Church Historical Writings
THE SAMUEL UTLEY STORY
[Talk by John E. Enslen, first counselor in mission presidency, at multi-zone Christmas party of Alabama Birmingham Mission held at Birmingham Stake Center on December 11, 2001.]
My dear brothers and sisters, fellow warriors of the restoration, with whom I am most honored to be associated, Merry Christmas 2001.
What a wonderful mission president [President Jerry Phil Peterson of Peterson, Morgan County, Utah] you have! He possesses a mature wisdom, and from him you may learn much. I hope you enjoy serving under his direction as much as I do.
Today I wish to give you a special Christmas gift. It is not a gift that you can touch, or hold, or unwrap, or with which you can play. Nevertheless, I pray that you will find lasting value in it, and that you will feel honored in the end to have received it.
My gift is an original gift consisting of a true story never before told. It includes a gift of that part of my mortal probation that has been expended in producing the story. It is the product of many, many hours of historical research done by myself and others, including June Bagnall and Earl Peirce of the Harold B. Lee Library staff at Brigham Young University, who have given freely of their precious time.
As one example of the story’s importance to me, while in Provo last month I abstained from watching on television the Alabama vs. Auburn football game in order to use my limited time there to access this historical information, not available to me elsewhere. For me, a graduate of the University of Alabama in the days of Coach Paul “Bear” Bryant, and being one who possesses in large measure those distinct mortal weaknesses peculiar to college football fans, forsaking the game was indeed a genuine sacrifice.
The Alabamians whose names you will shortly hear have all long ago passed to the other side of the veil. Yet, I know that through the atonement of Jesus Christ they live, and enjoy a state of unspeakable joy and happiness. I have felt in unmistakable impressions their strong desires to have their stories told. The spirit has poured over me many times, confirming their wishes in this regard. I have become quite acquainted with them and the depth of their testimonies as they sojourned the earth in obedience to revealed truth. I believe that someday, either in this life or the next, all Alabamians will gratefully acknowledge and honor their immeasurable contributions to mankind. They are part of the countless, ordinary, unheralded noble souls whose sacrifices have forged the firm foundation of this Church. Their simple, faithful lives continue to be a powerful inspiration to me.
This story involves two brothers sir-named Utley; Samuel Utley and his younger brother by seven years, Little John Utley, and their respective families. I cordially invite you to fasten your mental seatbelt tightly and follow the story line. I request in advance that you please have patience with my emotions.
A true story should begin with a genuine hero, and that is most often a woman. And so it is with this story. Elizabeth Rutledge, who would become the wife of Little John Utley, was born in 1809 in South Carolina, a member of one of America’s most prominent families. One of the signers of the Declaration of Independence was a Rutledge.
In her late teenage years, Elizabeth began to be courted in Lancaster District, South Carolina, by a young man named Little John (sometimes spelled “Littlejohn”) Utley, a native of Wake County, North Carolina. By 1829, Little John, age 23, was employed in the area as the overseer of a mammoth plantation with more than 500 slaves. However, Elizabeth and Little John were both becoming more and more disgusted with the vile and inhuman institution of slavery.
Elizabeth seems to have been the more disaffected of the two. She could hardly bear hearing the pain-filled cries coming from the whipping sheds where disobedient slaves were punished. She was also deeply bothered by another aspect of slavery. The young black mothers were forced to work in the fields alongside the men, and while doing so, these mothers would lay their babies on a raggedy quilt under a shade tree and check on them periodically. Elizabeth recalled with repulsion how the little white girls of the plantation would play with these babies like they were their live dolls.
About the fall of 1829, Little John Utley gave up his job as a slave driver and joined other family members in a southwesterly migration of 500 miles to the wilderness of south Perry County, Alabama. There they became early residents of a sparse community called Hamburg. Extended family members had previously established themselves in the same area and perhaps had enticed Little John Utley, his older brother Samuel, and others to leave South Carolina and join them.
Elizabeth and Little John were committed to one another, and she traveled with the Utleys to their new home in Alabama. On Christmas Eve of 1829, a double wedding was performed for the Utley brothers by Lee George, the Justice of the Peace in Perry County, Alabama. Little John Utley and Elizabeth Rutledge were married, and Samuel Utley and Maria Berry were married. Maria was a native of Tennessee and one month short of 19 years of age, 11 years younger than her new husband.
