History of Jesse Merrit Baker
Contributor: Russell808 Created: 3 years ago Updated: 3 years ago
History of Jesse Merrit Baker written by his daughter, Laura Baker Orme, with other members of the family cooperating. It was read by Laura B Orme at the regular meeting of the Mothers and Daughters of the Upper Snake River Valley Pioneers Organization March 17, 1938.
Jesse Merrit Baker was born 11 November, 1861, at Mendon, Cache County, Utah. He was the second son of Joseph Baker, born 15 August, 1839, at Montrose, Lee County, Iowa; and Lucy Amelia Pack, born 22 June, 1837, at Kirtland, Ohio. He had five brothers, two of whom died in childhood, and three sisters. His brothers are: Joseph Linden Baker, who was killed on the railroad when twenty years of age. Simon, who was drowned in the Teton River in the early days of this country, John Rupert, who is still living in Teton, Ward Eaton and George Calob, the latter two brothers having died in childhood. His sisters are: Lucy Amelia Baker Raybould (deceased), Charlotte Eleanor Baker Owens of Berkley, California, and Tamzon Luella Baker Jennings of San Diego, California. He also had six half brothers and six half sisters.
He came of sturdy pioneer stock. His grandfather, Simon Baker, with his family, were in the third company of one hundred that came to the Rocky Mountains, arriving in Salt Lake October 2, 1847. His father, Joseph Baker, was then a boy of eight years. He drove the oxen that pulled the cannon, which now is in the Relic Hall at the Bureau of Information Building in Salt Lake City, most of the way across the plains. He had neither hat nor shoes.
His grandfather was called to help colonize in Parawan, Utah, Carson County, Nevada, and also Cache Valley, Utah. His father took part in all of these colonizations. When his grandfather was asked to help colonize Carson County, one of the Apostles said they wanted him to do something for them, he replied, "Whatever is required of me I am ready to do."
"We want fifty head of your best cattle to help pay off the church debt, and want you to turn over your house and lot to the perpetual immigration fund." This spirit was characteristic of Jesse Merritt Baker. Whatever was required of him he was ready to do.
His parents, having moved to Mendon only a few months before his birth, had no home at the time he was born. He first saw the light of day in a dugout, and it rained seven days and nights. Someone held an umbrella over his mother while his father stood at the steps bailing out the water. Mother and babe never got along better.
He always liked bread and milk. He used to tell us that he was raised on it and that was why he liked it so well. Often the milk was not sweet, but they had to eat it anyway.
He was baptized into the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints on 25 July, 1875 at Mendon, Utah by Joseph Richards. He was confirmed 1 August, 1875 by Henry Hughes.
His mother died when he was only twelve years of age, leaving a family of seven children. He lived in Mendon with his father (who married again) until he was twenty-three years old. In the meantime, he attended the Brigham Young College at Logan, Utah, and it was there that he met the girl, Sarah Ann Dowdle, who was later to become his wife. The girls helped with the work at the boarding house of the Brigham Young College, and he noticed that she moved the chairs when she swept and was particular about sweeping in the corners. Thus, she attracted him as being the kind of wife he wanted.
Mr. Baker, as a young man, was tall and thin; at 21 he weighed only 90 pounds. Later in life he weighed about 200 pounds. He was six feet tall and had brown curly hair and blue smiling eyes. He was left-handed, but was taught to write with his right hand while young by having his left hand tied behind his back.
In the spring of 1884, he and his brother Simon decided to come to the Snake River Valley. One of them had a wagon and the other a team so they put them together and started out. They arrived at Teton 22 April, 1884. Ten men from Mendon had come the spring before, in 1883. And after scouting around somewhat, they decided that this place, which they called Teton, because it was by the Teton Rivers, was the best place the water provided could be gotten out on the land. They found that it could, and these first ten men drew cuts for the land they wanted to take up. When he and his brother came the next spring, he filed on a hundred and sixty acre tract just south of the town site. The idea being for he and his brother to work together and help each other get out the ditches on this land, and then he would help his brother in the same way to get his own hundred and sixty acres. Water had to be taken from three different canals to irrigate it.
