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Morgan Family Pioneer Heritage
The Move To Wyoming, 1888-89

Some families moved first to Idaho, back to Utah, and then to Wyoming.

From the mid-1880s and later, many Mormons from Utah and Southeastern Idaho began migrating to new frontiers in western Wyoming and eastern Idaho. Star Valley, as it came to be called, is a narrow valley enclosed by mountain ranges and is about 100 miles south of Yellowstone Park, close to the Idaho border. It is a high valley, its floor averaging more than 6000 feet above sea level, with a relatively short growing season, but adequate for growing hay and grain. One of its early attractions was the abundance of native grass good for grazing livestock and cutting for hay. Before permanent settlements were founded in the 1880s, people from southeastern Idaho grazed livestock in the valley during the summer months.

The most important river in Star Valley, the Salt River, flows northward into the Snake River before the Snake takes an abrupt turn to the west on its journey through eastern and southern Idaho. Our Morgan and Radford ancestors were the founders of what later became the town of Etna, just a few miles south of where the Salt enters the Snake, and about seven miles north of the community of Freedom. Before Etna was named, early records list our families as members of the Freedom, Wyoming, Branch of the LDS Church.

From church records and other sources, mostly unpublished life sketches written by descendants, a list was compiled of the members of the Morgan/Radford extended families that were in Freedom (Etna) Wyoming in 1889. They included at least 59 people as follows, beginning with the oldest:

John Whitlock Radford age 74 and wife Leah
Leah Ellen Radford Lovell, her husband Joseph Lovell and eight children
Daniel H. Radford, his wife Everal Morgan and their three children
Diana Rebecca Radford Woolsey, her husband Abraham and five children
Thomas Morgan and first wife Ann
Nancy Jane Radford Morgan (plural wife of Thomas), their four children
Frank Ryset (son of Nancy Jane) and his wife Priscilla Morgan
Edward and Sarah Morgan and three unmarried children
James John Morgan, wife Amberzine and five children
Hannah E. Morgan (Thomas' granddaughter) and husband John Hadden
Annie L. Morgan Moore and her husband Willard Moore, two children
James Richard Ross, wife Susan, and six children

Many sources on our families mention the migration to Star Valley, Wyoming. They are inconsistent as to when the migration started, or if all went at the same time in one large train of wagons. Some Radford sources, as reported by Rebecca Freeman and others, say the Radfords and Lovells left in May of 1889 and formed a train of 17 wagons, driving many cattle and horses, and that the trip took them about five weeks from Leamington. A train of 17 wagons, while a large train, would perhaps not have been enough for the 59 people that made the move.

Many Morgan sources point to the fall of 1888 as the departure time and do not make references to one large wagon train. Ryset sources say that they left in the fall of 1888, a short time after Frank Ryset married Sarah Priscilla Morgan in August of 1888. Joseph Charles Morgan, son of Nancy Jane and Thomas, was baptized in September of 1888 in Leamington, and this entry is the last for a Morgan in the Leamington LDS Ward records. The youngest child of Nancy Jane Radford Morgan, Lydia Almeda Morgan, was born in Leamington in March of 1888, and she is said to have been 6 months old when Morgans migrated to Wyoming.

Ellen Ryset Butler, writing about her parents in a sketch titled "Francis Daniel Ryset," says that, "Shortly after they were married, Prissy [Sarah Priscilla Morgan] and Frank along with Prissy's folks, Sarah and Ted [Edward] Morgan, two sisters and brothers-in law, Annie and Willard Moore and Eliza and John Hadden, left [Leamington] for greener pastures [in Wyoming]." She does not mention Radfords or Lovells on this trip.

Nora Ryset Moore says in her "History of Francis Daniel Ryset": "In a very short time after Priscilla and Frank got married on 8 August 1888 they moved to Freedom, Wyoming. There they lived for two and a half years . . . In the spring of 1890 they went to Soda Springs, Idaho, that summer . . . From there to Pocatello, Idaho, where he worked that winter [1890-91]."

Perhaps the most authoritative source of information is the early Star Valley, Wyoming, LDS Stake membership records. Although these records are not complete, they do show the birthdates of five babies born to our families while in the Freedom Branch in 1889, but none in 1888, as follows:

Diana Rebecca Radford Woolsey had a baby (Everal) in Freedom on 23 April 1889; Hanna Lizzie Morgan Hadden had a baby (Francis) in Freedom on May 22, 1889 (and lost her life from this childbirth); Everal Morgan Radford (wife of Daniel H.) had a baby (Priscilla Geneva) in Freedom on July 4, 1889. Sarah Priscilla Morgan Ryset gave birth to Nora on 6 September 1889 in Freedom, and Annie Lydia Morgan Moore gave birth to Ira on 10 September 1889.

