James Brigham Woolsey, Sr. (1846 - 1935)

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Birthplace: Mount, Pottawattamie, Iowa, USA
Death: Died in Escalante, UT, USA
Managed by: Tina Marie Miller
Last Updated:

About James Brigham Woolsey, Sr.

Biography of James Brigham Woolsey, Sr., b 3 Aug 1846, Mt. Pisga, IA, d 24 May 1935, Escalante, UT, arrived in UT 1852, with Capt Wood Co. md 5 Jun 1870 Tyresha Mary Myers. History written by Mrs. Earl (Lavern) Woolsey & Parley Woolsey, 1957, submitted by Leora W. Gustaveson (Grand daughter), 17 Jan 1974 for South Company, Weber Co, UT. Camp Gateway.

James Brigham Woolsey, Sr. was born at Mt. Pisga, IA on 3 Aug 1846 and died in Escalante, UT 24 May 1935, within two months of his 89th birthday. His parents were James and Lavina Patterson Woolsey, he of English descent and she of Holland Dutch (William Isaac Busenbark said she was a full-blooded Delaware Indian. He has picture of her.) They had three children - Joseph Smith, James Brigham and Rachel Abigail Woolsey. They were converts to the Mormon Church and were sealed to each other in the Nauvoo Temple on 5 Feb 1846, about six months before the birth of the second child, James Brigham.

The children knew very little of their father. He left them at Nauvoo when they were very young and traveled to California in the company of another woman, and so far as is known, never saw or heard from their father again. It would seem, however, that years later, James moved from California to Utah, and married a woman known as Mary; had a daughter named Birdie, and settled in or near Beaver, UT where apparently, he lived the rest of his life. This seems to be about the extent of information the children ever received about their father from the time he left Nauvoo.

In 1852 when James Brigham was six years old, his mother moved the family to Utah in a pioneer company under the leadership of Capt. Wood. Soon after arriving in Salt Lake Valley they moved to north Ogden where they lived for the next eight years. While living there the children attended a one-room country school for a limited period, the only school training they were ever to receive.

From Ogden they moved to Providence in Cache Valley where the boys had to work hard on the farm and at odd jobs to provide for the family. Here the settlers experienced considerable trouble with the Indians, making it necessary for the young boys to take their turn standing guard against the frequent Indian raids. Young James B. had occasion to mingle with the Indians considerably while helping to retrieve stolen horses and cattle. He learned to speak their language quite fluently. His elder brother Joseph S. married Mary Nelson while they were living in Providence and his young sister Rachel Abigail at the age of fourteen ran away from home and married a William Willis who took her back to the states and the Woolseys never saw or heard from her again.

In the fall of 1867 when James B. was 21 years of age, the family decided to go with others to Dixie in the extreme southwest part of the territory and one year later moved over the line into Nevada and settled at West Point on "The Muddy". Here they engaged in farming and livestock raising. At the request of Pres Brigham Young, a number of the saints were attempting to establish a new settlement at this place, but the venture proved to be almost disastrous because of the many difficulties facing them. The climate was very dry and hot, but close to the river there were numerous swamps where mosquitoes flourished and carried germs of malaria among the people. The victims suffered from chills and fever from which a number of people died. Constructing and maintaining dams in the Muddy River to make irrigation possible became a major problem. Floods destroyed the earthen dams faster than the settlers could build them.

Indian troubles were even greater than in the North. It seemed that with each raid the Indians became more threatening to the settlers. On one occasion a large party of Indians surrounded the saints who had taken refuge in the home of John E. Myeers and threatened to massacre the lot of them. Tyresha May Myeers Woolsey relates how the frightened children scampered under the beds to await the outcome; and how her father took aim with his rifle through a window where five of the trouble makeers were in direct line of fire had shooting started. In a final effort to discourage the Indians, two of the young men, James Brigham, usually called Brigham and Lewis Duel volunteered to go out and try to reason with them. And to prove they were not afraid, roughly pulled two of the Indian leaders from their horses when they became abusive, and threatened them with rough treatment if they did not listen to reason. This display of courage had the desired effect, for after being promised a few head of cattle for food the Indians moved away. But the difficult problems persisted to such an extent that President Young finally advised the saints to move back into Utah and to settle wherever they could.

