Who will find the Turkeys?

Queen Victoria’s turkeys were missing and John Woodfield was determined to find them.

The John Woodfield and Rachel Roylance Family, taken about 1891. Back: John Aaron, Jane, Mary Ann, Charlotte, Elisabeth, Thomas. 2nd row: John (father) Rachel (mother) 3rd row: Rosene Maria, Isabel, Harriet Ellen 4th row: William George, Emily Janette.

John Woodfield was what could be called a strict father but he had a heart of gold. He always had a neatly trimmed beard; he stood straight and was always neat. He grew up in England and his father died when John was very young. He went to school for only a few years before his mother needed him to help provide for the family.

John worked for a time in Queen Victoria’s garden. Queen Victoria had a number of children who helped keep birds from eating all the fruit in the fruit trees. One day, she noticed her two prized turkeys were missing. One was a male and the other was a female, and when they disappeared together to make a nest for their eggs, they could be very difficult to find. She told the children that the one who found the turkeys first would be rewarded with a prize.

John wasn’t sure he’d ever seen the turkeys before, even when they didn’t have a nest, but from that point on, he began to get up early each morning to look for them. He climbed up a tree so he could survey the area when the dawn started to break. Eventually, he saw the male and the female come out of a bush, eat on the grass, then go back into the bush. John told the head gardener, showed him where he saw them, and sure enough, there were the turkeys!

Soon after, Queen Victoria brought a beautiful rust-colored velvet vest for him. The buttons weren’t like normal buttons with two or four holes through them; instead, they were glassy domes with a shank on the back to attach it to the vest. This vest has been passed down through the family since then, and now it belongs to his great granddaughter, Mary Sue Rasmussen, who is my grandmother.

Mary Sue Rasmussen holds up the vest her Great Grandfather received from Queen Victoria.

John joined the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints while he was in England. Brigham Young called him to settle North Ogden and help establish irrigation in the area, since he had experience with that in England. He came to North Ogden as a single young man and became acquainted with Rachel Roylance when her father fixed a pair of shoes for him. Before she and John had met, an older man with two wives offered to marry Rachel, but she wasn’t very thrilled about that prospect. I’m sure you could imagine Rachel’s excitement when this young spring chicken came knocking on the door asking to spend more time with her.

The two were married and began to build their lives together. They started their life in a cabin dug into a hillside and eventually had eleven children, nine of which were girls. The girls shared household chores and helped their brothers and father with the chores on the farm when they were needed.

John Woodfield on his 90th birthday. He lived to be 95.

Dinner time not only included John’s immediate family, but also his brother, niece, and nephew, who helped as farm hands. Meals were always served on time, and very good manners were expected. This was a home of plenty, and they always stored vast amounts of food. They had fruits and nuts from their trees, an abundance of meat, vegetables, fruit, and berries. The children were always welcome to help themselves to the huge shelves of apples. The holidays were also a season of roast goose or turkey, dressing, gravies, salads, rows of pies, and Rachel’s plum pudding. 

Neighbors relied on each other during this time and John Woodfield and James Ward worked together to get machinery to help process the hay and grain on their land. Flat irons were also a prized possession at the time, and three neighboring families shared the two irons John traded for a large load of fire wood. John was known as a person who cared for people outside his immediate family; he never left anyone wanting food and shelter.

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