Monday, February 16, 2015

Sidney Tanner: A Life of Remarkable Industry

Here's a biography I just wrote for Sidney Tanner's FamilySearch Family Tree entries (LZXK-Y57) and (KWJ6-DZX). I'll include the story about his "little white cur dog" tomorrow.

Sidney Tanner, Family Tree, courtesy of Janice Salazar.

Sidney Tanner was born on April 1, 1809, in Greenwich, Washington County, New York. His mother, Lydia Stewart Tanner, seems to have been a native New Yorker; his father John Tanner was originally from Washington County, Rhode Island.

Sidney spent his young years in the busy Tanner household. He had an older half-brother, Elisha, who spent part of his time with his Bently relatives, an older brother William, a sister Mathilda, and a deceased brother, Willard.

Sidney saw five younger siblings born and three of them buried, before the Tanner family moved from Washington County to Warren County, on the other side of Lake George. There the family invested in timber land, farmed, owned stock and dairy herds, ran a hotel for occasional travelers, and provided for many of their needs, before Sidney’s mother Lydia died in 1825 after the birth of her son Albert.

Sidney was 16 years old when his father remarried young Elizabeth Beswick. She stepped into care for the large families and take over the many household and economic duties of a woman in rural 1820s America.

Five years later Sidney married Louisa Conlee. They had a young family with just two children when the missionaries of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints visited the community. Church records note that Sidney and Louisa were baptized January 3, 1833. Even in a mild winter, that would have been a cold event.

The family began to gather with the Church. Sidney’s brothers John Joshua and Nathan joined Zion’s Camp. The rest of the Tanners went to Kirtland where Sidney and Louisa helped finance the building of the Kirtland Temple. The Kirtland High Council Minutes tell that “a Meeting of the Church of Latter Day Saints was called in this place, for the purpose of blessing in the  name of the Lord, those who have heretofore assisted  in building, by their labor & other means, the house of  the Lord.” Included in the company were John Tanner and Sidney Tanner. The leaders of the Church gave each man present an individual blessing.

When Sidney and Louisa moved to Missouri, they found rich farmland and timberland and began building up their resources again. They were joined not long afterwards by the other Tanner families. Sidney and his father and brother and brother-in-law Amasa Lyman left their wives and younger children and went to work at Fort Leavenworth for 2-1/2 months to earn money, since cash was in short supply on the frontier.

It was not long before mobs drove the families off their new land. The Tanners fought the mobs as they could—Sidney was said to have fought at the Battle of Crooked River, in which case there’s a chance he may have been one of the fabled “Danites”—but the family was driven north, eventually to Montrose County, Iowa, across the Mississippi River from Nauvoo, Illinois. (Sidney also owned land in Nauvoo.)

By this time Sidney and Louisa had five children. They had two children born in Montrose County before they were again driven from their home, but before they left, they participated in the temple ordinances in the new Nauvoo Temple. Just a few days outside Nauvoo at the temporary settlement of Richardson’s Point, their twenty-month-old son James Monroe Tanner died.

Louisa gave birth to a son, Mason Lyman Tanner, while they were living in the Indian lands. She survived the childbirth but came down with what was probably scarlet fever and malaria and died at Winter Quarters, followed not long afterward by her infant son.

Sidney Tanner had to send the sad news to his in-laws, James and Elsie Cole Conley in New York. He told them that she “requested me to write to you and tell you that she died in the full triumph of the faith of Jesus Christ and her most desire for living was for the benefit of her family and friends…that they might arrive to a glorious salvation in the kingdom of God where she expects to meet them and enjoy their society.”

In those busy days with much work to do, Sidney needed someone to care for his children, so two months after Louisa’s death, the grieving widower married young Julia Ann Shepherd. She had been born in Ohio to Vermont natives Samuel and Roxalana Ray Shepherd.

Julia Ann Shepherd Tanner, Family Tree, courtesy of LarkinDixonFerrin1.

In 1848 the Tanner and Shepherd families headed west with all their provisions and animals including Sidney’s “little white cur dog” that saved Homer Duncan’s life. (See Duncan’s account in the Mormon Overland Travel database.)

