COLLETT, Reuben: Pioneer of 1849

Reuben Collett (1839-1920)

Pendock, England, is a small village in southern Worcestershire, ten miles northwest of the city of Gloucester. On the nineteenth of July 1839, a third son and fourth child were born to Daniel and Esther Jones Collett, and he was christened Reuben Collett.

The following year was a memorable one for this family as the Gospel of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints was brought to them through the missionary work of . Daniel, his parents, William and Elizabeth Bromage Collett; his two sisters, Ann and Elizabeth, were among the more than eighteen hundred baptized that year, 1840.

Immediately, the family began preparations for emigration to America.

When they sailed, the tenth of May 1841, on the ship “Harmony” from Bristol, Reuben would have been not quite two years of age, Sylvanus six and Rhoda Sylvia four. They landed in Quebec, Canada, then journeyed to Nauvoo, Illinois, their home for the next five years. Their two sisters were born and died. At seven years of age, he would remember having to leave his home in Nauvoo and cross the Mississippi River into Iowa in the departure of the saints. In later years, he might have recalled that in camp on Sugar Creek, Lee County, Iowa, his sister, Mary Ann, was born in a wagon box.

The three years at would be well remembered. His father, a blacksmith, and wheelwright, built wagons, carts, and other conveyances for those moving west; and a sister Elizabeth Matilda was born at Council Bluffs across the river. In 1849,they traveled in the , arriving at Salt Lake City on the twenty-seventh of October.

Reuben’s youngest sister, Julia Ann, was born at Mill Creek, southeast Salt Lake City, making their first home in the valley. The stay here was short, and the year 1851 found them in Lehi, Utah County. They spent eight years in this town where two brothers, Charles Albert Capper and James Jones, joined the family, and his mother, Esther Jones Collett, died on the fourth of June 1857.

At the age of Eighteen, Reuben was called to the at Fort Limhi in Idaho. His brother, Sylvanus, returned from the fort that same year, and their paths crossed. The mission was abandoned the following spring, March 1858; Reuben arrived back in Lehi sometime later.

The next move came in 1859 to Plain City, northwest of Ogden, where their stay was of only one year’s duration. Reuben and his father plowed the first irrigation ditch, with an ox team, in this vicinity.

Smithfield, Cache County, Utah, their next home, 1860, was the final move for Reuben’s father. He passed away there on the eighth of June 1894. Among others pioneering this town came the Merrills. There were four marriages between children of these two stalwart families. The seventeenth of January 1861, the first one was that of Reuben Collett and Elthura Roseltha Merrill, daughter of Samuel Beamus and Elizabeth Gardner Runyon Merrill. It was also the first marriage to be performed in Smithfield.

This couple’s first six children were born in Smithfield. The twenty-fourth of July 1862, Phoebe Teressa died the sixteenth of January 1863; Reuben Samuel the twenty-sixth of May 1864; Sylvester Daniel and Sylvanus [twins] the fifteenth of December 1866; Julia Ann, the twentieth of February 1869; Adelbert Teancum, the third of November 1872. Reuben Samuel arrived during his father’s absence, who was on a trip to Missouri for emigrants. They were endowed and sealed in the Endowment House during this time, the twenty-third of December 1865.

Reuben was actively engaged in farming and stock-raising, owning, at one time, around four hundred acres near the town of Smithfield. He operated one of the first horse-powered threshing machines in Cache Valley. In the late fall of 1866, while working at Weston, Idaho, twenty miles northwest of Smithfield, he had the misfortune to catch his glove in the gears of the thresher while oiling the machinery. His right arm was pulled in and mangled to the elbow. After much difficulty freeing him, he was placed in a wagon, and the long drive, through mud and snow, to Smithfield began. A horseback rider was dispatched to Logan for a doctor. He plodded his way slowley to the little town by team. How many precious hours all this took has not been recorded—but when the doctor did arrive, he had no tools for the operation. It was a neighbor, Mr. Green, who brought his old-time meat saw and a butcher knife. With these crude instruments, the arm was amputated. He survived this ordeal very well.

