Biography of Stephen Kelsey

Few men are more familiar with the pioneer history of this section of the great republic than Stephen Kelsey, who before the days when the emigrants flocked to the gold-fields of California crossed the plains to Utah in company with the colony which went with President Brigham Young to Utah. They made their way over the hot and arid plains and through the mountain passes until they reached the Salt Lake Country on the 22d of July 1847, and on the 24th of the same month they arrived on the present site of Salt Lake City, so that that date has since been celebrated as pioneer day. Mr. Kelsey was then but seventeen years of age. He was born in northeastern Ohio, December 23, 1830, his parents being Stephen and Rachel (Allen) Kelsey, representatives of industrious and well-to-do Ohio families. The father was twice married, and by his first union had five children. By the second marriage there were six children, five daughters and our subject.

Stephen Kelsey attended school in Ohio and when seventeen years of age volunteered to go with Brigham Young to the far west, his duty being to drive a team of horses belonging to the train. There were one hundred and forty men and three women in that resolute company of pioneers who first braved the dangers of the long journey across the plains. They were in constant danger of Indian attack, and had some thrilling adventures with the red men, who frequently stole their horses. There were great herds of buffalo upon the plains, so numerous that some of the party would have to ride ahead and open a track among the animals in order that the train could pass through. When they first arrived at the place designated for their settlement the ground was very hard to a depth of two feet or more, and their first work was to build a dam across City creek in order to turn the water over the land and soak it until it could be plowed. This work was accomplished and potatoes were planted, but it was then so late in the season that the tubers only grew to the size of marbles. The pioneers made adobe brick and built a fort to protect themselves from the Indians: other companies followed later in that year, about two thousand people arriving in the Salt Lake district. The first three pioneer women were Brigham Young’s wife, Clara Decker, Heber C. Kimball’s wife, and the wife of Lorenzo Young, a brother of Brigham Young.

After Mr. Kelsey arrived in Salt Lake City he was converted to the faith of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, and the same season he volunteered to return to the states with Brigham Young to assist other emigrants across the plains the following spring. After his return to Utah he engaged in farming, and in 1850 made a trip to the gold-mining districts of California, where he washed out in two months, with a little rocker, about five hundred dollars worth of gold dust. This was at Weavertown. On his way back to Salt Lake City, however, the party with which he traveled was attacked by Indians, and for four hours they fought desperately for their lives. They barely escaped, and in the encounter lost many of their horses. In the fall of 1850 Mr. Kelsey settled with his uncle, Daniel Allen, twelve miles south of Salt Lake City and there he married Lydia Snyder, who has since been to him a faithful companion and helpmeet, sharing with him in all the joys and sorrows, the adversity and prosperity of life. She has been one of the brave pioneer women of Utah and Idaho and has greatly aided her husband in making a home.

In 1864 a company was formed to come to what is now Bear Lake county, Idaho, then supposed to be a part of Utah. General Charles Coulsen Rich was the president of the company, his sterling character making him a brave and trusted leader. Mr. Kelsey and his wife volunteered to go, and others of the company were Hezekiah Duffie, Joel Ricks, Thomas Sleight and Joseph Rich, the last named now the judge of the district court. They settled at Paris, but most of the first company of emigrants are now deceased. They were allotted land and began farming, but it was a very hard country to settle and they endured many hardships and met many difficulties during the first few years. Grasshoppers and frosts injured their crops, but through all President Rich’s faith never faltered, and he encouraged his people to persevere in their labors until ultimately their labors were bountifully rewarded and the country was made to blossom as the rose. When the land was surveyed, the settlers entered their farms from the government, and today Mr. Kelsey is the owner of a valuable property of one hundred acres, on which he raises hay, grain and stock, and also has a pleasant residence in Paris.

Unto our subject and his wife have been born twelve children, eleven of whom are living, namely: Electa Abigal, now the wife of Frederick Slight: Lydia, wife of Samuel Payne; Sylvia, wife of John Skinner; Alice, wife of Samuel Nate; Alary, wife of Edward Johnson; Bess, wife of C. Chapman; Mena; Minerva; Zina; Robert; and Easton. The family are all well-to-do and comfortably situated in life. Mr. and Mrs. Kelsey are respected members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints and he has been an active worker in the church, serving as elder, while at the present time he is acting high priest. He well deserves mention among the honored pioneers, and deserves great credit for what he has done in the way of opening up the great northwest to the influences of civilization and advancement. Gladly do we inscribe his name on the pages of Idaho’s history, for he is accounted one of her leading citizens.



Illustrated History of the State of Idaho. Chicago: The Lewis Publishing Company. 1899.

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