Lucy Ellen Van Buren (1846-1886)

Lucy Ellen Van BurenBy Virginia C. Keeler with minor editing and supplemental material added by Guy L. Black

Lucy Ellen Van Buren, born 1 October 1846 in Preston, Jackson, Iowa; died 22 Feb. 1886 in Manti, Sanpete, Utah; married 24 Nov. 1868 in Salt Lake City, Salt Lake, Utah, to Joseph Smith Snow.

 (There has been some question as to the exact place of birth of Lucy Ellen, seventh child of Cheney Garret and Lucy Phillips Van Buren.  Some records give the state of her birth as Missouri others Iowa.  In only one record is the town Preston, mentioned.  After searching all available sources of information, and considering the history and the route traveled by these early pioneers, I am convinced that her state of birth was Iowa, not Missouri, for several reasons: i.e. the earliest U.S. census following her birth, when memory of it was clear, gives her birthplace as Iowa (1850 census of Pottawattamie County, Iowa); there was no early town of Preston in Missouri, but there was one in Jackson county, Iowa; and, in my opinion surely no Mormon family would have dared to be found living in the State of Missouri in that bitter, mob-ridden year of 1846).

Lucy Ellen Van Buren was born only a few months following the expulsion of her family from the State of Illinois.  Her people had been driven from their home near Nauvoo, HancockCounty, in the dead of winter, the victims of mob threats and violence.  They had crossed the icy Mississippi River to Iowa, with thousands of other persecuted Latter Day Saints.  Her father sought temporary employment in the small town of Preston.  This seventh child, named Lucy for her mother and Ellen, by which she was called, must have been welcomed enthusiastically, having followed five brothers and being only the second girl child in the family.

Very soon after Ellen’s birth the Van Buren’s settled in Garden Grove, Pottawattamie, Iowa, a community organized as temporary quarters for the Saints about one hundred and fifty miles northwest of Nauvoo.  The winter of 1846/1847 was a precarious one for most of the Mormons in Iowa.  There was much sickness; food and supplies were pitifully scarce.  The author, Bernard Devoto, in his book “The Year of Decision: 1846” described some of the conditions there then:  “It is the sheer bad health of Winter Quarters and the other camps that most impresses one who reads the journals of the Saints.  (They themselves call the Missouri River bottoms “Misery Bottoms”.)  They were now paying in full for a year of terrorism and a summer and fall of forced migration. . . . [T]oday, all the way across Iowa, you can find little clusters of graves, the winter’s fatalities where groups of Saints had settled down.  Winter Quarters was not only the largest but the richest and healthiest of the camps, and in Winter Quarters burial parties were always at work. . .

“East of Winter Quarters the other camps were worse. They had been composed of the poor and the infirm to begin with, and had the smallest granaries.  No colony escaped disease and death, but the six hundred Saints at Garden Grove had the worst time.  They had stripped their small store for the relief of the poor camp, the refugees from the final mobbing at Nauvoo; and had taken in many of these invalids.  The Twelve sent such supplies as they could from Winter Quarters.  The local authorities detailed laborers to work among the Gentiles, scoured the countryside for help, and even sent missions as far as Kentucky and Ohio to collect any charity that might be had: a barrel of flour, a yard of cloth to make a child’s dress, a side of bacon, or a pig of lead.  The lay and shivered in their sod huts.  The autumnal agues lingered on.  They were ravaged by scurvy and pneumonia.  By April their food was gone entirely.”

For years, Ellen Van Buren’s family had lived in the villages and on the trails of the frontiers, moving westward: New York State, Ohio, Missouri, Illinois, and now Iowa.  A few years here, another few there, hardly any place long enough to build a real home and sink in deep roots.  This was the story of most of the Saints in Iowa, which was just a temporary place of abode for them; their hearts and minds were set again on the west—a thousand miles through the wilderness to the Rocky Mountains.  It must have been a great faith that caused these people to endure so much for the sake of their religious beliefs.  All that the Van Buren’s went through in Iowa has not been given us, their descendants, to know; but however severe, it did not dim their faith nor turn them from their purpose.  They stayed in Iowa longer than the majority—six years, mostly spent among the poor in Garden Grove.

It was during these years that an eighth child was born to the family, Lydia Jane, 24 April 1849.  It was there that the oldest daughter, Mary France, was married to Levi Hamilton Callaway, 17 November 1850; and it was while the family was living in Garden Grove that Ellen’s father, Cheney Garrett Van Buren, went as a missionary to the distant State of Kentucky to preach the gospel, where he became a victim of the dreaded disease cholera, and never returned.

