Anson Call: Man of Action


This pioneer’s story represents the experiences of thousands of early Latter-day Saints who helped the Church take root in the American West.

On a summer day in 1842, Anson Call and about 50 brethren accompanied the Prophet Joseph Smith from Nauvoo, Illinois, to Montrose, Iowa, across the Mississippi River. At one point, the Prophet spoke of Anson’s future in the Church, indicating that Anson would go to the West and assist in building cities from one end of the area to the other. The Prophet said that Anson and others would perform a great work in the West, adding that before that day came they would pass through scenes little understood by them. 1

These prophetic words, spoken on the threshold of the tribulations that would occur in Illinois and only a few years after the persecutions in Kirtland and Missouri, pointed toward a brighter future for Anson Call and for all faithful believers. Nevertheless they acknowledged that suffering still lay ahead.

Anson Call’s journal bears testimony to the truthfulness of the Prophet’s words that day. Indeed he helped settle several areas in what is now central and southern Utah and Nevada. But as the Prophet said, Anson and other Latter-day Saints also passed through scenes little understood by them. For Anson, who had already passed through a number of trials as a Church member, these scenes included the Martyrdom of the Prophet and the deaths of two children on the trek west to the Salt Lake Valley.

From Vermont to Ohio to Kirtland

Anson was born on 13 May 1810 in Fletcher, Franklin County, Vermont, to Cyril and Sally Tiffany Call. Cyril Call had been born in Windsor County about 15 miles from the Prophet Joseph Smith’s birthplace. Cyril took his family to Madison, Ohio, where they joined with the Methodists. By the time Anson was in his early 20s he had become dissatisfied with all denominations, and he considered the preaching of Latter-day Saint missionaries an annoyance. His father, however, believed the missionaries and was baptized.

The missionaries returned often to Madison to preach the gospel, and they frequently stopped at Anson’s house to talk to him. Among those who stopped were missionaries Brigham Young, John P. Greene, and Almon Babbitt. Anson wrote of their visits in his record: “In discussing with them upon the principles of the gospel … I came to the conclusion … I did not understand the Bible and the Book of Mormon. I resolved to prepare myself … by investigating the two books.” 2

So Anson engaged in a thorough study of the Book of Mormon, comparing it with the Bible to better prove to the missionaries that the Church was wrong. After six months of diligent praying and searching, he finished the two books. He found, however, that the more he had studied, the more he became convinced that the missionaries were right. Instead of disproving the Book of Mormon, Anson became a firm believer in it. He wrote: “I was then taught by the Spirit to obey the principles of the gospel.” 3

During his conversion, Anson struggled intensely over what it would be like to be classified as a “Mormon.” He thought at times that he would become “insane” with the inner wrestling of his soul. “My feelings were not known by any but my wife,” he wrote. “I was proud and haughty, and to obey the gospel was worse than death. … To be called a Mormon, I thought, was more than I could endure. … I at last covenanted before the Lord that if He would give me confidence to face the world in Mormonism I would be baptized.” 4

After Anson covenanted with the Lord, his mind was cleared, and the fears of what his friends would say if he joined the Church left him. The next day, he went to a Methodist meeting and “declared unto them the truth of Mormonism.” 5 He soon traveled to Kirtland, Ohio, where he was baptized on 21 May 1836, at the age of 26, by William Smith, the Prophet Joseph’s brother. He was confirmed in the Kirtland Temple by David Whitmer. Upon his return to Madison, Anson was desirous to teach the gospel to his family and his Methodist friends. Before long, a branch of 20 members was established in Madison. Later in 1836, Anson sold part of his farm, and the family moved to Kirtland.

Persecution in Missouri

In 1838 Anson and his family moved to Three Forks of the Grand River near Far West, Missouri. On one occasion not long after this, the Prophet Joseph visited Anson and some other brethren in Three Forks, telling them that there would be difficulties in the days ahead and that they should leave and go to Far West or Adam-ondi-Ahman.

The next day the brethren of Three Forks counseled together and decided that Anson should make a trip through Ray, Daviess, and Caldwell Counties to see if any trouble was brewing. When he returned and reported no apparent sign of trouble, they decided they had sufficient time before they left not only to secure the crops but also to go on a bee hunt. Arriving home after seven days with wagonloads of honey, they found all quiet and decided to go out again to gather more honey. Upon their return, they decided to take their families to Adam-ondi-Ahman, about 30 miles away. However, the weather turned stormy, and when they returned home, they found that mobbers had been put into position to prevent the Latter-day Saints from going to and from Far West and Adam-ondi-Ahman.

Intent on getting to Adam-ondi-Ahman, Anson Call’s family and some others slipped past the mobbers under cover of night. They arrived safely in Adam-ondi-Ahman, and eventually Anson and his family made their way to Far West, despite the terribly cold weather. Anson’s children nearly died because of the extreme cold. His three-year-old son, Moroni, lost part of his fingernails when his fingers froze.

