Wilford Woodruff "Will" Luce, Sr.

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Wilford Woodruff "Will" Luce, Sr.

Birthplace: Vinalhaven, Knox County, Maine, United States
Death: July 30, 1906 (67)
Salt Lake City, Salt Lake County, Utah, United States
Place of Burial: Salt Lake City, Salt Lake County, Utah, United States
Immediate Family:

Son of Stephen Grant Luce and Mary Ann Luce Wickens
Husband of Ann "Annie" Luce
Father of Clara Emma Howard; Wilford Woodruff "Will" Luce; Frank Luce; Ann Eliza "Nan" Leonard; Mary Elizabeth Luce and 3 others
Brother of Sarah Elizabeth Hickman Beebe Berry; Jason Reid Luce; Samuel William Luce; John Martin Luce, Sr; James Fredrick Canfield Luce and 5 others

Occupation: farmer, mail carrier (1860-1861), freighter (1869), wagon boss for Hooper & Knowlton, and laborer (1890)
Managed by: Justin Durand
Last Updated:

About Wilford Woodruff "Will" Luce, Sr.


Wilford Woodruff "Will" Luce, Sr. was born on November 7, 1838 in Vinalhaven, Knox County, Maine, United States. His parents were Stephen Thomas Luce and Mary Ann (Wheeler) Wickens. He was a farmer, mail carrier (1860-1861), freighter (1869), wagon boss for Hooper & Knowlton, and laborer (1890).

Wilford Woodruff married Ann "Annie" (Quarmby) Luce on August 16, 1869 in Salt Lake City, Salt Lake County, Utah, United States. Together they had the following children: Clara Emma (Luce) Howard; Wilford Woodruff "Will" Luce, Jr.; Frank Luce; Ann Eliza "Nan" (Luce) Leonard; Mary Elizabeth Luce; David Wheeler Luce; Harriet Marie "Hattie" (Luce) Marker; Louisa "Lola" Luce.

He died on July 30, 1906 in Salt Lake City, Salt Lake County, Utah, United States and was buried on August 2, 1906 in Salt Lake City Cemetery.

His parents converted to Mormonism in early 1838 and set out in the fall with a company of converts headed for Nauvoo, Illinois. Wilford was born 7 November 1838, but probably not at North Haven Island, Maine as he always reported. He was probably born near Westfield, Ohio, where his cousin Clara Thomas was buried on 5 November, two days before his birth, or at another place on the leg of the journey coming into Rochester, Illinois. He was named for the Mormon Apostle Wilford Woodruff, who had converted the family.

Wilford was a member of Nauvoo's 4th Ward. He came with his parents to Utah in 1848. His obituary says he was born in 1837 on Fox Island and came to Utah 1848 (Improvement Era). Another obituary also says he came in 1848 ("Wilford W. Luce Dead," Salt Lake Herald, 1 Aug. 1906, 10). He was living in Salt Lake with his parents in 1851 and was baptized in Salt Lake City in 1852.

From about 1855 he was often associated with his brother-in-law William Hickman. In that year Hickman hired a group of men to accompany him on a trip to South Pass, Wyoming to prospect for gold. From September to December 1859 Hickman seems to have been away from Salt Lake. According to his nephew, the Hickman brothers had gone to Colorado for the Pike's Peak Gold Rush. (Hilton, 88). If so, some of Hickman's "boys" might have accompanied him.

In 1860-1861 Will Luce worked for the Overland Mail Company, riding "pony express" through Skull Valley, Utah. He later entertained his children with stories of lying on the ground listening for Indians. In 1860 he was living in the 13th Ward with his mother Mary, brother Martin and sister Antoinette.

