Mormon Temple

Salt Lake City


An extract taken from an account written by David Ephiraim Thomas & Jeffrey Rees Thomas

in January 2008 on their ancestor Rees Powell Thomas journey to Utah

Ricy Davis Jones his Mothers Brother with his family

travelled on this same journey to their Zion


In his book, The Call of Zion, written by Dr. Ronald Dennis, Dr. Dennis describes in great detail the journey of the Welsh Saints from their homes to Liverpool.  I have condensed his account into the next few paragraphs, and acknowledge his work as the primary source of my information.

The Welsh Saints who wished to immigrate to America were to gather in Liverpool by February 15, 1849.  To that end, they had been counseled to pay off all debts, save money and gather in Swansea, then move on to Liverpool by Steamer.  Swansea is a port in western Glamorganshire.  The trip required sailing into the Bristol Bay of the Atlantic Ocean, and around Wales to Lancashire, England.  After much preparation, they boarded the Steamer Troubador, which departed 14 February at 9:00 am.  The passage was to take over 30 hours.   When the Welsh saints were preparing to travel, no financial help was available from the Mormon Church.  A short time after they arrived in Salt Lake City, the Church announced the Perpetual Emigration Fund, a fund designed to loan funds to needy travelers for help in paying travel expenses. Local newspapers derided the Saints as “bold peasantry” who were “deluded” and hoped to escape the “general destruction and conflagration that is shortly to envelope this earth” by traveling to “their New Jerusalem”.  Not all of the press reports were negative.  In the paper British Banner, the Mormons were called a “goodly company” and that they were led by “…Captain Dan Jones (who)… seems to enjoy the respect and confidence of the farmers from…Brechfa and Llanybydder "Although the journey to Liverpool was actually shorter than expected by some four hours, many in the party were terribly seasick.  Dan Jones was employed in nursing those suffering from seasickness, having himself been a sailor since the age of 17. Liverpool at the time was a busy seaport.  Many opportunists awaited unsuspecting travelers, willing to relieve them of purse and baggage.  The Mormons had been warned to avoid shysters at the docks.  It is likely that many of the Welsh farmers had never been to a city the size of Liverpool.  To them, it must have seemed another world.  For accommodations, the leaders had rented the “Music Hall”.  It was a building large enough to allow each Mormon to have lodging for the period of time they waited while their ship was being prepared.  After five evenings, they were instructed to board the ship Buena Vista.  The Buena Vista was a one-year old American ship weighing 547 tons and measured 141 x 29 x 14.5 feet.  Sadly, the ship was too small to accommodate the entire group.  Only 249 passengers were allowed to board the ship.  The remaining 77 Welsh Mormons would have to wait another week for passage on the ship Hartley.   As soon as the Mormons boarded the ship an unexpected and unexplained delay was announced.  The Mormons would be forced to wait for another six days before they could set sail.  During this time, Protestant ministers were allowed to enter the ship to attempt to dissuade the Mormons from leaving their home Country.  The Welsh ministers called the Mormons “deceivers, false prophets, weak headed (and)… Latter Day Satanists…”  Mormons for their part, called the Welsh Minister’s messages “poison and slime”, and referred to them as the “Babylonians”.In spite of the opposition, all in the Mormon party chose to remain on the ship and leave for America.Rees Thomas and his sister Margaret were passengers on the Buena Vista.  Rees was passenger, Margaret was passenger #219.  Listed just prior to Rees Thomas was passenger, Benjamin Thomas.  Benjamin was traveling with his wife and child.  He will also show up in close proximity to Rees Thomas as a resident of Manti and Brigham City, Utah, and Malad, Idaho.  At first, I assumed that Benjamin was a brother or perhaps a cousin of Rees Thomas.  After researching the issue, I cannot demonstrate that they were related in any way.  I will make the assumption that they were certainly friends because they chose to live close to each other for almost 30 years.  They originated from the same general area in Carmarthen, and both listed as their occupation “farmer”.Also on the ship were Dan Jones, listed as passenger 1 and Thomas Jeremy with his family, listed as 152.  A bit later on the list was a girl of seventeen named Mary Ellen Evans (listed as 170, Mary Evens).  She was traveling as a servant to the Benjamin Francis family.  The Francis family would tragically encounter much hardship on the journey.  Mary would then continue to travel west with the Benjamin Thomas family, which, as mentioned before, was to have a close relationship with the Rees Thomas family.

The trip over on the Buena Vista required a payment of 3 Pounds Sterling and change.  This amount would have been equal to about $18.00 in U.S. currency.  Although this might seem a relatively small price to pay, a small family would have been required to pay as much as one-third of the annual wages of a British laborer for passage.  In US currency of 2005, three pounds would equal at least $4000.00.  Almost half again that much money would be required to purchase food on the journey and pay for transport once they had arrived in the United States.  For many of the Saints, this represented a significant if not total sacrifice of their goods.   Even though this was a considerable expense, the fare was still cheaper than average since the Mormons were negotiating travel as a large group. 