It is interesting, however, that Leah Ellen Radford Lovell had baby Ada in Oak City on 7 February 1889. The Lovell family were leaders and key players in this migration to Wyoming. It is the Lovell family histories that claim that they traveled with Leah Ellen's parents, the Radfords; and some Ryset family histories claim that they went with the Lovells and Radfords. Morgan family histories just identify other members of the family that were in Wyoming without making reference to all of them traveling together. If the birthdates for Everal Woolsey and Ada Lovell (whose mothers are Radford sisters) are correct, and if all of our families went to Wyoming at the same time, their trip would have to have been, at the latest, in March and early April of 1889. But it is more likely that some of our families made the trip independently and a few months before the Radfords and Lovells, who state that they left in the spring of 1889. The Morgans probably left in the fall of 1888.


Just exactly which route to Star Valley our families took is not known. According to authors Corzi and Call, people who first settled in Star Valley got there by going through Montpelier Canyon east from Montpelier, Idaho, until they reached Montpelier Creek in the Bear River Valley. They followed that difficult creek north to its headwaters, making many different crossings of the creek as they stayed close to the mountainside, pulling their loaded wagons up and down the ravines in the canyon. After going over a pass, they could then go down Crow Creek Canyon which entered Star Valley from the west at what is now Fairview, Wyoming. This was a difficult 50 miles from Montpelier.

But another question is how did they get to Montpelier, a town in Bear Lake Valley which itself is so isolated by mountain ranges that getting there by wagon train would have been a long arduous trip from central Utah. Ironically Montpelier by 1888 could be reached by railroad, the Oregon Short Line, passing through from Nebraska to Oregon. A traveler could have boarded a train in Leamington and gone north to Pocatello or Soda Springs, Idaho, on the Utah Northern Line, and then east to Montpelier on the Oregon Short Line. But with all the livestock, wagons, and possessions they needed to found a new settlement in Wyoming, they could not have used the railroad even for a short distance.

From Northern Utah, traveling by wagon to Montpelier would not have been easy by any of four different routes available at that time. Taking the Logan Canyon route would have been slow and cumbersome. A farther but probably easier way from Logan would have been to go north through Preston, Idaho, to Soda Springs, Idaho, then east and south, following the Old Oregon Trail to Montpelier. But this was about 75 miles farther than through Logan Canyon.

An even easier and shorter way from central Utah would have been for them to go east from Salt Lake City, through well-traveled Echo Canyon to Evanston, Wyoming, and northward from there, following the lush Bear River Valley north to Montpelier Creek. This route completely bypasses the Bear Lake Valley and Montpelier and does not involve as much difficult terrain. But early writers do not mention this Bear River passage from Wyoming as a possible emigration route for Star Valley settlers in the 1880s. This latter route today is traversed by highways 30 and 89 and is a popular way for many Utahns going to Star Valley and Yellowstone.

The book "Star Valley And Its Communities" by Lee R. Call, page 99, quotes a letter written by Leah Lovell Ririe, a Radford descendant who was 11 years old in 1888: She states:

"We settled west of Etna on the [Salt] river bank in 1888. There were Morgans, Moores, Radfords and others. A Church branch was organized and called Liberty Branch. My father, Joseph Lovell, was the presiding elder. A two-room house was built and that was where we had Sunday School . . . We attended school in a log school house and logs were used for seats. . . . Sometimes we had to stay in the school house a week at a time." Food and other provisions were brought to the children when they were snowed in.

Rebecca Freeman, a historian of the Radford family and a Radford descendant herself, provides the most detailed account of the Wyoming experience in her book, "Footprints in Time." Citing a history of the Lovell family, she writes:

