Charles Abraham (Abram) Romriell

Sharon R. Wright

Charles Abraham (Abram) Romriell was born May 18, 1843 on the Isle of Jersey, 15 miles from the coast of France. He was the son of Francis Romriell and Mary Billot, the family being an ancient one of Jersey. Of his parents and his grandparents he said, “Grandmother was the head of the house. Grandfather was just a work boy. It was the same at our house. Mother was the boss. My father was quiet, but when he spoke, we knew he meant it. He was blonde with blue eyes. Mothers hair was brown and she had blue eyes. She was a big woman. Father wasn’t as tall as Mother and he had broad shoulders. Mother did all the jawing and scolding and was very stern.”

His father farmed, fished, and gathered oysters. He said, “I can remember Father didn’t work very hard. He wasn’t lazy. He just didn’t work hard.” Everyone on the island caught fish for market.

They would also gather seaweed. They would pile it up and when it was dry they burned it and sold the ashes for fertilizer.

The Romriells lived a simple and industrious life. Mary’s father taught Francis the shoemaker trade, which he did in addition to farming. Mary ran a store, operating a bakery and keeping cows so that she could sell milk and butter. There was always plenty of work for each member of the family to do. They lived in an old stone house, very old with huge oak beams across the ceilings. There were pillars, stairways, and banisters also of solid oak, but decaying with age. Ivy covered most of the outside walls. Cherries and apricots were trained up the side of one of the walls and bore an abundance of fruit.

There were ten children in the family. They were a very happy and affectionate family, all religiously inclined. They belonged to the Methodist Church. They spoke French in their home. The children learned both French and English in school. Apparently Abe never went to school much because he could neither read nor write all his life. He said, “I did learn to scratch my name”.

When Abe was about seven years old, the Mormon Elders came to the Romriell home to preach. A mob gathered and threw stones at the house, breaking three of the four windows in the room. “Grandmother Billot was very angry with mother and wouldn’t allow her to come over there anymore after this meeting. She was very bitter to the Elders. My grandfather would have joined the church if my grandmother hadn’t been so bitter.”

They were converted to the Church by Elders Duber Fornraz and John Taylor, who later became President of the Church. As in many other places, the people were prejudice against the Latter-day Saints. Elder Taylor was imprisoned in France. It was through the influence and the collection of a large amount of money by Mary Romriell that he was

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released. John Taylor was very friendly with the Romriell family and made his home with them when on the island.

The family joined the church, all except one daughter Mary Ann. She married and moved to Canada. An older brother, John was a ship captain and left for Australia,, never to be heard from again. Grandpa Abe said’ “We didn’t keep track of people when I was young as you do today.”

An aunt coaxed Abe and Fannie not to go to America. She promised to share an inheritance with them and even bought Abe a pony to try and get him to stay. Instead, he used the pony to help earn the money for the trip. “I used to hitch the pony on the cart just at daybreak and go down to the ocean and gather oysters and take them to market. Everyone wanted them because they were fresh. As soon as I got to market, I would yell, ‘Fresh Oysters!’ and they were soon gone.”

Four years after joining the church the family started across the ocean. They sailed from Liverpool, England, on April 17, 1855. They were on the ship “Chimborazo” under the direction of Edward Stevenson. There were 431 saints on board.

After five weeks on the ocean they arrived in Philadelphia on May 21, 1855. From there they went to Pittsburgh and then on to St. Louis. Then traveled by train to Mormon Grove, Kansas. They had paid for a yoke of oxen and a wagon and we were just waiting for them and their cattle to arrive.

When the animals came the youngsters enjoyed watching the oxen being hitched to the wagons and learned how to drive them and holler “Gee” and “Haw”. A man offered to teach Abe how to crack a whip. He said that it took a few tries, but by the time they reached the Salt Lake Valley he could flick a horse fly off an oxen’s ear and never make the ox jump.

“I walked all the way across the plains at the age of 12. We received one cow with our oxen and at night would milk her. Mother usually did the milking. Father was busy mending shoe until after I had gone to bed.”

