At the time of John Doyle Lee's birth Kaskaskia, Illinois was the capital city of the Territory of Illinois, the most important town on the Mississippi River and the center of activity for a large area. It was settled in 1803 when a French Jesuit priest gathered a small Indian tribe on the site. It was captured by the English during the Indian Wars of 1763. In 1778 it was taken from the English in a stroke of military genius by the American general, George Rogers Clark. One member of that intrepid little army of Americans was John Doyle, the maternal grandfather of John D. Lee.
Early records of Randolph County, Illinois showed that John Doyle was among the first to claim land in that area by reason of his service in the army. His four-hundred-acre allotment lay on the bluffs opposite the village and below the point where the Kaskaskia River emptied into the Mississippi.
(The following material was researched by Carmen Smith and Renee Durfee) John Doyle was married to Chloe Smith who was the daughter of Henry Smith and Mary Burks. Mary Burks was the daughter of Samuel Burks and Elizabeth. Samuel was the son of Samuel Burks and Mary Davis. Mary Davis was the daughter of Nathaniel Davis and Elizabeth Hughs. Elizabeth was the daughter of Nicketti and an indian trader by the last name of Hughs. Nicketti was the daughter of a Cayuga Chieftain. Her mother was Cleopatra or Cleopatre. Cleopatra's mother was first the wife of indian chieftain Powhatan, and then when he died, she married his brother, Opechancanough, who became chief in his place. She was also the mother of Pocahontas. Cleopatra then, was either a half sister or possibly a full sister to Pocahontas.
John Doyle and his wife Chloe had two daughters. Their grandfather Henry Smith named these two girls as his only heirs in a will, and it is believed that these two girls, Elizabeth and Charlotte Doyle, were the only children of their father, John Doyle.
Elizabeth Doyle, the older, married first Oliver Reed, by whom she had a daughter, Elizabeth Reed, who was usually called Eliza Virginia, and a son, William Oliver Reed, who died early. In 1802 her husband Oliver was brutally murdered by a man named Jones, who was tried and hanged for his crime. Oliver Reed's widow Elizabeth then returned to live nine years in the home of her father, where she remained until her marriage to Ralph Lee on February 26, 1811.
John Doyle Lee was born eighteen months after Elizabeth Reed's marriage to Ralph Lee. Writing of his mother later, Lee said she was always in poor health and an invalid for more than a year before her death. He also said that his father, at first ambitious and thrifty, began drinking later until he became a confirmed alcoholic. The court record of Randolph County showed that Ralph Lee and his wife, Elizabeth Doyle, in May 1815, executed a deed of trust to George Fisher of all property to be held in trust for the children, Elizabeth Reed and John Lee. That gave some proof of John D. Lee's statement, for his mother died in November 1815 within a half year after the deed was executed. Some months later, his father, Ralph Lee, left and was never heard of again in that area.
After the death of the mother, her daughter, Eliza Reed, then about fourteen years old, went to live with the family of her guardian, George Fisher. Little three-year-old John Doyle Lee was taken to the home of his aged grandfather where he was placed in the care of a colored nurse who spoke only French. His grandfather spoke Indian as well as French and English and had often been employed as an interpreter. He had also been a school teacher and was known generally as a man of honor. But he was an older man whose health failed until he died on October 20, 1819. Charlotte Doyle's husband, James Conner, was named administrator of the Doyle estate.
John D., a seven-year-old orphan, was then sent to live with his Aunt Charlotte Conner's family. Years later he wrote with bitterness of the treatment he received in the Conner home and of the difficulty of adjusting to a new language and a family of children. His aunt was a quick-tempered, sharp-tongued woman who did not spare the rod on her own children nor on the extra little boy in the home.
By the time he was sixteen John D. Lee was so thoroughly sick of life there that he left the Conner home to make his own way. He first secured a job carrying the mail on horseback through a long stretch of sparsely settled country. Later he worked on a river boat on the Mississippi. Still later he was employed at a warehouse and store in the northern mining town of Galena. During those years, he built a reputation for industry and trustworthiness.
He left Galena and returned briefly to the home of his Uncle James Conner, then went to visit his half-sister, Eliza, who was married and living near Vandalia. There he met the Woolsey family and soon fell in love with the oldest daughter, Aggatha Ann. They were married on July 24, 1833 and set up their home nearby. Their first child, William Oliver, died before he was two years old. Their second child, Elizabeth Adaline, also died young, soon after the third child, Sarah Jane, was born.
