On July 24th, both the state of Utah and members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints worldwide celebrate Pioneer Day, a commemoration of the arrival of Latter-day Saint pioneers into the Salt Lake Valley in 1847.

Theodore Turley’s wagon train entered the Salt Lake Valley two years later, in 1849. He lived in Salt Lake less than 18 months, but his time there was significant. Information about this period of Theodore’s life is sparse, but with some recent discoveries we can glean a bit more of his early story in Utah.

Many family members are familiar with what Ella Mae Judd wrote in her biography of Theodore Turley in the mid-20th century:

It is supposed that Theodore crossed the plains in 1849 in Silas Richards’ Company. At that time he possessed 3 wagons, 12 oxen, 1 cow, 4 loose cattle, 1 dog, and 3 guns. Also listed are 7 members of his family. [We do not have conclusive proof that he came in this company. It still has to be verified.]

Sometime during the year 1850 Theodore and his family were in Utah County, for their names appear on the Census record. It is believed that Brother Turley later went to Salt Lake City and started a grist mill. On August 8 we have Samuel Richards paying Theodore $1.00 for cleaning his gun. Samuel Richards lived in Salt Lake City at that time…

Sometime between August, 1850 and the Spring of 1851, Theodore Turley and part of his family, along with about 500 other Saints, went to settle the San Bernardino, California area.

In the decades since Ella Mae wrote this biography, we’ve been able to verify and correct aspects of her account. First, we can confirm that Theodore Turley and his immediate family members traveled in the Silas Richards Company with a letter by Silas himself.1 (We can even back up all the possessions Ella Mae listed!2) Second, we can adjust some of her dates. She suggests that Theodore must’ve lived in Utah County before moving to Salt Lake City because he appears in the 1850 census there. Turns out, that 1850 census in Utah was actually based on an 1851 territorial census.3 Due to delays surrounding the recognition of Utah as a territory of the United States, census takers didn’t get to begin their count until a year later. By that point, Theodore and his family members were already getting ready to move to San Bernardino, and Utah County was the gathering place for all those heading to the new California colony.4

A couple months ago, a Turley family researcher made an exciting discovery, the location of Theodore’s property in Salt Lake City! We now have a good idea of where Theodore would’ve been hanging out, whether at home or in his blacksmith shop. He was assigned land in Plat B Block 62 Lot 6 (the SW corner of South Temple and 500 East)5.

The land was later sold to a man named Lyman Homiston, but Homiston didn’t arrive in the valley until October 18506, so Theodore was likely living on that corner of South Temple and 5th East for most of 1850.

So what kind of picture do we now have of Theodore’s life in Salt Lake City? Here’s what we know:

  • Late October 1849 – Theodore (age 48) and his family enter the Salt Lake Valley with the Silas Richards Company.7) Accompanying Theodore was his only remaining wife8, Mary Clift Turley (age 34), and five children: Mary Ann Turley9 (age 22), Frederick Turley (age 17), Sarah Elizabeth Turley (age 13), Isaac Turley (age 1110), Charlotte Turley (age 9), and a step-son, George Augustus Clift Selwyn11 (age 8). Mary Clift Turley would’ve been about 4 months pregnant at the time they entered the valley.
  • November-December 1849 – Theodore likely purchases the lot at South Temple and 500 East and starts getting his family settled during the weeks and months after his arrival.
  • March 1850 – At 9am on March 22nd, Theodore and Mary welcome a baby girl to their household. They name her Frances Kimberley Turley, after Theodore’s first wife who had passed away several years earlier. Unfortunately, Mary dies just over a week later, on March 30th, due to complications from childbirth. Theodore buries her the next day in the Salt Lake City Cemetery, only a mile away from his property.

  • May 1850 – Samuel W. Richards pays Theodore $1.00 on May 3rd for cleaning his gun (Ella Mae wrote August 8th, but it was a misreading of the journal transcript.12)
  • June 1850 – Theodore marries Ruth Jane Giles on June 18th in Salt Lake City. Theodore was 49 years old, and Ruth was a couple weeks shy of turning 38. Ruth has a son at the time, Joseph Orson, likely from a plural marriage in Nauvoo13, but we do not know his father. Theodore adopts Joseph, who is almost five years old at the time of the marriage.
  • August 1850 – On August 13th, Theodore registers his cattle brand, a simple cross on the animal’s left hip.14

  • September 1850 – The territory of Utah is officially organized on September 9th by an act of the United States Congress.
  • December 1850 – Theodore places an notice in the Deseret News advertising a lost heifer.15 The ad appears in December, January, and February issues of the newspaper.