Lacking sufficient means to remove his family from the state, Anson decided to return to Three Forks to reclaim some property, though Joseph Smith Sr. and Brigham Young advised him against it. When Anson arrived in Three Forks, he discovered that a man by the name of George Washington O’Neil had taken possession of his farm and property.

Anson went to Mrs. Day, a neighbor, who told him that O’Neil and a man named Culp said they would shoot Anson if they ever saw him again. While Anson was conversing with Mrs. Day, O’Neil and Culp showed up and said they supposed Anson had come to get his property but that there was none for him. Seeing that it was useless to retrieve his property, Anson left the house and walked toward his horse. O’Neil and Culp followed him, and O’Neil picked up the end of a hoop pole from pieces of a barrel lying nearby and struck Anson on the head.

Anson wrote of the event: “He [O’Neil] repeated the blows, and my having on my head a thick woolen cloth cap saved my skull. Mrs. Day threw the door open. … I started for the door. He then hit me in the face and repeated the blows two or three times before I reached it. … I clenched the door post, when he gave me a blow over the eye, the scar of which I carry to this day.” 6

Once Anson got inside the house, Mrs. Day shut the door and, seeing the men run past the window, said they had gone to get their guns. Anson opened the door, quickly mounted his horse, and escaped.

Describing what happened upon his return to Far West, he wrote: “I … made up my mind that I would not let anybody know what had happened to me from the fact that Father Smith and Brigham had told me not to go. … In the morning I sprung out of bed, and I instantly found myself lying on the floor. … I then returned to bed and found myself under the necessity of telling [my wife] what had happened but sought to keep it from my family. Father Smith soon found it out and came to see me, telling me it would do me good but he was glad they didn’t kill me.” 7

This beating was only one of several that Anson suffered at the hands of mobbers in Missouri.

Gathering to Illinois

Anson and his family eventually managed to leave Missouri in February 1839 and made their way to Illinois to gather with the Saints. After living for a time near Warsaw and then in Ramus, in the spring of 1842 the family moved to Nauvoo. In September of that year Anson was called on a mission to Ohio. He and his companion, Benjamin F. Cummings, traveled on foot, preaching through Illinois and Indiana and baptizing 40 persons. He returned to Nauvoo in the spring of 1843 and found his family very poor but healthy. He planted a small crop of corn and built a brick home on Young Street about a quarter mile east of the Nauvoo Temple. He spent a portion of his time quarrying stone for the temple. Life became quite pleasant. Nauvoo was flourishing, and work on the temple progressed rapidly.

Anson spent the winter in Nauvoo and preached in the surrounding area. When mob dissension grew, the Prophet Joseph Smith and Hyrum, his brother, were martyred on 27 June 1844 in nearby Carthage, Illinois. The last time Anson saw the Prophet alive was when the latter rode up to tell the Nauvoo Legion good-bye. Anson wrote of the event: “He [Joseph] turned himself upon the saddle, waved his hand, and said, ‘… Be faithful and true, and you shall have your reward. Farewell!’ He then started for Carthage. I little thought it was the last time I should see him alive.” 8

The bodies of Joseph and Hyrum were brought back from Carthage and placed at the Mansion House in Nauvoo. Much distraught, Anson took his family to view the bodies. He recorded: “Sleep and the desire of food had left my body. I shall not attempt to describe my feelings. What was to be done I knew not. I cried mightily unto the Lord that I might know what to do.” 9

After the Martyrdom, the mob burned many homes of the Saints, including those of Anson’s father, his brother Harvey, and his brother-in-law Chester Loveland. All stayed temporarily with Anson’s family in Nauvoo.

Trekking to the Salt Lake Valley

In late 1845 the Saints and those opposing them worked out a compromise in which the Saints agreed to leave Illinois in the coming spring. With only about six months to prepare, they organized themselves into wagon companies. Anson was appointed superintendent of the Shumway Company, a group formed to construct wagons for the upcoming migration.

Amidst this preparation to leave, the Saints increased their efforts to finish the Nauvoo Temple. From December 1845 to February 1846, nearly 6,000 Latter-day Saints received their temple ordinances before leaving Nauvoo. Anson received his on 10 December 1845. His wife, Mary Flint, having just delivered a baby, was not able to go to the temple with him. However, in February, though still weak, Mary was able to receive her endowment. Anson wrote: “She was not able to stand upon her feet and was carried from one department to another in my arms.” 10

Anson sold his farm for $240, although he said it was worth $800. On 15 May 1846, Anson and his family left Nauvoo and headed west. After one month on the trail, Mary and Anson were heartsick when they found their youngest son, six-month-old Hyrum, dead in his bed. The cause of death was unknown. They buried him at Cedar Creek near Wesley Cain’s sawmill and wrote his name on the side of a nearby oak tree. The family continued on their way grief stricken. A month later, on 7 July 1846, they crossed the Missouri River, and on 9 July their six-year-old son, Moroni, died. Anson and his father peeled off the bark of a hickory tree and made a coffin for the boy.

Upon arriving in the area of Winter Quarters, Anson engaged in various activities in the surrounding region over the next two years, including farming, hauling hay, and coal mining.

