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The Family File

The Forgotten Missionary
The Story of Elder Ezra James Clark

The final hours

Train conditions for the emigrating saints were meager at best. Their "coach" turned out to be a cattle car where passengers had to stand up, with little water. 22

The train ride from New York City north to Albany was fatal for several of the emigrating saints, including Elder Clark.

The train arrived in Albany at about 4:30 p.m. where the saints had to disembark, and then load their belongings and things on another train, this one headed west. Ezra James was near death when the train from New York City arrived in the New York capital, where the passengers had to board another train.

In Albany, one young passenger, Emily Pickering Andersen, noted the following: "My father accompanied Elder Ezra J. Clark, a return missionary, myself and (-) girlfriends to dinner. When we were going back to the depot the two men fell as if they had been shot, it proving to be sunstroke. Brother Clark never regained consciousness. They put the body on the train and went two or three stations further. They called for a donation (-) purchase a metal casket. Father hearing this, was sent into unconsciousness for 24 hours. Seven elders gathered around him, asked the Lord (-) spare his life, which he did (-) that time." 23

Andersen's account differs a bit on some of the details with that of Elder Jacobs, who tended Ezra in his final hours. Ezra's serious problems became evident about an hour south of Albany.

"An hour or so before we arrived at Albany, a Sister Mary Ann Watson expired through weakness and heat. She had been ailing for sometime. On our arrival in Albany the sun was very hot. We had to go about 200 (distance not indicated in journal entry) from the car to the station house, prepared for transferring to another line. In so doing, about 12 or 15 persons were sunstroke. Amongst the number was Brother Ezra J. Clark. We got him on the train and made him as comfortable as possible. Here, old Brother (Richard) Pickering was struck with death. Administered to him and he recovered. At the time he got up his wife was stricken. It required faith and work to save her." 24

Unlike some of the others passengers, however, Ezra James would not recover. The train that slowly made its way from Albany to points west from 4:30-6 p.m. that hot and sultry evening had a returning missionary who was in his final hours in mortality. When the train pulled into the station in the village of Fonda, about 40 miles west of Albany, just about 6 p.m. Ezra James' was completing the last minutes of his earthly mission.

The most detailed account of those final minutes was recorded by Elder Jacobs in his journal. He wrote: "About 5 of the people began to get worse. 6 p.m. Brother James Caldwell, aged 70 years (from Liverpool) expired with sunstroke. It seemed as though the powers of death had got a footing and reigned supreme. Many are ill and have been since we arrived at Albany. About 8 p.m. Brother Ezra J. Clark expired. I sat and held his head and arms about 20 or 30 minutes. His flesh felt as though hot lead was coursing through his veins ready to burst through the skin. Crossing the sea he was not very well, seasick considerable. In fact, all the way he being the first counselor to Brother Perry, felt in duty bound to be doing, being of a kind-hearted disposition, also very sympathetic. He seemed to enter into the ills of those who surrounded him. At New York owing to anxiety to have all things going right, he over exerted himself, consequently became an easy prey to the heat at Albany. As we got into the station he called me one side and told me he felt so singular. I told him to get into the cars and take care of himself as he looked too ill to be moving around. At the same time got him some cooling drink and a piece of ice to place on his head and a chair to sit on. I told him I would see that Brother Parry had all the assistance he needed and the folks taken care of. (While at the same time my limbs were trembling under me but he was worse than I was by far.)" 25

Dies in Fonda

Ezra James officially died in Fonda, New York, a small little village located along the old Erie Canal---now the Barge Canal-in Montgomery County. The small community, today numbering about 1,250 is best known as the county seat. The railroad in Fonda runs parallel to the Barge Canal/Mohawk River. The river and canal are the same body of water through the part of a small stretch of mountains where the predominant peaks are known as the Big Nose and Little Nose.

The Mohawk River/Barge Canal makes it way through Fonda, N.Y., located in Upstate New York
No death records were kept in Montgomery County until 1880, according to Kelly Yacobucci, Montgomery County Historian, so being specific about the cause of death is not possible. All signs and accounts confirm sunstroke as one of the causes---though Ezra James' weakened condition was evident from the time he left England.

There are details in his final days that speak much about the character of Elder Clark. He was ill through much of the 11- day voyage home but Ezra never lost sight of the fact that he had to care and watch over the Saints under his charge.

Pushed ahead

After landing, when the effects of being in extreme conditions began to take their toll on the weakest of the saints, including himself, Ezra James continued to push ahead in filling his responsibilities.

While Elder Jacobs notes that he and others on the train made arrangements to have Ezra James properly buried, there is no indication that the village officials left with that task, had any idea of who they were dealing with.

A newspaper account from the local weekly publication, the Mohawk Valley Democrat, points out the death of a Mormon Elder formerly from Illinois in its July 18, 1868, publication. Neither Elder Clark's name nor that of James Caldwell are listed---with the sexton of the community later seeking the identity of Caldwell.26 There are no cemetery records, which date back to the early 1800s, indicating that Ezra James was officially listed in any of the Town of Mohawk cemeteries in Fonda or any other as well.

Ezra James was buried in Fonda. The exact location of his burial spot is unknown, but Yacobucci, said that the only cemetery in the village limits with a lifespan dating back to 1868 is located near the Fonda-Fultonville High School, on a hill in the western portion of the village overlooking the Mohawk River/Barge Canal, which would have been the Erie Canal at that point in history.

