Johnson Settlement

Colliding Family Histories

Note: I have always maintained that our efforts with this site are for my children and grandchildren. Little did I know that my married children’s spouses would be found to mingle with our Westover ancestors. This is another tale of family history coincidences, a principle I do not believe in.

Mendon Utah Pioneer CemeteryOn a beautiful spring day this week I took my young grandsons, Damon and Jax, out for an afternoon ride to go see the flyover of jets being sent to Cache Valley in support of healthcare workers during the COVID-19 pandemic.

My goal was to position ourselves high on the west bench of the valley to be able to see the jets. So we drove out to Highway 30 just north of Mendon where I knew of a good spot. My goal was to see the jets and then take a little excursion just a few miles down the road to the Mendon City Cemetery, so the boys could see the graves of ancestors we have there.

We had a great time. These boys have been in my home now, with their parents and baby sister, for about six months. Although young – Damon is 7 and Jax is 4 – I felt it was a good opportunity to share some heritage with them.

Later that night, in discussing things with their mother, Angie, she shared that she is a descendent of Joel Hills Johnson, the man who penned the words to the hymn, High On The Mountain Top.

Coincidence #1: Angie is married to my son, Enoch. Joel Hills Johnson just happens to be the founder of Enoch, Utah. Funny, eh?

Intrigued, I looked up Joel Hills Johnson on Family Search.

Coincidence #2: The first thing I noted was that Joel was buried in Johnson Cemetery. Where had I seen that before? Well, that’s where Edwin Ruthven Westover is buried.

How many connections could he possibly have?

I have since spent several hours learning the story of Joel Hills Johnson. He has a prolific history, both in Utah and in the Church.

Joel Hills JohnsonJoel H. Johnson was born on March 23, 1802, in Grafton, Massachusetts to Ezekiel Johnson and Julia Hills. He married Anna P. Johnson on November 22, 1826, and they had six children.

Around the year 1830, Joel sold his farm in Pomfret and moved to Amherst, Ohio. It was in Amherst where Joel was baptized a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints on June 1, 1831. Soon afterwards, he became president of the Church’s Amherst Branch. He met the Prophet Joseph in 1831. In 1832, he was called on a mission to New York.

In 1833, Joel moved to Kirtland, Ohio, where he operated a saw mill and furnished lumber to finish the temple. He went on another mission to both Ohio and Kentucky in 1835, and often preached and baptized in the vicinity of Kirtland. He attended the dedication of the Kirtland Temple.

In 1838 Joel helped organize the Kirtland Camp. He stopped at Springfield, Illinois, and did not continue to Missouri, but organized a branch in Springfield and became the first missionary to preach in Carthage, Illinois.

Coincidence #3: The date and location of Joel’s travels synchs with the dates and location of the Albert Smith family, who joined the church around this time near Springfield, Illinois.

Joel later had a large amount of success in baptizing families that lived along Crooked Creek, which was seven miles from Carthage. In April 1839 he organized these converts as the Crooked Creek Branch. After this, Joel directed his new converts in the forming of the town of Ramus (now Webster, Illinois). In February 1840 Joel moved to the area, where he purchased a sawmill. The Ramus Stake was organized on July 4, 1840, with Joel as president. Joel’s wife died in September 1840. He was here in Ramus when the Prophet Joseph and Hyrum were martyred in June 1844.

In 1846, mobs forced Joel to flee Ramus and moved to Knox County, Illinois. He later joined the Saints at Winter Quarters, Nebraska. Joel arrived in Salt Lake City on October 11, 1848. He crossed the plains in Willard Richards’ Company.

David RoweCoincidence #4: Also in the Willard Richards Company was David Rowe and family. Is it possible they knew each other?


From Joel’s own journal we read: “…I loaded my wagons and started on the 6th day of May, 1848 for the city of Great Salt Lake in Upper California I came to David Rowe’s in Fulton County the first night and on the 7th, David Rowe and his family started with me for the same place. My family consisted of myself and two women and six children. David Rowe’s family consisted of himself, wife, and four children. We came to Nauvoo where I stopped and visited with my friends. We then crossed over the river to Montrose and stopped with my brother Joseph one week, sheared my sheep, sold the wool, etc. We then started for Winter Quarters and had a very crooked and bad road and had to repair and build many bridges. We arrived at Winter Quarters the first week in June. Here we tarried four weeks, waiting for Doctor Richards and Amasa Lyman’s company.”

