Troy hopped off the wild horse he was in the process of breaking. Looking back, he climbed over the corral fence. Wearing boots, chaps, spurs, and a cowboy hat, he made his way toward my son, Lance, and I. We had the pleasure of shaking hands with and meeting a real Wyoming cowboy. "Jump in my truck," he said. "I'll take you to an old cabin you can have. One of the sides of the cabin has fallen down, but I think that all of the logs are still there. My biggest and meanest bull uses it for shelter. They fight in and around it, and I'm afraid it's going to fall on them."
We sped off down a dirt road and ten minutes later arrived at an old log cabin. We opened and closed the barbed wire fence and spent the next half hour driving across irrigated pasture lands trying not to get stuck in the ditches. Making our own road, we drove through washes and over sagebrush plains. Finally, we arrived at the edge of a bluff with a dried up creek below.
On top of the bluff were four log cabins and the remains of others. We jumped out of the truck, and there it was, the half-collapsed, little cabin facing south towards the majestic Uinta Mountains. There was quiet silence, except for the meadowlarks and the sound of water trickling down the bluff from the springs. The old watering trough was full and had green moss growing in it. The sagebrush was blooming with yellow flowers. The remains of an old log-hauling wagon that we now use to hold our Nauvoo Motel sign sat nearby. Old wagon wheels, parts of wood burning stoves, horseshoes, and old log corrals and gates also gave the old home company. It felt reverent and peaceful as we explored. Who were the courageous people who once lived here in the middle of nowhere with no electricity, no stores, and no roads?
I didn't know then as I know now, about Charles Van Vleet Jr., John's younger brother and two of the husbands killed by Indians. Nor about Gardner Godfrey Potter of Nauvoo having to shoot two Indians. I didn't know I would personally meet the last person born in one of the cabins on the homestead, Thelma Twitchell Wall, or about Sarah Hooton, who walked two miles through a blinding snowstorm to deliver Thelma in 1924. I later learned about many hardships like the two infants buried near the cabins. I didn't know the courageous stories of the fathers and grandfathers who crossed the plains, nor the faith that they had. I now know why I felt the way I did as I stood among those ruins.
--David John Hardle
John Edwin Van Vleet (builder of the Van Vleet cabin) was born on 11 September 1858 in the town of Bridgeport, Lawrence County, Illinois. He was one of eleven children born to Charles and Rachel Black Van Vleet. Charles and Rachel were baptized into the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints on 15 April 1858 in Bridgeport, Illinois. The Van Vleet family made the trek across the Great Plains and through the Rocky Mountains to join the other Saints in Utah.
They were called to help colonize a new settlement in the Circle Valley of Southern Utah, now the town of Circleville, Utah. As the Van Vleet family and other members of the wagon train headed for the Valley, they came to the mouth of the Circleville Canyon and made a base camp at the edge of the Circle Valley. They pulled the wagons into a circle and were attacked by Ute Indians involved in the Black Hawk War. Sixteen-year-old Mary Ann Van Vleet, daughter of Charles and Rachel, and older sister of John E. Van Vleet, pulled sacks of flour over herself in the wagon to hide from the hostile Indians. Several Indian warriors climbed into the Van Vleet wagon and began to cut the sacks of flour open. In defense Gardner Potter leaped onto the end gate of the wagon and shot one of the Indians. He then shot a second Indian. (Gardner Potter, a native of Nauvoo, would later become a brother-in-law to John, and still later live in a cabin on the Van Vleet homestead.) During the battle, Johns two-year-old brother Charles Jr. was scalped and mutilated and died shortly after. John was seven years old at the time of the battle.
Charles Van Vleet and John James, another settler in the wagon train, built a cabin that is still standing today, and a ranch at the mouth of the canyon where the battle took place. But the Black Hawk War continued to rage on, and things in Circle Valley soon got hostile again. Later Charles sold the homestead in Circle Valley to Maximillian Parker, the father of Robert LeRoy Parker, who would later become known as Butch Cassidy, the famous bank and train robber. The Van Vleet family and Parker family soon became close friends, and John became a lifelong friend of Butch Cassidy. The Van Vleet family later moved to Beaver, Utah, and homesteaded a ranch on Indian Creek, north of Beaver.