By the mid-1830’s, the Utley brothers had purchased land and were living in the same neighborhood as one Samuel Turnbow. The Utleys and the Turnbows developed a lifelong friendship. Divine destiny had decreed that Samuel Turnbow would, on March 3, 1840, become Alabama’s first convert to The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Samuel Turnbow was baptized by Elder Benjamin Clapp, a relative by marriage. Elder Clapp had been sent from Nauvoo in 1839 to inaugurate missionary work in the adjoining state of Mississippi, and he had crossed over into Alabama to seek out his relative.
In early 1843, with the help of Samuel Turnbow, Elder James Brown of later Mormon Battalion fame organized the Boguechitto Branch of the Church in south Perry County, Alabama. “Boguechitto,” which means “big creek” in the Choctaw Indian language, was the name of a sizeable creek that ran near the Hamburg Community.
In late 1843 both sets of Utleys, including eligible children, were baptized into the Boguechitto Branch of the Church by Elder John Brown, part of 44 Alabama converts baptized by Elder Brown between September 1843 and December 1844. (This number excludes approximately an equal number of Mississippi converts baptized by Elder Brown during that same time period.) Elizabeth was immediately disinherited as a result of joining the Church, and her share of her family’s South Carolina property was ultimately given to the Methodist Church.
Little John and Elizabeth had eight children born to them in Perry County between 1830 and 1842, one of which, a girl, was reportedly raised from the dead through the priesthood administration of the father and his neighbor Samuel Turnbow who had recently returned from a proselyting mission to Mississippi. Two of these eight children, both boys, died in Perry County at ages 2 and 11 respectively.
Samuel Utley and his wife Maria Utley had a total of six children born to them, all in Perry County between 1831 and 1844.
The Utley brothers were faithful members of the Church. They assisted in establishing two thriving branches of the Church [Bogue Chitto and Five Mile Branches] in the same county, a rare phenomenon outside of the general area of Church headquarters in Nauvoo. Little John was in attendance at a multi-unit conference of the Church held at the Sipsey Branch in Tuscaloosa County on April 12, 1844. This conference was later reported in the Nauvoo newspaper, Times and Seasons, in the very same issue that reported the martyrdom of Joseph and Hyrum. (I brought a copy of this newspaper with me so that you can view it afterwards if you like.) At this conference, Little John and others were encouraged to migrate to Nauvoo and assist with the completion of the temple.
Among the eleven brethren in attendance at this all-male conference were the following: Jeduthan Averett, who later became a member of the Mormon Battalion and served in a branch presidency in the Coonville Branch of Pottowattamie County, Iowa; John Brown, a native of Tennessee who would hold the record for the longest horseback journey to the Salt Lake Valley; Benjamin Clapp, a native of Huntsville, Alabama, who had fought at the Battle of Crooked River in Missouri and who would later be set apart by Brigham Young as one of the First Seven Presidents of the Seventy; George W. Stewart who would die attempting to migrate to Nauvoo, but whose son James Wesley Stewart would faithfully serve as a member of Brigham Young’s vanguard pioneer company; and James Madison Flake, whose slave Green Flake would be the first person to drive a wagon into the Salt Lake Valley. By the way, the son of attendee James Madison Flake, William Jordan Flake, would become half of the namesake of Snowflake, Arizona. (Senator Jeff Flake of Arizona is a direct descendant.)
Just two months after this conference, Alabamian John D. “Jack” Holladay, for whom Holladay, Utah, would be named, would be baptized by missionary Absolom Porter Dowdle, a native of Russellville, Alabama. Two years thereafter, Holladay would lead his family on the longest wagon-traveled trek to the Salt Lake Valley of any Mormon pioneer family.
In obedience to counsel, Little John and his pregnant wife Elizabeth left shortly after the conference on their 700-mile trip to Nauvoo where they arrived in time to join in the intense mourning for the deaths of Joseph and Hyrum, passing by their coffins in the Mansion House. They also witnessed that summer in Nauvoo the mantle of the Prophet Joseph falling unmistakably on Brigham Young. Little John and Elizabeth’s ninth child, a girl, was born in Nauvoo.
