September 2, 1998, marks a century since the death of Wilford Woodruff. He was already forty years old when he stopped his carriage at the mouth of Emigration Canyon so Brigham Young could survey the prospect below. Elder Woodruff, an avid fisherman, was delighted to see “the glorious valley abounding with the best fresh water springs rivlets creeks & Brooks & Rivers of various sizes all of which gave animation to the sporting trout & other fish while the waters were wending there way into the great Salt lake.”
By the time of President Woodruff’s death a half century later, the Saints had used the waters to make the desert blossom as a rose, and the single settlement in the Salt Lake Valley had multiplied into nearly five hundred settlements from Canada to Mexico.By 1898 the population of Saints, small enough to winter the first year entirely within a small adobe fort, exceeded one hundred thousand. The rapid prosperity of the Church magnified the nation’s “Mormon problem,” and it fell upon President Woodruff to achieve reconciliation. Under his presidency, the Manifesto was issued and Utah was granted statehood.
At President Woodruff’s funeral, Church leaders spoke to the gathered thousands, taking as their theme the well-known, unflagging toil of President Woodruff: Joseph F. Smith gave thanks for a prophet “whose labors had been so blessed to the people of God” and who had “shown his greatness in giving out his life’s labor for the establishment of this testimony in the earth.” Franklin D. Richards recalled Woodruff’s “great missionary labors” in which he “had been a mighty fisher of men.” And George Q. Cannon, who as friend and counselor knew him as intimately as any, said Woodruff “labored freely and gratuitously in the ministry. With him it was a labor of love.” He added that Woodruff’s “characteristics were ennobling, and so energetic was he that nothing was too burdensome for him even in his advanced years.”
Wilford Woodruff as Outdoorsman
President Cannon was certainly familiar with President Woodruff’s energy—not only in his labors for the Church, but in his outdoor life as well. After all, six years earlier Cannon and his wife had accompanied the eighty-five-year-old Woodruff and his wife Emma on a ten-day camping trip to the headwaters of the Weber River. They had traveled by rail to Park City and then sixty-five miles by carriage into the high mountains, arriving on a Thursday at the backwoods camp of Tyler Clayton. Friday found Woodruff on the stream, where he caught six trout and reported seeing “many chickens or Grouse.”But the exertion and altitude finally wearied him, and he spent most of the remaining days in camp.
On Saturday, Tyler Clayton’s brother bagged six trout, some grouse, and very nearly Tyler himself, who took seven ricocheting shotgun pellets.Sunday was reserved for worship. In the outfitter’s tent, Cannon administered the sacrament, and President Woodruff reminisced over his conversion and missionary travels. On Monday and Tuesday he read, conducted Church business, and reported that a companion had taken seven more grouse. On Wednesday, August 24, 1892, the durable Claytons crossed the mountains in a nasty hailstorm to fish Bear River. In their absence, primed by days of reflection in the mountains, Woodruff composed a remarkable letter later published in Forest and Stream, a prominent weekly sporting periodical.
Writing was an obsession for Woodruff. He wrote in his journal virtually every day for fifty-four years and once explained the need: “I seldom ever heard Brother Joseph or the Twelve preach or teach any principle but what I felt as uneasy as a fish out of water untill I had written it. Then I felt right.”He typically concluded each year with an entry titled “A Synopsis of Labors.” The synopses recorded miles traveled, meetings conducted, and ordinances performed. His Forest and Stream letter is a secular equivalent, an unusual reverie in which time and place are remembered in context of landscape and wildlife. The letter begins:
I was born on March 1, 1807, at Avon, Hartford county, Conn., on the banks of a trout brook which had turned the wheels of a flour mill and a saw mill, owned by my grandfather and father, for many years. As soon as I was old enough to carry a fish-rod I commenced catching trout, which I have continued to do, from time to time, for nearly 80 years.
Woodruff reported that his interest in sporting persisted into adulthood, when he netted salmon in Lake Ontario, “very few of which were under 20 pounds, while a few weighed 40 pounds.” He also recalled his second mission to England when he experienced “fishing with fly for trout and salmon” but admitted, “I met with little success there.” President Woodruff went on to tout the rich waters of the Great Basin, which “abounded with the largest and finest trout when we first reached the Territory,” and recalled a “haul at the mouth of Provo River . . . judged to be about 4,000 pounds.”
He wrote of a trip twelve years earlier, where he “fished 4 hours in a creek leading into Bear River, with a rod and reel, and caught 20 trout.” One trout weighed ten pounds, he said, “but on account of the perpendicular height of the bank I could not land him.” He noted with regret that “as the country has become settled [the trout] have steadily decreased” and referred to hatching operations that he hoped would sustain the fishery.
President Woodruff wrote of a land “thickly inhabited with the elk, deer, antelope, panther, mountain lion, wild cat, and grizzly, cinnamon and brown bear.” He conceded he had never killed a bear but threw in the obligatory grizzly story for the eastern publication. Woodruff was armed and the grizzly bear within range, but “the manner she treated her cubs, while apparently trying to wean them, plainly indicated the wisdom of letting her pass unmolested.”
Fowl had been abundant in the Utah Territory: “For years our lakes, ponds and streams were alive with pelican, geese and ducks; and chickens and sage hens were numerous in the hills; but as the country is being settled, our feathered game, too, correspondingly diminishes.” Woodruff concluded the letter with the current sporting trip:
During the last few days we have killed 30 chickens near our camp. One of our company started a flock and shot nine times on the wing, dropping 9 birds, the tenth shot brought down 2, the balance of the charge striking the side of a rock, glanced and hit a young man as he was mounting into the saddle. Seven shots lodged in the man and eleven in the horse.
Woodruff realized this natural world he was describing was decreasingly his. Three years earlier in 1889, when he assumed the presidency of the Church, he had written to longtime fishing companion William Atkin:
It looks now, in view of the constantly increasing labors devolving upon me, as though I would not get an opportunity very soon of again disturbing the fish and game of the pond, as in days past; but in that regard my inability or disappointment will be their pleasure, no doubt.
The indefatigable Claytons returned to the Weber River camp the following day—diehard sportsmen, “sick . . . near dying,” from the stormy trip. But they brought thirty-five trout, to the delight of a man who would ever more rarely pursue them.
Wilford Woodruff as an American Fly-Fisher
Woodruff’s pursuit of trout has made him an important if minor figure in the history of American sporting. In a highly respected history of American fly-fishing, Paul Schullery uses Woodruff to illustrate the expansion of fly-fishing from eastern to western waters.Schullery quotes Ralph Moon, who published in the American Fly Fisher excerpts from “a comparatively obscure journal of a Western pioneer.” That pioneer, of course, was Wilford Woodruff:
I threw my fly into the water and it being the first time that I ever tried the artificial fly in America or saw it tried, I watched it as it floated upon the water with as much interest as Franklin did his kite. . . .
. . . and as he [Franklin] received great joy when he saw the electricity descend on his kite string, so was I highly gratified when I saw the nimble trout dart at my fly hook, and run away with the line. I soon worried him out and drew him to shore.
From reading Schullery and Moon, Woodruff might appear to be the quintessential nineteenth-century sportsman, mimicking English sporting rules and testing new silk lines. Woodruff himself lent some credence to the view, manifesting a little of the smugness that has characterized fly-fishing since the eighteenth century.He prefaced his account of the “Franklinian” catch with discouraging reports from Fort Bridger that there were “vary few trout in the streams” and noted that “a good many of the brethren were already at the creeks with their Rods & lines trying their skill baiting with fresh meat & grass hoppers.” However, for Woodruff, his catch confirmed not so much his own superiority as a fisherman as that of fly-fishing itself, an import as British as Woodruff’s Herefordshire converts. Indeed, Woodruff could not resist crowing in the privacy of his journal:
I cought twelve in all and about one half of them would weigh about ¾ of a pound each while all the rest of the camp did not ketch during the day 3 lbs of trout in all which was proof positive to me that the artificial fly is far the best thing now known to fish trout with.
