Nephi Bailey: Early Monticello stalwart
In May of 1880, Nephi Bailey, his young wife and three children arrived in Bluff just months after the Hole-in-the Rock pioneers had settled there. They had left a comfortable life in Cedar City and heeded the call to help settle the San Juan Mission.
It took the family a month to make the journey.
At Lee’s Ferry, they had to take their wagons apart and ferry them across the Colorado River to the San Juan side a few pieces at a time.
In Bluff, life was difficult. Annie was afraid of the Indians after one tried to buy her son Moroni. Their well water was bad and the river was especially unkind to their humble farming pursuits.
In l888, after eight years of subsistence living in Bluff, Nephi and his growing family of 11 children, moved to Monticello. The town was less than a year old, tiny, primitive and was battling the cowboys and large ranch owners for water and grazing rights.
It was a long trip from Monticello to any kind of civilization and supplies. The isolation was an ever-present challenge, especially for Annie.
The Bailey Family came to Monticello because the Stake President, Francis Hammond, called on several families from Moab, Bluff and Mancos, CO to move to Monticello and help stake out a town of sufficient size and strength to counter the pressures coming from the wild cowboys, the cattle barons, and the Indians.
The first home the Bailey’s had in Monticello was a one-room log cabin with a dirt floor and a roof that leaked.
Nephi was a shoemaker by trade and made shoes for people all over the area.
Nephi was born November 19, 1846 in New Mills, Derbyshire, England, to Henry and Amelia Read Bailey, both recent converts to the LDS Church.
They named their new son after one of the great patriarchs of the Book of Mormon. Nephi learned the art of making fine shoes and boots from his father Henry and his Grandfather William, as a boy in England.
On July 14, 1868, Nephi, as a 22-year old single man, left England and sailed for Zion on the ship Colorado. There were 600 other Mormon converts sailing on the ship. Their leader was William Preston. The crossing of the Atlantic took just two weeks, which was excellent time in those days. They arrived in New York Harbor on July 28.
He made the long trip to the Salt Lake Valley with a team and wagon, just one year before the trans-continental railroad was completed. In Utah, he found employment in the railroad construction camps organized by Brigham Young, who contracted with the Union Pacific Railroad to provide much of the manpower to build the railroad in the Great Basin. Nephi was present at Promontory Point on May 10, 1869 for the driving of the Golden Spike.
Nephi lived in the Ogden area for a short time and then moved to Cedar City. There he wooed and won Annie Eva Mackelprang, the daughter of Peter Mackelprang and Margaret Sorenson, both Danish converts to the church.
Annie and Nephi were married September 4, 1873. Three and a half years later, on March 16, 1877, the marriage was sealed in the St. George Temple.
For the first seven years of their marriage, Nephi and Annie lived in Cedar City in the winter and on Cedar Mountain in the summer, where they worked on a dairy farm, raised a garden and “enjoyed the clear spring water.”
In Cedar City, Nephi was active in music, acting as a choir leader and being a member of a well-known male quartet. Nephi also enjoyed dramatics and took part in a dramatic club that specialized in “plays of the better class.”
In 1880, the call came and the Bailey’s moved with their three oldest children, Nephi Peter, William Henry and Joseph Moroni, to Bluff. Julius Mackelprang, Angus Mackelprang (who drowned at age two) and Margaret Mackelprang were born into the family in Bluff.
In Monticello Margaret Sophia, Jesse M., Alvin M., Elmer and Victor M. (twins), and Ralph joined the family. Nephi and Annie adopted Thelma Pointer, a girl born in Colorado in l902, for a total of eleven children.
Life was a challenge on the frontier with so many mouths to feed. In l896, at the age of 49, Nephi was called to serve a mission for the LDS Church in Great Britain. It was the year that Utah received statehood. He left behind his wife and nine children.
In Salt Lake City, Nephi was set apart by President Seymour B. Young. Nephi was told that he had been called “under the inspiration of the Divine Spirit; was endowed with power from on high; told that he could go forth trusting in the Lord; was given power over the winds, the waves and wicked men; was admonished to be pure in mind and in person and was promised that every blessing that he desired before the Lord would be his.”
Nephi sailed back across the Atlantic Ocean and served for 20 months in the Lancaster District of the British Mission. A few excerpts from his missionary journal:
Trying to decide if he should go tracting again in the rain… “I feel I am not doing enough when I consider the sacrifices being made at home.”
“Today I baptized two women and a boy.”
Wrote that a “musical society sent him a ‘plump’ $10, making $25 he had received from the people of Monticello for Christmas. It shows people are thinking of me.”
