1900 - 1905
All of our family belonged to the Lutheran, or Protestant Reformed State Church of Switzerland. We were faithful members and gave donations unselfishly. We were all diligent in our activities in the church. Before we went to bed we often read from a prayer book and we always had a blessing on the food.
As previously mentioned, the missionaries had been invited to stay with us overnight and as we visited, they told us they were giving their time and were paying their own way while on their missions. We thought that was a great thing for young men to do so I told them, "If you are willing to do this for your church, then whenever you are in this area you can come to our home. But don't tell us any more about your religion." They made use of the invitation and came often. They didn't preach to us but gave us a copy of the Book of Mormon and a book containing a short history of the Church, which we read.
Alfred states, "As I read I came to the conclusion that if it was not a made up story and what I read was true, it must be the work of God, it was up to me to find out."
Not only had Alfred gained interest in this new church, but it seemed the whole family was becoming interested in it. Caroline recalled her experience this way, "The Mormon missionaries came and re-introduced the family to Mormonism. I was very interested, especially since the missionaries were attractive young men near my own age. However, before I had committed myself, the date on my contract for my first job arrived, and I left home to take a job in a hotel at Grindelwald."
This marked the end of Caroline living at home with us and it was a solemn occasion to see our beautiful Caroline go to work. She was pretty, vivacious, and youthfully impressionable. She loved the high mountains, and I suppose that is one of the things that drew her to Grindelwald. She related her experience this way. "I loved working at the hotel, partly because of all the new and interesting people who were always coming and going. But most of all, there was one very attractive man who I was especially interested in. It was a sudden romantic courtship, and Gottfried Feuz and I fell in love."
As will be remembered, Rosa was also in Grindelwald, and I am sure Caroline and Rosa saw each other frequently during this period of time. Rudolph, Rosa's husband, continued at the hotel until 1903. Then he left to work on the construction of a cable way on the Wetterhorn where he was engaged in the blasting operation. In December 1903, Rosa and Rudolph made their first contact with the restored gospel of Jesus Christ at our home in Wimmis. Although Rudolph was at first skeptical of this new religion, he and Rosa eventually heard and accepted it. The Lutheran minister and some of the townsfolk tried to persuade them not to believe the missionaries and some animosity and persecution developed. But Rosa and Rudolph continued in their new faith but were not baptized until March 11, 1906 after they had arrived in America.
There were many stories about people who went to Utah. I think these stories were mainly started by the ministers. They said when immigrants arrived in Salt Lake City the Mormons took their wives away from them. A lady told me that if we went to Utah they would take my wife and money. This made me rather uncertain and I worried about going to Utah.
Before the missionaries ever came to our house Clara had left home and got a job in France to learn the French language. After a few months she went to Geneva, Switzerland and got a job in a cafe and while there first found out about our involvement with the church. In one of our letters, Mother mentioned that two Mormon missionaries came to see us. This worried Clara very much because she knew how avoided and despised people were who became Mormons.
"That night I planned to write a letter home", Clara described, "And plead with them not to listen to those missionaries. But I could not do it. It seemed just like a hand was stopping me from writing those words. It was the same way every time I wrote a letter home and it made me think and wonder.
"That year I went home for Christmas. The first evening home one of those missionaries came, and I was really surprised to see such a handsome young man and without any horns. I had heard that the Mormons had horns. He explained the Gospel and gave me a Book of Mormon. I read it with great interest and prayed about it. I walked many miles to attend meetings and classes which were held in different towns by the missionaries."
As the father of this family, I suppose one of the reasons I did not want this new church was because of all the persecution that went with it. I just was not ready to give up the good name that the Durtschi family had here in Wimmis, and did not want to see my children get hurt either. Clara, who was really the first member of our family to embrace the church showed the rest of us what life would be like if we joined. The people began to hate her. When she walked through town, they would throw rocks at her and holler, "Here comes the Mormon". I am sad to relate that even members of her own family made fun of her and told her she was bringing disgrace upon them. We did not intentionally want to ridicule her, but our whole family was being torn between this town, its people, and this new church.