But, interestingly, the journal references to fly-fishing end abruptly. Once Woodruff became established in the West, he did not write of the artificial fly again. He fished into his nineties, but did so incidentally, as the builder of a kingdom, not the proponent of a sport. His trips to favorite waters were appended to Church duties and speaking assignments.
It is also important to note that, like most of the early settlers, Wilford Woodruff’s sporting life reflected the conventions of the last century, not the current one. His hunting and fishing pleasures doubled as dietary supplement or exploration for commercial harvest, and the health of a fishery never precluded irrigation. Dedicated sporting trips like that which prompted the Forest and Stream letter were rare. And in the end, when Woodruff was no longer physically able to fish and hunt, he did so vicariously, recording in his journal the successes of his sons.
Early Affinity with Nature
As his Forest and Stream letter indicates, President Woodruff’s interest in the natural world began in childhood. With his brother Thomas, he earned a reputation as the most successful angler on Old Farm Brook, pursuing spotted trout.As Thomas Alexander explains, when Woodruff began seriously to study religion, he retreated to an island in the Farmington River to read comforting nature poetry: “The solitude of vast extent, untouched by hand or art / Whose nature sowed herself, and reaped her crops.” He kept no journal from this period, but later journal references indicate the significance of nature, particularly the river, to the youth. While on his first mission to England, he recorded a poignant dream:
I saw a still larger River. It appear like Farmington River in the U.S.A. at the Mill which my Father is tending, & on the other side of the River was a Boat to which was tied many fish lines. On one hook was a fish so large that the captain of the Boat Israel Dormon by name could not bring him into the Boat.
Woodruff’s river dreams suggest that his love of place was twined with his love of people. Another mission dream reunited him with his father and brother on the Farmington River:
I fel asleep & Dreamed I was at my Fathers house in Farmington Con. my father had caught some fish. I thought I would go to fishing to. I went under the saw mill & the trench was full of pickerel father shut down the gates & the fish started to run down stream with the water. I run down to the bottom of the Island jumped into the trench, & caught a great many large fish with my hands as they came down. I then went to the mill & Brother Asahel Woodruff who has been dead two years came & broght many fish & showed me which he caught in the trench.
In the years between leaving Farmington and migrating West, Woodruff often returned to his family and the river. In 1838 he waded into the water, not to fish, but to baptize his father, mother, sister, aunt, cousin, and the local Methodist teacher.During a visit in 1843, he wistfully remembered the river and its people: “I walked on the canal bank in the morning & surveyed the meadows the river the mill alone whare I had walked with my Brothers & sister & with my Bosom Friend in days that are past. But now I am alone.” He left Farmington for the last time in 1846. In his journal is a record of his regret, which nature itself seemed to share: “I bid Mr Woodford farewell And took the last look at the house Hills dales & Brooks of my Nativity whare I was born & spent the days of my youth. I crossed the river over the acquiduct And wrode home in the midst of a Heavy shower of rain.”
Conversion and Early Missions
Wilford Woodruff’s conversion in 1833, at age twenty-six, redirected his life. Beginning with Zion’s Camp in 1834 and then five missions in quick succession, he had little enough time to spend with his wife Phebe Carter, whom he married in 1837. His time between missions was filled with family responsibilities, including visits to the Carter in-laws who lived near marvelous fishing waters on the coast of Maine. Four months after his marriage, he reported spending “the day and night at anchor,” where he and the Carters caught 250 fish and saw four whales.In 1838, he fished again with the Carters. He recorded that, after rowing two miles into the bay,
we hove to, cast anchor & caught a small quantity of fish mostly Haddock; we then sailed to a point of Land & built up a fire hung on a pot, fried out some pork & dressed 6 Haddock & one Hake & put them into the pot we sliced in some popatoes & put in a quantity of crackers & by adding some seasoning & boiling it untill it was throughly cooked it formed as rich a dish as would be necessary to set before a King.
In 1841 he reported still another Carter expedition, during which the party saw two hundred codfish and caught three. Again they “went onto the rocks & dined upon a rich Haddock chouder & boiled clams.”Woodruff’s affections for the Carter family ran deep, and he and Phebe had both worked to convert them. Eventually Father and Mother Carter were baptized, along with five of Phebe’s siblings.
His frequent missions provided Woodruff more opportunity for fishing than did his life at home. His 1837–38 mission to the Fox Islands in Maine produced journal entries reflecting his interest in the fishery that sustained the islanders:
There is great quantitites of fish inhabit the waters, cooves & harbours around these Islands, such as Whale, Blackfish, Shark, ground Shark PILOT fish, Hors Mackerel, Sturgeon, Salmon, Holloboat, Cod, Pollock, Tom Cod, Hake, Haddock, Mackerel, Shad, Bass, Ale wives, Herren, Pohagen, Dolphin, Whiting, Frost fish, Flounders, Smelt, Skate, Shrimp, Skid, Cusk, Blebacks, Scollop Dogfish, Muttonfish, Lumpfish, Squid, Fivefingers, Monkfish, Nursfish, Sunfish, Swordfish, Thrashers, Cat, Scuppog, Tootog, Eyefish, Cunner, Ling, Eels, also Lobsters, Clams, Scollop, Mussles, Rincles, . . . and Porposes, Seal &c &c. & many others not named.
Along with his missionary companion Jonathan Hale, Elder Woodruff tested that fishery when they accompanied one S. Luce Esq. into Penobscot Bay. There they observed a school of pogagenfish that “cover’d acres” and would fill “500,000 barrels.” Woodruff reported: “We caught none of them, but saw & herd them rush in large bodies upon the top off the water.”
The missionaries’ fishing of men had more positive results—their first baptisms came twelve days later, when they baptized Captain Justus Eames and his wife. The baptisms were cause for thanksgiving and telling interpretation of scripture. Elders Hale and Woodruff sought out a high granite ledge overlooking the sea, where “Elder Hale read the XVI ch. of Jeremiah that spake of the hunters and fishers that God should chuse in the last days to gather Israel.”
Elder Woodruff saw no difficulty in a literal interpretation of the scripture, as he demonstrated the following day near Carvers Wharf:
Here we were for a moment diverted to see a school of Mackerel playing in the water by the side of the wharf while several men were cetching them with hooks. Elder Hale and myself flung out some hooks and had no difficulty in cetching a plenty of them. We caught what we wished for and went our way, leaving thousands of them in the water ready to bite the hook.
The passage in Jeremiah suggests the seamless merge of the literal and figurative that increasingly characterized Woodruff’s sporting life. In March 1838, he converted another islander, Ebenezar Carver, who had sought a witness of the Mormon preachings. Elder Woodruff prophesied “that there should no sign be given but the sign of the Prophet Jonas on a sudden their was a large fish arose on the water in the sea at a distance from him & suddenly sunk out of sight.” Carver wished to see the sign again, and the fish accommodated:
Immediately the fish again arose on the top of the water accompanied with another fish of the same specie & size & one of them swam on a straitline on the top of the water towards Mr Carver as he stood upon the beach when the fish came as near his feet as the water would permit him the fish looked at the man with a Penetrating eye as though he had a message for him he then returned to his mate in the Ocean & swam out of sight & Mr Carver returned meditating upon this strange sight & sign & the wonderful condescenscion of the Lord.
Woodruff noted that the sighting “was at a season of the year when fish of that size is not known upon these shores or coast & they never at any season of the year are known to come ashore as in this case.”Carver was baptized, and three days later Woodruff “baptized Mrs Mary Carver in the same place whare the fish before spoken of came to Mr Carver.”
