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Nathaniel Fairbanks

Question: What happened to Nathaniel Fairbanks after he served in Brigham Young’s Vanguard Company in 1847?

Answer: Nathaniel Fairbanks was born on May 10, 1823, to Joseph and Polly White Fairbanks in Sand Hill, Montgomery, New York. At age sixteen, Nathaniel served a two year’s apprenticeship in Glens Falls, New York at the mason and stone cutting trade, as did also his older brother Jonathan W. Fairbanks. Jonathan was a Methodist.

Nathaniel wrote: “I partook somewhat of the same spirit [of being a Methodist]. I returned to my father in the summer of 1843, where I first heard the sound of the everlasting gospel. I stayed there about 4 weeks and then went to New York City, accompanied by my Brother John. Here I listened to several discourses by Elders Orson Pratt, Brigham Young, John E. Page and others and believing their testimony. I was baptized in the church of Jesus Christ. On the same day I returned to Glen Falls, where I stayed about four weeks, and then returned to New Jersey, where I remained until May 16, 1844. Starting with my brothers David and Henry for Nauvoo, Illinois, I arrived in that city July 4, 1844. I was ordained into the original 19th Quorum of Seventy.’ Nathaniel was baptized on August 28, 1843 by John Cairns.

In 1843/1844, Joseph and Polly and some of their other children also became members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Some of their children, including Jonathan, did not accept the teachings. In the summer of 1844, Joseph, his wife and some of their children journeyed by team to Nauvoo, Illinois, which was at that time the headquarters of the Church.

They were able to live in Nauvoo just a short time, as the mob violence and persecution forced them to leave Nauvoo on April 25, 1846. Joseph and his older sons, including Nathaniel, were able to work on the Nauvoo Temple until it was completed. Nathaniel was twenty-two at this time. The family journeyed westward, camping for the winter at Winter Quarters.

In 1847, Nathaniel, age 23, was asked to be in Brigham Young’s Vanguard Company. Nathaniel was part of the 10th Company of Ten led by Appleton M. Harmon. On the trek west when the company stopped at a bluff near Chimney Rock, Nebraska, Nathaniel was bitten by a rattlesnake. He soon began to feel extreme pain and his leg was bound in tobacco leaves and turpentine. He was given a blessing and suffered a great deal but eventually recovered. Nathaniel was known among his associates as a brave man and a great hunter.

Heber C. Kimball recorded in his journal, “We saw brother Nathaniel Fairbanks who had just returned from the bluffs, having been bit on the back of the leg by a large rattlesnake. He appeared very sick indeed…Bro. Fairbanks is out of danger and considerably better…I went over to his wagon, and with President Young and Elder Benson laid hands on him.’ They arrived in the Salt Lake Valley on July 24, 1847.

After reaching the Salt Lake Valley, Nathaniel headed back to Winter Quarters. On the way he met his mother and his brother John and his family en route with the Jedediah M. Grant/Willard Snow Company. The Captains were Ira Eldredge and Daniel Spencer. They had left Winter Quarters in June of 1847. Nathaniel returned with them to the Salt Lake Valley, and they arrived there in September 1847. Nathaniel’s father, John, had died in February 1846 at Winter Quarters.

Nathaniel later decided to go to California. On March 28, 1853, he was driving a herd of cattle from Salt Lake to Sacramento, California, when he was drowned while crossing a river near Stockton, California. Nathaniel was twenty-nine years of age and had never married. It is unknown where he was buried.

Source: “Biographies of the Original 1847 Pioneer Company,’ Church News, Updated, 14 October 2009; “Brief History of Joseph Fairbanks,’

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