Jirene's Genealogy Treasures

Genealogical Information of Interest on my Ancestors: Morris and Ellsworth families including Lee, Halladay, Wanslee, Gordge, McFerren, and Blackhurst (England, Ireland, Wales, Australia to the US: Arkansas, Georgia, Illinois, Indiana, New Jersey, North Carolina, Utah and Arizona), and the Butler and Adams families including Hancock, Lind, DeWitt, McCleve, Thetford, and Nielsen (England, Ireland, Denmark to the US: Connecticut, Illinois, Indiana, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, North Carolina, New Jersey, Vermont, Virginia, Kentucky, Ohio, Missouri, Utah, and Arizona).

Jun 13, 2010

Merab Emma "Belle" Lee Morris: Polygamist Daughter with that "Bad Lee Blood"

Merab Emma “Belle” Lee was born in Harmony, Washington, Utah on 14 October 1868, the daughter of John Doyle Lee and his 18th wife, Anne Gordge.   She had an older brother, Samuel James Lee (nicknamed Jimmie Gibble), who was born 14 March 1867 in New Harmony, Iron, Utah, and a younger brother, Albert Doyle Lee, born 12 November 1872 in Beaver, Beaver, Utah.
Anne Gordge and John Doyle Lee.

Belle recalled:  "At the age of two years or thereabout, my father, mother and family moved to Skutampaw.  Mother, tiring of frontier life, became dissatisfied and returned to the East, taking with her my younger brother, Albert, age three months, and leaving myself and older brother, Samuel James, with Father."

After her mother's departure, she and her brother were under the care of stepmother Emma Batchelor (Lee, French) of England.  Emma Batchelor had recalled that Anne named her little daughter Merab Emma for her mother and sister wife, but somehow the nickname “Belle” was adopted.  Folklore says that it was because she was such a pretty child that her Father once called her “the belle of the ball.”

The family moved from place to place as all pioneer people did, and Belle was separated from her brother Samuel James (they were 6 and 4 years old at the time).  Her Father moved at this time to the Big Colorado River at the point bearing his name, “Lee’s Ferry.”  Here he constructed the first large boat to cross the river.  He also built the road over a part of the mountain known as Lee’s Backbone.  He was known far and wide for his courage as a pioneer, going first to blaze the trail and open the way for other pioneers.

Belle remember seeing that great boat, standing on end up against a large adobe building, waiting to be skidded into the river for them.  The boat proved to be a success and a wonderful help in building up Northern Arizona.

Stepmother Emma Batchelor also recorded that John Doyle Lee and his sons (including Samuel James) had worked to put in a dam in the Paria River so they could get water to their land (Lonely Dell at Lee’s Ferry).  They cleared the land and planted fruit trees and vines, with a generous area for a vegetable garden.  He traded many items with the Indians:  horses, blankets, clothing, cloth, beefsteak, grape roots, shrubs and seeds.

Belle recalled while living at Lonely Dell there was a company of 73 missionaries sent from Utah to explore different parts of the country so that new homes could be made for the LDS people coming from the East.  There were eight or ten men in this company that came to the ferry under the leadership of Daniel H. Wells.  This was a season of the year when the river was very dangerous.  Her Father’s ferryman, J. Johnson, seeing the danger of the river, refused to ferry the missionaries across, but the men seeming to be in such haste would not heed Johnson’s warning, and attempted to cross on their own accord.  When the boat reached the current it began to dip water.

Her step-brother Ralph, knowing the boat would soon capsize, hurried out with a skiff to rescue what he could.  Their belongings all went down. Ralph had all the men safely on the skiff except Jacob Hamblin and Byron Roundy.  Knowing that Roundy was an expert swimmer, Ralph turned to get Hamblin who said, “Save me.  I can’t swim.”  When he returned to get Roundy, he had gone down and was never seen again.

When all were safely on shore and the excitement was over, Belle and three of her sisters were given the privilege of hanging the missionaries’ slippers out to dry.  They were made of pretty flowered Brussels carpet with leather soles.  They were directed to hang them by the toes over the posts of the wagon boxes and other similar places.

The Company took supper at her Father’s house that night.  Her Father sat at the head of the table, which was spread with the whitest of linen and the very best food that they had as pioneers.  Everyone was served and served alike.

