Joseph Henry James (1855 - 1908)


this biography is all on one page

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 Grandpa James. 

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. 

Soon after 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.   

One of 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 Henry.

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:

Men  Women Children   Total      Wagons Horses Mules Cows Calves  Total

 24      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 the afternoon. 

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 campfire. 

Saturday, February 21, 1885.  (Made 16 miles today)

Enjoyed a warm and pleasant day as Captain James' ten led us over "Jump Up" hill and through Alma, a little gentile town. 

February 22, 1885.

Under a 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 hours.

February 24, 1885.

Rain, mud 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 south)

This day 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 miles)

Weather now 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 accident. 

February 27, 1885.  (Made 12 miles, mostly south)

Fine roads, 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

We made 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)

Fine 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)

Nooned at 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 miles)

Noon found 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)

Because we 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)

Good roads, 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)

Three miles 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 comfortably housed.* 

+ 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 Colonia Diaz.+  

*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 live in. 

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. Johnson.

Compiled and rewritten by LaVon Gurr Hansen, a granddaughter. 


this biography is all on one page