David Russell Creer's Grandfather
Biography of My Father, John Evans Bowen
By John Evans Bowen, Jr.
For the last several years my sister Mollie and brother David have insisted that I, the oldest son, John Evans Bowen, Jr., am the logical one to write a sketch of father’s life. Being the prince of procrastinations I felt time was running out for me, and so by force of will I begin this task.
Father was born at Minersville, PA, July 12, 1855. He was the fifth child and the third son of David and Jane Foster Bowen
In order to get a proper and true setting and picture of his life and background, we shall have to cross the Atlantic Ocean and get a glimpse of an industrial city of Llanelly, South Wales. It was here that his parents spent the first years of their married life. The Bowen family is one of the oldest of the city of Llanelly and has played an important part in its industrial development.
While serving as a missionary in the British Mission from 1910 to 1912, it was my privilege to have visited Llanelly and made the acquaintance of a number of descendents of grandfather Bowen’s parents. I learned that William Bowen, my father’s grandfather was an expert blacksmith and mechanical engineer. His son John, after whom my father was named, was an outstanding engineer and inventor. He was a consulting engineer and traveled considerably throughout Great Britain. He and his father William did the engineering and blacksmith work for the shipping docks at Llanelly, as well as the engineering and overseeing of the construction of the Copper Works and The Old Castle Tin Plate Company. These were the most important factories of the town when I was there. Llanelly was then a city of about 30,000 people.
The Bowen family was of good sturdy Welsh stock, respected and honored in the community.
Jane Foster Bowen, mother of my father, was born at Dowlas, South Wales but later moved to Llanelly and was married to David Bowen in 1844. She was also of Welsh blood, and was a very charming, modest, refined and sympathetic personality. To those who knew her best she was the embodiment of those virtues that constitute true womanhood.
David and Jane Foster Bowen became converts to the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and patiently endured the jeers and ridicule of those who joined the unpopular faith at that time. Although they were in comfortable financial circumstances, they decided to leave their native land and migrate to America and thence to Utah.
They sailed form Liverpool, England in April of 1855. During this voyage an incident happened that detained them from going directly to Utah. It seemed a great misfortune at the time but turned out to be a blessing in disguise. While at the docks at Liverpool, Grandfather Bowen lost the bag containing all his money. So on landing in America he was without money to continue westward with the rest of the Saints. He was, therefore, compelled to seek work. Being a skillful blacksmith he was soon engaged to make chains and sharpen tools for a coal mining company at Minersville, Pennsylvania.
It was while living here that father (John Evans Bowen); their first American child was born. Had it not been for the incident of losing their money, the family would have gone directly to Utah. Had they done so they would have arrived there during the summer of the severe war against the crickets that caused so much suffering and sacrifice among the Saints.
During the summer of 1856 father’s parents made arrangements to go west with the Saints. They were well equipped with a four-ox team and wagon. The gathering place was Iowa City, Iowa, the railroad terminus at that time. They were under the leadership of Captain Dan Jones as far as Newton, Iowa. From there they were led by John Hunt. They began the long journey across the plains a few days after a handcart company led by Captain Martin had started westward. Their progress could have been fairly good had they not been purposely held back of the handcart company in order to encourage them and to render aid in case it was necessary.
The approach of winter brought with it the usual vicissitudes and hardships, especially for their livestock. The grass was snowed under, and it was necessary to cut down trees as provender to keep their oxen alive. As winter progressed, however their stock became poorer and weaker. It as not long before the four-ox team was reduced to one surviving ox. Another man of the company, John Lewis, also had one surviving ox from a six-ox team. The two surviving oxen were hitched together on Brother Lewis’ wagon and the two families traveled on to Fort Bridger. All of grandfather’s supplies and wagon, with the exception of bedding and personal affects were left at a place called Devil’s Gate. The families were met by better-equipped outfits sent out from Fort Supply and Salt Lake Valley by President Brigham Young. Their weak, worn out cattle were left at the Fort and the families were brought to Salt Lake City by the new outfits.