Late in 1838, Wilford Woodruff concluded his mission in the Fox Islands and made his way back to the Saints in Missouri. He arrived in time to assist the other Apostles in laying the cornerstones of the temple in Far West. By July 1839, Elder Woodruff, with most of the Apostles, was on a ship to England, where he was to serve another mission of two years. This mission deepened the weave of literal and figurative fishing. After a crossing during which he noted “a large school of porposes & Blackfish all around the ship,”he labored first in the Potteries and then, at the invitation of convert John Benbow, in Herefordshire, where he preached with spectacular success among the United Brethren. It was in Herefordshire that he recorded a series of dreams that equated catching fish with gathering converts:
I saw by night a River in which were many fish. I cast an hook & caught some of them & while fishing I saw some large ones near shore. I put the hook to their mouth. They bit it & I caught them, & one vary notable one exceding all other fish that I had caught. . . . [A] Bellman was called for to divide the fish & after the Bell was rung each man took a part, & while dividing the fish, one man said to another man I saw Baptizing last night. Was not you Baptized?
His dream-fishing continued after a long day of meetings at Fromes Hill:
I walked home with Brother Oaky & spent the night, & after standing upon my feet 8 hours in Conference, conversing much of the time, Ordaining about 30, confirming some, healing many that were sick, shaking hands with about 400 Saints, wa[l]king 2 miles, & Preaching 4 hours in the chimney corner, I then lay down & dreamed of Ketching fish.
The dreams followed Elder Woodruff to London; “I retired to rest & had an Interesting dream in ketching fish,”he said in August 1840. His missionary labors in London were disappointing; however, he was encouraged by a series of dreams he did not record in his journal but to which he later referred:
I thank God that there begins to be a little stir in this city. We have had some good dreams of late about ketching fish & I hope we may soon realize it by Baptizing many souls for we have laboured hard in this city for many weeks & with great expens & baptized as yet ownly 19 souls.
Elder Woodruff was not alone in his frustration or in his dreaming. His journal tells us that Heber C. Kimball had similar dreams of harvest in London:
We retired to rest & I dreamed of ketching fish, fowl, geese & Turkies, in nets, & seeing a house on fire. Elder Kimball also Dreamed of casting a net & ketching a good hall of fish, two large ones, & gathering fruit. So I think sumthing will be done soon.
The work continued to be disappointing in London, where Woodruff labored until February 1841. His decision to leave was prompted by yet another fishing dream. He wrote:
We eat a supper of Sprats with Sister Morgan they were small fish 2 Inches long & I fell a sleep & dreamed of cetching fish, many large ones with my hands I thought I told my Dream to a man who was putting up a gate post & he told me the interpretation was for me to make hast & Baptize as many as I could in London, & organize & set in order the Church, seal up my testimony in the city & return home in the spring.
By October of the same year, Woodruff had returned to Nauvoo, where he spent two busy years building a house for his young family, working with the Twelve, managing the Times & Seasons, and serving on the city council. In 1843 and again in 1844, he served missions to the Eastern States. He was in Boston when he read of the Prophet’s death. Again he returned to Nauvoo, and a month later, at the direction of Brigham Young, accepted the call for a second mission to England.
Second Mission to England
This time Elder Woodruff presided over the work in Great Britain and traveled throughout England and Scotland. Where he had only dreamed of fishing on his previous mission to England, he now wielded the rod. He went fishing on May 8, 1845, in the River Ribble, upstream from the point where Heber C. Kimball baptized the first English converts.Woodruff had conducted Church business in the Ribble villages between Blackburn and Chatburn. He then walked two miles to Downham expressly to visit Father Richard Smithies, who “is 70 years of age & is considerd the greatest fisherman in the country.” The following day, Woodruff and Smithies were on the Ribble together.
Throughout his foreign missions, Woodruff sought to expand his knowledge by visiting iron works, museums, libraries, and historical sites.With Smithies he satisfied his curiosity about a new kind of fishing: “It was the first time I had seen the fly used in my life in the way of fishing. I was delighted with it the rod & line was so light & flung with such skill & dexterity that the trout are beguiled & whare ever they are are generally taken.” The delicacy of the casting was made possible by gear Woodruff had never seen:
His fish pole or rod was about 14 feet long sumthing like cane vary slender & delecate. His long fine line made of hair & cat gut was wound around a small brass wheel with a little crank to it fastend to the but end of the pole. The line then runs through half a dozen brass rings or ilet holes fastend at a sutible distance along on the rod to the small end of it.
The strangeness of the rod and reel was matched by the strangeness of the tackle, which Woodruff described in detail:
One the end of the fine fish line is fastened 5 or 6 artifishal flies about 2 feet apart. These are upon a small cat gut almost as small as a single hair. 25 or 30 feet of the line is unwond from the reel at the but of the rod running through the rings to the point. The line is then flung upon the water the same as though it was tied at the end of the rod & the flies with a hook concealed in each swims down the stream. . . . The fisherman has flies different for almost ever month calculated to imitate the flies that float upon the water at the time they fish. These flies are made of the feathers of birds some of various colors.
He reported that Father Smithies was successful, catching “7 trout & two Cheven,” a species of chub. Unlike the bait fishing to which Woodruff was accustomed, the take of the fly was a more graceful deception:
The trout instantly take it considering it the natural fly. They are hooked as soon as they strike it if they are large trout & run. They of their own accord unwind as much line as they want from the reel at the but of the pole or rod.
If the gear was novel, so was the playing and landing of the fish. Although fly-fishing had existed in America since colonial days, Wilford Woodruff had not seen it. He was impressed to see fish landed in current on light tackle:
The fisherman does not pull the fish out of the water on the bank by the pole but worries the fish in the water with the line untill he will not struggle. Then he draws him up to the shore by the line if he stands on the bank or to him if he stands in the water. He then takes a small hand net with a light pole 4 or 6 feet puts it under the fish & takes him vary deliberately out of the water.
The gut that attached the flies to the hair line was slender in order to reduce visibility. Because a fish in swift current could easily break it, Smithies had to be patient in landing the fish.
Woodruff’s day with Father Smithies had been well spent. “I was much gratifyed,” he said, “with this days fishing.” He spent the night in Chatburn, and a Sister Parkinson “cooked the trout for us which made a good meal.”
His satisfaction was such that he soon put Smithies’s lesson into practice. He had taken a steamer from Liverpool to Carlisle, where he conducted a conference. The following day, in company with Brothers Allen and Walker, he tried his hand at the artificial fly. They walked ten miles, probably into Scotland, to fish a salmon stream. Success was immediate; they caught “three in about 5 minutes.” But their adventure was cut short when a game warden arrived to inform them they were angling in posted waters. The brethren would, the warden told them, be subjected to a £5 fine if they continued. Elder Woodruff recorded plaintively, “So we all left the ground & returned home & got our walk for our pains & three small salmon fry.”
Thus Woodruff inadvertently discovered British fly-fishing’s companion institution—private waters. He had noted earlier the penury of Preston: the “streets were crouded with the poor both male & female going to & from the factories with their wodden or clogg shoes.”In contrast, he wrote that in Oxfordshire the 7,500 acres of Stow and Wychwood Forests provided “a noted place of resort for sportsman to hunt Deer & hares &c.” He also observed the grounds of the Duke of Sutherland, near Stoke-on-Trent:
Their are some hundreds of acres of wood land & farm paches all of which are enclosed with a fence of 4 & 5 feet high the whole of the fence composed of solid Iron. Their are miles of Iron railing in this park.
The Duke has vast quantities of game, fish & fowl in his Park, such as Deer, Hares, Rabits, Pheasants, Ducks, Geese Swan, Trout & many other kinds of fish. . . . There are game keepers to see that no person trespasses upon the park. The river Trent runs through the park. The Duke has converted the whole of it for a distance into a fish pool.
Wilford Woodruff felt such ownership offended the democracy of the gospel and abundance of God’s earth:
This DUKE of Southerland has two other Parks of as much value as the one above named. . . . But as JESUS said concerning the stones of the Temple, it will in like manner be with the monuments & pride of this generation. They will spedily be lade low in the Dust together.
