John Riley – son of Levi Stewart and Melinda Howard
Eliza Stevenson – daughter of Edward Stevenson and Nancy Areta Porter
-by Clarice Stewart Anderson – 1969

On a cold winter day, 21 December 1840, John Riley Stewart was born in Council Bluffs,Iowa. His parents were Levi and Melinda Howard Stewart. Both born in Illinois.

Levi and Melinda made their first home in Vandalia, then the capital of Illinois. Three children were born to them in Vandalia. The youngest died in infancy. Here they learned of the newly organized Mormon Church and became members in 1837. They consequently suffered privations and hardships, being driven from their home by mob violence by enemies who wished to destroy this new church and their leader and prophet, Joseph Smith. The Saints were driven from pillar to post hoping to find some place where they could make homes and live their religion unmolested. Some families went to Iowa (Council Bluffs) where they lived for some time before returning to Illinois. Levi and Melinda were among this group and so it was that John Riley Stewart was born at Council Bluffs. He is a principal character in this brief story.

In the meantime, quiet and peace were found in Illinois. The body of the Church had gathered there, established schools, cultivated farms, made homes and built a Temple in the beautiful City of Nauvoo. This, it seemed, was not to last. In 1844, trouble flared up again. The Prophet Joseph Smith and his brother, Hyrum, were martyred. The Saints were driven from their homes by mobs at point of gun and bayonet. So these homeless Saints were on the move again. Westward, ever westward, under the leadership of Brigham Young—so far away would they go, never to be followed.

The weary exiles spent some time at Winter Quarters on the Missouri River. These were extremely hard years, with much poverty and suffering. Another son, Levi Howard, was born 6 May 1848. Levi and Melinda, with their family of five children (the oldest 14 years of age and baby Levi Howard just a few weeks old) joined the hundreds of covered wagons drawn by oxen and milk cows, to begin the long perilous trek across the plains. John Riley was seven years old. With his brother, Joseph and sister, Jane, he walked beside the wagon a great part of the time, often in bare feet.

Finally, in September 1848, this group of weary travel-worn Mormon Pioneers reached their destination, the Salt Lake Valley. The first company of Pioneers had reached the Valley a year earlier, 1847. Now a new life lay before them. A feeling of security gave them renewed courage to begin building new homes and tilling the soil. Levi and Melinda built a house at Fourth South and State Street, on the corner where the Moxum Hotel now stands, across the street west form the City and County Building, or Historical Washington Square, as it is now called. These were busy days indeed. Everyone had to workmen, women and children. John was becoming a big boy now. He would soon have his eighth birthday. One of the first chores assigned to the little boys was herding the milk cows. The pioneers had come to desert country but the men discovered that the best grazing was north of town, in the foothills, where the State Capitol now stands. City Creek was not far away, furnishing water for the animals and probably some good wading for the boys. Sego Lilies (Mariposa) grew prolifically in this area and the roots, easily dug, proved to be edible. The settlers cooked these underground stems, or corms, and they furnished countless meals for hungry families. Digging these plants was one of the chores assigned to the boys. John often told his children stories of his experiences and the discovered the little boys made while herding cows in Salt Lake City in the early days. Perhaps the most impressive of all was the story of the seagulls, how the children watched in amazement when flocks of gulls swooped to the ground, devoured the crickets, flew away toward the Great Salt Lake, disgorged the insects, flew back to fill up their craws again, time after time. John told this story over and over to his children, with tears running down his cheeks. Naturally, the children cried too. The Saints taught their children that God had sent the gulls to save their crops. A miracle had happened and the seagulls were held sacred. In later years a monument was built on Temple Square, perpetuating the memory of these beloved seagulls.

The pioneers worked hard. It was a struggle to subdue the desert land, plant, cultivate and harvest, but how wonderful to be free from danger. Although very poor, these people were beginning to feel a sense of happiness and thanksgiving. So the busy days went by. Until churches and schoolhouses could be built, these activities were held in homes, for they must meet and worship, their children must be in school. One of those used was John Riley’s parents’ home. The next year the Saints erected a Bowery (actually a large shed) under which they gathered for church services and any special occasions. One of the first churches built was across the street north of the City-County Building. This small adobe building was called the Eighth Ward; it served as a schoolhouse also, and here John attended school. He was a bright boy and learned quickly.