A short time before the death of his second child, Lee had sheltered some Mormon elders and had listened to their message but was not impressed. When his neighbor, Levi Stewart, brought him a copy of the Book of Mormon and told him of a personal meeting with the youthful prophet, Joseph Smith, Lee decided to read the book, finishing it on the night he sat up with the corpse of his little Elizabeth Adaline. As he neared the end and read the words of Moroni in Chapter 10, Verse 4, he received such an impressive manifestation that he knew without a doubt from that moment that he had found the true church. Throughout his life that conviction stayed to strengthen him. Having received a testimony, he then felt that he must gather with the body of the Saints.
Traveling with Levi Stewart and others, the Lee family made their way west across the Mississippi River to central Missouri in the vicinity of the newly-formed city of Far West. They took up land on the prairie and called their settlement Ambrosia. It was at that place that John D. Lee and his wife Aggatha Ann were baptized on June 17, 1838.
With a history of repeated persecutions in Ohio and elsewhere, the Saints were already being threatened again by Missourians near Far West. They had been driven from Jackson County earlier, and being the majority in that new area, they resolved to try to protect themselves and their property. John D., being young and full of vitality, quickly joined in the defense of his people and became a member of the Mormon military organization. During that summer a condition of civil war prevailed in which one excess called forth another until an attack on the town of Far West was threatened. John D. Lee was one who was read to fight to the death in its defense but when word came of the massacre at Haun's Mill, Joseph Smith, the Mormon leader, decided to surrender himself in order to avert another bloody tragedy.
The Church leaders were taken to prison and all the Far West citizens were forced to give up their land, homes, and all their property except their teams and wagons, after signing affidavits to the effect that they would soon leave the state. Thus, six months after he was baptized, John D. Lee and his family were on their way back to safety at Vandalia, Illinois. But his faith in the Church was only made stronger by that persecution; he felt that he must go out as an active missionary for the cause.
His pattern for the next five years was to spend about half his time traveling as a missionary and half at home providing for his family. As a preacher he had remarkable success. Working chiefly among the well-to-do class, he never lacked for friends and protectors. Altogether he converted and baptized more than a hundred persons, most of whom joined in the building up of Nauvoo and later made their way west as pioneers.
On his first mission he traveled with Levi Stewart into Tennessee where they separated, Stewart to work among his own kinfolk and Lee to proselyte among strangers. Upon their return to their families they joined in the move to Nauvoo where both acquired lots and built homes. Their ways parted again, though all their lives they would remain friends.
When Lee arrived in Nauvoo, Illinois in the fall of 1843 he decided that he would spend his time working in that city. He received several appointments of importance, one of them being chosen as a member of the group of forty special police officers selected in December of that year. He was also appointed secretary of the Seventies' Quorum and was asked to supervise the building of a hall for their meetings.
In the meantime the doctrine of plurality of wives was being taught and practiced in Nauvoo. His position as police guard over the Prophet Joseph as well as Brigham Young made it possible for Lee to be taught that principle also. Joseph Smith took his first plural wife, Louisa Beaman, on April 5, 1841; Brigham Young took his, Lucy Decker, on June 15, 1842. John D. Lee, who was working closely with both men, wrote: "Nancy Bean became a member of my family February 4, 1844. On April 19, Louisa Free, Caroline Williams, Abigail Woolsey and Rachel Woolsey."
About that time the Prophet Joseph Smith decided to run for the office of president of the United States, and with that in mind he sent out many missionaries. John D. Lee was one of a large group who left Nauvoo on May 28, 1844 for that purpose. A month later when word came that Joseph had been killed by a mob at Carthage Jail, Lee could not believe it. Surely, he argued, God would not permit such a thing to happen to his chosen servant. Only after fasting and prayer and a special manifestation could he accept the reality of the prophet's death. Broken in spirit and sick at heart, he started back to Nauvoo. He arrived after the incident wherein the people of the Church voted to sustain Brigham Young as their leader.
Then John D. Lee became even more vitally involved in the activities of the Church. Brigham Young appointed him as his private secretary to keep his records and write his letters, in addition to the responsibility of completing the Seventies' Hall and keeping their books. Lee was such a good manager that he not only finished the hall for the Seventies but soon had erected a fine home for himself in Nauvoo. By that time troubles with their neighbors had become so acutely threatening that the Mormon leaders had agreed that the Saints would leave the state of Illinois as soon as "grass grows and water runs." Late in January of 1846, it became evident that some must cross the river very soon to make preparations for the general migration. Charles Shumway was first to go over into Iowa on February fourth. Eight days later, John D. Lee crossed with one wagon, two horses and one cow, and with provisions to sustain the family for two months or more. With him were two wives: Polly Workman, his youngest wife, and Nancy Bean, with a six-week-old baby girl in her arms.