Woodruff resolved to pursue his fly-fishing in the more accessible waters of the United States. In December 1845, he recorded his purchase of gear in Liverpool: “I made A pruchase of salmon & trout rods, reels, lines, hooks, flies and aparatus for both salt & fresh water to the amount of £6.2.4.”He gave little detail about the equipment; however, one piece still exists—a fly rod now on display in the Museum of Church History and Art. It resembles Smithies’s rod as described by Woodruff: three sections of unsplit cane reinforced at close intervals with silk wrappings.
The Migration West
Shortly after his purchase, Elder Woodruff returned to America. After stops in Farmington and Nauvoo, where he sold his home, he made his way to Council Bluffs.He recorded subsistence hunting but no fishing until September 1846. On the fifteenth, Woodruff went out for ducks but took his rod with him. After shooting six ducks and hiking back through “high weeds, grass mud & water,” he was “exeeding weary” but could not resist trying the rod: “Before returning home I took my salmon rod & line & spent a few moments in trying to ketch fish but could not start any.” He found the warm waters around Council Bluffs more conducive to traditional modes of fishing. He reported laying out set hooks and catching catfish. He did no more fishing until the day they left Winter Quarters, when he reported dining on catfish from the slow waters of the Elk Horn.
The migration to the Rockies moved Woodruff into prime trout waters, which he eagerly anticipated. At Fort Laramie, he met a mountaineer “who had wintered at the great Basin of the Salt & Eutau lakes & he recommends the country vary Highly for a healthy fertile country the Lakes & streams abounding with trout & other fish.”But Woodruff was not content to await the waters of the Great Basin. He scanned the water of the Platt and noted its shallowness: “One can walk across two thirds of the river on bare ground.” Near Scott’s Bluff, he found a tiny spring-fed tributary with more promise. In a reach raised by beaver dams, the creek was “lined with fish a good share of which was speckled trout so the brethren informed me. This is the first stream I have met with containing trout since I left the New England States. Therefore I name it trout creek.” His interest piqued, he unpacked his fishing gear and a week later fished Horseshoe Creek in present-day Wyoming but “cought nothing.”
Wilford Woodruff was not alone in his sporting interests. Four days later, he walked from camp up Deer Creek to find William Clayton and Appleton Harmon “fishing with a hook.” Clayton had caught “about two dozen good fish” and Harmon “some.” They graciously left their lines for Woodruff, who sat “for half an hour musing alone as unconcerned as though I had been sitting upon the banks of Farmington river.” His solitude was disrupted by sounds in the underbrush, and “for the first time the thought flashed across my mind that I was in a country abounding with the griselly bear wolves & Indians.” Deer Creek was no Farmington, and Woodruff, with “no weapon not even enough to have defend myself against a Badger,” decided that “wisdom dictated for me to return to camp so I took up my polls & fish & walked leasurely home & retired to rest.”
Woodruff did not fish again until the camp arrived at Fort Bridger, although he did note “a creek of good water containing some small fish” near Willow Springs.But it was on the braided channels of Hams Fork that Woodruff found his water. He reported crossing “more than a dozen trout Brooks,” with water that runs “swift but clear” on “hard, cold gravelly bottoms.” Since “the calculation was to spend the day at the fort,” he seized the opportunity: “As soon as I got my breakfast I riged up my trout rod that I had brought with me from Liverpool, fixed my reel, line, & artificial fly & went to one of the brooks close by camp to try my luck catching trout.” His success was spectacular, and he penned the passages about fly-fishing that endeared him to Schullery and Moon.
The company moved the following day, but Woodruff’s success at Hams Fork sharpened his anticipation. Three days and thirty-two miles later, the camp arrived at the Bear River. On July 12, Woodruff recorded, “I started early in the morning & rode to bear River And for the first time I saw the long looked for Bear River valley. . . . My object in visiting the river before the camp was to try my luck in ketching trout as it was a stream famed for containing that kind of fish.” He found this water difficult to fish with his flies “in consequence of the thick underbrush.” Although the weather was favorable—“cloudy & cool”—he reported his “luck good bad and indiferent”:
I some of the time would fish half an hour & could not start a fish. Then I would find an eddy with 3 or 4 trout in it & they would jump at the hooks as though there was a bushel of trout it the hole. And in one instance I caught two at a time.
So eager was Woodruff to fish the difficult water that he waded in on horseback:
I fished some of the time on horsback riding in the middle of the stream which was about 3 rods wide & when I could not desend longer in the stream for swift & deep water I would have to plunge my horse through the bear thickets which was hard work to penetrate.
As always, he was alert for sounds of danger: “I knew not at what moment I would have a griselly bear upon my back or an Indian arrow in my side.”
Woodruff returned from Bear River to find Brigham Young ill with mountain fever. Brigham directed the company to split, with the vanguard pressing ahead. Woodruff stayed behind to carry Brigham in his carriage—“the easiest vehicle in camp.”Brigham’s party traveled more slowly, providing Wilford opportunity for fishing. On July 16, he fished the Weber Fork a mile from camp, where he “cought one trout for Br Young.” The following day, Brigham’s health limited travel to three miles along the Weber. Woodruff reported that he “fished with the fly & cought several trout”; he also mentioned the success of some brethren who caught trout—“some that would weigh a lb.”
The following day, Sunday, was spent largely in worship. However, Woodruff reported that “several Brethren cought some trout that would weight near two lbs each. I cought 2 with the fly but they did not seem to take it well in that stream.”
His journal entries for the final days of the trek west are peppered with references to trout streams. On July 20, Woodruff reported camping on “a trout creek about 10 feet across” and mentioned that “several of the Brethren caught small trout in the streams we camped on.”The 21st was another camp day, again occasioned by illness, and Woodruff took advantage of the time:
The stream we are on [is] Ogdens fork. In the afternoon I waided the creek two miles & fished with the fly down to the mouth of the canion & caught 8 trout. Thare is none vary large in this part of the stream. ¼ of a lb was as large as we caught.
On the 22nd, the camp moved up East Canyon, crossing the creek eleven times in eight miles. It was “the worst 8 miles we have had on the journey,” Woodruff wrote. The difficult terrain broke one of the wheels on James Case’s wagon, causing a two-hour delay. Woodruff took the opportunity to catch “2 trout in the creek while waiting.” On the 24th, the company emerged from the canyon onto the bench overlooking the Great Salt Lake Valley. Woodruff was delighted to see “the glorious valley” with its rivers and streams that “gave animation to the sporting trout & other fish. . . . Our hearts were surely made glad after a Hard Journey.”
The Fort Laramie mountaineer’s description of the Great Basin’s abundant waters proved to be accurate, and a week after arriving in the Salt Lake Valley, Wilford Woodruff was planting crops during the day and fishing in the evening.His years of travel as an Apostle provided opportunity to explore God’s gift of bounty, for which he was always grateful. He wrote during a trip to Idaho: “All the streams in this county abou[n]d in trout which is a great Blessing to the people.” Of the Bear Lake Valley, which would become one of his favorite sporting locations, he wrote:
We found this to be a large valley good soil & water sufficient to irrig[at]e the whole abundant timber & Handy a great stock range and the finest Lake in Utah Territory & perhaps in America for one of its size. It was 30 miles long 10 wide, & through the middle the botom not yet found with 200 feet line. The waters are cold & vary clear & abound with the finest trout in the world. Large streams inter into it from the mountains. Vast numbers of trout go up these streams from the Lake. . . . We had fish in plenty to eat.
He also recorded impressions of the Wind River basin: “[Mr. P. C. Sullivan] showed us his map and gave us an account of the streams, soil, timber, fish fir game &c. The streams abound with the fine mountain trout, Bever, Otter. There is vast forests of pine and Cottonwood.”
