A SKETCH OF THE LIFE OF BYRON SESSIONS
BYRON SESSIONS was born November 7, 1851, in Salt Lake City, Utah. His parents, Perrigrine and Mary Call Sessions, were among the early pioneers to settle in the Salt Lake Valley. They had very little, and Byron, being a husky chap for his age, had to work very hard. His clothing was all made at home, even to his footwear, which were moccasins, up until he was twelve years of age, when he owned his first pair of leather shoes. His mother died when he was just a lad, and his father, together with his aunt, raised him.
When he was seventeen years old, he helped haul stone for the Salt Lake Temple. At the age of eighteen (18), he married Ida Twombly. They lived in a little log cabin in Bountiful, Utah, which was then known as Sessions Settlement. In the year 1872, they moved to Woodruff, Rich County, Utah. Their first child, Byron A., being one year old. There were five men, including Byron, who used their homestead rights and each took up 160 acres of land, all joining. Later Byron bought it all from the others and went in partners with a man by the name of Arlondo North. Two years later they took in a third party, Smith, and together they bought twelve sections of land from the Union Pacific Railroad. Later they owned twelve thousand acres, harvested between eight and nine thousand tons of hay, and had from ten to twenty -six thousand head of cattle. This ranch was called the "Bear River Land and Livestock Company".
In the winter of 1888 and 1889, they experienced a very severe winter. There was four foot of snow on the level and many places eight-foot. It was so deep that if the snow could have held up the weight they could have gone any place with a team, as the fences were all covered. They had to use from thirty to forty head of horses and break a trail to get the cattle to feed. When their supply of hay was exhausted and there was no more to be had in the country, Byron went to his neighbor ranchers and got them to go with him to confer with the Union Pacific Railroad officials. They obtained very cheap rates on corn, in train load lots. He shipped in eleven train loads for his own use.
In the fall of 1890, Byron was chosen as a second counselor in the Bishopric in the Woodruff Ward and on June 7, 1898 he was chosen first counselor in the Stake Presidency of the Woodruff Stake. In February 1900, Byron was one of a party of fourteen men called to make a trip to the Big Horn Basin, in view of the Mormon people settling there. After returning to his home in Woodruff, he was called by President Snow, and told that he had been recommended as a very good man to take charge of the construction of the canal to be taken out of the Shoshone River. He said, "Brother Sessions, it is the desire of the Church, that you move your family out into that land, take charge of the construction of the canal, and stay with it until it is completed. Now what do you say about it?"
"President Snow, I accept the call and will fill it to the best of my ability."
Byron returned to his home in Woodruff and commenced at once making preparations to move. His task was no little one. He was a partner, stockholder, and manger in the Livestock Company. Byron dissolved the partnership selling his share at a great loss. Never the less he was determined to answer the call made of him.
Byron, with his family, left their lovely two-story brick home in Woodruff at 2:30 p.m., April 24th , 1900, starting their journey to the Big Horn Basin, others joined. They had very muddy roads, and terrible snowstorms. One blizzard forced them to make camp at Dutch John's ranch at the foot of Elk Mountain until the weather cleared. They arrived at Ham's Fork about 6:00 p.m., May 3rd the Company from Woodruff was organized as Company 5, with James Sessions as Captain, David Lewis and W.B. Graham as Counselors, and Joseph H. Neville Chaplain. There were, in this Company, twenty vehicles, and forty-eight people.
May 4th, after dinner, they started traveling again. May 5th they arrived at Green River and camped with Company 6. As there were too many people in these two companies, Company 7 was organized. They journeyed onward until they reached Wind River, about 4:00 p.m. The stream was very much swollen and the ferry boat was gone so they could not cross the stream. Apostle Woodruff called a prayer meeting and asked Byron to lead in prayer. He did so, with a very humble spirit and full of faith that the way would be opened up. That night the weather turned colder and the next morning colder still, until the river fell so low, they were able to ford it with their wagons and all crossed with safety. They arrived at Fort Washakie, May 14th, and at Burlington, May 22nd.
May 28th the first furrow was plowed, starting the canal, with Apostle Woodruff holding the plow, and Byron driving the team. Byron was sustained as manager of the canal work. The main line was surveyed by a Mr. Marshall and all the grades were made by Byron. The construction of the canal was a greater undertaking than they had anticipated. At the canal head, where they took the water out of the river they encountered huge boulders that were almost impossible to move.
Another day, while the men were at work Byron's oldest son, Byron A., and John Cozzens were plowing ahead of the scrapers when they noticed a fog of dust a short distance away. As it cleared away, they noticed a dark object with large wheels plowing in the sand. They decided it might be what they had heard of, an automobile. Byron A. unhooked the front team and went to pull them out, when one of the men came to meet him. He reached to shake hands and said, "You are Byron Sessions' son, aren't you?" Binnie said he was. The man said, "I thought so. I am Senator C. D. Clark". Binnie helped them out of the sand with his team and they went over to where the scrapers were dragging over the boulders, making a terrible noise. In time, Senator Clark asked what it was all about. He was told it was only the Mormons swarming. He was campaigning and after visiting with the men, he left. This was the first car in this country, and the first to be seen by the majority of the people. Later when the people had moved into their homes Senator Clark returned for the same purpose. He was invited to stay over night at the home of Brother Session's. That evening, as was always the custom at their home, before retiring for the night; the family gathered around the organ, sang hymns and knelt in prayer. Brother Sessions' asked Senator Clark to kneel with them, which he did. This made a deep impression on the latter. During the Smoot investigation at Washington, Senator Clark defended Senator Smoot and the Mormon people. He referred to this occasion saying, "A people that are so devoted to God as these people cannot be a bad people". Senator Clark was always a kind friend to the Mormon people after this. He and Governor DeForest Richards were very good friends of Brother Sessions, having given him a special invitation to eat and sleep in their homes on several occasions.