In 1861 he was a member of the Bill Hickman Gang. Bill Hickman had previously been married to Will's sister Sarah, and was one of three men popularly believed to run the Danites, a group that acted outside the law to attack enemies of the Mormon Church and which claimed to take orders directly from Mormon leader Brigham Young. Many of the incidents relating to the gang occurred at the Townsend Hotel on East Temple Street [Main Street] in Salt Lake, nearly opposite the post office. (Later, in 1869 it was located on West Temple and 100 South.) James Townsend who operated the hotel came originally from Maine and had a long standing acquaintance with the Luces. Sir Richard F. Burton, the noted Victorian traveller, visited Salt Lake in 1860 and described the hotel as being filled with "a rough-looking crowd of drivers, drivers' friends, and idlers, almost every man openly armed with revolver and bowie-knife." There were so many bars in this area that the street was popularly called "Whisky Street."

He married Annie Quarmby, the divorced wife of Williams Camp in 1861 or 1862. They were probably married in Salt Lake City's 13th Ward, where both Wilford and Annie's foster father Joseph Bates Noble were living in 1860. No record of their marriage has been found, although they were sealed in 1869.

Will Luce was among those arrested for the assault on Territorial Governor John Dawson at Mountain Dell Reservoir outside of Salt Lake, during Gov. Dawson's flight back east . Governor John W. Dawson was an appointee of President Lincoln, but was not popular in Utah. He arrived in Salt Lake City on 7 December. Three days later he accused the legislature of disloyalty to the federal government and suggested that a war tax on Mormons be levied and used to pay the cost of keeping federal troops in Utah. Further, he vetoed a bill which would have petitioned for statehood. Dawson had only been in Utah for three weeks when rumor began to spread that he had made improper advances to his housekeeper, the widow of Thomas S. Williams. A Deseret News editorial, published 31 December 1861, said that the governor had qualified himself for the position of chamberlain or eunuch in a king's palace, an innuendo that he ought to be castrated. Dawson decided to leave the state secretly and hired six men at $100 each to accompanying him. The hired guards were Wilford Luce, John Martin Luce, Jason R. Luce, Isaac Neibaur, John P. Smith, Moroni B. Clawson, and Wood J. Reynolds. Dawson does not seem to have realized that Wood Reynolds was a relative of his offended housekeeper. Dawson's bodyguards turned on him at the Ephraim Hanks mail station at Mountain Dell, just outside Salt Lake. They beat him, and according to some accounts, castrated him. According to Dawson's account, published in the Deseret News on 22 January 1862, the men had been drinking and subsequently beat and robbed him. (Hickman 1872, 149-50; Taylor, 215-18).

Many Utahns were delighted at the Governor's fate, but Dawson wired the federal government about the attack and eastern newspapers had a field day with accounts of Mormon outrages. Brigham Young wanted Utah to become a state, and was undoubtedly concerned that a federal appointee had been beaten after a Mormon newspaper suggested the deed. Young said on that stand that the men who had beaten the Governor ought to have their throats cut. The authorities ordered the arrest of the men, but they had disappeared. President Lincoln stated that he had been imposed upon in the appointment of Dawson, and the Senate subsequently refused to ratify the appointment.

Wilford Luce was charged with Assault, People vs. Wilford Luce, 13 January 1862. His brothers Jason and John were similarly charged. A charge of Larceny was later added, People vs. Wilford Luce, 17 March 1862.

Two weeks after the incident, on 14 January, warrants were issued for the arrest of all those involved. The Luces, Neibaur and Reynolds were arrested. (Deseret News, 15 January 1862). Smith and Huntington were believed to have been involved in the January 12th theft of $800 from the Townsend stable. After the arrest of the others a saddle horse was stolen in West Jordan, and Huntington, Smith and Clawson were seen heading west along the stagecoach road. Warrants were issued for their arrest, and Porter Rockwell tracked them to Faust's Station. The three men were ordered to come out, and Huntington did so without haste, and was shot while mounting his stolen horse. Smith and Clawson were returned to Salt Lake where they were shot at close range, one of them in the face, by police who claimed that they had attempted to escape. (Deseret News, 22 January 1862).

