Friday, May 8, 2009

John Douglas Westbrook

About three months before the Massacre, a young man, John Douglas Westbrook, left for Utah. He was fortunate enough to be a recipient of one of Elder Gibbs final letters. He also gave an interview with the Utah journal in which he told what he knew of those involved in the Massacre. This interview is one of the few sources claiming the leader of the mob, David Hinson, was a Methodist minister. The paper says...

"David Hinson, one of the mobbers who was killed, was a local preacher of the Methodist persuasion, Brother Westbrook thinks, and it may hence be inferred that he was a leader of the mob."

But who was John Douglas Westbrook. Pat Miller helped me with a summary of his life and some very important details.

John Douglas Westbrook was the son of Amos C. Westbrook and Susan Lucetta Nance. John was born on 14 Sep 1860 in Lewis County, Tennessee. His father died of illness, contracted in a northern Civil War prison, when John was only two years old. His mother remarried Azariah Anderson Conder in 1863. Azariah was a brother to William James Conder at whose home the Massacre happened.

It is likely John heard about the LDS Church through mother who joined the LDS church in January 1880. John was baptized by Thomas Merrill on 12 December 1881 at Cane Creek, Tennessee, confirmed on 12 December 1881 by Brigham H. Roberts, and ordained a Priest by John H. Gibbs on 13 September 1883.

Three months prior to the Massacre, John left Cane Creek in May 1884 and moved to Utah. He initially stayed with Elder Gibbs brother-in-law in Utah. It is apparent that Elder Gibbs had made that arrangement. In a letter Elder Gibbs gave John advice to save his money and to beware of those who would try to get him involved in risky business ventures. He also said he would look up John's mother when he was passing through “Obron.”

John lived in Utah for only a short time before he was called to help in the San Luis, Colorado Stake, arriving in La Jara, Colorado on 14 February 1885.

There he was ordained an Elder by S. C. Berthelson on 2 April 1888. He also met Leander Elizabeth Kelley and they were married on 29 April 1892. A Family Group Sheet in the possession of Mrs. Edith W. Hunnicutt has a note about John Douglas Westbrook and Leander Elizabeth Kelly;


Our parents were married for time and eternity by Apostle John Henry Smith, 29 Apr 1892 in Manassa, Conejos Co., Colo. In a letter from Pres. George Albert Smith, he said the marriage and sealing was valid.

John continued strong in the gospel. He was ordained a Seventy by Apostle John Henry Smith on 1 July 1894. He received his Patriarchal Blessing in September 1896 under the hand of Elihu K. Ball.

John kept in contact with the Conders. He sent them photos of the family on at least two occasions. These photos are labeled “James” D Westbrook Family, though this is most likely a mistake since every other record uses “John.” On the left is one of them. [The date on the photo is December 10 1892, which I thought was odd since the boy was too old for that to work. I thought the date must be wrong. But as you'll see below, it all falls into place.]

John and his wife eventually had at least 11 children. Their names were:
James Robert (1893), John Douglas (1894), Joseph Albert (1897), Bernice Evelyn (1899), Edith Elizabeth (1901), Jesse Ephriam (1904), Joel Howard(1907), Mary Wanda (1909), Ella Grace (1913), Ernest Ray (1915), and Susan Louise (1918). James Robert died before his first birthday, though the other children all appear to have lived to adulthood.

Another photo was found in the Conder family collection in Lewis County, Tennessee. A better copy of it was given to me by Pat Miller. Based on the number of children in the photo it was probably taken in around 1905. [Both of these photos are published in the Pictoral History of Lewis County.]


John was ordained a High Priest by Erastus Christensen on 7 January 1911.

The last photo I have of the Westbrook family, also from Pat Miller, has an inscription on the back. It says

Albert, Bernice, Jesse, Edith, Howard, Wanda - Frank, Douglas, Grace & Ray are not on this picture.
It was the "Frank" that had me puzzled. The label makes sense if you agree that only the children are named. The four names at the end are those not present. Grace and Ray might not be in the photo because they are not yet born. Douglas would have been the oldest and was absent without explanation.

But Frank was a mystery. He did not appear on the Westbrook family groupsheet. So I looked in the Census and found an "Amos Franklin Westbrook" in the 1900 & 1910 Census living with John and listed as a son, but with an implied birth year of 1887. The fact that he appears in each of the two census records and is named on the back of a photo led me to believe it is not a mistake. Leander Kelley could not have been his mother. Not only had she not yet married John, but she was also only 11 years old in 1887. This explains who the boy in the 1892 photo would be. It must be Frank.

