The Life and Times of
Elizabeth Case Milam Wheeler
by Terry Rosvall, a great, great grandson
E-MAIL The Author of this Article TKRosvall@aol.com
Elizabeth Case was born February 20, 1815 in the township of Whiteriver, Davies County, Indiana. She was the eldest daughter and second of four children born to Abraham Case and Sarah Hogue Case. Her older brother Francis Cunningham Case preceded her in birth by only 20 months. Her father Abraham was a farmer and her grandfather, Joseph Case, was one of the early settlers of Knox County, Indiana. Joseph was one of the first settlers to have a land deed recorded in Knox County. Her mother, Sarah Hogue Case, was the daughter of Zebulon and Polly Hogue.
In 1817, Elizabeth's sister, Nancy Ann Case was born in Whiteriver. This same year, Abraham bought land from John Ockletree in Knox County and the deed was dated May 26, 1817. Abraham was appointed the following year to be one of the commissioners to establish Greene County, Indiana. Another daughter, Sarah, was added to the family about 1819 while the family was still living in Whiteriver. Unfortunately, Abraham died about this same time. Abraham's death was certainly a tremendous challenge for Sarah and her young family of four small children. One can only imagine the difficulties this young family faced with all the demands of the family farm. When Elizabeth was 10 years old, a relative by the name of Joseph Hogue was granted legal guardianship for all the Case children.
In 1826, when Elizabeth was about nine years old, her mother married Elisha Hurd Groves on October 28, 1824. He was born in Madison County, Kentucky on November 6, 1797. Although this marriage provided a new father for this young family, the marriage ended in a divorce about seven years later. Apparently, marriage problems developed after Elisha was baptized into the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
When Elizabeth was only 14 years old, she married William Milam on November 29, 1829. William was 16 years older than Elizabeth, having been born on March 18, 1799 in Shelby County, Kentucky. William and Elizabeth had a wonderful relationship and they endured tremendous challenges and hardships throughout their life together.
The Milam family remained in Indiana and likely lived near other Case family members in Greene County. They welcomed their first family addition on April 22, 1831 and gave her the name of Sarah Jane Milam.
In September of 1831, Elisha Groves records that he first heard the message of the restored gospel from two missionaries, Samuel H. Smith (brother to the Prophet Joseph), and Reynolds Cahoon. Elisha believed their message and began sharing this message with his family and friends through that fall and winter. Elder Calvin Bebey baptized Elisha Groves on March 11, 1832 and he was confirmed by Elder Peter Dustin. Five days later he was ordained an Elder by these same two missionaries and continued to preach the gospel to all who would hear. Elisha said that his friends thought he was becoming deranged through his study of the restored gospel and that they used every means possible to "recover" him from "the supposed delusion." They sent for Ministers of every denomination from as far away as 50 miles! Elisha writes that his wife and friends became his enemies and he felt his life was threatened. He gave a horse and wagon to a church member, John Lemmons, to move to Jackson County, Missouri and Elisha then left on foot with his valise to preach the gospel. Sarah filed for a divorce, which was granted. Elisha then moved to Jackson County to join other church members that had relocated there.
Although Sarah may have rejected the Mormon missionaries' message, her daughter Elizabeth did not as she was baptized in 1832. Her brother, Francis Cunningham Case was also baptized in 1831. It is believed that her husband William was also baptized in 1832. William and Elizabeth remained in Indiana for a short period longer since their son, Francis A. Milam was born in 1833 in Indiana.
Sometime later, the Milam family joined other church members in Missouri, which became the site of many terrible persecutions against Mormon families. Angry mobs drove many families from their homes. Families were forced to abandon their homes at gunpoint. Many church leaders were dragged from their homes, beaten and tarred and feathered in the middle of the night. For some, the tar was mixed with lime or some other caustic substance, their additives designed to eat away the victims' skin. The Missouri mob leaders in Jackson County even signed statements vowing to drive all church members from the county. Facing certain death, members were forced to abandon their homes and seek refuge in neighboring counties. On three successive nights in November of 1833, over twelve hundred Latter-day Saints lined the banks of the Missouri River having been driven from their homes by the mobs. Many family members became separated from each other in the confusion. As they searched for each other, mob members hunted them down, fired on them, and whipped them. Amidst all of these Missouri tribulations, Elizabeth brought another son, Joseph S. Milam into this world in 1835. The family welcomed another son William J. Milam about 1836.
