Monday, March 14, 2011

History of John Nelson Lee, our great-grandfather on Dad's side

Dear friends and family: Here is the life story of John Nelson Lee, father of John Raymond Lee, and grandfather of James Horald Lee, and great-grandfather of James Horald Lee Jr. and and great-great-grandfather to our children, Steven Eric Lee, Richard Bryan Lee and Kathryn Louise Lee, and great-great-great-grandfather to our grandchildren, Michael Dale Beske, Sabrina Berene Beske, Ashley Osborne, children of Kathryn Louse Lee, and Colby Eric Lee, Joshua "J" Lee, and Levi Lee, sons of Steve and Sherry Lee. Have a wonderful day and enjoy reading about our ancestor John Nelson Lee. Have a wonderful day, and know that we love you. Your friend and brother. Jim

John Nelson Lee b. 17 Nov. 1841 d. 21 July 1914

It was a beautiful, clear morning in June in the year 1850. Nine year old John Nelson Lee looked down at his dusty shoes. He picked up each foot in turn and rubbed it on the back of his trouser leg. A smile lit his sunburned face. The shoes still looked new. He looked back at the river, Platte, they called it. He guessed he would always remember yesterday his little brother Jacob Edward was buried here. A sadness seemed to envelop him and as a sob escaped his lips he turned to face to West. What would it be like, this new land so far away? Would he really be able to walk over the distant mountains? John picked up a rock and threw it at a cow that had stopped to eat a blade of grass. No time for stopping. Mother and Dad had long talked about joining the saints in the Salt Lake Valley. Now they were really on their way.

John thought of the prayer his father, Francis Lee, had offered this morning. He asked for a safe trip to the Salt Lake Valley, that they might find peace and rest with the saints. He remembered when they left Nauvoo. The whole sky was red with fire. The beautiful temple and some homes were burning. He hoped theirs wasn't. He loved that home with all the love a nine year old has.

On and on they went. Each day seemed like the last. The cows lowed, but they seemed to know there was a necessity to keep moving. Each night John ate supper, then knelt by his bed, sometimes asleep before his prayers were finished.

He could see the mountains now and the days seemed a little cooler.

One day he stepped on a stone. It hurt his foot, when he took his shoes off at bedtime he found a hole had worn through the sole. The next morning his mother, Jane Vail Johnson Lee, fixed something to put in his shoes, but they soon wore out. He had worn them out walking to join the saints. He walked barefoot, trying to watch where he stepped, but by night his feet were caked with blood and dirt, and oh, how they hurt. Jane Vail bathed the wounded feet and gently rubbed them with healing lotion. The next morning she cut canvas that hung beneath the wagon and wrapped his feet. This procedure lasted until they reached the valley.

When the wagon train reached Wyoming, Francis camped near a soda spring. The older boys waded in and cut chunks of salarates and placed in sacks and hung it on the wagon to dry. Now they had soda for their biscuits, as did the rest of the company.

One evening they camped by the Sweetwater River. It was cool, swift, and clear. John’s mother told the children not to go near the river. But like any nine year old who has walked halfway across a nation, John wanted some adventure. Maybe if he caught some fish for supper, Mother wouldn't be very mad. He cut a willow and took some string from his pocket. Then he undid a safety pin that was replacing a lost button on his overalls. He dug by the stream and found a nice fat worm. Soon it was wiggling in the clear water. Only a fisherman would know the excitement he felt as a large trout swallowed the bait and pin. In his excitement John slipped on the mossy bank and fell into the river. He couldn’t swim and was being carried downstream when he caught at some willows and they held. After he caught his breath, he pulled himself to shore and lay shivering on the bank. He was afraid to go back to camp all wet, and finding some warm sand he lay down and rolled in it, then stretched out in the sun to dry. Finally he brushed the sand from his clothes and strolled into camp. Jane never did know how near her son had come to his death.

The days were growing shorter now and the nights were very cool. It was on the 17th day of September when they looked from the hills and saw the Green peaceful valley. There would be food and rest for John and no more wrapped canvas feet. Uncle Alfred and Eli Lee welcomed them to Salt Lake City.

Brigham Young asked the Francis Lee family to go on to Tooele and settle there. Here they built homes, fenced land, and planted crops. Each had a job to do. John’s job was to tend the eight calves. Each morning he took them to the foothills to graze and at sundown he would take them home. The rumor that a large bear had been seen in the mountains caused him some concern. One evening as he was gathering the calves to go home he heard a loud noise. Immediately he thought of that old bear, and he was scared to death. He chased three calves that were close and almost beat them home. Both he and the calves were completely exhausted. “did you get the calves home, Johnny?” his father asked. “All but five,” he answered. He told Francis what had happened, and Francis, always a loving father, took his son back to the hills and together they brought the five lost calves home.

