by Buckley Jensen
William Morley Black is somewhat of an enigma for our purposes in this series. On the one hand, he only lived in San Juan County for a little over two years, which would normally eliminate him from consideration as a “Giant” of San Juan.
On the other hand, he has the largest posterity of any pioneer in San Juan with hundreds and hundreds of descendants who still live in the county.
Indeed, it is said that if your last name is Anderson, Black, Blake, Bradford, Brown, Burtenshaw, Carroll, Davis, Foy, Grover, Guymon, Hawkins, Helquist, Hunt, Hurst, Johnson, Jones, Kartchner, Keele, Laws, Lyman, Meyer, Mikesell, Nelson, Nielson, Palmer, Patterson, Perkins, Peterson, Pincock, Porter, Redd, Rowley, Shumway,Sipe, Slade, Smith, Stevens, Washburn, Wright or Young, you likely have the blood of William Morley Black in your veins.
In l925, the San Juan High School basketball team had eight members. Lawence Palmer, and Thell Black were grandsons, and Zimira (Bud) Black, Dave Guymon, Glen Black and Kimball Black were great-grandsons of William Morley Black. Geneologists agree that most of the athletic teams at San Juan High School in the last 85 years were probably also dominated by the posterity of William Morley.
How could this be? Well, having six wives and 41 children is a good start. When he died in Blanding in l915 he had 214 living grandchildren and 206 living great-grandchildren.
In the intervening 95 years, his posterity has grown to many thousands and would undoubtedly populate a small city.
And what an example and inspiration Grandpa Black is to his vast family.
His story begins with his birth in 1826 in Vermillion, OH. He was the son of a farmer and went to school for just two winters. He was taught to work and, at age 13, when his father died, William hired out as a laborer and gave all his earnings to help feed his seven brothers and sisters. He worked in a brickyard for 37 cents a day.
When he was 17 years old, he struck out on his own. He went to an area near Peoria, IL and worked on a farm. He received $8 a month, which was a good wage in those days. He worked hard and saved his money. He describes himself in his journal as, “temperate, studious, industrious and saving. During the summer I erected, mainly by my own labor, a tidy two-roomed house and in 1846 married Margaret Ruth Banks.”
Willian Morley took an interest in politics. In 1848, he ran for the office of Sheriff in the town of Cuba on the Democratic ticket and won. However, in the winter of l848 “the discovery of gold in California created quite a fever in town and I caught the fever.”
In the spring of 1849, William Morley and 12 other men formed a stock company with each member paying $100 into the treasury to be used in purchasing teams and equipment for the 2,000-mile journey though Indian territory to the gold fields. They formed a compact for their mutual defense and protection. Anyone could withdraw from the compact, but by so doing they would forfeit their investment and equipment.
“I resigned as the sheriff of Cuba on April 3, 1849 and with hearts and high ambitions we kissed our wives, children and parents goodbye and took the trail for the El Dorado of the West.” William recorded in his journal.
“One hundred miles from Cuba brought us to Nauvoo, IL on Saturday and we rested the Sabbath. I strolled the streets of the city. Many houses were vacant. Those that were inhabited were told that the builders of the city were a lawless set who, for their crimes, had been driven out and their beautiful and substantial homes had become a prey almost without price to a company of French Icarians who purchased from the mob at low prices the homes of the exiled Mormons.”
Their company of 75 men and 30 wagons crossed the Mississippi at Nauvoo and followed roads built by the fleeing Mormons.
Their trip across the plains “was a prosperous one. Our most lively incidents were the days when for sport we hunted buffalos. Thousands of them were shot down for the mere fun of the thing. No one seemed to consider they were the property of the Red Men. Sad indeed it was for the Sioux nation when the white man made a thoroughfare through their well-stocked hunting grounds.”
They arrived in Salt Lake City on July 24th. In William’s own words, “We were all anxious to see what kind of civilization the Mormons would exhibit to us. Descending from the bench lands we soon encountered well-cultivated fields.
“Every field was irrigated by a newly made irrigation canal and the scarcity of weeds gave evidence of careful culture. Passing through their city I saw several blacksmith shops but no sign of a saloon, or even a barber pole, tavern or hotel could I see.
“It seemed the entire population had gathered at a large square in some kind of a celebration. At first I thought we had lost track of time and thought they might be gathered for Sunday services. I then remembered they were a lawless lot and probably had no use for the Sabbath.”
They passed through Salt Lake City and camped for the night on the banks of the Jordan River. William approached a man named Buck Smithson and asked if his band of travelers could buy food from the local people.
Instead they were invited to dinner and William recounts, “We partook of as relishable a meal as I have ever eaten. Before we ate, Smithson asked for quiet and then gave thanks for the food and asked the Father to bless it to our use. This was the first time in my life that I had heard a blessing asked on our daily food and this prayer fell from the lips of an uncultured Mormon.”
William made it his business to find out about the Mormons. He was told about the exodus from Nauvoo, about the martyrdom of Joseph Smith. He wanted to know more and was invited to attend Church the next day with William Wordsworth.
His journal entry of Sunday, July 25, 1849 reads in part, “This is a day ever to be remembered by me. Services opened with singing and prayer and the sacrament of the Lord’s Supper was blessed and passed to all in attendance. Then a man of noble, princely bearing addressed the saints. His name was John Taylor, one of the two men with the Prophet Joseph Smith at his martyrdom at the Carthage Jail. The word apostle thrilled me. The powerful sermon and testimony that followed filled my soul with joy and satisfaction that I never felt before. I said to Mr. Wordsworth, ‘if this is Mormonism, then I am a Mormon. How do I become a member of your church?’”
