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Thain, John 2 - Biography

(The Millennial Star, Vol. 18., pp. 427-428.)

The passengers on the "Samuel Curling" had been nearly all Welshmen. How dependent they were on their leaders, for they knew very little of the English language. They were taken to a railroad station, and literally loaded in the cars; but a problem arose- there just weren't enough passenger cars, and so many of the Saints were forced to ride in the cattle cars part of the time. Even this seemed a relief after 35 days aboard ship. Many Saints dropped off the train along the line to find work wherever they could, or to stay with friends, and when the train reached Iowa City, Iowa there were only 320 people left.

Upon arrival at Iowa, and finding the handcarts not yet ready, they all helped construct and finish them. They were camped just outside the city under the stars along with more than two hundred other people, because no room or shelter was available in the town. This was their home for about three weeks while they waited for handcarts to be built for the long journey West. Margaret and John hadn't minded very much. At night they lay in their blankets, starlight in their eyes, talking quietly before they slept. Margaret had been offered a good job doing dressmaking, a trade she had learned from her father, if she would stay in Iowa; but that is not what she had journeyed so far across the ocean for, so she refused.

The Thains were assigned to the Third Handcart Company, "The Welsh Company," which was made up almost entirely of Welshmen. It consisted of 120 persons, 6 mule teams and wagons to haul the tents and flour, and 64 handcarts organized with Edward Bunker as Captain. He was a 34-year-old veteran in military and Church services. Edward Bunker was a returning missionary, having labored in Great Britain for nearly four years. As leader of a trek he had one distinguishing qualification: he had walked the long road from Fort Leavenworth to San Diego, California with the Mormon Battalion.

They began their journey with a handcart costing $15.00, one for each family. Some families consisted of just a man and wife, like John and Margaret, and some had quite large families. John grieved that no wagon was available, for he dreaded the long walk for Margaret. Each handcart had one hundred pounds of flour to be divided up, and they were to get more from the wagons as required. Each adult or child was given one pound of flour, with tea or coffee, sugar and rice per day. They had eighteen cows that gave milk. Three fine buffaloes were killed and eaten as they needed them, along with beef cattle, which they killed one per week.

They were allowed only 17 pounds of clothing, bedding and pots and pans. Some clothing, bedding and other personal belongings had been left at Iowa City, to be sent to them later, but they never arrived. Soon after they left Iowa City they encountered some heavy rain and wind storms, which blew down their tents and washed away the handcarts. The Welsh people had no experience at all at this sort of operation, and since very few of them could speak English, it made the burden even harder.

People made fun of them as they walked, pulling their carts by settlements, but the weather was mostly fine and the roads were excellent through Iowa. At first they had a little coffee and bacon, but that was soon gone and they had no use for any cooking utensils except perhaps a frying pan.

At twenty four Margaret was strong. She had even pulled the cart alone when John became sick and lay curled up on top of their belongings. The pull on her arms, mile after mile, brought on great fatigue.

Three weeks after leaving Iowa City the company arrived at Florence, Nebraska, July 19, and were detained for about a week while their carts were repaired. They set out again on July 30. The company was made up of blind and deaf, little children, infants in arms, widows with children, a man with one leg (who suffered excruciating pain from his knee that rested on a pad hooked onto a wooden stump), old ladies (one 73 who walked all the way), and pregnant women. Most of the Saints traveling in that company were inspired by the spirit of the Zion which lay ahead, so they traveled in peace and harmony. Babies were born on the journey; marriages were performed at the camps and old and young were buried along the trail. Overpowered by summer heat, former factory workers and miners fainted beside their carts, but they were more favored than those that came after them, as they had no snow.

Nights came, camp was made, the frugal meal prepared, then around the bon fire the Saints gathered. Some sang songs, some would dance, others would relate stories, and after an ardent prayer to God they would retire, always leaving guards lest the Indians or the mobs should come to steal their few oxen or their supplies.

