Keepapitchinin, the Mormon History blog » Guest Post: Ann Horrocks Marsh: “Barely Escaping with Her Life”

Guest Post: Ann Horrocks Marsh: “Barely Escaping with Her Life”

By: Jeff Johnson - October 02, 2012

Besides telling a story, Jeff’s post illustrates a skill useful to all family historians: reading between the lines of historic documents, to recognize the significance of even small references to people who otherwise left no personal records.

This article published in the Deseret News just before Brigham Young’s death in 1877 seems very much like articles published during the fire season in the western United States in 2012. It tells of the wildfire that destroyed the Richfield United Order saw mill. This saw mill was an important part of the fledgling United Order. The lumber was being used to the build the homes and public buildings in Richfield, as well as the other new settlements in central Utah’s Sevier County.

Full Particulars of the Fire at Richfield Saw Mill [1]

Richfield, Sevier  County
Aug. 15, 1877

Editors, Deseret News,

I respectfully submit further particulars of the burning of the Richfield U.O. [United Order] steam sawmill, which happened on or about the 30th day of June, as collected and handed to me by Hon. A.K. Thurber, for the DESERET NEWS. This unfortunate accident entailed a loss of about 45,000 feet of lumber, 80,000 shingles and 1,000 lath, in addition to the loss of labor, time and machinery. It is a pleasing fact, however, that the mill is again in good running order, having commenced operations on the 3rd of August, just one month after the fire. Thanks for which is due to the company of men at work there, for the energy, and perseverance and skill with which it has been accomplished.

The mill is situated on the north side of Beaver Valley mountain, in a rather deep canon. The fire was first seen by James Sellars [Sellers], the superintendent, as he came out from dinner, when the flame was no larger than a man’s hat. An alarm being given it was speedily extinguished but the wind unusually high, sparks had been carried to the side of the mountain where it spread and raged furiously. The wind veered in another direction, when a dry tree near the mill caught fire in the top, but by cutting down the tree that was again extinguished in the immediate vicinity of the mill. On the night of July 2d the fire still raging in the timber with unabated fury, a guard of our men was appointed, and again they watched on the night of the 3rd, when they could hear the fire roaring as it passed into and across the canon above the mill. At about 11 a.m. the next day, the wind blowing a hurricane sent the fire down the canon towards the mill inevitably doomed for destruction, the hands employed fighting it as best they could, to prevent, if possible, the dreaded occurrence. While so engaged above the mill, the fire, as if by a whirlwind, broke out about half a mile below, and an up-current from that direction made it apparent that human effort to save the mill would prove futile, and they proposed to leave and save themselves by flight. But on persuasion of Superintendent Sellars [Sellers] and Brother James Gerr [Gurr], they still remained and continued their efforts to save the fragments. They took the main saw and put it in the creek, also the brass boxing off the engine, shingle saw, belts, and many other things. At this time Sister Marsh and two daughters left, and had to run three and a half miles, barely escaping with their lives. They were the cooks. [2]

It was found on examination after the fire, that the engine was not much damaged, and through the energy, skill and perseverance of the company such repairs were effected as to put the mill again in good running order by the 3rd of August, sawing lumber as before the disaster. It was considered very providential that no lives were lost.

These particulars I forward as desired. With much respect for the NEWS and its supporters, I am your friend and brother in the Gospel,

Wm. Morrison

[1] Deseret News, vol 26, page 478; “Journal History of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints,” 15 August 1877, page 2; and William G. Hartley, Another Kind of Gold: The Life of Albert King Thurber (Troy, Idaho: The John Lowe Butler I 1808 Family Association), 375-76

[2] Sister Marsh was Ann Horrocks Marsh, my second great grandmother, who was born on January 16, 1829 at Lostock, Lancashire, England. She was 48 years old at the time of the fire. Her two youngest unmarried daughters were Mary, 21 years old, and Margaret, 16 years old.

These two sentences give an important insight into the life of a woman who left no personal records of her own. My accidental discovery of these lines is important to our understanding of her life. Ann had arrived in Utah on November 7, 1872 with her four daughters, leaving her non-Mormon husband in England. They arrived on the railroad. Her second daughter, Ann, married Thomas Ogden, whom she had known in England. Ann’s oldest daughter, Betsy, married James, Thomas’ older widowed brother. The Ogden family lived in Richfield, Sevier County, Utah and Ann moved there with her daughters.

The United Order was organized in Richfield in 1874, just as the Marsh women moved there. Ann with her two younger daughters worked at the United Order sawmill as cooks. Their cooking must have been good since both of the girls found husbands among the men that worked at the mill. Margaret married Reuben Gurr and Mary married the sawmill superintendent, James Sellers. Ann’s son-in-law Thomas Ogden contacted his non-Mormon father-in-law while on his mission to England, who said that he would return with him to Utah after his mission, but the father-in-law died before Thomas’s mission was completed. Ann did not remarry. She lived for ten years in the Mormon Colonies with the Sellers and Gurr families, and during the Mexican Revolution she returned to Richfield where she died on January 14, 1917. She was buried in Richfield on her 88th birthday.



  1. Jeff, Thanks for finding this great story. With a good raging forest fire behind them Ann and her daughters no doubt set record times for the 5K!

    Comment by Brad — October 2, 2012 @ 9:24 am

  2. Glad to see Jeff posting. Let’s keep our fingers crossed for more!

    Comment by Gary Bergera — October 2, 2012 @ 9:36 am

  3. Congratulations on a nice find, Jeff, and and great post. Too bad we can’t have something from Ann’s escape from the Mexican Revolution, which was quite a story as well. She seems to have a knack of “getting out just in time.”