"Leah and John Whitlock Radford left from Leamington 21 May 1889; they traveled with their daughter and family, Leah Ellen and Joseph Hyrum Lovell. The Lovells had left from Oak City 14 May 1889, joining with the Radfords in Leamington. . . . It took five weeks to make the journey, they arrived in Wyoming on 17 June 1889 . . . "
"When they arrived in the valley they found that living there would probably be harder than any other place they had lived. The sage brush and wild hay was thick and deep; it was hard to even clear a path to get the horses and wagons through. They would need to clear a patch of ground before they could make camp for the night. They wanted to quit and return to Utah but Leah [Radford] was unable to travel any further so they stayed. They first settled near a spring up a canyon. They cleared some land, built corrals, and put up tents. Soon after settling a forest fire broke out. The men were all up the canyon getting logs for a cabin. Leah was confined to her bed and her daughter Leah Ellen [Lovell] and the youngest grandchild George were all that were home at the time with only one horse. They hurried and tore down the tents, hitched the horse to one wagon, helped Leah into it and moved to a safe place. All the work they had put in was destroyed along with many of their possessions. They moved down into the valley to create another home."
"Again they had to face Indians problems as they had done so many times in the past, only this time they had a better solution. A granddaughter Leah Ann Lovell writes."
'One Sunday afternoon Grandma (Leah) was sick in bed and the Indians rode up. Uncle Dick (James Richard Ross) said for us to stand back so they could see her in bed and he would give them a scare. We turned the tent flaps back so they could see her and told them that she had small-pox. All the rest of the summer they took a cut-off and never came back by our camp at all.'

"Joseph Lovell built a two room log shack. He and Leah Ellen and their eight children and Leah and John Whitlock Radford all slept in the same room, and the other room being the combined kitchen, dining, living room. Because of the shortage of buildings in the valley, often school and church would also be held in this room."
"The winter of 1889-90 was one of the worst on record. Most of our livestock died. The wheat was frozen so hard that the chickens could not eat it. The worst thing to happen that year occurred on Decomber 14 when John Whitlock Radford passed away of dropsy. . . He was buried near the cabin just west of where the Etna Store now stands."

"The next summer [1890] a drought caused more hardships and many of the families who had settled in the valley chose to move back to civilization. Leah was still ill and it was unwise to move her so the Lovells along with some other members of the Radford families stayed in the valley.
Joseph Lovell went out of the valley to get wheat to sustain his family during the coming winter [1890-91]. He tried to provide enough for his family but it was another hard winter. The winter had hardly started when most of the surviving settlers ran out of food. The Lovells divided what they had with the others. Conditions were so bad that only by emptying the bedticks and feeding that straw to the livestock could they keep one cow and one team of horses alive. The only way to get around was on snowshoes. Leah liked to go visit her family that still lived in the valley. Joseph Lovell would put her on a shoe-boggan made from two snow shoes fastened together and pulled on snowshoes to the other homesteads so she could visit. . . ."
"The next summer [1891] was better. There was plenty of wild hay, wild game, and berries, the gardens grew well, but most of the settlers decided to abandon the valley. Leah was still ill and the Lovells stayed until late September when she was well enough to travel."

Other accounts by descendants add human interest and corroborate the experiences of a hard winter in Wyoming. Nora Moore Tyler writes:

"My aunt Elizabeth [Hannah Elizabeth Morgan Hadden] died at childbirth, leaving a tiny baby. Mother and Aunty Prissy [Sarah Priscilla Morgan Ryset] nursed the baby. Aunt Lizzie was buried on the banks of a warm spring swale [depression] that never freezes over . . . a kind of warm springfed stream with high banks. Grandma Morgan [Sarah West Morgan] kept the baby. They wanted to take Lizzie to Freedom for burial but her husband [John Hadden] refused and since he had first right, his wishes were granted."

From Thomas Ezra Morgan's "Bits of History of Thomas Morgan," told by his uncle Joseph Charles Morgan:

"These families left Leamington and went to Star Valley in the spring of 1888. They included Thomas Morgan, Joseph H. Lovell, John W. Radford, Daniel H. Radford, John Hadden, Dick Ross and others. They plowed land and planted grain when they arrived. Due to the exceptionally cold and early rain their crops froze. The boys hauled willows on toboggans to feed the cattle. The wheat froze till the chickens wouldn't eat it. They only had one heifer left when spring came, all their cattle had starved and froze to death, and the dogs turned around and killed that. They had to go to Montpelier to do their trading. The roads got blocked with snow and their provisions ran out. They left Star Valley after two years. A few other people had a few cattle left when they left Wyoming."

Martha Morgan Eames, a daughter of Thomas Morgan and Nancy Jane Radford, and 11 years old when they left for Star Valley, says of the winter there:

"The snow was over five feet deep that winter [1889-90] on the level. Families used to get in their sleighs and go to the home of Thomas Lee, who was the school teacher. They would dance until about midnight, then have supper. Venison was usually one of the main things served. Mrs. Lee would make beds for all the women in the house but the men stayed up and talked until morning when they would go home. They had staked out willow sticks by the side of the roads so they could follow them in the deep snow."