He served as a justice of the peace and as Bishop of the Mill Creek Ward. Joel built a saw mill from 1849 to 1851 at the mouth of Mill Creek Canyon.

As he made his wagon trips up and down the steep canyon, he often thought about the flag that had been planted on Ensign Peak. He knew he had safely made it down the mountain with his load when he turned north and headed for the tithing office. He always breathed easier when he could look up at that peak and see Old Glory waving.

In the early spring of 1850, Joel loaded up a load of prime lumber and headed for the tithing office. As he headed into the lot that housed this office, he noticed that there were several other wagon loads of tithing offerings ahead of him. He stopped his team, unhitched the horses and turned them into “Brother Brigham’s” pasture, and sat down to wait his turn to unload.

Being a warm spring day, Joel sought the shady side of his wagon, leaned back against the wheel and waited. As was his habit, he pulled out a piece of paper and prepared to write. He found himself thinking about the breeze and how it must be making ‘Old Glory’ ripple. In his mind he pictured how it must look there on the top of the peak under the clear blue sky as it waved and fluttered in the breeze. His mind painted such a wonderful picture.

Almost as if written by unseen hands, words began to appear on the paper:

High on the mountain top,
A banner is unfurled.
Ye nations now look up;
It waves to all the world.

In Deseret’s sweet, peaceful land-
On Zion’s mount behold it stand!

For God remembers still
His promise made of old
That He on Zion’s hill
Truth’s standard would unfold!

Her light should there attract the gaze
Of all the world in latter days.

His house shall there be reared
His glory to display
And people shall be heard
In distant lands to say

We’ll now go up and serve the Lord
Obey His truth, and learn His word.

For there we shall be taught
The law that will go forth,
With truth and wisdom fraught
To govern all the earth;

Forever there His ways we’ll tread
And save ourselves and all our dead.

Then hail to Deseret!
A refuge for the good,
And safety for the great,
If they but understood.

That God with plagues will shake the world
Till all its thrones shall down be hurled.
In Deseret doth truth
Rear up its royal head;

Though nations may oppose,
Still wider it shall spread;
Yes, truth and justice, love and grace,
In Deseret find ample place.

Joel finished his poem, folded up the paper, put it in his pocket, and went about the task of getting his lumber measured and recorded.

Sometime later he showed his poem to John Taylor, then a member of the Quorum of the Twelve. President Taylor liked the poem so much he asked if he could keep it.
In those days, words only were written down and then sung to familiar folk tunes. In just a short time it became one of the favorite songs where ever the Saints gathered

This poem was only one of about a thousand that Joel H. wrote. But it became one of his most recognized ones.

His poetry centered around four themes: His love and devotion to the gospel, his love of the Prophet Joseph Smith, his love of his family, and his desire to enjoy life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness for himself and all other human beings.

In 1849 and 1850, Joel served in the Utah Territorial Legislature.

Joel was the founder of Enoch, Utah, settling there in 1851. When other settlers arrived in 1854, they built a fort which they named “Johnson’s Fort.” Before it became Enoch, it was named Elk Horn Springs. Joel later helped settle other areas in southern Utah. In 1853, he was appointed to serve as a missionary among the Piedes of Iron County, Utah. Joel recorded in his journal that he “made eleven different places.”

Joel was a polygamist and fathered several children from five wives. Joel maintained a journal in which was found the earliest source for the interpretation of “hot drinks” in the Word of Wisdom meaning coffee and tea. He recorded hearing the Prophet Joseph teach this principle.

In 1871, at the suggestion of Brigham Young, Joel and his brothers explored an area north and east of Kanab known as Spring Canyon. There they took up the challenge of building a settlement to “live the Order of Enoch”.

The Johnson families establish farms, a schoolhouse, a general store and even a post office. From 1871 until about the 1930s the tiny, out-of-the-way place was home to several families.

Gunsmoke movie setBut due to it’s remote location and the scattering of the settlement’s later generations Johnson became a ghost town. It’s only other claim to fame came from the television series Gunsmoke, which ran from 1955 to 1975. The ghost town of Johnson was the set for the series.

Coincidence #5: Another family that found their way to Johnson was that of Henrietta Bird Shumway, the third wife of Charles Shumway. They came from Mendon, Utah in Cache Valley. Charles Shumway was the father of Mary Eliza Shumway, the 2nd wife of Charles Westover, Edwin’s brother.

