Home Text

Sketch of the Life of John James Esplin

by Clara Esplin Spencer

After their marriage in Salt Lake City, November 10, 1853, John and Margaret Webster Esplin joined other pioneers in establishing a settlement at Salt Creek, now called Nephi. During the fifteen years they lived there, eight children were born to them. The eldest was Henry Webster, and the second born January 1, 1857 was John James, more commonly called John J.

They were enjoying the fruits of their labors there when a call came to them from Brigham Young to go on a mission to help settle the Muddy Valley and raise cotton in a blistering hot desert. It was the intention of the Church to establish and independent empire here in the West and produce everything necessary to the people’s welfare, without being dependent on goods shipped from the East.

A Mrs. Booth from Nephi told me her mother said she was so sorry for Sister Esplin when this call came to them on the day her eighth child, David, was born - September 10, 1868. She had lived and borne her children in a covered wagon or a dug-out and was now enjoying the comparative comfort of the first adobe house erected in Nephi, and must leave it to start pioneering again under even more trying conditions, and she wouldn’t have blamed her if she had refused. These good people had never refused a call made of them by the Church so they set about making preparations to answer this one.

Leaving 14-year-old Henry W. to look after his Mother and the younger children, John to 11-year-old John J. and went to the Muddy, now called Moapa Valley, to lay out a farm and build a house to move the family into the next year.

After the settlers had struggled for two years with drifting sand and heat and lack of water, and Nevada taxes - for a government survey had placed this valley in the New Territory of Nevada, and Nevada officials were demanding back-taxes for all the time they had been there. It was deemed advisable to abandon the project. The settlers were released to return to their homes if they wishes, but a call was made for volunteers to re-settle the Long Valley towns of Windsor and Berryville, now called Mt. Carmel and Glendale, which had been abandoned during the Indian troubles. The Esplin family along with some 200 others moved to Long Valley, settling in Mt. Carmel.

The first year in the Valley, the grasshoppers took the grain, so that fall Margaret took Henry W. and the younger children and went by ox team to Nephi. They worked in the harvest and elsewhere and returned with seed grain and provisions for the winter. John J and his oldest sister Margaret remained with their father to fence fields and work on their home.

The United Order was organized in Mt. Carmel in 1874, and in 1875 those who wished to live in it moved to the new site which had been laid out. The Esplin family entered into the activities and social life of this new and unusual community.

About a year and a half later, before he was quite 20 years old, John J married his two wives on the same day - July 20, 1876. They were Harriet Leonora Allen and Emily Alvira Hoyt. They with Amos Cox and his bride Lettie Palmer were married in the Endowment House in Salt Lake City, by Daniel H. Wells. They had of course made the trip in company with others all the way by team.

They took up a homestead in Long Valley Canyon north of Glendale for the United Order. The young people nick-named it Love-Berg. Later he was a foreman of a lumber camp in one of the canyons tributary to the Virgin River, his wives doing the cooking for the men who were sent from the Order to work in the mill. Girls were also sent up to assist with the house work.

Part of the time they lived in the old log-house near his father’s house on the Esplin Farm a mile above Orderville, where his older children grew up with his young brother George and his sisters Clara, Persis and Clarissa who were nearer the same age.

Before the Order dissolved, John Esplin and his sons rented sheep from the Order and ran them as a Company. After John’s death in 1895, the three brothers, Henry W., John J and David continued as a company for a while, but eventually dissolved their partnership, but all continued in the sheep business for most of their lives. Each owned some farm land and cattle in addition.

John J owned land around Duck Creek Falls on the Cedar Mountain or Black Mountain as they called it. This was later taken into the Forest Reserve and he was given a permit to graze it for a specified time each summer. His winter range was near Mt. Trumbull. He and his brothers were pioneer sheep men on the Arizona Strip. He and his brother David made the first reservoir in Toroweep Valley.

As John’s sons worked with him they were given a part of their wages in sheep so when they were ready to go for themselves they had a start in the sheep business is they wished to continue in it and several of them did. Three boys went into farming in Idaho, some of them feeding sheep in the winter.