Changes in the West
The natural abundance of the West and Elder Woodruff’s changing Church assignments redefined his outdoor life after 1847: he ceased to fly fish, his Church assignments made it possible for him to fish more frequently in different locations, and he developed an affection for local waters and companions.
Changes in Fishing Technique. After 1847, Wilford Woodruff ceased to speak of the artificial fly and delicate casts. Instead, his journals mention bait, set hooks, and netting.He understood that trout were food in the struggling settlements; when he praised Idaho trout as “a great Blessing to the people,” he was not referring to a community of scrupled fly-fishermen. Indeed, his journals reveal his great interest in the huge catches of the commercial fishermen. In 1863 he reported catches from Utah Lake:
I went out to the River on Saturday morning & caught about 15 lbs in an hour with a young man who said he could get 100 lbs per day in the Lake with a hook. A man caught 1¼ tons or 2,500 lb of trout at one hall with a net at the mouth of Provo River. It is the best place for fishing trout I ever [saw].
In 1868, Woodruff fished Utah Lake with several boats belonging to a commercial fisherman identified as Brother Matson.“They took there net & I my fish poll,” he wrote. After catching four fish, he settled in to watch the netting operation, eventually offering a biblical suggestion:
They were some two hours drawing & took up their net in 4 feet of water. Had some 300 lb of trout & was about to draw again when I requested Brother Matson to go up & draw whare I was fishing & he concluded to do so & went & drew his net & caught some 2,000 lbs of fine trout.
Netting was so successful in the rich waters of the new country that Woodruff felt compelled to distinguish his mode of catch: “We caught a few fish with Hooks & Returned,” he wrote, and on another occasion, “Caught 25 trout with the Hook.”
Woodruff was impressed enough with commercial fishing that he dabbled in aquaculture. In 1869 he built a private fish pond but does not record stocking it.In 1887, ten days after examining Matson’s private ponds, he reported, “I am commencing to dig a fish pond for carp in the North East cornor of the Lot.” His pond was not a rarity. In 1889 he caught carp in the pond of George Q. Cannon.
However, Woodruff’s techniques, as plebian as they might seem, were a step up from those of other settlers, who exploited springtime spawning runs of native cutthroat trout: “Vast numbers of trout go up these streams from the Lake. The Brethren kill them with clubs & spers & ketch them in nets.”Writing of the trout at Fish Lake, he reported that during spawning season “a person can throw them out of the water with their hands or knock them in the head with a stick.” He recorded that near Wanship “Giant Powder”—dynamite in granular form—was used to take fish.
Wilford Woodruff may have violated some of the rarefied tenets of fly-fishing,but he did not kill wantonly, nor did he waste his catch. He understood Latter-day Saint teachings concerning stewardship. He had been with Zion’s Camp when Joseph restrained the men from killing rattlesnakes. He knew “the fullness of the earth” was “made for the benefit and the use of man,” but he also understood the responsibility that attends the gift: “For unto this end were they made to be used, with judgment, not to excess, neither by extortion” (D&C 59:16, 18, 20). Instructions concerning God’s living creatures were clear: “And wo be unto man that sheddeth blood or that wasteth flesh and hath no need” (D&C 49:21). Joseph’s Inspired Translation of Genesis was even more explicit: “And surely, blood shall not be shed, only for meat, to save your lives; and the blood of every beast will I require at your hands” (JST, Gen. 9:11).
Woodruff reported releasing fish during a netting trip on Utah Lake: “As it was night, and having a great amount of dead fish on hand to be saved, after taking out several hundred pounds of the largest fish, the rest were turned into the lake alive.”He made reference to wild game used for the sick or poor. For example, he wrote in 1887 that “we went to the pond to try to get a fish for the sick but got Nothing.” Three months later, he visited the same pond with similar intentions: “I am thankful to say that Sister Cottam is Much better this morning. . . . We caught 24 chub & got one quail for Mother Cottam.” Woodruff’s mix of sporting and compassion passed to the next generation. In 1895 he noted that his son Asahel and son-in-law Ovando Beebe “joined with the 100 Men who went to Camp Floyd to shoot Rabbits for the poor.”
Woodruff recorded countless meals of his fish, and when catches were too large to be consumed, they were given as gifts to others. After a saltwater trip in San Diego, Woodruff reported that the fish “were put into the hands of our friends who went with us. I think they gave most of them away to their acquaintances.”
The Saints also remembered Brigham’s counsel, which Woodruff recorded in his journal: “Stop Eating pork. Use milk Eggs fowles & fish.”In 1868, he took Brigham a gift of four fresh trout from Matson, the Utah Lake commercial fisherman. Woodruff also took him 250 pounds of salted fish. Brigham had use for everything, including all parts of the fish, as a Woodruff journal entry indicates:
I spent the evening with President Young. The time was spent mostly in conversation upon taning leather & making fish oil. J Cummings had bought of Homer Dunken some 20 gallons of fish oil but it was like soap & good for nothing he had kept it stiring all summer and spoiled it. President Young had told them if they wanted to make good fish oil make a vat or big tub set it in the sun & throw in all the heads & guts & let them lie & rot and stink & they will all turn to oil.
The Saints had seen too much deprivation and had worked too hard for harvests to be careless with the bounty that nature provided.
Changes in Spiritual Significance of Fishing. Circumstances caused other changes in Woodruff’s attitude toward sporting. In England, Woodruff’s fishing was woven tightly into a metaphor for his spiritual life, inhabiting his dreams as well as his journals. The tight weave ceased in the West. As the responsibilities of the growing kingdom and its troubles weighed more heavily upon his shoulders, fishing may have brought relaxation to him during the day, but his dreams in the night were concerned with more serious happenings:
I went up Big Creek & caught 15 trout. I dreamed last night . . . That the United States Flag passed from North to South in the sky all tattered & torn. Then the Constitution of the United States followed it but was all tied up with ropes to keep it from falling to Peaces. Then followed an imens Eagle with his tallons fast in the hair of the Head of President Grant carrying him off.
In 1887, as the Salt Lake Temple was nearing completion, President Woodruff recorded a dream that reflected his concerns at that time:
The Key of the Temple was given me to open it. As I went to the door a large company were assembled and I overtook Presidt Brigham Young and He asked what the matter was with the great company at the Door. Some one answered the Elders did not want to Let the people into the Temple. He said Oh, oh, oh, and turned to me & said let all all into the Temple who seek for salvation.
Changes in Opportunity for Fishing. As the metaphor of fishing decreased in spiritual significance in Wilford Woodruff’s life, his opportunities to fish became more frequent. His constant Church travel provided him with ample occasion for fishing. A typical example occurred in June 1869. On the morning of Sunday the 13th, Elder Woodruff attended Church meetings in Salt Lake, then traveled to Huntsville, where he spoke in an evening meeting. The next day his delegation headed towards Bear Lake Valley, laying over on Blacks Fork, where he and his companions caught fifteen trout. They arose at four o’clock the next morning to breakfast on their trout and then rode on to Round Valley, where they visited settlements. He noted that his hostess in St. Charles bought from an Indian “2 trout that weighed 11½ lbs.”
On the 17th, the delegation ferried across the Bear River to Soda Springs. The next morning before breakfast, Elder Woodruff “caught 7 trout” in the Bear River, then spoke at a meeting in the schoolhouse before making the return ferry trip, which occasioned more fishing:
At the close of our meeting we went to the ferry swam our animals across & ferried our carriages across Bear river. Several of us stoped on Bear river to fish. We caught about 30 trout & then went onto North Creek & caught about 20 more, then to Paris & spent the night with Brother Rich family. Distance of the day 20 M.
