"Going to the roots of the Frank Family"
July 17, 2019




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Life Story of John Astle
Written by his daughter, Sarah Astle Call, in 1953

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Father was a very industrious person. There wasn't a man in that locality who could accomplish more work than he. He liked to labor and was very adept in more ways than one. If building a house or barn, making a fence, putting new soles on our shoes, repairing his machinery, or whatever else was to be done, it was a finished product when he did it.

Father and Mother struggled on through the early days, making the best of whatever came their way. Finally, they did prosper financially and in all else. Acreage of very choice land close to town was now owned and cultivated. Abundant crops of hay and grain were produced every year. There was no modern machinery with which to cultivate the soil, plant the seed, or reap the harvest. By following the plow and harrow on foot, driving a team of oxen, and sowing the seed by hand, the soil was prepared and planted. Later horses were used. How well we remember the team of black horses, Sam and Coley - a fine pair of animals.

The hay was cut with the sickle or scythe, the grain with the cradle. Wheat, oats, and barley were bound into bundles with a band made from the grain itself. Several men followed the cutter, tying the bundles. This work was all done by hand, a slow process compared with our machine age.

The threshing machines were run by horse power. We remember as children, the fascination of watching the teams of horses going round and round with a man driver sitting in the center, whip in hand, with which he occasionally tipped one of the horses and then another, which he thought lagging a little in speed or not pulling its share. Or again, we would watch the bands on the bundles being cut by the Band Cutter and pushed into the machine by a man called the "Feeder". Then down by the side of the great machine, we watched the kernels of grain come rushing down into the sacks to be carried to the granary and dumped into the bins for storage. Yes, Father was a successful farmer.

Just at the peak of this prosperity, he, like others who believed in plural marriage, decided to marry a second wife, which he did. On the third of April 1884, he was married in the Endowment House in Salt Lake City to Melvina Ann Banks, daughter of William Holmes Banks and Margaret Jane Armatage. She was only seventeen years of age, much younger than John, he being now 38 years old. To such a young, inexperienced girl, this must have been a real adventure, and at times, a trial. Adjustments were necessary for family life. His first wife, Isabella, was now the mother of nine children, seven of them living. Melvina Ann (Melley) was only eleven months older than John's oldest daughter, Elizabeth.

There were two houses on the same lot, only a few rods apart. The smaller one consisted of one large room with a lean-to on the back that was used as a kitchen. This log house was the first home of Melley after her marriage. It was here that her first child, Alma Paul, was born 5 October 1886.

The persecutions of all these families which entered into this form of marriage were bitter and severe. Often prison sentences were served for the offence and extreme hardship endured. Father had to do like others in similar circumstances, go on the underground, as it was termed (into hiding from the Deputies of the law). They would come at all hours of the night or day, especially at night, demanding admittance to search every room.

One night Father had secretly come home expecting to spend the night. That happened to be one of the very times when the "raid" was on. A "hide-out" had been arranged under the floor of Mother's bedroom, dug deep enough for a bed or resting place to be made on the dirt underneath. It was reached through a trap door under the bed, which was completely hidden by pulling the carpet back over it. Father was in this place when his wife, Isabella, let the officers in. They searched everywhere, upstairs and down, without success. Father could hear every spoken word. Trembling with fear, he wondered if they would find him. One can well imagine his feelings.

At another time, they again came in the night seeking both Father and his young wife, so determined to find them that all were made very uncomfortable by their unkindly remarks and threats. As a child, this writer remembers this visit. We children were sleeping upstairs, the boys in one room, and I was in bed in another room with our eldest sister, Elizabeth, who was caring for our baby sister, Violet, as Mother was ill. It was a time never-to-be-forgotten. The marshals believed they had really found the young wife. At this time, Melley did not have a child.

Isabella Jane Bradshaw and Children
L to R: Sarah Isabella, Isabella Jane,
Violet Eliza, Joseph Hyrum

Search was made in every conceivable place. Our brother Richard said, "Better look in that flour barrel; you might find him there." The officer replied, "Well, we have found them in smaller places than that." He looked in. The barrel was filled with flour. Finally, they were convinced it was Mother's own baby. But these trying times continued. Father would hide out in the hills or wherever possible, once in a while coming home in disguise.

This left a great responsibility upon the family. There was too much work for the three older boys, Francis (15 years), Richard (13 years), and William (11 years). It was said in Montpelier that it was simply a marvel the fine, systematic way they did the work. Another remark, "No boys of such tender age, with their sister's help, had been known to accomplish such a huge task in Bear Lake Valley." Their sister, Elizabeth, worked with them in the fields like a man, and she was now only seventeen years of age. Together they succeeded in harvesting the crops which were abundant that year.

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