WASHINGTON COUNTY HISTORICAL SOCIETY (Washington County, Utah)
(soldier, missionary, miner, farmer)
BIOGRAPHYElijah Thomas was born January 22, 1815 in West Rockingham, Richmond County, North Carolina.
He took military training from his boyhood until nearly 30 years of age. He was a big man, over six feet tall, and a naturally gifted orator. His family was baptized into the Mormon Church in 1844 and moved to Nauvoo, Illinois. Elijah was called on a mission to North and South Carolina. Upon his return he worked building carriages and wagons. The family moved westward in 1846.
Elijah (along with a cousin and brother-in-law) joined the Mormon Battalion. He was discharged in July of 1847.
As they were headed towards the Salt Lake Valley, those without family were asked to return to the west coast to obtain supplies that would be scarce in the Valley. Forty-two men returned and sought employment. Elijah and two others obtained a contract with Captain Sutter to build a mill, canal, dam, saw mill, and tan-yard. In January 1848, the foreman and nine of the company working on the saw mill spotted a few grains of gold and set off the great California gold rush. Elijah became quite wealthy before leaving for Salt Lake in October of 1848.
In 1852, Elijah and five other men were called on a mission to British Guiana. President Young instructed them to preach the gospel and look for seeds and plants that could be adapted to Utah's soil. The missionaries traveled to Brazil, Jamaica, Barbados, and ended up in New York. Elijah organized a company to travel to Salt Lake, crossing the plains his second time. When he arrived, he engaged in the manufacture of castor oil and soap, from the beans he had brought from Brazil.
During the October General Conference of the Church in 1866, Brigham Young called 165 men to move south to strengthen the church's southern communities. Elijah accepted the call and set up a caster bean processing plant and built a home in Leeds.
In 1874, Elijah and John Ferris found silver on the White Reef in Silver Reef and staked a claim. But a California company jumped the claim and Elijah took them to court. An injunction was filed and Elijah could not raise the money to cover his legal fees. When the statute of limitations expired, the jumpers won the claim and the resulting mine ended up being worth a fortune.
After losing the claim, Elijah took a contract for timber hauling to the Silver Reef mine. In 1880, Elijah was a farmer living in Leeds with his wife Ann. In 1887, he filed for and received an Army pension of $8 per month. In 1894, his pension was increased to $12 per month. On the 1900 census, he was still living with Ann in Leeds.
Elijah died October 14, 1906 at the home of his daughter in St George.
A research report by Elaine Young, PhD.