William Tait

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William Tait/Taite/Tate, his personal and family background, and his involvement in the Mountain Meadows Massacre

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William Tait/Taite/Tate

1818-1896




Biographical Sketch

Early Life in Ireland

William Tait was born in Downpatrick, County Down in Ulster Ireland. His father, John Tait (1774-1839) and mother, Mary (1773-?), were also from Ulster Ireland. Evidently Tait married Mary Pridley/Pridey (1822-?), also an Ulster Irish but she died in the early 1840s. The Irishman Tait is reported to have had red hair and beard.

Service in India

In 1841, Tait became a Mormon, reportedly in Glasgow, Scotland, and the following year he went to India. One source states that Tait was a "drill master in the service of Queen Victoria." ("William Tait," in Robinson, History of Kane County, 535; to the same effect is "William Tait," in Allphin, Tell My Story, Too.) However, since India was controlled by the British East India Company until 1858, it seems more likely that he was attached to the Bombay Army of the Bombay Presidency, one of the three Presidencies of the East India Company, which maintained administrative control of British India. There he met Elizabeth Xavier (1833-1914), the daughter of James Xavier and Julianne Bell. She was evidently of Anglo-Portuguese descent. Elizabeth had been born in Bombay, Meershot, India. They were married in 1850 in Bombay.

In 1851, their first child was born in Poona, India, but he died in 1853, reportedly of cholera. By 1854, another son had been born to them and they began making plans to immigrant to America. However, Elizabeth became pregnant with their next child and was unable to travel. They decided that Tait would immigrant with their young son and Elizabeth would come after she had recovered from the birth of their next child.

Immigration to America and onto Utah

In 1854 (or 1855, according to one source), Tait and his son emigrated from India, sailing east to Southeast Asia and then onto Hawaii and San Francisco. From there they traveled overland to Great Salt Lake City, reportedly arriving in 1855. He moved south and settled in Cedar City where many British emigrants were drawn to work in the new ironworks.

Meanwhile, Elizabeth gave birth to a baby girl. After she and the child were well enough to travel she determined to follow her husband to America. It proved to be a harrowing journey. In spring 1856, they sailed east from India for Liverpool, England. The transoceanic voyage to America was relatively uneventful. However, on the train journey to Iowa City, the baby girl contracted pneumonia. She died and was buried in Iowa City. (However, the sources are contradictory with one source stating that the child died in Liverpool before the trans-Atlantic crossing.)

At the jumping off point for the trail west, Elizabeth joined the James Willie handcart company. Also in the company was Anna F. Tait, but whether she was traveling with Elizabeth X. Tait or related to William Tait is not known. The Willie company's disaster-plagued journey is well known. The company got a late start in the season and by October 1856, early winter storms left them snow-bound in Wyoming Territory, where Anna Tait died. After some weeks, rescuers from Utah arrived to provide them with food, warm clothing and wagons to continue their journey to Utah. One source maintains that William Tait was among the rescuers of the Willie company. According to this view, Tait traveled from Cedar City to the church general conference in Great Salt Lake City in October 1856, expecting to be reunited with his wife. Instead, he received news that her handcart company had become stranded by early winter snow in Wyoming. He traveled east with the rescue parties and assisted his wife and other members of the Willie company. This lore has not been confirmed. At any rate, Elizabeth eventually made it to Cedar City where she and William renewed their life together.

The Ironworks in Cedar City

The Early Ironworks in Cedar City

The Deseret Iron Company

In moving to Cedar City, William Tait was settling in an area dominated by the Deseret Iron Company, known more familiarly as the Ironworks. See Summary of Deseret Iron Company for a brief summary of its early development.

