William Benjamin Ralphs
Contributor: krayonsk Created: 2 years ago Updated: 2 years ago
by Carol Meldrum Christensen
Four sons of Benjamin Ralphs and Mary Edwards emigrated from Hodnet, Shropshire, England: Joseph (christened Jan. 8, 1810), Richard (christened Sep. 8, 1812), William Benjamin (born May 16, 1816) and Thomas (born July 22 1819). They crossed the ocean and landed at New Orleans, where they took a river boat up the Mississippi to Nauvoo in the spring of 1842. Richard, Joseph and Thomas were potters, and were part of a company making fine earthenware china in Nauvoo. Joseph was killed by lightning while at Nauvoo at the age of 35. Richard, traveled to Utah in 1852 in the “Second Company of James J Jepson”, which crossed Iowa with teams in order to avoid the dangers of the Missouri River. Richard stopped and lived in Provo for a while, after which he migrated on to San Bernadino California. His family started the Ralphs Grocery Chain. Thomas settled in Brigham City. After his death in 1859, his sons moved to Rockland Idaho and homesteaded there. William Benjamin Ralphs first settled in Salt Lake, then later moved to South Cottonwood, and finally to American Fork.
Mary Elizabeth Brooks was born 11 Mar 1819 in Burslem, Staffordshire, England, the daughter of Samuel Brooks and Mary Bentham. She married William Benjamin Ralphs, 10 May 1841 while still in England. William Benjamin and Elizabeth had three children in Nauvoo: Mary Elizabeth 22 Oct 1842, Samuel 7 Jun 1843, and Sarah 12 May 1845. Both Samuel and Sarah died in Nauvoo. After being driven from Nauvoo, another son, William, was born in Burlington, Des Moines Co., Iowa 6 Jun 1847. He lived only nine days. Finally, Joseph was born 10 July 1849. The following year, 1850, this family of four – the parents, eight year old Mary and one year old Joseph, successfully crossed the plains. As they made camp, these protective parents tied Joseph to the wheel of the wagon so that he would not wander away or get lost. With the tragic loss of so many babies, they could not risk losing Joseph! And yet as tiny as he was, Joseph hated being restricted so, and remembered this all of his life.
Shortly after their arrival, they lived in the Eighth Ward in Salt Lake. During the grasshopper plague many people almost starved. Each morning, William, Mary and Joseph would take a spade to dig Indian Roots and Sego Lilies for food. With no shoes, even in the winter, they trudged barefoot leaving the snow red from their bleeding feet. It is no wonder that William became a shoemaker.
Demand for shoes was far greater than the ability to supply them, and tanning the leather was a very lengthy process. First, lumber had to be cut and hauled from the mountains so the bark could be scraped for use in the tanning vats. Because of the tremendous need for footwear, half-tanned leather was removed from the vats to make shoes and boots. Of course this didn't produce top quality footwear – wet weather made them loose and flabby and dry weather caused them to shrink and get hard. Many boots and shoes were even made of the green hides, leaving the hair on the inside. Any type of foot wear was almost a luxury item.
William was ordained a Seventy in April 1852. While remaining in this great city, four more children were born: Thomas born 9 Nov 1851, but died at 10 months; Nephi, 23 Oct 1853, died at birth; but Emily, 23 Mar 1855, and Parley Pratt, 25 Jul 1858 both lived! It isn't certain what particular incident occurred that caused the parents to name their son for Parley P. Pratt, but it is known that Parley Pratt was the Mission President in England at the time the Ralphs brothers joined the church.
William enlisted and served in the Echo Canyon trouble. Brother William Hitchcock, a neighbor described it this way: “The U.S. government was not satisfied with the troubles the Mormons had to suffer in the East, so they sent Johnson's Army out West to exterminate them here too. During the winter, they arrived and camped in Echo Canyon, just east of Salt Lake. It was a hard winter and they were short on supplies and nearly starved. It is said they had to kill some of their animals to stay alive themselves. During this time a small band of Mormons, appearing as soldiers marched continuously on a knoll overlooking the army camp. They made it appear as though there were great numbers of them, so much so that Johnson?s Army was glad to retreat.”
