William Wallace Casper
By Russell R. Casper, Great-great-grandson
William Wallace Casper was born March 12, 1821, in Bellville, Richland County, Ohio, of Virginia-German and Pennsylvania-Dutch ancestry. He was the son of William Casper whose father, Peter Casper, came to America from Hamburg, Germany, in the middle 1700's; he was also the son of Avarilla Durbin whose ancestors came to America in 1650 and were one of Pennsylvania's first families.
In 1834 in Adams County, Illinois, William Wallace was converted and baptized. He married Sarah Ann Bean on January 22, 1846, in the Nauvoo Temple, whith Brigham Young performing the ceremony. William and Sarah moved to Nauvoo. There William established a farm about five miles out of Nauvoo, near Bear Creek Ranch, and built a house on Mulholland Street.
While in Nauvoo, they shared in the trials and persecutions which were inflicted upon the other Saints at that time, and when the mob violence became so strong they were forced to flee. William Wallace and his wife gave up their beautiful home and hard-earned improvements and became exiles. The necessity for adequate provisions was early recognized by William Wallace and he purchased three wagons and ox teams, two horses, several cows, and a herd of sheep. He, along with his wife's family, parched a lot of corn, boxed it up together with flour in well-made pine boxes about four feet long and twelve to fourteen inches wide and deep. He records, "This we did as sacks were not plentiful, and besides, they would easily wear out and were not fitting for years of sojourn in the mountains before the time of replenishing them might come to us."
William Wallace Casper played an important part in the camp life along the trail at Mount Pisgah and Council Bluffs. When the call came at Mount Pisgah, he and his brother-in-law, George Bean, volunteered to return to Nauvoo for some cattle that was due the Church. William Wallace and George W. Bean, who was only 15 years of age, started on June 1, 1846, on foot and made the 200-mile tramp in 5 1/2 days. In Nauvoo they received four head of cattle which he describes as "a providential occurrence, serving to strengthen our faith." They drove the cattle back to Mount Pisgah, then continued on to Council Bluffs where his family had located.
On July 16, 1846, he enlisted in the [Mormon] Battalion of 500 for service in Mexico and marched away in Company A, leaving his young wife and two-year-old daughter with only the cover of their wagon to protect them from the oncoming winter. It took a brave man to leave his loved ones under such circumstances and only a supreme faith enabled him to make the venture. Following is the journal of William Wallace Casper, in which he recounts his experiences in the Battalion and the hardships and perils he endured.
It was sixty years ago last July that the Mormon Battalion was mustered into the army of the United States as volunteers to serve in the war with Mexico. The design was to connect the Battalion with General Kearney's army of the West and to march it to California. The mustering-in took place July 16, 1846, at Council Bluffs, Iowa, where the main body of the Mormon pioneers were located. The call for the Mormons to furnish 500 volunteers for the war with Mexico came as the emigrants were on their journey to the Rocky Mountains.
While the call to the service was a hardship, it was, on the other hand, a great boon to our families who were making their way across the desolate stretches of prairie land, for it gave the Saints provisions.
From the beginning the high quality of the men who formed the [Mormon] Battalion was recognized. As we marched up to sign the muster call, Captain Allen, the gallant young army officer who had been commissioned to enlist the Mormons, turned to his associate officers and said, "This is the only battalion in the United States army in which every man can sign his own name."
There were many heartaches and tears as we made ready to leave our loved ones and friends. Many of the aged and children were sick from malaria fever which had found its way into the camp.
We went first to Fort Leavenworth to be equipped; here Captain Allen, whom we had learned to love, was strickened with what proved to be a fatal illness. Lieutenant A. J. Smith took command and led us on the tramp to Santa Fe. The battalion was composed of volunteers, not seasoned soldiers. The long marches, severe military discipline, large doses of medicine—of which we did not approve—were trials for both body and spirit. The hospital wagons were filled to overflowing. Some of the men, unable to continue farther with their companions, fell out of rank by the wayside; had it not been for kindly passing emigrants who picked them up and carried them in their wagons to Santa Fe, they would have perished.
[The narrative continues at Santa Fe.]
