By Vera A. Christensen
Special Collections and Manuscripts
Harold B. Lee Library, Brigham Young University, Provo, Utah 84602
My mother's people came from Scotland and England and came into the southern states. Their name was Stewart. We are not one of those who claim that they were royalty, but it is a royal name. Our problem is getting them across the ocean. We know that they came into the southern states for we have a copy of a deed of a plantation that was given to them by a duke or a lord who was living in the southern states at that time. We know that they were living in North Carolina at one time and in Kentucky and Tennessee as they moved about. We're having a problem of tracing the genealogy in the southern states. A lot of material was burned at the time of the Civil War so it is one of the difficult areas to trace genealogy.
My great grandfather was Levi Stewart, son of William Stewart and Elizabeth Van Hooser. Levi was born in Troy (West Edwardsville) Madison, Illinois, April 18, 1812. He received a good education for those days. He was a man of large stature, over six feet tall, with dark hair and blue eyes. His fine character and pleasing personality won many friends wherever he went. On February 12, 1833, Levi married Melinda Howard, daughter of John Howard and Jane Van Hooser of Effingham, Madison County, Illinois.
Levi and Melinda moved to Vandalia where their first three children were born. One died in infancy. It was in Vandalia they were contacted by Mormon elders and joined the LDS faith. Their marriage was solemnized in the Nauvoo Temple on January 14, 1846.
Experiencing Mormon persecution, people were driven from pillar to post. Levi moved his family to Iowa. Their fourth child, John Riley was born on November 21, 1840, at Council Bluffs near where the City of Des Moines now stands. They later moved back to Nauvoo, where two more children were born. He was associated with Joseph Smith as well as with the Prophet's brother, Hyrum. When the Prophet revealed plural marriage, Levi followed the edict and took a second wife, Charity Holdiway. She didn't completely accept the principle, so they were separated after a short time.
The Saints moved westward and Levi helped set up the "Camps of Israel", being closely associated with President Brigham Young. The martyrdom of Joseph Smith was a tragedy in Levi's and Melinda's lives, as all Saints, and they became active in the preparations for the move westward. They left Nauvoo with the main exodus early in 1846 in Brigham Young's large company, leaving Leviís property valued at $3,950, a sizeable amount for those days. In spite of the privations and sufferings, Melinda bore her seventh child on May 6, 1848. With their family of five surviving children, Levi and Melinda joined a large company with Brigham Young who had returned to accompany Saints westward to Zion. They arrived in Salt Lake Valley in September 1848 after four months of weary travel. My grandfather, John Riley, their fourth child, was nearly eight years of age. He walked most of the way across the plains.
One source tells me that Levi and Melinda were allotted the block in Salt Lake City between State and Main Streets and from Fourth to Fifth South Streets. This is directly across the street from the present City and County Building. Levi was one of the first merchants in Salt Lake City. His first store was across the street south from the Tabernacle. President Young asked Levi to start a paper mill on the Big Cottonwood at Mill Creek. So in 1865 he sold his home in Salt Lake and moved to Big Cottonwood.
Melinda gave birth to three more children, the last two being twin girls, making ten children. Almost a month after the twins, Melinda passed away with phlebitis. Almost a year later, one of the twins died. Levi married sisters, Margery Wilkerson and Artemacy Wilkerson Cassidy. He also married Susan Eager, but they separated.
At the time when Brigham Young was expanding the empire, he was asking and soliciting people to go into different parts of the state. Levi accompanied President Young on a tour of southern Utah, and had made trips back to Illinois at the request of Young to bring more of the Saints into Utah, making sure they could follow the trail and arrive safely. Levi's loyalty, faithfulness and integrity were well known by Brigham Young. His next assignment was to go to southern Utah to Kanab to take charge of the settlement.
So Levi sold his property in Big Cottonwood and took his two wives and children south. He was released as a counselor in the bishopric in the Cottonwood Ward. President Young set him apart as the first bishop in Kanab. It was a challenge to leave their beautiful homes. Levi had held many important positions in Salt Lake such as vice-president of the Big Cottonwood Co-op store, and an officer in the Brigham Young Express Company. In 1868 when the Union Pacific Railroad extended its line from Omaha to meet the Southern Pacific, he took a contract for the work in Weber Canyon, near Devil's Slide.
It was in July 1870 that great grandfather was called by Brigham Young to go to Kanab. They travelled six weeks stopping at Parowan, Cedar City and Toquerville. In Toquerville, by prearrangement with Brigham Young, Levi left his daughter, Luella, to study telegraphy. She was stationed at Pipe Springs, Arizona and became the first telegrapher in Arizona. The Deseret Telegraph Company line reached Pipe Springs in 1871. Superintendent Milton Musser sent the message to the Deseret News: "Office at Pipe Springs now open with Miss Luella Stewart as operator."
In Kanab the Stewart family occupied an old fort that had been built as a protection against the Indians. They cleaned and refurbished the fort and made a temporary home as well as a general storehouse for supplies. In the early morning of December 14, 1870, a fire broke out in the old fort and was beyond control because of kerosene and other supplies stored there. As a result Levi lost his wife, Margery, who rushed in through the flames in an attempt to save their children. Two sons escaped, but five sons were lost with Margery. Sorrow and sympathy were felt throughout the territory. It took a man of courage and strong character to go through these dark days. Margery and the five sons are buried in the Stewart plot in the Kanab cemetery. People rallied around the Stewart family and helped them rebuild their lives. It was a very sad thing and has been written up in the history of the state.