In those early days, nearly everyone seemed to have homes on the town site as well as on their farms. The lot belonging to him and his brother Simon were the two and one half acres just south of the church lot and the lot just across the street east. His brother's wife was given her choice of which house she wanted; she took the house south of the church because it had a stone foundation. This left Mr. Baker the southwest lot on the block just east of the church. The original house was two log rooms (two more rooms were afterwards added). It had a dirt roof and wide board floor. Fruit trees were planted, but it froze every month in the year so they did not do very well. There was one crab apple tree just south of the house, however, which grew with bloom. Small fruit such as currants, gooseberries, raspberries, and the black English currants were grown.
On August 17 of this same year, he was ordained a High Priest by Francis M Lyman and made second counselor to John Donaldson, who was the first bishop of Teton. He was later made first counselor and served in these capacities for about eight years.
On 9 January, 1885, the girl he had met at school, Sarah Ann Dowdle, arrived in Teton with her sister and brother-in-law, Etta and Benjamin Porter. The Porters did not like the new country, so they returned to their home in Franklin, Idaho, leaving the rosy-cheeked Miss Dowdle with relatives in Wilford where she clerked in a store. She also taught school at Teton during the winter months. After a courtship of several months, Mr. Baker and Miss Dowdle decided to marry and went to Logan, a distance of two hundred miles, in a lumber wagon to be married in the temple. They were married 22 October, 1885, by Meriner W. Merril. To this union nine children were born.
At first there were times when they had very little to eat and not much to wear. Mr. Baker, however, was always hospitable and invited everybody that came to town home to eat. At one time, he brought the Governor home for dinner and all there was in the house to eat was some flour and bacon.
While there was a scarcity of some food stuffs, game was plentiful and the streams were full of fish. There were no laws then prohibiting the killing of game, and one didn't have a license to fish. One or two of the stories which he has told us are interesting. One winter morning, he and Frank Graham and Freem Bird were going to the timber when they saw beyond the river a herd of about one hundred and fifty elk. They turned around and went back to get their guns. When they returned to town on the river ice, they unloaded them in Freem Bird's yard, and after they had taken what they needed, the town's people were invited to take the rest. In two hours there was none left, but everyone had plenty of meat.
On another occasion, he and Frank Graham and a young man by the name of Bond went hunting at Island Park. They camped on the Buffalo River. They got deer, geese, and bear on this trip. The bear went in a hole in a rock. Mr. Baker built a fire and pushed it into the hole. That brought the bear out in a hurry, and Frank shot it as it came out. They took the hide and got fifteen dollars for it. The bear meat was never eaten by the pioneers.
He loved to fish, and in his younger days, did so a great deal. In later years, he would go out to fish perhaps once a year. He would sometimes never catch a fish, but would always buy a license before he went.
He hauled the crops he raised to Market Lake (now Roberts) until the railroad came in 1899. It was a distance of about forty miles, and he often received only forty cents for a hundred pounds of wheat. he also used to freight from Market Lake.
On 19 January, 1892, he was called on a mission and was set apart by George Reynolds. He was the first missionary to go from the Teton Ward. He labored in Indiana, Illinois and Ohio, laboring without purse or script most of the time. He left his wife with four small children, and though her lot was the hardest, she was very resourceful and got along alright. He was released 15 February, 1894, and returned home 1 March, 1894. He believed whole-heartedly in missionary work and donated liberally to all missionaries who went from his ward.
As time went on, they gathered more around them, and in 1902 he built the large rock house on the farm property south of town. I shall never forget the first night spent there with the high ten-foot ceilings and the large rooms. It frightened me when I awoke in the night, as I remember. This house was built almost square. It is one and one-half stories high. The roof is gabled on all four sides with valleys coming down from the center to the corners. This was an original idea of Mr. Baker's of roofing a square house. There is an outside door on each side and two outside doors upstairs. "Just in case of fire," Mr. Baker explained. They planted lawn and trees around it and made it very attractive. Many fond memories are centered around this home.
He donated liberally to build meeting houses and stake houses, and also the Ricks Academy, which nearly all of his children attended.