On 17 January the surviving members of the gang were interogated. Bail was set at $1,000 for Wilford Luce, Jason Luce, and Wood Reynolds, and at $500 for John M. Luce and Isaac Neibaur. (Deseret News, 22 January 1862). Wilford and Jason Luce were unable to post bail and remained in jail at the Townsend Hotel. According to Hickman, Brigham Young forbade anyone to bail them out, but after about two months Hickman posted bail for Jason Luce, and Wilford got bail a few days later. According to Hickman, he heard from Jason Luce that Jason had been approached by Sheriff Bob Golden and instructed to give the Governor a good beating. Jason said that the gang had only followed orders, expecting to be protected by the authorities if any trouble should come of it, and he was unhappy about his treatment. The trial was held in March 1862. Wilford was found Guilty and fined $50 and sentenced to one year in the penitentiary, while Isaac Neibaur and John Martin Luce were found Not Guilty. At a separate trial the same month, Jason Luce was fined $50, and Wood Reynolds was fined $25. Wood Reynolds died later the same year, on 9 June 1862, in suspicious circumstances. He had been driving a stage when his scalped and naked body was found pierced with arrows and with his heart ripped out. Reynold's death was attributed to Indians, but it was generally believed that his death was engineered by church authorities. Wilford Luce was pardoned by the governor on 8 December 1862 and released from prison.

In 1868, he was one of the freighters who worked on the railroad. An article, "Farewell to Freighting" in Heartthrobs of the West (Vol. 10) says:

"The year 1868 was known throughout the whole Rocky Mountain region as the big railroad year. The screech of the Union Pacific locomotive was heard upon the plains, and the great road was soon to penetrate the everlasting hills. Prominent Utah men contracted to build about two hundred miles of track, but were unable to proceed until supplies could be brought from the terminus of the Union Pacific, way off in the plains of Wyoming. The spring was wet and backward. The mountain streams, during the break, became raging torrents. Toll roads, toll bridges and ferries were so numerous along the route that it would have bankrupted the ordinary freighter to patronize them all. Before winter was fairly over, the old time freighters hitched up their teams and made a break for the railroad terminus, some five hundred miles away to the east of Salt Lake City. There were upwards of three hundred teams in the company, owned by George Crismon, Charles Crismon, Malin Weiler, David H. Cannon, William Streeper, Samuel Mcintyre, William Mcintyre, Riley Judd, Quince Knowlton, William H. Hooper, Heber P. Kimball, David P. Kimball and others. Each company traveled under the supervision of a wagon boss, or captain. Most of the drivers were experienced western men, not afraid of anything, and in endurance as tough as the proverbial boiled owl.

"About the first of May they started on their perilous journey. All went well until they reached Coalville, where one of the boys came near losing his life. Chalk creek was overflowing its banks, and had cut a deep channel around the bridge. As he was fording this dangerous place, his saddle animal lost its footing, and away they went down the stream. Had it not been for timely aid, he and his outfit soon would have been floating over the briny waters of the inland sea!

"In the afternoon of the third day they arrived at Echo canyon creek, where was an old fashioned pole toll bridge, costing, I venture, less than one hundred dollars. For crossing this shaky old structure, which was almost submerged, the keeper demanded three dollars per wagon, cash down. The bosses refused to pay it, so decided to ford the treacherous stream, if possible. The crossing was just above the bridge, only a few rods from where the creek empties into the Weber river. For the trial trip they selected the best team in the outfit, a magnificent four-thousand-dollar ten-mule team owned by Hooper and Knowitoh. Before the venture was made, a number of the boys gathered around with axes and lariats, to be used in case of trouble. When all was ready, Bill Luce, Hooper and Knowlton's wagon boss, mounted the near wheeler and started his outfit through this mountain torrent. As the trusty leaders neared the center of the stream, everybody watched with bated breath. The moment the animals reached the main channel, the current picked them up, quick as lightning, and carried them downstream. In less than five seconds three pairs of mules disappeared under the bridge. In less time than that, the draw chain, that held them to the wagon, was cut by one of the men on shore. Quick as thought, the animals shot downstream, with incredible rapidity, but before they reached the raging, roaring waters of the Weber a number of expert throwers of the lariat lassoed the heads of the mules, and within a very short time the six drowning animals were safely hauled ashore. A shout went up from a hundred throats in honor of the boys who performed this heroic act. The toll-bridge keeper stood nearby, a pleasant smile playing over his countenance, thinking, perhaps, that it is better to be born lucky than rich. He collected the toll without further trouble. "When the boys arrived at Yellow creek, they faced a similar proposition, except that it was mud to cross instead of water. Here they were compelled to pay another three dollars per wagon, there being no way to avoid it.

