(Note to family: This is mainly the story of the son, William Goforth Nelson, but it tells of his family life also.-CBA)
THE LIFE OF
(As told by William Goforth Nelson and recorded by Taylor Nelson)
My father was a farmer and stock-raiser by occupation. The family lived in Jefferson County about nineteen years. I can remember witnessing my father’s baptism about the year 1836. An Elder by the name of Burquette officiated. My mother was not baptized until 1838.
In the spring of 1836 my father sold his home in Illinois, and his livestock, with the exception of five head of horses and started together with the Church to Missouri. My father and his three brothers, James, Abraham, and Hyrum, and their families also went. And the four brothers located within two miles of each other. James and Hyrum located on the west bank of the Grand River. Abraham bought a ferry right, one flatboat, and one canoe, on the Grand River. He then bought a quite a number of stock and herd of hogs. It was while we lived there that the Prophet Joseph Smith stayed over night with us. That was the first time any of us had ever seen him.
We lived there one year and a half when, in the fall of 1838, a general conference of the Church was called at Far West, Missouri.
My father was one who attended. The Prophet counseled the Saints to gather there at Far West, Missouri forthwith. My father was the only one of the four brothers to immediately comply with the council of the prophet. He started at sunrise the next morning after getting home, taking a wagon in which his family could comfortable ride. And, taking five horses, on yoke of oxen, three cows, and a small bunch of sheep. He left thirty-four head of cattle and fifty head of hogs in the woods. His brothers were slow to comply with the word of the Prophet and the mob robbed them of nearly all their property. They took possession of Abraham’s ferry and charged him for crossing on it when he started to Far West.
Our first days’ travel was through thinly-settled country. We often saw in a distance, the smoke rising from burning houses; and we frequently saw members of the mob riding through the fields on horseback, but we were not molested by any of them. At night we camped with a family whose house was then burning, having been set on fire by the mob. My father helped the man, whose name I do not remember, to build a rack to take the place of his wagon box, which was also burned. The man traveled with us one day, and then went on another road so as to travel with some of his relatives. On the third day, my father sold one horse for thirty dollars and loaned the oxen to another man to drive. I do not remember how many days we were on the road to Far West, but it was not many. When we reached Grand River, my mother was baptized by Lyman Wright. Far West soon was packed with people so that before we reached there, instructions had been given for the rest of the Saints to camp on the Shoal Creek, two miles from Far West. So, we remained there for the winter. All who camped there lived in their wagons and tents. I do not know of one house being built. It was during this winter that the Saints were called upon by the governor of Missouri to deliver up their arms which request they complied with. My father and oldest brother being among those who delivered their guns to members of the mob.
The mob was on horseback. The men all had painted faces. Then next were three light wagons, each pulled by two large horses. Our brethren were commanded to follow in, behind the wagons. The next company of the mob came in behind, they stopped in a little prairie about a half a mile below, and our brothers were ordered to lay their guns and ammunition in the wagons, each pulled by two bare horses. When the third party came up, half of the men dismounted leaving two horses and two guns with one man and then the footmen started to plunder the wagons in the camp, claiming that they were hunting for ammunition. Our people had their horses and cattle all tied up because they had no other place for them, and thus were our wagons searched and much property stolen by the mob.
It was while camped on Shoal Creek that Joseph Smith Nelson was born. My oldest brother, Price, was sick nearly all winter. My father could not find employment of any kind by which to help secure a living so that our food during that eventful winter consisted entirely of beef and boiled corn. On December 6th, Father, in company with sixty of the brethren, were taken prisoners by General John G. Clark and were held for two days. They were released by a court of Inquiry held in Far West under the direction of Judge Adam Black.
In the early spring of 1839 we started for Quincy, the place which had been designated by the prophet Joseph for the Saints to cross the Mississippi River. But, before we reached there we were compelled to stop on account of the sickness of Price and myself. Father rented a house in which we lived until we had regained sufficient strength to continue on our journey. We crossed the river at Quincy and then started north. But we traveled very slowly, it being spring and the rainy season of the year. We rented a house thirty miles east of Commerce (now called Nauvoo). Father helped to fence a piece of land and then got the privilege of planting six acres of corn which yielded an abundant crop.
