This article written by Mark Albright appeared in the 28 January 2016 online edition of the Meridian Magazine. Information for the article was submitted by Cory Forbush, a direct descendant of Ulrich Bryner.
Image: Hans Ulrich Bryner holding onto the back of the last wagon in this picture. This painting is in the Daughter’s of the Utah Pioneer Museum in Salt Lake City, Utah. It was painted by Lura Redd.
Hans Ulrich Bryner Jr., the son of Hans Ulrich Bryner and Verena Wintsch was born in Zurich, Switzerland on April 22, 1827. His father was a shoemaker and young Ulrich picked up and delivered the shoes for his father. His parents were good religious Lutherans and taught their children to pray, to be obedient, honest, prompt, industrious and thrifty. When Ulrich was ten years old, his father bought a large farm. Ulrich learned to do farming chores such as plowing, mowing and pruning. They attended school from age six to twelve and did very well in their studies. By the time Ulrich was grown, he could speak several languages. They were a happy united family and were fairly well off.
In January of 1843, when Ulrich was nearly 16, he became very sick. His best friend also got sick and died. This upset Ulrich and he worried about it, thinking that he too might die. With this on his mind he was unable to sleep very well. He had a dream, in which a man with a grey beard and peculiar eyes took him by the hand and led him, in darkness, half way around the world. He could see nothing at all until they came to the top of the world. Then the heavens opened above their heads and he saw a bright light come down.
He saw the City of Zion shining like gold, silver and glass —its loveliness was above description. He saw a big wall with three gates leading through it. Righteous and holy people were going through these gates into the city. He wanted to go in too, but the man said “You can’t go through now, but if you are faithful and true, the time will come when you will be allowed to go.” As he lay on his sick bed, he thought of this dream night and day.
He thought a dark night was coming, but never guessed that he was going to be blind. He told his family of the dream and they all wondered what it meant. When he recovered, he learned the butchering trade. He entered contests which were held to encourage the workers to excel. He was a good worker, quick and accurate. His specialty was killing hogs — he could kill, scald, scrape, hang and draw a hog faster than most anyone. He had won four cups as prizes. He received promotions until he became superintendent of the slaughter-house.
He was also a buyer for the establishment and went about the country buying animals. His languages came in handy in this assignment. He may have learned some of them on the job, although in Switzerland there are three official languages taught in the schools, French, German and Italian. There are also many dialects. He wanted eventually to get into government service. In 1849, at age 22, he married Anna Maria Dorothea Mathys, daughter of Johannes and Anna Mathys.
Their first child, Mary, was born June 23, 1851. They were happy and free from care for two years. Then one day at work, he was trying to beat his own record in preparing for another contest. He had the hog hanging up, and its foot slipped off the cross stick (gambrel) and struck him in the eye, splitting the pupil. The carcass fell and dragged him down with it. He gave a cry and his brother Casper, nearly seven years younger, who worked in the same shop, came to his rescue.
When Casper saw his eye was knocked out of its socket and hanging down on his cheek, Casper put his hand over it and led him down along the river bank to the doctor. Ulrich got infection in it, and with no antibiotics, he was sick for a long time, and of course had to give up his job. His parents took him to Germany to eye specialists, but they could do nothing. The infection spread to the other eye. He was blind now in both eyes. Friends came to his wife Maria saying “Give him up and let him go home to his parents, they are well enough off to take care of him. You don’t want to be saddled with a blind man all the rest of your life. What can he do for you now? You would be better off without him.” But her mother said “No, Maria will not desert him, he needs her now more than he ever did.” Of course Maria stayed with him, but nothing could comfort him. Their home was one of mourning. They could see no future, and felt that all their happiness was completely destroyed.
One day as Maria sat by his side, her mother came in and said, “You can do nothing but pray about it — perhaps the Lord will open a way for you. I believe the hand of the Lord is in it, for a whispering voice always says to me, “Don’t feel sorry that Bryner is blind, it’s good for you all but you don’t know it yet.” Ulrich’s family was kind to them, and all were willing to provide for them, but Ulrich could not be happy. He felt that the Lord had cast him aside.
