ABOUT THIS SERIES: This series of articles, published one per month between his bicentennial birthday anniversary in February, 2015 and the A.O. Smoot Family Reunion in October of 2015, addresses (1) Coming to Provo, (2) Family and Homes in Provo, (3) Service as the President of the Utah Stake, (4) Service as Mayor of Provo, (5) Development of Several Provo Businesses, (6) Service as First President of the Board of Trustees of the Brigham Young Academy, and (7) Funeral Service and Burial in Provo. The Extended A.O. Smoot Family Reunion, to be held in Provo in October 2015, is to celebrate his bicentennial birthday anniversary. The Smoot Family greatly appreciates the Daily Herald for publishing these articles and Brigham Young University for honoring A.O. Smoot on the 2015 Founders’ Day in October. 

Abraham Owen (A.O.) Smoot had a profound influence on the city of Provo and it's development into the thriving city it is today. He served as the city's mayor from 1868 to 1881 and is probably best known as the first head of the board of trustees of Brigham Young Academy - now Brigham Young University. The Administration building at BYU carries his name as the Abraham O. Smoot Administration Building. 

CHAPTER ONE: Coming to Provo

A.O. Smoot was born in Owenton, Kentucky, on Feb. 17, 1815 (200 years ago). He was sent to Provo by Brigham Young in 1868, when he was 53 years of age. He spent the balance of his life (27 years) in Provo until his death in 1895.

Early Smoot roots were in Holland (Smout) and England (William Smout or Smutz, ca. 1596). William, A.O.’s great-great-grandfather, moved his family to Virginia after 1633. His great-grandfather was John Smoot (1707), his grandfather was George Smoot (1742) and his father was George Washington Smoot (1765). All had lived in the Virginia – Maryland area. A.O.’s parents, George and Nancy Ann Rowlett were married in Kentucky where the family had moved. William Rowlett, A.O.’s grandfather had left Virginia in about 1793.

Abraham Owen was born to George and Nancy in Owenton or Pleasant Home, Kentucky. In a letter dated 1880, to wife, Margaret Smoot, A. O. Smoot tells of preaching at a church in Pleasant Home very near the home where he grew up, although in his memoirs he said he was born in Owenton, Kentucky on February 17, 1815. He was named after a war hero and cousin to his mother, Abraham Owen. He grew up with a lung disease and at age nine he almost died. It is possible that his father died at this time but, in any case, his mother remarried to Levi Taylor. It appears that his family moved to Henry County, Tennessee in 1828 when A.O. was 13. Here he lived in The Blood River settlement in Tennessee until he left on a mission in 1837. A.O. received little formal schooling but was likely taught by the Rowletts.

Spiritual revival was rampant during this time and A.O. was seeking religion. In 1834, David W. Patton and Warren Parish were the first Mormon missionaries preaching in Tennessee. A.O., with his family, heard the message of the restored gospel in 1835 at the age of 20. He was baptized March 22, 1835 and blessed to be healed. He grew stronger from that time and became the leader of the small Tennessee branch. Seven of the ten members were in A.O.’s family.

To Kirtland, Missouri and Nauvoo (1836-1846)

Wilford Woodruff ordained A.O. an elder in Tennessee. A.O. then served as Woodruff’s companion for the next year, which must have greatly influenced his life. This was the first of at least eight missions. Wilford became A.O.’s best friend and he must have taught A.O. to keep a journal. A.O.’s journal from this period is in the L. Tom Perry Special Collections Library at BYU.

By 1836, they had made their way to Kirtland, OH, saw the nearly completed temple, met Joseph Smith, received a blessing from Patriarch Joseph Smith Sr. and attended school in the temple. While he remained in Kirtland, after a serious illness with typhoid or scarlet fever, Joseph Smith advised him to help gather the saints in Kentucky/Tennessee to Far West, Missouri. A.O. returned to Tennessee in January 1837.