He and his wife believed firmly that his life is only a preparation for the next life, and they instilled in the hearts of their children a desire to go on. Being poor, they made sacrifices to send them to school; the two youngest boys have gone on to schools of higher learning. Ralph Doris has taken out this Doctor's degree from the California School of Technology of Pasadena, California in aeronautical engineering, and is now teaching in the University of Utah. Harold has taken out a degree in Sociology, and is at the present time Educational Director in a C.C.C. Camp at Ely, Nevada.
Mr. Baker was always faithful in performing whatever duty he was called upon to perform. His church duties always came first. He served as ward president of the Y.M.M.I.A for fourteen years, and he held many minor offices in the quorums of the priesthood, including stake president of the High Priests Quorum. He was set apart as a High Councilman in the Fremont Stake (now Rexburg Stake) 15 March, 1908, by President Thomas E. Bassett. On 26 June, 1910, he was set apart as Stake Superintendent of Y.M.M.I.A. by Joseph F. Smith to serve temporarily without being released from the High Council. He held this position until 7 December, 1912. He was released as a High Councilman 26 September, 1925, having served for more than 17 years in this capacity
On November 8, 1925, he was set apart as a member of the stake genealogical committee, which position he held until his death.
While holding these stake positions, he was also active in ward affairs. He had charge of the religion classes for some time. He and his wife and Mrs. Louis Huskinson were the first genealogical committee called in the Teton Ward. he was especially interested in genealogical work during the later years of his life. He did lots of temple work, and held a life membership in the Genealogical Society of Utah. He was President of the Baker Family Organization for years, being released in 1929. He also filled a six-month mission to California during the winter of 1914-15. He was set apart 22 December, 1914 by Joseph F Smith, Jr, and returned April 3, 1915.
He always attended the General Conferences at Salt Lake City until his health was such that he could not go. His wife would usually go with him, and they would enjoy the conference together. It never entered either of their heads to miss a meeting, such was their devotion to the gospel.
He used to go with John Donaldson on the home mission appointments. Brother Donaldson said of him once that he was a man without guile.
He was very faithful in keeping the Word of Wisdom. He would never take a cup of tea or coffee for a headache, nor a little whiskey for a cold as some did. When he was asked how to figure the payment of tithing, he said to pay until your conscience was clear. This may not be the proper way, but I am sure that he thought it was alright. When questioned as to whether he thought the world was getting better, he answered.
The good are getting better and the bad are getting worse."
He had been so faithful and liked to serve so well that when he was dropped from the High Council, it hurt him badly. He went on, however, doing whatever was asked of him. The roads were never heard him raise hi voice against the authorities, but I have heard him rebuke others for so doing.
He was an active community worker throughout his entire life. He served as school trustee, city councilman, helped materially in building canals and irrigation systems that have made this country into a flourishing valley. About the year 1904, the leaders of the towns of Teton and Sugar City formed what was known as the Fremont Light and Power Company. They put in a dynamo at Teton and ran it by the water power from the mill race, thus they had electric lights in the town. A water system was also installed about this time, and he was instrumental in getting these things accomplished. He was a staunch Democrat all his life. His party was nearly always in the minority, but he always held fast to what he thought to be right. No never held enmity in his heart for those opposed to his views.
He once engaged in the sheep business, but it kept him away from home and church, and he didn't thing it a good way to train boys, so he sold the sheep before he had had them very long and lost heavily. In 1908, he decided to go into the mercantile business. He bought the town store from his brother John. This proved a poor adventure as nearly everyone bought on credit, and he lost several thousand dollars. Again, he lost when he invested in rubber stock, mining stock, and life insurance.
He liked to experiment with different types of crops. One year the granary was full of flax. Another year, he had cabbage everywhere. They paddled it by the wagon loads, and Mrs. Baker made a large vat of sour krout, which didn't sell. One year, he had two acres of onions. They were planted on a contract and could only be a certain size with no thick necks. Suffice to say, we had plenty of onions to give away. Beets were raised every year after the sugar factory was built. One year they all froze down on the first of July, and he replanted on the third of July, raising only six tons to the acre. The usual tonnage was about twelve to fifteen tons. Hay and grain were also raised.
