David Russell Creer's Paternal Grandfather
The Life History of my Father, Willard Orson Creer
Written by Emma Creer Hitchings
A brief synopsis of his ancestry immediately preceding the generations of Willard Orson Creer, my father, may be helpful in identifying, and be the means of keeping alive those traditions and memories of our people. It is well to pause in life’s busy course and recount the deeds that constitute their mission that we may keep nearest our hearts the ideals and standards so vital in their daily conduct that it may promote our welfare and kindle in us the hope which enables us to meet life’s problems with optimism and courage.
We find on the Isle of Man, the personage of John Creer, the great grand father of Willard Orson Creer, who earned a livelihood on the Isle by fishing and shoe making.
In the year 1790, he emigrated to England and evidently became a resident of New Haven, Sussia Cumberland County, England, for at this place his son Mathias was born Oct. 15, 1791. Nearly twenty years later, Oct 3, 1810, Mathias married Nellie Greenhalgh. To this union was born eight children: Jane, Edward, Nancy, Elizabeth, Catherine, Robert, Margaret, and Phoebe. Edward, the oldest son, Willard Orson’s father was born in Bolton, Lancastershire, England, Nov 3 1813. The date of this birth may well be remembered coming at a time when England allied with the Continental Nations in a supreme struggle against Napoleon Bonaparte. The war of 1812 was also raging between England and the United States of America. It was a period of great trial for the inhabitants of the British Isles, and the Creer family was called upon to carry a part of the burden of the War.
For years Edward Creer was a factory worker where he learned the construction and operation of woolen and cotton mills. This knowledge was later of material assistance to him and his associates in the installation of the first carding machinery in Utah.
He was employed in the construction work of the Provo Woolen Mills for a period of three years. The following nine years he worked as a spinner in the factory.
When Edward was twenty years old he married Miss Ann Morris of Preston, England. She was born Dec 27, 1813 in Chorley, Lancastershire, England, the daughter of William and Mary Hargraves Morris. Her grandfather, Thomas Morris, was born at the same place in 1751. His parents were toilers of the soil, which occupation he followed for fifty-three years. His wife, Nancy was born at Chorley in 1765, and died at the age of eighty six.
As a child, Ann Morris worked as an apprentice in the silk and lace trade. While working as a glazer in the silk and lace factory she met Edward Creer. They were married and both worked in the factory until motherhood and family responsibilities necessitated Ann to resign.
Fifteen children honored this marriage. Twelve children lived to enrich the lives of this devoted couple.
In 1837 the missionary work of the L.D.S. church was started for the first time in the British Isles. The Creer family was one of the six families to greet the Elders in their home. Following their conversion and baptism, their relatives and friends turned against them. At this time Feb 2, 1841, Willard Orson Creer was born. At that time opposition was great and the bitterness of their family doctor was so intense, Ann feared his services. Not knowing what to do the Elders were consulted, they were Orson Hyde and Willard Richards, who were staying at the Creer home and for whom they held the highest esteem. Elder Richards told her if her faith was strong enough they could set apart a sister to care for her and no medical assistance would be necessary. Ann consented without delay and in due time and with faith in the power of the Priesthood, Willard Orson Creer was born and to his family he was justly called a child of faith. It was a testimony to all, one that carried down through all his life and the lives of his descendants. When he was blest he was given the name Willard Orson, after the two Elders.
His mother was blest by Elder Richards and told she could go to Utah and perform a great mission in ministering to the sick and afflicted in Zion. The results of this promise record the deliverance of over one thousand babies besides the services given among the sick. Through the assistance of Dr. Richards, Ann was taught the things that qualified her for this great mission. She learned the secrets of the herbs and of nature. The attic of their humble home in Utah contained herbs that were dried for the use of the sick. The attic of dried herbs was a picture her children never forgot.
After Ann and Edward joined the L.D.S. church, they were anxious to come to the Promised Land. In the fall of 1847, they and their family of seven, Edward’s four sisters and his mother set sail of their voyage of eleven weeks. They landed at New Orleans and by steamboat went up the Mississippi River to St. Louis. Edward obtained work in a coal pit and his sons William, 10 years old and Willard Orson six years also helped to pile coal as it was brought from the pit. Thus the two boys helped very much to earn monies to journey westward to Salt Lake City, which was their earnest desire. Finally three yoke of oxen was purchased to make the trip.
