(Note: This history was written by Edna Margaret Porter Hegsted, granddaughter of John Rawlston Poole. It is provided us by the generosity of the Clements’ family web site: http://clements.netdocuments.com/john_rawlston_poole.html with minor corrections by Roger Porter.)
The subject of this sketch was an American; born of American parents. His father and mother were both American born. Little is known to any of the family residing in Idaho about the history of the Poole family.
Early in the settlement of the Atlantic seaboard a family by the name of Poole came over from England and settled in Pennsylvania or Virginia. A family of Rawlstons came over before the war for independence also. Both families spread over a considerable part of the country.
John Rawlston Poole was the first child of Macajah Poole and Rebecca Rawlston Poole in a family of eight sons and two daughters. He was born on May 13th, 1829, in the state of Indiana. The family has no authentic account of the town or county in which he was born. When he was eight years of age his parents moved to Iowa. It was in that state in the vicinity of Farmington, Van Buren County, that the family lived, and there John Rawlston grew to manhood. There also he met Jannette Blasdale, the daughter of William and Margaret Blasdale. The Blasdales were English people, converts to the Latter-Day Saints faith and resided upon the farm of Macajah Poole. The young woman, Jannette, had been employed in the family of Mrs. Joseph Young, a member of the Mormon Church and spent the winter of 1847 and 1848 at Winter Quarters on the west bank of the Missouri River. In the spring of 1848 she returned to Farmington in southeastern Iowa where her parents had spent the winter. There she met young John and they were married July 6, 1848.
John Rawlston Poole was also converted to the L.D.S. faith perhaps at or about the time of his marriage to Jannette. The young people remained in Iowa until the spring of 1850. On the 24th day of May that year they began their journey to Utah arriving in Salt Lake City about the 20th of September. They made their journey by ox team in company with the parents of Jannette. On the way across the plains cholera broke out in the camp. Mr. Poole suffered an attack and the infant daughter of the young couple died of the disease. Soon after their arrival in the Salt Lake Valley, the Pooles with the Blasedales settled in Centerville, north of Salt Lake City. John and Jannette, however, after two years moved to Ogden. Mr. Poole obtained land on the Weber River bottoms about three miles north of Ogden and there engaged in farming. He also acquired considerable property within the limits of the city. The family sustained the same hardships that visited all the people of Utah during those early days.
In the late summer of 1856 a handcart company, also called the Martin Company, started its trek over the plains from Council Bluff, Iowa. The hardships that company suffered is history, and it is known to many of the people of both Utah and Idaho. The company got as far as Green River, Wyoming; there winter overtook them. Its members were so exhausted from lack of food and toiling with the carts that they were unable to proceed further. Word had been sent to Brigham Young that the company was in desperate circumstances. He immediately organized a company of men with teams to go to the relief of the immigrants. Among the men who volunteered to go on that relief expedition was the young John Rawlston Poole. The relief teams reached the immigrants sometime in November. In that company was a young English woman, Jane Bitton. She with her brother, John Bitton and his wife by chance were assigned to the wagon of John Poole. After their arrival in Utah he took them to his home in Ogden. Some months later he married Jane Bitton.
In 1864 the parents of Jane Bitton, with their youngest daughter, Harriet, arrived in Utah. They, of course, went to the home of their daughter, Jane. About one year after the arrival of the Bittons, Mr. Poole and the young Harriet were also married.
In 1871 Mr. Poole filled a short mission to his home state of Iowa. Because of his affiliation with the Mormon Church his father refused to admit him into his home.
In addition to his farming operations Mr. Poole engaged in the merchandising and meat market business at Ogden. When the railroad came in 1869 he also engaged in the hotel business and operated what was known as the Globe Hotel. To establish this latter business it was necessary for him to borrow capital. This he did at the rate of interest then prevailing in the West, twenty-four percent per annum. No legitimate business would pay such a rate of interest. The result was he was forced into insolvency in 1878. All his real property was sold under foreclosure. While operating his farms and hotel he also had his teams engaged in hauling lumber from the mountains east of Ogden. He made every effort to prevent the coming disaster but was unable to do so. Seeing the impossibilities of redeeming his property from foreclosure, in the spring of 1878, with one of his sons, Wyatt, he loaded two wagons, one drawn by two horses and one by four, with fruit trees consigned to points in Montana. These loads were delivered but in the long journey most of the trees died and he profited nothing in that enterprise.