Levi was a very gentle man and one who could work well with different kinds of people. He became a staunch friend of the Indians and helped to establish peace between the Utes in that part of the state. He worked closely with Jacob Hamblin as a peacemaker with the Indians. One of the stories that we loved to hear from my mother's lips and my grandmother's lips was the story of when Levi would sit with the Indians in a circle and smoke the pipe of peace. He brought good relations between the white people and the Indians who had been causing a lot of trouble in that part of the state.
Levi and his sons established a sawmill out on the Kaibab Forest, which would be approximately seventy miles south of Kanab towards the Grand Canyon where VT Ranch is. They out lumber and hauled it to St. George for the temple. They had a lumber business and also raised horses, for Levi had a special knack with horses. He became established as a merchant, a stockman, and a colonizer and peacemaker with the Indians as well as being bishop.
Levi's fourth son, John Riley Stewart, was almost eight when Levi and his family arrived in Salt Lake Valley. His boyhood days and growing up was during the early pioneer struggle of Utah. He remembered well the seagull miracle and told it and retold it with tears running down his cheeks. His parents' home was used as a church and schoolhouse and for other special occasions. The Eighth Ward was built across the street north of the City County Building and it served as a schoolhouse. This is where John attended school.
When John was thirteen, his mother, Melinda, passed away. At age sixteen John drove a team and wagon to Omaha, Nebraska to bring back goods for his father's store. At twenty-one he was drafted into the U.S. Army to serve in the Civil War. He was wounded and recovered at the home of relatives in Illinois. There he fell in love with his cousin Frances Ellen Van Hooser. They were married in Florence, Nebraska on July 4, 1862. Their honeymoon was in a covered wagon crossing the Plains to Utah.
Levi put his son, John, in charge of land he had acquired in Juab Valley south of Provo. This is where John and Frances Ellen made their first home. Their baby son, John Clarence, was born on April 20, 1863. The young mother did not regain her strength and she passed away on February 13, 1864. John took his baby to Levi's home in Big Cottonwood where his sister, Louisa, cared for John Clarence.
Also in that area now known as Highland Drive lived the Edward and Nancy Areta Porter Stevenson family. They had a charming daughter, Eliza, one of the first children born in Utah on April 16, 1848. John and Eliza had been friends for years. They fell in love and were married on December 16, 1865 in the Endowment House. She took care of baby Clarence. Her first baby, Eliza Melinda was born, but she died and was buried beside Frances Ellen. This was hard for the young wife. The Indians gave them lots of trouble out in the Juab Valley, but John was as good as his father, Levi, with the Indians. He had those peacemaking traits too. Eliza was not used to this hard life. She lost her next three babies which was very difficult for them.
In 1868, when Levi got the railroad contract, he turned it over to John. He and Eliza and John's sister, Emaline, set up a camp in Weber Canyon where they cooked and fed thirty railroad workers. Following this, Levi was called to go to Kanab with his families. John and Eliza went too and John became very active in the community. He had interests in livestock and range land on the Kaibab. When Major John Wesley Powell of the U.S. Geological Survey came to Kanab and made his headquarters there, John acted as his guide. This was because of his knowledge of the country and Grand Canyon area. He proved to be a valuable help to Powell. John and Eliza and Major and Mrs. Powell became great friends.
John soon acquired a home for Eliza and their three sons, Clarence, Willard Levi, and Eugene. In 1876, John and his brother-in-law, Edward Stevenson, Jr., became interested in Raft River County in southern Idaho, and moved their families to this Curlew Valley. Here two more sons, Albert and Joseph Franklin, were born. In 1880 they all returned to Kanab because of the failing health of Levi.
Levi was instrumental and influential in getting a dam constructed above Kanab where a natural spring had been found coming out of the red rocks and red sand. In that dry, sandy area of southern Utah, water became their life blood for the people, their stock and cattle and for irrigation. It was through Levi's foresight that this water project was begun and completed.
Later this became a recreation area where people could go swimming. Beautiful red-sanded Kanab with its scenic red rocks and green willow trees is very nostalgic to me.
Levi, with his son-in-law, Lawrence C. Mariger, and James A. Little and Edward A. Noble, each driving a team and wagon, set out for Salt Lake City to get merchandise for the mercantile institution they were starting. They left Kanab on July 12, 1878. On the second day out they were at Black Hook, Johnson Canyon, when Levi became ill with a severe pain. They gave him a drink of water, but he died suddenly in the wagon bed. Shocked and grieving they returned to Kanab and his bereaved family. He was buried in the Stewart Plot in the Kanab cemetery.
Certainly the name of Levi Stewart should go down in history among those noble, valiant builders of the West. There is a monument erected entering Kanab, a double monument with Levi Stewart on one side and Jacob Hamblin on the other. Some say it marks the spot where the old fort and Levi's wife and five sons were burned. Levi was the father of twenty-eight children, ten by Melinda, eight and a still-born by Margery, and ten by Artemacy, with a large posterity to follow.