Thomas Edwin Ricks is my great-great grandfather. He also lived a pretty exciting and impressive life. My grandma, Georgianna Ricks, was one of his 231 grandchildren. I'm sure that got your attention. Yes, he was a polygamist like many of my Mormon ancestors which I can't be too upset about because Georgianna's father, Alfred Ricks, was the second son of his fifth wife and thus I am.
Thomas was the oldest child of Joel Ricks and Eleanor Martin and was born on July 21, 1828 in Trigg County (now Christian) Kentucky. When two years of age, his family moved to Madison County, Illinois. Traveling Mormon elders taught the family about the Mormon faith and Thomas was baptized a member on February 14, 1845. His family sold their farm in Madison County and moved to Nauvoo, Illinois in September 1845 where they purchased a home near the temple then under construction and a farm outside of town. Thomas was ordained an Elder in October 1845 at the age of 17. He worked on the Nauvoo Temple from the time he arrived until work was stopped and preparations commenced to move west. He crossed the Mississippi River heading west on February 8, 1846 with the Charles C. Rich family and acted as their teamster as far as Council Bluffs where he reunited with his family until April 28, 1848. At that time he continued westward in the Heber C. Kimball company.
When the company neared the Elkhorn River, Indians stole four of their oxen and Thomas along with three other young men were sent in pursuit. They came upon the Indians about six miles from camp. The Indians immediately commenced firing and three balls entered the body of Thomas which he carried until his death. Thinking he was dead, they left him lying on the ground and went for help. On return, he was found to be alive and was carefully taken back to camp. He was bedridden for months.
Years later speaking at a family reunion he told of a spiritual experience he had while laying in his own blood on the ground;
"While I lay there weltering in blood, I thought of the condition of my father and family and how badly they needed my assistance in crossing the plains and making a home in a new land and wondered if I was going to die. While thus engaged in thought, I heard a voice say audibly and clearly, 'You will not die; you will go to the valley of the mountains and there you will do a great work in your day and generation."
Thomas indeed went on to do many good works. He went on exploring expeditions, returned many times to help others across the plains, helped in the rescue of the Willie and Martin handcart companies, served two missions, contracted to help build the railroad north through Idaho and Montana, served in church leadership positions and community leadership positions, settled the Snake River Valley in Idaho, and founded an educational academy eventually named Ricks College and now BYU Idaho.
Picture cropped from Missionary Chart
Missionary Chart of those serving in the British Isles October 1885
Thomas Edwin Ricks is in the top left hand corner
This was his second mission, his first being to
Ohio, Kentucky, and Illinois in 1869
My grandmother, Georgianna, was born in Salem, Idaho in 1904 so never met her grandfather in this life as he passed away in 1901 in Rexburg, Idaho.
It was said of him;
"Bold, intrepid, daring, fertile in plans and resources, with magnificent physical proportions and forceful magnetism which compelled the willing cooperation of others, he stands one of the notable figures of the pioneer days, being ever at the front whenever danger presented itself in the shape of wily foemen, ready to face death to protect his people from hostile attacks or the perils of starvation, when battling with the forces of nature on the bleak plains of the western wilds." -Thomas E. Bassett
A more courageous man never lived, for fear to him was unknown. While at times he appeared a little rough and stern in his manner, beneath that sternness there always beat a kindly and forgiving heart. It is a cherished memory in his family that the morning he was stricken with his last fatal illness, his team of beautiful black horses stood ready at the gate to take him to Marysville to a conference, and he would not hear to having them taken back to the barn until afternoon when paralysis set in. He lingered for a time and passed away on September 28, 1901.
Ricks Academy in 1910
Thomas Ricks Company 1866
Now a bit of information about my great, great grandmother, Ellen Maria Yallop. She first met Thomas when he looked like the picture at the beginning of this post. He had been sent back to Nebraska to bring a company of wagons to the Salt Lake Valley in 1866. He had a picture taken of himself in Nebraska. It is the earliest known photograph of Thomas and he is 37 years old. At this point in his life, he has married four women who live with their children in the Cache Valley in northern Utah.
Ellen Maria Yallop had emigrated from England and is heading west in the Thomas Ricks Company. She was the youngest of 14 children, six who reached adulthood, born to Ephraim Yallop and Mary Ann West on April 8, 1848 in Great Yarmouth, England. Her mother died at 45 years of age and shortly after the birth of Ellen. Six years after the death of her mother, her fathered married a widow who had three daughters who were displeased with their mother and the marriage and hated Ellen and her father. Ellen's life became one of misery. Twice a year a woman would be hired to come into the home for a general wash day. One day Ellen overheard the hired woman sing a few lines of the hymn, "We Thank Thee Oh God for a Prophet." She was a cheerful woman who loved to sing as she worked. These lines in the song touched Ellen's heart:
"When dark clouds of trouble hang o'er us and threaten our peace to destroy, there is hope smiling brightly before us, and we know that deliverance is nigh."
The words greatly impressed Ellen and she repeated them over and over. She was about 17 years old at the time. The woman approached Ellen about her religion but her "new" sisters highly objected and decided to hire someone else but being unable to find anyone sent for her again. This time she directed Ellen to a place of meeting and Ellen was baptized some days later. Her step mother considered this a disgrace and told her husband to choose between her and Ellen. Ellen left and found employment in Hull where she worked for one year to earn the funds to pay for emigration. Just prior to her leaving England, her stepmother had a change of heart and invited her to return home where she liberally fitted Ellen out for her journey. For this Ellen was thankful and she stressed that her father was always kind and good to her.
She left England at 19 years of age on the ship "John Bright" in the company of other Mormon girls and was at sea for six weeks. She then went by train to Nebraska where she joined the Ricks Company. She met Thomas Edwin Ricks on this journey and she would sometimes tease the dignified and rather stern Captain by taking off on his favorite riding horse causing him to follow. They arrived in the Salt Lake Valley on September 4, 1866 and were married on November 29, 1866.
She joined him in the Cache Valley where she had nine children, four boys and five girls. She left Cache Valley with Thomas in October 1884 to help settle the Snake River Valley. Her last child was born in Rexburg. It was said of her:
"She had been given the advantages of education that those days afforded and was given training in industry and careful management of the home, characteristics which remained with her and which she taught to her family, as she was always known as the wonderful homemaker and manager."
In 1891 she was made president of the YLMIA of the Bannock Stake which comprised Bingham, Pocatello, Bannock, Fremont, Rigby, Yellowstone, and Teton Stakes, which were all organized out of the Bannock Stake. For several years she presided over this organization in a very large territory. Ways of travel were very difficult, sometimes they traveled in wagons and sometimes in buggies. She would leave her home for two to three weeks at a time for the benefit of the young women in this scattered land leaving a gentle peace loving influence.
After the death of her husband she moved to Salem, Idaho to live for three years with her son, Alfred. Alfred then built a large home for his family in Sugar City where she lived for nearly 20 years. During those years she worked on her family history and had temple work performed for nearly one thousand people. She considered that her greatest source of joy. She enjoyed good health until being confined to bed the last week of her life. She passed away peacefully on a Saturday morning on July 19, 1924. She was 76 years of age.