HISTORY OF PHILANDER AND POLLY MATILDA MERRILL COLTON (Compiled by a grand son, Charles Henry Colton and read at a Philander Colton reunion about 1953-1955)
Colaborador: creed4679 Created: 1 year ago Updated: 1 year ago
Grateful acknowledgement is given to the following for the material in this short history. My sister, Flora Colton Collett, cousin Rose Moore Searle, both granddaughters of Philander and Polly Merrill Colton. Also the book "Quartermaster George Colton and His Descendants." Last but not least to my dear wife, Nellie, who has done much research work and has carefully preserved valuable bits of history gathered here and there.
Philander Colton was born in Clarence Hollow, Erie County, New York, 19 Oct. 1811. He was a son of Charles and Polly James Colton. Charles was a son of Isaac, who was a son of Quartermaster George Colton who came from England. The date of George's emigration is not known, but we first learn of his marrying Deborah Gardner (Goodner) in 1644 in Hartford, Connecticut. It is assumed, therefore, that he was born about 1620. This is the man from whom we all descended.
The Coltons settled in various places in the New England States, and it appears that Philader's father Charles and mother Polly James moved to central New York where grandfather was born. He it evidentally grew up in a rural area where he learned how to farm, make adobe brick and other work incident to rural life.
His wife Polly Matilda Merrill stated herself that she was born 15 October 1816 in Smithfield, New York. (Ref. Nauvoo Endowments in Nauvoo Temple). The Salt Lake seal record gives her birthplace as Byron, Genessee County, New York - several counties away. This is possible, however, since other members of her family were born there. She was a daughter of Samuel and Phoebe Odle (Odell) Merrill.
Whether or not the Coltons and Merrills were acquainted in New York is not known at this time, but it so happened that the two families moved from New York to a small settlement near Utica, Macomb County, Michigan by the name of Shelby.
It appears that Polly Matilda Merrill, as a young lady, was the center of attraction among the young men of this rural section. She was a beautiful brunette with brown snapping eyes and black hair. In stature she was rather small.
Sister Flora tells of the chuckle grandfather Philander got in telling about this incident: It was the common talk among the boys of this village near Utica that no boy could kiss Polly Merrill. Our gallant knight, Philander, accepted the challenge and immediately sought the opportunity to accomplish the coveted feat. One day at a country party a covey of girls were seated on some benches under some shade trees. At once handsome Philander recognized his opportunity and slipping up from the back he grabbed shy Polly by the shoulders and planted a fervent kiss on her plump cheek. Fairly boiling with indignation, the ruffled Polly was on her feet in a jiffy and with all her strength slapped our young debonaire squarely on the face. Undaunted, Philander managed to say, "I told the fellows I would, and I shall do it many other times in the future."
Thus their courtship began which resulted in their marriage at Shelby, 3 July 1833. They resided there for a few years and their first two children of a family of eleven were born in that settlement -- Charles Edwin, commonly known as Uncle Ed, born 26 October 1834 and Harriet Emily, born 24 July 1836.
About this time there came into their Lives an event which changed the whole course of their subsequent career. Parley P. Pratt, a very dynamic convert to the Restored Gospel through Joseph Smith, came as a missionary to Michigan. At first Philander was skeptical of Joseph Smith's story, but he finally yielded to the persuasiveness of this early Mormon missionary and he was baptized in March, 1838, and Polly was baptized a little later. As was common with other converts, a desire to Join the body of Saints now in Nauvoo, Illinois took possession of them and accordingly they moved to that state and suffered all the persecutions incident to the martyrdom of Joseph Smith, and the expulsion of the Latter-day Saints from Illinois.
In Carthage, Illinois, the place of the martyrdom of Joseph Smith, Eleanor
Roseltha was born 26 August 1838. The next child, Lamoni Andrew, was born in Nauvoo, Illinois 18 April 1842. This handsome son was killed in Arizona by the Indians when he was 23 years old.
George Philander was born in Nauvoo 24 January 1844, and died 11 April the same year.
Sanford Lorenzo was born 26 June 1845 in Nauvoo, Ill.
It is obvious that these last five children of this couple were born under very trying circumstances incident to the persecutions of the Latter day Saints, and the killing of the Prophet Joseph Smith.
Now, we come to the most momentous and eventful period of their lives - he went to enlist in the military service of his country; she and the children to stay with her family in Iowa.
