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A Brief History of John George Hafen

A Brief History of John George Hafen
Written by Arthur K. Hafen


A Brief History of John George Hafen
Written by Arthur K. Hafen, oldest grandson of John George Hafen and Susette Bosshard Hafen.

John George was born in the quiet, peaceful little village of Schurzingen, Canton Thurgau, Switzerland, 17 October, 1838. His father's name was Hans George Hafen and his mother's name was Mary Magdalena Hafen. Only two children, a daughter, Barbara, born in 1835, and a son, John G., was born into this family. The mother died in 1854 and the father came to America and spent the remainder of his days with his two children.

John spent the first 23 years of his life in Scherzingen, a village of about 50 families. Most of the people sustained themselves by their own labor. None were very poor nor were any extremely wealthy. The Evangelist church was established there and a common elementary school. The small farms produced hay, grain, potatoes, grapes, and fruits. Farming was rather primitive, no machinery being used. The grass was cut with a scythe and raked with a hand rake. Oxen were used as farm animals -- horses rarely. The land was fertilized chiefly with straw.

The Hafen family farm was comprised of but 12-15 acres. It made for them an independent living as practically all their food was produced on their farm. Enough products were sold to permit them to save a little money each year. They cared well for all they had and lived frugally. The chief crop for market was the grapes they raised which were made into wine and marketed locally. John said they themselves did not drink any of the wine.

John attended school until he was about 16 years of age. The schooling was only elementary and there was not much opportunity to develop ability, but John was very good at arithmetic. There after his school was in the world of experience. He grew up in a religious home with a blessing asked upon the food at each meal and a prayer book was read around the hearthstone. He did not drink wine or other intoxicants, nor use tobacco. He refrained from using obscene or profane language and in his ninety years never profaned the name of Deity.

The most significant event of his life was his conversion to the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. The missionaries were encouraging the converts to emigrate to America, where the leaders and the great mass of the church members lived.

John's father took no interest in the teachings of the Mormon elders but it was through the influence of the daughter that the father and brother were later baptized. Barbara became interested in what the missionaries were teaching in their meetings. Her father and brother both opposed her and tried to persuade her against the new religion. At times they would hide her clothes so she could not attend. The three members of this family were so devoted to each other that they did not wish to be separated. What should be done if she should decide to emigrate to America? When they saw that she was so resolute, they also began to investigate the new gospel, secretly however, as they would have been spurned and hissed at by their friends had it been known. John and his father were baptized at the same time in Bodersee, in April, 1860, by a local elder, Johannes Diedhelm. The sister had been baptized a few weeks before. John was ordained a priest by Elder Christian Moosman.

A year later John was made a missionary and traveled without purse or script. One day he was assaulted by a mob and taken from his bed to a well-trough and dunked as a mock baptism. While doing missionary work in the small town of Turpenthal, Canton Zurich, he met Susette Bosshard, whom he later married.

The new world in western America offered opportunities to establish communities where the principles of the newly adopted religion could be lived without molestation. Converts from Europe came to America in great numbers. In April, 1861, a company from Switzerland, under the direction of Jabez Woodward - Mission President, bade farewell to their native land and made the long voyage to the land of Zion. Among them were Hans George Hafen Sr. and his two children. The gospel was most important in their lives and for it they would sacrifice all. They sold their property at a fair price, so that with the earnings of the preceding years they were able to render assistance to others who wished to emigrate. They sailed from Liverpool, with quite a large company of Swiss people, in a sailing vessel and spent ten weeks on their ocean voyage. They landed at New York and took the train to Florence, Nebraska where they made preparations for the long toilsome journey across the plains. John's father purchased four wagons and fourteen yoke of cattle. He also bought two milk cows and two small mules which were later stolen by Indians. The journey took ten weeks traveling from 15-20 miles a day.

The group arrived at Salt Lake City in September, 1861, and at the general conference of the Church, President Brigham Young called 309 missionaries to go to southern Utah. Included in this number was the Swiss Company, to be led by Daniel Bonelli. They arrived in southern Utah and were told to go to Santa Clara to raise grapes and cotton.

A survey of the new town site was made in December. Lots and vineyards were laid out and the settlers were given their plots of ground. The first years were real pioneer life. In addition to building homes, these pioneers had to build roads, canals and public buildings. The land had to be cleared and cultivated with few and crude implements. A dam in the creek and a ditch to the new town site were built. The men all helped and were given two dollars credit per day for their labor. The very day they were completed, rain began to fall and it continued for a prolonged period of time. On New Year's day a terrific flood swept away the fort and other buildings and destroyed the dam and canal. They had to begin anew to build the town and all pertaining to it.

John G. Jr. married Susette Bosshard in October 1861, before leaving Salt Lake City to come to Santa Clara. As plural marriage was emphasized by the authorities of the Church, the Saints were asked to live the law termed the Celestial Law. John G. having abiding faith in the authority of the priesthood, regarded the law as divine.

In 1873 he married Mrs. Annie Marie Stucki Reber, whose husband had been killed in an accident a few months before. They were married in Salt Lake City.

