Your Sunday Brunch Special (#2). Utah Artist James T. Harwood, 1: The Reluctant Pioneer.

If you have spent much time with Latter-day Saint illustrated literature you have probably seen images of this painting:

Come Follow Me

The artist was James Taylor Harwood (1860-1940). Harwood’s story is interesting and Mormon-related if for no other reason than his LDS commissions to produce religious works like the one above (Come Follow Me – commissioned by the Deseret Sunday School Union) but it’s more interesting than that. To understand Harwood’s story, it is necessary to understand his parent’s and so we begin with James Harwood, James Taylor’s father.

James Harwood was born in England in 1834 and raised as a Methodist. When the family came in contact with LDS missionaries, both James and his father Samuel felt drawn to their message: “what they taught seemed to correspond with those proclaimed by Christ and his disciples in the Bible.”[1]

Harwood’s mother died in 1845 and James left school to take her place in the family shop (roughly what we might think of as a “general store”). At 14 Harwood was apprenticed as a harness maker, a profession that would be important for the rest of his life. In 1850 the Mormon Elders came to town and as was the usual practice, sought preaching time in local church buildings. James’ father had keys to the Methodist building and James took the key and gave it to the missionaries, who preached a lively bit that night, one taking the pulpit, one bracing the door against objecting trustees. At this meeting the elders preached the gospel of gathering, and James recalled

they told a beautiful story of the valley of the salt lake, and the opportunity for the poor man, his chance to make him a home of his own, how easy it was to get a living. Told all the bright side, but not the difficulties of crossing the plains, 1600 miles distance through a country inhabited by only Indians and wild animals. They told the best side, the goodness and kindness of the brethren when they got through their journey. No trouble, all enjoyment and happiness ever after. They did not tell that as soon as you got there it was every one for himself and your cattle and wagons were got from you for half their value.[2]

James and his father were baptized in the wake of this experience and village prejudice killed their business. While his father had debts to settle and could not leave at the time, James was released from his apprenticeship and set sail to America in January 1851 at age 16 1/2. This was well before the perpetual emigrating fund was established and Harwood paid his own way. Reaching New Orleans in 1851, Harwood recalled, “All the emigrants seemed to have some friend there for them and when all had gone I was left sitting on my baggage, knowing no one and no one knowing me.”[3] Harwood found work as a harness maker, but cholera raked the city and in fear Harwood headed for the countryside wading through flooded farmland until he found work clearing land.

Eventually making his way to St. Louis in hopes of being hired as a team driver on the trek west, he was too late to make the last train and spent the year in town. Attending church with the Saints there he remarks,

I was quite homesick sometimes, but as a rule I got along pretty well. The Elders and Missionaries at all times, up to this time, declared the Mormons did not believe or practice polygamy and being a Mormon myself, of course, I believed them. The people of St. Louis said they did practice it and it was for that and other unlawful things they were driven out of Nauvoo, but I did not believe them. During that fall John Taylor and A. O. Smoot arrived at St. Louis on the way to Europe and they preached in the Hall on polygamy and declared that it was true and was practiced and they were on their way to England to preach and proclaim that doctrine. That upset my faith considerable . . . I never was as strong in the faith afterwards.[4]

After various fascinating adventures, Harwood’s father arrived the next spring (he had remarried, but his new wife died of cholera on the trip up river) and they outfitted for the trip west. Heading up river with team and wagon by steamboat to Keokuk, Iowa, they made their way west arriving in Salt Lake in September.[5]

Crossing the plains was eventful but Harwood found it exciting and narrates several close calls. On the arrival at Salt Lake he states,

It was a beautiful sight. At the time the city was quite small. The houses were all small adobe buildings, standing on lots of 1 1/2 acres under cultivation with different kinds of garden vegetables. In the distance south of the city were grain fields, to the west the Great Salt Lake. The next morning we were aroused from our sleep by the distant sound of roosters crowing, the first we heard since crossing the Missouri River. The feeling we experienced then was a happy one, as we felt that our journey was over. We had reached the promised land and no Israelite felt no greater joy than we felt after the hardships of our journey.[6]

The company was met with kindness and for a week they had fresh food from the inhabitants of the city. The Harwoods then went South, through present-day Draper and on to Evansville (renamed Lehi shortly after). Deciding to make their home in the area, they found the usual “we were here first and so we own the land” idea in newly opened settlements and Harwood says

We were in time to help thrash, so we secured wheat enough for breadstuff for the winter. We hauled hay on shares to get hay for our oxen. We camped on David Clark’s lot and he helped us to put up a log cabin adjoining his, which we could use for that year it being his after. They were quite good to us in putting us in a way to get a start . . . [but those] who had staked off the choice land had much more than they could cultivate and took undue advantage of the newcomers.[7]

Next time, we’ll make it to the birth of James’ first son, James Taylor. It’s pretty hair raising stuff and I’m only going to tell a little of the story. Happy peristalsis.

[1] James Harwood autobiography, typescript in my possession.

[2] Ibid. Harwood’s reminiscence carries with it some of the bitterness of his disillusionment with Mormonism or at least some Mormons, but that took some time and several shocks to a rather rigid sense of honesty, order and culture.

[3] [4] Ibid.

[5] E.g., Harwood tells of his employer running off to the California gold rush a few days before Christmas, leaving him to sleep in an out house on Christmas Eve. He found a room and board job the next day.

[6] [7] Ibid.


  1. Fascinating stuff, WVS. I’m impressed that he rolled with the polygamy punch (and with his honesty regarding how it affected his faith).

  2. Mark Brown says:

    I’m pretty sure Harwood and my ancestor knew each other, since they were both in St. Louis at the same time. Another detail is that my ancestor also lost his wife and children to cholera on the trip upriver.

  3. Outstanding story.

  4. That’s interesting, Mark. Cholera (or perhaps one of its mimics) took a lot of people at the time.

    John C., yet more interesting challenges await. There was a lot of angst over polygamy and how and when to go public. But as Harwood observes, people were talking in any case.

    I should mention that you’re supposed to eat this post rather than breakfast and lunch. (grin)

  5. Thanks WVS. Aird notes that cholera was viewed as the destroyer upon the water. I haven’t looked at that to verify, but it certain was a destroyer, and a prolific one at that.

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