Wednesday, December 30, 2020

Green River and My Own Family History

My original intent was to write a short history of the city of Green River, the setting for my December romance, A Storekeeper for Christmas. After a poll taken during an earlier promotional event, I gave readers a choice of either Central City, Colorado or Green River, Wyoming. By a two to one margin, readers chose Green River.

The photo I used above for the banner was taken west of Green River Wyoming not too far from where the 1868 Union Pacific Railroad bridge was built across the river.

What I discovered as I began to research the history of this city was this: There are several sources, and they all pretty much feed off of each other. You can bring up Green River, Wyoming on Wikipedia and get almost all the information available online that you will find on most sites. One exception was the digitized copy of the book, History of Wyoming, by I.S. Bartlett published in 1918 which I found on RootsWeb. (When you have trouble finding sources, check out the genealogy sites.)

In spite of that, when I searched for who might have been available to marry my sweethearts in 1872 Green River, the information was sketchy and inconsistent. Even a perusal of the 1870 and 1880 census information for the region gave me nothing on that issue. There just were not many clergymen of any denomination in western Wyoming in the early 1870s.

Instead, I will tell you why Green River has always interested me. I have a story from my own family history involving this river, although it took place in 1855, years before the UPRR was built or the city of Green River was even thought of.

Desdemona Fox

To set the stage, I first heard this story several times from my grandmother. She was a late in life baby, born when her mother was forty-four. Her mother, Desdemona Fox, was an eight-year-old girl when she crossed the Great Plains in a covered wagon with her parents, George Sellman Fox and Mary Elizabeth “Betsy” Jones Fox. My grandmother was born in 1889, and her grandmother, Betsy, died in 1904. Not only did my grandmother hear the story from her own mother, but she very likely heard it from her grandmother who went through the experience.

Betsy was born in Birmingham, Warwickshire, England. After she married George Fox and the couple had several children, they held a gathering at their home the night two missionaries from The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (later nicknamed Mormon Church) showed up while George, who loved step-dancing (think jig), was in the middle of dancing for his guests. The couple converted and began saving to come to the United States. Two of their children died from whooping cough before they could depart, but three of them, including my great-grandmother, boarded the ship to begin the journey to Utah Territory.

Mary Elizabeth Fox

Betsy gave birth while on the ship, and the baby boy was named Sanders Curling—Sanders after the name of the captain and Curling after the name of the ship. From the time of the birth, Betsy was not well. The family arrived in St. Louis and stayed there for weeks, hoping she would improve. They finally decided to continue to Mormon Grove (four miles west of Atchison, Kansas) to prepare for a wagon train. Betsy contracted “milk fever” and lost her milk, resulting in the death of the baby. He was buried in Mormon Grove and the family started west.

Betsy was still ill and not in her right mind. At nights, she often tried to climb out of the covered wagon to go back for her baby. Shortly after they crossed the Green River—one of the most difficult river crossings on the entire trip—George, who spent his nights sitting on the wagon bench to make sure his wife did not leave the wagon, fell asleep out of sheer exhaustion. Betsy left the wagon and disappeared.

George Fox

Once it was discovered she was gone, a search party of about fifty men began looking for her. Her footsteps led to the banks of the Green River. The wagon master, Milo Andrus, decided the train needed to continue because everyone was getting low on food. (Another matter of interest to me—I now attend church with an Andrus who is a direct descendant of this same Milo Andrus.)

Milo Andrus 1890

I have several histories published by a few of Betsy’s other descendants. Two of them suggested the local Native Americans might have helped her, but doubt that happened. According to my grandmother, who definitely heard the story many times from her mother and might have heard the story from the “horse’s mouth,” Betsy might have been close by when the rescue party looked for her. However, having come from England, like many English, she had heard some of the horror stories about Indians—told from the white point-of-view—and was terrified of Native Americans. Since she was still delirious, when she heard voices, she feared they were Indians. She hid and did not answer.

The next wagon train to come along a couple of weeks later was a freight train with mostly men and one woman who was traveling west with her son. As they approached the river, they saw what one of the men thought was a wild creature or Indian eating berries. He raised his musket to shoot, but the woman stopped him by saying, “That’s a white woman.” By that time, Betsy, her clothes in tatters, had come to her senses. She was able to tell them who she was and that she had been surviving on roots and berries. She had no idea how she got across the river because the water was deep, and she did not know how to swim.

Fort Bridger 1850

The freighters took her to Fort Bridger where she stayed for several weeks to regain her strength. From there, she joined with another wagon train and continued her journey to the Great Salt Lake Valley.

Meanwhile, when the freight train arrived in Great Salt Lake City, George met them with the hope that they knew something about his wife. He was overjoyed to learn she had been found and would follow shortly. Soon, the family, including the youngest surviving child, my great-grandmother, were reunited.

Snippet from NPS Mormon Trail Map


Some of the histories of the city of Green River reference the Mormon migration. However, the trail they follow did not pass through that city with is farther south along the UPRR tracks and Interstate 80. 

The Mormon Trail map published by the National Park Service shows Lombard Ferry as the crossing point on the Mormon Trail. Actually, in 1850, when mountaineers sold the ferry to the church, it was known as the Mormon Ferry. It did not become known as the Lombard Ferry until 1889, decades after my ancestors used it to cross the Green River. 

It is also possible that my family who immigrated in 1855 could have used the church-owned ferry a few miles north that became known as the Robinson Ferry in 1856 when Isaac Bullock and Lewis Robinson took it over.  Either way, you may see what the Green River looks like in the region of these ferries where my ancestor, Betsy Fox, was lost by CLICKING HERE.

I published two books for Christmas this year. One is more reflective, one is a fun romance with an interfering aunt and a rascally little boy. Please click on the book titles for the book descriptions.


Gift of Restitution: A Story for Christmas





A Shopkeeper for Christmas 




My next book to be published in January is the third book in my Train Wreck in Jubilee Springs series, Kate's Railroad Chef. It is now on preorder. For the book description and link, please CLICK HERE.

1 comment:

  1. Zina, this was a fascinating post. I depend on genealogical research for my character names and have adapted events in the lives of ancestors in small ways. I've also written a number of genealogical articles for various publications and have edited and/or compiled books on my dad's family, my mom's, and on my mother-in-law. It's a fascinating hobby you can never finish.


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