  •  January 1851 – Theodore’s daughter, Mary Ann Turley, obtains a divorce from Brigham Young on January 15th.16 (Mary Ann marries John James Cook later that year, one of the first marriages to occur in the new San Bernardino colony.)
  • February 1851 – Brigham Young is inaugurated on February 3rd as the first territorial governor of Utah.
  • Late March 1851 – By the end of March, Theodore’s family and all other Latter-day Saints planning to settle the new southern California colony have gathered to the embarkation point in Utah County (the Turley family is living there when the territorial census is taken). There are about 437 men, women, and children in total.17 On March 23rd, the large group is addressed by three church leaders (Charles C. Rich, Heber C. Kimball, and Amasa M. Lyman) and organized into traveling parties. The next day, Theodore and his family begin their journey to California. Accompanying Theodore was his new wife, Ruth Jane Giles; five children from Theodore’s first wife, Frances (Mary Ann, Frederick, Sarah Elizabeth, Isaac, and Charlotte); one stepson from Theodore’s plural wife, Sarah Ellen Clift (George August Clift Selwyn); one adopted son from Ruth’s previous relationship (Joseph Orson Turley); and a baby daughter from Theodore’s recently deceased plural wife, Mary Clift (Frances Kimberley Turley).


But wait, what’s up with the grist mill that Ella Mae mentioned? 

As cited above, Ella Mae wrote, “It is believed that Brother Turley later went to Salt Lake City and started a grist mill.” There’s no evidence that Theodore operated a grist mill in Salt Lake City, so where did this idea come from? Well, turns out Theodore did own and operate a grist mill years later in southern Utah.

In October 1857, Brigham Young called the California Saints back to Utah. Tensions had escalated with the impending arrival of Johnston’s army and the horrific massacre at Mountain Meadows. By February 1858, Theodore was back in Utah, attending a meeting for those living in Cedar City and its surrounding communities.18

Theodore initially settled in Washington, near modern-day St. George, Utah. It was in that town that Theodore owned and operated a grist mill. There were a number of mills around his, enough that the original name of Machine Creek was replaced by Millcreek. Theodore agreed to sell his mill to John D. Lee in January of 186019, a month before moving his family north to the new settlement of Minersville, Utah. (Several years later, he relocated to nearby Beaver, Utah).

So why did family members later believe Theodore operated a grist mill in Salt Lake City? We can’t be sure, but it’s entirely possible that someone confused Millcreek in Washington (where Theodore’s mill was located) with the more well-known Millcreek in the Salt Lake Valley. 

By the way, if you’re ever in the St. George area, head over to the Willard O. Nisson Park in Washington city. You can spot Theodore Turley’s name on a plaque honoring the historic “Millcreek Mills.”

