David Russell Creer's Great Grandfather
A Short Biography of My Grandfather, David Bowen, As I Knew Him
Written by John Evans Bowen, Jr.
Since my grandfather, David Bowen, and his good wife, Jane Foster Bowen were
responsible for the large posterity that is now often referred to as “the Bowen Clan”, I thought it might be useful to future generations to have some record of the kind of man David Bowen was. I feel that I had more close experiences and personal contacts with him than any of his living descendents. During his later years when it became difficult for him to write letters, I became, in a sort of way, his secretary and wrote many letters to a Mary Jane Phillips and her son, John Bowen Phillips. Mrs. Phillips must have been grandfather’s sister, because her son, who did the writing for the family, always addressed grandfather as Uncle David.
It was my good fortune to have served as a missionary in the Bristol Conference of the Mormon Church from 1910 to 1912. The area comprised North West England and part of South Wales. This gave me an opportunity to go to Llanelly, Carmarthenshire South Wales where grandfather was born and raised. There were no missionaries in Carmarthenshire. During the first Christmas holiday Ed. Williams came down from Hull in north east England and we visited with a number of his relatives, cousins on his mother’s side, and the Bowen’s who were living at Llanelly at that time.
According to the genealogy records in possession of my brother, David, grandfather was born in Llanelly on 11 August 1823. He was the eighth child born to William and Jane Evans Bowen. The Bowen family was well known in Llanelly and had much to do with the economic development of the area. Grandfather was trained as a blacksmith. His father, William, was also a blacksmith, and his son John Bowen, was a blacksmith as well as a civil and electrical engineer. In fact, John Bowen was a consulting engineer who was often called to various areas of Great Britain to help solve engineering problems. He did the engineering work in laying out the docks at Llanelly and was also instrumental in establishing the Old Castle Tinplate and Copper Works not far from where grandfather lived.
I was shown through this plant by a cousin of grandfather’s whose name was John. He was a foreman, 80 years old, but still very active. He pointed out to me the steam engine that furnished the power to the machines that rolled the hot steel into layers thin enough to be dipped in to molten tin. There was a ready and broad market for this tin product on the markets of the world. This huge stationary engine was built by William Bowen and his son, John. A small model of this engine was brought to Spanish Fork and became lost or stolen. As I recall, it was less than a foot high and had a water capacity of about a pint. It had a firebox for heating the water, and when the steam pressure was high enough, the engine would run. It’s regrettable that it was not preserved to show here today as an exhibit.
In the year 1844 grandfather married a beautiful girl from a nearby town of Dowlas. From all we know about her she was a devoted and loveable woman. From this union were born nine children, four sons and five daughters. All the daughters died in infancy except Eleanor Jane, who we learned to call Aunt Ellen Thomas, the wife of William Thomas, better known as Uncle Bill.
My uncles, William P. Bowen and George Bowen, and Aunt Ellen were all born in Llanelly, South Wales. My father, John Evans Bowen was the first child born to them in America. This took place on 12 July 1855, in Minersville, Pa. During this period of Mormon history, the spirit of migration to Utah, the new Zion, was very pronounced, and grandfather was seized with the migratory craze, and he made arrangements to go along with the other converts to America and on to Utah. In his hurry and anxiety while boarding the sailing ship at the harbor of Liverpool, he inadvertently dropped the bag containing all his money in the harbor. This incident seemed a disaster at the time. However, he later related it as a blessing in disguise. In order to secure money to equip and outfit to travel across the plains to Utah, he was required to seek work. His skill as a blacksmith and also as a welder soon resulted in his securing work making chains for the coal mines in the area where father was born. Had it not been for this delay in Pennsylvania, father would have been born somewhere along the western plains under conditions that may have resulted in the death of grandmother, her tiny son, or both of them.
Physically grandfather Bowen was short of stature, stocky, sturdy, very strong and healthy. I don’t remember his ever being bedfast from illness except when he had a stroke and finally died. He walked with a slight limp, caused by an accident while he was playing on the beach near Llanelly. He was just and infant at that time. He had a ruddy complexion, rosy cheeks, blue eyes, a conspicuous beard that extended from ear to ear covering the jaw bones and across the chin. He wore his hair rather long, and it was a bit curly. My father used to cut his hair and trim his beard. He had no mustache. His clothes, that is, his suits, were made to order by tailor Lorenzo Thomas. The coats had very large, deep outside pockets. He kept a few chickens, and I recall one day when he came home to our house, where my sister, Eleanor now lives at 223 East 5th North, that he had his coat pockets full of eggs. He emptied each pocket very carefully, all the time observing that I was watching him with keen interest. After that he bowed his head and carefully removed a high crowned hat that contained many more eggs.
