Phelps Home

‘I spoke for fully five minutes on the purity of marriages..’
 Autobiography of Hyrum Smith Phelps

Hyrum Smith Phelps first saw the light of day in the once beautiful city of Nauvoo, Illinois, February 26, 1946. Referring to his early life he said:


My parents, Morris Phelps and Sarah Thompson Phelps, had already been expelled from their homes twice—Kirtland, Ohio and Independence, Missouri— leaving them very little of this world’s goods. Some three or four thousand Saints had crossed the Mississippi River by ferry boat and on the ice headed for the valleys in the Rocky Mountains.


By the middle of the following June, my father had a yoke of oxen and cows to pull one wagon, and in company with some others he started to follow those who had gone previously, arriving at what they called “Winter Quarters” on the Missouri River in Iowa. We remained there until June 1851 . Father worked at wagon making most of the time. When he had managed to raise two teams of oxen and cows, a company of sixty wagons was organized, Father was made captain, and they started for Utah.

After many trials and hardships, they arrived in Salt Lake City September 25, 1851. The first winter Mother and two children stayed with her brother, Samuel Thompson, in Mill Creek Canyon. During the winter, Father found a location in Alpine, Utah County and a house (such as it was) built on a piece of ground he had taken up. Soon after we were located, another member was added to the family, a son, Charles Wilkes Phelps, who lived four years and died with measles. During 1853 and 1854, Father, his sonin-1aw, James Holmes, Isaac Huston and James Preston built a saw mill near the mouth of Dry Creek Canyon about a mile and a half from Alpine. During the summers from 1853 to 1859, I herded sheep that belonged to the settlers of Alpine. All I had for my dinner was segos [lily bulbs] that I would dig out of the ground with a digger that I carried with me. (It was a pointed stick something the shape of a beaver’s tail.) It was while herding sheep that I was tempted the hardest to steal It came very near getting the best of me. James Preston was down in the penstock of the saw mill repairing something, and I brought my sheep near the mill. I spied a dinner pail and taking the lid off I saw some flour biscuits. I put my hand in the pail to take a biscuit and was reminded of that commandment, “Thou shalt not steal. “ Then I remembered the teachings of my mother, “Thou shalt not steal. “ Finally I got courage enough to get away and I went out in the mill yard and began to pick gum. Soon I heard a voice call my name and when I went back, James Preston gave me a biscuit and a leg of chicken. Maybe you think I wasn’t thankful I had resisted the temptation. We had been without wheat flour for several months and had been eating musty corn meal bread. I can now (1922) remember those days just as vividly as though they had
been within the last two years. Only those that experienced the hardships of those days can realize what they were.

I went to school three or four months in the winter until I was seventeen years old. About the fifth grade was as far as I reached. When I grew large enough to put a yoke on the oxen, I quit herding sheep and worked on the farm and in the canyon. When I was sixteen, I calculated I could do as much as a common man at most anything. In the spring of 1864 I was 18 years old. Father sold out all his lands and home and decided to go up to Bear Lake Valley, Idaho. James Holmes and my half brother, Joseph Phelps, and my father fitted out ox teams and made the start April 1864. They landed in Montpelier on May 17, 1864. All three took up a farm and started once more to make homes. They built log houses with dirt floors and roofs.

In the winter of 1865 I commenced keeping company with Miss Clarinda Bingham. In the fall of 1866 frost had killed all of the grain and Calvin Bingham decided to move back to Hyrum, Cache Valley, as he had to depend on blacksmithing for a living. That meant he would take his daughter Clarinda also. She and I talked the matter over and we decided to get married. When I laid the matter before the blacksmith, he said, “Nothing doing. You are both too young!” (Which was verily true.) I talked the matter over with a friend, and he advised me to give the old folks the dodge and get married anyway. So on the evening of September 26, 1866, we invited a high priest by the name of John Turner to come over to the neighbors’ and perform the ceremony for us. For a short time it looked like something interesting was going to happen around the place. I didn’t have very much to say, but a good many things ran through my mind that space will not permit me to mention. Finally, things began to get normal again, and we decided if I would go down below to the town of Benningston and help get the sheep across the Bear River, we would be forgiven. This was carried out to the satisfaction of all concerned.