Levi needed more land for his growing family. He purchased acreage in Big Cottonwood Canyon and built a home there. Levi was industrious and enterprising. He owned and operated a general merchandise store across the street west from where ZCMI now stands. When John was 13, his mother passed away. These were sad, dark days for him. John missed his mother. He needed her. At this early age John was doing a man’s work. He matured young, was dependable and steady.

When aged sixteen, John drove a team and wagon to Omaha, Nebraska, a thousand miles away, to bring back goods for his father’s store. When he was about 21, he made another trip to Omaha and found himself drafted into the U.S. Army to serve in the Civil War. He was wounded and recuperated at the home of relatives in Illinois. There he fell in love with his cousin, Frances Ellen Van Hooser. They were married by Bishop Dame at Florence, Nebraska, July 4, 1862. The young couple spent their honeymoon traveling in a covered wagon over the same prairie trails John had walked barefoot when seven years old, beside his father’s covered wagon. But this trip was different. Although long, slow and tiresome, it was romantic, for Frances and John were young, happy and very much in love. Pictures of Frances show her as a beautiful girl with light brown hair and large blue eyes. John must have been very proud to bring his lovely young bride to Utah. They were a handsome couple. John was a fine looking young man, six feet tall, well built, with dark brown hair, sparkling blue eyes and a happy sense of humor.

Fourteen years had passed since Levi and Melinda brought their young family to Salt Lake Valley. Levi was devoted to his Church, lived the gospel, worked diligently and prospered. He could see a future in the livestock industry and had invested in rangeland in Juab Valley, south of Provo, where there was good grazing and water for stock. John’s father put him in charge of this business, so he took this young wife to this far away valley to make a home. It was beautiful country with grass-covered rolling hills and hollows, a cold, clear spring supplying water for household needs. A few ranchers had built small cabins. The little settlement of Goshen was about three miles west. This was the nearest town. This was real pioneering. The house was small. There were no trees for shade and the hot summer sun beat down relentlessly.

John’s cousin, Simeon Stewart, and his wife, Mary Ann, came from Illinois with John and Frances Ellen. The girls were half sisters. They also went to Juab Valley together. This made living much more pleasant. It seems that Frances Ellen was never strong and in good health. The long wearisome trip across the plains to Utah and the summer heat had taken their toll of her strength. When spring came to the valley, their baby was born—20 April 1863. They named their little son John Clarence. The little cabin was filled with joy and love. They had hoped and expected that Frances Ellen would soon be well, but she did not regain her strength. Before another spring came to the Valley, Frances Ellen passed away. She died February 13, 1864, still so young. They had moved about three miles north of Goshen and about four miles from where their baby was born, in a spot called Stewart’s Hollow. Frances Ellen is buried there. Broken-hearted, John took his nine-month-old baby to the Levi Stewart home, Big Cottonwood, Utah, where his sister, Louisa, cared for Baby Clarence until John remarried. Life must go on. There was work to be done. John returned to Juab Valley to carry on.

East of the Levi Stewart property, facing what is now known as Highland Drive, Edward and Nancy Areta Porter Stevenson owned a large farm where they spent part of the time. Also they had a home in Salt Lake City. They had a charming daughter, Eliza. John came to Cottonwood whenever he could to see his baby, Clarence. Here he met Eliza, became interested, courted and married her for time and eternity on December 16, 1865, in the Endowment House. They lived the remainder of the winter and the following summer at Cottonwood with Eliza’s mother. They were happy indeed when a darling little girl came to bless their home. They named her Eliza Melinda, for the mother and John’s mother, Melinda. In the fall when mother and baby were well, John took another beautiful wife to Juab Valley, for John was still in charge there. Simeon and Ann were still at the ranch and this was well, for Eliza was young and had never been healthy and strong. She had never known this kind of life. While she had worked hard and learned domestic skills as a girl, this atmosphere was different for her and required courage and strength. It was doubly hard for them because here they lost their infant and buried her there beside Frances Ellen.

