William P SMITH

The First Doctor of Union, Utah

May 1962

To my Granddaughter - Ann Fjeldsted

By Eva Leyland

Ann, my friend Foster T. Greenwood just died. Mr. Greenwood's first doctor was William P Smith, my great grandfather.

You are always asking me about my father, your great grandfather. Well, today I would like to tell you about my great grandfather, William P Smith.

Aunt Lizzie (ed. note: possibly Elizabeth Ann Smith, or less likely, Elizabeth Stoll), the last living sister of your great grandfather and a granddaughter of William P Smith, told me some rather strange things about William P Smith's early manhood that her brothers and sisters, parents, uncles and aunts never talked about. Aunt Lizzie said, "I don't know if I should tell you some of these things about your great-grandfather or not," but she did.

In the year 1810 in the town of Tottington, England, (map) William Smith was born to Dr. Thomas Smith and his wife Alice. Even as a child William was high-spirited, hot tempered and determined to have his own way. It was said that if he wanted something nothing on earth or high heaven could stop him from trying to get it.

Dr. Thomas Smith always took his son, William, with him to gather herbs. He showed him how to use them to doctor the sick. William learned quickly and at an early age helped his father set bones and pull teeth. Dr. Thomas Smith had great hopes that his son William would be a great doctor. After William's mother, Alice, died, Dr. Thomas Smith had to spend most of his time caring for his other five children. William, wanting adventure started gambling, drinking and fist fighting with the neighborhood boys. William and his friends often saw a ghost as they traveled the lonely road home late at night. Some of the boys were frightened and wanted someone to "lay the ghost". Fearless William offered. One night he hid where the ghost usually appeared and when the ghost came he ran up and grabbed it. The ghost was only a woman dressed up to scare the boys because she did not want the young men drinking and getting into trouble. She begged William to keep her identity a secret.

At the age of twenty-two William met Mary Grimshaw and was determined to make her his wife. Mr. Grimshaw, Mary's father, objected because William was classed as wild and irresponsible. One night when William brought Mary home at a very late hour, the little old man sat on his porch with a gun. When William and Mary stepped on the porch he shouted, "If you ever come here again I'll use this gun on you." William, a strong young man of six feet three inches, grabbed the little old man Grimshaw by the feet and doused him head first up and down in the rain barrel shouting all the while, "I am going to marry your daughter and if you ever bother us or come near us I'll beat you."

Now it was the custom in England that before anyone could get married they had to get up in church for several Sundays and give banns. William and Mary went to church for several Sundays in a neighboring shire and proclaimed their intention of getting married. Not once did Mr. Grimshaw hear of it until after they were married.

William and Mary had five children and buried two of them, but still William gambled, boxed and led quite a wild carefree life. William won a very large watch and twice he lost it. The third time he won the watch he had been converted to the L.D.S. church so he decided to stop his gambling and other bad habits and come to America. He brought the giant watch all the way to Utah. Aunt Lizzie said, "Now I never could see why a man would want to bring a big old watch like that all the way to Utah." Well, the watch was big, and so was William and he liked big things.

William and Mary and their three children Nathan (cemetery marker), Maria and little three month old Alice (cemetery marker) set sail for America August 1842. Maria died just before they reached New York. The captain wanted to bury the little Maria at sea but William persuaded him to wait until they reached land (ed. note: Other biographies suggest that Maria died after the family left New York and were travelling up the Mississippi River on their way to Nauvoo). The sad little family stayed in New York a short time and then continued their journey by way of water down the coast to the Gulf of Mexico and then up the Mississippi River to Nauvoo (map). There they made their home beside their beloved prophet Joseph Smith.

In Nauvoo April 17, 1845 their son Joseph (cemetery marker) was born. October 10, 1847 Mary Ann was born. During this time the Prophet Joseph and his brother, Hyrum, were killed. The Mormons were driven from Nauvoo. When the mob came to William Smith's home, the giant of a man stood outside his door and shouted. "My wife cannot be moved or she will die. Come in and see for yourselves." Three armed men entered the Smith home; on finding no guns and William's wife and children very sick with high fevers, they let the family stay and spared them the vengeance of the mob.