The answer was that John Westbrook had prior wife. Knowing their son's name I was able to find her: Juda Elizabeth Samples. John married her in 1886. The Manifesto was in place in 1890, so it is likely they were divorced or she had died prior to his 29 April 1892 marriage to Leander Kelley. The small number of post-Manifesto marriages performed were mostly in Mexico. And although John Henry Smith did direct other apostles to perform these marriages, there is no evidence he did any of them himself. It would be cool if I found one, but I don't think so.
I can find two death dates for Juda Elizabeth Samples. One is a note saying she died before 1906. The other says she died 20th April 1872 [Note: a member of the family pointed out this is actually her sister's death date]; a ridiculous date considering her son was born in 1886. So what was it? Did she die before John married his second wife? Did she divorce John? or was this a post -Manifesto plural marriage? Anyone out there want to help me clear this up? My guess is an early death. There was only one child, and if this marriage had gone on until 1909, I would expect there to have been more. But I want to lock this up and I don't know where to turn next.

John Douglas Westbrook's death, however, I know about. He died 23 October 1948 in Sanford, Colorado and was buried two days later.

14 comments:

In The Doghouse said...

Such cool stuff. I have been reading Defender of the Faith, the BH Roberts story and learned for the first time of this massacre. This additional information is really great. I hope you solve the mystery of the marriages.

Ardis Parshall said...

My first reaction is that it was a post-Manifesto marriage, and that someone in the family, realizing that, wrote to George Albert Smith to ask whether such a late polygamous marriage was valid. I can't think of any other reason why anyone would even ask such a question. But obviously that's circumstantial, not conclusive.

Another fascinating entry in your Cane County massacre catalog. Thanks for sharing it, and thanks to Pat for her materials.

BruceCrow said...

In The Doghouse
Thanks for the nice comment. I'm fortunate to have found such a fruitful topic outside mainstream Mormon history.

Ardis
I thought that too, but another reason to ask the question was because the marriage took place outside the temple in Colorado.

But then that begs the question "Why perform a marriage outside the temple in 1892 when you are so close to a temple?"

I just don't want to jump to unwarrented conclusions. So who is the expert on post-Manifesto plural marriage?

Tod Robbins said...

Rick J. Fish? Tom Alexander? Just a few guesses. I know Rick quite well, and know he is quite the expert on George Q. Cannon as least.

Fascinating stuff, Bruce.

Ardis Parshall said...

I don't know an expert, really. Those who study and write about it seem to focus on the idea of it, not the nuts and bolts of individual circumstances.

BruceCrow said...

Ardis,
Maybe I'm just an amateur, but I'm guessing someone, somewhere has made a list. I mean, if I were studying post-Manifesto plural marriages, (which I'm not) I'd make a list. Maybe that's why I'm an amateur.

Todd,
Would you be willing to ask Rick what he thinks?

Jesse said...

I am a descendant of John Douglas Westbrook and can shed some light on Judy Elizabeth Samples. She was John's first wife and died of consumption if I remember right.

Cindyu said...

I'm a descendant of the Conder's and possess originals of both of the family photos.

The back is not inscribed James Westbrook, it is inscribed "Presented to James Conder and family; by John D. Westbrook and family

December - 10 - 1892"

I am happy to share of a copy of it.

BruceCrow said...

I would love to get a copy of the originals. I'll email you off-blog

Scott said...

I am a great grandson of John Douglas, his daughter Susan Louise was my grandmother.
John Douglas Westbrook Scott's ancestory.

BruceCrow said...

Thanks for the link Scott. It is good to hear from descendents of of John. Were their any stories passed down in the family about him?

Mike Prusse said...

Bruce - just ordered your book and am plowing through it. My great grandfather was John Douglas Westbrook. My mother lived with John & Leander until she was 12. She is the daughter of Mary Wanda Westbrook. I'm sure she can shed more light on this family for you. She has a bible that John Gibbs gave to John D. Westbrook as a birthday gift in 1883.

Mike Prusse said...

One more - using my husband's google account (above) - my name is Diane Kulwicki Prusse, descendant of John D. Westbrook.

BruceCrow said...

It is nice to meet you Diane. Elder Gibbs loved John Westbrook. His journal and letters make that clear.

I can't see the email address used to verify the accounts, but I'd love to hear more from you. Feel free to email me directly at bruce_crow[at]yahoo[dot]com