Electa’s Life in Washington City

In this video we visit the grave of grandmother Electa Westover, matriarch of the pioneering Westover family in Utah of the 19th century. We focus in particular on the later years of Electa’s life and what it was like for her:

This is an image from the 1870s showing the Cotton Mill that was built in Washington City, near to St. George. Men such as Joel Hills Johnson and James Willard Bay oversaw the farming efforts that did indeed produce cotton in Utah’s Dixie. It took a few years, but they did it. The mill in Washington City was certainly the focal point for families living there, including the Westovers.

Washington Cotton Mill

Charles Westover Sr, a local farmer, had his hand in it from time to time. He was, like many other men, a water master. Getting water to support crops and life was vital to every community but particularly to this area near the Virgin River where water was closer and soil was better for growing. The story of water in the St. George area from the 1860s through 1900 is really one of constant battle. The iron-rich red soil was terrible for building dams that would last. As summer monsoon season would begin entire dams would be washed away in an instant.

As a result there was a constant effort to build and re-build, as well as long periods of redirecting water sources just to keep things working.

These communities were also growing. Building of a county courthouse, the St. George Tabernacle and then the St. George Temple, would be projects that affected and drew from the resources of nearly every local family. Not only was money needed but so too were labor and resources such as lumber and stone. Here’s load of lumber brought to St. George in support of one of those projects from the mid-1860s:

Timber Load

What was normal life like? There were church and school gatherings. Even though many of the local residents were pioneers, like Electa and Charles, they celebrated on July 24th a Pioneer Day every year. This is an image from the 1870s and a community celebration of July 24th in Washington City:

Pioneer Day 1870s

This picture is what it all looked like – this is St. George from somewhere near Washington City in the 1880s:

St. George 1880s

When someone died and needed to be buried, it was usually noted in newspaper publications. Here is what was published about Edwin in 1878 after he died:

Edwin's death notice

A funeral would be held, presided over by local Church authorities, then a hearse would take the body to the cemetery. Here’s what the hearse looked like in St. George and Washington in the 1880s:


The heat of the summer, the lack of water, the constant battles to grow crops and the details of day-to-day living sure make these pioneer generations of family living in Southern Utah a wonder. We owe them a great deal. Their great works of temple building, of crop growing, of just sustaining life deserve our respect.

Family in St. George

St. George is the biggest city in Southern Utah and it was the first to be pioneer in 1861. From our family, Charles Westover and families were there to begin with. Charles is the younger brother of Edwin Westover, and the 2nd son of Electa Westover.

Charles WestoverWe have been fortunate over the years to collect a lot of history about Charles and his families. He was just a teen when he crossed the plains in 1848 and he came in association with Erastus Snow, who hired him to manage his rig and help the Snow family come to Utah. (Erastus Snow, an apostle, was one very busy man and needed the help).

Charles and Erastus Snow would maintain a life long association (Erastus Snow baptized Charles Westover). After arriving in Salt Lake, Charles continued to work for the Snows until after he married Eliza Ann Haven, who he had met and fell in love with while on the trek west. Charles lived and worked with Edwin while both were in Big Cottonwood. He was called to the Cotton Mission in 1861 with hundreds of others. He appears on the original settler city map for St. George and did build a home that is now just blocks away from where he is now buried in the St. George City cemetery. Here is our video about Charles, his families, and St. George:

Charles was a farmer. He lived in St. George for several years before moving to Pinto. After about a decade he came back to St. George before settling in Washington City, which is a small city nearby. In his many years in Washington Charles remained very active in community affairs and served for a while as Bishop.

He also provided a home for his mother, Electa Westover, who established herself in the community and church. When the temple was built she would spend the remainder of her life living with Charles and his family and as a temple worker in St. George.

Charles and Eliza was the anchor of Westover family gatherings and activities in the St. George area. They held reunions, attended family temple events, weddings, baptisms and other significant occasions. When other Westovers – such as Edwin and families – traveled it was at the Charles Westover home they stayed.

It’s easy to say that Charles was “just a farmer”. His industry over many decades is well documented but so too is his service in church and community affairs. He fought in the Black Hawk War. He served many times moving goods from Southern Utah to Northern Utah. He went where he was asked, dug in roots, and became productive everywhere he served in Southern Utah.

Charles was a faithful foot soldier, little noted for big accomplishments. He gave up his life for the cause by being a steady steward. His family loved him and later generations have honored his goodness.

This picture of Charles and Eliza was widely published in newspapers in their last days, remember them for their pioneer contributions and longevity. At one time they were thought of as the “first married couple in Utah” (1849). They have not only their citizenship, work and service records out there but also their testimonies are written and their spiritual experiences are recorded.