(Charles Shumway was also a founder of Manti, Utah and is frequently mentioned in the ward history there with both Albert Smith and Gardner Snow. The man got around to many lines in our ancestry!)

Henrietta’s biography recounts her experience upon arriving at the canyon: “The farm, unfenced and uncleared had never known a plough. The only shelter was a deserted trapper’s cabin, so small that when all the beds were made, Henrietta could scarcely walk between them to cook the meals.

All of those buried in the Johnson Cemetery died in the 19th century, including Edwin. It is noted that the Johnsons and the Shumway generations to follow intermarried a great deal and are buried in that cemetery.

According to only 59 people are buried there – mostly Johnsons, Shumways, and Laws.

Joel Hills Johnson was well connected to Mormon leadership in the 19th Century. He knew the Prophet Joseph (and loved him immensely). He knew Brigham Young, John Taylor, Wilford Woodruff and Erastus Snow.

Coincidence #6: In fact, there is so much in his history I feel we could be finding connections to him all over the place. Curious to know if I might be related to him I dug a little deeper into his family lines. Sure enough, we’re connected back to the 17th century to a man named Nathaniel Heaton. He is my 10th great grandfather through the Snow/Roberts line. Nathaniel Heaton Joel H. Johnson’s 7th great grandfather.

Well, my grandchildren through Enoch and Angie are going to have a lot of work to do someday. Their Johnson family history runs strong in the blood. Angie also tells me she has other Danish ancestors with pioneer backgrounds in the Church.

I’m sure that’s no coincidence.

A Tale of the Old West and Bad Family History

Tonight I went fishin’ for a while. I don’t get nearly enough opportunity to do that –“fishin’” as it relates to family history.

Here’s how it works: I go to FamilySearch or Ancestry and enter very broad search terms – say, a surname like “Smith”.

Then I sort out all the results to drill down to just what I want to see. Sometimes it is birth certificates, sometimes it is census records, sometimes it is just something else.

Tonight it was photos.

I went to Ancestry and trolled for all photos I could find associated with “Westover”. I got that beauty of an image above from this little fishing expedition.

Those boys are brothers by the name of Canfield.

I had seen that name somewhere before so I had to click on it and figure out the connection.

I got the connection alright – but the side story was a much better find – a true tale of the old West.

What made it even better was the alleged mystery of a 120-year old event spilled over on the pages Ancestry as descendants of the men involved continued to debate the tale of cattle rustling, old west gangs, suicide and murder.

Interested? Read on.

First, the family connection: the man in the bottom left of that picture is Moroni Canfield.

This picture of Moroni and his brothers was taken in about 1890 – about three years before Moroni died – or was murdered or committed suicide, depending on whose history you believe.

Moroni married Sarah Evaline Westover, eldest daughter of our Edwin R. Westover and his wife, Sarah Jane Burwell.

Moroni and Sarah met around 1870, when Edwin was living in Hamblin. Both were about 20 when they married.

Edwin has no real part to play in this story. After Moroni and Sarah were married they left Hamblin for several years and returned in 1877, where Edwin traded his property there to Moroni for a team, harness and wagon for Edwin to use on his mission to Arizona.

Moroni and Sarah would have a family of 8 children and his life until the 1890s mirrors that of so many in Southern Utah from that time. They struggled financially and fought the elements in their attempts to build Zion.

With a name like Moroni you have to know there is a strong Mormon connection, too.

Moroni’s father joined the Church, went to Nauvoo and later to Winter Quarters where they came west when Moroni was just a boy. He was thoroughly invested in the Church.

A story is told of how Moroni once came upon two US Marshals who were in Utah hunting down polygamists.

Moroni asked these two men why they were there and the marshals shared they were on their way to Enterprise to arrest Thomas Sirls Terry, a leading figure in that community and a known polygamist.

Moroni was able to give the marshals the slip and get to the Terry farm to tip off the family, who got “Ol Man Terry”, as the marshals called him, out of town just in time.

That story is told in contrast to the real criminal activity that the ranchers of southern Utah had to deal with in horse and cattle thieves.

The Canfields lived not far from a place called Desert Spring, which happened to be a crossroads of sorts between Beaver, Utah, Pioche, Nevada and Utah settlements to the north and mining camps to the south. Desert Spring was also the base of operations for a man named Ben Tasker, a genuine old west outlaw.