That summer, as he returned from Montana, work on the extension of the Utah & Northern Railroad had begun. Mr. Poole was attracted by this opportunity and stopped in Cache Valley and completed arrangements for engaging in railroad grading construction. His first work was under contract at Marsh Creek, west of McCammon, then known as Harkness. During the summer and fall of 1878 the grading of the railroad was completed to Eagle Rock, the present city of Idaho Falls. Mr. Poole had taken contracts at Marsh Creek, Portneuf, Pocatello, Ross Fork, now known as Fort Hall, Blackfoot, Firth, then called River Side, Eagle Rock, and his last one that season was a few miles south of Market Lake, now called Roberts.
When winter set in his camp was on the west bank of the Snake River at the latter point. This proved to be a very important incident, not only in the life of Mr. Poole but in the history of the upper Snake River Valley. When it became necessary to close down the grading operations for the winter, Mr. Poole directed his own sons who were with him in the camp to return to Ogden except the oldest of the boys, William. He also kept with him an Indian herder to care for the work stock which had been put out for the winter. There was an abundance of dry grass in that region.
Mr. Poole, in his early life, loved the sport of hunting, and this passion continued with him. During the winter he hunted deer in the brush and grass land east of the Snake River in the vicinity of the present villages of Menan, Lorenzo and Labelle. He became interested in the country. He was confronted with the necessity of finding a new home for his large family of three wives and fifteen children, the oldest of who was only twenty-one years of age.
The winter of 1878-79 being an unusually mild one, Mr. Poole had his sons and some other young men return to the grading camp in February preparatory to resuming work on his contract. On the arrival of the boys in the camp he told them of a country east of the river which he had explored and that he wished to locate there. At his request his sons William and Hyrum, the two oldest, with other young men from Ogden, visited the region for two purposes, one to engage in deer hunting and the other to pass judgement upon their father's plan. Thereupon Mr. Poole went to Ogden by train. He reported his purpose to certain leaders of the L.D.S. Church, among them Apostle Franklin D. Richards. This he considered proper because he was a consistent member of the church and had been considered as a leader for colonizing a valley in eastern Utah. His plan met with the approval of the church leaders. A meeting was called in Ogden and a large number of people attended. There he described the country he had visited and several men present decided to come and look it over. Among those who did were A.M. Stephens and his son W.N. Stephens, well known to many of the people of Rexburg. They came in March and were so well pleased with the country that they returned to Ogden and made immediate preparations to move to Idaho in July of the same year. During the summer of 1879 quite a large number of families came into the valley. Approximately twenty settlers located on what was known as the AIsland' during that year.
During the summer of 1879 Mr. Poole continued his railroad contracting while his sons were making preparations for the winter on the AIsland'. In June of that year he moved part of his family from Ogden; Jane and her family came at that time and were at the railroad camp. In late November Mr. Poole moved his families and all his work stock on to the Island, the present Menan townsite. In the winter and early spring of 1880 Mr. Poole had a contract for grading for yard trackage for the railroad at Eagle Rock. At that time the Anderson brothers of Eagle Rock were constructing a headgate for the Anderson Canal in the south bank of the South Fork of the Snake River east of Ririe. The Anderson Dam has always been a well known point on that stream. Part of Mr. Poole's teams were engaged in hauling material from Eagle Rock for the construction of the headgate.
Some crops were planted in the spring of 1880 but much difficulty was experienced in keeping water in the ditches and very little land was irrigated. The only wheat which matured and was threshed that year was a small quantity produced by Oliver C. Fisher. Some vegetables were grown though potatoes generally failed.
