Thursday, January 29, 2009

Tombstone tales from Iowaville

Restoring flesh to dry and forgotten bones is the most rewarding part of life along the tombstone trail, so I was gratified this week when something clicked in my head and the connection between Jonathan A. King's tombstone in the Iowaville Cemetery and an account of Alma King's accidental death in 1849 or 1850 along a trail in southeast Iowa finally dawned. Of course! Jonathan A. King was Jonathan Alma King, known as Alma to his family and friends more than 150 years ago when most of Iowa was wild and free and thousands of refugees were moving across it.

The name itself speaks when given to a male. The Book of Alma is the longest in the Book of Mormon; Alma the younger, a prophet and chief judge of the Nephites. Alma King was one of those refugees, the name says.

This is a series of stories involving intertwined lives, including Alma's, inspired by five graves at Iowaville, a pretty place half a continent away from the Great Salt Lake Valley where several of those who rest here were bound when claimed by death.


To understand why that happened, it's necessary to know that in early February of 1846, when the Latter-day Saints' flight from Nauvoo, Illinois, toward Salt Lake commenced, Iowaville was a thriving village on the banks of the Des Moines that offered employment. Andrew Jackson Davis, later Montana's richest man, was building a milling complex just across the river in Black Hawk City (linked to Iowaville by a chain ferry) that would contain southeast Iowa's largest distillery. He would become the biggest employer of all. By all accounts, the Iowaville folks were friendly, too, and bore the Mormons little of the ill-will they had encountered in Ohio, Missouri, Illinois and farther southeast in Iowa.

Many of the Saints had been forced out of Nauvoo without the resources needed to make the trek west. Some, known as the "poor Saints," had little more than the clothes on their backs as they crossed the Mississippi into Iowa, but many others also had to find places of refuge where they could live in safety temporarily and work to earn the money needed to outfit themselves before continuing the journey west.

Van Buren County, on the trail west, was one of those places. Some arrived here and traveled no farther for months or years. Other families made it as far west as Mt. Pisgah, in what now is Union County, even to Kanesville (now Council Bluffs) on the Missouri, before turning back to Iowaville where jobs could be found.

And so from 1846 until as late as 1853, there were many Mormon families living and working among non-Mormon neighbors in and near Iowaville --- at least dozens and perhaps hundreds of people when the fluid nature of the LDS population is considered.


Asahel and Elizabeth (Schellinger) Smith were the most prominent, and among the first, to stop at Iowaville. They were old and ill and poor, but because they were accompanied and supported by their son, Elias Smith, and other family members, they were able to live as comfortably as possible considering their circumstances. Other members of the Smith family party at Iowaville included Elias's sister, Mary Jane (Smith) Gee, and her two young children, Elias S. and George W. Gee. Mary Jane's husband, George Washington Gee, had died on 20 January 1842 while on a church mission in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, of "black measles" acquired while tending to a sick child. Elias, who had remained a bachelor until age 41, had just married in Nauvoo the previous year Lucy Brown, then in her mid-20s.

Asahel Smith, in line to become fourth presiding Patriarch of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, would have ascended to that position primarily because of kinship but also because of the tension that followed the death of his nephew, Joseph Smith Jr., Mormon prophet and founder. Joseph Smith Jr. ordained his father (and Asahel's brother), Joseph Smith Sr. as the first patriarch. He was succeeded by Hyrum Smith, marytered with his brother, the prophet, on June 27, 1844. At that time, Joseph's and Hyrum's only surviving brother, William Smith, asserted his lineal right to the position and was so ordained by Brigham Young. But when William Smith joined a rival Mormon faction headed by James J. Strang, he was formally replaced by his Uncle John, brother of Asahel, primarily it is felt because Asahel was too ill to assume the duties of the position.

Whaever the case may be, Asahel Smith's wife, Elizabeth, died on 14 October 1846, soon after reaching Iowaville, and she may have been the first of the Saints to be buried in the Iowaville Cemetery. Asahel followed his wife in death on 21 July 1848 and was buried by Elizabeth's side.