Caroline Barnes Crosby noted on July 27, 1848, “Yesterday a very sad accident occured in the camp[.] one of Sidney Tanners little boys [Sidney Tanner, Jr.] was killed almost instantly by a wagon wheel running over him, he appeared like a very forward smart child for one of his age, was between 6 and 7 was driving team sitting on the tongue and fell backward.”

The Tanners reached the Salt Lake Valley in mid-October 1848, Julia carrying her infant daughter in her arms. They joined their extended family in South Cottonwood, but only lived there a few months after John Tanner’s death before heading to California with the San Bernardino Settlement.

The Tanners lived in San Bernardino until 1857, when Brigham Young called the settlers back to Utah Territory at the time Johnston’s Army was threatening the Saints. Sidney and his family eventually settled in the beautiful valley of Beaver, Utah, after Sidney helped deliver the new Australian pipe organ to the old adobe Tabernacle in Salt Lake City.

Sidney worked as a freighter, taking goods back and forth between the settlements, and was headed down to San Bernardino in September 1857 when he came upon the scene of the Mountain Meadows Massacre. The participants stopped all passers-by including Sidney and his travel companion, William Mathews, and took them past the site of the massacre in the dark of night.

Rachel Neyman Fullmer Tanner, Family Tree, courtesy of Francis Gill.

Except for his brother Nathan, none of the Tanners had cared to participate in plural marriage, but after a few years of life in Reformation-Era Utah, and despite Julia’s opposition to the practice, Sidney took a plural wife, the sturdy widow Rachel Neyman Fullmer, a member of a family deeply involved in plural marriage since the earliest days in Nauvoo. Sidney and Rachel had six children in addition to her three with Almon Fullmer, but only three of their children lived past early childhood, and their son Howard Harper Tanner was killed in a range dispute in 1891.

Sidney also married another widow, Mary Ann Neyman Nickerson Tanner, after she sued his brother John Joshua for divorce. Both marriages were an example of the common use of plural marriage as a social safety network in those days when women had few options outside marriage, and probably only Julia Ann and Rachel would have been considered his actual wives in pioneer-era Beaver.

Sidney was a strong man, a hard worker, a practical person, and dedicated to the gospel. He was, as they used to say, a pillar of his community. He served on the Beaver City Council, as a member of the bishopric of the Beaver First Ward with Bishop Marcus L. Shepherd, Julia’s brother, and as a stake high councilor.

When Sidney died on December 5, 1895, his obituary said:
Elder Tanner was born on the shores of Lake George, in the state of New York…He was a man of marvelous constitutional powers, and endured the hardships common to the early settlement of this Territory as well as that of southern California. He was one of the earliest settlers of Beaver and has done much to build up that place; and he now leaves behind him a large family of his own, as well as a host of kindred…The helpless condition of Elder Sidney Tanner during the last few years of his life was such as to make his departure not wholly unexpected to his family and relatives…the funeral services…will take place next Sunday in Beaver. 
He was known as a man of remarkable industry, temperate habits, generous disposition, and unswerving integrity. (Deseret Evening News, “Sidney Tanner Dead,” December 6, 1895.)

Sources: Sidney Tanner, His Ancestors and Descendants (DeBrouwer, 1982); John Tanner and His Family (Tanner, 1974); FamilySearch Family Tree; 1830-1880 US Census; 1852 California State Census; Joseph Smith Papers Project; Mormon Overland Travel; Diary of Caroline Barnes Crosby; Homer Duncan Autobiographical Sketch; Pioneers and Prominent Men of Utah (Esshom, 1913); More Wives Than One (Daynes, 2008); Deseret News;;; Nauvoo Land and Records.


  1. I apologize if this is a silly question - why would the two Sidney Tanner records not be merged?

    I loved reading this. Nice work! So interesting that he passed by the Mountain Meadows Massacre and his history with plural wives.

  2. Not a silly question at all. Sidney and his father John and other people who have large data sets cannot be merged until FamilySearch permanently closes the old NewFamilySearch program. The date keeps moving back; I think the latest I've heard is 2016.

    Unfortunately people don't know that and keep fiddling with the relationships, trying to fix things. It just makes it all worse, unfortunately.

    I do appreciate your comments on these posts, Robin. It’s nice to get some feedback. : )