A Gold Star Mother’s Letter: “I am not converted to wars”

A Gold Star Mother’s Letter: “I am not converted to wars”

Lehi Larson Smith1, son of Emma Larson and Jesse N. Smith, died in the Argonne Forest in France on October 28, 1918, while fighting as a soldier in World War I. His mother Emma later said that she knew she had lost her son from the moment it happened, and that there was no surprise when the official word came.


While transcribing a letter Emma wrote to her granddaughter Dorothy 23 years later, I received additional insight into Emma’s feelings about losing a son to war. Written in 1941, against the backdrop of an escalating war in Europe and North Africa, the letter reveals the loss Emma still felt about her son Lehi, and her admission that her desire to protect her family was greater than any loyalty she felt toward her country.

…our children are our most precious jewels, the more we have the richer we are. I am not willing to raise boys for cannon fodder. I have furnished one but not any more. I am not looking for war in this country should it come to us I have grand children but am not willing for any of them to go. I may not be very loyal to my country. I am not converted to wars.

While we may have the names and dates that history provides, nothing compares to one’s own words to reveal what we cannot ascertain by mere historical facts. These small insights give me greater understanding of Emma, who is my 2nd great grandmother. History must not be names and dates alone, but must be enhanced with the truths and stories that only these sources can give.

Here is a full transcription of the letter. Original spelling intact. Punctuation added for clarity. 2

Mesa Arizona
Feb 26 1941

Dearest Dorothy,

How much I have appreciated the Christmas card and the  photos of the three lovely children. I hop you will pardon my for neglecting to write to you and thank you for remembering me. I have felt like I wasn’t worth remembering. Your mother sent me one of your letters you had writen to her in Heber. It was very interesting to me you seem to be a very busy woman. I think you must have a wonderful good man to help. You couldn’t do so many things and care for your little flock too. Cleona is like you & good helper in the Joseph City ward. But our children are our most precious jewels, the more we have the richer we are. I am not willing to raise boys for cannon fodder I have furnished one but not any more. I am not looking for war in this country. Should it come to us I have grand children but am not willing for any of them to go. I may not be very loyal to my country. I am not converted to wars. Hitler may think he is an angel, I think headquarters is in Germany for the devil.

I can’t help but that Ellsworth could get a school down here in Arizona they pay more here and then I could see more of you. I thot this winter in Price I wouldn’t be here very long myself I cannot brag much myself yet but I am gaining any some I am not loafing quite as much as I did. Your mother done a good part by me in Snowflake which I have appreciated very much. We have been rained on so much down here that it is getting tiresome today it is trying to quit I hope it will, the citris show is on this week they are having a great time some of the men is growing beards they all expect the prize. If I was to be judge not any of them would get it that I have seen the fruit is nice and cheap too. I would like to send you a sackfull but they may hold it up on the line.

We have all kinds of flowers here so it isn’t very cold. I have geraniums blooming all winter growing outdoors on the north side of the house. I hope you young folks can keep well when you are well you can work. I would love to run in and see you all.

I have felt so proud over the way you made the letters on the envelope. I put it where it could be seen & callers pick it up & ask who done that. My granddaughter. And too I could show the great grands.

Love to all
Grandmother Smith


Rear: Lorana, Lehi, Caroline, George. Seated: Don, Emma, Hyrum. Front: Myrtle, Aikens

  1. While serving a Mormon mission in the Northwester States, Lehi received a call from Montana Draft Board to serve in World War I as a soldier in the United States Army. Before departing for his military duties he asked Drucilla McKay, a young lady acquaintance in the mission field, to marry him. She accepted and the pair were married in the Salt Lake Temple on March 20, 1918. They had only a few days to share their marital bliss before he reported to Camp Funston for military training. Lehi Smith was soon shipped overseas where he served with the 89th Division for several months in the St. Mihiel Campaign. On Oct. 28, 1918 he suffered a direct hit from an artillery shell. He was not yet 28 years of age when he was killed in the Argonne Forest in France.
    From “Life Sketch” written by Lehi T. Smith, a nephew to Lehi Larson Smith. Material obtained from sketches by Hyrum Smith, Lorana Smith Broadbent, and Seraphine Smith Frost in The Kinsman, Vol. XVIII No.2, March 1964.
  2. Letter from the Dorothy Smith Clark Archive.
Banana Bread: A Recipe for Healing

Banana Bread: A Recipe for Healing

I can’t throw away old bananas. Sometimes I’ll toss them, unpeeled, in my freezer. But throwing away old bananas is like stomping on this little voice inside of me saying, “someone needs banana bread”. So today, despite a number of pressing tasks, I start pulling stuff out of the pantry to make banana bread.