We were good to all those missionaries and gave them the best food and bed we had in the house. We even went down on our knees with the missionaries when they said their morning and evening prayer. But to publicly accept their church was more than I could do at this time. The first two missionaries were released and went home to Utah. For a time we did not see any Mormon elders. But I remember one day we were talking about the Mormon religion and Mother made this statement, "I don't know about this Mormon religion, whether it is true or not, but I know this, that a church that produces such fine young men as the Mormon Elders are, is a better church than ours." I found that I could forbid them to preach the doctrine but I could not forbid them to live it. Example still taught Mormonism even though they were ordered not to teach doctrine.
Clara tells of her conversion and journey to America. "With the help of the Lord, and through prayer and study, I soon received a testimony of the Gospel. I knew this was the only true church and that Joseph Smith was a true Prophet of God. The Spirit of gathering with the Saints in Zion came over me. Never before had I wanted to go across the ocean.
"In March 1904, I went with my cousin to a conference in Bern. There was such a peaceful, heavenly spirit, the singing was so beautiful, and the sermons most wonderful. I reasoned that it must be that way in Utah where so many Saints lived, and from then on my every wish and prayer was to go to Utah. After the meeting, my cousin made me acquainted with a missionary I had never seen before. He had a beard and mustache. He looked like he was not less than forty years old, old enough to have a wife and family, but I liked him. I saw him in my dreams every night after that. Most of the missionaries let their beards and mustaches grow so they would look older because the Swiss people wouldn't believe those young boys.
"I knew that in April (1904) my Uncle Fred and family were leaving to go to Utah. I also knew that would be the only time my parents would let me go, but I didn't have any money and Father didn't have any. I trusted in the Lord and he answered my prayers.
"As related before in this story, my oldest brother emigrated to Chicago a year ago, and on the way he got pneumonia on the ship. He had to be taken to a hospital in Chicago, and was there several weeks. My father had to send money to pay the doctor and hospital bills. After my brother recovered from his illness he got a job in Chicago and wrote to father saying he would pay back the money. Just at the same time as I begged to be helped to go to Utah, the money came from my brother and father let me have it. He gave me only enough to go to Chicago. He didn't want me to go to the Mormons in Utah even though his own brother and family were going there. I accepted it hoping I would find a way after I got to Chicago.
"On April 14, 1904, I left my parents, brothers, sisters, and beautiful Switzerland for the Gospel's sake. We had a fairly good trip, not counting the terrible sea sickness we had to go through, as we rode third class on the ship.
"After arriving in New York, all the passengers were assembled in a big hall. It was there I found out for the first time that each of us was required to have not less than thirty dollars in cash or they would sent us back. All I had was fifteen cents. An officer began to read names from a paper and as the names were called they had to go into another room to answer questions and show the thirty dollars. I shivered and shook with fear and I prayed like I had never prayed before. Every name was called out but mine and I sat there alone. I didn't know how I could get away or where to go. After a while, my cousin's baby in the other room cried so hard, the judge sent her back to the hall where I was. As soon as I saw her, I went to her. We walked outside and not one of the officers we met on the way asked any questions. To me that was a wonderful answer to my prayers.
"The next day at five A.M., I left on the train for Chicago alone. My uncle's family left for Utah. I was terribly afraid as I couldn't speak a word of English, but I was expecting my brother would be at the depot and all would be well. To my surprise, he wasn't there. After I waited for a long time, I showed Edward's address to a man who had a light wagon and horse. He said he would take me to him.
"We loaded my trunk and started out," Clara continued, "We had to go twenty four blocks and in every block there was a saloon. Every time the driver came to one, he would stop and go inside and bring out all the men to see the Swiss girl on his wagon. Most of them were drunk and I was terrified. I decided it was a good thing I couldn't understand what they were saying. Soon the driver was drunk too, but we finally got to my brother's boarding place and the landlady paid the driver. She was from my hometown.
"The next day I got a job with two lady school teachers who were on a diet, but after a month I had to quit the job or starve. They didn't realize that a working girl had to eat.
"Then I got a job in a dormitory where 200 young ladies were boarding. My wages were three dollars a week. I worked there two months when I had the misfortune of cutting my hand. It was so bad that I couldn't work. I was so lonesome, I decided to go to Utah, the dream for which I had been praying since I came to Chicago. But I only had half of what it cost to get there. I was inspired to tell a woman detective who boarded with us. She could talk German. I told her my wish and she said she would try to get a half price ticket for me. We started out Tuesday morning.
