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Orson Pratt Brown's Relations through Cecelia Cornue Robellez Brown
Mormon Battalion Company A

section header - biography

James Ferguson

Born: February 23, 1828 at Belfast, Antrim, Ireland
Died: August 30, 1863 at Salt Lake City, Salt Lake, Utah

U.S. Mormon Battalion Mexican War 1846-1848

Sgt. Major James Ferguson, Captain Jefferson Hunt of Company A, Sgt. Nathaniel Vary Jones Company A

Legendary Sheriff Carved Early Utah Saga
1850: First Sheriff Cut A Wide Swath

By Will Bagley

Date: 05/08/2000 Salt Lake Tribune Edition: Final Section: Utah Page: B1

As the Salt Lake County Sheriff's Department quietly celebrates its 150th year, and the state begins its observance of law week today, a recent discovery by a California document collector has shed new light on the life of Utah's first sheriff.

Sheriff James Ferguson's exploits have always been short on documentation but long on notoriety, from hunting for mountain man Jim Bridger to almost igniting a war between frontier Utah and the federal government. Yet the brilliant career of this colorful soldier, actor, missionary, newspaperman and attorney was cut short before he reached middle age.

A cache of unpublished letters written in Ferguson's own hand reveals how close Territorial Utah came to war in 1857. Federal troops were poised to put down a perceived rebellion, and Mormon scouts had "orders to fire upon them if they come this side of Bridger," Ferguson wrote while serving as a militia general in Echo Canyon near Coalville. "In that case war has commenced."

Born in Belfast, Ireland, in 1828, Ferguson was always fiercely proud of his Irish heritage. [His parents are Francis "Frank" Ferguson and Mary Patrick Ferguson, both of Belfast, Antrim, Ireland.] At age 12 he began working as a clerk in Liverpool. Here one of the charismatic missionaries known as the "Young Lions of Mormonism" baptized him in 1842. He escorted Apostle Wilford Woodruff's family to Illinois in 1846 and joined the Mormon emigration to the West.

With the outbreak of war with Mexico, the young emigrant enlisted in the Mormon Battalion. Apostle Willard Richards appointed Ferguson "the Historian of this Campaign." The 18-year-old served as sergeant major, the outfit's highest-ranking enlisted man, through most of the battalion's 2,000-mile march to Southern California. Many of James letters are printed in "A Concise History of the Mormon Battalion in the Mexican War" by Sergeant Daniel Tyler. [While enlisted in San Franciso, James married Lucy Nutting (1825-1895), she had arrived on the Brooklyn, on March 12, 1848 ceremony was performed by Addison Pratt.].

After his discharge, Ferguson hit pay dirt in the first days of the California gold rush. On reaching Salt Lake in October 1848, he deposited $640.06 in the Brigham Young gold accounts, probably as tithing. Early records are murky, but the legislature of the State of Deseret officially created Utah's first six counties in January 1850, when Brigham Young himself probably appointed Ferguson as the first sheriff of Great Salt Lake County.

In his first recorded case, Sheriff Ferguson seized a Ute named Patsovett in April 1850 and executed him the same day for murdering a man named Baker.

As commander of the Fort Bridger & Greenriver Expedition, in August 1853 Ferguson led a 150-man posse to hunt down Jim Bridger, who stood accused of arming Indians and encouraging them to attack Mormon settlements. Bridger escaped, but the Saints seized "Old Gabe's" property and fort. Ferguson's posse destroyed Bridger's stock of rum "by doses." Wild Bill Hickman, who called himself "Brigham's Destroying Angel," recalled that the men "worked so hard day and night that they were exhausted not being able to stand up."

The young Army veteran was commissioned as Lt. Ferguson at the creation of Utah's territorial militia, the Nauvoo Legion. With Lot Smith and other stalwarts, he rode in the decisive cavalry charge at the Legion's first major Indian battle at Fort Utah (present-day Provo). According to Mormon historian and apostle Orson Whitney, Ferguson commanded the Life Guards, hand-picked men who served as Brigham Young's personal bodyguard, "especially through the Indian country."

While sheriff, Ferguson read the law, later serving as territorial attorney general. He also became one of Great Salt Lake City's foremost actors, appearing in 1853 as Hamlet, and remained Utah's favorite leading man almost until his death.

On his mission to Britain in 1854 for the Mormon Church, Ferguson served as pastor of Ireland. Here he may have met his third wife Margaretta Julia Gretrit. On his return helped organize the handcart emigration of 1856. On reaching home, he was named adjutant general of the Nauvoo Legion. Perhaps craving action, he led a mob that dumped the law library of federal judge George P. Stiles into an outhouse and burned it, helping to ignite the Utah War that brought one-quarter of the U.S. Army to enforce federal authority in the "State of Deseret."

Although a prolific writer, practically none of Ferguson's literary work survives, including his graphic account of the Mormon Battalion. Late last year, however, Western Americana collector Tom Schleve of Camarillo, Calif., purchased a cache of papers once owned by Ferguson's second wife, Jane Robinson (md. 1885).