On the 23rd of August 1850, when the 1850 federal census of the United States was taken, Elias and Lucy Smith and Mary Jane Gee and her two children were living just over the county line west of Iowaville in Salt Creek Township, Davis County. Elias's occupation was given as bookkeeper, but stories of the LDS years at Iowaville suggest that he worked much of the time as a teamster, hauling freight that included whiskey from the Davis distillery to Keokuk and supplies for Iowaville and neighboring villages back from the Mississippi.

In the spring after this census was taken, the Smith and Gee families outfitted themselves and continued the trek west to Utah. Elias, who has served in Nauvoo as business manager of both "Times and Seasons" and "Nauvoo Neighbor" newspapers became business manager and later editor of Salt Lake City's "Deseret News" and eventually was named probate judge of Salt Lake County.

It was Jesse Moroni Smith, son of Elias Smith and his plural wife, Amy Jane (King) Smith, who returned from Utah to Iowaville after the turn of the 20th Century to mark the graves of his grandparents in the Iowaville Cemetery. The paired inscriptions on the tombstone he placed there (at the top of this entry) read:

Born May 21,1773
At Windham,
Rockingham Co.
New Hampshire
Died July 21, 1848

SMITH, Dau. of
Born Dec. 1, 1785
At Chatham, Hartford
Co., Conn.
Died Oct. 14, 1846

Erected by Jesse M. Smith
In behalf of their grandchildren in Utah

As an aside, most of the online material regarding Asahel and Elizabeth state that they died at Iowaville, Wapello County, Iowa. Iowaville and the Iowaville Cemetery are located in Van Buren County. And it is possible that Asahel and Elizabeth actually died just over the county line in Davis County, since that is where their children were living in 1850.


It is Jesse Moroni Smith, although not born until 21 November 1858 in Salt Lake City, who links the Smith and the King LDS pioneer families of Iowaville. Asahel and Elizabeth Smith were his grandparents. But when he marked their graves, he also ordered a similar tombstone for the adjacent grave of his uncle, Jonathan Alma King. Nearby were the already marked graves of another uncle, Enoch E. King, and an infant cousin, William R. King. The graves of Alma and Enoch offer insights into the terrible hazards of pioneer life in Iowa; the grave of William, a link to an even greater tragedy, the clash of native American and Euro-American cultures that led to an 1855 massacre in Washington state that claimed nine lives.

As noted earlier, Elias Smith (left), who had gotten off to a late start in marriage, and his new wife, Lucy, were living in Salt Creek Township, Davis County, when the 1850 federal census was taken. Soon thereafter, on 28 October 1850, the first of their four children, Emily Jane, was born.

In 1851, they outfitted themselves and pushed on toward Utah where in Salt Lake City on 15 April 1856, Elias married as his plural wife Amy Jane King (born 3 October 1836 in Mantua, Portage County, Ohio), the daughter of close friends and Iowaville neighbors Thomas Jefferson and Rebecca Englesby Olin King. Jesse M. Smith was the second of 13 children who resulted from that marriage, meaning that Elias (despite not starting until he was 41) fathered 17 children before his death on 24 June 1888 in Salt Lake City --- the youngest born when he was 72.

The Kings (that's Thomas J. at left) had come from Portage County, Ohio, to a farm in Morley's Settlement near Nauvoo in 1845, but had not yet harvested a crop when their home was burned and they were forced to flee into Nauvoo, then the next year across the Mississippi into Iowa. Thomas, Rebecca and at least seven children of their eight children managed to reach Mt. Pisgah in 1846, but could find no work there and so after a brief stay returned east to Iowaville where they settled among fellow refugees, including the Smiths. Thomas King and Elias Smith acquired ox teams and became partners in a freighting operation between Iowaville and Keokuk, much of the time hauling whisky from the Davis distillery to Keokuk and goods for the Iowaville store on the return trip.

In was this freighting operation that claimed the life of Jonathan Alma King, apparently during December of 1849 although December of 1850 also is the possible date of the event. Alma's brother, Thomas Franklin King, seventh child of Thomas J. and Rebecca, described the events as follows in biographical writings completed late in life:

"On another occasion my father and my next younger (actually an older) brother, Alma, were hauling salt to Keokuk on a pair of low bob-sleds. The weather being bitter cold, they took turns in going into houses to warm themselves. Thus one of them would go into a house to warm and the other drive on, When the one in the house got warm he would run and catch up with the team and drive, while the other went into another house to get warm. On one of these turns Alma had been in to warm himself, and catching up with the team he took the whip while my father went into another house to get warm; on coming out he (Father) ran to catch up with the team, but soon found the lifeless form of Alma. It was supposed that in trying to jump onto the sled his foot slipped and that he was thrown under the sled which crushed the life out of him. Father left his team there and hired a man to take the body home. It was a most heart-rending scene that took place when he reached home, as Alma was the model brother of the family."

