Leah Ellen Radford Lovell
a Native Pioneer
By Maxine Williams, a great granddaughter
Leah Ellen Radford, fourth child of Leah Smith and John Whitlock
Radford, was born in Provo, Utah on April 6, 1853. Her two older
sisters, Nancy Jane and Catherine, were born as the family was making
the trek across the plains. Her brother, John W. was also born in
Provo. Her father had been married previously and his wife had left
him, apparently when he joined the L.D.S. Church. Her mother, Leah
Smith Radford, had two previous husbands and several children. Both
of her husbands had been killed, leaving her twice widowed at a very
The Radford family moved from Provo to Fillmore in Central Utah
where they remained for several years and from there they were called
to assist in the settling of Deseret in Millard County. This settlement
was not successful due to their inability to get a stable water source
for their crops. The Radford family, with many others, moved a few
miles to the East and founded the community of Oak City.
It was in this tiny, peaceful, hamlet that Leah Ellen grew to maturity.
It was a busy life as the pioneer family struggled to provide food
and clothing and to raise their large family. Leah's father married
Polly Stevens as a plural wife in December of 1855. She had four
children before she died of childbed fever in 1863. Leah learned
early how to work hard and that it was important to be thrifty and
careful with what she had. These lessons were to be very important
to her later in her life.
Leah Ellen was only sixteen when she married her sweetheart, Joseph
Hyrum Lovell. He was the neighbor boy who lived on the block just
behind her in Oak City. They made their home in that community and
had ten children. As the children were growing towards maturity,
the Lovells decided that, because of the limited water available,
there was nothing in the Oak City area that offered much opportunity
for their growing family. They decided to move to new country to
help their children get a start in life.
Several families decided to make the journey to the new area. The
intended goal was Star Valley in Wyoming. The company of several
wagons, carrying all their possessions, their livestock, chickens,
etc., left Oak City in May of 1889.
One of the daughters, Leah Ann, remembers the experience:
"We had a company of seventeen
wagons and a big band of horses and cattle. . . . It took five
make the journey into Star
Valley. We cooked our bread in the big iron bake oven and put coals
over the top of it. When we landed there, it wasn't the place we
expected to find or what had been pictured to us. It was a wild country
and there was plenty of wild hay, but there were so many willows
and underbrush that it couldn't be cut until the land was cleared.
"Grandfather and Grandmother
Radford went with us. Just before we arrived, we met a man coming
Star Valley. Father asked him
about the country and he told us that it was nine months of winter
and three months of late fall."
As they arrived in Star Valley, Leah Ellen's mother (Grandmother
Radford) was very ill and unable to travel any further. Otherwise
they wouldn't have stayed. Leah's husband took his family to the
mountains, found a spring and made a home of sorts for the coming
winter. Not long after their arrival, he and the older boys were
away cutting logs for corrals when a forest fire broke out. Leah
Ellen and her youngest son (a very small boy) with one horse in camp,
tore the tents down, hitched on to the wagon and pulled it to a clear
place. All that had been accomplished in weeks of hard work was destroyed
Joseph decided that it would be best to have the family in the valley.
There he built a two-room log shack with split lumber to cover the
top. Here the family spent the winter.
Leah Ann tells that, whenever her father was away, the Indians were
a constant concern. They were continually coming asking for food,
and especially for sugar. One day, when Grandmother Radford was asleep
with her back to the doorway, Leah Ellen opened the tent flaps so
the Indians could see her mother. Then she told them the old lady
had the small pox. The Indians never came back to the' camp again.
That first winter, Joseph arranged for a man to feed his cattle
and provide some shelter for them. When he went to get them in the
spring, they were all dead--they had starved. In December of that
winter (1889) Leah Ellen's father, John Whitlock Radford, died and
was buried in Star Valley.
By the next winter most of the rest of the group who had come from
Utah with them decided that they couldn't survive in such a cold
place and left, traveling West and North to the Upper Snake River
Valley. Leah Ellen and her husband could not leave because the serious
illness of her mother made travel impossible.
They continued to live in their tiny home in the area that is now
known as Etna, Wyoming. The Freedom Branch of the L.D.S. Church was
organized in 1890 and Leah's husband, Joseph, was called as the Presiding
Elder. A school was begun and was held in a small room that had been
built as a shade for the cattle during the summer-time. It was a
room about 11 x 12 feet. Still, however, it was difficult to make
a living because of the short growing season.
Finally, when Leah's mother was better, Joseph and Leah Ellen determined
that they too would leave Star Valley and join their family and friends
who had gone on to Idaho. They took Grandma Radford to where the
other families had gone (where Ririe, Idaho is now located) and made
preparations to move immediately.
The family arrived in Idaho on October 3, 1891 and found a small
house where they could live. It had been used as a storage shed and
had to be cleaned and have windows installed, but they thought it
would do for the winter. The boys made a dugout to sleep in and the
rest of the family lived in one tiny room. Leah Ellen was so sick
all winter that she couldn't even feed herself. Her young teen-age
girls had to care for her and take care of the needs of the family
as best they could.
Joseph obtained work at a saw mill about five miles away. He walked
to and from the mill each day before and after work. One day the
following spring, he became ill and after five weeks, he passed away,
leaving his wife a widow, a stranger in a strange new country, just
three weeks from delivering her eleventh child. The only possessions
the family had were what they had brought in the two wagons.
The child, Mary Josephine, was delivered on July 6, 1892. When she
was two weeks old, a neighbor (Dolph Heath) came and told Leah that
he could put her onto some land on which a man had filed and never
lived. This kind man even loaned Leah the money to get the land.
The day her child was one month old, she was camped on the bank of
the river along the way to Blackfoot to the land office to file on
Another young man, who was homesteading and making his way in this
new area, also stepped forward and helped her, offering aid and counsel
to her sons as they cleared the land and began farming. Later this
man, David Ririe, married Leah Ann, one of the daughters.
Leah Ellen's daughter said of her:
"She was a wonderful mother.
A number of times she didn't have anything in the house to live
on but she
would never let her wants
be known. Once she went out and prayed to the Lord that He would
open up the way for her to get some salt and some soap. As she went
out that evening after the cows, away out in the sage brush, she
picked up a new silver dollar. She said it wasn't even covered with
dust as if it has been left there for her benefit.
"Mother worked very hard
and did all that a woman could do toward making a livelihood for
In the early days in Utah,
Father used to raise sheep and sheared them. Mother would card the
wool and knit our stockings. Until I was grown I never knew what
it was to have a pair of stockings that Mother hadn't made. She made
her own soap and the lights we burned were candles she had made from
Two years after her husband died, Leah Ellen's five-year-old daughter,
Ada, was drowned in the big canal that ran by their home. Her mother
saw her fall in and tried desperately to pull her out but the current
was too swift. Just three months later, her seven-year-old daughter,
Sylvia, died of diphtheria. A few weeks later her mother passed away.
Leah Ellen wondered if she had the strength to endure.
But endure she did, keeping her faith, and
her great love for her family and for the Lord. This stalwart pioneer
of both Utah and Idaho,
aided and counseled her sons so that each indeed "got their
start" in the Idaho area. Each of the sons became a hard-working
farmer, owning his land and supporting his family from that farm.
Leah Ellen died 3 February 1923, just a few weeks short of her seventieth
birthday. She left a wonderful posterity. The church was filled to
overflowing at the funeral service. The services were simple but
impressive as they paid homage to a brave and valiant soul who was
in all respects a noble pioneer woman.
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