Also during this time, while the Black Hawk War was raging between the Mormon settlers and Ute Indians, the brother of Rachel Black Van Vleet, Benjamin Black, was killed by Ute warriors in Ephraim Canyon, near Ephraim, Utah.
John Edwin Van Vleet later went back to the Circle Valley area and worked for local ranches. He soon moved on to work for ranch owners and homesteaders in the Bridger Valley of southwestern Wyoming around Mountain View, Evanston, and Lyman. It was in this area where he met Amy Arvilla Race, the daughter of Joseph and Melissa Seaberry Race, and they were married on 27 May 1902 in Evanston, Uinta County, Wyoming. Amy Arvilla (Race) Van Vleet was born on 23 November 1885 in Goshen, Utah County, Utah, and moved with her father and mother to Fort Bridger, Uinta County, Wyoming.
John and Amy homesteaded on a bluff overlooking the Bridger Valley between Lyman and Mountain View, Wyoming, and built the cabin that is now a guest cabin in Nauvoo, Illinois. They built this cabin around 1902. A brother to John Edwin Van Vleet, James Nelson Van Vleet, also homesteaded in the same area.
A daughter, Barbara Van Vleet (Richins), was born to John E. and Amy Arvilla Race Van Vleet on 1 July 1904 in their cabin. Another daughter, Rachel Van Vleet, who later died on 3 March 1924 from scarlet fever, was born on 25 June 1907 in the same cabin. Life was hard on the Wyoming frontier. A third daughter, Zelda Van Vleet (Gardner), was born on 24 November 1910, after the family had moved to Hudson, Fremont County, Wyoming, for a short time.
The Van Vleet family made their living by raising cattle and horses and ranching on the vast Wyoming prairies and in the rugged Uinta, Wind River, and Teton mountain ranges. They soon moved back to their cabin on the bluff between Lyman and Mountain View, and another daughter was born to them, Ethel Van Vleet (Kamper), on 19 November 1913 in the same cabin. Finally a son was born to the Van Vleet family, James Edwin Van Vleet, on 16 April 1916. This was the last Van Vleet child born in the cabin that now serves as a guest cabin in Nauvoo. Virginia Lark (Meadow Lark) and Doris where born in Hudson, Wyoming.
The family patriarch, Charles Van Vleet, took ill and died on February 16, 1897 in Beaver, Utah, and was buried three days later. Rachel, who was 66 when her husband died remained in Beaver for several more years and then went to live with her son, John and died in her sons cabin on the Smiths Fork Between Mountian View and Lyman, Wyoming. She died on January 8, 1908 and was buried in the cemetery at Lyman.
Doris Jean died of scarlet fever in 1927. John and Amy, loved their children dearly. Their children always spoke highly of their parents. John Edwin loved to write poetry and stories for his children and wife, especially during the time that his two daughters, Rachel and Doris Jean died of the scarlet fever. The Van Vleet family descendants have these poems and stories in their possession to this day. The playhouse John built for the children was always remembered. Amy was always busy nurturing and caring, cooking, sewing, mending and gardening for her family which included seven children. She also wrote poetry and worked with doctors. (Pictures and history provided by Sharon Nixon.)
Construction of the Cabin
The first addition to an original cabin is usually a lean-to or shed type kitchen. It could be constructed of logs or sawn lumber. The front wall of the Van Vleet cabin had two windows and a door. The rear wall of the cabin had a door opening in it. During reconstruction we converted the rear door into a window. The exterior of the rear log wall has markings and nail holes indicating that at one time the cabin had an addition attached to it, which was probably a kitchen. John constructed the cabin with square notching corners. It appeared the cabin always had a dirt floor. It was also a dirt roof cabin. The dirt roof served as shingles and insulation.
The Cabin Walls
Filling the gaps between the logs was called chinking or daubing. It was an ongoing process. As the logs seasoned they dried out, twisted and shrunk, allowing the chink to fall out. If one wanted to keep the snow from blowing thru the cracks and spaces between the logs they had better be filled-in by fall. There are various recipes for chinking a cabin. Split pieces of wood are used to fill the void between the logs, then a daubing recipe or chinking mixture that could consist of various materials mixed together, such as ash, sand, clay, sage brush, straw and even cow manure is used to fill the voids. John was experienced at building cabins. While preparing the logs for the cabin, John took a hatchet and scored the logs from one end to the other to give the daubing something to grab and hold strongly. This helped the chink bond to the logs, a great idea.
