Life of John Milton Beck (1879-1951)


John Milton Beck was born July 28, 1879 at Spanish Fork, Utah County, Utah, the son of Alfred Roger Milton Beck and Margaret Thomas Beck.

Alfred Roger Milton Beck was born in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania and as a child crossed the plains in the early l850s with his parents, Joseph Ellison and Hannah Forsyth Beck, who were pioneers of Spanish Fork, Utah.

Margaret Thomas, the daughter of William Thomas and Margaret Phillips Thomas, was born in Swansea, Glamorgan, Wales and came to Spanish Fork, Utah with her parents, who were handcart pioneers.

At Spanish Fork, Utah Alfred R. M. Beck met and married Margaret Thomas. To this couple were born five children: Eleanor, Alfred Roger, Lucilla, Margaret, and John Milton. Margaret and Milton, the twins, were the last born. Margaret preceded Milton by about fifteen minutes. Their birth was at the sacrifice of their mother's life. She died fourteen days later leaving A. R. M. Beck with four motherless children. Milton was nursed and reared by his aunt on his father's side, Margaret Beck Murray, until he was five years of age. At this time the Murray's moved to Ashley Fork, Uintah County, Utah.

"My childhood days until I was five years old was spent in the Richard Murray home, which was just north of where the Spanish Fork Sugar Factory now stands. Life at that time consisted of bare necessities with no luxuries. There was not much to remember up to this age only that I wore a waist with large buttons down the front and often smeared with gravy; and back door trousers that were often down no matter how cold. My pal companion, James Murray, and I were in the winter wrapped in a Buffalo robe on the floor for our bed. The most thrilling instance to this date was the attempt to kill the house cat by tying her legs, beating her with a stick, and burying her alive only to find her home under the stove the next morning."

When the Murray's moved to Uintah, Milton returned to his father's home. Due to his step-mother, Sophia Erson Beck, his new home did not become the happy, peaceful home it could have been. Milton remained under his father's roof until he was fourteen years of age. Milton then went to live with his Uncle John F. Beck. He received his board and clothes in exchange for what he could do. When there was nothing else to do, he went to school. At his Uncle John's home he was made welcome, but there was something lacking; and the caresses, encouragement, and help he should have received were missing. At times he was at a loss to know just why it was so. It was a place to live, but it was not a home. He lived with his uncle John until he was married. For about ten years previous to this time, he went to the mines and worked for Uncle Jessie Knight, especially during vacations. In this way he tried to save money for an education.

Early Schooling

"I started school at five years of age in an adobe schoolhouse where the Thurber School now stands. My first teacher was Mrs. Mary Ann McClain. My second teacher was Marelda Andrus McKell. Other teachers were Triffiny Brimhall, Ervin Wilson, Hyrum Thomas, Joseph A. Reece, and David Pryor."

"My school days were minus the luxuries of today. We had one room with a stove in the center; some were too hot while others were freezing cold. As there was no janitor, the fires were often only smudges. It is a wonder that all were not gassed. I do know we were often smoked almost to suffocation. The town schools improved but little, but I managed to graduate from the eighth grade by the time I was twenty-five, being kept out most of the workable seasons of the year."

Mary Eleanor James

While employed by the Utah-Idaho Sugar Company at Spanish Fork he became interested in a sweet, popular, talented, and religious girl by the name of Mary Eleanor James [May]. In his judgment he was not her equal and his interest in her caused him to view life from a more serious view point. Being like other boys, he had his weaknesses and his imperfections because his environment had not been the best. He repented of some of his habits of swearing, drinking, and other follies of the "Gay 90s". He tried to qualify himself to be worthy of the girl he loved. This change of attitude was accomplished to a degree at least because she consented to become engaged, and they planned on being married. Their plans for marriage were never realized because she died of bronchitis on June 28, 1904. Her passing was sad for a lonely boy who had longed for a home. After her death, he qualified himself for a recommend from the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints and went with her mother, Nancy James, to the Salt Lake Temple where he and May [by proxy] were sealed to each other on November 17, 1904.

College Experiences

"After completing the eighth grade I attended the Brigham Young Academy at Provo, Utah. This was during the school year of 1904 and 1905. If I had remained, I would have been graduated in the Class of 1908."

"I then transferred to the Utah Agricultural College at Logan, Utah and specialized in a three year mechanic arts course that consisted of blacksmithing and woodwork. All my life I have been engaged in both activities. Before completing the course, I was obliged to leave school in the spring of 1906 because of finances and a call to the Eastern states Mission. I was then employed as a carpenter and received higher wages because of my training."