In the late spring of 1848, Anson and his family left Winter Quarters as part of the group of over 2,000 Saints who made the journey west with the newly sustained First Presidency (Brigham Young, Heber C. Kimball, and Willard Richards). In September 1848, the family arrived in the Salt Lake Valley. After staying for three days “with many of the brethren in the big camp near the adobe yard,” 11 Anson moved his family 10 miles north of the city and rigged up a home in the shape of an Indian wickiup.

His struggles to coax crops out of the desert land were the same as others’. He wrote of the onslaught of crickets in 1849: “They [the crickets] damaged my corn continually and probably would have used up every vestige of grain that there was growing in the valley had not the gulls assisted us. They came when nearly every ray of hope was gone. They would eat until they filled their craw and throw them up and fill it again. Thus they labored almost incessantly from day to day. Men, women, and children were [also] industrious. Many suffered much from the want of food till harvest, but by roots and vegetation that was [known to] the Indians we were sustained.” 12

“Building Cities”

In October 1850 Anson was called to go on a mission to help build a settlement in Parowan Valley, about 230 miles south of Salt Lake City. After helping with various labors there, including the building of a fort, he returned north in the spring of 1851 to gather families willing to settle in Parowan. He completed this task that same spring.

Anson’s next calling was to help colonize newly designated Millard County, of which he was appointed probate judge. In the fall of 1851 he led a company of settlers from Salt Lake City to the new county. There he found President Brigham Young and several others, who had arrived earlier to lay out the city of Fillmore. Anson and others set to work building a corral, a schoolhouse, a fort, and a sawmill. Besides being appointed to preside, Anson was elected Millard County’s representative to the territorial legislature. He was also instrumental in keeping peace with the Indians, who came to him to help them solve their problems with the settlers because they knew him to be an honest man.

When Anson’s Millard County mission was fulfilled in 1854, he returned to his farm north of Salt Lake City in Davis County and planted 50 acres. Anson’s ability as a settler was now well established, and President Brigham Young called upon him again and again. Among the settlements he helped establish was Call’s Fort (modern-day Harper) in Box Elder County, Utah, the settlement’s original name coming from the fort Anson built there in 1855.

Anson’s activities were not limited to colonizing. Particularly noteworthy was his participation in the rescue of the Martin and Willie handcart pioneers in 1856.

In 1864 Anson was called to go south beyond St. George and help establish a settlement on the Colorado River. Both Call’s Landing and its accompanying town of Callville, laid out “on the banks of the Colorado in a nook in the mountains in the shape of a horseshoe,” 13 were named after Anson Call. (Located about 30 miles east of Las Vegas, the site is now covered by Lake Mead.) Anson and his party laid out another town near the Virgin River and named it St. Thomas.

In 1872 Anson left for another mission, this time to the Holy Land with Elders George A. Smith and Lorenzo Snow. However, Anson was sick most of the way, so he stopped in Liverpool, went on to London to conduct a conference, and then returned to Utah.

Throughout his life, Anson continued loyal to the Church and played an important role in the settlement of Utah. He served as a bishop, stake president, judge, and representative in the territorial legislature. On 31 August 1890 he died at his home in Bountiful, Utah, at the age of 80. As the Prophet Joseph Smith had prophesied, Anson had assisted in building cities from one end of the area to the other and, in company with many other Latter-day Saints, performed as great a work as has ever been done by man. 14

Like the Pioneers, We Have Demanding Challenges

Elder M. Russell Ballard

“Although our journeys today are less demanding physically than the trek of our pioneers 150 years ago, they are no less challenging. Certainly it was hard to walk across a continent to establish a new home in a dry western desert. But who can say if that was any more difficult than is the task of living faithful, righteous lives in today’s confusingly sinful world. … But our reward will be the same as that which awaits worthy pioneers of all ages who live faithfully the teachings of the Lord Jesus Christ, make right choices, and give their all to build the kingdom of God on earth.” Elder M. Russell Ballard of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, “You Have Nothing to Fear from the Journey,” Ensign, May 1997, 61.

[illustrations] Illustrated by Michael Malm

Thaya Eggleston Gilmore, a third great-granddaughter of Anson Call, is a member of the Savannah Third Ward, Savannah Georgia Stake.

Show References

    Notes

  1.   1.

    See The Journal of Anson Call (1986), 22. In quotations from this source, spelling, capitalization, and punctuation have been standardized. See also History of the Church, 5:85–86.

  2.   2.

    Journal, 6.

  3.   3.

    Journal, 6.

  4.   4.

    Journal, 6–7.

  5.   5.

    Journal, 7.

  6.   6.

    Journal, 17–18.

  7.   7.

    Journal, 18.

  8.   8.

    Journal, 28.

  9.   9.

    Journal, 29.

  10.   10.

    Journal, 35.

  11.   11.

    Journal, 39.

  12.   12.

    Journal, 40.

  13.   13.

    Journal, 92.

  14.   14.

    See Journal, 22.