Sometimes I fancy myself a baker, and over the years I’ve experimented with many recipes. Too eager to cast off my mother’s recipe as dated or simplistic, I’ve tried banana breads with made with butter, sour cream, nuts, or spices, but they have all fallen short. Perhaps it isn’t just the recipe, but what banana bread has come to represent.

I don’t know when my mom started taking banana bread to people. We accepted that banana bread was made in quadruple batches. She would sour some milk in quart bottles, grease and flour what seemed like all the loaf pans we owned, and stir up the creamy batter in a big yellow bowl. I loved to sneak a taste of that tangy and sweet batter. I remember seeing the foil-wrapped loaves lined up like little train cars along the countertop.

Then she’d drive around the neighborhood, without celebration, and place these loaves in peoples hands. Over the years, my mom had built a reputation. Neighbors brought bags of mottled bananas to encourage her generosity. Whom she chose to receive was a mystery, at least to us. But my mom has a gift for knowing when people need bread. My mother knows if I cried three days ago by looking at my face today. She shows a keen sensitivity to others, paired with a disregard for her own self. My mother, even on her most difficult days, took banana bread. Answering the quizzical looks, my mother just said, “I just thought I’d bring you some bread.”

Of all the cakes I could perfect, of all the pies I could master, of all cookies I could dream up, the highest honor I could achieve would be to perfect the baking—and spirit— of my mother’s banana bread. So thanks to her for teaching me that someone, somewhere, needs some banana bread. Someone needs to heft the warm loaf, lay it on their countertop, peel back the creased foil wrapping and plunge their knife into the moist, warm bread and eat half the loaf, still standing. Someone, somewhere needs this bread: soft and sweet, with a nice dark edge, unadorned, unpretentious, perfect—just like my mother.

Dorothy Chamberlain

½ c. shortening
1 c. sugar
1 ½ ripe bananas, mashed
1 egg
1 c. sour milk (the milk w/lemon juice or vinegar variety)
2 c. flour
1 t. baking powder
½ t. salt
1 t. baking soda

Cream shortening and sugar. Mix in egg. Stir in mashed bananas. Stir in sour milk and dry ingredients. Pour into greased and floured pans. Bake at 350 for one hour. If bread seems to be browning too quickly, cover loosely with foil.

What’s in Your Closet?

What’s in Your Closet?

Closets are wonderful places. As a young child, I hid in them during games of hide and seek. I remember quickly pulling the folding doors closed, crouching down, catching my breath while my eyes adjusted to the dark. As I grew older, I hid things in my closet: little collections of memorabilia, my diary, and secret notes. At the end of the clothes rack were my favorite clothes I could not bear to part with. My parents had stuff in their closets, too: old tennis rackets, favorite purses, candy bars, and birthday presents.

When I think back of how I began my interest in family history, it began with a closet. A few years ago, I was at my parent’s home looking through a closet in a spare bedroom. I can’t remember what I was looking for, but something on the top shelf caught my eye. It was a red and black Nike shoebox, with “letters” written in black marker on the outside. “These are mother’s,” my mom said. “I got them after she died.” I opened the box, and we sat on the bed, opening letters. Unfolding their delicate pages, I was mesmerized by the handwriting, the words, and the photos that sometimes fell out as we opened them. These were my grandparent’s love letters. I couldn’t put them down.


There were more things in that closet. A hand-beaded dress made by my great grandmother June Bushman Smith. My great grandmother Ella Clark’s eyeglasses. My grandfather Ellsworth’s toy drum. I didn’t know it that day, but something in my heart changed. I became determined to not only rediscover who my ancestors were, but to find a way to share these discoveries with everyone.

Over time, this determination evolved into a path that led my cousin Kimball Clark and I to found Kindex, an online archive and transcription tool that enables families to collaboratively gather, index, and share their records. It hasn’t been an easy path, but whenever I think of giving up, I think of that red and black shoebox full of letters that inspired me so many years ago. I also think of the millions of other closets that hold family treasures. How many photos, letters, journals, and heirlooms will be lost or forgotten? How many family records will be thrown away by those who inherit our closets? Our own history is at risk. Will you be the one to rescue it?

Chasing Butterflies: When Clues Lead to Stories

Chasing Butterflies: When Clues Lead to Stories

In my grandmother Dorothy Smith’s  collection of photos there is a picture of her standing alone, posing on a hill with a snowy mountain in the background.


