John Steele Papers
Diaries, notes, correspondence, dictionaries, surveys, bonds, certificates, horoscopes, and military orders. The correspondence was to and from John Steele, other family members, and acquaintances. The materials document the activities of the Steele family, John's militia and Mormon Battalion activities, his missions to England and to the Indians, his migration to Utah, and his life in Utah and Nevada. Also included is a dictionary of the Southern Paiute language created by John Steele. Materials dated 1816-1989.
- Managed by Special Collections
- Curator Ryan Lee
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About the Collection
John Steele (1821-1903) was an Irish convert to the Mormon Church, pioneer to Utah and Nevada, member of the Mormon Battalion, and Utah civic leader.
He was born March 21, 1821 in Hollywood, Ireland. His parents were John and Nancy Steele, and his two older sisters were Elisabeth and Jane. At the age of fifteen years, John began to learn the trade of boot and shoemaking, and started a business in Belfast. At age nineteen he met Catherine Campbell, daughter of Michael and Mary Campbell. They married on January 1, 1840. Their first daughter, Mary Campbell Steele, was born on December 23, 1840. On January 12, 1841 John Steele’s father died.
Because of poor economic conditions in Belfast, John moved his family to Glasgow, Scotland where he found work. After moving to Glasgow, religious questions began to occupy John’s mind. Although he was a Presbyterian, he felt unable to find the true Christian religion. Soon after his son John was born on June 2, 1842, John obtained a Book of Mormon which he read and believed. John was baptized into the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints on April 10, 1843, and about a month later he baptized his wife Catherine (May 3, 1843).
Another daughter, Margaret, was born on June 17, 1844. She died on December 18, 1845. John was ordained a Priest on November 5, 1844 by Rubon Hadlock and John Monroe and began a public ministry which lasted until January 14, 1845 when he and his family left for Liverpool. John’s family boarded the ship Palmyra and sailed for New Orleans on January 21, 1845.
Upon arriving (March 7, 1845) they boarded a steam ship and traveled up the Mississippi River to St. Louis. They then journeyed to Nauvoo where he joined the saints and associated with the Tanners and Shoemaking Association, the Nauvoo Legion, and also became a Mason.
When he arrived back in Nauvoo after an expedition with the Legion, John found his family sick with fever. This sickness claimed the lives of two of John’s children: John and Margaret died December 10 and December 18 respectively. On July 27, 1845, John was ordained a member of the 29th Quorum of the Seventies.
On May 4, 1846 John and his family left Nauvoo, and with other members of the church, headed for Council Bluffs, Iowa. There John enlisted in the Mormon Battalion, which was to head for California by way of Santa Fe as part of the United States effort in the Mexican War. He was in Company D under the command of Captain Nelson Higgans.
Instead of heading on to California from Santa Fe, the decision was made for some of the men and their families to leave the main group and to meet with the Saints in Salt Lake City. John and his family arrived in Salt Lake City on July 29, 1847. On August 9, of the same year, Young Elizabeth was born to John and Catherine Steele.
John immediately began to build an adobe house for his family, and also plant crops for the ensuing winter. John’s crops for that winter were ruined when newly arriving companies of Saints turned out their cattle into the fields which ate all of John’s crops. He was forced to buy cornmeal to live on during the winter. They were given a cow which began to give milk. From the cow they made butter, trading milk and butter for other commodities. Frost, hail, loose cattle and crickets also ruined the next year’s crop (1848).
Another son, Mahonri Moriancumer Steele, was born on May 1, 1849. Although his crops for 1849 were progressing well, John never saw the fruits of his labors, as he was called by George A. Smith to go to Iron County, where he was to start an agricultural base for the iron works in Cedar City. John was appointed Lieutenant of the Light Infantry Company (for defense of the wagon train) and the pilot (leader) of ten wagons. They called themselves the Iron Battalion. During their journey south they had to battle sub-zero temperatures, frostbite and Indians, who stole two of John’s oxen and killed another.
On January 13, 1851 the wagon train arrived in Iron County, where they founded the city of Parowan. On May 24, 1851 John was elected Marshall. He served two years, heading several expeditions against Indians who were stealing and killing cattle. John became a naturalized citizen of the United States on June 1, 1852. On January 3, 1854 he was made Major of the Iron Battalion.
After two terms as marshal, John was elected Mayor of Parowan on June 2, 1851, which term commenced in June 1853. Shortly after this John was called as County Recorder, and also was asked to fill the vacant position of Judge of Iron County. On April 28, 1851 another daughter, Susann, was born.
John C. Fremont and his men, almost starved, came to Parowan in February 8, 1854 where they were fed and stayed for three weeks before heading toward California. John Steele lent John Fremont eight maps, which he copied before they were fitted out and continued on their journey.
As County Recorder, John was responsible for recording all the consecration deeds while the Law of Consecration was in effect. He also acted as journalist on expeditions on the Rio Virgin River in 1852. Led by friendly Indians, they met the Indian Chief at the site where the town of Toquerville now stands. John Steele also acted as scribe for George A. Smith on November 19, 1852 at the founding of the Parowan Iron Company. The document was signed by George A. Smith, John Steele, John C. S. Smith and James Jones.
Another daughter, Jane Catherine, was born on April 26, 1855, and a son, Robert Henry Steele, was born September 1, 1857; Robert died June 1, 1858. At the April Conference (1855) of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, John Steele was called to go on the Las Vegas Mission. On the way to Las Vegas, Santa Clara Indians traveled with the men watching the herds and protecting them from other Indians. At Las Vegas, John set out immediately to set up a fort and start a garden. Many settlers and friendly Indians, as well as the mail pouches came through the fort at Las Vegas.
On November 17, of the same year, John returned to Parowan. The next year he returned to Las Vegas to fill the post of Postmaster and also was asked to preside over the Las Vegas Mission. While there John and the other men did some investigating for Brigham Young into the prospect of opening lead mines in the area.
In 1862 John moved his family to Toquerville. While there John was called on a Indian mission to the Moqui Nation [Hopi] in the company of Jacob Hamblin and others. He also served as a Major in the Battalion’s 10th Regiment under the command of Col. Daniel D. MacArthur of St. George. On April 15, 1868, John was commissioned as Justice of the Peace in Toquerville, and again in 1869. He was soon after elected to the office of County Surveyor for Kane County in 1873, and as County Assessor in March of 1874, and again for the year of 1875.
John and his son Mahonri Moriancummer were both called to serve missions to England in 1877. From his return in 1879 to his death on December 31, 1903, John Steele remained active in several Southern Utah civic and Church functions, acting as Bishop in Parowan and assisting with the construction of the Manti Temple.