Our Family Legacy
John Henry Willis's words:
Yes, I thought myself pretty much of a man and could most certainly get my mother across the planes without dad. Why, I was all of 11 years old. But I really did grow up on that trip. The joking and the unyoking, the endless packing and unpacking, fording streams, eating dust, and alkali, hearing that wolf crying and seeing their eyes watching you in the darkness. Watching the black clouds of 1000 or more buffalo coming at you and praying, t hey would turn soon enough. Listening to a distant Indian war drum, not hearing or seeing anything at all which often made to feel more uneasy.
Yes, I grew up fast, and how I learned to appreciate my father-- how willing I was to turn it all over to him when he meets us. Much the same can be said of Francis my wife (in her crossing of the planes she had terrible misfortune of losing her father before they were driven out of Nauvoo. It was a terrible blow to her family as they had risked everything to come. First they had joined the church in England, paid $45 to come across the ocean by boat to America, and then they did get here to be driven from the nice wilderness which very few people have ever used ever seen, infested with dangers from every side. Her mother married again before they cross the planes. Everyone called him father Sweat, but that he died with cholera on the planes.)
We not only had similar background in that respect, but we grew up together in the same family background. What I mean by that is, after my mother died, father married her mother. She was my stepsister. Now I ask you grandchildren, could I have chosen a better me anywhere? You know the old saying, “I am my brother's keeper?” Well she kept me very well. Clean I tell you. She is the cleanest woman God ever put on this earth. Everything had a place and everything must be in his place at the proper time. She used to lines up for inspection before church like a general in the Army. For Pete sakes Angus tie your shoes, Rhoda go wash behind those ears. Heber how did you get that gravy spot on your tie, and father where are your books to take to Sunday school, and don't forget your tithing money.
But that wasn't all boys and girls, you know those days you were considered a very good Mormon if you didn't have two or more wives, so I got me another wife. Elizabeth Willis was her name, small, slender, dark, quick, and witty, known as the best speller in all Southern Utah and Northern Arizona.
These two wives got along pretty well together too—didn’t you? Francis children called Elizabeth Aunt Lizy, and loved her just as much almost as their own mother. And Lizy’s children called Francis Aunt Francis and bawled them out about being dirty as much as she did her own.
Now, to get down to this family business. I married Frances up in Salt Lake. The next year we moved with father to help settle Iron County, Utah. And there in Tokerville our first child and namesake was born, John Henry Willis Jr., the first white child born in this village. Then we moved to Beaver where I met and married Lizy. Then we were called to help settle Kanarah and from then on it seems someone was expecting all the time, from 1859 to 1886, 17 years. My two wives bore for me 18 children, and all outlived me, except one Margaret who died when a child. We had one almost every year and sometimes two in a year. In the year 1876 Rhodam Able and William Harrison were born. I was called to go settle Arizona. Lemuel Josiah (Si) while only 14 years old begged to go with us men who were making this exploratory trip into Arizona territory to seek a suitable place to settle. I thought perhaps it would be good experience for him, so I took him along and many is the time he proved his worth. While we explored he tended the cattle we had brought with us. Course many times the Indians came and drove them off and scared him plenty, but he was a wise lad and soon learned the ways of the Indians enough to outsmart them. The Apaches were bad at this time however many is the time we all were a little uneasy, especially down around Tonto Basin. We stay here about 14 months in which time we saw very few white people and no white women. Our clothes worn out and we were forced to buy what things we could from the soldiers. John Henry Jr. being only a skinny little lad had some difficulty keeping his clothes on so we tie them on him.
I wasn't satisfied with Tonto but up around Sholow looked pretty good, so we went back to Kanara and settled with a large herd of cattle and a great bunch of kids for Arizona. John Henry my oldest son was married by now and he came along to bringing his bride, Fannie Jane Roundy.
Also migrating was William Flake and his tribe and all his cattle, we settled very near to us. Some of the cattle and children got sick on the way, and we finally decided in order to make better time to leave John Henry and Amasa with the sick cattle to come on slowly while we marched on ahead. They were pretty young just 15 and 16 years old, but with good experience. Their rations became low and for days they had nothing but dried beef and once in a while a slapjack.
I took up a ranch on the Sholow Creek just south of Sholow for all my cattle. Here I built to log cabins for my two families, and a home in Snowflake.
Things soon began to settle down and take shape here. I promptly became a father and a grandfather both at the same time. We had crying babies everywhere. Angus was born just before we had come on our trip to Arizona so he was still only a baby, then Lizzie had a baby soon after we arrived in Sholow, a girl named Annie, and then John Henry's wife presented us with a fine granddaughter Bertha Jane they called her.
At first we had trouble with the Apache and many times the alarm would go off and we gather all the children together and head for snowflake in the middle of the night.
I began to prosper and did very well here, so when Charlie and Angus Lake decided to go to Provo to school, I decided to send Amasa and Si. When arriving in the big town they immediately set out to buy some clothes. They bought some big hats, fancy shirts; waist overhauls and cowboy boots and then went to school to register. Precedent Karl G. Major took one look at the Cowboys from Arizona and said, “My my boys, that isn’t any way to dress when you come to school, and with that sent them back to exchange their purchases.
Back home I was having my worries. Polygamy had been outlawed. Brother Flake and Farr far had been sent to jail in Yuma, so I had to go underground, I took Wes and went down to Gila Valley where I put in a crop and left Wes to take care of it and I to go down into Mexico and see what it would be like there. (By the way they tell me Aug and Naomi and Tillman and Ida went down to Old Mexico this summer so maybe they can tell you why I came back out of there in a hurry.) Francis would have fainted dead at the filth and dirt.