"Next day they reached Bear river. The first object to meet their gaze was a big signboard with the inscription: "Toll-bridge, five dollars for wagons; fifty cents a head for loose animals. No credit here." This meant about fifteen hundred dollars toll for the outfit, and the captains' pocketbooks had already, from previous drains, commenced to crumple at the corners. It had rained every day since they left home, and the river was, therefore, very high. The bosses first scanned their gaunt pocketbooks, then studied the sign over the bridge. They sat down on the river bank to watch the driftwood, as it shot by at the rate of a half mile a minute. After partaking of a hearty meal, they gathered fresh courage, and set about to ford the river. As good luck would have it, in doing this they lost neither man nor beast, a feat nothing short of a miracle.

"Next morning they came to another mud stream, with a cheap bridge over it. The proprietor wanted three dollars per wagon for the privilege of driving over this rickety old thing. The boys, however, saw a way around it. They drove about a half mile above, and selected a place where it was believed they could cross. At that place the slough was about one hundred feet wide, and the banks on both sides were almost perpendicular. The mud was so deep that even loose animals could not wade through it. Besides this a blinding blizzard was raging. With these disadvantages staring them in the face, the boys were yet equal to the occasion. Unhitching a number of their animals, they drove them, single-file, over a rough mountain trail, some distance above, at which place they crossed. Returning to the mud-hole opposite their wagons they arranged their teams once more for action. In the meantime, the men who remained on the other side drove their wagons very near to the slough, and let them down into it by hand; then, taking long chains, fastened the ends to the wagon tongues and, wading, carried the other ends over to the boys on the opposite side. The teams were now hitched to the ends of these chains, and so the wagons were hauled over. The majority of the boys worked at this job in mud and water up to their waists, all day long. By five o'clock that night camp was again on the move. At the foot of Quakingaspen ridge they found plenty of wood. Here they built bonfires, dried their clothing, cooked supper and went to rest, satisfied that they had outwitted another greedy toll-bridge keeper.

"Next morning the snow was a foot deep, and the wind was still blowing. The boys got a late start, and it was nearly noon before they reached the summit of Quakingaspen ridge, the highest pass between Salt Lake City and the terminus of the railroad. The roads were somewhat better from this point on, and it was downgrade most of the way to the Green river. However, it was almost impossible to get around the numerous toll-bridges that continued to block their progress. To cross such streams as Green river and the North Platte on ferries cost five dollars for each wagon, to say nothing of the risk taken in swimming their animals over.

"The Indians were hostile that season, committing depredations all along the road. Reaching Bitter creek, the boys were compelled to get out their breech- loaders. Thus equipped they were prepared to defend themselves against their dusky foes. Being experienced Indian fighters, they were well acquainted with the cunning ways of the lurking Redskin thieves. On the plains, a few hundred yards away, one can not distinguish an Indian from a white man, which fact gave the Indians a great advantage. Scarcely a day passed, after they left Bitter creek, but their teams were stampeded, for the animals were quick to catch the scent of the Redman. Sometimes the animals ran several hundred yards before they could be stopped. Several of the drivers came near losing their lives in these run- aways. The wagons were empty, hence easily drawn. The teams often started to run without giving the slightest warning. After Elk mountains were reached, all were supplied with fresh meat, and from there on plenty of elk, deer, and antelope were encountered.