The Buena Vista finally departed from the Waterloo dock in Liverpool at about two o’clock in the afternoon, Monday the twenty-sixth of February.  The Mormons had a mixture of feelings upon departure; they were relieved to be away from the constant antagonism of the “Babylonians”, yet saddened by the loss of family, friends and country.  As the ship pulled away, the Mormons sang the hymn “Farewell of the Saints”, and watched as loved ones ran along the docks to keep up with the departing vessel.


Steamboats accompanied the ship for about thirty miles into the Ocean.  By Tuesday, Ireland came into view.  By Wednesday and Thursday, most of the passengers were in bad spirits with seasickness.  Captain Dan Jones and a few others were employed in nursing the sick and cooking gruel without butter or salt.  It was the only food that would stay down.  The travelers were encouraged to walk frequently on the deck of the ship rather than lying in their bunks.  After a few days, most of the Saints were no longer seasick.  They were frequently entertained by large fish and dolphins which accompanied the ship on its voyage.

Dan Jones referred to the ship as a “floating branch” of the Church on the ocean.  The group had early morning prayers, sacrament meetings, administration to the sick, etc.  The food was much better than that of many voyages.  There was hard bread, sugar, flour, cheese, coffee and tea.  The provisions were dispensed by Jones and his assistants to every passenger over fourteen.  Some of the food was a gift from President Orson Pratt before the ship sailed.  On March seventh, a funeral was held for a sister who had died.  The sermon was preached by Dan Jones, and the topic was resurrection.  The topic apparently led to a number of questions about the mechanics of the resurrection, particularly if the burial was at sea.  There was to be one other burial in the Gulf of Mexico.

The fifty-day journey to New Orleans proved calm for the ship and crew.  Some of the Saints complained about the relative lack of privacy on board.  Provisions were rationed.  Among the Mormons there developed a fair amount of contention and hostility.  Eventually this contention was to result in the apostasy of a small number of the emigrants. It caused no small amount of concern among the leaders of the Church on board.

Accommodations on ships of the era have been described as “extremely primitive.”  Most commonly, emigrants were boarded on the steerage deck.  Here they lived for the duration of the voyage.  The space was six or seven feet high and smelt of the lime and vinegar used to disinfect the bunks.  There was a lingering stench of vomit from those suffering seasickness.  There would have been few lanterns and little light from hatchways.  Cholera, dysentery and typhus were common illnesses.  The bunks were narrow planks covered with straw.  Food could only be cooked on deck in communal fireplaces during good weather.  Privacy was non-existent.


Two members of the group died during the sea voyage.  They were Sarah Davies and Eliza Williams.  They were buried at sea.  After 40 days, the Saints passed the Bahamas and Cuba.  One of the Welsh periodicals had claimed that Dan Jones intended to bring his band of converts to sell them as slaves on the islands.  They passed the Islands safely, which gave the converts something to laugh about.  Finally, the group arrived at New Orleans, being short on fresh water and bread.  Just before the group arrived at New Orleans, two members of the group were excommunicated from the Church for making false accusations to the Captain and crew. 

On the morning of April 16, two steamers were dispatched to the Buena Vista so that one might tow her into the Mississippi River and from there on to the docks in New Orleans.  Here the presence of Dan Jones proved invaluable.  As a former riverboat Captain, he was familiar with the workings of the docks.  He was able to employ the steamer Constitution to take his group and another group of English Mormons to Saint Louis for a nominal price.

In the early to mid 1800’s, it was considered unwise for travelers to linger for very long in any of the River cities.  Cholera was at near epidemic portions, and River travelers were at particular risk.  Cholera is caused by the bacterium Vibreo Cholerae.  It is spread through the fecal contamination of waters.  Exposure to contaminated water or eating shellfish from contaminated water can produce illness.  Within a short time after exposure, intense diarrhea and vomiting begins.  The person rapidly becomes dehydrated and may go into shock within hours.  Without the replacement of fluids and electrolytes, the person may die in less than a day.  In the common medical folklore of the mid 1800’s, it was thought that the person with Cholera should not drink water during the attack.  This common belief clearly contributed greatly to the death toll from the disease.

By April 30, 1849, the group had reached Saint Louis.  The voyage was apparently uneventful, since little was said about the trip to Church leaders in letters from Dan Jones.   One young man died of Cholera just before reaching Saint Louis.  The majority of the Saints apparently felt as if their faith would prevent them from suffering the ravages of Cholera while on the River.  On the whole they were “healthy… heartened and rejoicing.  While in Saint Louis, the Mormons purchased provisions for the trip to the Salt Lake Valley and made arraignments for passage to Council Bluffs, Iowa.  The ship that they were to take was the Highland Mary captained by Mr. Scott. Again, agreeable terms were negotiated by Dan Jones, and soon the ship was pulled up next to the Constitution to be loaded.  At this time, several other families left the company of the Saints.  They had probably accompanied the Mormons in order to achieve a cheaper than usual fare.  According to Dan Jones, they were set on the “road to destruction…at a gallop”.  At this point in time, the Mormons still expected a safe and easy passage up the Missouri River.

