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The Family File

The Forgotten Missionary
The Story of Elder Ezra James Clark

Bad News Dispels the Excitement of a Summer's Day

No one could have imagined the tidings that slowly made their way through Farmington on the afternoon of July 31, 1868 and finally reached the home of Ezra Thompson and Mary Stevenson Clark.

The Clarks' eldest son, Ezra James, on his way home from a three-year mission to England, was dead. Could it really be true?

It must have been tempting to simply disbelieve it was possible. Word had been received so indirectly, that it seemed impossible, if not improbable.

News in this small farming community north of Salt Lake City had been buzzing about a trial involving a local man who was charged with rape, involving a young Bountiful woman. Then the news about Ezra James Clark broke and changed the tone of a small town from one of indignation to sorrow.

Arthur Stayner * , correspondent for the Deseret News, said that someone in the community had received a letter from a person on the train home with Ezra James Clark disclosing the news. Elder Clark had died in Upstate New York on the train more than two weeks before of sunstroke on July 14, 1868, somewhere near Albany. Up to this time no one in the community, especially the Clarks, had received any direct information from the company with which he was traveling. 1

It's hard to imagine a more difficult blow to deal with. Excitement had been building in the home for months, but it had nearly overflowed in the past few weeks. The three long years were over and now his eldest son was again on American soil. A joyful reunion was in store.

Ezra James had reached American shores on July 12, 1868 aboard the steamship "Minnesota" in company with 534 saints from England who were immigrating to Zion. The account, published in the Deseret News, just eight days before 2 had spread through Farmington, building enthusiasm for the reunion with each telling. Ezra James Clark was well liked in Farmington and the idea of coming home after a mission to be reunited with family and friends thrilled all.

Ezra T and Mary had worried at times about his health, especially when given an account of his physical well being by a returning missionary, Elder Hubbard, almost a year earlier. 3 Ezra James was down to 129 pounds and on his 6-0 frame it was obvious to the returning elder, that his health was not strong.4 Even a modest weight gain since that time had not dissipated health concerns. But those worries were past. He was almost home.

The major hurdles seemed to be over with. Ezra James had survived England's intemperate climate and the voyage across the Atlantic. He would ride home in luxury on the train all the way from New York City to Laramie. His dad had arranged the trip from Laramie to Farmington with one of his finest teams.

The accounts go silent as to how Ezra Thompson and Mary Stevenson Clark or any of their children dealt immediately with the tragedy.

Community aroused

Stayner suggested in his weekly report to readers in the Greater Salt Lake area that the feelings of all were "aroused" by the casually transmitted news.

Besides the casual manner in which the tragic news had been received, there was no formal closure to the tragedy either as his body was buried somewhere in New York.

There is no indication who drove Ezra Thompson's team, to Laramie, for the anticipated happy ride home. It could have been one of his older sons still at home, Joseph or Hyrum, or a hired hand. Regardless of who drove the team it must have been a bittersweet time for the family to have the team return safely from Wyoming, without Ezra James, but with at least some of his things, including two pocketsize leather missionary journals. The team probably would have returned to Farmington sometime in late August, when accounts detail the arrival of new emigrants plus the returning missionaries who traveled with Ezra James.

News not published until September

The arrival of those emigrants and missionaries who were with Ezra James in his final days must have brought a final measure of certainty to the bad news, but it is ironic that news of his death was not formally announced, to others through the Deseret News, until Sept. 23, 1868.

Lucy Clark included a poem in the obituary at that time to try and put her brother-in-law's life and service into perspective for all.

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 worked
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
Written in Farmington, Aug. 23, 1868



* Ironically he married Ezra's sister Mary less than a year later. The marriage lasted only a few months.
1 Journal History 17: 209 and Deseret News Aug. 4, 1886
2 Deseret News July 23, 1868 Letter from Pres. Franklin Richards to Brigham Young
3 Missionary Journals of Elder Ezra James Clark, page 62
4 Missionary Journals of Elder Ezra James Clark, pages 52-53
5 Biography of Ezra Thompson Clark, page 32


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
Married