William hardly slept that night. “I was too happy to sleep. A revelation had come to me and its light filled my soul.” His desire to travel on to California to find gold was swept away. “I had found the Pearl of Great Price and resolved to purchase it…let it cost what it would.”
After a few days of rest, his companions continued on to California. He lost his entire investment in the California gold enterprise, but “I received baptism at the hands of Levi Jakeman. I had lost the world and become a Mormon.”
Subsequent years found William Morley pursuing many endeavors: farming, masonry work, hauling wood and running gristmills. He was sent by church leaders to the Sanpete Valley, Nephi, and Washington to help build those communities. His specialty, however was the building and operation of gristmills.
In 1851 he became a polygamist when he married a second wife, Emma (Amy) Jane Washburn.
He returned to Illinois from Salt Lake late in 1851. He found is first wife Margaret and her children Martha and Martin well. He records, “She received me as one from the dead. I was full of love and zeal for Mormonism and my wife’s parents were full of bitterness toward Mormonism.”
Much to his delight, Margaret and the children, despite her parents, joined him for the long journey back to Salt Lake. They arrived in October of 1852. Margaret was baptized. William added, “She knew that I had married Amy Jane and was prepared to meet the new conditions that my actions had brought on us. She accepted cheerfully her share of increased responsibilities that plural marriage brings on all who accept it.”
In 1859, he married Annie Marie Hansen and Emma Lynette Richardson. His growing family moved often. Their travels included Ephraim, Circle Valley, Beaver, and Kanab. In each of these areas he built and/or ran the gristmills.
In 1871 he married his fifth wife, Louisa Ann Washburn. In l874 he married for the last time to Sarah Marinda Thompson. In 1874, President Brigham Young and George A. Smith visited Southern Utah and organized the United Order at Orderville.
William wrote, “I cast my lot with the Orderville community, consecrating my farm, teams and interest in the Kanab grist mill. In fact all my earthly possessions were put in upon the altar and I sacrificed in a cause that I believed was instituted for the good of the human family. My families lived together in Orderville with none to make afraid. We had good schools and well-attended meetings. Indeed life was a spiritual feast.”
But it did not last. Brigham Young passed away. Wrote William, “Brigham Young stood as a beacon of light to us and when the light went out we were like a ship that had lost its pilot. The sailors still remained but they were soon divided in council and with division came weakness.” When the Orderfille United Order dissolved, William Morley moved to Huntington.
During this time, two of wives died. His first wife, Margaret Ruth passed away in June, 1884 and is buried in Salina. His second wife Emma (Amy) Jane passed in August of 1888 at the age of 56 and is buried in Huntington.
In 1888 William Morley was forced to play “hide and seek” with federal marshalls bent on jailing polygamists. He soon tired of it and moved his families to Diaz, Mexico in the Mormon Colonies.
His journal records, “here I am in a foreign land, not of choice but of necessity, in my own land a criminal, yet I have not injured a living soul. The law that made me a sinner was enacted on purpose to convict me and was retroactive in its operation. To me it is largely unjust, which adds a sting to its cruelty. But what can’t be cured must be endured.”
For the next 25 years, William Morley Black lived in Mexico in the Mormon Colonies, making his home in Juarez, then Casas Grandes. He occasionally returned to the United States. During one of these trips he purchased a farm in Fruitland, NM and resided there for a short time.
While living in Fruitland, he attended the San Juan Stake Conference at Mancos, CO on May 14, l903. Apostle Mathias F. Cowley ordained William Morley a patriarch and gave him a highly treasured blessing.”
In 1904, his fifth wife, Louisa Ann Washburn died and was buried in Safford, AZ. In l905 he returned to Pacheco, Mexico until 1912.
The Mexican Revolution at was making the lives of those in the Mormon Colonies very tenuous. President William H. Taft ordered all Americans to leave Mexico. The Black family left with 300 other refugees. William left a brick home, 25 acres, animals and most of his earthly possessions. Over 4,000 members of the church left Mexico in l912.
On October 1, l913, William Morley and wives Sarah and Maria made their last move to Grayson (Blanding). They were warmly greeted at the home of their daughter Hattie Guymon by a host of grandchildren and great grandchildren.
As the end grew nigh, he was surrounded by his large family. Some of his last words were “the expulsion from our home is almost forgotten in the joy I find in my affectionate and loving children. It makes me feel that while I may have been a failure financially, yet I have had the power and blessing to found a patriarchal family and a name that shall last in Israel after I have passed away and that knowledge comforts me.”
William’s sixth wife Sarah Marinda Thompson Black passed away in 1914. She is buried in Blanding. William died June 21, l915. His third wife, Annie Maria Hansen, remained in Blanding after his death where three children and many grandchildren resided. She was a plural wife for 40 years and “rejoiced in that order of marriage, glorifying the name of the Lord for that grand principle which gave her a loving husband and a family of noble children which she may not have had otherwise.” She joined her husband in death on March 9, 1920 and is buried in the Blanding City Cemetery.
Although William Morley Black’s days in Blanding were few, his contributions were many. His posterity served the LDS Church as Bishops, Stake Presidents and Patriarchs. They served as President of every organization in the LDS Church and as missionaries taking that “Pearl of Great Price” throughout the world.
His extended family has provided mayors, city councilmen and county commissioners. They have served as sheriffs and police officers. Schools have been improved as his descendents served as superintendents, principals, teachers, students and athletes. Communities have been blessed as his offspring built roads, constructed houses, grew food, operated gristmills, and worked in virtually every walk of life. His seed has defended freedom in the military, some giving their lives.
His vast posterity feels that he truly did find “the gold he was looking for.” San Juan County has been richly blessed by the life and the posterity of William Morley Black.