Charles and Eliza

Their children went on to pioneering stories of their own, their grandchildren have preserved and added to their beautiful record.

Like others we have talked about on Damon’s Family History Adventure, Charles was connected and known. His work on the St. George temple is as significant as anyone’s and with the others of the Westover family he gathered with them when that temple was dedicated. There is no doubt that he too has years of temple working experience in St. George.

The Town of Johnson

We have known for a long time that Damon’s two great grandfathers – Joel Hills Johnson and Edwin Ruthven Westover – were laid to rest in the same place. That place has a history all of its own.

Not long after Jacob Hamblin established Fort Kanab Joel Hills Johnson was instructed by Brigham Young to build a settlement with his four brothers some 12 miles east of Kanab. The Johnsons explored the area and found a meadow with access to water that they felt could support a new settlement. All four brothers moved family members there and within a short time the settlement seemingly flourished.

The productivity capacity of the Johnson family cannot be understated. They were working several communities all over Southern Utah all at the same time. How could they do this? Our video explains:

Unlike the other communities associated with Joel Johnson the town of Johnson did not survive. After a few decades as the settlers died off or moved away the town died and the post office was pulled. Other folks moved in to ranch and at one time a near-by meadow was used as a movie set for Hollywood westerns set in the area. There remains – just barely – a set that was famously used for the television series Gunsmoke

Gunsmoke set

The Johnson cemetery is about all that remains to tell the Johnson family story. What a story it is though!

The cemetery is easy enough to find. Just take Highway 89 east from Kanab for about 12 miles and hang a left on Johnson Canyon Road. The cemetery is about 4.5 miles up the highway on the left. There is a home with several cows in a field to the south immediately next to it. Just beyond the house is a small gate, usually open during the summer months, that has a rutted, sandy path to the cemetery. The cemetery is visible from the gate.

Johnson Cemetery

Taking Damon to Johnson Cemetery checks off a big bucket list item for me. I’ve felt impressed to get him there for the longest time and I think this was the right age to do it. He’s just a sponge when it comes to family history right now and I believe that having two great grandfathers from separate lines of his heritage is quite a story.

The research on the sons of Joel Johnson was shocking. Of course, we knew that Damon’s great grandfather Seth Johnson, needed a review. But we just didn’t expect his connection to Hatch. There’s no way he didn’t know every Barnhurst and Riggs family in Hatch. Just impossible. Didn’t expect anything like that.

But the histories of Nephi Johnson and Sixtus Johnson (which has to be one of the greatest-ever names of the Old West) to be as connected and interesting. These were good men who did so much in pioneering Southern Utah. I think the odds of all of our family members, including the Westovers, of knowing them are really high. In all, this is a VERY big story overall on all sides.

It ended up, as it usually does, a bigger story than we all imagined. The continual stream of family connections on nearly all sides in Southern Utah just seems endless. We have several videos yet to make and many more discoveries to share.


Jacob Hamblin

Jacob Hamblin and Kanab

It is interesting to note that we are not related to Jacob Hamblin and we don’t actually have family connections in Kanab. This chapter in Damon’s family history adventure talks about both Jacob Hamblin and Kanab. There are connections to both of them in Damon’s family history.

On the Westover side the connections are many. Jacob Hamblin was a neighbor to Edwin Westover, who lived for many years in Hamblin, Utah. Charles Westover, living in St. George and Washington City, had frequent interaction with Jacob Hamblin. Residents of Southern Utah communities were regularly visited by Jacob Hamblin because his calling was to serve the Native American people of the area. He worked relentlessly to spread peace, resolve disputes and to teach the Gospel to the many Indian peoples.

In this video, we explore the activities of Jacob Hamblin in and around Kanab that have connections to all sides of the family:

We reference the Samuel Barnhurst family in this video for several reasons. First of all, their experience living in Circleville demonstrates how much interfacing with Indians was a factor in pioneer living. The Barnhursts were asked to settle there after many years in Ephriam. But they were not long in Circleville due to the Black Hawk War, which we have talked about before in detailing the complicated history of Warren S. Snow, of Manti.

The Barnhursts moved next to Cedar City, which put them in the orbit of Joel Hills Johnson. Later they moved to Hatch, which put them close the to Asay family.

And that’s just what pioneering life was like in 19th century Utah. It was a series of starts and stops that put people in contact with others who were experiencing the same.

The discovery of Aunt Anna Mary Barnhurst’s experience working for Joel Hills Johnson in Cedar City was made just last night. I was only trying to learn more about Grandma Priscilla’s siblings when I found that passage in Anna Mary’s autobiography. Damon was literally reading over my shoulder as I found it. In fact, he may have noticed it before I did because we both shouted at the same time.

