Thursday, June 14, 2012
Most of our pioneer stories begin with the struggles of parent to get her families to Utah, or of with young people who walked the entire distance, but this pioneer story begins with a little 2 year old who was born while her parents were stopped along the way helping other Saints to get to the Valley.
Elizabeth Miller Thornton was born April 10,1848, in Garden Grove, Iowa, one of the camps of Israel set up after the “Mormons” were driven from Nauvoo during the winter of 1846. She was the third child of John and Janet Crooks Miller, Scotch converts to the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints.
It might be interesting to tell something of her parents and how they came to America. John Miller was born February 19,1820, in Dysart, Fife, Scotland, the son of Henry and Mary Adamson Miller. As a young man he learned the trade of baker, and followed it until he was 22 years old. He heard the message of the Mormon Missionaries and was baptized March 12, 1842, and September 17 of the same year left Scotland on the “Sidney” bound for America. When he got to Nauvoo there was no need for a baker, everyone in that frontier city did their own baking, so the young man went to work cutting stone for the temple.
Janet Crooks, Elizabeth’s mother, was also born in Dysart, Fife, Scotland, October 8, 1821, the daughter of Thomas and Elizabeth Baird Crooks. Dysart was a seaport town 14 miles northeast of Edinburugh, the capitol of Scotland, where so much of the colorful history of Scotland took place.
Thomas Crooks and his boys followed the black smithing trade and had learned it well. The family was fairly well grown up and the mother had died. When they heard the missionaries of the Mormon Church with the exception of, the family all joined the church and left their native land in 1844 to come to America. They were on the ocean six weeks, landing at New Orleans, and taking a river boat to Nauvoo. We do not know if John and Janet knew each other in Scotland, but it didn’t take them long to meet and fall in love after her arrival here. They were married before the end of the year.
The next year June 7, 1845, they were blessed by the arrival of their first son whom they named Henry. The next spring the Saints were driven from their homes, and how they hated leave and see the beautiful temple destroyed by the mob. But the Millers with Janet’s father, brothers and sisters crossed the Mississippi River on the ice and traveled westward into Iowa. They made a rather permanent camp at Garden Grove and in a few months their second son arrived, October 8, 1946. They called him Thomas.
“Mormon Trail” 1947 by Howard R. Driggs, pg. 19- established was stations to assist home seekers on their journey. Garden Grove ( first one west of the Mississippi River) one such station became for a time a rather populace settlement with cabins, blacksmith shops and good acreages of corn and other crops there stations were organized according to the pattern of branches with presiding officers who regulated both civic and spiritual affairs.”
The families remained at Garden Grove where they set up black smithing and carpentry shops and repaired wagons, made plows, caskets for the dead during the cholera epidemic, and in this way helped many families to come to Utah. And here in this prairie camp Elizabeth was born. The fourth child, Mary Jane was born March 10, 1851, and that summer they all made ready to complete the journey begun so many years before they arrived in Salt Lake City September 24, 1851, and almost immediately came to American Fork.
How much of the hard work, weariness, and hardship did the little Elizabeth realize as they made their way over the plains and up the steep mountain passes into the valleys of the mountains. She was still too young to be troubled over Indian depredations when in 1853, her father had moved their cabin into the fort which he had also helped to build. The cabin stood just north of the corner of Main and Merchant Streets the corner on which for so many years was the site of Thornton Drug Store. Right on the corner was the blacksmith shop of her grandfather, Thomas Crooks. The grandfather, who now had a new wife, lived just north of the shop and the Millers next to them. After the Indian troubles were settled the Millers moved a home between first and second south on first west on the lot now 169 South First West, where Mary Lawson now lives.
In American Fork two other children were born, John Crooks, April 16, 1853 and Joseph, May 3, 1855.
We do not know whether or not Elizabeth attended school, but if she did it would have been in a log cabin school house taught by William Greenwood or Miss Editha Anderson ( Called Miss Edithy). She would have been quite a big girl before she attended Sunday School, because there was no organization in American Fork until 1854, and it was much later when Primary and MIA were started. But no doubt she attended the two and three hour Sunday afternoon services, which in the beginning were also held in the log school house, but after 1863, the meeting house was built and Sunday services were held there.