    Comment by kevinf — October 2, 2012 @ 10:21 am

  4. By the way …

    I posted this bit on Facebook last week because I thought it was funny:

    Birmingham (England) Daily Post, 5 Sept. 1872: “Yesterday no fewer than five hundred and ninety Mormons left Liverpool for New York, en route for Utah. If, therefore, any husband has to mourn the loss of a truant wife, he may adapt the refrain of a song very popular at the music halls, and say — ‘Perhaps she’s on the railway, perhaps she’s on the sea, perhaps she’s gone to Brigham Young, a Mormonite to be.'”

    To which Jeff added:

    My ancestor, Ann Horrocks Marsh and her four daughters, left Liverpool on 4 September 1872, sailing on the “Minnesota.” Elder Thomas Dobson, a returning missionary, served as the group leader for 203 Mormons.

    It just seems appropriate to memorialize that here.

    Comment by Ardis E. Parshall — October 2, 2012 @ 4:12 pm

  5. A history of Margaret Marsh Gurr written with input from several members of her family says:

    “…One bright Sunday afternoon in July 1912, while the people were enjoying Sacrament meeting [in Pacheco], a runner came up from Juarez with a message which was for everyone to leave for the United States. He told them to just take one trunk and one roll of bedding per family, and to all gather at the public square Tuesday morning by sun-up…Chicken coop doors and corral gates were opened that the animals might go free. Prayers were said, the doors closed, and they left for the public square. Instructions were given the people by the Bishop and again prayer was offered in the group, and one by one the wagons pulled out and formed a line…When the wagon train was out a few miles from home, a band of Mexicans rode up and stopped it. They were checking for fire arms. Some of the men had their guns with them, but they were cleverly hidden. Had the Mexicans found them, some of the group may have lost their lives. It was with a sigh of relief and a prayer of thankfulness in their hearts when the Mexicans rode away. The wagon train wended its way through the mountains and down a very rough, San Diego Canyon, across the flats to Dub1an where they boarded a train and was taken to E1 Paso, Texas. The first place they stayed was in a big lumber yard shed which was cleaned out to accommodate the refugees. Each family was given a section to stay in. Quilts and canvasses were hung up for partitions, to get what privacy they could….It looked like the people weren’t going to get back to their homes, so the government offered to send them anywhere in the United States they would like to go…They travelled by train to Richfield, Sevier County, Utah, where they were greeted by many relatives and friends. They never did get to go back to their home in Old Mexico…”

    Comment by Jeff Johnson — October 2, 2012 @ 11:33 pm

  6. Jeff, I read in one of the several histories that “Ann Marsh could kill, clean and cook a chicken in an hour.” Now that’s a skill sadly lacking in the present day camp kitchen!

    Comment by Brad — October 3, 2012 @ 8:14 am

  7. She sounds like quite a woman! Did Ann spend her early years working in the mills in Lancashire, or was she from an agricultural background? In either case, it sounds like she was a good hard worker.

    Comment by Amy T — October 3, 2012 @ 10:03 am

  8. Amy: “…The Horrocks family lived in the vicinity of the textile industry… Ann started to work at about eight years of age. Her first job, as her nephews and nieces remembered her telling them, was “minding the spindles.” She watched the thread as the weaving went on. If the thread broke, she was to have the machine stopped and retie the thread so as to avoid a flaw in the finished cloth…” This is a quote from a history written by a granddaughter. I have been telling people we don’t know much about her, but it seems we can pick up alot of material here and there.

    Comment by Jeff Johnson — October 3, 2012 @ 2:59 pm

  9. Very cool, Jeff. Having recently done a project involving some other converts to the Church who worked in the Lancashire textile mills, here are a few random notes/questions.

    First, are there any known Horrocks family connections to the Chartists?

    Second, Ann left England in 1872, which means that she lived through the Lancashire Cotton Famine which was triggered by the American Civil War and put up to 60 percent of the textile labor force out of work. How did the family weather those difficult times?

    Third, any clues as to where she worked? It may or may not be evident from census or other records. Some of those textile mills are still standing and are run as museums.

    Fourth, for an interesting view of what her life might have been like, I’d recommend the miniseries North & South starring Richard Armitage and others.

    Comment by Amy T — October 4, 2012 @ 7:14 am

  10. Amy: Thanks for your interest and information. I know very little about the context and your sources are very helpful. (1) I have not seen any family reference to the “Chartists,” but will now keep my eyes open for references. (2) Three of Ann Marsh’s daughters married into the Ogden family which were also from Lancashire and worked in the textile mills. Their younger brother, Joseph Ogden, wrote about the Ogden family’s work in the mills and the problems because of the American Civil War. I could send you a copy if you are interested. Ann herself was married to a baker in Bolton and was not working in the textile mills during the famine, but she would have had family and friends who were affected. Also her husband’s business must have been affected. (3) We don’t know where Ann worked, but the Ogden family worked for a “Mr. Ashworth.” Joseph Ogden wrote: “There were 1,000 looms in one room. Father ran four of them, James three, Mary Ann three, Thomas, three and Jane two. William worked in the warehouse and John in the cotton mills.” Joseph also tells of the things they did outside of work to raise money so they could go to America.

    Comment by Jeff Johnson — October 4, 2012 @ 11:29 am

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