The larger cabin twenty feet south of the original homestead cabin was an old school house. It was dragged in on skids with several teams of horses and was constructed with logs with half-dovetail corners. It was covered with siding and beautiful trim work. Other log cabins were constructed with "V" style corner notches. The Van Vleet cabin was constructed with square notched corners, and another with swedish cope corners. This indicated they were probably all built by different people.
Several of the relatives lived on the ranches at one time, including James Nelson Van Vleet and his wife Eunice. December 1911, John and Amy sold the 160 acre ranch to Eugene R. Van Vleet for one-thousand dollars. January 1912, Eugene R. and wife Celena, sold the ranch now consisting of 360 acres to Willis Twitchell, a relation, for $4,000, with water rights.
The Twitchell's were the second family to live in the Van Vleet cabin. Here are a few details about the Twitchell family.
In the spring of 1842, James Ephraim Twitchell, along with his father, Ephraim (age 39), his mother, Phebe Melissa Knight (age 38), and siblings joined The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. In a short time they were being persecuted by the mob. They were unable to sell their home, so Ephraim buried a container of written documents at each corner of the land, in case any member of his family might return. They were forced to leave their home and move to Nauvoo to be with the body of the Saints. It was in Nauvoo that his sister Amanda was born in November 24, 1844 and his sister Celestia died in February 1846.
In 1846, they were driven from their home in Nauvoo and left with the majority of the Saints. They settled at Key Creek, in the vicinity of Council Bluffs, Iowa. The following spring they planted crops on government ground and raised a large crop of potatoes and nearly a thousand bushels of corn to help feed the Saints who were to follow. Early in the spring of 1848, the Twitchell family started across the Great Plains in covered wagons drawn by ox teams. At Winter Quarters, Nebraska, the call came for volunteers for the Mormon Battalion to help in the war against Mexico. Ancil, brother of James Ephraim, was one of those who volunteered and marched all the way to California.
At this time James Ephraim was a lad of only thirteen, but he drove a wagon with two yoke of oxen and, like his father, he took his turn standing guard against the attacks of hostile Indians. His brothers, Edwin and Orrin, were only eleven and nine years old, but their assignment was to drive a flock of sheep as the company made its laborious way across the plains. The family also brought a wagon load of flour. The Twitchell family traveled in the Ezra Chase Company, arriving in late September 1848, and settled about forty miles north of Salt Lake City, on the Weber River, the present site of Ogden, Utah. It was here James Ephraim assisted his father in building a log house, the first house built in Ogden. However, there was an old makeshift shack on the site left by mountain men and trappers, and this is where his sister Sarah Celestia Twitchell was born on October 22, 1848, the first white child born in Ogden.
The Twitchell family soon became interested in the California gold rush. (Their son Ancil was now in California, having already arrived there with the Mormon Battalion.) In the early spring of 1849, the family left Utah and moved to California. The winter of 1849-50 was spent on the Sacramento River at Vernon, where Ephraim took up a placer claim from which he took out $150 in gold and abandoned it. James Ephraim was in the diggings in several locations. Ephraim also worked at Sutter's mill in Coloma, California for $20.00 a day.
The Ephraim Twitchell family moved to San Bernardino, California, and engaged in ranching and stock raising. A Mr. Brown, a widower, on his way to the gold fields left two of his children with the Twitchell family: Margaret Moore, a stepdaughter, and Louise, a baby of his own, their mother having died on the plains. When Mr. Brown failed to return, they gave the baby Louisa to a family by the name of Shepherd and kept Margaret to help around the home. When James Ephraim was almost 22 and Margaret 17, they were married on 12 August 1856 in San Bernardino and built themselves a three-room brick home.
Ephraim had an experience with a man he called the old Nephite. While Ephraim was going to town with a team, he saw a man walking in the road ahead, carrying a satchel and a cloak. When the man got in to ride he said, "Take your family back to Utah where the body of the Saints are." Ephraim answered, "My boys will not go with me." The stranger said, "Yes they will, every one of them."Ë‡
After dinner at an Inn, the man disappeared, leaving his cloak on the spring seat of the wagon. It was kept in the family for many years. This story is true, for as the stranger predicted the entire family moved back to Utah in 1857, and there Ephraim continued to be identified with Church work.
