Henry Harrison Harriman and Sarah Elizabeth Hobbs

Hole-in-the-rock expedition, David E. Miller, 1973, pp. 186-191, in: Monument Valley (Arizona, Utah and New Mexico), James, H. L.; [ed.], New Mexico Geological Society 24th Annual Fall Field Conference Guidebook, 232 p.

Biography of George Brigham Hobbs

Hole-in-the-Rock, By LaRene Porter Gaunt

Blog: Thomas Levi and Mary Amelia Fulmer Whittle
Blog: Savoring Fruit From the Family Tree

Source:  Hole in the Rock Foundation

Henry Harrison Harriman

Born: 4 March 1849 in Salt Lake City, Utah, USA
Parents: Henry Harriman, Sr. and Eliza Jones
Married: Sarah Elizabeth Hobbs September 23, 1871, at St. George, Utah, USA
Died: June 14, 1908 at Canyon Creek, Idaho, USA

Sarah Elizabeth Hobbs

Born: 5 February 1853 in Hersham, Surrey, England
Parents: William D. Hobbs and Mary Ann Pope
Died: August 5, 1925 at Canyon Creek, Idaho, USA


Early Life:

Henry was the son of Henry Harriman Sr. who was one of the original seven presidents of the Seventy in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. His mother was Eliza Jones Harriman.

Sarah Elizabeth Hobbs was a daughter of William D. Hobbs, and Mary Ann Pope. The Hobbs family was English converts to the Church, who immigrated to Utah when Sara was 9[some accounts say 11] years old. After a long voyage across the Atlantic, the family traveled in part of a freight wagon to Omaha. From there they bought a covered wagon and shared it with another family to continue their move to Salt Lake City.

Elizabeth walked nearly all the way from Omaha to Salt Lake City, and often carried another woman’s baby. Elizabeth’s younger brother, George, followed along. Elizabeth had no idea this little guy would eventually grow up to be a heaven-sent asset to her, during one of her most difficult trials at Fort Montezuma. Elizabeth and Henry were married on September 23, 1871, at St. George, Utah and made their home in Parowan, Utah.

The Scouting Expedition:

The Harriman family received a mission call from John Taylor in 1879 to settle the San Juan area of southeastern Utah. Responding to the call and under the direction of Apostle Erastus Snow, twenty-seven men, two women, and eight children set out on the very first journey to the San Juan mission. There was much prayer and careful consideration associated with the choosing of the two families who would be the first permanent settlers. This call would be very dangerous, and stalwart saints who were willing to sacrifice were sought.

The mission call was extended to Henry Harrison Harriman and wife, Elizabeth Hobbs, along with their children, Henry George, age 6, Mary Clarissa, 5, John Alma, 3, and Lizzie Constance, 3 months. Henry was 30 and Elizabeth was 26.


There were 12 wagons, 10 freight wagons and 2 light duty wagons to accommodate the women and children. Four-horse teams drew the freight wagons. The light duty wagons were drawn by two-horse teams and were equipped with spring seats, set up high to reduce the shock and put the women drivers above the worst of the dust. Elizabeth had her 3-month-old baby, Lizzie, who probably rode on the seat next to her mother much of the way.

Leaving Parowan on April 13, 1879, they made their way past Panguitch, and followed the Sevier River to an area near Kanab, then on to Johnson, and on to Navajo Wells. At one extremely steep place in the Buckskin Mountains, the men had to chisel holes in the sandstone surface, to enable the horses to get a footing. It required four teams of horses to pull a single wagon to the summit. The men then unhooked the teams and tied ropes to the wagons and gradually lowered them off the steep mountainside.

Painting by Lynn Griffin. By unanimous consent the honor of taking the first wagon down the large cavity was given to Ben Perkins. Being a blaster and not a teamster he asked Kumen Jones to drive the wagon. Two blind horses were selected that would not hesitate going down the steep grade. 
The photo shows the wagon road which was blasted to descend off Gray Mesa to the Colorado River.

