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A Noble Pioneer of Long Valley

A Life Sketch of John James Esplin

By Hattie Esplin, Salt Lake City, Utah, 1955

My father was a son of pioneers who helped settle the state of Utah. His father John Esplin born in Warden, Perth, Scotland joined the church in 1849 at the age of twenty years and immigrated to America arriving in Utah in September 1851. His mother Margret Webster was born in St. Helen’s, Lanchshire, England. She joined the church in 1848 at the age of twelve years and emigrated with her parents to America arriving in Utah in 1852. John Esplin and Margaret Webster were married in Salt Lake City, 10 November 1853. They went to Nephi, Juab County, Utah to make their home. Through this heritage from true God-fearing ancestry came a family of thirteen children. My father was the second child born 1 January 1857. The settlers in Nephi were having a hard struggle as in other early pioneer settlements. They lived in a fort for a time for protection from Indians during the Walker War. Then for a period of about ten years they became quite comfortably fixed. On the day Esplin’s eight child, David, was born, 20 September 1868, John Esplin and family received a call to go to the Muddy Valley to raise cotton. That meant leaving their home they had worked so hard to build and taking a long journey to a new country, and starting all over again. But John Esplin was obedient to the call of Brigham Young. He left the oldest son, Henry, then fourteen years old, to stay with his mother and four younger children and take the responsibility of caring for the farm and he took my father eleven years old and went to the Maddy to prepare a home. Then he returned to get the family. They located at St. Joseph, a small settlement on the Muddy Creek, a branch of the Colorado River. Many stories have been told and written of the trials endured in the journey, and the settling of this most dreaded of all missions assigned by President Young.

Their route lay through a gorge near St. George following the Virgin River with high mountains on each side and on through a region described as “ninety miles beyond St. George in a blistering alkali desert,” which was avoided even by Indians. They helped blaze the trail having to make roads much of the way. It is said that the Virgin River had to be crossed thirty-four times with danger from quicksands at practically every crossing. They suffered through intense heat in the summer, malaria and other ills. They passed through what seemed insurmountable difficulties which could only be endured because of their great faith and their effort dedicated to the mission to which they were assigned.

My father grew up during most trying conditions and received a training in the “school of hard knocks.” His chances for a formal education were very limited. But the traits of Honesty, faith, diligence and obedience were instilled into his character, and developed to a high degree.

The route mentioned above passed through the gorge of the Virgin River five or six miles from St. George, near Bloomington at the mouth of the Santa Clara Creek, following the river through the northeast corner of Arizona and into Nevada over the great Mormon Mesa. The Virgin River merges with the Muddy Creek just below the settlement of St. Joseph. Other settlements were Overton and St. Thomas. The site of the latter town is now covered by the water of Lake Mead above Boulder Dam.

The Muddy settlers lived there for about two years when the state of Nevada claimed that territory and were assessing taxes. Brigham Young released them from the Muddy Mission giving them a choice of going back to the homes they came from or, and this is what Brigham Young preferred; to go to Long Valley which had been abandoned by the early settlers on account of Indian troubles. Most of the settlers took the latter course, and this is what John Esplin decided to do. His wife, Margaret, longed to go back to her home in Nephi.

The route they followed on their way out lay along the Virgin River Valley until they reached Rockville east of St. George, then through the desert down to Short Creek and Cane Beds in Arizona, then on over sand hills to Mt. Carmel. the route also had to make a northern loop and go up through Toquerville. When they reached this place, the junction of the road leading north to Nephi, Grandfather put the oldest daughter, Margaret Ann, in one wagon and Henry, John James, Joseph Alexander, Sarah Elizabeth, David and Little Clara, born in St. Joseph, in the other wahon with their mother and told them they could go to Nephi but that he and Margaret would go to Long Valley. Grandmother cold not stand the thoughts of the separation, so she relented and uttered these historic words (historic in the Esplin family): “I’ll go where you go, John.”

They reached Mt. Carmel, then called Windsor, in March 1871. Their first crop of wheat was taken by grasshoppers. Then Grandfather kept John James and Margaret Ann with him and sent Grandmother and the rest of the family to Nephi. He put great responsibility on Henry then seventeen years old in caring for the family on this trip. He had to labor diligently to procure food for the family and some to bring back with them.

