by Delisa Hargrove
John White Curtis, Jr., (1859–1949) was born in Springville, Utah, to John White Curtis (1820–1902) and Matilda Miner (1840–1909). His parents married in 1855 in Springville, Utah, and had 14 children between 1858 and 1885. John White Curtis, Sr.’s, first wife was Elmira Starr (1815–1883). They married 1836 in Connecticut had 3 children between 1842 and 1846.
John White Curtis, Sr., joined The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (often inadvertently called the Mormon Church) in 1832. Matilda was baptized in 1851.
Honored Mormon Pioneers
Since past history is sure to indicate the general character of future families, this history will fall short of the very vital part of my parent’s lives. Nothing has been written of them until now, and I can only recall a small part of our family life. My parents were both pioneers and had to endure all the hardships of those days. Words fall short of expression of Father’s nobility and manhood. He had unusual foresight, used good judgment, and was always known as a fair dealing man. Both my parents were highly esteemed and their character is worthy of study for well-directed ideals.
My mother could remember the death of the Grandfather, Edmond Durfee by a mob. How it grieved her childish heart. She told how she lay counting the stars to make herself sleep. She well remembered walking across the plains, or carrying wood miles for their evening camp. Grandmother Tamma kept a jar of dry salt-rising bread meal ready for emergency needs. When they couldn’t have a fire, they had this bread to nibble on. Sometimes they soaked it in water so they might eat it. Mother often told of her white factory dressed dyed with blue. She told us of one little girl who traveled near in crossing the plains who had two pairs of shoes. When they came to thorny, rocky roads, this girl wore the best pair and let Mother wear the other until they came to better roads, then Mother trudged happily along. Mother walked across the plains when only twelve years old, and had no shoes except when the girl loaned her shoes to Mother.
My mother was born the 12th of January 1847 at Lima, Hancock County, Illinois, and was married in 1855. Her unwavering patience and sincere honesty are traits worthy of study by any person. To one who knew her casually, little note would be given, but to those who knew her innermost life, she is idolized as one among many. She devoted her all to those of her acquaintance and had a life of unusually hard toil and rough experiences.
Father had erysipelas of the bone and was very sick for two years, was never really well after this sickness, being somewhat crippled. Among experiences in these hard times, I remember helping Mother gather heads of grain in the fields that had been harvested. The hordes of grasshoppers which we always had to fight will always hold a place in my memory.
Memories of Indian Encounters
Our home life in Springville was quite adventurous because of savage Indians. They would steal our horses and cattle every chance they got. The women and children would all gather at one place at night and the men would stand guard. The squaws were bad to steal; they came often to our home and demanded food, etc., which Mother always shared.
I remember when I was very small my Father took me into the canyon with him for a load of wood. As we were leaving for home, an Indian stopped us and asked for a ride. Father let him ride but was rather uneasy, as then Indians were always treacherous. He had a rope under his blanket which he thought was well hidden, but we saw it and knew he was after something. He rode into the valley with us and disappeared. Hay was very scarce with us, so we had to turn our horses in pastures. The next morning, one of our horses was gone, and this Indian was later seen riding him.
On the 26th of June 1886, a band of these troublesome Indians stole horses from Spanish Fork and Springville pastures. They fled up Maple Canyon with our men in hot pursuit. As our men drew near they all began firing. One white man was killed and one seriously wounded. I was seven years old, and I remember they would not let me see either of the men they brought back. After this battle the Indians seem a little frightened and caused less trouble for a while. I loved the mountains, and being the oldest boy, my father usually took me along with him.
John’s Parents’ Polygamous Marriage
Times were very hard and my parents were poor, so we did any kind of work to get provisions and clothes. Father and his brother Ezra cared for the Utah County Coop sheep for two years. It took a great effort, as Father did his part with the sheep and went to Springville often enough to keep the farm going. His first Wife, Elmira Starr, stayed at home with part of the family, while my Mother went with, taking me and the baby girl. I was old enough to help some.
Both of father’s wives lived in the same house. They were very congenial and worked together on all problems. They were both fond of children and Aunt Elmira treated us as her own. We loved her, the same as we did Mother. They were both spiritual people and we were taught religion from our early youth. Father’s timely guidance with the firm cooperation of his wives are to be admired by all his children.
In 1877, when I was 18 years old, we moved to Willow Bend, now Aurora. Father took up land, and by extra hard effort raised a crop the first year. He went to the mountains and cut logs immediately, then moved his family from Springville. This first house was made by placing four poles in the ground and then making sides and a roof of willows. When winter came, we plastered the willows with mud to hold out the cold. We did our cooking on an open fire out of doors. Our furniture was limited. The chairs were made with rope, cane and leather, basket woven for seats. The beds were four posts beds, with rope for springs, and straw tick mattresses. Stools were commonly used for chairs. Later, the fireplace was a substitute for a stove, shelves were used for cupboards, and the roof was dirt covered.
Father traded one yolk of oxen to Mr. Coons in Richfield for water rights in the Rocky Ford Dam and Canal Company. I worked with father all my life until twenty-five years of age, helping him to support the family and get a start.
Doris White is a native of Oregon and graduated from Brigham Young University with a degree in English and a minor in Editing. She loves to talk with others about the gospel of Jesus Christ.