On April 7, 1837 at a meeting in Far West, Missouri, Elisha Groves was one of three men appointed to be the building committee for the temple in Far West. Later that year, the Milam family likely attended a conference of more than fifteen hundred church members in Far West, Missouri on July 3, 1837. It was during this conference that ground was broken for the new temple. Church members continued to congregate in this area, many of whom had been driven out of neighboring counties. Later that same year, on November 7, 1837, there was a general assembly of the Church at Far West. This was attended by the Prophet Joseph Smith and other prominent church leaders. Elisha Groves is mentioned several times in the history of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints during this historical period of the Church. While living at Far West, Missouri, William and Elizabeth Milam welcomed their fifth child and second daughter, Mary Emma Milam, who was born December 28, 1837.
During this time the Milam family likely enjoyed, along with other church members, a brief period of relative peace at Far West. Although Elisha Groves had taken a very active role in the activities in Far West, he apparently moved sometime before 1838. Church records indicate that he moved so far away from Far West that he was unable to attend the church council on March 3, 1838 making it necessary to call someone to fill his position on the local church High Council. Elisha's autobiography indicates that he moved to Illinois in February of 1838.
For two years following the mob attacks in Jackson County, church members continued to congregate to the sparsely populated counties of Caldwell and Davies and built farms and their local communities. By the autumn of 1838, the Saints had opened two thousand farms and paid the general government $318,000 for land. Their estimated land holdings, based upon the land price at the time, indicated that church members owned over 250,000 acres of land. One hundred and fifty houses had been built in Far West including: three family grocery stores, six blacksmith's shops, and two hotels. The excavation of the temple plot measuring 120 by 80 feet had also begun and a school house had been built. Joseph Smith relocated from Kirtland, Ohio to Far West, Missouri in March of 1838 and many may have felt some sense of security for the time being with their Prophet-Leader with them. Although the Church sought redress for their previous property losses in Jackson County, the government did nothing to respond to their legal petitions.
In August of 1838, the mobs formed again and attempted to prevent the Saints from voting in the general elections. A mob involving 30-50 armed men attacked Saints at DeWitt, Missouri in early October and the problems escalated until the Saints were driven again from their homes. The Saints in DeWitt were told they could not leave for a period of time and if they tried to leave the mob members shot at them. During this time they were held hostage, mob members shot and killed most of the Saints' livestock and some homes were also burned before the owners' eyes. Later mob members convinced the Saints that if they left the area in peace that they would receive compensation for their property. Although they may have left the area, grateful for their lives, they did not receive any compensation for their property.
In the settlement of Adam-ondi-Ahman, the mobs destroyed homes, and scattered most of the Saints' horses, sheep, cattle, hogs, etc. On October 27, 1838, Lillburn W. Boggs, Governor of the State of Missouri issued the name infamous "extermination order" which ordered the state militia to treat all the Saints as enemies stating they "must be exterminated or driven from the state..." On October 30, 1838 an armed mob of about 240 attacked the Saints at Haun's Mill. This mob brutally murdered all present who were unable to sufficiently hide from the mob. Eighteen Saints were killed or mortally wounded during this attack and 12-15 others were wounded during the massacre. One elderly man was hacked to death with a corn cutter and one young ten-year-old boy was shot to death with a gun to his head at close range. The mob did not stop after the killing was done. They stripped clothing off the dead, drove off livestock, and stole bedding and clothing which left the survivors destitute of life's necessities. According to accounts of some Case family descendants, Elizabeth's brother Francis C. Case assisted in the burial of the victims of Haun's Mill Massacre. During this same period, the Prophet Joseph and others were taken prisoner under false charges and cast into Liberty Jail where they remained for almost six months in the most deplorable conditions. They later escaped, ironically, through the aid of their captors.
