History of John Peck Chidester Family & Descendents

by Ida Josephine Sargent Chidester

Way back in 1861, John Peck Chidester, who was a Pennsylvanian by birth, came with his father John Madison Chidester to Washington, Utah and is listed in Washington records with about 50 families who were called by Brigham Young under the date of October 13, 1861, to the Southern or Dixie Mission.

These 50 families bolstered up the settlers who, after several years of colonizing, had become discouraged and there were only 20 families left in Washington at this time. They arrived just as winter set in, and shortly after their arrival, a great storm set in and many of them had no shelter but the wagons they came in. All through the winter months the rain fell incessantly until these few settlers likened it to the biblical events of Noah’s day and they have always referred to it as the 40 days and nights of rain which flooded the Virgin River and destroyed many villages in Washington County. Washington stood on higher ground and escaped some of the worst floods but it took their crops and gardens.

When spring came these few settlers started in to build a dam on this trecherous river so they could plant crops and cotton and try to make a living. Some idea of their hardships and struggles from 1861 to 1865 is told in the way they worked to dam the river. Every time the floods took the dam out their crops were gone and they all suffered terribly with hunger and Malaria Fever. So the fight against the Virgin was started in August 1885 with John Peck Chidester of Washington, Utah, Richard Morris and Anthony W. Ivins of St. George as a committee to plan the construction of the dam. John Peck Chidester had some training as an engineer and carpenter. He proposed that they build a Pile Dam, so they commissioned John Peck Chidester to explore the Pine Valley Mountain and ascertain if he could obtain suitable timbers for building this dam. The supply of timbers were obtained and John Peck Chidester let no gras grow under his feet. Getting these timbers to a loading plase was a hurculean task but finally they were secured and on February 11, 1886, John Peck Chidester was appointed superintendent of construction for the dam.

John Peck and his father John Madison had worked as carpenters on public buildings both in St. George and Washington and he was the chief carpenter on the construction of the old cotton factory, cutting the timbers and doing the mortise work all with hand tools. He also built the Tithing Barn and Granary in Washington and was paid $4.00 per day for all this work, part in ditch credit, some in hay, grain, flour or orders on the factory. He build the Pile Dam a few hundred yards below the old dam. The work moved ahead rapidly and by July 13, 1886, Superintendent Chidester reported that the piles were all driven but that futher labors were at a standstill until crops were up and ore timbers hauled from Pine Valley Mountain. Finally some men were able to help and after the piles were cross sectioned, Indians were utilized to roll rocks off the mountain into the dam. They were paid fifty cents a day. Men labored in the water which was up to their waist to finish the dam and put the water in the ditch to save crops. The dam was still unfinished but they continued working all through 1887-88 and crops suffered as a result of it not being completed and sickness overtook the community so no one was able to work.

Finally after four years the dam was completed and the people looked at it with satisfaction and said, “now we have a dam that will last, we have mastered the Virgin River”. But their joy was of short duration as in December 1889, terrible storms and floods hit the town and continued until the dam was completely destroyed. The people were very discouraged, some were leaving but the board called a meeting of stockholders and decided to have Superintendent Chidester build a new dam. Robert C. Land, John Peck Chidester, Richard Morris, Isaac McFarlane and Charles W. Seegmiller were assigned the job of deciding were to build the dam and how to do it. A site was chosen three miles above the old dam site and John Peck Chidester, Charles W. Seegmiller and Isaac McFarlane were the three men who chose the site and started in to build another dam but they had a hard time. The dam was completed in February 1891 and from that day to this, the dam has held firm.

Just to show what kind of man John Peck Chidester was the story is told of how the man worked with wheelbarrows to make a tunnel to divert floods and were only getting $5.00 per day so John Peck Chidester, who was one of the general committee raised their wages to $7.50 per day. Today his farms on both sides of the Virgin River are watered when it is most urgently needed through the efforts of this good man.

John Peck Chidester was a counsellor to Bishop Funk for many years and when Washington was incorporated he was elected as a councilman with Mayor Thomas J. Jones and also owned a mercantile business. His wife, Susan Foy Chidester served as Relief Society President and Aunt Evaline Sproul and her mother, Susan Foy Chidester were among the first women who worked at raising cocoons and helping in the silk industry. Susan Foy Chidester raised some of the first mullberry trees in Dixie. She had a tree right by her upstairs window where she kept the cocoons and  long tables and could reach through the window and gather mullberry leaves to feed them. Susan Foy and Evaline Sproul made some beautiful silk and it was a beatiful cream0colored silk that she took to the fair and won fist prize. She had ten yards of this silk to make herself a dress. She also made some silk for Theodore a silk handkerchief about one yard square. He used it for a neck scarf and it was lovely. Susan Foy made some green silk which was used for Temple Aprons. This was considered a fine weave.

