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Morgan Family Pioneer Heritage
Sketch of the Life of Nancy Jane Radford Ryset Morgan

Written by Leon Pitman, one of her descendents and a scholar who has studied her life.

Nancy Jane Radford was born 14 June 1847 on the prairies of central Iowa, the daughter of John Whitlock Radford and Leah Smith Ross Radford. She was the first child of seven born to John and Leah, though both of her parents had had previous marriages. Nancy Jane's Radford and Smith ancestors are well documented and extend back to frontier Tennessee, early Colonial Virginia and North Carolina.

Her birth on the Mormon frontier in Iowa is symbolic of the frontier life which she lived. Her family and relatives became a large extended family who during her lifetime moved at least eight times, always to new frontier locations where creating a home involved the hard work of gathering raw materials to build primitive shelters and planting crops in lands never before plowed or irrigated. Until 1850 her parents lived at Shirts Branch near present Council Bluffs, Iowa, where they grew crops for the Mormon migrations then underway. In the summer of 1850 the growing family crossed the plains and mountains to Utah, settling first in a fort in newly founded Provo. By 1855, when she was eight years old, her family helped found the new settlement of Fillmore, in desolate central Utah.

A few months before her 14th birthday, Nancy married Francis Frederick Ryset, a 24-year-old German immigrant pioneer living in Fillmore, Millard County. He had come to Utah in 1857 with the U. S. Army, working as a civilian butcher. While in Fillmore, Nancy bore two children but both died there by 1866. In the fall of 1866 the Rysets joined her parents in the newly founded settlement of Deseret, Utah. Her parents, her half siblings, and related families were among the founders of Deseret, where problems with the flooding Sevier River, threats of Indian attacks, and diseases created many hardships and deaths. While in Deseret, Nancy Jane bore three more children, Frank, Melvin, and Don Carlos.

In 1870 Nancy's husband left the family to look for work in Wyoming. He apparently left with the understanding that he would return to get his family after he found secure work. After more than a year of his absence, 24-year old Nancy, believing her husband was dead, married Thomas Morgan on 25 September 1871 in Oak City, Utah, as his plural wife. He was 49, still living with first wife Ann, and the youngest of their family of seven ranging in age from 10 to 28. According to Ryset descendants Nancy wanted to wait longer for her husband's return but instead was pressured by her father and her Bishop into this marriage to Thomas Morgan. While we will never know what was in her mind and heart, she nevertheless remained with Thomas for the rest of her life and bore a second family with him.

Nancy and the rest of her family could not have known at the time of her marriage to Thomas that her first husband did not die in 1870. Ten years after leaving his family, according to the 1880 census, Frank Ryset Sr. was living in Wyoming at Smiths Fork (now Cokeville) with a new wife, Mary, young child Addie, and stepdaughter. It is not known if Frank Ryset deliberately deserted Nancy and his family. Ryset descendants claim that he may have come back for her after a couple of years and, on discovering that she had remarried, went back to Wyoming where he later married Mary Wilson.

By 1873 two of her three Ryset sons died, leaving only one, Frances Daniel Ryset, to survive to adulthood. He became part of her Morgan family while living in Oak City, Utah.

During her years in Deseret the large Radford family and the Thomas and Ann Morgan family became close associates, resulting later in some marriages between their children and grandchildren. Thomas acquired land and built a home in Oak City where Nancy and her children lived separately from Thomas and his first wife and family. In 1872, Thomas and Ann moved to Leamington, about 12 miles from Oak City. Nancy remained in Oak City, in part to be close to where her sister Leah Ellen Lovell lived, but in about 1880 Nancy and her children moved to Leamington where Thomas was living and where he built an adobe house for her. (This house still stands today on the Finlinson property where it is being used as a tool shed.) From 1872 to 1888 Nancy and Thomas had nine children, all but four of them born in Oak City. Only four of their children survived to adulthood.