Although the Saints sought legal redress for their grievances, none was obtained from the legislature or government. The Saints were forced to abandon their homes once again for their beliefs. Realizing that they would have to leave some of their temporal belongings behind, such as their homes, land, barns, etc., some might have an even greater desire to cling to whatever possessions that might remain. Although this may have been true with some people, there were others who recognized there were some even worse off and left with virtually nothing. They would certainly perish without assistance. Many providing such assistance likely shared the common fate of mob violence; however, instead of clinging to their remaining possessions they volunteered to share their possessions with those who had even less. In a meeting in Far West on January 29, 1839 the Saints met together to prepare a memorial statement. During this same meeting, Brigham Young made a motion that they all enter into a covenant to stand by and assist each other to the utmost of their abilities to leave the state and never desert the poor who were worthy, until they were all outside the reach of Governor Boggs' extermination order. William Milam was one of several who supported this motion and he, along with 213 others, signed their names below the following statement:We, whose names are hereunder written, do for ourselves individually hereby covenant to stand by and assist one another, to the utmost of our abilities, in removing from this state in compliance with the authority of the state; and we do hereby acknowledge ourselves firmly bound to the extent of all our available property, to be disposed of by a committee who shall be appointed for the purpose of providing means for the removing from this state of the poor and destitute who shall be considered worthy, till there shall not be one left who desires to remove from the state: with this proviso, that no individual shall be deprived of the right of the disposal of his own property for the above purpose, or of having the control of it, or so much of it as shall be necessary for the removing of his own family, and to be entitled to the over-plus, after the work is effected; and furthermore, said committee shall give receipts for all property, and an account of the expenditure of the same.On February 5, 1839, William and Elizabeth received the first of several patriarchal blessings from church leaders. William received a blessing at the hands of Hyrum Smith and Elizabeth received a blessing from Joseph Smith Sr. Elizabeth's blessing reads:
Far West, Missouri, January 29, 1839A Patriarchal Blessing of Elizabeth Milam, daughter of Abraham Case. Born in the Township of Whiteriver, County of Davies, State of Indiana. Sister Milam, in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ who is the Son of God, the author and finisher of all things, in this created World, in his name _______ all things, and unto whom all power is given both on Earth and in Heaven, I lay my hands upon thy head and he has authorized me to bless thee. Thou hast seen sorrow and affliction and hast reason to mourn on account of thy Father's House, thy friends and thy relatives, but let thy heart be comforted for they shall yet be brought into the Kingdom, Sister, to the teachings of thy companion. Hearken to all his admonitions, all that he shall say in righteousness. Watch over thy little ones, teach them the principles of Holiness and they shall grow up in gracefulness and be an ornament to the cause of Christ and thou mayest hold on to them, by the prayer of Faith. Thou shalt tarry in the flesh long enough to see thy Savior. Thy days are not yet finished for thou hast a great work to perform among the Lamanites and thou shalt instruct them and teach them how to work. Thine eye shall behold the redemption of the Land of Zion. Angels shall guard thee, and watch over thee, for thy name is written in Heaven. Thou hast desired to do good and thou shalt have sufficient opportunity and thou shalt have all things that will be for thy good. Thou shalt have an inheritance in this land or the Land of Davies or in the Land of Jackson as thou shalt desire in the heart, and thou shalt live to behold the cleansing of the Land. Listen to the voice of truth and of revelation and thy days shall be crowned with rejoicing. This is what was put into my heart to say unto thee and I seal it upon thee and I seal thee up in the name of the Son. Amen.This blessing reflects the sorrow Elizabeth experienced over other family members' rejection of the gospel. It must have been very comforting for her to read the promises from this blessing, given under the hands of the Church Patriarch and father of the Prophet Joseph. This blessing also references the "cleansing of the land" which is a likely reference to the terrible tragedies and mob attacks on the Saints in Missouri.
The Milam family and other Saints in Missouri scattered to various nearby areas. Some went to Iowa Territory while others went to St. Louis, but most headed to the Mississippi River ferry at Quincy, Illinois. Throughout the winter of 1838-39, companies of wagons and carts, with others on foot traveled the 150-mile trek to the eastern Missouri border to Quincy.