Tasker was known for his gang of outlaws who would first provide aid to travelers passing through Desert Spring and follow them for short distances only to rob them in the middle of nowhere.

Their primary source of income came in the way of cattle and horses – and Tasker’s gang stole them by the hundreds, changing brands or butchering them to be sold in the mining camps.

There are legendary tales – some untrue, I’m sure – of just what a tough customer Tasker was.

One story talks of him shooting a man and then using his body as a table while Tasker played cards.

The Canfield brothers knew too well how lawless the times were and they had a personal connection to Tasker.

Their sister, Lucy Philena, was married to a man named Thomas Emmet.

Lucy Philena’s history talks a bit about the woes in her marriage. Though she and Thomas were married in the Endowment House in Salt Lake City when they returned to Southern Utah and started their family it seemed that Thomas wasn’t around much. The history says he traveled a great deal “on business”.

Thomas Emmet

His business was “his dealings in cattle and horses”.

The Moroni Canfield history on Ancestry is a bit more descriptive of Thomas’ activities.

According to their version of things Thomas rode with Ben Tasker’s Gang and neglected his wife and small children for long periods of time.

The Canfield family did all they could to help Lucy Philena but they grew weary of Thomas’ antics and were constantly rescuing him from the trouble he would get into.

On the night of June 28, 1893, Moroni and a few others were herding about 1500 head of cattle when something happened.

In the morning, Moroni was found dead – shot in the head.

From Moroni’s history on Ancestry we read of why some descendants of Canfield felt Thomas Emmet and Tasker’s gang had something to do with Moroni’s untimely death:

“Emett was a pretty rough character. He and a friend Bob Tait ran and dealt with the Ben Tasker Gang. Ben Tasker was a horse and cattle thief operating all over the territory. He had his headquarters at Desert Springs, at the junction of roads from Beaver, Iron Springs, Mountain Meadows and the Nevada mining camps.

Ben Tasker had been arrested numerous times, but always found some way to get away. He and his men would take what they wanted and kill anyone who stood in their way.

The Canfield brothers because of their sister had been trying to keep Emett out of trouble and talk some sense into the pair. Nothing worked. They grew tried of seeing Philena and her little ones hungry and without proper care. She had lost a number of babies by miscarriages. They were sick to death of pulling him out of a hole and trying to feed and clothe this little family.

So, they decided to catch Emett in the act. Well they caught him and Bob Tait both in the act. Stealing Cattle.

They had come prepared so they pulled their guns on him and Tait and told Emett they were sick and tired of getting him out of his messes. That the law was on to them and was out to get them.

Now, Grandfather said, I told him “I do not want to see your face any more in Utah or close about. You head for Texas as fast as you can. It will be less costly for us to take care of your family than to bother with the likes of you. If we ever see you around in Utah again I personally will shoot you.”

[Insert spookly old west whistling music here]

Thomas Emett evidently didn’t need to hear any more.

He lit out of Utah heading south and that was the last the Canfield’s heard from him – until Moroni ended up with a bullet in his skull.

To quote again from the history on Ancestry, “Moroni and the Canfield herd would have been in the right place and the right time to be easy pickings for Thomas Emett or one of his associates. Revenge is as good a motive for murder as money, and Emett had both.”

The surviving family of Thomas Emmet doesn’t care for that version Canfield family history. They have a very different point of view.

Another family historian on Ancestry – a descendant of Thomas Emett – was able to prove that not only was Thomas hundreds of miles away in Arizona at the time of Moroni’s death but he was also, fortunately, dead, too.

Thomas had died 10 years before – in Phoenix, evidently of smallpox.

Yes, thanks to the modern sleuthing of family historians, they cleared the name of Thomas Emmet from the charge of murder.

That doesn’t mean the controversy had diminished. His memorial on, after several contrary comments, now notes:

“There are many unsubstantiated rumors that still persist even after 125 years. I have letters, life stories, and 1st hand accounts of what happened to Thomas. My great grandfather, Don Thomas Emett, his son, told others to ignore what people say, we know what is true. We are told by the authorities to not gossip. It is sad 125 years later people can’t wait to tell me how bad my great-great grandfather was.”

Thomas’ family had long compiled proof of his innocence, most notably the receipt of his spurs and his saddle, which were shipped to them after he died.

Even still, it wasn’t hard to make the connection to Tasker or to Emmet.

