Thomas Davis Giles
Thomas Davis Giles, best known in Utah as the blind harpist, was born at Blanavon, Pembrokeshire, Wales, November 28, 1820. With most members of his family he became a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in 1844. His blindness resulted from an accident in a coal mine in which he was employed in South Wales. With both eyes literally crushed on his head, he was totally blind.
With his wife, two boys, ages 7 and 9, and a baby girl, he emigrated in 1856, joining the Edward Bunker handcart company at Iowa City. Notwithstanding his serious physical handicap, he pulled his handcart containing all of his worldly possessions.
Soon after starting across the plains, the baby became ill and died. She was buried beside the trail and the company moved onward. A few weeks later, his wife died. She also was buried beside the trail. The two boys, because of their father's condition, were sent back to join another company which included a group of Welsh emigrants.
Near Fort Bridger, Elder Giles himself became seriously ill. After holding the company for two days, Captain Bunker ordered the camp to move on, leaving two of the men to bury the sick man when he died. It was expected that death would come in a matter of hours.
Remarkable faith and the frequent administrations of the Elders who attended him kept the patient alive until evening when Elder Parley P. Pratt the Apostle, who had known Brother Giles in Wales, reached the camp. Elder Pratt gave Brother Giles a remarkable blessing. In it he made these promises; that he should instantly be healed and made well; that he should rejoin his company and arrive safely in the Salt Lake Valley; that he should there rear a family; and that because of his faithfulness he would be permitted to live as long as he wanted. These blessings were all fulfilled in their entirety.
Elder Giles rejoined his company, reached the Valley October 2, 1856, remarried, and lived to bless and name seven of his grandchildren. His death occurred November 2, 1895, after he had expressed a desire to go.
Arriving in the Valley, Elder Giles made a profession of the activity which had been his hobby in his native Wales - playing the harp and singing hymns and popular songs of the day. He specialized in music for church services and for dancing parties, traveling through Utah settlements giving concerts and dances.
He became a special favorite of President Brigham Young and was engaged by him frequently o play for important dancing parties in the Old Social Hall and in the Salt Lake Theatre. As they became old enough, his sons Hyrum and Herny, both musicians, joined in furnishing music for public occasions.
When Elder Giles' harp was damaged beyond repair in an accident, President Young arranged for another harp for his use. One version is that a new harp was ordered from the East, and another is that one of President Young's daughters, who had a harp, gladly gave it up in order that the blind pioneer might have an instrument to use in entertaining the people. This harp is now in the Pioneer Collection of the Daughters of Utah Pioneers in the State Capitol at Salt Lake City.