The September nights were cold enough to freeze the feet of John's sister, Suzannah, and render her a cripple. She spent most of her life in a wheelchair.

As the dust and dirt began to clog the wheels on the handcarts, making them much harder to pull, John, who was a butcher by trade, and a Mr. Evans decided to try to better the situation. They killed an old buffalo, cut it up and sat up all night boiling the remains to get some grease to oil the wheels of the squeaky handcarts. The buffalo was so old and tough that after an all-night vigal of boiling, they had not one drop of grease with which to oil the wheels.

The flour that they had with them was self-rising and when mixed with a little water and baked it made fairly good cakes. After the first few weeks of traveling, the supplies began to dwindle, food became scarce, and their little cake was all they had to eat. They had not anticipated so long a march. As the journey dragged on one month and then two, it became evident that they were running out of supplies, so they were put on half rations. As they passed through settlements some of their priceless possissions were traded for food. Elenor Roberts, a Welsh girl, traded her wedding ring for flour. She had been married at the outfitting camp at Iowa City. At one time before help came the company was out of flour for two days.

The company was held up for two days at Fort Bridger, because of the illness of an Elder Giles, who was one of the two blind men of the company. It was expected that he would die, so Captain Bunker ordered the camp to move on, leaving two of the men to bury the sick man when he expired. "Remarkable faith and the frequent administrations of the elders who attended him, kept the patient alive until evening when 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 a promise that he should instantly be healed and made well; that he would 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 entirity.

After four months on the plains the Bunker Company arrived in Salt Lake city on October 2, 1856, John's 27th birthday. They were the third handcart company to arrive in the valley. John and Margaret had walked the entire way, 1300 miles from Iowa City to the Great Salt Lake Valley, their vehicle motored by muscles and fueled with blood for a cause that meant more to them than life itself. They crossed deserts, waded rivers, climbed mountains and slept twenty people to a tent in order to give shelter to everyone. No story is filled with more heroism, pathos, loyalty and devotion to a cause than was that march.

Suzanna came across the plains with the same handcart company as her brother John. She helped the John Price family cross the ocean and later became his third wife. She lived in Malad, Idaho and spent the rest of her life a cripple after her legs and feet were frozen on the trek West. Family and friends depicted her as a very pleasant person, enjoying the friendship of many people. She had five children: Samuel Willard, Ephraim Charles (died 2 days after birth), Martha Susannah (died 1 day after birth), Brigham Thain, and Benjamin Franklin.

The Thains remained in Salt Lake City that winter, but the following spring they moved to Willard where John purchased a farm and orchard. In order to supplement his income, he acquired employment with the Harding Brothers Mercantile Company. Their home was built of rock and faced east on the road that ran through town. In the morning the sun glinted on the upstairs windows, then flooded the whole house. Behind the house was the farm and orchard. Here seven children were born to them: Elizabeth, Caroline, William, Mary Anne, John, Eliza and James.

When her first baby was coming Margaret had gathered chips at the wood pile and spread them under her bed to dry. This meant that when the baby came she could have a fire in her bedroom to warm her and the little one. Her neighbor didn't make such preparations for her coming childbirth, and her baby came before Margaret's, so Margaret gave her the chips.

John was superintendent of the first Sunday School in Willard, with Alexander Perry acting as his assistant and also as secretary. Just before Johnston's Army entered the Territory, John joined the move south and took part in the Echo Canyon War. Margaret was left alone to care for the children. The worry of John's welfare was always present and weighed heavily on her mind. It was a joyous day when he returned safely home.

On March 18, 1866 John was chosen as a member of the Seraculture Society of Willard to introduce the culture of silk. He had tried his hand at raising silk worms and producing silk. Margaret couldn't remember one dress that was produced from that venture; however, she had learned the dressmaking trade in Wales and her services were ever in demand in the early days of Willard. Very often she was paid for her sewing with butter and sugar, which were luxuries in those days.