Brother Samuel and his wife Maria Utley were no less faithful. Samuel’s family would later travel south to Mobile, thence to New Orleans, and thence by steamboat up the Mississippi River to Nauvoo where they would join Little John’s family. Both Utley families remained in Nauvoo until the 1846 exodus into Iowa.
In Nauvoo, Little John Utley worked, as did virtually all other able-bodied men, on the construction of the temple. Little John and family rejoiced in the completion of the Nauvoo Temple. Following the temple’s private dedication, Little John and Elizabeth were endowed and then sealed to one another in January of 1846. For some reason, Samuel and Maria were not sealed, probably because they did not arrive in Nauvoo until after February of 1846.
The two Utley families became part of the forced evacuation from Nauvoo in early June 1846 with the Abraham O. Smoot company, crossing southern Iowa in rain and mud, and settling in the Winter Quarters/Council Bluffs area. Samuel settled on the west side of the Missouri River, and Little John settled on the east side. Having expended their resources in traveling to Nauvoo, and having lost much to the mobs, neither brother had sufficient financial means or provisions to leave with the 1847 wagon companies to Utah, and thus they remained in the Council Bluffs area for the next five years.
Another daughter was born to Little John and Elizabeth in 1848 in Council Bluffs, followed by yet another daughter, child number eleven, born there in 1851. While in Council Bluffs, a 17-year-old daughter named Martha married William Adams in 1849, and an 18-year-old daughter named Helen married Norton Tuttle in 1851. Across the Missouri River, on the Winter Quarters side, Samuel built his 1846 log cabin with the help of his ever-faithful Alabama neighbor and friend Samuel Turnbow, who cut down trees and rafted the logs down the Missouri River.
In Winter Quarters, Samuel Utley was called upon to endure great tragedy and suffering, perhaps unequaled in the annals of the Winter Quarters experience. During the beginning of his second year there, the entire family contracted the black measles. Henry, age 7, died October 3, 1847; Maria, the mother, age 35, died 11 days later on October 14; James, age 14, died on November 5; Jacob, age 10, died November 12; and Sarah, age 16, died November 18. Only three of the family of eight survived to experience a very gloomy Christmas season in 1847. Those surviving the dreaded disease were Samuel the father, Harriet age 12, and Gabriel age 3.
There was a prevailing common belief in that day that water should not be taken when suffering from a black measles fever. But young Harriett, burning with fever, struggled from her bedding on the floor and secured a cold drink of water for Gabriel and herself, the only children to survive.
From money earned teaching school in Council Bluffs, by then renamed Kanesville, Samuel Utley was eventually able to buy lumber, season it, and resourcefully build his own wagon. This was in 1852. Harriet was now 17 years old and Gabriel 8.
That year, all of the remaining Utleys [14 in number excluding extended family], consisting of Samuel with two children and Little John and wife with nine children, departed Kanesville for the Salt Lake Valley. Little John traveled with the Allen Weeks company, and Samuel traveled separately with the Robert Wimmer company. These two companies were part of a focused effort by the Church to gather the poorer remnants of the Iowa-stymied Nauvoo Saints to Utah. Both companies departed for Utah in early July of 1852.
First, I will report on the wagon travels of Little John’s family in the Allen Weeks company containing 226 Latter-day Saints.
A daughter named Margaret, age 17, was particularly attractive. The wagon company encountered a group of Indian braves who desperately wanted to purchase Margaret, a common Indian practice among themselves, offering the parents blankets and horses for her. Of course, their offers were refused, but there was a great deal of anxiety and fear suffered from the unwelcome episode. But that encounter was far from their greatest difficulties yet to come.
Traveling in the wagon company was Little John’s 20-year-old married daughter Martha and her husband William Adams. You will recall their being married in Council Bluffs. This young couple had a 2-year-old baby girl who contracted dysentery and died in one night’s time. They emptied a wooden box of personal property and used the box as a coffin in which to bury the child on the side of the trail.
During the exact same time frame as the 2-year-old’s death, Martha was passing through child labor, unsuccessfully, suffering terrible and indescribable agony for two full days. Martha died the day after her 2-year-old daughter was buried, her unborn babe also dying within her womb. She was buried 15 miles down the trail from her 2-year-old. Unfortunately, that was not the end of the Utleys’ unspeakable heartbreak.
