George Wood was one of the ironworkers sent by Brigham Young in 1850 to start the pig iron industry in Iron County. He was born in Darlaston, Staffordshire, England on November 13, 1822. He was baptized by Theodore Turley on June 8, 1840 and ordained to the office of Teacher under the hands of Brigham Young, Heber C. Kimball and Alfred Cordon on August 9, 1840.
Here is a page from Alfred Cordon’s June 1840 missionary journal:
Here are some very fascinating histories about George Wood.
George Lymer Wood-A Broadcast by W. R. Palmer, May 9, 1943
A few days ago I talked with one of Cedar’s oldest residents. He said, “I have listened to the sketches of the pioneers which you are giving over the Radio. Who will be the next?” I answered that George Wood would be the next. He said, “There are a lot of good things that you can say for George Wood.” What would you say were his dominant characteristics? I asked. “Kindness and helpfulness, he said, George Wood gave generous help to hundreds of people.” Then he told me how this man had set his broken ankle and had come every day to see that he was making a satisfactory recovery. The bill for all that service was nothing.
Later I called at a home to pick up some data on another man on my program of pioneers. They asked, “Whose story are you going to tell next week?” George Wood’s”, I answered. The man said, “I sure won’t miss that one. I owe a lot to Brother Wood.”
What did he do for you I asked? Then he told me how his team ran away on the moving machine and his foot was caught in the knife. That foot was so cut up and mangled and twisted that it seemed impossible that anything could ever be done to save it, but George Wood came every day and washed it and dressed it and worked constantly to get it back into shape. “It gives me a lot of trouble yet”, he continued, ” but it is a lot better than none and for the foot I have and even for my life I am indebted to George Wood.”
A good many testimonials like these could be gathered up for there was no Doctor in the country in those days and George Wood set all the broken bones and treated the concussions and was the first man thought of when serious accidents happened. He had never studied medicine, but he had a steady nerve and good judgments in emergencies and he acquired a good deal of scientific skill in the years that he served the community.
It was not alone in these cases of physical sufferings that he proved himself to be a man of kindness. there were scores of poor people who received from his had the food or money or clothing that was needed to relieve the wants of the living or to bury their dead.
George Wood was a man of affairs and he came of a long line of men of affairs. They were building contractors, brick makers, and landlords and they had the ability to gather property and wealth around them. George inherited these traits of character and coming into a new country he saw opportunities and potential values that escaped the attention of most of his fellow townsmen. He became a rich man, but his property was not acquired by pinch and squeeze methods. A good deal of his wealth consisted of mining property, coal and iron, but he also had farms and livestock and a general store (which he kept in a scatter-good brains sort of way). It was his vantage point from which he kept track of what was going on, and an avenue through which he dispensed his charities. He was seldom, in his later years, seen out on the streets, but could always be found seated on his spacious front porch or beside the counter of his place of business. He was never hurried or worried and there was always time for a chat with friends who chanced to call.
Later he opened a good furniture store down on lower Main Street and brought his young grandson William H. Leigh, in to run it. Under the older man’s guiding hand the business prospered from the start and it rained also a good man in the furniture business. That store became the foundation of the present Leigh Furniture and Carpet Company who are int sponsors of this program. Mr. Leigh learned from his sturdy grandfather the secrets of running a business safely and the store he founded forty years ago has prospered alike in good years and in bad.
George Wood was an Englishman in all the best traditions of John Bull- firm, solid, substantial, dependable. Sometimes he came a bit at odds with certain leaders because he had the independent habit of thinking for himself. It sometimes put him “out of harmony” as the saying was, but when those issues are surveyed now in the light of experience George Wood’s ideas were more often right than wrong. But, right or wrong, Britisher that he was, he made the decision for himself and stuck by his guns.
The Wood family for generations back had been devout Wesleyan Methodists. Two of George’s grand Uncles, Robert and Nicholas Wood were friends and close associates of John Wesley the great English religious reformer, and they devoted a portion of each year to the preaching of his reforms. True to the family traditions George and his brothers Samuel and Stephan, were devout members of the Methodist church and their souls were satisfied with its doctrines.
Then a sore accident befell. George and his younger brother John were working side by side in the factory. John started to oil the machinery and his clothing caught in its revolving wheels. George stood by powerless to render help and saw his brother beat to death before the mill could be stopped. George was shocked and horrified and he sorrowed deeply for his brother. He turned to his religion and his bible for consolation. He asked questions and he listened to other religions.
One day Theodore Turley, A Mormon Missionary, preached in Sedgley and George found comfort in what he said. He investigated further and with his brothers Samuel and Stephan, was converted and was baptized in the new faith. That happened June 8, 1840 when George was only eighteen years of age. So, he was among the early converts to Mormonism in his native land. He studied with characteristic thoroughness the principles of his new faith and soon became a zealous and efficient preacher in the cause. Every day after work and every Sunday and holiday he and his brother Samuel went out and labored as missionaries.
For eight years this continued and then the Woods decided to go to the Church in America. Meantime George had married and had three children. On February 1, 1849 he with his family and his brothers Samuel and Stephan left England bound for the the new Zion in Utah. Unfavorable winds hampered the voyage and kept them eleven weeks on the ocean.