Schleve initially intended to buy only one letter, but when he arrived to make the purchase, the owner had arrayed a sizeable pile of old documents on a table.

"I couldn't believe what I was seeing," Shelve says. "I got excited and bought the whole lot."

The collection of 46 letters and early Utah documents was reportedly discovered hidden in a dresser once owned by Ferguson's granddaughter, a minor Hollywood starlet (possibly referring to Margaret Keith).

The Ferguson papers include letters written from Nauvoo, Ft. Leavenworth and Echo Canyon during Utah's confrontation with the American army. They reveal a man totally devoted to his several wives [Lucy Nutting, Jane Robinson, Margaretta Julia Gretrit, and Phyllis Hardie] and what he saw as his "duty as a man of God."

The letters also show that hostility toward federal authority in Utah is not a new phenomenon. "The Government seem determined to use us up, but God won't let them," Ferguson wrote in 1857. "We intend none of them shall enter the City, though to prevent it, we have to slay them." Early in 1858 Gen. Ferguson outlined an aggressive plan for a spring campaign in a report to Gov. Brigham Young.

After the Utah War, Ferguson returned to his law practice and acting career. He first had to fend off charges he had intimidated Judge Stiles after burning the judge's papers in 1856. The court compelled Brigham Young to testify, and historian Norman Furniss noted that he appeared with seven apostles "clustered around him, their pistols and knives ready for service" and the additional support of 300 well-armed spectators. Ultimately, a Mormon jury found Ferguson not guilty.

In 1859 James Ferguson and his law partners launched The Mountaineer, a newspaper created to counter the blasts of Utah's first non-Mormon periodical, The Valley Tan. (Decorum prevented the Deseret News, the LDS Church's official newspaper, from joining the fray.) The venture failed after two years due to a shortage of newsprint.

An increasingly debilitating drinking problem haunted this rising star. Wilford Woodruff wrote in 1859 that the general "came near dying drinking poisioned [sic] whiskey." By August 1863 the apostle found the brilliant and talented Ferguson "near his End with hard drinking." Following his funeral, fellow members of the Utah Territorial Bar expressed their sorrow that his "devotion to the inebriating cup brought him to a premature grave."

Sergt. Major James Ferguson 1828-1863


"Gen. James Ferguson, a well known citizen, departed this life, at his residence in this city, at a quarter to one o'clock on the morning of the 30th ult., Sunday last, an event which his friends had expected for months would occur at no distant day, as his health had been decling rapidly during the last few years and all efforts made to stay the tide of death had proved unavailing. He was in the 36th year of his age, having been born on the 23d of February, 1828, in Belfast, Ireland. Of the early history of the deceased, we have but little knowledge, having first become acquainted with him in this city in the fall of 1851. We have been inormed that he emigrated to the United States when he was but a youth, and came to Nauvoo before the exodus of the saints from Illinois in the spring of 1846. When the call was made for five hundred men from among the outcasts as they were encamped on the banks of the Missouri, without the confines of civilization, in July following, to serve their country - the rulers of which had permitted them to be driven from their inheritance or were accessory thereto --in the war with Mexico, he was one of the volunteers and served in the "Mormon Battalion" as Sergeant Major, and shared in the toils, privations, and sufferings of the long, tedious and weary march of the Battalion from Western Iowa via Leavenworth, Santa Fe, over the mountains and deserts of New Mexico and Lower California to the Pacific.

After his term of service expired and the Battalion disbanded, he came to Salt Lake Valley, where many of those he had left in the wilderness on the banks of the Missouri river, had come and formed a settlement. He soon acquired a reputation which but few could emulate, as a young man of promise, endowed with gifts which if rightly imporved, could not fail to make him a useful, respected and honored member of society. From the time of the organization of the provisional government of the State of Deseret, on the 18th of March 1849, till within the last six months, he held successively many responsible offices, both in the gift of the people and of the Legislature, among which the office of Sheriff of Great Salt Lake County; Attorney General for the Territory; Adjutant General, and member of the Legislative Council, were not of minor importance. As an attorney and counsellor at law he was prominent and in the profession could easily have shone as a star of the first magnitude.

His last appearance in Court was on the 13th of August when he assisted in the defence of Dives, who was on trial for larceny. He was quite indisposed on that day and on the adjournment of the Court he retired to his room where he remained till death terminated his earthly existence.

Of the unwise course pursued by the deceased during the last three or four years of his life, which resulted in an untimely death, we do not wish to refer particularly. We however, deplore such occurences, and would that in such cases otherwise good men, might successfully resist the power of an enemy which has ruined and slain its tens of thousands.

The funeral ceremonies were performed on Monday forenoon commencing at 10 o'clock. A large concourse of friends and citizens were in attendance and followed the remains of the departed to their resting place in the city cemetery. The procession was preceded by Capt. Thomas's Brass Band, who, on short notice assembled for that purpose, as from some cause a Band which was expected was not in attendance.