The family had ten wonderful years in Tooele. They became prominent people in the town and were well-liked and strong in the Church. One day they were sitting in conference in Salt Lake. John had his eyes on a cute girl across the aisle when he heard his father’s name mentioned. Francis and his family were called to go to Southern Utah and help settle the Cotton Mission. They sold their home and by November were living in Santa Clara. They loved the mild winters and were busy making a new home when a ten day rain came. Floods followed, leaving the land denude of top soil and foliage. The men went north and west searching for their animals. They came to a lovely little valley with a large warm spring and hundreds of acres of grass. This would be their new home.

Francis returned with his family. They arrived at what is now Panaca, Nevada, on May 4, 1864. John Nelson drove eight head of cattle and six pigs. As the shadows deepened into night John saw the wagons camped a mile up the valley. The cattle were grazing on the sweet grass. The pigs lay down to rest, so John took off the saddle, hobbled his horse, and using the saddle for a pillow, he pulled the horse blanket up over himself and spent his first night in Meadow Valley. He slept the sleep of the young and tired and awakened only when the morning sun warmed his face. The cattle and pigs were eating. The horse drank from a cool stream. John lay on his stomach and drank also of the sweet refreshing water, then saddled his horse and drove the animals up through the waving grass. He reached camp at 11:00 a.m. Francis, with a look of relief, said, “Well, Johnny, I see you made it.”

The next few years were filled with hard work. Houses were built. Some of the children were married now. A fort was erected to protect the saints from the Indians. A ditch was dug from the warm spring to water the land. Ground was cleared and gardens were planted.

There were many exciting experiences with the Indians, and John, being young and adventuresome, had his share. He carried a scar on his forehead and right eye, a gift from an Indian brave. He told the incident this way. “Two young Indians came to the door of the family home. The men were all in the fields. Mother was home alone when the Indians said they wanted guns and powder. She told them no guns and no powder for Indians and to ‘vamoose.’ They insisted and started toward her. She picked up a stick of stove wood and told them to leave. One of the braves started to put an arrow in his bow. Mother threw the stick of wood. She hit the arrow and broke it. When she reached for anther stick of wood, the Indians fled.”

One can imagine the talk around the dinner table and how concerned the men were for the safety of the women. They were very angry, especially John. He and his close friend climbed on there horses and rounded up those two Indian braves. They brought them back to town and tied them to a log just outside the fort. During the night the Indians were able to cut themselves loose and go to the hills for protection. John and his friend gave chase, armed with pistols.

The Indians had knives and the advantage of being high on a hill. They attacked, and John was badly cut on his forehead and down through his right eye. The eyelid was laid open, but fortunately the eye was not damaged. John grabbed the Indian by his hair and hit him with his gun. The Indian fell to the ground, and John ran to help his friend. Hearing someone behind him, he turned and saw the Indian coming, He raised his gun to shoot, but the gun jammed. The Indian, seeing the gun pointed at him, turned to run. He fell, and when John got to him, he was dead. The other brave died also, killed by the friend’s gun. Every time John looked in the mirror he remembered that unfortunate experience.

John was a friend to Jacob Hamblin and was often with him when he visited the Indians. He learned to love them and appreciate their culture.

When John was 26 years old he was a good-looking, well-established young man. He had dark hair and eyes that sparkled. He owned a beautiful span of black horses which he purchased for $500. He had a brand new wagon, too. But he had been too busy to court girls, since he spent most of his time driving the stage between Panaca and Pahranagat Valley.

In December, 1868, his mother sent him to Beaver, Utah, to buy a load of flour. John stopped at Minersville, Utah, to spend the night with Bishop James Henry Rollins. He had stopped there several times before, but this time the Bishop’s bright-eyed daughter had grown up. John realized he had been single long enough, and he wanted Melissa for his wife. He extended his visit for several days, and one day, as Melissa was preparing lunch, he asked her if she would like to ‘sell out.’ She no doubt understood what he meant because she said, “Yes, John I will sell out to you.” The flour money was used for the wedding, which took place on December 30, 1868. The ceremony was performed by the bride’s father, Bishop James Henry Rollins. Everyone was invited to the wedding and the big dinner afterward. A wedding dance was held that evening, John long remembered his wedding with the bride beautiful in white silk tulle. Her mother had purchased the dress from an actress who had been in the town.

After a week at the Rollins home John and Melissa left for Panaca. They lived for over a year with John’s mother, who owned and managed a hotel. Their first child was born there, a girl, on March 6, 1870 named Jane Eveline, after her two grandmothers.

John took a contract to haul mill machinery from Hiko, which was the County seat. A new mill was being built in Condor Canyon just above Panaca. This contract proved to be very good for John, and with the money he earned, he built a home in Panaca. It was three rooms with a small basement. Melissa said the new house seemed like a palace.

