Hole-in-the-Rock Landmarks and People

Hole-in-the-Rock Landmarks and People
Answers at bottom of the left column.

January 8, 2010

Lillywhite, Joseph and Mary Ellen Willden

Joseph Lillywhite was born in New York City, New York County, Ny on 15 Nov 1847 and died Jan. 18, 1888. 
His wife Mary Ellen Willden was born 5 Nov 1850 Kanesville, (council Bluffs), Pottawattamie, Iowa.  She died 6 Jul 1922 Chandler, Mrcp, Az and was buried in Mesa.  They were married 5 Dec 1867 in Beaver, Beaver, Ut which is where they were living when they received the call to go to San Juan.

 Joseph Lillywhite is mentioned as being in a side exploration group consisting of Edward and Platt Lyman to determine a reconnaissance of the area, arriving eventually at what is now known as Clay Crossing of the San Juan.  Here they found approx. 200 acres of level land, heavily timbered with cottonwood trees, but it wasn't large enough to encourage the planting of a settlement (Hole in the Rock, Miller, p 134, see also p. 168)
Story about Indian Attack at Lee's Ranch

Children on the trek: Joseph Jr. (1868-1921), Mary Eleanor (1872-1931), Charles Willden (1874-1947), Jeremiah Lawrence (1877-1893, John LeRoy (1879-1887).  Later three more children were born.

Famly Group sheet:
Tribute to Charles and Margaret Coplan

The Lillywhite story begins:
Story of Joseph Lillywhite, Hole-in-the-Rock pioneer  Taken from biography written by Charles Willden Lillywhite, Jan. 18, 1943 (55 years after the death of his father.)  Possessed by Linda Wright, Blanding, a descendent of Joseph Lillywhite

Lillywhites leave from England
Sometime during the summer of 1847, the Lillywhite family left their home in London, England, and sailed for America. The family consisted of the father Benjamin Lillywhite and wife, Margaret Mitchell, son Benjamin, Jr. and daughter Sarah, who was about 18 months old. She died on the ship, and was buried at sea. Their destination was to join the Saints in Zion. At St. Louis they began to assemble teams and wagons for the trip west, when Benjamin Sr. was stricken with cholera and died within a few hours, leaving the family stunned and heartbroken. Rather than return to England and her parents, Margaret determined to press forward to Utah. She sent the two little boys on with a family, while she remained behind to earn enough money to pay for her husbands funeral expenses. Benjamin Jr. was 7 at this time, and could do chores. When it came time to reunite with his mother, the family didn’t want to give him up! Joseph was only 3. After her husband died, Margaret eventually married a man by the name of Eldridge. They lived in the Milford, Beaver area. She died 22 Oct 1889 just a few months after her son Joseph, who died Jan. 19, 1888 in Arizona.

Joseph's life
     As Joseph grew to manhood, his grandson Charles, described him this way. He was 6 feet tall, light blue eyes, auburn/light born here, with a slight tendency to baldness, at age 40. He sang tenor in the choir, although he had been shot through the right chest while a youth. One of the volunteer nurses who cared for him was Maryellen Elizabeth Willden, and from this acquaintance a courtship developed between the patient and nurse, and soon afterward a marriage! (Read this story in Pioneer Stories by Preston Nibley: “Indian Attack at Lee’s Ranch: pp. 159-174) Reprint on-line p. 229
     Joseph had a pleasant disposition, slow to anger, but very firm in defense of right. He would always accommodate any man in need, but would not be imposed upon for long. He was of Swedish ancestry. As a young man he worked on ranches. He acquired a fair education, was a persistent reader of good books and used good clean language. Slang, vulgarity, or profane language never passed his lips. He was devoted to his family and home.

Joseph and Maryellen built a two-story, four room home from volcanic rock which was lime painted. It was still standing in 1937. They also owned 40 acres of rich black Beaver bottom lands. He raised alfalfa and had milk cows and horses. Their apple orchard was just coming into bearing, and he was making rapid and substantial advancement toward an independent financial success…Then in late summer of 1879 a call went out to families to colonize new and undeveloped lands, and the Lillywhites joined a company which was forming in Beaver to go settle San Juan. Joseph needed no urging to join, and was imbued with the spirit of the times to colonize other areas.

The Call to San Juan
Charles remembers: “Father sold his Beaver holdings, absorbing most of the value in teams, wagons, cows and some cash and in the late summer of 1879, he headed east on the old Escalante trail and joined some 70 wagons of other colonizers encamped on the north bank of the Colorado River at a location where LDS scouts located what they decided was the most feasible point to establish a ferry over the turbulent Colorado River. This location was fittingly named Hole-in-the-Rock. At this point the west bank rose from the riverbed to a height of several hundred feet, mostly perpendicular. The rains through the ages had work out a cleft in the north bank of these walls of sandstone and it offered the only location where wagons could reach the riverbed without prohibitive cost. This declivity had a short stretch where the canyon walls were a few inches too marrow to permit a wagon to pass and another short stretch where a sloping ledge of sandrock would not permit safe passage. The third impediment was an extremely steep grade, too steep to admit a wagon’s descent under brake control only.”

