This year we are back to celebrating Pioneer Day in the traditional ways. Here in Utah that includes parades, rodeos, barbecues and parties.
But we haven’t always lived in Utah.
Living in Southern California, we had to work a little harder to commemorate those hardy, faith-filled souls who walked or rode the bumpy, dusty 1300 miles in covered wagons, burying loved ones along the way. For the Mormon pioneers answering the call of faith and freedom, the Rocky Mountains provided a cradle to nurture and grow the fledgling faith of the recently restored gospel and community of Christ in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
Following the assassinations of the founders, the Prophet Joseph Smith and his brother, the Patriarch Hyrum Smith, as well as persecutions of the Saints (including an extermination order by Missouri governor Lilliburn Boggs,) the church pulled up its stakes and walked away. Filling covered wagons with necessities, families left Nauvoo Illinois in the middle of winter and camped in Iowa, then Nebraska. When the U.S. government (who ironically provided no protection when the Saints were being harassed, murdered and driven from their homes) saw a large body of Americans moving west, they requested they prove their patriotism by enlisting to fight in the war with Mexico. With their families stranded on the plains, over 500 men (and a few women and children,) volunteered to take the longest military march in history. Ironically the men wore their own clothes and the money given to the soldiers for uniforms was instead donated to the church and assisted the families in their westward trek.
Several years ago, I hosted a Pioneer Day event for 100 children ages 3 – 12. I did a lot of research and designed activities that would provide a fun learning experience about the pioneer children. This summer I refined my collection and created Pioneer Day fun kits that are selling in my Etsy shop.
Because children learn best when they are having fun, our activities duplicate some of those that pioneer children actually did to help their families get established in their new homes. Each kit includes a clipboard with a faux leather pouch containing crafts and games for children and families. The clipboard side has an 8-page planning guide with dozens of things to do, recipes and games for groups from young children through adults.
Here are photos of the imaginative learning kit for children (and everyone that likes handmade fun!)
A pioneer scavenger hunt, Beango game and rustic notecard are in the kit.
Pounding nails, telling west by the sun, panning for gold like members of the Mormon Battalion who were returning to their families that had traveled to the Salt Lake Valley and many more activities are included. Also, recipes for beef jerky, Dad’s Chili, honey lemonade and several other catering favorites.
It’s never too late to teach children about the pioneer experience.
Nixon Irene Roberts graduated life and entered the arms of her loving Savior on April 16, 2022. It was the day before Easter, the holiday of resurrection and triumph over death. Like all losses of those we love, it takes a while to process the new reality and grieve. I hope you will pardon me for missing the past few holidays as my family and I adjust to our new normal.
Nixon’s first heavenly birthday was on July 12. As I was helping a daughter move, bringing a granddaughter home and celebrating my husband’s birthday on July 14, I’m a couple of days late but I wanted to share about my colorful and creative Mom.
Nixon Irene Roberts Lawrence entered the world on July 12, 1935 in a maternity home in Coalinga, California. She was the first child of Thelma Mae Lisman Roberts and her husband George William Roberts. Thelma was the descendant of early Americans and many of the crown heads of Europe and Scandinavia but she didn’t know it. George was the son of a British-born mother and father descended from Welsh and British families. Hot and dusty Coalinga was a Standard Oil town in the rough and tumble oil fields of Central California: it was the middle of the Great Depression, and demand for petroleum products waned as the world economy suffered. The strained economic circumstances of her childhood impelled Nixon to always strive for better things. As she grew up, she overcame her early poverty and modest circumstances by working hard and rewarding herself with fashionable clothes and beautiful surroundings.
She was joined within a few years by brothers Kenneth Leroy Roberts and David Miles Roberts. They attended school in a 2-room schoolhouse. As World War 2 increased the demand for oil production, her school had the resources to hire music and band teachers. Each child had their own instrument; uniform and music lessons were available to all. Well-qualified teachers were brought into the settlement and the tiny school in the middle of the wilderness became the seat of an excellent education that served her well throughout life.
When a Standard Oil transfer relocated her family to Redondo Beach in Los Angeles County, she learned to appreciate coastal life and a whole new Southern California culture. Neighbors Ardith and Lila Landers became her lifelong friends and introduced her to the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. She attended seminary with her new friends and was baptized as a teenager. In high school she was involved in theater, enjoyed playing tennis and working as a camp counselor. There were trips to Lake Arrowhead for fun in the snow; it was the era of cashmere sweater sets, skirts and cruising the boulevard. After graduating from Mira Costa High School, she worked as an operator for a year to save money for college.
She attended BYU in Provo, Utah for a year then returned home and worked in the aerospace industry in Los Angeles, where she met Larry Karl Layton, a recently returned veteran, who, as a former Army rocket scientist, was now working in R & D in the aerospace industry.
