Carson Valley’s First Settler Wedding

The year was 1854 when two young riders pulled up outside Henry Van Sickle’s blacksmith shop, astride a single horse.

Their arrival at Van Sickle’s station wasn’t all that unusual — “Van” (as locals knew him) was an in-demand blacksmith and wheelwright, and his trading station had become a popular stopping place for passing-through emigrants.

What was unusual, however, was the mission of the two riders. Young David R. Jones and his even younger companion, Frances Angeline Williams, weren’t interested in Van’s assistance as a blacksmith, but rather his help as Justice of the Peace. They’d just eloped together on horseback, and wanted “Van” to marry them.

Frances was a native of Pennsylvania who’d come west with her family in a wagon train, arriving in Carson Valley during the fall of 1853. David had been born in Wales in 1830, emigrating initially as a child with his family to Wisconsin. David, too, had followed his dreams west to Carson Valley in 1853 as a member of the same wagon train as the Williams family, and was now living and working on the ranch owned by Frances’ father*, William T. “Billy” Williams.

Henry Van Sickle.

David was 25 years old when he rode up to Van Sickle’s blacksmith shop that fateful day. Frances, on the other hand, was just 15. And they hadn’t asked her parents’ permission to get married.

As later writers have recounted the tale, “Van” was hard at work at his forge when the eager young couple rushed in. Still clad in his leather blacksmith’s apron and rolled-up shirtsleeves, Van Sickle obliged with the briefest of ceremonies. Clapping one meaty hand on David’s shoulder and the other on Frances’, he solemnly proclaimed: “As Justice of the Peace of this township, I pronounce you man and wife under the law of the Territory of Utah.”

That was it. They were married.

Henry Van Sickle didn’t bother to take off his rough blacksmith’s apron for the marriage. Photos below of David R. Jones and Frances (Williams) Jones are courtesy of Douglas County Historical Society & Museum.

It was the first settler marriage ever performed in Carson Valley, at least according to local legend. (Small pause for a word of caution: when it comes to “firsts” like marriages and babies, there can often be room for dispute! But that’s how local legend tells it.) And the wedding wouldn’t be Van Sickle’s last. In August, 1857, Van Sickle also “stopped branding cattle long enough to perform the marriage” for Elzy Knott and Mary Harris.

There’s just one small factual hiccup giving later historians pause about the long-ago Jones wedding story: Henry Van Sickle probably wasn’t actually a J.P. yet in 1854. It wasn’t until Carson County, Utah Territory was formed in September, 1855 by Orson Hyde that Henry officially became a judge, as nearly as we can tell. Prior to that, although J.P.’s did exist, their authority was limited to handling court cases. With no authority for anyone at the time to perform weddings, emigrant marriages were sometimes accomplished by written “contract” or by stretching the fictitious jurisdiction of an eastern J.P.

Still, the story of the Jones’ wedding is so detailed there’s likely some truth to the tale. Perhaps the young couple thought Van Sickle had the power to marry them, and Van simply tried to oblige. Maybe later tellings got the year wrong and the marriage took place in 1855, after Henry really was a Justice of the Peace.  Or maybe the well-respected Van Sickle was simply the closest thing anyone had to a J.P. in those early days, and local folk never questioned the well-intentioned marriage attempt.

However it happened, if the oft-repeated story about the early wedding is true, newlyweds David and Frances must have had quite an interesting conversation with her family when they finally returned home to the Williams ranch! But any hard feelings were apparently soon forgiven. David would later purchase the Williams ranch in 1857.

Over the years, the couple prospered. David was (or at least, as he claimed to be) the first to plow the ground with an ox team near Genoa, and he soon began hauling hay and grain to Virginia City. But the early years of their marriage were filled with the dangers and difficulties of early pioneers. He would later recall: “We hid in the willows at night, [my] wife and I, because the Indians were hostile in those days and we feared for our lives.”

The Jones Ranch, as it appeared about 1881.

