This brief biography of William P. Smith was recorded by Becky Porter from information given by Eva Leyland.
William P. Smith was born January 22, 1810 at Tottington, Lancashire, England, a son of Alice Smith and Dr. Thomas Smith. Often William would accompany his father on herb gathering trips. William learned to make healing salves and medicines and helped his father set bones.
As a young man William was high spirited and head strong. He did a lot of boxing and he liked to gamble. Once he won a watch. He won it three times and lost it twice. The third time he won it he kept it and brought it to Utah.
The young men of that vicinity liked to meet together to drink and gamble and often on their way home on a lonely road they would see a ghost all in white. Some were frightened and wanted someone to "lay the ghost", so fearless William offered.
One night he hid near where the ghost usually appeared and when it came he ran up and grabbed it. The ghost was a woman who didn't want the young men drinking and getting into trouble so decided to scare them. She promised that she would never appear again if William would keep her identity secret.
William began courting Mary a daughter of Jonathan and Ann Grimshaw. The Grimshaws didn't approve, as William was classed as wild and irresponsible. One night when William brought Mary home later than her parents thought was proper her father came out to scold. William became angry and doused him in the rain barrel. Being unable to get Mary's parents approval to their marriage, William and Mary had their banns posted in a neighboring shire. For seven Sundays they traveled there and then were married.
While living at Berry (Bury), Lancashire they had five children (2 died in England).
The first time William attended a "Mormon" meeting, it is said he went to scoff, but he was invited to come up front and help with the singing and so he stayed to listen. A friend who had previously joined the church had quite a bit of influence with him, and when Nathan was seven years old the Smith family joined the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. They set sail the same year in August 1842 for America taking their children Nathan 7 years, Maria 2 years, and Alice a baby of 3 weeks with them.
Not long before they were scheduled to reach New York. Maria became very ill and died. The Ship's captain wanted to bury the little Maria at sea, but William persuaded him to wait until they reached land. As soon as land was sighted they stopped and buried the dead child (ed. note: other histories indicate that Maria died after the family left New York and was on their way up the Mississippi River going to Nauvoo). Then they went to New York. The sea voyage took about seven weeks. They stayed in New York awhile and then continued their journey to Nauvoo. They went by water by way of the Gulf of Mexico and up the Mississippi River as it was less expensive. The Smith's lived in Nauvoo for about 4 years and there Joseph and Mary Ann were born. William worked on the Temple while there and Nathan helped by carrying water. When the majority of the Saints were driven out of Nauvoo, William's wife, Mary, and two children were very ill with fever so ill they could not be moved. Armed men came and ordered the family to leave, William, who had seen the men approaching had quickly passed the guns and ammunition through a hole in the chinking between the logs in the back of the house to Nathan, who hid them in the cornfield.
After seeing how sick Mary and the children were and finding no firearms, the men gave them more time to move. They even gave William a job cleaning out the wells that the saints had been accused of poisoning.
On October 16, 1847 with an outfit of one horse, one oxen and an old wagon with no cover, they with other saints started toward Utah. The weather was wet and cold and the Mother Mary especially suffered from exposure and poor health. Everyone was in the same fix, poor outfits, scant clothing and very little to eat. However, with stout hearts they moved forward. They had exhausted their scanty food supply and the winter winds were beginning and they were many miles from help in either direction, but they had faith in the Lord for whom they had sacrificed so much to follow, would not forsake them. A cold west wind was blowing and snow began to fall. It seemed they had reached almost the end of their endurance and despair was in their hearts when flocks of quail began drifting into camp. The hunters had searched far and wide for food and had found nothing. The quail, indeed, seemed Manna from Heaven.
The saints stopped at Ferryville near Council Bluffs, Iowa to rest and recuperate and William P. Smith was called to preside over that branch of the Church while they were there. William and his family stayed there five years and William Jr. and Hyrum were born there. Nathan and his father operated a ferry boat across the river. They saved up enough to buy a fine wagon with horses, instead of oxen to pull the wagon.
They had many tools and nice household utensils. There were plenty of provisions and many kinds of seeds to be planted in their new home, and also there was a nice sized herd of cattle and sheep.
In 1852 William and family again started on toward Utah, 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 his mother's faith and warm catnip tea were believed to have saved his life. Later the Smith family separated from that company and traveled the rest of the way to Salt Lake City under the leadership of Captain McGray arriving in Salt Lake City October 6, 1852, after a seven week trip. Ten days more and they moved to land bordering on the Little Cottonwood Creek and later known as Union. Union Fort was built by the settlers to protect them from the Indians.
Most of the families built their homes inside the fort; however, William's first home was of logs brought from a nearby canyon, but built outside the fort.
One day when a group of men were in the canyon getting wood they heard a groaning. When investigating they found an Indian with a broken leg. William set the bone and cared for the injured Indian. Because of William's skill in setting bones and making medicines with herbs, he was looked upon as a great medicine man by the Indians and they never harmed him or his family. William Smith never moved inside the fort. Whenever his neighbors would urge or mention the Indians he would say "Tut, tut, they will not harm thee." The Indians liked and trusted him and many times came to him for aid when they were ill or had broken bones.
One day an Indian squaw came running to his house and wanted William to save her. Her husband had died and as it was the custom to bury all an Indian's earthly possessions, even his wife, with him; therefore the squaw had fled to the home of William for help. She said her tribe lived farther north and if she could get to them she would be safe. William hid her and when her pursuers came he directed them in the wrong direction. Later he helped the fleeing squaw to get safely back to her own people.
William also acted as a doctor and dentist for his neighbors and friends. He used a queer instrument for pulling teeth called a turn key. The turn key was fastened onto a tooth with a piece of soft cloth placed over the near by teeth and the rotten tooth was pried out. This was very painful for the patient.
It was a hard and a trying process making a home in a new land. Willows and sagebrush had to be uprooted before the soil could be made ready and crops planted. Ditches had to be dug from the creeks to carry water to the fields. And the grasshoppers seemed to return every second year. When they came they would devour every living green thing in their path. The settlers would drive them into the streams to drown them. Then they would scoop them out by the bucketful. Huge piles of grasshoppers would decay and stink. The chickens ate grasshoppers until the egg yolks were red.
To add to their troubles little William became sick and on February 22, 1853 he died and was buried in the Union Fort Pioneer Cemetery, Two more sons were born to the Smith's in Union: Thomas and John. Thomas was later killed with a gun by a villain.
When John was about three weeks old his mother Mary, a midwife went to help a neighbor. It was a cold wet night in October and when she returned home and was putting up her horse, one of the pole bars slipped and struck her on the chest. It was not known whether it was the injury or if she caught cold which caused the congestion in her lungs and caused her death on November 14, 1856.
The following January little John lay very ill. A colt had been missing for several days, and the older boys had been hunting for it. Thomas, about four, who was looking out the window called, "Come quickly here is Mother bringing the colt home." Members of the family ran to the window. There was the colt but they could not see Mother. Tommy said, "Can't you see her? She's standing by the chopping block. She is coming for the baby in the morning."
The next morning the baby John died. Alice the oldest daughter cared for the younger children for a couple of years until she married. Then Mary Ann served as house keeper.
William worked very hard to take care of his motherless children. He helped in the home and farmed with his boys help raising hay, grain, fruit, and vegetables.
He gave his time and service to help his friends and neighbors, his church and his community. Although he was not a licensed doctor he could help his fellow man in many ways. He understood herbs and their usage. He made very good salve from herbs mixed in bees wax and tallow for skin and infections. His canker medicine combining herb tea and golden seal drug was widely used. He would gather the herbs in season and dry them to cure them.
When Bishop Silas Richard's counselors were called elsewhere in 1862, William served as a counselor in the Union or Little Cottonwood Ward, he also owned one of the first hand-powered farming mills used to blow the chaff from grain and peas.
As a youth in England, William had learned to be a weaver. He wove three kinds of cloth, one was called jeans for men's or boy's clothes, one was linsey or linsey-woolsey for women's and girl's clothes and the other was flannel. He also wove blankets. His interest in weaving led to his meeting and marriage to a woman who could also weave cloth and blankets. William and Anna Bengston were married in the Endowment House December 10, 1863. They had three children, James, Zelphia and Elizabeth. Zelphia was the only one to grow up. This marriage was not a happy one and ended in divorce, on September 12, 1867.
