URSULA CURTIS DURFEE GIFFORD is from a righteous line. Her father preached the first sermon that Brigham Young ever heard and he was instrumental in this great Church leader’s conversion.
Ursula’s second husband’s father (Alpheus Gifford) was also present during this missionary trip along with her Uncle Elial Strong and a couple other brethren. Heber C. Kimball was also converted by these great men.
Ursula’s father, Enos Curtis, was also the first person to speak in tongues in this “Last Dispensation of, Time.” Ursula’s family were stalwart people with active testimonies of the Restored Gospel of Jesus Christ. Both her father and her second husband served in their later years as Patriarchs in the Church. Her brothers were prominent men in Utah and in the Church.
Ursula was born 14 Dec 1827 (recorded in her Patriarchal Blessing) in Rutland, Tioga, Pennsylvania. It was in Tioga County when she was three years old in the fall of 1830 that her family first heard about a new Prophet who had found a “Golden Bible.” This new Prophet had been only a lad at the time, but was now a grown man. There was a lot of bad rumors about this young Prophet, but the “Spirit” prompted Ursula’s father-as well as his son-in-law (Elial Strong) and other friends (Alpheus Gifford included) in the community to go to Palmyra and see this so called Prophet and came back rejoicing! They had found the true religion and had been ordained Priests in the Priesthood. The next spring (1831) they again visited the Prophet in Kirtland, Ohio and there they were made Elders.
In the spring of 1832, the family moved to Missouri. Here they were mobbed and driven out of the State. They settled in Quincy, Illinois and we know that her father, Enos, was the Branch President there. Again, the Mormons were driven out of their homes. Her mother, Ruth Franklin, was in delicate health and traveling as they did in the cold, wet weather she became worse and passed away 6 May 1848 at Council Bluffs at the age of fifty-eight.
About this time, another faith promoting story happened to her family. This is told by Chloe Spencer, a granddaughter of Enos Curtis . . . . . they came to a large river, and had to be ferried across. They put two families on the ferry and the Stowell family and the Enos Curtis family were crossing when the cable broke letting them go downstream. There were some dangerous rapids not far below and of course, there was fear and excitement among the families of the other travelers on the shore. Enos Curtis raised his right hand to the square and by the power of the Priesthood in the name of the Lord, commanded the ferry to drift to the shore – – Which it did! The ferry and the families and outfits were saved…
Coming from a devout family, Ursula Curtis married into another religious family, the Durfees. Her husband, Abraham Durfee (often called “Abram”), was also an early member of the Church. His father, Edmund Durfee, was a member of the High Council at Lima, Illinois where he was martyred by an anti-Mormon mob. It appears that Abraham and his wife Ursula, were asked by the Church to, stay in Mt. Pisgah and till the soil and prepare temporary homes for the Saints who would be crossing the State of Iowa for years to come. They stayed there until they crossed the plains to the Great Salt Lake Valley in the spring of 1850. Their friends, the Giffords, were also at Mt. Pisgah and crossed the plains at the same time and in the same company. The group arrived in the Salt Lake Valley in the fall of 1850, having suffered the hardships of pioneer travel across the plains.
One of the most painful of her experiences was that Ursula gave birth to a baby during the time after the exodus of Nauvoo in Iowa, but heartbreakingly, this child died on the trek across the plains, when she was only about two and a half years old. She was buried in an unmarked grave. This type of life was hard on the very young, the very old, and the weak.
After arriving in Utah, the Durfees and the Giffords separated; the Giffords to Manti area and the Durfees to the Springville area. Ursula had other relatives that settled in Springville, including her brothers and her father with his new wife, who was also Ursula’s sister-in-law. Her father married Tamma Durfee, Abraham’s sister, who was widowed.
It had been her brothers who had been called by Brigham Young to survey new areas for settlement. After surveying the Springville area, many of the Curtis and Durfee people moved there. The Durfees had two children born in Iowa. One died on the plains and one was born either just before they left on the trek or just after they had started. In Springville, they had four more children born to them, with another child passing away when he was one year old – – leaving four living children.