Late in the fall, Father and Price went to Nauvoo until early the next spring (1840). Father bought a lot and a half in Nauvoo which ran east and west. The house referred to was built on the east end of the plot. We opened a rock quarry on the west end, Hyrum and I helped Father quarry rock, most of which we sold in the city. Father paid his temple work and most of his tithing in rock from this quarry, all of which was used in the temple. We also rafted a great deal of wood and sawed timber down the river. We, at one time, went eighteen miles up the river after a raft of saw timber, which we sold to a man by the name of Ellis for three dollars per thousand feet. He ran a saw mill on the bank of the river. Hyrum and I spent one summer in Nauvoo working in the brick yard, making brick which was used in building the Nauvoo House.
We remained in Nauvoo until the first day of May 1846, at which time we started west with the Church. During the six years we lived in Nauvoo, I had the privilege of almost daily seeing some of the leaders of the Church. I was personally acquainted with Sidney Rigdon, Lyman Wight, President William Marks, Wilson and William Daw, Chancy Higley, John C. Bennett, and other leaders of the Church at that time. I have, upon different occasions, heard all of these men speak to the people in meetings, the Prophet more especially. I well remember many of his sayings, many of which are now on record in the Church. But one which I will mention here, he said, “I will give you a key that never will rust; if you stay with the majority of the twelve apostles, and the records of the Church, you will never be led astray.”
I was also one of the hundreds who saw the Prophet and Patriarch after they were martyred and the circumstances as they were brought from Carthage and prepared for burial. They were placed in the west room of the Prophet’s house, which was a two-roomed building and was long ways, east and west. The people came in the lot at the west gate, then in the west end of the house, viewed the remains of the martyrs which lay to the right of the first door, then passed to the next room and out the south door, and out the south gate into the street.
There were three natural water sources that drain Nauvoo and the surrounding country. One of these runs about one and one-half miles south of the city and empties into the Mississippi about three miles below near the Gastro farm. It headed in what was called the “big Field,” a field owned by the Church which was about five miles east of the city. The next one of these drains emptied into the river a little way from Nauvoo, which was built on the north bank. A little way north of the Nauvoo House this drain forked, the one running east and the other due north. The latter headed a few hundred yards of the Temple block, in the head of which was an oak grove where the Saints held many conferences and other public gatherings. The next one headed nine miles east of the city nearly due north of Carthage near what was known as the “Little Mound,” it passed north of the Temple Block and turning north, emptied into the river just above what was known as the “upper Stone House.” This was a building erected during the days of Commerce and was a soldier’s quarters during Indian troubles. The Mississippi runs in a bowing shape, encircling the city on the northwest and partly on the south. Just below where the main street runs into the river on the west there are some shoals over which but little water runs during the high water season. The main stream runs west a short distance and then, turning gradually southeast, until it passes a little east of the main part of the city and then almost due south. On May 2, 1846 Father’s family, excepting Price and Hyrum who remained to work on the steam boat, started west with the Saints. We started with two wagons, one which had no tires on the wheels. It was drawn by four cows and two, two-year-old steers, the other by two ponies. We led one cow behind the wagons. We crossed the Mississippi during the first days of travel from home, just above the shoals at the main crossing. On the third day, Father traded the ponies for a yoke of oxen. We traveled on the main road leading to Council Bluffs. We crossed the Des Moines River on the fifth day of travel and camped for the night about four miles from the river. Late that evening the oxen we had traded for started to run back. I got on the pony and started after them. They ran a mile or more along the road and then went into the woods to the north of the road. I finally go them hemmed up between a large tree and some limbs on another tree. It was then getting dark and raining very hard. I knew that the only way I could get the oxen would be to stay and keep them hemmed in by the tree until morning, which I finally decided to do. The one ox, which had a bell, had lost it, and wind blowing from the south made it quite impossible for any of my folks to hear my holler from the road. The prairie wolves were howling in the woods so near to me that I thought the safest things for me to do was to sit on the pony all the time. I partly consoled myself by thinking the wolves would take the little colt which was following the pony before they would take me. I had lost my hat during the run and had got one of the stitches broken loose on my leg, which had been taken when I cut my foot some time before. It continued raining all night accompanied by heavy thunderings and lightenings which helped to make my already miserable condition worse. But morning found me alive and able to get the cattle back to camp. My father had been hunting for me a good share of the night.