At the time the step-mother left, Hyrum was 15 and Thomas 13. They became very close as they were always together at work on the farm or relaxing at the community get togethers. Hyrum was six feet tall, but Thomas topped him in height by several inches. Tom although broad and very athletic was a very peaceful boy. When the Sandy youths and Union boys had trouble Tom would try to settle the dispute without fighting. If the fighting had already started Tom would often help stop it and bring peace to the group.
Zelphia's mother married a man (Alfred Johnson) in Oakley, Utah. Throughout the years William kept in touch with Zelphia, doing things for her to show his love and his interest in her health and well being. Later when William heard that Zelphia was working in the mining town of Park City, he loaded a wagon with flour, fruits and vegetables and sent Hy and Tom to take it to her. The boys were very happy to go as they loved their half sister very much.
William became interested in a woman who did sewing for many families through out the many LDS communities. She was Sarah Pidd Griffiths, Ann Robert Griffiths and Sarah's husband was dead and Sarah did sewing to support the children of both mothers, Ann's boys were getting old enough to work her farm so Sarah's help was not necessary.
Ann was afraid that Sarah might marry again so forbade William to come to her home. So William would meet Sarah after church or sometimes at the place where she was sewing and she would go to his home and prepare food.
She made a soda dough which was cooked or a hot griddle. Both liked this kind of bread and began calling the cakes "Sparkling Cakes." When they decided to get married they went up to Salt Lake City to the Endowment House.
Ann found out their plans and got there first. She cried and said if Sarah left she would have no means of support, so the officials would not marry them. They took William aside and told him to come back later when Ann didn't know.
So William and Sarah started home, very angry and disappointed. Suddenly William suggested that they go up to Fort Douglas and be married. So they turned around and went to the Fort and were married by Judge Titus, November 23, 1867. The people of the community were scandalized. They decided that if William and Sarah were married by a non-Mormon they had left the church. Many were no longer friendly. It became dangerous for William and Sarah to be away from home after dark. Several times shots were fired at them as they sat on the wagon seat coming home from a shopping trip. William went unconcerned about his own affair. He and his boys farmed and his wife and ten year old daughter Lucy fitted very well into life in the Smith household.
On November 4, 1868 William and Sarah were blessed with twins, Isaac died after three days and Sarah lived to be eight years old. Little Sarah was a sweet lovable child and everyone grieved deeply when she died. She was buried with roses from Lucy Ann's wedding dress.
Following is a story told by Lucy about her experience helping her step-father weave.
"By the time my mother married William there was a factory in Salt Lake that would take their wool in trade for yarn. William Smith and Mother would bring the yarn home and after the summer's work was over the weaving would commence. First the work was reeled onto the warping frame wick. This kept mother and I busy for about three days. Then it was put onto the loom, then the weaving could be started. Mother and I wound the bobbins and we had to keep the wheel going to keep ahead of father William. He could make the shuttle fairly fly and I can hear him now calling out in his shrill voice, "Bobbins, bobbins" and it made him out of patience if he had to wait for them. We would fill all the bobbins at night to try to keep ahead of him. Sometimes something would go wrong with the warp and he would have to get off the loom to fix it. I'd be glad of this break and to go ahead with the bobbin winding again. I remember one night a kitten was in the house and it got on the loom and tangled the yarn, Father Smith was so angry about having to straighten out the warp that he wouldn't speak to mother or me for almost two weeks. We were glad when company dropped in and he got over his sulking spell."
William Smith being quite a common name William's mail often got mixed up with other William Smith's mail, so he decided to borrow the initial from Sarah's maiden name Pidd. And from then on he signed his name William P. Smith. The Smiths needed a new house so obtained enough adobes to build one. As the work was progressing satisfactorily William decided to go to Idaho on business during the time when crops were uncertain, due to drought and grasshoppers, most houses contained very large bins in them for storing two years supply of grain.
Thomas Smith married and had a family, he and another man went to Burnt Fork, Wyoming to get out logs. While there another man by the name of King joined them. Thomas Smith was of a large powerful stature being six feet three or four inches tall. He could fell more trees per hour than most men. King 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 to cut some steak from Venison, King shot him through the back. The bullet passed through one kidney and paralyzed his legs. He cried out to his companion Louis Anderson, "Run for your life, I'm shot!" His companion ran and also the assassin ran, Tom crawled four miles to the main road on his elbows. Here he was picked up and taken to the nearest settlement in a wagon. He was conscious when found and told the story but he died before help was reached.