Reuben was twenty-seven years of age at this time. Such a handicap might have deterred a lesser man—but Reuben overcame this difficulty, and it did not seem to curtail his activities in any way. While living in Smithfield, he operated a sawmill in Hard Scrabble Canyon, Morgan County, Utah.

The town of Corinne, Utah, also known as “The Burge on the Bear,” born of the railroad, was the “Gateway to Montana” and its mines for a few years. Being the last town on the long line of the Union Pacific Railroad, all goods for the northwestern states were deposited there and hauled by freight wagons to destinations mainly in Idaho and Montana. During these years, 1869-1872, Reuben Collett was one of these freighters, moving supplies to the different mining towns.

An incident, which occurred on one of the trips, is of interest. In company with George Merrill, Reuben was loaded with Chinese workers bound for Helena, Montana, at so much a head, payable on delivery and kept out of the worker’s wages. As they neared Helena, the Chinese workers threw off their bundles, jumped from the wagon, and tried to escape. They had to be subdued with whips.

There was no one to receive the cargo on arriving at the mining camp, and the Chinamen began to scatter. The trick was that if they could get away and mix with the hundreds of their countrymen there, they could not be identified, and the receiver would not have to pay for freight undelivered. George Merrill stood over them with a whip and six-shooter until Reuben hunted up the man, then they were released to their new owner.

In 1873, the Collett family moved to Bear Lake County, Idaho—first settling at Nounan and later Bennington, five miles north of Montpelier, where Charles Merrill was born the sixth of June 1875. That fall came another move to Cokeville, Wyoming, where Reuben’s brother Sylvanus and John Boren had been the first white settlers. A coal mine was worked there, and coke ovens were built to process the coal—therefore, the name of Cokeville. Here Reuben followed the cattle and sheep business.

He made good friends with the many Indians in the valley, learning their language and dealing fairly with them at his Trading Post. In this way, he followed the admonition of Brigham Young that “It is better to feed the Redman than to fight them.”

From Cokeville, the Collett family moved to Circleville and then to Escalante, Garfield County, Utah, in the fall of 1877. This was an isolated little town on a creek by the same name, sixty miles from the , cut off in winter, by big snowbound mountains, from the outside world. If the little flour mill froze up, the people would often have to subsist on cornbread and molasses until spring.

Here a home was purchased and the front room fixed up for a store and the Post Office. He also acquired sheep and cattle, as there was a good summer range, and they could winter on the desert southeast of town. A daughter, Princetta, was born on the eleventh of January 1878.

Reuben was chosen first counselor to Bishop Andrew P. Schow. He and the Bishop scouted eighty miles along the Colorado River for a possible crossing and for making a wagon road at the time of the “” Expedition, which was making its way to Bluff, San Juan County, Utah. In 1879, he acted as a guide to a scouting party headed by Lemuel H. Redd.

As Town Constable, Reuben Collett had many experiences enforcing the law. In November of 1878, one happened when partners, Boyington and Phips, quarreled at their ranch south of Escalante, and Phips was killed. The constable arrested Boyington and brought him to Escalante. Here he was held at the Collett home for a preliminary hearing, then taken to the county seat, Panguitch, for trial. He was given the death penalty.

The move to Lehi (Mesa), Arizona, beginning in April 1881, was a tremendous undertaking. With seven children [the youngest, Princetta, only three years old and the eldest, Reuben Samuel, seventeen], wagons, horses, and two hundred head of cattle, it must have been quite a spectacle. The twins, Vest and Vean, were fourteen years old, so they were of great help, as were Julia, twelve, and Dell, nine. However, it was often a trying experience for Charles. He got into many predicaments, as a six-year-old will, and had to be “rescued.”

The family had several wild experiences. On one occasion, the boys were watering the cattle at a spring in a canyon gorge, and R.S. (Reuben Samuel], the eldest son, was riding a wild horse which became frightened, fell, broke his hind leg, and had to be shot.