“We lived on flour, bacon, and… well, that’s about it. We’d eat some bread and bacon and some more of the same thing.”

“We were all happy to be on our way to Zion. Company was the Charles Harper Company. Everything went along fine until we reached the “Little Butte River”. It started to rain just before we got there. By the time we got there the rain was coming down in torrents. The first group got across all right. The leader came back to us there was a cloudburst and before we could get started, we had to raise our wagon boxes 8 inches. Before we reached the other side, the water came into our wagon. We were next to last. The rest of the company had to wait for a ferry boat so they could cross”.

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“When we would stop we made a large circle of our wagons, fastening the tongue of the wagon to the reach of the one in head. This was used as a corral for the oxen. Then we would do the same, only make a smaller one for the people.”

“The men would unyoke the oxen while the youngsters gathered sage and buffalo chips to make fires. The women were busy preparing food, making beds, etc.”

When supper was over and things put by, the captain would call everybody to the center for a dance. Every man, woman, and child must go. Soon, by the music of a violin or any other instrument, they had people one and all dancing in a quadrille or reel until all thoughts of being tired had disappeared and everyone was laughing and chatting happily. Sometimes members of the camp would dance in their bare feet to save their shoes.

One night some of the oxen broke loose. They hunted all th3 next day for them. Finally Abe’s father returned to the camp and asked Mary if she had her “peep stone”.

She said, “Yes.”

He said; “Get it and see if you can help us find the oxen”.

She looked for a minute and told him they were in a grove of trees about five miles from the camp. The men rode out and found the oxen just as she had said and they continued on without mishap.

The party arrived in the Salt Lake Valley on November 12, 1855. Too late in the year to prepare for winter, the family faced many hardships. They had plenty of money and clothes, but they lacked for food. Grandfather Romriell paid ten dollars for a sack of flour and they rationed hat out giving each one about half a cup per day. Digging roots was a common thing and our family did it out of absolute necessity.

After a year or so in the Salt Lake Valley, the family moved to Ogden. There at the age of 21, Abe met and married Mary Marley on December 1, 1865. Together they raised 11 children over the years. After two years in Ogden, they moved to Bear Lake area. On the way thy got caught in a winter storm and had to leave their wagons and provisions behind. They settled on the south shore in Laketown. It was a bad winter and before spring came all they had to eat was fish from the Bear Lake. He said, “We boiled them without salt, but it was either that or starve”. They stayed in Laketown nine years, farming and fishing. A son George (My grandfather) was the first white male child born in Laketown, Utah.

The family next moved to Robin, Idaho in 1876. Abe served in the Bishopric there for 14 years. At that time the entire March Valley was a reservation. There were no whites between McCammon and Pocatello. Abe was instrumental in getting a portion of this land cut off from the reservation opening it up for white settlements and farming.

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I raised the first crop of wheat that was ever threshed in the state by machine. I cut it with a cradle and bound it by hand. Also, IO was the first to bring a “dropper”, a machine that cut grain and dropped it in bunches, into Marsh Valley.

In 1907 Abe and Mary moved the family to McCammon. Mary died 3 years later at the age of 62.

He had an unusual gift of being able to see things that others couldn’t He could also tell them where to find things that were lost. People came from all around the area to ask him to help them locate lost animals, items, etc. I’ll give one brief example.

My father, Newell Abraham Romriell, had lost a pocket watch one fall. He had looked every place he could think of. Finally he turned to his grandfather for help. Grandpa Abe contemplated a few moments and said’ “Newell, you will find your watch in the spring when the water runs.”

Grandpa Abe’s philosophy was, “If you want people to like you, you must like people. Always be good and the Lord will bless you.” He also said, “What do I think of life in general? Oh, I think it’s alright. I’ve just taken it as it comes. I’ve always had plenty to eat, so I can’t guess I’ve any complaint.” (From a newspaper interview in 1930).

He died at the home of his son George in McCammon, Idaho on April 27, 1932 at the age of 89. He is buried in the Robin Cemetery.

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