Grandfather was a man who had acquired many skills and interests. The old saying that necessity is the mother of invention was true in the early days of the pioneers. As a blacksmith, grandfather made his own tools, such as hammers, tongs, pincers, etc., as well as horseshoes and nails to tack shoes on horse’s feet. From a block of white colored sandstone he hued out a grindstone and set it up on a frame which was turned with a handle by manpower. This grindstone was placed just north of the blacksmith shop in the shade of a huge mulberry tree. Mollie, Eleanor, David and I spent many hours of irksome toil turning the stone for my father to sharpen hay knives, a scythe, knives for topping sugar beets and other tools that needed a sharp cutting edge. Incidentally, grandfather is credited with making the first beet knife with a hook on it. He was a good gunsmith, and could and did make everything pertaining to a shotgun or rifle except the barrel. The stock, cock and trigger were all made by hand. I was the recipient of a muzzleloader shot gun, and I regret to say I don’t know what became of it. I did shoot a few sparrows, but I had no real interest in the sport of hunting. He was always busy and had many interests. He lived in a two-story adobe house just west of the Reese School (Spanish Fork, Utah). The blacksmith shop faced the south on the street of 4th North between 1st and 2nd East. It was of lumber and was equipped with anvil, forge, bellows, vice and other tools needed for blacksmith work in that pioneer age. The pioneers endeavored to be self-sustaining as far as possible; apple trees, apricot trees, of several varieties, were planted on the lot. There were two winter pear trees in the northeast corner of the lot, the fruit of which was as hard as rocks. My thinking now is that had those pears been picked and properly stored until ripened, they may have been delicious.
A number of hives of bees were also kept on the lot. We always had plenty of good quality honey at our home, and it was often used instead of sugar in the canning of fruit.
In the north end of grandfather’s house was a room used for the extraction and storage of honey. The neighbor boys were frequent visitors at this spot when the large frames of honey were ready for extraction. This was done by cutting the surface of the honey cone with a sharp knife dipped in hot water. The kids were allowed to help themselves to these scalpings.
In my estimation, I think the most valuable attributes of grandfather that are worthy of emulation by us and future generations were his personality and character. These are the things that persist after life and identify a man throughout eternity. At heart grandfather was a religious man. He was honest and, “an honest man is considered the noblest work of God”; he was friendly, generous, and had a keen sense of humor. Many bills owed him for blacksmith work were cancelled because of financial reverses of his customers. Many times I have seen him kneeling at his bedside engaged in prayer. He usually attended Sacrament Meeting at the Fourth Ward Church house, but he was not conspicuous for much speaking in public; he was a man of few words; he did his own thinking, and never did I hear him speak unkindly of others or criticize the program of the church, or fail to support the general authorities. He always attended semi-annual conferences at Salt Lake City as long as he was able to do so. Considerable temple work was done by him in the temple at Manti.
He like many other pioneer converts to the church, had a profound conviction that the teachings and establishment of the restored church were accomplished under divine guidance. It required a lot of faith, courage, and will power to leave a comfortable home, loving parents and many dear friends to join an unpopular religion which finally led to his leaving his beloved Wales to travel 5,000 miles to endure the hardships and sacrifices encountered in a new undeveloped land.
He made a visit back to Wales and was instrumental in helping Sam Myler and his sister, Polly Myler, come to America and eventually, to Spanish Fork. Polly married Harry Hughes. Eugene Hughes, whom we all know so well, was born to this couple.
Grandfather, like all of us, had his faults and weaknesses. He had a good-sized temper. The neighborhood boys used to annoy him by trespassing on his property and filching eggs. This tested his power of self-control to the breaking point. I have seen him hurl a rock-under hand style-like is done in modern soft ball, with the speed equivalent to that of fast ball thrown by Cousin John H. Bowen at the heyday of his pitching career as a baseball player. The rock throwing at a boy was accompanied with the words: “Get you from by here!” Had the rock hit the boy it could have injured him seriously. Had I known what I know now I might have further tantalized grandfather by saying: “Whoa! Whoa! Gramps keep your shirt on.” I would follow this by one of the Proverbs, 16:32 which reads, “He that is slow to anger is better than the mighty: and he that ruleth his spirit than he that taketh a city.”
At times, before he moved to our home as a permanent resident, I was asked to sleep with grandfather. I used to enjoy conversing with him, and his humorous Welsh stories intrigued me. However, sleeping with him was an experience I did not relish. The reason was his loud resounding snore. This I could not cope with. I remember one particular night when I so restive and annoyed that I quietly got out of bed, dressed and fled. I had deserted him. It was embarrassing to meet him at breakfast that morning. I told my parents why I came home in the night. They never asked me to stay with grandfather at night anymore.
It is gratifying to recognize that many of the second and third generations of grandfather’s have been, and now are, active workers in the church that he joined back in South Wales many years ago. I’m sure that the mothers of the present generations should have considerable credit for sending their sons on missions and encouraging them to work hard for an education and prepare themselves to render service in the professions as doctors, dentists, teachers, engineers or to be skillful in the various trades. “Men cannot be saved in ignorance.” “The glory of God is intelligence.” These are some of the goals and high standards taught by the religion grandfather espoused. Some of the Bowen-grandsons and great grandsons have served as Bishops, High Councilman, Sunday School Superintendents, and other officers in the church. The women have also rendered much service in the various auxiliary organizations.
If what I have written about Grandfather Bowen as I knew him will impress the present generation and future generations with a feeling of gratitude for the sacrifices, hardships and hard work experienced by him; and an appreciation for the wonderful blessing, privileges and opportunities we enjoy as American citizens; resolve to develop the potentials bequeathed to us from our pioneer ancestors. I shall feel doubly paid for the efforts required to accomplish this task.
As I mentioned earlier, Grandfather Bowen was a very healthy man who was never bedfast because of illness. He died 15 January 1910 as the result of a stroke.