Home > Daily Special

George Staheli and the Wagon-Crushed Trumpet

By Emily Milner

I want to tell you about my ancestor George Staheli. He’s the father of Elizabeth Staheli Walker, who you can read about here and here.

George Staheli was a musician in Switzerland, playing the trumpet in a quartet at dances, weddings, and festivals throughout Switzerland and Germany. He farmed as well, but he loved music best. In 1861, having joined the Church, he and his family immigrated to the Utah. His baby daughter died and he buried her at sea. The family rode on the railways to Nebraska, then walked the rest of the way. When George and his family arrived in Salt Lake City, Brigham Young invited George to stay there to teach and play music, but he wanted to be with the rest of the Swiss saints who had been called to Santa Clara, so he declined.

On the way to Santa Clara, his trumpet, which had been hooked onto the side of the wagon, fell off, and and a wagon wheel crushed it. I can’t overstate how devastating this loss must have been for George and his family. The danger of turning maudlin with pioneer stories is very real, and yet the thought of the broken trumpet brings me to tears just as much as any other pioneer death or sacrifice ever has. He lost his livelihood, his source of joy, his means of serving the Saints through music. For some reason that ruined trumpet affects me more than the deaths in George’s story, maybe because death seems to be so much a part of pioneer journeys that it’s almost commonplace (“And should we die…”), but to have to lose music on top of everything else feels too cruel.

Once in Santa Clara, George attempted to set up his home. His pregnant wife had a baby on Christmas Day. Shortly after, The Virgin River flooded and wiped out everything previous and new settlers had built. His wife Barbara was rescued by Jacob Hamblin, barely escaping the flood alive. Weakened by the flood, the journey, giving birth, and illness, Barbara died. As George’s family rebuilt, they survived on pigweed and wild berries for a time.

Here I pause to state this obvious but important truth: George Staheli gave up nearly everything he held dear. His home, his daughter, his wife, his music. Anything that was precious to him, God took it. Maybe it’s unfair to blame God here. Maybe George never did. I read the story and I do, though: Father, I say in my mind, George was doing a good thing. He left beautiful green Switzerland to build Zion in a desert. Why not protect his wife and his daughter? Why not at least save the trumpet?

After three years in Santa Clara, fellow Swiss settler John Itten inherited some musical instruments and gave them to the town, including a trumpet for George, who immediately formed a band. George wrote out all the parts for the band by hand, and taught other saints to play, including his two boys (his son John is pictured above; photo found on George Staheli’s page in Family Search). At the dedication of the Saint George Temple George Staheli and his band stood on top of the temple and played.


It’s hard to put into words the beauty of this story for me, but it goes something like this: All that you have given up will be restored. All that you have lost will be found. Eternity, eternal promises, are bigger and wider and more beautiful and more real than destruction and sorrow and heartache. God and wagon wheels may crush the things that bring you joy, your dear ones may die, but He will restore them all again, and you will play the trumpet triumphantly on the top of the temple.

About Emily Milner

(Poetry Board) graduated from BYU in Comparative Literature, but it was long enough ago that most of what she learned has leaked out. She would like to mention other hobbies or interests, but to be honest she spends most of her free time reading (although she does enjoy attempting yoga). She used to blog at hearingvoices.wordpress.com. For now, though, Segullah is her only blogging home, and it's a good one.

4 thoughts on “George Staheli and the Wagon-Crushed Trumpet”

  1. I know i’m going to get boos and hisses for this – what struck me was his declining what the prophet had asked for.
    What would have been different if he had made that choice instead?

  2. Thanks, Lisa!
    Sharon, I've often wondered what would have happened if he had stayed, but not because I felt that he wasn't obedient to what the prophet wanted. My understanding of the story is that Brigham Young gave him the option to stay, the invitation, but the choice was up to him:"If you want to stay we have a place for your talents, but you're free to go with the other Swiss saints if you would like." He wasn't disobeying the prophet, he was exercising the option the prophet gave him to choose. I'm sure if he had been called specifically to stay in Salt Lake he would have done so.


Leave a Comment