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Joseph S. Rawlins

Compiled by LaRue Skeen Fonnesbeck, July, 1970

This information was taken from a sketch printed in a Salt Lake City paper at the time of his death, compiled by Mary E. Gee, a great granddaughter. Additional data was found in the autobiography of his son, Joseph L. Rawlins, "The Favored Few" published in 1956 by Alta R. Jensen.

Joseph Sharp Rawlins was born in Green County, near Whitehall, Illinois. His parents were James and Jane Sharp Rawlins. His boyhood days were similar to other boys who, like himself, became self-made men. From his earliest youth he was industrious, a trait that remained with him to the last. He Married Mary Frost in Hancock County, Illinois in 1844. He was baptized a member of the Latter-day Saints Church in june, 1844, in Hancock County by Elder Frederick Van Leuven.

His grandfather, Charles Rawlins, had come from Rutherford County, North Carolina. It is probable that his ancestors came from England, as a James Rawlins is known to have come from that country early in the seventeenth century and settled in Massachusetts. The name Rawlins is found on tombstones and coats-of-arms in England extending back to the thirteenth century. Family archeologists claim that it was borne as Rauls with William the Conqueror from Normandy. It may be connected with Rolla, the Norseman.

His mother's family is unknown. Her name Was Jane Sharp. Mary Frost's family moved from Tennessee where she was born east of Nashville, to Hancock County, Illinois where she met and married her husband. Her father was of English and her mother of Irish descent. Her great grandfather on her mother's side, whose age at death was 104 years, and whom Mary Frost remembered seeing and talking with, was born in ireland about 1730.

Joseph Rawlins' parents were converted to the Mormon Church when they lived on the bank of the Mississippi River and were assisting Mormons who had been driven from their Missouri homes in midwinter. After crossing the great river on ice they found refuge in Charles Rawlins' home and converted the family to their faith. They then moved to Hancock County in the vicinity of Nauvoo, Illinois. in 1846. Joseph S. Rawlins joined the Mormon exodus with his wife, their daughter Nancy Jane who was born in 1845, his parents and their family, and his wife's brother, Layafette, who was the only member of her family who joined the church. They left Illinois and passed through Iowa where they camped on the east side of the Missouri River above what became Council Bluffs, on "Honey Creek". There Lafayette Frost joined the Mormon battalion, was subsequently commended for exceptional bravery, and later died following incredible hardships in San Diego.

The time spent in Honey Creek during 1846 and 1847 was devoted to gathering and planting corn, potatoes and food to provide for and last until new homes could be found in the unknown west. At one time Joseph, his brother Harvey and their father were encamped up the Missouri River hunting, with their horses staked out grazing when a band of Pawnee Indians approached. While some of them engaged in horse trading, the others contrived to frighten and stampede the horses into breaking tether and running away. Immediately all the Indians were in hot pursuit, and the horses gone beyond recovery. At Council Bluffs in 1848, a daughter, Helen, was born to Mary and Joseph, and was only twelve days old when the family started on the westward trek. As a result of the hardships, Mary remained an invalid throughout the trip, but endured the ills of the thousand-mile journey with a staunch uncomplaining courage which was typical of her throughout her life. They came with a train of fifty wagons which left Omaha, Nebraska on April 12, 1848, and arrived in the Salt Lake Valley October 12, 1848.

For two years they made their home in Mill Creek, and then moved to Draper, Utah, where they lived for twenty-two years. They later moved to South Cottonwood where they built a seven room brick home. On march 28, 1850 their son, Joseph Lafayette, was born, he became a lawyer who served as city attorney and worked closely with Brigham Young. He also served in the Congress of the United States, assisted in gaining statehood for Utah, and was elected as the first senator from Utah. He was known as the "Red-headed Reactor of the Rockies" because he made such a fight about the confiscation of the Church property. It was through his efforts that it was eventually restored.

Joseph S. Rawlins was called to be bishop of South Cottonwood in 1870, and served until the time of his death in 1900. His rugged nature and indomitable pluck made him a leader among his fellowmen in the early days of hardship in Utah. It can be said of him in very deed that he helped build the bridges and lay the foundation of this commonwealth. In 1855 he assisted in the exploration of Elk Mountain. In 1861 he took an active part in the preparations made at the time of the coming of Johnson's Army. He also served with the title of lieutenant among the volunteers called to protect the mail route. His commission was signed by president Abraham Lincoln. He did construction work for the Union Pacific Railroad, organized many irrigation companies, served as County Commissioner of Salt Lake County for several years.

When President Young found it necessary to call for volunteers to go east and assist migrating saints on their westward journey, Joseph Sharp readily responded, and crossed the plains several times. On august 23, 1864 he brought his first charge of emigrants to Salt Lake as captain of a company. Again on october 1, 1866 he piloted a group of four hundred saints and sixty-five wagons into the valley. In 1868 he was one of five captains who left Salt Lake with five hundred teams to connect with the Central Pacific at Promontory, to meet a large company of Mormons and assist in transporting them to this city. According to his son, Joseph L. Rawlins, he made seven trips to bring emigrants into the valley.

At the time of his death, october 13, 1900, he was serving as Chairman of the Board of County Comissioners. His passing was marked by sincere tributes from people far and near. The flag in the county building hung at half-mast, resolutions of respect were filed in the official minutes of the Board of County Comissioners. This statement expresses the esteem in which he was held: "his faithful and successful career as a public officer and servant of the people has earned the esteem and commendation of the community. He was fearless, upright and an able promoter of the people's interests, beloved by his family and associates, and honored and respected by all the people." There were three people born to Joseph S. Rawlins and Mary Frost Rawlins: Nancy Jane, Helen, and Joseph Lafayette.

Nancy Jane married Robert Marion Kerr on January 1, 1860, and became the mother of nine children in Richmond, Utah where they established their home. Helen died at the age of thirteen while her mother was visiting Nancy Jane at the time of the birth of their first child.

Joseph Lafayette made his home in Salt Lake City. He married Julia Davis on December 8, 1876. They built a home on the corner of First Avenue and B Street, and became the parents of seven children. He passed away in a Salt Lake City hospital in 1926 following surgery.