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Lady of the Lake



In the annals of pioneer history are many tales of the strength and courage of our men. This poignant tale of true love is about real people and is told in the simple and touching words of the heroine of the story, a woman of heroic spirit.

FEW stories ever told about Great Salt Lake are more colorful, poignant, or tragic, than the beautiful "saga of Fremont Island," a tale of a man and a woman who loved each other greatly.

The couple was U. J. Wenner and his wife, Kate.

Today, their graves, side-by-side on the lonely, wind swept soil of the island are all that remain to remind rare visitors that once Mr. and Mrs. Wenner and their three children lived an idyllic life there, but an idyl that culminated in tragedy.

Mr. Wenner died and was buried on the island in 1891. His wife, who later remarried, died in Seattle in 1942, and one of her last requests was that her ashes be buried beside the body of her first husband.

Services were conducted in June, 1943, and last fall a plaque was erected over the graves to mark the final resting places of the couple.

Shortly before her own death, Mrs. Kate Wenner Noble wrote, with touching sensitivity, the story of her island life. What follows is substantially that story, with a few changes made by this author mostly to meet the demands of space limitations. All the quotations are from Mrs. Kate Wenner Noble’s memoirs.

As a girl, Kate lived a rather sheltered life, but "after a succession of seven brothers, I surprised the family by being a girl, and wisely chose the time of my arrival—April Fool’s day, 1857."

Graduated from an exclusive eastern girl’s school, she spent three years studying and traveling in Europe. then returned to America, and "met again the man God made and kept for me.

"And when he saw me, he said: ‘Is there anybody else? If so, breathe the answer softly so as not to disturb the ashes of a deeply buried happiness.’"

Married after a short engagement, "our honeymoon ended in Salt Lake City, where my husband opened his law office, and the home we built on Brigham Street, (East South Temple) is standing witness to our happy days of health and hope when all life was fair before us.

"The second year, George arrived . . . and after three years of joyous living came a precious baby daughter (Blanche) to bless our home.

Interested in silver mines, our gold went in, hut neither silver nor gold ever came out. We were getting poorer all the time, but so happy we did not seem to mind it. Servants dwindled down to one. The best of books we never resisted as long as we could pay for one.

"About the fifth year a shadow came into our sunshine. My husband was not well. Doctors prescribed a complete rest from all business cares. Knowing of Fremont Island, then owned by the government and Central Pacific Railroad, we began planning its purchase, which we could manage by selling our city home. My relatives and friends were horrified at our desolate summer on a desert island, but my heart was beating: ‘Health, health for him.’

"We tried to think of everything we would need for camping and tent life. We arranged for an old sail boat to carry us over.

At the start, the trip seemed fun, but with calms, then headwinds, squalls, and seasickness, the treacherous lake was like a ‘tempest in a teapot.’ We were nearly three days going.

"It was a Sunday morning when we anchored in the bay of our future home where we faced nearly three thousand acres of sagebrush and greasewood. When we were a bit settled, I started my little Sunday School. In the afternoon we took a swim in the lake, and after supper a walk over the hill where a glorious sunset held us, and then the moon lit up our little world and built up hope for happy days ahead.

"When the old boat, after a month, came with cedar posts, lumber and fresh provisions, my hired girl could not resist the opportunity of returning to the mainland.

"Only one ‘don’t’ restricted the children’s lives, and that was not to go in the lake unless we were with them.

"The fall weather was spicy, but sunny. We had lumber brought across and two men who were working for us built a little house. We named it the Hut. With our tents, a shanty, and a hut, we were prospering. We rented a boat for a month and had horses, cows, chickens, a big wagon, and thoroughbred rams from Iowa brought over.

"Then all hands combined, rock was collected, we built a rudely constructed house by spring, and it had an upstairs and a downstairs.

"We sent for our household goods, and Corregio’s "Magdalene" looked like she had crept in at the window and was simply resting there. We lined the house with our books."

Gradually, Mrs. Wenner began to feel that "much of my life would have been wasted living in the outside world, imitating fashions, wondering about neighbors’ affairs and worrying about my children’s companions. On the island we learned to know ourselves, enjoy ourselves, our children, and our books.

"We were happy over my husband’s apparently returning health. Then things began to happen. Someone sent the children a donkey, and the firstborn on our island was a little colt. About that time I received a package from the governor addressed to ‘The Lady of the Lake.’

"Our little girl learned to swim, just before her fourth birthday. This embarrassed her brother, and he argued that some good swimmers might go with one foot on the lake bottom, but in a few weeks he could outdistance her.

