William Arthur Cox

  1. Birth
  2. Manti
  3. Back Across the Plains
  4. Another Call Across the Plains
  5. Marriage

A copy of this sketch was given to Verona Blackham Balle by Stella Cox Neeley, youngest daughter of William Arthur & his first wife, who wrote the following:

This sketch was dictated to & written by my father's second wife, Margaret McMahon. We are very much indebted to her for the hours & hours she must have spent. I'm afraid she did not realize just how much we appreciate her efforts, but when I see her again, I'll tell her.

One of the dearest recollections of my childhood was our family prayers. Each evening we would arrange our chairs in a circle & my father would give a sweet prayer. In the morning we would turn the backs of our chairs toward the table, & we would again have family prayer followed by the blessing on the food.

Our home was a happy home. We were loved & taught the gospel. Whatever wrong we did after we left the nest certainly was not due to our early training. My mother & father did the best they could, & love was always present.

In the State of Illinois lived a man named Frederick Walter Cox & his wife, Emeline Sallie Whiting Cox. Their family consisted of one son, Frederick Walter, Jr., & one daughter, Louisa. While this family was living in a small village called Lima, or the Morley Settlement, about eight miles [25 miles] from Nauvoo, there was great rejoicing caused by the birth of a little son on 27 Dec 1840. The mother was very proud & thankful for this precious baby boy. He had jet black hair & blue-gray eyes, which made him very beautiful to look upon. They gave him the name of William Arthur. (He was always called both names, Uncle William Arthur).

Their home consisted of one small room built of logs, a dirt roof, & a puncheon floor, which was made by splitting logs & then hewing them with an ax & pinning them down with wooden pins. There was one small window which had a cloth tacked across it to keep out the cold. This small room served as bedroom, parlor, dining-room & kitchen.

This family was members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. They had been driven from the State of Missouri & had to take shelter from the cold in this little log cabin.

William Arthur remembers having seen the Prophet Joseph Smith. He also remembers going with his parents into the Nauvoo Temple on 4 May 1845, when he was four years old. At this same little home, another sister was born, named Eliza E.

Burned Out

William Arthur says that upon one occasion while his father was absent from home, one of the neighbors ran into their home & said, "Here comes a mob of eighteen men." Imagine what fear & terror filled the heart of that mother who was left alone with her small children--one boy laying ill with fever. This sick child was Frederick Walter, Jr.

One of the members of the mob entered the house & told the mother that if she wished to save any of her household things she must get them out at once, for they had come to set fire to their grain stacks & their home. The mother at once carried her sick boy out & laid him under a tree beyond the reach of the flames of the burning home, after which she returned to try to save all that was possible of their clothing & food. When she returned for the last article, she saw a cupboard which she wanted to save, but was unable to move it alone. She turned to these heartless men & said, "Won't one of you men be kind enough to assist me in moving this cupboard out?" They stared at her for a little while, & then one of the mob came & helped her carry the cupboard out. They then took wood & made torches & set fire to the house & stacks of grain, while she stood helpless & watched all their crops & their home go up in flames.

All the houses & stacks of grain in the little settlement were burned except the home of Grandfather Elisha Whiting. The mob spared that one because his son was laying at the point of death. The mother of William Arthur took her children to this place of refuge as night was coming on & they had no other shelter. On the following day some of the saints came from Nauvoo & moved them into that city.


On 22 Feb 1846, another sister, Rosalia Ellen, was born at Nauvoo, Hancock County, Illinois.

The Cox family were among the saints who were driven from Nauvoo across the Mississippi River in February 1846. [The famlily left Nauvoo 28 May 1846. The forced exodus was in August, 1846, after the battle of Nauvoo.] They went across in a flatboat propelled by some of the men. No one can describe what those people suffered through exposure & scarcity of food as they were turned out of their homes in February.

The family journeyed westward until they arrived at Mount Pisgah, Iowa, where they prepared to stay for a while. The father built a log house & planted corn, from which they realized a small crop. That fall, his mother & two sisters, Louisa & Eliza, as well as William Arthur, were taken very ill with chills & fever, from which disease the two sisters passed away. His father had to make the coffins & prepare his loved ones for burial & lay them away himself, because all the people in the settlement were ill with fever & ague.

William Arthur started to attend school there. School was held in a small grove of trees. Their benches were logs split in two, with small limbs cut in lengths for legs & fastened on the rounding side of the log in holes that were bored with an auger. For desks, a higher bench was placed in front of the seats. His first teachers were his aunts, Cordelia Morley Cox & Mary Cox Whiting.