President Young and a part of his family joined the group on February fifteenth. Severe winter storms set in, bringing snow, hail, wind, and bitter cold to the area so that the people traveling in wagons across the open prairie suffered greatly from exposure. On March fourth, Lee brought the remainder of his family across into Iowa. That time he had four wagons and a number of cattle. The Lee group included Aggatha Ann and her four children; her mother, Abigail; her sister, Rachel; and two other young wives, Martha Berry and Louisa Free with her small son, John Brigham. Driving the teams were one of Polly Workman's brothers and Hyrum Woolsey, as well as Horace Rowan, a recent convert, with his wife.
For the next six months the Lee family shared the extreme hardships of the exiles on the prairie, inching westward as the weather permitted, arriving in late August at Winter Quarters. During that time Lee kept a journal of the activities of the leaders and the decisions that were made. His own family was mentioned rarely; in fact, it is not known definitely as to the makeup of his family during that period and the following year. In addition to the seven wives named, there were at least two, Delethia Morris, who left him to marry a trader while he was gone on one of his numerous trips, and Sarah Caroline Williams who lived most of the time with her aunt, Marcia Allen.
Besides keeping minutes and records and writing numerous letters, Lee was sent on several missions of vital importance. The first one was early in 1846, when he was given the entire sum of money accumulated by the Saints and directed to go to St. Francisville, Missouri, to buy wagon covers and material for the general Church migration. In late August of that year, he was sent across the continent to Santa Fe, New Mexico to collect what he could of the wages of the Mormon Battalion to help with the general maintenance of their suffering families. After the trip which had lasted nearly three months, he reported back and turned over the money on November twentieth, but he remained in Winter Quarters with his family just one month when he was sent on another trading and buying expedition. The bishops of the twenty-two wards had reported that the foodstuffs of the camp were almost depleted; their only chance for survival seemed to be to send to the Missouri settlements for food. Lee was responsible for two large wagons, each pulled by four mules. Traveling three weeks through bitter weather, he brought back his two wagonloads of food. In addition he sent back by a Gentile trader a load of provisions consisting of salt, dried fruit, molasses, honey, tallow, dry beans and twelve hundred pounds of pork. One month after his return, in February 1847, he organized and sent out three more teams under the direction of John Laub. All those foods must have been gratefully received in the burgeoning Iowa settlement where hunger stalked in nearly every family.
Now all the talk was of moving on to the mountains but it was clear that only a picked company could make the trip that first season. Others had to remain and cultivate the land or work for supplies to feed the thousands through the second winter. Each man also had to create a surplus to provide for his family during the trek. Lee had an intense desire to be one of the band of first pioneers but President Young told him that he was needed more to stay and help raise corn. Accordingly he and twenty-seven others moved out of Winter Quarters about eighteen miles to a location they called Summer Quarters. During the summer of 1847 they raised more than four thousand bushels of corn to aid in the migration the following year.
In the meantime his family affairs had become more complex. He recorded his marriage to Emoline Woolsey, younger sister of Aggatha and Rachel, on December 21, 1846. Then on February twenty-seventh following, he took three additional wives in one ceremony: Nancy Gibbons Armstrong and two sisters, Polly and Lavina Young. All were girls whom he had converted while serving as a missionary.
The strains and privations of frontier life, his long absences on trips for the Church, and the natural jealousy common to women resulted in considerable disharmony in his household. One wife, Delethia Morris, left him and married another man. Emoline Woolsey became insubordinate, giving aid to one of Lee's enemies, so she was separated from his family. Polly Workman, who was prone to stir up strife, was sent to live with her brother. Nancy Armstrong fell victim to the plague and died at Summer Quarters in August 1847. Nancy Bean and Louisa Free, each of whom had borne a child by him, left him and crossed the plains with their parents. Though she had been sealed to him early, Sarah Caroline Williams remained with her Aunt Marcia Allen and did not join the Lee family again until 1850.
Thus it was that when John D. Lee set out on his trip across the plains with the 1848 company, he took with him Aggatha Ann with her children; her mother, Abigail; and her sister, Rachel, both of whom were sealed to Lee, and three other plural wives, Martha Berry, Polly Young and Lavina Young.
The three-and-a-half-month journey began on June first and lasted until September 23, 1848. It was plagued by the difficulties which attended overloaded wagons pulled by underfed teams traveling on uneven terrain. There was some sickness and one death. Abigail Woolsey was taken violently ill on September first, and two days later, she was buried by the roadside. Abigail was an older Woolsey mother who had joined his family for support and protection, never having been a wife in fact.
Upon their September arrival in the valley so late in the season, two major problems presented themselves. They had to quickly provide shelter before the winter storms began and find a way to feed the livestock. Before the first snow in November, Lee had finished a cabin and had taken the cattle to the banks of the Big Cottonwood Creek where he found some natural pasture and took up land.