They married in Los Angeles and soon welcomed daughter Pamela Sue into the family while Larry was studying at USC. After deciding to go into Education, he earned a Bachelor’s degree and started work on his Master’s degree. Cynthia Ann and Brian Christopher were born at rival campus UCLA Hospital (ironically) before he graduated.
The Laytons moved to Carlsbad in 1963 after Larry finished his studies. His first job out of college was with the Oceanside School District at North Oceanside Elementary. They bought their first house on Guevara Road (near the “stinky lagoon.”) Brian Layton was 1, Cindy was 3 and Pam was starting 1st grade at Buena Vista Elementary. The family attended the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in a rented building in Oceanside then in a newly built chapel on California Street.
There were so many wonderful things about living in the small beach town of Carlsbad; Nixon loved bike riding, tennis and fireworks at the beach where she also taught her children to play chess. She baked the best cookies at Christmas and hosted picnics and fun at Holiday Park. They enjoyed holiday concerts and carnivals at Buena Vista, the Del Mar Fair, the Carlsbad library, the drive-in at Oceanside, pizza at Shakey’s, visiting Santa at the Elm Street fire station and the new El Camino Real mall. She sewed clothes for her children and made lots of friends: Lois Chaplin, Lillian Smith, Kay Tisdale, Ginny Smith, Fran Yarbrough, neighbors and others.
One year she decided Thanksgiving should be like the pilgrims’ feast, so she packed it all up and the family ate turkey on the windy bluffs overlooking Torrey Pines in La Jolla. There were trips to the Palomar Observatory, Big Bear to play in the snow, the zoo, Sea World and the happiest place on earth.
Her love of theater introduced the family to many classics, they attended a live performance Dicken’s A Christmas Carol production at Carlsbad Community Theater and Nutcracker Ballet in San Diego. . Watched the Wizard of Oz on the black and white television every year, the original Batman series, Bewitched and Gilligan’s Island. They watched the Parent Trap and other Disney movies at the San Luis Rey Drive-In with trips to Shakey’s Pizza before. On the family stereo vinyls played; Herb Alpert and the Tijuana Brass, Sergio Mendez and Brazil ’66, the Supremes, comedy and the Beach Boys. A highlight of the Christmas season was attending performances of Handel’s Messiah and the Nutcracker Ballet.
Family was important, Nixon and her children enjoyed visits with her parents in Santa Maria, her brothers in Hermosa Beach and Santa Barbara and extended family in other parts of California. As her children grew and started their own families and careers, she was an important part of her grandchildrens’ lives. She loved visiting Brian when he was stationed in Hawaii in the Air Force, going on cruises, especially the Panama Canal with her second husband Jim Lawrence, flowers, beauty, music, cool cars, and researching her family history back to 160 A.D.
Her July birthday and patriotic spirit made the 4th of July an important holiday in her world. Picnics on the beach, children bobbing in innertubes, lemon drops, a red, white and blue dessert and fireworks after dark became beloved traditions.
In her retirement she became involved in family history research. She found records of her Tracy ancestors back to 160 A.D. She joined the Daughters of the American Revolution and made scrapbooks for her local chapter. She collected hundreds of family members’ names and histories and created beautiful scrapbooks of photos and family histories.
Strokes and age-related dementia slowed her down in her later years, but she still enjoyed a good shopping trip. Her final words were her checking on each family member and wanting to go to the temple; she was going home. She passed into the eternities with the sound of her daughter Cindy reading love notes to her from her grandchildren.
Surviving family members include brother Ken Roberts and his daughters Adair and Amanda and their families, and the wife and daughter of her brother, the late David Roberts, Marlene and Tc. Her daughter Pamela Layton McMurtry and husband Newell, grandchildren William Chaddock, Laurel Phillips, Heather Touchet, Andrew Chaddock and Timothy McMurtry with their spouses and children. Daughter Cynthia Ann Layton Reischman and husband David and grandchildren, Eric Kapitanski, Emily Rivadeneyra, Alyssa and Amanda Kapitanski with their spouses and children. Nixon was preceded in death by her son Brian Christopher Layton and husband James Lawrence, her parents and brother David Roberts.
Nixon was a good and loving mother and grandmother. A celebration of her life and family gathering are planned for this summer; details will be posted later. She will be inurned at Eternal Hills Cemetery in Oceanside, CA with her husband Jim and son Brian.
The family would like to thank everyone who cared for her, especially Symbii Hospice, the Yalecrest First Ward and Larkin Mortuary for her final arrangements.
Families are forever; she would tell us all, “bye for now.”
We’ve been super busy the past few months and I’m planning to catch up this week – but I want to give you access to this amazing kit I’ve created to help you plan the best Pioneer Day celebration you’ve experienced! With sky high gas prices and supplies hard to come by, a DIY activity might be just what you need for summer fun! Find it on Etsy: