History of McGee Harris

1800 - 1863

McGee Harris, descendant of a long line of Scotch-Irish forbearers, is the progenitor of more than 1500 descendants located principally in the Mountain West and Mid-West areas of the United States.

He was born November 8, 1800, in the vicinity of Big Springs, Wilson, Tennessee, near Lebanon. He lived as a frontiersman most of his life. He has been described as "a courageous man, a pioneer and a faithful Latter-day Saint." He was a farmer, and a blacksmith by trade. William Harris, his father, was born in Rowan County, North Carolina, as was also his mother, Margaret Sloan. Margaret was the daughter of Fergus Sloan and Ann Elizabeth Robinson of Antrim, Ulster County, Ireland. McGee married December 26, 1826, (1) Mary Givens of Lincoln County, Kentucky, who was born February 27, 1802. He married, (2) Mary Ann Simmons, Salt Lake City, Utah. She was born February 2, 1812, at Herford, Herfordshire, England. She died August 9, 1873 at Pleasant Grove, Utah and was buried in Salt Lake City Cemetery. She was the daughter of Williams Simmons and Elizabeth (?). They had no children.

About the year 1837 he moved his family to Marion, Williamson, Illinois, where he was in possession of a large estate. McGee was a farmer and a blacksmith by trade. In 1845, McGee became a convert to what he called the "Doctrine of Joseph Smith." Enthused with this new, but unpopular religion, he proceeded to sell and give away his property in order to join the Mormons at Nauvoo. Although his parents and other relatives were critical of his actions and ostracized him, he left them most of his earthly possessions, which was considerable. He had 1280 acres of land, which he had intended to divide among his eight children. McGee, his wife, and six children made the westward trek with the Saints. His eldest two daughters remained in Marion, Illinois.

McGee was counseled not to go to Nauvoo because of persecutions, so he went on to Council Bluffs in September. They crossed the Missouri River to Winter Quarters, Nebraska in the summer of 1847. The family remained there until the following spring. About 50 families went up the river about twenty-five miles, built a fort, and raised a crop to help the emigrants the next spring. Along with the other Saints they suffered privations and illnesses. At one time, the entire family, except a son, William, was stricken with "chills and fever." Later in life, William often recounted the hardships of this experience, telling of how it kept him busy carrying drinking water to those who were sick.

Late in May 1848, McGee and his family left Winter Quarters for the journey westward. They were members of the Heber C. Kimball Company, which consisted of 662 people and 226 wagons. They traveled by ox team. McGee's daughter, Martha, said the company crossed the Elkhorn River on June 1, 1848 and arrived in the Valley of the Great Salt Lake in September 28, 1848.

According to one account, the Harris family first settled on a farm near Liberty Park. Another version indicates that they settled on a corner where the Walker's store now stands. Their first dwelling was a wagon box, later replaced by a one-room log house. This probably refers to the location of the Darling building on the southwest corner of Third South and Mail Street.

When the Saints arrived in the valley a survey of blocks and lots were begun immediately and the lots were distributed to heads of families as an inheritance. Distribution was by drawing and property could be used for business or domestic purposes only, and could not be disposed of for pecuniary profit. McGee drew one of these lots consisting of 1 1/4 acres located on the north side of Fifth South, one and one-half blocks west of Main Street, where the Deseret Inn Motel now stands. Two years after his arrival in the valley, he moved to Farmington where the family encountered many hardships. The scarcity of water, grasshopper plagues, low food supply, and the Indian trouble all added to their multiple problems. It has been said that snakes were so abundant that it was often necessary for the children to help their mother remove them before they could go to bed.

From the Journal of History of the Church it has been noted that McGee Harris was sustained as president of the Teachers Quorum at the General Conference April 7, 1852. In 1853, he was called by Brigham Young, with about 20 other families, to settle and build up Fort Harriman, a settlement located in the extreme southwest part of Salt Lake County. The families of Henry Herriman, a member of the First Council of Seventy, Thomas Butterfield, John F. Stocking and Robert C. Petty, who settled the area a year earlier, welcomed these reinforcements numbering 71 souls. The houses were constructed very close together in order to make it convenient to "fort in," if so instructed by the general authorities. In 1854, a mud-wall enclosing 2 1/2 acres was erected as a protection against Indian depredations. The hostile natives had raided them several times stealing horses and cattle.