Belle also recalled another time at high water when some Indians had traveled to and from Utah to get provisions and wanted to cross at the ferry. The last company crossing the river had left the skiff on the opposite bank.  In order to help the Indians, Brother John risked his life by swimming across to bring the skiff over.  The Indians all stood in awe, thinking that every instant he would go down.  When they saw him safely on shore, the shouts and cheers were equal to a war whoop.  They wished to reward him with their valued blankets, beads and other things -- which amounted to a great deal of money – but he refused.  “Friendly acts as this and many others made a tried and true friendship between the Indians and my people,” Belle had recorded.

Another memory was when her Father and Ralph were out in the Buckskin Mountains hunting cattle and got lost for five days without food or water.  Ralph was just a small boy at the time, and her Father was afraid that if they did not find their way soon, Ralph would starve.  The only possible resource that her Father could think of to save Ralph’s life was to cut off the ears of the colt (a yearling) and roast them.  Ralph, who was riding the colt, refused, saying he would rather starve.  A few moments later they found their way and soon arrived where everyone was anxiously waiting.

This colt was always looked upon as a cherished relic to the family.  Her Father’s request was that each of Rachel’s children and his orphan children (Belle and Samuel James), should be given a colt from this one colt.  He also gave each of them a calf from some of their most choice cattle.  Belle remembers she received two horses and two cows, and she cherished those memories her entire life.

There is some dispute as to why John Doyle Lee and wife Rachel and sons had to leave the ferry.  One source records that they had lost the ferry, but Emma Batchelor Lee recorded that since most of the work at the ferry “looked good,” John Doyle Lee and his wife Rachel and sons had to leave to work another new ranch.

Emma Batchelor Lee wondered what would happen to little Belle. Emma already had three little girls, but “Aunt” Rachel only had Amorah, and they asked Belle if she wanted to go live with Aunt Rachel.  So it was arranged, and little Belle went to live with Aunt Rachel.  They moved to Moabi, Arizona.  Belle would remain a member of that family until her marriage.

Their Moabi home was located near a spring, and the water was used to irrigate a portion of the tillable land and for domestic uses.  This Moabi home and spring was known throughout Utah and Northern Arizona as a stop for travelers going to and from each place as a place of hospitality.

Belle remembers that on their Moabi farm they milked a number of cows and made cheese and butter.  They also raised vegetables of different kinds.  Travelers were supplied with what they needed, whether they could afford them or not.

Belle’s Father was a man of discipline.  Each child was given their separate duties, and were taught and expected to fulfill those duties.  Though strict, he was a very kind and loving father, and in return, he was loved and respected by all his children.

One task she recalled was with regard to gardening.  They raised small white navy beans which they would shell out as soon as they were ripe into pint jars.  It was the younger children’s responsibility to pick up one pint of beans in the morning and one pint in the afternoon.  Joseph Willard and Belle were near the same age, and he didn’t care to do as he was expected.  Joseph Willard would play or find another excuse for not doing his share until Belle finished.  Rather than see him punished, Belle would help him against the protest of others.

Belle recalls that they were in great danger living in Moabi, as there were three tribes of Indians living nearby.  Two of the tribes, the Navajos and the Utes, were very savage.  The Oarabi (or Moquis) were friendly and civilized.  A son of the Navajo Chief had been killed by some prospectors in Southern Utah, and this aroused their hostility to the pitch of war.  One of their traditions was to kill one of the offenders as they saw fit, so they turned on the White people for revenge.

There was an old prospector named Boran living with them at the time who was afflicted with a white swelling on his leg and was bedfast.  The Navajos knew this, and the Chief came with ten of his warriors and wanted them to give them Boran so they could torture and kill him as they pleased, to pay the price of their man.  Belle’s Father said, “No, we will all die together.”  Belle was afraid they would torture all of them, so they prepared to defend themselves as best they could.  They piled all their firearms and ammunition on a table and made ready to fight.  The Chief argued with her Father for some time, and when he saw that they would not give up, he laughed and said we were afraid.  He commanded his warriors to dismount with him and asked that they smoke the peace pipe together.  Not using tobacco at all, Father sent Ralph (who did smoke) out to smoke with them.  This was a sign to all that peace could be had, and they were firm and true thereafter.

While in Moabi they became friends with some of the Indians. Tuby, the old Indian Chief of the Oaribi tribe was one of the first Indians to join the Church.  He and his wife Kalashnimki (Cocheniman) were baptized during President Young’s time.  The old Chief was very religious.

His wife Kalashnimki’s name was changed to Cocheniman due to a tradition of the Indians.  If by accident one lost a finger, an eye, or any part of their body, their names were changed.  It so happened that she had lost a finger, which is the reason her name was changed.

