Christopher Layton, Colonizer, Statesman, Leader

Book Review
Reviewer: Ivan J. Barrett
Categories: Biography
Journal: 9:4

On Christopher Layton’s seventy-seventh birthday, which he commemorated in Safford, Arizona, he was visited by many friends and members of his family. President Andrew Kimball, of the St. Joseph Stake, suggested that a committee of the Layton family be appointed to gather their father’s genealogy and write a history of his life. This suggestion was immediately acted upon, a committee was appointed, and Christopher Layton began dictating his life story. This autobiography was designed to be passed on from generation to generation and to be preserved as a family memorial.

Christopher Layton reveals himself as a common man who achieved great success as a business man, a Church man and particularly as a family man, being a father of sixty children and a husband to ten wives. The courage, perseverance, and faith of the man during trials, sorrow, despair, persecutions and rebuff inspires the reader and marks Layton as one of the great men in pioneer Mormonism.

Compared with biographies in general it is outstanding. Andrew Jenson read the manuscript before the autobiography was printed and used much of it in his biography of Layton in his first volume of LDS Biographical Encyclopedia. He declared Layton’s story “will show that Christopher Layton was one of the most remarkable men that ever figured in the history of the Mormon Church.” James H. McClintock, Arizona historian, in Mormon Settlement in Arizona commented: “The narrative is one of the best at hand in the way of literary preparation, though with frank statement that President Layton himself had all too little education for the accomplishment of such a task (p. 24).” It appears that Christopher Layton did not learn to write until some years after joining the Church for when he signed the payroll as a member of the Mormon Battalion he placed an “X” where his signature should have been. Despite this handicap he proved himself the equal, if not superior, to his peers in judgment, wisdom, and foresight. He had the almost uncanny talent to prosper and succeed materially where others failed.

In 1965, the newly formed Christopher Layton Family Organization decided to prepare a new edition of his autobiography. This new edition was edited by Myron W. McIntyre and Noel Barton. Some alterations were made in the new edition: the births of children lacking in the original publication were supplied with maps and pictures added to enrich and inform the readers of people and places with which they might not be familiar. Notes explaining and elucidating abbreviated data enhance the value and reading interest. The new volume is also furnished with an index and genealogical data.

Christopher Layton was a diamond in the rough, an Englishman by birth, born in Bedfordshire, March 8, 1821. His first practical experience was at the age of seven when he kept crows off the wheat fields for 36¢ a week. In 1843 he crossed the ocean with his wife; both had been baptized into the Mormon Church the year before. At Nauvoo they met the Prophet Joseph Smith who shook Brother Layton’s hand. He said, “God bless you,” so fervently that the words “sank deep into our hearts giving us a feeling of peace such as we never had before.” From here on to his final days, the life of Christopher Layton was full of dedication to the Church, loyalty to its leaders, activity in the settlement of the western Zion, and service to his fellow church men.

Christopher Layton joined the Mormon Battalion and walked to California. He takes his account of the Battalion march from Daniel Tyler’s Concise History of the Mormon Battalion. His service in the Battalion is significant in his life yet the space allotted in the autobiography is disproportionate as it covers almost one third of his entire life story and deals with one year’s activity. He was only a private in the Mormon Battalion, but his military service spread over nearly a quarter of a century. In 1868 he was commissioned lieutenant colonel. A reputation Layton developed for being practical and plain spoken was brought into focus when Colonel Philip St. George Cooke ordered him to cross a swollen river to take a message to Captain Jefferson Hunt on the other side. Layton tried to get his mule to swim the raging stream but it refused. The colonel yelled for him to cross over. Layton readily sensed that to cross the river would cost him his and the mule’s life so he turned his mule and rode off, saying as he went, “Colonel, I’ll see you in hell before I drown myself and mule in that river.” The colonel stared at him for a moment and muttered, “What is that man’s name?” An attendant replied, “Christopher Layton, sir.” “Well, he is a saucy fellow.”

After his discharge from the Battalion in California, Layton worked as a ranch foreman. He bought a band of horses at $1.50 a head and sold each one for $100. With this small fortune he sailed for England and brought his family and friends to America. He engaged passage for all of them. While in England he married Sarah Martin. After a delay of more than a year in St. Louis, he led a large company of Saints across the plains and mountains to Salt Lake Valley. For the next thirty years Christopher Layton pioneered in Carson Valley, Nevada, where he built for himself a large herd of cattle which brought from President Brigham Young the comment: “Brother Layton, you have more stock than the whole Church.” Christopher’s reply reveals his selfless devotion to the Church and its leaders: “Brother Young, they are all at your disposal.”

When it was known that the government was sending an army to Utah, the outlying settlements were abandoned, and Christopher Layton was called to Utah to the headquarters of the Church. He settled himself in Davis County and established Kaysville. Here he pioneered dry farming and introduced alfalfa which proved to be an epoch-making experiment. It cannot be estimated the value which this forage plant has given the intermountain area. While living at Kaysville he served as bishop and counselor in the stake presidency. Christopher Layton was a natural pioneer and colonizer who developed during his lifetime the rare attribute of an empire builder. In Kaysville he became a man of wealth and affluence and considered himself settled for life when the call came from the First Presidency to take charge of the settlements in southern Arizona and preside over the Saint Joseph Stake, named in honor of the Prophet Joseph Smith. He was not a young man then, but he tackled the assignment with the courage, vitality, and energy of a young man.

He presided over the St. Joseph Stake for fifteen years when he was released because of poor health. He was then ordained a patriarch. In June 1898 he was taken to Utah in a special railway car and underwent an operation which proved unsuccessful. He died August 7, 1898.

Christopher Layton, Colonizer, Statesman, Leader is a book to be read. It is stimulating and strengthening, uplifting and assuring in this age of doubt and uncertainty. It reveals the motives and forces that shaped an eventful life and could well shape the lives of all those who follow them.