Wednesday, November 8, 2017

The Generosity of Strangers -- -# 18 Becomming Acquainted with John

Colorado, Manassa, genealogy, Southern, Ganus, San Luis Valley, Mormon, Georgia, ancestry
We had been driving for hours but finally, we began to recognize familiar landmarks and the nervous anticipation began. We loved visiting our relatives in the San Luis Valley in Southern Colorado. While we lived in California, our trips had been limited to the summer months, but after our family moved to West Texas, we decided to make the trip for Thanksgiving one year.  

I looked out across the wide valley framed by majestic mountain ranges and was taken by how different everything looked in November. Fields that were filled with the green of alfalfa during the summer months now lay bare and covered by a thin layer of snow. Void of the tractors and baling wagons that dotted the fields during the summer, the empty fields had a certain peaceful silence about them, as if quietly resting for the season. 

Finally, we pulled up to Grandma's house and as we climbed out of the car, the brisk cold bit at our skin, indicating that our light jackets were woefully inadequate for the stinging cold of November in the San Luis Valley. 

As I recently realized that my ancestors moved to Colorado that same time of year, I couldn't help but reflect on my own experience and how unprepared we were for the cold there. Sadly most of the Southerners, including my ancestors, who arrived in the San Luis Valley in November of 1887 lacked clothing suitable for the cold they would experience.

As John and Olivia, along with their sons and their families, descended from the train in Colorado in November 1887, they truly began a new and very different chapter in their lives. Over fourteen hundred miles from their home in Georgia, they left behind those who opposed their beliefs and threatened their safety, but they also left behind beloved siblings, cousins, aunts, and uncles, as well as life-long friends. They left behind their culture, the land they had tended and farmed and of course their homes. They sacrificed it all for their religious beliefs.


Arriving in Colorado in November and on the brink of winter was a challenge on several levels. At an altitude of over 7,000 feet above sea level, San Luis Valley winters can be bitter cold and a very different winter from what the Southerners were accustomed to. In addition, the valley has a very short growing season and the Ganuses arrived well after the freeze and much too late to plant a garden or any crops for food. Although some who emigrated may have had funds to purchase food and supplies, many of the Southerners, including the Ganus family, had arrived in a state of poverty. The Ganus family had not even had enough money to purchase all of the train tickets needed for their entire family but had relied on the generosity of a friend, George Driver, who lent them $10.00 to buy the final ticket. It would be the generosity of strangers who would get them through the coming winter.
According to Emily Wells, a Manassa resident during that time, Manassa struggled as a community because of the number of Southerners who arrived in a state of poverty and ill-prepared for the cold climate. Nevertheless, the little farming community worked to help all those who were in need.(1) Undoubtedly the Ganuses were among those needing assistance. 

In a dissertation entitled "Mormon Colonization of the San Luis Valley, Colorado, 1878-1900, Judson Harold Flower, Jr. wrote:  
"Whatever the future prospects for Manassa, the prevailing poverty among the southern Saints arriving in the valley was a constant obstacle to the progress of the settlement, and one which could not be overcome solely by the injection of Mormon families from Utah into the community. Much credit for assisting the new arrivals through the first difficult months was due the Mexicans of the valley who rented homes, farms, seed and other materials and equipment to the newcomers arriving in their midst. (2)
Although I was unable to find a record of the weather for 1887, newspaper accounts for the following few winters often reported heavy snowfall and bitter cold. Train travel was frequently halted for days due to deep snow drifts, sometimes as deep as fourteen feet. 

There were other difficulties that cropped up as well. Judson H. Flower, who did considerable research on the early settlement of the San Luis Valley, indicated that as the residents of the small neighboring towns interacted, there were sometimes issues between those from Utah and those from the South due to the differences in their culture. Many of those from Utah were from Scandinavian countries and consequently, English was not their primary language, making it easier to socialize with those who shared their native language and culture. The Southerners likewise had more in common with the other Southerners who had settled there. In addition, many of the American born Southerners found it irritating to receive constant instruction on everything from church matters to farming issues from those of foreign birth.(3) 

As they worked through the various challenges, each new family in the community needed to find a way to work and contribute in order to make a living. Although the Ganus family had farmed in Georgia, John's oldest son, Frank, was recorded as one of the early carpenters in Manassa and John's other sons worked a lot for John Morgan, the Mission President they had previously known in Georgia.(4)

Despite the many adjustments and challenges for John's family, there were many good things that occurred in that small community. Manassa was primarily a Mormon community, so they shared religious beliefs with most who lived there and no longer feared persecution. In addition, because there were so many Southerners in Manassa they found themselves among many who understood their traditions and shared their mannerisms and way of thinking.  

