William Decatur Kartchner was a man of faith, obedience, sacrifice, and Christian courage from his youth as a meek and humble leader among his family, peers and seniors. He was born 4 May 1820 in Montgomery County, Penn. In 1826 his father, John Christopher Kartchner died leaving his mother with five children, including a 3 year old daughter, in poverty to support when William was five years old. William and his brothers worked hard long hours, early and late, for poor pay and at times did not get enough to eat. William worked in a blacksmith shop where during the winter he was called up at three in the morning to make fires and then call the cook. Breakfast was eaten and work started at daylight, dinner at twelve and supper at five p.m., worked continued until seven p.m. and occasionally all night.
The only time for any kind of play was at night, and on one occasion in the Spring of 1836 he stayed at play until after nine p.m. When he went to the house the doors were locked so he had to sleep in the hay in the stable. In the morning he went with the other hands to breakfast and to his surprise Mr. Miles, the old boss had prepared a large whip which he used on William’s back so unmercifully that it raised a solid scab half the length of his back. His cries were heard by all the neighbors, and then he was sent to work without breakfast. His oldest brother, Peter, came from the western country to visit him. Upon hearing his grievances, they laid a plan for William to run away and go with Peter. William had saved up five dollars and asked Peter if that was enough to bear his expenses. Peter told him that he could go without a cent.
The plan was for him to start on a Sunday, as that would give him a one-day start in case he was pursued. So two weeks later William put on two shirts and two pairs of pants as his only belongings to take since he had to pass through the room the folks were sitting in. After traveling a mile and a half he met his brother at the bridge where they had appointed to meet. But in talking matters over they found that William had left some letters in his old hat box that would reveal their course of travel and so he was advised to return and destroy the letters. In so doing he had to work one more week and try it again the next Sunday.
This time he started as before and found a union packer ready to start up the river so made arrangements with the captain, a fine young man, to work passage on it. The captain left him at the helm while he ran to the other end of the boat and found that William was able to steer the boat, so took passage on the stage by land and left William to run the boat. William continued as the helmsman crossing the Susquehanna and up the Union Canal.
As he was running into the locks of Harrisburg he gave the horn a toot to warn the locksman to open the chambers, his brother Peter called out to him, “Is that you, boy?” He answered in the affirmative. There he met his two brothers 150 miles from home and the good captain took them aboard to Blairsville. From there they made their way to Cincinnati where brother John found work for himself and William in a carriage shop. Peter hired on to go to New Orleans.
The three brothers continued hiring out separately working their way from place to place, until the Fall of 1839 when Peter was able to purchase land in Washington Co., Ill. where they went into partnership, Peter as farmer, John as trader, and William with a blacksmith shop. But his two older brothers could not agree so they held a council in which younger brother William was chosen chairman and Chief Advisor, his word deciding all cases. Thus they prospered and gained rapidly in property.
At an early age William had an aptitude and interest in schooling and reading but had very little because of poverty. On May 7, 1842 he was told of two Mormon Elders ten miles away so he saddled his horse and rode there, having previously read “Voice of Warning” by Pratt and some other writings a neighbor had. He stayed overnight and was baptized the next day, May 8.
His brother John met him at the gate on his return and damned him and the Mormons in such a manner that for the next month the home which had formerly been his whole delight for his future home was then loathsome. So he left his brothers and went straight to the Prophet’s home, had a very consoling interview with him, worked on the temple and was baptized in the river for his father and other deceased relatives.
He set up a blacksmith shop twenty miles below Nauvoo. He married Margaret Jane Casteel March 17, 1844 and moved his shop and lodgings to his father-in-law’s place. The mob was threatening the settlers and so he stood guard the greater part of the winter and during a very wet Spring he came down with rheumatism caused by exposure to wet and cold during a six week rain. The rheumatism became so severe that it afflicted him the rest of his life. When the prophet and his brother were martyred William was down with rheumatism, could not go to the viewing, and could not move hand or foot until the first of July. He was asked to join an expedition to migrate to the Missouri River and put in crops preparatory to the Church moving west. Bro. James Emmett and his counselor, John L. Butler, formed a company, and Zachariah D. Wilson as president of the Liberty Branch on Bear Creek, 20 miles below Nauvoo, called upon William to join the company– he being just married, as they wanted young men mostly. But under a cloak of secrecy, members of the company were told to not ask counsel of Brigham Young, stating that it would be viewed as faint-heartedness and would be discouraged to go.
