Anyone who owns a home, walks across a bridge or enjoys the protection of our laws here in Morgan County should take a walk in Riverside Park. There in the warming October sun they should use their fingers to trace over the names of Samuel and Esther Francis that were recently inscribed on a monument dedicated to our forbears by the Sons of the Utah Pioneers. This couple has been one of the center stones of the foundation upon which we all have laid our lives.
Sam was the oldest of six children, became interested in religion at a young age, and investigated several churches before joining the Mormons at age 17 against his parents will. His father died two short years later, and Sam was called to serve as a missionary the next year. This didn’t sit well with his widowed mother, who had also just lost her 18 yr old daughter, Amelia, but stubbornness is a family trait and he set out as planned. He found himself assigned to preside over the Italian mission. The biggest problem facing him at the time was that he didn’t speak the language. Local girl’s school teacher, Esther Charlotte Emily Weidtbrodt, took the post. Esther was baptized shortly before Sam was transferred back to the Swiss mission.
They kept up a bit of a correspondence, he arranged for her to come to the Swiss headquarters as an interpreter and they were married. He was able to repair his relationship with his mother and siblings and corresponded often. When they arrived in Salt Lake City, they stayed a short time in Farmington and eventually found land in Morgan.
Esther was the daughter of a German Embassy worker, born and raised in the Turin Italy Embassy, and with that came many educational advantages. She was able to receive what would now be the equivalent of an associate’s degree in the mid 1800s. She was also exposed to some of the most refined experiences in art, sculpture, music, instruments, opera and languages.
She was skilled in midwifery, herbal medicine and was an educator by trade. But she especially excelled in math and calculus and was obviously educated in international politics and local law as well as entertaining dignitaries. She was quite sick as a child. They told her that she would have fragile health forever and that she would never be able to have children. They were apparently wrong about a lot when it came to her. She never did grow much, was quite short, petite and records indicate they don’t think she ever passed 90 lbs. in her life.
When she was baptized she was fired from her job, cut off and disowned by her family.
The couple and their two children arrived in the valley in the fall 1863, too late to build a home, and nothing to build a home with. They had purchased 25 acres located in the vicinity of 350 West Young St. but didn’t live there until 1864, after spending a winter living in a granary that had generously been offered them by a friend (John and Lydia Rich) from his home town in England.
They started their farm with seed brought from both England and their time in Farmington. During this time Esther was quite busy with the other women of the community. She had brought medicinal herbs she was familiar with from England and these, as well as her midwifery and nursing skills, were in high demand. The going rate for a home delivery back then was $3, but the book Our Heritage indicates that she never charged money, only took supplies that her family needed when the patients family could spare and offered them.
She was also frequently asked to use her interpreting skills for legal documents and to read or compose letters to/from the immigrant’s homelands. During 1865 they were able to build a one-room cabin in order to avoid another cold, dark, smoky winter in a dugout. The second cabin they built still stands on the corner of Young Street and 300 West.
Esther was instrumental in developing, building and teaching in the first school in Morgan, specifically languages, music and arts as well as math and calculus. During the years that Morgan hired professional surveyors to come and lay out the roads, land plots, and water systems, they all sought out Esther for assistance. It is because of her unusual knowledge of math and calculus that she was so indispensable and it is for this reason that one of the higher peaks in the Wasatch Range, Francis Peak, is named after her.
Sam kept busy as well. Having served his mission in so many areas, he was good at working with people from different backgrounds as well as organizing people in what we would now call grass roots efforts. His public offices included: justice of the peace; city councilman; mayor; county clerk; fish and game commissioner; probate judge; and prosecuting attorney for the Utah State legislature. He also served as the territorial assessor, tax collector and drafted the ordinances to govern the city council meetings. He and Esther also were part of the original group that developed the Como Springs area into a resort.
Obviously there are many specifics involved when someone is this heavily involved in public service, but some that were important to the Morgan Valley are as follows:
Bridge development. When the crickets hit the Salt Lake valley, there were seagulls that came and devoured them and saved the crops. A similar plague hit the Morgan valley, but the seagulls didn’t make it this far east and most crops were destroyed. The county’s saving grace was that the same year as the general crops failing, the railroad built a depot here, increasing commerce that was not reliant on the crops. One of the biggest issues became the bridges. They were constantly washing out, making it dangerous or impossible at certain times of the year to get materials and supplies from the train depot to the anything south of the river. Sam placed a bid and was given the responsibility to build up the embankments and the bridges in a way that would reduce the washout danger.
There was a point that Sam realized that most of the deceased in Morgan were not buried in the cemetery, but on private lands that were beginning to change hands. He surveyed what is now the Morgan South cemetery, plotted out how much of his adjoining land would need to be added to the area and sold it all to the city, along with the right of way for the price of $1.
During his time as a probate judge, he worked closely with water rights. Anyone who knows about water rights, knows that this is always a topic where not everyone agrees. He took it on and was instrumental in not only the water and irrigation system, but also worked for what we now would call water quality, or water shed ordinances to be enacted.
As a territorial senator and again as a state legislator, he was part of developing what was the forerunner to the state water quality laws. During his time in the legislature, he also helped to organize and secure support for the first public school systems.
Sam was also a part of drafting the Utah Constitution. He was the only delegate from Morgan invited to sit on that committee and draft what was then sent to the U.S. government in order to obtain statehood. This state constitution sits in the rotunda of the state capitol today, and on the bottom is his signature, Samuel Francis.
Sam and Esther had 10 children, all of which lived to be adults, nine of which married and lived in the area. Sam died in 1906, followed by his wife in 1913. At the time of her death, she had 58 grandchildren.