During the early settlement of Utah, some of the Indians became hostile because they felt the white people were taking their hunting grounds and driving them away from their sources of food. For this reason they often attacked the settlements and drove off their cattle. John and Simeon were often away from home during the day with their work, leaving their wives alone with the children. One day when both men were away, the Chief of the Indian Tribe came to Eliza’s door and asked for "Stewarts John, " as he was known to the Indians in that vicinity. She was so frightened she could hardly speak and hesitated to let him know the men were gone, but the evidence was too obvious that she was alone. He said he wanted to talk to "Stewarts John." Eliza said he would be home. He said, "All right. Me stay." He was traveling alone this visit. The purpose of his call was to tell John that many of the Indians were planning attacks upon the settlements of that area (Payson, Goshen, Santaquin, etc.) When John came home he had a sober conversation with the Chief, who was very serious in admonishing him to warn the settlers and be on guard. John did contact some of the men in these towns and they scoffed at this possibility that he would be fore-warned by an Indian, and they ignored the information.

An attack did come, with much of the livestock driven away and some of the sheds burned—even some of the houses set afire. The occupants fled to safety and left their burning property behind. On another occasion, because John Riley had been able to keep a friendly relationship with the Indians, still another chief with several of his warriors came to John’s home. Again, they found Eliza alone. The chief asked for "Stewarts John," and again, in learning of John’s absence, said they would wait. They then sat in a circle on her kitchen floor, leaving a space in the circle, indicating that was for "Stewarts John." Eliza was terrified. She finally heard in the distance the wagons coming, and waited anxiously for him to enter upon this frightening scene. The chief said to John, "We your brother; you our brother. Sit here." John joined the group. The chief pulled a pipe out from under his blanket and said, "We all smoke pipe of peace with you. We no hurt you. Your squaw brave squaw. No scared. Our sister." This was indeed surprising news to Eliza, for never was she more frightened. Each Indian in the circle took a draw on the pipe, John joining with them. Then they left, assuring John that they would never harm him nor his family. In the meantime, word had been received in Salt Lake City that many of the settlers had been driven out, some had been killed, etc. in these Indian raids. Levi, John’s father had sent someone out to Juab form Big Cottonwood to bring John and his family back home because of this alarming news. Conditions were getting so bad and the Indians were molesting the people so frequently, John and Simeon decided to leave the ranches, for the safety of their families. By the time Levi’s party had reached Juab, John and Simeon had completed preparations for their departure. Thus ended their Juab experiences.

The period following was happy for them, reunited with their families in Big Cottonwood. And now Eliza was expecting her second baby. This infant also died soon after birth and it was heartbreaking for them. Before the birth, Eliza had gone to Morgan, where her mother was living. She remained there, the baby was born, lived only a very few months and was buried in the Morgan cemetery. They returned to Salt Lake City. After a time, Eliza expected a third child. Another girl was born to them and tragedy again struck when she survived only seven months. These experiences were saddening and discouraging. It seemed they would never be able to have a family of children.

When the Union Pacific and Central Pacific railroad companies decided to connect the rail lines form the East to the West, Levi took a contract to lay forty miles of rail through Weber Canyon. Levi’s numerous church affiliations; business and family kept him so busy that he turned the contract over to John. So John took his wife, Eliza, and his sister Emaline, and they established a camp in Weber Canyon where they could cook for and feed about thirty railroad builders. Eliza and Emaline stayed and did this work until the contract was completed.

Shortly after that, President Brigham Young called Levi and his married children and their families to go to Kanab, Kane County, Utah, to strengthen the settlement and help build up the vicinity. This was a very great sacrifice for Levi. He had made this trip several times with President Young and knew that they were going into a desolate area with no water and bad Indian conditions. He left a partnership in the mercantile business with Bishop Brinton and a fine home in Salt Lake City, as well as a very richly cultivated farm in Cottonwood and a lovely home there.

When Levi and his family reached Kanab in June 1870, they found very few families, no place to live except in the old Kanab Fort, which had been built as a protection against the Indians. So this is where they established their first home. The following December, tragedy struck this little settlement. Fire broke out in the fort. Four of Levi’s sons were sleeping in a corner of the fort, which had no outlet. When the fire was discovered about three o’clock in the morning, the area where the boys were sleeping was in flames. Margery, Levi’s second wife, rushed into the burning are to save her four children. Levi Howard, son of Melinda, ran in quickly to tray to save lives. He, Margery and her little sons all perished. The settlement was numbed with shock and grief, and it left a deep scar on this heartbroken family. Levi buried these six loved ones in this desolate country in the dead of winter and was bowed with grief. Eight years later he was laid beside them.

