Sunday, November 11, 2007

Sidney Tanner Biography

b. 1 April 1809 Greenwich, Washington, New York
m. 1 December 1846 near Florence, Nebraska
d. 5 December 1895 Beaver, Beaver, Utah
Wives: (1) Louisa Conlee, (2) Julia Ann Shepherd, (3) Rachel Neyman, (4) Mary Nickerson
Father: John Tanner; Mother: Lydia Stewart

The material this week is excerpted from Elizabeth DeBrouwer and George S. Tanner's book Sidney Tanner: His Ancestors and Descendants. I also found a good long history of the Tanner family online (click on the link).

A nice portrait of Sidney painted from his photo by Elizabeth DeBrouwer and available in the collections of the San Bernardino Public Library. There is also another picture there which may or may not be Sidney. I've looked at it carefully and can't decide any more than they can.

Little has come down to us of the early years of Sidney Tanner. He was born in Greenwich, New York, a village approximately forty miles southeast of Bolton Landing, the well-known home of the Tanners. His birth date is April 1, 1809 and his p
arents were John and Lydia Stewart Tanner. When the Tanner family moved to Lake George in 1818, Sidney was a boy of nine.

[Sidney had a half brother who was eight years older as well as two older brother and an older sister.
His mother would eventually have eight more children.]

When John moved his large and growing family to the Lake George region, they settled in a wooded area north of Northwest Bay. Whether John acquired all his land at one time is not known, but eventually he owned 2,200 acres of timberland and two large farms.

To speak of John Tanner as a farmer needs some explanation, as the modest fortune he accumulated in a short while came mostly from the forest. We have no detailed information of his lumber operations, but we do know it was quite extensive and that he prospered from it.

...[T]he Tanner family would have been nearly independent for its food and clothing. This combination of a cash income from the sale of lumber products coupled with their own farm products which supplied the needs of the family soon raised them to a position of comparative wealth.

The improved financial condition of the family led to the desire for a larger and better home, and in 1823 John purchased or built the lovely home which is pictured in most publications about the Tanner family.

Sidney, who was nine years of age when the family moved to Northwest Bay in 1818, was fourteen when the home in Bolton Landing was acquired in 1823. In 1830, he would marry a girl from Greenwich which indicated that they were keeping up a correspondence with the home folks in Greenwich. Even after marriage, Sidney as well as other Tanner men would remain a member of the close-knit John Tanner family. A little glimpse into that family is given us by Nathan, a younger brother, in a speech he gave at a Tanner reunion in Payson in 1884.

"We were a hardy family and used to hardships. Our father commenced poor, after settling the affairs of a widowed family. He commenced poor and by hard work and economy accumulated around him the comforts of life. "He had a delightful home on the west side of Lake George. Here he carried on farming extensively; stockraising and dairying on different farms; lumbering in all its branches, as he owned sawmills and planing mills and owned some 2,200 acres of land with homes and barns to accomodate a number of families. He also kept a hotel of some considerable note. "In those days, women turned the wheel by hand or foot that spun our yarn and made our cloth. In this, we were not behind. We were a hardworking and hard-handed family. None of our means was willed to us but earned by hard work and economy."

Sidney chose for his wife Louisa Conlee, daughter of James and Elsie or Alcy (Cole) Conlee. We know very little about Louisa Conlee except a few statistics. She was born 5 February 1811, making her two years younger than Sidney. [They had eight children, the] three youngest of which died in the migration to the West, and she herself lost her life at the Missouri River.

When the Mormon elders, Simeon and Jared Carter, brought the gospel to the Tanner family in the fall of 1832 Sidney and Louisa joined the church along with other Tanner members. This was against the wishes of Louisa’s family in Greenwich, as we learned in a letter written to them by Sidney at the time of Louisa’s death. Louisa and Sidne
y seem to have been happy members of the large John Tanner family. They joined them in the movement of the family from Lake George to Kirtland, Ohio at Christmastime in 1834. The money John Tanner gave to the distressed church in Kirtland and loaned to the prophet and the building committee was money earned by the hardy Tanner family at Lake George. Sidney, John Joshua and Nathan have never been given credit for any of it, but they and the women who ran the spinning wheels and the looms were part owners of the gifts made by the generous John Tanner.

