WEST ACROSS IOWA
THE PROMISED LAND
SETTLING THE WEST
JOHN JOSHUA TANNER
ELSIE TANNER LANT
Tanner Family -- Nauvoo
NAUVOO AND MONTROSE --
During the raids by the mob, Father Tanner had lost heavily, as
quite a number of his stock were stolen or shot. As soon as they had
been released by the mob, he and his sons and their families had begun
to gather up what they had left and leave the state in obedience to the
governor's order for all Mormons to leave Missouri by spring, and Father
Tanner had started with his family and his sons' families for Illinois
in late fall of 1838. Myron reports that "on account of poor equipment
and inclemency of the weather, it took us until March, 1839 to reach
Illinois; and when we camped on the Mississippi bottom, I was barefooted,
and during the journey I suffered much through lack of food and clothing."
Nathan describes the confused conditions as his brother John Joshua hurried
to get his wife to a place of safety in Illinois, for she was expecting
their second baby any day.
Says Nathan, "The people were very much crowded for room in the wagons.
John J. brought his family and old Father Baker, and his (John J.'s) wife
and my wife and child, and all their goods in one wagon, and John Joshua's
wife was liable to be sick (go into labor) on the road." The baby,
William Smith Tanner (who went by the name "Smith"), was born safely in
New Liberty, Illinois, on March 28, 1839, only a few days after their
All of the Tanners by about the first of April had been able to find
their way across the Mississippi, and they arrived in New Liberty,
Illinois, where like other Saints they were helped by sympathetic citizens
of that state. The Tanners decided to stay for one year in New Liberty,
where they rented a farm and raised a good crop, while many of the
Saints spent that spring and summer camping along the river and in the
swamplands which were later to become Nauvoo.
While the Tanners were in New Liberty, three more grandchildren were
born that winter and spring; Nathan Tanner's daughter Helen Elcy in
Dec. 1839; Maria Tanner Lyman's son Francis Marion Lyman (who later became
an apostle) in Jan. 1840, and Sidney Tanner's daughter Elsie Elizabeth
Tanner in March 1840. In the spring of 1840 when their contract expired
on the farm they had rented, the Tanners moved on upriver to Montrose,
Iowa, across the river from Nauvoo, and started a large farm about four
miles out from the town. Here they enjoyed six years of comparative
peace, and here John Tanner's last two children, Sariah and Francis, were
born as well as nine more grandchildren.
The Tanners' continuing generosity and readiness to help their
neighbors is often mentioned. One example was recorded in the diary of
William Clayton, Sept. 11, 1841; when all of his family were very sick
with the ague, he wrote, "Brother Tanner brought us some beef..."
There are many other such incidents where the Tanners administered
timely help, some of which are recorded, but most known only to God.
At the April conference in 1844, John Tanner was called on another
mission to the Eastern States, along with about 250 others including his
sons Nathan (29), Martin Henry (22), and son-in-law Amasa M. Lyman (30)
(who had been ordained an apostle in 1842 and had also been called to
enter plural marriage in 1843. He married another wife, Dionitia
Walker, in 1843, and six more after the death of the prophet, including
three of the daughters of presiding bishop Edward Partridge, and others
who had been previously sealed to the Prophet Joseph Smith in eternal
On their mission in 1844, in addition to preaching the gospel, the
missionaries were to campaign for the Prophet Joseph Smith's bid for
the presidency of the United States. Father John Tanner and his son
Martin Henry were both assigned to New York, while Amasa Lyman and
Nathan Tanner were among those assigned to Indiana. (Also Daniel Shearer
and his son Norman served as missionary companions, to the state of
Before starting on his mission, Father Tanner went to Nauvoo where
he saw the Prophet Joseph. Meeting him on the street, Elder Tanner
gave back to the Prophet his note of hand for the $2,000 loaned him in
Kirtland in January 1835 for the purpose of redeeming the temple land.
The Prophet asked him what he wanted done with the note. Elder Tanner
replied, "Brother Joseph, you are welcome to it." The Prophet then
laid his right hand heavily upon Elder Tanner's shoulder, saying, "God
bless you, Father Tanner; you and your children shall never beg for
bread." (The story of this blessing has been handed down and remembered
by all of the Tanner posterity, and is often quoted as being the
reason for the financial prosperity and success of many of them).
Father Tanner's companion on his mission was Elder Pettegrew. His
companion reported to the "Times and Seasons" newspaper that while they
were on board a boat for Troy, New York, they held a meeting since
"there were many passengers on board who desired to hear preaching,"
and among those who were converted by their preaching was a Methodist
Nathan Tanner says that "I had charge of the Seventies on (the
Iowa) side of the river, but often met with the Saints in Nauvoo. I
was in hearing of their drums (of the Nauvoo Legion), and I have run
four miles and crossed the river to be in the ranks with my brethren ...