For the next two years, everyone worked diligently to clear and fence land, raise crops, build homes, and accumulate some few comforts. Lee himself was a member of the Council of Fifty which directed the general policies and could be compared to a president's cabinet. He attended meetings regularly and carried out many assignments in the public interest. In December, to his surprise, he was called to be one of the company sent to colonize the Iron Mission at Parowan, in the extreme southern part of the state. That call was a severe test of his faith and loyalty, because he was just beginning to prosper in the Salt Lake Valley. At last he had been ready to reap some of the fruits of his two years of hard labor there, and now he was asked to leave it and start all over again.
Since the journey was to be in mid-winter, he left most of his wives and all his children at home, taking with him only the two sisters, Polly and Lavina Young, each of whom would bear a child in about three months.
Although that journey was less than three hundred miles, we could guess at the difficulties for they were five weeks on the road. During that time the group suffered miserably from cold and exposure and the animals were in peril from lack of food. The arrival at the site of the new settlement did not immediately improve the situation, for spring was late that year.
Within a few weeks Lee had a cabin built and some land cleared; however, the late snows made it impossible to plant crops and the cold froze all the seed potatoes. But spring finally came. Grain and gardens were planted, and the new fort town hummed with activity. In the Lee home Lavina gave birth to a son, John David, on March 19, 1851. On April 24, 1851, Polly had a daughter whom they named Elizabeth.
On June fourth John D. returned to the Salt Lake City area to attend to his affairs there. All summer he cared for his farm while disposing of his property and preparing to move the remainder of his large family to southern Utah. At the October conference his name was read from the pulpit as being in charge of the colony on the Virgin River. As soon as possible, the Lee family were on their way, arriving back at the fort at Parowan in early November "without the loss of a single animal."
The next season the Lees and a few other families moved south to Ash Creek and built a small enclosure of houses. In early 1854 they pushed on still farther to a large plain east of the present town of Harmony where they established Fort Harmony. President Brigham Young and a number of other church leaders were present in May 1854 and helped to select the site and lay out the new fort.
By 1857 Fort Harmony was the center of a community of thirty-two heads of families, some living outside the fort at the present site of the town of Harmony. Other families from the north had settled at the new communities of Santa Clara, Washington, Pine Valley, and Pinto. A mission had been established and abandoned at Las Vegas and there was a colony at San Bernardino. The Reformation within the Church had been started the year before. This required all members to be questioned and exhorted to better living. Many were rebaptized, and all were reminded to renew the covenants they had made in earlier days in Nauvoo. The fragmentary diary of Rachel Lee gave much detail of that activity.
By that time, matters in Salt Lake City had reached a climax in relation to the public officials appointed and sent from Washington, D.C. One U.S. government official after another had returned back east to report that the Mormons were in "a state of rebellion and that the Saints acknowledged no authority except that of Brigham Young." For political reasons, President Buchanan authorized sending an army to Utah to put down the supposed "rebellion." Word of his decision reached Salt Lake City on July 24, 1857 as the Saints were celebrating the tenth anniversary of their entrance into the valley. At once President Young and the other leaders decided upon a policy of resistance and thus activated their military organization. Word of the action reached the southern settlements on August fourth. Immediately there was a call to arms, much drilling of militia, and repeated rehearsals of the persecutions of the past in Illinois and Missouri.
About that time a company called the Fancher train, en route to California, arrived in Utah. Among that group were some ten hired drovers who claimed to be from Missouri who said they had participated in the persecutions at Nauvoo, even some who claimed to have been present when the Prophet Joseph was martyred. As the Fancher train moved through the state along the Old Spanish Trail they met with opposition at every town. People refused to sell them grain or other foodstuffs, having been counseled to store all supplies against the need which could arise during a long war. By the time the company reached Cedar City, a band of three hundred angry Indians, infuriated over the Fancher train's alleged poisoning of water holes, was following them. John D. Lee, who had been appointed Indian agent some time before, was called in to cope with the vengeful horde. In a tragic combination of circumstances, the entire train of one hundred twenty emigrants, with the exception of eighteen young children, was massacred at Mountain Meadows in southwestern Utah.
That disaster marked the climax of the "Mormon War," the end of the policy of resistance, and the beginning of the move south from Salt Lake Valley. For Lee, it marked a change in the whole course of his life. There were at least fifty other white men on the ground as participants, and Lee was not the commanding officer of the militia. As the appointed Indian agent, he was in charge of Indian affairs in the south. The decision to call the tragedy "an Indian massacre" brought Lee's name into the later reports. As the years passed, the general public attitude grew that he was chiefly to blame for the crime. Later, most people in southern Utah believed that he alone was responsible for the horrible tragedy, along with some Indians.