They camped at Horse Rock Springs, and then Jacob’s Pools, and went through Badger Creek to Lee’s Ferry. Lee’s Backbone was nearly impossible, and the two women almost turned their wagons over. They continued on through Navajo Springs to Bitter Springs, then through Limestone Tanks to Willow Springs, through Moabey Wash and finally to the Hopi Indian village of Moenkopi, where a few missionaries were located. They had traveled approximately 275 miles in 3 weeks. George Hobbs said a fourth of the cattle had died of thirst and the remaining animals had sore hooves.

After a 9 day rest, it was decided the time was right to complete the final leg of the journey. This would mean traveling approximately 150 miles across unknown Ute and Navajo Indian territory without a road or trail. Mary Davis was too ill to travel, so the Davis family decided to remain with the missionaries at Moenkopi until the site for the new settlement was determined. Most of the cattle remained at Moenkopi to give their hooves some time to heal.

The missionaries didn’t think it was safe to take Elizabeth Harriman and her children across such dangerous Indian territory, but Elizabeth was willing to go. She was already acquainted with adversity and danger, and she had faith the Lord would protect her family. Leaving Moenkopi on May 13, the group, then consisting of perhaps 21 men, a woman, and 4 children, began their journey with 9 or 10 wagons and some of the extra horses.

They had to force their way through dense greasewood, which was 8 feet high, and then out on the deserts of Arizona. The Indians they dealt with came in two types, friendly and unfriendly. However, under the leadership of Silas S. Smith, the scouts won some Indian friends along the way by digging wells as they camped and leaving for the natives. Shortage of water was a major difficulty for both the scouts and the Indians. In the weeks that followed, the group suffered from thirst and other hardships. They were surrounded by Indians much of the time, who followed them and often were fed by the scouts. One horse belonging to Silas S. Smith became injured so badly it had to be killed. Some natives immediately butchered it and had a feast. The scouts encountered both Navajo and Ute Indians along the way. According to the writings of Kumen Jones, they arrived at the San Juan River on June 1, 1879.

Spring runoff was in progress, which means the river would have been around 4 feet deep, with holes much deeper. The scouts raised the wagon boxes as high as they could on the frames, and pulled them across one at a time with a 4-horse team.

Each horse carried a rider, who held a knife in his hand. He was to cut the horse loose from its harness if it began to drown. The women and children were taken across in a canoe. The current would have been too swift for a person to wade across.

Captain Silas Smith and the members of his scouting party had reached the area Church leaders had asked them to settle. They began searching up and down the river for a suitable place to begin a new settlement when they discovered they were not the first to arrive. Peter Shirts had arrived earlier in 1877. Peter lived alone at this location, probably on the only high spot in the area. Some of the Parowan men remembered Mr. Shirts from earlier years as a veteran frontiersman. He joined the church in 1833 and helped build the Nauvoo temple. He was not called by the Church to settle here but he is believed to be the earliest known white settler in San Juan Territory. About 9 miles east, at the mouth of McElmo Creek, another 3 or 4 families had also settled, including Henry Mitchell. There were at least 23 family members, plus some hired hands.

President Smith and the scouts felt a need to make friends with the Mitchell family. They camped at the mouth of McElmo Creek and after spending weeks helping the Mitchell family and establishing a fragile friendship with them, the scouts mapped all the farmable areas between McElmo Creek and Butler Wash.

Life at Fort Montezuma:

On June 18, five men were assigned to return to Moenkopi for the Davis family, and to bring the cattle they had left behind. Three days into their trip from Moenkopi to Montezuma they encounter an unfriendly Indian, Peokan. [Over several days of their trip the party was very concerned about the possibilities of a gunfight with the band Indians. However, a friendly Indian guided them ahead of Peokan and his band, as they hurried to avoid any conflict.] The When the Davis family arrived at Fort Montezuma, Mary was very discouraged. While her health had improved on the trip she still had to face delivering a child in that hot dusty fort, and without trained assistance. Elizabeth Harriman was a great support to Mary, but the fort was nothing a woman would brag about.

