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John James Esplin, A Man of Action

By Lillie Esplin Harmon, in 1955

I arrived on the scene of the John James and Emily Alvira Hoyt Esplin family when my father was forty-one and my mother thirty-nine years old. I was my father’s twentieth and my mother’s eleventh child. My father said if I had not been a girl I would not have been welcome. My eldest sister, Margaret, was getting ready to be married. She was married abut one month after I was born. I had three brothers, Israel who was fifteen, James thirteen and Laurence four years old. At that time we lived in an old house in the southeast corner of the old United Order Block. I do not remember this house. I remember the one built in 1900 on the same block, the house where Lynn’s wife, Amy, and their family live. That is the place that has always been home to me in Orderville. the family had lived in a lot of different places, about fifteen, I think I remember hearing Mother say, before this last house was built.

Father and Mother had two families, three rather, Margaret, Lucy, Israel and James were the oldest family. There were five in the middle family, all of whom died as babies: Harriet, Howard, Henry Hoyt, Emily and Josiah. Harriet died at six months with whooping-cough. The others lived only a few days or a few weeks. James was nine years old when Lawrence was born. My next oldest sister, Lucy, died when Lawrence was two years old and two years before I was born. Lynn, my youngest brother, was born when I was six years old. The older members of the family were married or away from home most of the time after I can remember, so Lawrence, Lynn, and I were the youngest family.

Father being a sheep man and a farmer was a busy man and a hard worker. He was away from home quite a lot while I was small but I do remember following him around and going to the blacksmith shop kept by Isaac (Ike) Robertson. I also like to go to the Cove with Father so I could play with Francis (Frant) and Vera. It was fun to go to Aunt Nora’s at the Come, a whole mile from home.

As Father grew older he stayed home more. He took care of the farm and let the boys run the sheep. He also let men who had a few sheep rent enough from him to build up a herd. We used to go occasionally to the sheep herd for an outing in the summer while the sheep were on the mountain, near Duck Creek or Navajo Lake. We spent one summer on a ranch. I was only four years old so maybe that is a good enough reason for not remembering where. Father milked a number of cows and mother made cheese. We had a garden. We raised potatoes for winter. I thought the whole thing was fun but Mother was not too enthusiastic. The house wasn’t much. A wild cow ran through it one day. There were rattlesnakes to watch for, too.

One thing I could never understand about Father was that he always seemed to prefer to work on holidays like the Fourth of July and the Twenty-Fourth. Those were great days to me, and I looked forward to them for weeks. Sometimes father went to the morning program, but I can’t remember ever seeing him at the sports in the afternoon. Uncle Dave Esplin seemed to have such a good time on those occasions. Once someone asked Father why he didn’t come to the parties and dances and he said if they would start the dances at twelve-thirty A.M. he would. But he needed his early evening sleep. One thing I remember most about Father is how early he arose and about his work in the morning. I know many a man in Orderville would have been glad to have Uncle Johnny sleep to a reasonable hour in the morning and let them do the same. He like to talk business about four o’clock in the morning.

Father was always loaning money to his sons or to his nephews, or maybe to a friend, or just someone who knew him who needed money to pay debts or get started in business. Father was always glad to help them if he had money.

Father used to take trips to Idaho to see his children who lived there: Minnie, Ether, Marion, Diantha and Joseph. In 1915 Hattie and I went with him. We went in a covered wagon. It took us three day, I believe, to Marysvale where we got on the train. That was the first time I had seen a train. Also on this [trip] was the first time I remember seeing my brother, Ether and his family. Sometimes Father made these trips to Idaho in the winter. One time I particularly remember he was caught in a big snowstorm between Panguitch and the divide. He and another man were passengers on the stage, or mail, as we often said. The mail was brought from Marysvale by team and buggy and they carried passengers. Father was prepared for snow, with boots, heavy wool socks, warm clothes, etc. He knew how to take care of himself in the snow. The other passenger was not prepared. His feet were nearly frozen before Father realized what was happening. Father took care of him and told him what to do. This man later wrote to Father from Salt Lake City to thank him for what he had done. He said if it had not been for Father he would have lost his feet.

