Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Happy 189th Birthday, William Smith Muir (1822-1896)!

Anna Cramer's great-grandfather

William was a Scottish pioneer, Mormon Battalion member, patriarch, and innovative man.  I like the twinkle in his eyes.
Third of eight children raised in Scotland, William was 5’8” and had black hair and gray eyes.  He joined the Church at age twenty. He courted fellow convert Jane, spending one night accidentally locked in a barn as an attempt to see her went wrong.  They married just before sailing to America.  In Nauvoo, William performed proxy baptisms on behalf of his uncles, cousins, grandparents, and great-grandparents.   William enlisted in the Mormon Battalion (July 16, 1846 in Company A), and was a sergeant by the time they reached San Diego, where he helped raise the flag.  He walked barefoot most of the march.  He was also present for the Gold Rush beginnings, and carried a bag of gold to Council Bluffs for a friend.  William returned to his family in Council Bluffs, Iowa, and retraced his steps to Utah.  

William was called by Brigham Young to quell Indian disturbances in Provo, and again to deal with the Indians at Fort Bridger, Wyoming.  William’s parents came to Utah, but they never joined the Church and returned to Scotland with him when he went there on a mission.  They traveled part of the way with the military company accompanying the children of the Mountain Meadows Massacre back to their Arkansas homes.  William served in the British Mission for several years, and was president of the Birmingham Conference, laboring principally in Birmingham, Manchester, and Scotland.  There he interacted with ancestors Lorenzo Hill Hatch and Asa Calkin.

William returned to Salt Lake City just ahead of Johnston’s Army, and found the city practically deserted and his wife and children at Lake Shore (by Utah Lake).  William traveled extensively with Brigham Young throughout Utah, driving and caring for his teams and serving as a bodyguard.  He noted in his journal, “In the year 1864, I traveled to the North, South, East, and West.  President Young finished his last journey from St. George the last day of September.  This year’s travels were quite an experience to me, enlarging my views concerning the territories and its resources.”

Perhaps his perspective from traveling with Brigham Young encouraged him in this progressive attitude, as he was a man of vision and faith.  Although a silk weaver by trade, William was enterprising in many fields: he operated the first molasses mill in Woods Cross, opened a coal distribution business, contracted with Utah Central Railway to provide work crew supplies, was the first postmaster of Woods Cross, planted the first asparagus patch in the intermountain states, and created a tomato and pickle canning factory.   He also introduced the Spanish onion to Utah. 

William was the supply agent working the night the first train drove into Salt Lake City.  He told the men he was celebrating his wife’s fortieth birthday, and they drove the train out to Woods Cross and saluted the family with a train whistle and he saluted in return with sky rockets and firecrackers, then everyone partied.  The next morning, he and several daughters rode to Ogden and back, their first train ride.
William Muir with Jane, seated; Maggie on far left

William felt like Israel of old, with four wives and twelve sons (some even named biblically: Levi, Dan, Benjamin, Joseph).  In General Conference in 1875, William was called on a mission to Australia, but was then released from that call without serving there.  A diphtheria epidemic in 1879 claimed seven of his family members, which must have been difficult.  In 1887 he traveled to South Carolina, New York, and then to Scotland to settle some of Jane’s Robb family estate business as well as collect genealogical information.  Upon his return, he served five months in jail for polygamy.   In 1892, William suffered two injuries: his left forearm received a severe ax wound, and his right shoulder was injured by a fall from a horse.

William spent his final two years as the patriarch of Davis Stake. He died of pneumonia, which he contracted from exposure traveling with the stake presidency. William was liberal-hearted and many of his friends called him “Uncle Billy.” He was far-seeing, a man of action and prompt determined decisions.  He gave the following advice to a son leaving home: “Keep your head cool, your feet warm, your ears open, your mouth shut, and you will be O.K.” Twelve of his descendants fought in World War II; two died.  

I think he would enjoy visiting a modern grocery store and seeing what's changed in the Utah food world!


  1. I'd give him a ride on an airplane to see how much faster transportation has become.

  2. Indian problems in Provo... man it's gotten a lot quieter

  3. Oh. and I want to hear the rest of this barn story

  4. Give him a copy of his family-history coloring book found at:http://www.southwickresearch.com/Genealogy/ColoringBooks.htm


  5. Wow, your research is fabulous! I am not a cousin, but I married into the Budge/Patterson family originally from Pleasant View, Utah. My wife is a descendent and her name is Amy Patterson (Rasmussen). Her father is Frederick John Patteron. His mother, Mildred Lucille Wakeman is a great, granddaughter through Beulah Muir, whose father is, Frederick James Muir, who is a son of William.

    You should know that I'm also printing out this story and giving it to my daughter who enters the MTC this Wednesday, July 18, 2012. I'll make sure that your signature line stays intact.