The couple’s first son, John R. Jones, born in 1855, was reportedly the first white male child born in Carson Valley. All told, David and Frances would go on to have a total of eleven children. One of those children, daughter Sarah, grew up to marry Lorenzo Smith of Washoe City, a tale recounted in this earlier story. (Daughter Sarah was laid to rest at the Washoe City Cemetery in early 1894.)

The Jones ranch grew, and by 1882 was valued for tax purposes at $3,500. David also evidently developed a passion for fine horses. In 1878, the newspaper reported the price for breeding services from his “noble-looking” stallion, Westfork.

D.R. Jones’ “noble” stallion, Westfork, was mentioned in the Carson Valley News of April 12, 1878.

David Jones was an active member of the local community, officiating as a judge of elections at the Mottsville Precinct in 1880, and serving as a Douglas County commissioner in the 1890s. According to some accounts Jones also became a prominent  and well-respected member of the Mormon Church — although in actuality, he’d broken ties with the LDS church. Instead, Jones may have been affiliated with the Re-organized Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints when that movement emerged in the 1870s, though even the nature of his association with that group remains unclear.  In any event, Jones was listed as a “minister” at the marriage of John Boston and Nettie Jones in March, 1872, and was kindly referred to as “Rev. Jones” in February, 1898 when he officiated at the funeral of Mrs. Mary Gilman.

Frances passed away in 1909, with seven of her 11 children still surviving her. Five years later, David was applauded as the oldest still-living Nevada pioneer at the state’s 50thanniversary celebration. He died that same year, 1914, at the age of 85. David and Frances Jones are both buried in the historic Genoa Cemetery.

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     * William T. Williams is identified as Frances’ father in Sam P. Davis’s later History of Nevada (Vol. II), but according to letters in the possession of descendants, her real father was actually David Williams. It’s possible that William T. Williams was an uncle.
Special thanks also to the Douglas County Historical Society for the wonderful pair of photos of Frances and David Jones for this story, and the account of their elopement from the reminiscences of Robert A. Trimmer, a typescript in the Historical Society’s Van Sickle Library collection. A similar story about the Jones wedding was told by Owen E. Jones in the 
Record-Courier of September 4, 1925. David Jones’ account of hiding in the willows was reported in the Record-Courier of February 5, 1909, and his land purchase from “Bully [probably Billy] Williams” was in the Genoa Courier, December 19, 1902. The account of “Rev.” Jones conducting the funeral of Mrs. Gilman is from Genoa Weekly Courier, February 11, 1898.
And just a quick acknowledgment: I am so thankful for the help of local historians who know so much more and so freely share!  So, many thanks to one local historian in particular (who prefers to remain nameless) for the great information about the date of Van Sickle’s election as Justice of the Peace, various early marriage hurdles and work-arounds, and David Jones’ still-not-quite-clear connection with the Re-organized Mormon Church.

Inspiration for your Memoir Writing

GUEST BLOG:  Q&A With Memoir Author Fran Macilvey 

I was so excited to “meet” this memoir author on Facebook recently, and wanted to share her story and tips with you! Hope it inspires your own memoir writing.

Author Fran Macilvey has not just one inspiring memoir book under her belt, but three. Her first book, Trapped: My Life with Cerebral Palsy, a gold medal winner, was an Amazon international bestseller after its release in 2014. And Fran kept on writing. Her second book, Happiness Matters, followed in 2017. And she’s just come out with a third, Making Miracles — a joyful journey of self-discovery and a guide to finding happiness and fulfilment even after a lifetime of mistakes.

Fran kindly shared a Q&A with us. I hope you’ll be inspired by both her personal journey and her sage memoir-writing advice!

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A Quick Introduction:

A quick introduction:  In 1965, Fran was a miracle baby — an entirely unexpected and premature one. Fran made her surprise debut in the Congo, where her father was serving as a Belgian diplomat. Although Fran’s mother knew she was pregnant, she had no idea she was actually carrying twins. By the time doctors arrived, Fran — the second and unexpected twin — had suffered permanent damage. She entered the world with a battle on her hands. She had cerebral palsy.

