Margaret Kartchner

Margaret Jane Casteel Kartchner


By Roberta Clayton, Navajo County, December 5, 1936

Margaret Jane Casteel was born September 1, 1825 in Cooper County, Missouri.  Her parents were Jacob Israel Casteel and Sarah Nowlin Casteel.  There may have been more than the six children whose names are known but there were six brothers and sisters at least.  Their names were Mary (St. Mary), Emmeline (Savage), Margaret (Kartchner), James, Joshua and Francis Steven, called “Frank”, who made a journey down the Missouri River.  Supposedly to Texas and never returned.  His fate was never known and this was a great cause for mourning by his mother and brother and sisters.

The Casteel blood was of French extraction with mixtures of English, Scotch and Irish.  They were evidently of devout Christian faith, for Margaret’s father’s family, consisting of eight brothers and one sister, were given bible names throughout.  The were:  Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Israel, Shadrack, Meshach, Abednego, Daniel, Benjamin, and Mary.

Very little is known of Margaret’s life until she was eighteen years of age, when she married William Decatur Kartchner, on March 17, 1844 in the city of Nauvoo, Illinois.  She was a skillful spinner and weaver.  One square piece of her homespun cloth is still in the possession of her youngest son Orin Kartchner.  He tells of his brothers shearing their own sheep and then watching his mother wash each fleece, cord, spin and weave it into cloth.

From any evidence known Margaret did not have much schooling, but she was a woman of fine intellect and sterling character, modest and refined in manner, and deeply religious.  She was baptized a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints at the age of fourteen in Pike County, Illinois.

She and her husband began a westward journey in company with a pioneer group in September, 1844, but traveled only as far as Iowa City that year.  They spent the winter there, doing any work possible for means of subsistence, until another start was made in March, 1845.

There was much hardship and short rations of food, and Margaret Jane Kartchner walked for many miles of the journey because she was young and able-bodied.  At one time during this hard journey when their rations had been reduced to one gill of corn a day to the person, without salt, they walked in water and mud, shoe-mouth deep, up the Iowa River with no road.  Then leaving the river, they turned westward across a large prairie toward the Sioux Indian country.

One day some Frenchmen and Indians came to their camp and invited them to come and camp near their fort.  They pointed to their thin cheeks, realizing how near starvation they were.  The Indians gave them dried buffalo meat, which the pioneers thought to be the best thing they had ever tasted.  They also brought them roasting ears of corn and finally a Frenchman, M. Henrie, told the young Kartchner that his Indian wife was away and offered them a boarding place if Margaret would do the cooking.  They gladly accepted his offer and sincerely appreciated his kindness.

About the middle of July, a chance came to them to go on a steamboat down the Missouri to St. Louis.  They decided this was a good move under the circumstances.  They had very few possessions to take on board with them but Mr. Henrie and the Indians prepared two large bundles of dried meat for them.  The boatmen, seeing their destitute condition was very kind to them, and provided them with food and clothing.  A rich French gentleman, traveling for his health gave them a pair of blankets and ten dollars in sliver, for which they gave him sincere thanks and appreciation.

William D. Kartchner had an older sister living in St. Louis, but she was proud and haughty and considered the young pioneer couple scarcely worth any notice from her.  Margaret became seriously ill with intermittent fever, but the sister, Mrs. James Webb, seldom came to see her.  However, a Mrs. Powell, wife of a rich southern planter, from whom they had rented a small room, came often and cared for Margaret, administering medicine and attending to her needs.  When she was finally out of danger her husband crossed the river and went on foot sixty miles to see his brother, John Kartchner.  He came in his wagon and the young couple ferried their belongings across the river in a skiff where he gave them a welcome and a comfortable home during the fall and winter of 1845.

William learned of a pioneer company leaving for the Rocky Mountains in the spring of 1846.  His determination to join this company greatly annoyed his brother who had made him fine offers of land if he would stay with him for five years.  They finally parted in anger, and William and Margaret Kartchner joined the Mississippi Company in March 1846.

They had hired out to drive a wagon loaded with a thousand pounds of provisions, for a Mr. Crow.  They traveled to Fort Pueblo, on the Arkansas River, by the latter part of July.  Here Mr. Crow broke his obligation, fearing his provisions would run short.  This left the young Kartchners again stranded, without even a wagon to camp in.  The company had halted here to await instructions from their leader, Brigham Young, and the Kartchner’s made a camp under a large Cottonwood tree, and for a time were at the mercy of kind friends for food.  Here, under this cottonwood tree, under these destitute conditions, their baby daughter was born on August 17, 1846, the first white child to be born in the state of Colorado, an honor for which, many years later, that state presented to her, Sarah Emma Kartchner Miller, of Snowflake, Arizona, a gold medal.