They returned to Southern Utah and settled in Beaver. They were among the first to pioneer the town and county of Beaver, so named by the early settlers because of the thousands of beavers found in the Beaver River and tributaries to this stream. The first few families came to Beaver in 1856, sent there by Brigham Young to colonize.
James Ephraim and Margaret's first child, also named Celestia, was born in Beaver on March 20, 1858 and was said to be the first white baby born in the settlement. James Ephraim's first home there was the third house built in Beaver. James Ephraim's mother, Phebe Melissa, died in March 1858 and hers is said to be the first grave in the Beaver cemetery. Beaver had scarcely been settled, and the town and fields temporarily surveyed, when the more venturesome citizens began locating on nearby streams flowing into the valley. Ephraim located on Indian Creek, later called Manderfield, which enters Beaver on the north.
Ephraim had five sturdy sons. They cleared the land, and helped make roads into the canyons to get timber to build their homes. They found many kinds of timber such as maple, oak, and mountain ash, which they used to make spokes for wagon wheels, cradle fingers, and scythe handles. At first, there were no machines to cut hay or grain, so scythes and sickles were used and the grain was tied in bundles by hand and pitched on the old oxcart or wagon with a wooden tined fork.
Their homes consisted of small log houses with a dirt roof and a fireplace in one end. The old rock fireplace played an important part in the pioneer home. It supplied light as well as heat; much of the cooking was done by hanging kettles from cranes placed within the rock enclosure. The rough walls were whitewashed by mixing lime and water and brushing it on the walls. Their furniture was homemade, and the bed ticks were filled with fresh straw each fall.
At harvest time the vegetables were gathered and put into pits, then eaten with smoked and salted meats, salt rising bread, honey, and molasses, their main foods. All scraps of fat were saved to make soup. A great deal of their clothing was made from wool of their own sheep; they would card the wool, spin and knit the yarn. They would also take oat straw, soak it in water, then braid it and make their hats.
In those early pioneer days, light was furnished by tallow candles, which they made themselves. Later on came the coal oil lamps and lanterns which were hailed with delight. Most women prided themselves on keeping the lamp filled with oil, wick trimmed and chimney shining. The family wash was done by hand with a scrub board and tub. Wood was hauled from nearby canyons for fuel. Mail came to Beaver from Fillmore by horseback; the horses were changed every twenty miles.
When Celestia was five years old and Margaret had two other younger children, James Ephraim took another wife in polygamous marriage, Francis Ellen Manhard (better known by Fanny). On July 11, 1863, James Ephraim had his two wives sealed to him in the Endowment House in Salt Lake City. Each wife bore him eleven children, all born at Beaver. Margaret's children are Celestia Ursulla, Willis, Phoebe Amanda, James Ephraim, Manford Marion, Thursa Lucetta, Celinda Jane, Millie Ernestine, Margaret Luetta, William Houston, and Nellie. Francisa's children are Mary Mellisia, William Henry, Franklin Monroe, Edwin Sylvester, Lois Virginia, Caroline, Stephen Alvin, Ancil Theodore, Effie, Francis Marion, and Sarah Ellen.
James Ephraim owned two houses in Beaver and his farm on Indian Creek, which consisted of 480 acres of land on which he raised hay and grain, train cattle, horses, sheep, and pigs. One pig is remembered to have weighed 510 pounds. He also had a large orchard where he grew several kinds of fruit.
During those early days in Beaver, men took turns standing picket guard for hostile Indians while the fields were being farmed. The Indians were all around and would steal and drive away the animals. The pioneers never knew when they or their families were safe from the Indians who were constantly roaming the hills. While performing the duty of guard, James Ephraim always prayed he would never have need to kill an Indian, and this he never did. The year 1866 brought Indian disturbances and all able bodied men were called to do guarding at home and go wherever called to defend a community against the attacks of Indians. They were known as minutemen. James Ephraim was a minuteman and could also interpret the Ute Indian language. Each man was always prepared with horses, ammunition, bread, and hard tack candy for immediate call to duty. When called, they served ten days to two weeks, and then were relieved by a group from another settlement. This type of protection for the settlements was carried on until 1873 when the government established Fort Cameron to help control the hostile Indians.