John and Eliza were among those who moved to Kanab with their father, Levi. John became a very active man in the community from the very first. He soon had interests in livestock and rangeland on the Kaibab. In 1872, the U.S. Government sent Major Powell from the U.S. Geological Survey (Department of the Interior) to do some exploring in the West. He came to Kanab and mad headquarters there during this survey. John acted as his guide because of his knowledge of the adjacent country and the Grand Canyon area. It was a large company of men from Washington assigned to do the survey and this was a most interesting experience for John, who proved to be a valuable addition to the group.

John soon acquired a home for Eliza in the north part of the little settlement. They now had three sons: Clarence, Willard Levi, and Eugene. Approximately 1876, John and his brother-in-law, Edward Stevenson, Jr., because of information they had received, had become interested in Raft River Country in southern Idaho, concerning excellent grazing and farming land. They decided to explore these possibilities. They took their families and here two more sons were born to John and Eliza: Albert and Joseph Franklin. The two families lived here until 1880, when they returned to Kanab. This was because of the failing health of Levi, whom they wanted to be near and assist.

In 1882, a daughter, Clarice was born. A son, Charles, was born in 1884 and their last child, a daughter, Areta, was born in 1888. The oldest son, Clarence, was called on a mission for the church when he was 19 or 20 years of age. He served in the New Zealand Mission for four years and was an outstanding missionary. He was so loved that the chief of the tribe, Chief Whaanga, gave his little eight-year-old nephew to Clarence in appreciation for his bringing the gospel to these people. This gift is on record in the Church files. He was one of the first missionaries to the Islands. At this time the Church advised the missionary not to decline this offer for fear it might offend the Islanders. So he brought this little Maori boy home with him, where he was warmly accepted as a member of the family by John, Eliza and the children. Very soon, Clarence married Editha Johnson, a very beautiful young woman who had faithfully waited four long years for his return. They were a handsome couple. Perry, the Maori child, remained with John Riley and Eliza. He grew to manhood and was always loved and admired by his adopted family. While in his early twenties, he died as a result of an accident on the Kaibab Range. John and Eliza worked for days over him in their home, but were unable to save his life. They loved him as their own and grieved over this loss. He was buried in the Stewart lot in the Kanab City Cemetery, where a stone marks his resting place.

Clarence and Editha mad a home in Kanab. Here their first four children were born. The fifth child was born in Nevada and the sixth, in Salt Lake City where they had acquired a lovely home. In 1904, Clarence died in Nevada while engaged in mining activities. With John R. and Eliza living in Ogden at the time of Clarence’s death, it was possible for them to keep in frequent and close touch with Clarence’s family and this tie was a lasting one. Clarence’s death left Editha with the responsibilities of both father and mother to their children, with the youngest about three years old. They had a hard struggle to make ends meet and the children, one by one, assumed responsibility at a very early age. They were good and loving children and a comfort to Editha, who was a wonderful mother, excellent housekeeper and cook, and a splendid manager. In 1921, she was killed in an automobile-streetcar collision in Salt Lake City.

In the early days of Kanab’s history, John was very active in helping to build up the settlement. He also helped to build trails down Grand Canyon to the Colorado River. Meanwhile he also helped to build trails down Grand Canyon to the Colorado River. Meanwhile he also improved his livestock herd and about this time Levi had set up a sawmill in the Kaibab Forest, so John R. and Eliza went there and took charge of milling the lumber for the St. George Temple.

In the Kanab area there was but a trickling stream. As the settlement grew this simply was not enough water; they knew they must build forms of water storage to save all runoff, rainfall, etc. John R. was very instrumental in helping find a substantial Bottom across the old creek where they could build a dam. He, with other, was successful in locating a spot where they could build this dam across the creek and store water. John and two other men spent untold days exploring for a dam site. The dam mad it possible for them to increase the size of their small farms and gardens, which of course meant their livelihood. He was active on the school board and also by this time had built up a general merchandise story. He acquired considerable sheep and cattle, and times were becoming better. They bought a large home from John’s brother-in-law, Lawrence Marriger. John R. was a well respected man in his community. He had built up a good library and was often consulted on various problems which people encountered. He also was a trusted friend of the Piute Indian Tribe. They were constantly coming to him for counsel and advice. He helped them to solve their problems and tried to teach them that war is wrong and all men should be brothers. They believed there was a god called Great White Father, and this helped them to understand that they should be better people. John Riley was busy, too, in caring for the sick; being the only doctor in that part of the country. He acquired his medical education through medical books and frequent trips to Salt Lake City for conferences with table physicians who helped him to save many lives in that southernmost part of the state.