Hoping to find another gathering place for the scattered Saints, the Prophet Joseph was favorably drawn to an offer to buy land near Commerce, Illinois. One tract of 20,000 acres was offered at two dollars an acre. After learning of the land offer, the Prophet Joseph wrote from Liberty Jail to encourage closing the land purchase agreement. The settlement around Commerce later became the city Nauvoo, the city beautiful; however, the Saints' new settlements were not concentrated just in Nauvoo and nearby Montrose. Latter-day Saints settled in at least nineteen different town sites in the surrounding area.
The Milam family relocated to Nauvoo, Illinois where, on January 26, 1840, their sixth child and third daughter, Martha Ellen Milam was born. Nauvoo church records indicate that William held the office of Seventy at that time, but was later ordained a High Priest while they were in Nauvoo.
On August 31, 1840, in a message from the Church First Presidency, a statement was made about the building of the Nauvoo Temple. The cornerstone of the temple was laid on April 6, 1841. Reports of the ceremony indicate that between 7,000 and 12,000 people were present. Construction on the temple proceeded at a fairly rapid pace with sections dedicated as they were completed. There seemed to be a sense of urgency to complete the temple construction and many members contributed time and materials to the construction.
During the late 1830's and early 1840's, the United States was experiencing an economic depression. Both public and private credit was limited, but visitors to the growing city of Nauvoo were surprised to see a greater degree of economic growth and vitality. In the early days of building Nauvoo there was much illness in the city. Some of this illness has been attributed to the land near the river that was quite swampy and unhealthy. The people became very ill and there was an epidemic of malaria and related illnesses. The following summer of 1841, the epidemic became so bad that Sidney Rigdon gave a "general funeral sermon" for the dead rather than give individual sermons at each funeral. It was during one funeral in August 1840 that the Prophet Joseph publicly introduced the doctrine of baptism for the dead. The following month the Church members began baptisms for the dead in the Mississippi River. Living proxies were baptized for their dead ancestors, having faith that their loved ones would hear and accept the gospel in the spirit world. Joseph Smith later taught that this ordinance was a temple ordinance and would later be performed in the temple when it was completed. When a baptismal font was later dedicated in November 1841, baptisms for the dead in the Mississippi River were discontinued.
Both William and Elizabeth were very excited with the newly revealed doctrine as they were both anxious to provide these ordinances for their loved ones who had died previously. When this ordinance work was done in the Mississippi River, the Saints had not yet received a clear understanding of the ordinance procedures until later revelations clarified proper procedures. Early Church records indicate that men and women were baptized for deceased relatives and friends, regardless of the sex of the deceased. At times, men were proxies for deceased women and women acted as proxies for deceased men; however, these early records are a wonderful indication of the faith of these early members and the love they had for their ancestors in providing saving ordinances for them.
In 1841, Elizabeth Case Milam was proxy for baptisms for the dead for the following relatives: John Case (her uncle), Elizabeth Case (her aunt), Margaret Case (her cousin), Abraham Case (her father), Polly Hogue (her grandmother), and Zebulon Hogue (her grandfather).
William Milam was also proxy for baptisms for the dead in 1841 for the following relatives: Polly Steel (his sister), Armon Milam (his brother), John Milam (his brother), Mary Milam (his grandmother), William Milam (his grandfather), Thompson Milam (his brother), and Anthony Crafton (his grandfather).
In December, 1842, Enoch L. Milam was born to William and Elizabeth in Nauvoo, Illinois. His life on earth would only be just over 10 months as he died October 2, 1843 and he was buried in Nauvoo. Although William and Elizabeth had likely seen much death during their life together, this was the first time death had come to their immediate family. Unfortunately, it was only a continuation of many challenges this family had faced and would yet face in the years to come.
During 1842-1845 there were many political and legal battles for Church leaders. In order to have some political influence and fair representation, many Latter-day Saints sought and won political office in local and state offices. Joseph Smith became mayor of Nauvoo and two years later announced his candidacy for the United States Presidency. Joseph Smith, again became a target of legal challenges and later the Nauvoo city charter became the target of legal battles in the courts. It was also during this time that Joseph considered the Rocky Mountains as a new place of refuge for the Saints.
