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Orville Sutherland Cox

Question: What special developed skill did Orville Sutherland Cox have which helped the Saints in their trek West and in building communities?

Answer: Orville Sutherland Cox was born in Plymouth, New York, on November 25, 1814. He was one of a family of 12 children, ten of whom reached maturity. His father was Jonathan Upham Cox, and his mother was Lucinda Blood. His father died when he was about 13 years old, and he was then apprenticed out to learn the trade of a blacksmith, until he was 21 years of age. Orville was not treated well during this time, and after three years, came to the conclusion to leave. He gathered together a few belongings and made his way toward the Susquehanna River.

He eventually landed and found lucrative employment at lumber and logging and sometimes at the blacksmith’s forge. Soon he had the good luck to find his two brothers, Walter and Augustus, rafting logs down the river. There he learned that his mother and her younger children, Amos, Harriet, Mary, and Jonathan had gone to Ohio under the care of his older brother, William, via the Erie Canal. So by slow degrees and hard work, he began to work his way toward Ohio. He usually worked for lumber companies. His two brothers did likewise.

They were finally united as a family in Nelson, Portage County, Ohio. The eight Cox boys continued their westward course. Walter had received the Gospel in Ohio previously and was a member of Zion’s Camp. Orville heard terrible stories of those ‘awful Mormons’ but became personally acquainted with some of them, among which was Sylvester Hulet. He decided the Mormons were okay. He lived in Jackson County for a time. When the Saints were driven from Missouri, he located near Lima, Illinois with a group of Mormons and helped build the Morley Settlement.

Nearing his 24th birthday, he was a thorough frontiersman, forester, lumberman, a splendid blacksmith, and a natural born engineer. He was six feet tall in his socks and heavy proportionately. Orville won the heart of an orphan girl, Elvira P. Mills, who was living with her uncle, Sylvester Hulet. She was hesitant about marrying a gentile. On October 3, 1939, however, she yielded, and they were married in Father Whiting’s home, at the Morley Settlement, by Elder Lyman Wight. The two newly weds, on October 6, 1839, drove into Nauvoo, some twenty miles away, and Orville was baptized by the Prophet Joseph Smith. He left Morley Settlement a gentile and returned a full-fledged Mormon.

After that, Orville was a faithful Latter-Day-Saint. He was a member of the famous brass band of the Nauvoo Legion. When the Prophet and his brother were killed, none mourned more than he. He assisted those more helpless or destitute in the migration from Nauvoo. His stack of grain was burned at the Morley Settlement by the mobbers, and they fled to the city of Nauvoo with his wife and two children Adelia and Almer. The oldest child, Robert, died as an infant. This was a result of his mother having chills and fever from exposure resulting from the mob’s violence.

Orville attended the meeting where Sidney Rigdon asked the Saints to appoint him as their guardian, and where Brigham Young claimed that the Twelve Apostles were the ordained leaders. Many times thereafter he testified that he saw Brother Brigham was transfigured to look like Joseph Smith, and he heard his voice take the prophet’s tone. And after that manifestation he never doubted for a moment that the rightful leadership of the church was vested in the Twelve with Brigham Young as its head. He remained in Nauvoo until almost the last departed. He assisted Browning in transforming the old rusty steamer shafts into the cannons that were so effectually used by Daniel H. Wells at the Battle of Nauvoo.

Leaving Nauvoo with the last of the Mormon exiles, he crossed Iowa and settled at Mt. Pisgah where he served as a councilor to Lorenzo Snow who was the President at Mt. Pisgah. In his devoted attachment to Lorenzo Snow, he was an enthusiast of Father Morley, and so would follow their counsel anywhere.

Orville was not in the Mormon Battalion, probably because he was a excellent blacksmith, and the Saints needed the wagons that he could make for them. Orville left the last of June 1847, in the hundred under Charles C. Rich, known as the Artillery Company. Orville was captain of one of the tens. They rolled into the Valley of the Great Salt Lake on October 3, 1847. They were only two or three days behind the Jedediah M. Grant’s Company of one hundred.

Being expert in the handling of lumber, Cox was immediately sent into the canyon to get logs; houses must now be built. Among other timbers he brought down a magnificent specimen of a pine for a liberty pole which he assisted in raising on Pioneer Square. It was the first pole to to fly the Stars and Stripes in the city. Soon in Salt Lake City another son, Orville M. was born on November 29, 1847.

Very early in the spring of 1848 they moved from the adobe fort. With his wife and three children he began farming in Sessionsville, now Bountiful. He was the first Bishop of the ward. There they had the famous experience with the crickets. He devised the broad paddles as well as the other methods to try to exterminate them. He dug the first well in Bountiful and hit water so suddenly as to be almost drowned by it before he could be hauled up. In the fall of 1849 he was called to go with Father Morley’s company to colonize the valley of Sanpete.

He arrived at the future site of Manti on November 19, 1849. The journey from Salt Lake City to the Sanpete Valley occupied one month. The forty families worked industriously; sometimes only moving forward two or three miles a day. The only settlement between Salt Lake and Manti was Provo, consisting of a little fort of green cottonwood logs.

After arriving at their destination, camp was made by Morley’s company on the south side of Temple Hill, a sheltered spot. Orville was an expert at hewing and squaring the logs with his ax, and making everything as comfortable as possible in their new home. Orville decided to marry in polygamy marrying Mary Elizabeth Allen on July 3, 1853. He married his third wife, Eliza Losee in June 1859. Orville fathered 26 children with his three wives.

Orville served many years as the first councilor to Bishop Lowry, and was captain of the militia. He served in the Walker War under Major Higgins, an old Battalion veterern. For ten years Orville labored faithfully for the upbuilding of Manti but then he wanted more elbow room and moved to Fairview, Sanpete County. He also moved part of his family to Gunnison. In February 1864 he moved part of his family to Glenwood. He built a cabin there and raised a crop. He sold out and moved elsewhere to engineer ditches. He engineered over 40 ditches in Utah and Nevada.

In 1865 he was advised by Lorenzo Snow to move to the Muddy, a branch of the Rio Virgin, a stream running through Moapa Valley, to assist in surveying and making irrigation ditches there. The soil was very rich, but so much quicksand that it made it almost impossible to build a dam that would hold, or to irrigate without washing away the soil. So then he went away south into southeastern Nevada. St. Thomas, St. Joseph, and Overton, the three towns in the valley were partly of his building.

In 1875, when Brigham strongly taught the principle of co-operation, this company of Saints were organized by unanimous consent into the United Order of Enoch, and named their town Orderville. For Twelve years Orville labored joyously and unselfishly in the Order. Then dissatisfaction and disunion came, and the Order broke up. By 1885, Orville was then well along in years and had broken health. In 1886 Orville went to Fairview. On July 4, 1888 Orville laid his exhausted body down to rest. He was 84 years old. He was buried in the Fairview Cemetery.

Source: Extracts from “Orville Southerland Cox,’ taken partly from a biographical sketch written by Adelia B. Cox Sidwell, for the Daughters of the Utah Pioneers in Manti, Utah, 1913,;

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