JOSEPH HENRY JAMES
by LaVon Gurr Hansen, a Granddaughter
I could hear the voice of my husband
calling, "Hurry up, LaVon, the bus is loaded and ready to
leave; the other bus has already gone!" I delayed for a few
minutes longer and reluctantly left my newly found friends,
Brother and Sister Johnson, who were receptionists at the
Visitor Center at the LDS temple in Mexico City. As a
result of the conversation with them, Grandpa Joseph Henry
James, here‑to‑fore a mythical character in my life, had
become a living ancestor. The Johnson's had known him
personally and recalled some of the same experiences that I
had heard from my parents. Suddenly I had a strange, warm
feeling within my heart, and felt as if my grandpa was close
by and that I had always known him.
A few days later, on January 16, 1988,
we were camped in Dublan, Mexico, which was one of the
original Mormon colonies in which the history of my Grandpa
James was closely associated. We and our friends in the
thirty RVs that comprised the BYU tour of Mexico, had all
been invited to a dinner prepared by the church members
living there now. After relishing the delicious Mexican
dishes prepared for us, we were invited to hear about the
history of the colonies from one of the local church
leaders. In the large, bound book, "Stalwarts South of the
Border", prepared as a history for the centennial
celebration held three years earlier in 1985, he had placed
a marker near the middle of this three inch thick volume.
He began, "Brothers and Sisters, to give you an idea what
life was like back in those early colonies I have selected
one of the most interesting personal histories contained in
this rather hefty book. Everyone back then knew Joseph
Henry James and his family. He was one of the outstanding
leaders of the colonies and had a sense of humor that kept
everybody in stitches." Can you imagine my sheer shock and
delight as the words poured forth telling about my very own
The next day we found Grandpa's grave
in Jaurez, an adjoining town, and saw the brass marker
that had been placed there just a few years ago by my own
father and mother. All of these incidents while on our tour
of Mexico sparked my interest in learning more about my
grandpa and writing an account of his life after researching
various books and personal histories that contained
information about him. My list of sources are included at
the end of this history.
My Grandfather, Joseph Henry James,
son of Joseph James and Sarah Holyoak, was born October 22,
1855 in Ogden, Utah. The oldest of thirteen children, he
had three sisters and nine brothers. In an account written
by Harriet Ethel Jensen Woolsey, another grand daughter of
Joseph Henry James, it is reported that as a child he often
went hungry, cold and without shoes. Things improved as
they were able to plant a garden, berry bushes and an
orchard of fruit trees.
At 18 years of age he joined the first
volunteer fire brigade in Ogden. Fires were fought by
passing buckets of water from one man to another until it
reached the last one in the line, who threw it on the fire.
On the morning of August 9, 1873, a big fire broke out on
Washington Boulevard in the business district. ZCMI and
several other stores, along with a factory, were destroyed.
This aroused the citizens to the necessity of providing the
brigade with better equipment, so a hand‑pump with a water
hose was purchased. The pump was mounted on a platform with
wheels and the volunteer firemen stood on each side of it
working the mechanism up and down by hand, thus pumping the
water through an attached hose placed in a ditch, canal,
well or tank.
In the winter of 1873 Grandpa along
with others answered a call by President Brigham Young to go
to St. George and work on the temple then under
construction. When released he returned to Ogden.
On January 3, 1876, Grandpa and his
brother William, along with others, were called to go on a
work mission to Arizona. A ward dance was given in their
honor and they left on the 26th of February. They traveled
slowly with a few horses and mules through deep snow and
cold weather. When they reached the Colorado River they had
to pay two dollars per person and animal to cross the river
on a raft (ferry). They traveled 20 miles further without
any water until they reached the Little Colorado River which
was so thick with mud that even the animals couldn't drink
it. After many hardships they reached their destination in
Arizona on the 30th of March, 1876.
arriving they were put to work clearing the land and the
first plowing and planting began about the 25th of March.