In the Deseret News, November 5, 1887, referring to the San Luis Valley,
"There is in these towns a warm, delightful cordiality, a nearness of brother to brother, and a Gospel spirit of love and co-operation pervading the whole community, that is not met with in older towns. Every grasp of the hand sends a thrill to the heart, and is accompanied by a warm God bless you that speaks volumes of brotherly love. Two facts, we think, will explain this nearer approach to the Gospel ideal of society, the naturally warm-hearted, generous feeling of the southern people and all absence of caste caused by the mutual interdependence of all the settlers in their united battles against the difficulties of pioneer life."
As is often the case, some folks felt the challenges were too great or they were simply enticed by the hope of finding something better and moved. A few families returned to Georgia and a few others chose to move elsewhere, although many remained in Manassa and the surrounding communities.

How was the Ganus family affected by the issues? The many challenges surely took a toll on them just as it did with others, but to what extent, we don't know. What we do know is that they made Colorado their home for quite a few years, but by 1895, when William Franklin Ganus' son, Homer Paul Ganus was born, the family was living in Oklahoma.This would be their final move and the final chapter for John and Olivia. 


1. A Mormon "Widow" in Colorado: The Exile of Emily Wells Grant, page 180. Found online in PDF form.
2.  "Mormon Colonization of the San Luis Valley, Colorado, 1878-1900," a thesis presented by Judson Harold Flower, Jr.,  to Department of History at Brigham Young University, May 1966, p.  57
3. Ibid
4. A record included with information on the families living in Manassa in April of 1888. Digitized by J. Willard Marriot Library, University of Utah.


Copyright © Michelle G. Taggart 2017, All rights reserved

Wednesday, October 11, 2017

A Reason to Celebrate--17 Becoming Acquainted With John

I considered myself one of the lucky ones when my Grandma Ganus moved to a small house on Main street in Sanford, Colorado. What was so good about living on Main street? There were several good things, one being that we could sit out front and watch people come and go. In a small town like Sanford where life was slow and simple, knowing who was going where and with whom could be big news. Lucky for us, Grandma's crab apple trees provided the perfect perch for us and provided a little cover because we could watch without others realizing that we were watching. It could have also provided a snack at the same time, but every year,  I tried, I really tried, to like the sour crab apples in those trees, but even with a good salting, I just could not eat them. Even now, it makes my mouth pucker just to think about biting into one. 

But the truly best part of living on Main street was that it meant a prime seat to the big event of the year, the 24th of July parade!!!

I loved being in Colorado for the 24th of July. The 24th of July, 1847 was the day the Mormon pioneers arrived in the Salt Lake Valley and so it is a day of celebration for members of the LDS church, everywhere. Most of the early inhabitants of the cluster of small Southern Colorado towns were either descendants of pioneers who had first settled in Utah and then were sent on to the San Luis Valley or descendants of a Southerner who fled there after joining the LDS church.

My parents, brothers and myself outside an old pioneer
house in Sanford Colorado 2012
In Colorado, the 24th celebration actually lasts an entire week. The activities are spread among the small neighboring towns of LaJara, Sanford and Manassa due to the high density of Mormons in those small little farm towns.The celebration includes parades, a pageant, rodeos, activities such as three-legged races, pie eating contests, dances, ballgames, etc. A carnival always comes to Manassa and an afternoon spent there includes a mouth-watering hamburger. It is quite the celebration. You can read about the history of the celebration and see details about the most recent celebration HERE. We loved going as kids and it continues to be a wonderful tradition today. 

Southern Colorado was selected as a place for the Mormons to emigrate to in part because land was reasonable and there was access to water. (1) When the first group of Southerners arrived in 1879, there were only about 160 living there. (2)  That group of Southerners, like those who would follow them, arrived poor and fairly ill-prepared for the harsh winters and short growing seasons they would experience. Other Mormons were sent from Utah to settle there to help the Southerners with the transition. Latinos who were living there first helped both groups through the difficult adjustment.


Colorado, San Luis Valley, Mormons, LDS, emigration, Southerners, 24th of July, Celebration, Pioneer Days
Map showing the location of Conejos County Colorado
The following description of Manassa appeared in the Salt Lake Herald in 1879:
"The city of Manassa, so named, is situated in Conejos County, seven miles north by east of the county seat on ranges 9 and 10, township 34, north of New Mexico, principal meridian. A more beautiful location would be difficult to find, the site being selected with judicious foresight for agricultural and pastoral enterprises, and the settlers cannot fail ultimately to realize fully the most sanguine hopes of those now building the city. 
........The streets of the city are six rods wide, with streams running on either side, the immediate intention being to plant shade trees, according to the system established in Salt Lake City. Many of these streets are already occupied by the Mormon families, who at the present writing number 156 souls who are living in tents and temporary buildings. (3)
John and his family were among the sixth group to emigrate to Manassa from the South and by the time they arrived, 8 years after the first group, the town had grown considerably due to the large number of Mormon converts who had fled from the South.

