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Olive Olivia Curtis Coombs Higby
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Birth: Aug. 16, 1819
Danbury
Fairfield County
Connecticut, USA
Death: Jul. 28, 1862
Cedar City
Iron County
Utah, USA

LATTER-DAY SAINT-SHIP BROOKLYN PIONEER-WIFE-MOTHER-WIDOW-SCHOOLTEACHER AND MURDER VICTIM

Olive Olivia Curtis Coombs was born at Danbury, Fairfield County, Connecticut to Matthew Curtis and Betsy White. She and her husband, Abraham were converted to the L.D.S. (Mormon) Church by Parley P. Pratt and Erastus Snow. Her older brother Theodore Curtis, Sr was later an L.D.S. Church leader.

MARRIAGE AND SHIP BROOKLYN PIONEER

She married Abraham Marion Coombs in 1838. Abraham Marion Coombs, Olive Olivia Curtis Coombs, and their children Katherine Coombs, Charles Marion Coombs and Helen Mars Coombs were all passengers on the Mormon emigrant ship Brooklyn. The Brooklyn sailed from New York on February 4, 1846 and after surviving a difficult journey through the storms of the Atlantic and around Cape Horn they eventually arrived in Yerba Buena (now San Francisco, California on July 31, 1846.

Before boarding the Brooklyn the Coombs had resided in Rockville Center, Nassau County, Long Island, New York. After arriving in California they resided in Napa, Redwood Canyon, Bakersfield and eventually the Mormon settlement of San Bernardino. Olive's husband, Abraham, had died in or near Beaver around 50 miles north of Cedar City in September of 1860. Olive, as a widow, with her children in tow, was sent by Erastus Snow (one report suggests Brigham Young) to start a school in Beaver and later, Cedar City. The 1860 U.S. Census places Olive and her children in Beaver, Beaver County, Utah.

* * * * * *

OLIVE'S STORY

Abraham and Olive Olivia Curtis Coombs were Mormon pioneers aboard the ship Brooklyn, which sailed from New York to Yerba Buena, California (now San Francisco). Then, after several years in California, Abraham Coombs again followed the call from his Church leaders and left California for Utah taking "the southern route" or Spanish Trail. Abraham sent Olive, however, on the safer northern route with four of her daughters. Her other daughters, Katharine and Helen, remained in California. Abraham was also driving stock from San Bernardino to Utah for the Ephriam Hanks Company when, due to exposure to the elements he contracted pneumonia and died near Beaver, Beaver County, Utah. After his death, due to the policy of abandonment, the family's belongings, which also included $6,000 to $8,000 in gold were divided up by his fellow pioneers. Some of which, may had later settled in Cedar City, Iron County, Utah.

She was married a man by the name of Solomom Chamberlane (Chamberlaine? 1788-1862?) who, after a short period, abandoned her and the girls. It was afterwards that Olive was called by Erastus Snow to teach English to some Swiss converts in Santa Clara. She traveled there with her girls and around 1861 married Thomas Hunt who, with the help of Olive and 12 year-old Emily built a small stone and timber house along the Santa Clara River. While living there and while teaching the Swiss converts the river overflowed and the house and her meager belongings were destroyed leaving her and her family destitute again. Hunt then left her and moved to Salt Lake City. In 1862 she married Ezra Higby and moved herself and her daughters into his small humble home in the Old Fort area of Cedar City. Then, according to family legend, after Olive had settled in Cedar City and was preparing to teach school one of her daughters allegedly recognized a family members dress that Olive had previously mended on another person in Cedar City.

Following the clothing incident Olive may had began to question members of the town in an attempt to find out which of the local settlers had appropriated the family's worldly goods in 1860 after her husband died. She, due to her educational training, may have used a black ledger or notebook in which to keep notes. As a result, perhaps due to the fact that she was a stranger to most of the citizens of Cedar City and also the fact that she had been asking questions and jotting down notes, rumors began to circulate that she was actually gathering information in a black ledger about the infamous Mountain Meadows Massacre. Only five years had passed since the massacre and many who had participated either directly or indirectly still resided in the Cedar City area. Therefore, any stranger who would ask questions concerning the massacre would be viewed with suspicion by the members of the community.

