Purbelow

The 1850 census of Deseret (really taken in 1851) shows two boys in the household of Stephen Luce. There’s a mystery here.

The Mormons got to Utah in 1847. The Luces arrived in 1848. Everyone was still settling in when Brigham Young decided to conduct a census that would be the official 1850 census of Deseret (Utah) even though it was conducted in 1851.

The census shows two young boys in the household of Stephen and Mary Luce: Joseph Purbelow, age 5, born in Iowa; and Willford [Purbelow], age 2, born in Deseret.

Stephen Luce family (1850 Census, Utah)
Stephen Luce family, continued (1850 Census, Utah)

The context suggests the two Purbelow boys were orphans being raised by Stephen and Mary Luce. Their surname probably was really Pueblo. Back then “pueblo” was often pronounced purbelow .[1] Further, the modern family uses the surname Pueblo. It’s possible the boys’ full names were Joseph Smith Pueblo and Wilford Woodruff Pueblo.

There seems to be no further record of Wilford, but Joseph was living in Payson (Utah) by 1868 and died there in 1898. Both the 1880 census and his death record say he was Indian. And that might provide the clue that solves the question of his parents.

Brigham Young dispatched the Parley Pratt expedition to explore southern Utah in 1849-1850. The expedition encountered a mountain man named Purbelow who stole their horses. There seems to be no record of Purbelow’s fate. I suggest he died or the Mormons hanged him, and his (hypothetical) Indian wife and children were taken to live in Salt Lake City.

Robert Lang Campbell, clerk of the expedition kept a detailed journal, but there are few details about Purbelow. Some passages that mention Purbelow were published by Smart & Smart in Over the Rim. The original journals might contain additional information.

On November 28, 1849 at Peteetneet Creek, later the the site of Payson, Campbell wrote, “Col. C. Scott & party who r after Purbelow the Mountainman who stole horses stay here till we come up, hear that Purbelow camps at the hot springs [near Draper] to night.” (Smart 1999:26, emphasis added)

John Brown, another member of the expedition was a bit clearer. On the same day he wrote: “We reached Piasateatment Creek here Colonel Scott fell in with us again and called on us for some to go with him. And we let him have ten mounted men to be gone a few days and return to us again.” (Smart 1999:26)

On November 30 Campbell wrote, “Bre with Col Scott return, they went to the Sevier, found Purbilow had gone too far ahead“. Brown wrote, “We reached Salt Creek where we camped two miles up the canyon here we discovered plenty of Plaster of Paris also our men returned who went with Col Scott. They went so far as the Sevier River on the California road but to no effect.” (Smart 1999:28, emphasis added)

That’s the last we hear until January 5, when the expedition encountered Purbelow near what is now Newcastle. Parley Pratt wrote, “Passed down a few miles thro a fertile valley, still snowing. Came to running water and the Camp of Purblo and a few wagons, about 12 miles farther we reached Captn Fly’s Camp of perhaps fifty wagons, men, women and children who have lain by on a fine stream to shoe their cattle and recruit. Of them we purchased some Whiskey, drinked tolerably free, some of us lodged in their tents and had the luxury of sitting in a chair.” (Smart 1999:183, emphasis added)

Campbell is briefer. He wrote, “2 miles back from this water, find Purbelow & 4 or 5 wagons encamped near here in the snow“. And Brown says much the same: “We arose and shook off the snow and shoved on we soon came to a small company of gold diggers and 10 miles farther we came to a large company of about 50 wagons we camped near them they had a rodometer by which we learned we were 319 miles G.S.L.” (Smart 1999:101, emphasis added)

And that’s it. We don’t hear what happened to Purbelow. The Smarts say they’ve been unable to identify him (Smart 1999:26). They suggest the reason the encounter with Purbelow in January occasioned no further comment was that nothing could be done short of lynching (Smart 1999:102).

My thought is that something did happen the Purbelow, and whatever it was happened before 1851. He had an accident, or he died in epidemic, or the Mormons strung him up after all.

The first reference to Purbelow calls him a mountain man. The last calls him a gold digger, and puts him in a small company of 4 or 5 wagons. It wouldn’t be a stretch to suppose he had an Indian wife and children. Perhaps he was part Indian himself. If he died it wouldn’t be unusual for his children to be fostered with a Mormon family. That’s what I think happened.


1. There are scattered references in the journals of early explorers and pioneers to the pronunciation of pueblo as purbelow. For example:

  • Harriet Brown wrote a letter to her husband’s stepmother: “The [Mormon] Battalion was separated at Santefee (Santa Fe) and those that was sick and wore out with fatigue was sent back to purbelow (Pueblo) 70 miles above Bents Fort under command of Captain Brown. The number consisting of 85 men and 20 women here to remain until next spring then to take up our line of march for Fort Larime (Laramie) there we are in hopes to meet you all and travail with you all over the mountains.” (Harriet Brown, Letter to Mary Brown, Dec. 25, 1846, quoted in “Daniel Brown“. Latter Day Light <latterdaylight.com>, Aug. 16, 2019.)
  • John Holladay wrote an autobiographical sketch: “On arriveing at Fort Larrimee [1846] we met with one John Rinshaw, a mountaineer. He told us that none of our imergration had passed that place. We imployed Mr. Rishaw as pilot to Purbelow. This place is situated on the Arkansaw River just East of Rockeys, arrived thare in August.” (“‘John Daniel Holladay,’ In Biographical Information Relating to Mormon Pioneer Overland Travel database.” Overland Travel Pioneer Database 1847-1868 <history.churchofjesuschrist.org/overlandtravel>. Retrieved Apr. 5, 2020.
  • Brigham Young wrote a letter in 1847 to Elders Elders Hyde, Pratt, and Taylor in England: “About the 17th October, Captain Brown was detached to Purbelow, on the Arkansas, to winter, accompanied by the laundresses, sick, &c., of the battalion numbering in all about eighty; the remainder of the battalion took up a line of march for Monterey in California, thence expecting to ship for San Francisco.” (“Mormon History, Jan 6, 1847.” Mormon Church History <mormon-church-history.blogspot.com/>. Retrieved Apr. 5, 2020.)

2. “Wilford Purbelow“. FamilySearch <familysearch.org>. Retrieved Apr. 6, 2020. Russell Willis Pubelo, of Lindon, Utah wrote: “In the 1850 Census of Utah, page 202, Joseph A. Purbelow age 5, born in Iowa and Willford Purbelow age 2, born in Deseret were listed with the Stephen Luce family, this information is also found on page 65 of “First Families Of Utah As Taken From The 1850 Census Of Utah”. If Joseph was 5 years old in 1850 (1850 – 5 = 1845) he would have been born in 1845. However, I made a copy from the “Register of Death, Utah County, Utah” at the Utah County Building in Provo, when I was a student at BYU about 1978. It listed: Joseph Pueblo age 55, Sex Male, Race Indian, Color Red, … Date of Death April 6, 1898. If Joseph was 55 years old when he died (1898 – 55= 1843) he would have been born in 1843.”

More Information

Edited June 8, 2021 to clarify the hot springs near what is now Draper.

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