The family of John Peck Chidester were talented singers and musicians. His sons, John Foy and Myron played the violin. John Peck was also a talented musician.  He played the violin which he made and was very particular about it. His son John Foy was very anxious to learn to play when he was a young boy but was told not to touch the violin which belonged to his father. However, his mother, Susan Foy and her sister realizing this strong desire decided to let the boy practice on his father’s violin while he was at work.John Foy had a natural talent and was son playing the tunes he had heard his father play. This secret was too good to keep from the boy’s father, so they told John Peck about this. He was skeptical so they devised a scheme whereby John Peck was to leave the room supposedly to go to work and they would give the boy the violin. He started to play and his father listened while he played all of the tunes. Finally he could conatin himself no longer and walked in. John Foy was quite perturbed, expecting some penalty. His father was so pleased and could hardly believe what he had heard about the boy’s ability, so he gave his son John Foy the violin, and gave him lessons. As years went by he was one of the leading musicians in Southern and Central Utah and in 1892 John F. Chidester, George Hanks and William T. Owens build the first dance hall in Panguitch, Utah and also a resort at Panguitch Lake. This was the largest dance hall south of Salt Lake City. They had George Hanks at the piano, William Owens at the drums and triangle and John Foy the violin. People flocked from all over to dance at this beautiful, spacious dancehall. When the crowds were so great no one was allowed to dance two dances in succession. James A. Worthen was manager and if anyone brok ethis rule James merely gave them a look or pointed his finger at them and they immediately left the floor. He would call out “those who did not dance the last dance may choose partners” for the waltz, two-step or whatever the case may be.

These three men also formed a race track company and built a circle track. Some of the best race horses in Utah, Nevada and Arizona came to this resort. People flocked there from everywhere to spend a week at the Twenty-Fourth Celebration at Panguitch Lake. Theatre troops from New York City came and the hall was ligted with acetoline or Carbide Lights and it was a beautiful place. The orchestra sometimes numbered six. This was really a wonderful resort but like Saltair and old generals, it just faded away.

The violin which John Peck made and which he gave to his son Joyn Foy was handed down to Samuel H. Chidester who now resides in Bicknell, Utah. Sam is another one of the Chidester musicians, having taught privately and in schools in Utah, as well as having trained many dance bands. Uncle Myron Chidester helped to organize a band and Uncle Andrew Sproul and his brother Angus and daughter Emmeline and son Masel Sroul were members of this band. Uncle Myron and Uncle Andrew Sproul were among the greatest entertainers Washington hand. They were both talented singers and were good in amateur theatricals and minstrel shows and wish a number of friends staged some wonderful shows and negro minstrels did many clever things with their guitars, bangos, mandeline and singing. They also had a wonderful Ward Choir. Undle Andrew had a beautiful, clear tenor voice and a family of the most talented singers I ever knew.

John Peck’s Family entered Washington, Utah five days after the very first settlers, letting their wangons down over the Black Ridge by ropes. They helped build the town of Washington, Utah and all of the family helped in the cotton industry. Susan Foy and her daugthers and some of her granddaughters, namely Almina Chidester Ogden, Emma and Jennie Ruby worked in the factory.

Some of this is taken from emmory and some is taken from the history of Washington “The Red Hills of November” by Andrew Karl Larsen.

John Foy Chidester lived in Washington until his wife Mary, lovingly called Mamie, died. Then he left his chidlren, Sabina, Theodore, John N and Mary Asenath with his mother and sisters and went to Beaver to study law. Upon his return he practiced law and made a wonderful career for himself.

After the death of John Foy’s wife Mary and a lapse of two years, he came to Panguitch and in 1885 married Almina Worthen. He worked occasionally at carpenter work and in 1889 he served a mission for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints in the Southern States. Jenson’s Church Chronology states that John F. Chidester of Panguitch and his companion George H. Burgess while laboring in the mission field in Tennessee and South Carolina in 1889 were assaulted by a mob and banised from their field of labor. They were laboring without purse or script and a post office in the vicinty was robbed and they were suspecioned by the people and would have undoubtedly been killed but were protected by a family of convers, Hasting (Bud) Thompson, who held the mob at bay with a shotgun. Later they were taken into custody by officers and held a few days until the real culprits were apprehended. Then the officers paid their way out of the state, being embarrassed over the situation, they said that they would buy them a ticket to wehrever they wished to go ad they were able to have transportation to a conference they were to attend. At the time they did not know how they would be able to reach their destination. Later the Thompson family came to Panguitch and some of them still live here. This was the only missionary from Panguitch that was mobbed.