Captain Emmett gathered from the sisters in this company all their feather beds and jewelry and sold them for grain and other “supposed requisites.” Their provisions were placed in provision wagons and rationed out to the 130 members of the company, and rations were reduced to one gill of corn per person per day, which caused complaints and desertions. Capt. Emmett discouraged others by starving them and made himself the owner of stock left by those who deserted. At the Sioux River rations were stopped for three days so they dug Sioux roots and wild onions, even though Emmett had plenty. Here Zachariah Wilson privately told those he had counseled to emigrate with this company, that Capt. Emmett intended taking the company north of, instead of to, Council Bluffs, and so for them to return to Nauvoo.
Capt. Emmett found out about it and called a meeting of the company to investigate. Whereupon Emmett ordered his lifeguards to load their guns and be ready and prompt to execute anyone guilty of mutiny. He named Zachariah D. Wilson as chief offender and thought of executing him on the root of the tree he was sitting on. Wilson sobbed loud expecting to receive his death order when William, as a member of the guard, advanced one step and said that if Wilson were guilty of crime he could not be executed without a fair jury trial, which every American citizen was entitled to. Then William added that he would see to it that Wilson had his rights, which caused quite an excitement in the meeting and it was soon dispensed to their several wagons and tents. That night 4 men were sent to William’s tent and disarmed him of his own weapons, except his butcher knife, and told him he was no longer a lifeguard and reduced his rations, which had been only one gill of corn at the time.
William wrote, “Billy Edwards came to me next day and slapped me on the shoulder and said, ‘William, you are a true democrat and no coward,’ that he was going back and wished me to go along. I told him, no, I would go to the end of all this.” About 35 members left the company and returned to Iowa City. John Flowers was so starved that he had to go part way walking on his hands and knees.
Several days later, a Mr. Henrie, a half Frenchman came into their camp near Fort Vermillion, and told William that if his wife, Margaret, would come and cook for him, they could board with him so they gladly accepted. William wrote, “This caused Emmett to feel jealous, fearing we would relate his tyrannical rule over us, but we did not say a ward further than that we were migrating to find a farming country and had run short of provisions.” William was insulted and abused many times by Emmett for leaving camp and after a few days John L. Butler was sent to bring the Kartchners back to camp for William to work in the blacksmith shop. William told John that “Emmett’s abuse must be made right first.”
A steamboat had gone up the Missouri River to trade for furs and since the trip was made but once a year William determined that he would take passage on it if he could. In mid-July when it returned William and Margaret carried their chest to the boat landing. William went back two hundred yards for something but saw Potter, Butler and Holt coming toward him with a desperate look so he ran back onto the boat leaving the chest on the dock. They searched his chest and took all valuables, including William’s bullet moulds, so William started back to see what they were doing when his wife said, “Stay on the boat.” So they left everything, chest, team, wagon, feather bed, wedding gifts and tools, “and sweet was the sacrifice compared with the starvation and oppressions and abuse we had endured for eight months past,” William stated.
The boatman saw their destitute condition and gave them passage, clothing, some calico and sheets. A rich Frenchman, traveling for his health, gave them two blankets and ten silver dollars for which they thanked him and blessed him in the name of the God of Jacob. For two weeks of boat ride they were invited to eat in the cabin where every luxury was furnished them until they arrived in St. Louis. While traveling from place to place with some help from a brother-in-law and others, Margaret became very ill and William gave her a blessing, with all the faith he could muster, and the vomiting stopped gradually. As soon as she was out of danger, they went 60 miles east to Washington Co., Illinois and lived with his brother John where they were “comfortable and happy during the fall and winter.”
In the Spring of 1846 William learned that some Mormons were going West and determined to join the Mississippi Company. When Brother Crow offered William a wagon and half a team if he would furnish the other half and haul 1,000 pounds for him, William’s non-member brother John trembled fearing William was going to leave again. So William told John, “I would rather be a Mormon’s dog than to stay in that county, when my people had been robbed, pillaged, murdered and now exterminating orders issued to them to leave the United States.”
When they reached Fort Pueblo, on the Arkansas, they camped on the opposite bank of the river and built a row of log houses to prepare for the winter. Bro. Robert Crow, by counsel of his wife, broke his obligations to furnish the Kartchners with provisions and turned them out of his wagon. They made a camp under a large cottonwood tree and were left to the mercy of kind friends. John Brown, a cousin of Sister Crow, gave them flour and bacon and blessed them saying that they should have supplies in some way. Their first child, Sarah Emma, was born Aug. 17, 1846 at camp Pueblo, later honored by the state of Colorado as the first white child born in that territory or state.