But on the 17th of May the weather turned cold and the
plants which were beginning to show were all frozen. All
they had left to eat were beans and apples, so on July 3rd
they were released to return home, as the venture had proven
a failure. Some of the missionaries stayed behind, Grandpa
was one of them. He signed up as a cook with Lot Smith, the
leader of a larger expedition that had settled in Sunset,
located on the Little Colorado. This group of about two
hundred families had been called by the president of the
church to settle in Arizona and act as missionaries.
these families was that of John Bloomfield, another of my
ancestors as you will see. His first wife, Harriet, had
died earlier on January 2, 1868, leaving him with the care
of three small children: Elizabeth Salome, Mary Eliza and
John Parley Bloomfield. He then married a widow, Elizabeth
Ann Barton Ashcraft, who had three children, and then they
subsequently had three more children, nine in all. They
eventually ended up in Sunset where Grandpa James had been
hired as one of the cooks.
The community of Sunset was living the
United Order, a church‑instigated system where all worked
for the common good, and property was owned by the group as
a whole‑‑ the Order, as it was called. They all lived in a
fort 200 feet square with rock walls seven feet high and
inside were 36 dwelling houses, each 16 x 13 feet. On the
north side was a dining room 80 x 20 feet which had two rows
of tables to seat more than 150 persons. Adjoining was a
kitchen 25 x 20 feet with an annexed bake house. Water was
secured within the enclosure from two good wells. South of
the fort were two corrals and stock yards. The main
industry was the farming of 274 acres, more than half in
wheat. They milked 142 cows. The Saints were diligent in
trying to live the principles of the United Order but some
were dissatisfied and moved away. Finally the Order was
dissolved and assets were divided with the consent of all
involved. In 1881 all were released from the mission and
the settlement practically broke up.
It was here in Sunset that Joseph met
and fell in love with Elizabeth Salome Bloomfield. About
the 10th of June, 1877, they started the four week long
trip by wagon and mule team to St. George to be married.
Enroute they traveled around Lee's Backbone, a scary road
chiseled out of the face of red cliffs, where for half a
mile the traveler clings dizzily above the boiling Colorado
River. At the foot of the dugway they were temporarily
delayed at the ferry landing because they could not get the
attention of the operator across the river, so Joseph swam
the dangerous river to get the ferry. The journey could now
continue and they were married in the St. George Temple on
July 12, 1877.
About 25 years earlier, Joseph Smith,
president of the LDS church, had received a revelation to
practice plural marriage. The prophet had a more difficult
time accepting this principle than any other revealed
principle. For ten years he hesitated, reluctant to teach
the principle; ten years he prayed and studied to convert
himself; but God had spoken, and He now commanded its
practice. Subsequently, after Joseph Smiths tragic death,
and at a special conference held August 28‑29, 1852, the
principle of polygamy from the biblical standpoint was
discussed. The modern revelation was read and Brigham Young
urged its compliance. The Saints then voted to receive it
as a church tenet commanded by God. Since it was a
religious principle, plural marriage exacted high qualities
of character and much self‑denial from its adherents. A
candidate had to qualify financially, mentally, morally and
spiritually for it; and he must be approved by his bishop,
stake president, the president of the church, and have the
consent of his wife. It was to be practiced only where
there were more women then men.
So, having been approved for plural
marriage, Grandpa James married his second wife, Mary Eliza
Bloomfield, on the 10th of January, 1879, in the St. George
temple. Mary Eliza was a sister to his first wife,
Elizabeth Salome, my grandmother. Three years later, on
September 12, 1882, he married a third wife, Orpha Emilea
Rogers, and they, too, were married in the St. George
temple. Now with three wives in this polygamous
arrangement, Grandpa's family grew rapidly.
While in Sunset, Elizabeth had three
children: Sarah Elizabeth, Harriet Emma and Maggie, but
Maggie died at about 14 months of age and was buried
there. Mary Eliza had two children, Mary Eliza and William
Besides his many responsibilities for
his multiple families, Grandpa was also called to serve in
the church. He was ordained to a high priest by Brigham
Young Jr. on February 7, 1881 and set apart as second
counselor to Bishop L. M. Savage, serving in Sunset,
Arizona. Two years later he was called by Lot Smith to
settle in Wilford, Arizona, where he was set apart as
bishop on the 25th day of July, 1883.
