Monday, August 1, 2011

A Biography of Eliza Ellen Parkinson Tanner by Loy Despain

Many thanks to Loy Despain who sent this lovely history of Eliza Ellen Parkinson Tanner. He also sent a better copy of the picture of Emma Stapley Tanner, and I have added it to the index for the Tanner Family.

Henry and Eliza Tanner.

Loy Despain

Eliza Parkinson Tanner was born 8 September 1857 in San Bernardino, California to Thomas Parkinson and Mary Ann Bryant. She married Henry M. Tanner on January 25, 1887 in the St. George Temple. He was 24 and she was 19.

A month following their marriage they responded to a call to help settle the Little Colorado Colonies in Northern Arizona. On May first they arrived at Allen’s Camp which is now known as Joseph City, Arizona. They only stayed in Allen’s Camp a few days before leaving to travel with John Hunt and family to one of the New Mexico settlements. Three days on the dry, dusty road following the Rio Puerco wash towards New Mexico persuaded them to return Allen’s Camp and cast their lot with the saints in that location. During those trying periods of conquering a resistant land, bonds of friendship were forged that lasted a lifetime. Ida Hunt Udall was with her father John Hunt during the travels from Utah to Arizona and into New Mexico. She and Eliza became good friends as she reports one of her trips from Utah back to Eastern Arizona. She stated that she stopped to visit with her good friends, Eliza and Henry Tanner in the little town that is now known as Joseph City.

What a contrast this country was to the beautiful area they had left in Utah with plentiful water, inexhaustible timber and lush pastures. The contrast brought tears to Eliza, who, Henry said, cried most of the first year. The following is quoted from the book Unflinching Courage by Adele B. Westover and J. Morris Richards and paints a picture of the work of the early pioneer woman.
The frugal housewife learned that she must lay in store not for the winter only but for years ahead. When a good year came she canned maybe for two, three, or five years, as it might be years before another crop. Eliza Tanner was one of the best managers in the colony. Her shelves were always well stocked with canned fruit if any had been available. Applesauce, currants, occasionally peaches and pears in neat rows of quart and half gallon jars lined her shelves by the hundreds. 

In the old cellar, made by digging a square hole in the hard earth about fifteen by twenty feet and perhaps eight feet deep and covered with a log roof which in turn was covered with earth, Eliza kept many other necessary items of food. There was the big sorghum or molasses barrel. This was a forty or fifty gallon wooden barrel which had been filled in the autumn and by use of a large plank had been rolled into the cellar. This weighed five or six hundred pounds. There were many times when this was the only sweetening in the house. 

Also in the cellar was a large open barrel of brine with chunks of fat salt pork floating in it and being held under the brine by a large smooth cobblestone or, in some cases, by a piece of petrified wood from the nearby hills. Hogs were killed in the early winter and most of the lean meat used up in a month or two. The meat often became over-salty and sometimes rusty but it served to furnish bacon of a sort the year around which was used with hot cakes, eggs and for the making of gravy, a breakfast dish prepared every day of the year, minus the twelve fast Sundays.
The little flock of chickens was one of the most important things kept by this housewife. They produced the eggs, the Sunday chicken and noodles, and also all her pin money. 

The small home dairy with one or more cows supplied milk and cream for the families and butter for the thrifty housewife who saw to it that some of the cream was skimmed off and put into the cream jar to be converted into butter with the old hand churn. 
When Eliza showed her fruit cellar to visitors she would say with pride, “These currants are seven years old,” for she felt they improved with age.

The Joseph City saints depended on the Little Colorado River for water for both home and agriculture use. Because of the unruly nature of the river the settlers had to rebuild or build a new dam nine times. This required much labor and precious treasure during times in which the settlers had little to spare.

Eliza watched the birth and growth of Joseph City and wrote in her Autobiographical Statement, “We have had a good deal of experience since we came here and have had many trials and hardships such as building dams and seeing floods wash them away only to have to build them again, but at last succeeded in building a high dry dam which has stood the test since 1893, since which time things have gone along better and all have been more satisfied with their lot and begun to prosper in the land.”

Joseph City water was known for its bad taste. Some said that the water had so much salt in it that there was no need to add water for making bread. Thomas Tanner, a son of Eliza and Henry moved to Snowflake when he married and needled his folks by bringing a keg of Snowflake water when he came for a visit. Eliza returned the compliment by taking some Joseph City water with her when she went to Snowflake, explaining that their water needed a little more salt to make it taste right.

The Joseph City saints lived the United Order during the early years of the settlement. Eliza’s name appeared on the Article of Association on the Allen’s Branch of the United Order. The Order did not survive long because of several reasons. One of which is illustrated by what Eliza told of a member of the Order, who reported to President Allen that the cows were in the corn, but made no effort on his own to drive them out.

Schools struggled during the early years of the settlement. However, Eliza who arrived at the fort in the summer of 1877 said she taught school there the following winter.

The history of Joseph City, at different times, records that Eliza gave recitations and readings at various programs and celebrations. She was considered one of the established cooks in the town and was called upon to help prepare dinners for the town events.

Eliza was the first wife in a polygamous marriage. In 1886, Henry married Eliza’s cousin Emma Ellen Stapley. Both Eliza and Emma were active in the Relief Society and MIA.

Eliza Parkinson Tanner died in Joseph City, Arizona 17 August 1931. She was buried in the Joseph City Cemetery the 18 of August 1931.


  1. Thank you for the interesting biography! That keg of water story was great. (I would have liked to tour that cellar!)

    I've read several pioneer histories lately. It's interesting to read these stories and gain a greater appreciation for the pioneers. Their hard work helped to build their families, their church, and their communities. Thanks for sharing!

  2. Thanks for sharing that history. It's always interesting to read and learn about the roles people played in church history. We sometimes hear stories from the early church days and forget that we are related to some of the people in the stories or who were at least there when the events took place.

  3. Thanks for this new picture of Henry and Eliza, I don't think I have a copy and this is new to me.