HIOTT, John: An Overlooked Pioneer

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John Hiott was one of those who came to Utah alone, without family members and never had children after arriving. Although only fragments of his life are found in records, he must have lived an interesting, yet difficult life. He survived the handcart disaster of 1856, settled in what is now American Fork for a time, joined the militia that opposed Johnston’s army, was called on the difficult Muddy Mission in 1864, joined the exodus from Overton, Nevada in 1871, and then eked out a living in Long Valley, Kane County.

He was born in Lillington, Warwickshire, England, a small hamlet located on what is now the northwest outskirts of the city of Warwick. His parents were Thomas and Mary China Hiott. In his endowment and sealing records his birthday is listed as January 12th. In his obituary and Glendale Ward records, however, his day of birth is recorded as January 1st. Various years are also given for his birth ranging from 1810 in his obituary to 1823 in records for the Martin Handcart Company. Glendale Ward records list his year of birth as 1816, as does the U.S. Census of 1880. His endowment and sealing records, the U.S. Censuses of 1851, 1860, and 1870 all give his birth year as 1820.

English church records show he was christened by Vicar J. Wise on January 6, 1820. Therefore, he had to be born earlier, most likely on January 1, 1820. Claiming that he was born in 1810 late in his life may have been an elderly man’s attempt to draw attention to his remarkable age.

Like most of the people who lived in England in the early 1800s, John’s parents were poor. His father’s occupation is listed as laborer in John’s christening records, suggesting he and his wife resided on the lowest rungs of the social ladder. Nothing is known about John’s childhood, but he probably had limited educational opportunities and most certainly went to work at a young age. In later life he claimed no profession, so he likely missed the opportunity to work as an apprentice to learn a trade – something that was common at the time for young men.

Although no record has been found of John’s first marriage, it was recorded in his obituary that he married his first wife, Harriet Jones, in 1840. She was born on December 31, 1819 in Church Lawford, They were married on September 12, 1819 in Rugby, England and her parents were John and Hannah Jones. They took up their residence in Cubbington, a small town located several miles northeast of where John was born. John was a farm worker there. In early February 1842 the couple had a daughter named Helen who lived about three weeks before dying on March 8th. Their second child, Thomas, was born a year and a half later in September 1843.

John joined the church on January 9, 1847 and was baptized by Elder Thomas Smith. Records show he may have been re-baptized on January 12, 1848 and again in April 1851. He was ordained a deacon in the Warwick Conference on March 7, 1847. On various occasions after he was baptized, John did local missionary work. His obituary mentions he was successful in converting a number of people.

Tragedy struck John’s family when Harriet died at age 31 in Cubbington on February 22, 1851 of causes that were not recorded, leaving John with young Thomas to rear. John later married an elderly widow by the name of Sarah Gibbins. His son Thomas lived with her for a couple of years after John went to the United States, and then Thomas became an apprentice. This second marriage apparently was not a happy one.

John migrated to Zion without Sarah, but apparently promised he would later help finance her passage to the U. S. Sarah later wrote to Brigham Young and told him that John had not provided her financial assistance for the trip. In a reply to Young’s letter to John dated June 20, 1861, John’s Bishop in American Fork, Leonard Harrington, said John no longer wished to live with Sarah. Whether or not Sarah ever came to the U.S. is unknown. A second letter from Sarah to Brigham Young dated January 25, 1862 suggests she likely remained in England.

Many of the more than 800 Latter-day Saints, including John, who trudged on board the ship Horizon in Liverpool Harbor on May 22, 1856, were poor. John left no journal about the trip but his experiences on the high seas must have been similar to others who left a record of their crossing. He was likely sea sick a good bit of the time. After more than a month on the high seas they landed in Boston on June 28th and then took various trains west until they reached the end of the railroad at Iowa City, Iowa on July 11th in a rainstorm.

John’s group joined an equally large group of other British converts who had left England earlier on the ship Thornton. Altogether, about 1,600 church members descended on a handful of church agents at Iowa City who were overwhelmed by the size of the groups and the lateness of their arrival. Handcarts had not been built, there were no tents, supplies for the trip had not been purchased, and too few wagons and oxen were available to properly support those pulling handcarts. Even with a crash effort to build handcarts, make tents, and buy supplies, the Willie Handcart Company did not leave Iowa City until July 21st. The group in which John traveled, the Martin Company, left a week later. Since John was traveling alone, he may have shared pulling a handcart with others, or he might have assisted the wagon train that followed the Martin Handcart Company.

It took the Company a month to travel the relatively short distance from Iowa City to Florence, Nebraska where they were re-supplied by church agents. After some discussion about the dangers of proceeding with their journey so late in the season, a decision was make to forge ahead and Martin led his company out of Florence on August 25th. From the start, leaders knew they had too little food to traverse the 1,000 miles of trail that lay ahead, but hoped that church leaders would send additional supplies to them as they approached the Salt Lake Valley.

