This statue honors a Mormon pioneer, whose faith, courage, and physical indomitability made her a local hero.
She was born Ellen Purcell, but known to family and friends as Nellie, in England in 1846. When she was 9, she, her older sister Maggie, and their parents joined the Latter-Day Saints Church and travelled to the United States to settle in Salt Lake Valley. They traveled with the Edward Martin Company, one of the many parties of Mormon handcart pioneers to settle in Utah.
During the journey, an early snowstorm hit. First Nellie and Maggie’s father died, and their mother followed five days later. As the two girls walked through the snow, Nellie’s bare feet became frostbitten. They fell behind the company and would have died if not for a rescue party sent by Brigham Young himself from Salt Lake City. By the time she reached Utah, both of her legs were amputated below the knee with a butcher knife, a saw, and no anesthesia. Her stumps never fully healed.
When Nellie was 24, she moved to Cedar City and married William Unthank. The couple had six children. Mrs. Unthank would do chores and care for her family, not allowing her disability to slow her down. She covered her stumps with a leather apron and crawled about her house. She and her children even cleaned the entire Latter Day Saints meeting house once a year as thanks for their support.
In 1991, a statue of a youthful Nellie as a young, smiling girl with legs was dedicated at the site of her former family home on what is now the campus of Southern Utah University.