During this time in Millard County, Utah Nancy became part of the large Morgan-Radford extended families who moved together three more times during her lifetime. In 1868 the Morgans and Radfords founded Oak City, Utah, about 15 miles from Deseret. In 1872, Morgans, moving again, became the principal founders of Leamington, Utah, starting all over, building new homes, farms, and irrigation canals. In 1888-89, most of the Morgan and Radford families left Utah and together founded the town in Star Valley, Wyoming, later known as Etna. It was here in December of 1889 that her father died at the age of about 75. But her mother Leah, though quite feeble, lived through the cold winters of Wyoming, as did Nancy's three siblings and their families. Two years later, in 1891, all members of the Morgan and Radford families, who by this time numbered more than 50 people, being dissatisfied with Wyoming, built new homes in the frontier communities of Poplar and Shelton, Idaho.

These family members moving to Idaho included, besides Nancy and Thomas Morgan and their children, Nancy's son Frank Ryset and his wife Sarah Priscilla Morgan (Thomas granddaughter), Nancy's sister Leah Ellen Radford Lovell and her large family; Nancy's sister Diana Rebecca Radford Woolsey and her large family; and Nancy's brother Daniel H. Radford and his large family, Nancy's ailing mother Leah, as well as her half brother Dick Ross and his family. Other family members moved to the area later.

Three years after moving to Idaho, in December 1894, Nancy's mother Leah died in Poplar at the age of 73. In August of 1895, Thomas' first wife Ann died in Poplar, at the age of about 73.

In May 1900, 53-year-old Nancy Jane Ryset Morgan died in Poplar of nervous prostration, according to one source. She was survived by husband Thomas Morgan and six of his children by his wife Ann. Of the 14 children she bore with two husbands, only five had survived to adulthood, the youngest of which (Lydia Almeda) was 12 years old when Nancy died. All of her adult children had settled near her in eastern Idaho. She was survived by three full siblings; two half-sisters (daughters of her fathers plural wife, Polly Stevens); and two half brothers (sons of her mothers first marriage to Andrew Jackson Ross).

Having lost nine of her 14 children to disease and early death, abandoned by her first husband whom she had married at age 13, living as a plural wife to her second husband (which may have been a marriage arranged by others), spending much of her life in primitive frontier shelters, and dying at the young age of 53, her life symbolizes the most difficult rigors of frontier life, the likes of which none of her descendants today will ever experience. Her son Joseph's description of her as a woman of great faith is perhaps an understatement of her long suffering life of limited options. Undoubtedly she had faith and found comfort in her religion which promised a life hereafter with her lost loved ones. No photograph is known to have ever been taken of her and no record of anything she said or thought is known to exist. But learning about the circumstances of her life will help us bond with her and appreciate her as our ancestor.

Her five surviving children lived productive and useful lives, raising families who made valuable contributions to the communities where they settled. Her children who lived to adulthood include:

Francis Daniel Ryset, b. 11 Nov. 1866, Deseret, UT, and died 24 Feb. 1924 in Ririe, Idaho. Married Sarah Priscilla Morgan, 8 August 1888. Had large family.

John Thomas Morgan, b. 18 Dec 1872, Oak City, UT, and died 9 Dec 1929 in Lehi, Utah. Married Josephine Fogg. Had a family.

Martha Veletta Morgan, b. 6 Oct. 1877 in Oak City, UT, and died 9 Dec 1960. Married first John Riley, had two daughters. Married second Samuel Eames had large family.

Joseph Charles Morgan, b. 27 Oct 1879 in Oak City, UT, and died 7 Nov 1979 in Ogden, UT. Married Melissa Bassett. Had 11 children.

Lydia Almeda Morgan, b. 5 Mar. 1888 in Leamington UT, and died 6 Oct. 1953 in Calgary, Alberta. Married George Nowlin. Had family.

It is with gratitude and appreciation for the work of Leon Pitman that we present the above story of the life of Nancy Jane Radford. Her life was filled with suffering and loss. Her families were frequently uprooted, on the move and lived in great poverty under stark frontier conditions. During her later married life she was sort of a hidden plural wife whose records are ambiguous or hard to find. For this reason we have no picture of Nancy Jane and we know precious little about her. But thanks to the research and perseverence of her descendent Leon Pitman we are able to preserve, and pass on to later generations, this basic sketch of her life.