Founding Farmers: The Canners that Came Before the Cannery

John Riddle and his sixth wife Eliza Bramwich

BY JENNY GOLDSBERRY

It was the Riddles’ first time irrigating because they hadn’t had the need to irrigate on their old farm.

John Riddle

The Riddles were just one of the thirteen founding families of North Ogden. Lucky for everyone else, they were also the founding farmers. John, the patriarch of the family, came to Utah as a career farmer. In northern Kentucky, he was not just a farmer but also a Baptist minister. Between him and his wife, Elizabeth Wilson Stewart, they had three daughters and a son named Isaac. Together, they joined the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and found themselves leaving their farm to travel across the continent with their fellow congregants.

It was 1850 when they started settling North Ogden. John was 47 years old, and Isaac was 20 years old. They tried their hand at farming their new environment. Almost immediately, they came across a problem: on their new farm, they had to implement irrigation for their crops to survive. It was their first time irrigating because they hadn’t had the need to irrigate on their old farm in Kentucky. Among the first of their many crops were potatoes, corn, and grain.

John Riddle’s first wife and Isaac’s mother, Elizabeth Wilson StewartJohn RiddleJohn Riddle’s first wife and Isaac’s mother, Elizabeth Wilson Stewart

By the time the Riddles harvested their crops, The Cannery Center in North Ogden was still 50 years away from being built. In the meantime, John and Elizabeth had six more children, and John married five more women; three of those women had given birth to five additional children. Isaac also had married four women and had been subsequently jailed for his polygamy. That didn’t stop Eliza Bramwich, John’s sixth wife, from taking up canning herself. Of course, in her day, they called it “bottling.” There were times when there were no jars in the house, so she took up drying. They had scaffolds built just for drying fruits like peaches, apricots, and plums. She would remove the pit and cut the fruit into slices, then hang the slices on the scaffold, peel down, and let the sun dry them out.

This would prove to be a very helpful practice, because in the fall of 1855, a swarm of crickets completely annihilated all the crops in the area. A lesser-known fact is that even the winter was particularly harsh, killing much of the livestock too. Canned and dried goods definitely came in handy.

Isaac Riddle

Other farmers followed suit and began canning their own surplus crops. There was a time when a railroad track branched off the Ogden line, just to transport canned goods and fresh crops for the interstate market. It was called “The Dummy Line.” This was one of the few ways farmers could sell their surplus before a local cannery was built. In a previous issue, you can find an even greater detailed history of The Cannery Center of North Ogden. Once the cannery was built in 1901, local farmers could sell directly to the cannery, and the cannery would ship the goods out. By this point in history, North Ogden residents had massive farms and orchards. The irrigation systems the Riddles helped dig proved to be the key to success for farmers in this desert region.

Family story?
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