The family lived in South Cottonwood for a time, then by 1860 had moved to American Fork where the last of Elizabeth?s children, John Heber was born 21 Mar 1860. (Census records show them living in Alpine in 1860, Pleasant Grove in 1870-1880, and American Fork in 1900. Because of the location of property in the county between American Fork and Pleasant Grove, it seems logical that the property could have remained the same, but they were recorded in different districts. It is also possible that they moved numerous times). Legal papers show that at the time of his death, William owned a mere 8 acres at 42 West on 6800 North (west side of the road) in American Fork. The current owner (over 100 years later in 1994) describes the land as “lake bottom soil with bottomless topsoil that will grow anything. Artisan water underneath brings a water table that require little watering of the crops and yet has never become swampy or too wet.” William also owned a few acres of grassland a short distance away.
As times began to prosper, William traveled to California to visit his oldest daughter Mary. While there, his beloved wife, Elizabeth suddenly took sick and died January 22, 1863. With the previous loss of five of his 10 children, had he not been tried sufficiently? Because of transportation difficulties, he was unable to return home for the funeral, and when he finally arrived, his large family of children had been farmed out to various family and friends. Although family traditions suggest the children were raised by others, the 1870 census shows Joseph, Emily, Parley and John all living with their father, at least at that time.
Later, he found a helper in Mary Ann Hansen Johnson. Census records show she was a neighbor to William, a widow, and had arrived from Denmark in 1868, probably with her husband. It is likely that William helped raise her five young children and treated them as his own. Mary Ann?s children were Christian Johnson (born about 1857), Anna Johnson (about 1860), Jacob Johnson (about 1864), Carolina Johnson (about 1855 or 1859) and Mary Ann Johnson (17 Oct 1870). Her youngest daughter Mary was listed on the ward records as “Mary Ann Ralphs” but in his will as a stepdaughter, “Mary Ann Johnson.” A son, William Benjamin was born to William and Mary Ann on 17 May 1872.
Three of William Benjamins' sons migrated to Castle Valley in the early 1880s. Joe, the oldest, homesteaded 160 acres in the meadows between Ferron and Molen and divided this in thirds for himself and younger brothers, Parley and John. In January, 1884, William arrived in Ferron for the wedding of his son, Parley, then spent the winter with Joe and Mandy. (John and Eda had married a couple weeks earlier but neglected to notify anyone.) Parley?s wife Hannah recounts how at their wedding “William was a great entertainer and sang songs and did the clog dance. We sang and danced all night!”
Late in July 1893, a telegram brought devastating news about his precious daughter, Mary – his only child for the first seven years of her life, and who had brought him so much joy and comfort. He had been in California with Mary when word arrived of his wife's sudden death, and Mary had cared for Parley when he had been ill. Now Mary, her husband Will Hunter and their only daughter Mary, had been murdered by the daughter's estranged husband, Jack Craig. Miraculously, Mary's two young granddaughters had been saved. Sorrowfully, William and his older sons, Joe, Parley, and John rode the train to California for the triple funeral, and to comfort Mary's surviving sons, Joseph, George and Richard Hunter.
William succumbed to peaceful slumber 20 April 1900 and is buried in the American Fork cemetery beside his daughter-in-law, Melinda Shelley Ralphs who had married his son, Benjamin, 18 September 1891, and died 14 March 1898. Mary Ann continued to live on the homestead of 8 acres until her death 16 September 1915. In his final will, William left equal amounts to his own children as well as to the children of his wife, Mary Ann. This seems to indicate the great love he had for all children, and his complete acceptance of Mary Ann's children as his own. A stepson, Jake Johnson, while sheriff of Pioche Nevada wrote, “William Ralphs while living did not owe anyone a cent.” He also instilled this principle of integrity in his children. Through all the sorrows and heartaches that plagued his life, the vision of him singing and clogging all night at his son Parley's wedding comes to mind! Could this be how he coped with the tragedies in his life? Despite personal devastation, he brought love and joy into the lives of others.