The family had been in American fork only 5 years when the father died. It was late in the year and the grain had not all been threshed. Threshing took a long time as it had to be done by hand. Going out into the cold and storm to keep cattle from the grain stacks, he caught cold, contracted pneumonia and died January 25, 1856, at the age of 35 years and 11 months.
The mother was left with 6 small children, the oldest 10 years old and the youngest 8 months. She must have had a struggle to raise her family, but the children all remembered her great faith and her certain knowledge that the Lord would provide for His children.
Elizabeth was shy and home loving, but she liked to go with her mother and grandparents to Bate Hall (the first place in town built purposely for entertainment) to celebrate the birthday of Robert Burns, the beloved poet of Scotland. There she watched the Scotchmen dance the Sword dance and the Highland Fling and joined with the Adamsons, the Hutchinsons, the Crooks, the Hunters, Thorntons, Crystals, and the rest of the clans in singing “Scots Wha’ Ha’ Ha’ Wallace Bled”, “Auld Lang Syne” and other favorites. She also liked to go to home dramatics and with her friends would take produce from the home garden to pay for her ticket. She never tired of listening to her mother tell stories of Scotland, of the trip across the ocean and the plains, and their conversion to the gospel.
When she was 18 years old, she married Alexander Kennedy Thornton, also an immigrant from Scotland. The marriage took place in Salt Lake City about 1867 or 1868. The industry and thrift taught her by her mother was carried into her own home and she became an efficient homemaker and a wonderful mother. Life was not easy during the early years of her married life when each home had to be almost self sustaining. After a few years they built a big two story adobe home on first south (the site is now vacant) and here most of their children were born.
They become the parents of 9 children, Alexander, blessed December 3, 1868 by his great grandfather, Thomas Crooks; John Miller, born November 27, 1870, blessed February 7, 1871 by William Greenwood: William, born September 10,1873, blessed November 6, 1873, by George Robinson: Mary Jane Miller, born October 29, 1875, blessed January 1, 1876 by Leonard E. Harrington; Ellen born, February 22, 1878, blessed April 4, 1878 by William Greenwood; Jeanette (Jennie) born February 7, 1884, blessed April 6, 1844 by William Greenwood; Elizabeth, born September 1, 1885; Sadie, born December 14, 1891; and fern born October 24, 1893. Before her fourth child was born she said she would like a girl, but having after having 5 girls, before the ninth one was born she hoped it would be a boy to help even up the family, but she was disappointed.
Her son John was married and had two little daughters the same ages as their own youngest girls. John and his wife lived for a while in the upstairs of his parents home and with four little children, washing was endless and all of it had to be done on the board. Carpets in the home had to be taken up each spring and fall and new straw put under them, which was no small chore. She was an expert knitter and made all the stockings for her large family. Her home always open to the friends of her children and dinners for company frequent. She did quilting and crochet work and sewed rags by hand to make carpet for her dining room floor.
In late years, after her husband and others in town were successful business men they used to go in crowds to American Fork Canyon on picnics and to the dances held in the dance hall built in the canyon. The youngest daughter remembers trips taken into Wasatch County in the surrey, when they would stop at the resorts in Provo canyon for dinner. As travel was slow these outings were not frequent and so were more greatly appreciated.
As with all families sorrow came. Their eldest daughter, Mary Jane married John Taylor of Lehi. When she was ready to give birth to her first baby, she came to her mother’s home (there were no local hospitals). Her father sent for the doctor, whose name has charitably been forgotten, and when he came he was under the influence of liquor. The young mother developed infection and in a few days, August 21, 1897, died and not long after the baby died and both were buried in one casket. The next loss in the family came when their second son, John M. died January 19,1910 at the age of 39, leaving a wife and family of 6 children.
When Elizabeth and her husband were left alone, they found the home was too big for them and they wanted a new one with modern conveniences which had not been possible before. So they built a new brick bungalow just east of the old home, with a porch all across the front. The porch was of special importance to the grandchildren who were frequent visitors. (The home now at 60 West 1st South and owned by Mrs. William Borne. 1961)
Alexander owned and ran lumber yards with his sons, John M. and Alex. In American Fork and Pleasant Grove for many years.
Elizabeth died on Wednesday June 23, 1920 at 3 pm after an illness of 7 months, at the age of 71. Her husband survived her 4 years, passing away September 4, 1924.