By 1889, a  few years after John and his family arrived, almost a thousand people were living in Manassa, most of whom were Southerners. There was half a dozen stores, a log church and although initially most all of the homes were log, the log homes were slowly being replaced by small frame homes.(4)

Eventually, the Ganus families would have their own homes. As this early Manassa Map shows, "Frank"  (my Great-Grandfather William Franklin Ganus) had a home on Peterson Street (Lot 10) and "Father Ganus" and John Ganus were a couple of streets away on Smith Street (Lot 40).  (5)




Adjusting to a different climate can be physically hard. At 7,690 feet, Manassa is approximately 6,447 feet higher than John's home in Georgia. John's family likely experienced some of the effects of that altitude change which for some includes fatigue and headache at first. In addition, the humid climate of their Georgia home was replaced by a much drier climate. The Ganus family had to learn to grow and eat different crops from what they were accustomed to due in part to the high altitude and short growing season. All of these issues presented challenges for John, as well as the other Southerners.

Whenever groups of people converge from different areas of the country and world, they bring with them the illnesses of that region and such was true for Manassa. Measles, smallpox, diphtheria, and mumps were just a few of the illnesses that plagued the valley. The Ganus family knew the heartbreak of losing family members to illness in the years that they were there and it seems to have especially taken a toll on the little children of the Ganus family. John and Olivia experienced the heartbreak of burying four grandchildren during the time in Manassa.

The first Ganus child taken was John Thackason Ganus and Mary's son, Morgan L. Ganus who was born 20 Oct 1887 and died 1888. The following year John T. and Mary lost another child, John William, who was born in 1882 and died in 1889.  Then in 1890, William Franklin Ganus (Frank) and Sarah Faucett (Sally) buried their son, Parley L. Ganus who was born on 18 February 1889 and died 2 February 1890. One year later, Frank and Sally buried their only daughter, Blanche E. who was born 16 Feb. 1891 and died that same year.

Old Manassa Cemetery, Manassa, Colorado 
As I visited the Old Manassa Cemetery several years ago, I stood in that little abandoned cemetery and imagined the grief the Ganus family felt each time another child passed away. Four times they brought one of their little ones to be buried, four times they dug a small grave and four times they said goodbye.

The Ganus family had come to Colorado for safety, and although they were safer from physical and emotional harm, illness found them. 

When I stood in front of my Grandma Ganus' house as a child, all those many years ago, and waited for the floats and horses to pass by, I wish I had known more about my ancestry and the price they paid. I wish I would have understood the sacrifices that were made, the hardships they endured and all that was given so that I could have the life that I have. I am sure I still would have appreciated the front row seat at the parade and the juicy hamburger at the carnival, but just maybe I would have felt all the more reason to celebrate. 




(1) Mormon Colonization of the San Luis Valley, Colorado, 1878-1900.  page 50
(2) sic p. 49
(3) "Mormon Manassa, " Salt Lake Herald, May 22, 1879, page 3, accessed on Utah Digital Newspapers,  https://digitalnewspapers.org/
(4) "Manassa Matters," Salt Lake Herald, Dec. 8, 1889, page 14, accessed on Utah Digital Newspapers, https://digitalnewspapers.org/.
(5). Portion of map from the back pocket of "The Life and Ministry of John Morgan," Arthur Richardson, Historical Research Nicholas G. Morgan Sr.

Copyright © Michelle G. Taggart 2017, All rights reserved

Thursday, October 5, 2017

For The Sake of The Gospel--- 16 Becoming Acquainted with John M. Ganus


We've moved. After twenty years in the same home, we sold our home and moved to something smaller. We feel good about the decision and know this is the right step to take at this point in our life, but nonetheless, it is hard. We raised our family in that house and we have many fond memories there. 

As I said goodbye to our wonderful home, I kept thinking about John and Olivia (Rainwater) Ganus who moved across country when they were about our age. Their move in 1886, however, was a much more difficult and drastic move. Without the benefits of modern technology and modern travel, and with limited funds, they left never to return to Georgia or see their friends and extended family again. Unlike many others of their time, John and Olivia's move wasn't motivated by the desire for more land, or in order to join other family members who had moved ahead, but their move was more about finding a place to live where they could feel safe. 