As soon as Mary and the children were able to be moved they traveled in an open wagon pulled by one horse and one oxen to Ferryville, Council Bluffs (map). William and his family stayed at Ferryville for five years working a ferryboat to assist the companies of Saints to cross the Missouri River. Here William Junior was born February 17, 1851 and June 15, 1852 my grandfather, Hyrum Smith, was born. When Hyrum was only six weeks old William decided to move his family to Utah (map of the Pioneer Trail).

He bought a good team of horses, a covered wagon, two milk cows, some sheep, all kinds of tools and household utensils, many kinds of seeds, including seeds from the sugar maple trees and then he came to Utah in what was considered good style in those days. Then he joined Captain McGray's company and arrived in Salt Lake on October 6th, 1852.

William Smith took up a homestead in Union (map; see also Union Ward) just 12 miles south of Salt Lake City. Here along the Little Cottonwood Creek he built a log house and planted his Maple trees. Some of them are still growing today.

William became the first second councilor of the L.D.S. Church of Union. He taught and believed the teachings of his good Nauvoo neighbor, Joseph Smith the prophet, who he so greatly loved and admired.

William was industrious and successful in all he undertook to do. He farmed in the summer, wove cloth in the winter, for as a youth in England he had learned to be a weaver. He loaned money to his neighbors and for miles around doctored the sick. One day when William and a group of men were in the canyon getting logs they found an Indian with a broken leg, William set the bone and cared for the injured Indian. From then on when the Indians were sick they came to him for help. They called him their friend and thought of him as a great medicine man. When all the other families moved into the Union Fort, the William P Smith family continued to live on the outside. When the neighbors begged William to move his family into the fort because the Indians were on the warpath he said, "Tut, tut, they will not harm thee."

February 22, 1853 little William became sick and died. When to add to their troubles the following summer the grasshoppers ate all their crops.

Two more sons were born to William and Mary. Thomas April 7, 1854, and John November 1856.

Mary was a very good midwife and like her husband, William, was always willing and ready to help the sick. A few days after her son John was born Mary was called on to help a neighbor who was desperately in need of a midwife. Mary got on her horse and rode away in the cold rain to help. A few days later Mary died of pneumonia (cemetery marker).

William worked very hard to take care of his motherless children. In January little John lay very ill. A colt was missing and for several days the older boys had been hunting for it. Thomas, almost three, was looking out of the window when suddenly he called, "Come quick, here is mother bringing the colt home." Members of the family ran to the window. There was the colt, but they could not see mother Mary. Thomas said, "Can't you see her? She's standing by the chopping block and she is coming for the baby in the morning." The next morning the baby died.

William, badly in need of a housekeeper, married a Swedish woman, big Ann Benson. Now Ann Benson had a temper as bad if not worse than William's temper. They had three children Elizabeth, James (cemetery marker) and Zilpha. It was impossible for William and his Swedish wife to live peacefully together so they got a divorce and Ann Benson Smith moved to Oakley, Utah (Ed. Note: Oakley is close to Heber City, see map) to raise her children.

William next took to courting Sarah Pidd Griffiths, second wife and widow of the late Joseph Griffiths (cemetery marker). Now Sarah had lived in England (map) and had become a convert to the L.D.S. Church the same as William. Her life is as full of adventure, hardship and sorrow as William's life. Some day, Ann, I will tell you her life story.

William put a spring seat on the two front wheels of his covered wagon and on this strange two wheeled vehicle he would pick up Sarah and her daughter, Lucy Ann Griffiths, after church or after her long day at work and bring her to his cozy log cabin, where he had prepared a delicious meal of white bread, white sugar, vegetables and meat. For it was said that William was one of the most prosperous men around and could afford many things other pioneers could not. It had been a long time since Sarah had tasted such good food. Sometimes she would help with the cooking. She would make a soda dough of white flour and from this dough she would make cakes cooked on a hot griddle. They enjoyed these cakes so much and each other's company that they called the cakes "Sparkling cakes."