By late February, 1837, A.O. had organized seventeen family members in Tennessee, loaded the wagons and set out for Far West, MO. A.O. briefly returned to his KY/TN area to continue his missionary work where he recruited three more families to join their group in their arduous journey to Missouri, arriving in Far West in 1837. One of the members of this company was Margaret Adkinson, a widow, whom A.O. would marry. A.O. settled on a farm two miles south of Far West, MO. Times were peaceful over much of the next year and A.O. did missionary work in Southern Missouri and Arkansas.

Peaceful times in Missouri were short-lived. After continuing hostilities, in mid-1838, Governor Lilburn Boggs ordered the church members to leave Missouri in October, 1838. Skirmishes and battles broke out between the new settlers and the Missourians, reaching a fever-pitch in late 1838. On November 11, 1838, A.O. married Margaret Adkinson. The Mormon settlers were driven in the dead of winter (1838) north-eastward from Missouri to Illinois, while their leaders were imprisoned in the Liberty Jail in Missouri from 1 December 1838 to April 1839.

A.O.’s family and other members arrived in Quincy, IL in early 1839. His time in Missouri was brief and very painful. They spent four months recovering in Quincy, where they were well accepted. But A.O. and Margaret soon moved on to the Iowa side of Mississippi River in 1839 where A.O. served on the High Council. During this time, many were ill with malarial fever. While in Iowa, while Margaret and son William farmed the land, A.O. served a short mission to the South, returning in October, 1840. The family settled in Nauvoo, soon thereafter. By now, A.O. was only twenty-five years of age.

Nauvoo, Illinois Temple, 1846

In August 1841, A.O. was called to serve another brief mission in Charleston, South Carolina, accompanied by Margaret, on horseback. During this trip in several southern states, Margaret’s mother, Esther McMeans, was baptized in early 1842, and she also joined the saints in Nauvoo. He also converted Sarah Gibbons in Tennessee, who later became A.O.’s second wife in the Nauvoo temple. A.O. returned to South Carolina and other southern states with a series of young companions, staying frequently with family and church members. After about a year, he returned to Nauvoo in July 1842 to work on the Nauvoo Temple. He remained in Nauvoo with his family for nearly two years, serving in the church, until the spring of 1844 when he was called on another mission to Tennessee while Nauvoo was growing rapidly and prospering.

A.O. learned of the death of Joseph Smith while in Tennessee on July 8, 1844. He returned to Nauvoo by July 28 aboard a steamer on the Mississippi. He was present when Brigham Young was sustained to lead the church. By November of 1844, A.O. and family left, again for a mission to the South (Alabama), returning to Nauvoo in May of 1845, when he resumed his work on the Nauvoo Temple. The church members were working feverishly to complete the temple so they could receive their temple ordinances before their forced exit from Nauvoo, west, across the plains.

By December 1845, temple ordinances were being administered night and day in the Nauvoo Temple. In his journal entry on December 25, 1845, A.O. notes …25th Thursday, Christmas Day, spent by me in the most agreeable manor of all Christmasts that I ever spent my time was spent in the house of the Lord in pouring uppon the head of the high priests and seventies the holy anointing oil which filled their hearts with gladness and joy. Ordinances in the temple continued feverishly through January, 1846 and into early February. During this time A.O. and Margaret were sealed in the temple and A.O. was also married to Sarah Gibbons and Emily Hill, polygamous wives. Through all this time it is not clear how the Smoot family supported themselves, though A.O. was very ambitious and resourceful.

On February 6, the vanguard of the church members left Nauvoo across the frozen Mississippi River, starting their trek west. About four months later, the Smoot Family also left Nauvoo. From his baptism in 1835 until his departure for the Salt Lake Valley in 1846, much of his time was given to missionary work in the southern states. A.O. was 31 years old. Sarah Gibbons, fifteen years his senior, did not go west at this time.

The Plains to Salt Lake Valley (1846-1847)

Abraham Owen Smoot and his family remained in Nauvoo as the first vanguard left in early February, 1846. He was sick with chills and fever. They left Nauvoo in May, with a large company of southern friends on a trek that would cover 1300 miles over the next sixteen months. His mother and family remained in Illinois.