The Marriger home which John acquired for his family was indeed lovely for that period. Both John and Eliza appreciated culture and refinement and tried to provide it for their children. Thy both loved good books and read widely. So it was that their children followed example and excellent books were provided for their reading. Musical instruments were common in the home, provided whenever a child showed interest. Eliza played the accordion and the organ, which she had learned in Salt Lake City. She subscribed to a magazine which contained songs and solos and she enjoyed sharing this with her children. I love to think of her sitting at the organ and encouraging us to sing. She had a beautiful voice and particularly enjoyed her participation in the choir of the 14th Ward in the Salt Lake City, under the direction of George Careless, a hymn writer in the Church. He recognized her unusual range and encouraged her to work on her voice and develop it.

From the time of her childhood, Eliza had been taught homemaking. She became an excellent cook, providing wonderful meals for her family and for their frequent company. She was an accomplished seamstress. For many years of her early life, she sewed suits, shirts, pants, and coats for her family and knitted countless socks and sweaters. In actuality, they were living on a frontier, 250 miles from the railroad, with no source nearby where they could purchase their needs. Soon after the dam was built across the creek , people were able to have their own orchards and produce their own fruit and vegetables. Eliza was frugal and kept a supply of food, both canned and dried, in vegetables and fruits. She canned hundreds of quarts of fruit, jams, jellies and pickles. John R. had large areas of grassland over at Johnson (about 18 miles away), which provided good food for the animals in summer as well as stacks of the dried hay for winter feeding. During the haying season, Eliza and the family went with John to the Johnson Ranch and she cooked for the men while they worked in the hay. She also made butter and stored it in crock jars for winter use. On the ranch there was an ice-cold spring, which they enclosed and used as a place to keep butter, cream and milk.

John served as a member of the school board and was very instrumental in bringing in better teachers. Consequently, many excellent teachers were employed and this meant a great deal to the community. Both John and Eliza had many friends. They were known as Uncle John and Aunt Eliza.

John had a strong physique as a young man. He was suntanned most of the time and had clear healthy skin. His shoulders were broad and he was straight and tall. I never saw my father slouch. He had a graceful carriage and moved briskly. He was proud, clean and well groomed, with his hair brushed and carefully trimmed. He was a excellent horseman and his posture in the saddle was indeed beautiful. He loved his horses and animals and was gentle in his care of them. He was constantly improving the strain of his cattle by careful breeding. His animals received the best of care and attention. He always had a special team of horses for his light wagon and provided Eliza with a fine horse to use on her single-horse buggy.

About 1897, fire destroyed John’s mercantile store. It burned to the ground and very little, if anything, was salvaged. There was no water system to provide protection against such disaster. About this time he suffered an attack of arthritis which worsened as the years passed. Added to this were heart trouble and an asthmatic condition which became increasingly bad. Actually, he was never well after the fire. He felt he should move away from this dry, dusty area. His son, Charles Herbert, was employed in Logan. He and Areta were the two remaining children still unmarried, so in 1904, John Riley and Eliza reasoned that Logan would be a good place to settle, with an opportunity for their son and daughter to pursue their education at the college in Logan. However, Charles Herbert was shortly offered a position as Manager of the Ogden Stock Yards, so the family moved again, this time to Ogden, and within a few years the last two children married.

John Riley lived the remaining years of his life in Ogden, suffering severe asthma by this time and an increasingly weak heart. He enjoyed working in a small vegetable and flower garden but was never again strong or robust. He died at his home on December 21, 1916, from a severe stroke. He was buried in the Ogden City Cemetery.

