Keepapitchinin, the Mormon History blog » George Henry Mecham Pays a “Debt”

George Henry Mecham Pays a “Debt”

By: Ardis E. Parshall - April 05, 2010

By now you’re probably familiar with the story of Joseph Millett, which has been told several times in church settings (although I find that oddly it is always divorced from its setting in time and place – to present the story as a timeless example, perhaps? because knowing that adequate food supplies were available in Mormon settlements only two or three days ride away removes part of the pathos? because everybody quotes everybody else without ever going back to the source?). The story is also the centerpiece of the introductory film shown to visitors to the Church History Library:

In 1871, in the tiny Mormon farming settlement in Spring Valley, White Pine, Nevada (about 60 miles from Ely), Latter-day Saint Newman Hall found himself entirely out of flour and unable to feed his family. He asked some of his neighbors for help, but no one had a surplus. Finally he approached neighbor Joseph Millett who divided his supplies with the Halls. When Hall told him that he had been directed there following prayer, Millett told him there was no need to repay the loan. Millett recorded in his diary, “You can’t tell how good it made me feel to know that the Lord knew that there was such a person as Joseph Millett.”

I love that story. If you could know only one personal detail about an ancestor’s life, how wonderful if it could be something like that!

Joseph Millett’s story reminds me of another, much lesser-known story. I’ve Googled around and found websites which name the people in the story I’m about to tell, but none of them mention this story. I wonder if the family is aware of it. If he were my ancestor, I’d want to know …

Tropic, Utah, is a small farming and ranching town which lies at the east entrance to Bryce Canyon. I had a mission companion from Tropic; I used to tease her that some of the buildings we tracted in Marseilles housed more people than lived in her hometown. (I know – it’s not funny. But true.) The town of Tropic was founded in 1892. Two of the families who lived there in its first years were those of George Henry Mecham (1866-1947) and William Winspear Spendlove (1868-1933). Both were married and had started their families by 1899 when William Spendlove was called on a mission.

The Spendloves didn’t know how they were going to find the means for William to answer his mission call. They fed their growing family – five children ranging from a few months to 8 years old – from their farm crops, their cows, and some chickens. They had no cash to outfit William at the beginning of his mission, nor any means of raising the $20 or so he would need every month during his mission. But William went away to a larger community in the summer of 1899 and worked until he had saved enough to start with that October. Alice Isom Spendlove would somehow have to find a way to send cash to him every month for the next two years, as well as feed and clothe herself and her children. William headed out to serve in the Southwestern States Mission – he posed for this portrait in Green Forest, Arkansas while a missionary there.

The first thing Alice did was to accept the invitation of her widowed mother to move back to her hometown of Virgin, Utah, to live while William was gone. Housing would be free, and Alice’s adult siblings – five of whom were still living at home while they worked as school teachers and farm laborers – would help with the rest. Alice could rent the Spendlove house and fields in Tropic to raise cash to send to William, and do sewing for the neighbors.

And so that’s what they did. The rental income was sporadic and there was never anything extra, but Alice supported her husband in the mission field, her Isom relatives provided a home for her and her children, and William served an honorable mission.

In 1901, expecting that William would be home in a few months, Alice decided to move back to Tropic, to clean up and fix up her home and to do what she could toward preparing the fields for a new start as soon as William was able to get back to work. This meant that she no longer had any rental income, but she fed her children from the produce of their garden and cows, and continued her sewing.

Money ran out, though, and so did Alice’s stock of flour. On the day she gave her children the last of the bread, she told them that they needed to pray very sincerely that night for God to send them more. They knelt as a family and Alice told the Lord of their circumstances; in their private prayers that night, the children repeated their understanding of their predicament.

Alice did not go to bed that night. She lit the lamp and stayed up to continue sewing, hoping to finish the dress, to receive her pay promptly to buy the flour she needed for her children’s bread.

Well after midnight, someone pounded on her door, and she opened it to find George Henry Mecham standing there. The Mechams were not a wealthy family – George is listed as a “day laborer” on the 1900 census – and he had a wife and two daughters to support (twins had been born and died about the time William Spendlove had left on his mission). But he was a hard worker, and the Mechams were doing okay.

George explained to Alice that he was on his way home from the gristmill in Panguitch, and as long as her lamp was lit he decided to stop “and pay you that sack of flour I owe you” that night rather than returning in the morning.

Alice protested that George didn’t owe her anything.

“Oh, yes, I do,” he responded. “I owe every missionary’s wife a sack of flour.” And he brought in from his wagon a large sack holding the flour ground from two bushels of grain.

There would be biscuits for breakfast, and bread every day until the husband and father could return to again provide for the family.

In Keepa’s world, where everything seems to be connected to everything else, note that Alice Isom Spendlove was the granddaughter of Ellen Briggs Douglas Parker.



  1. I’m a big fan of “pay it forward” stories. Thanks, Ardis.

    Comment by iguacufalls — April 5, 2010 @ 11:31 am

  2. Thanks for this.

    Comment by Stephen Taylor — April 5, 2010 @ 11:31 am

  3. Great story, in some ways better than the Joseph Millett story. In the interest of connectedness, I should note that my grandfather who rode out the 1900 Galveston hurricane was also serving in the Southwestern States mission at the same time as William Spendlove. I can’t find any record that they ever served together, but they likely crossed paths at some point.