In 1845 war was declared by the United States against Mexico. At this time
the Latter-day Saints were preparing to leave Illinois and Iowa and emigrate from that area to the Great Basin beyond the Rocky Mountains. They saw in this war with Mexico not only an opportunity to show their Loyalty to their country, But to provide some sustenance at the same time for their families in their move to the West. Accordingly, about forty-five men under forty-five years of age were mustered into what is now the famous "Mormon Battalion". Philander enlisted in Company "B" for a period of twelve months and the march began 20 July, 1846. They were to receive seven dollars a month and their rations of food and clothing, also their guns at the expiration of their enlistment. Seven dollars meant more then than it does nowadays.
They were to unite with the army of the West at Santa Fe, New Mexico and
then to march on to California. The Battalion arrived at Santa Fe 12 October,
1846 worn and weary. With eleven hundred miles through deserts and mountains before them, their commander Col. P. St. George Cooke is quoted in history as saying: "Everything conspires to discourage this extraordinary undertaking in completing the march to California. We shall be forced to travel an unknown wilderness without road or trail........ The clothing is very scant; there is no money to pay the soldiers, their miles are utterly broken down, scare and deteriorating every hour for want of forage and grazing. The roads are extremely sandy and the men while carryng blankets, knapsacks, cartridge boxes and muskets on their backs, and living on short rations had to pull on Long ropes to aid the teams".
One of the most vital problems of the march was the food supply as evidenced
by the diary of Henry Bigler who was in Company "B" with Philander. Said he: "The sheep and cattle that had been driven along as beef and mutton for the army had become so poor that when eight ounces was dealt out to the soldiers it was not half as nutritious as four ounces would be of good meat, and this, too without salt to season it. It had become a common thing to eat heads, heals, hide and tripe, and even the wool was pulled off from the sheep skins that had been used under the pack saddles and the thin hide roasted and eaten."
The five day march across the Colorado Desert of Southern Colorado was the most trying of the entire trip. Water could be obtained only by digging deep
wells. Says Tyler: "We here found the heaviest sand, hottest days, coldest nights with no water and but little food. At this time the men nearly barefooted used instead of shoes rawhide wrapped around their feet. The working animals went three days without water and the men camped two nights in succession without a drink.
Finally ascending a bluff, the Battalion got their first view of the long
looked-for Pacific Ocean about three miles distant. The joy, the cheer that filled our souls, none but worn out pilgrims nearing a haven of rest can imagine,"
From here the Battalion continued the march down the coast to San Diego which was reached 29 January, 1847.
The Mormon Battalion thus completed what has been acknowledge to have been the longest march of infantry in the history of the world. It is interesting to note that the members of Company "B" which which Philander was connected, were very friendly to the Spanish settlers in San Diego. When this period of enlistment, came to an end every man in the little town of San Diego wanted to have them or other Mormon soldiers assigned for another year at the post. Sargent Tyler writes: "Here they dug wells, laid sidewalks, burned brick and other things." It was here that Philander Colton with a few helpers laid up and burned the first kiln of brick made in California.
On the cultural side, continues Tyler, "religious services were held by
Company "B" every Sunday, which were well attended by members and also stranger." Also, a young men's club comparable to our M.I.A. was organized which was without doubt the very first of the cultural groups established in San Diego County. In all of this Grandfather was an enthusiastic supporter.
Eighty-one officers and men re-enlisted to perform garrison service at San Diego, but Philander with two hundred forty other men on being mustered out of service 12 July 1847, began their march for the Great Basin in Utah by way of Sutter's Fort near Sacramento.
Purchasing pack animals, Philander with others crossed the Sierras and headed for the Great Basin. On the way they viewed the bones of the famous Donner Party which perished from starvation and cold on their way to California.
Arriving in the Salt Lake Valley, where the Pioneers were settling in the late Summer of 1847, Phtiander and other Battalion men rested their horses for a few days. Then they proceeded East to Iowa to prepare to move their families to the Great Basin.
Edwin, his eldest son, a lad of twelve years, had run away from his mother in Iowan and joined his father's Battalion. When Philander went East to get the rest of the family, he left Edwin with the latter's maternal grandfather, Samuel Merrill.
