Tuesday, June 19, 2018

Billy the Kid vs. my ancestors--Henry and Elizabeth

In 1880-1881, Billy the Kid helped murder three men, went to jail, broke out by killing two jailers, and was shot dead by Sheriff Pat Garrett. In his lifetime he had murdered several Native Americans but said those murders didn't matter because the Indians "weren't people." In 1880-1881,  450 miles away, Henry and Elizabeth Harriman loved their four children and welcomed a fifth, broke out homestead land, built up their cabin, fed Native Americans and wept with them at the death of their beloved two-year-old Lizzie.  
Billy the Kid had notoriety. The Harrimans had goodness.
They married, had children, faced death and loss, traveled hundreds of miles, estabilished six homes and stayed grounded through their bedrock faith in God and each other.   
Get acquainted with them in the new history of Henry Harrison and Sarah Elizabeth Hobbs Harriman. It's a companion  to  Fort Montezuma 1879-1884: Crucible of Devotion.  (Those who bought a hard copy of the Fort Montezuma book recieved both histories this past weekend, or will receive them soon in the mail. Everyone else can find both of them on Family Search.) 
(For those who are looking at Fort Montezuma  for the first time: R.F. McDonald, the author, was very particular that I leave his formatting alone.  There are a lot of captions in red or green, or with inconsistent lettering—which we left alone. His book is excellent.)
On Family Search.org, Fort Montezuma 1879-1884: Crucible of Devotion can be found in the “Memories” section on the “Person” page of each Fort Montezuma pioneer. Also, I added the new history to Henry and Elizabeth’s "Memories" sections-- see link below.  If you find mistakes or clarifications in either history, please contact me and I will correct them in  the online version. 

Here's part of their history. For "the rest of the story" and to learn more about the photos in this post--
go to Family Search.org:  
"[In Huntington] Life was not as difficult as it had been on the San Juan, but crops were poor in the alkaline soil. Homestead land was becoming available in southern Idaho, so Henry and Elizabeth decided to move there in 1894 or 1895. 
"The Harrimans loaded furniture, a cupboard, a stove, bedding, straw ticks for beds, an old organ, farm implements, a sewing machine, and grain for feed and seed. They hitched four head of horses to two big covered wagons and trailed a short wagon behind each.  William and Frank rode horseback and drove about 50 head of cattle. They slept in the wagons at night.
"In Spanish Fork Canyon, they narrowly escaped disaster. The wagon drivers hadn’t heard the train whistle because of the noise of the wagons, but Alice, riding with her father, heard the whistle.  They stopped just short of the railroad tracks as a train roared around the bend.
            "Their cattle were poisoned by eating locoweed in Malad Valley, and they had to kill a cow that went crazy and chased people who were walking or on horseback. They lost 12 head of cattle.
"Harrimans moved to an unimproved farm three and one-half miles south of Idaho Falls, cleared sagebrush, built a house and improved the place. Cornelia said, 'We had a little pony that Zuma and I rode to herd the cows. We had quite a herd of milk cows. Mother made butter to sell for a little pin money to buy things with. Mother hitched our pony to a one-horse buggy, which she drove to town every day when she took the nurses [and obstetrics and midwifery] class taught by Dr. Ellis Shipp from Salt Lake City.' One day, a train scared the pony and Elizabeth had all she could do to keep the horse from crashing the buggy. "


Sunday, March 25, 2018

Quiz time! Test your Fort Montezuma Knowledge!

R.F. "Ron" McDonald in 2015

R.F. McDonald near San Juan River --in vicinity where Harriman cabin was located (actual site not found yet.)

Quiz Time! How well do you know your Fort Montezuma history?
1. Fort Montezuma was located:

A. In southwest Utah near St. George.
B. In southeast Utah near the Four Corners.
C. In central Mexico, in the state of Sonora

2. At least 15 families eventually settled near Fort Montezuma, but the first missionary families sent to colonize at Montezuma Creek for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints were:

A. Henry and Elizabeth Harriman and George and Julia Hobbs
B. Henry and Elizabeth Harriman and Hyrum and Ellen Hobbs Fielding
C. Henry and Elizabeth Harriman and James and Mary Davis

3. Which of these events happened to the Harrimans at Fort Montezuma?

A. Elizabeth made an American flag from scraps of a dress, red flannel underwear and white cloth for the 4th of July celebration in 1879.
B. They became close friends with nearby Navajos.
C. They opened a trading post.

