Question: There are two men with the name of Dan Jones associated with early Church history. Which one was born in Missouri and helped the Martin Handcart Company in 1856?
Answer: One Dan Jones was born in Wales and was a great Latter-day Saint missionary and pioneer. The other Dan Jones is the one we would like to tell you about today.
Daniel Webster Jones was the leader of the group that colonized what eventually became Mesa, Arizona, made the first translation of selections of The Book of Mormon into Spanish, led the first Mormon missionary expedition into Mexico, dealt frequently with the American Indians, and was the leader of the group that heroically wintered at Devil's Gate after the rescue of the stranded handcart companies in 1856.
Daniel was born August 26, 1830, in Boonslick, Howard County, Missouri. Orphaned at the age of 12, he joined a group of volunteers to fight in the Mexican–American War in 1847. Following the war, he remained in Mexico for a number of years, learning Spanish, and taking "part in many ways in the wild, reckless life that was common in that land.” However, his parents had instilled enough religion in him before their deaths that he continued to pray and to avoid drink and immorality. When a sheep-herding expedition bound for California departed in 1850, he left with them.
While camped along the Green River in 1850, his pistol accidentally went off when he shoved it into his holster, the bullet piercing through his groin and thigh. His companions left him, lame, but alive, with a Mormon settlement in Provo, Utah. Bishop Isaac Higbee took him into his home and Sister Higbee nursed him back to health. There, he studied Mormon doctrine and was baptized by Isaac Morley on January 27, 1851. The next year, he married Harriet Emily Colton, daughter of Philander and Polly Colton. They were to have fourteen children together.
In the October 1856 General Conference of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, Church President Brigham Young informed those gathered, that a group of Latter-day Saint immigrants were then stranded on the plains of Wyoming. These immigrants were with the Martin and Willie handcart companies, and the Hunt and Hodgett wagon companies. The next day, about 25 men departed from the Salt Lake Valley to find the immigrants.
The rescue company found the Willie Handcart Company near South Pass. After reaching Devil's Gate, they still hadn't found the other groups. The rescue train was divided into two parties. About half, under Captain Kimball, remained with Willie’s Company to help them westward. The other half, led by Captain Grant pushed eastward to meet the Martin Company and the rear wagon trains. Dan Jones, Joseph A. Young, and Abel Garr were sent ahead to find the missing parties. They found them and returned to Devil’s Gate with the news of their location. Grant’s party hurried forward and met the emigrants. There were 646 immigrants who started out with this company, but many had already died. The few men with the rescue company did all they could to help but it was a monumental task. They had to get them across the Sweetwater River and then to Devil’s Gate and then on to Martin’s Cove.
It was decided to store the merchandise from the wagon trains at Devil’s Gate, and then, in the emptied wagons, to haul the sick and incapacitated members of the handcart company on to Salt Lake. After the freight from the two rear wagon trains was stored in the log cabins, a delegation was chosen to remain behind and guard the goods during the winter. Dan Jones, Thomas Alexander, Ben Hampton, and seventeen men from the emigrant trains, were assigned the grueling task. During that winter, they endured terrific privations which Dan Jones later detailed in his autobiography.
“There was not money enough on earth to have hired me to stay. I had left home for only a few days and was not prepared to remain so long away; but I remembered my assertion that any of us would stay if called upon. I could not back out, so I selected Thomas Alexander and Ben Hampton. I am satisfied that two more faithful men to stand under all hardships could not have been found.” The ordeal they endured during the long winter was terrible. They ended up eating “rawhide” for six weeks to keep from starving. They asked the Lord to bless their stomachs and adapt them to this food. In the spring, Dan had to deal with the distribution of the goods but, in May, was finally able to return to his home in Salt Lake.
In 1874, Jones was commissioned by Brigham Young to translate selections from The Book of Mormon into Spanish, in preparation for a missionary expedition into Mexico. This he did, with the assistance of Henry Brizzee and Mileton Trejo, a recent Spanish convert from the Philippines. Following the translation, the company, including James Z. Stewart, Helaman Pratt (son of Parley P. Pratt), Wiley C. Jones (Dan Jones's son), R. H. Smith, Ammon M. Tenney and Anthony W. Ivins (who would later become an Apostle and First Counselor in the First Presidency) departed for Mexico.
The mission lasted from 1875 to 1876. Upon returning, Dan Jones was commissioned by Brigham Young to start a settlement in the Salt River Valley of Arizona. The settlement party left the Utah Territory from St. George, and arrived at the site in March 1877. Dan Jones' invitation to local Native Americans to live with them became a point of controversy, and half of the initial colony left, moving on to found St. David, Arizona. Originally called Jonesville, the settlement was later renamed Lehi, and was eventually incorporated into Mesa, Arizona.
After some conflict with the other settlers, Dan Jones moved to the Tonto Basin area, where his wife and 14th and youngest child were killed when a shed fell on them during a storm in 1884. In 1890, he published his autobiography, Forty Years Among the Indians.
Dan Jones died on April 20, 1915, of gangrene, after an accident, and was buried in the City of Mesa Cemetery. He was 84 years old.
Source: Forty Years Among the Indians, Daniel W. Jones, 1890; Jenson, Andrew. Encyclopedic History of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Salt Lake City, Utah: Deseret News Press, 1941, p. 426; Wikipedia; FamilySearch.org.