The scouts were anxious to go home. Some of them were disgruntled about the location and had no plan to return. President Smith was worried about Mary’s dilemma and felt he could not leave until her situation was resolved. President Smith told the scouts to start home by a new route, north up through Recapture Canyon and finally to make camp near Blue Mountain and wait for him there. George Hobbs and Harvey Dunton remained at the fort with President Smith.

Mary started into labor around the 1st of August. Clara Mitchell was hired to act as midwife. Things were not going well, and continued into the early morning hours. Clara came out of the room exhausted and said she didn’t think Mary would live. President Smith went in with Mary and gave her a blessing at 2:30 a.m. on August 2, and the child was born immediately.

On August 13, President Smith and George Hobbs bade farewell to the Davis and Harriman families, and said they would return in October, with the main party of settlers, and bring food. After arriving home they made their report. Both the south and the north routes to Montezuma were deemed not acceptable for the main party [the south route because of lack of water and feed for the animals, and the unfriendly Indians–the north route because of the excessive distance] The leaders opted to attempt a shortcut almost directly from Parowan to Montezuma. They didn’t know this decision would take the main party of pioneers across an area which would eventually be known as the Hole-in-the-Rock trail. The route was nearly impossible and would result in an extra five months of travel with unbelievable hardships.

Meanwhile, at Fort Montezuma, the small group was obliged to face their next crisis. On September 30, some of the Southern Utes Indians led by a Paiute named Douglass went on the warpath. They killed Nathan Meeker and all 10 of his men employees at the White River Agency, as well as Major Thornburgh and a good number of cavalry men who were on their way to protect Nathan Meeker. They burned the buildings at White River agency, took all the women and children captive and fled into northern Utah territory.

According to the James Davis biography, a band of the Ute Indians fled the scene of the massacre and headed toward Fort Montezuma. A friendly Navajo rode to alert the Montezuma settlers. The Davis and Harriman families held a quick council meeting and then told their Navajo friend the Lord had sent them to Montezuma, and it was not their intention to run.

The fort was not secure. One end of the Harriman side of the fort was missing, having been removed in preparation to build a rock wall and fireplace. The rocks were piled up ready to be laid, so James began building a rock wall with great haste. By dusk, James had the bricks up to the roofline. Both families took refuge in the Harriman room. The children were bedded down and the women sat at the foot of their beds on the dirt floor and prayed, while the men kept a constant vigil. There would be no sleep for any of them. Elizabeth tried to extract a promise from the men that they would shoot her themselves, rather than allow her to be captured alive. Later, the next day they discovered the large band of killers had crossed the river and turned south only one mile before reaching the fort. The settler’s prayers had been answered. The Indians would have heard the dogs and been aware of the settler’s presence, but they made the choice not to molest them. (It should be noted that no evidence has been found that the Weeminuche band of Ute Indians, which the Montezuma settlers would deal with had any involvement in the Meeker Massacre.)

Communication was slow and unreliable in 1879. By the time the news of the Meeker massacre reached Erastus Snow in Salt Lake City, the Fort Montezuma families were included. Church leaders were told the bodies of the Harriman and Davis families lay in the sun. The fates of the 9 little children were unknown. Erastus Snow sent a message to Thales Haskell, asking him to go to Fort Montezuma and give the settlers a decent burial if he found them dead and to stay with them if he found them alive. It was almost 5 months from the time of the massacre until Haskell arrived at the fort. It probably took another 2 months or more to send work back to Salt Lake that the report had been false.

According to historian Albert R. Lyman, the Mormons were totally at the mercy of the Indians, who, with their great numbers, could have easily exterminated the settlers any time they wished. Trouble erupted in 1881, with the Utes Indians making war against the white intruders. A good number of both non-Mormon cowboys and Indians were killed that year. It became the task of the Fort Montezuma pioneers to fill their prime directive in this difficult environment; to befriend the Indians, a task, which Mormons believe, could not have been accomplished without the help of God.