Another daughter was born to William and Elizabeth about 1844 and she was given the name of Elizabeth. In June 1844 the Prophet Joseph and his brother Hyrum Smith left Nauvoo for the last time in mortality as they prepared to go to Carthage. Joseph knew he was going to his death and announced that he was "going like a lamb to the slaughter." When they went to the temple grounds as they left the city, they looked at the temple and then at the city for one last time. Joseph commented, "This is the loveliest place and the best people under the heavens. Little do they know the trials that await them." The Prophet and his brother went on to Carthage where they were brutally murdered while supposedly in the protection of the governor of the state while they were in Carthage jail. The bodies of the martyred leaders were returned to Nauvoo on June 28 to a waiting crowd of people lining the streets and along the road toward Carthage. Thousands filed past the bodies as they lay in state at the Nauvoo Mansion house. William and Elizabeth likely joined the mourning Saints as they paid tribute to their fallen leaders. Fearing that the bodies might be desecrated after burial, Emma Smith had the bodies secretly transferred to an unmarked spot behind the Homestead. Descendants of Francis C. Case, Elizabeth's brother, indicate that Francis held the prophet's horse before mounting it for his fatal trip to Carthage and that he, accompanied by others, helped in transferring the bodies of Joseph and Hyrum to the unmarked grave behind the Homestead.
Following the death of the prophet, the question of who would lead the Church was the subject of much discussion. There were several who promoted various views on who should lead the Church. Sidney Rigdon suggested that he should lead the Church as he was Counselor to Joseph. Brigham Young, President of the Twelve Apostles, presented differing views of authority and leadership based upon his office as Presiding Authority over the Quorum of the Twelve. After some discussion in meetings with Church members in various conferences throughout the area, the matter was put to a vote of the members. Following remarks by various speakers on the matter, the majority of the membership sustained the Twelve as the governing body of the Church.
The completion of the temple became a rallying point for all who sustained the apostolic leadership. Relief Society sisters contributed a penny a week per member for glass and nails for the construction. Limestone blocks for the second story of the temple were laid in 1844. The temple capstones were laid in place on May 24, 1845. Formal dedication was planned for April 1846. Early in 1845 an appeal was made for people to work on the temple through the summer to speed the construction so that worthy members could receive sacred temple ordinances before they left the city to go west.
On January 24, 1845 the state legislature voted to repeal the city charter for Nauvoo and this act created concerns among the citizens for their own protection as this also required the disbanding of the Nauvoo Legion. The Saints retained some protection from the mobs by reorganizing the disbanded Nauvoo Legion members into a "quasi" police force using the organization of priesthood quorums.
On December 10, 1845, the full ordinance of the temple endowment was administered for the first time in the temple. Previous to this time the ordinances had been administered in places outside the temple. The administration of these temple endowments continued with sessions of small groups of twelve on into the night and on Saturdays. On February 6, 1845, Elizabeth and William received their temple endowments and William is listed in these early Church records as a High Priest. By the following day of the temple session for the Milamís, 5,600 ordinances had been administered to tithe paying members.
Many Saints had already left the city while others had stayed behind to do still more work on the temple while they continued efforts to sell their property. Many had already crossed the river over to Montrose for temporary refuge. During the winter months of 1845-46 blacksmiths, carpenters, and cabinetmakers were accelerating their efforts to make wagons and related equipment for the exodus from the city. By mid-May 1846, nearly twelve thousand Saints had crossed the river and more than six hundred remained in Illinois. Some were detained because of poverty, illness and some had sided with those who seceded from the main Church body.
During 1846-47 the Saints were scattered all along the trail across Iowa and on past the Missouri River to what became known as Winter Quarters. Conditions for these people were deplorable and it is estimated that over one thousand died during this period. Another tragedy struck the Milam family when their oldest daughter, Sarah Jane died on February 9, 1847. Later that year, on September 2, 1847 they welcomed another son, George Bennett Milam, who was born in Montrose, Lee County, Iowa.