On the first of May, Cholera struck the Welsh group for the second time.  On that day, twenty-one members of the group were buried. Among the dead was Benjamin Francis, a blacksmith from Carmarthen.  He had left Wales with his wife, four children, and the servant girl previously mentioned, Mary Evans.  By the time the family was to reach Council Bluffs, only Margaret Francis and one child were surviving.  Mary Evans was then to depend on the kindness of the Benjamin Thomas family for her support.

In the short period between 28 April and 21 May, while covering the 425 miles from Saint Louis to Council Bluffs, forty-four of the Welsh passengers were to succumb to Cholera.  Thomas Jeremy recorded the deaths of the passengers in his journal.  Each time a death or deaths were recorded, the steamer would pull ashore long enough for the grieved family to bury their dead, then the journey would resume.  On only three days during the journey between Saint Louis and Council Bluffs did Jeremy not record at least one death among the Welsh travelers. 


Dan Jones wrote little during this period.  Perhaps he was shocked by the devastation and overcome by the sense of loss.  He may have feared that the Cholera experience would discourage future Welsh emigrants.  When the steamer reached Saint Joseph, Missouri, Captain Scott attempted to put the Mormons ashore by force. Only the reluctance of the authorities in Saint Joseph to receive the ailing travelers prevented the abandonment of the Mormons.  Upon arrival in Council Bluffs, the Welsh Saints were so sick that even the resident Mormons were afraid to help them.  They were deposited on the banks of the River and left by Captain Scott.  After a brief visit by Apostle George A. Smith, first cousin to Joseph Smith Jr., the Mormons were ordered by Smith to take in the Welsh and give them aid and comfort.

It may have seemed to the Welsh Mormons that they were experiencing the same type of prejudice that they had lived with in Wales.  They met a group of established Americans, most of them of English descent, refusing to help the Welsh until ordered to do so.  On the other hand, the Welsh must have been a terrible sight.  They would have been dehydrated and emaciated from their illness and their responsibilities for the other travelers.  One can only imagine the soiled clothing and linens and stench of the ship as the Welsh arrived.  Also, little was known about the transmission of Cholera at the time.  Many believed that the disease was passed by human contact or by fumes in the air.  That the established Mormons were reluctant to help is understandable, but it must have left the Welsh feeling as though they were second-class citizens again. 

It has been said that this group of emigrating Mormons suffered as much death and destruction as almost any other.  Indeed, in the famous Willey and Martin handcart companies so afflicted by winter weather and starvation, a similar percentage of the total group died during the trip when compared with the Welsh groups.

Interestingly, the wife of the Vice President of the United States, Lynn Cheney, gave a discourse to the White House Forum of History and Civics in May of 2003.  In the speech, she speaks of her great-great grandmother who was one of the Welsh passengers on the Highland Mary.


After such a trying journey, the Welsh Saints were deeply sorrowful.  Not only were they physically weakened by illness and caring for the sick, but they were emotionally devastated by the loss of so many friends and family.   Some in the party had left the group and left the Mormon faith.  Some had stayed behind to care for sick relatives.  The Welsh had limited English language skills and needed employment to earn money for the upcoming trek to Salt Lake City. 

On the Mormon Trail

By July 14, 1849, sixty-nine of the Welsh Mormons from the Buena Vista and Hartley groups were ready to travel to Salt Lake City.  They were organized under the leadership of Apostle George A. Smith.  The company was joined by another group led by Apostle E. T. Benson.  Isaac Clark and William Appleby kept journal accounts of the trip that give a day-by-day description of events. In the company of Welsh Saints were included Rees Thomas, Benjamin Thomas and his family, Margaret Thomas, and Mary Evans.  Also notable on the trip was John Parry, a Welsh former Baptist minister who would later organize the choir which eventually became the Mormon Tabernacle Choir. Dan Jones was appointed leader to the Welsh Saints on the trip. 

For the details affecting the Welsh on the trek, I will rely again on the account of Dr. Ronald Dennis as found in The Call of Zion, as well as letters written by George A. Smith.  Lucy Meserve Smith and Bathsheba Smith, both wives of Apostle Smith, also kept journals of the trip.  The Welsh Saints were assigned to travel in the George A. Smith Fifty, Fourth Company, and Rees was assigned to the Daniel Daniels Company of ten.  Margaret Thomas, Mary Evans and Benjamin Thomas were all in the Daniels Company.  According to Bathsheba Smith, there were twenty-four “Welch” wagons.  She goes on to say:

 “Twenty-four of the wagons of our company belonged to the Welch (sic) saints, who had been led from Wales by Elder Dan Jones. They did not understand driving oxen. It was very amusing to see them yoke their cattle; two would have an animal by the horns, one by the tail, and one or two others would do their best to put on the yoke, whilst the apparently astonished ox, not at all enlightened by the guttural sounds of the Welch(sic) tongue, seemed perfectly at a loss what to do, or to know what was wanted of him. But these saints amply made up for their lack of skill in driving cattle by their excellent singing, which afforded us great assistance in our public meetings, and helped to enliven our evenings.”