"Just twenty-nine days from the date the boys left home, they arrived at Big Laramie, the terminus of the railroad. It had stormed every day up to this time, consequently they had slept in damp bedding the whole distance. The Big Laramie river was very swollen. The bridge across it had been carried away. The tie contactors, however, had built a boom at this place, which answered the purpose of a foot bridge for those who dared to cross it. It consisted of green logs coupled together with log chains. The river was about one hundred and fitfy feet wide with a strong current. The boom was completely submerged. A streak of white foam, caused by the rushing waters beating against the logs, was the only visible guide. The whirling waters made the boom dance like a jumping jack. It was as much as a greenhorn's life was worth to undertake to cross it.

"Laramie City was on the opposite side of the river, and about two miles from camp. As soon as darkness brooded over the land, every driver in camp crossed the boom and even jollied one another in daredevil fashion as they went, by churning the logs up and down in the surging waters. Reaching town, they remained until midnight watching the sights -- no tame affair. Hundreds of desperate characters were gathering at this place for what they could get out of it. They often killed a man for a dollar, and if he hadn't the dollar, they were apt to kill him for not having it. Shootings were so common that only little attention was paid to them. Every '"sure-thing game" ever thought of was brought into requisition at Laramie City, which at that time was the "Sodom" of the plains, sure enough.

"After nearly a month, the delayed goods, for which the Utah boys had been waiting, arrived. Then there was "something doing." The goods consisted of plows, scrapers, wheelbarrows, powder, and every other thing in the line of supplies for building the railroad. Nearly every wagon had a cart hitched behind it, and some wagons had two or three. With their wagons loaded, the boys were soon homeward bound. The rich bunchgrass was now knee deep, and their animals became as fat and sleek as seals. The roads being in splendid condition, good time was made. Uncle Sam, by this time, had stationed soldiers along the road, and the Indians were pretty well subdued.

"Reaching Bitter creek, the freighters found it lined with railroad graders of the lowest type. The sluggish creek was nearly a hundred miles long, and thousands of workmen were sporting in its waters in the July weather and, besides, washing their dirty clothing in it. While this did not improve the taste of the water, it made but little difference to the graders, as the water they used for culinary purposes was hauled from the Green river and other far-off places. The freighters, however, were compelled to drink Bitter creek water, or go without. By the time they reached the mouth of this filthy stream, the water was so thick and slimy that Riley Judd, in a fit of rational humor, declared that after he started drinking the water he could not let go until he had chipped it off with his scissors. It was so full of alkali and other poisonous substances that it came near killing some of the toughest mules in camp -- but the boys escaped." Wilford Luce is also named in an article on freighters in Utah. (Improvement Era). In 1869 Wilford Luce was a freighter, living in Salt Lake's 14th Ward on 100 West between 200 and 300 South. (City Directory). Later he was a farmer in Cottonwood Canyon and in Holladay, Utah. (Leonard).

He was endowed, and he and his wife were sealed, at Endowment House on 16 August 1869.

In 1870 he was enumerated on the census in Salt Lake's 6th Ward. He does not appear in the 1874 City Directory and must have moved to Cottonwood before that date. Neither he nor any of his descendants appear in the 1885/86 and subsequent directories. The 1885 directory shows a Henry Luce, saloon keeper, living at 419-421 South Main, and having Luce & Duncan Saloon at 18 East 200 South. He does not appear to have been an immediate relative. The Luces in subsequent directories are probably descendants of this Henry, and of Will's brothers Matt and Jason.

In 1880 was enumerated on the census in Big Cottonwood Canyon (South Cottonwood Precinct): Wilford Luce (41), a farmer, Annie (39), Clara (17), Wilford (15), Annie (10), David (6), Harriet (4), and Louisa (4 months).