He farmed very extensively between the years of 1905 and 1920. One farm we called the "hog ranch," his idea being to raise hogs on it. It was a dry farm at first, and at that time, dry farming was new in this part of the West. Everyone thought that six bushels to the acre on land that could not be irrigated was a good yield. he was the first man in that section to raise wheat successfully without water.
Later, the Enterprise Canal brought water to most of this farm. Mr. Baker worked day and night, helping to get the canal through. He was the president of the canal company. He dreamed he saw the railroad passing this farm and--call it providence or whatever you wish--it did eventually come just as he had dreamed it would. The railroad referred to is the loop line which serves the farming section through Idaho Falls, Egan, Newdale, and Ririe, etc. For many years he farmed several hundred acres of land. He operated three irrigated farms and three dry farms. He was truly a man of the soil, and often said that one of the things that pleased him greatly was to watch the growing crops. His main ambition in acquiring more land was to be able to produce more, and thus be able to give all his children a better education and be able to give each one some property when they married.
These enterprises were carried on mostly on borrowed money, and the burden of interest and losses grew too heavy when prices went to pieces in about 1920. Thus, financial disaster overtook him shortly after the World War. Land sharks pointed to relief in Montana where he bought land and went for two seasons, but it only made matters worse. He paid his interest as long as he had a cent to pay, when he must have realized that there was no hope of ever getting out of debt.
About 1915 he had acquired a home in Rexburg and lived there in the winters while the younger children attended school. About this time, he also acquired the old Central Hotel which was located where the Bell Blacksmith Shop is now located on West Main Street. He tried to run it himself for a time, but that work was not in his line nor to his liking.
His wife died shortly after their return from Montana on 1 February, 1922, at their Rexburg home. Four years after that, all of his property slipped from his control except his Rexburg home. He expressed himself as being glad that his wife was not here to see that happen. He never was the same after that, though he was just as faithful in his duties to the church. That worry had a lot to do with his later illness. He took all of his misfortunes cheerfully, however, and never complained of his lot. His patience and cheerfulness in the face of misfortune were remarkable.
For three years after his wife's death he lived with his daughter Ada and she cared for him until he married again. He found in Mrs. Louise Bush Huskinson a congenial companion. She had been the wife of George Huskinson who had passed away some years before. She had the same interests and ideals as he had. They were married for time 4 June, 1925, in the Salt Lake Temple. For a time they lived in the old home at Teton, but when it had to be given up, they moved to Moody Creek to his wife's farm. Here they were very happy until June 1, 1930, when he was stricken with a parlaytic stroke and never was well again. They then moved to the Rexburg home and everything possible was done for his health, but he had no further interest in life.
He lingered on for two years and died 13 October, 1932, at his home in Rexburg. His funeral was held in the Stake Tabernacle and he was buried in the Teton cemetery. Aunt Lyde, as we called his second wife, was good and patient during his long illness and sacrificed much for his comfort.
Knowing him was to make one better. His good example, devotion, cheerfulness, patience, and long-suffering will long be remembered by his children and all who knew him. His children are grateful for the wonderful heritage he has left them.
Children: Born at Teton, Idaho.
Jesse Alvin, b. 18 Oct., 1886, d. June 11, 1903, of Bright’s disease. Lucy Ada, b. 29 Nov., 1887,
m. Henry M. Hodgson 12 Oct., 1910; was killed in an accident 28 June, 1936.
Laura Henrietta, b. 15 Dec., 1889, m. Samuel J. Orme 16 Aug., 1911.
Louise May, b. 30 Aug., 1891, m. Fred Ray Pickett 6 June, 1917.
Mary Laviere, b. 6 June, 1895, m. Eldson Snow 6 Oct., 1923.
Lorin Merrit, b. 13 March, 1897, m. Fannie Olsen 6 June, 1917.
Ralph Doris, Ph. D., b. 5 April, 1899, m. Erma Alberta Egan, 19 June, 1925.
At present there are 24 grandchildren and one great grandchild.
Transcribed by: Eileen Andersen