Sometimes we open an old archives box for review and preservation purposes only to find that it contains records outside of the time frame shown on the label affixed by the original box creator. This is the case with a petition from 1874 that was found within a box thought only to contain records from between 1902 and 1915. The petition was not the only one from earlier in the 1800s, but it was the most personal.
Archibald Gardner submitted a petition on August 11, 1874 to the Probate Court of Salt Lake County seeking aid for a family in need. At some time prior to the petition Elisha W. Van Etten had abandoned his three wives and seven children in West Jordan, leaving them with little means of support. According to Gardner, Van Etten did own various livestock but had let them roam free and his family did not have the ability to collect and care for them. Gardner requested that Samuel Bateman, who may have been the brother-in-law of one of Van Etten’s wives, be appointed to help the family work the livestock.
The Archibald Gardner who wrote this petition is probably the same man that was a successful builder of mills, canals, tunnels, and bridges in Utah. He served as a leader in the LDS Church, as the county recorder and later in the Territorial Legislature. West Jordan’s Gardner Village is named in his honor and was the location of one of his mills.
Elisha W. Van Etten may be the Elisha Wheat Van Etten who served in an 1861 expedition to survey Uintah Basin ordered by Brigham Young. He was apparently also known as a sheep herder, bringing 253 Spanish Merino sheep to Utah in the 1853 and importing livestock from Canada in 1873. There are also a couple of probate cases against him, the last one for refusing to pay school taxes for 1871 & 1872, recorded in August of 1873. A search of various ancestry sites finds unverified claims that he left Utah in 1874 with one of his five wives and moved east to Iowa.
An article in the Salt Lake Herald printed the day after Archibald’s petition was written describes Van Etten’s alleged illicit activities leading up to his escape east. It accuses him of selling the sheep that had been entrusted to him by others and failing to pay creditors, leaving a bill totaling about $10,000.
No further information regarding any resolution to Gardner’s petition has been found as of yet.
-Contributed by former Salt Lake County Archivist, Vincent Fazzi.
Salt Lake County Archives, Petitions to the County Commission, Series CM-333, Box 21, Folder 11.
Salt Lake County Archives, Probate Court Civil and Criminal Case Files, Series 373, Reel 23, Box 17, Folder 19, Case 319.