Sketch of Harriet Amelia Decker, 4 Jul 2006

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Life Sketch of Harriet Amelia Decker
By Mary Ann Canfield


My name is Harriet Amelia Decker Little Hanks. I was born on March 13, 1826 in Phelps, New York. I was the third of six children born to Harriet Page Wheeler and Isaac Decker. I enjoyed many adventures as my family moved from place to place while I was young.

When I was nine years old my family lived in Portage, Ohio. It was here that we were introduced to the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and were baptized. My family became close friends with the Prophet Joseph Smith, Brigham Young, and his brother Lorenzo Dow Young. We traveled with the Saints to Missouri and then to Illinois. I experienced first hand the horror of the mobs that persecuted the members of the Church.

When I was just 16 and living in Winchester, Illinois, I met Brigham’s nephew, Edwin Sobieski Little. We fell in love and were married on March 22, 1842. Our son, George Edwin, was born two years later on August 6, 1844 in Nauvoo, Illinois.

In February 1846, Edwin, 18 months old George, and I joined the saints as they left Nauvoo for the west. One day while helping uncle Brigham’s family carriage across the Mississippi River, the ice broke through and threw Edwin into the icy water. He gained shore in safety but was chilled and wet. He took a violent cold that settled in his lungs and died six weeks later of pneumonia.

I was then 20 years old—a widow—a mother of a young baby boy—left to get along the best I could. There were many who cared for me, but I was now alone and conditions were horrible. Little George and I spent the winter and following year in Council Bluffs now called Omaha. In April of 1847, the original company led by uncle Brigham left for the valley. George and I waited to leave with the second company on June 13th. Our company captain (Jedediah Grant) assigned me the honorable position of driving an ox team—my wagon was loaded with mill irons that were put into the first mill erected in Utah.

George and I slept on those irons for 5 months. I drove my oxen through the day, milked 5 cows at night and morning, and baked the bread for fifteen persons eleven of them men. I did everything that came to me to do, except yoke my oxen. My captain of ten asked me to do this, but I drew the line at this request. In comparing me to the yoke, I won. I could not lift it—my weight at that time was 80 pounds. But with all our hardships we were blessed with good health and looked on the cheerful side and the months passed away and we were nearing the valley as it was called.

We arrived in the Salt Lake valley in October of 1847. George was now 3 years old. I helped other women with their cooking and did sewing to make a living. Ten days after arriving in the valley, I was helping prepare dinner at the home of Captain Rosencrantz for some of the Mormon Battalion. Among the guests was a young man by the name of Ephraim Knowlton Hanks. We were taken with each other and after nearly a year of courtship, we were married on September 27, 1848 by Brigham Young.

Eph was very good to George and treated him like his natural son. After we were married, Eph and I added seven more children to our family.

Ephraim Marcellus Hanks(“cells”)
Marcia Amelia Hanks
Otis Alvarus Hanks - died at 13 months (Oct 13, 1854)
Harriet Page Wheeler Hanks (“Hattie”)
Clara Vilate Hanks
Charles Decker Hanks (“Charlie”)
Perry Isaac Hanks

We also raised an Indian boy by the name of Yodes.

In 1856, just after Hattie was born, Eph embraced polygamy. He married Jane Maria Capener and Hannah Hardy. However, Hannah only stayed with our family for two months. Six years later, Eph took Thisbe Quilley Read as his fourth wife in plural marriage. It was a very difficult job, but Ephraim Knowlton Hanks did his best to take good care of all of us.

A few years after, times began to change. It became harder and harder to live the life of polygamy. In 1873 we decided as a family that Eph began living with Thisbe full time and I took on the responsibility of caring for our children alone. It wasn’t easy but I was blessed with wonderful children who greatly blessed my life.

Finally, on May 31, 1917, at the ripe old age of 91, I left this life to join my Savior and loved ones on the other side. At the time, I left behind me 40 grandchildren, 120 great-grandchildren and 25 great-great grandchildren. What a grand life I had - all from my simple beginning in Phelps, New York on March 13, 1826.

(Marcia, Clara and Charles were still living at the time of her death.)

  • Presentation given to the descendants of the Ephraim Knowlton Hanks at the 150th anniversary of the rescue of the Martin & Willie Handcart Companies. 4 July 2006

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