Lucy Ellen Van Buren was but four years and eight months old when her father died.  She was just a year older when she left Iowa (June 1852) with her widowed mother, her brothers and sisters, a brother-in-law, and a small niece, to start the long journey across the plains.  These nine people joined in one lone wagon, and had but two pair of oxen and one cow team.  A thousand miles over rough, dusty trails is a long way for a little girl to walk, but walk she must have, at least a good part of the way; for there were those less able to walk than she, and the wagon was heavily loaded with all their worldly goods.

Imagine five-year-old Ellen, leading small Lydia Jane by the hand, trudging along in the scorch of the sun.  Clouds of gritty dust, raised by hoofs and wheels and plodding feet, enveloped them, filling their throats and nostrils, reddening their eyes, and chafing their lips to bleeding.  God did not make the burdens of these pioneer forefathers of ours light; but, as they prayed, He gave them strength and courage to bear them!  Three-and-a-half months the members of the James Chauncy Snow Company, to which the Van Buren’s belonged, toiled wearily across desert, plains and mountain trails to Utah, under all sorts of conditions and in every kind of weather.  Ellen turned six years old just eight days before this Company of covered wagons reached its destination—the Valley of the Great Salt Lake, October 9, 1852.  Her year-old niece, Lucy Elizabeth Callaway, never reached Utah, but died on the plains of Wyoming.

Soon after arriving in Great Salt Lake, Ellen’s two older brothers, Samuel and Elmer, went on to California; but the remainder of the Van Buren and Callaway families spent the winter in Little Cottonwood, some twelve miles southeast of Great Salt Lake City.

The next spring, Lucy Van Buren took her young daughters, Ellen and Lydia, and her son, Andrew, and moved to Springville, Utah.  There she married a widower, John Martin Stewart (June 1853).  One child was born to this union, George Henry Stewart (early spring of 1854).  Lydia Jane died of typhus fever that same year, 12 November 1854, at five-and-a-half years.  She was buried in Springville.  The marriage of Lucy Van Buren to Mr. Steward did not endure long, and they separated about 1856.

About the year 1857/1858 Lucy again entered into matrimony, this time with a bachelor named Gad Yale from Manti, Sanpete, Utah.  She and the remnants of her family went to his home in Manti to live.  But this marriage failed also.  Lucy and Gad Yale were soon divorced.

From then on Ellen’s brother, Andrew, assumed full support of the Van Buren family, then four in number.  He built a home of logs for them on the northwest corner of Fourth North and Main Street in Manti.  Ellen was about twelve years old at the time.  For the next ten years she lived in that home, which was not far from Temple Hill.  Her half-brother, George Henry, died sometime between 1860 and 1866.

School was a must for children of the Pioneers, for they had always been educationally minded.  Early schools in Manti were held in homes.  Older girls often helped the younger children with their numbers and letters.  Slates and pencils were seldom available, so they wrote with charcoal on chips of wood, gathered where the men folks were chopping logs for their houses.  As late as 1880, children of elementary school age, and even older ones, still continued to go to private homes for instruction.  In 1866, two one-room rock school buildings were erected, one on the northwest corner of the Court House block, and the other a block west of the Assembly Hall.  These were used for the edification of the older students, and even some adults attended classes in them.  The “three R’s” and penmanship were emphasized, and some attention was given to geography and history.  There were few text books at first.  Graduation from the eighth grade, or its equivalent, was the high education attained in most cases.  There was no High School in Manti until 1905.

Every early Mormon city in Utah had its “Bowery.”  Manti was no exception.  A huge shed, supported by logs and roofed with thick layers of boughs and willows, was erected where the Manti High School sat in 1962.  This open-air affair sheltered Conference goers and worshipers in summer and inclement weather.  It accommodated the whole of the town’s people on Fourth of July and Twenty-Fourth of July celebrations.  Even after new quarters were built for worship and other community gatherings, it became a playground for school children in bad weather until it collapsed one rainy day, suddenly and without warning, catching a group of boys under it sodden mass.  None lost their lives, though a dozen were dazed or injured, but the whole town was wild with excitement!