A trip to newly settled Rexburg, Idaho, illustrated the same mix of duty and pleasure. On May 31, 1884, he inspected canals and fencing, then attended a Saturday priesthood meeting. Afterwards, he rode to the Teton River, which was in spring flood. “We caught 2 trout but water to high to fish,” he reported.Sunday, he spoke in meetings. Monday and Tuesday, he explored Canyon Creek, “a Deep gorge some 400 feet from the top of the bank to the water from an angle of 50 degrees to perpendicular.” The seventy-seven-year-old Woodruff declined the descent, but newly called president of the Bannock Stake, Thomas E. Ricks, took the challenge. They returned with three trout, which served as dinner.
Wednesday was recuperation day, and Thursday, fast day, with Elder Woodruff again speaking. He reminded the Saints “not to Hunt fish or work on Sunday but go to Meeting.”The following week, he felt ill but continued to visit settlements and speak in meetings, repeatedly crossing the Teton “on a Cotton wood raft vary frail.” On June 11, he organized the Parker Ward, and on June 12 he rode six miles up the Snake River to fish; he caught seven trout but was turned back by cold rain.
While Elder Woodruff’s fishing was appended to duty, he was not one to overlook opportunity. On August 31, 1882, he and fellow Apostle Brigham Young Jr. left Salt Lake for Church visits in the Uintah Basin. After a stopover in Heber, they “nooned on currant Creek,” where Woodruff “caught 16 trout & B Young 8.” That evening, they scouted the Duchesne River, which “is also of fine good water and abounds with fine large trout.” Two days later Elder Woodruff passed up the opportunity to fish Deep Creek, “a small riley stream. Water rather poor.”
On September 6 and 7, they conducted interviews and on September 8 held a meeting in Ashleys Fork Valley. “At the close of the [meeting],” Elder Woodruff wrote, “we set out lines in green river and caught one white salmon of abot 5 lb weight.” The next day was spent on the river, and the following day, a Sunday, Elders Woodruff and Young spoke in Church. Monday Woodruff “spent the Morning ketching grasshoppers for bait for trout.” Tuesday they traveled, and Wednesday they fished the Duchesne again, where Woodruff caught seven trout, “3 of which would weigh 2 lb. each.” On the 14th, Woodruff and Young fished the Duchesne in the morning, then Currant Creek in the evening. On September 15, both fished Strawberry Creek, where Woodruff caught 14 and Young “quite a Number.”Somehow the Brethren composed themselves by the time they reached Heber and recorded no more fishing.
Woodruff recorded less successful fishing during a visit to Idaho. “Our camp Had a day of leasure,” Woodruff explained. “Myself B Young Jr. . . . & some 15 others drove 10 Miles to Blackfoot River to fish as it was Recommended as the best fishing stream in the Mountains.” Woodruff confessed to “one small trout” and admitted that “we found ourselves Badly sold” by the fishing report.
Changes in Waters and Companions. Before his arrival in the West, Woodruff had fished primarily when he was away from home, on his mission, or on visits to his in-laws. But after 1847, he fished not only during his travels, but also in local waters with friends and, as his children became older, with family. In May 1851, he fished Mill Creek with his father and Thomas Kington, one of his converts from Herefordshire. In August 1852, he fished again with his father and his friend Samuel Hardy in Parleys Canyon, where they caught 39 the first day and 203 the second.
Utah Lake was a favorite haunt, particularly at year-end, for both fishing and hunting with his friend Brower Pettit. He recorded a November hunting trip during which their sailboat was twice stranded and he lost his pocket watch when he leaned out to retrieve a duck: “I striped naked & got into the water to my arm pits But it chilled me so bad I could not get my watch.” Pettit then went in and retrieved the watch “with his toes.” A year later, Woodruff made another Utah Lake trip with Pettit: “We caught a ton of fish & some 150 ducks 8 geese & 3 Otter.” The last day of 1873 found him again fishing with Pettit: “It is Just 40 years to day since I was Baptized into the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints. I rode with Brother Pettit down to Utah Lake & set a few hooks to catch some trout. We caught a few towards Evening.”
Elder Woodruff was particularly fond of Big and Little Cottonwood Canyons. On July 24, 1860, he took ten members of his family up Big Cottonwood Canyon to join other Saints in commemorating the entry into the Valley. Three boweries, each capable of accomodating six cotillions, provided a venue for the day’s amusement. Woodruff wrote, “The day was spent in recreation such as dancing fishing and other amusements.” Woodruff’s catch was eighteen.He recorded fishing Big Cottonwood Creek again in 1886 and 1888. Perhaps fond memories of family trips to Big Cottonwood induced Asahel Woodruff to eventually operate a resort in that canyon.
To celebrate the Fourth of July in 1889, Woodruff chartered three railroad cars to take friends and family up Little Cottonwood Canyon to the tent city at the temple quarries. He was delighted with the “streams of water in small troughs runing all through their settlement. The creek abounded with trout.”So taken was he with the canyon that the Woodruffs built a summer home there. It was, he said,
one of the most Delightful Locations & Habitation I Ever saw for a summer retreat. . . . All the Presidency some of the Twelve & Bishoprick & many of the Saints have habitations there. My Habitation is built on the bank of the creek and on the East side of Central Park. The creek abounds with trout. I had a present of 25 trout for myself & family.
Despite his many responsibilities, Woodruff found time for the occasional family vacation, which usually included fishing. In early summer 1886, he traveled with his wife Emma and five of their children on a six-week trip through Heber and Uintah Basin. His delight is evident in his journals, at least during the early part of the vacation. The party was halted by a snowslide in Cleggs Canyon, but Woodruff was undisturbed: “Asahel & the children went up the canyon 1¼ miles to a snow slide. I went fishing & caught 4 trout.”
The rest of the trip reads like a chronicle of waters: May 26: “I caught 6 trout.”; May 27: “I caught 6 trout.”; June 4: “We fished in willow Creek. I caught 6 trout.”; June 5: “Owen caught one fish all that was caught by the company.”; June 8: “While [Asahel] was gone I cought 6 trout.”; June 9: “We [turn]ed 2 creeks and caught 30 trout.”; June 11: “I caught 35 trout Asahel & Owen 25.”; June 12: “I caught 10 trout.” June 13: “I caught 16 trout Asahel & Owen 25.”; June 14: “David came on to Currant Creek & caught 3 trout.”
The spectacular trip soon went downhill. Woodruff recorded a bushwhacking expedition in search of a backcountry lake. The six-mile trip took two days because of “high rocky Mountains Deep vallies, swampy water in the midst of fallen timbers which our Horses had to Jump.” The lake itself was disappointing: “We saw No fish Except trout and they were quite small. I Judge the altitude of the Lake to be 10,000 feet. I found great Difficulty in Breathing. The Boys went fishing. I had but Little spirit of fishing.” Bad went to worse: on the trip back they “followed the trail down a Mountain for near a Mile so steep & rocky that we had to go a head of the Horses & roll the rocks out of the road so they could get a foot Hold. . . . It seemed a Miracle that our Horses were not killed & ourself also.”
The family vacation ended dramatically after a cave-exploring trip, when eighteen-year-old Clara “was taken Deadly sick.” By the time the family returned to base camp in Ashley, “half of the camp was sick with colds & fever.” In Ashley, Woodruff was greeted with the news that U.S. Marshals intended to jail him on polygamy charges. He “bid farewell to Emma & all of her Children” and fled into hiding.
An earlier family sporting experience had been even more unfortunate. While serving as president of the St. George Temple, Woodruff received a series of terse telegrams concerning the death of his twenty-year-old son, Brigham Woodruff: June 16, 1877: “Brigham Woodruff was drowned in Bear River near Smithfield 1 oclok to day. Body not found.” June 16, 1877: “Your Brigham Shot duck on bear River. Swiming out to obtain it, supposed he Cramped. Sank about one to day. Men are searching for Body.” June 22, 1877: “Brigham floated Seventy Miles. Good Condition. Phebe W attends funeral at 10 oclok to day. We sympathize.”