Now for a description of the home I took my bride to: My mother’s house had but one room 18 by 17 feet, a dirt roof and floor with a straw carpet. She had her loom in there during the winter. Her bed was in one corner and I had a bunk built in another corner. It was built into two sides of the house and one log stood out in the room. A straw bed, buffalo robe and quilts comprised our bed for the winter. In the spring, the fore part of May, I found there was going to be an increase in the family, which put me to my wits’ ends to know how to meet the situation. But it happened that providence had smiled down on me again by sending the Indians into the valley somewhat earlier than usual. I happened to be the sole owner of a little brown pony which I sold to an Indian for a buffalo robe and seven elk skins. The nearest dry goods store at that time was Richmond, Cache Valley, some 65 miles across a big mountain. It happened that my brother Joseph was in the same boat that I was, and he and I started out to find a market for what we had to sell. I sold my buffalo robe and three of my elk skins, (I had four elk skins left to make me a suit of clothes) and bought a few yards of flannel and a few yards of calico, a bottle of castor oil, a box of Grafenburg pills and three hundred pounds of flour, and I went home with a smile on my face that did not come off for a long time. That summer I built a house and moved in and we called it our home. Father took a contract that summer to build a bridge over Blacksmith Fork about 60 miles southwest en route to Ogden. He let James Homes, Hyrum S. Rich and myself in with him, and we received $86 each in store pay on Williams Jennings in Salt Lake City.

Now, reader, I want to tell you that was the first time in my life I had worked for money and appropriated the proceeds for myself. Previous to that it had always been for Father’s family. With my store bill I bought me a scythe to cut hay, a pitchfork, a shovel, ax and kitchen furniture. And we were just as happy as young married folks can be Then for the next ten or fifteen years, every sixteen or eighteen months, an extra member was added to the family until we had an even dozen. I forgot to say that we obtained the cattail feather bed from bulrushes on the river bottoms the first winter.

My spare time was occupied trying to improve my home and surroundings. Crops were cut short by the early frosts. Sometimes entirely. But with all the drawbacks that I endured, I accumulated means and felt I had been wonderfully blessed. In the summer of 1872, Brigham Young came to the valley on one of his annual visits and he preached discourses on plural marriage. (Up to that time, polygamy had never appealed to me very strong. I had been raised in a polygamous family, and I thought I never wanted any of it in mine.) After I heard Brigham Young’s sermon, there was a feeling came over me that I had better at least make the attempt to get another wife, but to eliminate the courting; just ask the consent of the girl and her parents and if either was opposed, that was to be the end of it. When I raised courage to put it to the test, everything was in the affirmative. September 8, 1873, I was married to Mary Elizabeth Bingham, sister to my first wife, in the Endowment House. Being raised in a polygamous family, I thought I knew about as much as anybody on how to guide the ship. How well I succeeded, those that have been acquainted with me can be the judge.

During the winter and spring of 1874 and 1875, Charles Mallory and I built a sawmill in Montpelier Canyon. After that I could build and finally got comfort- ably situated. On May 22, 1876, Father died after spending the winter in Southern Utah. He arrived home May 17 and died five days later. The early frost and cold long winters caused me to make a change to a warmer climate. With consent of Apostle Charles C. Rich, I disposed of all my belongings and put it into teams, wagons and cattle. On October 3, 1878, in company with Charles Dana and son Roswell, John Hibbert, John and William Lesueur, Charles Warrener and Robert Williams, we set out for Salt River Valley, Arizona. We arrived at Mesa on January 17, 1879. Robert Williams stopped in Salem, Utah. He had an ox team and the rest of us had horses. We arrived in Mesa with four teams, three wagons and about 25 head of cattle, (mostly cows.) The first settlers had only been located since October. They were living in tents and sheds mostly. The company let us join them, giving us a chance to work out water rights to get shares in the company.

It was hard to get a home and get comfortably located again. I disposed of all my surplus stock, teams, and wagons which enabled me to buy provisions until I got houses, such as they were, to live in. Everything went well with us until September 1884 when Charles I. Robson, Oscar Stewart, Alma Spillsbury, George Wilson, James Wilson and I were indicted for polygamy and unlawful cohabitations. We never tried to evade the propositions as we believed the law unconstitutional, and we had no trouble getting bondsmen. The next spring the trial court convened in April, We all went down to Phoenix, the county seat, about a week before our trial was to come off to see if we had any friends that we could depend on. We found about all the friends we had were saloon men and that kind of people. We employed lawyers and the church sent Tom Fitch of Los Angeles to take charge of the trial. Things looked darker to us every day. Our lawyers worked with the judge and did all they could to get some assurance from him to show us some leniency, but failed. Alma Spillsbury’s case was brought to the jury and in less than twenty minutes a verdict was given—Guilty. Our lawyers told us there was no use for any other to stand trial, and so they informed the judge that the others would plead guilty. We were told to appear at 10 a.m. the next day. The judge said we would have to promise to obey the law. That caused me some serious reflections. I