In 1890 he was listed as Wilfred Luce, a laborer, living in Big Cottonwood (City Directory). Utah became a state in 1896. In 1897 when the Mormons held their Golden Jubilee in the Salt Lake Valley, he and his wife were living in Holladay. In March 1904 he and his wife moved back into Salt Lake City, to live with their daughter Harriett Marker at 418 East 800 South. His wife died there 17 June 1904, and he died there 30 July 1906.

He was buried in the Marker Plot (Park 5), Salt Lake City Cemetery. His obituary might reveal other facts about his life. (Desert News, 31 July 1906, 2).

  • Residence: Salt Lake City, Salt Lake, Utah, USA - 1850
  • Residence: Salt Lake City, Salt Lake, Utah, USA - 1856
  • Residence: Salt Lake City, Salt Lake, Utah, USA - 1860
  • Residence: Salt Lake City, Salt Lake, Utah, USA - 1870
  • Residence: South Cottonwood, Salt Lake, Utah, USA - 1880
  • Residence: Abbey, Fremont, Wyoming, USA - 1900

Ancestry & DNA

A family tradition among some of his descendants, contested by others, says his mother was a plural wife and he was the son LDS President Wilford Woodruff. Woodruff converted the Luce family to Mormonism in 1838 and took a continuing interest in the Luce family. For example, he visited Wilford's brother Jason Luce in jail the night before his execution in 1864. Proponents of the tradition argue pictures of the two men show they are "clearly father and son".

Skeptics point out that Woodruff was newly married in 1837, and argue he was unlikely to have married a polygamous wife so soon after his first wife. Although Joseph Smith considered introducing polygamy in 1831 the first recorded plural marriage didn't take place in 1841 and his revelation on polygamy wasn't until 1843. That would make it unlikely Woodruff was entering into a plural marriage in 1838.

Update (2016): DNA results for the descendants of Wilford Luce show they share DNA with the descendants of Wilford's cousin Harriet (Luce) Luke. Therefore, Wilford Luce must have been a a son of Stephen Luce.

Famous Relatives

Will Luce was a 5th cousin of his contemporary, Rear Admiral Stephen Bleecker Luce. He was also a "shirt tail" relative of the Mormon Prophet Joseph Smith: In 1883 his cousin Charles Luce married Mary Abercrombie, a step-daughter of Lewis Bidamon, who had previously married Emma Hale Smith, Joseph Smith's widow.


  • "Another Pioneer Gone." Deseret Evening News, 31 July 1906, 2.
  • "Another Pioneer Gone." The Ogden Standard, 1 Aug. 1906, 1.
  • "Wilford W. Luce Dead." Salt Lake Herald, 1 Aug. 1906, 10.
  • Anderson, Edward H. "Events and Comments." Improvement Era IX, no. 11 (September 1906): p. 909 (“In Salt Lake City, 30th, Wilford W. Luce, born Fox Island, November 7, 1837, came to Utah in 1848”).
  • Findagrave.com, Wilford Luce.
  • Reference: MyHeritage Family Trees - SmartCopy: May 21 2017, 15:47:21 UTC
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Wilford Woodruff "Will" Luce, Sr.'s Timeline

November 7, 1838
Vinalhaven, Knox County, Maine, United States
October 23, 1862
Salt Lake City, Salt Lake County, Utah, United States
January 5, 1864
South Cottonwood, Salt Lake County, Utah, United States
September 7, 1867
Salt Lake City, Salt Lake County, Utah, United States
March 27, 1870
Salt Lake City, UT, United States
Salt Lake City, UT, United States
June 7, 1874
South Cottonwood, Salt Lake, Utah, United States
May 15, 1875
Salt Lake City, Salt Lake County, Utah, United States
February 12, 1880
South Cottonwood, Salt Lake County, Utah, United States