(by Lydia S. Merrill)
Thomas Stephens was born in Pencader, Carmarthenshire, So. Wales April 20, 1836, the third child of David and Jane Evans Stephens. His birthplace was a straw-thatched cottage common to Welsh farms in those days. As the family grew, Thomas shared the responsibilities for providing for the family. At an early age he worked on a farm not far distant from home. As the oldest son was sickly the parents depended upon him for aid as the family grew. His youngest brother, Evan, said: "We looked upon Tom as a second father. He was counselor both in a spiritual and material way."
The education he received was from the training his mother gave. She taught him how to read and the text-book was the Bible. The scriptures were embedded deeply into his soul. From this sacred Book he could quote verses to fit any occasion.
His parents were deeply religious and were members of the Congregational Church until they heard the Gospel preached by the LDS missionaries. His mother joined the Church in 1849, just two years after Salt Lake City was founded. Their home became the meeting place of the small branch that had been organized. His father was made the presiding officer of this gathering. These meetings made a deep impression upon the lives of the children. The late Prof. Evan Stephens said that the singing in these meetings gave him inspiration in a poetical way and influenced his later works.
Both Tom and Anne were baptized into the Church in July, 1854. In those days the missionaries urged the converts to immigrate to Zion. Many were too poor to do this and the Stephens family was among them. They had a great desire to come to the Promised Land as they knew America offered greater opportunities for advancement than the Old World. The family never gave up hope and talked about it with their friends and neighbors. Some jeered and scoffed at the idea because the family was so poor. The mother and Thomas, her son were undaunted however and Thomas, knowing that the Lord helped those who helped themselves, began to plan ways and means by which they could go. Unknown to the family he went away to work in the mines where the pay in one day was equal to the amount that could be earned in a week on the farm. He returned in a year with money enough to pay his way to America. While he wished to go very much he did not want to leave the family and when his sister, Anne, stated that nothing would stop her if she had the money Tom generously gave it to her and she left for America.
After Anne left, Thomas went back to work in the mines with the family's approval. In a year Thomas earned enough to follow his sister and he reached Salt Lake City in 1864.
It was a happy reunion for brother and sister to meet again an(d) exchange information on the family at home and the new country. The country was not in a flourishing condition by any means. Torn asunder by the Civil War, prices were high and it was difficult to obtain food and work. Tom freighted for the Church and later went to Willard where he worked on a farm for Richard Davis while he was absent on a mission in England and Wales. To save money to send home, Tom went back to the same job as he did in Wales, mining. He did this work in the winter as there was little to do on the farm at that time of year. In 1866, he sent money for his parents and two youngest brothers, David and Evan, to immigrate to Salt Lake City.
The family reached Salt Lake City on October 2, 1866 and a week later they left Salt Lake City for Willard where Tom and Anne had planned a home for them. The first night in Willard, Tom told his mother what to expect of conditions in the west and she expressed faith and courage for the future.
It was the family's desire to see the rest of the family in Utah and in 1868 the other members of the family arrived in Salt Lake.
It was at Willard where Tom's youngest brother, Evan, began his musical career. He had joined the choir as a boy alto. Daniel Tovey was the leader. This led to a desire to read music and, when he was 16, Thomas bought him a cabinet organ. He used every leisure moment in learning to write, read and play music. This was the starting point of his later success.
The Stephens family had a great love for the land. They came her to establish homes. In 1869, Thomas had chosen land west of Malad. Here, the other members of the family came too. The parents, Nellie, Tom, Ann, Mary, John, Daniel and David had homes and reared their children in St. John. An Aunt, Rachel Stephens Jones, and her son, Henry, settled at the same place also. One might say that St. John belonged to one large family.
The call of the land did not appeal to the youngest. He did not join the family at St. John. Evan worked on the railroad and studied music as a means of livlihood (sic). After two years in Logan, he moved to Salt Lake City, where he became famous as a musician and composer. For 25 years he was conductor of the Tabernacle Choir.