The massacre had occurred on September 11, 1857. Immediately afterward on September twentieth, Lee started for Salt Lake City, going directly to his adopted father, Brigham Young, with a report of the affair. That also helped to identify him with the incident, and the fact that President Young ordered him then to be in charge of the cattle and outfits that had belonged to the Fancher train helped to direct the finger of blame upon him in the south. Still, for the following seventeen years, Lee regularly went in to headquarters at Salt Lake City and took his place in the Council of Fifty which was still the governing body of the Church. He entertained President Young and most of the visiting authorities in his home in the south and traveled as a member of the parties through the southern settlements.
With the outbreak of the Civil War in the east, the Church authorities decided to establish a cotton mission in the extreme southern part of the state. Since 1856, there had been experiments in cotton culture at Santa Clara, at the town of Washington, and at various Church farms along the Virgin River. In the fall of 1861 about three hundred families were called to settle St. George; their assignment was to provide the Church with cotton. At that time Polly and Lavina were living at Washington, where Lee later built an impressive rock mansion. At Harmony he was preparing to leave the Fort and move to a site about three miles above the town near the base of the mountain, where he had some smaller houses under construction.
The winter of 1861 became known in southern Utah as "the Year of the Floods." Actually it was a year of floods throughout the west since the Nevada and California settlements all had records of the devastation caused by severe flooding. At Santa Clara the rock fort was washed away along with the fiber mill and the molasses mill on the upper Virgin. Philip Klingensmith's holdings were completely wiped out with the loss of home, barns, cattle, and farm land. At Harmony, Lee tried to move his families from the adobe fort which was beginning to disintegrate in the steady downpour. The roof had been blown from one section, but his new homes at the base of the mountain were not ready to occupy and the challenge of moving his household in hub-deep mud was slow and heartbreaking. The final tragedy came when a part of the fort wall blew down and killed two of his young children as they lay in bed on the evening of February 6, 1862. They were little George A. and Margaret Ann, children of Sarah Caroline.
Four years later in June 1866 Aggatha Ann died at Harmony after a lingering illness during which she asked her sister Rachel to take charge of Aggatha's young children. Her loss was felt by all, since as the first wife, she had much to do with directing family policies. By that time the family was prospering financially. Lee had holdings at Toquerville and Parowan; his farm at Harmony was large and productive, as were his orchards and vineyards at the settlement of Washington.
His family had also grown in numbers. Although Martha Berry had left him in 1858, taking her younger children, Lee had married other wives after his move south. Those included Mary Leah Groves (1851), Mary Ann Williams (1858), Emma Batchelor (1858), Terressa Morse (1859), and Ann Gordge, sometime before 1866. Of those, Mary Ann Williams left him to marry his oldest son, John Alma; Terressa Morse was a middle-aged woman who had earlier refused to go back with her husband, Solomon Chamberlain; and Ann Gordge was an emigrant girl from Australia whose first child was born March 14, 1867. She later left him also, taking her young baby with her and leaving a little girl and a little boy with the family. Emma Batchelor remained faithful, standing by him until his death.
By this time Lee was beginning to feel more and more the weight of public disapproval. New settlers in the area had come to look upon him as the one wholly responsible for the tragedy at Mountain Meadows. Though President Young continued to stay at the Lee home and to give him some public recognition, the whole family all began to suffer painfully from the stigma of his name.
In September 1870 Lee accompanied Brigham Young and a group of explorers to the Colorado River via Kanab. In fact, Lee was the man selected to ride ahead to mark the road, cut down high banks, and select camping places for the night. They laid out the town of Kanab where Levi Stewart was called as the bishop. When President Young advised Stewart to set up a portable sawmill in the area to get lumber out for the settlement, Stewart replied that he would be glad to do so provided that John D. Lee should be called to run the mill. President Young then suggested that Lee buy a half interest in the mill, sell all his property at Harmony, and move out to the new settlement called Skutumpah, the Indian name for Kanab.
That was another great sacrifice, for the prospective home was in the midst of a wide, desolate area. Lee, however, did not question the assignment but proceeded to get the mill, set it up, and begin operations. That was in mid-September. When Lee needed to make a trip back to the settlements in November, at Pipe Springs he met a messenger with a packet of mail. One of the letters was a notification that he had been excommunicated from the Church but the cause was not named. The action had been taken on October 8, 1870 soon after Brigham Young's return to Salt Lake City from Kanab.
Nothing could have been harder to take than that. Lee had been whole-heartedly loyal for so many years that he loved the Church better than life itself. Nothing could have been more eloquent of his feelings at that time than the entry he made in his diary, dated November 22, 1870:
"My love for the Truth is above all other things & is first with me, & I believe that President Young has suffered this to take place for a wise purpose & not for any Malicious intent. My prayer is, May God bless him with light & with the intelligence of Heaven to comprehend the things of God & discriminate between truth and error..."