When the Order dissolved, John J was given some farm land in the Cove and two building lots in Orderville. One with a farm house on it was taken from what had been the community garden, near the old dining hall and kitchen. Later a choice orchard was planted on this lot and a new house built on it. The other was part of the apple orchard, some of which had to be removed to make room for a house and garden. One valuable sheep-nose apple tree was let in front of the house.

Four rooms of the new house, two on the ground floor and two above, were completed in time for my Mother, Leonar, to move into to welcome her sixth child, which turned out to be me. She was very proud and happy to at last have a new home of her own. She was not to enjoy it long however, as the raid on polygamists began and in the interest of safety father traded homes with his brother David who was homesteading in the cove, where we lived for 14 years. After renting for a few years we moved into the house directly across the street from the one where I was born on my 18th birthday. This house was later remodeled.

The 2nd of January 1890 John J was called on a mission, laboring in Evansville, Indiana. After three months he had pneumonia which left him very weak and nervous and he was released to return home. It was a great disappointment to him that he could not complete his mission.

He was a hardworking, early-rising, industrious man and made a success of his business. He was the father of 21 children, 5 of whom died in infancy. Lucy died of diabetes when 15 years of age. Fifteen children grew to maturity. Mames died of pneumonia in February 1916 while attending the U.S.A.C. in Logan. Ten children are still living and he has a large posterity.

He had a keen mind and all his life he felt his lack of educational opportunities, so he determined to give his children every possible advantage for schooling. He agreed to give each child two years away at some school of higher learning and he hoped with this start they would go on to get more for themselves. When some of the family wanted things he did not consider necessities he would say that missionary work and education must come first, after that, the luxuries.

Thought not a musician himself he loved good music. Some of Minnie’s and Ether’s friends woke him serenading at the Cove one summer evening. They apologized, knowing how important his before midnight sleep was to him. He told them to go on singing that they could awaken him with signing any time they wished. Just before he died, thought partly under sedative, he enjoyed the hour-long broadcast of Christmas carols from atop the St. George Tabernacle.

He spent much of his leisure time reading. In the winter he sometimes sat through most of the day with a novel remarking as he laid it down - “Well, that was a pretty good made-up yarn.”

Having endured poverty and having had a hard struggle himself he had a great deal of sympathy for others who were having a hard time. He was very generous in helping those in need. It can truly be said he never let his left hand know what his right hand was giving out.

When he was a director in the Panguitch Bank, the bank officials learned that they could not always safely lend money to all whom he recommended for loans. Some who were turned down he lent money to on his own. On one occasion some of the family objected to his lending to a man who was known to be a poor risk. He said, “Well, he needs the money, he’s got to have it.” He went so far as to become a “soft touch” for those who borrow easily and forget to repay. So when the depression came and the sheep business went on the rocks - and the Garfield Bank failed and he as a stockholder and director had to put up his share to make good its accounts; he found himself in quite strait circumstances.

I will insert here a story told me by Roland Esplin. Roland and his grandfather were walking down the street one morning when a man joined them and asked John J to lend him some money. He said, “Why does every son of a gun in this town that needs money come to me?” He splutter on - when they came to the corner he asked the man how much he wanted. He said “$50.00” “Come one over to the house and I will give it to you.”

A short time before his death, David Heaton sold a small herd of his sheep David had rented and had been running in Colorado - and he sent him the money. He was advised to hoard this for his old age. He did not heed the advice, however, and so lost a good part of it. Fortunately, he loaned some to Merrill Heaton, who paid it all back so there was enough to pay the bills of his last illness and lay him away.

In 1911, the Price brothers, George and Robert, of Heber City came into Southern Utah selling stock in the newly organized Inter-Mountain Life Insurance Company - mainly to have backing in selling policies in the area. John J bought some stock and the agents stayed in our home - where they had a good number of applicants for insurance. Dr. R. Garn Clark, of Panguitch, also a stockholder, came to Orderville in his automobile to give them the required physical examinations. That was the first car to come to Orderville and the two trips that summer caused quite a lot of excitement.