Elder Woodruff reflected on the loss: “Thus my Son Brigham has lost his life apparently for a trifle. We cannot always comprehend the ways of Providence. . . . I have felt calm, composed, and reconciled in this bereavement.”
Sporting on the Underground
Much of Elder Woodruff’s sporting occurred under less than ideal conditions. Between 1879 and 1887, Woodruff was driven into exile for three extended periods. His first exile was triggered by the Supreme Court’s conviction of George Reynolds on charges of polygamy. In February 1879, Elder Woodruff fled south.
He chafed under the restrictions of hiding: “I spent the day confined to my room. I do not have the out door Exercise that I feel that my system Needs.”Woodruff soon found exercise during eleven months of dodging the U.S. Marshals in Utah, Arizona, and New Mexico. The forced exile gave him time to explore and reflect. He camped in the San Francisco Peaks, among “some of the finest Pine country I Ever saw in my life.” He fished Black Falls, caught twenty fish, then returned a month later to catch more. In August he fished with Jacob Hamblin in Round Valley, catching “10 trout that would average about ½ a lb each.”
Woodruff noted abundant populations of turkey, deer, antelope, and water fowl.He took the opportunity to hunt teal in nearby marshes with the assistance of his adopted dog Bobby: “The first shot . . . I got 7 that I killed dead.” Never an enthusiastic large game hunter, he recorded a sequence of events that may have discouraged such hunting. On May 26, he recorded his kill of a doe antelope: “I shot her 125 yards through the Body & vitals and she run 300 yards over a ridge with her hind parts to me. I shot at her again and put a Ball from my Needle gun clear through her Body Endways. The Ball came out at her throat & she fell dead.” On June 5, he wounded two deer and lost both. On June 13, he “saw 3 deer & 2 antilope & did not shoot at anything. I did not think it was right for me to kill wild game.”
In August he met the Apache chief Petone, who was preparing his people for an antelope hunt. Ever the “mighty fisher of men,” Elder Woodruff “preached to them one hour concerning the gospel and the Book of Mormon the Record of their fore fathers” and “prayed the Lord to Bless Petone on his hunt that he might have meet for his family.” Woodruff noted that Petone was wildly successful, killing twenty-seven animals: “It was a remarkable fact that they killed Evry Deer and Antilope they saw on the hunt.”
Even though Elder Woodruff had relieved the stress of his exile by fishing and hunting excursions, these were not lighthearted sporting adventures. The difficulties that the Church and its members were suffering were weighing on his mind. In January 1880, on an eleven-day backcountry trip in the San Francisco Mountains of Arizona, he received what is known as the Wilderness Revelation, which predicted apocalyptic consequences for persecutors of the Saints.Woodruff’s first exile ended in March 1880 when the Supreme Court ruled that stringent evidence was required for prosecution of polygamy.
He had a respite of nearly five years, but the passage in 1882 of the Edmunds Act, with the first prosecutions occurring in 1884, sent him underground a second time. In January 1885, he left for nine months of exile in southern Utah. This time he stayed near St. George, living with John and Emma Squires and occasionally with William Atkin.The Squires lived on the outskirts of St. George and had orchards and vineyards behind the house. The proximity to St. George, where people might recognize him, made fishing and hunting difficult: “Woodruff occasionally went hunting quails in a disguise that Emma made for him, a sunbonnet and a mother hubbard dress. Despite the disguise, an inquisitive neighbor met and recognized him in the rear of the house as he was returning.”
Elder Woodruff often left St. George to stay with William Atkin, ten miles away in the bottoms of the Virgin River. Atkin’s location provided two advantages: safety and sporting. On June 29, 1885, the day of his arrival, he fished Atkin’s pond: “We cought 30 chubs & 20 doves.”He hunted and fished the pond repeatedly and used it as a refuge as well. The Atkins children recalled strategies of subterfuge:
Nellie says . . . that she was dispatched to the hilltop east of the house where she could watch the approach roads. If she spotted the buggy of Marshals McGeary and Armstrong coming around the dugway above Bloomington or coming down the Price Road, it was a signal for the next step. Hyrum says . . . there was then a rush to get Brother Woodruff, his bedroll, food, and water, his books and fishing tackle into the large boat (14 × 5 feet) on the pond where he could remain safely concealed in the heavy cattails and rushes. When asked if the marshals could see him from the bluff above the pond, Hy [Hyrum] said there were plenty of places to hide where neither the marshals from the hill, the devil from below nor the Lord from above could see the boat. When the danger was past, William went out to the pond, made a noise like a duck and Woodruff gave a signal quack in reply.
Woodruff’s journals do not mention the pond as a hiding place but do tie Marshal Armstrong to the location:
Br Thompson took me in his wagon & we road to Atkins Pond & spent the day. We shot 10 wild Duck 4 Rabbits & one large fat Crane & cought abot 100 fish with hooks and returned in the Evening. . . . A telegram had Been sent from Beaver saying that Woodruff, Thurber, Spencer, & others were accused of threatening to Put Marshal Armstrog [sic] & his papers into the Lake or make him a prisoner in the land. This is not true but a trumped up story to Black mail us for Money.
Woodruff did not limit his sporting to Atkins Pond. In July, Woodruff fished northwest of St. George in Grass Valley, riding enroute with a man he later discovered was a U.S. Marshal. Five days later he made an extended trip north, where he fished in Fish Lake.He fished Pine Valley in late August:
[It was] the smallest stream of water I ever attempted to fish in. It was so small Brother Thompson did not Believe fish could live in it it & would not fish. I could ownly use an 18 inch line for the thick brush. I fished 2 Hours. Caught 22 trout but they were small. I lost most of the trout I hooked that would weigh half a pound. No chance to get them out for brush.
Three days later Woodruff went hunting.But all this was not enough for the exiled sportsman: “I have lain still so long I am under the Necessity of having 1 days exercise in a week for my health. So to day Brother Thompson took me over to Atkins pond 8 miles. . . . We caught 6 ducks, 1 Rabbit, a string of Chubs. We killed 2 Hawk & a Turkey buzzard.”
Woodruff’s second exile was brought to an end by a tragic event. In October he learned that Phebe had fallen and suffered a head injury.When her condition worsened, Woodruff returned to Salt Lake and on November 9, 1885, “laid [his] hands upon her head & Blessed her And anointed her for her burial and at 2 oclok she died.” Woodruff watched the funeral procession from hiding: “I saw the hearse that carried my wife Phebe Whitemore Carter Woodruff to the grave. I was not permitted to attend her funeral without being arrested for my religin. . . . I am passing through a strange chapter in the history of my life.”
With Phebe’s passing, Woodruff took up residence with his wife Emma and her children, young Mary Alice being only six years old.His growing children became his sporting companions, and later journals repeatedly mention trips with his sons Asahel and Owen. Indeed, Woodruff’s closeness to Emma’s family prompted discontent from the families of other wives. It was with Emma and her family, during the Uintah Basin trip, that he was forced into exile for the third and final time.
Wilford Woodruff’s dreams in this third exile were threaded with the memory of Phebe and the failing President Taylor.He responded with a flurry of letters to loved ones. And he headed for the water. Between March 1887, when he “got nothing” from Atkins Pond, and July, when he recorded catches of fifteen and forty fish, Woodruff hunted or fished twenty-two times. On July 16, he received a letter from George Q. Cannon informing him of John Taylor’s imminent death, and he returned to Salt Lake, arriving three days after President Taylor’s death. “President John Taylor is twice a Marter,” he wrote. “He was shot with four Balls & Mingled his Blood with the Martered Prophet. . . . Now He is Driven into Exile By the United States officers for his religion untill through his confinement and suffering He lays down his life and suffers Death.” As he had done at Phebe’s funeral nine months earlier, Woodruff watched the procession from hiding.