Early on, he traveled with his dear friend, Wilford Woodruff, reaching Council Bluffs by July 1846. A.O. had been selected to act as a Bishop to help care for the Mormon Battalion families.

Sites along the Mormon Pioneer Trail Map, Nauvoo, Illinois to Salt Lake Valley

By August, having crossed Iowa, they were at Winter Quarters on the west side of the Missouri River. They spent a difficult winter here. Here the travelers were organized into companies by Brigham Young. A.O. was chosen to lead the tenth company. Caring for the sick, building cabins and finding food were major challenges. Woodruff ordained Smoot a bishop on January 6, 1847 and he became the captain of a company of one hundred families with captains of fifty and ten. Brigham Young led the first Pioneer Hundred company and left Winter Quarters on April 16, 1847. Margaret’s son, William C. A. Atkinson, was in that company. Smoot’s company left Elkhorn, west of Winter Quarters with three other companies, totaling 500 wagons, on June 20. Challenges were faced all along the trail with sickness, and loss of cattle and horses, as they worked their way across the territories of Nebraska (statehood in 1867) and Wyoming (statehood in 1890).

Brigham, whose Pioneer Hundred Company had arrived in the Great Salt Lake Valley (24 July 1847), returned eastward and met and addressed the Smoot, Wallace and Rich Companies at Pacific Springs on the Big Sandy River, west of Independence Rock, Martin’s Cove (not yet named) and Devil’s Gate, on September 4, 1847.

On September 18, 1847, Smoot’s company camped on the Bear River and on September 24, they entered the Salt Lake Valley. He had been a member of the church only twelve years and had experienced the troubles in Kirtland, the fights and expulsion from Missouri, the building of Nauvoo and the temple, being driven from Nauvoo and now in the Salt Lake Valley, after leading 100 families across 1300 miles of wilderness.

Portrait of Abraham Owen Smoot, shortly after arrival in Salt Lake Valley, by Numen Carvalio

A.O. was to spend the next twenty-one years in homes in Salt Lake Valley, though he frequently left the valley on church assignments during that time. By his account, A.O. was to cross the plains thirteen more times in church service. And it seemed that his desire was to remain in the Valley with family.

With winter approaching, the Smoot family went to work to settle in their new home in the west. Within a couple of weeks, A.O. was called to serve in the high council. A.O.’s first child, Albert was born to wife, Emily in November, 1847. She had been expecting this child as they crossed the plains. In the fall they were busy planting wheat and rye, with more sowing in the spring. In a letter to Woodruff, A.O. noted the horde of crickets in the spring of 1848, which lasted through the fall, destroying his garden and one-third of his crops.

Two Decades of Church and Civic Service in the Salt Lake Valley (1848-1868)

In August of 1848, A.O. and Lorenzo Young headed a wagon train with supplies and met a large company at the Sweetwater, coming west. They were being brought across the plains by Brigham Young. This was a challenging time. Margaret was not well. He told Woodruff, I am destitute of means and have a large family to support by the labor of my own hands; we are all destitute of clothes. Dry goods are two to four times higher than in the states… As the Salt Lake Valley was reorganized into nineteen wards in February of 1848, A.O. became bishop of the 15th ward. In 1849, he became the first Justice of the Peace in the Territory of Utah.

In 1850, A.O., with a group of five others, organized a transportation company, using light wagons, to assist the increasing traffic to the California gold fields. It cost about $300 for a through-ticket to Sutters Fork on the Swiftsure Line. A.O. went east across the plains as a part of the business to captain the first train of merchandise to ever cross the plains. This was the first of several business trips for A.O. across the plains with ox or mule. He had left his family with ample supplies in his absence from 1849 – 1850. On return, he moved his family several miles south near the mouth of Big Cottonwood Canyon. His home became a place to stay for church leaders going or returning from the south.