Later on grandfather and family moved to Spanish Fork, which place became their permanent home. Grandfather followed his trade, but also acquired land in several areas surrounding Spanish Fork. It was quite natural that father should become interested in farming and livestock raising. That schooling he had was received in the public school system available at that time in the community.
As a young man he was required to aid his father in the blacksmith shop and became somewhat proficient in many phases of that trade. He learned to weld, to sharpen and point plow shears, to make and fit horseshoes. In fact, I’ve been told he used to shoe most of the racehorses of the area for a period of time. He made clevises, chains and the metal parts for the traces on harnesses. He learned to set tires. He could build hayracks, beet dump racks, and do all the necessary repair jobs of ordinary farm machinery.
He was what might be called a “handy man”. He was handy with carpenter tools, and built such needed buildings as cow sheds, horse stables, chicken coops, blacksmith shop and garage. Physically he was very agile and excelled in some of the games and sports of the day, such as baseball, standing broad jump, running broad jump, a game called “form and raiser”, and the common “catch as catch can” wrestling.
Father married Mary Ann Christmas at Spanish Fork on September 15, 1879.
From this union were born eleven children, five girls and six boys. The girls all lived to maturity. They were Jane, Mary Ann (Mollie), Eleanor, Rosetta and Grace. All except Rosetta were married and reared families. Mary Ann (Mollie) and Eleanor are the only ones surviving today.
Of the boys, John E., Jr. and David B., and George Foster are still living. Willie, who was next to me in age met with a tragic death by being run over with a wagon on the way to the west field in company with a hired man. This was a blow to mother that seemed to sadden her throughout her life.
My earliest recollections of my father were connected with life in a small light colored brick house that stood on the northwest corner of the lot where Sister Mollie and brother David now live in Spanish Fork. This house belonged to my grandfather Christmas. His wife had died and grandfather lived with our family, or perhaps it would be more correct to say we lived with grandfather. I have a feeling of nostalgia when I recall the luscious fruit that was grown on that lot. There were apricots, sweet bow apples, Early Harvest apples, winter pear main apples, large damsel plumb, and plenty of grapes in season.
As the family grew father and mother found it quite urgent and necessary to have a larger home and plans were made to build the house my sister Eleanor now lives in. In this project father exhibited his ability as a handy man. I recall he built a rack that was handy on which to haul rock for the foundation of the new home. The rocks were hauled form the mouth of Spanish Fork Canyon along the side of the canyon road. With a sledgehammer and crowbar father hued the rock form the quarry, loaded them alone, and hauled them to the area where the house was to be built. I frequently accompanied them on these trips.
Father was a hard worker, industrious, patient, and always had a job for me to do. He tried to teach his children thrift early in their lives. There were children in our neighborhood, who seemed to have no particular chores or jobs to do after school hours, and they got into the bad habit of congregating and playing cards, and some of them began using tobacco. This was very repulsive to mother and father. To direct my attention away from this environment father made a deal with me. He promised that if I would come home after school and help haul manure, and other jobs that needed to be done, he would give Eleanor and myself the returns from an acre of sugar beets. This was an incentive to be industrious. He had previously promised that if I would save half the price of a calf he would contribute the other half and I could buy a calf. This I did by thinning beets for an old gentleman, by the name of “Dad” Gay. I thinned fourteen rows of beets somewhere over in the Leland area and earned $1.40. I had to wait till fall when Mr. Gay received his beet check. When he paid me I begged my sister Jane to sell me a calf for $2.80. From this meager start I acquired a few cattle that helped keep me in spending money when I was in high school and college. When I got married and moved to Carey, Idaho, in 1915, I sent Father $500 in February of 1916, and asked him to buy calves with it. This he did and with the cattle I already owned at Spanish Fork added to those he bought; he brought me thirty-seven head of cattle. These added to those I got when I bought the ranch set me up with about 100 head of range cattle.