MOUNTAIN MEADOWS MASSACRE

The Mountain Meadows Massacre was a series of attacks on the Baker–Fancher emigrant wagon train at Mountain Meadows in southern Utah. In an agreement with the militia the wagon train members voluntarily surrendered their arms and put themselves under the militia's protection. Then to assure their "protection" a militia member was assigned to walk by the side of each member of the wagon train. Upon the command of, "Do your duty!" The assigned militia member then either shot, preferably in the head, or slit the throat of the emigrant at his side. In the end, the massacre at Mountain Meadows on September 11, 1857, culminated in the mass murder of most of the unarmed emigrant party, including women and children, by members of the Iron County Militia along with some Paiute Native Americans. Following the completion of the bloody deed each participant was then put under an oath of secrecy not to reveal any personal involvement or the involvement of their fellow murderers.

THE MURDER

On Thursday morning, July 28, 1862, Cedar City resident and Iron County Militia member George Wood, after arming himself with a percussion cap revolver, mounted and rode his horse to the Ezra Higby home shared by Higby's new wife Olive and her daughters. Olive and her daughter Emily were sitting on a bed located on the cabin's floor and were apparently attempting to rise when Wood, without warning, burst into the room and opened fire. The first bullet passed through Emily's right thigh. Emily, in attempting to move, fell into shock. The next bullet, aimed at Olive, entered her right thigh cutting her femoral artery and then embedded itself in her abdomen just above the pubic bone near her bladder. George's next shot missed both targets and in his next attempt his percussion cap revolver jammed. Then the angry, respected citizen of Cedar City, proceeded to use his weapon to club Olive repeatedly on the skull eventually cracking her skull and causing brain matter to be exposed. Then Wood, satisfied that he had murdered Olive, turned his attention again to Emily who had fled into the street before falling down. George left the house, grabbed the wounded teenager by her hair and dragged her back into the house. Then, while yelling obscenities, he beat her with his gun over and over until he had cracked her skull. Then, being convinced that he had killed both, he left the scene and headed for his own home.

WOOD'S CONFESSION

In his August 3, 1862 letter to Brigham Young Bishop Lunt wrote,
"We walked as fast as we could toward the Fort and met him on his return back. (Bro. Samuel Leigh, one of my counselors, was at this time with Bro. Haight and myself.) Says he, ‘Bishop – I have killed two women and I want you to see that they are buried and,' says he, ‘by the eternal Gods anyone who interferes with my family again, I will serve them in the same way.' I said, ‘You had better give yourself up to Judge Smith.' He made no reply but went on towards home. We continued on down the street where we saw several persons gathered at the house of Ezra Higby, where we found his wife laying on the floor in a pool of blood".

After witnessing the brutal murder of their mother and the shooting and savage clubbing of their older sister, Olive's other daughters fled into the fields and were not found until two days later, hungry, frightened and shivering.

As reported in his letter to Brigham Young Cedar City Bishop Henry Lunt stated that George Wood on his way home confessed to to him that he had killed two women. Wood also later plead guilty to his brutal murder of Olive. He alleged that 13 year-old Emily had seduced his 18 year-old son Joseph as the reason for his actions. This, however, may had been a lie on Wood's part in an attempt at covering up the real reason for his heinous crimes.

Wood was perhaps convinced that Olive was, in fact, collecting information on the Mountain Meadow Massacre and by reason of his membership in the militia which had planned and carried out the murders felt duty bound to silence Olive. Wood also may had told authorities that Olive was a prostitute, a falsehood later given by supporters in their petition to the Governor for Wood's pardon.

TRAVESTY OF JUSTICE- PARDON FOR WOOD

Following Wood's conviction and imprisonment however, a number of the citizens of Cedar City and other communities, including a few prominent L.D.S. church general authorities, judges, former jury members and local church and civic leaders signed a petition seeking his pardon and release from prison. Apparently, Olive had been a stranger to the town of Cedar City, arriving with her four daughters and without a husband while George Wood, an early Iron County settler, was a prominent and respected citizen of the community. His petitioners fabricated lies about Olive's character and her real purpose for being in Cedar City. They, as George had earlier suggested, falsely branded Olive of being a prostitute and the former madam of a "house of ill-repute" in Beaver, Utah who, with the help of her 13 year-old daughter Emily, was also setting up another prostitution business in Cedar City. The fact that she had been sent to Beaver and Cedar City to teach school was lost within the lies of Wood's supporters.

The perjured petition of his friends proved to be successful for on March 8, 1865 Utah Governor James Duane Doty (in office from 1863-1865) signed the executive pardon setting Wood free. George Wood, the confessed and convicted murderer of Olive Olivia Curtis Coombs, actually served less than three years of his life sentence. In fact, during a large portion of that time he had spent out of prison, even going home for almost a year! After his official pardon he returned to Cedar City and resumed his life as a respected citizen of the community until his death in 1908. Wood is buried in the Cedar City Cemetery under a large monument erected by his family with the inscription, "Though we miss you much we know you are with God".

