As we approach Pioneer Day, many people reflect on the ancestors who brought them to where they are today. Bonnie Williams Brown said, “We are all a product of our heritage. Our ancestors practiced faith and endurance so that we could raise our families in this beautiful place.”
Bonnie lives in Mountain Green on the lane going to the LDS Stake Bowery. She spent the majority of her growing up years visiting and working on the property she now owns and lives on. Her father’s ancestors came to the Morgan Valley in the 1860s.
Joshua Williams, her great-grandfather, was born in Wales and apprenticed as a tailor when he was young. His mother died when he was 5 years old. When Joshua met the Mormon missionaries, he was converted and joined the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints when he was 16. At the age of 18, he married Annie Coy from England.
In 1862, Joshua arranged transport to America for Annie under the Perpetual Immigration Fund. Several months later, after saving enough money to make the trip to America, Joshua and Annie were reunited and together they left Nebraska to cross the plains by ox team with the Henry W. Miller Company.
Family tradition holds that when Joshua and his family were crossing the plains to Utah, he became very ill with Rocky Mountain Fever in the vicinity of Coalville. The company was forced to leave him behind and he encouraged his family to stay with the company. That evening, Annie put the children to bed, and leaving them with other pioneer families, walked back to find her ailing husband. They were helped by some woodcutters from Salt Lake City who transported them to their destination and reunited them with their children.
Still in a weakened state, Joshua and family were sent to Mountain Green, where Joshua secured a plot of ground on the flatlands and built his first home. He was assigned to teach school and began herding sheep on the Ford Ranch. Joshua had an inventive mind and built a water wheel. With a hand-made saw, he began operating a steam-powered saw mill in Hardscrabble.
After about 10 years, Joshua made an interim move with his family to Ogden for a brief period where he served as the first fire chief of Ogden and helped with the construction of the Catholic Church and the Sacred Heart Academy.
Joshua returned to Mountain Green and became the homesteader of a good-sized ranch within the area that is currently the Cottonwoods. Here he farmed and operated a saw mill in Cottonwood Canyon, where he cut ties for the advance of the Union Pacific Railroad. He built two mail stations and provided hay for the Wells Fargo traveling through the canyon.
Joshua built the Rosehill Cottage, a cute two-story home with a veranda. It had eye-catching architecture and Oregon wild roses decorated the landscape. The name Rosehill survives to this day as one of the subdivisions in Mountain Green.
One room of the cottage was used as a school classroom before the Peterson School was built. Joshua later drove children to school in Peterson with his horse and buggy.
Joshua was self-taught and became the Morgan County attorney. Eleven children, with one on the way, were born to Joshua and Annie before her death. He later re-married and his total children numbered 18. One of his sons from Annie was Bonnie’s grandpa, James.
James met Brittamore France, whose family owned and operated a farm on Dry Creek just below the Mountain Green Cemetery and south towards the freeway. Other members of the France family owned farmland along Cottonwood Creek.
James and Brittamore were married and homesteaded 160 acres of land (the current Fox Hollow Subdivision) and built a one-room log home near a natural spring.
James and Britt struggled as they cleared sage brush, plowed the ground with a walking plow, and began to farm. Bonnie’s father, Elwood, was one of the children born in that cabin. “Dad would tell me stories of how they would stand in the doorway of their cabin and shoot wolves, coyotes and mountain lions as they came to feast on their livestock. Times were hard…food was scarce and Dad told me many times how his mother would divide the eggs for dinner: James was served one egg while the children were asked to settle for half. Dad, at a very young age, was given the responsibility of shooting wildlife for dinner. Cows were milked and the cream was sold in Ogden in exchange for a few groceries.
When Joshua passed away in 1900, James bought a portion of his father’s estate and continued farming and operating the saw mill.
On Thanksgiving Day, Brittamore suffered a heart attack and Elwood, at the age of 13, was summoned by his dad to ride a horse to Peterson and call a doctor for help. Elwood had never talked on a phone before so he needed help in making the call. A doctor arrived and gave her a shot and, within minutes, she passed away as a result of a bad reaction to the medication.
Elwood was educated in Peterson, but when he reached high school age, he made the decision to attend school in Ogden where he could live with his sister during the week and return home on weekends. The train would pick him up at Strawberry and drop him off at the same location. On one particular occasion, while walking the tracks home from Strawberry in a severe blizzard, he became so cold he thought he would never make it home. He walked and walked until he saw a light. His dad was worried about him and had gone searching for his son—holding a lantern. The two were able to make it home together that night.
After Bonnie’s grandpa was killed in a car accident in Ogden, Elwood took over the farm. He was the only living son; there were three sisters who lived to adulthood. Elwood had always worked on the farm growing up and as an adult. He acquired some post-secondary bookkeeping education and later built and managed Farmer’s Grain Co-op in Ogden. He continued raising cattle, hogs and horses on the family farm and also on his ranch in Eden. Bonnie said she has many memories of working side by side with her father on the ranch. Her Dad first put her atop a horse at the age of 3, and she remembers sitting on the show bulls and holding tight to their horns.
Ezra Taft Benson was a good friend of the family and had a tremendous influence in her father’s life because of his admirable qualities. He was instrumental in Dad’s conversion to the LDS religion.
Bonnie is the only child of Elwood and Ruby Williams. Her mother lived the city life and wanted her daughter to do the same. Bonnie only wanted to be at the ranch in Mountain Green. Her father taught her hard work: hay to harvest, stalls to clean, livestock to feed, chores to do, and tractors to drive. On occasion, her dad would pay her a dollar for her labors, which would buy a box of 22 shells, a Big Hunk candy bar, and maybe a drink at the old Wheel Café.
She has built her home on a portion of the original Williams property and lives on the ranch full time. She runs a modest herd of cows and enjoys her horses and other animals. She is a post-secondary special education teacher and will retire from the Ogden School District in a few years. She will get to enjoy her “paradise,” as she calls it, full time. She displays many antiques from the past on her property: an original wagon that her grandfather bought, two horse-drawn plows used to clear the sagebrush, a horse-drawn sleigh and many others. She has also moved and restored the Honeymoon Cottage, a log cabin that many newlyweds lived in when they were first married in Mountain Green. That was a labor of love and a story for another day.
Bonnie says she feels very close to her Mountain Green ancestors and even visits the family gravesites regularly at the Mountain Green Cemetery. She says, “We owe them so much. Their faith, courage and hard work have given us the life we enjoy today.”
She said that her father’s sage advice has comforted her through life’s storms. He would say, “Face life’s trials—grow from them—rise above them and let them go.” Good advice for us all!