Philander joined his wife Polly and family in Iowa late in the year 1847. The children then with their mother then were Emily, Eleanor, Lamoni, and Sanford. Philander commenced at once by hiring out and otherwise to make preparations to move his family to the Valleys of the Mountains of the West.
Uncle Byron Oliver Colton was born at Keg Creek, Iowa 29 November 1848. As nearly as can be ascertained, the family crossed the plains in 1849 or 1850. At any rate my sister Flora says that she heard Grandmother Polly say many times that she walked and led the year-old Byron a good share of the way. They made this long perilous and tedious trip with ox team. The oxen became tenderfooted and one died. A cow had to be taught to pull with the other oxen. Emily and her sister, Eleanor, wore little calico sunbonnets to keep their tender skin from burning. They enjoyed caring for the little two-year old Byron.
It took them three long months to trudge through rain and dust over plains and mountains between Iowa and the settlement near Salt Lake City. The parents were so grateful for a man named Driggs for the help he gave them in moving their five children over the plains that they gave their first baby born in Utah the name of Sterling Driggs Colton.
At Fort Bridger, Wyoming the Coltons were met by 13 or 14 year old Edwin and his cousin. Edwin had become very homesick to see his mother and had persuaded the other boy to take two oxen and accompany him on this hazardous trip through the mountains filled with Indians and wild animals. We can imagine the joy of the reunion.
Upon arrival in Salt Lake the family built a home on Cottonwood Creek where they took up some land. They had no near neighbors, but the Indians were frequent callers.
When Johnson's army was sent to Utah by the United States, many of the pioneers were sent to Provo by Brigham Young. The Coltons were among the group. Philander opened a brick yard there and built his own house - a five-room adobe structure. It contained a large porch but it had few windows and doors. It had a cupboard, but no floor at first, except soil hard packed by many feet. It was built on a city plot on the site where Sowiette Park was later built.
Unlike Provo today, there were no trees in those days. Sagebrush was found everywhere, but the roots loosened readily to pick and harrow. Plant cuttings and seeds brought across the plains by the family planted at first in the Cottonwood home were transplanted in Provo. Among other plantings were fruit trees - apples, pears, peaches, and the little red plums, oh! so good. English walnuts were placed on the outer edge of the sidewalk in front of the gate. How the children enjoyed the nuts! In fact as the years passed and the fruit developed, it was all enjoyed by everyone.
The children were taught to be industrious and to do the many things required of pioneers. The girls spun wool into cloth, learned to sew, to make butter ad cream and to dip candles. The boys and girls for their amusement learned to talk with the young Indians who came to the farm occasionally. This, however, nearly ended in tragedy. One of they young Indians asked Emily to marry him. Thinking that it was in jest she said "yes". In a few days the Indian returned with companions to claim his bride. On finding that Emily didn't intend on keeping her promise, he became very angry and placed a tomahawk at Grandmother Polly's throat, but just then grandfather rushed in from the field, caught up his gun and said: "Now you can get out of here"! Again, as usual the Indians were very much afraid of a gun and hurriedly made their exit, but with angry threats of vengeance.
After this the Indians became very hostile and proceeded to drive off cattle and did so many other vicious things that our grandparents were forced to move to Old Fort Provo, located just west of the present city of Provo, where they stayed until the Indians quieted down. The farm, in the meantime, was practically ruined by the Indians. Later Philander and the boys moved the farm house to the site where the new Post Office in Provo now stands (1950's). Here the family resided for many years.
Sterling Driggs Colton was born 22 March 1851, the eight child and the first to be born in Utah. True to her promise, Grandmother Polly didn't forget her old friend of the plains and gave that name to her son as a second name.
About 1855 the Coltons were among those who witnessed near Provo a miracle comparable to that of the manna event at the days of the children of Israel in the Bible. A sweet substance came to the people. The people heralding it as a God-send washed it into buckets and boiled it into sugar. It is said that Aunt Eleanor made about ten pounds of this and paid one pound for tithing.
Philander now turned to work of mason, plaster and brick maker. For those pioneer times he made what was regarded as a good livelihood. However their sun Sterling used to tell of herding cows in Provo bench in the wintertime when he had to be bare footed.