The hardships suffered by the Martin Handcart Company after it ran out of food and strength between Ft. Laramie and Independence Rock has been vividly retold a number of times. It is difficult to fully appreciate how they felt as they huddled in howling blizzards with empty stomachs, too few clothes and bedding, crowded inside thin tents, with people dying around them by the dozens. Perhaps it is understandable that John would move to warmer climates later in life after nearly freezing to death in Wyoming in late-October 1856.

John left no record of what he did immediately after arriving in Salt Lake Valley. Like other survivors of the 1856 handcart disaster, however, he probably lived with a family in Salt Lake or Utah Valley during the severe winter of 1856-57. Soon after he moved to what is now American Fork, Utah where he lived for the next 7 to 8 years.

John is listed in the 1860 U.S. Census as owning real estate in American Fork worth $200 and personal property valued at $150. In early 1862 his property included a yoke of oxen, two cows, two yearlings, and a small home and a lot in American Fork. He is not prominently mentioned in the American Fork Ward records. Arza Adams, mentions in his journal that John Hyatt was working for him in 1857, possibly in a flourmill. John and others in the community were called to serve in the militia mobilized to face Johnston’s Army in 1857.

The Census of 1860 lists John in a household with Ruth Billington and Elizabeth Gaskell in American Fork. Ruth was an elderly woman and is listed in the Census as being blind. She and her companion Elizabeth migrated to Utah unaccompanied by relatives from England at the same time as John. They were in the Hunt wagon train that followed the Martin Handcart Company into Wyoming in 1856. Most likely John met Ruth and Elizabeth during that arduous trip and might have even helped them along the way. He may have been boarding with Ruth and Elizabeth and also taking care of Ruth’s small farm. Sometime before March 1862 John and Elizabeth were married in a civil ceremony.

John next enters the record books when he is sealed to his first wife, Kathaline Harriet Jones, in the Salt Lake Endowment House on March 19, 1864. At the same time he was also sealed to his third wife Elizabeth Gaskell. This issue is clouded by Elizabeth’s earlier sealing in 1857 to Arza Adams. Although her marriage to Arza was likely never consummated, there is no record that their sealing was formally cancelled.

Elizabeth and possibly Ruth are likely the “family” that accompanied John in early-1865 on his mission call to help settle the Muddy River area in what is now southern Nevada. They initially settled in a new community called St. Joseph with several dozen other families

Church leaders had several reasons for establishing settlements along the small and remote Muddy River. In part it was an attempt to control as much land and water as possible before statehood decisions were made. Settlement of the Muddy was also part of an attempt to establish a inexpensive shipping route up the Colorado River to a river stop that was then named Callville, and then overland into Utah. These new settlements were also a way of making room for the steady stream of converts migrating to Utah from Europe. In addition, leaders hoped that the fledgling cotton industry in Washington, Utah, — fostered by high cotton prices during the Civil War — could be supported with fiber grow in warm places such as along the Muddy River and the lower reaches of the Virgin River.

During the October 1864 General Conference of the Church, John and 182 others were called to settle the Muddy River and lower Virgin River region. John was ordained a Seventy in American Fork by Samuel Mulliner in 1864. During the next year those called moved to the Muddy in two groups. The first group was headed by Thomas S. Smith. They mostly settled in what is now Overton. The second group, including John Hiott and family, led by Joseph Warren Foote, established a new community called St. Joseph. Most of John’s group arrived in early June 1865 and immediately began to dig irrigation ditches, plant crops, and survey lots for housing and farming.

What happened to Ruth Billington and Elizabeth Gaskell Hiott is a mystery. There is no record of their deaths in American Fork, in the Muddy area, or in what is now Southern Utah. Were they buried in an unmarked and forgotten grave? Or, did they become discouraged and make their way to more friendly climes in one of the mining camps or in California?

One can understand these early settlers becoming discouraged. Malaria, heat, and diarrhea sapped their energy. Wood was scarce and lumber had to be hauled from long distances for substantial buildings. Floods often washed out irrigation dams along the Muddy, wind filled irrigation ditches with sand, Indians stole crops and livestock, and summers were hot and dry. The crowning blow for the St. Joseph settlers was in February 1866 when Indians stole most of their livestock. Indian threats associated with the Black Hawk War induced John and the other settlers in St. Joseph to abandon their community and move to nearby Overton or to St. Thomas. John apparently moved to Overton where he lived for the next 5 years.

John likely spent most of the next four years building a house, digging irrigations ditches, repairing dams, hoping for a decent harvest, suffering bouts of malaria, and trying to make ends meet. He and others largely depended on wheat and cotton for a livelihood. Several of the settlers also planted grapes and fruit trees. Alfalfa, a forage crop imported from Australia, was an important source of hay for their livestock. John likely endured a number of arduous trips back to St. George to trade their produce for supplies, including cloth made in the Washington textile mill.

Records for the November 25, 1869 session of the Rio Virgin County Court show that John was appointed road supervisor for the county. This likely involved improving the trail between the Muddy and St. George. Since only $17 was allocated by the county in January 3, 1870 for these improvements, John was probably forced to rely on volunteer labor for most trail improvement made under his direction.