It was while living on the Muddy that Brigham met Tyresha Mary Myeers who became his life-long companion in pioneering. They were married 5 Jun 1870 at West Point, Nevada by Bishop George Leavitt. In the early autumn of the following year, they journeyed all the way from the Muddy to Salt Lake City to receive their endowments in the old Endowment House Oct 1871. What a honeymoon trip that must of been, made as it was in a horse-drawn wagon through rough, undeveloped country, over trails and rough roads in the time of year when the weather was getting cold. But the Woolseys were young and sturdy pioneers, endowed with a purpose in life and hope in their hearts.

Soon after these events the Saints decided to accept the advice of Pres. Young and leave the terrible Muddy. The Woolseys made the trip back into Utah in company with the Myers family in the fall of 1872. Their strength of character was again put to the test on this trip. The going was very slow and difficult with winter weather getting worse by the hour.

While they were camped at Bennett Springs, near Mountain Meadows, Tyresha's Mother Sarah Myers who had been ill for some time with chills and fever, then with dropsy, died in the wagon during the night. Tyresha prepared her mother's body for burial, then looked after the younger children while her father and his eldest son, John E. took the body to St. George for burial. They were gone nearly a month. Because of this and the severe weather, they decided to spend the rest of the winter nearby in Panaca, a small ranching village.

As soon as spring came the two families moved to Panguitch where the Woolseys lived for the next few years. It became the permanent home of the Myers family. Here the first three children were born to James Brigham and Tyresha Mary - James Brigham Jr., John William, and David Marcellas.

But the Woolsey family was not yet through with moving and pioneering in wilderness territory. In 1876 Brigham left his family in their temporary home in Panguitch and struck out to investigate a new location known as Potato Valley, about 75 miles over the mountains to the east and south. This proved to be the end of the road for them. A few people had preceded him into the valley.

Conditions looked favorable so he remained for a while to get located and provide a place to live in, then returned to Panguitch for the family. He built a dugout, then brought his wife Tyresha and their three boys.

The trip from Panguitch to the new settlement was made by ox-team and wagon and proved to be very difficult because a road had not yet been made over the mountain. They followed as best they could the line of least resistance which made it necessary to construct some semblance of a road here and there as they proceeded. For a number of years this "trail" became the regular route and was known as the "old pole road" which ran down the canyon on the opposite side from that of the later, present road.

At last, after days of sweat and toil they reached their new home, which for a time was only a dugout or cellar, located on the north side of the creek. This underground living was not for long, however, because soon a regal town site was laid out on the south side of the creek and each family permitted to take one-fourth of a town block on which to establish a permanent home. These one and one quarter acre lots were large enough for a dwelling house, a corral, stables, a born for livestock and feed with space left for a vegetable garden and fruit trees. The settlement had been given, in 1875, its present name of Escalante. The river on the headwaters of which the settlement was located had previously been named in honor of Father Silvestre Valez de Escalante, the Spanish priest-explorer.

Brigham Woolsey put up a large one-room rough-hewn log house on his lot, with a dirt roof and a wood floor, the first in town to have such a floor. Because of the floor and the size of the room, it was used for community dances for the next year or so - until the log school house-meeting house was built. Peter Barker with his accordion provided music for these early dances.

As time went on and the family increased in number, this large room was divided and other rooms added until there were three bedrooms, a large dining-living room, and a kitchen. After the years of moving and pioneering, this seemed like a dream to the Woolseys. All but the first three of their ten children were born in this house and nine of them raised to maturity in it. The fourth child, Jerry, the first to be born in Escalante, died soon after birth. Brother and Sister Woolsey and their son Charley, who never married, continued to live in this home for the remainder of their lives. To this day, after 80 years, it is still being used as a place of residence by their grandson and his family.

Soon after settling in Escalante, Brother Woolsey once more took up farming and livestock raising. For a while plowing and haling had to be carried on by ox team, which made progress slow and tedious. The oxen were guided by shouting "Gee" for a right turn and "Ha" for a left turn and were kept on the move by use of a prod pole with a nail in the end of it. Since wood was the only fuel they used for cooking and heating, it was a real task to haul, by ox team, the large stack of pine and cedar necessary to last through the winter. Pine (pinion) was used for the open fireplace, since it burned with considerable light and heat without popping sparks onto the floor. Cedar (juniper) was for the kitchen stove because it burned clean with little smoke and soot to clog the pipe.