It was Alma's grave that Jesse M. Smith marked with a stone similar to the one he erected at his grandparents' graves. The inscription on it reads as follows:

Jonathan A. King
Born Feb. 2, 1835
Died Dec. 1850

There's a discrepancy here, I know, between the usual date given for Jonathan Alma's death, December 1849, and the date placed on his tombstone by Jesse M. Smith and I tend to think Jesse was mistaken, but that will come up here a little later.


Located just north of Jonathan Alma's tombstone at Iowaville is the far older stone marking the grave of his brother, Enoch E., who died in Feburary of 1850 at the age of 10. This death date is easier to affirm because Enoch's death was recorded in the mortality schedule attached to the 1850 federal census of Van Buren County. That entry states that Enoch King, age 10, a male born in Ohio, died in Feburary of 1850 as the result of a fever of three days' duration. The inscripton on this stone reads:

In Memory Of
Son of
Who died
Feb. 20, 1850
Aged 10 yrs.
4 mo. & 18 ds.

But the obvious question is, why did Thomas J. and Rebecca King mark Enoch's grave before they left Iowa, and that apparently is what happened since the tombstone is of that era, but not Jonathan Alma's? Frankly, I have no explanation.

According to Thomas Franklin King, his father, Thomas J., traveled to the gold fields of California in the spring of 1850 hoping to make enough money to take his family from Iowa to Utah. If that, as well as the account of Jonathan Alma's death while working with his father, is accurate then the death must have occurred in December 1849 as reported in much later biographical writings about Thomas J.

In addition, when the 1850 federal census of Van Buren County was taken, Rebecca headed the family as enumerated in Village Township which included four children, William, 17, Amy, 14, Thomas F., 8, and Angeline, 5. Son George E. and his bride, Mary, were living nearby in Salt Creek Township, Davis County. But there was no sign of Jonathan Alma, lending support to December 1849 as his death date.

Whatever the case, Thomas and Rebecca had by now lost three of their eight children, sons Jonathan A. and Enoch as well as a daughter (and Enoch's twin sister), Rhoda Eleanor, who according to some accounts died on 5 July 1846. If that date is accurate it would place her death somewhere along the trail in Iowa.

To conclude this chapter of the story, Thomas J. King returned to Iowaville from California by ship around Cape Horn in the fall of 1853 and spring of 1854 having met with mixed success in the gold fields. He outfitted the family immediately and set out for Utah with Rebecca, William, Amy, Thomas F. and Angeline. They arrived safely and thrived. Thomas J. died in East Layton, Davis County, Utah, on 23 September 1876. Rebecca followed him in death on 12 November 1876.


A link to the greatest tragedy involving former Iowaville residents is provided by the small tombstone of William R. King. My own photo of it is worthless (I'll try again), so I've borrowed one from the excellent "Iowaville Cemetery" site that may be found by clicking here. The inscription on the stone reads as follows:

Son of
Jan. 19, 1853
Aged 11 mo.
&5 d.

George E. King, reportedly born 23 October 1828, was the eldest son of Thomas J. and Rebecca Englesby (Olin) King and a brother of Jonathan Alma and Enoch. It was George who went back to the burned-out farmstead at Morley's Settlement from the relative safety of Nauvoo in the fall of 1845 to help his mother harvest the corn she needed to feed her family. And it was George who walked many miles to Mt. Pisgah the next year to get the horses necessary to haul his family and their stranded wagon in from the Iowa prairie.

There is confusion about George's first marriage, but at some point prior to 1850 he apparently married a Sabrina Curtis and they had two children, but soon parted and divorced. Sabrina ended up in Utah without him and the children were sealed to her second husband.

By the time the 1850 federal census was taken on 23 August of that year, George E. and his second wife, Mary Susan Kinsley, a North Carolina native who was only 15, were living at Iowaville just west of the Davis County line in Salt Creek Township. His occupation is given as cooper.