The Harriman and Davis families reached out with love, and some of the Navajos responded well. And were friendly with the settlers. It soon became apparent there was no immediate need to stay close to the fort. There was very little real danger to the women and children from the Navajo people; they became close friends with many of them.

No one wanted to spend the coming winter in the crowded fort. It served for a temporary shelter, but building better cabins became a high priority. The Harriman family selected some farmland, and built their cabin about one mile east of the fort. According to Albert R. Lyman, Harriman’s built their cabin on a flat rock. We believe it was located approximately 200 yards east of the present LDS Church building. However, the river has altered the area so much during the past 126 years making it impossible to locate the exact location.

It is difficult to imagine what the Harriman and Davis families experienced that year. The main party was overdue, and weeks turned into months. The food was gone, and they began eating their seed wheat. The families lived one-half mile apart, so they saw each other only occasionally. Let’s consider the situation at Fort Montezuma. Two men with their wives, 9 children, and Harvey Dunton, were trying to survive in that remote wilderness. Winter was approaching, and the food was gone. They expected the main party of settlers to arrive any day. They had no way of knowing the main party would be delayed at the Hole-in-the-Rock and would be 5 months late. The Montezuma settlers were in a precarious situation, to say the least.

Four men were sent from the Hole-in-the-Rock party to scout a new route all the way to Fort Montezuma. George Hobbs, Lemuel Redd, George Sevy, and George Morrell were chosen. Their trip is a story of its own. Suffice it to say, they risked their lives for 8 days, getting lost, and running out of food days before arriving at Montezuma.

They arrived at the Fort on December 29, and found the Davis and Harriman families living on their seed wheat, which they ground in a coffee grinder and boiled in water. There was no food for Hobbs and his companions on their return trip. It rained for 2 days while they famished at the fort. Evidently Peter Shirts returned to Montezuma at this time with a few bags of flour. Hobbs and his friends happened to see Mr. Shirts, and after some persuasion, they were able to secure forty pounds of flour from him for $20. This was all the money they had among the four of them.

Harvey Dunton decided to return with George Hobbs and the others, perhaps to go to the aid of his son, James C. Dunton who was at the Hole-in-the-Rock with his wife Eliza Ann, and their 2 small children. Before leaving, he cleaned out his wagon box and found a small amount of frozen wheat in a bag, which he gave to Mary Davis. Mary later reported the miracle of the wheat, which multiplied and could not be depleted. Miracles like this are recorded in scripture and the miracle also occurred at Fort Montezuma.

Meanwhile, at Montezuma, having been apprised of the predicament of the main party at the Hole-in-the-Rock, the Harriman and Davis families were aware that no food or supplies would arrive anytime soon. A gloomy feeling of urgency settled over them. It was during heavy winter weather in January that Henry stayed to protect the women and children, while James took a pack horse on a 200 mile round trip to the Mancos Valley, in hopes of buying food. When James arrived at Mancos Valley, he found about twelve families, who were nearly destitute themselves. He paid $66.00 for six bushels of frostbitten wheat, which was hardly edible. He hauled it to Montezuma, and shared in with the Harriman family.

The Navajo people were living next to starvation also. Elizabeth Harriman told of some Navajo men entering her cabin, asking for food. She had nothing to give them, but they began looking around and found some alfalfa seed. They tried to eat it, but spit it out vigorously. As they were leaving, Elizabeth tried to make them understand she had no food for her own family. The next day one of the Navajo men returned and presented Elizabeth with a half a lamb, all dressed and ready to cook.

By the end of January, both families were living on the pulp (bran) from their seed wheat, and digging roots of all kinds. Toward the end of February they were weak and emaciated. George Hobbs and his associates had promised they would return with food in no more than 60 days. Could they last 60 days? A letter from Lizzie Decker to her parents reported Hobbs leaving with 3 mule loads of flour from Escalante, destined to be delivered to his sister Elizabeth Harriman. George Hobbs reported in his history, that he delivered the flour on February 23rd, but he states it was 2 mules that completed the journey.

