Mormon Missionary Diaries
About the Collection
Thales Hastings Haskell
by Brian A. Warburton
Thales Hastings Haskell was born 21 February 1834 in North New Salem, Massachusetts, to Ashbel Green Haskell and Ursula Billings Hastings. When Thales was eight years old his family attended several Mormon meetings and on 1 March 1842 his mother and sister were baptized members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (LDS). Thales and his father were baptized at later dates. The Haskell family sold their farm in 1846 and made preparations to move west with the saints. Thales’ father boarded the ship Brooklyn with the Samuel Brannon company, which traveled by sea to Yerba Buena, (San Francisco) California. Thales and his mother traveled by ship from Boston to New Orleans and then took a steam ship up the Mississippi River to Nauvoo, arriving 26 April 1846. They found the saints already leaving Nauvoo and joined them as they traveled to Council Bluffs, Iowa, where they spent the winter of 1846-47. At only thirteen years of age, Thales drove his family’s ox team in the Abraham O. Smoot-George B. Wallace Company, where he was expected to do the same work as the grown men. He was also responsible for the care of his mother and sister and her child as they traveled to the Rocky Mountains in the spring and summer of 1847.1 The company arrived in the Salt Lake Valley on the 25-29 September 1847.
Several years later Thales was baptized a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (LDS) on 21 February 1853; it is not known why he waited so long to be baptized. Not long after his baptism, at the General Conference of October 1853, Thales was called on a mission to help settle Southern Utah, Northern Arizona and Southern Nevada, and to befriend the Indians of that region.2 Thales and several other men left for their mission on 14 April 1854 traveling by wagon train and arriving in Cedar City, Utah, on 1 May 1854. The missionaries traveled further south in June of 1854 and spent the summer working, and living among the Indians in the Virgin River region. In early 1855 Thales made a trip home to visit his family, where he met a woman by the name of Hannah Maria Woodbury. Thales asked Hannah to marry him at some future date and then he returned to Santa Clara. He went back to Salt Lake in the fall of 1855 and married Hannah on 4 October 1855. The newlyweds traveled together to Santa Clara where they helped grow and harvest the first cotton crop in Utah. On 21 June 1857, after only twenty months of marriage, Thales’ pregnant wife was shot and killed by an Indian, who claimed the shooting was accidental.3 After the death of his wife, Thales went back to Salt Lake to be with his family. He was encouraged by Brigham Young to marry again “as soon as the right one came along.”4
Thales quickly became acquainted with a woman by the name of Margaret Johanna Edwards and they were married by Brigham Young on 15 September 1857 in Salt Lake City. Thales once again took a new bride with him to the rugged wilderness near Santa Clara, where Margaret gave birth to a baby girl. Thales and the other settler-missionaries continued exploring the vast deserts and visiting the Indians.
In 1859 Thales was asked by Jacob Hamblin, the president of the Southern Indian Mission, to go on another expedition among the Indians. Thales kept a journal of his experiences on this mission, which began on 4 October 1859.5 He recorded that the men suffered great hardships as they traveled to the Indian camps of Northern Arizona; “Tied up our mules and camped being both hungry and thirsty and no feed nor water for the mules. Our ground looked rather gloomy.”6 Thales mainly recorded the hardships the missionaries faced while traveling through the desert and dealt less with spiritual aspects. Upon reaching one Indian camp Thales was asked by President Hamblin to “stay with bro Shelton one year among those Indians-I told him that I was willing to stay and do the best I could.”7 Thales and his companion, Brother Shelton, were given their own hut, by the chief of a band of Hopi Indians. Though he had agreed to stay among the Indians, it was not an easy task for Thales, he recorded disappointment about his assignment; “such a feeling of utter loneliness I never experienced before for search the wide world over I do not believe a more bleak lonesome heart sickening place could be found on the earth where human beings dwell… who but Mormons would do it-who but Mormons could do it.”8
The men did not spend much time preaching among the Indians, but rather they learned the language and tried to create good feelings among the Indians toward Mormons. One Indian asked why they were living with them, Thales recorded his answer; “I told him… that we were stopping here to learn the Oribe language and wished to be friends to all the Indians in the country.”9 Thales and Shelton decided to leave the Indians in the late winter or early spring, because they felt that their hosts did not want them to stay through the summer. They left the village on 9 February 1860 and Thales arrived home on 27 February 1860.
Thales moved his young family to Pinto, Utah, where Margaret gave birth to six more children. In the meantime, Thales continued to make visits among the Indians and was often away from home for extended amounts of time. He served as a sergeant during the “Black Hawk War,” when several Ute and Navajo bands led raids into Utah settlements, during the early and mid 1860’s.10 He was finally released as an Indian missionary in 1886, 32 years after he was called to the position, and he moved to Manassa, Colorado to be close to his married children.11 He became the Postmaster of Manassa, a position he held for fifteen years. Thales died 13 July 1909 after suffering from a prolonged illness. Throughout his life he was well known as one of the best Indian interpreters in the Mormon community; he spoke five Indian languages as well as Spanish and he understood the native customs.
1 Joyce Wittwer Whittaker, ed. History of Santa Clara, Utah: A Blossom in the Desert, (Santa Clara, Utah: Santa Clara Historical Society, 2003) , 118.
2 Ibid., 119.
3 Albert E. Smith, Thales Hastings Haskell: Pioneer-Scout-Explorer-Indian Missionary, 1847-1909 (Salt Lake City: Privately printed, 1964) , 23.
5 Thales Hastings Haskell, “Diary, 1859-1860,” VMSS 437, L. Tom Perry Special Collections, Harold B. Lee Library, Brigham Young University. 4 October 1859.
6 Ibid., 10 October 1859.
7 Ibid., 11 November 1859.
8 Ibid., 17 November 1859.
9 Ibid., 10 December 1859.
10 Whittaker, 124.
11 Ibid., 125.
Anderson, Carleton Q., Betty Shawcroft and Robert Compton eds. The Mormons: 100 Years in the San Luis Valley of Colorado, 1883-1983. La Jara, Colorado: La Jara Stake of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, 1982.
Haskell, Thales Hastings. “Diary, 1859-1860,” VMSS 437, L. Tom Perry Special Collections, Harold B. Lee Library, Brigham Young University.
Perkins, Cornelia Adams, Marian Gardner Nielson, Lenora Butt Jones eds. Saga of San Juan. San Juan County, Utah: San Juan County Daughters of Utah Pioneers, 1968.
Smith, Albert E. Thales Hastings Haskell; Pioneer-Scout-Explorer-Indian Missionary, 1847-1909. Salt Lake City: privately printed, 1964.
Whittaker, Joyce Wittwer ed. History of Santa Clara, Utah: A Blossom in the Rose. Santa Clara, Utah: Santa Clara Historical Society, 2003.