    Comment by kevinf — April 5, 2010 @ 12:56 pm

  4. Although the chances of missionaries being men of wisdom and experience is slightly lower at the ripe old age of 19, how much better it seems for missionaries not to have to leave wives and young children struggling to make their way at home. But what an empowering experience it could be for the women — I just read the biography of one of my ancestors who assumed successful responsibility for all of her husband’s numerous business ventures when he was called on a mission. And she was expecting twins at the time!

    Was there a Seventies Quorum in Tropic? Do I understand correctly that the Seventies Quorums sometimes assumed responsibility, as they were able, for the families of missionaries?

    Comment by Researcher — April 5, 2010 @ 2:04 pm

  5. I opened this page hours ago, but just got back here to read it. What a remarkable story! Thanks, as always, Ardis.

    When my parents (not yet my parents and not yet married, either) were serving as missionaries, in the late 1940s, there were several elders in their mission who had married immediately before leaving for the mission field. That seems an awfully difficult thing to do–although it was a pattern familiar to thousands, perhaps millions, of American (and probably English and German and Japanese) couples who married during the war and then separated almost immediately for long periods.

    Comment by Mark B. — April 5, 2010 @ 3:36 pm

  6. That’s a wonderful quote:

    “Oh, yes, I do,” he responded. “I owe every missionary’s wife a sack of flour.”

    Thanks for this.

    Comment by Hunter — April 5, 2010 @ 4:14 pm

  7. At 60 pounds a bushel, that’s 120 pounds of flour, just in case anyone was wondering, like I was.

    I think–and I believe it was confirmed by several speakers this weekend–that those with the “care for your neighbor” ethic in their hearts like George Mecham are going to have the highest home on the hill in the heavenly neighborhood.

    Now, if I could just practice it more often…

    Comment by Clark — April 5, 2010 @ 4:57 pm

  8. Thanks for the story. I’ll bet there are other similar stories in our family and church history that will surface some day. People are generally good people who look out for neighbors.

    Comment by Maurine — April 5, 2010 @ 8:22 pm

  9. I can’t believe I found this story! George Henry Mecham is my husband’s grandfather. We have a copy of this story….somewhere in our house but can’t seem to find it right now when we need it. (I am sure it is in a very practical and safe place. Just can’t seem to find that place right now.) We are scheduled to speak in Church this Sunday and my husband, Ben, wanted to include this story in his talk. We searched thinking the story had been published in one of the Church’s magazine. No luck with that search, so I decided to Google George Henry Mecham. WOW! There was the story along with a big sigh of relief from my husband. We would be interested in where you found this story. Was it published in a Church magazine as we thought? Who was the author?
    Thanks a million for blogging about this story. You saved us a lot of grief and frustration.

    Comment by JoAnn Baugh — January 4, 2011 @ 7:22 pm

  10. Always so glad when a family member finds one of these stories! I feel like I’m restoring a family jewel that has been lost when you comment like this.

    My source is a history written by the Spendlove family. It barely mentions George Henry Mecham — doesn’t even give his full name, but enough of it that I could identify him by using the census to find out what Mechams lived near the Spendloves at the time of William Spendlove’s mission. The family history did contain the best line, the quotation about what he owed to missionary wives (something that only Alice could report, of course), but otherwise everything in this post about George is something I dug out by doing primary research, and matching up the Mecham family milestones with those of the Spendloves. If you have some version of this story published somewhere, it’s from something I haven’t seen — this post is entirely my own research and writing.

    Thanks for mentioning you had found it.

    Comment by Ardis E. Parshall — January 4, 2011 @ 7:32 pm

  11. Lovely story. What a good reminder for us all.

    Thanks for all the hard work you do in researching these stories–no, these lives.

    Comment by Amy — January 4, 2011 @ 8:05 pm

  12. I learned of Joseph Millet through a Church News article read while a missionary in Chile. I was surprised to see an ancestor’s name in the article, A CHURCH FOR ALL LANDS – NOVA SCOTIA – KIND, GENEROUS PEOPLE. Only date I have for it is 1978. Joseph Millet was a mission companion for a short time with my ancestor Allen Stewart Adamson in Nova Scotia. The article was really about Brother Millet’s concern about making it on his own without purse or scrip after Allen headed west to gather with the Saints. Brother Millet had wonderful experiences with the generosity of the folks in Nova Scotia. He clearly passed along the kindness that was shown to him.
    I grew up in Ely, NV near Spring Valley and never knew that Joseph Millet settled there — very interesting! According to family lore, Allen Stewart Adamson baptized members of an Ogilvie family during his mission in Nova Scotia. Esther Eunice Ogilvie later became his wife. I’ve found copies of excerpts from a journal Joseph Millet kept during his mission which includes entries about his time serving with Allen — almost 2 months. Thanks for adding more pieces to the puzzle!

    Comment by Debra Young Liening — January 4, 2011 @ 8:28 pm

  13. William Spendlove is my wife’s great grandfather, and the family knows this story well, and I know my wife has used it in a talk in Sacrament meeting. Very inspiring!

    Comment by Eric — September 13, 2014 @ 7:47 pm

  14. Ardis,
    Can I quote this story? May I use it for History of the Saints TV show and radio network. gjr

    Comment by Glenn — April 12, 2015 @ 9:29 pm

  15. Of course. Would be nice to have my name mentioned if you do. Thanks.

    Comment by Ardis E. Parshall — April 13, 2015 @ 7:01 am

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