Rayne Yardley, a fourth grader at the school, entered the Sons of the Utah Pioneers ancestor essay contest by writing about his fifth great-grandpa, George A. Smith (1817-1875). Many from Utah will recognize Smith as the grandfather of LDS church prophet George Albert Smith, and the man the city of St. George is named after.
The essay contest was open to all fourth graders throughout Iron County and as Clair Morris, the presenter of the award for the Sons of the Utah Pioneers, explained, “the essay contest was created to help the students get acquainted with their ancestors.”
As the grand prize winner, Yardley received a certificate along with $50 in gold dollars, which Rayne will save for a special trip with his family to Salt Lake where he will visit the grave of his fifth great-grandfather.
Rayne will also be attending a special town meeting put on by the Sons of Utah Pioneers on July 24 to read his winning essay to all those in attendance.
George A. Smith
By Rayne Yardley
I would like to tell you about a remarkable man, my great, great, great, great, great grandfather, George A. Smith. The A. in his name stands for Albert, but the family calls him George A. to distinguish him from his grandson, George Albert Smith, who became the eighth president of the LDS Church.
My grandfather, George A. Smith, was born on June 26, 1817 in Potsdam, New York. He lived with his family there until he was 16 years old. At this time his father sold the family farm and they moved to Kirtland, Ohio.
In a quote directly out of my grandpa’s journal he wrote, “I worked during the summer and fall in quarrying and hauling rock for the Kirtland temple in helping the masons, and performing other duties about its walls. The first two loads of rock taken to the temple grounds were hauled by Harvey Stanley and myself.” I am sure my grandpa was a very hard worker at a very young age. I think it is great that he helped build the Kirtland Temple.
When he was 17 years old, he joined with Zion’s Camp and walked 2,000 miles in just three months. He became a missionary and taught people in Ohio, Pennsylvania and New York. Later he served a mission in England and preached the very first Mormon sermon in London.
When he was 21 years old, he was ordained an apostle and became a member of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles. He was the youngest apostle ever to serve in the church.
George A. Smith was considered a big man in those days, standing 5’10” and weighing 250 pounds “or more.” He was a body guard for the Prophet Joseph Smith and also Brigham Young.
After his mission to England he came home and got married and lived in Nauvoo with the Saints. He came west with the first group of Mormon Pioneers. While waiting out the winter of 1846-1847 in Winter Quarters, many people developed a disease called scurvy.
George A. Smith encouraged the people to plant and eat raw potatoes with the skins on. The potatoes provided the Vitamin C which the people needed to get rid of this bad disease. He was nicknamed “The Potato Saint” for helping many people overcome scurvy.
He also planted the very first potato that was put in the ground when they got to the Salt Lake Valley. Maybe that is why I like potatoes so much.
My grandpa was one of the very first original pioneers to come to Utah. They entered and explored the valley two days before Brigham Young arrived on July 24, 1847.
After getting settled with his family in Salt Lake, his assignment from Brigham Young was to oversee all of the Latter-day Saint colonies south of Salt Lake Valley. He supervised the colonization of Parowan, the Iron Mission in Cedar City and the Cotton Mission in Washington County.
He was responsible for choosing the families to settle what would become St. George. St. George was named in honor of my grandfather, The Potato Saint, George A. Smith. What a great honor that is to his name.
He also had an irreverent and funny side. He had a bald head and wore various wigs to cover his baldness. On Sundays he wore a red wig and during the week he would wear a black or brown wig. Sometimes when he was giving a sermon and he would get sweaty, he would take off his wig and wipe the sweat off his face with his wig and then put the wig back on his head, sometimes very crooked. He had bad vision and wore spectacles and false teeth. One time some Indians watched him at the morning wash basin and called him, “Man-who-takes-himself-apart.”
He was first counselor in the First Presidency with President Brigham Young from Oct. 7, 1868 until his death on Sept. 1, 1875. When he died at the age of 58, President Brigham Young called him, “As faithful a boy and man as ever lived.”
I am glad I got to learn about my fifth great grandfather, George A. Smith. If he were alive today he would be 198 years old. I will remember him whenever I eat a potato. I will think of him when I visit the Iron Mission. I will always think of him and be proud that St. George was named after him. I will laugh at the funny stories about his colorful wigs and false teeth.
He is buried in the Salt Lake City Cemetery and my family and I are going to visit his grave this summer.