Question: What major famous expeditions did Roswell Stevens Jr. participate in after he joined the Church in 1834?
Answer: Roswell Stevens, Jr. was born on November 17, 1808 in Mt Pleasant, Brant area, Ontario, Canada. He was the sixth child of Roswell and Sybil Spencer Stevens. His father was born in Connecticut and his mother in Massachusetts. The family settled in Canada after the Revolutionary War. Roswell married Mariah Doyle in 1827. She was the daughter of John and Mary Doyle also of Mt. Pleasant. She was born July 29, 1811 in Mt. Pleasant.
Credit is given to Freeman A. Nickerson for introducing the gospel of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day-Saints to the people in and around Mt. Pleasant. He asked Joseph Smith to accompany him to Mt. Pleasant. Joseph Smith invited Sidney Rigdon to join them, and the three began their mission on October 11, 1833.
The Brethren taught the gospel in Mt. Pleasant and other small communities in the area. Freeman and his family embraced the Gospel and were baptized. They organized a Branch in Mt. Pleasant with Freeman A. Nickerson as Branch President. Roswell’s sister, Sarah, was the first of the Steven’s family to be baptized in December of 1833. Roswell’s father and mother, along with his oldest brother William, were then baptized. Roswell was baptized by Elder John P. Greene, and Mariah by Elder Freeman A. Nickerson in February 1834.
In 1835 Roswell Jr. sold his farm, and he and his family, along with his sister Sarah, joined a group of Saints and went to Missouri. They arrived just as the Saints were being driven out of Clay and Ray counties in Missouri; so they settled in Caldwell County near Far West, and settled on Log Creek. Roswell’s parents and siblings joined them there in 1837. By 1838, living in Missouri had deteriorated for the Saints. They had to leave Missouri and eventually settled in Nauvoo, Illinois.
In the midst of recurring illnesses and with backbreaking labor, the Saints began to build Nauvoo. Nearly all who settled there suffered from malaria, due to the swampy conditions. Roswell Jr. became a police officer in Nauvoo, and he and his father, being carpenters by trade, were kept busy building for their own families, but they helped with the Temple as well. The 1842 Hancock county records, show Roswell and his family in Nauvoo, along with his sister Sarah and her husband Joseph Dudley, and his older brother William.
Life went on for Roswell Jr’s family, but they had many sorrows, as 4 of their 8 children had died in Nauvoo by 1845 of various illnesses and conditions. After the martyrdom of the Prophet and his brother Hyrum, persecution once again forced the family to move, and by February 1846 the saints started crossing the Mississippi River. Finishing the Temple was their top priority. As sections of the Temple were finished they were dedicated and used. Roswell was ordained a Seventy, and he and Mariah received their endowments on December 20, 1845. After leaving Nauvoo, they settled at Winter Quarters for a year and then moved back over the Missouri River to Council Bluffs.
In the spring of 1846 Captain James Allen of the U. S. Army came to Brigham Young seeking to enlist four or five companies of Infantry to participate in the War with Mexico. By July 1846 the Mormon Battalion was formed. Roswell joined them serving as a 4th Corporal in Company E. He traveled with his company as far as Santa Fe, New Mexico. In the fall of 1846 Brigham Young sent John D. Lee and Howard Egan to Santa Fe to collect the Battalion’s pay checks from the government and bring the funds back to Winter Quarters. On October 19th Lee and Howard Egan left for Winter Quarters with $4,000. Brigham Young requested they have Samuel L. Gully and Roswell Stevens accompany them as body guards. They arrived at Winter Quarters on November 21, 1846. Roswell’s father was assigned to care for some of the wives and children of the men in the Battalion, which he did until his death in July 1847 at Council Bluffs. Mariah gave birth to a son, John, on September 19, 1846.
Roswell spent the winter in Council Bluffs with his family, but early in 1847 Brigham Young requested that he join the Vanguard Company to the Salt Lake Valley. Men were chosen for their ability to make roads, build bridges, build temporary quarters, and provide food by hunting. Roswell was assigned to the company lead by Ezra T. Benson. Roswell was to spend a lot of his time out hunting for food. Roswell often rode ahead as a scout to pick out a route for the following day. They arrived in the valley in July 1847. They spent the next month plowing and planting for the next year’s food supply.
On August 25, 1847, 108 men, including Brigham Young and Roswell, left to return to Winter Quarters for the winter, arriving there the last of November. When Roswell arrived in Council Bluffs he was told that his father had passed away; he was 75 years old. The family remained in Council Bluffs until 1851. Mariah gave birth to another son in 1848 at Council Bluffs, but he also died there. They then traveled in the John G. Smith Company, leaving May 1, 1851 and arriving in the Great Salt Lake Valley on September 23, 1851. Roswell was Captain of a group of 100.
Roswell moved his family to what is now Alpine, Utah, to settle. They organized themselves into a Branch of the Church with Charles Peterson President, and Roswell Stevens and James W. Preston Councilors. Here Mariah and Roswell divorced. Mariah had given birth to another son, her eleventh child, in 1852, who died at birth. On August 4, 1854 Roswell married the oldest daughter of his friend Charles Peterson, Mary Ann Peterson. They had heard of a beautiful valley east of Bountiful, and Roswell and Charles established a town there known today as Peterson. Roswell and Mary Ann’s first child, a daughter, was the first white child born in the valley. They named her Martha Ann, born December 15, 1855. In 1862 Roswell built a house in Enterprise in Roswell Canyon where he also built and ran a sawmill for a few years.
In 1865 Brigham Young called Roswell and others to build a railroad line through Echo Canyon. The only place for them to live was in a dugout in the side of a hill, where their 6th child was born. Later that year they moved further east up Echo Canyon and homesteaded a tract of land now called Heiner’s Canyon. Two children were born to them there. In 1872 Roswell sold the Echo property to the Heiner Brothers and moved to Chalk Creek, now Upton, Summit County, still further east. Mary Ann and Roswell had 3 more children giving them a total of 11 children.
In the spring of 1879 President John Taylor sent 250 men, women and children on an expedition into southern Utah to explore possible sites for future settlements. That same year Roswell made a trip to Holden, Millard County, Utah where his oldest brother William and his sister Sarah were living. Upon arriving he found that his brother had passed away two years earlier, but that two of Williams’s grandson’s, Joshua and Alma, had been called to go with this expedition, which came to be known as, The Hole-in-the-Rock Expedition, to southern Utah. Being the frontiersman he was Roswell, at age 71, decided to join them. Roswell’s brother William’s son, Walter was an agent for the highly-valued Bain Wagon, and he had given a new wagon to each of his sons, Joshua and Alma. Roswell returned to his home in Upton, sold his property, and made preparations to join his grandnephews on the expedition. He also had a new Bain Wagon, so the three men were well prepared for their trip.
Roswell, along with most of the group, made it to modern day Bluff, San Juan, Utah where they found some fertile land, and being too exhausted to go the next 20 miles to Montezuma where they had originally planned to settle, they decided to stay in Bluff. They arrived there on April 6, 1880, but Roswell had contracted pneumonia, and he passed away on May 4, 1880. His wagon was used to make his coffin, and it was buried on the land just in from the river. Shortly thereafter they found that these lowlands would flood often with the spring runoff, and so his coffin was moved high on the bluff, which is where the cemetery is today.
Source: “Roswell Stevens Jr., My G-G Grandfather,’ by Judith Thorup Heiner Thunell, FamilySearch.org; FindAGrave.com
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