When I first saw this photo, I turned it over to see if any information was written on the back. I was lucky to find a description in my grandmother’s own handwriting.

University Hill Provo
April 1933
I was going to catch a butterfly but it flew away and left me.
Springville Art Exhibit


I was so pleased she had written the date, place, and occasion of this photo. But who took it, and why was she there? I knew she kept a diary from that time, and because it is transcribed, I was able to search for those dates and words. Here’s what I found from the day the photo was taken:

Sunday April 23, 1933

Went by Orem Electric to annual Springville Art Exhibit with T.S. Knaphus, sculptor. Spent 3 hours in Provo, sight-seeing on our way back to S.L.C. Took kodak snaps on B.Y.U. campus.

This was a very interesting day for me and rather an outstanding one I suppose, inasmuch as I was so kindly favored and well treated by one so prominent in his sphere.

En route he gave me valuable instructions and criticisms on art. Urges strongly that I begin to busy myself with “oils” and harness the talent he believes lies dormant. (I hope to do this soon, as I have been so inspired today)

Left Knaphus at 8 P.M. to finish the day with Ellsworth. Youth does have its preferences.

What started as a photo and ended with a diary search reveals a snapshot of Dorothy’s life from the early 1930’s, where Mormon sculptor and artistic mentor Torleif Knaphus and husband-to-be Ellsworth Clark contended for Dorothy’s affections. It was a very pivotal time in Dorothy’s life as she was mentored by influential artists and courted by multiple suitors. To connect an image with a specific page from her diary in history adds rich context to his photo and lends a greater understanding to who our grandmother was.

Sometimes searching for stories in our family records is like chasing butterflies: we never know where the path will lead us, and catching them is elusive. With Kindex, our goal is to make that path easier through the ability to search and share family records. Had I been required to manually page through these diaries (shown below) to find that story, it would have been far more difficult and time-consuming. So here’s to catching butterflies—and finding stories!


A Sample of Dorothy Clark’s Diary Collection

Family History Karma: Helping One Another on the Journey

Family History Karma: Helping One Another on the Journey

 A young family set out on a 22-hour road trip to go and visit family in a faraway state.  Their goal was to make the trip in two, long days.  There would not be time for long stops or sightseeing along the way.  Several hours into their journey they came across a stranded motorist needing help changing a flat tire.  Despite their tight schedule, when the family saw the car with a flat tire, the dad quickly pulled over, helped change the tire, and then proceeded on their journey.
About a week later on the return trip, this time the young family found themselves stranded on the side of the road.  A kind man pulled over, helped the family get their car running again, and sent them on their way.  Helping our fellow travelers get to their destinations safely can result in good karma.
1935 - Colorado Springs, CO - Broadmoor - Rozetta Koch (2)
Rozetta Koch
Family history can be like a road journey in many ways.  We have research goals, project goals, and usually a large list of documents to research or scan, places to visit, and discoveries to make in our limited time.  Why stop our own journey to help someone else on theirs?  Because karma works in genealogy journeys too!
Here are two small examples of how taking a few minutes to help someone else might enrich your own work.  First, in scanning old family photos, I kept coming across photos of non-relatives.  Obviously these people were important to my ancestors but I had no clue who they were.  Fortunately, names and places were written on the back of the photos and in one case, even their birth dates!  I decided to spend a few minutes searching for this family on FamilySearch. If I found them, I could upload the photo and maybe someday it would be discovered by their posterity.
So that is what I did.  It only took a few minutes to correctly identify one of the children in a photo in FamilySearch and then another few minutes to upload the photo. I then went back to scanning my own family photos and forgot all about the picture of the non-relatives.
Several months later I received an email: “Where did you get this photo of my grandpa?  We’ve never seen a picture of him as a boy!”  I explained where I got the photo and my ancestor who had it.  A few days later I got a beautiful email from an 85 year old lady, the youngest child in the photo.  She went on about how she loved my great-grandparents and how they were her second parents growing up.  She spent much time in their home as her own mother was very sick and could not take care of the children.  This kind lady offered insights into the character and life of my great-grandparents!  It was a treasure to me!  Good karma returned to enrich my own family history.
The second example is also with a non-relative photo.  A quick search in FamilySearch did not turn up the family I was looking for.  So I turned to Google to start looking for obituaries.  I found one!  I then searched for a phone number or email of one of the children in the photographs.  She was just a few years old back in 1944.  After a few wrong phone numbers and dead ends, I located an email address and sent off a message.  About an hour later I got a response!  She was elated to get my message and was anxious to see the photos.  Ironically, we even live in the same state and will be setting up a time to meet in person.  She says she wants to share stories of my great-aunt who was her favorite nanny growing up and even helped her after her own children were born.  I’m looking forward to this meeting and what treasures it will add to my own family history!
Taking a few minutes from your own genealogy journey to help others on theirs is good karma and could even return to you ten-fold!  There is beauty in sharing and helping each other on our genealogy journeys.
1935 - Colorado Springs, CO - Broadmoor - Rozetta Koch (5)
Rozetta Koch
Remembering Cody Black