On July 26, 1852, two days travel past Independence Rock, mother Elizabeth Utley, Little John’s wife, took sick with cholera, a contagious disease for which she had previously expressed a dreadful fear. Elizabeth was suffering so intensely that the entire wagon train stopped. She died the next morning. She was conscious to the very last and was reconciled to her inevitable fate. Just before she died, she asked her fellow travelers to sing for her “Come, Come, Ye Saints.” When they finished, Elizabeth requested the last verse a second time. Then she closed out her mortality with these final words: “It is well if I live, and it is well if I die. All is well, all is well.”
There were no available boards with which to build a coffin, so Little John tenderly wrapped Elizabeth’s body in a beautiful quilt that she had painstakingly made and prudently saved for anticipated use once they had arrived in the valley. Little John and his eight surviving children arrived in the Salt Lake Valley on October 12, 1852.
Eight months later, the attractive Margaret became the third plural wife of Cyrus Tolman. Margaret received her endowment in the Endowment House in 1872. She and husband Cyrus lived in Tooele until 1887 when they traded their 640 acres there for 30 horses and moved to Star Valley, Wyoming. Margaret over time bore eleven children, seven of whom lived to adulthood. She died in Wyoming in 1902 at age 67.
Mary, who had been born in Council Bluffs, died one year after her arrival in the valley. She was 5 years old.
Mildred, the youngest child who was also born in Council Bluffs, was raised in Tooele by an older sister. In December of 1872, when Mildred was age 21, she married Joseph Maughan. She received her endowment in the Endowment House the next month. Joseph was a railroad man, and the family lived in Wellsville, then Logan, then Glendale, Idaho, where Mildred became the first primary president of the ward. She had six children, five reaching adulthood.
After becoming a grandmother, Mildred was badly burned in a fire while visiting a daughter. She courageously entered her daughter’s burning home and successfully rescued a young grandson. Mildred survived the rescue, but was terribly scarred for the remainder of her life. She died in Preston, Idaho, in 1930 at age 79.
You may recall that daughter Helen at age 18 married Norton Tuttle while living in Council Bluffs. Helen received her endowment in the Endowment House in 1860. I have no information about the number of her children. She died in 1899 at age 66. Son Little John Richard was age 16 when his family crossed the plains. He was endowed at age 22 in the Endowment House. He died in 1863 at age 27, apparently without issue. [It would be interesting to see if he returned to the east and fought in the Civil War.]
At age 18, daughter Sarah married George Atkin in May of 1856. She received her endowment the next month in the Endowment House. Sarah and George raised a family of nine children in Tooele. Sarah died at age 66 in 1905.
Son Abraham was 10 years old when his family migrated to Utah. I know little else about him, but it does not appear that he had children.
Daughter Sophronia, who was born in Nauvoo, turned 8 years old as the family passed through Wyoming on their way to the valley. When she became an adult she married Hyrum Munjar. I have no information about the number of her children.
Elizabeth Rutledge Utley had been the love of Little John’s life. In 1860, after eight years as a widower, Little John married Deborah White in Tooele, Utah. They were sealed three years later in the Endowment House. Deborah bore him four sons, three of which lived to maturity, married, and had families.
One year after Little John’s and Deborah’s marriage in Tooele, while finally enjoying a somewhat comfortable life on Little John’s income as a blacksmith, Little John was called by Brigham Young at the October 1861 General Conference to settle his family in southern Utah as part of the “Cotton” or “Dixie” Mission. Little John was again obedient, but would thereafter live only eleven years, long enough to see a second son by Deborah born in St. George, a third son by Deborah died in infancy, a fourth son by Deborah born in Tooele, and his oldest son by Deborah turn age 11. Little John Utley, a convert of Perry County, Alabama, quietly died firm in the faith, an unnoticed and unheralded non-hero, on December 23, 1872, at age 66.
Now, I will turn to the wagon travels of older brother Samuel and his two surviving children, Harriet and Gabriel, crossing the plains that same summer and fall of 1852, but in a different company. They were part of 230 pioneers in 130 wagons. You will recall that Elizabeth, Little John’s wife, had died from cholera on the trail. In a similar cholera outbreak, Samuel was taken ill. Harriet refused to leave her father, stayed behind, and tended to him until he drew his last breath. Samuel Utley never saw Utah in mortality. He was buried on the banks of the Platte River in the same crude manner as were many other pioneers, their bodies being first covered only with the bark of a nearby tree before dirt was thrown in to fill the shallow grave.