His excommunication was evidently made public by announcement at the stake conference held in St. George the following spring although there is no mention of it in the conference minutes. That seems unusual because other men's names were recorded as being excommunicated at the time. The Assistant LDS Church Historian, A. Will Lund, said also that no record has been found in the minutes of the meeting of October 8, when the action was supposedly taken.
With that formal declaration of excommunication against him, Lee was then a publicly accused man. He went immediately to St. George where he had a conference with President Young in which he asked for and was granted a date for a hearing regarding his excommunication. December 20, 1870 was the chosen day. However, prudence counseled against dragging the complex and potentially damaging situation out for public examination. Lee was advised to make himself scarce, move to the Colorado River, and set up a ferry in a remote spot where he would be relatively safe from the law. He at once began preparations.
The move out to that area during the winter of 1870-71 was attended by hardship and heavy hearts. His wife, Terressa, moved north to make her home with a married son by her previous marriage. Ann Gordge took her baby and went north to seek employment; Lavina and Polly had homes at Skutumpah; Caroline stayed at Panguitch; Rachel set up at Jacob's Pools; and Emma moved to the ferry at Lonely Dell. Lee spent his time among his families as he could, even visiting the settlements occasionally. But life there at the ferry was one continual struggle with the elements. In a land where there was little of either plant or animal life, it was extremely difficult for a family to survive. Hardest of all were the long, empty times when for months they would see no other human being. That isolation was in painful contrast to active socialization the family had enjoyed in earlier years, sometimes seating twenty or more visitors at meals.
In 1872 the administration of the Church decided to push hard to colonize Arizona and asked Lee to operate a ferry across the Colorado. They offered substantial help in that major project, sending out "Uncle Tommy" Smith to superintend the boat building. He brought building materials and his son to assist. With Lee's cooperation, the ferry boat was completed and dedicated on January 11, 1873. By the first of February an exploring party reached the river. From that time until June sixteenth, many pioneers crossed on the ferry, both going to and returning from Arizona. That was a dry year, so many of the water holes on the Arizona side of the Colorado River were dry and most of the people sent to establish colonies were forced to return because of drought. On June 16, 1873 a great storm blew a tree into the large ferry boat which broke the boat loose, and the river carried it away. At that point, there could be no more crossing of emigrant trains into Arizona until another boat was built.
Within a few days of the loss of the big ferry boat, Lee was warned that law officers were on their way to take him into custody and that he should cross the river into Indian territory in Arizona. That he did and remained nine months, working alone, planting and harvesting crops.
It was during that period that Lee became desperately ill and unable to take care of his basic needs for a time. A most wondrous event occurred then. As described in verse in his diary, he asked a little bird to fly swiftly to his home miles away and tell his wife to come to his aid. Rachel, in her little house near the ferry, noticed a small bird behaving in a most peculiar manner, excited and apparently trying to attract her attention. After observing the bird for a time, Rachel decided that this was a message that her husband needed her. Packing food and medicine on her horse, she left without delay to ride to her husband. That is one of the priceless traditions of the Lee family.
While he was away in Arizona, his wife Emma had given birth to a baby at Lonely Dell, attended only by her twelve-year-old son. Lee received a letter from the office of Brigham Young dated January 28, 1874 assuring him that "if you will see that this Ferry is kept up, you are welcome to the use of the boat. You should charge a suitable price for your labor. When we come along with our company, we shall expect to pay you liberally for your services..." That was the real reason for Lee's return to the ferry. The whole tenor of the message was so favorable that Lee was overjoyed. Referring to Young, he wrote in his diary: "It was only another evidence of the high minded Philanthropy that ever characterized the Nobleness of his Character."
Lee went back to Lonely Dell, and as soon as he could arrange it, started back to the southern Utah settlements. En route he visited his families at Skutumpah where his two wives, Polly and Lavina, lived. Together with Emma, his son, John David, and a friend, Tom Clark, he started for St. George. At Pipe Springs he met the outfit taking out materials to build the new boat. He left Emma and the wagon at Washington and rode over to St. George on horseback, arriving at Brigham Young's home on Sunday evening, April 5, 1874. There he was greeted cordially, was invited to stay for supper, introduced to the family, and was given the full evening for visiting and discussion.
During the next three days he traveled with the President's group from the north, taking leave of them at Kanarraville on April eighth, where he recorded that: "President Young implicitly enjoined it upon me to see after the Ferry & not let the boat get away & not let it get into the hands of our Enemies, not to hire Gentiles to tend it..."
Six months later, on November 7, 1874 Lee was apprehended at Panguitch by United States Marshal William Stokes and brought in to Fort Cameron at Beaver for trial for his part in the Mountain Meadow massacre. The trial dragged on, with no witnesses in good standing in the Church appearing, the defense taking the position that Lee personally was not responsible for what happened as he was but one of a group and not the one in command. At the close of the trial, the jury was divided, half for acquittal, and half for the death penalty. A new trial would be necessary.