It’s just a tiny detail, one that in the life of Anna Mary is merely a passing bit of trivia. But for Damon and for me it is powerful insight into their world and we never tire of reading these coincidences.

We’re still only up to about the year 1870 in our exploration. The next ten years in Southern Utah – for all families involved here – were fascinating. There is much more of this story to tell.

Asay Creek

Asay Creek – A Hatch Connection

Asay Creek sits just south of Hatch. In this video we explain how Asay Creek was founded and its connections to Hatch.

Like all our pioneer ancestors who came to Utah the Joseph Asay family had a journey from place to place within Utah before finding their final destination. The video explains the travels of Joseph and Sarah Asay:

Just as their journeys are unique, so too are the individual experiences.

Joseph Asay followed a path of many men – men like Joel Hills Johnson and Edwin Westover. He was called again and again to uproot his family and settle somewhere new. Like them, Joseph Asay did it to benefit “building up the Kingdom”. It was always an act of faith.

Too often, the story of the women and their efforts and sacrifices are overlooked. Yes, they went with their men but often they were called upon to do more and extend themselves in new ways. For Sarah Asay, Damon’s 6th great grandmother, it was no different.

After arriving in Salt Lake, and perhaps in anticipation of the needs in the remote areas they would be sent to, Sarah was sent to be trained as a midwife. While Joseph and his sons labored on 140 acres in present-day South Jordan, Sarah went to school.

They were sent to the Muddy Mission – a notoriously unpopular destination as part of the Cotton Mission. It was unpopular because it was located “south of Hell” (some 80 miles south and west of St. George).

Led by Joseph Young, one of Brigham’s sons, it was hoped that the Muddy Mission would yield regular crops of cotton that could then be sent up the Colorado River.

The Asays went there as assigned and gave it their best. They were famously reported having met explorer John Wesley Powell as he was heading south on the Colorado towards the Grand Canyon:

Joseph Asay and two of his sons were fishing and hailed them to shore. Powell and his men were elated to see the three and were soon greeted as conquering heroes by the nearby settlers who knew of their voyage of discovery and were watching for them.

As the Asays prepared a supper of humpback chub, squash and corn, a messenger rode to nearby St. Thomas to let the settlers know the party arrived. Powell noted in his journal the hospitality he and his crew received:

They arrived about sundown, Mr. Asay treated us with great kindness, to the extent of his ability; but Bishop Leithead brought in his wagon two or three dozen melons and many other luxuries (cheese, bread, and butter, which we had not tasted for months) and we were comfortable once more.

Powell and his men rested and reprovisioned at St. Thomas for two days before continuing on their journey through to St. George to Salt Lake City, before returning to the east coast. Powell went on to become director of the U.S. Geological Survey. It was Powell who named Glen Canyon and for whom Lake Powell is named.

The Muddy Mission was a miserable place to live. It received little water, despite it’s name, and growing things there were difficult because of short growing seasons and the constant lack of water. When Brigham came to visit in 1870, when the picture below was taken, he admitted defeat and advised the settlers to move to Long Valley, which was north of Kanab.

Brigham at the Muddy Mission

Joseph and Sarah Asay are in this photo as well as several of their sons.

So move they did, settling Mt. Carmel with several other Muddy Mission pioneers. The adult children of Joseph and Sarah spread out. Issac went to Orderville, Jerome stayed in Mt. Carmel.

Joseph wandered, concerned the same problems experienced in the Muddy Mission would duplicate themselves in Mt. Carmel and sounding areas.

He ventured north and found a garden spot he took to calling Asay Creek. He knew that at an elevation near 7000 feet it would still be difficult to grow crops but the lush meadow near this tiny tributary of the Sevier River would allow cattle to flourish and that the mountains to the west would yield timber. Tapping the experience and resources of a partner, they opened a saw mill to the west, powered by water by streams flowing from the mountain.

Issac and Jerome would make Asay Creek home to their families for the duration, raising their families there for more than 25 years. Jerome petitioned for a post office for Asay and it served all the neighboring communities for several years. But when the saw mill burned down in the late 1890s Asay Creek started to die and even those of the Asay family moved to Hatch or other areas.

When Joseph died in 1879 in Mt. Carmel Grandma Sarah Asay returned to Asay Creek for most of the rest of her life. She gained a great deal of respect as the area’s midwife and she continued to serve the community in that capacity for many years before she passed in the late 1890s.

Sarah Pedrick Asay

Grandma Asay