[Twenty five years later, on March 3, 1877, Samuel Utley and Maria Berry Utley were sealed by proxy in the newly constructed St. George Temple.]
Now totally orphaned, Harriet assisted her young brother Gabriel in getting to Utah. Her determination was fortified by the counsel of her mother in Winter Quarters. Harriet had listened intently to her mother’s dying wish—that Harriet stay with her father and the Church. After her mother’s death, Harriet had been offered a life of ease and comfort by a wealthy aunt and uncle living in the east, but Harriet remained true to her mother’s final wish.
When orphans Harriet and Gabriel reached the valley in 1852, they were kindly taken in and cared for by none other than former Perry County, Alabama, neighbors Samuel Turnbow and his wife Sylvira. But Samuel Turnbow himself would become a widower the next year, Sylvira dying from the effects of childbirth. Samuel Turnbow had already buried an infant child at Mt. Pisgah during the mucky Iowa crossing, and he had buried a 15-year-old daughter in the valley before the Utley children arrived. Tragically, he would yet bury the bodies of two more children less than three years after his wife Sylvira’s death. [By the way, Samuel had also lost infant twin sons in Perry County, Alabama.]
At age 18, Harriet Utley became the second wife of William Carter. She bore him eight children and helped care for the children of his other two wives, one of whom was Sophronia Ellen Turnbow, Samuel Turnbow’s daughter. Harriet also cared for her oldest son’s children when her oldest son died still a young man. In 1861, Harriet went with her husband William Carter as part of the “Dixie” Mission to colonize southern Utah in an attempt to produce cotton for the saints. There she contributed 64 more years of her life to the well-being of the community. She died in St. George in 1925 at the age of 90.
Her younger brother Gabriel, at age 28, married Sophia Burgess who bore him fifteen children. They too, moved to “Dixie” and then to the Virgin River in Lincoln County, Nevada, where he served in the Mesquite Ward Bishopric. Gabriel Utley, born in Perry County, Alabama, coincidentally on the very same day that Joseph and Hyrum Smith were murdered in Carthage Jail, lived to be 85. He was the only Alabama-born Utley boy of eight such boys who lived to perpetuate the Utley sir-name in his generation. Despite that fact, and because of the Utley women, whom I again refer to as the real heroes [or heroines if you prefer], there are now many thousands of descendants of the Utley brothers, Samuel and Little John. These descendants are on the whole faithful members of the Church, Latter-day Saints who have sung in the Mormon Tabernacle Choir, who, like yourselves, have served missions across the globe, and who have faithfully filled callings and assignments in numbers untold without fanfare or accolades.
Now what does the atonement of Jesus Christ, which you so fervently and faithfully teach, have to do with any of this?
For a start, all of those who died shall again, in the flesh, and without burn scars, see God. Because of Christ, all of the infants and children who prematurely met death will be saved in the Kingdom of God. And all those who lost family or inheritances or their good name shall be rewarded more than one hundred fold. And all those who were separated in life from their beloved spouses and children shall be united forever in celestial glory, to go no more out. In truth, tongue cannot utter the exalted station which awaits the righteous faithful who die in the Lord.
Thus concludes my Christmas gift to you, a gift of gospel history, knowing that ultimately the only history that will make any difference is gospel history. Now, one parting thought: Two years before his death, Joseph Smith wrote:
May we likewise be steadfast in our willingness to endure privations, to manifest an untiring zeal, and to overcome the all but insurmountable difficulties as we build upon the foundation of a work that will bring glory and blessings to the sons and daughters of God in future generations. Such is my humble prayer this Christmas season, in the holy and sacred name of Him through whom all things righteous are possible, even Jesus Christ, Amen.
Generations yet unborn will dwell with peculiar delight upon the scenes that we have passed through, the privations that we have endured; the untiring zeal that we have manifested; the all but insurmountable difficulties that we have overcome in laying the foundation of a work that brought about the glory and blessing[s] that they [, the yet unborn,] realize. Times and Seasons, 2 May 1842.