THE NAY FAMILY IN UTAH AND THE WEST
For seven years, the Latter-day Saints had struggled and sacrificed to build Nauvoo as a haven from persecution they had suffered in New York, Ohio, and Missouri. And it was in the city of Nauvoo, the Saints begun construction of a temple wherein they could receive sacred ordinances for their eternal salvation. Anti-Mormon sentiment in Illinois was mounting, and the Saints, led by Brigham Young, were making plans to vacate the city for a refuge somewhere in the Rocky Mountains. A rationally constructed plan called for the Saints to leave Nauvoo in late Spring 1846 when the weather would be optimal, and families could prepare the necessary items for the journey. The saints also planned to finish the temple, or at least finish it to the point that endowment ordinances could be administered in it. However, events precluded an organized and orderly removal from Nauvoo.
Even as hatred against the saints mounted, they continued to attend the temple. Brigham Young, weary from many hours administering ordinances in the temple, advised the saints waiting in line at the temple to go home and prepare to leave the city; they would continue ordinance work in a new temple to be built wherever they settled he advised. After this admonishment, he left the temple after a long day, but turned to see none of the people had heeded his word-they continued to wait in the long lines to enter the temple. Young returned to the temple and continued to assist the saints. This occurred within a day or two of the first group of saints hastily leaving the city on February 6. The next day, February 7, large companies of saints attended the temple for their own endowments, and following the last session, the temple was closed, permanently. John and Thirza were in the Nauvoo Temple on this sadly historic day.
Four months after Brigham Young led the first group of saints out of Nauvoo, John and Thirza left as well. On Tuesday, June 16, 1846, the Nay family, in company with the George Bryant Gardner and Leonard Hill families, left Nauvoo and crossed the Mississippi River into the Iowa Territory. Gardner wrote in his later years about that day, and how after the three families crossed the river on June 16, 1846, they “came to the town of Farmington [Iowa] on the Desmoines River, and there we, Hill, Ney [sic] and myself took jobs to work to swell our fit out” for the eventual journey west. Gardner and Hill became quite ill with ague and got as far as the Fox River where both families camped. Hill and one of his children died there, and his wife and another child died after reaching Winter Quarters. It is interesting to note that the Gardner and Hill families were also from the Peterborough, New Hampshire area, and in fact, Gardner was also baptized by Eli P. Maginn in Peterborough.
The Nay family apparently fared better than the other two families, as there is no further mention of them in Gardner’s account. We don’t know exactly when the Nays reached the western side of Iowa, but they were there by November 1, 1847 when John received another patriarchal blessing at the Camp of Israel, Winter Quarters, at the hand of Isaac Morley.
As thousands of saints fled Nauvoo, they spread out across Iowa forming numerous small communities. Harris Grove, one of these communities about 20 miles northeast of Council Bluffs, became home to John and Thirza. A man named John Harris, originally from New York and also a member, was living in Council Bluffs but was unhappy with the conditions in town. Large crowds of people and livestock passing through on their way to California gold fields were creating unhealthy conditions, and Harris feared illness would become a problem. He was also put off by the so-called ‘wickedness’ of the passing throngs, so he and thirty other families-including John and Thirza-traveled northeast of Council Bluffs and found a fertile valley four miles from the Boyer River. They named their community Harris Grove.
There the settlers built log cabins surrounded by rail fences and small garden plots. “They erected a double log cabin that they called the ‘Tabernacle,” which served as their community center. Educating their children was important, and a school was started in the winter of 1851 when George White began teaching at a salary of $8.00 a month.
Life in Harris Grove was relatively good. The area was replete with good timber, deer, wild fowl and berry bushes. Skunks and beaver were also plentiful, and the settlers made good use of the pelts for clothing. A creek on both sides of the area met in the middle and then became known as Harris Grove Creek. The current in the creek was swift enough to sustain two grist mills built by the Saints. Wagon and blacksmith shops were also built where necessities for the eventual trip to Utah were made ready.
John and Thirza lived in Harris Grove for about five years, where three more children were added to the family. Joseph Brigham was born on April 30,1847.  And on April 25, 1850 Thirza delivered twin boys, Ormus Bates and Ormon P. Nay. And within days of their birth, their father was called as president of the Harris Grove branch.
When the branch was first organized on July 15, 1848, a man named Ormus Bates was called as president, choosing John Nay as one of his counselors. Now two years later on May 15, 1850-just weeks after the birth of the twins-a meeting was held at the school house, wherein Bishop Bates said “there must be another president chosen to take his place as he was going to the Valley and he said he would nominate Br John Nay” to replace him. Ten days later on May 25, baby Ormun P. died and was buried presumably near Harris Grove. Just a week later, on June 2, John was sustained in Bates’ place as bishop (or president) of the Harris Grove Branch. Elder Orson Pratt was probably the presiding elder to effect the transition in the branch leadership that day, because it is recorded he also gave a blessing the same day to the surviving twin, little Ormus Bates. Obviously named in honor of his father’s predecessor in the branch leadership, Ormus Bates Nay went on to live a full life. (See Chapter 8 on Ormus Bates Nay which includes a copy of the blessing.)
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