Farming was undertaken in Wilford
during the years 1883-84, and stock raising was quite
successful from the beginning. Grandpa's families continued
to increase and his three wives each had a baby while
living in Wilford. Because a number of these polygamist
families that settled in Wilford, and the nearby settlement
of Heber, the brethren were in danger of arrest when the
manifesto was instituted in 1885 which made polygamy
illegal. Early in 1885 President John Taylor visited the
saints and advised all the ones liable to prosecution to
settle in Mexico. Grandpa and his families remained in
Wilford until this settlement broke up, then moved to Forest
Dale and later the Gilla River Valley. Other families left
Arizona, most going to Mexico.
And so they came, came to
Mexico‑‑-these righteous, God‑fearing people, whose only
offense was that they had obeyed a commandment of the Lord
‑‑ a commandment which enemies had hit upon as a prospective
means of destroying the Church as they had attempted to do
in Missouri. Comparable, also, to the Missouri Saints,
these members fled in the winter.
The day of departure finally arrived at
Snowflake, Arizona where they had gathered. Lest too large
a collection of wagons disclose the intended flight, the
saints left the city in smaller groups on February 9,
1885, and traveled to Nutrioso without organization or
particular discipline, though encouraging and assisting each
other in every possible manner. After encountering some bad
roads while crossing hills, mountains and ravines, they
wallowed in mud and snow, jammed over rocks and logs, but
finally reached Luna on the evening of February 15th in good
spirits and without accident.
That evening at a camp meeting they
organized into groups with E.A. Noble as captain, Earnest L.
Taylor and Joseph H. James as assistant captains each over a
group of ten. C.W. Merril, captain of the guard, S.F.
Johnson as chaplain, S.C. Richardson as camp chorister to
direct the singing of hymns during each evening service.
After these brethren were sustained by a unanimous vote,
President Smith advised them to keep up prayers in camp,
keep firearms in good condition and in a handy place ready
for any emergency, and to take every precaution to prevent
surprise attacks from Indians, cowboys or deputy marshals.
The next morning a bright sun cheered
the people and urged them on, but it also thawed the mud
making traveling so difficult that the company was scattered
all along the way.
A note from the camp historian, Levi
Savage, says: "Tonight our camp statistics show fourteen
families divided thus:
Children Total Wagons Horses Mules Cows Calves Total
20 25 69 21 53 19
21 3 96
The travelers had planned a 4 a.m.
start next morning in order to get over the mud while it was
frozen, but because some of the cattle had strayed it was
delayed until sun-up. Grandpa Jame's group of ten assumed
the morning lead, planning to fall behind Taylor's ten in
On Wednesday, February 18th, the roads
were frozen all day, facilitating travel. But they
encountered a mountain which had treacherous sections so
steep and partially developed that every outfit doubled up
teams to make the grade, and wagons had to be supported to
keep them from sliding sideways off the slanting roads.
The fact that all ten of the James' outfits reached the top
in safety was attributed to morning and evening prayers.
With his outfits safely up at the top,
James returned to assist the others. Upon learning that
Taylor had decided to postpone the climb until morning,
James' sense of humor prompted him to sing, "When y'er up
y'er up. When y'er down y'er down. When y'er only half way
up y'er neither up or down."
If travelling up that hill had been
bad, travelling down was worse. The wagons continually
threatened to topple over endwise onto the horses. They
soon learned that by rough‑locking both hind wheels and
dragging a tree behind the wagon, they could keep the
outfits right side up.
February 19, 1885. After crossing the
hill and camping together at noon we found good roads
following southwest along the San Francisco River, a
tributary of the Gilla River.
February 20 (Made 17 miles today) The
route continued to follow the San Francisco River and led
through a box canyon over a road strewn with rocks logs and
stumps. It was all so mixed up with the river that we
crossed it some forty‑five times.
