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Stephen Taylor: “Desiring Only a Fit Out for the Valley”

By: Ardis E. Parshall - January 10, 2011

“Standard” church history follows the movements of Joseph Smith and the main body of the church, from New York to Ohio to Missouri to Nauvoo, and then west with Brigham Young. We are less familiar with the very many small branches of Saints who joined the church but who remained in their old homes and did not move with the main body of the church. Below is the story of one such family and their unusual route to Zion in 1848.

Stephen Taylor was born on 1 July 1794 in Scipio, New York to parents who had migrated from Massachusetts to western New York State the year before his birth. As they had done for at least two generations in New England, the family operated a tavern as well as carving out a farm in the wilderness.

Stephen had been twice widowed by 1832 when he married a third time, to Martha Turner, a Connecticut woman who had come to New York with her brothers. In addition to several children from Stephen’s earlier marriages, the couple had two small daughters of their own in 1838 when they became converts to Mormonism; two sons joined their family in the next few years, and at least two of Stephen’s older children died.

Despite their fairly early membership, Stephen and Martha did not join the main body of the Church in either Missouri or Nauvoo, but remained at home in Batavia, New York, where Stephen served at times as presiding elder to a small and sometimes bickering congregation.

In late 1847, though, missionary Oliver B. Huntington brought word that Brigham Young had reached the Salt Lake Valley and returned to Winter Quarters to make final plans for moving the Saints to the west. The Taylors decided it was time to join him. They sold their farm that winter, and early in the spring of 1848 Stephen, Martha, Stephen’s 21-year-old son (Cyrenus) by his first marriage, and their own four young children prepared to go west. One adult son, not a Mormon, remained behind.

The Taylors, along with two poorer families whose travel expenses they were paying and a few other members of the Batavia branch traveled overland to Buffalo, New York, and on April 10 took a steamer over Lake Erie to Erie, Pennsylvania. From there they entered the canal and river system – the great water highway that carried so many pioneers by a circuitous route to the western frontier. (All quotations below are from the diary of Oliver B. Huntington.)

In Buffalo we made what would be called in ordinary times a very foolish move, but which God ordered and turned out for our good – which was that we paid our fare through to St. Louis, in consequence of which we had a boat sent for by telegraph to meet us and be ready at Erie … being the first boat through that spring, as it were on express. … Our company had no head definite, but all got along very well – peace prevailed except in the minds of Bro. Cyrenus Taylor and my own to see our older Brothers (and his father one) drinking liquor at convenient opportunities, so as thinking to screen it from the company.

The first stage of the route, from Erie to Beaver, Pennsylvania (30 miles from Pittsburgh), was 127 miles and involved more than 130 locks – it took the travelers six days to cross that distance. There they waited for two days for another boat to take them down the Ohio River.

Tuesday morning the 18th we reached Wheeling in Virginia which is quite a large town … During our stay there I visited the great Virginia iron works which was a great sight. There was a bridge across the Ohio in building there of wire the same as the one across the Niagara River. Wednesday, April 18, 1848 we reached Cincinnati and left there the same evening.

Thursday morning we reached Louisville in Kentucky … a steam boat got stuck fast in the mud in the Canal through which all the boats had to pass in time of low water. So we had to wait until about noon the next day for her to get off.

To pass the time Oliver, probably together with Cyrenus Taylor with whom he seems to have been good friends, visited the “great Kentucky Giant,” advertised as 7’8″ tall. Late on the evening of 21 April, they continued their travel down the Ohio. At Cairo, Illinois, on 23 April, they left the Ohio behind and entered the great Mississippi.

On April 25, after two weeks and 1400 miles of travel, the Taylors reached St. Louis, still 700 miles from their goal of Council Bluffs. There they entered the Missouri River.

Two days before they reached that point, a party of Mormons, including apostles Erastus Snow, Ezra T. Benson, and Amasa Lyman, had left St. Louis aboard a steamboat headed for Council Bluffs. But the steamboat ran onto a rock about 130 miles upriver from St. Louis, breaking a hole in the hull and necessitating a return to St. Louis for repairs. 30 miles short of St. Louis, the captain had put all the passengers and their freight ashore, “where they waited in anxious suspense,” Oliver said, until the repaired steamboat – this time carrying the Taylors and their party – returned and picked them up.

Saturday morning the 29th of April about eight o’clock all the company of saints that were left on the west bank of the Missouri, were on board and we were on the way again. There was about 100 of them. Bro. Snow and Benson had taken another boat and gone on, but Bro. Wm. Clayton and John Scott was with us.

