History of Willis Sherman Gibbons - Written By His Own Hand (1944)
Born in Norway, Iowa 11 February 1870. My father's name was Austin Gibbons who was born in 1828 in Ireland (exact place unknown at this writing, October 25, 1943). Father was a farmer, quite prosperous. Mother's name was Hannah Keeley born in 1838, in Chester County, Pennsylvania. Nine children were born to this family. At this writing two remain living - George and myself .My early school days were in a little "red" but "white" school house about one mile from home. The principal school games were Town Ball, Pussy Wants a Corner, and Prisoner Base. My favorite studies were arithimitic, geography, spelling and writing. History was a "big bear" to me - just didn't know how to study it. So called Selling schools at night were common. I could hold my own pretty well at that as spelling seemed to come quite naturally to me.
A little later I attended Tilford Academy at Vinton, Iowa. My first term there I got plenty homesick, and thought if I could "wriggle" the term out that would be the last of my schooling away from home. However, next winter I again "tackled" it and went to the same school. I was then about 18 or 19 years old. That winter I took teacher's examination. One morning Professor Tobin brought me a letter. I opened it and there was my teacher's certificate. Was I tickled! The next winter I taught school in the little "red" school house that I had attended.
Oh, yes, I must tell about the first theater I attended. That was in Vinton, Iowa. Well, that was a "little heaven" to me and even after I had a great desire to attend good plays, and finally to direct plays.
My father's real estate consisted of more than 600 acres of the choicest soil of Mississippi Valley.
My father was Irish, so I'm Irish too, although mixed with Pennsylvania Dutch. My mother's maiden name was Hannah Keeley, and of West Chester, Pennsylvania.
My youthful days were spent in general farm work, gathering walnuts and hazelnuts in the fall. These grew wild and of excellent quality in the good old Iowa soil. In the winter time skating, sleigh ridign, and trapping of small fur-bearing animals were some of my sports.
At about the age of 25, a Methodist Preacher called at our home, and said "Willis, let's go to Arizona. I am called there on a mission." I said, "OK, that suits me," so in a few days we boarded the train from Norway, and were on our way to the "far west," and this the first time I was ever 40 miles form the Iowa home. This trip was a thrilling one for me. When we came in sight of the Rocky Mountains, covered with snow, well that was a wonderful sight.
With my story allow me to go back a little. In Iowa we lived among Germans, Bohemians, Norwegians, and Irish. The town of Norway was first called Florence, after which it was named Norway on account of so many Norwegians settlers. The Germans of that locality seemed to be a very thrifty, industrious and law-abiding citizens. They were Catholic. The Norwegians were Lutherans and Quakers. The Irish were not much of anything.
Now our western journey....Well, we finally reached Wilcox, Arizona where Mr. Bean the Preacher wanted to teach the people how to live. Wilcox is a dear place to me. I taught school near there for one year, after which I returned to Valparaiso, Indiana, via San Francisco (and by the way in this city I was robbed of a 20 dollar gold piece), but this was a lesson to me. "Hard to beat a man at his own game."
It was not always smooth sailing for the Gibbons family. They had their share trials and troubles, but these things shall not be mentioned for the unpleasant things of life must be forgotten and not brought to memory. We are here that we might have joy, contentment and happiness, therefore, it is unwise to think of hardships, etc.
To return to my story. My purpose of going to Indiana was to attend school at the Valparaiso University, one year there. Then I went to visit my cousins Esther and Carrie Keeley at Ransom, Illinois. Had a very pleasant visit there, after which I journeyed to Norway, Iowa, and finally again wended my way to the far west, stopping at Holbrook, Arizona and to Springerville, then to Nutrioso where I was hired as teacher. I taught one year there. I read some Mormon literature, however, I was quite misunderstood by the Mormon people.
My next move was to Colter, Arizona, then called Amity. I taught school there, and it was there that I became aquainted with my future wife, Ida Wiltbank.
Before going forward with this history, I wish to go back to good old Iowa, and tell of a colony of Germans that located about seven miles from our home. This colony consisted of seven villages and about 25,000 acres of Iowa soil. These people were organized and operated somewhat on the order of having things in "common." They were very religious and industrious. They were known as the Amana Society. A good encyclopedia will tell of this Society. Read it. Iowa is a network of railroads, fine cities, good homes. The country of course, is rich in farm land.
Now, to return more particular to my life. I have mentioned of my teaching at Colter, etc. After that I went to Greer and taught there a few years and there was baptized in the Mormon faith, which I had studied quite extensively and was fully converted. Shortly after this Ida Wiltbank became my dear wife, April 17, 1901. We were married October 9, 1901, in the Salt Lake Temple for time and eternity. This ordinance meant and does now mean more to me than anything in the world could without getting too religious. This "sealing" power of the Priesthood means more to me than common words can tell. Our stay in Salt Lake and our journey was one of untold joy. At that time autos were uncommon, therefore our trip was made by railway.
Our "time" marriage was seemingly too short, as Ida left this "stage" February 23, 1910, but I never felt any desire to complain of the justice of the Lord, for I knew this separation was only for a short time, and also know that the "eternity" sealing was the real marriage. The Priesthood has the power to "seal on Earth and it shall be sealed in Heaven." There being only one exception - they have not the power to seal against the unpardonable sin - murder. Advise may not be in order, but to you who read this, and especially to my own children. Go to the temple and receive this ordinance, this sealing. It is of vital importance.