"History of Bear Lake Pioneers" Compiled by Edith Parker Haddock and Dorothy Hardy Matthews, edited by F. Ross Peterson, Edith Parker Haddock and Dorothy Hardy Matthews, published by Daughters of Utah Pioneers, Bear Lake County, Idaho
MORRIS PHELPS by Irene Budge and Beatrice H. Burgoyne
Morris Phelps was born in Northhampton, Massachusetts on December 20, 1805. He was the son of Spencer and Mary Kenneippe Phelps. Morris' line goes back to William Phelps who immigrated to America in 1630. Morris' mother was the descendant of a Hessian soldier who was captured at Trenton during the American Revolution. He then joined the colonial army and fought with Washington. Morris attended school in various frontier communities as his family moved west. They settled in Ohio and he had the opportunity to attend school briefly at Mentor, Ohio. His diaries and letters show a better than average vocabulary and he was excellent penman.
When he was about nineteen years of age, he visited his relatives in Illinois. While there he met and fell in love with Laura Clark. Laura was born in New Fairfield, Connecticut on July 28, 1807. Morris and Laura were married March 26, 1826. They lived in Illinois for five years and their two oldest daughters, Paulina Eliza and Mary Ann were born there. They became interested in the new religion of Mormonism in 1831 and after several weeks of investigation, they were baptized in the Dupage River on August 18, 1831. They left Illinois two months later and joined the Saints in Missouri. Their daughter, Harriet Wight, was born soon after their arrival. Morris and his family were driven from their homes in Jackson County and moved north into Clay County. He was called on a mission for the church in 1834 and was sent to the states of Illinois, Indiana, and Ohio. This left Laura alone with her three daughters. She taught school and practiced obstetrics. Charles C. Rich traveled with Morris as his companion, Morris baptized Laura's parents who moved to Missouri and help her while Morris was away.
Morris spent the winter of 1835-36 as a carpenter on the Kirtland Temple in Ohio. He was ordained a high priest and attended the dedication of the Temple on April 6, 1836. He then returned to his family in Missouri. He returned home in time to help his family move again because of persecution.
Morris established a home on a small farm just outside of Far West and it was here that his first son, Joseph Morris was born in 1837. Although there was intense persecution and bitterness, this was a time of happiness for the family. Morris invested in a merchandising business and did quite well. The happiness did not last for long, because new mobs formed and caused a great deal of damage and sorrow. They raided the Phelps home and threatened Morris' life, but only killed his hogs, Morris said in his diary that:
"I was attacked by the mod ... my property was confiscated and I was made a prisoner. (October 31, 1838.) Was put in jail where I remained until July 4, 1839, from which made my escape with Parley P. Pratt, by the assistance of Orson Pratt and my wife, Laura."
While Morris was incarcerated, Laura and the children went with her parents to Montrose, Iowa. They found an abandoned farmhouse and made a home. Morris and Parley Prat were chained with wrist and ankle irons in such a manner that they could only sleep on their backs. The story of Laura's plan to free her husband is amazing and illustrates the great faith courage. She and her brother, John Wesley Clark, rode horseback from Montrose to Columbia, Missouri, a distance of 160 miles. A grandson, Will R. Holmes left the following account:
"Here was her plan to free them: She would secret three horses in some brush a short distance from the jail. As an excuse to get the jailer to unlock the prison door, she would suggest to the jailer that he open the door and pass the coffee pot in to the prisoners through the open door. ... Should the jailer unlock the door, it would be the signal to get busy, pull the door wide open, grab the jailer, throw him to the floor and flee for their lives."
Laura was warned by her brother, John not to tough the prisoners or assist them as that would be an offense. Will Holmes' history continues:
"The scheme worked but not without difficulties. The second door was unlocked and King Follet (one of the prisoners) pulled the door open and ran out, Parley P. Pratt was to follow and grandfather Phelps, being an athlete and wrestler, was to throw the jailer down and he would follow. It proved to be an exciting event ... it was the fourth of Fourth of July and hundreds were nearby celebrating."
The escapees made it to where Orson Pratt and John Clark were waiting with the horses. They split up and made their way to Illinois. Morris was quite ill from exposure and being confined to prison for eight months. Laura was left to the mercy of the mob in Columbia. A young man sneaked her away from the angry mob and then assisted her in returning to Illinois where she found friends.