The new country had been good to the Thains. They had land of their own, they could worship as they desired and all in all it was a wonderful place to raise their family. John had converted Margaret's family in Wales. (William Griffiths was baptized a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints by Elder John T. Thain on Dec. 28, 1851 and confirmed the same day.) The news of the frontier and new opportunities had enticed the Griffiths to come to the new country. They boarded the ship "Undewriter" from Liverpool, England in 1861 and came to Willard to be with their daughter and her family. They brought with them their grandson, Thomas Osmond Griffiths. Martha Thain, John's sister, was scheduled to come with them, but it is unclear whether she came or not.

Margaret was busy in her home when a knock came on the door. It was her father, William Griffiths. She will never forget his face as he told her that the Bishop had forbidden him to work for the gentiles in Corinne. His expression was bitter. His hope of living a good and free life in the Kingdom of the Saints had been betrayed.

"Margaret," he said, "I've finished with it here. All I want now is to go home to Wales to die." Because he continued working in Corinne he was excommunicated from the Church, an act which caused him to desire to return to his home country.

Preparations were made for the families to return. Margaret made him a money belt and packed the gold coins he had earned in Corinne into it. When she said goodbye to her father and mother, her father said, "We shall never see thee again, Margaret." She knew that was true. Margaret didn't hold with such authoritarian action; neither would John have stood for being told where he could or could not work.

Margaret considered herself a good Church member, but there were things she didn't hold with. She recalled one evening when John came in from a meeting and she knew at once by his look what had happened. "They want you to take another wife." Not a question, a statement. He nodded. "Well, if you do, you will still have only one."

It was supper time on that fateful evening that changed their lives. John was silent all through the meal. The children were more silent than usual, as if sensing something afoot. After they had finished their pie, John spoke, "We are going to move to Logan," he said. "This farm is too small. I must have more land. I can get it in Cache Valley. We'll leave early next spring." Margaret remembered the excitement in the children's faces and their questions, mostly unanswerable. The next few months were a period of planning, sorting and packing.

That spring of 1875, they moved to Logan. John was anxious to fulfill his dream of owning land, so he began to homestead 160 acres that lay carved around the West side of the meandering Bear River. It was all covered with sagebrush and sad scale. Sagebrush was a cheap commodity, or John T. couldn't have managed the purchase price. Though he was past middle age when he took land title from the coyotes, he had never had much opportunity to make money. The trip from Wales and subsequent moves up the Wasatch front had not afforded him great opportunity for wealth. With the help of his youngest son, James, they cleared the sagebrush and planted the field with wheat.

Finally John had his land. The dream that he had dreamed long ago in Wales as he viewed the spread of brilliant green, the stone houses and the wattle barns, had finally become a reality. Far from their homeland was their cabin with its two log rooms, where Margaret camped for a few days each fall while she cooked for the crews that harvested the wheat. She hadn't minded that work, for the fruitful land was theirs and the wheat was theirs to sell.

The family moved to the farm in Benson during the summer months, where they farmed, milked cows, and made butter, which they sold to the stores for 16 to 18 cents a pound. That was considered a good price at that time.

In the winter months the family moved back to Logan, where the children attended the Woodruff School.

This farm was not the lush green of the fields in Wales that John knew. It was far from that. This land was so arrid that Jim Bridger had offered $10,000 to the man who could grow one ear of corn, but it was his and he had decided to tame the desert.

Dry farming proved unsuccessful with the few thimble fulls of rain that nourished the thirsty soil. Fewer and fewer bushels of wheat were realized from their efforts. The answer to this lied in somehow getting the water from the river up to the land to irrigate it.

The only tragedy on the farm occurred when early on a Saturday morning a report reached Logan that a boy, Henry, about thirteen years of age, son of Henry Griffith, was drowned in Bear River. The report proved true. The boy was working on Thain's ranch and it seems that he rode a horse to the river to water. The horse stepped into a hole about twenty feet deep and the body of the boy was found several days later floating in the river. (They had been looking for his body, and several days later Margaret Thain was standing on a potato pit watching the river and saw his body floating down.) He had the name of being a good hardworking boy.