In the Spring of 1916, though we still had only dirt roads, John J bought a Ford and Uncle David a Studebaker. John J did not take to driving readily so he usually had one of his boys as driver. When I returned from a mission on June 2nd, Lawrence brought my Mother and Father to Marysvale and they came to meet me in Salt Lake City. After the M.I.A. Convention we went to visit the folks in Idaho. Ether in Preston - he was that summer living on his homestead in Banida. Minnie, Diantha and Marion and Joseph in Shelley. On the way we stopped for lunch with Tim and Lannie Hoyt in Ogden and stayed a day in logan with Warren and Ella Pendleton. We visited Uncle Mel and Aunt Clarissa and their family also. Warren and Mel were attending U.S.A.C.

When we returned in July, Lawrence met us at Marysvale and we went to Panguitch that night and home the next day - which was a thrilling contrast to the five long days we used to take to reach the railroad station when we went to Provo or Salt Lake City, when he traveled by team in covered wagon and “white top” carriage.

John J. had a strong constitution and usually had good health except for a tendency to chest colds that twice turned to pneumonia and a marked inclination to insomnia. He had what is called a “stomach ulcer” disposition. His work was very important to him, and he drove himself - working long hours before breakfast, so he did develop ulcers.

He loaned his Ford to a bunch of men to go to a “Farmer’s Round-up” at the Branch Agriculture College at Cedar City in February 1917. He went along with them to consult Dr. H. McFarlane. They had to go via Short Creek and Hurricane and the road was muddy - at times they all had to get out and push the Ford along. he reached Cedar City with a cold on his lungs, yet Dr. McFarlane took him to Salt Lake City on the train that reached there at 7:00 a.m. and he and Dr. Middleton performed and operation on his stomach that same day, using ether as an anesthesia. He called me before leaving for Salt Lake City and I offered to meet him there, but he insisted there was no need. When he returned home, his eyesight was very dim and he could see only straight ahead and nothing laterally. Later I talked with Dr. Middleton about it and he said he had such a severe case of ethereal pneumonia they had to give him large doses of quinine which impaired his sight. This was indirectly the cause of his death as he did not see the car coming toward him that struck him down. He had a physical examination when past 75 years old and the doctor told him he was good for one hundred and that he had the veins and arteries of a man of fifty. This in spite of that fact that he liked plenty of salt in food and that he carried some clear rock salt in his pocket to lick.

People often noted his clean, neat appearance. His hair and beard were fine and light and he shaved often. He was particular also about his clothing. One fall when he was preparing to go to Toroweep with the sheep, Mother put new half-sleeves in a work shirt which had holes in the elbows. When he saw it he said, “You surely don’t expect me to wear that!” Mother said she didn’t think the sheep would know the difference. He said maybe not, but he would and tossed it aside.

He was always a faithful church member. He was ordained an Elder by Samuel Claridge in 1874; a Seventy by Jacob Gates in 1855 and a High Priest by Joseph F. Smith in 1920. About 1926 he and his wives were called to labor as Stake Missionaries in the St. George Temple. In the spring of 1930 he was called to the Temple for his second Endowments. He and Henry W. decided to take their wives and go on from St. George to Moapa to see the development that had taken place in the valley since they were there as boys. The night they arrived in St. George, February 17, Emily had a severe attack of bronchitis which her weak heart could not stand, and before they could get help she was gone. They returned home to lay her away. A little later, however, they did make the trip, this time, of course, by automobile over improved roads. Leonora had a cold when they returned with developed into pneumonia which took her away March 11th. So the two wives he had married the same day left him just 23 days apart.

He spent most of his remaining years as a Ordinance Worker in the St. George Temple, making 10 1/2 years in all in that labor. It was while there living with Aunt Persis Heaton, that he was struck down by a car while out walking early one morning. His hip was fractured resulting in his death 10 days later on December 30th. Just before he would have been 80 years old on January 1st.

It was while he lay there in the hospital that the big snow of 1936 covered the mountain country above St. George with four or more feet of snow, so it was with great difficulty that his remains were brought to Orderville for burial. The Park Service kindly cleared the road until the axle on the only truck that could push the plow broke. The entourage had to return three miles to Clear Creek and spend the night in the cabins making wood fires to keep warm. It was impossible for many of his family to get to the funeral.

He was held in great love and respect by his family and he did all he could to give them a good start in life and to instill in them a love of the Gospel, and the honor and integrity that characterized his own life.