The Ironworks in 1857

In April 1857, the delivery of a new steam engine from Great Salt Lake City seemed to breathe new life for the Ironworks. Working from April to June they installed the steam engine and completed the new engine house. In the first week of July, they were ready to begin smelting. They “put on the blast” and had a modicum of success. But they continued to be plagued with problems ranging from poor quality raw materials to smelting equipment that lacked technical sophistication. When in late July the steam engine seized with sand from the dirty creek water, they speedily dug a reservoir to store a supply of clean water for the boiler. They continued making smelting runs through August. All the while crews at the ironworks manned all the necessary functions there, while other crews, mainly miners and teamsters, gathered the raw materials – iron ore, coal, limestone, and wood – necessary to sustain smelting.

The smelting continued until September 13. In other words, around September 3, when a dispute arose between some settlers and several men in the passing Arkansas company, the blast furnace was running nonstop. And when Cedar City militiamen, many of them ironworkers, mustered to Mountain Meadows where they were involved in the massacre on September 11, other ironworkers in Cedar City continued the smelting runs night and day. For additional details, see Smelting at the Ironworks in 1857.

From late April to September, those working up the canyon in mining or hauling wood, coal, limestone, rock, sand or “adobies” to the ironworks were Isaac C. Haight, James Williamson, George Hunter, Joseph H. Smith, Ira Allen, Ellott Wilden, Swen Jacobs, Alex Loveridge, Joel White, Ezra Curtis, Samuel McMurdie, Samuel Pollock, John Jacobs, John M. Higbee, John M. Macfarlane, Samuel Jewkes, Nephi Johnson, Thomas Cartwright, William Bateman, Elias Morris, Benjamin Arthur, Joseph H. Smith, Robert Wiley, and Philip Klingensmith. Those working at the ironworks on the furnace, engine, coke ovens or blacksmith shop included Elias Morris, John Humphries, Ira Allen, John Urie, Benjamin Arthur, James Williamson, Joseph H. Smith, Samuel Jewkes, Joseph Clews, Richard Harrison, William C. Stewart, William Bateman, John M Macfarlane, John M. Higbee, John Jacobs, George Hunter, Samuel Pollock, William S. Riggs, Alex Loveridge, Ellott Wilden, Ezra Curtis, Eliezar Edwards, Swen Jacobs, Joel White, and Thomas Cartwright. (The two lists overlap because some worked both in the canyon and at the Ironworks.) Other prominent figures at the ironworks who were not later involved at Mountain Meadows were Samuel Leigh, George Horton, James H. Haslem, Laban Morrell, John Chatterley, Thomas Gower, Thomas Crowther and others.

During this period of 1857, there is no mention of William Tait/Tate working for the ironworks. However, there is mention of William "Tate" making a purchase from the company store. He may have been engaged in farming or stock raising, two other activities vital to the survival of the community.

In the Iron Military District in the Massacre: Captain William Tait, Company F, John M. Higbee's 3rd Battalion, Cedar City

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In 1857, the Iron Military District consisted of four battalions led by regimental commander Col. William H. Dame. The platoons and companies in the first battalion drew on men in and around Parowan. (It had no involvement at Mountain Meadows.) Major Isaac Haight commanded the 2nd Battalion whose personnel in its many platoons and two companies came from Cedar City and outer-lying communities to the north such as Fort Johnson. Major John Higbee headed the 3rd Battalion whose many platoons and two companies were drawn from Cedar City and outer-lying communities to the southwest such as Fort Hamilton. Major John D. Lee of Fort Harmony headed the 4th Battalion whose platoons and companies drew on its militia personnel from Fort Harmony, the Southerners at the newly-founded settlement in Washington, the Indian interpreters at Fort Clara, and the new settlers at Pinto.

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According to the 1857 Iron Military District's muster roll, "Wm. Taite" was captain of Company F under Major John M. Higbee and his adjutant John Urie. In the first platoon in his company were 2nd Lieutenant William C. Stewart, Sergeant John Western/Weston and privates Joseph H. Smith and Joseph Clews. Alexander Loveridge was a sergeant in the third platoon and private Ellott Willden was in the fourth platoon. See A Basic Account for a full description of the massacre.

