Friday, April 27, 2012

In Their Own Words: Nathan Smith

The following biography of Nathan Smith Sr. was written by his granddaughter, Nellie Margaret Griffiths Quinney (daughter of William Griffiths and Margaret Smith).

If persistence had not been one of the chief characteristics of William P. Smith, this story may never have been written, for as tradition has it, the parents of Mary Grimshaw strenuously objected to him as a son-in-law, and pointed out to their daughter the fine characteristics of William's rival. However, his perseverance eventually overcame their opposition and he and Mary were married.

The first child born of this union was Nathan. He made his advent at Bury, Lancashire, England, March 1, 1835.

When he was but seven years old his father joined the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, through the influence of a very intimate friend who had joined the Church previously. The first time William attended "Mormon" meetings it is said "he went to scoff but remained to pray." He was a fine singer and was invited to come up in front and help with the singing. Before long he and his family were in the Church.

They set sail for America that same year (1842). The family consisting of Nathan 7, Maria 2, and baby Alice, three weeks old. They were seven weeks on the water, landing at New York City, where they resided one year, then continued their journey toward the body of the Saints who were at Nauvoo. They traveled by water--it being the least expensive, by way of the Gulf of Mexico and up the Mississippi River. When but a day or two's journey from their destination, the little child, Maria, died, and was buried on an island in the river. Nathan always grieved deeply over the loss of this little sister, as she had been his constant companion and playmate. However, they were compelled to go on with their boat to Nauvoo and leave the little one in her lonely burial place, knowing the first high water would unearth her and carry her along in its muddy depths.

The family remained in Nauvoo five years where two more children were born. The father, William, worked some time on the temple and Nathan assisted by carrying water.

Nathan saw the Prophet often. He was especially thrilled when he saw him dressed in his uniform (military) riding down the street on his beautiful black horse. He said the Prophet never missed an opportunity to speak kindly to the children.

The family stood by during the martyrdom of the Prophet and his brother, Hyrum, and endured the persecutions by the mobs and when the majority of the saints, plucked and peeled, were driven out of Nauvoo, it was impossible for them to go, as the mother and two children were ill with fever and lay insensible to all about them. Armed men came and ordered them to leave, but the father appealed to them for sympathy and they were allowed more time. The house was searched for guns and ammunition but none were found. The mob had been seen approaching and the father had hurriedly passed the guns and ammunition through a hole (in the chinking) between the logs in the back part of the house, to Nathan outside who hid them in the corn patch.

On the 16th day of October, 1846, they started for Utah. Their outfit consisted of one horse, one ox, and an old wagon with no cover. The weather was cold and wet, and through exposure, the mother suffered very poor health. They, with others, had left Nauvoo in an almost destitute condition. They had scant clothing and very little to eat, however, with stout hearts they moved westward. Ere long they had exhausted their scanty food supply and the winter winds were already beginning to blow. They were many miles from help in either direction, but they had faith that the Lord, who they had sacrificed so much to follow, would not forsake them. When they had reached the extreme point of their endurance, a cold west wind began to blow and to add to their misery, snow began to fall; but when despair was in their hearts, flocks of quail began drifting into their camp. They came with the snowfall, from they knew not where, as their hunters had searched far and near and had found nothing. "It was indeed Manna from Heaven". Nathan helped gather these birds from under wagons and other places where they fell seeking shelter.

They stopped at Ferryville near Council Bluffs, to rest and recuperate, and the father William was called to preside over that branch of the Church while they were there. They stayed there five years and Nathan and his father operated a ferry boat. Here they saved enough to equip their own outfit; they also acquired some sheep and cattle.

In 1852 (Nathan was then 15 years old), they resumed their journey, overtaking Captain Wheelock's company. Cholera broke out among the people and many died and were buried on the plains. Nathan contracted the disease and later said he was saved from death only by his mother's faith and her warm catnip tea. They later separated from the company and under the leadership of Captain McCray arrived in great Salt Lake City, October 6th, 1852, being only seven weeks on the Plains. In ten days more they had moved to Little Cottonwood. They endured the hard times incident to the grasshopper invasion and had been in Utah only five years when the mother, Mary Grimshaw Smith, died, leaving seven children, the youngest only a few months old. This baby also died a short time later. The eldest daughter, Alice, cared for the family in her mother's stead, until her marriage, a few years later, to George Done, Sr.