While the first group of Saints went on to the Salt Lake Valley, others stayed behind because of poverty, illness, or lack of the necessary resources. William and Elizabeth buried their son William J. during this tragic period in their lives. However, another daughter, Martha is also born around 1850. By 1851, the Milam family is still in Iowa in Pottawatomie County. In 1852, they buried another daughter, Elizabeth. That same year they crossed the plains to the Salt Lake Valley with the company of Captain James McGaw. In this company there were 239 people in 54 wagons and they arrived in the Salt Lake Valley on September 20, 1852. When this group left Kanesville, Iowa the population of this community had become a staging area for those embarking on their journey to Salt Lake. It reached its peak population in 1852 with about five thousand people.
The physical trials of past years and the trek westward likely took a severe toll on William. Early in 1853 he became quite ill. This faithful couple, having faced and endured tremendous hardships and tragedies, was now facing perhaps their greatest challenge of their adult life - the separation from each other from death. Until another temple could be built in which sacred ordinances could be performed to seal husband and wife together for time and eternity, these ordinances were performed temporarily outside the temple. Many of these were done in the Endowment House and on a few instances were done in individual homes. At 8:00 a.m. on January 27, 1853, William and Elizabeth were sealed together for time and all eternity by Orson Hyde while they were at the home of William Wilson. Less than one month later, on February 24, 1853, William died.
Although she had the comfort in knowing that she would be united with William again in the next life, his death must have been a terrible blow to Elizabeth. This new loneliness certainly gave her time for reflection on both the joys and heartaches that she shared with William. They stood together over the graves of their children. Now, Elizabeth stands over the grave of her lifelong friend and companion. Having to forge a new life in the Salt Lake Valley and caring for her remaining small children continued to test Elizabeth's faith and determination.
What thoughts Elizabeth might have had regarding temple blessings as the cornerstone for the Salt Lake Temple was laid on April 6, 1853? Memories of both her personal sacrifices and blessings of the Nauvoo Temple came back to her, as well as the promises regarding her eternal marriage to William Milam.
In 1854, Elizabeth received another Patriarchal Blessing, this time under the hands of John Smith. It reads:A Blessing by John Smith Patriarch upon the head of Elizabeth Milam, Daughter of Abraham & Sarah Case born Davis Co., Indiana Feb 20th, 1815.What a tremendous strength and comfort this must have been for Elizabeth during this most difficult time in her life. What wonderful blessings promised to her for her continued faithfulness!
Beloved of the Lord, in the name of Jesus Christ I place my hands upon your head and seal upon you the blessing of a father even all the Blessings of Abraham, Isaac & Jacob. You shall have power to heal the sick in your house, have wisdom to conduct your affairs in the best possible manner. Your children shall be many upon the mountains of Israel and be mighty in the Priesthood, shall never be confounded worlds without end. You shall have health in your habitation. All things shall be according to your word. The work of the Lord shall roll on to your satisfaction. You shall live to see Zion established in peace on the earth, see and converse with your Redeemer face to face. Inherit all the blessings and glories of his Kingdom with all your fathers house even so, Amen.
On June 10, 1855 Elizabeth married William Wheeler in plural marriage. It is interesting to note that she was 16 years junior in age to William Milam, but only seven days younger that William Wheeler. William Wheeler had immigrated from England where he was born in Himbleton, Inkberrow, Worcester, England. He had been baptized into the Church in 1841 by Thomas Smith. Before leaving his native England, William served as a missionary to preach the gospel to his friends and neighbors.
William Wheeler and Elizabeth had more in common than the month and year of their birth. The both shared rejection by their family members for the gospel sake and the personal tragedy of the death of loved ones. William's first wife, Mary Coombs died while crossing the plains in 1852. William's daughter, Mary, also died while they were crossing the plains. One daughter, Elizabeth, survived the journey to the Salt Lake Valley. When William was baptized in 1841, he was disowned by his father. Elizabeth likely faced similar rejection from her mother, Sarah based upon the reasons for her divorce from Elisha Groves.
William Wheeler was a gardener by trade and made his home in Salt Lake City on Seventh South between Fifth and Sixth east. He later played a significant role in the creation of Liberty Park in Salt Lake City. His first home in Salt Lake was a plot of land about one and one quarter acres in size. He dug a well and out of the clay from the well excavation, he fashioned adobe bricks from which he built his home. He had only been in Salt Lake City two years when part of his Patriarchal blessing of 1852 was fulfilled when he was ordained a High Priest by Lorenzo Snow. In becoming his wife, Elizabeth fulfilled another promised blessing that he would one day receive another companion to comfort him and that he would recover from his sorrows.
