The story goes that William was an illegitimate child - his mother, Ann Wilkinson, was a maid in his grandparents' home. She left shortly after he was born, and he was raised by his grandparents. His father, William, married and had a family, which did not include William. He was determined to leave home as soon as possible, and became a cabin boy at a young age. Eventually he was working on a farm in New York, where he was converted to the LDS faith.
He married Sabra Lake in Illinois, and they eventually settled in Harrisville, North of Ogden, Utah, where they raised 15 children. Father Dixon, as he was called, had an extra challenge: one of his feet turned inward at the ankle, so that he walked with a limp from the age of nine. Knowing that he sailed on ships, worked on a farm, and crossed the plains with this disability gives me an added sense of respect and honor for this man. He did not let it slow him down.
What I find especially interesting about William is that, like me, he was a dedicated gardener. According to the biographical sketch written about him by granddaughter Electa Skeen Johnson: 
"William loved the soil. He and his sons planted an orchard just below the hill to the southward. He loved to prune his trees and found joy in their bud and bloom and fruit. How many times as he walked among the trees must he have remembered his experience in the old English apple orchard in his youth. Between the rows of trees in his orchard he planted various kinds of berries. His strawberries, raspberries, and blackberries were the choicest in the valley. There was one row of an unusual variety of fruit, called ground cherries which grew on a low, rambling bush and were most delicious and rare. South of his orchard he planted his garden and on to the south stretched his fields of grain and rich, green meadows."
Reading this for the first time made my heart sing. This man loved soil as much as I do! When I look into his eyes in this photograph, knowing his story and the challenges he overcame, I feel a connection with him that is so deep and intangible. It really is hard to explain - but I know that part of me comes from him. I would love to sit down with him to share a meal and talk about our shared successes and failures, preferably in the summertime, so that we could taste the delicious results of his hard labor.
1. "Biography of William Wilkinson Dixon," compilation of biographies by Harvey Dixon, Jr. and Electa Skeen Johnson, in Robert Boyd Jackson, editor, The Family of William Wilkinson Dixon and Sabra Lake Dixon (printed by the editor, 1983), pages 1-3 to 1-5; in personal collection of the author, 2018.
2. Electa Skeen Johnson, "William Wilkinson Dixon," biographical sketch submitted to Daughters of Utah Pioneers (between 1935-1955); digital format, FamilySearch
(https://www.familysearch.org/photos/artifacts/18067004 : accessed 4 February 2018).