Sometime during this period, Abraham was excommunicated from the Church and he and Ursula were divorced. Probably around 1860 or so. In April of 1870, Ursula’s old friend’s (Samuel Kendall Gifford) wife died leaving several children still left at home with the youngest being only nine months old. Samuel, I am sure, knowing Ursula as well as he did, not only knew her faithfulness in the Gospel, but also knew her motherly qualities, asked her to be his wife and mother of his children. So these two choice, spiritual people were married, probably about March of 1870, but were Sealed on 2 Jan 1871 in the Endowment House in Salt Lake City. Later all her children were Sealed to her and Samuel. It has been said that Ursula’s children loved Samuel very much and they desired to be Sealed to him through Eternity. All of them were old enough to know what they were doing. (It has also been said, that Samuel’s children loved Ursula as much as she loved them.) It appears, then that we have lost-the “Durfee Birthright and we now belong to the Giffords by adoption. After studying the life and ancestry of the Giffords, I am proud to belong to them. They were stalwart and prominent people with strong, active testimonies of the Gospel. They were loving and gentle people. I trust my great, great grandmother, Ursula Curtis, with her delicate decision to be Sealed to another man other than her own children’s father. We must also trust her children, our grandparents, for their choice in being Sealed. to their stepfather. We, their descendants, do not know the reasons, and therefore, we must be careful not to judge nor feel sorry for the loss of our “supposed” Birthright. We must be grateful for the love, care, and protection our “new” grandfather gave to our grand-mother and her family.
It appears to be that our grandmother, Ursula Curtis, was herself, a spiritual person of a seemingly “Celestial” nature and therefore could only have given herself to someone worthy of the Celestial Kingdom. Of course, she would desire those same blessings for her children and her posterity. In Ursula’s patriarchal blessing given to her by her good friend, Isaac Morley, and given before she and Abraham Durfee separated, she is told that she is numbered with the daughters of Abraham in the Covenant of Promise – – which Seal she would realize by her everlasting inheritance in her posterity. She is told, “Thou shalt not lose any blessing pertaining to thy exaltation and the exaltation of thy children. They shall be thine in the resurrection. Thou art beloved of the Lord for the integrity of thy heart… Thy union in thy exaltation shall be with the anointed of the Lord. Thy children and children’s children will rise up and bless three.” I am comforted to know that in the “Hereafter” we will be happy and contented with our adopted Sealings.
There are several histories written about Samuel K. Gifford. From gleaning them, it can truly be said that “like his father before him and like his sons after him, Samuel K. Gifford became an instrument in the hands of the Lord to serve and preach the Gospel and this he did all the days of his life with vigor and testimony.
Reading his history, written by himself, the duties and jobs Samuel held in civics as well as religiously are impressive. From soldier, Mayor, councilman, and school teacher, to missionary, genealogist, Branch President, to Patriarch, he served faithfully. He and Ursula had so much faith that they were instrumental in bringing their dead grandchild, back to life. When Ursula’s daughter, Ursula Jane Durfee Hadlock, gave birth to her eighth child on 2 Jan 1890, “there was something wrong”, as Frank, Ursula Jane’s oldest son wrote about the incident. He continues: . . . and the doctor told my father that in cases like that, either the child or ; the mother usually died – – most often it was the child – – or else the baby wouldn’t live until he was six months old.
Both mother and the baby lived. The baby was strong and husky and we were happy with him. When he was six months old, we decided the doctor had not known for sure about those things. We had moved back to the Dixie country and when the baby was six months old, he took sick suddenly. He died while he lay in his mother’s arms. Everyone could see the child was dead, but they still tried moving his little legs and they had no life. We could all see he was gone, but my Step-Grandfather, Samuel K. Gilford, said they would give the baby a blessing and ask for his life to be restored. He said we would have prayer first. He asked my Grandmother, Ursula to offer the prayer. I thought if we took that much longer, there would be no chance to bring him back to life. But my Step-Grandfather knew best, and after Grandmother offered a prayer to bless us in: our efforts and bless the baby a blessing – – asking our Father-in-Heaven to restore the baby’s breath back in his little body and the child was restored back to life and health through our faith and prayers. He grew to be a strong and healthy man and he raised a fine family.