They stopped working on the canal in September to get out logs to build homes. Byron Sessions, with his wife and family moved into their log home, November 13, 1900. The next day it was twelve below zero and he moved his son Byron A., wife and family of 5 children in with them, as their home was not quite finished. Up until this time, the saints had lived in tents.
The following spring a large bowery was constructed from limbs of cottonwood trees, on the riverbank near the old Lovell ferry, and here, May 25th and 26th, a large conference was held. At this time, the Big Horn Stake of Zion was organized with Byron Sessions as President; Jesse W. Crosby, First Counselor, and Charles A. Welch, Second Counselor. The towns of Byron, Cowley, Lovell, Burlington and Otto were laid out. The Town of Byron was named for Brother Sessions.
May 4, 1901, Byron Sessions was released from the Woodruff Stake Presidency. This same year the canal was finished far enough to get water on to the Byron Bench, and crops were raised that summer. More homes were built, Wards organized, and many things done to build up a new country.
In the year 1902, Byron Sessions was elected to the State Legislature for a term of two years.
His wife Ida was wonderful support and helpmate. She was willing to sacrifice in every way when it became necessary. She was an efficient homemaker and hard worker, both inside the home and out. She labored as counselor in the Stake Relief Society until her health broke and she was forced to resign. She was sick in bed nearly half the time for three years, and then she was bed fast constantly for two years. She suffered death many times, but her wonderful faith and strong constitution brought her through. She improved some and was able to sit up. The following spring, May 1914, she attempted to walk. She was alone; Byron was in the kitchen when she fell. He ran to her, lifted her on the bed and discovered her leg was broken. He snapped it back in place and telephoned for Doctor Croft who came at once. He found that it was set in good shape, and took further care of it. Her bones, being so tender, helped them to knit much faster. She was bedfast again for one month.
In the spring of 1914, their daughter, Elvena, was married. This left them alone in the home. Fortunately their daughter, Afton, living near with her family, did all their hardest work and helped her father manage. Sister Sessions now being able to go about the house with the aid of crutches. Brother Sessions never left her alone, and was certainly a devoted husband. They lived alone as sweethearts enjoying each other's companionship in the peace and quiet of their home. Later their son Edwin made his home with them for two years or more. Sister Sessions began ailing again when dropsical condition set in; she passed quietly away November 20, 1925. Her passing was, as she had desired it to be, just fell asleep and never awoke.
The loneliness of Brother Sessions can hardly be imagined. He finally decided to go to Salt Lake City and do Temple work. This he did, making his home there with his sister, Linnie Hepworth. He was not contented for long at a time, however, and made several trips home. His last trip was in the fall of 1928.
Having been a sufferer of asthma for years, his health was now failing fast. It was on this last visit home that he became very ill while at the home of his son Scott. Doctor Croft was called and discovered he had double leakage of the heart. He did all in a medical way; he could to help him, being not only the family physician but also a true friend. He visited him often and was indeed a comfort. Realizing his time here in this life was short, and thinking his health would be better in Salt Lake as it had been previous, Brother Sessions began making plans to return there. As soon as he was able to make the trip, he left Lovell by train with his son Edwin. When they arrived in Salt Lake, they consulted a doctor who advised him to go to the L.D.S. Hospital. There he received medical treatment. However, his condition was so bad they were unable to help him. His sister, Patty Scott, was alone with him when he passed away.
He was a member of the 16th Ward in Salt Lake City, and acted as ward teacher while there. A large funeral service was held in that ward. Three daughters were present from the immediate family, and many other relatives from Utah. The speakers were Bishop Joseph H. Lee of the 16th Ward, his companion ward teacher Roy Willey's father, who knew him as a boy, President Heber J. Grant and John Baxter, who had labored with him in the Woodruff Presidency. That same evening the body was shipped to Cowley, Wyoming, accompanied by a daughter, Belva Morgan, and then taken to Byron. There being a terrible epidemic of spinal meningitis throughout the stake, it was decided best not to hold a service at the church. Bishop Charles Jones conducted a short service at the cemetery and the body was laid quietly to rest beside that of Sister Sessions. Byron Sessions was the father of eleven children, ninety-four grandchildren, and forty-two great-grandchildren at the time of his death.
He was a public-spirited man, ever having the interests of the people of the Big Horn Stake at heart. He was blessed with the spirit of inspiration, having saved the lives of many on different occasions; and another gift that of being instrumental in the healing of the sick, and casting out evil spirits.
He could truly be called a self-made man, as he had very little education. He was indeed a true Patriarch to the people of the Big Horn Stake and his memory will live forever.