Four long sorrowful months passed by, then one morning in the latter part of July, he called his mother and father to listen, for he had had another dream. His family gathered round and he said, “I found myself in a great dark room with no glimmer of light. Three fires appeared, each of a different size. A man with a grey beard and peculiar eyes stood at my side, the same man I had seen before. He had an open book in his hand. He crossed out my sins and they fell to the floor. A voice said to me “You will have to go through the middle fire.” I said, “I am able to stand that too.” The wall opened so wide that we could pass through it. The light came in as bright as noon-day and we were shown the road to Zion. We had to cross the sea with a great company and take a long journey across the great prairie into the mountains to reach the City of Zion.”
A few months later, in February 1854, a Mormon missionary by the name of George Meyer came to the Zurich from America. The Bryner family was anxious to see if he was the man Ulrich had seen in his dreams. Several members of the family walked for two hours to get to Bern, to hear Elder Meyer. As soon as they saw him they recognized him as the man in Ulrich’s dream. George Meyer was very cross-eyed and wore very thick lenses. They immediately invited him to come to their home. Two days later, late at night a knock came on the door, and when Maria answered, it was Elder Meyer. She asked her husband if he thought it safe to let them in at this time of night. “Oh, yes,” he said, “take them up to my old room.” She took them up to the fourth-floor bedroom, and from that time on, it was their headquarters in that part of Switzerland.
Some of the neighbors objected to the elders being there. They threw rocks and broke the window. Needless to say, the message these brethren brought from over the sea was listened to eagerly and believed. There were so many beautiful things in this religion that were lacking in their Lutheran faith — new revelations, a modern prophet of God, angels visiting the earth again, a new golden Bible, a call for repentance, baptism as John practised it, the laying on of hands for the gift of the Holy Ghost and for ordinations, and many other beautiful principles.
Twelve of the Bryners and Mathys’s were baptized, with Ulrich being the first one. They were so happy they thanked the Lord and wept for joy. They knew now that He had answered their prayers.
He knew the gospel was true and bore testimony to his brothers and sisters. He knew from his vision of the fire that his life wasn’t going to be easy and that troubles lay ahead for him. They wanted to join the Saints in Utah, and began to make preparations for the long journey. They couldn’t all go at once, so Casper and Barbara Ann went first to lead the way and make preparations for the others to follow. All the rest of the family, five in all, came to the U. S. and crossed the plains to Utah. It was 1856 and they now had two children, Mary Magdalena and Gottfried Henry. They felt the little boy was too young to make the trip, so they left him with his grandparents, to come later on.
They travelled the same route Ulrich had seen in his dream. They were in the sailing vessel, the “Enoch Train,” for forty two days, and landed in Boston, and went on via New York to join the saints. His brother, Casper, had purchased a wagon and oxen, and hired a teamster, so everything was ready for them to go on to Utah. They left Florence about the first of September, 1856. Travel by ox team was difficult for the pioneers, especially for Ulrich who could not see. He held onto the back of the wagon, and if the going got tough for the animals, he would help push the wagon. There is a painting by Lura Redd, in the D.U.P. museum in Salt Lake City, of Ulrich clinging to the back of the wagon as he stumbled over the rocks, bumps, ruts, and gopher holes, and was sometimes dragged along when he lost his footing. The journey was slow and uneventful for the most part, but at times there was plenty of excitement.
The trip, about 1,000 miles, took nearly four months, and it got very cold when they were about half way. Ulrich and the driver both froze their feet and legs, so Maria then had to look after them, do the cooking and the driving. Ulrich was administered to for his frozen feet, and Maria treated them with poultices made of pulverized sage and snow, as advised by Brigham Young. His feet healed and he was later able to walk as straight as anyone. By the time they reached Devil’s Gate, many people and oxen had frozen to death, so they had to double up and leave some of the wagons behind. Since the remaining wagons were loaded so heavily, everyone who could possibly walk, did so. They caught up with the ill-fated Martin handcart company, and were asked to take another family in their wagon, so they had to leave more of their belongings beside the road. The bitterly cold weather made travel very slow, and provisions were scarce. Many died on this trek. (Best estimates put the death toll at 69 in the Willie Company, 150-170 in the Martin Company, 10 in the Hodgett Company and 19 in the Hunt Company.)