The family were just getting comfortable and settled in Mt. Carmel when in 1874 the United Order was organized by John R. Young under the direction of President Young. The old Muddy settlers entered into it wholeheartedly. However there was discord between them and some of the former Mt. Carmel settlers who had come back to repossess their former claims. They did not want to live the principle of the United Order. So the Muddites decided to move three miles up the river to found a site with just those who did want to live this principle, as advised by President Young. About all had moved by 1875.

Father grew to be a tall hansom young man. He had light almost golden hair, blue eyes and a genial smile. His daughter, Margaret, said he was towheaded. There were two more added to the family, Miranda and George Webster, born at Mt. Carmel. They were all taught the value of prayer and took turns in family prayer as they gathered around the table night and morning. They realized that there were great blessings obtained through obedience to gospel principles. Faith in God, diligence, kindness, purity of thought, word and deed and a deep appreciation for their divine heritage vouchsafed to them through the restored gospel.

Father was baptized in Nephi 19 November 1865 by John Andrews and confirmed the same day by Samuel Pitchforth. He was ordained an Elder at Mt. Carmel 10 January 1874 by Samuel Claridge. He had a Patriarchal blessing 14 June 1880 by Elijah R. Billingsly.

My father while learning to live the United Order also lived the principle of plurality of wives or polygamy as revealed and practised by those in authority in the L.D.S. Church. He selected two young women, Harriet Leonora Allen and Emily Alvira Hoyt, and in July 1876 they traveled by team and wagon the distance of three hundred miles to Salt Lake City and both of these young ladies were sealed to him the same day, 10 July 1876 by Daniel H. Wells in the Endowment House. Amos Cox and Sarah Arletta Palmer took the trip to and were married the same day. Amos is the son of Orville S. and Mary Elizabeth Allen Cox. Mary E.A. Cox is my mother’s sister. Sarah Arletta Palmer is the daughter of Zemira and Carolin Jaques Palmer.

Father and mother, and Aunt Emily would never tell which was the first wife but I learned while working in genealogy that mother was sealed first because she was the oldest. Father’s first home was a lumber shanty on the northeast corner of the United Order Fort. Father had helped to build these shanties during the Order by hauling logs to the “Up and Down” saw mill in Currant Canyon and the lumber to Orderville. His daughter Aminnie Estella born in 1877 was the same age as his sister Persis. Ether and Margaret, Aunt Emily’s oldest child born in 1879 were just a little older than his sister Clarissa, the youngest one in Grandpa’s family. Father baptised Clarissa at the age of eight years on 8 April 1888.

An excerpt from Chronological History of the Orderville United Order copied from the Orderville Ward Record dated 18 April 1879 reads as follows: “The people of Orderville felt very depressed because of the heavy obligations they were under and the many things that were needed to help along in the Order and to alleviate the many needs of the people. In consequence of these things several of the brethren this day retired to a convenient spot in the hills and there united in earnest prayer imploring our Heavenly Father for His assistance, so that the Order could meet its obligations and also be able to appease the wants of the people. The Lord heard and answered soon their prayers, for they found brethren in whom they could trust, to homestead their land, and another brother who owned an interest in a mine at Heber City, Charles Neugs Carroll. Thomas Chamberlain, John J. Esplin, Warriner A. Porter, and Frances L. Porter arrived in Heber City in May. The mine was sold for $1,000.00 and most of the money turned into the Order. Their obligations were met, the land presented, goods purchased and they returned home rejoicing.” The homesteaders were these same men.

(Note: I made a slight mistake in the exact wording of the latter part of the above quotation. But it does not change the meaning. Stencil Cutter.) [Before photo copiers, mimeograph machines were used when a large number of copies were needed. Mimeograph machines required typing the original on a “stencil” on which it was very difficult to fix errors. Mark Esplin]

Father used his homestead right to secure title to one hundred sixty acres of land from the government and lived at Factory Ranch, six miles above Orderville and at Webb Ranch one-half mile above Factory Ranch. The land afterward was divided up into forty acre plots. Ether and Margaret, born in January 1879 and Marion in 1880 and Lucy in 1881 were born at this latter place, called “Grassy Farm.”

The woolen factory was built in 1882. My father hauled most of the lumber for this building from the saw mill which was located above Dairy Canyon on the head waters of the left-hand fork of the Virgin River. After the United Order was discontinued in 1885 the sheep industry was still carried on by a company of shareholders. Grandfather Esplin and his sons, Henry W., John J. and David, rented sheep from them and ran them together, each having his own farms, milk cows and horses. Edison Porter secured the tannery after the order broke up as his share of the property and he learned how to tan the leather. He was unable to pay the full value of the tannery, so the Esplins helped him buy it, and also helped him secure tanning bark and wood for the running of the tannery and they received shoes in return until Edison was able to pay the balance to them.