I was favored by opportunities in the Temple to my great joy and
satisfaction." He was chosen by the Prophet Joseph as one of the
explorers to accompany him to the Rocky Mountains. "When or just before
Joseph Smith was taken to Carthage, he was expected to cross the river
and go west." With his brother John J., Amasa M. Lyman, and (others),
Nathan was among those awaiting the Prophet on the night of June 22, 1844,
when they were to cross the Mississippi River preparatory to proceeding
westward. Nathan wrote, "Amasa M. Lyman, myself and others saddled
horses and stayed on the bank of the Mississippi River waiting for him
to cross, to see him on his way towards the mountains. But by the
persuasion of cowardly brethren he went and gave himself up and went
as a sheep to the slaughter, and died an untimely death."
After he returned from his mission to New York, John Tanner further
aided financially in the building of the Nauvoo temple, and received
his second anointing (full endowment) there. He is listed as a high
priest on the Nauvoo temple endowment register, where he and wife
"Eliza Boswick Tanner" were endowed 24 Dec 1845, and sealed 18 Jan
1846. Amasa and Maria (Tanner) Lyman had been among the 28 persons,
including many Church leaders, who received their endowments on Dec.
10, 1845; the first day endowments were administered in the Nauvoo Temple.
Interestingly, "John (Joshua) and Nancy Ferguson Tanner" and
"Rebecca Smith Tanner, wife of John (Joshua) Tanner," also Sidney and
Louisa Conlee Tanner, and Nathan and Rachel Smith Tanner, were all on the
list of those endowed in the Nauvoo Temple on 30 Dec 1845. This indicates
that John Joshua Tanner had already entered into plural marriage during
the Nauvoo period; he was married to Nancy Ferguson by 1845.
She was certainly a different individual than the Nancy Augusta Ferguson
(1843-1925), whom John Joshua married on 13 Mar 1857 in the Endowment
House in Salt Lake City, when she was around 15 years old and he was 46
(Nancy Augusta Ferguson and John Joshua Tanner had 10 children, born
from 1860-1887, and she died in 1925 at age 81). The Nancy Ferguson
who was endowed with John Joshua in the Nauvoo Temple in 1845 must have
been much closer to his own age, but nothing is known about her. Perhaps
she was an aunt of the Nancy Augusta Ferguson whom he later married.
The family histories don't mention anything about the first Nancy.
At any rate, it appears that John Joshua Tanner was one of the few
who were invited or commanded to enter into plural marriage during the
Nauvoo period; most who did so were apostles and other leaders.
When the Saints began leaving Nauvoo in February 1846, John Tanner
and his sons aided in ferrying people and livestock across the river,
and shared hay, vegetables and other produce from their farm with those
in need who were camping on the Iowa side of the river. They brought
wagon loads of produce to the camp at Sugar Creek. In the spring of
1846, John sold his farm at a nominal price, as most of the saints were
forced to do, preparing to go west with the Church to the Rocky Mountains.
Nathan hadn't planned to go that season, since he hadn't sold his farm yet,
and he had taken a contract to "break prairie" that summer to raise some
money. But, he said, "While we were hauling food and supplies to furnish
the suffering camp on Sugar Creek, Brother Heber C. Kimball asked me
where my family was, supposing they were there. I said no, I have not
sold and did not think of going this season ... Heber said, if you can be
ready in 2 weeks you can go with us. He slapped his hand on my shoulder
and said 'don't let the grass grow under your feet.'" Nathan quickly sold
his farm, re-let his contract for breaking prairie, got his wagons
and supplies, and was ready in time.
Eliza Partridge Lyman wrote that on Feb. 9th, 1846, she and her
husband Amasa M. Lyman, together with her mother and sisters Caroline
and Lydia and brother Edward, (also Dionitia W. Lyman, another of her
husband's wives), Daniel P. Clark and wife Sarah, and Henry Rollins,
crossed the Mississippi River on a flatboat with their horses and wagons.
"The ice was coming down the river in large pieces and threatened to
sink our boat, and hindered us about an hour, but at this time,
as at many others, we were preserved by the power of God." They "went
to Brother Sidney Tanner's where part of us stayed all night and the
rest stayed at Nathan Tanner's. Dionitia, Caroline and I slept in one
bed, and as I was very tired, I did not sleep much."
The next day, Feb. 10, she wrote that "Brother Lyman is going back
over the river to visit his wife Maria (who was expecting a baby soon).