For the first few years that they lived in Logan, they had rented houses, but John worked hard to build the home that they lived in at First South and 3rd West. Margaret was happy with her new home. She didn't like renting and it was wonderful to have their own place.

Besides clearing the land and growing wheat, John was also employed by Thatcher Brothers, who were in the meat business then known as the Z.C.M.I. Meat Market. The Palace Meat Market located on Center Street and 1st West also knew his able hand at meat cutting.

When John Jr. grew up and was old enough to help, they went into business for themselves. Their store was on Fifth West and First South. John built the building and the market thrived. The following is taken from a news clipping:

The Railroad Meat Market is a model of neatness and cleanliness, and is

well supplied with beef, mutton, etc. That genial knight of the cleaver,

John T. Thain, Esq. presides and will be glad to serve his friends. The

little store is on 5th West and 1st South.

John told of a little blond girl who often came to the market on an errand for her mother. If John was busy with a customer, the little girl would not let one of the other men wait on her, but would wait until he was free. He was pleased that the child showed such a preference. He was always kind to children. That little girl later grew up to be a pretty young woman, and became the wife of his Willie after the death of his first wife.

On August 28, 1891, Elizabeth, their oldest child passed away at the white frame home in Logan. She had been living in Montpeliar, Idaho but had taken ill. Her husband hoping to better to better her health by giving her better care, brought her to her mother in Logan. She did not survive. The children were left with their grandparents until their father could reconcile his situation. The youngest daughter, Margaret, who was just seven years old, was left with her grandmother to be raised. The other children went with their father.

John had wanted one of his children to be named Margaret after his beloved wife, but she would not have it. Now he finally had another Margaret, but she was not the only one. Margaret is a name so prevalent in the Thain family that it is hard for the learned mind to discern which Margaret belongs to who. The following story will reveal some of the confusion caused by John wanting to keep the name of Margaret in the family line:

Margaret Zobell Harding was out in the car in front of the house with her boyfriend. Margaret Knowles' father walked to the car, peered in and asked, "Margaret, do you know where Margaret is?" "Yes, she and Margaret went over to Margaret's" "Oh," he replied. It was as clear as could be to him. He knew who went with who and exactly where they had gone. The boyfriend was not so lucky. He said, "If I've ever heard double talk, that's it." (Present that day were: Aunt Mary Naoni - Margaret, Margaret Zobell who lived next door, Margaret Knowles, Aunt May's daughter named Margaret, and Margaret Anderson who lived on Center Street.)

The family was now made up of grandfather, grandmother, three aunts, three uncles and a niece of grandmother's, Margaret Thomas. Margaret Thomas's mother became ill, and she was brought to grandmother to be cared for. Her mother died soon after.

When the Brigham Young College was about to open its doors, interested men canvassed the town asking all families with extra rooms to take students from other towns as boarders. Since there were no apartments in town, there was no place else for them to live. Margaret wanted to help, and she had extra rooms since her family was mostly married, so her name went on the list. "But I'll take only boys," she had told the canvassers. "Girls would be underfoot in the kitchen heating their curling irons and pressing their skirts. I can't have that."

The boys came, and she and Maggie, her grandaughter, cooked roasts, potroasts, potatoes, vegetables, pies, cakes, and puddings. Margaret was an excellent cook and sat a beautiful table. John raised the meat, grain and vegetables on the farm across the river in Benson Ward, and the fruit and more vegetables were raised on the large lot behind the home in Logan. After several years of boarding, Margaret had decided that the work was too hard and tiresome for her to continue. On a hot summer day Herschel Bullen came to call on her.

"I didn't find your name on the list. More students are asking for your house than for any other. They say you set a good table."

"It isn't there," she told him. "I can't do it anymore."

"Why not?"

"Because they're eating me out of house and home."

"How much do they pay you?"