In the early summer of 1880 he went to Cache Valley and operated his threshing machine and again provided much of the flour for the people of the new settlement. That year some grain was produced along Willow Creek east of Eagle Rock as well as on the Island. At the end of the threshing season in Cache Valley Mr. Poole moved his machine to Idaho. Before the threshing was completed winter had set in and some of the work was done in the snow. This threshing machine was the only one in the valley for several years and Mr. Poole threshed most of the grain grown, extending his operations as far north as Parker. In 1882 he brought a self binder in the Snake River Valley. With that machine he did most of the harvesting for the settlers for many years. During this time he was also engaged in other activities - in laying out and constructing roads. Much land was cleared and brought under cultivation.
At the outset of his purpose to settle in the Snake River, as stated before, Mr. Poole presented his plan to the authorities of the Church. They approved of his plan and he was made Presiding Elder of the Latter-Day Saints in this region. He did not neglect his duties in respect to his church obligations. In the spring of 1881 he started holding Sabbath meetings and Sunday Schools. In the fall of that year a school house was opened under direction with one of his daughters, Susie, as teacher. These meetings and school were conducted in a one room log cabin built by J.T. Caldwell, a son-in-law, and located upon land homesteaded by Hyrum Poole and now owned by the Utah Idaho Sugar Company at Menan. In the fall of 1882 the Mutual Improvement Association was organized under his leadership. Richard Jardine, who had settled at Lewisville, was the first president of the Young Men's Mutual and Mrs. Hyrum Poole was the first president of the Young Ladies Association. Perhaps one of the outstanding services Mr. Poole rendered to his community was the selection of the Menan Townsite. Through his influence an entire section of fertile land was reserved for townsite purposes. Under his leadership the townsite was surveyed in 1883 by Andrew S. Anderson. Later in the same year Mr. Anderson surveyed the Rexburg townsite.
In February 1883 the log cabin in which the public gatherings had been held was destroyed by fire. Most of the few school books were destroyed, as well as the records of the Church activities. The destruction of this cabin left the people with no place to hold public gatherings except in private homes. The church meetings were not discontinued although the school was until a new building could be erected. This was accomplished at considerable sacrifice during the year and was ready for occupancy the following winter of 1883-84.
In the late summer of 1883 William B. Preston, President of the Cache Valley Stake of the Latter-Day Saints Church, visited the Snake River Valley. Mr. Poole met him at Eagle Rock and took him to his home in Menan. At that place others joined them and they visited most of the Saints in the valley, particularly those located at and near the present village of Parker. Meetings were held and activities in religious matters were stimulated by that visit. It was during that visit also that President Preston and Mr. Poole visited the present townsite of Rexburg.
President Preston visited this valley again in company with Thomas E. Ricks. That visit was in December 1882. On this occasion also, they came to the home of Mr. Poole at Menan. There Mr. Poole joined them and together they came over the river to the present townsite of Rexburg, and it was on that visit that the location of the colony to be founded under the leadership of Thomas E. Ricks was decided upon. The part which Mr. Poole took in the location of the town of Rexburg is seldom mentioned, and it is true also of President Preston. Here it may be added that this region was thoroughly explored by both of these men. Mr. Poole had, previous to that time, explored it and had mowed wild hay on the meadow lands bordering the streams.
It is well known that Thomas Ricks with his little company of pioneers came in February, 1883. Naturally, Mr. Ricks having been placed to preside over the Saints in all this valley took the leadership upon his arrival here. Mr. Poole's activities in the vicinity of the 'Island' did not cease. However, he was released from the leadership there upon the organization of wards, R.L. Bybee being made Bishop of the Menan Ward.
In February 1887 Mr. Poole was forced to leave his home on account of the activities of the Government agents in the prosecution of members of the Mormon Church who were living in the state of plural marriage. He was absent until the spring of 1890. During that time he was engaged in team work at points in Utah.
Mr. Poole died September 16th, 1894. His funeral was the occasion of one of the largest gatherings that had ever assembled in the valley at that time. It was held in a cottonwood grove on a farm belonging to a member of the family. Mr. Poole was a man of unusual energy. He was used to hard work all his life and had little opportunity of attending school, but by his own efforts he acquired a fair education, especially in history, for his time. He was a public speaker of exceptional force and eloquence. One of the most remarkable characteristics of his life was his control of his large family.