Francis Asbury Hammond: Ecclesiastical, business and family leader in early San Juan
GIANTS OF SAN JUAN
Born November 1, 1822 in Long Island, NY, Francis Hammond grew to manhood, and lived most of his life before ever knowing that the San Juan Mission existed.
In 1846, while knowing little about Mormons, Francis sailed from New York to California. The same day he sailed from New York on February 4, l846, the Exodus from Nauvoo commenced. Aboard the ship were 238 Mormon immigrants headed for Zion in the Great Basin via California. These Saints were led by Samuel Brannon. Francis and Brannon became friends and it was probably Brannon’s influence that led Francis to the waters of baptism. On December 31, l847, Francis Hammond was baptized. His life changed forever with that decision.
He was a successful businessman in California before and after the Gold Rush of 1849. He desired to go to Zion and left the gold fields to go to Salt Lake City, where he was recognized as a man of great integrity and talent. He succeeded in many business ventures and participated in plural marriage, marrying Mary Jane Dilworth and later, Alice Howard.
He served two missions to Hawaii and on his second mission he was Brigham Young’s personal representative in the purchase of 6,000 acres for the Church on the west side of Oahu.
Today that land is the site of BYU-Hawaii, the Hawaiian Temple, and the Polynesion Cultural Center, (today, the largest tourist attraction in the Hawaiian Islands) and the community of Laie.
Francis Hammond returned to Utah after his second mission and built a considerable estate in Huntsville, UT. In l884 he was called by the First Presidency of the LDS Church to go to the San Juan Mission in southeastern Utah and assist the struggling little band of pioneers.
At that time, the Bluff community had fallen on hard times. The San Juan River kept flooding out of irrigation canals, the troubles with the native population and the large cattle operations were ongoing. Total isolation and other factors had discouraged many of the original Hole-in-the-Rock Pioneers. Whereas there had been over 60 families in Bluff in l880 there were less than half that number in l884. Church leaders were fearful that their toe-hold in the area would be abandoned unless help was summoned.
After his call, Francis and his son Samuel took the train to Durango and visited the area before attempting the long journey to Bluff by wagon. On that initial visit he met Mr. Carlisle, an Englishman, who grazed about 20,000 head of cattle in what is now San Juan County. They liked each other and this proved to be a pivotal relationship in what lay ahead for the Mormons.
Francis and Samuel went back to Huntsville to prepare for the enormous task of transferring their large family, livestock, machinery and furniture to Bluff. His sons and a son-in-law decided to go with the family to San Juan.
On March 24, Francis was set apart for his mission by President John Taylor, George Q. Cannon and Franklin D. Richards. He was also set apart as the Stake President of the San Juan Stake.
Members of the Huntsville Ward organized a big farewell party for the Hammond family and some of the others in the area that had also been called to go to the San Juan Mission.
They ended up making the move from Huntsville in two convoys. The Advance Party, as they called the first group to go, consisted of seven wagons and many horses, cows, mules, chickens and children.
They went by way of Provo, Nephi, Gunnison and Salina. From there they went through Salina Canyon and dropped into the desert. They crossed the Dirty Devil River nine times and had a terrible time because of the abundance of quick sand. Help came to meet them from Bluff in the persons of C. B. Walton, Jens Nielson, and Robert Allen.
They were invited to stay in the homes of the Bluff people while they recuperated from their long journey. Francis bought a log house from Amasa Barton and was very impressed by the fact that the roof did not leak.
Shortly after arriving, President Hammond called a ward conference. He was sustained as president of the stake and called William Halls and William Adams as counselors, with Charles E. Walton as Clerk. He then embarked on a tour of the entire stake, which covered parts of three states. It took four weeks. He visited wards in Fruitland, NM, Mancos, CO, Moab, the Bueno Ward six miles south of Moab and the ward in Bluff. He organized the Monticello ward a few years later. Fruitland and Mancos wards were 100 and 90 miles, respectively, from Bluff.
President Hammond encouraged the members of the Church to be self supporting and to plant fruit trees. Upon counsel given him by the First Presidency, he encouraged members in the various wards to form co-op stores, a dairy and a tannery.
On May 25, 1884, Francis, along with Peter Allen, Lemual Redd, Alvin Decker, William Halls, Joseph Johnson, and Thayles Haskell explored the Elk and Blue mountains. They were mainly interested in the area’s suitability for grazing livestock, but they also examined timber stands for lumber and water sources for irrigation.
President Hammond and his companions held a meeting on the highest mountain in the area. He dedicated the land. Each member bore his testimony. They sang hymns and prayed. It was determined that the area is well suited for timber and livestock.
Shortly thereafter they made a second trip. This time they met Mr. Carlisle of the large Carlisle Ranch located six miles north of where Monticello is today. Carlisle remembered Hammond from their previous meeting and expressed that he wanted to cooperate with the Mormons. They found more and better water on this trip. Francis was elated about the prospects.
On June 20, 1884, Francis called a conference and invited all the Indians in the area to attend. The Indians were told the Mormons wanted peace. At the end of the conference, there was a feast put on for everyone in attendance. It was agreed with the Indians that the Mormons would use the Elk Mountain range for their cattle, and in return the Indians received supplies of beef, bread, molasses, coffee and other foodstuffs.
July 12, 1885, President Hammond left Bluff and returned to Huntsville to bring the rest of his family and belongings to their new home. He shipped a steam generator, three harrows, two wagons, two mowers and a cream separator by train to Durango. It cost $85, a small fortune in those days. Remember, he had just sold his large fine home in Huntsville for $600. He returned to Bluff with eight wagons, 500 head of livestock and another dozen of his family members.
They came back by way of Green River and Moab and were able to buy passage on ferrys across the rivers, which greatly mitigated the hardships of the previous trip. But the trip still required 49 days.
