Joseph Smith Black (1836 – 1910) Making a Home in Deseret, Utah

Making a Home in Deseret Utah

Early in the spring of 1875. Gilbert Webb commenced the construction of a dam across the Sevier River at a place which was known as Deseret. In March my brother William and I went over to look at the place, found tanning facilities very extensive and concluded to move there. We soon made arrangements and put in about 30 acres of grain. but owing to the dam not being completed so that the water could be used for irrigation, We lost all but about live acres. In the meantime I moved over a sawed log house and also my wife Sarah. who was the first lady to settle in Deseret at that time. When the water in the river fell in July, what few were there were much discouraged and it was apparent that unless something was done the place would be abandoned. Boys were put on horses to notify people to meet at the dam at 2 o’clock that day. All responded on assembling, it was asked, “Who called the meeting?” “Necessity” was the answer. I was asked to make a speech. which was my first speech in Deseret.  I got into a wagon and called their attention to the many hardships and privations that they had to endure in settling new countries. Instances of privation and heroic fortitude. ‘which had been displayed at the first settling of America. also the privation endured by the first settlers of own beloved Territory and also of the previous effort to settle this place. and the failure, and I said, “Let it never be recorded that we have tried and failed,” which was heartily applauded. Others made speeches in similar strain. when a unanimous vote was taken for the commencement of work in the morning and it never ceased until we got the water raised” which we accomplished and thereby saved some of our crops.

Gilbert Webb, who had been constructing the dam, had become embarrassed, and left the country. The people took charge of the dam. and I was one of the members of a chosen committee. About this time my brother William had become very much discouraged and left. He traveled over several valleys in the Eastern part of the Territory in search of a better place” but on his return, seeing the fertility of the soil and the thrifty condition of the crops he had concluded to stay and cast his lot with ours. He located on a piece of land joining mine. Soon after, an agitation was started to locate a City Plot. A committee was appointed at a meeting, which I did not attend. L. R Cropper was chairman of that committee, At that time most of the settlers were Gentiles, so called. and quite a number had come from Tintic.  Gilbert Webb informed me that it had been his original intention to establish a Gentile city, but had changed his mind and would like to have it settled by Moromons. In a few days I was informed of the location of a City Plot. “Oh!” I answered, “they had better locate it on the island.” as they had made the location on one of the lowest and most swampy places. The committee had selected the lower part of the survey. a very unsuitable place.

I continued to build and soon moved over the balance of my family. In the spring of the first settlement I was quite sick and sometimes I was hardly able to raise a shovelful of dirt. Breadstuff was very scarce and some had to subsist almost entirely on fish, which was very plentiful in the Sevier River, and easily caught, as we could catch them with our hand.” I settled on the south bank of the river opposite where the meetinghouse now stands. On the bank of the river there was a bunch of redberry in which two beautiful birds had made their home.  They sang continually day and night

This was the first that the Stake authorities had paid any attention to us. although we had held private meetings and had taught our children in Sunday School. The settlers being willing, I informed the President of that fact. Agreeable to appointment they arrived and held meeting at 2 o’clock in a bowery at George Bishop’s.  Remarks were made by President Callister and Bishop Partridge. William V. Black was called to take charge of the Branch. which was given a temporary organization. It was often remarked that our officials did not manifest the care and zeal over those already gathered as did our missionaries in bringing unbelievers to a knowledge of the truth,

About this time there were Stake and ward organizations taking place all over the Territory. A conference was held at Fillmore in the latter part of July. presided over by Apostles W. Woodrufl and Erastus Snow. When the organization of Millard Stake was effected and Deseret was organized as a ward. I was chosen or called as the office of Bishop of that ward. This was on the 24th of July, 1877. On their journey south they met at Kanosh. where 1 was ordained under their hands to the office of High Priest and Bishop of Deseret Ward.

I soon returned to Deseret where I was received by the general approval of the people. I further completed the organization of the ward. I selected for my counselors Mahonri M. Bishop and Hyrum Dewsnup, A quorum of teachers was organized. consisting of the following names: W. W. Damron, Joseph Damron, James Hogeson, Joshua Bennett. William Hunter. L. R. Cropper. Orlando W. Warner, George Bishop. John C. Webb. and John Mills. A choir was organized consisting of the following names: William Hunter as president Daniel Hunter, Thomas Bradfield and wife, John Mills and wile, Cyrus Warner and wife. Soon after the Elders quorum was organized and Gilbert Warner was appointed to preside. He was superseded by John C. Webb. no relation to the former Webb. About that time it was laid before the people the necessity of building a meetinghouse. and also a tithing office, and it was proposed that they would be built that fall. However. this was opposed by some. but the work was commenced and a small tithing office 18 by 20 feet was completed and a school and meetinghouse 20 by 30 feet was also completed sufficiently to hold meeting by Christmas. At that time we also had a dance in it. An Improvement Association was organized. The Saints generally worked pretty well and were united while most of those opposed to us had become discouraged and moved away, from this period until 1880, prosperity crowned our labors and we had plenty of grain.

In the year 1878, the Utah Southern Railroad was constructed through our country which furnished labor and cash for quite a number of the brethren. In the previous spring the first enterprise in merchandise was commenced by Reuben A Mcbride, who brought some goods from a Fillmore  Co-op store. He sold things at an exorbitant price and was poorly patronized. Through some cause, probably on account of delinquencies in payments, Brother C. Anderson was sent to take care of what goods there remained, and he boxed them up. I was offered the goods, hut declined to take them, and shortly afterwards forwarded them to Fillmore, as a previous offer which we had made to the Co-op at Fillmore had been refused.