Samuel K. Gifford had been one of “Dixie’s” earliest pioneers. He settled there in 1863. He planted one of the first and finest orchards in the area and had a nice variety of fruit as well as flowers. Samuel was a lover of books. He read the good books regardless of being blind in one eye most of his life. His granddaughter, Hannah Gifford Tuttle, said that he literally read himself blind! His last days were in complete darkness. “His memory was good – – remarkably so,” says this same granddaughter who remembers her Grandfather, quoting whole sections of the Doctrine and Covenants without a mistake.
Among other things, Samuel was a chair maker. His history tells about the furniture he made. His grandchildren remember how in those days a fine clay was dug from the hills west of Rockville. The clay was made into putty to be used in the chair making. The finished chairs when freshly puttied and painted and stood outdoors to dry. It has been said that “many a traveler will remember the chairs gleaming brightly in the sunlight.”
Samuel did not distinguish between his and Ursula’s children and grandchildren – – he loved and treated them all the same – – with the utmost love and consideration. As he got older, Samuel became blind and unable to do some of his regular tasks. It is told of how this good man would take any and all of the little ones and sing to them and play the violin for them to entertain them – – keeping them quiet and good while Ursula did the work that he wished he could still do.
Ursula’s stepchildren payed her the highest tribute for her love and devotion to them and their father. She was mother to them and helped raise them to be stalwart members of the Church as well as lovely people.
Their home was always large enough for one more person – – whether baby, child, or adult – – who needed shelter or love from their earthly woes and trials. It didn’t take long after they were married for the Gifford home to be filled. Samuel and his first wife, Lora Ann DeMille, had a family of ten children; three had died, and so there were four left still unmarried and in need of a mother when Ursula came into the household. Ursula had six children. Four came to Southern Utah with her and two had died previously.
The oldest son of Ursula, Abraham Augustus “Gus” Durfee, lost his wife soon after she had given birth. Gus brought his tiny daughter, Maria, to live with his mother and step-father. Maria stayed until she had grown and married. And then Ursula’s daughter, Mahala Ruth (who had married a Winder and then a Parker), passed away and her three children came to live with the Giffords, also. By 1875, there were ten children who were living in this good home and they were: Ursula Jane Durfee, 16; Freeborn Gifford, 15; Enos Durfee, 14; Adelia Gifford, 13; Ursula Ette Winder, 7 (Mahala’s daughter); Moses Elias Gifford, 6; John Augustus Winder, 5 (Mahala’s son); Mahala Parker, 2 (Mahala’s last daughter); and Maria Durfee, almost 2.
Mahala and Maria were almost like twins in age and in caring for them. Ursula Curtis Gifford was a most industrious woman! She was continually busy trying to make things better for her family. She always had a few sheep in which she would card and spin the yarn to make her family clothing. Her knitting needles were always working in her idle moments. She knew how to dye the yarn from different plants.
Her family raised some broom corn for her to make her brooms from. As with the other pioneers, “beds were crude frames with ropes strung from side to side. Springs and mattresses were ticks full of corn shucks or straw.” (Zion Canyon and Springdale, Crawford).
She saw to this as well as other chores such as soap making. Ursula made her own soap from salvaged fat skimmings and from lye from wood ashes that she saved and processed for her soap making. Knowing how industrious she was, she probably made her family’s own straw hats from braiding the straw and working them into the desired shape as did the other settlers of the valley. Also, to show her industry, Ursula tried her hand at raising silk worms. From the Crawford Springdale book we read: “Silk worms were raised in Springdale. Ursula C. Gifford and others tried raising them for a few years. They built shelves over which they laid papers. On these papers, they would put the eggs. When the worms first hatched, they would put a few tender leaves over them. When they had eaten through these, a few more would be put over them. Afterward, when the worms were older, they would take the top leaves that had the worms on them and put them on fresh paper with fresh leaves. After the worms were mature and had spun their cocoon, they were dipped into hot water to kill them so they would not eat through the cocoons and spoil them. These people did not unwind the cocoon themselves, but sold them to a company. The enterprise did not prove profitable enough that they felt it wise to continue at it very long.”