Father and his families lived at the Farm a mile above Orderville before and after the Order broke up. This farm Grandfather secured as his portion of the property from the Order. I think this is where James and Joseph (1885) were born. Then a house in Orderville was built to accommodate both of his families. It was on Main Street facing south in the middle of the block east of the United Order square. It was a two story, four room house with the United Order orchard in the rear.

My sister, Diantha, related the following concerning the removal to this house: “In December 1887 there came a real heavy snowstorm and the family were hoping to get moved before they were snowed out. When they built a fire in the fireplace all of the smoke came out into the room. They had to put out the fire and spend the cold night without any heat. Next morning the snow was shoveled from the top of the chimney, some of it falling down the flue. But they soon had it cleared out and a fire made.”

Father and his families lived in this house a little over three years and this is where my sister Clara was born in 1889.

The farm land lying south west of town in a little side canyon consisting of eighty acres had been homesteaded by Frances Lysander Porter. Uncle David and his wife, Hannah, lived here for a short time, then it was decided to let my father have seventeen acres of it and he moved our family there and Aunt Emily’s family moved into one of the old United Order houses. Father thought it best on account of the raids then being waged on polygamists, to have separate homes for his two families. Uncle David and Aunt Hannah then moved into the house in town where our family had lived. This little side canyon among the hills a mile below town was called the Cove, and our family moved there on my brother Ether’s birthday, 19 January 1891. This is where I was born, also my brother, Francis and my sister, Vera.

Our nearest neighbors lived over the east hill on a tract of land called the Section. Uncle Henry Esplin and his wives homesteaded here for about four years starting in 1879. This land bordered on the Virgin River to the east. A number of different families lived here. This is where father’s brother Joseph Alexander died in 1883 at the age of twenty-two.

After the death of their father in 1895 the Esplin brothers dissolved their partnership in the sheep business. My father received about two thousand head of sheep and a few cattle. He ran his sheep on the public domain at the head of the Sevier River over the divide which separates it from the Virgin River valley. These valleys of the Mammoth Creek and Swains Creek, branches of the Sevier River, were his summer ranges. In winter the sheep were trailed south to the Sandhills between Kanab and Shunsburg Trail. He later had winter ranges on the Arizona Strip. Water was very scarce here at times. Ether tells of being there when his father and Uncle Dave built the first reservoir in Tuweep Valley. Uncle George came out with a scraper and some supplies. They enlarged the watering hole so it could hold more water from the storms. Tuweep Valley bordered on the north rim of the Grand Canyon of the Colorado and was about twenty miles long, the Trumbull Mountains lying to the west. This region furnished very good feed.

My father departed for an L.D.S. mission to the Northern States, 2 January 1890. He labored in the state of Indiana. I have two letters that he wrote home to his folks that describe some of his experiences. One of these, written from Tarwell, 26 February 1891, states that it rains there about half the time and grass had been green ever since he had been there. He and his companion, Brother Davis, started out on the morning of 24 February on a preaching trip. They had plenty of mud to wade through which gave them a good appetite. That night they were refused lodging at four places. They asked for food and were given a piece of bread. They slept on the floor of an old schoolhouse. Father said of their bread, “The bread tasted sweeter than any bread made in Utah although it was not because it was made better. The wheat is not as good as it is in Utah.” They were thankful to get shelter in the schoolhouse and there was plenty dust on the floor and the boards were hard enough to keep them from oversleeping. He says when it rains or snows quietly in Indiana it is not called a storm. A storm means a heavy wind with snow or rain. The damp climate gave Father Lagrippe, as he called it, so he could not stay the full time. He returned home the early part of 1891. He had been set apart for his mission, 14 January 1890, by Abraham H. Cannon.

Father and Aunt Emily went to the dedication of the Salt Lake Temple in April 1893. My sister Minnie went with them.

