Kuman Jones was one of the most highly respected and accomplished of the Founding Fathers of San Juan County.
If this writer had to pick the thing that sets Kuman apart from many of his Hole-in-the-Rock peers, it was his faithful recording of the history of the early years in San Juan.
With the exception of Albert R. Lyman, he is almost without peer when it came to his faithfulness in that endeavor and his unique writing style in recording what he wrote.
Fortunately for the rest of us, most of his writings have been preserved. To try to put this man’s life into the “thimble” of a single newspaper page is akin to trying to empty Lake Powell with a teacup.
Kuman’s father and mother joined the LDS Church in Llanelly, Carmartthenshire, South Wales in 1848. They emigrated from the old country, arrived in Utah in 1849 and were married in Salt Lake City in 1850. They moved to Cedar City in 1853 to make a home.
The third of seven children, Kuman was born in the second old fort in Cedar City on May 5, 1856.
At 11 years of age, it was decided that Kuman should move to Salt Lake City and learn to be a blacksmith with a Mr. Thompson, a relative by marriage, who was reputedly a gifted tradesman.
A few days before his departure, the family received word that their “gifted relative” had imbibed too freely and was found frozen to death in the street. This put an end to the task of trying to ship Kuman off and make a blacksmith of him.
“In 1867, at age 11, I entered into a contract with a store man, Stewart Dilly, to care for his herd of mules. I was quite proud of myself for having landed the job. When spring came, the mules were in fine condition and my settlement with Mr. Dilly was satisfactory on my part, as I received the following: 2 1/2 yards of calico cloth with a black dot in it, a dark striped pair of store pants that fit me snugly and a fat pup doggy. Talk about rolling in wealth! My mother made me a fine shirt out of the calico and, dressed in new clothes, I set off to show off my dog. I doubt anyone ever felt the real glory of opulence as did I that day.”
At age 16 Kuman started carrying the mail from Cedar City to Bullionville, NV. This job lasted for three years. “It was a lonesome job for a boy. It took six days to make the 225 mile trip on horseback. I was alone except some nights when I put up with private families along the route. In Bullionville, I slept in a barn where the rif-raf held forth and I ate at a mining camp restaurant, altogether a rather bad combination for a young lad alone.”
At age 19 he went to work for the C and C Cattle Company in Cedar City. Those he worked with were usually drifters of low character. About his associates during his cowboy days, Kuman wrote: “I have kept tabs on many boys and men who were over anxious to get ahead by being crooked on the range stealing other men’s unbranded livestock and such. Nine out of ten of them end up as shy of money as they are of good character. It doesn’t pay, from any standpoint, to be crooked.”
His longest night occurred in November, 1877 in company with a young fellow named Robert Pucill. “We were moving cattle and horses from the high part of Cedar Mountain and drifting them to the lower country near Mount Carmel for winter. Snow began to fall. We happened on a large tree with a hole at the root where we spent the night. The wind was howling, it was bitter cold, there was no fire or bed and our saddle blankets were sopping wet.”
On the December 19, 1878 Kuman married Mary Nielson, the daughter of Jens Nielson. They were married in the St. George LDS Temple. The night the newly-weds arrived home in Cedar City, Kuman had a strange dream. The next morning at breakfast, he told his mother of the dream and asked her to interpret it. Without hesitation, she said, “you will be called by the Church to go with others as missionaries to the Indians living in the Four Corners of Utah, Arizona, New Mexico and Colorado.” Little did Kuman know how prophetic his Mother’s assessment of his dream would become a year later.
As time went by, Mary was not having babies. Finally Mary’s father, Jens, came to her one day and told her she needed to pick another wife for her husband so that children could be brought into the world.
Mary consented and chose Lydia M. Lyman to be her sister wife. Kuman and Lydia were married December 2, 1882 in the St. George Temple. Babies began to come soon after the second wife joined the family. Eleven years after marrying Mary, she was able to give birth and had a son (Leonard K) and a daughter (Mary N.)
Concerning plural marriage, Kuman said this: “I know there are millions of better men on earth than I am. There always have been and there always will be. But I am not so sure there have been so many better women than Mary Jones and Lydia Lyman Jones, my two wonderful wives.
“We worked and lived together, in my opinion, better than the average man and wife and we had the approval of the Heavenly Courts in our family life and living.”