Travel on the Missouri River was slow, as the steamer stopped every few miles to load or unload freight. At one point the boat ran out of wood for its boilers, so the passengers were all sent ashore to collect sticks and a wooden fence they bought from a nearby farmer. At several points along the river they met other groups of Mormons traveling toward Winter Quarters, or traveling from the frontier back to their homes to collect their families for the move west. At Fort Kearney, in present-day Nebraska, they found about 70 Mormon men working as teamsters for the U.S. Army in order to earn money for the move west.

While we lay there, a very heavy rain and hail storm came, until the ground was all white.

Just after sunset on the evening of May 9, the steamboat reached Winter Quarters. Oliver wrote that on the next day, he

spent the time in helping Bro. Taylor’s family to move into a small log hut, a great disparity from what they had been used to. Yet they seemed happy and content, intent upon getting to the valley at the sacrifice of all things. On Thursday, he went to Brigham and gave him all the money he had, desiring only he would give him a fit out for the valley.

But Martha had caught the measles during the river travel. The damp hut near the river was unhealthy, and although she had been a large woman she wasted rapidly away. Martha died on 1 June and was buried near the camp flagpole, with her funeral sermon “left to be preached in the Valley.”

The grave was dug very large, and for the want of boards hewed slabs were got and the corners let in together in the grave so as to form a kind of box, three for a cover. She was let down on a board which formed the bottom. Many attended at the grave. The corpse was carried in a carriage and the mourners rode in Brigham’s carriage.

Stephen and his five children traveled on with the Brigham Young company, reaching the Valley on September 20.

Stephen returned to the East as a missionary in 1854 and died in 1855 while coming home to Utah. All five children survived to adulthood and have a large posterity today … including me.



18 Comments »

  1. What a nice surprise at the end! But that important information aside, there are so many stories like this that need to be told.

    “The Mormon Narrative” (for lack of more precise term, or maybe in its imprecision it’s the best title?) has so many as yet unexplored passages, so many people who lived outside or alongside the “main narrative,” as well as those whose lives were touched in some way (whether they converted or not). In so many nooks of “larger” history you discover its effects.

    (sorry for the sorta thread jack; this thing has been on my mind the last few days)

    Comment by Mina — January 10, 2011 @ 7:19 am

  2. No thread jack, Mina. The discoveries I like best are those whose stories haven’t been told yet, which usually means that there’s something different about them — even when they’re solidly “inside,” they’re poorer, or more foreign, or less married, or living farther from the center, or something else that makes them different from those whose stories we know. You and I may be reaching toward the same idea, too, in an old post called Tickled by the Fringes, about a woman whose life was “touched in some way” by her brush with Mormonism, although she did not convert.

    Comment by Ardis E. Parshall — January 10, 2011 @ 7:35 am

  3. I just checked Lorenzo Brown’s journal–the Brown family left Winter Quarters on May 25 of that same year, a few days ahead of Stephen Taylor’s family, but arrived in the Salt Lake Valley on September 21. Obviously your ancestors were faster than mine!

    I find the story of the trip from New York to Winter Quarters particularly interesting. The “speed” of the journey from Batavia to Winter Quarters–especially that veritable sprint from Wheeling to Louisville, in only two days!–shows what an advantage water-borne transportation had in those days. That same journey by wagon–almost 350 miles–would have taken over two weeks.

    Comment by Mark B. — January 10, 2011 @ 7:54 am

  4. There surely must be other records of Mormon water travel like this — I’ve seen some accounts of emigrants’ traveling upriver from New Orleans to Nauvoo, and of course there are lots of accounts of crossing the ocean — but this is the only river trip I’ve seen chronicled in such detail. OBH tracks the number of miles from one tiny berg on the river to the next, along with details of scenery and difficulties to travelers, that would probably be very valuable to the right kind of historian. But for all the travel Mormon pioneers must have done on the continental water highways, the documentation seems to be a little uncommon. I’m tickled that it happens to include my convert family, about whom so very little personal detail is known.

    Comment by Ardis E. Parshall — January 10, 2011 @ 8:07 am

  5. Actually, it appears (from the Pioneer Database) that they were all in the same company, a veritable horde of 1220 when they left Winter Quarters. I suspect that the Browns got stuck in a traffic jam in Emigration Canyon and weren’t able to make it into the valley until the day after the Taylors and Oliver Huntington.

    And, the account of Martha’s burial “near the camp flagpole” makes me wonder if they had in fact left Winter Quarters and were on the road when she died.

    Comment by Mark B. — January 10, 2011 @ 8:22 am

  6. I think they had pulled out from Winter Quarters and were at a staging area a few miles beyond the “city.” I don’t know just when a company was considered “officially” on the road and what constituted their departure date for purposes of the Pioneer Database, but it was common for later companies, at least, to leave Winter Quarters or Atchison or Iowa City or wherever the main camp was, to camp a few miles away to get organized and establish camp discipline before they set off on the trail, and that may have started this early.