4. The Harrimans had to leave Fort Montezuma because a huge flood tore out their farm. Which river flooded?

A. Navajo River
B. Colorado River
C. San Juan River

Correct Answers: 1. B; 2. C (Trick question! George Hobbs was one of the scouts who made the initial trip and who came back two more times; Hyrum and Ellen Fielding later settled at Fort Montezuma. George, Ellen and Elizabeth were siblings.) 3. A and B—another Pioneer, William Hyde, opened several trading posts; 4. C

R.F. McDonald's book, Fort Montezma 1879-1884: Crucible of Devotion is the story of the valiant mission of these pioneers. (See the prior blog post for more details.)

I hope this quiz makes you hungry for more of this great story! I’m working to obtain a print version of this book, which R.F. has gave me permission to publish. To display his photographs at their best, they will be printed in high resolution on quality paper (softcover). Each printed book will cost around $27—with no profit for R.F. or me.

We need pre-orders for at least 100 books to start the process, and checks must be submitted by March 31, 2018. I’ve received 29 pre-orders—here’s a shout-out of thanks to those who sent them!

If you or your family members would like a print version, please send a check ($27 for each book desired) to me, Debra Holm, 114 Meyer Ave. Nampa ID 83686. I will combine these into a final payment for the printer. I plan to deliver most of them at the Nelson Midsummer Reunion on June 16 in Rexburg.

If you prefer reading the story on a computer or a device here's a link:


Although the quiz was centered on Harriman history, the book contains fascinating stories of other settlers—surnames include Hobbs, Davis, Shurtz, Holyoak, Hyde, Fielding, Haskell, Decker, Allan, Tracy, Moody and Guymon.

Friday, February 23, 2018

Rejoice, Fort Montezuma Descendants!

Mary Fretwell Davis

James Davis

Sarah Elizabeth Hobbs Harriman

Henry Harrison Harriman
It’s time to celebrate some glorious pioneers! Their story, Fort Montezuma 1879-1884: Crucible of Devotion, is complete. R.F. “Ron” McDonald wrote this final version of the forgotten stories of this group of intrepid pioneers, which included Harriman and Davis ancestors.

Some years ago, R.F., who hikes the red rock canyons and wades the muddy San Juan River in southeastern Utah, discovered the headstones of two children, John and Lizzie Harriman. He set out to learn their stories --a difficult task, since no descendants of the early pioneers still lived in the San Juan River country. During this journey of discovery, R.F. shot the stunning photographs of vestiges of roads, water wheels and other relics which are in this book, along with sharing the fascinating stories of settlers who fought the desert and the unpredictable river for six years.

I've been blessed to edit this history with R.F. over the past two years. He's wise, funny and extremely patient. Norm and I are grateful to call him our friend.

The book is posted online in the Family Search Accounts of the Fort Montezuma pioneers. Studying the book online works well for those who enjoy reading on devices or a computer. For example, for Henry Harrison Harrima, the book is at the link below:


R.F. has given me permission to publish a print version. To show his photographs best, printing must be done in high resolution on quality paper. Each printed book will cost around $27, with no profit to R.F. or me. I need pre-orders for at least 100 books to start the process, and checks must be sent to me by March 31, 2018. If you or your family members prefer a print version, please reply in the comments.

Here's an overview of the story: a few scouts and two families with children—James and Mary Davis and Henry and Elizabeth Harriman—responded to calls extended by leaders of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints to colonize on Montezuma Creek in southeastern Utah. After an arduous journey, they built Fort Montezuma. They nearly starved that first winter.

Some “Hole in the Rock” pioneers joined them the next spring: families with surnames that included Shurtz, Holyoak, Hyde, Fielding, Haskell, Decker, Allan, Tracy, Moody, and Guymon. These settlers conquered the arid land and constructed large water wheels to carry river water to their crops. Unlike most white people at that time and place, they made warm friendships with the Navajos and Utes who lived nearby.

The pioneers determined to carry on even after Church leaders offered them an honorable release in 1883 because of crop failures, the vagaries of the San Juan, epidemics that brought death to the settlement, and livestock thefts. Then, in 1884, the river flooded far beyond its banks, tearing out their homes and farms. Left with nothing, the pioneers moved on, taking the tales of their valor with them.

