Remembering James Holt b. 1804, d. 25 January 1894

Holt, James Headstone, Holt's Ranch .

James Holt was born on 10 February 1804 in Halifax County, North Carolina, to Jesse and Elizabeth Davis Holt. He married Mary Pain in 1830. She died in 1845 and that same year he married Parthenia Overton. He became a member of the LDS Church in 1839 and moved to Nauvoo in 1840-1841.  In 1845 he was chosen to join the James Emmett Company “to go to the Rocky Mountains, to preach to the Indians along the way, and prepare them to receive the Saints in the Valleys of the Mountains.” This company endured severe hardships and dissension arose among its members. The company broke up and many, including Holt, stayed in Iowa to farm. He left for Utah in 1852 settling first in Weber County and eventually in southern Utah, Mountain Meadows area, where he established a ranch and prospered. He died in this day in 1894.

In 1881 James recorded a  biographical sketch of his life.  You can read his entire account here:

Here are some of the interesting accounts of the hardships with Indians James and his family endured as they came West:

In the spring we put in garden seeds and were preparing to plant corn and raise a crop, when John Butler returned from Nauvoo with James Cummings, bringing word from the Twelve for us to meet the Church at the Bluffs (Council Bluffs, Iowa). So, we broke camp and met the Church at that place. We went about twenty-five miles beyond and camped at Keg Creek. Some of the brethren went down the Missouri to work for corn. We obtained a load or two and were about ready to return with it to our families when word came for us to hurry up and join George Miller’s company which was waiting for us, ready to proceed to the Rocky Mountains. We got our families and crossed the Missouri River, joining Miller’s company, and were making for Pawnee, a trading station, but learned that the men had all been driven out by the Indians. We started to return when the men fell in with our company. Brother miller promised to haul their effects. The day before we were to arrive at the station, the men went on ahead to arrange things at the fort for our reception. About noon, Emmett came to me and said he was impressed that something would happen to those men and wished to get my horse to go and overtake them. He went on to the fort and found the Indians collected to kill them. He told the men to make a feast for the Indians and treat them well and they would not harm them until he could go back to camp and return with help. He reached camp about one o’clock at night and called for a few men to go with him to the fort immediately. About twenty-five or thirty responded including myself. It was about fifteen miles to the fort. It was a perilous time. Women were clinging to their husbands and trying to prevail upon them not to leave them in their dangerous position, but we commended them to the Lord and departed on foot in the dead of night and arrived at the fort by the first glimmer of dawn.

We found the Indians asleep in a circle around their campfire. We surrounded them and pointed our guns at them ready to fire at a given signal. Emmett spoke to the chief and he arose with the well known “ugh,” at which the Indians all arose. Finding themselves in a trap, they shook hands all around, led by their chief, and silently took their departure. We now went back and met our teams which had been hitched up by the men and women of the company and arrived at the fort during the day.

We stayed there about two weeks, harvested grain and were ready to start, when a dispute arose as to the leadership. We had been increased by two companies, one led by Kimball and one called “Brigham’s Company.” Although they were all under the direction of Brigham Young, Miller wished to have the honor of being chief captain because had started first. Some of the brethren wrote to Brigham at the Bluffs to settle the dispute, who advised us not to go farther this season, but to find a suitable place to winter and he would advise us further in the spring. We camped at the mouth of the Puncaw River and built shanties to winter in. The grain we brought from Pawnee Fort was now divided up; six bushels of corn, forty pounds of flour and a few oats fell to my share. We made the oats into meal and tried to eat it but it was very poor indeed. Our method of preparing our grain, was to pound it in a mortar and make it into a soup, seasoning it with squirrel’s legs or a small piece of any other meat we might happen to obtain. The corn we parched and then pulverized in the mortar. We tried many things too in order to sustain life; even to make biscuits of Elm bark, but it was a poor substitute. We were poisoned from eating Gar eggs, and concluded they were not food for man. A great many roots that we obtained were good for food such as the lions root, artichoke and hog potato. The rations I received at Pawnee were very small for my family. I had at times five in the family, including myself, but going down the river to work and getting a few jobs around home and straining all my energy, we made out to live through the winter.

Many things turned up for our sustenance which would look almost like a miracle to some. There was one time during the winter that the Lord opened a way for me to get a few pounds of flour without much exertion on my part. It was as thankfully received at that time as fifty times the amount would be at different times. There was a man by the name of Dalton who had a cow and had been hunting for it for two or three days. He came to me one evening and offered me sixteen pounds of flour if I would get her for him, so I arose early the next morning preparatory to getting ready to start out on the hunt for a cow. I looked out and it seemed a dismal day to take a tramp in the snow. While I was looking out, I heard a cow bellow close to my shanty and I saw Dalton’s cow close by. She seemed to be waiting for me to drive her home which I soon did and obtained 12 lbs. of flour. He thought I shouldn’t have the full amount as I had not been to any trouble to hunt for her. However, I was very thankful for the small amount.

There was another alarm when we were in a very unsafe place, as the Indians in that part of the country were a very bloodthirsty set. It occurred to us one evening as we had camped. In the distance we saw a lone horseman making his way toward us. We soon found it to be an Indian, so the doctor thought he would start a little strategy to frighten him away, for he had no doubt but what he was sent for a spy. There was a boy in the camp, one of Brother Lewis’s sons, who had a very freckled face. the doctor had him get in the wagon as quick as possible. He then put a little flour on the boy’s face and put him in bed between two white sheets. He looked almost like a corpse. The Indian came up and the doctor told him we had smallpox in that wagon. The Indian took one look at the boy and struck for the plains for dear life. He thought the boy had smallpox and they were afraid of the disease. The doctor gained his point and we never saw an Indian after that for two or three weeks.

I’ve got a big pot of chicken soup on the stove.  I keep thinking about seasoning a meager pot of soup with squirrel’s legs or eating Gar eggs.  Gar is a trash fish.  They were hungry.  Their children were hungry.  It’s a wonder they survived at all.  I think we often times romanticize the lives of our pioneer ancestors and their adventures.  In truth, they suffered.  They were hungry and cold and tired.  They lost children and shed many tears.  James was the father of 19 children.  Only 8 were living at the time of his death.  My Great-Great Grandmother Mary Ann Pain Holt was one.  I wish there were a way to offer them a bowl of my soup and watch them enjoy it.

Gar Fish, James Holt History

About Ann Laemmlen Lewis

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3 Responses to Remembering James Holt b. 1804, d. 25 January 1894

  1. Julie says:

    Seasoning with squirrel legs! Love it!

  2. Ivin L. Holt says:

    Thanks Ann, I have read the same material from the Utah Historical Quarterly January and April 1955 and from the James Holt Mary Payne Parthenia Overton family History. You being closer to Mary can you tell me what the correct spelling is? I have seen it three different ways.

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