The camp this night afforded plenty of
wood and water and much contentment though, for lack of
grass we were compelled to grain our work horses. The
evening before had been spent in singing, music, and stump
speeches. This evening we sang "Come, Come Ye Saints" and
"God Moves in a Mysterious Way." During the meeting brother
Savage expressed surprise at the cheerfulness which was
maintained under all circumstances whether we were stalled
in the mud or enjoying a meal under a bright moon around a
Saturday, February 21, 1885. (Made 16
warm and pleasant day as Captain James' ten led us over
"Jump Up" hill and through Alma, a little gentile town.
February 22, 1885.
continual rain, Brother Tayor's ten led us eight miles south
to Plesanton, where we paid three cents a pound for corn.
February 23, 1885 (Traveled 7 miles)
Under a drizzling rain covered seven sticky miles in five
February 24, 1885.
and steep hills. The scattered company nooned in several
places and some even failed to make camp that night.
February 25, 1885. (Traveled 7 miles
was extremely difficult. The mud sucked the tires and
felloes completely out of sight and clogged the hubs and
spokes almost to the point of a lock‑chain. In consideration
of the teams, each man gaged his own travel. Captain James
and Noble, with brother H.R. Burk, took teams back to assist
those who failed to get into camp. Prayer service was
called under clear skies but was interrupted by the howling
of a pack of coyotes who set up the noise at the close of
the hymn and continued through prayer.
Thursday, February 26, 1885 (Made 18
warm and Spring‑like. We found supplies at Milligan's grist
mill on the Gila River and bought $200.00 worth. Corn cost
us $1.80, chopped corn $2.50, cornmeal $3.00, and potatoes
$2.00. Captain James led us across the upper Gilla without
February 27, 1885. (Made 12 miles,
windy weather. Crossed the continental divide. Traveled
partly by imperfectly written guides, partly by directions
left by Brother Williams' company or by that of strangers,
and much of the time by guess.
Sunday March 1, 1885
camp after traveling a mile south and called an eleven
o'clock meeting at which brother Rogers recalled the fact
that thirty-nine years ago today the Saints began the flight
from Nauvoo to seek homes in the west. After church we
moved camp nearer water and spent the rest of the day.
March 2 1885. (Made 18 miles)
weather, good roads. Passed through Aura Seneca and made
camp at some wells where we were allowed to water our
animals free of charge.
March 3, Tuesday. (Made 20 miles)
Sepor, a southern Pacific Railroad station situated in the
center of a large plain some 1157 miles south of San
Francisco. To get water the Railroad drilled a well 500
feet deep and they used a 17 horsepower pump to draw it to
the surface. It is the only water for miles around. We
paid 5 cents a head to water our animals.
At the post office a women reported to
be the common‑law wife of the postmaster, reviled us in no
uncertain terms. She shouted, "I hope to God that either
the Mexicans or Yankees will kill you, everyone of you! I
would rather a hundred times be a prostitute than a
polygamous wife." At a camp, seven miles out from Sepor,
Captain James and Noble drove in with a supply of flour.
Wednesday, March 4, 1885. (Made 24
us at Eureka, a mining town among the hills. Mr. Roberts, a
store keeper, watered our entire herd of nearly 100 head of
animals, free of charge, and also filled our water barrels.
From him we bought flour at $4.50 per hundred pounds.
March 5, 1885. (Made 18 miles)
were facing travel over a hot desert, the guards aroused us
at 1:00 a.m. and we began our trek an hour later. Ten
o'clock brought us to Mesquite Springs and we were surprised
to be told that we were now three miles inside Old Mexico.
We had expected to find markers along the boundry line.
Although this is a port of entry it is little more than a
camp for line riders who were instructed to send entrants
on to La Ascension, seat of the custom house. The water
here is brackish or alkali and the place is surrounded by
mesquite brush and sacaton grass and grease‑wood.
March 6, 1885. (Made 18 miles)
plenty of grass, no water. We camped at a tank containing
poor water but we were so badly scattered that some of the
men failed to make it.
