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Life Story of John Francis Astle
Written by his sister, Sarah Astle Call

John F. Astle - 1897
John Francis Astle
1897

John Francis Astle, son of John Astle and Isabella Jane Bradshaw Astle, was born on September 21, 1869, at Montpelier, Bear lake County, Idaho. His parents were of English birth, converts to the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. They passed through numerous pioneer experiences and early day events in several parts of the West, especially of the settlement of the Bear Lake Valley and the Star Valley in Wyoming.

He was the second child in a family of nine born to his mother. He had an older sister, Elizabeth, less than two years older than he, who was a real pal and sister to him during his entire life. Training in manual labor began at an early age. Children in those days, worked too hard for their tender years. Times were hard, requiring great diligence and caution, and the help of every member of the family to care for the crops, subdue the land, and perform the many tasks necessary to sustain life in new, uncultivated country.

At the age of seven, he started to school which was limited to a few months of each year. There were two teachers in one room, their salary being the tuition paid by the parent of each child. The building was of logs, and it was used for both church and school. There were no desks. The seat he occupied was a slab about eight or ten feet long, supported by legs of wood, two at each end, inserted into holes bored into the slab. On these crude benches, much too high for the little feet to touch the floor, the younger children sat with legs dangling. They used to get very tired and were happy when recess time came or school dismissed for the day.

John F. was a timid child, afraid to hold his own. This caused him a great deal of annoyance since there were some of the older boys at school who tormented him beyond endurance. One day his father said to him, "If you don't whip those boys when they trouble you, I'll punish you when you get home." Well, something did happen. Father had given him courage. He knew that his father would keep his word in regard to the punishment. The affray began, and John F. gathered every ounce of grit possible and let loose. He came out victorious. From that time on, the boys never bothered him again. These were happy childhood days, free from care and worry.

John Astle
Father, John Astle

At the age of thirteen, responsibilities developed rapidly for so young a lad. At this time, his father married a plural wife (Melvina Ann Banks) according to the "Order" that was then in practice by the Latter-day Saint Church. This necessitated many changes in the family life.

The crusade of persecutions was in earnest by the enemies of the cause. Men were hunted down like the worst criminals in the country. They were in danger of arrest and being dragged into prison where they were brutally treated. They had to be constantly on guard lest they be found and forcibly taken away. For that reason, men in plural marriage were seldom at home and when there, had to live in disguise or secret hiding. There were dangerous times and unexpected visits from the mobocrats usually came during the night, thinking they would most likely find their fugitives at home at that time. With loud knocks and cursing, they would awaken the family and demand a search of the house. They would come in, look in every nook and corner, and ask innumerable questions. Some people were frightened by these visits, but at our home, no one seemed to show any fear. Often Mother, and even the children, threw them off guard by asking them to look in the flour barrel, under the bed, in the cupboards, etc., but they went away having made a fruitless visit. On one such an occasion, Father was safely hidden in a small hideout under the bed, covered over smoothly with the floor carpet, and they never dreamed he was under the floor and could hear everything being said. We felt Father had been protected by a greater power than ours. This kind of life went on for some time. Father, although a very industrious man, could not assist with the farm work.

John F., with his two younger brothers, Richard and William, had to carry on the work as few such boys have done in our western states. Being the eldest, John F., of course, assumed responsibility of leadership. At the age of fifteen, he had full responsibility of the farm. The work was extremely difficult, but being blessed by our Heavenly Father, the crops grew and matured. At that time, the most abundant crops we ever had were harvested. It was a marvel to the whole community of Montpelier, Idaho, that so young a boy could so perfectly manage a farm so successfully. All interested neighbors and even our parents were fearful that serious injury to health may result from this steady grind of labor; there was no letting up or resting, even for a day. At one time, Father happed to be at home at threshing time, and he shed tears of sorrow for the way his young sons were working. It was almost more than he could endure, yet it was a situation in which he was helpless to assist without renouncing the principles of plural marriage. He believed this to be a correct order of marriage as revealed to the Prophet Joseph Smith. Mother also believed in this principle as sincerely as did Father.

When John F. was only sixteen years of age, we had hay land on the Bear River flats, as well as land rented from Peter Larsen from which was put up about 75 tons of hay and 2,000 bushels of wheat were harvested. As no modern machinery or equipment was then in use, the hay and bundles of grain were pitched on and off with a pitchfork. Our sister, Elizabeth, often helped with the farm work and proved a valuable assistant as she was a good and willing worker. The labor was too strenuous for any girl, but she never complained. In those times, every member of the family, large and small, seemed to realize the necessity of helping in every way possible. The next year the same procedure was repeated in the home and on the farm with little variation.

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