By April of 1850, A.O. was appointed Bishop of the Big Cottonwood Ward. In September of 1851, A.O. was called by the First Presidency (Brigham Young, Heber C. Kimball, Willard Richards) to leave his family and serve a mission to the British Isles with three others, leaving his wives and two children behind. They arrived in Liverpool, England December 29, 1851. Within two weeks of his arrival in England, Franklin D. Richards, President of the England Mission, called A.O. to leave England and return to the western states to help immigrants from England to make their way across the plains. A.O. said, in a letter to Margaret …During the 30 dayes of my stay in England, I visited the great metropolis of London, where I foind open my view of one of the greatest fields of labor in the World. While there, I felt almost like asking the Lord to Loos my hands and let me thrust my sickle and reap while the harvest was ripe… He left Liverpool on January 28, 1852 on the steamer Pacific, just a month from his arrival in England. A.O. said of this voyage, we encountered a severe storm…but I felt an assurance that the vessel would be saved…I had seventeen thousand dollars in gold (For his perpetual emigration work).

By April, A.O. had purchased supplies to cross the plains for the 252 members who had sailed from England. In St. Louis, A.O. counseled members not to board the old freighter Saluda, even though it was cheaper, but many did. A.O. followed down the Missouri River a few days later and caught up to the Saluda in Lexington, MO. The old freighter had been stopped by float ice on the rough Missouri River. Just as he stepped off the Saluda, after visiting the saints, the ship blew up, killing upwards of twenty of the saints.

As captain of the traveling group from England, A.O. Smoot was preparing to head westward with the saints; the company was stricken with cholera and fifteen died. A.O. was among the forty to become ill but survived. He lost 75 pounds. By June, 1852, they were making their way to the Salt Lake Valley. On September 2, 1852, the company reached the Salt Lake Valley. This was the first company to travel under the Perpetual Emigrating Fund.

In March of 1854, Brigham Young called A.O. to move his family to what is now the Sugarhouse area of Salt Lake Valley to supervise the building of a sugar factory and manage the forest farm. A new Sugarhouse ward (The name was suggested by Margaret) was organized with A.O. Smoot as bishop. And they built a new school house, with rough board benches, used also for church. Production of sugar was never successful but the building and equipment were used to provide paper, flooring, buckets, tubs and barrels. Later this same year, A.O. became involved in community administration. In 1855, he married Diana Tanner Eldredge, his fourth wife. In 1856, he married his fifth wife, Anna Kirstine Morrison, born and converted in Norway.

Again in the spring of 1856, A.O. prepared to leave for another trip east to assist the emigrating saints and to get equipment for the woolen mill. In the company were four members of the Twelve and many missionaries. President Young spoke to the departing group at the mouth of Emigration Canyon on April 22.

Among other counsel, he said, I should advise all men to walk except those who are driving the teams…I believe I am as lazy a man as there is here, and yet I believe I could go to the Missouri River faster than any horse team you have got…therefore go on foot as much as possible and save your teams. Despite difficult travel from heavy, spring snow at the high elevations, they had reached Mormon Grove by June 8. The group divided at the Missouri River and A.O. sailed down the Missouri River and up the Mississippi River to St. Louis (arriving June 12) to get machinery and supplies and to help prepare eighty-five more saints to cross westward to Salt Lake Valley. By September 15, they were just west of Ash Hollow in western Nebraska, with limited supplies and winter approaching. On October 7, a rescue party left Salt Lake Valley, and met A.O. 100 miles east of Fort Bridger. A.O.’s company and James Willie’s Handcart Company entered the valley on November 9, 1856. This was the same fall that the Martin Handcart Company was caught in the early snow and eventually entered the Salt Lake Valley on November 30, 1856.

In April of 1857, A.O. became Mayor of Great Salt Lake City following the death of Mayor Jedidiah M. Grant and he labored eleven years without pay. A new city hall was dedicated in April, 1858.

The Mormons in Salt Lake Valley had learned in 1857 that the federal government would send Johnston’s Army to the Great Salt Lake Valley. It was A. O. Smoot, Porter Rockwell and Judson Stoddard that brought the news. Brigham Young was governor of the Territory at this time. The coming army concerned A.O. greatly as Mayor of Salt Lake City. The plan was to move out of the valley, leaving only a token force behind. In 1858, A.O. and family moved south to Pond Town (now Salem). When the Army passed peacefully through the city and camped in Cedar Valley, the leaders began to return to their homes followed by all of the people.