AFTERMATH

After her murder Olive's daughters were placed in the homes of local Mormon families. Helen, her daughter who lived in California, came to Utah to reunite with her sisters and take them back to her home in Napa, California. The local courts, however, denied her request. Emily was taken to live with Olive's brother Theodore Curtis who resided in Salt Lake City. Olive Olivia Curtis Coombs was buried in an unmarked grave north of Cedar City, Utah.

Along with his involvement in the militia Wood, in November of 1853, had also been appointed as the Captain of a local "company of mounted Minute Men" in Cedar City. And although Wood had been a member of the militia in 1857 it is not known whether he had only helped plan or had taken part in the actual massacre. He was, however, apparently involved for on October 8, 1870 Wood along with fellow militia members and known massacre participants, John D. Lee,and Isaac C. Haight, were excommunicated from the L.D.S. Church (Robert Glass Cleland and Juanita Brooks, editors, A Mormon Chronicle- The Diaries of John D. Lee, 1848-1867, pp. 144, 146). In his diary entry for Nov. 17, 1870 John D. Lee noted, "I was also informed that Myself, I. C. Haight, & Geo. Wood had been expelled from the Church, but for what cause is not stated" (ibid. pp. 143-144). Later Lee, in relating some of his dreams, noted that "Satan was working through certain persons to injure [him]." He further stated that "apostates and Godbyites [sic] are trying to implicate Prest. B. Toung in the Mountain Meadows affair, on the ground that he houlds [sic] Men in the church who are reported to be in it" (ibid. p. p. 147). The allusion perhaps being that he was among those which Young "holds" as being involved in the massacre.

* * * * * *

Olive is also recorded to had married Ezra S. Higby (1801-1871) at Cedar City, Iron County, Utah around 1862.

Sources: Adapted from research by Clayton Junior Wray who has extensively researched this travesty in Utah judicial history. Clayton Junior Wray (1925-2006) is the great great grandson of Abraham and Olive Olivia Coombs.
Robert Glass Cleland and Juanita Brooks, editors, A Mormon Chronicle- The Diaries of John D. Lee, 1848-1867.
Richard H. Bullock, "The Ship Brooklyn- Volume 2, The Coombs Family, online.

See also, Ezra S. Higby at ancestry.com
California 1852 Census, Napa County and
1860 U.S. Census, Beaver County, Utah.
Listing children's birthplaces at ancestry.com
Utah Department of Administrative Services, Division of Archives and Records Service, Series: 373, Reel # 12, Box # 09, Folder # 126, Name: Wood, George, Defendant, Filing Date: 2/14/1865, Case Type: Habeas Corpus, Opposing Party: Warden.
Utah State Historical Society, Governor James Duane Doty- Utah Territorial Papers, Film A-702, record number 2091 and 2092
See, Evelyn K. Jones,Henry Lunt Biography, printed at BYU Family History Copy Center, p. 108, 115, for references of Wood's appointment as Captain over minute men.
See also, Utah State Archives, Muster Rolls, Nauvoo Legion, (Territorial Militia) 10 Oct. 1857, #3346, Wood's rank is "Captain."
See also, Juanita Brooks, Mountain Meadows Massacre, p. 165.
 
 
Family links: 
 Parents:
  Matthew Curtis (1784 - 1833)
  Betsey White Curtis (1788 - 1849)
 
 Spouse:
  Abraham Marion Coombs (1805 - 1860)
 
 Children:
  Charles Marion Coombs (1840 - 1913)*
  Helen Mar Coombs Clayton (1842 - 1910)*
 
 Sibling:
  Theodore Curtis (1815 - 1903)*
  Olive Olivia Curtis Coombs Higby (1819 - 1862)
 
*Calculated relationship
 
Burial:
Non-Cemetery Burial
Specifically: Unmarked grave north of Cedar City, Iron County, Utah
 
Created by: Carl W. McBrayer
Record added: Jun 11, 2007
Find A Grave Memorial# 19844213
Olive Olivia <i>Curtis</i> Coombs Higby
Added by: Carl W. McBrayer
 
Olive Olivia <i>Curtis</i> Coombs Higby
Added by: Carl W. McBrayer
 
Olive Olivia <i>Curtis</i> Coombs Higby
Added by: Carl W. McBrayer
 
 
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- Ryan Curtis
 Added: Dec. 19, 2013
Eventually the whole story will be known and a Higher Judge will rightfully judge.
- Carl W. McBrayer
 Added: Aug. 9, 2013
 
 
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