As observed by Mrs. Smith, the Welsh were largely inexperienced in the use of oxen to pull wagons.  During the first few weeks of the trek, they struggled with the teams and equipment.  Despite leaving late in the season, they were hampered early by rains and mud.  The rain later proved to be a blessing since grass was plentiful for the animals  In a letter to Church authorities, Apostle G.A. Smith wrote that the rains were a mixed blessing, since high river crossings and mud hampered their movement but wild game was found easily on the trail and feed for the livestock was plentiful.

The desert landscape must have seemed a foreign world to the Welsh.  Most had lived in wet, green areas that were relatively densely populated.  The presence of rattlesnakes, wolves, Plains Indians, and gold-seekers in a vast empty wilderness must have seemed very strange indeed.  The relative lack of water and vegetation would have been a shock to their senses. 

Early on in the trek, cattle from the wagon train stampeded twice.  The pioneers were able to recover all of the cattle and no one was seriously hurt in the stampedes.  In August, one of the oxen and later a dog suffered snakebite, but recovered.  Early in August, hunters killed a buffalo some distance from the trail.  They covered the animal during the night, but when they returned for the meat the next morning, wolves had devoured the carcass.  In one incident, a Welshman was accidentally nicked by a gunshot.  The same shot passed through the hat of another Welshman. 

On August 17th  while the group journeyed on the Nebraska plains, there was a tremendous thunderstorm.  Several of the journals recorded that hail as big as walnuts or hens eggs fell on the group.  There was lightning, high winds and rain.  Isaac Clark reports in his journal that there were no injuries either to humans or animals, and it seems that after the storm, the camp was still in good humor.  Later in the month, there were some minor mishaps recorded, many involving the wagons of the Welsh saints.  In one, a Welsh family rolled their wagon while climbing out of a streambed.  In another, a collision left Dan Jones’ wagon with a broken axle. A daughter of Sister Lewis was run over by a wagon, but was not seriously harmed.  For the most part, the company and the Welsh seemed content and safe. 

By the end of August, the journals record that the temperature was becoming very cold.  By now, the group was approaching Chimney Rock in western Nebraska.  Their journey was not yet half completed.  There were frequent encounters with Sioux Indians.  For the most part, the Indians were friendly and did not try to steal livestock from the Mormons.  According to George A. Smith, the Indians feared the Cholera outbreak, and had already lost much of their tribe to the disease. 

On September 1st, a disagreement over cattle led to a fight between Englishman Robert Barrett Jr., and Cadwalader Owens, a Welshman.  William Appleby, Clerk of the Smith and Benson companies, called the fight a “melee”.  According to Isaac Clark, some very threatening language was used by both Robert Berrett Sr. and Robert Berrett Jr. against Owens.  The threats led to a fist fight.  The three were brought up before Clark and were reprimanded.  All were assigned to do extra guard duty and both parties apologized.  Although nothing else is said on the entry for that day, there was apparently much more to the story.  September 2nd was a Sunday, and Apostle Smith gave “much good counsel and instruction…”

Soon after the sermon, a number of people felt the need to be re-baptized.  Among those listed as being re-baptized that morning were Owens and members of the Berrett family, but there were also four other Welsh saints re-baptized.  Later that day, after the company had moved about five miles, seventeen or eighteen more Welsh saints were re-baptized.  Included in that group were Rees Thomas, Margaret Thomas, Mary Evans, Thomas Jeremy and Dan Jones.

The ordinance of re-baptism was practiced in the early Church after the death of Joseph Smith.  There were perhaps three reasons that a person already baptized as a member of the Mormon Church might choose to be re-baptized.  First, the ordinance might be practiced as a recommitment to a new leader or practice.  For example, many were baptized when they entered the Salt Lake Valley as a sign that they were committed to the leadership of Brigham Young.  Some members were re-baptized before they entered into temple or marriage covenants.  This practice is called by some a ‘unification ordinance’.  Second, members who felt that they had sinned or had left the straight and narrow path in the Church were sometimes baptized to show a true repentance and a commitment to change their lives.  This ordinance was often accompanied by a public confession of sins, and was considered by some as a ‘healing ordinance’.  Third, a member who disobeyed leaders or broke covenants might be excommunicated from the Church.  If the person repents, begs forgiveness, and the Church acknowledges that the person has fulfilled all requirements; he or she may then be re-baptized a member of the Church.  This is sometimes called a ‘restoration ordinance’.  Of the three types of re-baptism, only the third is practiced in our times.

It would appear that while only Owens and Berrett were listed as being involved in fisticuffs, many more of the Welsh people and perhaps many in the extended  Berrett family were involved in the incident.  Whether they were present during the fight, and were taunting or threatening each other or whether they simply rebelled against the decisions of the trek leaders to discipline Owens is not known.  It is clear; however, that they felt chastened and believed that they needed to show publicly that they were still supportive of the Mormon faith and its leaders.   The most likely explanation for the re-baptism was that of a unification ordinance. 

