By Lorah J. W. N. Beeks
About 33 years ago in the declining years of William West Woodland's life while harking back to his childhood years, he unfolded a very interesting story of his father and mother and their children (John Woodland and Celia Stapleford), to his daughter Mary. Some of the story was told him by the lips of his father while the latter part he, William, shared in the real experiences. I shall now proceed to copy from the original handed me by the writer.
John Woodland was born 27 March 1776, four months prior to the ringing of the bell of Independence, declaring our country free from England. While in Virginia this babe resided in Princess Ann County.
Of his boyhood days we know nothing. In early manhood he married Ruth McGeehe, to them was born two lovely little daughters. Not long was he permitted to enjoy his little family for his young wife was snatched from him by the dreaded disease, cold plague. With in ten days his little daughters were laid to rest by their mother's side.
Discouraged and broken in spirit he left Virginia and later drifted to Illinois. He remained single until he was about 42 years old. It was then he met and wed Celia Stapleford, the daughter of Noah Stapleford and Polly Sanders.
Mr. Stapleford operated a ferryboat and hired John Woodland. This is when he made the acquaintance of the daughter. In the spring of 1818 they were married. After this marriage he settled three miles from Albany, Edwards, Illinois. While there ten children were born to them.
About 1835 the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints sent missionaries to Illinois. In the month of April of that year some Elders held a meeting at Albany. John Woodland in the company of Jefferson Hunt attended this meeting, this being his first opportunity to hear the Gospel taught by true apostles of God. On his way home after bidding Hunt good night, he felt impressed to prayer. At first an unseen power tried to overcome him. After some struggle he gained power over the evil one, insomuch that the spirit of testimony took it's place. From that time on he knew the things he had heard that night were true. Soon after this experience these two good men were baptized.
Brother Hunt became dissatisfied and wanted to sell his home so that he might join the saints in Missouri. John purchased Hunt's home. That night Woodland bears testimony to his family that a messenger from God appeared to him and showed him his future home in the west. The messenger told him to go in search of it. The next morning he accordingly began making preparations to leave.
Brother Hunt called and he told him if he would wait the course of a few days he would accompany him to Missouri. John unfolded his dream to him; he said it was so vivid he would know the place when he saw it. He explained the dream thus….
"There was a tree about 26 feet taller than the rest in a grove, and that he should place his back to the tall tree and step 25 feet to the west, there he would find a clear spring of water with white sand bubbling up in the center. By this he would know the place."
Packing their horses with blankets, provisions and an ax, they wended their way to Missouri. At that time Missouri was the very frontier of the west.
Within a few days Hunt found a place suitable and there they camped and built a log hut. Then he asked Woodland, "Where from here?" He answered, "I am impressed to go northward." Going about two miles on they found a grove of small trees with one taller tree in the midst. Woodland exclaimed, "There is the tree!" Following the instructions given him in the dream, he placed his back against the tree, stepped 25 steps to the west and found the spring, calling to Hunt to come and have a drink. Hunt felt sure he was not serious, so he laughed for he did not think there was water within that vicinity. On drawing near he said he was sure surprised for there was a beautiful spring of water bubbling up through white sand.
They camped there and built a log house to comply with the law. Returning home, he sold out and taking his family he moved to his new home in an unsettled part of the frontier of the United States.
One year later the Prophet Joseph Smith called on Woodland and exclaimed, "Brother John, you have a pretty place here, what would you take for it to be for a stake of Zion?" Woodland answered, "If it is the will of God, you may have it and give me one as good even if not so beautiful." There upon the Prophet stood for about fifteen minutes with head dropped so as his chin rested on his bosom, turned pale and a bright light seemed to shine around him. Then he raised his head and placed his hands on John's shoulders and said... "Brother John, I won't have your place that the Lord has shown unto you, and you had faith enough to seek it out." Then placing his hands on John's head, he sealed the home unto him and his posterity for time and all eternity, telling him to never sell it. Woodland forbade all his posterity to ever sell it, though later he was offered large sums of money for the property. Remaining there until he and his family were driven out by the mob, going then to Adam-ondi-oman, there one son, Solomon, was born.
Mrs. Woodland's mother, Polly Sanders Stapleford died, the mob was so violent no one was able to leave the camp in order to prepare for a proper burial. Having no lumber to build a coffin they placed her in a clothes box, , it being too short, her feet and ankles were exposed beyond the end of the box.
In mid-winter of the 1838, I wonder how many of us could have endured the trials. Their only shelter was a wagon and some brush braced in the form of a tent with quilts thrown over the brush.
While at this camp the mob came and was going to take the Woodland wagon, they said it was the only one that was strong enough to haul their cannon. He told them the first man that touched it he would bust his head with an ax. General Clark, the leader of the militia, stepped forward forbidding anyone to touch him or his wagon. He ordered his clerk to give Woodland a pass out of the state, but Woodland would not accept it unless Clark wrote it himself. He left the state of Missouri leaving all his property behind except his family and what he could carry in the wagon.
On the way to Far West they camped at a grove of trees, he and the children were in front of the camp when he heard a noise, looking up he called the attention of the others in the company with his wife and there they saw a train of chariots moving through the air. William was just a young man at this time and he bore testimony that they were much the same as the trains of today, as they could see the smoke coming from them. They were loaded with people dressed in white, flying over Far West and settling there. My father said, "Far West is saved! We were cut off by the mob from Far West, so we settled on the bottoms a short distance from the settlement, remaining there until Far West was surrounded."
It was at this time that the Prophet sent word to Brother James Woodland, the son of John and Celia, to leave the state for the mob was seeking his life. When preparations were made for his departure his father called the boy's mother to his side and said, "Mother look on your son, for it is the last time you will ever see him alive!" And it was, for he was never heard of again, except the next day two newly made graves were located.
Woodland then moved to Adams County, Illinois, lived there four years, then to Hancock County, Illinois and remained there until driven to Iowa, Pottowotama County, Big Mesquite. During all their hardships their faith kept them and they kept the first commandment that God gave Adam, to multiply and replenish the earth, for children were born to them all along the way, in those camps not even as good as the Indians have. For their provisions were scanty because little could they take with them because mobs compelled them to leave their belongings behind them.
In 1850, this man, at age 74 years, landed in Salt Lake City, still moving forward until they reached Willard, Boxelder County, Utah.
My mother, wife of this man's grandson (Leander Jefferson Whitaker) was well acquainted with him and the time she heard him tell this same story to his descendants.
The copier of this story is a great granddaughter of John Woodland through his daughter Nancy, who married James Whitaker, father of Leander Jefferson Whitaker.
Lorah J. W. N. Beeks
The fourteen children of John Woodland and Celia Stapleford:
Polly Woodland ..................27 April 1819
Nancy Woodland ...............13 December 1820
James Woodland ................10 February 1822
Elizabeth Woodland ..............4 December 1824
Thomas S. Woodland ..........29 October 1826
Noah Woodland ...................8 February 1828
John Woodland ...................24 November 1829
William West Woodland ........2 January 1832
Celia Woodland ...................17 February 1834
Henry Woodland ..................17 June 1836
Solomon Woodland ..............27 October 1838
Lucinda Woodland .....................January 1840
Martha Jane Woodland ..........4March 1843
Daniel B. Woodland ..............30 July 1847