However, details of this story were told by John F. Chidester’s wife Almina to her daughter Almina Ogden as follows:

John F. Chidester and his companion George E. Burgess while laboring in the missionfield in the Southern States received word from the mission Headquarters to proceed to Chatanooga for a conference. John F. Chidester and his companion were at a loss to see how they could reach their destination without the funds to buy a ticket as they were laboring without purse or script. They proceeded to go into a grove nearby and knelt in prayer and asked the Lord for help so that they might reach their destination. They had started on their journey, obeying the council to come when they were overtaken by the officers of the law and taken into custody. They were at a loss to know on what charges they were being held and were informed that the post office had been robbed, the post-master killed and that they fit the description of the wanted men. They were placed in a jail which was even farther from their intended destination than before and held for thirty-six hours, at the end of which time they were informed that the guilty parties were apprehended and they were released. To make amends the officers told John Foy and his companion that they would furnish them with transportation to wherever they wished to go. This was the solution to these two missionaries arriving at the conference on time. Tickets were purchased on the train for the trip to the conference.

John Foy Chidester held some of the most important offices in Garfield County and held many religious offices both in Panguitch and Richfield, Utah. He was Superintendent of the Sunday School in Panguitch after he returned from his mission. As mentioned he went without purse or script and left his family with no visible means of support but his wife Almina took her four step-children to the Al Haycock Ranch, where she did the milking of approximately fifteen cows made butter and cheese, corded wool, made soap, took in washings which she did on the board, sewed by candle-light, bartering her services as a seamstress for the children’s shoes; her sewing machine being purchased by John F. with the first ten dollars he had after they were married, and which machine she kept until the moved to Richfield, Utah.

After John F. returned from his mission the first job he obtained was helping to build the first jail the county ever had and it is still standing today.

In 1885, John F. Chidester was admitted to the practice of law before the Utah Bar at Beaver. He served as county attorney in Garfield County, was county clerk and recorder, was the chairman of the first Republican Party.

With the transformation of Utah from a territory to a state, John F. Chidester served as a member of the Constitutional Convention and while there made a determined fight for women suffrage, and was attributed through his efforts of getting the vote for women more so than any other person in the convention.

Emmeline B. Wells was one who watched John Foy Chidester on all of his activities for Women Suffrage. John Foy said at one time, it seemed as though every time he turned a corner, Emmeline B. Wells was there to help push the cause along. After the bill passed at the Convention giving the vote to women Emmeline B. Wells, as a token of gratitude, presented John F. Chidester with an autographed volume of Elliot’s Felex Holt, The Spanish Gypsy, Jubal and other Poems, inscribed with the following:

Hon, J. F. Chidester
Chairman Committee
on Elections & Suffrage —
From one who appreciates
the magnanimity he has shown
for  women, and who graciously
tenders him her simple need of praise —

Signed: mmEmmeline B. Wells
Salt Lake City – April 25, 1895

John F. Chidester was elected State Senator from Garfield County to the First General Assembly of Utah in 1896. He aided in the adjustent of public policy and interests to the new statehood. Prior to his term as senator he served Garfield County as mentioned before. Upon expiration of his term as senator he was elected attorney for the Sixth Judicial District. When his term as senator expired and the office of district attornty of the Sixth Judicial District was created, John F. was first to hold that office, which position he held for six years.

In the year of 1902 John F. was appointed Judge of the Sixth Judicial District and in the year 1906 moved his family to the town of Richfield, Utah, where the new Court House had been erected.

John Foy Chidester displayed great wisdom while rendering his decisions as Judge. In all the years that he served on teh bench as judge he had but one decision reversed; this was reviewed by the Supreme Court and reversed back to his original decision. John Foy Chidester was characterized by people generally as the Abraham Lincoln of Utah.

The present generation who are descendants of John P. Chidester all speak for themselves. There are some highly talented and proficient business men, people of the arts and sciences, and tody we are here to pay honor and tribute to a wonderful man and his posterity.

John Foy Chidester organized the Chidester Family Reunion, the first two were held in Washington, the third one was held at his home in Richfield and he took care of everyone in the way of housing and food. Ida Chidester also helped with this first reunion and contributed a piece of her literary work for the same.

The purpose of these reunions is to keep the family united and to get a history published of all members and the gathering and completion of all geneology. This is but the beginning – please submit yours.

Edited and added to by:
Almina Chidester Ogden
Thais Chidester Vreeland

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