About this time a cooperative company was organized, with William V, Black as president, Byron Warner, V. W. Damron, and Joseph and Joshua Bennett as secretary and treasurer. A small adobe room was partly completed. but owing to the lack of means the organization died.  About that time an offer was made to me by Fillmore Co-op to take goods and sell it, which I accepted. I got a small stock of about $400, but the prices charged me, as I learned afterwards, were exorbitant, They would charge 23 cents per lb. for candy. when their retail price was 25 cents, also prints , which they would retail for 10 cents they would charge me 9 1/2 cents a yard, and on sugar I would make about 50 cents per hundred pounds on retail prices. I made comparatively nothing as I sold at their retail prices, but it was an accommodation to the people. I dealt in that way until about Christmas; saving all the money I could from railroad work and other sources until I had laid by about $600.00. I settled with the Co-op and received as a present for my honorable dealing. a new suit of clothes. of which I was very proud. I borrowed $400.00 from J. V. Robinson .. which added to what I already had, made me a capital of’$1,000.00, with which I started to Salt Lake City. I paid J. V. Robinson ½ % per month and paid him the principal in about four months. I arrived in Salt Lake City December 22, 1879. and bought goods, some ZCMI,  and some from S. P, Teasdale. 1 paid $1.000 down and gave notes for about $2,700. I had not intended to get such a heavy stock of goods, but by mistake, my bill was doubled. I gave three notes, one payable in 60 days, one in 90 days and one in 120 days. I met the first promptly but owing to a loss in shipping grain west and not getting my pay. I was unable to pay the last one when due. but paid it shortly afterwards. My business increased rapidly and the population also increased quite fast, and while I devoted a great deal of time to merchandising and other business .. the duties of my office as Bishop were not neglected.

Gilbert had become considerably involved. He had given four mortgages on the dam. It was apparent that it would soon pass out of his hands. William V. Black, Wise Cropper, Hyrum Dewsnup and myself went to Salt Lake and negotiated with Chauncey Webb. Gilbert’s father. and other parties interested. and agreed to take the dam and pay the indebtedness to the amount of about $6,000. We made some payments, but soon after, one of the mortgages was foreclosed in the District court and by order of the court,  the dam was sold at public auction at Fillmore City. I was the highest bidder. offering $4,000. Which was accepted and the dam was knocked down to me. We soon after organized an irrigation company and stocked the dam at $6,000, which was about the net cost. We calculated that an acre of water would irrigate an acre of land, and any of the farmers could take as many shares as they could pay for.

In the spring of 1879, a man by the name of Bacher, from Southern Utah, came and proposed to put lip a gristmill, as he represented he had ample means. I encouraged the enterprise as the mill was much needed, He bought a mill at Oak Creek, which could not run there for the want of water, He set men to work and agreed to pay at the expiration of thirty days. He wanted me to take shares with him, which I declined to do. At the time for payment he failed and the work was about to stop. He read me a letter from his father-in-law, stating that owing to circumstances, the money could not then be sent, but soon would be obtained, as he was working a mine and making shipments of ore. I had little confidence in the man but agreed to help him out, and honored his orders to the amount of about $800. They worked on about another month and no funds came, I advanced a little along and found in our settlement that he was indebted to me about $2000. He offered me the mill. which I was obliged to accept. I gave him a load off lour and paid a personal note of his for $250, and he left. Subsequently I learned that he had given a mortgage on the first purchase of the mill to Mr. Walker, which compelled me to pay about $500 more. I completed the mill and put it in good running order, which was a source of considerable revenue in good seasons.

At this time others seeing our success, thought they would try their hand. Nephi Pratt and T. A. Robison came from Fillmore to Deseret and represented that they wished to open up a farm and asked me to sell them a house and lot across the street as. they wished to locate a tenant. I did so. It was soon apparent that they wanted to engage in merchandising and commenced the erection of a store. Why they wanted to keep it a secret from me in the start, I do not know, as I am always in for free trade and honorable competition. When the store was nearly ready for opening, they said confidentially to a friend, “The Bishop doesn’t know much about merchandising and we will soon run him out. ” They were answered. “Probably not. My impression is that you are building a store for the Bishop, to which subsequently proved to be correct.

Things generally at this time were in a prosperous condition. We organized a Relief Society, Sept. 7, 1878  with Mary Ann Warren as president. Also a Young Ladies Association, with Almira Black as president. Sometime previous to this the leader having been removed. the choir was nearly broken up and we had very poor singing with our worship, and no one in the ward was suitable for a leader. I laid this matter before the Lord and asked that He inspire some competent person to come to our place and lead the choir. S. W. Western, who had lived with me when he was a boy, and who was now living about 250 miles south, dreamed that I wanted him to move to Deseret to be my counselor. and that there was a labor there for him to accomplish. My dream so impressed him that he sold out immediately and moved to Desert. He was a good singer and chorister and soon built up an excellent choir. in which he took much interest and remained in the position until the 14th of August. 1889, when he started to England. where he had been called to go on a mission. There was good feeling and union among the people of the ward and in that year 1879. we paid in donations for the erection of the temple at Manti over $800.00. Things generally at this time were in a prosperous condition. We organized a Relief Society, Sept. 7.