“In the Valley of the Great Salt Lake”
  1. Brigham Young office files, 1832-1878 (bulk 1844-1877); General Correspondence, Incoming, 1840-1877; General Letters, 1840- 1877; Mi-W, 1849; Silas Richards letter; Church History Library, https://catalog.lds.org/assets?id=a09bf12b-f5d4-4089-90d5-924045235066&crate=0&index=0 (accessed: May 10, 2019)
  2. Camp of Israel schedules and reports, 1845-1849; Silas Richards company, 1849 September; Church History Library, https://catalog.lds.org/assets?id=0cb1643e-a096-4f99-ab02-a39eb733285b&crate=0&index=4 (accessed: May 10, 2019) The seven members of his family accompanying him are listed as “Mary Turley” (Mary Clift Turley), “Mariann Turley” (Mary Ann Turley), “Frederick Turley,” “Sarah Turley” (Sarah Elizabeth Turley), “Isaac Turley,” “Charlotte Turley,” and “George Turley” (George Augustus Clift Selwyn – a stepson).
  3. See “The Seventh Census of the United States: Utah and Slavery” at https://history.utah.gov/repository-item/the-seventh-census-of-the-united-states-utah-and-slavery-spring-2017/ (accessed: May 10, 2019)
  4. “In March, 437 volunteers, among whom were natives of every state but two and natives of eight foreign countries, met with their 150 wagons at Peteetneet (present-day Payson, Utah, sixty miles south of Salt Lake City), anxious to go even though a sale of the Rancho had not been completed.” Cowan, Richard O., and William E. Homer, California Saints: A 150-Year Legacy in the Golden State (Provo, UT: Religious Studies Center, Brigham Young University, 1996), 167–84. View chapter online here: https://rsc.byu.edu/archived/california-saints-150-year-legacy-golden-state/chapter-10-san-bernardino-colony (accessed: May 10, 2019). Updated link: https://rsc.byu.edu/california-saints/san-bernardino-colony-1851-57 (accessed: April 9, 2020).
  5. Salt Lake (Utah : County); Recorder’s Office. Land records, circa 1847-1860 , https://catalog.lds.org/record?id=a405d340-e541-4fb8-aeac-44b16ece337d&view=summary&subView=arrangement (accessed: May 10, 2019) This microfilm of early land records (circa 1847-1860) is only available to view on-site at the Church History Library. Images 140 and 159 both confirm Theodore Turley was assigned to Plat B Block 62 Lot 6. Images 60-61 and 70-71 are maps of Plat B.
  6. Lyman Homiston (1778-1859) was in the Edward Hunter Company, which arrived in the valley on 13 October 1850. See the Pioneer Overland Travel Website for more information on Lyman Homiston or the Edward Hunter Company: https://history.lds.org/overlandtravel/pioneers/5572/lyman-homiston.
  7. According to the Pioneer Overland Travel Website, the Silas Richards Company departed Council Bluffs, Iowa, on 10 July 1849 and arrived in the Salt Lake Valley 25-29 October 1849. See https://history.lds.org/overlandtravel/companies/5/silas-richards-company-1849
  8. Theodore’s first wife, Frances Kimberley Turley died 30 August 1847 in Winter Quarters. Theodore had taken on three sisters as plural wives while living in Nauvoo: Mary Clift, Eliza Clift, and Sarah Ellen Clift Selwyn. Sarah Ellen died a few months before Frances, on 4 May 1847 in Winter Quarters. Eliza separated from Theodore and remained in the Midwest with their only surviving child together, Emma Georgianna Turley. She eventually moved to Davenport, Iowa, with her father, Robert Clift.
  9. Although Mary Ann was sealed as a plural wife to Brigham Young on 3 Feb 1846 in Nauvoo, there is no evidence she ever lived in his household. A divorce was granted 15 January 1851, prior to the Turley family’s move to San Bernardino. (Jeffrey Ogden Johnson, “Determining and Defining ‘Wife’: The Brigham Young Households.” Dialogue: A Journal of Mormon Thought 20, no. 3 (Fall 1987): p. 63 and p. 68 Footnote 38) A story related years later by Mary Ann’s sister, Sarah, to Joseph Soll Turley suggests Mary Ann was not happy in the relationship (4 August 1971 letter from Joseph Soll Turley). In contrast, Mary Ann’s younger sister, Priscilla, who also became a plural wife in Nauvoo, eventually moved into her husband Amasa Mason Lyman’s household and migrated west in 1848 with his family rather than Theodore’s.
  10. Isaac turned 12 a month after they entered the valley, on November 22.
  11. George Augustus Clift Selwyn was a son of Sarah Ellen Clift Selwyn from a previous relationship.
  12. Although I couldn’t find a digitized version of Samuel Richard’s 1850 journal (1851? Yes. 1850? No.), there is a digitized version of the transcript Ella Mae would’ve used when she was writing her biography of Theodore at BYU in 1951. On the page in question, the lines above Theodore’s name definitely refer to transactions on August 8th. Ella Mae failed to notice, however, that the transcribers indicated a page break just before Theodore’s name. He was at the top of a different list, all individuals to whom Richards owed money. The note for Theodore’s amount says the payment was made May 3rd. Samuel W. Richards, Diary of Samuel Whitney Richards, (Provo, UT: Brigham Young University Library, 1946), 100. Digitized at the Internet Archive: https://archive.org/details/diaries1839190901rich/page/n247 (accessed: May 11, 2019).
  13. Benjamin Ashby noted that in early 1846, Ruth Jane Giles was living in his Nauvoo home with several other women who were plural wives. “The river was soon frozen over and they crossed on the ice. At this time we had living with us some of the wives of Joseph Smith, Brigham Young, and Bishop Hunter, viz. Mrs. Powers, Harriett Cook, Susanna Wasm, Ruth Jane Giles.” Robert L. Ashby, Ashby ancestry; something of the origin of the name and family; family pedigree; story of Nathaniel and Susan Hammond Ashby; autobiography of Benjamin Ashby. (Salt Lake City, UT: Stringam Ashby Stevens, 1941) 14. Digitized at the Internet Archive: https://archive.org/details/ashbyancestrysom00ashb/page/14 (accessed May 11, 2019). It does not appear that Ruth was a plural wife of Joseph Smith, Brigham Young, or Edward Hunter, though.
  14. “Utah State Archives Indexes,” database and images, Utah State Archives (https://archives.utah.gov/research/indexes: accessed July 4, 2019), Department of Agriculture and Food. Division of Animal Industry Brand books, Series 540.
  15. Deseret News [Salt Lake City, UT], 28 Dec. 1850, 6. Digitized by J. Willard Marriott Library, University of Utah: https://newspapers.lib.utah.edu/ark:/87278/s69g6g6w/2569129 (accessed July 5, 2019).
  16. Jeffrey Ogden Johnson, “Determining and Defining ‘Wife’: The Brigham Young Households.” Dialogue: A Journal of Mormon Thought 20, no. 3 (Fall 1987): p. 68 Footnote 38.
  17. Edward Leo Lyman, Amasa Mason Lyman, Mormon Apostle and Apostate: A Study in Dedication. (Salt Lake City, UT: University of Utah Press, 2009) 190-191.
  18. Deseret News [Salt Lake City, UT], 10 Mar. 1858, 6. Digitized by J. Willard Marriott Library, University of Utah: https://newspapers.lib.utah.edu/ark:/87278/s65726fj/2582711 (accessed July 5, 2019).
  19. John Doyle Lee (edited by Robert Glass Cleland and Juanita Brooks), A Mormon Chronicle: The Diaries of John D. Lee, 1848-1876. (San Marino, CA: Huntington Library, 1955) 231-232. Digitized at the Hathi Trust Digital Library: https://babel.hathitrust.org/cgi/pt?id=mdp.39015002623836&view=1up&seq=267 (accessed July 5, 2019).

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