STAINES, William C.

STAINES, William C.
William Carter Staines (1818-1881)

Another of the original immigrants to Sail Lake valley was William C. Staines, for many years the emigration agent of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. He was Utah’s first public librarian, and an early member of the city council of Salt Lake. He was a merchant at one time, but his special delight was in the cultivation of fruits and flowers, and as a director of the Deseret Agricultural and Manufacturing Society he rendered valuable service. He was a man of industrious habits, of precise businesslike methods; honest, candid and outspoken, yet withal of a kind and genial disposition. In the course of his career he mingled with many people and with all classes, and was universally respected and esteemed.

A native of Higham Perries, Northamptonshire, England, where he was born September 26, 1818, he was very young when his parents moved to Beddenham, near Bedford, about forty miles from London. There he was sent to school, much against his will, for he had little liking for books when a boy, and hated the confinement of the school room. He had a passion for floriculture and horticulture, manifested most practically in after years, when also he deeply regretted his early indifference to education.

What helped to make school distasteful to him was an accident which befell him when he was thirteen years of age. While playing on the ice, he fell, injuring his spine and causing a deformity, attended with much pain, from which he suffered severely for twenty years. In fact, he was never entirely free from it. This misfortune, while it materially lessened his stature, did not detract from the pleasant impression made by his frank, open countenance and kindly manner. As a youth he worked with other laborers in his father’s garden.

It was on the twenty-third anniversary of his birth that he first heard of Mormonism, from one of its authorized representatives—Elder George J. Adams. He believed, was baptized and confirmed, and at his confirmation was promised the gifts of prophecy, healing, tongues and their interpretation; which promise was amply fulfilled. Among the Elders met by him in England was Lorenzo Snow, who presided over the London Conference, and was afterwards one of the presidency of the British Mission. Mr. Staines testifies to certain predictions made to him by President Snow, which were marvelously verified.

Until January, 1843, he labored in the ministry in his native land, and then sailed for America, reaching Nauvoo, by way of New Orleans and St. Louis, on April 12th of the same year. A note of his journey up the Mississippi illustrates a mistaken notion had in England respecting the condition of the negro slaves in this country. When about nine years of age he had been informed that these slaves all worked in chains upon rice and sugar plantations in the Southern States. His sympathies were so aroused by the woeful tale that he refrained from eating sugar in order that the money thus saved might go to a fund that was being raised in England for the emancipation of slaves in America. Concerning his observations at New Orleans and along the Mississippi, he says:

“Here to my surprise I found them driving fine mule teams, being trusted with cartloads of valuable merchandise, taking the same to all parts of the city and country, apparently equal with the free white man, except in being slaves and owned by someone. I found them working as porters, warehousemen, firemen on steamboats, etc., and their food was as good as that of white men performing like labor. I must confess that this surprised me, and for the first time I regretted that I had quit eating sugar to help free the negro. I found him in slavery having all the sugar he needed and with a better breakfast than any farm laborer in England could afford to eat. The negro firemen on the steamboat informed me that they all belonged to one master, who lived about fifty miles from New Orleans, and he allowed them to work out and gave them one-third of what they earned. They received twenty-four dollars a month and board; and the eight dollars, with board, that went to them was better wages than a man working on a farm in England was getting at that time. They said they had a good master and did not want to leave him.”

Mr. Staines, however, while undeceived as to the actual condition of most of the slaves in the Southern States, was not converted from his opposition to slavery, for he realized that grave abuses attended the system.

The day after landing at Nauvoo he met the Prophet Joseph Smith, whom he recognized instantly, having seen him in a vision while crossing the sea. The next day he heard him preach for the first time. At Nauvoo he was employed a good deal upon the Temple. He happened to be in St. Louis when the Prophet and his brother were slain, and when told of the tragedy was unable to speak to his informant for some moments, so deep was his emotion. Returning to Nauvoo he behold the bodies of the martyrs lying in state. He says:

“I have seen England mourning for two of her kings and for the husband of her queen, when every shop in London was closed, when every church bell tolled, when every man who drove a coach, cab or conveyance of any kind had a piece of crape tied to the handle of his whip. Accompanied by Brother Amasa Lyman, I rode for miles through the city, while the burial services were being performed at Windsor Castle. It was indeed a solemn sight. I have seen this nation mourn for its chief magistrate—President Lincoln.

But the scene at Nauvoo was far more affecting. The grief and sorrow of the Latter-day Saints was heart-felt. It was the mourning of a community of many thousands, all of whom revered these martyred brethren as their fathers and benefactors, and the sight of their bleeding bodies—for their blood had not ceased to flow as they lay in their coffins—was a sight never to be forgotten. The mourning I witnessed for kings and for our nation’s chief was only here and there manifested by tears; but for the two who suffered for their religion and their friends, the whole people wept in going to and from the scene—all, all were weeping.”

Mr. Staines was one of those who attended the memorable meeting where Brigham Young was recognized and accepted by the Saints as the lawful successor to the martyred Prophet. “Brigham’s voice,” says he, “was as the voice of Joseph; I thought it was his, and so did the thousands who heard it.”

In the exodus from Nauvoo William C. Staines was in Charles Shuraway’s company of fifty, the first to cross the Mississippi and start westward. He was at Sugar Creek, Garden Grove, Mount Pisgah and Winter Quarters. Three weeks before reaching the last-named place he was prostrated with fever and ague. His narrative thus continues:

“I was traveling at the time in Bishop George Miller’s family, and they were all very kind to me in my affliction. By the time we reached the Missouri river we got entirely out of meat and very short of breadstuffs. Our company had been selling and exchanging everything that could be spared, even to featherbeds, for provisions, and many had become discouraged, not knowing where to get future supplies.