The route taken was south from Escalante across the desert range where they gathered cattle. The road was very rough—just a cow trail. On many occasions, the wagons were held upright by man-force. Other times they had to be let down over steep sandstone slopes.

Arriving at the Colorado River, which was reached after winding and sliding down gorges and canyons with towering walls hundreds of feet high, they found the water high at the crossing. The ferry was a rude flatboat, propelled by men with oars, which would hold one team and wagon.

The river had eddies on either side with a very swift current through the center. The boat would be pushed off, carried upstream by the vortex until it came in contact with the current, then the oarsmen would pull for dear life to cross the center. By the time they cut the current, the boat would be well below the place of taking off. They were caught in the opposite eddy the craft would be carried upstream to the landing place. It took as many of these hair-raising trips as there were teams and wagons. The family was taken across in a small skiff, which went through the same experience.

A different process was used with the cattle and loose horses. They were driven down another side canyon some two miles up the river and shoved off into the water, with the expectation that they would land where the wagons were. Some of the teams were driven to the upper end of the landing to attract the other horses. They landed, but the cattle swam right on past. The swift current carried them like driftwood down the stream for about a mile, where they landed on a small rock slide under a cliff, on the wrong side. The small space would not accommodate all of them, so they were in the water for a day and a night.

A raft was built of logs tied with ropes, and on it, R.S. floated down to herd the cattle into the river. They swam on another mile, only to land on the same side again. Once more, they were forced into the water, and this time they landed on the other side at the mouth of a small canyon, three miles below the wagons, through which they were driven. Only one calf was lost.

After leaving the Colorado, they passed through a wilderness country that was covered with cedar and pine. Water was very scarce, and the cattle suffered, some of them dying. Reuben had large barrels lashed to the sides of the wagons to carry water for the family, but sometimes this supply would run out. In that case, the people would have to share with the cattle in mud springs and “potholes” in the rocks, many of which contained water year-round. It had to be strained through a cloth to separate the wigglers and bugs.

Desirous of getting some better water, Elthura, and daughter, Julia, took a bucket and went on a search while waiting for the men to come in with the cattle. They walked several miles and came to a big canyon which they decided to descend. Down they dropped from ledge to ledge, not thinking of their return. When the water was procured, and the way back started, they were dismayed to find places which they could not climb. There was no thought of giving up or abandoning the precious water. Elthura would boost Julia up a ledge, hand her the bucket and climb up with her aid. They finally reached the top and eventually the camp, but it was long after dark.

In the meantime, Reuben and the boys had brought the cattle in. Many had become crazy from thirst. As they approached a smooth, steep incline, an enraged cow made for Sylvanus. He ran down the hill with her after him. They both fell, but fortunately, in the opposite directions. The cow was killed, but the boy escaped injury.

Early one afternoon, they came to a large “tank” of water, the level of which was too far down for the cattle to reach. By tying ropes on the buckets, it could be bailed out and poured into more minor “potholes” in the sandstone. It took all afternoon to water the herd. While the boys were doing this, Reuben went scouting to find grass for feed, which was discovered about four miles from the camp through a dense thicket of cedar and pine.

At almost dark, the watering was finished, and the three, R.S., Vest, and Vean, started the foot-sore and tired animals for the night feed. As time passed, the parents began to get uneasy, and Reuben decided to set a tree afire as a beacon; then, fearing the Indians might see it, it was put out. As yet they had seen no Indians, although several battlegrounds were known to be near, the fear of them was always present. It was midnight before the tired and weary boys came into camp, ready for their hard slab beds.

When they arrived at the , some ten miles below the town of Bluff, they camped for a week to let the cattle rest. Some of them had become too sore-footed to travel and had been left behind. During the week, these were brought up to the main herd. This camp was on the Navajo Indian Reservation. One day two Indians swam the river for a visit. The next day they came again with a dressed goat on their backs as a token of friendship.