Decline of Great Basin Ecology. As Thomas Alexander has noted, the ecology of Salt Lake Valley changed dramatically in the first half century after Mormon colonization.Smelting caused air problems, timber was overharvested, and irrigated agriculture and grazing dramatically changed native plant communities. The fishery suffered as well. The prodigious harvests Woodruff recorded in his journals were not sustainable: single-day catches of 203 (party of three), 183 (party of four), and 150 (party of three). That fishermen of the day were willing to keep small, prespawning fish is implied by Woodruff’s observation that twenty-four fish made two good meals for him and a companion. But sport catches paled in comparison to commercial hauls: recall that Woodruff reported “2,500 lb of trout at one hall with a net at the mouth of Provo River,” a draft “judged to be about 4000 pounds” on another occasion, and Matson’s biblical draw of “2,000 lbs of fine trout.”
By 1895 commercial licenses were required, and fisheries reports listed a total-year harvest of only 4,000 pounds of trout from Utah Lake.The native cutthroat trout so successfully harvested was soon extinct in Utah Lake. Overharvesting was exacerbated by irrigation development. Woodruff reported dangerous conditions on Fish Lake outlet:
I consider Fish Lake the greatest depository of Large fine trout of any body of water in the Rocky Mountains. The Lake is fed with half a doz small streams that flow into it from the west Mountains & hills. . . . The Trout in the spring of the year go up the small streams to spawn and a person can throw them out of the water with their hands or knock them in the head with a stick from 1 to 5 or 6 lb. Men have made a Dam & put in large gates at the out let to hold the water on a reservoy to water vallies below. By this means have raised the Lake some 4 feet & not having used the water this season and the water being stoped at the out let the large trout trying to come back to the Lake get into vary shallow water. Heat By the sun many of [them] Died from 1 to 6 & 7 lb. and many others nearly dead. The Brethren let the water down to save those that were not Dead.
Elder Woodruff was himself involved in a number of irrigation projects. In 1862 he was appointed president of the Jordon Irrigating Company.In 1889 he scouted the Sevier River for “the place for the reservoir & Dam and the place for taking out the Canal,” returning two years later to inspect the completed dam: “It was a strong Dam of Many tons of slag from the smelters.” In December 1896 he “met with the Ogden Power Company to give out the Contract on building the dam.” And in 1897, as head of the Executive Committee of the Church, he loaned “$10,000.00 or $12,000.00 To the Deseret & Salt Lake Agricultural & Manufacturing Canal Co to help them build their new dam for the reservoir.”
President Woodruff sensed the gradual loss of biological richness and, to some degree, the cause of that loss. In his Forest and Stream letter, he expressed regret at the steady decline of “trout . . . and feathered game.”Other sportsmen did, as well. By the late 1890s, the vulnerable cutthroat of Panguitch Lake were protected during spawning runs, and the president of Bear Lake Stake could argue from the pulpit that “it is altogether wrong for people to fish contrary to law.” But habitat protection was the paradigm of the next generation. Woodruff’s response, mirroring responses across the country, was supplementation. On June 30, 1876, he planted salmon fry in two tributaries of Bear Lake and optimistically reported plantings of salmon, trout, and shad in Utah Lake: “I am happy to say that this effort to stock Utah Lake with shad bids fair to be a success.” Unfortunately, the shad planting was not successful—not during this attempt nor any of the other eight attempts between 1871 and 1892.
Physical Decline of President Woodruff. The decline of wild fish and game roughly paralleled President Woodruff’s physical decline. He had always been disposed to accidents from which he had providentially escaped. But accidents increased during the later years, exacerbated by age and the stress of living underground. On September 13, 1886, Woodruff suffered what was probably a mild stroke: “I was taken with a vary strange turn. I turned almost Blind & speechless & lost my Memory. . . . I dont know whether it was paralises or not. I soon recovered.”
The following year, he suffered uncharacteristic mishaps while fishing: June 20: “I went to fishing. I caught 23. . . . I run my fish hook into my thumb up to the hand. Brother Thompson Cut it out with his pocket knife. It was quite painful.” June 21: “I went to fishing Early to try to get some fish for Sister Cottam. I ownly caught one & had the luck to run my fishhook into one of my fingers. Brother Thompson Cut that out.”
Between his assumption of the Presidency of the Church at age eighty-two in 1889 and his death at age ninety-one in 1898, he recorded only five local fishing trips, the fourth one being the backcountry trip which prompted the Forest and Stream letter. He was alert and interested in sporting, but his age was obvious. He wrote during a trip in July 1890: “I felt weary this Morning but went fishing. I caught ownly 1.” And two weeks later: “I spent most of the Day in camp. Owen & others went fishing.” On the Forest and Stream trip, Woodruff fished the first day, catching six, then did no more fishing for the duration of the ten-day trip.
However, President Woodruff did engage in less strenuous outdoor activity, particularly when he made trips to the West Coast. He conducted Church business in British Columbia, where boat passage afforded glimpses of “whales spouting in the distance and lashing the water into foam in their sports.” He also did some light fishing during which George Q. Cannon “caught one the first fish he ever caught in his life.”A different West Coast trip took him to Monterey, where he hired a boat and fished with Cannon again: “Brother Cannon profesed never to be a fisherman, but he caught his share to day.” Five days later, President Woodruff fished out of San Diego with his wife: “Emma caught quite a number and helped me to haul in mine.” Another trip out of Astoria provided opportunity to view “more whales & porposes,” but no fishing.
As President Woodruff’s physical capacity diminished, he enjoyed his sporting vicariously. He had always tallied catches, both his and his companions’. Earlier the ratios had been in his favor, but now they reversed: July 5, 1890: “I caught ownly 1. Asahel & co caught 20 Owen & co 12. The River was high & fishing poor.” July 10, 1890: “Caught 6 trout vary good fish. . . . Owen caught 20 Ovando 15.” February 23, 1891: “I spent the day at the House. Asahel Owen & Ovando went up the creek fishing & caught 15 trout.” July 4, 1892: “The people of Utah are celebrating the day. I spent the day at home. Asahel, Owen & Ovando came home to night from fishing in the Lost Canyon. They caught about 150 trout.”
He reported others’ success without envy, for he still saw himself as sporting patriarch: “I spent the day in camp. Asahel & Ovando went Fishing. Ovando asked me how many He should catch. I told him 31. He did catch 31 & could not catch any more.”
President Woodruff’s final illness occurred late in summer 1898. He had traveled to San Francisco with George Q. Cannon, who was also ailing, in hopes of securing relief. In his last days, he was again drawn to the water. On August 26th, he “rode to the Coast, & saw the seals covering all the rocks.” Again, on the 29th, he “went out riding to the sea through the park.”But the water could not heal him. On September 1, Wilford Woodruff suffered kidney failure and sank into a coma. He died the following morning at 6:40 a.m.
Franklin D. Richards’s funeral oration referring to President Woodruff as “a mighty fisher of men” recalled both the Savior’s call to Peter and the Jeremiah passage President Woodruff had pondered on the granite ledges of the Fox Islands:
Behold, I will send for many fishers, saith the Lord, and they shall fish them; and after will I send for many hunters, and they shall hunt them from every mountain, and from every hill, and out of the holes of the rocks. (Jer. 16:16)
President Woodruff had been a hunter and fisher of men. On missions to Maine and England, he had drawn a net taut with a harvest of souls. Even while gathering the catch Jeremiah prophesied, President Woodruff had sensed the beauty of this world; he had paused to hear a wolf howl fade over the waters of the Platteand had walked miles to watch an old man flash fly line across the River Ribble. President Woodruff shepherded his catch of souls to Zion, accompanied Zion to the West, and was rewarded with unfished waters. He had also been the hunted: “I have been wandering in the wilderness for the gospels sake,” he said concerning his exile. But his wandering had been eased by the knowledge that each cleft of wilderness held a creek filled with spotted trout.