In the winter Margaret walked many times in snow, knee deep, one hundred yards to a grove to carry a limb from cottonwood trees for fuel during William’s rheumatism confinement. Word was received that President Young and the Pioneers would start from Missouri River early in the Spring and that they were to join them at the fort. William repaired his wagon while sitting on the bed, not being able to stand on his feet, and Margaret carried the wagon parts needing repairing to him. Several kind friends also helped them prepare for the journey. William wrote,
Sometime in April we were ready to start and Brother Sebert Shelton furnished a second yoke of oxen for me. I was unable to walk and Jackson Mayfield and his Brother John, and Lysander Woodert or Woodworth hunted my team and yoked them day after day. In a few days I could get out by the wagon tongue and by means of a small vise screwed to the wagon tongue, I, by use of files did many jobs of blacksmithing for the brethren.
Their company missed connecting with President Young’s company and by the time they reached Laramie, they were three days behind the main Pioneer company. Even though they travel a day or two behind the main company William stated, “we were all one camp.” Pres. Young while ill, his wife and three or four other men lingered on the road and William’s group caught up within a few miles of the Pioneer camp and paid a visit to Pres. Young in his carriage. William’s camp arrived in the Salt Lake Valley about 3 days behind Pres. Young’s, July 1847, and joined the Pioneer Camp on the Temple block and “soon conformed to the general rule of being baptized for remission of sins.
At City Creek they built a fort surrounding ten acres of land in which William ran a blacksmith shop with tools furnished by Thomas S. Williams, “Who never paid me a cent for my winters work in that shop,” William stated. When Spring came they were instructed to travel out from city center by tens, fifties, and hundreds to farm and William was with Captain John Holladay, about eight miles south east at a large spring. They built a row of small houses and fenced a field. William’s rheumatism had settled in his ankles and feet and so he stood on his knees to do the ditching.
Their “bread stuff gave out” and so he had to kill his lead ox for food. It was such a favorite of William’s that it was to him like killing one of the family. So his neighbor, John Sparks saw his predicament and killed it for him, and saying, “You had better skin that ox, for he is dead.” It was very poor beef but good boiled with thistle roots which William gathered daily. He planted Spanish corn the 10th of May getting six to eight ears to the hill and had sufficient for bread for three families.
They moved to Amasa’s Survey in October 1848, and built a two-story log house with two apartments for their two families, William’s & his in-laws. In the winter of 1850 William was called to settle a colony in Southern California, but he declined to go so Amasa Lyman told him if he refused he would receive a worse mission. William said, “Which scared me as I had not received endowments.” He accepted and was endowed in the endowment house Feb. 8, with others called to the same mission. They spent the winter preparing to go and March 13, 1851 went as far as Peteneet (Payson).
The first of July they camped in Cahoon Pass and were counseled to remain there until a place could be purchased. But a few disobeyed and went to other settlements. William set up a blacksmith shop under a sycamore tree and charged twelve and one half cents for setting wagon tires. Brothers Lyman and Rich bought a ranch known as San Bernardino giving notes for the sum of $77,500.00 with fifty head of cattle included and they moved onto the ranch Sept. 1st. William stated, “The history of paying for San Bernardino, please allow me to omit as reflections would be unprofitable.”
A stake was organized and during their seven years of stay many immigrants from Australia came on their way to Salt Lake City. A mammoth organ came from Australia being donated to the Church and William gave five dollars to help freight it.
In 1855 the crops were a failure and 84 elders were called to go on missions to all counties and principal cities of California. William was called to go with John D. Holladay to Santa Barbara on the coast. They journeyed with other elders in route holding meetings in camp most evenings enjoying much of the Holy Spirit.
After preaching in various places he returned to San Bernardino in September 1856 and raised a good crop to help pay for the ranch.
In the Summer of 1857 President Young called all Saints to come home to Utah and a general rush to sell out resulted in their receiving little or nothing for their places. Many could not endure the sacrifice of property and remained there. All who stayed became cool in the Gospel or left the Church. William and family arrived in Beaver March 1, 1858 and set up a new farm. The first year there he sent his team to move the poor from Salt Lake City because Johnson’s army was at Hams Fork threatening destruction to the Mormons. Brigham Young sent the public shop to Parowan where William went to work to earn bread for his family because of three years of crop failure.
In December 1860 William went to San Bernardino to settle up the estate of his father-in-law who had died. William and his family received a call Oct. 9, 1865 to go strengthen the southern settlements. They first went to the Muddy, on the road two weeks, leaving his farm unsold. About every six months they moved to a new town site until the winter of 1869 when they moved to Overton and set out vineyards, and then to Panguitch March 20, 1871. He was called upon to organize a Sunday School and soon had upwards of one hundred scholars and was greatly blessed in his labors. He set up a mail route connecting Marysvale and Kanab, and a post office at Panguitch. In December 1874 Joseph A. Young organized a United Order and William served as secretary and as one of the 11 board members. But by the first of March contention broke up the Order.