Elder Jacobs notes the pressure of those moments after Ezra's James passing before the departure of the train west, as follows: "During his illness, Brothers Parry (Kimball, some of the time for most the time) he (Ezra James) assisted me, William Grant and Robinson attended to him constantly up to the last. We were compelled to leave him at Fonda Fulton Company in charge of the town officers with instructions how to conduct his funeral, by Brother Parry & myself. Everything was done for his comfort and recovery but to not purpose he passed away. There were so many ill (about 30 in number) and Brother Grant was taken while attending Brother Clark that we did not deem it advisable for any of us to remain and attend the last labors bestowed on Brothers Clark, so kept on. The officers promised to see him properly laid away." 27

In a rush

There was clearly a sense of rushing with railroad officials and with the saints, who were afraid to get too far off the train for fear they would be left behind. The newspaper account that notes the fatal train ride for Elder Clark takes the railroad company to task for a number of problems.

"For over an hour that train laid here, the poor emigrants, seeking for water at every point not daring to leave the cars for fear of being left---the wells in the vicinity of our office only two, were energetically pumped for an hour---one of them by a woman, to give the suffering men, women and children water.

Final Spot. Aaron and Michelle Clark pose at the main intersection on the railroad tracks in Fonda, New York---where Ezra James Clark died. Aaron is four generations removed from the deceased missionary.
"The sick man died, a Mormon elder, formerly from Illinois. Some $18 was contributed by the emigrants and the bodies left for burial. The husband of the sick woman begged the Conductor to give him his baggage and let him take his wife and five children off the train. He heartlessly refused and the train passed on. The woman died soon after and the body was left at St. Johnsville (about 12 miles from Fonda).

"The management of the Railroad should take cognizance of these things. This is not an exceptional case only as far as the deaths are concerned. Every emigrant train on this road is run on the same principle. No care---no water---no accommodation. It is high time these things were remedied. Civilization, Humanity, Christianity and Justice demands that better care and accommodations should be provided all passengers on railroads especially an abundant supply of water in every car in hot weather. We believe an indictment could be obtained against that conductor for the death of that woman."

With more passengers to worry about, and the pressures of time, it is more understandable why Elders Parry and Jacobs left Ezra James to be buried by town officials, rather than stopping the excursion west to bury his remains.

With the $18 that the newspaper notes that was raised by the emigrants for Ezra James, the needed funds were secured to purchase a metal casket.28 Elder Jacobs said instructions were given to town officials on how to deal with Elder Clark's remains. Those instructions must have been very brief and to the point, as the train, which arrived in the village at 6 p.m., was en route again a short time after its stop.

Unmarked grave It must have been an added burden to Ezra Thompson and Mary Stevenson Clark to know that their eldest son was buried in an unmarked grave, by unknown people, in an unknown land, without even an elder to dedicate the gravesite.

An account written many years after the passing, by Heber Clark, shares a delicate experience involving Mary Clark and Susan Clark in Wyoming where they encountered someone who had been on the final train ride with Ezra James.

"This writer was present with Grandma Clark and Aunt Susan at a 24th of July celebration at Fairview, Wyoming in 1902. A dear old lady named Pead, came up to the two mothers and said: 'Sister Clark, I was on the train and saw your lovely son die.' She said that some of the Saints had bought a large quantity of ice cream and had distributed it to the passengers. She said that Uncle Ezra James ate his ice cream and died in his seat on the train. Herald R. Clark told this writer that Mark and Heber Austin were also on the train. . ..At the Fairview, Wyoming celebration I stood near and saw my Dear Grandma wipe the tears that were rolling down her cheeks. As she did so Aunt Susan clung firmly to her hand in deep sympathy. It was a heavenly sight. I was 15 years old at the time."

Obituary taken from Sept. 23, 1868 Deseret News


Ezra James Clark, who died July 14th, at Fonda, Montgomery County, New York was born March 30th 1845 in Lee County, Iowa. His parents came to Winter Quarters in 1846 and in 1848 to Utah, where he grew up to manhood beloved and respected by his friends.

He was called to take a mission to England April 6th, 1865, and started on the 23rd of May, in company with his brethren. He honorably filled his mission and returned to New York on the steamship Minnesota as first councilor to Elder John Parry, arriving July 12th and on the 14th took the train for the West. Being much fatigued, he complained of a pain in his head and died in a few hours. His death was supposed to have been caused by sunstroke. His body was left by Captain John Parry with the authorities with means to bury him at Fonda, about 40 miles west of Albany.

He was faithful on his earthly mission and has gone to our martyred Prophet to continue it in the spirit world.

Father, Mother, cease your weeping
    Faithful Ezra is not dead,
Though his mortal body's sleeping
    In a low and narrow bed!

He has gone to realms of glory;
    Angels led him to that land;
He will meet with Christ, his Savior
    Walk with Jesus hand in hand.

Sister, Sister, let no sorrow
    Find a place within your heart;
God will surely bring deliverance;
    Trust---He'll do a Father's part.

Brothers, when you think of Ezra
    Think how brave he fought and won.
How he will be crowned with glory.
    Reign with Jesus on his throne.

Father, mother, sister, brother,
    Let us come before God's throne,
Be as faithful, true and upright
    Until God shall call us home.

Lucy Clark
Farmington, Aug. 23 1968

22 The Mohawk Valley Democrat, July 18, 1868
23 Reminiscences of Emily Pickering Andersen
24 Reminiscences and Diary of Zebulon Jacobs, page 122
25 Reminiscences and Diary of Zebulon Jacobs, pages 122-1231
26 Deseret News April 28, 1869
27 Reminiscences and Diary of Zebulon Jacobs, pages 123-124
28 Reminiscences of Emily Pickering Andersen

Forgotten Missionary - Main Page
Bad News Dispels the Excitement of a Summer's Day
The First Clark Born in the New Covenant
Called to Serve
Making his way home
The final hours
Bringing the body home