On August 9, 1875 he was moved under heavy guard from the Beaver jail to the Utah State Penitentiary. There he was confined for nine months during which time he kept a daily record of what went on. It is a most remarkable document, not only from Lee's personal experiences, but for what it shows of the treatment of criminals in the state during that era. He was able to purchase a limited freedom because he inspired the confidence of the officials. He was helpful and cooperative, and he paid $5.00 a month to the warden. Thus he was allowed to help pick fruit and can it in the fall, to milk the cow, feed the horse, and shovel snow during the winter. Best of all, he was allowed to teach a school among the young men in the jail. He made a table and benches for their use, set copy for them to write, listened to them read, and generally encouraged them to a better life. His wife, Rachel, was allowed to join him in the penitentiary, paying for her way and part of his limited freedom by cooking and washing for the prisoners. Through all this, he maintained a great hope for a retrial in which he felt certain that he would secure his freedom.
Lee was finally released on bail of $15,000 on May 11, 1876. During the next three months, he visited all his families, tried to get his affairs in order, and reconciled himself to the thought that it could well be the end for him. Though his bondsman, William H. Hooper, had indicated that he would be pleased if Lee escaped, and his sons at the ferry urged him to cross the Colorado and flee to Mexico, he took the position that he would rather "die like a man than live like a dog." Always he insisted that he would prefer death to dishonor, and he had given his word to be at Beaver on September eleventh.
The second trial moved with dispatch. Other participants in the massacre took the stand as witnesses, and men in good standing in the Church testified as to what they had heard. The lawyers were careful to ask only questions concerning Lee without incriminating anyone else. Under those conditions, memories were sharpened and answers were prompt so far as the conduct of Lee was concerned. If a witness forgot all else that had happened, his testimony was not discounted. In just a week the all-Mormon jury was unanimous for conviction, some admitting later that they had salved their consciences by the thought that "it was better that one man should perish than that a whole nation should dwindle in unbelief."
Between the time of his conviction and his execution, a petition was circulated in his behalf. It was signed by more than eight hundred citizens of the Beaver and Panguitch areas. Lee was given the alternative: "Life and freedom, if he would tell all that he knew of what went on that fateful day, or death before a firing squad if he would not." The political enemies of Brigham Young had pressured Lee throughout all the years of his imprisonment to testify that his prophet had ordered the massacre. He chose the firing squad. He said, "There's no man I hate worse than a traitor. Especially I could not betray an innocent man."
Transporting him all the way to the Mountain Meadows for his execution was probably another attempt to arrange the stage props for the final tragedy, a last effort to break his will. During his last statement he remained calm; he spoke clearly; he asked only that his executioners center his heart and not mutilate his body. Five simultaneous shots rang out. He fell back into the coffin upon which he sat and died without a struggle. He was buried in the cemetery at Panguitch where a simple shaft marked his grave.
Today his published diaries have brought him before the world in his true light as a man of great ability and integrity, and above all, a man of deep and true loyalty to his Church. Perhaps others of his records may be found in future years to shed light upon the tragic period which is still clouded, but it is likely that, if found, those will only increase the stature of the man who now stands as a lonely, tragic figure, one of the great among the builders of the western empire.
On April 20, 1961 John D. Lee was reinstated into the LDS Church, and less than a month later ordinances for him were performed in the Salt Lake Temple so that all of his former blessings were restored.
John married (1) Aggatha Ann WOOLSEY 23Jul 1833 in Kantlink, Randolph, Illinois. She was born 18Jan 1814 in Danville, Boyle, Kentucky. She was the daughter of Joseph WOOLSEY and Abigail SHAFFER. Aggatha died 4Jun 1866 in New Harmony, Washington, Utah, and was buried 5Jun 1866 in New Harmony, Washington, Utah.
John married (2) Nancy BEAN 4Feb 1844 in Nauvoo, Hancock, Illinois. She was born 14Dec 1826 in West Troy, Lincoln, Missouri. She was the daughter of James BEAN and Elizabeth LEWIS. Nancy died 3Mar 1903 in Parowan, Iron, Utah, and was buried 5Mar 1903 in Parowan, Iron, Utah.
John married (3) Louisa FREE 19Apr 1844 in Nauvoo, Hancock, Illinois. She was born 9Aug 1824 in Fayetteville, St. Clair, Illinois. She was the daughter of Absalom Pennington FREE and Elizabeth or Betsy STRAIT. Louisa died 18Jun 1886 in Salt Lake City, Salt Lake, Utah.
John married (4) Sarah Caroline WILLIAMS 19Apr 1844 in Nauvoo, Hancock, Illinois. She was born 24Nov 1830 in Murfreesboro, Rutherford, Tennessee. She was the daughter of Isaac Horton WILLIAMS and Margaret WALKUP. Sarah died 16Feb 1908 in Torrey, Wayne, Utah, and was buried 19Feb 1908 in Torrey, Wayne, Utah.