At a General Conference in St. George in 1877, William, his sons and sons-in-law were called on a mission to the Arizona Territory to start in the fall. His wife Margaret was sick the entire route leaving, leaving Nov. 15, 1877 and arriving Jan. 22, 1878 at a place later called Taylor where they established a united order, and a stake at a conference in Sunset Feb. 3 & 4. And Sept. 26th Apostle Snow at a meeting at their camp gave liberty to all who wished to withdraw for the Order. He told them that the way they ran the Order was not right, the stock was the common stock of the Devil, and that the Lord cared no more about the way we ate our food than He did how the squirrels ate their acorns.
Nov. 3, 1878 William moved his wife Margaret from the Taylor camp into the house he built in the new town site of Snowflake established in October. Dec. 21 he met Brother Flake near Taylor town and gave him a twenty dollar gold piece for canceling his post-office debt of $19.05 at Panguitch, Utah.
June 6, 1879 William became ill and his neighbors and acquaintances proposed several remedies, “and every one applied seemed to help,” he said, which he continued up to Jan. 1880. Jan. 27, 1880 it snowed all day and night leaving 11 inches of snow and 20 degrees below zero. In March he sowed ten acres of wheat which they harvested August 6 & 7th. At a Sept. 25 & 26 conference at Snowflake William was ordained a high priest by Brigham Young and called to serve on the high council. For the next several years he spoke in various meetings throughout the stake on assignment, as well as participating in and conducting other stake functions.
Dec. 24, 1880 at 3 a.m. William was in bed not breathing and his wife, Margaret, raised an alarm. A Bro. Clayton, staying with them for the night, raised him up and blew in his mouth, and administered to him by laying on of hands, at which time he came to. At 6 a.m. he was again not breathing and his oldest son John came and administered again and he was relieved.
June 17, 1881 William was appointed postmaster of Snowflake and U. S. postal service commenced Sept. 5, 1882. July 1, 1883 he resigned as postmaster and in August he was down sick and unconscious for a night and day until the laying on of hands restored him to consciousness, and he recovered slowly.
Aug. 5, 1881 at 8 a.m. his wife Margaret Jane Kartchner became ill with a pain in her head and a bad cough. She continued to get worse day by day until Aug. 11th when she died without a struggle and a pleasant smile on her countenance. The funeral speakers and the ward Relief Society Resolution praised her greatly for her great integrity, faith, works, and devotion to her God and religion. It was said that Margaret had lived under a wagon box most all her married life, colonizing, until they finally built a house in Snowflake, which she enjoyed for two years before she died.
William had suffered with dropsy for two years unable much of the time to stoop down or walk. His normal weight reduced from 174 pounds to 145 pounds in two weeks. Dec. 7, 1882 he was taken sick with biliousness and sinking spells and was unconscious. He prayed to know if his labors had been accepted and was immediately made whole and experienced the greatest joy of his life. Then March 19, 1883 he was “taken with a sinking and was unconscious part of the evening.” He stated,
I feared to die… and I saw in the vision the great Tower of Babel. Its center and foundation were solid with brick and lime; with winding stairways. I saw the brother of Jared and company travel marks to the seaside and the beautiful mount of white or transparent rock that the brother of Jared asked the Lord to touch that they might shine… I saw the place they found for making the plates of which the Book of Mormon was made. …I passed through a troop of demons who held me bound first but passed on to where I was filled with joy and came back filled with joy. I was well and had so good time I would like to go any time. My work is done. I saw many of the more intellectual and honorable who were much favored.
May 22, 1883 at 5 p.m. his house burned with all their furniture and provisions including clothing. He listed 22 people who gave donations of food, kitchenware, bedding, and money. Then on July 8th he took sick again and became unconscious a night a day and night. On Dec. 18th he had a fit and was filled with the horrors of the damned and two days later he “had the good spirit and slept soundly.”
William died May 14, 1892 in Snowflake, Arizona. He had 21 children, his wife Margaret Jane Casteel had 11 and his wife Elizabeth Gale had 10. William’s second wife, Elizabeth Gale, wrote:
I am the mother of 10 children,…and they have all been to the Temple… The Lord has blessed me with good health, I am now 75 years old and might as well go for a hundred. I feel thankful, my desire is to do good while I live and that I may be faithful and true to the end.
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