A pathetic and inspiring incident is connected with the death of this baby whose name was John. While he lay critically ill, a little brother Thomas, aged four years, stood gazing out of the window. All at once he exclaimed, "Come quick, here is mother." Members of the family ran to the window but could see nothing unusual. Tommy said, "Can't you see her, she's standing on the chopping block. She is coming for Johnny at seven o'clock in the morning." And at seven o'clock the following morning, the baby passed away.

This child, Thomas, grew to manhood; he and a companion went to Burnt Fork, Wyoming to get out logs. While there another man, Owen by name, joined them. Tom was of large powerful stature-being six feet three or four inches tall. He could fell more trees in an hour than most men. Owen was jealous and asked Tom to trade axes. This Tom declined to do. A little quarreling ensued and the next morning when Tom was reaching up in a tree, to cut some steaks from a venison, this man, Owen, shot him through the back. The bullet passed through one kidney and paralyzed his legs. He cried out to his companion, "Run for your life, I'm shot." His companion ran and also the assassin. Tom crawled four miles to the main road, dragging himself along by his elbows. Here he was picked up and put into a wagon and taken to the nearest settlement. He was still conscious when found and told the story but died before help could be reached. The murderer was hunted for a long time, but was never apprehended.

While celebrating the tenth anniversary of the coming of the pioneers to Utah, July 24th, 1857, at what is now called Brighten, two messengers, Porter Rockwell and A.O. Smoot, arrived from Independence without the mail. The postmaster refused to forward it. They reported that General Harney with two thousand infantry and a proportionate number of cavalry and artillery were marching on Utah. General Johnston took command of these troops a short time later. General Daniel H. Wells, recently of the Nauvoo Legion, left Great Salt Lake City immediately with 1,200 men for Echo Canyon where they engaged in throwing up breastworks and otherwise fortifying themselves against the enemy. Nathan was one of these men. They had a very strategic position. The Lord surely had foreseen this time and prepared for the defense of the Saints. The General commanded a number of bonfires to be built some distance apart. A few men would march around one fire, pass behind the rocks and then march around another. The enemy believing they were greatly outnumbered feared to attack. They were held in check by the maneuvers of the Mormons without the loss of a life until matters were settled peaceably.

The Indians were also making trouble and Nathan was sent with twenty men to Deer Creek to guard the mail. He often rode the pony express and could always be relied upon to discharge his duty with the utmost resourcefulness and integrity.

He moved to Cache Valley in the spring of 1860 and settled at Summit Creek -- so called because of its position on a high, gravelly summit on the east side of the valley about seven miles north of Logan. Through the middle of this summit dashes a clear, cold mountain stream on its turbulent way to Bear River. This settlement was later renamed Smithfield, in honor of John A. Smith, who was the first bishop called to preside over the saints there. Nathan lived there in the fort among the first families and he and George Done, his brother-in-law, cut and hauled the logs for the first meeting house. He took his turn watching with the minute men during the Indian trouble.

In 1861, he and Lacy Larimy were sent with others of Utah to Mission Valley to assist poor saints to Utah. They carried with them fresh provisions and also their oxen were used to the mountain atmosphere and water, which so often caused sickness to the plains cattle. Once when some days out from Utah, they met a company coming west. Of course they visited awhile before resuming their journey, exchanging news from Utah and the old country. In this company was John Sant and his family. His daughter Jane met Nathan and after he had gone on she told her sister she had met the man she was going to marry. Her mother overheard her and reminded her that she might never see him again and besides he may already be married. "I don't care if he has ten wives," said Jane, "If I ever marry it will be to that man." (I imagine he might well have made a dazzling impression on any girl with his tall, square physique and shining dark eyes. He had a genial disposition and capability radiating from him; in fact, I think he must have been a young man with personality plus.)

The Sants settled in Smithfield as the oldest son, who had emigrated previously, was already there. (The fact that Nathan Smith lived there may have had nothing to do with it. However, it is said that Jane had a way of getting whatever she wanted from her father). So when Nathan returned home, a short courtship followed and he and Jane were married the 3rd of October 1862 in the Endowment House at Great Salt Lake City. The following spring Nathan again went to the Mission Valley, returning in the fall.

In the spring of 1871 he moved to Idaho and settled where Banida now is. The country then was generally known as Battle Creek after a more or less famous fight with the treacherous Shoshone Indians. It was a battle in which the squaws also participated and only ended after exterminating all the Indians, with the exception of one or two who escaped to make future trouble farther north. This new country was a large flat plateau with low rolling hills and covered with a wilderness of grass and wild hay. He went here to procure range for his father's cattle which he ran on shares. In September of that year, my own mother was born--being the 5th child.

