When you pay your respects to the important women in your life this weekend, give a silent nod to the intrepid faithful pioneer women who crossed the plains as heads of households. They included widows and single sisters who faced the prospect of 1,300 miles of rugged country alone or with the responsibility for children.
Today, I honor three of these exemplary women, including Elizabeth Patrick Taylor, my third great-grandmother on my mother's side; Mary Fielding Smith, mother of one president of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and grandmother to another; and Sarah Sturtevant Leavitt, ancestor of former Utah Gov. Michael Leavitt.
Elizabeth Patrick Taylor was born Dec. 9, 1793, in Virginia. Her family moved to Bowling Green, Kentucky, where she met and married William Taylor. He had a hankering for frontier life and they settled, with their 14 children, on a farm between the forks of Fishing River in Missouri, according to a short biography my family has. They were prospering and seemed set for a relatively easy life when they encountered members of Zion's Camp, a group of some 200 LDS men who were determined to help the Saints in Missouri gain redress for the many persecutions they had suffered.
Zions Camp at Fishing River, by Judith A. Mehr. | lds.org
In what is often termed a miracle, Zion's Camp was spared a confrontation with a very large anti-LDS mob that had gathered at Fishing River when a violent storm drove the mob away. Some local Missourians, including the Taylors, offered aid to the weary members of Zion's Camp. After hearing the Prophet Joseph Smith speak in a local church building lent for the occasion, a number of the locals were converted, including William and Elizabeth.
They became part of the contingent of Missouri Saints who suffered severe persecution in that state. Notwithstanding, Elizabeth struck the piece of fabric she was weaving from her loom and set out to stand beside William. She never saw the loom again. They lost several properties, donating all the returns to the church. When William offered the mare that was pulling their wagon to another family whose horse had died, she made no complaint.
Finally, when Gov. Lilburn Boggs issued an order calling for the extermination of Latter-day Saints, the Taylors joined others to go back to Illinois. En route, William died and was buried at the side of the road.
Devastated but undaunted, Elizabeth continued with her children, ultimately settling in Nauvoo, where she sold eggs to help provide for her family. They were witness to a number of miraculous events, and with others of their faith mourned the assassinations of the prophet Joseph and his brother Hyrum on July 27, 1844. After the deaths in the Carthage Jail, Elizabeth took one of her daughters and went to Carthage to see where the murders had taken place. When controversy over who should follow Joseph Smith as leader of the church, the Taylors witnessed the event in which Brigham Young assumed "the mantle" of Joseph, indicating that he would be the successor.
Although she had grown sons to help, Elizabeth was a formidable matriarch who saw her family to Utah Territory in 1850. Only one daughter, Sarah, who was then married, stayed behind. Elizabeth made her first home in Kaysville and became head of a numerous clan who influenced the development of many Utah areas.
Source: Information from a short biography in possession of my family.
Mary Fielding Smith, widowed when Hyrum Smith was shot to death in Carthage Jail, was determined to join her fellow Saints in their exodus to the Great Basin. She had cared for Hyrum's five children, after their mother died, as well as two of her own.
Mary Fielding, circa 1844. She came to Kirtland from Canada in 1837 and eventually married Hyrum Smith.| LDS Church
Now facing the vicissitudes of the trail without a husband, she was able still to write to her brother, "Though I have been left, for near six months, in widowhood, in the time of great affliction and was called to take, joyfully or otherwise, the spoiling of almost all our goods yet I do not feel the least discouraged."
In 1848, she joined other Saints in Winter Quarters, Nebraska, where she had some of her oxen stolen and others died in the severe winter before they were due to head west. She also faced resistance from some of the leaders of the company, who suggested she would be a burden and that they would have to "carry you along."
She responded that "I will beat you to the valley and will ask no help from you either." She fulfilled that promise, relying strongly on the hand of the Lord to help her when the men of her company were remiss.
True to her spunky prediction, she arrived in Salt Lake Valley 20 hours before the rest of their company did.
This is one of two tales of Mary Fielding Smith that have become embedded and often repeated in pioneer lore. In the other instance, when one of her oxen fell ill and appeared about to die, she found consecrated oil and asked priesthood leaders to bless the animal. It responded immediately and was back on the trail.
Mary and Hyrum's son, Joseph F. Smith, became the sixth president of the church, and her grandson Joseph Fielding Smith, the 10th.
Sources: "Mary Fielding Smith — Mother in Israel," by Jane McBride Choate, Friend, July 1993 Friend magazine; "Mary Fielding Smith: Mormon Pioneer," by Terrie Lynn Bittner, on ldsblogs.com/7021/fielding-smith-mormon-pioneer.
Sarah Sturtevant Leavitt: Sarah, suffering from illness and coping with ailing children, was in Mount Pisgah, one of the Iowa settlements set up to help the westering Latter-day Saints along the trail, when she learned that her husband, Jeremiah, had died in Bonaparte, Van Buren County, Iowa. He had gone there to try to obtain provisions for the planned departure to Utah Territory. The letter detailing his death said he sang "Come, let us anew, our journey persue (sic), roll round with the year and never stand still till the Master appear," his favorite LDS hymn, until too weak to continue.
Widowed, Sarah rallied her family and prepared for the trek west. Some of her sons ran a grocery and she provided "11 fine shirts" for the merchants to sell. She made pies, breads and cakes for the grocery shop and did all she could to finance their trip.
The family suffered severely from the diseases that plagued the Saints temporarily housed in and around Winter Quarters. On one occasion, she got a young girl to sit with the ailing family through the night "to help make porridge." One morning, they found under the chair where the girl had sat "something that didn't belong in the house a monstrous big rattlesnake." She wrote in a memoir much later in life that she concluded the snake had just come in to keep the young caretaker company and was "gentle as a lamb." She had her sons dump it over an embankment without harming it.
After suffering from illness for several weeks, Sarah had a huge backlog of washing to do for her family. She spent a week scrubbing and then hung the wet clothing out to dry. It was stolen. The experience "learned me a good lesson," she wrote, "not to leave clothes out overnight."
When she finally got to Utah Territory, she and her family were sent with others on the "Dixie Mission" to create settlements in southern Utah and Nevada. They lost everything they had in floods several times and ultimately went to Panaca, Nevada, to live. She died April 5, 1879, and was buried in the Gunlock Cemetery. Her numerous progeny includes former Utah legislator Dixie Leavitt and his son, Michael, who was Utah governor from 1993 to 2003 and then served in several national positions.