One of the nightly chores for the boys was to chop the logs into desired lengths, split them and carry the wood into the house to fill the large wood-boxes, one by the kitchen stove and one by the fire-place in the dining-living room. The fires would burn out during the night and were rekindled about four o'clock every morning. The boys would take turns, usually a week at a time, performing this chore. They had to be awakened from deep slumber by their father who would shout out the time from his bedroom. After the ashes were removed and fires started in both places, the mother would get up and cook breakfast. This was always a cooked meal. It often included large yeast biscuits made from dough mixed the night before and left in a large pan on the warm hearth by the fireplace to rise during the night. The flour used was of soft wheat and held its texture during the long period of rising. The dough not needed for the biscuits was shaped into loaves for later baking. Besides the biscuits, the breakfast usually included meat, fresh or cured, and eggs and potatoes and gravy.

Dinner at noon was likewise a full meal consisting of meat, vegetables in season, fruits, fresh or dried, sometimes puddings or other desserts and generally more potatoes and gravy. Supper generally consisted of bread and milk.

By the time breakfast was ready, Brother Woolsey would have the rest of the family up and he and the older boys would have most of the morning chores done - feeding and watering the livestock, milking and so on. Water was carried to the pigs in their pens but the cows and horses were driven or led to the creek for their morning drink. Water for all household purposes had to be hauled from this same creek in barrels on lizzards (horse-drawn pole-runner sleds). In later years, people dug wells on their lots from 35 to 60 feet deep to tap the underground water which was then drawn up by hand in a bucket attached to a rope that was drawn through an overhead pulley. This well-water was hard and tasted a little of mineral, but it replaced the creek water for drinking and cooking purposes.

Brother Woolsey was about the first in the settlement to own a team of horses, which were obtained from a peddler who came through the country. One of these horses was a mare called Mag which had bred and got the start of a number of fine harness and saddle horses that became so useful on the farm and the range. Puss, Queen, Ginger, and Roundy were some of Mag's descendants, all remembered as having been some of the best horses in the valley.

It may well be mentioned here that, except for an occasional theft of a minor nature, the people of this frontier settlement seldom had trouble with Indians, though they were frequent visitors. One incident might be mentioned Early one morning Brother Woolsey discovered an Indian and his squaw stealing corn from the lower part of his lot. When he attempted to make them leave the squaw tried to stab him with a knife as he struggled with the "buck", as a male Indian was called. He finally got possession of the knife then forced them to leave. The Indians made a lot of house to house calls asking for food and clothing and were usually helped. In some cases they would bring freshly killed venisons and deer skin made into buckskin to trade for what they wanted.

Brother Woolsey took a real interest in the community and contributed his share of time and work in whatever community projects were undertaken. He helped considerably in the building of the old stone church on the hill, and when it was nearly completed gave vent to his enthusiasm by standing on his head on top of the building, giving out his well-known Indian war-whoops that could be heard for blocks around. This thick walled structure served the community for many years, both for religious and school purposes.

For several years, Brother Woolsey and Lewis Deuel undertook a project of raising sugar cane for the making of sorghum down on the Escalante River shores about fifteen miles east of town where the elevation was lower and the growing season longer than at Escalante. For several seasons this project was quite successful but later as summer floods increased in destructive volume, they were forced to abandon it, as part of the land was washed away including the barrels of sorghum and the mill. During their last Summer there, young David became very ill with typhoid fever from drinking the creek water, and it took several months to nurse him back to health. This added to their discouragement in any further attempts to make sorghum.

In 1888 the Woolseys started ranching in Pine Creek areas of the mountain. Every summer Sister Woolsey would put down barrels of butter and make from one hundred to one hundred and twenty-five large cheeses. Most of this cheese and butter would be hauled over the mounmtain each fall and sold at 10 or 12 cents a pound in the various settlements along the road, sometimes as far north as Nephi. With the proceeds, the wagon was loaded with needed supplies for the return trip. Sister Woolsey would help the boys to milk by hand every morning and evening, the 35 to 40 cows that had been rounded up from the range by the older boys. Brother Woolsey stayed in town to look after the farm, making occasional trips to the ranch to take needed supplies, some from the store but most from the orchard and the garden he raised in town. The cows were turned loose to be fed on the forage of the mountain meadows during the day. The calves would be herded by the boys in another part of the range during the day and brought back to the ranch corral at night. There the cows would return to find their calves which would be allowed to suck each in its turn before each cow was milked. After milking, the cows would be kept in the corral for the night and the calves turned loose. During the day when the cows were turned loose they would not stray too far away because they were anxious to get back at night to their bawling calves. And because their mothers were fenced in at night the calves were usually on hand by early morning to get their portion of milk.