John married (5) Abigail SHAFFER 19Apr 1844 in Nauvoo, Hancock, Illinois. She was born 13Sep 1785/1786 in Maryland. Abigail died 3Sep 1848 in Wyoming, and was buried 3Sep 1848 in Wyoming.
John married (6) Rachel Andora WOOLSEY 3May 1845 in Nauvoo, Hancock, Illinois. She was born 5Aug 1825 in Danville, Mercer, Kentucky. She was the daughter of Joseph WOOLSEY and Abigail SHAFFER. Rachel died 7Jul 1912 in Lebanon, Graham, Arizona, and was buried Jul 1912 in Lebanon, Graham, Arizona.
John married (7) Polly Ann WORKMAN 1845 in Nauvoo, Hancock, Illinois.
John married (8) Martha Elizabeth BERRY 1845 in Nauvoo, Hancock, Illinois. She was born 22Nov 1827 in Nashville, Davidson, Tennessee. She was the daughter of Jesse Woods BERRY and Amelia SHANKS. Martha died 17Jun 1885 in Kanosh, Millard, Utah, and was buried Jun 1885 in Panguitch, Garfield, Utah.
John married (9) Delethia MORRIS 1845/1846 in Nauvoo, Hancock, Illinois. She was born about 1812.
John married (10) Nancy Ann VANCE 1845/1846 in Nauvoo, Hancock, Illinois. She was born 29Sep 1824 in Morgan, Illinois. She was the daughter of John VANCE and Sarah Lavinia Gant PERKINS. Nancy died 30Oct 1851.
John married (11) Emoline Vaughn WOOLSEY 21Dec 1846 in Winter Quarters, Douglas, Nebraska. She was born 4Jan 1830 in Danville, Boyle, Kentucky. She was the daughter of Joseph WOOLSEY and Abigail SHAFFER.
John married (12) Nancy GIBBONS 27Feb 1847 in Winter Quarters, Douglas, Nebraska. She was born 7Jan 1799 in Knoxville, Knox, Tennessee. Nancy died Aug 1847 in Summer Quarters, Nebraska.
John married (13) Mary Vance "Polly" YOUNG 27Feb 1847 in Winter Quarters, Douglas, Nebraska. She was born 10Nov 1817 in Jackson County, Tennessee. She was the daughter of David YOUNG and Elizabeth VANCE. Mary died 7Apr 1893 in Nutrioso, Apache, Arizona, and was buried in Nutrioso, Apache, Arizona.
John married (14) Lavina YOUNG 27Feb 1847 in Winter Quarters, Douglas, Nebraska. She was born 25Sep 1820 in Putman, Jackson, Tennessee. She was the daughter of David YOUNG and Elizabeth VANCE. Lavina died 4Jul 1883 in Nutrioso, Apache, Arizona, and was buried Jul 1883 in Nutrioso, Apache, Arizona.
John married (15) Mary Leah GROVES 2Dec 1852 in Cedar City, Iron, Utah. She was born 30Oct 1836 in Far West, Caldwell, Missouri. She was the daughter of Elisha Hurd GROVES and Lucy SIMMONS. Mary died 12Jul 1912 in Virgin, Washington, Utah, and was buried 14Jul 1912 in Virgin, Washington, Utah.
John married (16) Mary Ann WILLIAMS 1856. She was born 11Sep 1844 in Springfield, Sangamon, Illinois. She was the daughter of John WILLIAMS and Marcy LUCAS. Mary died 8Feb 1882 in Panguitch, Garfield, Utah, and was buried in Panguitch, Garfield, Utah.
John married (17) Emma Louise BATCHELOR 7Jan 1858 in Salt Lake City, Salt Lake, Utah. She was born 21Apr 1836 in Uckfield, Sussex, England. She was the daughter of Henry BATCHELOR and Elizabeth. Emma died 16Nov 1897 in Winslow, Navajo, Arizona, and was buried 18Nov 1897 in Winslow, Navajo, Arizona.
John married (18) Terressa MORSE 18Mar 1859 in Fort Harmony, Washington, Utah. She was born 20Oct 1813 in Clifford, Luzerne, Pennsylvania. She was the daughter of William Amos MORSE and Hannah FINN. Terressa died 20Mar 1862 in Sevier County, Utah, and was buried 23Mar 1862 in Sevier, Sevier, Utah.
John married (19) Ann GORDGE 10Jun 1865 in Salt Lake City, Salt Lake, Utah. She was born 30May 1849 in Adelaide, Australia, Australia. She was the daughter of Samuel GORDGE and Merab HANCOCK.
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