Mormonism was very unpopular in the town of Gravi, where they were living, it also was in the surrounding vicinity. It was not always wisdom for Mormons to make it known that they were members of the L.D.S. church. One morning when Orson’s father entered the mine he was met by John Sharp, later a prominent resident of Salt Lake City, who addressed him by saying, “I think you are a Mormon.” The reply was, “I think you are too.” The Creers soon discovered that a number of Mormons were working there and soon a branch of the Church was organized and they were permitted to enjoy more privileges and blessings from their religion. Among the members were the Miller, Davis and Morgan families who later became prominent citizens in Utah localities.
Aside from Orson’s mother’s services among the sick, she took boarders during the gold rush in Calif. One of them as he bade the family farewell promised he would send her the first gold nugget he found. He kept his promise and it was made into a pair of earrings, a brooch and a ring. These heirlooms are still in the possession of the Creer family.
After living in Gravi seven years, they joined the Independence Company led by William Fields. Edward Creer was appointed captain of a division of Camp called “A Ten”.
Orson only thirteen years old drove three yoke of oxen from St. Louis to Salt Lake City. He was considered one of the best drivers in the company.
The family arrived in Salt Lake City, Sept 27, 1854. Soon after their arrival he went to work driving the teams hauling from Red Chute canyon to the Church in Salt Lake City. He hauled some of the capstones used on the north side of the temple. He also hauled rock for the Beehive House, Lion House, Sugar House and for the Penitentiary. This work was during the fall of 1854 and the spring of 1855.
Promising opportunities were foreseen for Utah Valley. Edward Creer and his eldest son, William left Salt Lake City, March 3rd and went to Palmyra, the first camping grounds for the Spanish Fork Settlers. Orson worked for Mr. Banks herding cows and doing farm work. The settlers built a mud wall from the river to dry creek, a distance of four miles. He did Mr. Bank’s assessment work on the wall and Mr. Bank’s received credit for a man’s wages. He worked all spring and summer for an acre of wheat. In 1855 he and his brother William walked to Salt Lake while his arm was mending after being broken a result of falling from a mule. The families living consisted of corn meal mush and roots dug from the ground.
On Feb 1857 when Brigham Young instructed the people to move south, Orson and his brother returned to Spanish Fork to complete preparations for the family to come. Upon arriving there the boys purchased a lot and built a dugout, secured a team and returned to Salt Lake for the family. It was their home for five years. Then a house of sun-baked adobes was made by the father in which all the family participated. Orson’s brother Edward age nine, and sister Ann, age seven, felt the responsibility of turning the adobes to dry. Even the mud roof was looked upon with admiration and pride.
He (Orson) hauled wood from the Spanish Fork Canyon, facing the cold winter breeze with only buckskin pants and a shirt made from curtain hangings brought across the plains. He hauled straw across Utah Lake on the ice to Camp Floyd, with the money he bought his first coat – after coming to Utah.
He was married to Barbara Ferguson, Nov. 13, 1862 in the Salt Lake Endowment House. She died Aug. 2, 1868, leaving two children, Barbara Catherine and William Orson, A son Willard Edward having died.
Orson freighted to Pioche and owned a team of large gray mules and two teams of brown mules. He was very successful in this occupation. He owned a house of two large
rooms, well equipped for that time. It was located one half block east of Main Street on second north. It still stands and is occupied. Later he purchased a threshing machine which he operated for a number of years. It was run by six span of horses and turned out seven hundred bushels of grain per day.
He was married to Emma Elizabeth Robertson, daughter of William and Eliza Woodgate Robertson. Her father was of Scottish decent and her mother English. She was born 9 April 1854 at Palmyra, the original settlement of Spanish Fork, Twelve children were born to this union, six of which have passed on. They were:
When the Union Pacific railroad was being built in 1869, a contract for grading at Promontory Point was bid to Orson, his father and Lewellyn Jones. He was present when the first train arrived in Ogden. He worked on the extension of the railroad to American Fork, also from there to Provo.
He was employed by John Young, a brother of Brigham Young when the railroad was extended from Provo to York. He bought farming land and invested in cattle which continued to be his source of revenue throughout his life.
In 1876 he accepted the position of Superintendent of the Spanish Fork Co-op store, in which capacity he served for three years. He resigned to again supervise his cattle, farming and other interests.
He later served as President of Spanish Fork Co-op store board of Directors.
