Joseph Foster was born in Nauvoo, Ill., in 1844, the same year Joseph and Hyrum Smith were martyred in the Carthage Jail. He spent his earlier years in northern Utah near Logan City. It was here he buried his first wife, Clarissa, leaving him with two sons, Joseph Jr. and George.
In 1879, Joseph went to Provo, Utah, and joined a company going to Arizona. His sister, Jane, and her husband, Alfred Cluff, were with this company, as were the Ransoms, Dodges and others.
They went to Joseph City, then Show Low, then to Forest Dale, where they spent the winter. The next spring, after making a road to a beautiful little valley farther west, with intentions of settling, word came that they were on an Indian reservation, so they moved on.
Joseph and Joseph Jr. made a return trip to Center Creek, Utah, to visit his sister, Eliza Foster Cluff, and retrieve his youngest, George. There he met Rhoda Harvey, and they were married in the Endowment House in Salt Lake in 1880.
That spring, the group came to the Gila Valley, settling in Smithville (later Pima). Joseph drew a number from a box for a city lot, receiving the lot that Pima Town Hall, the Police Department and the Justice of the Peace now occupy. He built a log home on it.
He also took up a quarter-section of land a couple of miles northwest (Hogtown, then Matthewsville, later Glenbar), homesteaded it and built a large adobe room with a fireplace, later adding a lean-to kitchen and a room of red brick. The family made their home there for some time.
Rhoda had attended the academy at Provo for a year and a half prior to her marriage. She taught a couple of years in Pima, having the reputation of being a wonderful teacher, fine looking, with dark, curly hair. She played the guitar and sang to her own accompaniment.
She was a good teacher in all the organizations of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. She was a member of the Smithville Choir and for a time served as president and director.
Both Joseph and Rhoda were members of the first dramatic company in Pima. For many years, it was the only dramatic organization in the whole Valley. They were quite at home on the stage — their dramatic ability was tops. Rhoda was president of the Young Ladies Mutual Improvement Association in the old log church. The plays and other entertainments she directed there brought much local acclaim.
Sheets to cover the walls were brought from home by the girls. Janie Foster McFate wrote, “I well remember riding behind my father on a big horse in company with Father McBride. Where? To Pima to play rehearsal in Nuttall’s Hall. My father was ‘Warlock of the Glen’ . . . when my mother played ‘The Lady of Lyons.’ I knew every word of her part and father’s part, too.”
They were parents to Harvey, Karl, Janie, Ralph (died as an infant), Hugh, Theresa, Ida and Ulyla, in addition to Joseph Jr. and George.
Son Hugh described his father as “a very religious man, very quiet, didn’t talk much. He was good-looking, having wavy hair, always had a beard and mustache.”
The Pima Ward records indicate Joseph spoke many times in sacrament meetings. He served as first counselor to Bishop John Taylor and as the Pima Ward Seminary teacher.
Joseph was the first justice of the peace in the Gila Valley and had responsibility from Clifton to San Carlos. While serving in this capacity, he received a letter from J.T. Fitzgerald, clerk of the Graham County Board of Supervisors, dated July 11, 1884, as follows:
“Sir, I am directed by the Hon. Board of Supervisors to notify you that a village organization has been granted the citizens of Pima and that an election for village officials has been ordered to be held in the said village of Pima on the 11th day of August, 1884. The following named gentlemen, of whom you are one, are appointed inspectors of said election, viz: Joseph Foster, Hiram Weech, Gilbert Webb. Please consult together as to what is necessary to be done to complete the organization.”
When Hugh was about 10 and Karl 14, they accompanied their uncle, Alfred Cluff, to Globe to sell a load of hay. When they left, their father was ill. The trip took three days. On the second day out of the San Carlos Reservation, on the return trip, they were met by Angus Whitmer, coming from the Valley to Globe with his peddling wagon.
With no preliminary conversation, he told the boys their father was dead and buried. That was the end of Karl and Harvey’s schooling as they took over running the ranch, and did a good job of it.
Joseph and Rhoda Foster had relatively short lives. They pioneered in difficult circumstances and, in spite of this, tried to provide for their children and community the spiritual, cultural and physical means for well-balanced lives.