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.

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