In searching among the old documents found in the B.Y.U. Library and elsewhere, a great grandson of Philander Colton's, Ray Charles Colton, found bits of history that showed that Philander had responsible positions in church and civic life. Their conviction that the Gospel had again been restored to the earth through Joseph Smith, the American Prophet, was the guiding star of Philander and Polly's lives. By that faith that had endured their separation in Iowa - she to care for the young family, he to go with the Mormon Battalion.
Now that they were settled in the valleys of the mountains they took an active part in the Church. In addition to working in the Ward, Philander filled a mission to Las Vegas, Nevada. Of course like other missionaries' wives Polly made the greater sacrifice by caring for the home and children. Polly and Philander also sacrificed in building the Salt Lake Temple. he worked as a mason and he sometimes skimped at home to make donations.
Rose Moore Searle, a granddaughter, relates of this time about Polly: "Grandmother was a great reader, and I can remember as a little girl, when the New York Ledger arrived, listening spell bound while she read about romance and tragedy. She was also a beautiful women. Grandmother was small with dark eyes, beautiful and very energetic. I can see her now pouring the melted tallow into the candle molds: making her own dye for the carpet rags she sewed: spinning the yarn for the stockings she later quilted; making sausage, etc. She had a busy life but there must have been satisfaction in providing these necessities for her family." Her most meritorious accomplishment was to give to the world eight stalwart sons and three beautiful daughters.
The other children born in Provo were as follows: Phoebe Albina born 20 January 1855 and lived only ten years and died 21 November 1865; John Adelbert born 30 January 1858; and Ernest Merrill born 19 September 1860.
Probably due to hardships Philander's health failed. He developed rheumatism as it was called then, and was lame for many years, going about on crutches. He would help make brick while he was sitting down.
Their sons Byron, Steling, Sanford and Adelbert, as well as Ernest, settled in Uintah County. Charles Edwin was the first to go out to Uintah County and settle, but later moved elsewhere - to California, back to Beaver, Utah, and he still has progeny living in California.
These sons built a house on the north side of Sterling's lot in Maeser Ward into which they moved Grandfather and Grandmother in 1855. There they were tenderly cared for by their children. Flora Colton Collett and Minnie Colton Wilson were about thirteen years old at the time and they accompanied Sterling Colton and George Wilson on the trip from Vernal to Provo to help care for the aged couple on the return to Vernal. Flora says, "Grandfather and Grandmother were cheerful on the hard journey taken by team and wagon. One night while standing around the campfire Philander slipped and sat down on a prickly pear bed. With the nettles clinging to the flesh he joined heartily in the laugh that went around the fireside." George Wilson used to laugh gleefully years after when he related the incident.
It was at this home that their boys built for them that I have my first memories of these dear old people. As stated, Grandfather was practically helpless. I can see him now moving about on crutches. As a child my mother used to send me occasionally over to Grandmother's house to borrow a bar of soap or some other article (of course these goods were purchased by my father and the other sons.) Invariably, I expected to get a good lecture from Grandmother on the extravagence of Nancy's family. Dear soul, Polly! She had practiced the more rigid economy all of her life and she couldn't stand to see anything wasted. I remember that she was also very honest. She wouldn't even take a straight pin if it didn't belong to her rightfully.
Here they lived for six years as invalids. Early in they year of 1891 Polly became bedfast and she lay all summer suffering from the heat. To this day I can see her lying there with the head of the bed draped in mosquito bar (netting) to keep off the flies so prevalent at that time.
At last on the 13th of August 1891, she passed away. When Grandfather was told that she was dying he quickly replied: "No, she won't leave me. When we were married she promised to stay with me and she hasn't broken that promise yet." When told that she really died, he said, "Don't bury her until I die. When you hear a loud clap of thunder, I'll pass away also." (According to the report of the Uintah Papoose Newspaper of that week, he died around 4 o'clock in the morning.)
Following are articles xeroxed from the "Uintah Papoose" relative to their last sickness and death.
July 17, 1891. "The mother of S.D. Adelbert and Sanford Colton is still very low, and it seems impossible that she can live from one day to another. Grandpa Colton is also very sick."
August 14, 1891. "Mrs. Colton, mother of S.D. Adelbert and Sanford Colton died yesterday afternoon after a sickness of several months. During the last two months it has not seemed possible that she could live from one day to the next. Death must certainly have been a relief. Grandpa Colton, who has been confined to his bed months is unconscious, and his death is expected momentarily, Grandma Colton will be buried tomorrow, Saturday, at 10 mo'clock...into residence in Millward."