As this section grew in population, his home became the center for music and entertainment. His wife Jane had a fine contralto voice and he a pleasing baritone. They acquired an accordion and banjo, which most of the children learned to play. They and their family formed the nucleus for the choir for church gatherings and also those of a social nature.

When the railroad was first extended into Idaho, his ranch became the terminus. It was about one and one-half blocks from their house. During the construction of the railroad the family ran a boarding house for the construction men. Here his beef cattle were used to excellent advantage.

From this point he freighted to Montana, driving by himself four yoke of oxen on two wagons. He made his own yokes, bows and bow keys, hewing them out with an axe and drawing knife. He braided his own bull whips from calf hides, which he cured and tanned, and taught his children this art also (Mother, Margaret, braided six and eight strand nicely). He repaired his own wagons replacing worn parts of the wheels and setting the tires, which he did by heating the rims in a sagebrush fire until they were red hot and then hammering them on the wheel while they were in this expanded condition. He also did much work of this nature for his neighbors and friends.

During the mining fever at Caribou he transported by wagon and horse team, miners and their equipment to and from the mines to the railroad at Banida.

Throughout hard times, wars, pestilence, and struggle for a livelihood, Nathan was always devoted to his Church and his God which he earnestly served. He grew and advanced in the Priesthood. He was honest and industrious, always setting a proper example for his children to follow. He was a staunch believer in the old axiom "Early to bed and early to rise, etc." One night while waiting for the family to gather in their accustomed circle for family prayers, he removed his shoes and stockings in preparation for bed, and when they were gathered round he began the prayer. The kitten hadn't yet been put out for the night, and when he saw Nathan's bare toes he padded softly up, put out one paw and tickled the toes a little. Of course, Nathan moved his foot, which pleased the kitten very much. Thinking it a game he stretched forth his paw and tickled the toes again, when the tickling became unendurable, he stopped, turned around and said "Scat", vehemently, and then proceeded with the prayer, and if the titterings of the circle were the least bit audible, he had too much good sense to mention it.

The hard words he used when he was provoked were a joke among his children. At one time he was trying to get a colt into the barn. The colt was stubborn and would neither be led nor driven. He tried various means of persuasion but to no avail. One of the girls, watching him, said, "Father's getting angry, listen and you'll soon hear him swear," and in a minute they heard him say, "Get in there or I'll knock the mischief out of you."

Another instance - some of the boys were trying to ride a frisky young horse, but none of them could stick on him. Nathan thought he could, but he had hardly touched his back until he found himself, much to his surprise, sitting on the ground. To his children's delight he said, "My conscience, I'm off." Truly, profanity never passed his lips.

I recall several incidents of pioneer days wherein many of the cattle sickened and died from various causes, sometimes from drinking alkali water and sometimes from eating poisonous plants which came up by the roots after heavy rains, perhaps there were other causes. Cattle, of course, was Nathan's specialty. While skinning a poisoned animal, Nathan cut one of his fingers. The poison quickly spread through the blood stream and he became very ill but through his great faith and that of his family, he recovered and was able to continue his pursuit of a livelihood. However, the infection left him with a crippled hand, the injured finger permanently drawn forward and a condition in the food canal which almost always caused him great discomfort and pain while eating. I remember watching him in awe during these seizures but do not remember ever hearing a word of complaint.

The brightest spots in my memory of him are of the times he bounced me on his knee to the tune of many old and lively songs. He carried lemon drops in his pockets, which he called "sour drops" and always delighted his grandchildren with a treat of this homely sweet.

He and his adored wife, Jane, were the parents of twelve children, ten of which grew to maturity and have large families of their own.

He died of pneumonia at the home of his sister, Alice Smith Done in Smithfield, January 20, 1909, just prior to his 74th birthday. He is buried in the Smithfield cemetery.

For the purposes of completeness only, I wish to make mention of the fact that in later years, grandpa and grandma separated, however, they were never divorced. Doubtless there were many contributing causes, I think. Neither of them were really happy afterward. It was a step which both probably regretted to the fullest extent, but the dominant characteristic of perseverance or perhaps some might term stubbornness in the Smith make-up made him stick to the right as he saw it regardless of the cost. His posterity may be justly proud to have descended from a sire so noble and who so ably performed his share and more of the great work of pioneering the West.

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