When I came back to Snowflake I found that Astic Cattle Co. had moved in and had taken over every other section of land from Winslow to St. John's. They had hired desperados and everyone's cattle were slowly being merged into the Astic company, also a drought was on the land. We rounded all we had left and shipped them to Yuba City, where we lived two years.
The laws were still after the polygamist men so I took Lizzie back to Cannonville with her children, bought her a home near her brother and came back to Yuba City to look after my Cattle.
Francis was going to have a baby, later to become Parley, so I moved her to Snowflake and came back on the range with my boys to decide what to do with our cattle. Area we kept them at House Rock, then Waw Weep, then down on the big Colorado, the drought was getting to be very serious reason the reason for moving so often.
I finally put Lu and Wes in charge of the cattle and came back to snowflake Utah, not feeling to well and knowing I could be near a Doctor. We sold the property in Snowflake to Wes and Amasa my two married son now, who had married sisters by the way.
Then we left Della, Rhoda, Mel, and Ira, with Eddie and Amasa to take care of, although they were all pretty much grown.
Although it was late fall and growing cold I was in so much pain all the time. We took Plarley Angus, and Heber, the smallest children with Wes and his Wife to go along and drive, we managed to get as far as Cannonville.
I rejoiced to see my other family again, Lizzie had taken good care of them, and they were growing up fast. Francis Eliza was 20 and married to Hight Elmer. John Patterson was 17, and having serious intentions about every girl he met. Lizy thought I should give him a fatherly talk. Chester Clinton and William Harrison were 15, and 11, and able to relieve their mother of all the hard work. Annie Eliza was a shy 7 years old.
The pains in my face grew worse every day here and I grew desperate and even thought the road to Beaver City was over mountains and cold and rough this time year. We arranged to leave the children with Dicey, Wes’s wife. And Francis and I and Wes took a wagon over the mountain to Beaver. I grew so sick this trip I really can't tell you much of anything else so I’ll let my wife tell the rest.
Frances Reeves continues the story:
When we arrived at his sister Josephine’s house in Beaver his throat seemed to close up on him and he had trouble breathing. We immediately go a doctor who pronounced it cancer. Father stayed here the remaining of the winter being operated on and doctored. I came back to Cannonville to take care of my baby and small children. Later we got word he was growing worse and to come at once, even though the road were blocked wit snow, Aunt Ann Young, John Henry’s sister loaned us a bid team of horses and a sleigh which he drove, and we were able to go over the mountain to be with him. He died a few days after we arrived, Feb 22, 1888. So of his large family Wes and I were the only ones who could attend the funeral. We buried him beside his father in Beaver Utah.
Wes too the sleigh back before the snow had melted, but I stayed on for about 51/2 months to be doctored for stomach trouble. When I got back to Cannonville I found my children of school age had been going to school and learning quite a bit. By fall I had decided to return to Snowflake I left Lu and Wes in charge of the cattle.
A great many changed had taken place in my absence. I returned home to find Della, Rhode, and Ira blissfully having teen age fun. Amasa and Eddy were expecting a new addition who promptly presented himself, Oct. 28th and they named him Albert Tillman.
John Henry’s family was growing too. They had a new baby girl named Belva and little Hugh was toddling everywhere. John Henry bless his heart always faithful to his mother had sold some of my cattle and provided us with a new home and 7 acres of land not far from the fine big brick housed he had just completed for his growing family.
I had 7 children left at home: Mel, Bella, Ira, Rhode, Heber, Ang, and Parley, but Mel was seldom home. He was driving the mail route from Holbrook to Fort Apache on the mail contract Wes and him had. That next summer after I arrived home however, Mel came home on day desperately ill from over exposure during a sudden storm, he died a few days later. It was a great shock to all of us.
But life goes on, that next fall Ira and Della were given my blessing and they left for Utah to get married. Ira was marring Ellen Oakley, a beautiful girl, and Della was marring Lewis Hunt, who had just come back from his mission to England.
Heber was my oldest now, being about 16, and a great joy and comfort to me in all the help he gave me in tending to our 7 acre farm and the 2 cows, the pigs, and all. Especially as I wished to get away for a while that next summer after Mel died and I took Rhode and Ang, and Parley, and had John Henry take me up to Cannonville leaving Heber in charge of everything.
My family were marrying off fast now, but we still stuck pretty close together, for that summer on the east fork of the Severe River __, which is West of Cannonville up in the mountains. I instructed Wes and Dite Lu and Naomi, and Lewis and Della, all pretty much newly weds in the art of milking 80 – 90 cows a day and caring for the milk. We turned the milk into cheese and butter, and from the butter we made a lot of soap.
We stayed all summer and decided it was too much work so sold our dairying industry took our cheese and sold them in Pangwutch and Kanab on our way back home to Snowflake. It was good to return home to Snowflake. Heber had a nice garden, 2 fat horse, a barn full of haw, and all the other animals were fat and healthy. What a good boy he was. We had brought plenty of cheese, we had a little money, the great drought had been broken my cattle could thrive close by me again, for the drought had driven most of the desperados out, and those remaining had dilled each other off in selfish revelry.
Yes, the summer before John Henry had died, Heber had come home from the forks of the roads, were the boys were putting up wild had for the mail horsed with the exciting tales and good news to all for a government Posey going by with none other than the famous and notory been captured and was on his way to prison.
Yes, we had come. We had conquered and now the land was free and I could sit back and watch my children and I grow old together in peace.
I had received a letter from Lu telling of his marriage. I was pleased to know he had married such a fine girl. She had been the new school teacher in Cannonville, I was anxious to meet her.
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