The family of these two pioneers was a prolific one. James himself was the sixth of nine siblings, Almira the eldest of eight. James and Almira had eleven children of their own. Nine of these grew to maturity and married and there were 91 grandchildren – an average family of ten for each married child! Two of these nine had fourteen children. James’ patriarchal blessing promised “thy posterity shall be numerous,” and Almira was promised that her posterity “shall continue to increase so that they cannot be numbered!”
The family of Squire Davenport Jr. and Susanna Kittridge lived only a few miles from the Joseph Smith family, in Danville, Caledonia County, Vermont. Their son, James, was born on 1 May 1802, just 3 1/2 years before Joseph Smith. Almira was a little younger, born in Canajoharie, New York to John and Polly Rider Phelps. One account says that Almira weighed at birth less than three pounds – a small start for a stalwart pioneer! But after age twelve she cared faithfully for her mother, who was ill. James and Almira married on 4 September 1922 and lived together for fifty-nine years, until Almira’s death at age 76. They were both endowed and sealed together in the Nauvoo Temple, during the few weeks it was in operation before the saints were driven out.
James was a skilled Blacksmith and a farmer. But rather than settle down on a farm, they were a restless family and moved often. Their first four children were each born in a different state – New York, Kentucky, Indianna and Ohio. They were Mary Mariah, born 27 February, 1824 (married Willima H. Kimball and bore eight children); John Squire, born 25 February 1826 (married Madora Pack and also bore eight children); Almon, born 14 December 1828, but lived only twenty months; Alfred Phelps was born 5 November 1832 (married Mary E. Feaster and they had eleven children).
Soon after Martha Ann was born in Ohio on 14 October, 1834, according to John Squire’s personal history the family was baptized into the LDS Church by Parley P. Pratt. Martha Ann later married Thomas J. Phelps (a relative?), and became the mother of eight. After their baptism, the family was still on the move. The next two children were born in different cities in Michigan and the next was born in Walnut Grove, Illinois. Sarah Mariah, the great-grandmother of this writer, was born on 22 November 1836, married John Harrison Maughan and mothered fourteen of her own children. She helped significantly with another fourteen born to others of John’s polygamist wives, whose death or illness required help with their children. Sarah Mariah also became a busy Southern Idaho midwife.
Lucinda Melissa was born 1 July 1838, married Stephen Forsdick, and had ten children. James Nephi was born 14 August 1841, married Margaret J. Petty, and had nine children. Finally, the family arrived in the new city of Nauvoo, where their ninth child, Antoinette was born on 2 September 1843. She later married Thomas R. Leavitt and bore nine children. Heber Davenport was born on 14 December 1845, just before his parents received their temple endowment and were sealed in the newly dedicated, and very soon-to-be abandoned Nauvoo Temple. Heber lived only six days.
The Prophet Joseph Smith and his brother, Hyrum, were martyred in June, 1844. The beautiful city of Nauvoo, and the Davenport family, were caught up in the turmoil that preceded the expulsion of the saints. It was in during the months at the end of winter in early 1846 that the Davenports, drawing on their pioneering skills to their ultimate extent, joined the infamous trek across Iowa to a temporary refuge on the banks of the Missouri River. Near the site of modern-day Omaha, on Potawatami Indian lands just beyond the borders of the United States, and in a rough-hewn temporary shelter, the last of the eleven children arrived. Little Almira was born on 11 March 1847 at the end of the freezing and fatal winter in Winter Quarters, (now Florence), Nebraska. This birth was just days before her father left with the first pioneer company for the West. Mother, Almira, for whom the baby was named, stayed in Winter Quarters with those of her family still unmarried, and her new baby. She was a strong and stalwart lady! Baby Almira survived this harsh environment and grew up to marry William D. Hendricks, and with him raised fourteen children.
The exodus from Nauvoo in the very cold winter of 1846 and the stormy and muddy spring months which followed, was a historic and traumatic epic in Midwest America. Twenty year-old John Squire was recruited to drive a team and wagon for Heber C. Kimball, the second-to-senior apostle. The day after the first refugees left, on 5 February, he drove his wagon across the Mississippi River on the ice, and camped the first night in Sugar Creek, five miles west. After the very difficult 21/2 month journey trough the trackless waste of Iowa, he reached Winter Quarters.
