Thursday, Feb 02, 2023

Joseph Nicholas Arbon

Joseph Nicholas Arbon

Joseph Arbon was born 25 September 1875, about eight miles west of Snowville, Box Elder, Utah in a place called “the sinks” (due to the standing, then disappearing, water in the area). His parents were George Dennis Arbon and Sarah Annette Nicholas; George was working on a cattle ranch at the time Joseph was born. Joseph was the fifth child and only son. Two more sisters followed his birth, so he was the only boy with six sisters. As he grew up, his family lived in at least four different one-room, dirt-floored log cabins – in Snowville, Almo, Pleasant View (west of Malad), and then Arbon – until the Arbon home was built in the Arbon Valley.  (This home still exists, just west of the LDS Church on Church Road). When Joe was eleven and the family was living in Almo, his mother died of pneumonia when she was only thirty-two.

Joseph, along with his father, was one of the earliest homesteaders in what at that time was called Bannock Valley. They came into the valley in 1894 and actually stayed through the winter, the first to do so.   

Even today, with our modern vehicles, Arbon winters can be extremely challenging. Joe remembers the first winter he and his father stayed in the valley, which must have been very frightening at times. The following memory is from the book, Bannock Valley: “Blizzards would come and last for as long as twenty-four hours…[Joe remembers] many times he thought that life was made up of [nothing but] blizzards. He recalls their little cabin being completely covered by drifting snow. One morning…he remembers getting up from a cold bed to build a fire in the little cook stove. It began to smoke excessively. Quickly he grabbed the wash basin which had water in it from the night before and doused the fire. Finding it difficult to breathe the smoke-filled air, he ran to the door to open it, but the snow had drifted against it [up] to the eaves. He finally succeeded in prying the door open a crack to get a breath of the cold, crisp air which revived him. He said there followed a chimney repair and shoveling of snow from the outside and inside the cabin” (p. 45). 

Many a homesteader and even today’s residents can attest to the taxing Arbon winters. The early homesteaders made it a habit to never go to bed in the winter without bringing the shovel inside, in case they had to dig themselves out in the morning.  Most log structures, as they were built, retained an extra foot or two of length of log at each of the corners, in case a homesteader needed quick access to wood during a prolonged blizzard.

Real money in any new area seems to always be a scarce commodity. Joe remembered that at one point “they were so hard up that they could not even mail a letter because they had not the price of a postage stamp – which at that time was two cents” (p. 45). The first post office, organized in 1898, was named after his father, George, who at age fifty-seven was the oldest settler in the valley, and the first (along with Joe) to spend a winter in the valley. The first mail went out of the valley on 7 October 1898, consisting of only three letters – none of which were from the Arbon family.

Joe married Elizabeth (“Lizzie”) Davis 23 November 1898 in Salt Lake City, Utah. She was born 8 May 1879 in Samaria, Idaho, to David Price Davis and Elizabeth Griffiths; David Davis had been one of the first settlers in Samaria. Like Joe, her own mother had also died when Lizzie was young.  Since Lizzie’s mother’s death, Lizzie’s father David Davis was looking forward to the time when Lizzie could serve as his full-time cook and housekeeper. However, when she was only sixteen, she met Joe. When her father discovered they were serious and realized he might lose his cook, he chased Joseph away and told him not to come back. In anguish, Joe went to talk to his future brother-in-law, Wilford Wight, who related that Father Davis had done the same thing to him when Wilford had wanted to marry Lizzie’s older sister Lucy. This emboldened Joe, so he went back with new resolve and proposed to Lizzy. Father Davis finally agreed to give his consent if they gave him a year’s time to find a new cook and housekeeper.

Together Joe and Lizzie had four children: Delta (1902), Joseph George (1907), Cardon (born 1910, but lived only two days), and Harold (1919).  Lizzie’s brother Ed Davis was already married to Joe’s sister Esther Arbon, so their children were double cousins. 

Joseph was considered a progressive man.  He proved up on his homestead land in 1906. He had helped his father open farming in the valley through irrigation, helping to dig and maintain many of the original canals.  He and his father were also the first to introduce the concept of summer fallowing, which is letting the ground “rest” between crops to store up precious moisture in the soil.  The family bought their first gasoline-powered tractor in 1928.

Joe was known as a kind man. One incident of Joe’s kindness to others was remembered years later by Robert Nunnelley. His family had come from Kentucky in 1909, and they were not prepared for the fierce winters in Arbon.  Robert stated: “That winter was very severe and the snow was very deep. The horses were not used to snow and would just lay down and make no effort to travel in it. We run [sp] out of feed for the stock and didn’t know what to do. Things surely looked bad. One afternoon we saw someone coming from the north. It was Joe Arbon and Ed Davis. Mr. Arbon had a load of hay, and Mr. Davis had…some groceries. They stayed all night and we danced and sang. The Nunnelley’s never forgot those wonderful people. A truly lasting friendship was enjoyed” (Bannock Valley, p. 267).

Joe contributed in other ways to the community. His accordion was always popular at local dances. He served about twenty-six years as a bishop, and oversaw the building of the Arbon church building that was dedicated in 1928 at a cost of $11,000.  For many of the early years, church was held in Arbon only in the summer months, because many families spent winter months in various different local towns so their children could attend school.

Joseph stated that “one of his fondest dreams came true when they could finally travel to and from the ranch on hard surfaced roads. At one time he never believed he would live long enough to witness this” (p. 47).

In 1965, he was an enthusiastic supporter of modernizing the phone lines from the original barbed wire phone lines strung on fence posts, and getting rid of the old crank phones which were also party lines. Joe (along with Sod Williams and Claude Gibbons) helped to raise subscriptions of $200 each from about thirty valley families to upgrade the phone lines and the system.

Lizzie died in 1957, several years after the couple had retired and bought a home in Pocatello. Just over a year later, Joe remarried Arvilla Hughes McKay, a widow.

To celebrate his approaching 90th birthday, Joseph rode a horse up to the top of Bannock Peak, the highest mountain overlooking Arbon Valley. He was accompanied by his grandson Ronald Arbon, and two great-grandsons (Ronald’s sons), Gary (age eleven) and Kenny (age nine).  They only took two horses, so Gary rode behind his great-grandfather Joe, and Kenny rode behind his father Ronald. At one very steep place, Joe had Gary get off their horse and hold onto its tail to pull him up the mountain.  When they got to the top, they could see the Great Salt Lake in Utah. The altitude of Bannock Peak was over 8,000 feet, so the climb was about 3,000 feet from the valley floor.

Joseph also broke a young horse on his 90th birthday; the last two years of his life were the only ones in which he did not break a horse.

Joseph Arbon died 23 Sept 1972 in Pocatello, Idaho, just two days short of his ninety-seventh birthday.  He was buried in Mountain View Cemetery in Pocatello.


Call, Laurie Jean, Bannock Valley (Providence, Utah: Keith Watkins and Sons, 1982). – Memory by Gary Arbon (“Joseph Nicholas Arbon Horseback Climb of Bannock Peak, Summer of 1965”) found on Memories > Stories.

The information posted here will link to information for other family members.