“I gave out 112 tracts today; returned home tired.”
“In the evening we had a fine outdoor meeting on the Market Place at Wigan. There were five Elders. We had our silk hats and drew much attention. I was the first speaker. I preached to the people to hear us and believe that we were desirous of doing them good.”
“Today I spoke perhaps ½ hour to a very intelligent congregation that listened to me with rapt attention. There is something particularly fascinating in talking to an outdoor congregation. You seem to be put on your mettle. The Elders said I spoke well and straight from the shoulder.”
His reaction to going to a street fair. “There are many snares laid for the young in such a fair as this.”
Before he returned from England, Nephi received a letter from his father asking him to do genealogy work on the Bailey family before he came home. At the end of his missionary service, Nephi traveled to the Manchester District to discharge the duty.
His journal reports visiting many cousins, looking up sexton’s records and going to cemeteries. He comments on the beauty of England and wishes that his family could be there with him.
Annie struggled in his absence. By correspondence, mother and father shared the burdens and joys of rearing children.
Annie took in boarders to make ends meet in Nephi’s absence. She had some discouraging times with one of her teenage sons.
She wrote: “Our son is as unstable as water. It would be pleasanter around here if he were more thoughtful. He makes promises and breaks them at will. He likes to ride his horse and that is all. Poor boy, he doesn’t know how much trouble he is making for me.”
Upon receiving this missive, Nephi wrote in his journal, “My dear old partner is not well. She is tired of being alone with our large family. She has managed to keep the house together and has done fine in both management as well as teaching and giving council and advice to the boys. I appreciate her and I hope to be able to ease up her burdens before long. She has too much work and worry, poor old soul. I shall be glad when I can be back to lighten her load.”
Nephi returned from England on the ship Furnessia, sailing from Glasgow.
Within five months of returning from his mission in l898, Nephi was elected Justice of the Peace in Monticello. He held the office for ten years and had the honor of marrying his son Julius to Ruth Perkins.
Journal entries in l898 shortly after his mission give us a glimpse into the life of an early pioneer in San Juan at the turn of the century.
“I spent the day in the shoe shop mending and making.”
“The boys and I went down to the Vega today and brought back a load of hay.”
“Married a couple from Dolores, Colorado.”
“Choir practice tonight. I talked at some length at that assemblage. They seem to think I am the most suited to be their leader and so express themselves.”
“I finished a fine pair of boots today and sent them down to Bluff.”
“Spent the evening at home.”
“The entire day spent in fixing up the premises.”
“I and the family went to Sunday School and afternoon meeting. I was called upon to preach and I got warmed up a little.”
In l913, Nephi and his son Alvin decided to buy a small log general store from one Martinez Johnson. They moved it to a better location on Main Street next to where the Little Theatre later stood.
After a remodel, they named it the Bailey and Brooks Store after Nephi and his partner William Brooks. The Baileys later bought out Brooks and named the store the Bailey Mercantile Co.
They decided the store needed some sidewalks and, at their own expense, purchased lumber from Charles Burr’s saw mill, located near where the Blue Mountain Dude Ranch is today, and built the first boardwalks in Monticello.
The business went along very well until “credit overtook us,” Nephi wrote.
A couple of dry years, when crops failed and farmers were unable to pay their bills, spelled the end of the Bailey’s Mercantile operation. When the end came, Nephi reported they have more charge accounts on the books than their entire capital investment.
Nephi was an industrious, hard working man who worked 8-10 hours a day right up until the day before he died in 1925. He was described as small in stature, always neat, well dressed and very English.
He built his wife and family one of the largest and most beautiful homes in Monticello, which still stands across the road north of the Community Church in Monticello.
Although the original Bailey home has gone through several makovers and today does not look much like it was when the Bailey’s built it, it was a mansion in its time.
His home, along with those of F. I. Jones and George A. Adams on the same street (Second South) are the only three remaining pioneer homes in Monticello built before the turn of 20th century which still stand.
Nephi and Annie had the first piano in Monticello and the first gaslights installed in their home in l909.
Nephi was elected Mayor of Monticello and served two terms.
He was always active in the LDS Church and held many offices, including 25 years as Superintendent of the Sunday School.
The day before he died, he put in ten long hours of hard labor. He awoke about midnight complaining of pain in his chest which grew steadily worse.
Annie called the doctor but they could not save him. He passed away July 2, 1925 at the age of 78. He was chairman of the Pioneer Association at the time of his death. His contribution to the building up of San Juan County, with his devotion to family, God and community would be difficult to measure. Today his posterity numbers close to a thousand. He is buried with his beloved Annie in the Monticello Cemetery.