Doing What Simon Says

Doing What Simon Says

From Chicken Soup for the Latter-day Saint Soul

Doing What Simon Says

My great-great-grandfather, Simon Baker, was the third child in a family of five, born October 18, 1811, at West Winfield, Herkimer County, New York. Not much is known about Simon’s childhood; he went to school at West Winfield and lived with his parents until he was seventeen, when he secured a position to work by the month. His father drew his wages.

At the age of eighteen, Simon married Mercy Young. They started their married life with only one dollar, which they gave to the minister who married them. Simon was hired at first by a Mr. Sheppard and later by Elijah Risley, a merchant of Fredonia, to manage the operation of a sawmill. Simon received twelve dollars a month for his work. On December 1, 1833, Simon started working for E. H. W. Risley & Co., one of the most important merchants in the region. His account book states: “Dec. 1, 1833, Commence work for E.H.W. Risley for one hundred ninety five dollars.” He continued working for Risley for six years, managing the lumber mill and hiring and paying help as the occasion required.

Near Fredonia was the village of Laona; in 1835, five years after the organization of the Church, there were already thirty-five members of the Mormon faith in Laona. One evening on his way home from work, curiosity led Simon Baker to stop and listen to a street meeting. The doctrine that the missionaries preached captured his attention so much that he was late for supper—something that rarely happened. When he told Mercy of his interest in the new religion, she began to weep, thinking her husband was being led astray by false doctrine. Simon calmed her fears by telling her that he would take her to hear the missionaries so she could decide for herself.

Upon hearing the missionaries, Mercy also believed their message; later, through the teaching of Benjamin Brown, both Simon and Mercy accepted the gospel and were baptized by him. Mercy was baptized on March 4 and Simon on April 16, 1839.

It must have been a considerable sacrifice for Simon Baker to leave the place where he had worked those six years, pick up his little family, and move west with nothing more than a team of horses and a light wagon. But in the spring of 1839, soon after embracing the gospel, he moved to what was then called the Half Breeds Land in Lee County, Iowa, across the river from Nauvoo. There he located a small farm, lived on it for a year and then sold it for a larger farm that consisted of eighty acres of tillable land and eighty acres of timber. He built a cabin on the farm and moved into his new home in the spring of 1841.

Four of their children were born in that cabin. One of the twins born there died two and a half months later. Mercy seemed unable to recover from this experience, and she died March 4, 1845—leaving eight small children, the oldest only fourteen years old.

On April 5, Simon decided he needed to get someone to help care for his children. He was going to Nauvoo to attend conference, and he promised his children he would bring them a new mother. While on his way to Nauvoo, he asked a friend if he knew of a woman who would make a good mother for his children. This friend referred him to Charlotte Leavitt, the daughter of a widow who lived in Nauvoo. After the morning services of the conference were over, he went to the widow’s cottage and made his intentions known, leaving the matter up to Charlotte. She consented to go home with him and take care of his children; if she liked him she would marry him, and if not, he would pay her for her services.

On April 8, Simon and Charlotte started for his home with this understanding. While crossing the Mississippi River on the ferryboat, they decided that they would marry at once—so, securing the services of Elder William Snow, the ceremony was performed between the two states, Illinois and Iowa. That saved them a trip to the county seat for a license, since the state had no jurisdiction over marriages performed on the water.

Simon Baker was an ingenious man who could make all kinds of mechanical devices, and he always had full command of his senses when any emergency arose. Those qualities made him an essential man in the community and on the westward trek.

He was a devoted follower of the Prophet Joseph Smith, and often guarded the Prophet while he slept. He was a courageous man whose life was dedicated to his family and to the Church. In a brief autobiography, he wrote, “I feel thankful that I am permitted to live in this age of the world. My desire is that I may keep the commandments of God and be saved in His Celestial Kingdom.”

Simon Baker and Charlotte were sealed in the Nauvoo Temple on January 6, 1846. Charlotte was then proxy in the sealing of Mercy to Simon. Their daughter, Abigail, was born the next day, January 7, 1846.

During the spring of 1856, Simon Baker was called to assist in the colonization of Carson City and the surrounding valley. He had just finished building a house on his lot at the corner of First North and West Temple streets. One of the Church leaders told him, “Brother Baker, before you go on this mission, we want you to do something to help pay off the church debt.”

“Whatever is expected of me, I am willing to do,” Simon replied.

“We want fifty head of your best cattle, and we also want you to turn your house and lot over to the Perpetual Emigration Fund,” the leader instructed. Simon did so, without questioning.

I have often contemplated the love that my great-great-grandfather must have had for the Prophet Joseph Smith, demonstrated by his willingness to guard the Prophet as he slept and to give his own life if necessary. That thought has caused me considerable soul-searching: Would I be willing to give my own life to protect the Prophet as he slept? After much pondering and prayer, I have concluded that I, too, would be willing to guard this great man who communed with Jehovah.

I have also had to ask myself, Am I willing to do whatever is expected of me? Sometimes, I believe that we make excuses instead of doing the small things we are asked to do in building the kingdom. We are rarely asked to give up all that we have—instead, we are only asked to fulfill the callings that our bishops and stake presidents extend to us. Each calling we are given is in some way related to the three-fold mission of the Church: to preach the gospel, perfect the saints and redeem the dead. Each of us should strive to be able to reply, as did Simon Baker, “Whatever is expected of me, I am willing to do.”

Tom Baker

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