March 7, 1885. (Arrived)
into Mexico before they knew they had crossed the border.
The heart of every man in camp beat in unison with the
stalwart who put his arms around both wives and said,
"Thank the Lord that I can now acknowledge you both, before
the world as well as before my God." Camp worship that
night was charged with deep gratitude and praise to the
Giver of all blessings and nothing but the stars obstructed
its flight to heaven. These Saints had put their lives and
all they possessed upon the altar of religion and their
determination to provide for their families and cherish
them for time and eternity.
*The settlement was founded under the
direction of Apostles Francis M. Lyman and George Teasdale.
Farming was commenced at once and the saints agreed upon a
common herd ground and went into stock raising to a
considerable extent. A town site was surveyed in 1886 and a
meeting held November 5, 1886, it was named Dias in honor
of the president of the republic, Porferio Dias. About
45,000 acres of land at Dias and vicinity had been secured
by the LDS Mexican Colonization Company for the benefit of
the Mormon exiles.
On November 28, 1886, under the
direction of Apostle George Teasdale, the saints at Colonia
Diaz were organized into a regular bishop's ward and Grandpa
Joseph H James was ordained as second
counselor by Apostle Teasdale.
The first home Grandpa James made for
his family consisted of four posts driven down in the ground
with planks laid across them and the wagon box set on this
platform. The wagon bed served as their sleeping quarters
because it had bows with a cover to keep the sun and rain
out and it was set upon planks to keep the snakes and
lizards out. There were also plenty of skunks and coyotes
to worry about. Later, Grandpa dug a room in the ground,
put willows over it, then covered it with dirt. When it
rained they would go inside to keep out of the rain.
However, it leaked like a sieve and they put pans on the
beds to catch the water.
This temporary housing wasn't burglar
proof and sometimes things were stolen as they slept, local
Mexicans getting the blame. For instance, one night
Grandpa's tent was looted of a sack of flour, one sack of
fruit and a quilt from his bed while he slept. One morning
as he got up Grandpa could not find his shirt or shoes, but
when he went outside there was a Mexican wearing them. They
lived this way until they could make adobes to build a
house. By December, 1887 all families in Colonia Diaz were
+ In the mail brought by train was the
'Deseret News', which Grandpa James considered especially
precious. He eagerly studied this newspaper for news of
the world and especially for items indicating the trend of
the polygamist persecutions.+
*After building an adobe house,
Grandpa's family lived in it for several years. Then he
sold it and bought a farm, where he could have work for his
growing family. Among other crops, he raised sugar cane,
and, in the fall when the crops were gathered, he would use
a syrup‑press powered by a mule going around and around.
Then everyone in town was invited to make molasses candy and
popcorn balls and have a good time.*
+A great feeling of success was
experienced the day Joseph Henry James drove into camp with
a load of the first flour ground from their own wheat.
Better still, he had paid only two and one half cents per
hundred pounds instead of the usual eight cents.+
+Fruit farmers constructed many devices
to protect their crops. When Grandpa James went into
partnership with Mr. Clough to plant a twenty acre orchard
and vineyard just southeast of town, he hired Brother Gale
and his son, William, to build an adobe‑mud fence around the
plot to keep out rabbits as well as cattle and people. This
was done by pouring puddled mud between lumber frames one
foot apart and five feet high. As the mud dried, the frames
were removed and reset to make another section of the
fence. A three foot trench dug at the base of the fence to
make the mud, heightened the fence to eight feet. As
further protection, James topped the fence with a hedge of
ocitillo by forcing the end of the thorny rods into the wet
mud. During the frost danger the orchards were protected by
setting up smudge‑pots.+
*In 1897, a railroad was built from
Cuidad Juarez by El Paso Texas to a point twelve miles
beyond Colonia Dublan. Joseph contracted to build a section
of the project.* +Joe James' twelve mule team and new
wagon, driven by James Gale to whom Joe had sublet his
contract, led the parade of freight outfits on Main street
the morning the men began to move out onto the railroad
job.* The company building the railroad decided to stop the
venture without saying a word to Joseph. The men complained
when they didn't receive any pay. Joseph told them to work
until September and if they didn't receive any pay he would
pay them himself, he had so much faith in people. Payday
came and no checks, so Joseph sold all he owned and paid the
men their wages, which amounted to $5,000.00.