The journey continued with the same routine of travel until they came to Mancos, Colorado, where they camped in the mountains for three weeks of rest and recuperation. There was an acceptable range with grass and water claimed by a man from Denver. During the Indian trouble, several hundred of his horses had been stolen and scattered over the country. The boys were hired to round them up, and Reuben bought and traded for some of them.

While Reuben was in Durango selling some beef cattle, an Indian came into camp. He was terrified as he had been shot through the upper arm, and Elthura dressed the wound and allowed him to stay for the night. Sometime in the very early hours of the morning, he left without anyone knowing it. On the way home, Reuben met him and was told of the incident. He said, “Your squaw fix-em arm.”

In early August, they broke camp and traveled down into New Mexico. After leaving the town of Fruitland on the upper San Juan, they had to pass through the Navajo Indian Reservation for a distance of about ninety miles, so an interpreter and guide was hired to go as far as Gallup, New Mexico.

At that time, the Santa Fe Railroad was under construction, and they followed this route as far as Holbrook, Arizona, on the Little Colorado River. From that point, they expected to go south over the White Mountains through the Apache Reservation. Since these Indians were on the warpath, the government had closed the route to travelers. Reuben had planned to go through the Gila Valley to the San Pedro, but having to take the other path, they went west to Flagstaff, thence to Phoenix, and then to Lehi (Mesa], arriving in October 1881. Because of the warring Indians, Reuben’s hopes of making the San Pedro Valley his destination had to be given up. He visited this valley several times, as his oldest sister, Rhoda, lived at St. David.

During the five years in Lehi, three more children were born to Reuben and Elthura: Orrin, the sixteenth of July 1882, died the twenty-second of December 1883; Roseltha May, the twenty-seventh of April 1884; and Clarence James, the fifth of May 1886. In 1883, R.S. left on a mission to England.

On two different occasions, Reuben was called by Church Authorities to head exploring parties through southern Arizona and old Mexico. One of these groups was composed of President John Taylor, Heber J. Grant, and others. He served as a counselor to Bishop Thomas Jones of Lehi and was a member of the High Council of Maricopa Stake.

On the second of June 1886, Sylvanus married Sara Elizabeth Simkins. That same year R.S. returned to Salt Lake City from his mission and was soon called to Vernal, Uintah County, Utah, to be a counselor to President Samuel R. Bennion in that newly formed Stake. He wrote his father of the beautiful possibilities in Ashley Valley for cattle and horse raising, so Reuben decided to move once again. He sold his farm for $3500, taking some cattle and horses in trade to be picked up on the way north.

They were joined by Sylvanus, Sarah, and the families of Reuben’s two sisters: Mary Ann Collett Wamsley and Rhoda Collett Eldredge. This time they traveled, in four wagons with four horses to each wagon, plus about one hundred and fifty head of loose horses, over the same route as far as the Little Colorado. From this point, the road went northwest down the river for about thirty miles, then almost directly north to Lee’s Ferry. In the meantime, Reuben and son Sylvanus picked up some of the horses traded for at Snowflake.

At the crossing of the Colorado and the road is chiseled down the canyon side for a distance of several hundred yards, with only enough space at the water’s edge for a team and wagon to stand on the dugway waiting for the ferry. It was a large flatboat manned by men with oars, accommodating one team and wagon. The horses were led into the water by towing one of the mares across behind the skiff, which had ferried the family to the other side.

The road north into Utah and Cannonville, was through Paria Canyon. Up until this time, the weather had been fine, and nothing out of the ordinary had happened, but that night in the canyon, it snowed about twelve inches. This was the first snow they had seen in six years. It took three days to go through the canyon, and with the wind blowing, it seemed as if it was snowing all the time. The dense growth of willows that carpeted the canyon were bent almost to the ground with the heavy snow, and the horses passing under the trees were kept soaking wet all the time.

The weather turned so cold it froze the creek over. The first team could cross on the ice, but by the time the wagon came along, the ice had broken, and the water backed up, so the horses in the rear were deep in icy water. On the last day, they camped just at the head of the canyon with the teams but drove the loose horses out to a big sagebrush flat to graze. The night was so cold that some of the animals froze, and William Wamsley’s feet were frostbitten.