According to John D. Lee, Tait arrived at Mountain Meadows with a militia contingent from Cedar City. However, at the war council on Thursday evening, September 10, which many of the Cedar City men attended, Lee did not list Tait among the participants.

On Friday, September 11, many members of the militia contingent from Cedar City acted as a guard unit alongside the emigrant men as they marched northward from their fortified position in the wagon circle. As the massacre commenced, the duty of this guard unit was to wheel and fire on the emigrant men, quickly dispatching them. Yet during the actual massacre, reactions varied among this Cedar City guard. Some shrank from their duty, others fired over the heads of their victims, while others still undertook their bloody duty with zeal. Within minutes, members of the Cedar City unit had killed all of the emigrant men.

However, whether Tait was in this guard unit and if so, how he acted during the massacre will probably never be known with any certainty.

Map of Iron County, Utah.

Later Life

Tait and his wife and family remained in Cedar City. He was known as a red-haired Irishman with a red beard. Seven children were born to the Taits in Utah, making a total of ten, six boys and four girls. Both he and his wife worked as school teachers and Tait held positions in civic and church affairs in Cedar City. He served on the committee to build the Old Tabernacle in Cedar City. He may have spent some time in Kane County, southeast of Iron County, because Robinson's History of Kane County provides a brief biographical sketch of him. More information is needed on his life for the next nearly four decades.

In 1896, the year Utah obtained statehood, William Tait died in Cedar City, Iron County, at age 77 and was buried there. He was survived by his wife and children. His wife Elizabeth Xavier Tait died in 1914 at the age of 82.

Rumors or Lore

Included under this heading are uncorroborated rumors, legends, or lore about some of the militiamen, which freely circulated after the massacre. During John D. Lee's first trial in Beaver, Utah In 1875, Frederic Lockley (1824-1905), the chief correspondent of the Salt Lake Tribune, interviewed one "Mrs. Phelps." He further identified her as Theresa Phelps Bridges Chamberlain Lee, then an elderly women living in Beaver but formerly the "11th wife" of John D. Lee. The old woman stated that years before she had lived with John D. Lee at Harmony in southern Utah and she recounted some memories from that era. Among other things she reported that after the Mountain Meadows Massacre but still during the time of the Utah War, Mrs. Phelps was in Cedar City to attend a "school exhibition" in which William "Tate" was the school teacher. According to her, William Tate advised his audience on the Mormon virtue of "MINDING YOUR OWN BUSINESS, and on the cardinal virtue of silence. 'If you see a body lying in your path, without a head,' he counseled his audience, 'ask no questions about it.The safest thing for all to do is to mind their own business.'"

John D. Lee does not list a Theresa Lee as one of his wives (see Lee's Confessions, 289, for a list of Lee's wives) and there is no other corroboration for this incident. However, William Tait was living in Cedar City at that time and "minding one's own business" was common advice in that era.

References

Allphin, ed., Tell My Story, Too, (bios of William Tait and Elizabeth Xavier Tait); Bagley, Blood of the Prophets, 133; Bigler and Bagley, ed., Innocent Blood: Essential Narratives, 70 fn. 14, 417, Fielding, ed. The Tribune Reports of the Trials of John D. Lee, 136-38; Jenson, Encyclopedic History of the Latter-day Saints, 77 (East Indian Mission), 368 (Irish Mission; reference to "Taite"); Lee, Mormonism Unveiled, 230, 380; Lee Trial transcripts; New.FamilySearch.org; Robinson, History of Kane County, 535 (biographical sketch); Shirts and Shirts, A Trial Furnace, 492; Turley and Walker, ed. Mountain Meadows Massacre: Jenson and Morris Collection, 236; Walker, et al, Massacre at Mountain Meadows, 167, Appendix C, 263.

For full bibliographic information see Bibliography.

External Links

For further information on William Tait and his family, see:

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