In 1917 Father had a major operation, a duodenum ulcer removed. He had had a lot of trouble with his stomach. We did not know much about it in those days. Father was nervous, worked hard and worried plenty. I think I would have worried, too, with his large family to keep supplied and educated. Father went to Salt Lake alone for this operation. The morning he left the old dog howled. The neighbors said that was certainly a bad omen. Mother was not superstitious but she was worried and that did not make her feel any better. An operation at his age was considered a risky undertaking in those days and to have your duodenum removed and a new opening made in your stomach is something we had never heard of before. Father survived the operation, although he did have some trouble. they did not have the wonder drugs they have now so when he developed pneumonia after the operation he was given so much quinine that it affected his eyes. He never could see to the side afterward. He was like a horse with blinders. He also had what I called nigh blindness. He always carried a lantern, or later a flashlight, when they came into use, when he went anywhere after dark. His general health though was better after the operation.

My mother died 17 February 1930 and Aunt Nora died about three weeks later, so Father was suddenly left alone. All the children were married and had families of their own and were busy with their problems and were scattered from Idaho to California so I guess he felt lost and alone. I know he felt alone and forgotten a lot of the time until he too passed on, as he grew older the time he spent as the temple comprised his best years.

Father like to travel and see new places. He said if he had the money he would really see the world. I have a card in my Book of Remembrance written 30 November 1934 when there was so much talk about the Townsend old age plan. He says: “I have been in St. George nearly a month and am feeling fine, much better than when you were here. In your letter you asked me to eat Thanksgiving dinner with you. When I get the old age pension I will come and see you and the Arizona Temple and Panama Canal and the rest of the world. If I feel as well as I do now I sure would like to see the wonders of the world and its different peoples. So when I get two hundred dollars a month I’ll travel in summer and work in the temple in the winter. I am having a good time spending that two hundred dollars a month and when I don’t get it I will have had the good time anyhow.” He had his good joke but he would never have reached for that two hundred had it been available to him.

I remember Father always went to church and priesthood meetings, and did ward teaching when he was home. In 1890 (before I was born) he went on a mission but due to illness he had to return home after only a few months. Father was ordained an elder by Samuel Claridge, 19 January 1874 and a seventy by Jacob Gates 11 June 1885, a high priest by Joseph Fielding Smith 6 June 1920. In tracing Father’s priesthood authority I find Joseph Fielding Smith was ordained an apostle 1 July 1866 by Pres. Brigham Young. Brigham Young was ordained by the three witnesses, Oliver Cowdery, David Whitmer, and Martin Harris on 14 February 1835. The tree witnesses were blessed by the laying on of hands by the first presidency, Joseph Smith, Sidney Rigdon, and Frederick G. Williams, to choose the twelve apostles. Joseph Smith received the Melchizedek Priesthood in June of July 1829 from the ancient apostles, Peter, James and John who were ordained by the Lord Jesus Christ.

Father spent several really enjoyable winters in the St. George Temple. He was not a man who liked to be idle. He was always active, always doing something worthwhile. He always worded hard. As he grew older he could not work so hard. The work in the temple furnished him just what he wanted. In 1936 he was staying with Aunt Persis Heaton in St. George and working in the temple. He still had the habit of early rising. With no work to do he took a walk one morning in December. There were cars and trucks traveling at that early hour, too; one car he did not see until it was too late. Apparently the driver of the car did not see him. We did not go back when Israel phoned us about the accident. They said Father was confident he would be up and around again. He had been feeling good and was not quite ready to go yet. He was in the hospital about two weeks passing away 30 December 1936. Had he lived until the first day of January he would have been eighty years old. He went to a new sphere of life, having lived a long and useful life here. We were able to go to Orderville for his funeral services.

Since writing this Lillie has gone to be with him in his new sphere.