was no evidence of the life-giving rain.” (Osmer, p. 14)
It was later on this trip that one of the men lost the cinch for his spirited horse. James gave the man his, as he thought this man needed it worse, and went without. But later, his own mule got spooked and James was thrown from it. He called out “Brethren, lay hands on me!” But these were his last words; he died of a broken neck. It was a terrible tragedy, and Agnes was left a widow at age 30, with her three remaining children to raise.
Word reached her three months later, as she lay sick with tuberculosis. Agnes was stunned and heartsick with this terrible blow. Yet the Spirit was once again there to comfort her. Agnes knew of the great reward to one who gave his life for his friend, and she took comfort in the greatness of her James. He had given his means and his whole life since joining the church to helping his fellow men. With time, she picked herself up and determined to endure.
With the memory of the struggle with crickets still fresh in her mind, and recovering slowly from her TB, Agnes decided to leave farming. A group of her friends—converts from Mississippi—were leaving to go settle in San Bernadino Valley, CA. The weather was mild and the ocean air would be good for her lungs. So in 1851, Agnes and her children sold their farm and took yet another journey to California. It was another long, hard journey, this one across the desert. The family suffered greatly many times without water. Once when she stopped to have the wagon repaired, the family who had also stopped, who she had planned to travel with, gave up and turned back. But Agnes would not quit, and rushed to catch up with a group. Once when William was going for the hobbled mule, he was chased and nearly killed by a large pack of wolves. At first, he threw rocks at them, but soon there were so many that he couldn’t turn his back on them and had to back up to the mule, jump on it unhobbled, and race for camp. The other mule followed and would grab a wolf and throw it, then stomp or kick another.
Arriving near San Bernadino, going in on the purchase of lands took most of their means, but Agnes kept the wagon and mules to help make a living. At first the family lived in a fort with the other families. School for her kids was held under a sycamore tree. But her boys William and Charles set to making adobe bricks—in fact, their small adobe brick home was among the very first in the new community. Agnes was proud of her boys, and she made her kids a dried apple pie to celebrate! The house was great--except for the sand that blew in the cracks and drifted inches deep on the floor.
The Gold Rush brought many adventurous young men to the West Coast. Among them was one of Agnes’ brothers, Augustus. From Los Angeles, he heard of his sister being in San Bernadino, and came out to see her. He knew nothing of her since she had left Mississippi. At first, it had been a joyous reunion. “Gus!” she had exclaimed, so happy to see family again, and hear all the news. When he found that she was a widow and living in poverty, Gus begged her to return with him to the old home. They all had plantations of their own, and now that their parents had died, she could have all the land of their plantation, the home and all the slaves she needed to work it with. They would all be glad to welcome her back. She could live as a lady, raise her children as gentlemen and lady, give them all good educations, and never again know want or hunger or trouble. ‘All I ask of you,” he said, “is to give up Mormonism, and have nothing more to do with it.” For a small second Agnes remembered her old life, but then she looked Gus in the eye, ‘You don’t think you are asking much, do you?’ ‘No,’ he said, ‘very little.’ She replied, ‘It’s more than my life’s blood. I would rather wear my nails off over my washtub to support my children, than to take them away from the Church, for I know it is true.’ He asked, ‘Agnes, is that your answer?’ ‘Yes’ she replied, and he turned and walked away a few steps then turned and said, ‘Agnes, if you ever change your mind, write me and I will come for you at once.’ She answered ‘Brother, you will never get that letter.’ She never saw nor heard from any of her kin people again.
Agnes rejoiced as faith and testimony grew in her children. She knew her own health was bad, however, and didn’t know how long she could live. So she found a good family, the Lyman’s, who promised to take in her kids if she were to die. And she wrote as much in her will. She felt at peace knowing they would be in good hands with this family, strong in the gospel.
If I had to live with sand blowing in my home, or scrub filthy clothes all day in scalding water, I am afraid that my thoughts may have wandered to all I had given up for the gospel. Think of it: she gave up her life of luxury, her beautiful clothes, her jewels, her servants. She had left her family, had lost four sons and her husband. She had lost her beauty and her health. But not Agnes—according to William’s account, she refused to complain. She did not murmur, but remained faithful and true to her convictions.
What had she gained instead? Agnes did not get her Happily Ever After in this life, but her riches were of the heavenly, eternal kind. When she died a year or so later, just 35 years old, her dying words to her children told them of her strong, treasured testimony of the restored Gospel. She would be a Queen forever, with her beloved James. She gave her all, so that her children would also have those lasting blessings. D & C 132:19 tells of thrones, kingdoms, principalities and powers, and dominions promised to those who receive their temple blessings, and a “continuation… forever”. Generations honor her, as they would a queen. And look what she has given them--Us, who now number in the thousands and 10’s of thousands. The same eternal blessings, world without end, of being Kings and Queens forever, are also ours if we are loyal to the royal within us.
Family Group Record of James Madison Flake and Agnes Haley Love.
Osmer D. Flake, William Jordan Flake: Pioneer, Colonizer. 1933.
Roberta Flake Clayton, To the Last Frontier: Autobiography of Lucy Hanna White Flake. 1923.
Illustrated Stories from Church History stories. Promised Land Publications. 1973.