Father was a lover of good livestock, especially horses, and during this active life he owned some very good draft horses. In fact, he was at one time in partnership with his brother, Uncle Bill, in the purebred Percheron horse business. They imported stallions direct from France. These horses cost considerable money for those days. They proved to be too costly and did not pay off financially. I recall one outstanding individual named “DeVose” that father admired very much. Father used to care for him and groomed him for the Utah State Fair. He was a blue ribbon winner many times. Father also at times exhibited at State Fairs samples of chains, clevises, hammers, etc., for which he won prizes.
I cannot refrain from relating an incident that showed the prowess of “Dad”, as I always called him. It happened when we had moved to the new home. It was not completely finished and the room that was to be the parlor was used as a sort of storeroom. One-day mother had finished churning the butter with the old-fashioned dasher churn. After taking out the butter, buttermilk, and was washing the churn she said to me, “Johnny, take the churn in the other room.” Not paying much attention to what was said, I took a chair near by in the other room. Mother said, “You stupid boy, I said the churn.” I remonstrated, “You said the chair.” This went on about twice more when father spoke up in a voice positive and declarative, “She said the churn.” By now I was near the door ready to run, but before doing so with down right Welsh Juvenile stubbornness I finally said, “She said the chair!” and dashed out the door. Before I reached the middle of the road toward Oliver Swenson’s house Dad had me by the collar and gave me a couple of good lashes across the buttocks with a razor strap and convinced me that mother must have said churn.
By nature father was quiet and reserved. He was not a show-off nor was he bombastic. Yet he had a sense of humor and was good natured and friendly. He was devoted to mother and his family and was anxious that they live right and succeed in life. He did his best to give his children the advantages of an education.
He was interested in good government and was a “dyed in the wool” Democrat. During the fall of 1893 father was elected as a city councilman and served for two years. During this period the city pavilion was built. It served the city for many years as an auditorium for public gatherings as well as a public dance hall.
Father took considerable interest in the management of the West Field Irrigation Company. On February 5, 1902, he was elected a director of the Board and served for four consecutive years. He was then elected as vice president and served in that position for twelve consecutive years. The records, as shown by the minutes of this period, indicate that he was very much interested in improving the company’s system of distributing water equitably by installing adequate measuring devices and proper head gates. He favored penalizing any person who took water out of turn thus depriving someone else of his rightful use of water. He showed a spirit of cooperation in helping to bring water from Strawberry valley into the Utah Valley. In 1903 he was appointed to work with the state engineer to supervise construction of their gates in company ditches. Records show he spent eleven days at this work and received $2.50 per day for his services.
Father enjoyed good health. He told me when he was in his seventies that he never had been in bed with sickness till he was taken ill with the shingles. This disease was a very painful and weakening experience for him.
Although Father was never very active in the church, he was always interested in seeing and encouraging his children to adhere to the program of the church. At heart he was religious and saw the value of the basic principles of Christianity.
He passed away at the age of eighty-seven on March 24, 1942 at Spanish Fork, Utah and was buried in the Spanish Fork Cemetery.
Notes by Jeneve Creer Gailbraith March 1979:
At this time all Grandfather’s children are dead except Uncle John. I will list the children and their birth dates and death dates of those I have available at this time. All the children were born in Spanish Fork, Utah.
Sex Name Birth date Death date
F Elizabeth Jane 9 Feb 1881 2 May 1938
F Mary Ann (Mollie) 18 Nov 1882 22 Oct 1973
F Eleanor 22 Sept 1884 4 Dec 1967
M John Evans 23 Mar 1887
M William Christmas 3 Dec 1889 10 May 1894
M David Byron 31 Jan 1893 21 Oct 1975
M George Foster 25 Dec 1894 9 Sept 1970
F Joyce Rosetta 5 Dec 1896 7 Feb 1928
M Dewey 5 Nov 1898 24 Dec 1898
F Grace 5 Nov 1900 28 Dec 1938
M Milton 13 Oct 1903 13 Oct 1903