After harvesting their crop of corn, they moved to Winter Quarters, or Florence, Nebraska, & remained there during the winter of 1847. When winter was over, all the saints that could get outfits were called to journey on to the valleys of the mountains where the main body of saints were going to settle, & where some of them were already located.

Silver Creek

The Cox family decided to let Isaac Morley have their one yoke of oxen to go on with, & they kept one yoke of oxen--twelve years old--& one yoke of cows, & they journeyed back across the Missouri River to Silver Creek, or Cutler's Settlement, Pottawatomie County, Iowa. While at this place, Edwin Marion Cox was born on 2 Aug 1848. They were compelled to live in their wagons the greater part of the summer because the father at once started to plow the sodded ground, which was very slow work with the old yoke of cattle left them. They would first turn over the thick grass sod, then the father would strike each sod with an ax, then into the hole made, William Arthur would drop the corn. In this way they raised a crop of corn. During the summer of 1848, they also raised squash, which William Arthur says they ate until their faces turned yellow & their neighbors thought they had yellow jaundice.

Lesson on the Raft

They had to haul their corn twelve miles to get it ground. They would load it onto a log raft, then push the raft across the river with pike poles. There was one team of horses in the town, so one of the men would tie the team behind the raft & swim the horses across, then would finish the journey to the mill. Silver Creek, where they used the raft, was a block across.

When this raft was not in use, it was tied to the banks & left floating in the water. The boys would jump off the raft into the water & swim in the river. One Sunday afternoon the parents of William Arthur were getting ready for church when their cousins came to visit them. The boys begged their parents to let them stay at home, promising not to go near the river. After their parents had departed, the temptation was too strong. They started for the river thinking they would be back before their parents returned & so would never know about the incident.

Four or five of the boys would take turns jumping into the water from the old raft. It was great sport. William Arthur was only seven years old, the youngest of the crowd. He could not swim, but did not lack the courage to try. He would not be outdone by his comrades, so he jumped off the raft like the other boys. The raft soon moved out into the deep water. When the boys came running back for their turn, they missed William Arthur. One of them ran to the outer edge of the raft & there saw William Arthur's head just under the water. One of the boys reached down & drew him up by his long black hair. He was soon revived, but the boys had received a shock that they did not soon forget. They started for home on the run at once , where they arrived before their parents returned from church. They all agreed never to tell their parents, but it was a great lesson to them, one they would always remember.

On 8 Dec 1850 another brother, Edward, was born & died at Silver Creek. It was also here in 1849 that William Arthur was baptized a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints by his father.

The Cox family remained at Silver Creek for four years. Again they prepared an outfit to take them on to Utah. The outfit consisted of three wagons & seven yoke of oxen & cows.

Crossing the Plains

The father made his own wagons & ox yokes. When the outfit was completed on 29 June 1852, they started traveling in Captain Walker's company. William Arthur, now a boy of eleven years, drove an ox team during the entire long journey, during which his father was taken ill with cholera & hovered between life & death for days. This boy, & his brother Fred, a lad of sixteen, had all the care of the whole outfit. The seven yokes had to be taken off the oxen at night. In the morning the teams had to be gathered together & the yokes put on. Besides all the other work, they had to make camp, gather wood for fires, milk the cows, pack & unpack each night & morning.

The order of march was as follows: William Arthur's mother, Emeline, & her two children, Rosalia E. & Edwin M., were in the first wagon with his father as teamster. In the second wagon were Aunt Jemima & her children, Adelaide, Byron, & Esther. William Arthur was their teamster. In the third wagon was the third wife, Aunt Cordelia, & her children, Lovina, Emerette, & Sarah Ann. Frederick Walter, Jr., was their teamster.

William Arthur's mother needed all the attention they could give her. One day's drive & about fifteen miles west of Fort Laramie, Emily Amelia was born on 8 Aug 1852. What trials & suffering those brave pioneer mothers passed through, but their faith remained undaunted. The birth of this child held up the trek for just two days. These courageous women never thought of turning back or forsaking their religion. They kept their faces turned toward Zion, for they were confident that God had again organized his Church upon the earth. Their greatest desire was to reach the valleys of the mountains & to be with the Saints of God.

William Arthur tells of the first bear he ever saw. One day Aunt Jemima was driving the oxen. William Arthur was about fifty yards ahead of the teams driving the milk cows. All at once a large bear ran across the road just in front of him & then disappeared in the timber. This happened near Bear River.