RESTING TOGETHER (Uintah Papoose, Ashley (Vernal))
August 21, 1891 - The funeral services on August 16 over the (word unintelligible) of Philander Colton and his wife, Polly M. Colton were simple but impressive.
If romance can be connected with terror of death it was in this instance. Months ago when Mr. Colton was comparatively well and his wife's death was looked for hourly, he remarked to several of the family, "No, mother won't die yet, we promised when we were married that we would live and die together, and she will wait for me." His utterance was prophetic and we felt convinced that the messenger would not fail to summon them together. As we looked on their peaceful faces we felt there was no room to regret that they had had the dearest wish of their hearts gratified, and after a well-rounded life were ready to take the last of many pilgrimages together. They had lived more than the allotted three score and ten, had seen grown to honorable man and woman's estate a large family of children and had been around to the last grandchildren whose devotion was unquestioned, and friends who did gladly any service of love to them. The funeral was held in the ward house in Mill Ward, Sunday morning; The house was crowded with over 300 people being present to pay their parting tribute of respect to the dead. The coffins were borne in by the pall bearers and rested side by side while the services were conducted. The choir rendered the hymn Nearer My God To Thee which was followed by a prayer by Judge (James Harvey) Glines. Patriarch Hatch, D. Bingham and R.S. Collett each spoke words of consolation to the living, touched lovingly on the lives and characters of the departed, and in fervent words pictured the joys they believe awaited all who died in the faith.
Bishop Shaffer spoke of the covenant made in their happy youth that they would live and die together. Mr. Thomas Caldwell who knew Mr. Colton when they were both young and belonged to the celebrated "Mormon Battalion" paid a merited tribute to Mr. Colton's courage enterprise and devotion to what he conceived to be his duty. At the close of the service the remains were followed to the cemetery where they were placed side by side in one grave. The funeral was the largest ever seen in the valley - 61 vehicles and 150 people going to the cemetery.
(Then followed a "BIOGRAPHICAL" article most of which is written in the body of this history.) The article concluded thus, "Both Mr. Colton and his wife were comparatively well until well until last spring when they were attacked with "Lagrippe". Mr. Colton rallied but his wife lived months in extreme misery, praying only that she might die and end her suffering. Within the last six months Mr. Colton failed rapidly and for some days before his wife's death he was unconscious. Mrs. Colton died on Thursday August 13 an 4:20 p.m. and 36 hours later at 4:30 a.m. Saturday, Mr. Colton breathed his last breath. They will be gravely missed. Mr. Colton was a most interesting conversationalist and many a pleasant half hour we have spent in his company. Mrs. Colton was a woman to depend on, and always spoke her own mind without fear or favor." Ref. B.Y.U. Gen Library Film "Ve59
Now let us return to the conclusion of Charles Henry Colton's account of his Grandfather Philander and his Grandmother Polly's history:
August 15th dawned bright and clear and during the day out of an almost cloudless sky, a very sharp crack of thunder was heard and sure enough Grandfather closed his eyes in death. In life they stayed together and in death they were not separated, Both were interred in the same grave in the Maeser Cemetery southwest of Vernal City - Later to be named the Fairview Cemetery.
We may or may not believe with them in their religious concepts, but certainly no other motive for going through the vicissitudes they did could be assigned to them than their strong conviction of the divinity of Joseph Smith's mission and that Brigham Young was his legal successor. In common with the other Mormon pioneers we should we should stand in reverence and honor them for their indomitable courage and faith which made possible the blossoming of this western desert as a rose and the establishment of a prosperous commonwealth in these peaceful valleys.
(Note: January 1977. For those who may be skeptical of the story about Philander dying when a loud clap of thunder came, I have enclosed the newspaper articles. Since I was a child I heard my Father, Grandparents Colton, Aunt Flora and others mention the "loud clap of thunder coming on a cloudless day." The article in the newspaper states that Philander died at 4:30 a.m. which would indicate the story to be a "family legend", or that they had forgotten the event. I can prove it either way, but it sounds logical that since the paper "obit" of Polly states that she was to be buried Saturday at 10 a.m. and then learn that they were buried after he died indicates to me that the family remembered correctly. The newspaper article could have been incorrect as to the time of day. It's a beautiful story, however, and I choose to believe it. Miriam G. Perry.)