Elder George A. Smith, member of the Quorum of the Twelve, visited Herriman on Sunday, 11 February 1855. At a meeting, the people were called upon to sustain Thomas Butterfield as their president. The records indicate that some of the people abstained from voting, 27 voted in favor and 11 not in favor. Elder Butterfield asked to be released and was called on a mission to the Salmon River settlement in Idaho. Elder McGee Harris was then unanimously chosen as president of the branch along with William Kidd and Thomas Levi Whittle as counselors. They served under the direction of the West Jordan Ward Bishopric until the spring of 1858 when the settlement was temporarily abandoned because of the "Utah War." McGee moved to Springville, Utah, where he lived until the Johnston's Army affair was settled. He then returned to Salt Lake City, where he established his home at the corner of Second South and Sixth East, where the Prescott Apartments now stand. On August 26, 1863, he passed away and was buried in the Salt Lake City Cemetery on Plat E, Block 7, Lot 12.


McGee and Mary Givens Harris were parents to eight children.


Sarah Johnston Harris, born 8 October 1827, at Lebanon, Wilson, Tennessee,

married Daniel R. Pulley, 1 January 1844.

Margaret Jane Harris, born 24 May 1829, at Lebanon, Wilson, Tennessee,

married William M. Eubanks, 28 January 1845.

Martha Givens Harris, born 27 March 1832, at Lebanon, Wilson, Tennessee,

married Daniel H. Wells, 20 September 1849.

Alexander Harris, Sr., born 25 March 1834, at Lebanon, Wilson, Tennessee,

married Harriet Ann Craner, 21 June, 1855.

William Harris, born 8 June 1836, at Lebanon, Wilson, Tennessee,

married Emmaline Whittle, 20 August 1861.

Mary Ann Harris, born 13, February 1839, at Springfield, Williamson, Illinois,

married John Caster Whittle, 3 July 1856.

Eli Harris, born 13 February 1842, at Marion, Williamson, Illinois,

married Elizabeth H. M. Gammel, 20 December 1867.

Emily Caroline Harris, born 14 February 1844, at Marion, Williamson, Illinois,

married Alexander H. Bullock, 9 November 1861.


McGee also married 2nd Mary Ann Simmons, but no children were born to this union.


Note: This information was compiled by Virgil V. and Audrey H. Peterson from the following sources:

  1. Charles Zera Harris, History of William Harris, a son of McGee Harris.

  2. Kenneth C. Bullock, Sketch of the Life of Emily Caroline Harris Bullock.

  3. Dessie Grant Boyle. Story of Martha Givens Harris Wells, daughter of McGee and Mary Harris.

  4. Journal History of the Church, 1848.

  5. Journal History of Herriman Branch and Ward. 1852-59.

  6. Frank Essborn, Pioneers and Prominent Men of Utah. Salt Lake City, 1913.

  7. Salt Lake City Cemetery Records.

  8. Nicholas G. Morgan, Sr. (compiler) Pioneer Map, Great Salt Lake City, Great Basin, North America.

  9. Alice Barber Wolfley. My Grandmother, Mary Ann Harris, Whittle.

  10. B. H. Roberts. Comprehensive History of the Church, Vol. 3, page 335.


McGee Harris

Born: 8 Nov 1800

Married: Mary Givens, 26 Dec 1826

She was born: 27 Feb 1802


Their fourth child was Alexander Harris

Born: 25 Mar 1834

Married: Harriet Ann Craner, 21 June 1855

She was born: 26 Apr 1834


Their ninth child was Emma Arminta Harris

Born: 2 Sep 1872

Married: Simeon Ralph Sterrett, 27 Apr 1892

He was born: 1 Mar 1870


Their 4th child was Sarah Dorleska Sterrett

Born: 22 Apr 1900

Married: Rees Dubois Gorton, 16 Oct 1921

He was born: 3 Jan 1891


Their three children are:

Henry Clay Gorton, 7 Mar 1923

Gayla Gorton, 23 Jan 1925

Leah Patricia Gorton, 30 May 1928

Henry Clay, Gayla and Leah Patricia Gorton