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Philo Johnson

Question: What special event did Philo Johnson witness after he arrived in the Salt Lake Valley with Brigham Young’s Vanguard Company in 1847?

Answer: Philo Johnson was born on December 6, 1814 in Newtown, Fairfield County, Connecticut. He was the 6th of ten children of Samuel Johnson and Sarah (Sally) Abigail Griffin. Philo married at age 23, in April 1838, to Sarah Maria Mills. There were no children by this marriage. Philo and his wife both joined The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in 1841, and in 1842 they moved to Nauvoo, Illinois.

“I, Philo Johnson, was baptized into the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, in the month of December 1841 (at age 27) in the state of Connecticut, New Town, Fairfield County. I was baptized by Charles Wesley Wardle. I moved from there to Nauvoo, Hancock County, Illinois in the year 1842. I arrived at this place on the 11th of June. Here I saw the Prophet Joseph Smith for the first time. He shook hands with me and gave me some instructions where to settle and to commence my business. As a hatter, I was pleased with my trade. Such a business was much needed in the city. The Prophet assisted me in getting a stock of furs and lamb’s wool to make hats. I went to live in one of Hyrum Smith’s houses, where I also had my office. It was located on Kimball Street. I made hats in that house for four years and supplied Joseph and Hyrum Smith with all their hats. I also supplied Brigham Young, Heber C. Kimball, Parley P. Pratt and others of the twelve apostles with all their wool and fur hats. I made about one thousand hats in this city.

“I was a member of the Nauvoo Legion, and I trained and drilled many days under the command of Joseph Smith, the Prophet, as General. No one ever remarked that there was a more noble looking General when on horseback, giving commands to the Legion. I belonged to the Guard of Nauvoo and was called out about once a week to stand guard at the suburbs of the city…I heard the Prophet Joseph preach many times. The Prophet said the church would yet go to the Rocky Mountains and there become a great people.

“I was present when the officers arrested Joseph and Hyrum Smith for the last time in Nauvoo and saw them start with them to Carthage…I worked on the temple in Nauvoo about one year laying rock and brick. I helped to finish it and received my endowment in it. I was in the temple when the officers came to arrest Brigham Young and he gave William Miller his cloak and cap… so they did not catch him in their trap.

“I was present in Nauvoo when Joseph Smith and Hyrum Smith were brought home dead. Their bodies were laid in the Hall of the Mansion House in state, and about 20,000 Saints passed through and viewed the last remains. Stout hearted men and women could be heard to weep like children for a lost mother, so great was their love for Joseph and Hyrum Smith.

“I was present and took part in the notable Battle of Nauvoo (in September 1846), when three hundred of the Mormons fought against fifteen hundred of the mob, who were trying to drive us from the city. We held them at bay about three hours, and three of our men were killed and one wounded. About forty of the mob were killed or wounded. The Mormons had a breastwork built across the street to fight behind, and the mob was in open ground. The slaughter was so great in their ranks that at the end of three hours of hard fighting they gave up the battle, whipped, and their bugle sounded a retreat. The Mormon men stood firm behind the breastwork…

“After the battle was over, Almon W. Babbitt, John S. Fullmer and Joseph S. Heywood were appointed as a committee to confer with the leaders of the mob to negotiate terms of peace, but the mob refused. Instead they gave us three days to get out of Nauvoo…so we who were able, went to work with all our might day and night. We secured some flat boats and rowed those large flat boats across the Mississippi River and landed our people on the Iowa side as fast as possible. We worked until all our hands were blistered, but we got all the people across the river. Our stock was left in Nauvoo, and our three days were up that the mob gave us to get out of the state. We went back after our stock, but the mob had run most of it off and stolen them…

      Miracle of the Quail by Sandra Rast

“But we Saints did not lose our faith nor forget our prayers. We called upon God for assistance and truly he did hear us for at about eleven o”clock that day the whole air was darkened with tens of thousands of quails, and they lighted all over the ground in our camp. When we all had caught as many as we wanted, the balance of the quail flew away to the north, the same direction as they came. We all had enough meat to last us until we could move out into the countryside. And so did the Lord preserve his Saints at this time.

“I secured a yoke of oxen and a wagon and started out for Winter Quarters on the Missouri River at Council Bluffs. I arrived there in the fall of 1846 and found nearly all of the people that had moved there living in tents and dug-outs…Many hundreds of people died and were buried on the hill near the camp, and all that winter I was employed digging graves for those that died.

“In the spring of 1847 I was called by Brigham Young to go west with a company of pioneers [Brigham Young’s Vanguard Company] to search out a location for the Saints to settle and make homes. Our company got ready and started on the sixth of April…On one of the wheels of my wagon was a roadometer placed there by Elder Clayton to measure the distance in the wilderness. I kept the machine in repair.

“The next day after seeing the waters of the lake, most of our company went down and entered the valley through Emigration Canyon. President Young was sick and had to stay back over the mountain. We came to City Creek near where the Temple now stands, and pitched our tents. The next day President Young was in the valley and camped with us and the following day, in company with the Twelve Apostles, he walked up City Creek…President Young called a halt and after looking on every side of him he said to all of us present, ‘This is the place that we will build a Temple to our God,’ and at the same time sticking his cane into the ground. The Brethren marked the spot.. and this place was surrounded by a fence and contained ten acres of land and was called the Temple Block.

“After about a week we made our first camp there on City Creek and President Young located what was called the old fort block, and we all went to work making adobes and hauling logs from the canyon and cleaning off the sage brush, and we commenced building houses in a fort. We soon had the ten acres surrounded with buildings fit to winter in…

“I then was employed in building adobe for houses and chimneys as I was (also) a mason by trade. In the spring of 1848 there were about eighty acres of land plowed and forty-six acres planted into all kinds of grain. This was watered by City Creek, and in the fall we had proved to the mountaineers that we could raise and mature all kinds of grain and vegetables in this valley.

“On 17 March 1850, I was married to a widow, Speedy Ellsworth, in Salt Lake City by Heber C. Kimball. This lady bore me seven children, and she had seven by her former husband, making us fourteen in all… I lived in Salt Lake from 1847 to 1857 and carried on a shop and made hats with Joseph and Shelmardine Haller…

“I moved to Payson, and I have lived in that city from 1857 to the present. I carried on a hatter’s business and made some thousands of hats for the people. I once traded six silk hats for two city blocks where I later built a home. I am now eighty years of age and cannot work any more, but can use my influence with my children and grandchildren for good. I have 83 grandchildren and twelve great grandchildren and all of them are in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.” Philo died on April 3, 1896 in Payson, Utah, and is buried in the Payson City Cemetery.

Source: Extracts from “Autobiographical Sketch of the Life of Philo Johnson,’ written in 1895,;

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