Colonel Phillips St. George Cook assumed command. He was a man of excellent qualities, but his severe discipline was not easily appreciated by the volunteers. They realized later, however, that stern discipline only could have brought them through such a march safely. Our hardships could hardly be exaggerated. In the course of a few months, few of us had anything on but rags and tatters. Shirts were made from the skins of animals. Anything that would serve as a covering was made use of. This being a march of infantry, we suffered even more from the lack of shoes. When they could be obtained, the skins of animals were bound around our feet, but there were not always obtainable and many a mile was marked by stains from our bare and bleeding feet. We started from Santa Fe, a 100-mile march ahead of us, with provisions for but 60 days; thus, from the start, rations were reduced. When we were yet 30 days from our destination, we found ourselves with no provisions except the fresh meat which was obtainable in the regions we were passing through. This we ate without salt.
Colonel Cook had received orders to build a wagon road to the Pacific coast. This he was able to do following the route previously used by General Kearney and his cavalrymen. The colonel chose the lower route along which the Battalion traveled without chart or guide, and blazed a trail for a distance of 400 miles. With this route we avoided both the Rocky Mountains and the Sierra Nevadas. Over the burning deserts and through stretches of miry clay and beds of shifting quicksand, we drew the wagons with ropes fastened around our shoulders. Up steep mountainsides with ax, picks, and browbar, we widened passages through walls of solid rock. We assisted our animals over the mountains while we were half starved ourselves. But our keenest suffering was from thirst! Often after a long day's march the other men would record in their diaries such stories as these: "We had a little brackish water tonight," or "We dipped up some water with our teaspoons." In camp at night we would wrap our blankets around us and dream of mountains and flowing streams. For 30 miles we marched through the scorching sand of the American desert without seeing a drop of water, save the deep wells which we dug ourselves.
We arrived at the point from which we could see the Pacific Ocean on January 27, 1847. We had completed a march of 2,000 miles, the longest march of infantry in history. It was for us a moment of supreme joy!"
Meanwhile, back in Iowa, Sarah Ann was having a difficult time. She and her child were sick; malaria fever, scurvy, and blackleg were rampant in the camp owing to the lack of vegetables and meat. Sarah Ann lived with her mother and sisters and all they had for food was a little corn which they pounded. Since they were all too weak to pound the corn, they were in a very bad way. It was then that Sarah Ann's brother, George Bean, returned from Adams County, [Illinois], with food and medicine. Shortly after this William Wallace's army pay began arriving which aided them greatly. It was finally decided that George Bean, age 16, should take Sarah Ann's wagon along with her and her daughter to the Rocky Mountains so William Wallace would not have to make the long journey back to Council Bluffs for his family. George W. Bean records:
According to plans, on June 13, 1847, I took two yoke of oxen, Casper's wagon, his cow, bedding, provisions for over a year in a desert home, placed Sister Sarah Ann and babe on the spring seat of the wagon, with faith that the goodbyes were for but a year when we would all be together again.
They left with the first emigrant company of which Parley P. Pratt, John Taylor, Charles C. Rich, and others were members. At the Platt River the oxen stampeded and 46 head were lost; however, George recovered Sarah Ann's. At Fort Laramie, George was court-martialed for assault and battery but was acquitted, as the plaintiff, Gabe Mayberry, had attacked Sarah Ann's cattle with a whip. On the trail the train lost many cattle from alkali and Indian attacks, but Sarah Ann's miraculously escaped every time. After many trials and privations, the family reached Salt Lake Valley on October 4, 1847.
In the valley George built an adobe cabin in the southeast corner of the old fort. This took him about two weeks. The day after they moved in (15 after their arrival in the valley) William Wallace Casper rode into Salt Lake Valley on a mule en route to Council Bluffs where he assumed Sarah to be. Imagine the joy of such a reunion after 18 months of separation without any correspondence between them. Their son, James Moroni, relates: "He, William Wallace, was wearing a piece of rawhide for a shirt and a piece of wagon cover for pants, but they were blessed with health and strength and their hearts were so full of joy, they didn't mind what his clothes were made of."
William Wallace had been honorably discharged at Pueble de los Angelos in California on the 16th day of July, 1847, by reason of the expiration of his term of service by order of Colonel Phillips St. George Cook, commanding.
That winter was a very trying one for the William Casper family, for they had nothing to live on, only the rations which the Church issued. When spring broke, William W. and his brother-in-law, George Bean, moved to Mill Creek where they established a farm and built a willow cabin with dirt floor and roof for Sarah to live in. During this time they lived very scantily. William Wallace writes: "Our cow gave milk and we had a very little flour, so we thickened milk and had lumpy dic__, as some called it, three times a day for many weeks. This was very light food for men plowing, grubbing, and such work."