However help was on the way, and it came none too soon. Riders had taken word of their predicament into Salt Lake. Brigham Young sent rescue parties with wagons and supplies to meet them. The snow was nine feet deep. People had to go ahead and tramp the snow down so the animals could pull the wagons over it. How happy they were to finally reach Salt Lake! When Ulrich’s brother Casper had learned of the trouble this pioneer company was having, he started out to meet them.
He spoke so little broken English that it was hard for him to make them understand, so he’d ask, “Has anyone seen a blind man?” None had, so he went on to the next group and asked again. Kind people in the city had opened their hearts and homes to take in the cold and hungry ones, so now Casper went from door to door and asked, “Has anyone here seen a blind man?” Finally he came to the door of the house where Ulrich and his family were staying. Great was Ulrich’s delight when he recognized his brother’s voice! They fell on each other’s necks and wept tears of joy. This was December 24, 1856. The next summer, 1857, Ulrich’s parents and sister came from Switzerland, bringing his little son with them. What a happy reunion that was! The parents had also travelled by ox team, having several accidents along the way in which his father was badly injured and never completely recovered. While in Lehi, a daughter Pauline was born.
They were called to settle in St. George in 1861, and travelled three hundred miles through snowstorms and lived in a tent. Later they moved to New Harmony, not far from St. George, where Mary Verena and Frank were born. Of course, there were no homes, no stores, and no money in New Harmony. They had to provide everything themselves. They planted cotton, carded it, dyed it with roots and herbs, and Maria spun it into thread on a spinning wheel which Ulrich’s father built for them. Brigham Young pronounced it the best home-made thread he had ever seen. They wove material for their clothing, and sewed everything by hand with the tiniest stitches imaginable. Maria devoted herself to helping her husband. She was very small, but quick and efficient. She spent all day with Ulrich in the fields, guiding him as he did his work, and helping with the farm and orchard work herself, at the same time bearing six more children and training them well.
Ulrich could manage pretty well in the house if the furniture was always kept in exactly the same spot, and there was nothing littering the floor. He could still mend shoes, and butcher hogs as well as anyone. He could prune trees and grapevines expertly. He would pick willows and weave baskets — there were none better — fancy baskets as well as utilitarian measuring baskets. No one knew how he could judge, but he made accurate bushel, half-bushel and peck baskets. He trained his sons to do many things, among others, to drive a team by the age of eight.
In 1868 Ulrich took a second wife, Margaretha Kuhn Wintsch, who had been widowed twice. He settled her in Toquerville, about twenty miles south of New Harmony, which was a good place for growing fruit. Ulrich and Margaret had ten children. In 1884, he was called to go settle in Price, Utah. It took them three months to make the trip, as they had many cows with young calves and had to travel slowly. They would milk the cows in the morning, put the milk in the large churn tied to the side of the wagon. When they stopped at night, it would be churned to butter, and they would enjoy the buttermilk to drink. They arrived in Price on July 23rd, in time for the Pioneer Celebration on the 24th. Theirs was the first house finished in Price — it was a two-story log home.
They had brought fruit seeds from St. George, and had the first orchard and grape bowery in Price. Ulrich built 300 beehives and honey frames, and extracted the honey, which was white and mild. He also braided rope from cowhide that was a specialty, and raised and sold vegetables and large barrels of sauerkraut. Only once in his long life did he or any of his family depend on outside help of any kind, and that was when the house burned and they were left with practically nothing.
Ulrich retired at 70 from his strenuous activity. He hired research done in Switzerland and spent the last seven years of his life in St. George doing temple work for five thousand of his kindred dead. His line was traced back to 1495 and the Mathys line to 1555. He died 9 Feb. 1905 of a stroke, at age 78. He left a large posterity, and had lived a long and useful life. He always said that he was glad that he became blind, otherwise he might have been too busy to listen to the missionaries. He loved the gospel so much, his joy in it far outweighed any trials or hardships he endured.