Mr. Griffith's first wife, Ann Roberts Griffiths, was a very jealous woman and tried in every way to stop the courtship.

One bright day in 1867 William and Sarah drove to Salt Lake City to be married in the Endowment house. Ann Griffiths found out their plans and got there first. She cried and said if Sarah left she would have no means of support for her fifteen children. The officials would not marry them. They took William aside and told him to come back later when Ann didn't know about it. William was determined to be married without delay so they went to the United States Army at Fort Douglas (map) and there they were married by Judge Titus.

Many of the people of Union sympathized with Ann Griffiths and when they heard William and Sarah had been married by a non-Mormon, they decided that William and Sarah had left the church, and many became unfriendly. It became dangerous for William and Sarah to be away from home after dark. Several times shots were fired at them and once a bullet whizzed between them as they sat on the wagon seat coming home from a shopping trip.

William and Sarah still doctored the sick and helped the needy, but a few years later joined the reorganized church(See The Memoirs of President Joseph Smith, III, President of The Reorganized Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints).

Sarah and her daughter Lucy A. Griffiths, fit very well in the life of the Smith household. On November 4, 1868 William and Sarah were blessed with twins, Isaac and Sarah. Isaac died at birth, Sarah was a sweet lovable child and the whole family loved her. At the age of eight Sarah suddenly took sick with a fever and unknown sickness and within three days died (cemetery marker).

Hyrum Smith and Lucy Ann were to be married at the time, but because Sarah grieved deeply the death of her little daughter, Sarah, Lucy Ann put off her wedding for another year (Sarah was buried with the roses from Lucy Ann's wedding dress.)

In 1876 William married Hyrum Smith and Lucy Ann Griffiths (family picture). William wove the cloth for the wedding clothes and his wife Sarah, a seamstress and tailor, made the wedding clothes.

Lucy's and Hyrum's first son was William H. Smith born on December 16, 1879. He is my father and your great-grandfather, Ann.

Now my father, William H. Smith remembered the Old Dr. Wm P. Smith very well and often told me how he doctored the sick and helped the needy. One story he told me was how the old doctor held him over a hot stove to draw the sunburn out. For it was believed in those days that heat could draw out heat. Try this and see how painful it is. Another time he told me how my great grandfather pulled the small stickers out of his eyes after the neighborhood boys had a burr fight.

Foster Greenwood, my friend that just died, told me many times how the kind old Dr. William P Smith set his leg, when he was a boy of about ten years. "While I was helping my father bring a load of logs down the canyon one rolled on my leg and broke it. The ride down the canyon to William P Smith's home was long and painful. I will never forget how the kind old Doctor Smith skillfully set my leg and visited our home for many weeks to care for it," said Foster Greenwood, Sr.

William PSmith died in 1893 at the age of 83, but many of his old remedies and cures are still remembered and used by the family. Here is one called Grandpa's Salve:

  1/2 pound beeswax 
  1/2 pound rosin 
  1/2 pound mutton tallow 
  1/2 pound lard 
  Melt all this together and add 3/4 teaspoon of white vitrol.

Ann, come and look out of my front window and I'll show you the place where William P Smith's house stood. Just below the hill on the other side of Union Avenue. Now look on the top of the hill, there is our new four and one half million dollar Hillcrest High School. To the west of the high school is Union School where I teach. All this and much of the land around it was once William P Smith's homestead.

Eva L. Leyland
799 East 7200
South Midvale, Utah

Genealogy Collection provided by:
Becky S. Porter, 2493 S. Hulls Crossing, Preston, Idaho 83263

E-Mail: Roland K. Smith