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  • SOUTHERN UTAH MEMORIES: Mormon Pioneer John Madison Chidester
    by Loren Webb
    Published - 01/20/13 - 01:00 PM | 0 0 comments | 43 43 recommendations | email to a friend | print
    John Madison Chidester. Courtesy Loren Webb
    John Madison Chidester. Courtesy Loren Webb
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    (Washington, UT) - When John Madison Chidester was called by LDS Church leaders to settle Washington, Utah, he claimed that all of his trials combined up to that point , could not match the difficulties he faced in the Cotton Mission.

    Those difficulties included dealing with hostile Indians, living in a wagon box, suffering malaria, and dealing with locusts, parched land, unbearable heat, little drinking water, and a merciless sun.

    But believing his family was called by God, through a prophet to do the job of settling Washington, he and his family stuck it out and accomplished what they were sent to do, according to “The Life and Times of John Madison Chidester,” written by family descendant, Dale Eldon Chidester in August 1994.

    John Chidester was born in Pompey, Onodague County, New York , in 1809 to Dr. John Peck and Mary Ann “Polly” Gifford Chidester. He was named after his father and his middle name was for President John Madison.

    In 1828, John Madison Chidester moved to Erie, Michigan. It was in Michigan four year later that he was taught by Elders Joseph Wood and David Patten, missionaries with the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. He and his wife, Mary Josephine Parker Chidester were later baptized on June 20, 1832. He was later was ordained an elder in 1833 and heard the Prophet Joseph Smith was asking for volunteers to help Mormons who were forced from their homes in Independence, Missouri, so he joined Zion’s Camp and marched 1,000 miles from Ohio to Jackson County, Missouri. While Zion’s Camp did not accomplish its goal of restoring Mormons to their homes in Missouri, Chidester gained a testimony of the Prophet Joseph Smith after meeting him face to face.

    In 1836, Chidester moved his family to Liberty in Clay County, Missouri, but mobs continued to make his life very trying, according to his life history. As a result of privations and persecutions, their daughter, Mary died on July 25, 1837 at four and a half months old.

    Because of persecutions, they moved to Far West, Missouri, and then were driven again, this time from the entire state of Missouri, and moved to Quincy, Illinois in 1839. In 1839, Chidester became a body guard to the Prophet Joseph Smith. He also used his carpentry skills to build houses for residents and helped build the Nauvoo Temple.

    In 1842, he served a mission to Michigan where he converted his mother, a step brother and sister, along with others.

    Following the murder of Joseph Smith and his brother Hyrum Smith, John and Mary Chidester received their endowments in the Nauvoo Temple. Then in 1846, he and his family moved to Montrose, Iowa, where he built a ferry and assisted LDS members leaving Nauvoo across the Mississippi River.

    In 1848, he moved to Council Bluffs, Iowa, where he built a grist mill for grinding corn. Two years later, the Chidesters left Winter Quarters for the trek west, arriving in Salt Lake City in September 1850. The family settled in Bountiful where John made a living making spinning wheels and furniture, then moved to settle in Palmyra (now Spanish Fork) in 1852 where he served as a bishop. In 1857, he became the first mayor of Palmyra. He also married his second wife, Leah Jane Thompson that same year. She died a year later.

    He then moved to Salt Lake City in 1858 before being called to the Cotton Mission in 1862. On the journey down, the trail was well used until he reached Harmony in Washington County where the road became rugged. From Harmony, the trail followed Ash Creek through the massive ridge of volcanic rock that became known as the Black Ridge. At Peter’s Leap, wagons had to be taken apart and lowered down a lope with ropes. Once the Black Ridge was crossed, there was an area of sand that exhausted the animals pulling wagons. The trail ran pass Grapevine Springs, Quail Creek, Cottonwood Creek, and then through Grapevine Pass that emptied above Washington on Jan. 1, 1863.

    After arriving in Washington, Utah, he lived by Mill Creek and used his carpentry skills and raised cotton and food stuffs.

    While Washington had been in existence since 1857, it had struggled to survive. “A dam had to be built to force water onto the better farm lands sitting on the high side of the river,” Chidester’s life history states. “This dam washed out at least once a year and some years, it washed away three or four times. Each time the dam washed out the channel became bigger that had to be dammed and the materials to build the dam became impossible to find. Ditches had to be built through sand and then solid rock and maintained against floods and gophers, which dug small holes and destroyed whole ditches. The main crop of cotton that they had been called to raise, struggled in the salty soil and they had to learn new ways to make it grow.”

    The Chidesters were the second wave of settlers to settle Washington. Most of the first batch of settlers had left and because of the many hardships, many of the second batch of settlers would leave. But not the Chidesters. They stayed and “felt that they had a sacred calling from the Lord and thrived,” Chidester’s life history states.

    John Chidester and his son, John Peck became very prominent in the early history of Washington. Both were pioneer mechanics and John made caskets in Washington for many years. His wife Mary helped line the coffins with fine white cloth. John Peck Chidester also became the draftsman and superintendent of construction of the new Washington Dam and the placing of timbers in construction of the cotton mill, and the scaffolding of the construction of the St. George Temple, according to author Dale Chidester.

    John Chidester sold his water rights to LDS President Brigham Young so that the Cotton Mill Factory could be built. John also helped construct the building and hand carved the reeds that went into the looms.

    In 1867, John married his third wife, Anna Charlotte Eldredge. That same year, John Chidester went almost daily to work on construction of the St. George Temple. Much of the carved wood in the temple was done by John Chidester.

    In 1892, Chidester died at the age of 84. He was buried in Washington.

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