About one hundred years later, in the late 1990s, R.F. found the graves. He put inquiries on message boards on the Internet, and months went by with no hits. In the meantime, my sister, Brenda Nelson Anderson—who was a great-niece of Lizzie and John Harriman, and a gifted historian—joined the Harriman Family Association in New England. Someone from the Harriman Association gave R.F. Brenda’s contact information, and he called her in October of 2000. In the final stages of terminal leukemia, she felt blessed to hear that someone had tended the graves of children we had heard about since childhood. Our cousin, Colleen Smith Bingham, and others shared family history so that R.F. could fill in the blanks about the pioneers’ brief stay in the San Juan area. Brenda died December 24, 2000. As time went by, R.F. discovered more Montezuma families and worked tirelessly to tell the stories of their courage.

Though these pioneers may have felt like failures when they left their mission— flooded out and busted—Fort Montezuma 1879-1884: Crucible of Devotion celebrates the depth of their devotion to God.

Please comment with your impressions of the book! And if desired, tell us the number of print books you’d like, and your email address.

Monday, October 19, 2015

Let's Hunt for Harriman History!

Henry Harrison Harriman

  Sarah Elizabeth Hobbs Harriman

        In 1879, Henry Harrison Harriman, age 30, and Sarah Elizabeth Hobbs Harriman, age 26, were called to help explore and settle the San Juan River country in southeast Utah, along with their children: Henry George, 6; Mary Clarissa, 5; John Alma, 3, and Elizabeth “Lizzie,” three months.  Sixteen male scouts, including Elizabeth’s brother George Hobbs, and another family—James and Mary Davis with their four children—joined them on the arduous journey. Their call was to establish themselves and the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in a wilderness of more than 9000 square miles frequented by outlaws, to make friends with the local Indians, and to prepare for the arrival of a much larger group of pioneers.

Now that you are started on their story, we are extending a call for family research help on Henry and Elizabeth:

It’s time search deeper for photos and stories of Henry and Elizabeth for the  fourth edition of Ron McDonald’s “Fort Montezuma,” scheduled to be printed in early 2016. We seek photos and provenance (the history of ownership) of any heirlooms still in existence—such as Henry’s rifle, which is owned by the Henry Nelson family, and Eliza Elizabeth Jones Harriman’s basket, which is owned by Ellen Nelson Frazier. It would be wonderful to photograph handiwork sewn by Elizabeth. We need help to reach out to their other descendants, who include the posterity of Henry George (married Gertrude Van Horn); Mary Clarissa, (married John Fausett); William Harrison (married Melissa Clifford); Cornelia (married Anthon Nelson) and Zuma Elizabeth (married Alva Frederick Murdock.) If you’d like to help in this effort, please comment and we will get you started.

Henry Harrison Harriman's rifle,  in possession of the Henry Nelson clan.  Please let us know the make and caliber, and any other details you can!

And now… the rest of the story! 

When they reached Montezuma Creek, they built a fort, but it was too late in the season to plant crops. The larger party of Saints called to the mission was scheduled to arrive with provisions shortly, but unfortunately, that band suffered the privations of the “Hole in the Rock” journey, which took six months instead of six weeks. The Harrimans were saved from starvation only through the providence of Heavenly Father, who guided Elizabeth’s brother George Hobbs in bringing them food.   When the other pioneers arrived at Bluff 15 miles west of Montezuma Creek, they were starving and exhausted, and most planted gardens and crops where they were. A few pushed on to Montezuma.

Harrimans built a cabin and raised crops on a farm a mile near the fort. They became good friends with the Indians, even to the point of allowing a Navajo family to take Lizzie for short visits to their camp.  A son, William Harrison, was born on 5 February 1881. But tragedy struck the family twice: Lizzie died in March of 1881, and John died of measles in 1882. The environment was harsh—they scorched in the summer and the San Juan River was unpredictable. Thieving outlaws hid in the canyons. There were Indian scares, with killings between the Ute and Navajo tribes and other white men—but the Mormon pioneers escaped because of the Lord’s mercies and their kindness to the natives.   In late 1883, Church authorities extended a release to those settlers who wished to move away; they voted to stay at least another year—and in 1884, spring run-off brought the biggest flood the San Juan had ever had, which tore out the pioneers’ water wheels, crops, and many homes. 

Lizzie and John Harriman's graves.  We do not know who placed the headstones, made of native sandstone. Kind people have covered the graves with rocks to protect them. 