The “Council House”, a large two-story rock building, was erected for church gatherings in 1855/1856.  It stood not far from the Bowery, on the site where the Manti Library now stands, and served the people of the town well for fifty years.  Everyone in Manti belonged to the same Ward until 1877, and everyone went to church; for that is what had brought the Pioneers west in the first place, to be able to worship how, when, and where they chose, and in peace!  In 1866, a fort was built around the Tabernacle block, on which the Council House stood.  A fence was built through the center of the block dividing the enclosure, so that one part could be used for corralling the stock of the town in case of Indian attacks.  The town cows were driven to this place every morning in the summers, during Indian-troubled times; and well armed herders, usually about fifteen in number, would take them to the pastures for grazing.

Ellen Van Buren attended church in the Council House, and so did her children after her.  But religious services were not the only gatherings held in this functional building.  Recreational, educational, social, and civic activities of all kinds were held there too.  The buoyant spirit encouraged by the pioneer leaders, as a balance against trials and hardships, waxed strong in the bosoms of the early Manti-ites.  It is surprising the variety and extent of the “extracurricular” activities they found time for with so much hard work at hand.  Concert, dances, theatres, rallies, school and community celebrations—there was no end to them!

Early Manti had more than its share of fine musical talent.  In those days, singing was chiefly connected with church activities.  A Sunday School choir was organized in the 1860s by the Westenskows.  It was the forerunner of the Manti Tabernacle Choir.  The Westenskows also organized a band and a dance orchestra of mostly strings.  Their well known group of singers and players furnished music for all sorts of occasions, including church meeting, programs, etc.  The Braithwaite Brothers male quartet was featured on programs and at social functions.  A martial band and a drum corps were led by George Snow Sr., brother of General Warren Stone Snow.

Dancing was the most popular form of entertainment in those early Manti days.  At first it took place in the homes, where the call was “pull up the carpets and bring in the fiddlers!”  Then came the “Carding Machine Hall,” where many good times were had doing the Quadrille, Mazurka, Waltz-quadrille, Schottisch, Heel-and-toe Polka, or French Four.  Dancing parties on the rough knotty-pine floor of the Council House, to the music of “Fiddler Hansen” as he taught new jigs and steps, came next.  A glance at the list of early balls held in Manti is convincing:  The Apron and Bow, Pillow Slip Party, The Calico Ball, Charity Ball, Masquerade Ball, Grand Weight Party, National Character Ball, etc.

Ellen Van Buren engaged in many of the town’s activities in her young womanhood.  We know she was interested in home dramatics and took the lead in many of the early dramas, as did her brother Andrew.  Following close on the effort of the first Manti dramatists, who styled themselves “Amateur Thespians” came an organization of play actors called “The Theatre Guild,” to which Ellen and Andrew belonged.  The Centennial History of Manti, “Song of a Century” tells something of this group and their activities, as follows.

“The Council House, place of many activities housed concerts and one-act plays.  In the later 60’s it was necessary to strengthen the upper floor and add supports underneath.  A stage and dressing rooms were added at the same time (1867), so that the Theatre Guild could put on better plays.  John Crawford was president of the Guild.  Some of the plays presented were:  King Lear, Hamlet, Merchant of Venice, Macbeth, Othello, Uncle Tom’s Cabin, Ingomar, Damon and Pythias, East Lynne, Bitter Cold, Ten Nights in a Bar Room, and many others.  Some of the players were:  James C. Brown, John Grier, William Luke, Charles Luke, George Bench, Anthony Bessey, C.P. Larsen, David Shand, Andrew Van Buren, Charles Tennant, John K. Reid, Will K. Reid, William T. Reid, E.W. Fox.  Among the women were:  Adelia Cox Sidwell, Rosalia Cox Driggs, Ellen Van Buren, Marian Tennant, Jane Reid Cox, Margaret Stringham, Belle Wilkin Reid, Olive, Ida and Diantha Lowry.

“These people drew large audiences, and the money was used for various benefit funds, such as immigration, missionary, public buildings, etc.

“Later, a rock barn was remodeled for a dance and show house.  It was known as ‘Grier’s Hall’, and for many years was the center of Manti’s recreation.  Traveling companies as well as home dramatics performed here.”

The Black Hawk Indian war was a period of apprehension for Ellen and her mother, for Andrew was most always in the thick of the battle wherever it was being fought.  No one knew who would be the next victim of some cunning, bloodthirsty savage.  No one would venture a guess either, as to when those in the village might be subjected to a surprise attack.  Everyone in Manti at that time lived more or less in an atmosphere of foreboding.  Many were the bloody tales retold!  The roll of the big bass drum, summoning the minute men and militia to battle, must have sent sickening chills down many spines.