Remembering Cody Black

May is Foster Care Month, so we’d like to honor Dorothy and Ellsworth Clark, foster parents to Cody Black (1947-2010). Dorothy and Ellsworth not only taught and nurtured Cody in his teenage years, but went to great lengths to learn about and love the Navajo culture and people. They visited Cody’s home in Arizona several times, gave of their time and resources to the Navajo Nation, and welcomed many of Cody’s family into their home. While many foster parents and children did not share such positive experiences, Dorothy and Ellsworth’s example stands out as an example of inclusion and sensitivity.
    An excerpt from the pages of Dorothy Clark’s life history:
The seventeen-year-old Navajo youth you came into our home as a foster brother was for some time the object of our natural curiosity and concern. He spoke only when spoken to and released information in carefully-guarded phrases. We had previously prepared ourselves in learning regarding his native culture and tried in everything to make him feel at ease with us.
I finally succeeded as an elder sister in gaining his complete confidence. He would come to my bedroom, sniffing perfumes, then sit down and discuss with me the gamut of teenage problems and uncertainties. But we weren’t prepared for the final proof that we had been accepted. Rushing in from school one day, this youth released—without warning—a long, uninhibited yell as he trotted off to the new-found security of his foster home. 1
Vaida Black, wife of the late Cody Black, shared the following memories of Cody’s experiences living with the Clark’s:
I know she had him take guitar lessons where he learned his notes. After, he’d just pick it out. Cody was great with music. She helped him to improve his talent. She had him start painting and making signs for different stores in the area. Once he was a husband and a father he used his drawing in so many ways. When his children ran for a school office they always asked dad to help make posters. That was his specialty. He loved it and so did the kids.
She had done some of his genealogy for him that I have been looking for. I just smiled and told myself, she was so good to him. She had written down when he received his priesthood, that I had been searching for. I was just amazed, especially knowing how busy she was. She still had Cody on her list. I myself was always thought she loved Cody just like her own son. She did so much for him. I think she spoiled him, that he wasn’t used to.
She helped him find a job with a cabinet company. All of these talents he learned shows in our home. We have furniture, shelves and cabinets. Pop taught him how to garden. It was because of him we were the only ones on our block to have grass. Of course, eventually, they did all get their grass on, but I knew Cody had done ours because he was taught to always work. He did that for sure. He did the brick work and the fence. He kept saying, I’ve never done this before, i know it’s because of Sis. Clark, he wasn’t afraid to try and do it.
She helped Cody sign up for architect school in California. He graduated from there. I was impressed he got his degree. After 10 years, we decided to have a house made and we got the floor plan. I had told Cody, “I wish the rooms were different and like this. I don’t like how small this family room is and I don’t want a formal dining room. I want us to be together”. It was hard to know and frustrating. What can we do to make those changes. Then Cody said, I can change it? I couldn’t believe it. I said you can? When we went back to the house builder, He said, it easier to erase it than to build it an then re-do it. Once I found out, I started to tell Cody, “This is how I want it and like this and this room larger.” We took back our new plan to the contract company and he said, since you don’t have a license, you need to fine one and have him sign for approval. Cody found one of his co-workers and our house was started. They were amazed at the floor plan. The walls are the same, no one else has our floor plan. I thought, I’ve seen a likeness after we did that.
Cody called Sis. Clark “mom”. I know she loved him so much. He really learned so much from his new family. He honored his priesthood because of how he was taught at home. He learned to love his family and how important it is to provide for them. All of that was his mom and dad Clark. They played a big part in his life. Thanks to them, he did honor his priesthood and loved his family greatly. Thank you for asking me to do this. I wish he could of done it himself. 2
1. Clark, Dorothy Smith. Dorothy Smith Clark Archive.Life History Notes. 26 October 1971.   Privately held by Cathy Gilmore. Salt Lake City, UT.
2. Black, Vaida. Interview. 22 July 2014.
3. Photos are cropped images from the Dorothy Smith Clark Book of Remembrance. Dorothy Smith Clark Archive. Privately held by David S. Clark. Sandy, UT.