Seventy-three year old Levi Savage was catching up on the Salt Lake papers when he comes across the obituary of Elam Luddington. And he didn’t do anything about it,…right away.
This is the same Levi Savage most famous now for his trek across the American Plains with the Mormon Willie Handcart company. Against Savage’s warnings the company started west too late in the season suffering hardship and the deaths of loved ones before arriving in Salt Lake on November 7, 1865. Savage is now played by Jasen Wade in a 2011 T.C. Christensen film, 17 Miracles portraying the Willie Handcart company’s harrowing journey and is getting attention in Mormon circles.
So what does Levi Savage and the handcarts have to do with our subject, Elam Luddington?
Levi reads the Deseret Weekly of March 7, 1893 and Elam Luddington’s accomplishments. Then a curious thing happens. He sets the paper down and does nothing. Deep in southern Utah amidst the grand red rock mountains of what would eventually be called Zion National Park he was quite a distance from Salt Lake. Whenever he first read the paper we know that although he set it down, the obituary must have stuck with him. He did nothing until five months later, on August 8, 1893 when he wrote a letter to Elder Franklin D. Richards, Church Historian. It began,
“Some time since I noticed in the SEMI-WEEKLY NEWS of March 7, 1893, an account of Elam Luddington’s death in Sugar House Ward, Salt Lake county….”
On Saturday, September 16, the Deseret Weekly printed a retraction. What might not have seemed so significant when he first read the obituary, must have somehow become significant enough to set the record straight. Was it because he wasn’t feeling well that week as his journal reveals, and had some time on his hands prior to writing the letter? Or might he have been interested in preserving his own legacy and those of his earlier comrades while facing land disputes in court and denied requests from Washington DC to increase his pension.
On August 8, there is no mention of a letter written to the Church historian although he did mention letters he wrote from time to time in his journal. There was no mention of concern about reviving his youthful legacy. He didn’t even mention feeling sick or tired as he had in previous journal entries. On the day he wrote to Franklin D. Richards to correct Elam Luddington’s Obituary notice he writes one line,
“Aug 8, 1893 Tuesday. [William] and Riley got a load of driftwood from the river.”
William and Riley were his sons.
For the rest of the story read Called, But Not to China.