In early 1870 John married his fourth wife, Catherine Hind Judd, whose husband, Samuel Judd, died in St. George on April 18, 1869 leaving Catherine with five children. John likely knew Catherine and her first husband because they lived in Cubbington, Warwickshire, England at the same time as John and his first family. They may have attended church with John since Catherine was baptized on May 11, 1855 by Elder Norton. The 1870 Census shows John and his wife Kate living in Overton Township in Nevada. His occupation is listed as farmer but none of Catherine’s children are living with them. They may have stayed behind in St. George for schooling. During the year that John and Kate lived in Overton Brigham Young visited the settlement and was discouraged by what he saw. He mentioned that it was a much harsher place than he had been led to visualize.

The couple had only about a year to establish a new household in Overton before a decision was made to abandon the settlements on the Muddy. It was a difficult place to live, the effort to ship goods up the Colorado failed, cotton prices plummeted, and the new state of Nevada imposed onerous taxes on the settlers. The attempt to impose back taxes for two years and the threat of legal action to attach their livestock and other assets precipitated the decision by almost settlers to flee the area. In February 1871 virtually the whole community of Overton pulled up stakes and headed east for Long Valley in Kane County, Utah. They took the route northeast from Short Creek (Colorado City) over what was called the Elephant Trail. John and his foot-weary companions arrived in what was then called Berryville in Long Valley on March 3, 1871. There, earlier settlers had erected and later abandoned a rudimentary fort enclosing some crude log huts.

Bishop Leithead held a drawing that allocated these humble dwellings among his small flock. Before they could improve these sparse dwelling substantially, however, rainy weather turned the community into a sea of mud, quite a change from the arid conditions they left behind on the Muddy. All of the crude dirt roofs leaked and soon many in the small colony had colds – hardly an improvement over the malaria they suffered on the Muddy. Although several people died, Catherine Hiott and the Bishop nursed many of the ill people back to health. Later, when the sun finally emerged and dried out the place, measles tormented the settlers.

Only some of the Overton group arrived in Long Valley in March. Many of the men traveled back to St. George several times to collect family members and goods left behind, a journey that if done swiftly on horse took two or three days. They owned too few healthy draft animals to haul all of their goods and families to Long Valley in one trip. In some cases, they borrowed animals from friends or relatives in the St. George area. In other cases, they went part way to Long Valley and then sent for transportation help from those already there. Warren Foote mentions in his journal that John Hyatt and others from Long Valley came out with additional draft animals and wagons to help Foote and others traverse the final part of the Elephant Trail in mid-1871.

In addition to dragging their goods and families into the Valley and building adequate shelters, early settlers faced two other major challenges: parceling out the land and planting crops. Following the pattern used earlier along the Muddy the settlers drew for small town lots. They also drew for 5-acre lots on the valley floor. Later, additional lots were laid out up a canyon to the west of town. As quickly as possible they planted corn, wheat, potatoes, and other garden crops. A cloud of grasshoppers, however, descended on the valley that first year and ate the fledgling corn to ground level. Surprisingly, most of the corn sprouted again after spring rains. Early frosts, nonetheless, killed most of the corn before it fully matured. Only one of the settlers who planted a variety of white flint corn that matured early realized a satisfactory crop.

Building houses, sawing lumber, clearing land, and building a grist mill absorbed a lot of labor during that first year of 1871. Some semblance of civilization was bestowed on the community when it became an official stop on the postal route from Parawon to Kanab. To accommodate the new post office, at the suggestion of Bishop James Leithead, the name of the community was changed to Glendale. Fortunately, the community had much better harvests in 1872 that allowed them to solidify their settlement.

The 1880 U.S Census shows John living in Glendale precinct, Kane County with his wife Catherine White Hyatt, an adopted son William W Nicola, and a niece Evelyn Judd. His occupation is listed as farmer.

After his wife died on August 10, 1897 John lived for almost 14 years with James D. Carpenter and his wife. He died in their home on March 9, 1911 in Glendale, Kane County. His cause of death is listed as diabetes and old age. It was said at his funeral he was a man of sterling qualities, honest toil and uprightness of character. It was also said he could make two blades of grass grow where only one grew before.

John’s burial spot is a metaphor for his life. He lies in an unmarked grave, in an abandoned private cemetery, on a cedar-covered knoll overlooking the community of Glendale. Nothing remains of his home or farm in Long Valley and he left no relatives to wonder about his life. As far as history is concerned he was a faceless cipher who passed through life leaving few tracks and no one to mark his grave. It is easy to overlook that John and thousands of other forgotten Utah pioneers like him were critical in settling the Intermountain West. They dug the irrigation ditches, herded the cattle, built the shelters, attended meetings, maintained the roads, cut fire wood, tended the ill, mostly followed orders, and buried the deceased without fanfare. The accomplishments of their famous leaders would not have been possible without the blood, sweet, and tears of humble people such as John Hiott.

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