The settlers in the main party were so spent and worn out they were unable to continue to the designated location. They stopped moving on April 6, 1880, only 15 miles short of Fort Montezuma. While the main party was almost out of food they sent a portion to the Montezuma settlers. It is not surprising that this food delivery was also made by George Hobbs. It was a meager delivery, but an immense improvement over the diet at Montezuma. The agonizing winter of 1879-80, with its near starvation conditions, finally came to an end. There had been no recorded deaths at Montezuma. In fact no deaths occurred at Montezuma during the entire year of 1880. With spring planting time at hand, everyone found new hope, and the whole valley, from McElmo down to Butler Wash, was a scene of industry.

Life was very hard. Food was scarce and it was difficult to raise crops in the desert climate. Sometimes there were problems with the Indians, usually solved when Elizabeth shared some of their scanty food supply. Once she sewed a pair of chaps for an Indian chief with a fringe of dimes that overlapped down the sides.

On February 5, 1881, Elizabeth Harriman delivered a child in her cabin and named him William Harrison Harriman. He was the 3rd child born in Montezuma. Less than 60 days later their happiness was marred by tragedy. Lizzie Harriman became ill, and died on March 27, 1881. The agony and heartbreak of losing Lizzie cannot be fully understood by anyone but Henry and Elizabeth . They did not know the cause of her death, possibly measles or a snake bite. Family tradition indicates Lizzie liked snakes and had no fear of them.

Measles was a serious disease during pioneer times, and epidemics were common. One occurred in 1883 at Bluff and Montezuma. The Harriman family had to face a second agonizing death in their family. 6-year-old John Alma became ill with the measles. Everything Henry and Elizabeth could do for him was not enough. He died on March 7, 1883, and was laid to rest on the hill next to his little sister, Lizzie.

We have to admire Henry and Elizabeth for their faithfulness. They sacrificed much for the mission to which they had been called. It is said of them that they never lost the faith nor complained about their adversity. Perhaps they gained comfort through knowing they would have those children for eternity, because they were born in the covenant, and they had died before the age of accountability.

Finally the San Juan River, the “Old Devil Ditch” overflowed its banks and tore out their home, fruit trees and farm in a huge flood. Ron McDonald, author of “Fort Montezuma 1879-1884” wrote, “They were successful at filling the mission. They tested the soil and environment; made friends with the Indians and helped establish the Church in this new frontier. The Harriman family stayed at their post longer than any other Montezuma settler, remaining there for an uninterrupted five years and three months.” They were released from this difficult mission and left Fort Montezuma in September of 1884, to move to Huntington, Utah.

The gravesite was probably the last stopping place for the Harriman family before leaving Montezuma. We have no knowledge of who placed the headstones or when they were placed. They said their close Indian friends assured them the plot would be watched and protected. Perhaps that promise has been kept, because after many years, the burial spot is intact.

Elizabeth gave birth to nine children. The last four were born at Huntington—Alice Ann, Franklin, Cornelia, and Zuma Elizabeth. While living there, Elizabeth took a nursing course from Dr. Ellis Shipp of Salt Lake City. Elizabeth had considerable nursing and midwife experience, even prior to this. She shared her skills generously. Then, in 1894 or 1895, they set out for Idaho and lived near Idaho Falls.

In 1902, the family moved to Rigby, Idaho; in 1906, they filed on a homestead at Canyon Creek, Idaho. Henry built a one room cabin at the site. Not long after, Henry was hauling a load of timber, when a large log fell and threw him against a steel tire of the wagon, which resulted in a brain concussion. He suffered terribly for two weeks, and died on June 14, 1908, at age 59.

With the help of some of her children, a home was built for Elizabeth. She died at Canyon Creek on August 5, 1925. They were honorable pioneers.

– Sources:
Debra Nelson Holm summary from family documents, “Fort Montezuma 1879-1884” and “Pioneer Women of Faith and Fortitude” (published by Daughters of the Utah Pioneers) Excerpts from “Fort Montezuma 1879-1884,” by Ron McDonald.

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