Sidney was present during the building of the Kirtland Temple and was one of those who “partook of the pentecostal outpourings” at the temple. He left with his family for Missouri earlier than John and his younger family in order to assist in building up Far West. Sidney and Nathan were in the Battle of Crooked River with David W. Patten, and he went through the persecutions of Missouri and was driven from that state into Illinois and spent a year at New Liberty. When the Tanners moved to the Nauvoo area, he joined with his father and his brother John Joshua in acquiring a large tract of land near Montrose, Iowa and began raising crops to assist the impoverished saints and to recoup their fortunes. In the six years they were there, they prospered and became “well fixed” again.

Sidney may have performed his greatest service to the church during the trouble in Missouri, the sojourn in Montrose and the trip to Utah. He has been described by one writer as a man “of marvelous constitutional powers.” He needed it during these trying years. He was thirty-one years of age when he came to Montrose and thirty-seven when they left for the West. These were times which tried men’s souls, and the Tanner men were brought up for just such times. They knew horses, mules and oxen and they knew how to keep a wagon and harness in repair. The six-year period of peace at Montrose permitted the whole family—John, Sidney, John Joshua and Nathan—to recover from the severe losses they had sustained in Ohio in rescuing the church from its involvement with the temple and the Kirtland bank. Consequently, when the church members began crossing the Mississippi River in early 1846 to the Iowa side, they found the Tanner larders filled and their hands extended....[Many details given.]

The Tanners were among the last to leave the Mississippi River, as so many needed help and they had so much to give. When they did leave, they had the best teams and the best “outfits.” Sidney is mentioned repeatedly as not being with his outfit, as he is out rescuing someone who is stuck in the mud or who has lost an ox or mule or who is without food.

Because of the compassionate service of John Tanner, Sidney Tanner and John Joshua Tanner, they were designated “bishops” by Brigham Young who had said that, if a man is willing that his property should be disposed of in any way the Lord directed, the Lord was willing he should be a bishop.

The pioneers arrived on the Missouri River too late to plant crops in 1846. But they remained there all of 1847. This was an immensely busy year and good crops of corn and garden truck were produced. When the main body of Saints left Winter Quarters in the spring of 1848 for the Salt Lake Valley, they were better equipped, provisioned and disciplined than they had been two years earlier; and the trip across the plains was less uneventful than the shorter trip across Iowa had been.

The loss of human life from the Mississippi to the Missouri was sobering and even on the plains this was to continue. To add to Sidney’s grief of the loss of two infants in Iowa, he mourned the death of his wife Louisa at Winter Quarters on the Missouri and later of his son Sidney C. in 1848 on the trip to Utah....

Sidney’s name appears more often in the journals and records during the two-year stay at Winter Quarters. “John Tanner, though still not old by present-day standards, is growing weary with he burdens of the outdoor life and is not well.” Sidney, the oldest son, moved in to fill the gap. Sidney is listed as the head of this or that group and in particular he managed the cattle of the camps.

Sidney’s second marriage took place near Florence (Winter Quarters), Nebraska. On December 1, 1846, he married Julia Ann Shepherd, daughter of Samuel and Roxey L. Shepherd. She was
born March 24, 1829 and was twenty years younger than Sidney—moreover she had not yet reached her seventeenth birthday. The marriage turned out well in spite of the difference in their ages and the youthfulness of the bride. Sidney and Julia Ann became the parents of eight children, seven of whom grew to adulthood.

Most of the Tanner family reached the Salt Lake Valley in the autumn of 1848, including Sidney and his family. At the time of their arrival, besides Sidney, who was thirty-nine, and Julia Ann, who was nineteen, there were six children: Allen Benedict, aged seventeen; Lydia, sixteen; Emma, fourteen; Mary Louise, eleven; Elsie Elizabeth, eight; and Julia Ann, one.

Amasa Lyman and his party were assigned a square mile of land between the Cottonwood Creeks, which in present numbering is about [600 South and 1300 East], extending out toward the mountain to the east. It was rocky and sterile and hardly suitable for farming.

After two years in this location, permission came to Amasa Lyman and Charles C. Rich to lead a colony to a suitable location in California. Three of John’s sons, Albert, Myron and Seth, were already in California; and Sidney with his large family gladly joined the Lyman family and moved to California. By this date, 1851, Sidney’s oldest children were grown; Allen Benedict was twenty and Lydia was married. Sidney’s family was growing up.