President Hammond began implementing Church leaders’ suggestions almost as soon as he got his family settled in Bluff. A Co-op Store was organized. There was capital stock in the amount of $100,000 incorporated for 20 years. Officers in the company were Jens Nielson, president; William Adams, vice-president; Joseph B. Decker, treasurer. F. I. Jones and Hansen Bayles were directors. Almost everyone in Bluff owned stock in the endeavor.
The pioneers purchased the Webber Ranch in Mancos from Somsonbert and Honaker. They herded the cattle to Elk Mountain. In 1891 they purchased the Elk Mountain Brand Cattle Company. Francis, L. H. Redd and Kuman Jones were appointed managers.
The Bluff Co-op Cattle Company now had 2,000 head of cattle and 6,000 head of sheep. Men hired to manage the cattle were paid $2 per day. They would stay on the mountain for one or two weeks at a time and then be relieved by others so they could take care of personal matters in Bluff.
The hardships of life in Bluff started to dissipate as the pioneers prospered. They raised surplus corn, which they sold to the cowboys, and sorghum, which they traded in Mancos for flour. They built a grist mill and a saw mill.
President Hammond had his thresher shipped by rail from Huntsville to Mancos. He tanned his own hides by soaking them in Brigham Tea, then soap suds and ashes. Hammond was an excellent leather smith and made shoes for members of his family and many in the Bluff community. A creamery was built. Excess butter and cheese were sold in Mancos and Durango. Much fruit was raised and dried, but the pioneers still struggled to get large amounts of water from the San Juan River up on the bench to water their thirsty orchards.
In l889, President Hammond received the devastating news that Congress was considering a bill which would give the Bluff area to the Navajo’s as part of their reservation. George Q. Cannon, and L. J. Nuttal, from Church Headquarters, were assigned to assist in trying to get Congress to kill the Utah Removal Bill.
President Hammond left Salt Lake on December 12, l889. Traveling in comfort by train, Francis marveled at the ease of travel. He went to sleep the first night and was 500 miles closer to Washington when he arose the next morning!
When they arrived in Washington, he met with congressmen and senators, particularly those who had power on committees governing Indian Affairs. George Q. Cannon arrived January 19. George was an old hand in Washington, having been Utah’s Congressional delegate. He still had many powerful friends and contacts in Washington. Thankfully, the bill failed to make its way through Congress and the San Juan Pioneers breathed a sigh of relief.
Perhaps the highlight in President Hammond’s ecclesiastical life was the dedication of the Salt Lake Temple. Forty years of constant effort had created a monument in the desert which even today amazes architects and builders from around the world.
President Hammond returned to San Juan reinvigorated and renewed. He only missed General Conference in Salt Lake three times in 15 years, but never had he experienced a spiritual renewal quite like the Temple Dedication trip.
President Hammond loved to teach the theology class in Sunday School. He held the position for over 40 years. Being the Bishop or the Stake President for most of that time he had the luxury of appointing himself to the position and then forgetting to give himself a release.
On his long stake visits he enjoyed his fine buggy and usually a son or grand-son went along as driver. The horses that pulled the buggy were some of the most beautiful in the land. President Hammond groomed them himself and attended meticulously to their appearance and well being.
Francis took an interest in politics. He was a probate judge in Bluff and had been a justice of the peace when he lived in Ogden and Huntsville.
One of his principal focuses was the building of fine Church buildings for the Saints in the various wards throughout the stake. A highlight was in l895 when Apostle Brigham Young Jr. visited Bluff and dedicated their new Chapel. Two years to build, it cost the unimaginable sum of $3,900.
On his 73rd birthday, he was given a surprise party. Wayne Redd picked him up, ostensibly to have dinner at Mary Jones’ home. However, he drove to the Church where everyone waited to sing Happy Birthday. He was touched by the effort that had gone into the event.
Statehood was a huge event for Utah. From his journal of January 6, l896 we get a glimpse of the memorable occasion in Bluff.
“Sunrise flag hoisted, guns fired and general bells ringing and all the noise possible was made. Honor of the day as Inaugural Day for the officers of the New State to be sworn in and enter upon their official duties. At noon all the noisy demonstration repeated and people assembled in the new meeting house, where a nice program was carried out consisting of speeches by F. A. Hammond, P. D. Lyman, L. H. Redd Jr. L. H. Redd Sr, a reading on Liberty by Miss Elliott, songs by the children led by Bro Decker. Recitation by Lillian Decker. Bp. Jens Nielson Chaplain, Jos. Barton was Marshall of the day. Evening a grand ball and elegant supper enjoyed by all. Thanks to our Heavenly Father, Grover Cleveland and the great Democratic party for Statehood for Utah.”
In 1899 at the age of 77, Francis and his wife moved to Moab. They received a huge farewell party in Bluff. The entire town attended. He was given $21 to buy a fine rocking chair for his old age.
President Hammond continued to be the Shepard of his flock until the day he died. He was killed when thrown from a buggy while organizing a new ward in Bloomfield, NM.
His life is partially summed up in one of his final journal entries made September 6, 1899.
“51 years ago today I arrived in Great Salt City as it was called then. Consisting of three sun dried adobe forts, each 40 rods square, containing about 1,500 inhabitants, desolate indeed was the whole country, dry and parched was the soil. Oh! What changes have I lived to see, towns and cities are seen filled with happy people for 1,800 miles, from Canada to Mexico and east to west for some 500 miles. All built up by the, or nearly so by the Latter Day Saints.”
President Francis Hammond was a dedicated, loyal warrior for righteousness and the building up of Zion in this part of the Lord’s Vineyard.. His legacy continues in the 21st Century through the greatness and goodness of his posterity. His influence will only increase with each succeeding generation.