William R., who died at 11 months, most likely was their second child, although that is by no means certain. His brother, George E. King Jr., may have been older --- we just don't know when the younger George was born.

When Thomas J. King returned to Iowaville from California in the spring of 1854, he immediately began to prepare his family for the trip to Utah. George E. and Mary, however, chose to head elsewhere, departing Iowaville in late April, 1854. George's brother, Thomas Franklin King, wrote:

"My brother, George E., who had married and had a young family, concluded to go his own way. He fitted himself up with a first class four-horse team and started a few days ahead of us, for Washington Territory, and that was the last we ever saw of him."

The decision to go his own way would prove to be a grave mistake.

By early September 1854, the Kings and their son, George, in company with Mr. and Mrs. Harvey Jones and their three children, had reached the Yakima River valley in south central Washington where they encountered Ezra Meeker, a major figure in and chronicler of Washington history, who camped overnight with them on or about the 8th.

Later that fall, the Kings and the Jones with other families settled on the White River about 20 miles south of Seattle not far from Puget Sound. It may have been soon after their arrival that Mary S. King gave birth to another child.

Almost exactly a year later, during a time of intense tension between the Native American and Euro-American residents of the Seattle area, what now is called the White River Massacre occurred on Sunday, 28 October 1855.

When all was said and done that day, nine people were dead in or near cabins on three adjoining claims: George E. and Mary S. King and their infant child, Harvey H. and Eliza Jane Jones, Mr. and Mrs. W.H. Brannan and an infant child and Enos Cooper.

Of the nine, Mary Susan King was the most horribly mutilated. George E. King's body had burned with the family cabin. The infant's body never was found.

The three Jones children escaped the massacre with assistance from a friendly Native American couple. George E. King Jr. was taken captive and held four months before being taken by his captors to Fort Steilacoom and turned over to officers there.

Young George then was placed by those officers in the custody of Ezra Meeker, eventually adopted by a family named Gunn and finally taken to Connecticut. No more is known about him, but Meeker implies that he was dead by the turn of the 20th century.


It is at this point, having told these stories, that some sort of grand summing up seems called for --- maybe something about adversity and perseverance, lessons to be learned from the examples of our forbears --- you get the idea. But to that would trivialize some pretty tragic stuff I think. So draw your own conclusions.

For me, I'll fall back on a line attributed to Harry Truman: "The only new thing is history we don't know." Now I know a little more.

A note about sources: Because all of these families were Mormon, some quite prominent, an abundance of online genealogical material is available concerning them, much of it based on work done for sacramental purposes by members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and made available to the public by that church. Noble purpose, however, does not ensure accuracy and among competing versions of the same data groups I've tried to choose the most logical.

Biographical writings by or about Elias Smith, Asahel Smith, Thomas Jefferson King and Thomas Franklin King found in the Latter-day Saint Biographical Encyclopedia and comparable volumes provided guidance for the narrative as well as specific data.

Pehaps the best account of the White River Massacre is found scattered throughout Ezra Meeker's 1905 "Pioneer Reminiscences of Puget Sound" (Seattle: Lowman W. Hanford Stationery & Printing Co.). Nancy Russel Thomas's "The White River Massacre," published in "The Weekly Ledger" of 18 November 1892, also proved helpful.


Anonymous said...

Hello, Cousin!

I am also related to Thomas Jefferson and Rebecca King. Found your blog doing a search on them. Love your blog!

Loretta said...

Greetings from Kent Washington. There is a remote possibility George King accompanied his father to California; there is an unexplained George King, trader, born 1828 Ohio, in the mining precincts of Butte County in 1850. A centennial memorial marker to the Kings was erected (abt 1955) by the Washington State Historical Society near the sites of the White River Massacre in present-day Auburn, King County, Washington. It is located on Auburn Way South about midway between the Brannan and King homestead sites. It recites "George E King and wife" but provides no further useful data. The Kings were buried in great haste when the 1855 rescue party arrived, and the location of the graves was not mapped. A portion of the lowlands which made up the King farm site has recently been developed into a housing project. The grave site (believed to be near the old well head) was not found, but there is undeveloped land in the area and we're watching. Thanks for posting.