"While in Logan, I attended Sunday School and was active along with other students. There I met Fred Skinner who later became my brother-in-law. While in Logan we boarded at the 'Old Peterson Home' and the board was only $14.00 a month."

Marriage and Eastern States Mission

"When I received my call to the Eastern states Mission, I was without money, but could offer no other excuse for not going. My teachers were informed that I' d been called on a mission and that plans had been made to quit school, earn some money, and leave in the fall."

"I went back to the mines and worked as a helper in a blacksmith shop and received splendid wages. With the money saved I bought clothes and made all other preparations necessary. It could plainly be seen that I would not have enough money to see me through. By fall clothes had been purchased, and in addition I had enough money to take me to my field of labor, but I had no idea of where the rest of the necessary finance was to be obtained. At this time I was impressed to purchase five hundred shares of Beck Tunnel mining stock during the summer when the price was at rock bottom."

"After receiving my call to go on a mission I wrote to my sweetheart, Jennie Brockbank, and told her I'd been called on a mission and that I intended to go. Jennie wanted to know what I intended to do with her and I informed her that, 'You can just stay where you have been used to staying the past twenty years.' Jennie insisted that we be married before leaving for my mission. I was married to Sarah Jane Brockbank [Jennie] of Spanish Fork, Utah on September 5, 1906, in the Salt Lake Temple, and left for the mission on the 12th of September. At that time she was employed at the Spanish Fork Co-op store and consented to help all she could."

"I left my wife for the Eastern States Mission after having been married five days. I did not feel secure financially because I had been a student and had had to pay my own way. I had also been obliged to leave my home because of a step-mother that I did not understand."

"I had gone to live with my Uncle John and had remained with him until I was married. He had promised to finance me in this project because I had worked for him for ten years and it had been agreed that, when his property was divided, I would receive the equivalent of seventy-five cents a day for my labors. Uncle John gave me $75.00 and promised to send money monthly, but because of financial reverses and wildcat investments he became bankrupt and I was left in the mission field without support."

"However, I had gone to a banker in Spanish Fork, Al Rockhill, a saloon keeper, told him my intentions and my finance, and asked him if he thought he had confidence enough to finance me in case I needed help. He said, 'Yes,' and told me to go on a mission. I went on a mission with the savings of one summer's work, minus enough money to buy 500 shares of Beck Tunnel Mine stock. I left for my mission with $175.00 and with no definite source of support. After paying my fare and preparation expenses and arriving in the mission field, I had about $75.00, and this lasted about one month. When it was gone, I hesitated to ask Al Rockhill for help; I didn't want to come home; and I didn't want to quit the mission field and go to work. I was humble and I prayed and finally decided to stay in the mission field. When I had decided this, it was only a few days until I received a check from the Beck Tunnel Mining company for $20.00. This check arrived regularly each month until my mission was filled. I then sold the stock for $1300.00."

"My wife Jennie Brockbank wanted to know what we should do with the money and suggested we buy a home in Spanish Fork. But I did not have employment and thought it unwise to buy a home with nothing to do. I suggested she should buy mining stock in some other active mine, and suggested she should ask John Roundy for counsel in her investment. He told her that he was not telling people of good investments because he had got in trouble doing so, but said, 'I'm investing my money in Iron Blossom.' Through the influence of her father and John Creer, who was promoting for the Knight's Mines, she put it back in Beck Tunnel. She did so and we lost the whole thing. Had she followed Roundy's counsel, that following Christmas we could have sold out for $17,000.00. The following year I sold my interest in Dream Mine stock for $1100.00, and Jennie sold her American Fork Mining Stock. I had more money the first year after my first mission with less effort than I have ever had since, which is evident that God takes care of his own, providing one is humble."

"As a missionary I labored eighteen months in New York City and vicinity, tracting in apartment houses from door to door. Some apartment houses had as high as a 168 families in them. My health was splendid and I never missed one day's work nor a meal until my companion and I took a trip into the country, headed towards Albany, the capital of New York state, where we traveled without purse or script. We had a very pleasant experience and missed very few meals and only slept out one night. We were to have money, when it came, sent to us at Albany, but it did not come. After spending two weeks in the country, we returned to Albany expecting to find Saints who lived there. We understood that the church member of Albany was a baker by trade. As we entered Albany, we saw a bakery wagon and, to our surprise, the man with the wagon was the very fellow we were looking for. He took us to mission headquarters, and our money was there waiting for us."