“A sudden change came into our lives when a coal oil lamp exploded when Lydia was 42 years old and had given birth to 10 of the 12 children in the Jones family. With her youngest child, Francis W. Jones in her arms, she tried to carry the burning lamp outside to save the house.
“Lydia’s clothing caught fire and she was so badly burned that after nine days of agonizing pain, she passed away.” Lydia’s untimely death left a huge hole in the family and added much to the responsibility of Mary and Kuman to raise her eight children suddenly bereft of their mother.
Kuman wrote, “She was one of the noble, pure, sweet, sensible, kind, patient, well educated, slow to offend women to inhabit the earth. She would have made a good wife for a king, president, ruler or public man who wished to be on the square with his fellowmen.”
“I wish to state here that at no time in the Mormon practice of polygamy did the number exceed 2.5 percent of the membership of the Church. That was a small percentage when you consider the suffering and annoyance and enormous expense the whole membership of the Mormon people were put to, especially when you turn the light on the moral condition of our nation. I am content to leave our case for plural marriage for the final judgment.”
“The purpose of this feeble, uncultured attempt to inform my posterity and all others that, although bitterly opposed, ridiculed, imprisoned, heavily fined as though they were the worst of criminals, when in fact the opposite will prove to be the truth, most men who were involved in plural marriage were some of the finest of their generation. I humbly thank Providence for such helpmates.”
Kuman came through the Hole-in-the-Rock in 1880 as a 27-year-old man with his first wife of two years, Mary Nielson. His contribution to the epic journey with respect to leadership and dedication cannot be underestimated. His life, influence and example have been a shining beacon to his posterity and to all who knew him.
His ten sons and two daughter were born in Bluff, and became influential citizens and leaders. Two sons died in infancy. The surviving 10 and their birthdates are: Franklin Trehorn (1883) Kuman Stanley (1885) Thomas DeAlton (1887) Marvin Willard (1889) Leonard Kuman (1889) Leland Henry (1892) Mary Lydia (Adams) 1898 Marion (1900) Alma Uriah (1902) Francis William (1905).
Kuman was called and set apart to be the first counselor to Bishop Jens Nielson in 1882. He served in that capacity for 30 years until 1910, when he was ordained by Apostle George F. Richards to be the Bishop of Bluff. He served as Bishop for ten years and completed 40 continuous years in the Bishopric of the Bluff Ward.
On May 21, 1908 he was ordained a Patriarch by Apostle George Albert Smith. Kuman faithfully recorded the history of Bluff. First County officers, appointed by the Governor and the legislature in 1880, were Charles E. Walton Sr., County Clerk; Benjamin Perkins, Assessor and Collector; Kuman Jones, Superintendent of Schools; James Lewis, Judge; and Platte D. Lyman, Jens Nielson, James B. Decker, Selectmen.
The first U. S. Mail delivery to Bluff occurred on October 26, 1882.
The first schools in San Juan County were started in 1880 with Ida M. Lyman the teacher in Bluff and Parthenia Hyde the teacher at Montezuma.
The San Juan Cooperative Company was organized April 29, 1882 with the following officers: Platte D. Lyman, President; Jens Nielson, Vice President; C.E.Walton, Kuman Jones and H. Perkins, Directors; L. H. Redd Jr., Secretary and Ben Perkins, Treasurer.
The Coop was organized for the purpose of providing general merchandise to people in the San Juan area. The business continued until 1920, when it was sold to John L. Hunt.
The struggles that the San Juan Mission pioneers had with the cowboys and Indians are legendary. First the Cowboys as told by Kuman Jones:
“In the fall of 1886, three strange men turned up about the time the first snow arrived. No one knew anything about them, but as was the custom, they were allowed to stay all winter with the L. C. outfit at the mouth of Montezuma Canyon. They not only received free board and room, but their horses were fed oats and hay right along with the L. C. horses.
“One crisp morning in early April, the camp awoke to find that the three had disappeared in the night, taking with them several of the best L. C. horses. The desperados headed for Bluff with the cowboys in hot pursuit. In Bluff a few men joined the group, including Kuman and James B. Decker.
“The horse thieves were overtaken and the pursuit continued up Comb Wash. As the posse closed in, the thieves ambushed them and shot the leader of the Cowboys, a fellow named Ball. James B. Decker scrambled off his horse for cover just as a bullet smashed into his saddle. The horse thieves made their escape because the posse decided to try to get Ball back to Bluff before he died.
“They traveled about two miles before Mr. Ball begged them to stop and let him die in peace. They lay him on the sand and did what they could for him but he died within hours. They buried him and returned to Bluff.