"Two dollars and fifty cents a week."

"How much would you have to have?"

"I'd have to have $2.75."

"They'll pay it." And he put her name on the list. So she went on cooking roasts, potroasts, potatoes, vegetables, pies, cakes and puddings.

John didn't seem to mind all that commotion in the house. He was willing to accept whatever was needed to help make life good in his town. Some of those young men stayed all four years with the Thain family. Many prominent and important people, including students, businessmen and salesmen boarded there.

Margaret's brother, Henry, came to visit her one day, which turned out to be a sad day indeed for her. As he came through the door she asked him, "I hear you are helping the deputies search for the polygamists who have gone underground."

"Of course I am. It's my duty to uphold the law."

"You are betraying your own people." Her words were sharp.

"No, I'm upholding the law. You shouldn't object, Margaret. You don't hold with polygamy."

"Neither do I hold with betraying those who do."

She heard a swirl of hot words, accusations and counter accusations. Then Henry's final words, "I'll never cross your threshold again." He never did. His wife, Euphemia, always called when she drove into town from Benson Ward, but Henry, never. That had always been a sadness for Margaret.

Perhaps Henry had cause to be on the side of the law. While living in Willard he had noticed the needs of a family who were going without food or sustance. He had approached the bishop several times and told him of their need, but for some reason the bishop had not helped them. Henry could not bear to see them suffer any longer, so he took his tithing money and bought food and clothing and gave it to the family. He was told to ask forgiveness for this in sacrament meeting, which he did, but while he was still standing all the people got up and walked out of the building. He was then excommunicated from the Church and never returned.

Margaret had a strong character and was not afraid to voice an opinion. If she said, "No," she meant "No," and that was the end of it. She was a disciplinarian and at times thought to be too strict. She was a better psychologist than some we have today. Her children were not allowed to stay out after dark, be gone for long periods of time, or be gone without her knowing where they were and with whom. She was strict but sensible in her dealings with her family.

Margaret was housecleaning one day in the dining room, so dinner was set-up on the kitchen table. When John came home he was a little surprised to see the table set in the kitchen, which was just never done, so he said, "Well, we've come to this, huh?" Margaret replied, "Yes, John Thain, we've come to this." He was always addressed John Thain when she was upset with him.

John was a man who minded his own business, never said an unkind thing of others, and had a smile and a kind word for everyone he met. He was an honored, respected citizen, one of the bravest, kindliest souls that ever graced any community. He was a quiet unassuming citizen, never seeking or desiring public position. His honesty and integrity was beyond question. He had a reputation, wherever known, for kindness and generosity. Age seemed to but intensify the sunshine of his countenance and the warmth of his big heart.

Preston Nibley in James Roach Thain's obituary writes,

"John Thain was a butcher, I believe. He was a nice old gentleman

when I knew him. He wore a vest made of what I was told was the skin of

an unborn calf and on his watch chain a charm that was porported to be

an elk tooth. I used to look at that vest and envy Mr. Thain the possession

of it." [The reason I was often in the Thain home was that a very pretty

little girl resided there; she was Jim's niece and occasionally I would

get up the nerve to ask her to a dance.]

John was bald and Margaret in latter years had traded her own teeth for some false ones which she rarely wore. In answer to an inquiry by one of the granddaughters as to what happened to Grandpa's hair and Grandma's teeth, John chuckled and said, "Well, I'll tell you. One day we had a fight, and she pulled out all my hair and I pulled out all her teeth."

The Thains had a procession of grandchildren, mainly dark-eyed and dark-haired like their grandmother's, Margaret Griffiths Thain. There were few blonds.

The Thains were good neighbors. They often picked a bucket of fresh vegetables to send to newcomers or needy people in the neighborhood. Every weekday evening they played cribbage until ten o'clock with their neighbors, the Irvines. At ten o'clock the game stopped whether or not it was finished. There was never any card playing on Sunday. Maggie recalled that never did she hear one word of profanity in the Thain home, whether by Margaret or John or by the uncles that lived there. Only the best of language was permitted.