Cannonville was reached the next day, where the bishop let them stay in the church. There was a large stove that kept the building warm and on which they could do their cooking. This was in November, near Thanksgiving time. From there, they broke the snow road over the mountains to Escalante and spent the winter in the place they had left six years before.

On the thirtieth of March 1887, Sylvester left Escalante to fill a mission in Old Mexico from which he did not return, dying there the fifth of May 1889. He was buried in the American Cemetery at Mexico City. The cause of his death was never known.

In the spring, the journey on to Vernal was begun, by way of Rabbit Valley where some cattle were gathered which had been bargained for before leaving Lehi. One can imagine their feeling of joy and relief on the twentieth of August 1887, when they arrived at their destination. On modern highways and roads, it would be a trip of almost one thousand miles.

Reuben bought a farm that fall and, for many years, was in the horse business. Here on the seventeenth of September 1888, a son, George, was born, making their twelfth child—eight sons and four daughters. Nine of these children married and gave Reuben and Elthura a total of sixty-six grandchildren.

While living in Vernal, Reuben made several trips to Bear Lake and Cache Valley. During the winter of 1899, he drove to Gila Valley, Arizona, by team.

The government opened up the Uintah Indian Reservation for settlement in 1905. A year later, Reuven, his sons (R.S., Dell, and Clare), and son-in-law, Albert W. Nielsen, all filed on homesteads for the maximum of one hundred and sixty acres each. The law required that to “prove up” on the land and acquire a clear title from the government, the homesteader must make it a place of residence, cultivate and improve the property, to a specified dollar amount, for three years. This was accomplished by Reuben on his seventieth birthday.

In this area, between Myton and Roosevelt, known as Hartford Flats, the land was productive with irrigation, but it was a tremendous undertaking to dig miles of canals and ditches to bring the water from Lake Fork River. Until this could be done, water had to be hauled, in barrels, from the Duchesne, a distance of three or four miles, and had to be shared with the horses and pets. It was too precious to use for bathing, so the weekly ablutions were performed in the river.

The year of their Golden Anniversary, 1911, found Reuben and Elthura back in Smithfield, the scene of their marriage in 1861. Here their last home, number twenty-two, was built and enjoyed for a few years until the death of Elthura, the thirteenth of July 1915.

Too little has been said of this remarkable woman, Elthura Roseltha Merrill Collett. Hers was a valiant, pioneer spirit. Loyal and loving, she accompanied her husband on his many journeyings and made of twenty-two houses, that many homes. Over steep mountains, through verdant valleys, across sere deserts and swift rivers, she followed him in pursuit of his dream—all the while bearing and rearing a family of twelve, ten to maturity and nine to have families of their own. Each one was a credit to this upbringing and could indeed call their mother blessed. Three of them, R.S., Sylvester, and Charles, filled honorable missions for their Church, and all of them took an active part in religious and civic affairs.

After Elthura’s passing, daughter Julia [and family] moved into the home and cared for her father during his remaining years. Death came to Reuben Collett on the twenty-first of January 1920, in his eighty-first year. He had spent his life pioneering and building up a new country, making it possible for others to live. He was a man of sterling character, and his word was his bond, being known from Canada to Mexico.

Tribute to Reuben Collett – 1939

One hundred years ago on this old earth, A tiny boy was given birth;

A boy whose parents, wise yet gay,

To a strange land took him away.

So young he started on wandering far,

To fill the destiny of his star.

No path too hard to find, no task too hard to do,

He opened pioneering doors for others to pass through.

The great wide west knew well his face, And now it is his resting place.

Twelve children were born to his wife and him And happily, as his eyes grew dim,

He watched them grow and take their place And add distinction to the Collett race.

The homes he built numbered twenty-two, Made each a home as pioneers do.

Suffered a heart pang as he left each one,

But cheerfully went on until his task was done;

He lived in the mountains and by rivers deep, Planted many a crop for others to reap.

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