Edmund Rees and Margaret Ellis

Edmund Rees (1814-1867)
Margaret Ellis (1824 — 1896)

Edmund flees and his wife, Margaret, were born in nearby shires in England and Wales. Edmund was born February 8, 1814 at Eglwysilan, Glamorganshire, Wales in the Nantgarn Parish. Margaret was born 18 April 1824 at Pontaberbargold, Monmouthshire, Wales in the Bedwellty Parish.

Centuries ago Monmouthshire was part of Wales, but at one period in the history of England, it became a part of England but still retains its Welsh characteristics in its name places as well as its customs and idioms of the people.

Edmund is the son of Morgan flees and Mary Jones or John and Margaret is the daughter of Thomas Phillip Ellis and Jane Rees. Thomas had three children by his first wife, Jane and four children by a second wife also called Jane, and our Margaret is the second child of the second marriage.

Edmund and Margaret were married February 7, 1847, in the Bedwellty Parish at Abergavenny, Monmouthshire, England. Margaret was baptized in September 1851, and Edmund in September of 1853.

Living in a coal mining country, Edmund learned that trade and followed it, getting three shillings per day. His lungs became affected and he contracted asthma. Thinking the change would improve his health and also having a great desire to come to Utah, they sold their possessions preparatory to emigrating.

The sale of their home, etc. netted them $500 and on 11th of April, 1859 Edmund and Margaret with their children: David 11, Ellis 8, Mary 6, Thomas 3 and Edmund an infant of 18 months, left England. Their last address in that country was “Pont—Aber—Pingam,” Monmouthshire. They came on the ship, William Tapp and it was a rough voyage, with much wind and waves. Upon arrival in America, they came up the Mississippi River to St. Joseph Mo. then to Council Bluffs, Iowa.

Edmund Rees was a well built man, almost six feet in height, and about 165 to 170 pounds in weight. He had dark hair and brown eyes. He was good natured and easy going. Margaret was also well built, quite stout, weighing about 155 pounds. She had around face, blue eyes and black hair even at the time of her death when she was 72 years of age.

She had a strong and determined mind of her own, was ready and willing to express it and was usually right. Often her husband would try to change her mind and say, “Now Peggy, now Peggy.”

At Council Bluffs they outfitted to cross the plains. The prevailing price for a yoke of oxen and a wagon was $100 each. She had about $400 but she was slow to make a purchase. The company was ready to leave and still she had not purchased her oxen from the men who had a big corral of such to sell. Margaret did the business because her husband was not well. The man in charge of the company was vexed at her for waiting so long to buy. Ho wanted her to give him the money to purchase her outfit but she would not. Early one morning she went down to the corral and there were just two oxen left. They did not match in color or size. She inquired the price which hadn’t changed but, after dickering, the head man came out and told the man to let her have a wagon and the two oxen for $100.

Margaret bought a milk cow and led her all the way, tied to a wagon. The cream jolting along all day in the wagon churned itself to butter and thus provided them with butter each evening. The night they arrived in Salt Lake the cow disappeared and was never seen again. Baby Edmund could walk of the trip. It depended upon Margaret to drive the oxen and take the responsibility. Edmund knew so little about yoking up the oxen that he first put the yoke on upside down.

They arrived in Salt Lake City September 22, 1859, traveling with the Captain Dan Jones’ party or Captain Beebe’s company, one being the captain over 50 people and the other over a group of ten. Upon arrival a registration card giving occupation of each man was made out. As Edmund was a coalminer, he was asked to help open up the coal mines at Grass Creek, 2 1/2 miles from Coalville, called the “Church Mines.” This was the only coal mine west of the Mississippi. Sam Fletcher was his partner in the mine.

The first winter they lived in a dugout under the hill near Chalk Creek. Margaret was the first white woman to live the winter in Coalville. From the dugout, they moved to what they called the “farm” or homestead, the place about one mile north of Coalville on the road to Echo.

A picture of this dugout and an article was published in the Coalville “Bee” which read:

“A Pioneer landmark of Coalville is the rock house pictured here (arrow), which has stood for 99 years on the north side of Chalk Creek It was built and for many years occupied by one of the several Welsh converts of the early coal industry in San Pete and Summit Counties. Father and Mother Rees and their six children settled (two children died at an early age) in 1859 at the behest of President Brigham Young. The coal which these pioneers helped to mine, hauled by wagon into Salt Lake, helped solve the acute fuel shortage problem in the Utah territorial capital.”

“Mother Rees must have been quite a person. Family traditions remember her hiking to and from Salt Lake a number of times. Once in midwinter she made the trip home carrying a fifty—pound sack of flour to feed her family, who had apparently been made ill by some locally ground wheat. She is also credited with carrying two five gallon cans of water simultaneously, one in her hand and the other on her head. By such stalwarts was Utah built and the cabin pictured above is mute testimony of how far we have come in many directions since their day.”

Since Edmund was ill, much of the responsibility for caring for the family and providing for them was left to Margaret, He worked at the mine. Coal was hauled by oxen to Salt Lake. $40 per ton was charged at the mine and much of the coal went to the army barracks at Fort Douglas. In 1875 this coal took first prize at the Centennial Fair in Chicago. Edmund died the 27th of June 1867 at the age of 53 at Coalville, Utah. This left Margaret with 6 children to raise and feed in this strange land.

