IIPHILEMON CHRISTOPHER MERRILL 1820-1904
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Orson Pratt Brown - History of the Mormon Battalion Soldiers
Philemon Christopher Merrill
BY DARYL JAMES
Philemon Christopher Merrill went through the early hardships, persecutions and trials of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. He was born Nov. 12, 1820, at Byron, Genesee County, N.Y., to Samuel Merrill and Phoebe Odell.
Philemon enlisted as a volunteer in the Mormon Battalion Company B and endured the long march to the Pacific Coast. He left his wife and three children in Iowa to await his return.
Philemon Merrill's sisters also were in the Mormon Battalion, they are Albina Marie Merrill Williams, wife of Thomas Stephen Williams. and Phoebe Lodema Merrill, she served as a nurse. From Diary of Albina Merrill Williams: "Spring came at last and then the word was conveyed to the isolated little colony that a start had been made by the pioneers at Council Bluffs to find a new home in the far west. No time was lost in bidding farewell to the old fort on the Arkansas. Captain Brown's Company fell in the wake of the pioneers and all but overtook them before the Valley of the Great Salt Lake was reached. As a matter of fact, some of the Battalion people came in with the pioneers, but the wagon containing Mrs. Williams and her sister did not arrive on the banks of City Creek until five days after President Young had pitched a tent there." --Heart Throbs of the West, Vol. 2, 1940, page 72.
He then made his way back to Iowa to rejoin his family; however, Philemon never saw his youngest child again because she had died shortly after his enlistment. In the spring of 1849 the Merrills made ready and crossed the plains to Salt Lake Valley, arriving Oct. 16, 1849.
With the permission of Cyrena, Philemon entered plural marriage April 5, 1851, with Mary Jane Smith. Then in June 1853 Philemon left to fill a mission for the Church to England until 1856. After his return, the Church called him to help settle parts of southern Idaho. The two families moved to Liberty, Idaho, near Bear Lake in 1869 and then to Soda Springs, Idaho. While at Liberty, Philemon married a third woman, Rhoda Sylvia Collett, on Oct. 9, 1873.
In 1877 the Church called Philemon to help settle parts of central and southeastern Arizona. By then his second wife had died, so he took his two remaining families in August 1877 and headed for the San Pedro Valley.
They had a great deal of faith, for the departure was with provisions only enough to last two days. The company made camp about one half mile south of the present town of St. David, Arizona, building a small stone fort of six or eight rooms. Philemon had first seen the area with the Mormon Battalion in 1847. It was here in 1878, while nearly all the settlers were suffering with chills and fever, that Erastus Snow set apart Philemon to preside over the Saints in the area. In 1881 Philemon asked that he be relieved of his responsibilities as Presiding Elder and left St. David in 1890, settling in Safford, Ariz.
He later held the office of Patriarch, being ordained by John Henry Smith. Philemon was a good public speaker and loved to talk about the Prophet Joseph Smith. About 1900 he moved to San Jose, Ariz., and died at his home there Sept. 15, 1904, at the age of 84.
-- Sources: 1. Unpublished autobiography of Cyrena Dustin; 2. "Patriarchs: Philemon Christopher Merrill." The 25th Stake of Zion (On record at Harold B. Lee Library, Brigham Young University, Provo, UT).
VOLUME III, PP. 1,986 (1998)
INTERNATIONAL SOCIETY, DAUGHTERS OF UTAH PIONEERS
Mary Jane was born in Illinois in 1833. Not much is known of her childhood. An early Rhodes Scholar, she passed her love for books to her children. She lived for a time in the Mansion House with her mother, who later married Philo Dibble. She came to Utah probably between 1847 and 1850 with a wagon train, because at age 17 she married Philemon Christopher Merrill as a plural wife 5 April 1851. Her first child was born in Salt Lake City.
The Merrills moved to Farmington, Davis County, where two more children joined the family. They next moved to Morgan, where Philemon helped build the railroad. There, Mary Jane's last five children were born.
In 1869, the Merrills were on the move to settle Idaho. On this journey, according to the journal of Cyrena Dustin Merrill, Philemon's first wife, Mary Jane's life ended. Cyrena wrote of the move to Liberty, Bear Lake, Idaho in July 1869. "This was a hard trip for all of us, though it was only a hundred miles. Mary Jane's baby Herbert Merrill was only six weeks old, and Mary Jane was not strong." Cyrena continues, "I took little Lot Merrill in my wagon. He was just recovering from Typhoid Fever and was peevish and fretful, and I could do no more with him than anyone else." He would have been four years old, having been born in 1865. "We felt worn out when we reached our destination. We lived here only two years when, on June 2, 1871, Mary Jane died, leaving seven children, who now looked to me for a mother's care, the oldest being eighteen and the youngest only two years old." She finishes simply, "I prayfully undertook this charge."
Only one photograph of Mary Jane survived. In it, she has a sober expression. Hers was a brief, hard, exciting life. She passed away at age 37, apparently buried "at the mouth of Emmigration Canyon, on the way to Liberty, in an unmarked grave." Other records indicate she passed away near Liberty, Bear Lake, Idaho.
Philemon took another plural wife, Rhoda Sylvia Collett on October 9, 1873 at Salt Lake City, Utah.
Here is a true story that relates a simple experience of a nineteen-year-old who became a remarkable one. He was magnified and had great powers beyond his natural abilities as the Lord acted through him. There was a young nineteen-year-old admirer of Joseph Smith, Philemon Merrill, who had come with other loyal followers to rescue their prophet from the hands of sheriffs Reynolds and Wilson. While returning to Nauvoo, the company rested “in a little grove of timber.” One of the lawyers for the sheriff and the kidnappers boasted of his wrestling powers. He offered a wager that he could throw any man in Illinois. Stephen Markham, a bodyguard of Joseph’s and a huge man, also an experienced wrestler, took up the challenge. The boaster threw Stephen, and a taunting shout went up from the Prophet’s enemies.
The boy was about to refuse, to excuse himself by saying he was not a wrestler, but the look in the Prophet’s eye silenced his tongue. “He arose to his feet filled with the strength of a Samson.” Philemon “lifted his arms” and told the lawyer to take his choice of sides.
Philemon Merrill’s friends protested, but young Philemon felt such confidence in the words of the Prophet that it made little difference to him what advantage his antagonist took. As they began to grapple, Joseph instructed him, “ ‘Philemon, when I count three, throw him!’
Little wonder it is reported that “awe fell upon the opponents of the Prophet when they saw this, and there were no more challenges to wrestle during the journey” (George Q. Cannon, Life of Joseph Smith the Prophet, Classics in Mormon Literature, Salt Lake City: Deseret Book Co., 1986, pp. 45051)
St. David just seven miles from Benson on Hwy 80. This community was settled by a colony of Mormons led by Philemon Merrill a member of the Mormon Battalion (Roadside History of Arizona, p56).
to be added
PAF - Archer files = Captain James Brown + (7) Phebe Abbott > Orson Pratt Brown + Elizabeth Graham Macdonald > adopted Marguerite Webb Brown + Otto Stronach Shill is brother of Milo Goulding Shill.
Photos and information from
Arizona Historical Society. Southern Arizona Division. Library and Archives
Additions, bold, [bracketed], some photos, etc., added by Lucy Brown Archer
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