“The horses were never recovered. Everyone found the incident particularly galling since the L. C. outfit had been so good to the men all winter.”
Another Cowboy experience in Kuman’s own words: “It was our custom to invite cowboys to our parties and dances in Bluff. In the beginning, the invitation committee took their calling a little too seriously and invited all the cowboys from all the camps for miles around.
“Usually, most of them did not come, but on this occasion they all showed up and there were far to many of them to fit inside the dance hall or be properly fed. So the Bluff leaders told them they were very sorry, but they simply could not accommodate everyone and requested that some of them leave, to be invited another day.
“This did not sit well with some of the rowdies in the group and they went to their horses to get their guns to see if that might help church leaders see how this party was going to be managed.
“The only thing that saved us that night,” continues Kuman, “was that there was no liquor available.”
After a tense stand-off the older, wiser cowboys prevailed on the hotheads and a tense truce was arranged. Some came into the dance hall and participated in the ‘festivities’ but many stayed outside berating those of the group who had gone into the party after showing the white feather and being snubbed.
“Luckily the hostiles shot off nothing but their mouths until the party was over. When they left they all shot their guns and yelled like Banshees and galloped out of town at full speed scaring the children from their dreams.”
One of Kuman’s personal accounts of Indian troubles: “In May of 1881, Hans Joseph Nielson rode into Bluff saying that he had just been ‘rounded up’ by 40 Ute Braves and had shots fired over his head when he discovered them rounding up a herd of Mormon horses. A party of 12-15 of the younger Bluff men set out after them in hot pursuit. The next morning the Bluff posse found the Indians holed up in the rocks between Butler and Comb Washes. They had not taken the horses that H. J. Nielson had seen them rounding up, but they still had several horses they had stolen the year before, and they showed no inclination to give them up without a fight.
“The two groups began to quarrel. The word ‘Mormon’ came out of one of their leaders at one point and seemed to have a calming affect on the angry Utes. A short time later the group mounted their own pony’s and left the horses to their lawful owners.
“Three weeks later after this episode, word reached Bluff that these same Indians had murdered three men (non-Mormons by the name of May, Thurman and Thomas) and stolen 80-100 head of choice horses, a large stash of money, and the entire camp outfit. After hearing of this tragedy, it will readily be seen how willingly we acknowledged the hand of Providence in our deliverance from these savages in the Butler Wash incident.”
Kuman Jones loved his animals. Later in life he wrote, “as I am nearing the end of this mortal trail, I am wondering how some of us are going to enjoy Heaven to the fullest if these faithful true standbyes don’t carry over too. I have dearly loved many of my horses and dogs, who served me so well.
“I could have treated them better, perhaps, than I did and I regret that now. I am giving this as a hint to those who follow to give every kindness to animals. We are better men and we will be in better standing with our Creator of all, if we do.”
Kuman endured all the pain and heartache that all who experience this mortal probation do. His journal entry of January 29, 1931 was written in San Francisco, where he had taken his wife, Mary (age 72) and his son Leonard (41), both of whom were dying of cancer. There was a new treatment available and Kuman wanted to do everything he could to save them. Nevertheless, he was discouraged and depressed, staying in a tiny apartment far from home and family.
He wrote, “At 4 a.m. I arose from my bed and prayed earnestly, with sincere desire, that Heavenly Father would send His Spirit, even the Comforter to us. After retiring back to bed, feeling weary, I fell asleep. To my joy, my deceased wife, Lydia May visited me. There was an indescribable transparency, sweetness and purity in her face. There was a calm heavenly expression in her eyes altogether transmitting a picture and feeling that is impossible for me to describe. This experience was so new and striking that it will take time before the significance and beauty and importance of it will be fully understood and appreciated.”
In 1936, Kuman was bitten by a black widow spider and the resulting infection required the amputation of his left leg.
Kuman wrote, “We cannot appreciate the sweet until we have had a good taste of the bitter. We cannot see or feel the good, the true, the noble, until we have seen and felt the opposite and what a wonderful difference there is in the two influences that are at work in the earth…the one trying to lead us down to destruction and despair and the other entreating us to return back to that home from whence our spirits came to live with the wise, loving parents who have our eternal welfare at heart.”
The posterity of Kuman, Mary and Lydia Jones is estimated to be nearing 2,000 in number, stretching into the fifth and sixth generations!