            Sarah, Hyrum, Elizabeth

will now relate a dream I had two or three nights before. I went to bed wondering what the outcome of it all would be. I dreamed I was out in an open country all alone, close by me stood a very small bull, a cherry red in color, the most perfect and handsome animal I had ever seen. His horns looked to be transparent and came to a very sharp point. As I looked, at a great distance I saw a large object moving towards me, and when it came close enough to tell what it was, I saw that it was a monstrous bull. I discovered that he was mad, and the closer he came the more mad he became. I saw he was making for the little bull, and he looked as large to me as an elephant. He never halted till he came up within six or eight feet of the little fellow, and all the while the little fellow stood chewing his cud not seeming to pay any attention to the monster bull. When the monster stopped, I thought he put out his tongue and his eyes were like balls of fire. He made a dive at the little bull, and at the same time the little bull caught him in the neck, completely unjointing it. The monster fell and I woke up. This dream brought joy to all of us. We felt that something was going to happen that would cause a change in our favor. On the morning of April 11 at 10 a.m., we all appeared ready to take our medicine. The first name called was Hyrum S. Phelps.

The judge asked, “Mr. Phelps, you have pleaded guilty to the charge of unlawful cohabitation. Have you anything to say why the court should not pass sentence on you?”

“I have just one request, your honor,” I replied. “That is that you do not insist on me obeying the law as you interpret it. I consider the law unconstitutional and made especially to punish the Mormons. I will hold myself subject to the law at all times, but I don’t want to make any promises.”

“Mr. Phelps, I am not here to decide on the constitutionality of the law, but punish those that violate the law as it stands, and I shall expect something from you that will convince me you will obey it the same as all law abiding citizens,” he said.

“Your honor, God gave me my wives. They were virgins when I married them. I can hold my hand up and say before God and man that I never did, outside of the marriage relations, have anything to do with any man’s wife or daughter.” I spoke for fully five minutes on the purity of marriages and why we practiced it. At the conclusion of my talk I said, “That is all I have to say.”

The first word he spoke was to those sitting near him. He said with tears in his eyes, “Gentlemen, you may think that this is a desirable position to pass sentence on these men. This is the hardest thing I ever had to do. You are some of the best citizens we have. “ Turning to me he added, “Mr. Phelps, I realize your family needs you at home, and I shall give you only ninety days and no fine to pay.” I thanked him for being so lenient.
The next day the warden inspected us, gave us a clean haircut, a shave and a brand new suit of clothes with the stripes running horizontally. The night before I was sentenced, Mary Elizabeth gave birth to a baby girl and a month following she lost her little two-year-old boy. The warden gave us all privileges that were possible and the most comfortable cells in the prison.

We were turned loose again on July 12, 1885. I then went to living again as I had always done. The stake authorities thought I was running desperate chances as I was living with both families, and advised me to go to Mexico. In the spring of 1887, I drove down to Juarez, Mexico to see what I thought of the country. I did not like the government in that country. On Dec. 3, 1 890, I received a call to serve a mission to the Southern States and to be in Salt Lake to leave for the mission Dec. 16. I told my boys I would borrow the money and start Dec. 5 to go up to Bear Lake and see my folks there before going on my mission. The third day after I received my call, I started. I arrived at Maricopa where I was to change cars on the Southern Pacific Railroad. The train stopped, I looked out of the window and who should I see but my old friend the Federal Marshall who was after me. The Spirit told me he was wanting me and for me to get off the car on the opposite side from where the others were getting off. I was to go around, and come in behind and get on the other train on the opposite side from where the others were getting on and walk lame. When I came in full view of the officer, the Spirit seemed to operate on me just like some person giving me a command. When the train started off, I looked out the window and saw that my poor old uncle Brother Sam Thompson was returning home after a short visit with my mother. I did not have time to tell him what was taking place. I waited in Yuma until the next day and Uncle was on the train, so we went on our way without any more trouble. I visited my relatives in Bear Lake and they contributed more than enough to pay my expenses from Salt Lake and back again. I arrived at my journey’s end (Spartanburg Mills) on Dec. 23, 1890. I had just one dollar in my pocket, and I gave that to the family I was to stay with to buy Christmas presents as they were very poor.