On April 19, 1872, another daughter was born, Ada Melissa. On October 8, 1873, Ida Dionitia was born.

John worked at the mill and farmed his mother’s land. His father had died two years after they settled in Panaca, and John did what he could to help his Mother.

John and Melissa’s family grew and so did John’s responsibilities. He thought they could do better in Minersville, so he sold their home to John’s brother Francis Colombus and moved to Utah. There he rented a farm and worked very hard. His family and he were much loved and highly respected by the people.

On April 6, 1875, Mary Etta was born. In October 1875 they moved back to Panaca and bought George Washington Lee’s homestead. It consisted of 160 acres and a house. Most of the land needed to be fenced. John got a contract carrying the mail from Hiko to Panaca and Pioche. He made the trip twice a week. On his days off he went to the mountains and cut posts to fence his land.

On one of his trips to the hills, he raised his ax to cut a post, it caught on a limb and came down, cutting his foot through the instep. When he pulled the ax out the blood spurted nearly up to his face. He thought surely he could bleed to death before he could get the eight miles home and get help. However, Jane had taught her children the power and value of prayer, and having great faith, John pled with a loving Heavenly Father to stop the bleeding until he could get help. The bleeding stopped, he hobbled to the wagon, and he headed the horses home. He stopped the team and wagon in the front yard and stepped to the ground. Again the blood spurted from his foot. Melissa hurried out to see why he was home early. She nearly fainted when she was the blood. With the help of Aunt Dionitia Lyman they cut the boot off and placed his foot in a large pan of flour. The bleeding stopped. A doctor came from Bullionville and put seventeen stitches in John’s foot. He told him he would never have full use of his foot again. But John had faith in the healing power of God and a good nurse in Aunt Dionitia. His foot healed perfectly and served him well the rest of his life.

On August 28, 1877, John Raymond was born. Now John had a son.

John planted fruit trees, strawberries, raspberries, currants, and gooseberries. He always planted a large garden and became very expert in his farming. Many people came to him for advice. He was a loving husband and kind father. He gratefully welcomed another son on August 28, 1879 and named him James Henry after Melissa’s father. They were a happy family.

Christmas was always a joyous occasion. John played the violin and the neighbors came to dance and enjoy good food. The Christmas they most remembered was the year John brought in a 40 pound watermelon. He had hid it under the sawdust in the ice house. It was ripened to perfection clear to the rind and was most delicious.

John sold his fruit and vegetables to the miners in Pioche. It was a very tough town. Many outlaws spent time there. John had many close calls and was grateful for his priesthood. He was always thinking of new ways to support this family and keep his sons close. They had an ice business and had facilities to store 300 tons of ice. Most of it was hauled to Delamar, Nevada. It was a thriving business for 13 years.

Five more children came to bless the family. Laverna Edessa was born August 29, 1882; Peter LeRoy was born September 4, 1883; Angus Melvin was born February 3, 1886; Lester Eugene was born February 15, 1889; and Porter LaFayette was born November 8, 1891. There were eleven choice spirits to forever bless their name.

Their lives were not without heartache and sorrow. Ada Melissa, who married Charles C. Ronnow on April 6, 1888, died in childbirth on February 18, 1890. Jane Eveline married Joseph Wadsworth on June 17, 1889; she died April 13, 1890, also in childbirth. Her baby was buried in her arms. She was preceded in death by her husband. Sixteen year old James Henry went to feed the horses and fell from the haystack on the tines of a pitchfork and pierced his heart. Five year old Lester found him and ran to the house saying, “Mama, Jimmy won’t wake up.” This was a choice young man, loved by all. John grieved a long time for these beautiful children. Jane Eveline was only 20 years old; Ada was 18. Eight years later 17 year old Peter LeRoy died in a hospital and was buried before they even knew he was ill.

In 1901 John and his sons bought a ranch in White River Valley in Nye County, Nevada. It was a good ranch with 400 acres and a good spring. But after two years the rabbits came in hordes and ate everything. They were unable to make the payments so they returned to their home and farm in Panaca.

John was a faithful Church worker. He held offices in the Priesthood. In October 1912 he and his dear companion of 44 years were called as ordinance workers in the St. George Temple. They lived with their daughter Etta and her husband Warren Cox and their family. They felt loved and welcome in that home where they lived for two years. Soon after they returned to Panaca, John suffered a severe stroke. He passed away eleven days later on July 21, 1914 and was buried in the Panaca Cemetery.

A great posterity remains to honor and bless the name of a great pioneer and one of God’s most devoted sons.

At the time of this writing, June 1980, one son, Lester Eugene, lives to verify the truthfulness of the things written here. He was the tenth child and was 91 years old on February 15, 1980.

Written by Leona Lee Conger

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