Out on the Plains disaster befell the little party. The decimating plague of Cholera found them and before it was lifted from the camp, George Wood had laid his beloved wife, one child and his brother Samuel and Stephan among the unmarked graves of scores of Mormons by the roadside. With his two surviving children he pushed on to Salt Lake city where he arrived late in the Fall of 1849 and began a home on Mill Creek. It was uphill work with his heart out in a lonely grave on the Plains.
A year later the Church plans for founding an iron industry for development and the Wood’s experience in an iron plant in England marked him for a place in the new venture. He was called as a missionary to come and help manufacture iron in Iron County and was a member of the first company that came down and founded the city of Parowan on January 13, 1851.
A short time before leaving Salt Lake City he married Mary Davis a talented young woman from Wales (the Davis family came across on the same ship as the Wood family in 1849. There were three Welsh girls and their parents; Phoebe, Mary, and Betsy), Mary accompanied George Lymar on the journey to Iron County being on of the fourteen women who came in that first company to Parowan.
Mary Wood had a good voice which had been trained some in England, before she came to America. At Cove Creek where Cove Fort now stands the pioneer company rested to observe the Sabbath day. They held a meeting and organized what they named, The Iron County Choir in which Mary Wood is the only female member mentioned.
There were born to this couple in Iron County, and most of them in the old log cabin which now stands enshrined on the public square in the park on Main Street (now in 2013 at the Homestead History Park), one son and six daughters. Most of them have made their homes in Cedar City and the Posterity here of the first pair now number over a hundred souls, all worth descendants of their first great progenitors in Utah.
In this big sprawling Iron County that covered as much territory as the combined six England states, George Wood found room to exercise his talents as a builder. He accepted the challenge of the Desert and by dint of hard work made it yield up to him a good farm and sustenance for an ever growing herd of horses and cattle.
The Woods’ spent the first cropping season in Parowan and then came on to help found the settlement of the iron workers, Cedar City, arriving here only one week behind the first company. George had been sent back to Salt Lake City to pilot another Company of English, Scotch, and Welsh iron workers to the new camp. From that time on for the next half century his name must be connected with every important development of Cedar city. The first great endeavor for the little colony of thirty five men was to found an iron industry with little more resources than their naked wills and and their bare hands to do it with. There was no money to finance it, no food stores, no clothing stocks, no powder, no implements except the simple hand tools of pick and shovel and hammer and saw. They had to raise their food and spin their clothing while the greater tasks at the iron works were being carried forward.
From November 11, 1851 to September 30 1852 this little colony of thirty five men reclaimed a five hundred acre field, fenced it, cleared it, plowed and seeded it, irrigated it and harvested their crops, and at the same time built an iron furnace, two coke ovens, a pattern shop, a molding shop, an office and a blacksmith shop. They made roads to the iron mines and to the coal mine, opened the coal vein up and brought ore and fuel to the works and made a successful experimental run at the furnace. We have seen some busy years in Cedar City since that tine, but none with any comparable achievements. George Wood was a key man at the iron works and was one of a committee of five who carried samples of the first iron made to Governor Brigham Young in Salt Lake city.
A few months later the Deseret Iron Company came and took over the industry. George Wood became a stockholder and a Director in the Incorporation, and was identified with the Iron Works until they were closed down when the railroad came to Utah in 1858 and supplied iron cheaper than they could make it.
In his younger days George Wood was a horseman of recognized judgement. In 1860 he and James Whitaker were sent to California to select and purchase for the people a few choice animals to improve the stock here in Cedar City.
He had much to do with determining the duty of water and developing irrigation practices in early Utah for all this was experimental work when he came and there were no laws to govern water usage or to fix water titles, or rights. Water disputes were tried in Bishop’s Courts and appeal was had to the High Council. These church courts directed their decisions generally to the developing of rules that would work consistently in all cases rather than to settle the specific disputes before them. When civil laws later were passed, the civil courts confirmed the decisions of the church courts and these became the basis of all our present irrigation laws.
To the co-operative movement he gave only half hearted support. He was more of religious fervor and enthusiasm in much of the talk than practical business sense, and besides, he was the type of man who preferred to manage his own affairs. The sturdy, rugged man of this sketch as born November 13, 1822 in Sedgley, Staffordshire, England. He died in Cedar City in 1908 having attained his eighty-sixth year.
George Lymar Wood (13 November 1822 – 26 April 1908)
MORMON CONVERT- PIONEER- MILITIA MEMBER- CIVIC LEADER- CONFESSED AND CONVICTED MURDERER OF OLIVE CURTIS COOMBS HIGBY
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 then left the scene and headed for his own home.
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 pleaded guilty to his brutal murder of Olive. He alleged that 13 year-old Emily Coombs 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 his heinous crimes.
PETITION FOR EXECUTIVE PARDON
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.
TRAVESTY OF JUSTICE
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.
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 Mountain Meadows Massacre. He was, however, perhaps 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.
Sources: 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. See, 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. For record of executive pardon see: Utah State Historical Society, Governor James Duane Doty- Utah Territorial Papers, Film A-702, record number 2091 and 2092 See also, Evelyn K. Jones,Henry Lunt Biography, printed at B.Y.U. Family History Copy Center, p. 108, 115, for references of Wood’s appointment as Captain over minute men. See also, Juanita Brooks, Mountain Meadows Massacre, p. 165.