This zealous woman, no doubt raised cotton as did many other people in the area. As with the wool, she would probably spin the cotton into thread to make cloth for her household needs. The Giffords had a very nice orchard full of various types of fruit. In the early days, when there were no canning bottles, the Giffords dried all their fruit for food storage. Sometimes, Ursula would preserve fruit and put it in barrels or crockery for storage.
Hanna Gifford Tuttle says: “that in the early days in the out-of-the -way communities, there were no doctors. Women were called by the Church leaders and set apart for caring for the sick. Ursula was one of these women. She did a great deal of nursing during her life and trained her daughters and granddaughters to do the same. She was known as “the nurse of the community” and was the aid and comfort to many a mother at the time her baby came into the world. She knew intimately and sympathetically the poverty, hardship and suffering that was incident to the home life of the pioneer settlement. She took nurses training under Dr. Shipp, as did her daughters.
Handicraft has come down through Ursula’s children. They are most capable of doing anything with a needle or the work of their hands. These people could braid rugs into lovely carpets – – with designs artistically woven into them. She and her daughters crocheted or tatted their own curtains and they embroidered items to touch up the dull pioneer home. Even small pieces of material too small for any practical use were used to create beautiful pieces of art, such as pillow covers, bedspreads, and the like. No piece of string was ever wasted nor any other item thrown in the garbage. Everything was recycled and used over and over again. For instance, when a sweater or a pair of socks were worn out, the old pieces of yam or small pieces of string from some other source, was woven into a new article, making a variegated color and a more coveted piece of clothing.
She taught her daughters the principle of cleanliness. Her daughter’s floors were so clean from the continued use of “lye water” that the old boards were shining white. It has been said that the floors were “clean enough to eat on them!” Neatness and order were the rule Ursula lived by – making a pleasant home for her family and those charged with her care and love.
Getting water for culinary use was a trial. The Springdale book by Crawford reads: “The water system for many years was the river. People would fasten a barrel to a sled and hitching a horse to the sled, haul the water to the house. If there had been a storm and the water was muddy, it would have to settle, before it could be used. Sometimes, when the water was extra hard to settle, a spoon full of milk stirred into it would make the sediment go to the bottom. Mrs. Esther Pierce remembers that sometimes, they used a cactus to make the clear. They would break one of the large flat prickly pear leaves, split it in two, and drop the pieces in a barrel of water. Immediately the water would began to clear. People who were close to the irrigation ditch could get their water from that ditch.”
Springdale as well as other Wards in the area tried the United Order. Springdale held onto it until 1875 – – about five years after Ursula had moved to the Dixie area. Her husband being as valiant and active in the Church, could have been Branch President – – which position we know he did serve at some time in his life. I am sure Ursula put her utmost into the Order.
In the Springdale book, there are several accounts of the Gifford and the Durfee children. For instance, it tells of how in the early days, everyone had to make their own entertainment. It tells of how Moses Gifford (the baby Ursula raised) became the town poet, making into rhyme or song, the happenings of the times. Some were serious, but some were hilarious. The book says that Moses was a good entertainer and sometimes when he would dress for the part he represented, he would send the crowd into gales of laughter.
And then the grandson, John Winder, whom Ursula raised, much is written in the Springdale book about him. He evidently was a great outdoors man. The book tells of how he rescued people and how he built a trail up the side of the impassible east rim of Zion Canyon’s wall. Cyrus Gifford writes of John Winder: “John Winder could do anything. No weather was too bad for him. I think he was the toughest man I have ever seen.”