Margaret had ten acres of wheat planted. It was a fine crop and she was proud of it. It meant food for her family that winter. One night Margaret heard a rushing noise, something like an airplane makes overhead today. She wondered what it was and went outside, followed the sound until she located it in her wheat field. It was grasshoppers. At daybreak she went out to the patch again only to find that every green blade of grain was eaten off.

She walked back to the house thinking how she would tell her husband forgetting for the moment that he was dead. The children were still asleep. She sat down on a bench outside the door and broke down and cried. What would they do for the winter’s food? Hearing a noise, she looked up to see an approaching four—mule team driving up. It was remnant of Johnston’s army. They stopped and asked if she had any milk to sell. She did have a cupboard full of milk in pans, heavy thick cream and fresh butter and eggs. The men were bighearted Irishmen. They heard her story and for every pan of milk that she set out they threw her down a sack of provisions and when they left she had enough food for the winter. She had prayed and the Lord did provide.

The chickens ate so many grasshoppers that the yolks of the eggs were red. The children carried a board and f1ipped it back and forth slapping grasshoppers. They played with them drove them into ditches and made a dam with them.

Margaret was a very conscientious tithe payer, always giving one tenth of her butter, eggs and a “critter” every fall, no matter how hard the times. She said her family never suffered for any of the necessities of life, and she knew it was because she paid her tithes and offerings. She was very generous and gladly and often gave to others. She did not believe in going in debt, and somehow she managed to have money.

Trouble with the Indians forced them to move into town. She bought the Norton place, twenty acres, for about $700. The final settlement was made one morning, early, when Mr. Norton, a school teacher with girls in his family, came and told her if she would pay the balance there would be a discount on the price and that he had the deeds in his pocket. Margaret had two dress pieces, one for herself and the other for her daughter, Ruth, which was a red color. By giving what money she had and these two “dress” patterns” (as they were then called) for his gir1s. The deal was made and she was full owner holding the deeds. Ruth (married Buriah Wilkins), then only a little girl, remembers the event well, the breakfast and dishes on the table and the cry she had, because the red cloth for her new dress had to go.

Margaret took her little daughter Ruth and walked from Coalville to Echo to do the washing for the hotel. All the water had to be carried. At night they walked the four miles home again. For this, she earned $2.00 a day. They took small pieces of cloth and made quilt blocks and then into quilts. These sold for $5.00. Ruth later said she sewed so many that she hadn’t liked to make quilts since.

While at this place they all took black diphtheria. They did not have a doctor. Two children, Sarah 11 years died 11 November 1871 and Morgan the 1st of January in 1871 at 7 years of age. Margaret herself was very sick. David, Mary and Thomas were already married by now. She took the death of her two children very hard and the next winter, rather than stay there so lonesome with only three children, she was persuaded to go to Alma, Wyoming and stay with Mary and David, who were homesteading there. Ellis was working on the timber for the winter. In the spring, they came to Castle Rock and stayed.

Margaret went on to Coalville to see her property and found that the grain she had stored in one of the rooms of her house she had rented, had been stolen, the fence broken and other troubles.

She took a freight train for Echo to return to Castle Rock. She also took some dressed chickens ma basket. Dave went with her but he rode in the engine and a rough group of men rode in the caboose. Although she did not answer them, she worried that they would follow her when she got off the train. She did not see Dave when she got off, but thinking he was taking the wagon road, did not worry. The men did follow her as she left the train. She walked along the tracks. After going a surprising distance, and noting more trestle bridges than there should be, she got down to the creek and found the water was running down instead of up.

It was night now and late. She knew she had gone the opposite direction. When she came to an empty railroad handcar house, she decided she would spend the night and too, she heard someone following her. She barred the door with boards she found inside. The noise outside continued so she pounded on the walls with a board. She pounded a gain and louder, and with a rushing sound, the noise disappeared up the hill. The moon had come out and by light she saw it was a large, brown bear. It had smelled the chickens she was carrying. This did not make her feel too safe and she was glad to hear her boys, Dave, Ellis and David Moore calling her. It was daybreak before they got home.

Son, Ed, recalls several occasions when his Mother paced the floor of their crude dwelling nights to protect the children from hostile Indians. This was the time when most of the inhabitants of outlying areas moved into Coalville to fortify against the redskins.

Having her home molested and her night out with the bear, made her nervous and easily turned around and she began to fail in health. Ailing and failing for months and having dropsy, she spent her last days in much pain. She could not lie down but slept propped up in bed so she could breathe easier. Her son Edmund’s wife, Hannah, stayed many nights with her taking her young baby Fred with her. Margaret’s legs were swollen and caused her great pain. She had them make packs and poultices of mud from the slough-and dock leaves and other things to try to bring her relief. Hannah would sit on the bed with her, back to back, to rest her it was also very tiresome for Hannah after doing this all night and even during the day.

Margaret died at the age of 72, July 17, 1896, 29 years after the death of her husband, Edmund.

Both of these pioneers left a rich heritage to their descendents in their testimony of the truthfulness of the Gospel. Margaret s hard work, thriftiness, and perseverance in living an honest life, keeping out of debt, should be a lesson to anyone reading her story.

Material for this story was taken from stories by Ellen Greer Rees, newspaper clippings and from other members of the family and compiled by Helen Thackeray Rees Berger in August 1961.

(From Ray Walker’s Book of Remembrance)

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