Morris went on another mission east in 1839. He took Laura with him and also his youngest child, Joseph. Another son, Jacob Spencer, was born in Indiana. Morris' writings reveal the next tragic event, which occurred shortly after the end of the mission to the east.
"Rested a few days, got our children together and settled in Macedonia, Illinois, 25 miles east of Nauvoo. Here we lived in peace and quiet for some time. My wife, Laura, acting in the capacity of a midwife, by over exertion and by traveling day and night, took sick 1st of February and died on the 9th of February, 1842."
Laura's death was a great sorrow to Morris, especially with the five small children. Persecution against the Mormons was beginning in Illinois and he worried about protecting them from the mobs. Morris met Sara Thompson, the daughter of David and Leah L. Thompson. Sara was twenty-two years old and a schoolteacher. She was born March 20, 1820 in Pompey, New York and had come to Nauvoo with here widowed mother. Morris and Sara were married March 27, 1842 and they moved into Nauvoo where Morris could work on the temple. Two daughters were born to them while living in Nauvoo, but both died in infancy. Laura's youngest child, Jacob, was accidentally scaled to death. Morris' daughters Mary Ann and Paulina married Charles C. Rich and Amasa M. Lyman respectively. Hyrum Smith Phelps, Sara's third child, was born in Nauvoo on February 26, 1846. This was the bitter cold night that many saints were being driven from their homes and across the Mississippi River.
The Phelps family reached Winter Quarters in the fall of 1846. They remained here for five years and prepared for the journey to the mountains. Morris spent five his time building and repairing wagons and travel equipment. Morris married Martha Barker Holmes on February 26, 1848. Martha was fifty years and the mother of James Holmes, who later married Morris' daughter, Harriet. They came to Utah together in 1851 and settled in Alpine. Morris and James Holmes owned interest in a sawmill and other properties in Alpine. Morris served as an Alderman and as a counselor in the bishopric while they lived in Alpine. In June, 1864, both men pulled up stakes and followed Charles C. Rich to Bear Lake.
Morris' first home in Montpelier was a one room log hut with a dirt floor and a dirt roof. The floor was covered with straw and the roof leaked. The door was made of wooden planks with a latch that was operated by a buckskin, which was pulled in at night for a lock. The furniture was homemade and the beds were made of small poles bored into the walls and supported with crossbeams. The mattress was made of straw. The logs were obtained from "Joe's Gap," a narrow gorge two miles north of Montpelier, which opened into a pine-covered canyon. It was Morris's son, Joseph, who found the narrow ravine, and ever since that time it has been called "Joe's Gap." The food was cooked on open fireplaces or in Dutch ovens covered with coals. Clothing was all hand made. Every family had its spinning wheel and each community had good weavers. Sarah T. Phelps was one of the most prominent weavers. Most all of the clothing was made from homespun cloth. Men wore buckskin shirts and britches and beaver vests and caps to keep them warm.
The first year, 1864, an early frost damaged the crops. Teams went to Cache Valley for flour, but before they got back it snowed so hard that they were unable to reach the settlements without additional aid. The winter was a long and severe one, the snow was deep and blizzards made travel impossible. Communication between settlements was made on snowshoes. By spring most of the people were eating frozen potatoes or sticky bread made from frozen wheat.
Morris later built a large, two-story home with wooden floor and shingle roof, the first in Montpelier. This became a center for community gatherings. He became postmaster of Montpelier in 1869 and was ordained a patriarch by Brigham Young in 1873. Sarah was the first President of the Relief Society in Montpelier. She also served the community as a midwife and she delivered 580 women without a loss. Morris and Sarah lost one daughter, Martha, in Montpelier, who was nineteen. Their daughters Amanda and Olive grew to maturity. A son, Charles Wilks, died as a child. Morris and Sara had seven children, but raised only three. Morris Phelps died at Montpelier on May 22, 1876. After his death Sarah moved to Mesa, Arizona with her son Hyrum. She died there on January 31, 1896. Martha Barker Holmes Phelps remained in Montpelier after Morris's death. She lived with her son James Holmes and his family. She died January 9, 1888 at the age of eight-nine.