The Frederick Walter Cox home, then on Depot Street, was a center of activity.  Early school dances and socials were held there.  Ellen often visited at the Cox home, for the girls of the family were her close friends.  She was especially fond of Rosalie.  Andrew called often at the Cox home too, for he was especially fond of Lovina Emeline.  So fond was Andrew of Lovina Cox that he married her during the thick of the Indian war hostilities, December 1, 1866, in the Salt Lake Endowment House, and took her home with him to live.

Another frequent guest at the Cox home was Joseph Smith Snow, eldest son of General Warren Stone Snow.  It has been said that Joseph too, was fond of Rosalie Cox.  Be that as it may, he did not marry that young lady, but chose as his bride and future companion her dark haired stately chum, Lucy Ellen Van Buren.

Not long before Joseph Snow turned twenty-four, he took twenty-two-year-old Ellen Van Buren to the Endowment House in Salt Lake City, as Andrew had done his bride, and was married to her for time and eternity.  The ceremony took place November 24, 1868.  It must have taken ever so many days to make the trip up and back by team that winter.  Though the Black Hawk War was still in progress at the time, travel was safer in the winter, as Chief Black Hawk and his Braves usually retired to their winter camps during the worst part of the snowy season.  They came back to fight and steal in summer when they could not be tracked through the snow

Joseph took Ellen to live in a small rock house he built on some land he owned.  As of 1962, their house still stood on the northeast corner of Third East and Second North in Manti, although it had undergone many changes.  Joseph spoke of their first home, also told other details of their early life together, to his oldest daughter, Claytie Snow Riddle, shortly before he died.  She recorded his exact words, as follows:

“I wore homespun suits during my life until I was about twenty-four year old, and I had my first boughten suit of clothes then, in which I was married.  I had one yoke of cattle and five acres of land.  We had one little room, with a board shanty behind, and there was where our first four children were born, with the tall sagebrush all around everywhere, only where it had been broken up and tilled.  We hadn’t much but we were happy and I freighted for about fifteen years after that from Utah into Nevada and into Eureka.  Every hundred dollars I would get I would buy sheep with, and I left them in the man’s herd from whom I bought them.  I kept this up until I had 470 head of sheep.  Now I am seventy-nine years old and been in the sheep business ever since; and still live on the same corner.”

About 1878/79, following the birth of Ellen and Joseph’s first four children, their small home was extensively remodeled to include three additional large rooms, a pantry, and a sizeable porch on the west front with ornamental railings and trim.  A steep, twisting stairway was also added leading to three-dormer, windowed bedrooms aloft, from which perhaps could be seen the rest of the accumulated attachments which went to make up the balance of that farming community homestead:  a large barn, root cellar, milk cellar, granary, stable, buggy shed, pig pen, chicken coop, outhouse, lawn, garden, orchard, fences, water pump, grindstone, etc.

Joseph Snow was away from home a great deal.  While he freighted, farmed, and counted his sheep, Ellen bore and reared their children and kept their house.  She acquainted herself with the whys, hows, and wherefores of family supply and demand.  Housekeeping was a complicated world of its own; the list of things one should know was endless!  It is interesting to note that brooms in Manti in those days were made from “broom-corn” which grew there, and that water-proof baskets were made from willow sprouts.  Wooden baskets and tubs were fashioned from local red pine, bound with hoops of hawberry, black willow, or mountain birch.  Wool was washed in the warm springs south of town, before it was carded, spun, and woven.  Silk worms were raised by some folks there, and from their cocoons’ silk thread was spun and woven into cloth.  From smoke-tanned deer hides some sewed buckskin suits and gloves.  Molasses partly satisfied the natural craving for sugar; cheeseries and creameries were a big help to housewives.  If folks could not afford to buy their necessities, they made or raised their own—or traded, swapped, or borrowed.

Lucy Ellen Van Buren Snow was a talented, creative, attractive, and very dramatic woman.  She is said to have been high strung and emotional, with rare sensitivity; “an individual for whom a large family was a hardship.”  But she was a good mother.  She taught her children to enjoy the finer things of life, to develop their talents.  She taught them to pray.  She took time out from the labors of her crowded days to teach them to sing, recite, and invent stories and rhymes.  Her older children were especially apt pupils, and some of them contributed much in the various artistic fields.