I cut and made a dress for Sister Tanner." evening: "Brother Lyman has
just returned, bringing his Maria with him. I was heartily glad to see
her. I went (by invitation) with them to see her father (Father Tanner).
Father Huntington (William Huntington, who had married Eliza's mother
Lydia after the death of Bishop Edward Partridge in Nauvoo) and brother
Edward also came there and stayed all night. Mother Tanner prepared an
excellent supper for the company."
Feb. 11: "Brother Lyman went back to Nauvoo to see how the children
were getting along, as his wife left them while she visited us. The rest
of us remained at Father Tanner's during the day, and Brother Lyman came
back in the evening, reporting all well."
Feb. 12: "Brother Lyman took his wife to the river, and saw her
land safely on the other side, and then returned to us feeling very
well. Mother Tanner gave us the privilege of making some mince pies
and assisted us to do so."
Feb. 13: "Brother Lyman went to the camp (on Sugar Creek) and took
me with him as far as Sidney Tanner's where I stayed all day till he
came back and we went to Father Tanner's."
Feb. 15: I went to the river with Brother Lyman to see my sister
Emily (one of Brigham Young's plural wives). Found her in a tent
surrounded with mud. Came home in the afternoon. Wrote to Sister Maria
Lyman in the evening."
Feb 16: "Took breakfast with Aunt Polly Cook. Twisted some thread
for Mother. Came back and finished a dress for Mother Tanner." Also
on this day, according to another source, "William Huntington went into
the Sugar Creek camp with Amasa Lyman. Brother Huntington was counseled
that it was now time to move his family from Father Tanner's home, where
they had been staying, and come to Sugar Creek." Eliza had written
"the weather was very cold, and we were not in a hurry to camp out till
we were obliged to."
Feb. 17: "Mother Tanner gave brother (Edward Partridge Jr.) twelve
yards of factory (cloth) with which to line his wagon cover, which I
made in the morning. About two o'clock we started for the camp where
we arrived about sundown, prepared our tents, took some refreshments
and retired for the night, but did not sleep much on account of the
horses, we not being accustomed to their noise. When we left Father
Tanner's he gave us a few pounds of butter and some pork and some mince
pies, and to Father Huntington a fine calf which he killed for veal."
Feb. 18: "Father Tanner and family came to camp and made a short
visit. Albert Tanner brought a load of hay and some potatoes from his
Feb. 20: "The weather is somewhat more pleasant than it was
yesterday, but is very cold. Our family consists of seven persons,
namely, Amasa Lyman and his wife Dionitia, Daniel P. Clark and wife,
also Henry Rollins, Albert Tanner, and myself."
Feb. 22: "Received another load of hay from Father Tanner's."
Feb. 23: Received word from Nauvoo that Sister Maria (Tanner) Lyman
was very sick (i.e: in labor). I started about two o'clock with
Brother Lyman to go and see her. When we had gone about three miles
our buggy broke down, and left us in the mud. Fortunately a wagon came
along and took us to Montrose. Found the ice running in the river so
that it was impossible to cross that night, except in a skiff, which
Brother Lyman succeeded in doing with great difficulty, leaving me on
this side with Sister Daniels to stay all night."
Feb. 24: "Brother Lyman came back this morning, said he found his
wife more comfortable than he expected; had a fine son which they call
Amasa ... I stayed at Sister Daniels' till nearly night, when Albert
Tanner came and took me back to camp."
Feb. 26: "Brother Lyman went over to Father Tanner's and stayed
Feb. 27: "As we are yet in camp, I have concluded to go to Nauvoo
and visit Sister Maria Lyman. Went with Henry Rollins and Dionitia Lyman;
we crossed the river on the ice (by then the river had frozen solid) and
found Sister Lyman quite well, but her son Marion sick with the measles.
Stayed with them all night."
Feb. 28: "Stayed with Sister Lyman all day ... About three o'clock,
Henry Rollins came and said the camp had orders to move tomorrow.
Consequently, Brother Lyman could not come over, but had sent him to bring
us back, which was a great disappointment to Sister Lyman. I then bade
my friends good-bye and went back to camp, where we arrived about seven
o'clock in the evening ... We found the brass band assembled around our
fire, making some very good music."
Mar. 2: "Left camp at 15 minutes to ten ... (with) Brother R. Dana
and family, Wm. Huntington, Sr. and family, A. Lyman and family, D.P.
Clark and wife, H. Rollins, Albert M. Tanner, H.B. Jacobs, S. Jacobs
and J. Butler. Traveled on the Farmington road, camped at five o'clock.
Our ox team arrived at sundown."
Their journey to the west had begun.
by Karen Bray Keeley
by Sandra Shuler Bray