My father had a grave responsibility to shoulder in caring for two families. His inherent qualities of diligence and frugality stood him well in hand for he provided for them well. Minnie and Ether each married in 1902 and went to Idaho and took up farming on a large scale. Marion went there later and settled after his marriage in 1905 and Joseph followed about the year 1916, married in 1918. They were given their share of the estate to help them get started in the new country. Father’s other boys took over the sheep and Father took care of the farm. In 1907 he bought a home on Main Street in town across the street from the one his families had lived in before. It was then a very small three room house. In 1909-10 a larger kitchen was built and four rooms added on the west, a front room and three bedrooms.

In 1930 Father lost both of his wives. Aunt Emily died in St. George, 17 February, with pneumonia. Soon after Mother and Father, in company with Uncle Henry and his wives, took a trip to the Muddy where they had lived in 1860-70. My mother contracted a severe cold which turned to bronchitis. She lived only a few days after returning home, and she died 11 March 1930, jut three weeks after Aunt Emily’s death.

Before this in 1923 Father was called to be an Ordinance worker in the St. George Temple where he officiated for two years. Neither of his wives could go the first year so he took me with him. Aunt Emily accompanied him the next year. It was very difficult for Father to learn the ceremonies used in the temple and being of a nervous disposition it was very hard on him but he finally conquered it and became an efficient worker and enjoyed it very much. He was helped by the faith of the other temple workers.

Father was very interested in doing the work for his ancestors in Scotland and England. He spent a great deal of his means on research through the Genealogical Society to obtain names of our kindred dead. He raised an honorable family, brought them up in the gospel and helped them get a good education. Also his heart was turned toward his fathers who had not had the privilege of hearing the gospel while on earth. His last days were spent doing temple work for these people.

Through his industry and good management he was able to accumulate enough of this world’s goods to have a comfortable living in his declining years. He also helped many others who were in need. Many will remember him for his generosity and kindness.

In 1936 Father was staying with Aunt Persis in St. George where her son, Gail, was attending the Dixie College. It was Father’s habit to arise early in the morning and go out walking on the streets and sometimes talking to the night watchman. One December morning he was returning home about 6:00 A.M. As he was crossing the main highway he was struck by a tourist car that had turned out to pass a C.C. truck. At the hospital it was found that he had a compound fracture of his right leg, internal injuries and a smashed left hand. He died 30 December 1936. Had he lived until January first he would have been eighty years old. His daughter, Clara E. Spencer, and his granddaughter, Edna E. Kenemer of Salt Lake City, who is a nurse, helped nurse him. His children, Ether and Marion from Idaho, Israel from Orderville, Francis and Annie from Cedar City came to see him. My husband and I also went down to see him and were there when he died.

His youngest son, John Lynn, came with a truck to take his remains to Orderville, The night before there came a very heavy snowfall, so a snow plow went ahead to clear the snow from the highway. It broke down nine miles from home near Clear Creek. Clara, Edna and I were following in a car. Lynn and my husband were in the truck. They stayed at a ranch house in Mineral and we stayed in the Clear Creek cabins over night. Next morning help came and we were able to get through.

His funeral was held in the Orderville Ward House, 3 January 1937, at which his brother, Henry, brother-in-law, Frederick G. Carroll, and his son-in-law, Frank Harmon, were the speakers. Uncle Henry said that brother John was a true pioneer. Being on the frontier during his young days he had grown up under poor circumstances. He had responded to every call, being faithful and true. He said there was no doubt of his exaltation to Eternal life, and he hoped his family would be as true and faithful as their father had been. Fred G. Carroll said that Uncle Johnny, as he was affectionately called by many people even that were not related, was true to the faith and had kept his first estate. And he had kept his second estate: he was loyal to the church, willing to give unselfishly, had raised an honorable family who can retain in their memories his good example for a future guide. Frank Harmon said he was a noble sire and had lived an abundant life and had obeyed the two great commandments, to love the Lord and his neighbor as himself. He lived a clean, upright and honorable life.

My father bequeathed to his children a wonderful heritage not measured by wealth or worldly acclaim. His heritage to us developed through toil and sacrifice for religious principles, which necessitated enduring privations, suffering, and fatigue. But in the great battle he came out like pure gold being tried and found true. His children have all proven true and valiant to the principles taught and engendered in their character. It is truly descriptive in the words of David Starr Jordan, “A young man or woman can have no nobler ancestry than one made up of men and women who have worked for a living and who have given honest toil. The instinct of industry runs in the blood. The industry engendered by the last generation is still in your veins. Sons and daughters of the western pioneers, yours is the best blood of the realm.”