Shortly after his second marriage an addition was built to his home. The home was well furnished for those days.
In 1868 a large, two story house was built in which he spent the rest of his life.
Orson took a very prominent part in the civic affairs of the city. In Feb. 1883, he was elected City Marshall and the following March he was appointed the Chief of police and served for eight years.
Although prohibition was not practiced at that time, the citizens were greatly molested by the so-called bootlegger. So Orson’s ability to discipline the City was really tested. He was successful in fulfilling the duties and resigned with the full confidence of the citizens whom he served.
A forceful incident, while he was police chief, happened. While the family was eating dinner he was called to arrest a man, who had insulted a lady in a store. The proprietor ordered the man out, but he refused to go, but was removed after being handcuffed and put in jail. Orson returned home with his face and hands scratched and bitten by the prisoner. When his wife (Orson’s) cooked a Thanksgiving dinner, the prisoner was reduced to tears when he was served.
Orson was elected a member of the City Council in 1891 and in 1893 a councilman. During his term of office, the Spanish Fork main street was graded under his supervision. Lumber boxed flumes were placed down the side of each sidewalk to take care of the irrigation stream.
The East Park was leveled and used for a ballpark. These two projects were a big improvement to the City.
In 1890, he built a two story brick building near his home with the intention of establishing a grain. The upper floor was used for a schoolroom for sometime because of a shortage of classrooms. Later it was rented for mercantile purposes and later sold to the Farmers Co-op association.
He for sometime bought and sold grain for the Salt Lake Brewery Co. He as a firm believer of making a practice of paying as you purchased. His word was as good as his bond and honesty in his dealings was an outstanding characteristic of his life.
The United Order was tried for a while, but was unsuccessful. When Orson was asked about it he always said, he thought the people were not ready for it.
He was an advocator of good schools. He served two terms as a school trustee. During this time, the Central School Building was erected and dedicated in 1896. Later he was re-elected for a term of three years. He was instrumental in getting a high school started with Joseph A. Rees as instructor.
The services Orson rendered in the irrigation of the community were outstanding. He served as water master for several terms. In 1903 he resigned to accept a missionary call to England. He had advanced in the Priesthood quorums and was ordained an Elder in 1862, a Seventy in 1868, and a High Priest in 1906.
On his arrival in England, news soon spread that a Mormon Missionary, who had lived in that vicinity over 50 years before was making a tour of the streets.
He was not adapted for public speaking, so his best success in delivering the messages of Truth was gained in fireside conservations with his investigators.
He met his ninety-four year old aunt, his mother’s sister, Peggy. She and her bachelor son were friendly with him, but did not approve of Mormonism to be discussed. However the three of them had tea together every Tuesday afternoon.
The son was a highly paid singer in the Church of England where Orson’s mother sang as a girl.
Orson took a prominent part in Politics. He belonged to the Democratic Party and served as a representative to the 2nd State Legislature in 1897. He was a member of the irrigation committee. He drafted an irrigation Bill which failed to pass. That bill was later acknowledged by irrigation authorities as that would have bettered the irrigation system and would have prevented many of the disputes that later arose.
Orson took pride in raising the standard of fine stock, especially horses. He always drove fine looking teams, well cared for. He received many prizes at the State Fair.
One year, he won a sweepstake on a mare and her colt. For this he received a gold medal the size of a twenty dollar gold piece.
He was and Indian War Veteran. January 24, 1894, the first Reunion of the Black hawk Veterans was held in Springville. He was instrumental in securing pensions from the Governor for the War Veterans and also for the widows of the Veterans.
Although he was deprived of school education, only having six weeks of school, he took every opportunity for self-advancement. He was a great reader and kept in touch with current issues of the time, both national and state.
Orson had a strong testimony of the Divine mission of the Church and of a future life. He was a faithful Latter-day Saint.
After he returned home, he retired from public life. He was appointed presiding teacher over the Ward teachers and a Sunday school teacher in the Parent’s class. Because of failing health, he resigned both offices.
He underwent a very serious operation at the age of sixty-eight.
He died June 4, 1917. The day previous to his death, his widowed sister, Jane Skinner, whom he had looked after called to see him. She remarked that she didn’t know what she would do without Orson. She contacted pneumonia that night and passed away the day after he died. His funeral services, with a packed house of relatives and friends bore testimony to a long life of service he gave to this community.