Margaret had been bothered by a pain in her stomach, a pain which plagued her for thirty years and confined her to her bed a great deal of the time. Maggie had prepared supper that evening. "Supper's ready," Maggie announced. Margaret pulled herself from the red plush rocking chair that had become a part of her existence and went to the dining room. John was moving toward the table, wearing his durby hat. Since he had become bald, he wore his hat all the time to keep his head warm. Margaret didn't mind. Anything John did was all right with her. They sat down at the table, John at the head, the two women facing each other. John removed his durby, placed it on the floor and asked a blessing on the food. Then he put his hat back on and they ate. That is, John and Maggie ate. Margaret tasted the food and moved it about on her plate.

"Peg, you aren't eating. Is something wrong?"

"I'm not hungry tonight."

"Tomorrow I'll make beef tea for you." Maggie promised.

When Maggie brought in the cake, Margaret refused her piece, but sat while the other two ate.

"Would you like a game of backgammon tonight?" John asked her. "No, not tonight. I feel tired. I'm going to bed at once." She moved toward the bedroom. She did not know that this year of 1904 would be her last. In a news clipping from the tri-weekly journal, it states:

The death of Mrs. Margaret Thain, the wife of John T. Thain, is recorded.

She died at her home in Logan. The writer had an intimate acquaintance

with the departed Sister in early days, and that friendship has been an

abiding pleasure all through our life. We first became acquainted with

Mr. and Mrs. Thain in the latter part of 1859, at Willard City. It was in

the days when hard times was the lot of the early settlers of Utah; but

the vision of Mr. Thain's happy home will linger in our memory as one

of the bright scenes we have witnessed in this life. Sister Thain was such

a loving wife and affectionate mother that we thought then the perfect

home had come. Her remarkable fortitude, her eveness of disposition

and her practical benevolence, made her one of the most interesting

women we had ever met. And we are quite sure today that the goodness

of that bright woman had an influence over us all through our lives,

for often we have found in writing our brief sketches of character

going back to the loving scenes of home we saw in her log cabin."

Margaret died at 2 p.m., September 4, 1904. Funeral services were held in the 2nd Ward meeting house, Thursday at 2 p.m. She was 72 years 1 month and 24 days old. She was one of the most highly respected ladies of the community.

John was ordained a High Priest on December 28, 1904 just a few months after the death of his beloved wife. From a letter, edged in black, and written on December 5, 1904, it is obvious that John was very lonely after Margaret's death. Although he did visit relatives and children, he didn't care to be away from home. John occasionally received word from his family in Wales and Martha, his sister, who was living in Arizona, had made a visit to see him. She planned to return in two years, (she was very much taken up with the country), but John did not expect to see her again. He was right, for two and a half years later, after a brief illness, John joined Margaret never to be separated again.

John's derby hat was as much a part of him as his snow white beard, which was kept neatly groomed. For a reason not known to the writer he had taken off his hat and caught cold. This illness turned to pneumonia and took his life on June 28, 1907.

His funeral was held on Saturday at 12 o'clock in the 2nd Ward chapel. The speakers were Elders Alex Lewis, N.W. Kimball, A.G. Barker and J.E. Cowley, all of whom spoke of the honesty, faith, kindness and charity of the deceased. Music was furnished by the ward choir and Messers Amos Brown and M.J. Ballard. The floral tributes were numerous and beautiful. The body was followed by a cortiege of about 60 vehicles to the city cemetery where Elder Chas. England dedicated the grave. The day was very warm and the funeral services lasted beyond the endurance of most of the grandchildren. Elder Ballard was very long-winded and was not scheduled to speak.

John died comparatively poor, because of his great liberality, but in the land where love and kind words and deeds are the coin by which mens' wealth is reckoned, John T. Thain will be rich beyond his greatest hope.


Thain, John Teague

Thain, Susannah


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