Boots in the Temple: A Collection
Come with me to Burma of pagodas and forests, to 1853 where the Second Anglo-Burmese war has just ended. A couple of Mormon missionaries end up in the heart of the conflict zone hosted by a recent convert, Matthew McCune. Taken from primary sources, this unique history intertwines the trauma of Burmese who’ve lost their sacred Shwedagon pagoda, Mormons, who’ve experienced the loss of their own temple and being driven from their lands, and a mid-ranking British magazine sergeant trying to make the best of the situation.
Boots in the Temple
Mormon missionary Levi Savage did not succeed in Burma, and that was better in 1853. In late September in the outer recesses of the pointed gold-laced Shwedagon pagoda on a hilltop in Yangon, wide forehead, warm-eyed Savage jotted a few lines about his struggles. Cicadas vibrated their pitchy songs in the trees. Soft fluting and caws came from colorful flapping feathers beyond its walls. Cockroaches peaked out from within the floor’s crevices. Moist heavy air and drip from rains moistened his pen and journal. He bumbled through the language he tried to learn. His traveling companion since Utah, Elam Luddington, soured towards him. Even in dreams he saw falling trees blocking his way.     
Lost Guides: Burmese Jungle 1853
It is possible in the dark of night when a soldier marching can’t discern the crackling in the forest under his own feet from the crackling of his neighbor’s, when the leading lantern glows several paces beyond him, when body odor and another’s breathing is his only assurance he’s among comrades; their guide got lost. Commanding sergeant Matthew McCune of this British East India Company contingent of Sepoys, elephants, bullocks and the arsenal, supposed his guide got lost. Half an hour of searching later they returned to course. The next day, though, the guide’s innocent detraction was harder to believe.
About a year earlier, back in London the debate had been fierce before the war started. Burma, a distant foreign jungle to most British subjects; they didn’t want to spend treasure and lives trampling its fields and for nefarious purposes. But Lord Palmerston in the halls of power smelled a trade advantage and a faster route to the riches of China…
Levi Savage Before His Mission
We should all be grateful Levi Savage bombed his proselyting mission. Our Levi as you may know, stood with the folk in the pioneering tragedy of the Willie Handcart Company back in the mid-nineteenth century. He became our hero rescuing immigrants as they braved terrain and weather to the point of starvation and near destruction on their way to Utah. Most recently Jasen Wade played him in the movie 17 Miracles. That peppery beard and those pearly whites never made hat hair look so fine.
Anyway, he struggled on his mission before that movie heroism ever arraigned him in the halls of our memories. Before his famous Willie Handcart gig he was preaching. In a war zone. In Burma. Well,…trying to.
Remind you where Burma is again? Sure. If you poke your finger through Kansas and it is long enough,…