In consequence of the early hour in the day at which the funeral was held and other inhibitory circumstances, the members of the Bar could not conveniently pay that respect to the deceased appropriate on such occasions. A meeting, however, was held that evening at which the following proceedings were had and resolutions passed.

At a meeting of the members of the Bar, held this evening, August 31st, to perform a last dut to one of their members.

Wm. L. Appleby, Esql, was called to the chair and Aurelius Miner, Esq. chosen Secretary.

The chairman stated the object of the meeting, briefly alluding to the time honored custom among the legal profession, of meeting and adopting resolutions appropriate to the occasion, when one of their associates was called to another sphere of existence; and be then appointed a committee to draft resolutions expressive of the sentiments and feelings of the gentlemen present. In half an hour the committee came in and presented the following:

Whereas it has pleased Divine Providence to remove from our midst by death, a friend and brother attorney in the person of James Ferguson, and

Whereas, circumstances existed which inhibited us as members of the Bar from paying appropriate honors to the dead,

Therefore, Be it resolved that while we acknowledge the hand of God in this bereavement, we do sincerely regret the loss of one of our number, who was a bright, rising star, ambitious in his profession, ever courteous to his brothers, equalled by few and surpassed by none in eloquence, beauty and style of address.

Resolved, That while we admire his talents as a lawyer, his refined social qualities as a gentleman, and his sterling worth as a citizen, deserving emulation, we sincerely regret that during the last few years of is life, his devotion to the inebriating cup brought him to a premature grave.

Resolved, That we condole with the family of our departed brother, at their loss and misfortune.

Resolved, That a copy these resolutions be forwarded to the Editor of the Deseret News, with a request for their publication in his next issue."

The foregoing resolutions were unanimously adopted, after which the meeting dissolved.

W. I. Appleby, Chairman
Aurelius Minor, Secretary

--As in The Deseret News on Wednesday September 2, 1863; Elias Smith, Editor & Publisher.

At his death [30 Aug 1863], General James Ferguson was 35 years old.

On June 1894 Ferguson's daughter through (2) Jane Robinson (1830-1893), Mary Ferguson (1854-1919), married David Keith (1847-1918) as his second wife. Keith is the Park City, Utah mining millionaire from Nova Scotia.

Mary Ferguson Keith 1854-1919
Mary Ferguson Keith 1854-1919


PAF - Archer files = Captain James Brown + (8) Cecelia Henrietta Cornue > James Fredrick Brown + Esther Amelia Marriott > Mary Edna Brown + Harold Tranter Allen < Thomas Lonsdale Allen + Alice Jane Tranter > Albert C. Allen + Lillian Keith < David Keith + (1)Henrietta McLeod; adopted by (2)Mary Ferguson < Gen. James Ferguson + (2) Jane Robinson.

"The Mormon Battalion - U.S. Army of the West 1846-1848" by Norma Baldwin Ricketts. 1996.

History of the Mormon Battalion by James Ferguson, Official Mormon Battalion Historian, Sergeant Major of Company A.; written at the time of service. Prepared for publication 1900. (This work may be lost).

"A Concise History of the Mormon Battalion in the Mexican War" by Sergeant Daniel Tyler, 1881. Including pages 168, 172, 364-368, 369, 370. Letters signed Gen. James Ferguson.

http://historytogo.utah.gov/hmsaga.html -Date: 05/08/2000 :
Salt Lake Tribune Edition: Final Section: Utah Page: B1. Utah historian Will Bagley recently completed editing Army of Israel: Mormon Battalion Narratives with David L. Bigler, and A Bright, Rising Star, a Life Sketch of James Ferguson. See at: History Matters, The Salt Lake Tribune, http://www.sltrib.com, Legendary Sheriff Carved Early Utah Saga, Saga: First Sheriff Cut A Wide Swath

Ibid, page 441. James Ferguson's picture appeared on 15 June 1897, The Juvenile Instructor, page 365, in Scipio A. Kenner's rambling "The Pioneers and Others: What They Did and How They Did It." The article made no mention of Ferguson's role as historian of the battalion, but the 1 November 1897 installment mentioned Tyler's "well-written" and "interesting" book on page 650.

Information in [brackets], bold, pictures, added by Lucy Brown Archer

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... Easter 1986 through October 2005


... Published December 2007:
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... Published March 2009:
(unfortunately the publisher incorrectly changed the photo
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... Published 2012:
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Includes O.P Brown's activities as Special Church Agent in El Paso
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...Published 2012:
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... Lily Gonzalez Brown 80th Birthday Party-Reunion
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...... Wives and 35 Children Photo Chart
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...... Biographical Sketch of the Life Orson Pratt Brown
...... History of Orson Pratt Brown by Orson P. Brown
...... Journal & Reminiscences of Capt. Orson P. Brown
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(Martha Stephens) William Brown 1836-1904

(Martha Stephens) Benjamin Franklin Brown 1838-1863

(Martha Stephens) Moroni Brown 1838-1916

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- (Eliza) James Niels Skousen 1828-1912

- (Angela) Maria Durán de Holguin 1876-1955

- (Angela) José Tomás Gabaldón 1874-1915












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