Perhaps one advantage to settling in Star Valley was the abundance of wild game. Elk and deer came down out of the mountains in large herds when snow got deep. Since this valley had not yet been thoroughly exploited by humans, there were many wild animals for the taking.

From author Lee Call:

"By 1889 there were settlers in most parts of the valley and another hard winter was experienced by many. Early in the fall of 1889-90 the snow began to fall, bringing up to four feet of snow on the valley bottom. As the winter progressed it would warm up enough to melt the snow, then it would become cold and snow again. It is said that it snowed and melted again and again until altogether 18 feet of snow fell that winter."
"Experienced settlers had made preparations for the winter, but the families who came into the valley the year before when it was mild were not prepared for it. Although the fields were waist high with wild hay in the fall, the new families did not think it necessary to cut and preserve it for winter feeding as the year before not more than a foot of snow fell and the cattle and horses found plenty of feed in the open fields. The early and heavy snows of 1889-90 caught these pioneer folks completely unprepared."

On page 96 of Call's book, he writes that John Hadden and Woolsey and a David [Dick] Ross were also early Etna settlers.

"Hadden and Woolsey were early settlers who located on Birch Creek and stayed for about a year and a half. During the first summer they were there, they cut hay, bunched it and stuck a stick in the top of each bunch so that when the snow fell they would be able to find the hay. This way they didnt have to stack the hay. Hadden and Woolsey were the first men to thresh grain in Star Valley. This was accomplished by piling bundles of cut grain together, and driving a team of horses back and forth over it."


Looking West across the Star Valley at Etna, Wyoming which was first settled by our Morgan and Radford families in 1888-1889. Taken October, 2002 by Leon Pitman.

We must return to the question of what may have prompted nearly 60 members of our large families to leave their Utah homes for such a difficult environment in Wyoming.

It is a common theme among Mormon scholars writing about the Mormon migration to Star Valley to claim that the valley was a haven for polygamists seeking to escape from federal authorities in Utah and Idaho, for in the 1880's marshals were still hunting polygamist men and incarcerating them. Anti-Mormon laws passed in the state of Idaho also had essentially disenfranchised Mormon voters. Territorial officials in Wyoming, however, were not cooperating with federal marshals and were in fact inviting Mormon immigrants to settle in Wyoming. By the mid-1880's Wyoming had become known among Mormons as a place that was friendly to Mormons seeking a new place to live.

But of all the Mormons that migrated to Star Valley from 1885 and after, polygamists were a tiny minority of the total. In our own Morgan/Radford clan, of the nearly 60 members of our families to reach their new home in Wyoming by 1889, only one, the elderly Thomas Morgan, was a practicing polygamist. It is doubtful, therefore, that a need to find a polygamist haven was the principal motive for our large group of monogamists and their many children. Rather, it seems that an opportunity to acquire farm lands (and a shortage of such lands in Millard County) was a more important motive. Star Valley, though very isolated and a completely raw frontier, was in the 1880's being promoted by the Church and the Deseret News as a place for migrants wanting new land and farming opportunities.

Ray Hall's thesis, page 44, states that:

"The Lower [Northern] Star Valley attracted many hardy souls who were not afraid to be long distanced away from their former homes. Such families as Lovells, Morgans, Moores, Bakers, Wolfeys, and Radfords had traveled the length of the Salt River [which flows through Star Valley from south to north] and settled some seven miles north of Freedom near where the Salt River empties into the Snake River. The Colony created by the above mentioned pioneers was named Etna at the suggestion of Carl Cook, one of the early pioneers."


Call, Lee R. "Star Valley And Its Communities"
1994 Star Valley Independent, Afton, Wyoming.

Corsi, Elma W. "The Hills of Home, A History of Etna and Alpine, 1885-1989." 1990. Printed in Afton, Wyoming.

Freeman, Rebecca. "Footprints in Time, A History of the John Whitlock and Leah Smith Ross Radford Family." Typescript.

Hall, Ray M. "History of the Latter-Day Saint Settlement of Star Valley, Wyoming."
Unpublished Masters Thesis, Brigham Young University.

May, Dean, "Between Two Cultures: The Mormon Settlement of Star Valley, Wyoming." Journal of Mormon History, Vol. 13, 1986-87, pp. 124-140.

Morgan, Thomas Ezra. "Bits of History of Thomas Morgan."
About 1950. Typescript by a grandson of Thomas & Nancy Jane Morgan.

Star Valley LDS Stake Membership Records, 1885-1919. FHL Film # 0034537

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Settling In Eastern Idaho, 1891-1900

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