BY JENNY GOLDSBERRY
“They built a one-room log cabin in 1853 and raised their eleven children there.”
James Barker was born to Frederick Barker and Ann Bligh on April 7,1827 in Diss, Norfolk, England. James was three years old when his family decided to go to America, hoping for better opportunities. They set sail in 1830 to live and work in New York for about 15 years before they came in contact with the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints. When James was 18, the whole family was baptized.
In 1846, the family left New York to go West to Utah, which meant they were among the very first pioneers. According to the Church website, that same year, 240 members in New York and other eastern states decided to set sail out of Brooklyn to try to sail around North America to California. The Barker family decided, instead, to travel by land and arrived in the Salt Lake valley after about a year. Their neighbors who decided to sail were met with storms that threw the ship off course and delayed their voyage. In the end, the ship touched port, and all the members settled in California. As for the Barkers, they settled in North Ogden in 1849.
James lived in Farr’s Fort, which was an actual fort north of the Ogden River and east of Monroe Boulevard. It was an enclosure with three sides of end-to-end houses meant to protect families like his from indigenous people. There, he met Polly Emeline Blodgett and married her on March 9th, 1851. They built a one-room log cabin in 1853 and raised their eleven children there.
Polly’s family history mirrored her husband’s; they hailed from England, had an encounter with the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, and crossed the plains to Utah. Her skills were in medicine. She could do everything from delivering babies to prescribing herbal medicines and even setting broken bones. Early settlers and indigenous neighbors recognized her as a doctor. She officially studied to be a midwife in Salt Lake City once her eleven children were grown and received her license in June of 1893. She continued to practice into her seventies.
In 1856, James left his family upon the request of President Brigham Young to help emigrants in the Martin Handcart Company. Due to exposure to extreme cold during this rescue trip, which occurred in November of that year, he contracted a crippling form of rheumatism that would plague him the rest of his life. He eventually lost the full use of his hands. James’ name is listed among the names of rescuers on the monument at Martin’s Cove in Wyoming to honor his selfless service.
“His condition did not prevent him from developing one of the finest farms in North Ogden on Fruitland Drive,” his great-great grandson, Casey Barker, said.
James planted the first red apples grown in Utah. He also dug five large wells throughout the town. According to the North Ogden Museum, these wells were known to produce forty gallons a minute. James’ grandson, Clarence Barker, carried on the well-digging legacy of his grandfather, and, in the early 1930’s, created “The Stump” drinking fountain in North Ogden’s Centennial Park. Originally, it was an actual cottonwood tree stump chiseled into the drinking fountain, but after the stump rotted, it was replaced with a fiberglass replica in 1998.
James was a dedicated Church member and friend. He was always industrious, and he bestowed an important work ethic on his children and grandchildren.
James died on December 14th, 1915, and is buried in the Ben Lomond Cemetery in North Ogden. Casey Barker, his great-great grandson, still lives in the area.