Sidney was in the San Bernardino settlement between six and seven years. It was a busy time; because of Indian uneasiness, it was decided to build a fort. Sidney, against his own inclination, left his home and farm, which was some miles away, and united with the Saints in building the fort. When the uneasiness died down, he moved back to his large farm. Like his father before him, he liked lots of elbow room. But, since Sidney Tanner spent most of his time freighting, it would be interesting to know how he managed to run a farm. His son Allen Benedict was the only boy in the family old enough to have done farming, and he married the year they moved to San Bernardino.

Most of the stories about Sidney have to do with his freighting. He, with William Mathews, was on a freighting trip near the Mountain Meadows when the very regrettable massacre took place. Participants in the massacre halted their freight wagons, and they were not permitted to pass the scene in the daylight but were routed away from the scene by night. They carried the frightful news to San Bernardino.

Sidney seems to have been in charge of the large party which moved Apostles Lyman and Rich back to Utah at the time of their recall by Brigham Young. And it was Sidney Tanner who freighted the first pipe organ to Utah which had been donated to the Saints by the church members in Australia.

Sidney was one of the prominent men in the San Bernardino mission and he was usually a member of the County Commissioners and Stake High Council where he lived. But the freighting kept him away from home so much, he would hardly have been an ideal choice for a bishop or stake president.

When the call came from church leaders to vacate San Bernardino, Sidney Tanner dutifully gave up his holdings and returned to Utah, settling in Beaver. No doubt he, along with most of the settlers, did so reluctantly. ...

Beaver was a newly formed community, suitable for grazing, with timber potential. Sidney acquired a considerable acreage ... But his heart was in freighting and his lifestyle seems not to have changed much. His growing boys would have plenty of room for a variety of experiences on the farm, such as milking and caring for dairy cows, growing alfalfa and grain, as well as garden truck, and caring for sheep and hogs.

...Henry M. Tanner, the author’s father, seems never to have commented about his life on the Beaver farm, probably because he was never asked. We wait until those who have the information have passed on and then wish we had inquired more about them. My father did mention a trip he took with his father to California. The thing which impressed him most was a new way of starting a fire. One of the freighters took out his jackknife and shaved some kindling from a dry piece of wood he was carrying for the purpose, then reached into his pocket and pulled out a little box and drew out a match. This was the first match he had ever seen. The Tanners were using the flint and steel with the tinderbox to start their fires. This would have been sometime in the early or middle sixties.

Sidney took a third wife in Beaver in 1859. Her name was Rachel Neyman, daughter of William and Jane Neyman; Sidney was fifty and Rachel twenty-six. Rachel had been married previously. There were six children born to Sidney and Rachel, only two of whom grew to maturity and married.…

Sidney Tanner lived out the rest of his life in Beaver. He was a substantial citizen with financial holdings above average. He had interests in woolen mills, sawmills and cattle herds in addition to his farms. He was a counselor in the Ward Bishopric and later a member of the Stake High Council. In 1884, at a Tanner family gathering in Payson, he was called to be a patriarch to the Tanner family and the people of the Beaver area. He was seventy-five at the time and the apostle promised him he would have an additional ten years of life. He died in 1895 at the age of eighty-six and is buried in Beaver.

Sidney was the father of twenty-two, fourteen sons and eight daughters. Fourteen grew to maturity and married.…their descendants [were] estimated at about five thousand [in 1982].

Elizabeth DeBrouwer with George S. Tanner.
Sidney Tanner: His Ancestors and Descendants. Salt Lake City, Utah: The Sidney Tanner Family Organization, 1982.
The photos are of Lake George, a wagon, San Bernardino in 1852, and the Beaver Courthouse. They were found on wikipedia and are all available for public use.


  1. I don't list all of Sidney and Julia's children in their posts, and the story misses some of them. They were: (1) Julia Ann, 1848; (2) Albert Miles, 1850; (3) Henry Martin, 1852; (4) Naomi Ruth, 1854; (5) Samuel A., 1857; (6) Shepherd Leroy, 1859; (7) Rollin Ray, 1861; (8) Walter Wate, 1863.

  2. Thank you for this. Sidney is my third great-grandfather, and I come down through Henry Martin and then Ida Tanner. My next blog post (working on it now) mentions Sidney, but more in a humorous way as a recall a bad travel mishap in Beaver, Utah.

  3. Thanks for commenting, U.W. It's about time that Sidney got more attention; he has been overshadowed by his more famous father, but he has quite a story of his own. Please do leave a link to your post when it's up.