"The mice and lizards sometimes interfered with the solemnity of my little Sunday School. One time. with the 23rd Psalm still on their tongues, I heard my little boy say, as he ran gleefully away, ‘And lizards runneth over, that’s why Mother sat on her feet!’ "

About this time Mrs. Wenner became pregnant again, and it was decided that she and the children should visit her family in Illinois, for a few months.

"We were a funny procession going up the streets in Ogden. I found my old-fashioned clothes somewhat uncomfortable. George had a squeaking pet pelican close to him, and the little girl a box of horned toads. . .

"After three months we returned to the island, and brought home our new boy, Lincoln Wenner.

"With 17 miles of shoreline their own again, the children were happy. They found two Shetland ponies, Dot and Cricket. There was a goat and harness and a little wagon, and the days were not long enough for all the fun.

"The children would play beyond a hill, and our signal for their return was a flag at the upstairs window. Once it occurred to the boy, whose conscience was more elastic than his sister’s, that if he did not go to the top of the hill he could not see the flag, and thus he could play on and on.

The little girl, called by her father Cush La Machree, would stand on the shore and repeat for him very dramatically: ‘What are all these kisses worth, if thou kiss not me?’

"Her brother would say, pointing to the sheep: ‘My name is Norval; on the Grampion Hills my father feeds his flock.’

"One day little Lincoln disappeared, and we scattered in every direction, on foot and horseback, searching for him. We always told the children if lost to follow the shoreline and they would come safely home.

"After a half day’s search, Lincoln was spied far away, keeping very close to every little curve of the shore. His father soon had him in his arms. He was a sorry sight with his tear-stained, dirty face, and he said: ‘Sometimes I laid down on the shore and said: "Now I lay me down to sleep, I pray the Lord my soul to keep," and then I got up and went on.’

It always was an especially remembered event when ever a visitor would stop by.

"One boat, a catamaran, with her snowy sails spread, came silently into our harbor once," wrote Mrs. Wenner, "and how my boys chased up and down the beach! My girl held on to her skirt ready to drop a curtsy with the landing of the crew, and I was ready to do the island’s best. On the boat was the gallant Capt. Davis of Salt Lake City, father of Noel Davis, a latter-day aviator."

Although Mr. Wenner seemed in good health during the years, actually he was growing slowly, but progressively worse. After five years of island life, the family planned to spend the winter of ‘91 in the milder climate of California.

As the time neared for leaving, "we sent our man of all work to the mainland for mail and purchases needed.

"Returning, the Argo (our boat) was hit by a storm and heavy headwinds and the boat was detained mid-lake just when I needed his help the most.

"Once, after he left, I realized things might change. I thought my husband was taking a nap, and suddenly from the other room I heard him softly saying: ‘In my Father’s house are many mansions.’

"The next morning, busy with preparations for our California trip, I heard him call, and his voice sounded far away . . . and I knew, oh, I knew.

"With these words, ‘I love you, love the children,’ he died. There I stood alone, facing death for the first time in my life. The children were on a far away hill, happy in their play. I met them and explained as best I could. But did anyone ever stop the laughter and halt the happiness of little children? It takes something from one that never comes back.

"No sign of the boat.

"All day long those heavy waves beat against the shore as though tearing up the island. I heard once that two fires close together meant a call for help.

"My feet and hands were busy climbing the hill, pulling and piling the sagebrush high, ready for my signals at night. I turned the spreading roots towards the sky to emphasize my distress.

"During the night, I would replenish those fires, and then go back to my children, peacefully sleeping up stairs. I would not have them hear my sorrow as I sat below where their blessed father was resting beside the books he loved so well.

"On watch my second night, the wind began to quiet down, moaning and sighing. I thought: ‘How long, oh Lord, how long?’

"Then came a faint light in the heavens and gradually a broad stream of moonlight, like a path of gold, and I saw the Argo sailing ‘wing on wing’ towards me, and I felt as though an angel was treading across the water.

"The man called: ‘What happened?’ And I told him.

"By the light of a lantern we worked that night in the barn, and made, as best we could, the box, and I lined it, not with cold, white satin, but with a softly tinted precious shawl.

"Morning did come again, and the first words I heard were from my little eight-year-old boy: ‘Mother,’ he said, ‘I am half a man,’ and no sermon in all the world could have strengthened me more.

"I sent my children to a far away beach for pebbles, and told them when they saw their flag at the upstairs window to come home. When all was over they came and with these beautiful pebbles of all colors we each made a letter and spelled the word, LOVE, on that newly-made grave.

"Then came a shower like sympathy from heaven, and soon a rainbow and the sunshine lit up my world again, and the glorious memories of our life and love on that desert island."




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