In May of 1861, A.O. joined Brigham Young’s group to tour the southern Utah area. The church had established an Indian Mission in Santa Clara in 1854 and sent 309 families to establish a cotton mission in 1861. A.O. traveled 728 miles in about a month, returning to the Great Salt Lake Valley in June.

The Territory of Utah was formed in 1850 with Brigham Young as governor (1850-1858) and lasted to Utah’s Statehood in 1896. Governors were appointed by the President of the United States. Mayor Smoot completed a larger city hall for the Great Salt Lake City and it was dedicated in 1866, near the completion of his time in office. He declined to be nominated for another term. In 1867 he and partners established the small Wasatch Woolen Mills. By now his home was on South Temple Street and he may have anticipated living out his life there.

During A.O.’s time in Salt Lake Valley, three wives (Emily, Diana, Anna) gave birth to sixteen children in these 21 years, five boys and eleven girls. Two daughters were born on the same day in covered wagons on the edge of the pond in Pond Town (Salem) in Utah Valley where A.O. had temporarily moved his family in 1858 to avoid Johnston’s Army. His first child born in Utah, Albert (1847), drowned on the Jordan River in 1863.

Abraham Owen Smoot prior to his move to Provo

Called to Provo (1868)

Church leaders had significant interest in developing Provo as a strong religious and economic center. But disunity reportedly prevailed there. Concern was increased when a petition was presented to the legislature to divide Utah County into two counties. A.O. later said This petition was the life spring of my being here (i.e., in Provo).

In early 1868, Brigham Young once again, as he had done so many times, called Abraham Owen Smoot for this task. He was to spend the balance of his life (27 years) in Provo, longer than he had lived anywhere else. It has been said that A.O. had no personal desire to move to Provo. He and his growing family were comfortably settled near the temple; he had just completed his service as mayor of Salt Lake City. And he was fifty-three years old. But he always accepted priesthood calls. At a School of the Prophets meeting on January 31, President Brigham Young nominated A.O., to the entire Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, to go to Provo and become President of the Utah Stake (all of Utah Valley), Bishop of Provo and Mayor of Provo. Civic and religious positions were not clearly separated at that time. Joseph Taylor was to go as Judge and several others (e.g., Wilford Woodruff, Joseph F. Smith, Bp. E.F. Sheets and George Bywater) also were sent to Provo.

President Young and others went to Provo on February 7 to effect this leadership change. President Young was no longer the Governor of the Territory of Utah but this demonstrates his wide spread influence over the saints. In a large, two day meeting, Provo residents were invited to express their views. A.O. gave a short speech in which he gave his politics as The Kingdom of God. He was first sustained as President of the High Council.

On Monday, February 11, the Mayor and slate of new city officers was elected and he was also set a part as the Bishop of Provo and the President of the Utah Stake. He went to work immediately, as was his nature, never looking back.

Coming in March:

The second article, by Loretta D. Nixon, will focus on A.O. Smoot’s relationship with his family and his establishing his homes in Provo.

About the Author

Dr. L. Douglas Smoot, current President of the A.O. Smoot Family Organization, conceived and organized this series of eight articles. Doug was born in Provo as was his father (1909), and his grandfather (1876). His great-grandfather, Abraham Owen Smoot, was sent to Provo in 1868 by Brigham Young, as documented above. Doug has lived in Provo for fifty-three years. Doug spent most of his professional career at BYU as professor and Dean of Engineering. He and his wife, Marian Bird Smoot, are the parents of four daughters, twenty grandchildren and seventeen great-grandchildren. Loretta Nixon and Doug are authors of the book Abraham Owen Smoot (1994). Doug authored the book The Miracle at Academy Square (2000) regarding the preservation of the historic BY Academy Building as the Provo City Library. The Academy Building was built under the direction of A.O. Smoot, first President of the Board of Trustees, BY Academy. These two books, together with the BYU thesis by C. Elliott Berlin, (1955), and the historic collection of the A.O. Smoot documents, which Doug donated to BYU’s Special Collections, were key references for this article.


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