The Ganus family joined the LDS church in the midst of immense opposition towards the LDS missionaries and the church members. In the years that followed their conversion, the persecution against the Mormons intensified and so many of the southern Mormon families began to emigrate west. John and Olivia remained in Georgia longer than many, but eventually, they decided that it would be best for their family if they too left Georgia. On Monday, October 11, 1886, Elder Murphy recorded that he helped John make arrangements to emigrate.  

On Thursday, Oct 21, 1886 on the road coming from town, LDS missionary, Elder Murphy ran into one of John and Olivia's younger sons, Newton L. Ganus. Newton assured Elder Pledger Murphy that they were going to Colorado for the "sake of the Gospel" and not to get rich. Although it had become increasingly difficult for Mormons to make a living in Georgia, there was no promise that they would prosper financially in Colorado either although Colorado was chosen in part because of the availability of land and the lower cost of living there. However, the members of the LDS church had been counseled not to expect to get rich there and clearly, Newton had gotten the message. 

The next day, on Oct 22nd, Olivia visited her sister Frances for the last time. It must have been a tearful occasion as sisters who had lived near each other for their entire lives said goodbye. Earlier, John and Elder Murphy had visited Olivia's sister and Brother-in-law, Robert and Frances Bailey in an effort to share their gospel message, but according to Elder Murphy, "they were not very much inclined to the gospel." Olivia must have been disappointed. 


On Friday, November 12th, Elder Murphy helped Franklin (John and Olivia's oldest son) pack up for Colorado. In his journal, Elder Murphy recorded that the Ganuses were short the cost of one train ticket, so G. W. Driver loaned them $10.00 so they could all go. Elder Murphy said, "Their hearts were made glad and they rejoiced in having the privilege of all going to Zion."  

A few days later, on November 16, 1886, Elder Murphy wrote that he went to G. W. Driver's house with John Ganus and together they did the hardest days' work that he had ever done in his life packing things up so they could get it all to the depot. 

The following morning, Elder Murphy saw the Drivers, the Ganuses and others to the train station. John and Olivia, their sons, daughters-in-law, and grandchildren all boarded the train bound for Colorado. 

Hopefully, John and Olivia's had extended family members and friends at the train station to see them off. LDS Missionary, Elder Murphy recorded that he watched from the platform, waving as the train carrying the small group of converts passed out of sight. I can imagine the Ganus family waving back to a missionary who they had grown to love and who had done so much for them. Were there tears? There must have been mixed emotions for Elder Murphy; relieved that they were able to leave and yet knowing that with this group went much of the support for the remaining LDS church members and missionaries.

Although we don't have a written record of what they felt, truly it can be said that for John and Olivia, their actions spoke louder than their words. As difficult as it was on so many levels, rather than deny or turn away from what they believed, with courage and commitment, they packed up their belongings and left their home and extended family to move hundreds of miles away to start a new life where they could worship as they chose.

John was 60 years old and starting over wouldn't be easy. Was he worried about his ability to make a living? Was he emotional about leaving behind people that he loved? Was he relieved to be escaping the persecution aimed at members of the Mormon faith? Was he excited for the new life that lay ahead? 

In Kansas City, John and family changed trains and headed toward Pueblo, Colorado. In Pueblo, they boarded a narrow gauge line that would take them over the mountains and into the high mountain valley of San Luis.

Ancestry, genealogy, Colorado, Mormons, emigration,
The Pinnacles above the Conejos River
Photo was taken on family trip

The mountains of Colorado are very different from the hills of North Georgia. Steep and ruggedly beautiful, the tall mountains of the Rockies were very different from anything that the Ganus family had ever seen before.


Manassa Colorado, Ganus, Georgia, ancestry, ancestor, genealogy, family history, emigration, train
Looking across the San Luis Valley
Photo taken outside Sanford during a family trip
As they disembarked the train, did they pause to look out over the wide open fields of the San Luis Valley? The valley was so different from their densely treed Georgia home. What did they think? Did they feel butterflies of excited anticipation? Did their hearts sink just a little as they realized how different life would be there? Were they dressed appropriately for the weather or did they shiver with the chill in the air? The average temperature for Manassa in November is 30 to 40 degrees and sometimes there is 4 to 5 inches of snow. 

At the train station, they were greeted by members of the local LDS church who took them by wagon to their temporary accommodations in the homes of other members of the Mormon church. Many other Southerners who had preceded them in migration were already settled there and helped the newcomers with the transition. Although the Ganus family had moved before, this move was dramatically different from any other move they had ever made. 

Moves mean new beginnings and so often they can be good, but at the same time, they can be trying, both emotionally and physically. We just moved across town and yet as I look ahead to life in our new place, I anxiously wonder how well we will adjust. Without any question, for John and his family, the move was much more drastic and the adjustment would be much more extensive. 

Copyright © Michelle G. Taggart 2017, All rights reserved