This ranching project proved to be quite successful and was continued during the next 12 years or so. Some of the ranches were close enough that the women and children could "neighbor" in their spare time. Fish and game were quite plentiful during these early years, and since fishing and hunting were unrestricted, there was usually plenty to eat.

Soon after the turn of the century, Brother Woolsey carried the U.S. Mail between Escalante and Cannonville for a two year period. He was on a contract with his brother-in-law Joseph W. Myers. He made the round trip through the Upper Valley on horseback with a horse-drawn cart every day except Sunday. He would leave Escalante at 2 a.m. and get home again about 10 p.m. For this long trip he was paid one dollar a day, he furnishing the horses and providing their feed and care. The boys Riley and Parley would take some of these trips for him, giving him a chance to rest and do farm work. This occured around 1898.

In late March 1893 Brother Woolsey was with the group of Escalante people caught in a snowstorm on the Escalante Mountain and marooned for several days at a place afterward known as Conference Flat. They were on their way to Salt Lake City to attend the dedication of the Salt Lake Temple and attend the general conference of the churc 6 Apr 1893.

On 25 Mar 1896 Brother Woolsey was called by the Church authorities to serve on a mission and so spent the next 26 months in the Eastern States, mostly in New York. He served his mission under Pres. Samuel H. Richards and Pres. Kessler. On his return he spoke of the many testimonies he had received. During his absence the boys looked after the farm and livestock, and David acted as head of the family. Sister Woolsey continued to make cheese and butter on the mountain during the summer months. Where Brother Woolsey had customarily hauled the dairy products to markets to be sold, David no took the lead at this service for the family.

For many years, Brother Woolsey kept forty or fifty hives of honey bees on his lot and attended them regularly, along with his other work. He gathered many gallons of honey each summer, selling the surplus above what the family used to the towns people. During swarming time he would sometimes follow a swarm all the way across town before it would finally settle in a tree in somebody's orchard. Usually he would hive them without wearing a net to keep from being stung. People all over town knew when a swarm was in the air because they could hear the loud jingle of cowbells the family would use in getting the bees to settle. Brigham believed that the noice accompanied by cups of water thrown into the air helped the bees to settle faster and closer to home.

About his last venture was made soon after the mail contract ended. He purchased a cattle ranch in Boulder from Victor Bean, a lanky teacher who taught school in Escalante for several years. Not having enough cash to meet Brother Bean's terms, Brigham made up the difference by delivering a small herd of cattle to him.

The ranch was disposed of a few years later, and Brother Woolsey spent the remaining years of his long pioneering life around his home in Escalante. Brother and Sister Woolsey were truly staunch pioneers. They endured many hardships and privations, always endeavored to live their religion and to teach it to their ten children, of which eight of them have been married in the House of the Lord. Charley never married. Brother Woolsey worked as usual until three or four months before his death. He died at his home 24 May 1935. Joint funerals were held for father and son, James B. Woolsey, Jr. who preceeded him in death by two days. James Jr. died in a hospital in Salt Lake City where he had been operated on for cancer. Brother Woolsey Sr. also died of cancer. The funeral was held 26 May 1935.

We can say of Brother and Sister Woolsey that they had just enough clouds in their lives to cause a glorious sunset.

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James Brigham Woolsey, Sr.'s Timeline

1846
August 3, 1846
Mount, Pottawattamie, Iowa, USA
1870
June 5, 1870
Age 23
West Point, , NV
1871
October 2, 1871
Age 25
1872
January 23, 1872
Age 25
Panguitch, Garfield, UT
1874
March 17, 1874
Age 27
Panguitch, Garfield, UT
1876
April 22, 1876
Age 29
Panguitch, Garfield, UT
1878
April 23, 1878
Age 31
Escalante, Garfield, Utah
1880
October 4, 1880
Age 34
Escalante, Garfield, UT
1882
October 30, 1882
Age 36
Escalante, Garfield, UT
1884
October 20, 1884
Age 38
Escalante, Garfield, UT