Many times the Chief and his wife ate at their house, and Belle was glad that theyhad came.  It was a great novelty to the children to have a Chief in your home.  They were very kind-hearted people, and his wife was like a mother to Belle.  Belle stated, "Being left without my own mother, she always brought me some small token for which I was so grateful. I, as all other pioneer children, had but very few toys and luxuries. It was the joy of my heart to see the old lady come."

Belle’s last remembrance of her father was when she was a little past seven years of age when he went back to Utah.  He was embracing and bidding all goodbye. “When it came to me, I was not there. They found me, with my small roll of worn quilts and clothes which I had gathered together, huddled in a corner of the wagon ready to go along, and oh, how my heart was broken when Father told me I could not go. He kissed me and put me and my belongings out. I cried until I cried myself to sleep, and when I woke up I was still crying." 

Belle was baptized into the LDS Church when she was eight years old.  She was baptized by Brother Joseph, who was in charge of their small Sunday School.  Belle remembers enjoying the Sunday School and that they all took much interest in it.

Later the family moved from Moabi to Snowflake Arizona, and from there to Springerville, Arizona, then on to the Gila Valley in Graham County, Arizona.  By this time Belle had reached the age of 12.

Belle married George Lumpkin Morris when she is 14, who was also a member of the LDS Church.  Their wedding date was recorded as 3 February 1883, in Safford, Graham, Arizona.  George was born 20 Mar 1853 in Calhoun, Gordon, Georgia, son of Gad Morris and Elizabeth Wanslee.  She became the mother of seven children, of which she raised five to maturity (two were buried in infancy).  She took pride that all five of her remaining children were all married and had taken upon themselves the duty of raising families of their own.

In 1904 she made a trip to Idaho and there found her own mother and two brothers, James and Albert.  It was a great rejoicing to renew their love after thirty-five years of being separated, and "thrown on the world to practically care for ourselves."

“During all my life from marriage I have tried to make myself useful to my fellowmen, especially in rendering service and comfort to the sick and afflicted, and caring for the dead.”

George died 15 Jan 1921 in Safford, Graham, Arizona, after suffering internal injuries from falling off the roof of a building.  Emma died some 24 years thereafter on 21 Nov 1945 in Gerber, Tehama, California.  (It is assumed she was living with her daughter Edith Morris Robinson prior to her death.)

Belle’s father, John Doyle Lee, was later executed by the U.S. Government on 23 March 1877, at Mountain Meadows, Washington, Utah, for his part in the Mountain Meadows Massacre.   Writer Juanita Brooks wrote that the descendants of John D. Lee were rejected, refused admittance to clubs, kept out of offices, and were never considered on the same social level as others.  Children in the lower grades could not join in the games at recess.

Belle was my Dad’s grandmother, and he too experienced a little of this ostricization.  He recalls being told:  “You are part of that Lee family – you have that bad Lee blood.”


This history was written based on these sources:
(1) History of Merab Emma Lee, a descendant of John Doyle Lee, http://www.wadhome.org/lee/chapter_20.html

(2)  Emma Lee, by author Juanita Brooks, Copyright 1978, 1984, Utah State University Press, ISBN O-87421-121-2.
(3) Letter from Edna L. Brimhall to Louise Butler Morris May 24, 1958.  Ms. Brimhall indicated in the letter that the history was recorded on March 3, 1931, by Edith Morris Robinson, daughter of Emma Merab Lee, who was living in Gerber, California.  Edith recorded in 1931 that they had just located Belle’s brother, Samuel James, in Portland Oregon, whom Belle had not heard from in 12 years.  Samuel James was pleased to hear that they were trying to write some family history.  Edna also indicated she knew her Aunt Belle well.  She remembers that when her father died, Aunt Belle was there for them for a few days, and lived up to all that she had said about rendering service and comfort to people.  She was known far and wide for her services and good help.


  1. May you keep sharing your ancestor stories!

    Bill ;-)

    Author of "Back to the Homeplace"
    and "13 Ways to Tell Your Ancestor Stories"

  2. I have just come across this piece. Thanks for writing it. My only comment is that Belle's mother, Ann Gordge, was actually the 19th wife of John D. Lee. When she decided to stay in Beaver, Utah it was customary that the children went with the father unless the child was nursing. Which Belle's younger brother, Albert Doyle Lee, was. Ann Gordge Lee and her son lived with her mother for a time in Beaver.


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