A few days after the fight and baptism incidents, a Welshman named Hugh Davis wandered away from the wagon train.  He is described by Clark as an “aged and infirm man of about 70 years…”  The entire wagon train halted while men searched the local area for him.  The first search party led by Dan Jones stayed out until 2:00 am.  The next day, volunteers were again sent out, but they returned when word was received that Davis had been found ahead on the trail.  The incident was described as a “great hinderence (sic) to us…” by Lucy Meserve Smith.  She was apparently annoyed that the wagons had all been held back for two days while the Welshman was sought in the hills around the trail.

The trip went well through Wyoming.  When the groups came within 300 miles of Salt Lake City, they were met by teamsters driving wagons back with fresh animals and vegetables.  During the first week of October, they were approaching South Pass, a 7000 plus foot elevation which required a steep approach.  Suddenly on October 1st, the temperature dropped and the wind became severe, forcing the company to form camp quickly.  They failed to enclose the cattle in the customary way, and many of the animals wandered off into the surrounding creek banks.  For some 36 hours, an early winter snowstorm raged.  The wind was so fierce that building a campfire was impossible.  Most of the party huddled in their wagons with little shelter or cooked food.  Elder Smith reported snow drifts of up to 4 feet.  Others sent to sleep near the stock reported that both they and their stock had been entirely covered by snow when they awoke in the morning. As the storm abated, the Saints were relieved to find that no one had perished.  Tragically, the animals did not fare so well.  As many as sixty-four of the cattle had died or were lost in the storm. 

Perhaps the frustrations of a long journey, the storm and the fight incident led to a bizarre meeting held shortly after the storm on South Pass.  According to the journal of Isaac Nash, Dan Jones called a meeting of all the Welsh in which he complained of discrimination among the Saints.  Jones claimed that the provisions sent by Brigham Young were sent only for the American Saints, and would not have been sent if the company had been only Welsh in composition.  He then proposed that the Welsh Saints cross the Jordan River in the Salt Lake Valley and form an independent nation with Elizabeth Lewis as their Queen.  When Jones called for a vote, all of the Welsh present voted for Queen and Nation except for Nash and Ned Williams.  Nash reportedly left the meeting and informed George A. Smith of the plot.  Apostle Smith entered the meeting and was able to convince the Welsh that the charges of discrimination were false.  Although there is no evidence of a further attempt of the Welsh to secede, it is said that hard feelings persisted perpetually between Jones and Nash after the incident.  Apparently, Rees Thomas, Margaret Thomas, Benjamin Thomas, and Mary Evans all supported the Jones proposition.  In all fairness, the incident may have been exaggerated as it was reported by Isaac Nash in his journal.  Nash and Dan Jones had clashed over a number of incidents before and during the trek and were often on unfriendly terms. 


On October 26, 1849, the Welsh arrived in the Salt Lake Valley after 108 days and almost 1000 miles on the trail.  Dan Jones wrote that none of the Welsh saints had perished on the trail.  After they had camped on the northeast side of the Old Emigration Road, they were visited by the Mormon Prophet Brigham Young.  Among the Welsh, Young was known only to Dan Jones.  Many in the group required translation to understand the Prophet.  Young requested that all mechanics and stone masons remain in the City.  All farmers were to travel four miles west of the City, where they would be given parcels of land.  For many of the Welsh, land ownership was an impossible dream.  Many had been tenants on their land in Wales, and to have ever achieved land ownership would have been beyond hope. 

Salt Lake City at the time of the Welsh party’s arrival was little more that a sprawling collection of adobe homes, log cabins and tents.  There would have been smoke from wood fires, livestock in corrals and mud on every street.  Few large trees would have been visible in the City.  Perhaps the largest structure at that time would have been the bowery, a log-supported shelter with a roof made of woven willows.  The second bowery built in Salt Lake; it stood near present-day temple square.  The residents of the City would have been somewhat used to seeing wagon trains with Mormon converts arrive.  They would also have been leery of emigrants because of the large number of non-Mormon travelers that had passed through on their way to the California gold fields.  There would have been a number of merchants catering to the needs of the travelers.  There would have been an organized effort to welcome and give some assistance to the tired Mormon emigrants.  As discussed before, as a renewed commitment to the Church, new emigrants were sometimes re-baptized after they reached the Salt Lake Valley.  Mary Evans was re-baptized by Dan Jones in Salt Lake City on the eighteenth of November, 1849.  She was confirmed on the same date by John Young and Dan Jones.  Rees Thomas was re-baptized on the second of December, 1849 in Salt Lake City by David Phillips.  He was confirmed a member of the Church by Thomas Bullock and Thomas Jeremy on the same date.  Margaret Thomas was baptized by her brother Rees in Salt Lake City on June third, 1850.  She was confirmed a member of the Church by Rice Williams on June sixth, 1850.  Brigham Young had authorized Dan Jones to organize Welsh-language branches of the Church near Salt Lake City, with Thomas Jeremy as one of the leaders.  Most likely, the Welsh emigrants preferred attending  Church meetings at the Welsh-language Branches. 


