Thursday, Feb 02, 2023

John Moroni Daniels (Donum)

The man known as Donum Daniels (whose real name was John Moroni Daniels) was one of the first homesteaders in the Bannock (Arbon) Valley.  Donum Daniels was born 21 April 1863 in Brigham City, Box Elder, Utah. He was the sixth child of Thomas Daniels and Mary Elizabeth Davis. (Their last child, Joseph, was born in 1866, but only lived a day).  Both parents had been born in Carmarthenshire, Wales and had immigrated to the Great Basin (Utah and Idaho) after their conversion to the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. 

Donum’s parents were one of the earliest families to settle in Malad, Idaho, where he was reared.  His mother died in childbirth when he was three years old, so he experienced death at an early age.  He worked on his father’s farm and a cousin’s place until he was seventeen years old.  He then rode a horse to Montana and started freighting using horses and oxen, taking products and commodities to the mines in northern Idaho, Montana, and Washington state.

Despite being one of the earliest settlers, he had a rocky start in the Bannock Valley. According to the book, Bannock Valley, Donum came into the valley sometime between 1887 and 1889. He attempted to set up squatter’s rights (pre-emption or possessory claims) on the upper meadows along Bannock Creek in the Arbon area.  “He and a partner cut cedar posts from the hills…[However,] their lives were threatened by cowboys [from] the Sparks cattle outfit if they build any fences so they gave up and went back to [the] Pauline-West Fork area. Some of these cut cedar posts were found by D.J. [David John] Bowen in the early 1890s when he settled the valley at the foot of Bowen’s Mountain” which is near Bowen Lane today.  After he set the posts, showing that the land was claimed by him, he went back to Malad for the winter. When he returned in the spring, a cattle outfit had built a small log cabin inside the boundary of the posts, as an open, serious challenge to his possessory (squatter) claims. This was a challenge that he didn’t relish opposing, since the cattle companies at that time were very powerful and weren’t afraid to end arguments with gunfire. So he gave up his claim.

He then filed on land in the south end of the valley, but he didn’t prove up on it either.  If a person proved up on one piece, he couldn’t prove up on any more land, and he wasn’t sure the south end was where he wanted to be. After he married in 1890, he gave up on the southern claim and filed on land up in the West Fork area that he had originally picked out.  So after attempting claims in three different places in what later came to be known as Arbon Valley, he finally had a claim he could prove up on.

He married Martha Rosetta Richards on 25 December 1890 in Malad, Idaho.  Like Donum’s parents, Martha’s parents had also immigrated from Wales, settling in Malad, where she had been born. Martha’s mother Mary’s father had died during the immigration in 1849 when she was only thirteen, so Martha grew up hearing stories about the ocean voyage and adventures walking across a continent. 

Donum and Martha eventually had nine children: Earl Richards in 1891; Rachel Pearl in 1892; John Emer, 1896; Thomas Calvin, 1898; William Lester, 1900; Lee R., 1901; Ralph L., 1904; Mary Jane, 1909; and Dan LaRue, 1910.  The first two were born in Montana, while all the rest were born in Idaho, in ither Malad, Arbon, or Pocatello.

After Donum’s marriage he went back to West Fork, northwest of the Pauline area (nowadays the whole valley is known as Arbon). They went up West Fork Canyon and cut and hauled logs for their first home, a two-room cabin with a plank floor and a sod roof. They farmed, milked cows, and raised chickens and hogs. Like other Arbon wives, Martha held up her end. According to the Bannock Valley book, she “made butter and cheese and sold what she could to the Indians. At first she only got ten cents a pound for butter.”

“Dry farming” as a farming method was not developed until the 1920s; this is the system of letting fields “rest” in fallow in between growth years, so the soil can soak up moisture like a sponge. Instead, everyone farmed in the traditional way, which in the arid West eventually led to the de-population of Arbon as homesteading families discovered the uncomfortable fact that Arbon, with its average annual rainfall of sixteen inches and frequent summertime frosts, did not produce record crops every year; many gave up or sold their claims.

In the early years, families settled around the creeks and used the creeks for irrigation. “They raised large gardens to provide food.  Martha also made a lot of cheese. She used a hoop about 18” in diameter to mold the cheese in. The cheese had to be turned and buttered every other day for about two weeks. Then when it was cured, they would put it in the hay stack so it would keep. You would put the cheese in the stack as you stacked the hay. Then as you fed the hay, you would find the cheese. In the fall, they would butcher twelve to fourteen head of hogs. They would make sausage, faggots, and head cheese” (page 62). Just like storing the cheese in the hay stack, grain bins also served double duty as more than just a place for storing grain: “They would cure the hams, shoulders, and bacons in salt brine solution…Then they would bury the hams, shoulders, and bacons in the grain bins. This would keep the meat from spoiling and getting moldy.”

In the early days, the family separated for the winter months so the children could go to school. Donum stayed on the West Fork property to take care of his cattle. About 1906 a school house was built, after which Martha stayed in West Fork through the winter months.

Donum was known as a good horseman.  He’d been a good horseman all his life, but especially since he’d ridden to Montana and become a freighter when he was only seventeen years old. He never overworked or mistreated his horses. “He would not drive them fast or too long without a rest.” He had a good understanding that a farmer or rancher was only as rich as his soundest horses.

John and Martha sold the West Fork ranch in 1918, just before World War I prices increased commodity prices and made many farmers rich. But he had a good reason for selling out – unfortunately, he had gone blind from cataracts, something that could have been easily cured today. Then he got a sliver in one eye, and his eye had to be surgically removed. He wore a glass eye, and eventually lost the sight in his remaining eye.  He was blind for many eyes before he died at age ninety-six.

According to Martha’s obituary, she and Donum moved to Rupert, Idaho in 1921, and then to Meridian in 1940, and Caldwell in 1944.

John Moroni Daniels died in Caldwell, Idaho on 27 November 1959.  Martha died at age ninety-eight in a Nampa nursing home on 25 December, 1967. They were buried in Caldwell.


Ward, Laurie Jean, Bannock Valley (Providence, Utah: Keith Watkins and Sons, 1982).

The link above will lead to other links on the family members.