"We went from one depot to another without success. Finally, about two o'clock we found a man who was sympathetic and he helped me get a ticket as long as I could leave on the four o'clock train that same day. I promised I would. It took every cent I had saved up. I hurried and packed my trunk and a Negro took it to the depot. A woman gave me two dollars and a sandwich, as I had had nothing to eat since breakfast. The ticket would take me to Salt Lake City and then two dollars from Salt Lake City to Provo.
"In Kansas City, when I changed trains, I got on the wrong one and rode a long way into Missouri. When the conductor finally made his rounds it was noon Wednesday. He made me leave the train. I had to wait for the seven o'clock train going back to Kansas and then take the 10 o'clock train the next morning. That morning I got on the right train but later after I left Denver, the conductor told me I could ride no further on that ticket. He made me leave the train at the next station. The station agent could talk German. I told him my troubles. He wrote a letter and pinned it to the ticket I got in Chicago and told me I could go as far as Ogden.
"The train was late when I arrived in Ogden. As I got out, a man asked where I was going. I told him I was going to Salt Lake. He said the train was ready to go and to hurry and get on it before it left. I told him I had no ticket. He told me I didn't have time to buy one and he put me on the train. I was afraid there would be trouble and I asked my Heavenly Father to help me. The train was full of people and I wondered what to do if the conductor caused me any trouble. When he came by, I handed him the ticket I still had from Chicago, which was about fifteen inches long. He read it, looked at me, then at the ticket again. All the passengers were watching him. Finally he handed me back the ticket without saying a word and walked away.
"I wanted to go to Midway where my uncle lived as I didn't know anyone in Salt Lake. When I got to Salt Lake, I tried to get a ticket to Provo, but I was short fifteen cents. This was just what I had spent in Kansas for a cup of cocoa. And without this the agent wouldn't sell me a ticket. I went outside and asked a woman to help me and she did.
"It was getting dark when I arrived in Provo Friday night. I found myself without a cent, or without having eaten since Tuesday morning, except the sandwich and the cup of cocoa. I didn't know where Midway was or which way to go. Then I felt impressed to go up University Avenue. As I started out from the Sixth South Depot, I walked up the road and looked up into that dark canyon which I was certain I would have to go through to get to Midway. I got scared and asked a woman near the B.Y.U. School if I was on the right road to Heber, hoping she would take me in. She told me I was and then asked me if I was German. I told her yes. She then took me to a German family close by. The woman told me I could stay over for the night but she couldn't give me anything to eat as they were starving. Her husband and oldest boy had left three weeks before to find work. And she hadn't heard from them since. I was glad I at least had a place to stay.
"I had no money to take the Heber train the next morning so I decided to wait. At five o'clock an Excursion Train was going halfway up in the canyon to take people to a celebration. I was hoping someone would help me. It cost fifty cents. The woman I had stayed with walked over to Twelfth North where the station was. There were about fifty people waiting for the train. If each one had given me a penny it would have paid my fare, but not one offered to help, not even after she told them my story. All the evening before she had railed against the Mormons and now she really cussed them. That was my introduction into Zion.
"After that she took me to another German family and they gave me one dollar if I would pay them back as soon as I got to Midway, which I did.
"The next morning was Sunday. They gave me a bit to eat and then I took the train to Midway and met my uncle and his family. And that is where I had my first real meal since the breakfast on Tuesday morning. That afternoon I saw a young man coming along the road and I recognized him as the missionary I had met in Bern. I realized it was him even though he now had his beard shaved off. Before this time I didn't know he lived in Midway or that he was back from his mission. I now learned that he was twenty five, not forty, and still single. Ten days later, he baptized me and Bishop Jacob Probst confirmed me into the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Two weeks later, I went to Salt Lake City and worked there until April. Then on April 5, 1905, I was married and sealed in the Salt Lake Temple to the missionary who baptized me. And having little money to start with, we rented a farm."
Then the Lutheran minister found out that the Mormon missionaries were visiting at our home again. He spared no effort in discouraging us from seeing and listening to these young men. Many untrue stories were told about the Mormons in Utah. It was difficult to determine what was false and what was true.