Grandpa and his families hardly knew
where the next meal was coming from, but still he would
divide what he had with others. Harriet, a daughter
recorded "I have seen my father come in and ask mother if
she had any bread baked and she would say, no, I have put
the last of the flour into dough and it isn't baked yet. So
she would divide the dough. Before the day was over father
would rustle some flour from some where else. We never
went hungry at Colonia Diaz."*
+Grandpa James was not afraid to try
new things in his effort to provide for his three large
families. He and William Hendricks, who had some capitol,
bought a flower mill while they were Salt Lake City for the
dedication of the temple there. The mill, originally
located in Cache Valley, Utah was dismantled and shipped to
*Grandpa James' children had plenty to
do in helping around the house and farm because they had
cows, pigs, geese, chickens, ducks, mules and horses to care
for. Besides there were plenty of wild deer and turkeys to
hunt for food.
In 1893 Grandpa James moved his family
to Colonia Dublan. Here he operated the St. James Hotel and
store for several years. However, he moved his family back
to Colonia Diaz in 1894 and was set apart as first counselor
to Bishop W.D. Johnson on the March 18, 1894, by Jesse N.
Smith. His home and hotel were a place of refuge to
polygamist fleeing from the colonies in Utah, Idaho and
Nevada. Also, many stayed until they could get a home to
In 1900, Grandpa built three homes in
the mountains for his three wives and families in a place
called Hop Valley, later changed to Hermandey. He put a dam
in one of the ditches and made his family a swimming pool.
A cave close by was the dressing room. Although all the
children mingled freely in the homes, and they all lived as
one big family, each mother presided over her own home and
children. Grandpa treated the children of all three
families alike. Elizabeth Salome had fourteen children,
Mary Eliza had fourteen children, and Orpha had seven.
+Drama was popular with the Mormons and
Grandpa Joesph James, a born comedian, was adept at
portraying comedy roles but had a habit of forgetting his
lines. In these cases, his witty ad‑libs altered the flow
of the play and convulsed the audience with laughter, but
put the rest of the cast on their mettle to adapt their
lines to keep up with his changes.
On April 25, 1908, Grandpa James and
his sons had devised a method to get logs from his sawmill
at the top of the mountain (near San Diego Canyon) to the
valley floor below. They built a chute to slide the logs
down the mountain in order to save many hours of travel over
rough, hazardous roads. As Joseph and a Mexican visitor
stood by at a distance which they thought to be safe, a log
was released from the top by a son, Hollister. Another son,
Joe, was at the bottom. As the first log came hurtling
down like an express train, it suddenly up‑ended and jumped
off the chute, striking Joseph and the Mexican, killing them
both instantly. He was buried April 26, at Juarez,
Chihuahua, Mexico. Grandpa was 53 years old and left three
wives and 20 children under the age of 20. He had a total
of 35 children. December 6, 1910 Grandpa's third wife Orpha
died and was buried in Colonial Dublan, Chihuahua, Mexico.
They had lost 3 of their 7 children. His first wife,
Elizabeth Salome, my grandmother, died December 11, 1923 and
buried in Provo Utah. Mary Eliza, Grandpa's second wife
died February 8, 1957 and buried in Ramah New Mexico.
While on the BYU RV tour in January,
1988, we visited the cemetery and found the grave site
clearly marked with a brass plaque mounted on stone which
had been placed there several years before by my mother,
Bathsheba, a daughter of Grandpa Joseph Henry James and his
first wife, Grandma Elizabeth Salome Bloomfield.
*Taken from a history
written by Harriet Ethel Jensen Woolsey, a grand daughter.
+Taken from the book 'Heart Beats of Colonia Diaz' by Annie R.
Compiled and rewritten by LaVon Gurr Hansen, a granddaughter.