Lyman Curtis

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Question: What town in Utah is named in honor of Lyman Curtis?

Answer: Lyman Curtis was born on January 21, 1812 in New Salem, Franklin County, Massachusetts to Nahum Curtis and Millicent Waite. He learned to build canals and work with sawmills and wood.

Curtis home in Salem, Massachusetts

Curtis home in Salem, Massachusetts

In 1833 while in Michigan, Nahum and his family heard the Mormon missionaries, Jared Carter and Joseph Wood, preach the gospel. That night after retiring, the parents were conversing upon the principles they had just listened to for the first time when they noticed the room begin to grow light. It grew lighter and lighter until it was as bright as noon day. Then they heard a voice say “Nahum, the Book of Mormon is a true record of the people that lived on this continent.” They were soon converted, and soon after, every member of the family became members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

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They all moved to Kirtland, Ohio to be with the Saints there. While there, they worked on the Kirtland Temple. In 1834, Lyman enlisted in Zion's Camp, as did Charlotte Alvord, one of the few women permitted to enlist. Zion's Camp was an army of 200 volunteers organized in Ohio to march to the aid of their brethren in Missouri.

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On June 19, 1834 while Zion's Camp was settled for the night, the mobs consisting of 330 men made an appearance. However, a sudden and terrific storm scattered the mobs, so they returned to their homes without fighting Zion's Camp. Zion's Camp continued peaceably into Clay County, where on July 3 it was disbanded. Although Zion's Camp failed in its initial mission, the form of organization was later used by Brigham Young to guide the Saints into the Rocky Mountains. Also, from this camp the first Quorum of the Twelve Apostles was chosen. Lyman married Charlotte Alvord during the summer of 1834, when he was 22, in Clay County, Missouri. After Zion’s Camp, Lyman returned to Kirtland, and then moved to Missouri.

After moving to Missouri, Lyman’s mother, Millicent, died in Far West, Missouri in September 1838. Lyman had what at that time was an extra good gun. The mob in Missouri made the saints put their guns in the Public Square, under promise that they should be protected, his was put in with the others; but he felt he could not let it go, and watching his chance when no one was near, he got away with it. (He had it with him on his five-year Indian mission to the Santa Clara, 1854-59.)

After living in Missouri for three years, they were forced out and went to Quincy, Illinois and then to Nauvoo. Lyman became acquainted with Joseph Smith and the leading brethren of the Church. While there Nahum and his sons helped to polish the stones used to build the Nauvoo Temple. It sometimes took days to polish a single stone. Sand was poured on a cut stone, then another large flat one was laid on the ground and moved back and forth until the stone was polished.

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Lyman went up the Mississippi River, where for nearly two years he and his brother Moses worked getting timber for the Nauvoo temple. They would go up the Mississippi River to where the timber was plentiful, cut it, tie it together with wooden pins and hickory withes and float it down to Nauvoo. After it was tied together they would pile their belongings on the logs and float down with the lumber.

Lyman was one of the Prophet Joseph's body guards. After the martyrdom, Lyman and his brother George were among those who stood guard over the dead bodies. As the persecution continued, the Curtis family was once again forced from their homes. The father, Nahum, died in Nauvoo in March 1846. (Nahum and Millicent had ten children, two of them died in infancy; the others all made it to Utah and raised large families, except Sophronia, who, along with her only child, died of cholera on the way.)

From the land they farmed there, Lyman told Samuel B. Curtis that, when they were leaving Nauvoo, enough corn was sold at fifteen cents a bushel to buy a horse. The remainder of the crop was left in the bin. Their home in Nauvoo was about three-quarters of a mile north of the Nauvoo Temple. Lyman and his family slowly made their way to Winter Quarters.

Lyman was at Winter Quarters with his wife and family when Brigham Young, who he got to know during Zion's Camp, asked him to be a scout in his Vanguard Company across the plains and provide meat for the party. President Young appointed him one of the two hunters for the pioneers, and he carried his gun across the plains and back, on his shoulders, often using it to great advantage. After arriving in July, 1847, Lyman immediately went back to Iowa and got his family and brought them and another group to the Valley of the Great Salt Lake. The Curtis family traveled to Salt Lake City in the summer of 1850 in the Stephan Markum Company and arrived in the Salt Lake Valley in October 1850.

Lyman and his family remained in Salt Lake City for a year at least, as they raised a nice bin of wheat, a good crop of corn. From there, in 1854, Lyman was called with Isaac Hatch and others on a mission to go down on the Santa Clara to teach the Indians how to farm. Charlotte hadn’t heard from Lyman for so long, she thought he was dead. Charlotte had gone through the trials of Missouri, Nauvoo, Winter Quarters, and the trek across the plains. She was the mother of a large family, losing four of them in infancy in Nauvoo. Her father died in Nauvoo and her mother in Far West. Charlotte died in Salt Lake in 1879.

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After his five-year mission, Lyman returned and moved to Pond Town. Here, he and his brother, George and William McClellan bought an old run-down sawmill propelled by a water wheel, repaired it, and hauled lumber for it from the Lofer Mountains. Then the irrigation canal project succeeded and brought thousands of acres of land under cultivation. Lyman became an accurate surveyor with an improvised transit, a water level, laying out roads and canals. The first canal at Price, Utah, was one of his accomplishments.

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Lyman married Sarah Wells Hartley on July 26, 1862, and they had six children. Pond Town thrived. In time, the name of Pond Town gave way to that of Salem, in honor of Lyman Curtis' birthplace, New Salem, Massachusetts. Lyman died in Salem, Utah on August 5, 1898 at the age of 86 and is buried in the Salem Cemetery.

Source: “Lyman Curtis,” FamilySearch.org; “History of the Nahum Curtis Family;” FindAGrave.com