Tasker at the time of Moroni’s death was in jail in Beaver, Utah. His reputation as a frequent escaper from jails was legendary because his roaming gang would often overwhelm lone guards or sheriff personnel.

Tasker’s men were in the area – and revenge was not their only motivation in what Moroni was up to.

Moroni, you see, was then under contract to move and sell and very large herd of cattle – right through the heart of west central Utah where Tasker did his most notorious work.

Perhaps that was a reason why Moroni took the job – one that would change fortunes for him and two of his friends.

That transaction was nearly complete, all Moroni needed to do was to finish the move, a task that took him near Beaver and a task that proved to be much more difficult than he anticipated.

Moroni had a pocketful of money but what he had collected to move the cattle was dwindling fast and he would find himself in a negative cash position if he didn’t deliver soon and deliver as many cattle as possible.

A news report of Moroni’s death explained his fate was sealed by the weather, a lack of manpower, sleep and the realization that Moroni had lost big on his deal.

Moroni Canfield, they reported, killed himself after a midnight thunderstorm scattered his herd and he felt all was lost.

For decades the descendants of the Canfields and the Emmets held to their respective stories about the demise of Moroni Canfield.

But the ultimate vindication of Thomas Emmet came from an unusual source – Moroni’s mother, Elizabeth Canfield.

In 2013, a family member posted to FamilySearch a letter that Elizabeth Canfield wrote in July 1893. She told a vivid tale of horror at learning the real story of Moroni’s demise.

She described how Moroni had “been in the saddle” for three days without sleep, trying to keep the cattle together all while wrestling with a fast coming financial disaster. The longer it took him and the more cattle he lost the deeper the hole he was in.

The combination of financial stress and physical exhaustion led Moroni to one very sad conclusion.

Elizabeth writes:

“The night before he did this his reason left him. Pratt [his brother] could do nothing with him. He tried to get him to go to bed, put his arm around him and tried to get him to lie down and that was the night he was to get to water. He would not do it and about 10 o’clock the cattle got the scent of water- 1,511 head of them. As soon as they smelt the water, they went wild. The boys rushed after them but could only find 300 head…”

“F. Rice was the only man with a pistol. He took it off and laid it down by his bed instead of putting it under his head. Of course Roni would not sleep and got up. Told a boy to go round the wagon and get his horse. As soon as his (the boys) back was turned, he picked up the thing, put the muzzle in his mouth and fired…”

“…After he was buried, I was looking over his clothes and found a little scrap of paper in his overalls pocket. He told the boys that all was lost. The cattle gone. But if he had only waited till day light he could have seen the stock or the most of them at a distance.

On the paper he said ”I Moroni Canfield have staked all and lost. I have ruined myself and friends. Their names are E.V. Hardy and L. C. Maneger (Marriager?). I have lost all am not fit for a felons cell. Good bye. May Father in Heaven have Mercy”.

Of course, life went on for everyone else.

Moroni’s mother lived until 1908 and is buried in Hamblin. She is remembered for her faithfulness.

Lucy, Thomas’ widow, remarried a man named John Day in Hamblin and they had three children, including a set of twins.

Sarah Westover Canfield Bowler with her 2nd husband, James Bowler.

Moroni’s widow Sarah remarried nearly a decade later and lived until 1927.

There are many lessons to learn from these tragic events.

For the family of Thomas Emmet, there has to be some joy in his vindication. He may have been a lot of things but he clearly didn’t murder Moroni Canfield.

Not all of our relatives have great things to be said of them. Even still, why would we settle for anything less than the truth?

For those of Moroni Canfield’s family – especially those who laid the blame for his death on Thomas Emmet – what do you have to say for yourselves?

Surely it is hard to be unsympathetic to poor Moroni. He had troubles, clearly.

But as I sat thinking of all this I couldn’t help but wonder about the story of Ben Tasker.

Certainly he has descendants and his history is somewhere, no?

Well…no. At least not that I have found yet.

A Google search seems to return a lot of links back to FamilySearch about this guy. They turn out to be histories of other people – many of them victims of Tasker and his gang.

They were the cattle rustlers of the Old West in Utah, no doubt about it.

I found Ben Tasker living in Beaver in the 1880 census. He’s listed as divorced and living alone. He was 61 years old.

But there’s not much else written about him that I’ve found yet.

For whatever reason I want to know how and when he died. Did he go out in a blaze of bullets? Did he jump off a cliff in Bolivia? Or did he die of old age?

That’s a history hunt for another day.