“A counsel was held and it was decided to camp on the north bank and send for powder so a fairly safe roadbed could be inexpensively and quickly, be built. However, several weeks elapsed before the powder arrived and then it was inadequate for the job. By this time the colonists were impatient to break camp and be on their way. After using the scant supply of powder to widen the face of the canyon walls, they drilled a series of holes on the downside of the sloping ledge and drove strong oak pegs in these holes. They then cut and laid poles and brush, covered with small rock and earth to bring the sloping side up tow here wagons could be lowered without capsizing. The gorge was now ready for experiment. The entire population was out the morning of January 1, 1880. To add security to the descent of the heavily loaded wagons, a long, strong rope was attached to the rear axle of each wagon as it was driven down the precipitous declivity in the high towering walls to the riverbed and a landing where a flat ferry boat had been built by those emigrants. They had been detained for more than two months and welcomed the prospect of resuming the journey and because of their careful operations the entire company of approximately 300 was safely lowered through that gorge and ferried over the turbulent stream within a 24 hour period.”

Irrigation Problems in Bluff
No details are given about the rest of the trip, only saying it was “but a few days” until they arrived camping on the north bank of the San Juan River in Bluff. There was abundant rich tillable ground. “Those pioneers from Utah and Idaho who had no experience combating irrigation problems caused by turbulent and seasonal flooded riverbeds were elated over the apparent feasibility of irrigation from the San Juan River, but alas this dream was hard to realize. A ditch was dug heading some distance from the colony’s lands to bring water from the San Juan through a gravel ditch to irrigate those rich acres. During the night the swollen stream of the River washed out all vestige of the ditch heading, and left the ditch high and dry. The colonists had planted a quantity of garden seeds that needed water.

One ingenious brother devised a waterwheel and by evening the colonists again saw reason to rejoice when water from self-propelled water cups filled and dumped into a trough leading to their irrigation ditches. Imagine their disappointment the next morning when they gazed on a silent waterwheel with the river stream running briskly down a channel some distance from the designated spot. Another lesson learned by those inexperienced colonists!  It was at this state that Joseph Lillywhite together with several other men gave up the experiment. While there have been many attempts to settle and till those rich lower San Juan acres, none have been very successful; except many miles further upstream, where smaller tributaries of the San Juan are successfully controlled for irrigation.

Family leaves Bluff for Arizona
Sometime in the late spring of 1880 Joseph and Maryellen loaded their equipment and household effects and headed for Alpine, Apache County, Arizona traveling by way of Fort Defiance and Wingate (both US Army posts) where needed supplies could be purchased. Charles continues: “We traveled south through Zuni Indian territory with our two wagons, one drawn by a good trusty horse team and the other drawn by a horses and a span of rather weary little mules. We stopped at Wingate for supplies. The mules were not used to the Zuni right colored garb nor the Indians, and they shied and it took all hands of the children to avert a runaway.

The family arrived with cattle and wagon in Alpine, nestled amount the tall mountain peaks between New Mexico and Arizona. Alpine was a “veritable paradise with black, rich mountain soil. However, because Joseph had been shot through the right lung, he was in poor shape to withstand the rigors of the mountain climate, and the family relocated to Woodruff, Az to a milder climate.

In late summer of 1881, the family finances were getting painfully low, and because there was a demand for teams and men to help build the Atchison-Topeka and Santa Fee Railroad grade being built in northern Arizona, Joseph loaded his family and household into wagons again and drove to Winslow, Az. They pitched their tens there. Charles drove the ox teams while his brother Joseph Jr. dumped and filled the “slip scrapers.” They worked there until the summer of 1882, when the grade was completed.

They ended up heading back to Woodruff, and selected a city lot. At that time the town only had nine thatched roofs, homes with dirt floors, and bare adobe rooms making up the triangle fort, where they stayed.

During the summer of 1887 a measles epidemic prevailed in Woodruff and the little brother John who was 10 years old was stricken. Pneumonia complicated his recovery from measles, and “we gathered about his bedside to witness his most earnest pleadings: “Don’t let me die, Papa. Pray for me.’ The little fellow sat up in ed and pled as I have never heard another plead for life, until his voice became a whisper but his lips still moved in pleading for life. My good father earnestly prayed for his recovery until John’s voice was stilled in death. I have witnessed many pass way but never one who pled for life as that noble little fellow. Sometimes we’ll understand.

Charles continues: “His passing left a vacancy in the family but yet more was demanded, for at 4 AM on January 18,1888, I stood beside the death bed of my good father as his eyes closed. How I loved and was just learning to appreciate the companionship of my devoted father when pneumonia cut him down and left that grief stricken family far away from all relatives and the land of my birth, Utah. My brave mother dried her tears during the day and faced the lonely trying days with fortitude that only real pioneers can muster. My sister May confided to me that for months after father’s death she found tearstains on mother’s pillow when she made the beds. Joseph’s untimely death, Jan. 19, 1888 was no doubt hastened by overwork and anxiety over the repeated failures to control the stream for irrigation. (The story continues with the Lillywhite children on Children of the Rock)

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