Autobiographical Sketch of the Life of
PHILO JOHNSON (1814-1896)
(He wrote this sketch in Apr. 1894 at Payson, Utah, in his 80th year)
"I 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, on parade giving commands to the Legion, which numbered
"I belonged to the Guard of Nauvoo and was called out about once a
week to stand guard at the suburbs of the city, to keep out the intruders
and mobs that sought the lives of the first Presidency of the Church.
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.
All of the Brethren that were present said they were afraid that they
looked to them downcast and pale.
"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 and when Miller came out of the
temple the officers arrested him for Brigham Young. They took Miller
to Carthage for trial and when they found out their mistake they were
very angry and discharged Miller, and swore that they would have Brigham
Young before a week passed, but 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
"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. I was by the side of young Anderson when he was
shot and killed by a cannon ball. The ball almost cut my clothes.
Anderson's father was killed by a musket ball ten minutes later. This
happened in a blacksmith shop, and the cannon balls threw bricks all
over me and bruised me quite bad. A musket ball hit me in the hand but
(the wound) was slight. I was near Morris when he was killed by a cannon
ball and his head was nearly severed from his body.
"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. There were about
fifteen hundred men, women and children left in the city. (Some had
been appointed to stay and stand guard, but most of the people who were
still in Nauvoo were the poor, elderly, or sick who were not prepared
or able to travel, or they would have left the city earlier along with
most of the Saints, who had started the exodus in February.) Now we
had 3 days to vacate the city entirely; 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. We returned to the Iowa
side of the river and our people were nearly all sick with the chills
and fever, and but few of them had tents. They were all out in the
open air and the hot sun and storms were pouring down upon them. We
did not have teams enough to move the people out into the country, and
they had nothing to eat. Truly the people exhibited a pitiful sight to
"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. We wintered in those places on the west bank of the
Missouri River, and having been too much exposed to hardships and hunger in
moving across the state of Iowa to this place, we were in no condition to
camp out through such a cold stormy winter. A great 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 to search out a location for the Saints to
settle and make homes. Our company got ready and started on the sixth
of April, and we numbered 143 men, three women and two children (two
boys of 6 years -- there was also a 13 year old boy who was counted as one
of the men). We all had guns and forty rounds of ammunition to protect
ourselves from the Indians and wild beasts of the plains. We had a
boat along to ferry over streams. 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."
"Our company came to the Sioux tribe and they claimed presents of
us for killing their game to live on. So one night they came down on
us and took two of our horses and we lost them.
"We came to Fort Laramie, a station kept by the French traders on
the Platte River. After leaving Laramie station we had to find our own
route and make our own road the best we could through the black hills
(Laramie Mountains). We came to Independence Rock on the Sweet Water
Stream and we all wrote our names on this rock and passed on up the
stream eighty miles and came to South Pass and from there the waters
all flowed west towards the Pacific Ocean. We came to Green River and
forded that stream and came on to Fort Bridger. This was the trading
post kept by the French mountaineers. We told them that we were going
to make a home for ourselves in the valley of the Great Salt Lake. The
traders tried to discourage us by telling us we could not make a home
in those mountain valleys for there was frost every month of the year.
In that valley (they said) they had tried planting seeds several years
but could not mature anything. Brigham Young said, "We will try it and
call on God to help us." So we came on to the Wasatch Range of mountains,
and we found some difficulty in finding a pass over them. When
we came to the summit of the largest mountain we could see Great Salt
Lake's water glittering in the setting sun, about forty miles away to
"The next day after seeing the waters of the Salt 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 and made a circuit to the west about a mile, and as we
came back to camp we crossed the place where the temple now stands.
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. Afterwards when the survey was
made for Utah Territory, the place was made the Meridian Line, 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.
Some went to the canyon and got logs and made saw pits and sawed out
lumber with a whip saw to make tables and cupboards. The bedsteads
were made by boring into the logs in the corners of the house and only
using one post for a bedstead.
"My work for the first two months was stalking (sic) guns (putting
stocks onto guns) so we could have guns to defend ourselves against the
Indians, as they gathered around us very thick. 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,
for the most of everything planted got ripe.
"In the fall of 1849 (actually it was 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, and they are all members of the Church
of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints."
"In the summer of 1850 I went with Captain William Kimball's command
to Tooele Valley to chastise the Indians for stealing cattle. We
surrounded the camp and surprised the Indians before daylight. At
daybreak we ordered them to surrender but they fired on us and we returned
the fire and killed seven of the Indians, and the balance ran away and
made their escape. We returned home to Salt Lake City without losing a
man or horse. I lived in Salt Lake from 1847 to 1857 and carried on a
shop and made hats with Joseph and Shelmardine Haller."
"I was with Lot Smith's command in the winter of 1857 in Echo Canyon
for three months where we saw untold hardships. We had to eat rawhide
for food, and we had no woolen clothing to wear. I had to stand
guard in the snow when my clothes would freeze to ice on me. This was
the hardest part of my life. In the spring we were called back to Salt
Lake City with only the loss of one man killed, and that was accidental.
"In the spring of 1857 the people were all called to move south, and
I went with them. We left our homes to be burned by fire as Johnston's
Army was coming in with threats of death to all of the leaders of the
Mormon Church, and rather than have our houses fall into their hands
the people said they would leave the city a desert for them to come to.
All of us moved south but a few who stayed to set fire to the buildings.
The Lord accepted the sacrifice, and our buildings were not burned, and
the army came in and passed through the city and went to Camp Floyd.
"I moved to Payson, sixty-five miles south 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 was a
benefactor to the people in setting an example to the industries. 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."
Elder PHILO JOHNSON
by Karen Bray Keeley
by Sandra S. Bray