On April 10, 1856 a daughter, Olivia Merreta Wheeler, was born to William and Elizabeth Wheeler in Salt Lake City. What a joy this must have been for William and Elizabeth, given the heartaches they both suffered in the previous years with the losses of other children. The population of Utah was also growing from the continued arrival of more Saints. By 1856, almost forty thousand people had arrived in Utah.
On November 16, 1857, Elizabeth received her third Patriarchal Blessing. Although there are additional blessings mentioned her, this is the first to reveal that Elizabeth is of the loins of Ephraim. It reads:A Patriarchal blessing by Isaac Morley Senior on the head of Elisabeth Wheeler daughter of Abraham & Sarah Case born Feb 20th 1815 in Davis Co Ind.Sister Elisabeth in the name of thy Redeemer I place my hand upon they head and I say unto thee thou shalt be blest in his name and enjoy all the blessings of the daughters of Abraham. Thus far thou has preserved thy covenants and vows inviolate. Thou hast passed a school of experience for thy good which has left an impress upon thy memory never to be forgotten. Thou hast learned by experience the fading nature of earthly objects. Thou wilt be blest like Mary of old for thou hast chosen the better part that will never be taken from thee. Thy name and memory will be preserved in honor by thy posterity. Thou hast been blest of the Lord in rearing sons who will be heirs to the Priesthood. They will be clothed upon with keys of knowledge, keys of Priesthood in avenging the blood of the Prophets and in redeeming Zion. The Lord has endowed thy mind with the attributes of his own bosom. Let thy heart be comforted. The Lord is thy friend. He is thy benefactor. He will bless thee in the domestic circle. Thy habitation will be peace. Thou wilt see the blessing of the Lord in redeeming Zion and return to the land of thy inheritance in peace. Thou hast the blood of Ephraim. Thou art a legal heiress to seals of Priesthood that will produce in thy crown wreathes of honor. The blessings of the earth will crown thy labors. Endless lives will be thy crown of Glory. I ratify the seal in the name of Jesus even so Amen and Amen.
During 1857 and 1858, the Saints in Salt Lake City were again called upon to endure hardships with the arrival of Johnston's army. This army was sent to Salt Lake to put down a supposed Mormon insurrection. These rumors were spread by unscrupulous federal agents who sent false reports to the U.S. President. Having suffered so much from the hands of the government, the Saints took defensive action to protect themselves. They did not wish to leave anything for the invading army and were prepared to burn down every home in the Salt Lake Valley if the army took offensive action. The Salt Lake Temple foundation had already been started; however, at the direction of President Brigham Young, the temple foundation was covered up and all evidence of construction was removed and the ground plowed over. The residents packed up what belongings they could and moved south to avoid the invading army. About 50 men were left behind with orders to set fire to the homes if the army attacked. Fortunately, a battle was avoided and the army made camp about 40 miles outside Salt Lake City.
The removal of the Salt Lake City residents to the south because of Johnston's Army forced William and Elizabeth to move temporarily to Utah County. This must have been another extreme hardship for Elizabeth considering she gave birth on May 8, 1858, to William Case Wheeler in Payson, Utah. Once the crisis was settled, the Saints returned to the homes in Salt Lake about July 1858. Church records of 1860 indicate that Elizabeth's son, George, from her first marriage was living with Wilford Woodruff in the 14th Ward; however, there is no explanation why he might have been living away from the rest of the family.
On April 22 1864, William was called on a mission to England along with 22 others. He was one of only four High Priests to be called to this mission. What mixed feelings William must have had with the thoughts of leaving his young family and returning to his native land to preach the gospel. While William served the Lord, Elizabeth sustained him in his new calling and cared for their young family during his absence.
Among William's traveling companions in route to England were Brigham Young, Jr., Anson Call and Daniel Wells. At the time of his call, Daniel Wells was serving in the First Presidency of the Church. William was set apart as a missionary by John Taylor, who would later become the third President of the Church. Associating with such brilliant gospel scholars during his travels to England was certainly a tremendous blessing for William and helped to prepare him for his missionary labors.