Thomas and his brothers and sisters were always on friendly terms. Their problems were freely discussed. Their motto was to hive a helpng (sic) hand wherever it was needed. In sickness, the family come for 'Tom' as they called him. It might have been because of his calm, quiet disposition. He was never excited. His presence, no doubt, gave the sick person some degree of assurance that all would be well.
Tom and Ann were very close to each other for brother and sister. They were the first ones here, away from others, so naturally they confided in each other. This close companionship existed until death separated them. They could talk for hours on religion, politics and different philosophies of life. Each had a keen sense of humor and were good story tellers, sometimes telling jokes about themselves to the amusement of others. They had a gift for talking. It was no ordeal to stand before an audience to speak on any occasion or at any time.
Tom was a prolific reader. In every spare minute he had a newspaper, magazine or book in his hands. He not only read them, he digested them. No one in the valley was better informed than he. People liked to visit him because he always had something worthwhile to say. His opinions were sought by all who knew him. Thomas also enjoyed writing Welsh poetry. His brother, Evan, said he had a special talent in that line.
The Stephens family were great lovers of nature. They planted trees around the premises and left some of the natural beauty undisturbed. In the early days, Thomas' farm was a place of beauty. There were groves of trees, weeping willows, wild roses, wild berries and plums. He plowed around them, saying that the trees and willows were wind breaks and also conserved the moisture in the soil. His orchard was the best in the valley. People came for miles to enjoy the fruits of his labor. He had apples of all varieties, plums, pears, currants, gooseberries etc. Everything grew abundantly, especially grain and alfalfa. He understood the theory of farming. Anything that is taken out of the soil must be replaced. The land was fertilized yearly. The farm produced most of the necessities of life. The only things bought in the store were sugar, rice, tea, coffee, and spices. The fruits that could not be sold or put in bottles were dried. Thomas' philosphy was "Waste not, want not." His family had abundant
food the year around. The cellar was always full. In the winter there were pits of potatoes, cabbage, carrots and apples. Rows of cured meat hung from the rafters. Beef was killed in winter and shared by neighbors. They, in turn, would do the same. Cheese and butter were made in summer for winter use. The humble log cabin which was first built was a place of plenty. Thomas never went into debt for anything. When he built a new house, he had the money saved for that purpose. In later years, when he saw his children and others buy things on credit, mortgage their homes, he said: "The generation of today is as bad off as the children of Israel. They are in bondage."
Thomas Stephens was forty years old before he married. He had met Emma in Wales many years earlier. She, too, came to Malad in 1869, her father and mother locating there. She cared for an invalid mother for seven years.
In June 1876, Emma Leigh Morgan became the bride of Thomas Stephens. He had prepared a home and everything was in readiness. In the humble log cabin, seven children were born: John, David, Thomas, Lydia, Daniel, William and Jane. Thomas died in infancy but the others lived to manhood and womanhood.
Thomas took an active part in the political affairs of the county. He was the Republican County Chairman for many years. In this capacity, he became acquainted with governors, senators and leaders of organizations. He was Justice of the Peace for 20 years, during which time he performed many marriages, among whom were nephews and nieces. They wanted 'Uncle Tom' to perform the services. He also was elected to Probate Judge on the Republican ticket.
Having only an education from experience, he knew right from wrong and practiced the Golden Rule, in his daily living. To him, the Good Book had all the answers. To comply with it rules a person would be a good neighbor and citizen.
After the death of his wife, his daughter, Jane, made a home for him. In the sunset of his life, he was peaceful and contented. On the eve of his passing away, he told stories to a neighbor. On December 17, 1921, Thomas Stephens joined the other members of the family in the Great Beyond. At the funeral service, his brother, Prof. Evan Stephens, paid tribute to his brother, telling the part Tom played in shaping the destiny of the Stephens family.