Tarlton Lewis was the fourth of twelve children born to Neriah Lewis and Mary Moss on May 18, 1805 in South Carolina. Tarlton married Malinda Gimlin on March 27, 1828; over the course of their marriage, they had eight children together. While living in Illinois, Tarlton and Malinda joined The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (sometimes nicknamed “Mormons”) and were baptized July 25, 1836 by Tarlton’s older brother Benjamin Lewis. The brothers joined moved to Missouri to live among other Latter-day Saints, and on October 30, 1838, while living near Hawn's Mill, they were attacked by a violent mob agitating for the expulsion of all Mormons from Missouri. The mob murdered Tarlton’s older brother Benjamin, and Tarlton suffered an injury to his shoulder; their younger brother David, however, was uninjured.
After surviving this tragedy, the brothers moved with other Latter-day Saints to Nauvoo, Illinois. There, Joseph Smith, president of the Church, and his brother Hyrum set apart Tarlton as bishop of the Nauvoo Fourth Ward. Also in Tarlton and Malinda received the endowment and sealing ordinances—the Church’s highest sacraments—before joining the mass exodus of Latter-day Saints from Nauvoo, leaving behind the temple they had spent years helping build.
The Lewis family left as part of the second wave of Saints, fleeing westward across the Mississippi Rive, but Tarlton himself stayed behind to continue his service as a bishop and help the Church members under his care prepare to go West. After many weeks crossing Iowa, they settled temporarily at Council Bluffs in Pottawattamie, Iowa, 1846.
After the Latter-day Saints regrouped in Iowa, Tarlton joined the first company of pioneers departing in 1847. As part of the Vanguard Company led by Brigham Young—Smith’s successor to the Church presidency—Tarlton was captain of 50 wagons and entered the Salt Lake Valley on July 21, 1847. There, Young called Tarlton as the first bishop in Salt Lake Valley, and Tarlton remained in the valley to build cabins and plant crops for the Saints who would arrive next. After an almost two-year separation, Tarlton reunited with his family when they arrived at the Salt Lake Valley on September 21, 1848.
Two years later, in December 1850, the Church called Tarlton to travel with apostle George A. Smith and one hundred others to explore southern Utah. Tarlton again captained 50 wagons, and on January 17, 1851, the explorers officially organized Iron County. In their first election, the young county elected Tarlton Lewis as a magistrate. George Smith organized the settlement into four wards, and Tarlton became bishop of the Second Ward in Parowan. The Lewis family helped build roads, log cabins, and furniture.
After Tarlton’s brother David died in September 1855, Tarlton married two of his brother’s widows as polygamous wives. Tarlton explored the mountains of Beaver Valley for lead ore, finding a mine and becoming a director of it. They also helped found Minersville, and Tarlton was active in the community and donated a portion of his lot to finance a Relief Society building. Life in Minersville was a struggle as farming was difficult with little water from Beaver Creek.
The family managed a humble living for fourteen years until the Church assigned Tarlton to establish a United Order in Joseph, Sevier County. The most pressing issue that settlers faced was the difficulty of irrigating water for farmlands; their hard work was paid off with “diverse crops as apples, apricots, peaches, pears, grapes, and black walnuts,” but there was not enough to make Joseph prosper. The Lewises lived there a few years before moving northeast to the larger town of Richfield, and the United Order in Sevier County dissolved in November 1877. Apostle Erastus Snow then set Tarlton apart as bishop of the Richfield Second Ward on July 16, 1877. As an active citizen of Richfield, Tarlton and a hundred other citizens petitioned the Utah Territorial House to incorporate the town, and the provision passed.
Tarlton’s time as a bishop in Richfield was brief, as health complications warranted his resignation a year later, but he recovered his strength enough to serve as a stake patriarch, as listed in the Sevier Stake Conference for August 27, 1887.
Tarlton Lewis died on November 22, 1890 at Teasdale, Utah Territory, at the home of his son, Beason Lewis. He was buried in the Teasdale Cemetery. In 1987, Mount View Camp, the Daughters of Utah Pioneers, and the Lewis Family sponsored and built a marker and plaque at his burial site in 1987.