"We then took a trip to Sharon, Windsor County, Vermont by way of Boston. We left New York by boat, sailed all night, and arrived in Boston the next morning. We stayed in Boston for a few days with the missionaries. Elder Hunter was the district president. We went out with him and the missionaries to hold a street meeting on Boston Common, a large community park. Every tree was numbered and those desiring to hold outdoor meetings had a special place between certain numbered trees to hold their meetings. We had other denominational meetings on either side of us. They had the larger crowd as we had a new missionary speaking who had had very little experience. I suggested to Brother Hunter that we sing one of our hymns with a good range. We selected 'Oh My Father.' There were some fairly good singers in the crowd and we made a good start. Then two colored gentlemen joined us, both of them knowing the song and the tune. They had splendid voices. The music certainly rang through the park. When the song ended we had all the crowd and held a splendid meeting. I judge there were about three hundred present"

"We left for Vermont by railroad, reached our destination, visited the birthplace of Joseph Smith, and slept in the cottage erected over the hearth where Joseph was nurtured as a child. There is now a large shaft erected in his honor and thousands come yearly to view the historic spot of the martyred Mormon prophet. We returned to New York having had a most eventful experience. We remained in New York during our regular duties until I was released in October, 1908. I had as mission companions Nephi L. Cottam and Charles W. Kingston."

"My wife, Jennie, met me in New York City and we came home by way of Baltimore, Maryland; Washington, D. C.; Independence, Missouri; and Denver, Colorado. Our married life then began at Knightsville, Utah two years after our marriage. Here we established our home and spent the winter of 1908-1909 together. Our home was disrupted when Jennie died on April 2, 1910 due to complications that accompanied a pregnancy. No children were born to this marriage."

[Typed version of previous narrative completed December 18, 1949 by J. Milton Beck Jr. and Rhean Beck at Santa Barbara, California}

Family Life

"I have been the husband of three wives. A former sweetheart, May Eleanor James, died of bronchitis in 1904 and was sealed to me. My first wife, Sarah Jane Brockbank, with whom I had home experience, died shortly after my return from my first mission in 1910, no children having been born. [Less than] four years later I married Leila Moore."

"I was interested in Mutual work at Knightsville and was attending a meeting in Spanish Fork at the home of one of the Nebo stake Board members, Grace Brockbank. A Miss Leila Moore had been invited to the Brockbank home and we were introduced to each other. As she arose from her seat to cross the room in front of me, the thought went through my mind that she will yet be my wife. Even though I had only a formal introduction, I was so converted to my impression that I took the liberty to write her a letter. It was evidently received with consideration and she replied. Thus this simple meeting resulted in her being my wife and the mother of our nine children. We were married in the Salt Lake Temple on May 21, 1913."

"After my marriage to Leila Moore I began my livelihood as a blacksmith in Spanish Fork, Utah in partnership with Walter H. Moore, my wife's brother. But because of insufficient work, I accepted employment as an agricultural blacksmith for the Utah-Idaho Sugar Company at Garland, Utah. In the fall of 1913 my wife and I moved to Garland."

"In Garland, Utah our first son, John Milton Jr. was born on February 17, 1914. We remained there until after our second son, Sterling Smith was born. Sterling was born on April 23, 1915."

"At Garland I was in the superintendency of the YMMIA and became the first scoutmaster. Blaine Winters and Claude McMurray were members of the first troop."

"With my family I moved to Spanish Fork, Utah in the fall of 1915. I sold out my interest in the blacksmith shop and went into the garage business. The garage was for general repair, gas and oil, and accessories for Ford, EM and F, Studebaker, Reo and others. I later went into the car selling business and had the agency for the Dixie Flier, a type similar to the Dodge and the Ford. It did not prove a profitable car and the outlook of the business didn't appear to be financially successful. My father thought that everybody who could afford a car had one, which proved to be a very false idea when I think of the number of cars today and those who own them. I sold out and went to Silver City as a miner because I felt more at home at that work."

"When we were living in the Ludlow home in Spanish Fork, Wayne Moore was born on March 26, 1917."

"I was at Silver City, Utah when Carol May was born on December 25, 1918. I remained in Silver City until the spring of 1919. Then I moved to Payson, Utah."

"After the move to Payson, Utah, I with my family lived in an old granary at Jody Bills. For the winter I moved with my family to the home of Eugene Huish near the Memorial Park. In the spring of 1921 I moved to a place in the Payson Third Ward. I bought the old Ambrose Stewart home, which was a dilapidated two-room adobe building. This house, with nearly two acres of ground, I purchased for $1450.00. I proceeded to build and remodel until I had a place I could call a home. By replastering, putting in sidewalks, and temporary remodeling I had a home which my family and I occupied until 1935."