Settlement in Zion

Most of the Welsh Mormon immigrants remained in the south Salt Lake Valley near the Jordan River.  A home built there by Thomas Jeremy became a gathering place of sorts for those preferring the Welsh language.  Some of the Welsh became members of the North Jordan Ward, others eventually became part of the Sixteenth Ward in Salt Lake City.    Rees Thomas, Mary Evans, Margaret Thomas and Benjamin Thomas were in the south part of Salt Lake City at least until June of 1850, and possibly until January of 1851.  Dan Jones had married one of the Welsh Saints, would-be Queen Elizabeth Lewis in 1849 in Salt Lake City as his second wife.   Rees, Mary and Benjamin would have been exposed to plural marriage at this point, although this was not their first exposure to the practice.  Apostle George A. Smith and others on the trek westward had plural wives. 

Because of the increase in wagons passing through to California, Brigham Young feared that non-Mormon wagon trains passing through Southern Utah would want to settle in Utah.  Many in the wagon trains came from areas like Arkansas and Missouri, which had been hostile to the Mormon Church in times past.  In order to prevent the colonization of the area by potential enemies of the Church, he encouraged the early exploration of southern Utah and soon after, the settlement of areas close to the California Trail.

To this end, Parley P. Pratt was commissioned to explore the southern part of Utah and the Colorado River drainage with the idea that locations should be found for new settlements.  Dan Jones was asked by Brigham Young to travel with Pratt.  The expedition began in December of 1849 and ended in January of 1850, having covered over 800 miles.  During the trip, Dan Jones met the Ute Indian Chief Wakara (Walker) who had previously encouraged White settlement of the Manti Valley near the Sanpete River. 

Because of the request of Wakara, the Mormons left to colonize Manti in November of 1849 with Isaac Morley as their leader.  The Mormons suffered terribly during the first winter in Manti.  A letter written by Isaac Morley to Brigham Young in February of 1850 revealed the incredible hardships that the Mormons faced during the first winter in Manti.  The first challenge was an outbreak of measles, which sickened the Mormons but devastated the Indian population.  Many Indian children died during the outbreak, and they often depended on White settlers to provide medications and food.  Four of the Mormon settlers died from illness and exposure in those first few months.

Equally challenging was the cold weather.  After Christmas, the temperature had registered below zero on seven nights.  Deep snow of up to three feet led to the death of seventy-five head of cattle.  How the Mormons were sheltered from the weather is hard to imagine.  They had to cut pine logs and bring them by hand sled to the settlement, a distance of one-half mile.  By February, twenty houses had been built, but many of the Mormons still lived in tents and dug-out cave shelters on Temple Hill. 

In addition, the native Ute Indians led by Chief Walker demanded food, shelter and medicines from the Mormons.  When there was an Indian uprising in neighboring Utah Valley, Chief Walker demanded guns and blankets in return for staying out of the conflict.

Within a little more than a year of the Mormon’s arrival in Manti, the Ute and Shoshone Indians were at war.  Morley began to build a fort for protection from hostile Indians.  Brigham Young apparently asked Dan Jones to take a small group of Welsh down to Manti to swell the ranks of the White Mormons and to assist in building the fort.  He may have gone to Manti with a group of Welsh settlers as early as the fall of 1850.  While there, Jones and his charges did help build the fort at Manti.  They also ran a store and purchased and ran the first wheat threshing machine in the area. 

Another motive for the move to Manti was the belief by Dan Jones that there existed in the American west a tribe of Indians descended from Welsh people.  Jones believed the Welsh legend that Madoc ab Owain had led a group of Welsh settlers to America in 1170.  This group had allegedly colonized the New World and blended with the natives, somehow maintaining their Welsh language and identity.  They were called collectively the “Madocians”.  There were reports, impossible to verify, that Welsh-speaking Indians had been encountered by white settlers in the American Southwest.  As early as 1845, Jones had communicated with Brigham Young about the Madocians.  Brigham Young apparently believed enough of the farce to allow Jones to search for the tribe of Welsh Indians.  In fact, the reason that Jones was invited on the Southern expedition with Parley P. Pratt was that Brigham Young hoped that Jones could make contact with Welsh Indians living in the general area of the expedition.  Jones did make the trip south, which nearly cost him his life, without successfully encountering any Welsh-speaking Indians.


Dan Jones became the first mayor of Manti in February of 1851.  But the original Welsh residents of Manti would not remain long in the City.  Trouble was increasing between the Mormons, Shoshone Indians and Ute Indians.  Soon there would be an extended war between the residents of Manti and the Ute Indians, culminated when federal troops forced the Utes to the Ouray reservation in 1869.  None of the original Welsh party that accompanied Dan Jones to Manti is known to have remained in Manti.  Many years later, other Welsh Mormons settled in an area north of Manti called New Wales. 