When Fran was seven, the family returned to Scotland. At age ten, Fran and her sister were sent off to boarding school. For the next eight years, she watched from the sidelines as other kids romped and played. A series of orthopaedic surgeries only added pain to an introverted, unhappy childhood. “My juvenile hurt turned into adult anger, self-hatred, and suicidal depression,” Fran recalls, “until the day when someone saw past my limitations.”

Luckily for her readers, Fran’s painful early life launched her on a journey of introspection and eventually joy. And, oh yes, along the way she also became a lawyer, practicing as a solicitor for ten years. Fran now lives in Edinburgh, Scotland with her husband and daughter. And she’s still writing books, with a trio of novels about women and their encounters with the law currently in the works.

And now, here’s Fran’s great Q&A!

Q&A With Fran:
Q:  Your first memoir, Trapped, tells the poignant story of your early life and what it was like growing up with a disability. How did you get started writing your first memoir?
A:  I decided, one day, simply to sit down and type. It wasn’t as easy as it sounds. My daughter had started school and I had time, so I basically ran out of excuses. I started by writing the first thing that came into my head – a scene of my parents at a party in Congo – which I more or less wrote as it came to me. When my father read an early draft of Trapped he made some really helpful comments. I guess if I were to offer your readers any suggestion it would be to start anywhere – beginning, middle or end. Your work will take you where it wants to go, eventually. Enjoy the journey.

Q:  And then you wrote Happiness MattersWhat did you learn in writing Trapped that got you interested in writing a sequel?
A:  The first book ends with a question: “So I’m still here, what next?” The second sprang from the question, “So you want to live the rest of your life in peace? How about starting now?”
I wound up actually writing Trapped and Happiness Matters at roughly the same time, which helped me to finish both books. I would have quit writing Trapped – it was so hard – if I hadn’t constantly been reminded that happiness matters. Ultimately, I finished writing Trapped because I knew that achieving that would make me a happier person.
In writing Trapped I also realised that life doesn’t simply stop when we arrive at the end of a story. There is always more to aim for — in my case, happiness. Trying out so many different approaches to happiness took me years. Some theories didn’t work, others have more than rewarded me, which is why Happiness Matters took about ten years to reach publication. And my third book came from the realisation, “There’s more to life than this, people!”

Q:  I love your most recent title: Making Miracles — what will readers find in the book that might be helpful in their own life?
A:  I’ve kept a dream journal for about twenty years and it has become increasingly clear to me that when we listen to our dreams, record them, and re-read them, we can learn a lot about how life works, what it’s for, and about particular messages that will help us. The examples I have shared in Making Miracles are those that I hope have a wider resonance. Realising that there is a lot of help available to us, and that we can ask for it anytime, helps us to live life more bravely and with purpose.

Q:  Tell us a little about how you got your books into print.
A:  My first book, Trapped, is published by Skyhorse, a mainstream publisher based in New York. The next two I published myself because, by the time I came ‘round to write them, my commissioning editor had moved on. That happens a lot.
Self-publishing is interesting to learn about. And there is so much to learn, not only because of the plethora of choices available but also because we all want different things and have different strengths and weaknesses. I’m no good at cover design, but I don’t mind doing editing, for example. I found some really good professionals who have helped me. And yes, it was daunting to start, but if it’s broken down into small steps, it’s easier. (And we learn so much from it.)

Q: What advice in a nutshell do you have for people wanting to write their own memoir?
A:  We should aim to be as honest as we can – not cruel – and we should try to write only our own story. Where we have to borrow from the lives of others, we should try not to trespass on other people’s ‘life-lines’ more than absolutely necessary.
I make a distinction between early drafts of a memoir, which are essentially private affairs in which we may have to write down everything about everyone without apology; and much, much later drafts that we hope might be read by other people. The first part of writing everything down is valuable therapy, perhaps; the later version is cooler, a more-presentable version that others may find interesting.

Keep writing!

Family members in particular, deserve their privacy. In the final versions of what we write, we can offer that privacy and still tell the truth about our own lives. We can be respectful, and it helps when we are at least as hard on ourselves as we are on others. A life story should have enough going on in it so that we don’t need to dramatize or exaggerate. And if not, we go out and live some more!

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Find Making Miracles and Fran’s other books here at Amazon.com