          With their farm in ruins, the Harrimans bid goodbye to two little graves and turned their faces northward, never to return.  They eventually settled in Canyon Creek, Idaho, where Henry died in 1908 and Elizabeth in 1925. 

In the 1950s, Brenda Nelson, a great-granddaughter of Henry and Elizabeth, led her younger siblings on “pioneer treks” on the family dry farm near Canyon Creek. The girls wore sunbonnets and carried dolls, while their brother “scouted” from the hilltop with a stick for a gun. Brenda and her Nelson cousins had heard stories, made hazy by time, about golden-haired Lizzie and her brother who died, and other adventures of their forbears.  Brenda’s early fascination with family history became a lifelong passion. She married Sherrell “Shae” Anderson and they became parents of eleven children. They experienced the Teton Dam Flood, which displaced them from their home in Sugar City, and other trials.  A son, Owen, died of Sudden Infant Death Syndrome and another son, Brett, drowned as a toddler. In 1995, Brenda and her family moved from Idaho to Ohio, leaving two little graves on a hillside. 

Around the late 1990s, Ron McDonald of Blanding, Utah, a piano tuner and voracious hiker, explorer and researcher, ran across the graves of Lizzie and John Harriman. He wondered where the family had gone—no Harrimans lived in San Juan County.  He put queries on the Internet seeking descendants of Harrimans, and months went by.

In Ohio, Brenda had connected with the New England Harriman family organization and other connections.  Someone online told Ron to contact Brenda, which he did. It was 2000 and Brenda was very ill with terminal leukemia. She was excited to hear of his interest in Harriman family history and gave him the names of cousins who helped him obtain Harriman history and photographs—Colleen Smith and Wilbur T. “Whitey” Nelson. With this information, Ron started a huge research project; more than a decade ago, he published the history of the Montezuma mission and all the families who settled there in “Fort Montezuma.”  He continues to obtain new information and plans to publish a fourth edition of the book in early 2016.

          A month ago, when we heard of the dedication of a monument in Bluff, Utah, we realized it was a chance to meet Ron and have him show us the Montezuma sites.  From Wayne Nelson’s family, Bruce Nelson, Jeanne and Alan Jeppesen and Norm and Debbie Holm made the trip. In Bluff, we met cousins from Lester Nelson’s family— Clara Ann and Doug Olsen and Joy and Bill Wingo, and Jeff and Michelle Nelson and family, and Lisa Nelson Horton and her family. 

          Fort Bluff is a historic site with restored cabins of the Hole in the Rock Pioneers. The monument features President John Taylor, who presided over the church when the San Juan missionaries were called.  It has a section in honor of Montezuma pioneers. (For more information, go to: http://bluffutah.org/bluff-fort/)

Plaque in the Hobbs Siblings Cabin, Fort Bluff

          Joy introduced us to Graig Taylor, a descendant of George Hobbs. George scouted for the exploration party and for the Hole in the Rock pioneers, which included his and Elizabeth’s sister, Ellen Hobbs Fielding. Graig gives big “Hobbs hugs” and is on the board of the Hole in the Rock Foundation (HIRF). Graig told us of the trials modern workers endured to build the cabins and the visitors center. He placed a little high chair and dolls in the “George Hobbs Siblings” cabin in honor of Elizabeth.

High chairs and dolls on left side were placed in honor of Elizabeth Harriman

          The dedication was in honor of the “second wave” of pioneers who settled in Bluff around 1915, when they left their homes in Mexico during the troubled time of Pancho Villa. LaMar Helquist, chairman of the HIRF, paid tribute to the Montezuma pioneers and was visibly moved when about 20 members each of the Davis and Harriman families indicated their presence. All who were there from the two families posed for photos together, and I obtained an email address for Carol Parrett of their group.

In the afternoon, the “Wayne” group and Clara, Joy and Bill met with Ron and quickly sensed his deep love of the Montezuma pioneers, of the Harrimans, and of Brenda, who started him on this journey. 

