Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Happy 187th Birthday, Miles Llewellyn Williams (1824-1891)!

Gayle Wells' great-grandfather

Miles was a Welsh pioneer whose generous nature has been inherited by his descendants.    He was a close personal friend to Brigham Young, and emulated his chin-curtain beard style.  I love the story of his first wife crossing the plains...

After sailing from England with his bride, fellow LDS convert Jane Lewis, adventurous Miles purchased two wagons, two horses, and two cows for the journey west.  Jane packed her prized china closet, blue willow china, and feather mattress.  Many animals died on the way and it became necessary to share loads.  As a captain of ten, Miles was especially aware of the situation.  He told Jane that she must part with her china, so he could carry some women and children in the wagon.  Jane at last agreed if Miles promised to come back for the dishes.  He hid them in a large clump of bushes along the trail (and did go back for them later).  A day or two after that, Miles told her she must leave the feather mattress.  This she refused to do, saying that if he put the mattress out she would stay with it.  Miles was so provoked that he did, and Jane sat on the mattress and refused to move.  Miles got in the wagon and left her.  That night when they stopped to make camp, Miles walked to the end of the wagon train and asked if anyone had seen Jane.  She put her head out of the back of a wagon and said, “I am here, you old fool, and I have my mattress!”

A buffalo robe saved Miles’ life from a rattlesnake one night on the trail, and the robe was treasured for many years and seen by his grandchildren.  Miles and Jane settled into a large home near the Capitol building.  They were sealed in the Endowment House, but Jane had no children. 

Miles worked long hours hauling rocks from Little Cottonwood Canyon to build the Salt Lake Temple.  He was particularly devoted to Brigham Young, and never doubted or questioned his counsel.  Miles helped Brigham move to St. George by using his own teams and horses to carry some of the president’s belongings to Dixie (a grandchild particularly remembered Miles moving a big chair that was still in Brigham's St. George house).  Miles was very generous and bought a great deal of property but kept giving it away: every time Brigham would call him in and say, “So-and-so has just come to the valley and they need a place to stay,” Miles would give them a piece of his property, but he was private and never wanted his name put on the records.

When he was fifty years old, Miles received a mission call from Joseph F. Smith to preside over the Welsh conference.  He directed the emigration efforts and met young convert Ellen James on the ship journey home.  Miles took Ellen into his home when they arrived in Salt Lake, and Miles also assumed the PEF debt for Ellen and the other James family members.  Jane gave her consent to a polygamous marriage, and Miles and Ellen were wed in the Endowment House seventeen days after her arrival.  Family tradition says that Miles and Jane had not had a happy marriage since coming to Utah almost twenty years earlier, and for some time before Miles left on his mission, Jane lived upstairs while Miles lived downstairs. 

After the marriage, Ellen continued to live with Miles and Jane until the birth of her first child, which made childless Jane jealous.  Miles built another home for Ellen, and then they purchased a farm west of the city by the Jordan River.  Miles was a careful tithe payer and always took his best produce to the tithing house in appreciation for the Lord’s bounty.  His daughter Catherine loved accompanying him on these trips.  Miles took his older children to Sunday School and Ellen always packed a nice lunch for them.

One night the dam broke and the Jordan River washed away all their crops.  After that, they moved to 3rd East near the old Winder Farm.  Miles was chased in the polygamy raids and had to hide in the field for a long time.  That exposure combined with his asthma resulted in his death.  Ellen and children arrived at the funeral in a horse-drawn wagon; Jane came alone in a hired hack with coachman wearing lovely new black mourning clothes.  Charitably, Ellen looked after Jane until her death.

Miles, I don't think you'd want a birthday gift--you were the kind of man who probably gave out gifts to others at your party.  We're honored to think of you every time we visit nearby Temple Quarry Canyon and see the historic tool marks in that granite.


  1. I'd give him an inhaler and a warm coat: maybe those could have helped prolong his life.

  2. Wow. Amazing story and man! I love that story about Jane and the mattress! Fantastic!