Another incident from the Springdale book tells of Ursula’s son, Abraham Augustus Durfee – – known as “Gus”, and her stepson, Oliver, were out for lumber: “. . . As they were coming home, a large herd of wild cattle overtook and surrounded them. They were obliged to walk back and forth beside their load with their black whips, constantly beating at the bellowing animals. After what seemed to them an eternity, the leader of the herd gave a great puff, pawed the ground with fury and very suddenly whirled about and galloped away, his herd closed behind him. They ran for a distance of about three miles, turned, pawed the ground and came back again. Once more, they seemed about to attack. The leader looked at them, again pawed the ground and finally gave a great puff and galloped away again.” O. D. (Oliver) Gifford said, “Some of those horns looked like great arms reaching out for them.” The men always felt that the Lord had been watching over them or they would have been killed.
Her children, step-children, as well as the grandchildren she raised to become leaders in the community, as well as in the Church. Ursula, herself, did her part in fulfilling her calls in the Church. At one time, she served as Relief Society President. She was supportive and had a strong testimony of the Gospel.
Making this new land productive and earning a living was a never ending trial for these early Pioneers. Just eking out a living was a great hardship to these people. The Springdale book says: “The people of these small towns had a hard time providing the everyday needs of life. They had no time to really enjoy the beauties of their surroundings. Certainly, there were lovers of beauty among them. At first, their homes were poor. A little later, when material for building purposes were not so hard to get, they improved these homes. Hand work rugs, pictures, curtains, flowers, in many ways they tried to bring beauty to their homes and surroundings.” “Hand knitted, braided and loom woven rugs and carpets were used on their floors, many of them artistically made.” “They desired the better things of life for their children, good schools, good homes, and the advantage that prosperity can bring.
However, religion meant more to them, than getting rich.” In her last days, Ursula assisted her husband doing a great deal of temple work in the St. George Temple. Samuel says it was a great affliction when his wife, Ursula, was taken away from him in death on 20 Jun 1902. She had lived a long hard life: being driven from her home several times by mobs, crossing the plains, the disappointment of being separated from her first husband; the hard pioneer life; of raising several families of children, and in fulfilling her religious duties – – but it can be said of this fine woman, that she was most successful and has most assuredly earned a spot in the Celestial Kingdom with her most deserving husband and parents in the unbroken Celestial chain.
Her children and children’s children will certainly rise up and bless her as it states in her Patriarchal Blessing! T
his bibliography of Ursula Curtis Durfee Gifford was prepared by Larry K. Coleman.
SOURCES OF INFORMATION: 1. “A Brief History of Zion Canyon and Springdale to 1947”, by Crawford and Fairbanks, “J-Mart Pub. Co.”, Spanish Fork, Utah 1972. 2. “Shonesburg History”, “The Gifford Informer”, vol. 3, no. 7, May 1969. | 3. “Biography of Samuel K. Gifford”, Hanni Jane Gifford, “The Gifford Informer”, vol. 8 Nov 1975. 4. “Biography of Samuel K. Gifford”, A. J. Gifford, written 14 Nov 1902, obtained fr Othell Gifford, Springdale, Utah. 5. “Gifford Goes to Dixie”, “The Gifford Informed, vol. 1, Feb 1966. 6. “Notes From The Life of Alpheus Gifford”, “The Gifford Informer”, Vol. 6, no. 1, Spring 1973. 7. “Ursula E. Winder Gifford”, “The Gifford Informer”, vol. 6, no. 1, Spring 1973. 8. “Franklin Pierce Hadlock, Jr.”, obtained from Lois Marott, Provo, Utah 9. Inx cards from the Manti Temple, rees #26720, Bk 0-2, p 956. 10. Springville Rec. A-3445, p 241. 11. “Durfee Family Tradition”. 12. “Our Family Chain”, by Larry K. Coleman, pp 146-152. 13. “Bibliography of Ursula Curtis” was typed by Mr. Theodore Moody on the 20th of Jan 1998, taken from his personal records, which are in his possession at 8495 So., US hi-way 191, Safford, Arizona 85546. SPECIAL NOTES: Ursula Curtis Durfee, married. 2nd Samuel Gifford, Sld. 2 Jan 1879 in the St. George Temple for time and all eternity. All of her children from her previous marriage to Abraham Durfee were Sealed to her and 2nd husband, Samuel K. Gifford.Recommend0 recommendationsPublished in