    Comment by Ardis E. Parshall — January 10, 2011 @ 8:35 am

  7. Oh, and then “howdy, neighbor,” on behalf of our ancestors!

    Comment by Ardis E. Parshall — January 10, 2011 @ 8:35 am

  8. Oh boy. I was just reading something about the Kentucky Giant the other day. Now I can’t remember where. A quick Google search shows that there were multiple tall men with that title. But it looks like the one Stephen Taylor visited was Jim Porter of Louisville.

    Interesting to read about the river travel. One of my g-g-g-g grandmothers died in a cholera outbreak while traveling on the Mississippi River. That sure complicated life for her husband, who was left to settle in Clay County with six children between the ages of ten and one. He married a widow with seven children of her own, which must have resulted in a rather complicated blended family.

    And now that I see your most recent note, Ardis, I had to look through the overland trail roster to see if I had any ancestors along. Yep! Rebecca Hill. Her sister Hannah (an ancestor of the political Romney family) was also along, but I don’t see their father listed. Their mother died at Winter Quarters. I’ll have to look into the genealogy to see who took them to Utah.

    Comment by Researcher — January 10, 2011 @ 8:54 am

  9. The Hill girls, ages 3 and 5, traveled with their aunt, Mary Hill Bullock, who was widowed a couple of years later, and subsequently became a plural wife of Orson Spencer.

    That was easy!

    Comment by Researcher — January 10, 2011 @ 9:02 am

  10. Well, isn’t Keepa just one big, happy ancestral family today!

    Thanks for the pointer on the Kentucky Giant. I remember looking up something about him (them) when I first found this diary, but I needed the refresher.

    Your outline of your two ancestral families is a good illustration of how non-traditional our traditional families had to be, as death caused the breaking up of families and the merging of the survivors, as well as the dependence on extended family members.

    Comment by Ardis E. Parshall — January 10, 2011 @ 9:12 am

  11. I always feel left out on these pioneer kinships… but that’s ok! My ancestor helped make it possible for your ancestors to make the journey. (Alexander Hamilton Willard, Lewis & Clark Expedition, Missouri River.)

    Comment by Coffinberry — January 10, 2011 @ 12:49 pm

  12. Coffinberry, you’re only left out because this is a Mormon history blog. I actually have very few convert ancestors (my father was the convert in that whole half of my family) — if this were a general history blog, I’d be telling stories about everybody’s ancestors just because everybody has an interesting story somewhere.

    Hurray for Alexander Hamilton Willard and crew — and thanks, guys!

    Comment by Ardis E. Parshall — January 10, 2011 @ 12:53 pm

  13. Like Coffinberry I feel left out of these pioneer kinships, but I’m sure that some of my ancestors were part of the mobs that drove the Mormons out of Missouri. So that’s my tie in. :-)

    I found this non-traditional narrative very interesting. Sometimes we forget that there were those who remained behind the main body of the Church for various reasons that in their ways were also important to the establishment of the Church. I think this account illustrates the complexity of the migration west–it went beyond just those in Nauvoo who went west via Winter Quarters. It also enriches the overall historical experience of the trek to Salt Lake.

    Comment by Steve C. — January 10, 2011 @ 1:38 pm

  14. Thanks, Steve. Where would we be without your ancestors? Oh, yeah, that’s right, Missouri … :)

    “Everybody knows” what church history was in the mid-19th century … “everybody knows” what happened during World War II … “everybody knows” a whole lot of things — isn’t it great to discover a story that doesn’t fit the pattern, that challenges tradition? (Preaching to the choir, I know. It’s just so much fun to recognize when somebody else has the same response.)

    Comment by Ardis E. Parshall — January 10, 2011 @ 1:55 pm

  15. Loved this one, Ardis.

    Comment by Stephen Taylor — January 10, 2011 @ 4:02 pm

  16. There. Now I can relax. I’ve been looking forward all day to Stephen Taylor reading about Stephen Taylor!

    Comment by Ardis E. Parshall — January 10, 2011 @ 4:51 pm

  17. I’m with Steve C. in #13. Good company. My late uncle used to say, from time to time, that something was “a pain in the pratt”. He couldn’t tell me where the phrase came from, but living in Jackson County, MO his whole life I have a suspicion.

    Comment by ellen — January 11, 2011 @ 6:59 am

  18. Thank you so much for this story! I have been working with my daughter on her genealogy project for school and you’ve filled in quite a few gaps for us: Stephen and Martha were my husband’s 4th great-grandparents on his father’s side. Actually both sides of that generation of his family were early Utah settlers (both from the east coast and Wales), and I have found the stories to be fascinating as well as inspiring…what they went through!

    Comment by Laura — June 4, 2011 @ 12:11 am

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