PRESTON, William Bowker

PRESTON, William Bowker

from History of Utah, Vol.4

by Orson F. Whitney
William Bowker Preston

The present incumbent of the office of Presiding Bishop in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is a native of Franklin County, , where he opened his eyes to the light of this world on the 24th of November, 1830. He is therefore almost as old as the Church in which he has played so prominent a part. His father was Christopher Preston, and his mother, before marriage, Martha Mitchell Claytor. William Bowker Preston was the third child in a family of seven.

The Bishop’s early ancestors were from Lancashire, England. It is supposed that the town of Preston, famous in Mormon history as the place where the first European converts were made, took its name from some member of his family. During the persecutions which marked the reign of the Catholic queen, “Bloody Mary,” the Prestons, who were stout Protestants, fled to , and during subsequent persecutions by the Catholics in the “Green Isle,” several members of the family emigrated to America, settling in the “Old Dominion.” Bishop Preston’s father was a cousin to William Ballard Preston of Virginia and W. C. Preston of North Carolina, both members of Congress from their respective states.

Christopher Preston was a well-to-do farmer, and naturally enough his son’s earliest recollections are associated with the harvest field. There he acquired much of that practical knowledge that fitted him for his future career as a pioneer, farmer, and colonizer. At the age of nineteen, he changed his avocation as a tiller of the soil for that of clerk in a store, first in the immediate vicinity of his home, and afterward at Lynchburg, forty-five miles from where he was born. He continued in that occupation until 1853, when, in his twenty-second year, he went forth to see and battle with the world.

He had often heard of the wonderful land of California—the golden magnet of the great West, and with the motive of the sight-seer rather than the placer-hunter, was drawn thither to behold that marvelous amalgamation of men of all characters and nations which the gold-seeking stream of emigration, pouring in by land and sea, was depositing in the lap of the new El Dorado. Caring little or nothing for the life of a gold-digger, and having gratified the original desire that impelled him westward, he settled down in Yolo County as a farmer and stock raiser. He had for his neighbors the Thatcher family, who were Latter-day Saints and had passed through Utah prior to settling on the Pacific coast. Through them, he became acquainted with the history and religion of the Mormon people, of whom till then he had scarcely heard.

William B. Preston was baptized into the Latter-day Church by Elder Henry G. Boyle in February 1857. Immediately he was called into the ministry by Apostle George Q. Cannon, then in charge of the Pacific Coast mission, and being ordained an Elder, traveled in Upper California and the region roundabout. He labored in that capacity until President , in the fall of 1857, called home the Elders and Saints outside of Utah, in consequence of the invasion of Johnston’s army.

The company in which Elder Preston traveled to Utah included Moses Thatcher, and Mrs. Elizabeth Hoagland Cannon, wife of George Q. Cannon, whose eldest son, John Q., was born in California, and was then an infant in arms. Henry G. Boyle was captain of the company, he being familiar with the route, as he had been a member of the . It being too late in the season to cross by the northern route, they traveled south from Sacramento, and by way of Los Angeles and San Bernardino, to southern Utah, thence north to Salt Lake City. Here they arrived on New Year’s day, 1858.

The acquaintance and friendship of the future Bishop with the Thatcher family had ripened into a fonder feeling between him and one of its members, and on the 24th of February, the second month after their arrival in this city, he married Miss Harriet A. Thatcher, a lady of estimable qualities, well adapted by nature, training and experience to be the wife of such a man. They were well mated, and have always been happy in each other’s companionship.

The organization of the “Minute Men” by President Brigham Young, to meet the exigencies of those stirring times, included William B. Preston, who with his wife was in the general move south, which occurred soon after their marriage. They proceeded as far as Payson. The same spring he went back to the Platte Bridge with twenty-two others to bring to Utah a lot of merchandise, which at the outbreak of the trouble between Utah and the general government, had been cached by the “Y. X. Company.” This expedition involved considerable risk, as the Echo Canyon episode was hardly over and the United States troops at Camp Scott (Fort Bridger) were still watching Mormon movements with suspicious eyes. After some narrow escapes, the mission of the trusty band was successfully accomplished, and they returned in safety to their homes.