Eliza kept her little home at 3296 Ogden Avenue for several years and rented a portion of the house to another lady about her age. Her children were very glad for this arrangement, knowing she would not be alone. She had good neighbors nearby who were very kind and thoughtful.

Eliza was very expert with the crochet hook and excelled in needlecraft. With crocheted pieces and edgings very much in vogue at this time, her lovely crocheting was soon discovered and she had a larger demand for work than she could possibly fill. This was an extremely satisfying hobby for her for three reasons: first, because she loved the creation of this beautiful artistry; secondly, it provided a small income for several years; third, and the best reason of all, she said, was the joy she derived from giving pieces as gifts. During the First World War she did much knitting for the Red Cross for boys in the service. For this she received a citation.

She was persuaded by her children, as she grew older, to give up her home because of her age and failing health. She spent the remainder of her life, dividing her time between the homes of her son, Eugene, in Montpelier, Idaho, and her daughter, Clarice. In the spring of 1934, she was stricken with acute pneumonia and died at Eugene’s home in Montpelier on March 30, 1934, two weeks before her 86th birthday. This was an extremely severe winter and it seemed very impractical to take the remains to Ogden for burial beside her husband. So she was buried in the Montpelier City Cemetery near a beautiful evergreen tree. She had visited this very location many, many times to visit the grave of a dear friend and she loved this particular setting. The family placed a stone, marking her last resting place.

So we come to the end of the lives of this fine man and woman. Wherever they lived, John Riley and Eliza Stevenson Stewart made important contributions to society and were loved and respected by all who knew them. Their deep love and respect for one another were an inspiration and example to their children. Their close companionship and confidence in one another imparted a warmth in their home.

Ten children were born to John Riley and Eliza—five sons and five daughters—and they were blessed with twenty-two grandchildren. More than fifty great-grandchildren and several great-great-grandchildren can justifiably take pride in their rich heritage.

May the lives of these noble parents continue to inspire their children and their children’s children and all the generations to follow.


In John Clarence Stewart’s early married life, he wrote to his father, John Riley Stewart, asking for information on his mother’s birth and death and his own birth place. The following letter from his father was received by Clarence in answer to the above questions:

"Your mother, Frances Ellen Vanhooser was born December 20, 1845, near Troy, Illinois, in Madison Co. – seventeen miles a little north of East from St. Louis Missouri. We were married at Florence, Nebraska, July 4, 1862 (which place is now included in the northern limits of Omaha, Nebraska). You were born April 20, 1863, at fathers Ranch, 3 miles East of Goshen where a small Spring comes out of the foot of the mountain. There were several families living there at the time of your birth, but the last time I was there, there was nothing but foundations of the houses left. Your mother died (3 miles north of Goshen, about 4 miles from where you were born in what is known as the hollow, where we had a farm) on the 14th day of February 1864, and was buried there. My first little girl by Eliza is there."

Juab Valley, Utah
(Birthplace of John Clarence Stewart)

In October 1961, Clarence Stewart’s son and daughter-in-law, Fernard and Emma, and the writer, Clarice Stewart Anderson (Clarence’s half-sister), visited Juab Valley, following the directions given in the letter shown above. We located a brief history of Juab Valley, containing the names and listed property of early settlers. Among the names was that of Levi Stewart, father of John Riley Stewart, Clarence’s father. A resident of this area (Goshen) also confirmed that this particular location was indeed called Stewart’s Bottoms.

After John’s marriage to Eliza, he took her to Juab Valley and they made their home at Little Salt Creek. It is a picturesque and green valley surrounded by rolling hills and mountains, with a clear sparkling stream flowing through the valley.

Standing on the ridge and looking down on Little Salt Creek, I recalled my childhood and the many stories my parents, John and Eliza, had told us of their experiences during the years they lived in Juab Valley. They shared with us tales of pioneering hardships, happy times and times of discouragement and sadness. Most exciting to us were the stories of hostile Indians stealing their livestock, burning homes, sometimes killing the settlers in revenge because they felt they were stealing their Happy Hunting Grounds. I always had a desire to take my mother to where she and father spent the first years of their married life. He first child is buried there beside my father’s first wife.

It was stirring to view this serene setting and realize that it was from here that my parents had literally fled for their lives in terror. This visit to Juab Valley was an overwhelming experience and indeed the fulfillment of something long desired.