From the Chisone Valley to the Valley of the Great Salt Lake. The long journey of three young Italians headed for the Promised Land.
It took nine and a half months before Daniel, Antoinette and James Bertoch could reach the Great Salt lake Valley, within the Rocky Mountains of Utah, back in the distant October of 1854. On February 8 of the same year they left Torre Pellice, Italy , with their older brother, Jean, and their sister Marguerite, who had just celebrated her 21st birthday.
They said goodbye to their father, Jean Bertoch, a 64 year old widower and a farmer from San Germano Chisone. Papa Bertoch had been called to lead the Mormon community of San Germano and promised his children to join them, in America, the following year.
The Bertochs had joined the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints six months before ( except for Marguerite who was baptized one week prior the departure) as a result of the missionary work done in the Valdensian Valleys of Piedmont by the Apostle Lorenzo Snow, assisted by Giuseppe Taranto, T. B. H. Stenhouse and Jabez Woodard.
The Pons and Cardon families, also recent converts to Mormonism, departed with the Bertoch children in coaches.
Their group traveled to Susa, a village located at the foot of the Alps. There, they hired diligences, which were placed on skids and and drawn by mules. On these vehicles they crossed the Alps through the steep Mt. Cenis Pass and reached France. After the diligences were placed on wooden wheels the group continued to Lyon where they caught a train to Paris, and from there to Calais. From Calais they ferried to Dover, England and took a train to London, and then Liverpool.
From the port of Liverpool, on March 12, the Italian group boarded the John M. Wood , which crossed the Atlantic Ocean with 397 Mormon converts from England, Denmark, France and Italy.
On May 2, 1854 the vessel reached New Orleans. From there the converts boarded the steamboat Josiah Lawrence which transported them up the Mississippi River to St. Louis. On May 14, shortly before arriving in St. Louis, most of the church members were quarantined on Arsenal Island, an area where immigrants were examined for cholera. That same morning, Marguerite Bertoch died of cholera in the arms of the Cardon sisters. 11 other converts died within a few hours and were buried on the island, with Marguerite.
After their release from quarantine, the survivors boarded steamships which conveyed them up the Missouri River to Westport, Missouri. Near Westport they camped at Prairie Camp, a Mormon staging area, where they prepared for the difficult overland journey across the Great Plains. The Bertoch children, along with other members of the group, resided in this locality until the third week of July.
Before their departure, the converts were divided into "Companies." Daniel Bertoch was assigned to the company led by Robert L. Campbell, while his siblings Jean, James and Antoinette traveled with the William A. Empey company.
The trek across the Great Plains was arduous, and marked by tragedy. The third week of August, while the companies¹ 150 wagons were camped near Fort Kearny, Nebraska Territory, Jean, the elder of the Bertoch children died of pneumonia. He was 28 years old. Another Italian, Barthèlemy Pons, the father of three small children, also died about the same time.
About one month later, near Fort Laramie, Wyoming, James Bertoch fell from a wagon and the wheels ran over his legs. The boy recovered from his injuries and with his sister entered the Salt Lake Valley on October 26, 1854, two days after the arrival of their company, because they had wandered away and become lost in the mountains. Daniel¹s company entered the valley on October 28.
Shortly after their arrival in Salt Lake City, the Italian converts, like many others, were sent to colonize different areas of the Deseret (Utah) Territory. The Bertochs were assigned to the tutelage of Giuseppe Taranto who, at the time was a chief herdsman hired by Brigham Young, Territorial Governor and President of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
While waiting for their father, Antoinette, Daniel and James ( who at that time were respectively 25, 19 and 16 years old) worked as herders for Giuseppe Taranto, and resided in a small shack on Antelope Island, one of the islands in the Great Salt Lake. At the end of the summer of 1855, Daniel Bertoch received the news of the death of his father, who had probably followed most of the same route his children had used one year earlier, and had succumbed to cholera in Mormon Grove, Kansas.
It took the Bertoch orphans many years before they could adapt to the culture and customs of their new society. Antoinette left the island in 1856 to marry Louis Chapuis, a French convert, with whom she had 4 children. Daniel married a young British woman, Elva Hampton, who bore 4 children before she died. Afterwards, Daniel wed Sarah Ann Richards, with whom he had 4 more children. James and his wife, Ann Cutliffe, were the parents of 13 children.
On April 17, 1891, James Bertoch, now 53 years old, left for Europe to serve as a missionary. After 18 months of missionary service in Geneva, Switzerland, James returned to his native land where he proselyted until March 25, 1893.
Antoinette, Daniel and James Bertoch died respectively in 1922, 1923 and 1924 leaving to their descendants, and to the new generations of Italian immigrants a heritage of faith, hope and perseverance.
(Source of the information: Michael W. Homer "James Bertoch. Missionary Journal and Letters to his Family", The Prairie Dog Press, Salt Lake City, Utah, October 12, 2004. Excerpted with permission of the author)
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Photographs kindly provided by Michael W. Homer
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