Tradition says LDS church leaders built the Montezuma Creek church near Harriman’s cabin site, and just across the highway and up a hill are the graves of Lizzie and John.  We climbed about 300 feet from the road up a hill covered with tumbleweeds, prickly weeds and dry rock.  It was incredible to see these graves, preserved for 132 years in an inhospitable landscape.  Lizzie and John were never forgotten; Henry or other early saints built a fence of cedar wood around the graves; unknown people in Montezuma Creek or Bluff placed sandstone headstones; in the 1970s, a Mr. Kemner led a Lions Club project to build a white metal fence around the graves. Kind people—including members of the Montezuma Creek Branch and missionaries from Fort Bluff—have covered both graves thickly with large river cobblestones, and kept them clear of weeds, a labor of love for which our family owes a great debt of gratitude.  When Ron found the graves, there were remnants of the cedar wood fence, which he had placed on the graves; someone had thrown the aged sticks off of the graves, but we found them and put them back. This tiny plot is sacred ground to us. 

Ron showed us where wagon wheels could possibly have left tracks and scarred a rock cliff side near the San Juan River– nowadays, it’s “thick enough to pour like cement,” Bruce said. However, Ron emphasizes that "We simply don't know the exact location of anything except the Harriman graves. We just know the approximate locations." 

We drove a mile up the road from the church, walked across another field of weeds to the bank of the muddy San Juan River to see a pile of rocks in the water. Ron has hefted them when the river is low and feels that they were part of a man-made structure.  Maybe it is the site of Fort Montezuma – they built the fort or parts of it with rock.  Most likely, it was the cribbing platform of William Hyde's water wheel, which would have been a little west of the actual fort.  In any case, these rocks are the correct size for a man to lift to make a structure. 

   Rocks in the San Juan River that are the right size to have been used in a man-made structure.        

          As we walked back to the car, we pondered why the Lord would have the Harrimans come to this desolate place and suffer so much, and then move away, feeling like failures, tired and worn out. Brenda immediately came to mind and I said, “It’s like anything in mortal life—we don’t know why.  Why would my sister Brenda, a mother of eleven children, die of cancer before she could meet her grandchildren? We don’t know, but God does, and one day it will all be made plain to us.  We know that the Harrimans were very strong people with great faith in God, and they passed that on to their posterity. And Brenda was determined to share their story.”  Ron walked thoughtfully for a moment and then said, “Maybe that’s why I just couldn’t give up.  Two or three times, I boxed up all of my work on the book and put it under the bed.  I told my wife I was ready to quit.  And then I couldn’t leave it alone.  I came back to it.” It was a sacred moment.

As we drove away, Ron showed us Recapture Canyon, where Harrimans turned their wagons north when they left to go to Huntington (where our grandmother, Alice Anna, was born). Back at his truck, Ron asked us to send him a photo of Brenda.  I feel Brenda influenced Ron to keep working on a book that only he could write, and he united facts from the Nelsons with his knowledge of the terrain and pioneers of San Juan County. He hopes for more information before he finishes the book’s final edition.

Elizabeth Harriman, seated, with a grandchild and daughter Alice Harriman Nelson. This photo was taken at Elizabeth's homestead home in Canyon Creek in about 1910.

          Henry and Elizabeth lived their testimonies of the Savior Jesus Christ by doing everything that was asked of them. The purpose of their mission—to provide a civilizing influence over Southeast Utah and to make friends with the Indians—proved to be a success. At that time, there was much conflict between the Navajos, Utes and white men of the area—cowboys, outlaws, settlers, and cavalry.  Under Army orders, Kit Carson and his men had forced the Navajos to march to a reservation in 1863-64—many men, and even women and children, were killed; many died of privation.  In 1879, renegade Utes killed Nathan Meeker and his men (whose clumsy attempts to civilize them including telling them to kill many of their horses.) After the “Meeker Massacre,” hostile Indians came through Montezuma Creek but crossed the river a mile south of the fort. A report reached Salt Lake City that Indians had killed the Harrimans and Davises. Thales Haskell, sent to bury them, ascertained with much relief that they had been preserved.
The Harrimans and Davises were exceptions to the general hatred and vengeance.  They offered the Indians friendship, patience, and restraint, and received the same in return.  That kind of behavior isn’t extolled in most history books but it changes the hearts and lives of the posterity of all races.  Many Native Americans were present at the dedication ceremony, and some live near the Harriman graves, which are on reservation property.

We hope there are photos and artifacts that will shed more light on these valiant ancestors. Modern generations may not know all their stories but the examples of our forbears resonate deep within our bones.  Please respond to this call!  We need your help. 

Ron McDonald, Debbie Holm, Bruce Nelson, Jeanne Jeppesen

 Clara Olsen, Ron McDonald, Joy Wingo 

 Ron McDonald on a flat rock near the San Juan River.