David LeBaron was my first companion. I was gone 23 months, but never slept out one night, only had to pay for one night’s lodging during my entire stay in the mission field. While on my mission I baptized four persons. When I returned home, I was a better man and had a testimony of the truthfulness of the gospel During my absence, President Wilford Woodruff had issued the Manifesto and my law breaking was at an end.

On the 26th of February 1889, I fitted out two teams and went to St. George, Utah, to work in the temple. I took my mother, wife Clarinda, daughter Lucretia and son Calvin. We had our three oldest children sealed to us and mother had her two oldest sealed to her and father. I also did the work for Grandfather Spencer Phelps and his wife. We were gone from home six weeks. The work done at St. George completed all the vicarious work on my ancestors that I knew of at that time. My mother made her home with me from the time we left Bear Lake, Idaho until her death January 31, 1896.

About the year 1900, I received a letter from my nephew, William R. Holmes, who was laboring as a missionary in Massachusetts at the time that The Phelps Family of America and Their English Ancestors was being published in two volumes and there might be a chance for me to get my family included in the work. I sent a list of my family, but it was too late to be inserted in the book, However, I sent an order and received the genealogy of my ancestors back for eight generations. My wife Mary Elizabeth and I have been working in the temple at Logan, Utah most of the time since April 1919 to 1925.

After returning home from my mission, my time was occupied on my farm and surroundings until about the year 1910. My sons being married and myself along in years, I was not able to do the work required. I decided to sell the 80 acres and when the buyer came along, I sold for $19,000 and bought a city lot in the town of Mesa, and built a home on it for Clarinda and a home for Mary Elizabeth on 20 acres I had left previous to my selling. On October 13, 1906 Mary Elizabeth’s house burned down. We were sleeping out of doors at the time and everything was burned except the beds and clothing we had taken off our bodies when we went to bed. It was a brick house and it burned so quickly that the walls were not damaged very much. I soon rebuilt and was comfortably situated again. During the winter of 1917- 1 8 I sold my ranch home and we moved into another home I had built in town. My plans were to spend the balance of my days working in the temple for the redemption of my ancestors who are dead and gone.

Now in conclusion of the story I have given of my life, I must say that I have been true and faithful. On the advent of another birthday, I will be 77 years old and I have every reason to believe I will live till I am 95 years old. If I should live that long, I expect to hear of more sorrow and suffering from wars, famines, earthquakes and destruction by the destroying elements than I have ever heard of in the last fifty years . I have never sought after notoriety of civil offices. I am thankful that I was counted worthy to be called into the High Council at the organization of the Maricopa Stake, which office I held and tried to honor until the 8th of December, 1912, when I was ordained a patriarch. And I say as Nephi of Old, “Iwas born of goodly parents” who did all they could for their children under the circumstances by which they were surrounded.

And as my ancestors before them. I am proud to know that I am of such stock, for many of them fought, bled and died in the Revolutionary War. I thank my God that I am permitted to do their work in the temple of the Lord, and I pray that my children will join with me as soon as circumstances will permit them to do so. I know the Lord expects it of us, and if we fail to do what we can for them, we will come to our condemnation. (You have ears to hear, take warning.) As for myself, I know I have made many mistakes and fallen into many habits that were not becoming to a Latter-day Saint. I have not controlled my tongue and have said many things I should not have said. But with all my failings, I have always tried to be honest with my fellow men. I have had no dollar in my life that I would be ashamed for any person to know how I came by it, not have I ever spent a dollar that I would be ashamed to tell my children— Clarinda, 12, and Mary Elizabeth, 14. Eleven of them have passed to the great beyond. Three of them died and left infant babes. A daughter, a young woman grown and a son 19 years. The others ranged in age from three months to four years. I have also two daughters that are left widows with ten and five children to take care of.

So I feel content to know that when my time comes, I will have loved ones to mingle with over there. I thank the Lord that I was permitted to be born when the Gospel of Jesus Christ was again on the earth. I know that God lives, that Jesus Christ is the Redeemer of the world and that Joseph Smith was and is Prophet of God and that the Church known as the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is indeed the only church that is acceptable unto Him as a church. This is my testimony and I here subscribe to it in the name of Jesus Christ, Amen.

P.S. When I die, I prefer to be buried by the side of my mother without any display of flowers, the same as the rest that have gone on before me. It is a satisfaction to know I will have loved ones to mingle with when my turn comes to go.

Given this day the tenth of December, 1922, at Logan, Utah.
/s/ H. S. Phelps

[Hyrum Phelps died April 23, 1926 after being gored by a bull. Kenneth and Lavel Whatcott were with him when he was gored and said that his intestines were lying on the ground in the manure. He died two days later.]