In 1884, John married Anna Mary Elizabeth Huber. She was born April 17, 1862 in Arwangen, Canton Bern, Switzerland. She met Grandpa in 1882, a few months after she had been baptized into the church. John was then serving a mission in Switzerland and he told her he would pay her way to come to America and live with the Swiss Saints in Santa Clara. Anna Mary left her family and traveled with a missionary to Santa Clara where she later married John G. as his third plural wife. After her marriage she lived at Santa Clara four years, then at Littlefield, Arizona, one year, at Bunkerville, Nevada, nine years, at Washington nine years then at Santa Clara with John G. until his death. John asked his daughter, Eliza and her husband if they would move in the home with them and take care of them, as they were getting older and they could have the home after he was gone. Edmund and Eliza took care of John G. until his death and Anna Mary, who was 24 years younger than John. John George died 4 May 1928, and Anna Mary died 15 May 1944, 16 years later. At one time, John G. bought a sewing machine for Eliza with the agreement that she would do all of her mother's sewing. She made all of her dresses and whatever she needed from that time on.

In 1885, John married his fourth wife, Mrs. Rosena Stucki Bliekenstofer, a sister of his second wife. Her husband had died in 1881, leaving her with two children then she and John George had two children together.

As John G. and his four wives complied with the celestial law, they felt it to be right as they did with other doctrines of the church. They were sincere in their belief and tried conscientiously to live it as best they could. This was not done without much sorrow, both to him and to his wives. Never did he feel that he did wrong in this respect, but that he lived by commandment. He had honorable families and his conviction was that he did his duty. Being a great sacrifice it brought them blessings.

John G. owned the first and only store in Santa Clara. People paid for merchandise with produce and John had to find markets for it. He spent many days traveling in a wagon drawn by a team of horses or mules to and from markets. He went to the mining camps of Pioche and Delmar in Nevada and the Silver Reef in Washington County. Loads were often taken to adjoining counties in Utah and oftentimes to Salt Lake City by this slow method of travel. As only a small portion of the fresh fruit could be handled, much of it was sun dried and sacked. Some was made into preserves and kept in barrels. He hauled many hundred gallons of preserves and molasses made from sugar cane and tons of peaches.

John G. was bishop of Santa Clara for 28 years. The tithes of the people were largely paid in produce. To dispose of this produce before much of it was wasted, he hauled it to the distant markets and peddled it. He allowed full value for whatever was given into his custody and felt obligated to find a market for it. He could handle 1,200 pounds a load and go about 25 miles per day. A trip to the Nevada markets required from 8-10 days.

The essence of the Christian's creed is loving service to humanity. Grandfather spent much time in the service of his fellowmen. Besides his missionary work done in Switzerland before he emigrated, he served on a short mission in the northern states. He spent six months among the German-speaking people in Minnesota. Four years later John received a call to Europe on a mission. In the spring of 1882, he again went into the mission field and spent two years preaching the gospel in the Swiss and German mission. One year was spent in his native land, Switzerland, and one year in Germany. Soon after his return from this mission he was called to act as bishop and served in this capacity from 1884 to 1912. Thereafter he devoted much of the next fourteen years to temple work doing work for more than 1200 souls, until his physical strength started failing him.

John George had many wonderful traits of character. Outstanding in all his dealings was honesty. He was careful in his transactions, demanding what was rightly his but would take no penny that belonged to others. No deal of trickery or unfair play ever tempted him. Right and honesty as he understood it was of greater significance to him than wealth or power gained by deceit or fowl play. He believed it better to suffer a wrong than to commit one. A tribute paid him by authorities at the close of the long term he served as bishop of the ward was to the effect that he had dealt honestly throughout and had been one of the most faithful servants of the church in his office. He was courageous in carrying out his convictions even though his judgment did not coincide with others. He was a zealous worker in all he undertook. he enjoyed seeing his work well done when he left it. Often done without popular knowledge, many hours were spent in the service of his fellowmen. he believed firmly in rewards in the hereafter for such service and was just as sure of condemnation for failure to perform what he considered his duty wherever and whenever he could.

John was religiously inclined and cultivated the spirituality that gave religion a very important place in his life. To him it was uppermost. Faith seems to be a gift. To him it was given and to it was added more faith until he was well anchored in his conduct. The greater philosophies, offered him no attractions. He was resolute and uncompromising with sin. He was prayerful and believed firmly in its efficacy. He was devoted to the policy of the family kneeling in prayer at the close of the day before retiring for the night and again in the morning to solicit the guidance of that power he felt was so much needed - needed in the struggle of life's battle, if his ideal of never relinquishing was to be realized.

Faith to be genuine seems to be simple faith. Of this type he possessed much. He had profound respect for authority in the Priesthood. When a request was made through it, he felt to comply with as being divinely made. It was this conviction and confidence in authority that actuated his complying with the Celestial Law of plural marriage. It cost him much heartache and sorrow. He said he shed many tears over it but felt the sacrifices brought him great blessings. He regards his marriages and the rearing of four families as required and sanctified of God. Seeing it in retrospect, he regared it as he ever had - as a commandment of Deity. He felt he found the truth of life everlasting and had lived by it. His greatest yearning is for the welfare of his children and posterity, not so much in a material as in a spiritual way. The truths he sacrificed so much for were dear to him and his greatest desire is that he will live with his posterity throughout the endless ages in the realms of spirit.

John's life was characterized by frugality. He had a home of comfort in the old world and strove to make himself and dependents comfortable throughout life. He did not amass wealth. He did not desire to do so, for he considered wealth as secondary to an honorable upright life. This is the heritage he left his posterity. He felt his treasures are laid up in Heaven.

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