Ellen bore her husband nine children, all in the couple’s home in Manti.  To some of her four daughters she gave rather uncommon, most beautifully sounding names, indicative perhaps of her artistic nature.  Her five sons, including twins, received substantial family names.  The names of all her children were:  Warren Cheney, Samuel F., Claytie Ambrozine, Ellen Virginia, Loretta Fernlin, Sarah Lucille, Joseph Smith Jr., Edgar Van Buren, and Elmer Van Buren Snow.  Her second child, named for her brother Samuel, died when nearing his tenth month.  Her ninth child, named for her brother Elmer, cost her her life, and outlived her for four years and two months.

Lucy Ellen Van Buren Snow died 28 February 1886, the day following the birth of her last child, from complications resulting from the removal of a large tumor at the time the child was born.  She was buried in the Snow family plot in the beautiful MantiCityCemetery, which is overlooked by the magnificent Temple on the hill to the east.  Her infant sons are buried beside her.

Ellen’s daughter, Loretta Snow Neff, just past six when her mother died, remembers seeing her mother in the coffin.  She also recalls her funeral, when she and her sisters “Jennie” and “Louie,” “The three little girls” as they were called, were all costumed alike in white dresses.  Strange thoughts sometimes occur in the minds of impressionable children.  “Retta” remembers the song the choir sang at the service “Farewell All Earthly Treasures, We Want no More of You.”  To the grieving child the words “want no more of you” were directed at her dead mother.  How could such a thing be, as wanting no more of her darling mother?  The anguish that seized her soul at the words of this so-called “comforting” hymn, she has never forgotten.  To this very day—and she is now in her eighty-second year—she still harbors an intense dislike and dread of all funerals, and never attends one if she can get out of it gracefully.

Ellen Snow’s oldest daughter, Claytie Snow Riddle, who was ten when her mother passed away, wrote this of her mother, under the title “Memory’s of my dear Mother.”

“Mother was a beautiful woman, and I can remember her dark hair silvered with gray.  She was about my height (5ft. 6 in.).  I can just see her in a black velvet basque, and the skirt she wore for her best, when she would go to visit Aunt Esther Snow, Elvira Coolege and others.  She always took us children with her.  There was a little white, fancy collar too that she often wore on her dress, and I thought she looked so pretty.

“She taught me my first prayers, and I still remember them; prayers mean so very much to me—what would I do without them?  She taught Jennie and me many songs; we were called upon to sing so often.  One song she taught me was “Let me kiss you father, kiss you, I’m so very tired of play.”  This I sang in the old Council House when I was a little girl.  I was so small I had to stand on a chair in the pulpit so the audience could see me.  Aunt Jane Snow Moffitt stood beside me.  After the song was over, I looked at Aunt Jane.  She was pale and shaking, but I wasn’t afraid.”

“Songs my mother taught me

In the days long vanished

Seldom from her eyelids

Were the teardrops banished?

“So I teach my children

Each melodious measure.

Oft the tears are flowing

From my memory’s treasure.”

-          – Dvorak

(from the German)[i]

[i] Vital Records, Cemetery, and Obituary Sources:  Birth Certificate:  No birth certificate available.  No governmental entities in Utah were required to report births prior to 1898.  All secondary sources, including grave marker and history written by Virginia C. Keller, agree that she was born October 1, 1846.  Marriage License:  No primary source.  Secondary source lists marriage of Joseph Smith Snow and Lucy Ellen Van Buren as having occurred on November 24, 1868 in Salt Lake City, Utah.  Virginia C. Keeler, Cheney Garrett Van Buren and His Family (Provo, Utah: Stevenson’s Genealogy Center, 1962), p. 158.  Death Certificate:  No death certificate found.  But obituary indicates date of death was February 28, 1886.  The Home Sentinel, Manti, Utah, (Vol. 1, No. 46), March 5, 1886, p. 4.  Grave Location and Cemetery Directions:  Grave is located in Manti City Cemetery, Manti, Utah,  Lot 3, Blk 13, Plat A.  Cemetery is on Highway 89 at the north entrance of Manti, directly across the street from the Manti Temple.  Gravesite is approximately 70 yards due southeast of the southeast corner of the cemetery building.  Obituary: The Home Sentinel, Manti, Utah, (Vol. 1, No. 46), March 5, 1886, p. 4.