And then in the spring of 1905 something happened to John which changed the whole family. We still belonged to the Lutheran Church at this time as did most of the town. The school teacher of our youngest son, John, became very hostile when he learned from the Lutheran Minister that we were entertaining Mormon Missionaries in our home. While John had never had any unpleasant experiences with a school teacher before, this teacher now began to make things miserable for him. "One morning I came to school with Fred", John narrates, (I don't remember if Emma had graduated at that time; maybe she was there too.) "The teacher started to ask questions. He said, 'There are some men going around town here with briefcases. Does anyone know who they are?'
"He expected me to blurt out and say, 'Yes, they are Mormon missionaries,' but I knew immediately that he was baiting me to give me trouble about the Mormons. The people hated the Mormons and so I didn't raise my hand to volunteer any answers about who they might be. The other kids said they might be traveling salesmen or other different possibilities.
"The teacher said, 'No, they aren't traveling salesmen.'
"I thought to myself, 'If you know who they are, why do you ask the kids?' So I didn't raise my hand at all. Well, it made him angry because I didn't fall into his trap. Finally he gave up and started to teach, which he should have done in the first place. When recess time came, we all marched out to play. I made sure that I had everything in order. I put my books in the book sack and put them in my desk so he would have no reason to find fault with me. And then I marched out and we played. While we were playing I had a hunch that I should look up. Our room was on the second story. I looked, and just then the teacher opened the window and threw my book sack full of books out. Then I knew I was really in trouble. I knew I hadn't done anything wrong, and hadn't said anything to give him offense. The bell rang to march us back to class just after the teacher had thrown out the sack. I said to the buddy with me, 'I wonder what I am supposed to do with that book sack?'
"He said, 'He must have wanted it there or he wouldn't have put it there.' I thought that was a pretty good answer, but it wasn't a good one for me. We marched in. When I got to my seat the teacher was coming back from his lectern with his stick. They always had a stick about two feet long to punish the mean boys with. When he came with that I knew what was coming. I froze stiff, I was so scared.
"He said: 'Why didn't you bring your book sack up here?' I couldn't talk; I knew he was going to beat me. He grabbed me by the collar and pulled me up off the seat and said, 'I'll show you!' As he took me downstairs my feet were dangling in the air; he was a big powerful man. He just carried me down there by my neck. When he got me down, he shoved my head down by the ground and said, 'Now pick it up!' Then he really let me have it with the stick as hard as he could. I was black and blue when he got through with me. He dragged me back upstairs, my feet only occasionally touching the floor. He really had me dancing in the air. Then he slammed me down in my seat. I used to love to answer questions and take part in the classroom discussion, but I didn't answer any more questions that day."
When John came home that night we could see what had happened. My son Fred had heard the commotion. He was in a higher grade and said he would have liked to come and help, but he knew what would happen if he did. There would have been a general war. Mother took John to the doctor the next day. The only way to be excused from going to school is to have a doctor's excuse. The doctor saw John and heard what had happened. Then he said, "That boy needs to go to the Alps for his health," and he gave the necessary excuse.
The reason I tell this story is not just to recite the gruesome facts. But I have thought since this time that something like this had to happen. This made me realize that if people are so intolerant here as to unmercifully beat an innocent little boy, maybe we had better go to America. This had to happen for my sake, because we did decide to go to America with the family after that.
"School was held for half a day even in the summer", John continues. "But I spent the summer of 1905, when I was ten years old, working for a neighbor in the Alps." A neighbor who had an Alp a long distance away asked me if John could go with him to help take care of his cows that summer. I wouldn't have let him go under other circumstances, but since he couldn't go to school any longer, I gave my permission. During that summer little John slept nights on the hay up in the loft of my friend's barn.
Soon Mother, with all sincerity, accepted the teachings given us by the missionaries, David Hirschi and Conrad Weber. We all prayed together that we would be able to know whether this was the right thing to do. I was still skeptical. Finally the day came when Mother told me that she was going to be baptized. I did not object. She was baptized a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints on the 20th day of August, 1905, by Elder David Hirschi, and was confirmed by Elder George C. Steiner. Four of the children, Elise, Emma, Alfred, and Fred were baptized that same evening in the beautiful Lake Thun. As you will remember, Clara had been baptized the year before on the 9th of September. John was away in the Alps so he was not baptized until later.
At their baptisms, Mother was 54 years old, Elise was 25, Alfred was 18, Emma was 16, and Fred was 13.
This work Copyright 1987 for the Durtschi Family by Mark Durtschi.
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