THE MYSTERY OF THE MISSING SHEEPSKIN DEED
By Genevieve Van Wagenen
In 1964 family representatives from the descendants of John Halmagh
Van Wagoner met in Salt Lake City, at the home of Loree Van Wagoner Orullian. The purpose
of this meeting was to make preparations for compiling and publishing a history of the Van
Wagenen and Van Wagoner families. During this meeting the question arose as to what
materials should be included in this precious book. Many interesting and valuable items
were suggested: Histories, pictures; the genealogy of our noble and courageous forebears
was a must, as also was the delightful story of their conversion to the Church of Jesus
Christ of Latter-day Saints.
"We must have a picture of the monument at Winter Quarters. The names of Mary Van Houten and Halmagh Van Wagoner, our valiant ancestors, are engraved on it. They are honored among those who made the supreme sacrifice for the Gospel." Everyone agreed that a picture of "The Tragedy at Winter Quarters" should be included.
Then someone said, "By all means the book should have a picture of the old sheepskin deed."
"What sheepskin deed?" asked several.
"The deed showing the purchase of land from the Indians by our early ancestors when they came to America," chorused several who had seen the interesting deed, or heard of it.
The sheepskin deed was truly a topic of interest and excitement. Those who had not seen it were curious, delighted, and anxious to hear all about this ancient legal document. Those who had seen it were just as eager to describe it and tell everything they remembered about the rare and unique deed.
"The sheepskin deed was about the size of a piece of legal paper," said one. "It was smooth and white and pliable. It was rolled up like a parchment. The mark of the Indian Chief attesting to the sale was made in one corner."
"I saw the deed once when I was just a kid," said another, but if my memory serves me right, it was much larger and still had the wool on the back of the deed." There seemed to be a difference of opinion as to its description, but there was no doubt of its existence.
"Where is the deed now?" everyone wanted to know. But nobody had any idea where the deed could be. Speculations were made and rumors aired. It had not been seen in many a long year. Several present were appointed to look into the matter. A search was begun. Inquiries were made, but the whereabouts of the sheepskin deed seemed to be a complete mystery. It was as if it had vanished into thin air. Time was running out. This intriguing deed seemed destined to remain a mystery. Our book would have to go to press without a picture or mention of it. Then something wonderful occurred. Destiny stepped in, removed the mystery, and changed the story.
In 1966, Lucile Smith of Monterey Park, California, came to Provo, Utah to attend a Smith family reunion. Lucile Smith is the grand-daughter of Hannah Van Wagoner Smith. Now Hannah was the eldest daughter of Mary Van Houten and Halmagh Van Wagoner. Our progenitor, John Helmagh Van Wagoner, was the brother of Hannah.
In 1967, Lucile Smith came to Salt lake City to attend the October General Conference of the Church of Jesus Christ of latter-day Saints. While in her motel one day, she was surprised when a representative of the Smith family from Provo called on her and brought a collection of family records and papers. These family valuables were entrusted to her care for one day only. As she began to examine them, therebefore her very eyes, was the ancient sheepskin deed. A deed which was drawn up and written in 1684.
She was thrilled at the sight of it. She was fascinated with the style of penmanship. The deed was neatly written in ink. There were places where the ink had faded with time, but most of it was clearly legible. Lucile was overjoyed. What a discovery she had made! Her first thought was to get in touch with Loree Van Wagoner Orullian, whom she knew was inquiring after this ancient document.
Lucile telephoned Loree. "I have the sheepskin deed-but only for a day. What shall I do with it?"
Between gasps of amazement and pure delight Loree directed her to take the deed to Leland Van Wagoner, the photographer, and have him photograph it immediately. Lelands wife, Irene, fastened it in position to be photographed. Then, adjusting his lighting, Leland photographed this 283-year-old deed for our book. While Erold Wiscombe, who had brought the sheepskin, carefully read the deed, Irene typed the information word for word.
So at last the mystery of the missing sheepskin deed was solved. It was only natural that the eldest daughter, Hannah, would be interested in preserving this ancient heirloom among her heirs. We are indebted to them for its safe keeping. We are grateful that the Lord opened the way so that the deed came into our hands long enough to be photographed for your enjoyment.
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