Bishop Miller called a meeting of the company, raised sufficient means to purchase grain and flour for temporary relief, and prophesied that there would he an abundance of corn in camp before we crossed the river. This prediction was fulfilled a few days later, when an Indian trader, Mr. Tarpee, came into camp and made a contract with the Bishop to bring a lot of robes and skins from a point up the river, where he and his fellow traders had heen bartering with the Indians. It was usual to bring these articles down in boats made of buffalo skins, but this season the rains had been insufficient to swell the river so that the boats could pass over the shallow places. Hence it was proposed to bring them in wagons.

Mr. Tarpee pledged himself to forfeit several wagon loads of corn if anything should occur to break the contract. Something did occur, for about three o’clock the next afternoon, just as the wagons were ready to start, Mr. Tarpee came and informed the Bishop that a messenger had arrived from his traders, stating that heavy rains had fallen and that they were bringing their robes and furs by water and had no use for teams. He then told the Bishop to send his wagons to the trading post and he would pay the forfeit.

The Bishop protested that under the circumstances he had no claim, but Tarpee insisted and the wagons were sent and returned loaded with corn. The Bishop afterwards made another prediction of the same kind, which was just as remarkably fulfilled.”

Mr. Staines’ interesting account of his subsequent experience among the Indians is here summarized:

Soon after the organization and departure of the Mormon Battalion, a company, led by Bishop Miller left Winter Quarters with the intention of crossing the Rocky Mountains that season (1846), hut upon reaching the Pawnee Indian Mission, which they found deserted, they received instructions from President Young and the Apostles, still on the ‘ Missouri, to winter on Grand Island.

About the same time eight Ponca chiefs, whose tribe had been at war with the Pawnees, arrived at the Mission for the purpose of making peace with their foes, whom they expected to find there. These chiefs proposed that the Mormon company winter with them in their country, which they said was “three sleeps,” or three days travel from the Mission. They promised the emigrants timber for houses and fuel, with pasturage for their cattle. Preferring this prospect—interpreted to him by James Emmett—to a stay on Grand Island without the consent of the Pawnees, who were far away and were said to he “mad,”

Bishop Miller called a council of his brethren, and a majority favoring the Ponca proposition, it was accepted and acted upon. The “three sleeps” proved to be three days and nights travel with ponies, or eleven days for the wagons, over hard, rough roads. Having reached their destination, Miller’s company camped near the junction of the Running Water and the Missouri rivers, and there formed a settlement named Ponca.

Early in October the Indians informed their white friends that they would soon leave for their winter hunting grounds, and would like some of the brethren to accompany them. They were especially desirous that William C. Staines should go, he having partly learned the Indian tongue and made himself popular with them by acting as cohblcr, mending their pouches, bridles, etc. Bishop Miller demurred, Mr. Staines being still a member of his family and in delicate health, but the latter, who was much interested in these Indians and desired to do them good, pleaded so earnestly for the privilege of going, that the Bishop finally consented.

In all six white men went with the Indians on this hunt, but three soon returned, and finally all left excepting Mr. Staines, who slept in the chief’s tent and was named by him “Waddeskippe,” meaning a steel to strike flint for fire. He remained with them six months, instructing them in the principles of the Gospel and acquainting them with the history of the Latter-day Saints. He taught the squaws how to braid their hair, witnessed some wonderful buffalo hunts, and passed through a variety of experiences. The Indians were very kind to him, receiving his instructions with interest, and he became quite proficient in the Ponca language.

Upon his departure, he left with the chief a copy of the Book of Mormon. During eighteen weeks of his life among the Poncas Mr. Staines ate no vegetables or bread, subsisting almost entirely on fresh meat; as the result he suffered terribly from scurvy. In February, 1847, he bade his Indian friends farewell and rejoined his brethren. They received him with joy and astonishment, it having been reported to them that he was dead.

The date of Mr. Staines’ arrival in Salt Lake valley was September 15,1847. During the first years of his residence here he engaged in various avocations. An expert gardener, he not only cultivated fruits and flowers upon his own premises, but superintended at one time the gardens and orchards of President Brigham Young. He had a farm of three hundred acres iu Davis county, and his home in Salt Lake City, which he sold to William Jennings, who there built the Devereaux House, was “a thing of beauty,” a veritable bower of roses. His connection with the D. A. & M. Society began in January, 1850. His interest and success in fruit culture is partly indicated by the fact that on one occasion—September 18, 1857—he had upon his table from his own orchard six kinds of peaches, some of them measuring nearly ten inches in circumference; also grapes of his own raising.

William C. Staines became the Territorial Librarian, by appointment of the (governor and Legislative Assembly), in the winter of 1851-2. The library, for which Congress had appropriated five thousand dollars, was opened in the Council House at Salt Lake City. In 1853 he was one of a posse to guard the Overland Mail route against hostile Indians, and in 1857 he served in Echo Canyon. Two years later he became one of the mercantile firm of Staines, Needham and Company, whose stock of merchandise cost seventy-five thousand dollars.

In April of that year he was elected to the city council, and in December of the year following was called upon a mission to his native land. He was then appointed the Church emigration agent, and faithfully and efficiently served in that capacity during the remaining eighteen years of his life. He made regular annual trips between Salt Lake City and New York, his duties requiring his presence in the East during the spring, summer and fall, after which he would return to spend the winter with his family and friends in Utah.

Mr. Staines was twice married, but died without issue. One of his latest acts, after providing liberally for his widows, was to deed a large amount of valuable property to the Church of which he had been for so many years a zealous and exemplary member. He died August 3, 1881.


From History of Utah Vol. 4, by Orson F Whitney

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