"In Payson the rest of our children were born. Wells Huish was born on November 3, 1920; Frank Preston, on November 15, 1921; Margaret Leila, on October 26, 1924; Donald Lynn, on January 15, 1927; and Fred LeRoy, on September 26, 1928."

"I also filled a mission while in the old home. This mission was from November 10, 1931 to April 1932. I spent six months at San Jose and Palo Alto, California. Mother and Donald came to the mission home in Los Angeles and we toured Los Angeles, California; San Diego, California; and Tiahuana, Mexico. Tiahuana had the only open saloon near California. Evidently I filled a successful mission because President Hinckley of the California Mission called me in to report my mission and voluntarily told me that I had made more gospel conversations than all the other missionaries put together in that district; and wanted to know how I accomplished it. I told him I thought it was due to my age, former experience, and putting in more required time. After this report to President Hinckley, he reported to the Nebo Stake president of my home town, Payson, Utah that I was one of the best missionaries since he had been mission president -- according to a letter sent to President Lee R. Taylor, the stake president."

"On our return home, with a family of growing boys to provide for, we went to work in real earnest to make a living and school our children. With real cooperation from all we have seemed to be quite successful and happy."

"We also decided that our home was too small for our accommodation and decided to remodel it. We tore everything down but the four walls which enclosed three rooms and remodeled completely, making the home what it now is."

"While living at our home in Payson we bad some sad and valuable experiences. We had the experience of losing three sons. Wells Huish, our fourth son, died February 5, 1921 when four months old of pneumonia. Then, on March 22, 1929, Fred LeRoy, our sixth son, died when six months of age of pneumonia. Then, about six weeks later, our second son, Sterling Smith, age 14 years, died on May 3, 1929 of spinal meningitis. It was a sad experience, but through it we gained a lasting testimony that death is not the end. The testimony we received was gained by going through the temple and having Sterling's endowment work done. Previous to this his mother was despondent and began to think that there was no God. She thought her experience merciless. After going to the Manti Temple and doing the endowment work for Sterling, that despondent feeling left that day and reconciliation and faith in God returned; and the light of life and eternity has grown brighter ever since."

"We have remained quite contented and happy as a family ever since and have been privileged to see all of our children through high school and through college as far as they cared to go. We have seen them all married honorably in the temple and living their religion, as near as we can determine, according to Latter-Day Saint ideals. We have had peace; and sufficient on our farm for a respectful living. Now the children are all married and providing for themselves. My wife and I decided the best thing we could do for humanity was to fulfill a mission and have accepted a call. We are now on our way to the Hawaiian Islands for a two year mission."

[Given October 27, 1948 at Berkeley, California]


Farming took much physical labor. Wheat and barley were raised on the family farm. Equal amounts of wheat and barley were grown. Fall plowing was done with a team of three horses and a two-way plow. At the end of each furrow the plow would be turned so that the plowed soil was always cast in the same direction on the field. When wheat was sowed just after fall plowing, the wheat would sprout as the days grew longer and warmer in the spring. If young plants had sufficient moisture and grew tall enough to shade the soil from the sun's direct rays, then only one watering of the soil was required as the plants grew to maturity. The wheat was harvested in late summer. If sowing of seed did not occur until early spring, three waterings of the soil would be required to allow the plants to grow to maturity.

Two types of hay were fed to the cattle, wild hay and alfalfa hay. Wild hay was made from tall wild grasses that grew in low-lying fields. Alfalfa is a nitrogen-fixing green plant cultivated in fields. Once planted and matured, Alfalfa would continue to grow for many years. Usually a year was required for an alfalfa field to mature. After maturing in the Spring when the weeds were small, a spring harrow, which had a long row of curved metal tines, pulled by horses would be used to break up the surface soil and disrupt the growth of weeds, The long alfalfa roots would produce new growth that had dominance over the weeds. Two, three and sometime four crops of alfalfa could be obtained during the growing season of a year. Crop rotation was practiced. Every several years alfalfa would be alternated with a grain crop.

Corn was grown. When the ears were ready for harvest, the ears were picked from the stalks, shucked in the field, and placed in a wagon. The ears were stored in a wooden structure called a corn crib, which had sides made from horizontal slats with narrow spaces between them. The corn kernels were removed with a tool from the cob before being fed to cattle.

Chickens were kept to produce eggs. They were housed in a long three-section coop containing 400-500 chickens. They were fed grain, which was stored in a space between two of the sections. Eggs were gathered and crated for sale. When electricity was available poles were erected, wires strung, and lights installed for the purpose of increasing egg production. Lights were typically turned on at 4:30 a.m.

[Above based on a conversation between John Milton Beck Jr. and his son Milton M. Beck on 29 December 2004.]