Not long after the birth of their daughter, the father obtained work as a blacksmith in which line he was skilled, at Bent’s Fort, eighty miles down the river.  The young wife and child were left to the kindness of a Mrs. Catherine Holiday, and the journey was made on horse-back.

The work was heavy, largely consisting of work for U.S. Army troops under General Kearney, on their way to the Mexican War.  William worked there until late in the fall, thankfully receiving two dollars a day for his labor but was finally stricken with a serious attack of rheumatism and was obliged to return to Pueblo.  His wife was often compelled to walk as much as a hundred yards through snow knee-deep to get a cottonwood limb for fuel.

Early in the spring of 1847 they began making preparations to resume their westward journey.  With some of the money he had earned they bought an old wagon and provisions, another man of the party permitting them to use a pair of his oxen.  William was still unable to walk, but did repairing of his own and other men’s wagons by means of his blacksmith tools screwed to his wagon tongue, Margaret carrying the pieces to him which were to be repaired.  When they reached Fort Laramie, they learned that they were only three days behind the Pioneers under Brigham Young.  This company traveled that distance behind them all the rest of the journey, reaching the Great Salt Lake Valley July 27, 1847.

Margaret had another attack of mountain fever but recovered in less time than the year before.  They located at a spring about nine miles southeast of the city and began the usual building of an adobe house, fencing, and farming the land allotted to them.  Their food was very scarce, but William went once during the winter into the city and bought flour at fifty cents a pound to make bread for their little girl.  The parents were without bread of any kind for nearly two months, until new wheat and corn were ripe.

In the winter of 1850, a call was made for a group to colonize San Bernardino, California.  The Kartchners and Casteels were among those called to go and a start was made in March 1851.  They remained at San Bernardino until the latter part of 1857 when they were called to return to Utah.  The Casteels did not make this sacrifice and Margaret left her people in California.  She settled at Beaver, Utah with her husband and children.

Another call was given to William Kartchner to help colonize on the Middy River, a location near the present settlements of Overton and Logandale, Nevada.  Margaret and her children followed William there in May, 1866 but after several locations were made, and much land cleared and farmed the settlements were abandoned, in February 1871.  They now settled at Panguich, Utah.  The hand-planed log house which they built in 1871 is still standing and in good enough repair for a family to be living in it at the present time.  William Kartchner was the post master of Panguich and the hole for the posting of letters is still to be seen, covered with a small board.

Margaret was always busy raising chickens, spinning, weaving, and putting up fruit, both fresh and dried.  By this time she had borne ten other children, her family consisting of six sons and five daughters.  Two sons and a baby daughter died in infancy.  One of the very saddest things in her life occurred at Mojave Crossing, California.  Her daughter, Alzada Sophia (Palmer) was born January 5, 1858 and the next day, James Peter, just past two years of age died.  Not wishing to bury him on the desert, so far from human habitation, the little body was placed in a metal churn the lid soldered on, and it was hauled to Parowan, Utah where it was buried.

In the spring of 1877, William D. Kartchner, sons and sons-in-law with their families, were called to help in the colonization of the Little Colorado River Settlements.  Several months were spent in gathering provisions and stock, teams, wagons and supplies for two years, and on November 15, 1877 they made a start for Arizona.  The journey to Sunset covered two months and three days, and Margaret Kartchner was sick most of the time.

The Kartchners settled eighteen miles above Sunset and called their settlement Taylor.  But during seven months no dam was proof against the floods which swept them away as if they were nothing.  After five dams had gone out, the entire settlement of Taylor was abandoned and the Kartchner families moved to the new settlement of Snowflake on Silver Creek, a tributary of the Little Colorado, in August 1878.

Margaret Kartchner had spent thirty-four years of her life in helping to colonize four of the western states.  She had walked many weary miles, and had journeyed many thousands of miles over mountains and deserts, where no roads eased the rocky way, behind slow, plodding oxen, months at a time, having only a wagon-box for her home.  Now, at last, she had reached a haven of rest, for Snowflake was to be her permanent home.  A rather fine log house was built and life seemed now to have settled into a more peaceful, and less strenuous pattern of living. She took part in the activities of the new settlement, especially in the religious affairs.

But the hard years had taken severe toll and she lived only three years almost to a day after she began her life in Snowflake.  On the morning of August 5, 1881 she was taken with a very bad cough and severe pain in her head.  Everything possible was done for her relief but she grew worse every day until the morning of August 11th, when she passed peacefully away with a pleasant smile on her countenance.  Speakers at her funeral dwelt on the upright character and virtuous integrity of this good woman.  She had lived only fifty-six years, but her life had been lived to a rich fullness in deeds if not in years.

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