Sometime before January of 1851, Rees and Mary moved to Manti.  They apparently lived with the Dan Jones family and were dependant on Jones for support.  The Manti Ward records show an entry for January 15th, 1851, in which Isaac Morley preached a sermon on the sanctity of marriage and the responsibilities thereof.  He also expounded on the principle of plural marriage.  A brief note follows that says that Reese Thomas and wife Mary Evans were married by Isaac Morley in the house of Dan Jones on the same date   The witnesses for the wedding were James Case and the widow Allis (surname illegible).  Assuming that a birth date of 7 April, 1851 for the first child of Rees and Mary is correct, nineteen-year old Mary would have been most clearly pregnant.  She was to deliver Rees Evans only eleven weeks after her wedding.  Fornication was and is considered a serious offence in Mormon theology.  It is hard to know how this event may have affected the attitudes and prospects of the young couple.  Both Rees and Mary may have faced Church discipline for their indiscretion.  I can find no record that Rees Evans Thomas was ever blessed in the Manti Ward, and even when Sarah Ann, the second child was blessed, Rees P. Thomas did not perform the ordinance.  There is a record of a Patriarchal Blessing given by Isaac Morley to Mary Thomas on the 26th of April, 1855. [105]   I think that this reference may apply to the recommend given by Isaac Morley on that date so that Mary could seek out a Patriarch and have her blessing after moving from Manti.  Since a Patriarchal Blessing requires a high level of dedication to the Church, I assume that Rees and Mary were in full fellowship by 1855.  There is, however, no record that their marriage was ever solemnized in a temple of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints during their lives. 

For a moment, let us consider that the above birth date of Rees Evans Thomas might be incorrect.  I can find no corroborative evidence for the date from Church or State records.  Census data from 1880 place the date as more likely sometime in 1852, although other census records support the 1851 date.  My source for the date of 1851 is from members of the extended Thomas family.  It is possible that Mary was not pregnant when married and that Rees Evans was born in 1852, clearly being conceived in wedlock. 

the Missouri river had claimed the lives of most of the Francis family that had employed her.  Although the maiden name of Mrs. Francis was Margaret Evans, I find no evidence that Mary was related to Mrs. Francis. 

It is very likely that Mary was a native of the same general area of Carmarthenshire as Rees Thomas.  Her father was Evan Evans and her mother was named Rachel.  She was born on September 3rd, 1832 or 1833.

On the records taken when Mary was re-baptized in Salt Lake City, Mary Evans said that she was born in the Pencarreg parish of Carmarthenshire.  Pencarreg is a small village about one-half mile north of Llanybydder and about six and one-half miles north from Gwernogle.  If this were the home of Mary Evans, she would have attended the Mormon branch at Llanybydder or perhaps at Brechfa.    In an effort to confirm or disprove the Pencarreg connection, I searched the IGI for evidence of Mary Evans or her relatives.  I found a record for Ann Evans, born 1 March 1822 in Pencarreg.  Her parents were Evan Evans and Rachel Morgan.  She immigrated to the United States before 1852.  She was married to William Lewis in Salt Lake City in August of 1852.  I think that it is very likely that Ann is the sister of Mary Ellen Evans.  Proving this has been very difficult, and would require a fortuitous discovery of family records or historical documents unknown to me at present. Pencarreg is a small village located on the river Teivy.  Today, there are fewer than 1200 inhabitants of the town.  It is overlooked by a mountain which shares the name of the town and is surrounded by dense woods. 

There is a possible record for the baptism of Ann Evans in the Brechfa Branch.  A person named Ann Evans was baptized there by David Phillips on the 14th of April, 1848.  If this is actually the same Ann Evans, sister of Mary, then it is likely that Rees would have known both of the girls from Branch activities and services.  There are several possible baptismal records for Mary in the Brechfa Branch.  Therefore, it is possible that Mary knew Rees before their trip together to Utah.  They certainly became well acquainted as they traveled to Utah in the George A. Smith Company, and in the Daniel Daniels group of ten.  It has already been mentioned that Benjamin Thomas was a friend of Rees Thomas.  At any rate, by the time a Federal census was recorded in Manti in April of 1851, Rees (Reece) Thomas and Mary Thomas were listed as residents of Manti City in Sanpete County.  They were listed as being a part of the Dan Jones household, along with some 15 others.


Mary Evans, as has been discussed before, came in the Buena Vista group and on to the Salt Lake valley with the George A. Smith Company of 1849.  Mary would have been about nineteen years old, Rees about thirty-two when they were married.  It was, so far as I know, the first marriage for both.  She traveled with the Benjamin Thomas family in the George A. Smith wagon company.  The cholera epidemic on idents of Manti City in Sanpete County.  They were listed as being a part of the Dan Jones household, along with some 15 others.

Moving North

At some point between April of 1853 and May of 1855, Rees and Mary left Manti and moved to Box Elder, a small community later to be known as Brigham City.  While Manti is located about 125 miles South of Salt Lake City, Box Elder is some 60 miles north of the City.  Benjamin Thomas, the friend of Rees and Mary, was known to have a house in Salt Lake City in 1857.  He is also found as a resident of the Davis Fort near Box Elder as early as 1852 with his second wife, Susannah Roberts.