James Ephraim loved to hunt, and this Beaver country was a paradise to him. There was plenty of deer, bear, mountain lions, bobcats, and coyotes. Whenever hunting big game, he always insisted on being alone. Once while hunting up Indian Creek Canyon, he had been most of the day without water, and when he finally came to a tiny stream, it was very poor water, having wigglers in it. But he was so thirsty he decided to strain the water through his handkerchief. When he lifted his eyes after quenching his thirst, there before him stood two buck Indians. They were naked and hostile and appeared ready to scalp him. He was a brave man but very glad he could speak the Indian language. Because of this, he was able to reason with them, and they went away without harming him. He understood the Indians, and spoke their language. He often acted as interpreter, and many times was able to avert trouble between the white men and Indians. He served in the Black Hawk War under the command of John Hunt. It was decided to call the Indians together and help feed them at the tithing office yard and there hold sort of a pow-wow to appoint a recognized chief among them. Most of the Indians agreed to this and gave the settlers much less trouble.
James Ephraim was very strict in his home, never allowing his boys to do any scuffling in the house. He had very strict orders in regards to his tools, stock, and even his land. At one time when two of his daughters went to a dance and soldiers were there from Fort Cameron, he had told them to be home at a certain time. When they failed to come home, he went to the dance after them. One of the soldiers said to one of the girls, "Now, Miss Twitchell, if you don't want to go home you don't have to." She replied, "Oh, for heaven's sakes, you don't know my father; he could lick your whole company of soldiers."Ë‡
Their medicines were homemade from herbs they gathered. They learned the value of these herbs and how to administer them. With these simple remedies, coupled with the healing power of God, they sought to combat the diseases which plagued them from time to time. The early settlers lived a religious life; among the pioneers any difficulty that arose was settled by the bishop or ward teachers.
James Ephraim served as the presiding elder at Indian Creek. He was always active in the Church and was ordained a high priest while still living in Beaver. Willis, his son, was the first Sunday school superintendent in the branch at Indian Creek.
James Ephraim and Ancil were the last of the Twitchell boys living in Indian Creek for many years. Edwin, Orrin, and Joshua settled in other locations. James Ephraim was a shareholder in the old Beaver Woolen Mills which was erected in 1870 and provided work for a number of men, women, and girls. It was closed in 1900 and stood idle for a number of years; finally it was converted to a mattress factory, but was destroyed by fire in 1920.
By having a second wife and living in polygamy, he was subject to much persecution. Fanny would tell how often men entered their home, trying to catch him there, so to persecute him. He was finally arrested on polygamy charges, refusing to deny his second family. He was sentenced to six months in jail and a $500 fine. When asked to deny his family or go to jail, his reply was, "If it means losing my family and my salvation, I'll take prison." For this he was often praised for being such a great courageous man, holding his family with much responsibility. He had such a reputation for honesty that he was often allowed to work outside of the prison and act as a scout at nights in defense against the Indians.
James Ephraim lived 48 years in Beaver, and in 1906, when most of his children had moved away from Beaver, he and his two wives, Margaret and Francis, moved to Manila, Daggett County, Utah, where many of their children were settled. In Manila they had two horses, a cow, and always a wonderful garden; his carrots were always the envy of schoolchildren having to pass his garden.
When the early settlers moved to Manila, their only culinary water supply was a tunnel dug into the hill and piped to a large tank in the center of town, which James Ephraim piped into his house. The kids about town liked to turn the water on in the winter and make a skating pond to skate on. He was very much opposed to this and used to get after the kids. He was so respected by everyone that even kids let him have his way without being impudent and disrespectful.
James Ephraim enjoyed good health and continued service in the Church to his very last days. They had been in Manila seven years when Margaret died at 73 from old age. Five years later, James Ephraim died at the age of 83 during June 1917. Six years later Francis died at the age of 74. James Ephraim rests between his two wives at the Manila cemetery.
Willis Twitchell, son of James Ephraim and Margaret Twitchell, bought the Van Vleet ranch in 1913, and the ranch and cabins were owned by various family members into the 1940s.