Mr. Preston prepared to settle at Payson, and with this object in view, built a house there, making the adobes and shingles with his own hands. The following winter he went with others to California to purchase clothing and other merchandise for Father Thatcher’s store at Salt Lake City. After an eventful experience, both ways, he returned in the spring of 1859 with two wagon loads of merchant freight, of which the people here stood much in need.

He now reconsidered his intention of settling at Payson, and with Father Thatcher and his family resolved to move north and assist in colonizing Cache valley. This intention was carried into effect in August 1859, when William B. Preston, with his wife and two of his brothers-in-law, John B. and Aaron Thatcher, left Payson and journeyed to Cache valley, then a region of grass and sagebrush. “This is good enough for me,” said Preston laconically, as he halted and staked out his horses on the banks of Logan river, the others doing likewise. They camped and prepared to locate their homes on the site of the present city of Logan, which they helped to found.

They were busy erecting their houses when in November of that year and Ezra T. Benson, two of the Twelve Apostles, were sent by President Young to organize the Cache valley settlements (Wellsville and Logan), which had been located by the pioneer, Peter Maughan. “Who are you going to have for Bishop of Logan?” Apostle Hyde inquired of Bishop Maughan. The latter, pointing to Preston’s house, said,

“There’s a young man living in that house—a very enterprising, go-ahead man— who I think will make a good bishop. He and the Thatcher boys have done the most in the way of building and improving since they came here. They have worked day and night.”

The Apostle seemed satisfied with this plain-spoken to recommend, and accordingly, on November 14, 1859, William B. Preston was ordained a High Priest and set apart as Bishop of Logan, under the hands of Orson Hyde, Ezra T. Benson, and Peter Maughan. The population of the place then comprised seventeen families.

The next enterprise in which the young Bishop took a leading and active part was the construction of the Logan and Hyde Park canal. The successful accomplishment of that work, with the beneficent results that have followed, is due in no small degree to the native energy and ability of William B. Preston. Early in 1860, while two feet of snow yet “lingered in the lap of spring,” he assisted Surveyor Jesse W. Fox in laying off the city of Logan, and during that year spent much of his time in receiving and assisting to settle newcomers, who now began to migrate thither in large numbers. In 1860-61, under a new apportionment of representation, by which Cache county was given two representatives and one councilor, Mr. Preston was elected a representative and spent the winter of 1862-3 in the Territorial legislature. The two following winters wore passed in like manner. Meantime, in 1863 and 1864, he made two trips to the Missouri river with ox teams to emigrate the poor.

At the General Conference of the Church in April 1865, he was called with forty-six others on a mission to Europe and was given charge of the company as far as New York. In those days of ox teams and stagecoaches such a trust meant far more than it could possibly mean at the present time. He left Salt Lake City on the 20th of May, and arriving at New York, decided to visit, before sailing, his parents in Virginia, whom he had not seen for thirteen years, and of whom he had heard nothing during the civil war. He found them broken up and ruined in property, as a result of the great conflict, of which Virginia was the chief battleground; but he enjoyed a very pleasant visit with them nevertheless. After a brief stay among his relatives, he returned to New York and sailed for Liverpool, arriving at that port on the 23rd of August.

He was assigned to the Newcastle and Durham conference as its president and labored there until January 1860 when he was called by the presidency of the mission to take charge of the business department of the Liverpool office. There he worked for three years, during which, in August, 18G7, he visited the Paris Exposition. Released from his mission, he sailed for home on July 14, 1868, in charge of a company of six hundred and fifty emigrating Saints, and reached Salt Lake City early in the following September.

The advent of the railroad, which was then being pushed to completion, opened to him a new field in which to operate, and in the winter of 1868-9 we find him in Echo canyon, a sub-contractor under President Brigham Young, engaged in constructing the Union Pacific railroad. Returning to Logan, he resumed his duties as bishop, and at the next general election was again chosen to represent Cache County in the legislature. After the death of Peter Maughan, the presiding bishop of Cache stake, in April 1871, William B. Preston was chosen to succeed him in that capacity.

In August of the same year the Utah Northern railroad was projected. Bishop Preston was one of the leading spirits of the enterprise, and under President Young probably did more than anyone else to unite the people of Cache Valley in the execution of the project. A construction company was organized, with John W. Young as president and William B. Preston as vice-president and assistant superintendent. The road was completed to Franklin, Idaho, in May 1874. Bishop Preston remained its vice-president until the property passed into the possession of the Union Pacific company.