I do not know the entire reason that Rees and Mary chose to leave the Manti area where some of the Welsh Saints had originally gathered.  I can speculate that when Dan Jones was called to return to Salt Lake City in preparation for his second mission to Wales in 1852, Rees and Mary lost their best connection to Welsh language and culture.  Without a doubt, they eventually grew weary of the Indian conflicts.  Rees and Mary may have returned to Salt Lake after 1853 and stayed in south Salt Lake until moving north to Box Elder.   Rees and Mary are listed as residents of the “Old Box Elder Fort” in 1854 by Fife and Petersen, but I find it more believable that they moved there closer to the late winter/early spring of 1855.

By 1853, a small group of Welsh-speaking Mormons had gathered to a settlement with rich farm land about 2 miles South of Box Elder.  Initially, five Welsh Mormon families moved near Box Elder.  They lived under primitive conditions in or very near the “Old Box Elder Fort”.  Many settled at what was called Reeder’s Grove.  It was near enough to the fort that when Indian troubles began, all of the Welsh could gather their families and move in to the fort until the danger had passed.  The fort was basically a group of log cabins built side by side without any openings on the outside walls.  All doorways and windows opened into the common center of the fort.  Although there were openings on both ends of the rows of cabins, the openings were guarded day and night by sentries.

The living arrangements were described as follows by the child of one of the early Welsh settlers: “The first shelter as I recall was a sort of wickyup, built by putting up two forked posts in the ground about 16 feet apart, then a pole across the top of them.  Small poles were placed in a slant position resting on this parallel pole down to the ground. It was then covered with willows, cane and dirt.  One end was open.  The structurelooked like a gable end of a house and in the structure was a table and logs to sit on.”   (John David Peters)

Eventually the Welsh started to meet with the English-speaking Mormons from Brigham City for Sunday school.  Perhaps Rees and Mary Thomas were drawn into this small group of Welsh speakers by a personal friendship, by the promise of less Indian hostilities, or perhaps by a chance to own better farm land.    By 1853, a school was built at the end of the Box Elder Fort.  This is probably where the young Thomas children learned their first lessons in English, math and reading. 

Although there was a growing Mormon population in the Box Elder area, it had as yet not been organized as a Mormon town.  Mormon towns were normally set up following a New England-style model with wide streets, a central common area, and space for orderly growth.  Many of the residents had not been willing to stay for long in the area because of the Indian trouble and the lack of services.  Brigham Young wished to provide a more stable atmosphere in the area with Mormon leadership.  During the fall General Conference in 1853, Brigham Young called Apostle Lorenzo Snow to take fifty families to Box Elder to form a cooperative.  Many of those chosen by Snow were Danish.  Snow surveyed and organized the town and renamed it Brigham City after the Mormon Prophet. 

The cooperative concept was somewhat akin to what we might call a commune today, although the Brigham City cooperative did not require the deeding of private properties to the Church as in other communities.  It grew out of a movement called the United Order, with which the Church had experimented twenty years earlier in Ohio.  There were other areas in Utah designated as cooperatives with differing levels of the communal order.  In Brigham City, the communal effort was somehow combined with a love of private enterprise.  Snow encouraged the development of large industries like a tannery, a flour mill, a large-scale dairy, and as the crown jewel, a woolen mill.  The woolen mill, built during 1870-71, was a huge success.  Cotton from the Virgin River in southern Utah and wool from large local herds of sheep supplied raw materials.   Brigham Young often urged other communities to develop industry after the fashion of the Brigham City Co-op.  The industries at Brigham City were very important economically to the outlying areas.  Tragically, the mill burned to the ground in 1877.  Although Rees and Mary had moved to Malad before the mill was built, the Malad community was no doubt impacted by the loss of a market for their wool.

By August of 1855, Mormon leaders feared that the United States Federal government would send troops to Utah.  They encouraged movement of Church members to the south of Salt Lake City should troops arrive at and destroy the City.  At one point in time, the flour mill machinery was removed from the Box Elder mill, boxed up, and moved to Provo for re-installation.  Happily, the Federal conflict was resolved mostly without violence and the mill equipment was re-installed at Brigham City.

From 1851 until 1863, Box Elder County had been considered too dangerous a place for all but the hardiest white settlers.  Shoshone Indians still occupied the area and considered it a fertile hunting ground.  When the Mormon settlers came, they were hungry enough that they had to supplement their diet with berries, choke cherries, game birds and large animals like deer and antelope.  Even worse, they learned from the Indians how to dig and use sego lily bulbs as food.  The result was that the Mormons destroyed and consumed a large percentage of the natural food sources the Indians had depended on for centuries.  They clashed often with the Mormon settlers until a treaty was negotiated between the settlers and the Indian tribe.  The treaty was signed in 1863 following the Bear River massacre, in which hundreds of Indian men, women and children were killed.  A number of Shoshone Indians were later gathered at a camp called Washakie near Portage in northern Utah.  They apparently converted to Mormonism and became successful farmers.