The Saints had been counseled to camp and remain at least one summer anytime after crossing a small stream called “White Breast.” Just after we crossed this time, we found a camp of the Saints south of the road called “Garden Grove,” and another on the north of the road called “Lost Camp.” We continued on our journey until we reached Mount Pisgah on the Grand River.
We lived there for a bout four years. As soon as we camped we plowed some ground and planted three and one-half acres in corn and one-half acre of buckwheat and a good garden. Shortly after locating there, Father and most of the children took sick with the chills and fever, and did not recover until September. During the months of July, I was bit by a rattlesnake on my heel, but was only laid up for about ten days. Late in the Fall of the sme year I was bit by a dog on my right leg just below where it had been cut with the footads spoken of above. I got along pretty well for about two weeks at which time Father and Mr. Mansfield went hunting. While they wer away, the children were playing near the house when a small tree fell. A limb hit my brother, Mark, who was then about two-years-old, and broke his skull. Father was sent for and got home in about 48 hours after the accident. All was done for him that could be, but he was left a cripple for life, his right side being paralyzed. It was one year before he could walk at all. During the next three years that we lived at Mt. Pisgah I worked away from home about two and one-half years. The first three months I earned 25 cents a day. The greater part of my work was chopping timber and splitting rails, while I worked on a ferry on the des Moines River for about two months. All my wages went to the support of the family. It was on the 8th of May 1850 that we started from Mt. Pisgah to Council Bluffs, then across the plains to Salt Lake Valley. We started with two good wagons and good ox teams. We also had a number of cows. We traveled pretty much alone until we had come four miles west of Council Bluffs, where we found a camp of Saints. On June 4th the camp was organized with Thomas Johnson as Captain, ready to start on our journey west the next day. There were 50 wagons in the company. My brother, Price, met us at Council Bluffs and came to the Valley with us while Hyrum came in another company the same year.
Our journey was quite a pleasant one. We had good luck. There was not Indian trouble at all, and only three deaths occurred in the company on the trip. The first one of these was a woman, the wife of a man named Wilkinson. She was buried on the west bank of the mount of Ash Hollow. The next was my cousin, Dr. Thomas Goforth. He was buried a little east of Chimney Rock. (Note: Dr. Thomas Goforth was the son of Martha Nelson Goforth, sister of Edmond Nelson.) The next, a few days later, was Brother Borum’s little child. Melvin Ross and I dug the grave and buried it. These persons were buried in graves made with a vault at the bottom, the bodies were wrapped in a blanket or wagon cover, and places in the grave and ten timbers were placed across and then straw, and then filled with dirt.
(Note: let us pause to insert a note from the life sketch of Lydia Ann Lake Nelson, which applies to the trek west. The vivid event of the journey occurred at Green River in Wyoming. In crossing the river, a wagon box floated the wagon and began drifting down stream. In the box were a young woman, named Snider, and a girl about nine years old. All was excitement for a few minutes. The only man of the company who dared to swim the stream and affect a rescue was a youth named Price William Nelson, a young man who, up to that time, I had paid no particular attention to. He was of a quiet nature, and I knew nothing of him except that he drove his aunt’s team. [This was the team of Martha Nelson Goforth, who lost her son, Dr. Thomas Goforth.] After this event we became better acquainted, which resulted in our marriage after arriving in Salt Lake Valley.”)
When we were at Sweet Water my father contracted the mountain fever and never fully recovered. We reached Salt Lake City on September9, 1850. We camped on the public square for two days. My brother, Hyrum, was taken sick during the winter of 1850. He was bedfast a great deal of the time up to his death, which occurred February 19, 1856. He was buried at Alpine. He did not have a family.
My father wanted to live on a farm; accordingly, we went about 30 miles south to Mountainville (Alpine) which is about four miles northeast of American Fork. We built a long house and moved the family into it. Price, Thomas and myself then went to the Mill Creek Canyon and began getting out shingle timber. We cut and hauled two loads into the mill in a day. The miller sawed and packed the shingles and sold them at $__ per thousand, paying us half. We worked 18 days and cleared $300.
Father’s health was still failing him, so we stopped logging and went home. He died on December 13, 1850 and was buried on December 15th on a little knoll just north of Alpine City. Hundreds have been buried there since, but he was the first.
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