When, in May 1877, the Cache Stake was reorganized by President Young, William B. Preston was appointed first counselor to President Moses Thatcher, Milton S. Hammond being the second counselor. President Young died in the following August. Mr. Preston held this position until Moses Thatcher was called into the , April 1879, when he succeeded him as president of Cache Stake.

The death of Edward Hunter, Presiding Bishop of the Church, October 16, 1883, left that office vacant until the following spring, when in General Conference, April 6, 1884, William B. Preston was called to the high and responsible position that he now occupies. He is a man well fitted for his duties and responsibilities. Thoroughly practical in his views and methods, he combines the intelligence of the progressive businessman, with the energy and ability to put his ideas into execution. A man more of deeds than of -words, though not lacking in either when the occasion arises, he has made his presence and influence vividly felt in the sacred and important calling whose duties he so ably discharges.

Not the least among the Bishop’s claims to popularity—for popular he is, not only with his own people, hut with non-Mormons as well—is the humorous phase of his nature. Though devoted to his religion, and faithful in its observances, he is anything but sanctimonious. He is quick to see the funny side of things, loves a good joke, laughs heartily, and is fond of humorous stories and illustrations, which often find their way into his conversations and public discourses.

He has been twice married, his second wife being now dead, and he is the father of nine children, six of whom are living. The children of his first wife, Harriet Thatcher, are as follows: Alfred (dead); William Jr., of Logan: Mrs. Alley Martineau, of Logan: Mrs. May Moyle, of Salt Lake City. By his second wife, Bertha Anderson, he has five children, Lee, Stephen (dead), Nephi (dead), Samuel and Mary.

Most of the Bishop’s property is in Cache Valley, though he has various holdings and interests in other parts. In addition to a thriving agricultural and stock farm near Logan, he is the owner of another near Bedford, Wyoming. He is a stockholder in Z.C.M.I. and in the . Of the latter, since its inception in May, 1890, he has been a director and the vice-president; he is also chairman of its executive committee. He succeeded A. O. Smoot as president of the , in which he was previously a director. He presides over the Nevada Land and Live Stock Company, and over the Industrial Bureau, organized at Salt Lake City in 1898, for the purpose of furnishing the unemployed with remunerative labor and giving information to newcomers in quest of homes. For many years he has been a member of the board of trustees of the Brigham Young College and is chairman of its executive committee.

The immediate responsibility for the construction of the rested upon the shoulders of the Presiding Bishopric, who collected and handled the means and materials used in the work and paid the laborers employed there. Bishop Preston was one of those who, in the interests of economy, advised and urged an increase in the working force, so as to push the edifice to completion in April 1893, that it might he dedicated on the fortieth anniversary of the laying of the cornerstones. His advice was acted upon, and his second counselor, Bishop John R. Winder, was given special charge of the work of completion, which was crowned hy the dedication of the building at the appointed time. In the midst of his many labors, Bishop Preston found time to act as a member of the Constitutional Convention of 1895, to which he was duly elected, and which framed the constitution upon which Utah, in January, 1896, was admitted into the Union as a State.

With the advent into power of President Lorenzo Snow, and the consequent awakening of the Latter-day Saints to a fuller realization of their duties relative to the law of tithing, the labors and responsibilities of the Presiding Bishopric were materially increased, and the same may be said with reference to the succeeding administration of President Joseph P. Smith.

Many changes have been made in the mode of collecting, caring for, and disbursing tithing funds and properties, and new instructions covering all these points in detail have had to be issued to presidents of stakes, bishops of wards and stake tithing clerks throughout the Church. Under the Trustee-in-Trust, the weight of this heavy responsibility has rested upon Bishop Preston and his counselors. In addition to his regular duties as bishop, with others entailed by the various offices he holds, he had the superintendency of the new Deseret News building, which, as it stands completed, is recognized as the finest and most imposing business block in Salt Lake City. Bishop Preston’s counselors, up to October 1901, were Robert T. Burton and John R. Winder, but at that time Bishop Winder was called into the First Presidency, and Orrin P. Miller was chosen second counselor to the Presiding Bishop of the Church.

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