One can only imagine William's thoughts as their traveling group passed the area where a few years earlier he buried his wife and daughter. William's return to England to preach the gospel gave him more opportunities to visit family and friends left behind years earlier and records reflect great success in his baptisms there.
While William was on his mission, Olivia and William Case Wheeler were baptized in 1865. During the women's suffrage movement of 1870, many women in Utah were actively involved. Many politicians in the east were adamantly against the practice of plural marriage and believed that the women had been victims of an immoral policy. They believed that the solution to the "problem" would be to grant women in Utah the right to vote and they would destroy plural marriage at the ballot box. On February 12, 1870, Utah's territorial legislature passed a women's suffrage bill. To the disappointment of the foes of the Church, voting subsequent to the passage of this bill was overwhelmingly in favor of the principle of plural marriage. Ironically, seventeen years later, the federal congress itself outlawed women's suffrage in Utah as part of the effort to fight polygamy!
The next few years brought joy and tragedy to the family of William Wheeler. Olivia Meretta Wheeler was married on August 28, 1873 to Willard Richard Starmer. In 1875, there was a terrible fire in the home of one of William Wheeler's other wives, Ann Houseman in which some of her children died.
Temple ordinances continued to play an important part in the lives of Elizabeth's family. In 1876, both Olivia and William Case Wheeler received their temple endowments. Olivia was endowed on April 17, 1876 and William Case Wheeler was endowed on July 3, 1876. That same year, William Wheeler had the temple work done for his first wife, Mary Coombs. After the death of President Brigham Young in 1877, church members went through more difficult times. This was especially true for those who had been practicing plural marriage. Although many federal laws were passed regarding polygamy, there were many legal battles fought about the legality of enforcing laws "ex post facto" to punish people who entered into plural marriages before the laws were even passed. Many men were cast into prison or went into hiding for their beliefs. William Wheeler, Elizabeth and his other wives were not immune to the hardships caused by these legal battles. In October 1878 two hundred non-Mormon women gathered in Salt Lake City and drafted an appeal to "the Christian Women of the United States," asking that the U.S. Congress take stronger action against the Saints. A week later, two thousand Latter-day Saint women held a counter-demonstration and passed a resolution endorsing plural marriage. These legal battles continued until laws were passed that would effectively disenfranchise the church. Finally, in 1890 President Woodruff issued the Manifesto declaring the end of the practice of plural marriage.
In 1890, records indicate that Elizabeth was living in Salt Lake City at 145 South and Fourth West and she died on July 1, 1891 in Salt Lake City. Her husband, William Wheeler died two years later, on February 4, 1893. Elizabeth's obituary in the Deseret Weekly Newspaper reads:
"Another Pioneer Departed. Sister Elizabeth Milam Wheeler, mother of Conductor Wheeler of the Utah & Nevada railroad, died this morning at 1 o'clock, of general debility, aged 76 years, five months and ten days. Deceased has been a member of the Church since 1832 and would have arrived in this city with the first pioneers but for the fact that she had to stop behind and nurse her sick and bury her dead children on the plains. The funeral, to which friends are respectfully invited, will take place from the residence of the son-in-law, W. K. Starner, Thursday, July 2, at 3 o'clock p.m."
What more can be said about such a valiant and faithful woman? Having endured a lifetime filled with challenges that would severely test the faith of even the most faithful, Elizabeth endured to the end of her mortal life and she truly did choose the better part. The words of the Patriarch to her in 1857 echo again the Lord's message to this elect lady,
"Thou wilt be blest like Mary of old for thou hast chosen the better part that will never be taken from thee. Thy name and memory will be preserved in honor by thy posterity."
May all of us who enjoy the heritage of this wonderful woman always preserve in honor her name, life, and example. May our lives also reflect her love and dedication to family, both the living and the dead. May we also never take for granted the blessings and life that we enjoy because of her lifetime of personal sacrifices.
Author's Note: Special thanks to other family members whose research contributed greatly to this biography: Merle Cunnington, Joann Hoagland, and George DeLapp.
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