When the crops came up, great hordes of black crickets descended upon the fields and threatened to destroy the grain entirely. William dug deep trenches around his field and filled them with water but, as he relates, "They soon got smart enough to drop in and paddle across to the other side. We drove them into brush fires, flailed them, but they seemed to increase. Then the sky darkened and the seagulls from the Great Salt Lake descended upon the fields and destroyed the crickets.
Shortly after this William Wallace was called by Brigham Young to colonize the region around the Santa Clara River, or the "Muddy" as it was called, in southern Utah. He became very friendly with the Lamanites and could speak many of their languages fluently.
Mary Casper, granddaughter, says, "William Wallace Casper was of average height, about five feet eight inches, and stockily built. His hair was a sandy brown and his long beard had flecks of red in it. He had sparkling blue eyes which glowed with mischievous humor."
Death quietly released this faithful servant and stalwart pioneer from this life on July 17, 1908, he being 87 years old. William Wallace Casper was the husband of Sarah Ann Bean. They had eleven children. His second wife, Margaret Mattice, had no children. William's third wife, Anne Erickson, had nine children. His posterity is numerous. Through his faith, many people have been born in the Church to possess the rich heritage of the gospel. It is not wonder that the name of William Wallace Casper is held in honorable remembrance.
Treasures of Pioneer History, Vol.4, p.436: William Wallace Casper was born March 12, 1821 in Belleville, Richland County, Ohio, a son of William and Avarilla Durbin Casper. He was baptized into the Mormon faith with his parents June 7, 1834 by Elder Solomon Hancock. The family after being driven from Missouri went to Illinois. In the spring of 1841 William joined the Nauvoo Legion in the Francis Higby company. He married Sarah Ann Bean on August 29th, 1844 and went with his wife to Council Bluffs to begin the westward trek.
It was here that William volunteered his services to the government and was mustered into the Mormon Battalion at the age of twenty five. He was a private in Company "A." He left his young wife and baby in the care of her sixteen year old brother, George W. Bean, who was to drive the wagon and oxen to the Rocky mountains. When he parted with his family he said, "Sarah Ann, you are in the hands of the same God as I am. May He bring us together again."
William was discharged from duty July 16, 1847 and his greatest desire was to go to his family. So he, with other soldiers, went to Sacramento, crossed the California mountains into Death Valley to St. Mary's River and traveled the long route north and east to Fort Hall, Idaho hence south to Salt Lake Valley where he arrived October 16, 1847. Here he was joyfully united with his wife and two year old daughter, Sarah, from whom he had heard nothing for fifteen months. They had arrived in the Valley only a few weeks before.
On February 1848 he homesteaded a farm about seven miles south of Salt Lake City on Mill Creek, and this was his home until his [p.437] death July 17, 1908. He served in the Walker War and served as a major in the militia.—Elizabeth Ada G. Hamilton
William Casper, Biography, typescript, Pg. 3: William Wallace had been honorably discharged at Pueble de los Angelos in California on the 16th day of July, 1847, by reason of the expiration of his term of service by order of Colonel Phillips St. George Cook, commanding officer.
LDS Biographical Encyclopedia, Andrew Jenson, Vol. 4, p.737: Casper, William Wallace, a member of the Mormon Battalion, Company A, was born March 12, 1821, in Belleville, Richland Co., Ohio, a son of William Casper and Ovarilla Durben. He was baptized June 7, 1834, by Solomon Hancock and moved with his family in 1837 to Caldwell County, Missouri, where he remained two years; later he lived in other places, and finally arrived in Nauvoo, Ill., in the spring of 1841. Having reached [p.738] the Missouri River with the "Camps of Israel," he enlisted with the Mormon Battalion July 16, 1846, and leaving his wife and one child he marched with the Battalion to California, where he was discharged in July, 1847. He arrived in Great Salt Lake Valley Oct. 18, 1847, and settled in Mill Creek in 1848, participated in the Walker war in 1853, and later filled a mission to the Muddy (in Nevada). He was ordained a High Priest June 20, 1892, by Geo. B. Wallace and later ordained a Patriarch. He was married three times and was the father of eighteen children. During the last two years of his life he did a great deal of Temple work. He died July 17, 1908, at his home in Mill Creek, Utah.