In this spring of 1847, James Davenport was recruited as a blacksmith for the first company to leave with Brigham Young for the Great Basin of the West. They would generally follow the Oregon/California Trail along the Platte River. But they deliberately chose the opposite side of the river from the well-traveled side. Part of the mission of that first company was to identify the best route for the trail and the best sources for feed for the livestock, and to improve the road for the thousands that would follow. There were worrisome encounters with Indians, whose intentions were not well-know at the time, but no serious troubles occurred. The trail was arduous, but not without pleasure. One humorous evening was reported, when a “mock trial” was held around the campfire, with James Davenport as the defendant. He was “accused” of blockading the trail against the passage of the women. The prosecuting attorney, Luke Johnson, faithfully pursued the “People’s case,” the presiding judge, Jackson Reddon, kept order in the court, and defense attorney, Edson Whipple ultimately got the accused man freed of the “charges.” All in good fun!
By 12 June 1847 the company had arrived at a difficult crossing of the North Platte River, near where Casper, Wyoming was later established. The spring runoff was very high and the crossing dangerous and nearly impossible. Eventually, building an adequate ferry was authorized by Brigham Young and was constructed of 23 foot long logs and cross-timbers. Large ropes stretched from one side of the river to the other, aided by pulleys and guy ropes and adequate manpower, and some ingenious manipulation of the river current, finally resulted in a successful means of crossing the torrent.
Six days later the company was safely across and on their way. But Brigham Young designated nine men to stay and operate the ferry for other travelers who would follow along the trail. Thomas Grover was named captain, William Empy, Assistant Captain, Appleton Harmon, carpenter and mechanic, Luke Johnson, doctor and hunter, James Davenport, blacksmith and John Higbee, Edmond Ellsworth and Francis Pomeroy, hunters. Benjamin Stewart was appointed the miner to supply the coal for the blacksmith’s forge. Doctoring, blacksmithing and ox and horse shoeing would also be provided, for a fee. Careful and strict instructions were given by Brigham Young to the group, emphasizing strict obedience to command and the absolute goodwill that must prevail. Fees for travelers using the ferry were established, payable in cash or provisions. The workers would be self-sustaining on the ample fish and game that were available, plus provisions that were paid in return for services. The men all signed their names to the written instructions.
After only a month, the river had subsided sufficiently that it could be forded. The captain divided the assets and some of the men were released to return to Winter Quarters for their families. A few stayed at the crossing. On July 23, 1847, just as the main company was arriving in the Salt Lake Valley, James Davenport joined a company of emigrants returning east from Oregon, and left with them as a guide. Unfortunately, for reasons not fully known, he left with some hard feelings for the others. He may have arrived in Winter Quarters in time for the first marriage that took place there, for his son, John Squire to Medora Pack on August 15. Almira and another son, Alfred, were the witnesses, while Medora’s father, Rufus, performed the ceremony. During the coming months James apparently made additional trips back and forth with companies on the way to Zion.
In 1850 or 1851 the family traveled to Utah with the Phileman Merrill Company, and settled in Grantsville. On 26 July 1852, James married a second wife for time only in the Endowment House. A biography written by Hazel Gardner Gasser states that Catherine Vanever Geyer Tuttle, then age 56, and her large family was living at Winter Quarters when her husband, Edward Tuttle “was gored by one of the bulls as he was herding the church cattle,” and died. Catherine and Edward Tuttle had been endowed and sealed in the Nauvoo Temple near the same dates as James and Almira. The couple had a large family of about nine children. These two families were likely acquainted with each other. It is not clear how long, or even whether, Catherine lived with the Davenports in Grantsville, but Catherine later settled with her family in Salem, Utah, where she died in 1878. This may have been one of the occasions, not uncommon at that time, where a single woman was taken into another family because of friendship, or for humanitarian reasons.
The restless Davenport family returned to Florence, Nebraska in 1857, and stayed there until 1860, when they returned to Utah. They resided for a year in Wellsville, Cache Valley, where daughter, Sarah Mariah was living with her new husband, John Harrison Maughan and others of the Peter Maughan family, who had been the first settlers of that Valley. After a year, the Davenports moved one last time, with three children still at home, to Richmond, on the Idaho border. Here James and Almira lived for the rest of their lives. They found protection from the Indians, with about ninety other families, in the Old Fort there. Twenty years later, on 28 December 1881 at the age of 76, Almira passed away, followed seventeen months later, on 23 July 1883, by James. He was age 81. Both were buried in the Richmond cemetery.