by Jayne Fife and Roselyn Kirk

On October 7, 1846 Brigham Young sent a letter from Winter Quarters, Nebraska to Mary who was living in a tent on the western shore of the Mississippi River. He advised her that he was authorizing one of the Church Agents left in Nauvoo to arrange, if possible, for her to travel to Winter Quarters. Under questioning, the bearer of the letter  told Mary about the serious problems developing there, as thousands of members were preparing to winter under very adverse conditions. Mary, very protective of her children, chose to return to Nauvoo and remain  until spring. She crossed the river and moved into the former home of John D. Lee with Church Agent John Fullmer’s family. Lee later wrote: “My large house, costing me $8000… I was offered $800 for. My fanaticism would not allow me to take that for it. I locked it up, selling only one stove out of it, for which I received eighty yards of cloth. The building with its twenty-seven rooms, I turned over to the committee, to be sold to help the poor away. The committee informed me afterwards that they sold the house for $12.50.”

In early June 1847, Mary and children arrived at Winter Quarters, Nebraska, to inform Parley that they were returning to Maine. He had just started the journey west, as one of the leaders of the second company, but rode a horse back to meet with her. He later wrote that “he supplied her with money and clothing [?] for herself and children and with an order on his agent for several hundred dollars,”  which he later accused her of taking and “squandering.” Mary remained in Winter Quarters.

Ten months later (March 1848), Mary received from Parley’s agent, Ezra Bickford, under the authorization of the Winter Quarters High Council, about $200. This was half of the money left from the sale of their home to a leader in the Catholic Church for $850, after Parley’s debts, including $180 to his agent, had been paid. The other half was given to Parley’s brother, Anson, who was deeply in debt, for the care of their mother, Charity.

On receipt of the promised funds Mary and three children, Mary Ann (15), Olivia (6) and Moroni (3 ½) did exactly what she informed Parley she would do, joining her parents in Bethel, Maine where they remained for about three years. While there,  daughter Mary Ann, with several of her Stearns cousins, attended the Gould Classical and English Academy, while the younger children went to the village school. Family tradition indicates that Mary Ann’s grandparents, Charles and Thankful Stearns, paid each term’s tuition of two dollars and fifty cents with the hope that she would not go back to the Mormons.

The Gould Academy had been reopened in 1848 under the administration of Dr. Nathaniel Tuckerman. The Fall1849 catalogue listed 160 students from many towns in Maine, as well as New Hampshire and Massachusetts. There were three departments: Classics, Common English and High English. The Classics Department included the study of Greek and Latin literature and languages. The Common English Department listed classes in Reading and Declamation, geography, and other subjects; while students in the High English Department had a variety of classes in the natural sciences, moral sciences and mathematics. Four European languages were also available.

The Fall 1849 catalog announced that during 1850 “Lectures, and such other exercises will be introduced, as shall best fit Teachers for the duties of the schoolroom. Students have access to the most valuable works on teaching, which have been published in this country.” There are no records of Mary Ann’s classes, but she probably also took advantage of the teaching course, because she became a well known central Utah teacher.

According to son Moroni’s biography, their New England relatives were very kind to them and offered “land and money if they would give up the Mormon religion and remain with them.” But, in 1851, Mary and children left Bethel, possibly on the newly established Atlantic and St. Laurence train service which had first arrived in Bethel from Portland on March 10 of that year. The one way fare was $2.00. Stopping with friends in St. Louis, Missouri long enough for the children to attend school, they arrived in Kanesville, Iowa in January, 1852, determined to cross the plains to the Utah Territory.

They had no idea how they could afford the wagon and supplies required for the three month journey. In the meantime, Mary supported her children by baking bread, and then slicing and drying it in an oven. It was sold to California-bound emigrants for food when cooking was not convenient. She also sewed cotton flour sacks for emigrants to use in storing food supplies, as well as made orange and blue calico shirts with ruffled necks and wrists for a group of Native Americans being taken by a church member to Washington D.C. to meet the President.

At the beginning of May 1852, they were assigned to a wagon train, the twelfth to be leaving that year. Within days, two Nauvoo friends who were not yet traveling west appeared at her door to inform Mary that they had put enough money in the Emigration Fund to supply her with a wagon and necessary provisions.  A non-member grocery store owner sent word that if she would personally come to his business, he would give her $10 worth of food. Despite the fact that she had never been in his store because he sold liquor, she did go and was given cornmeal, bacon, rice, dried codfish, dried fruit, soap and a few other things. Days later she was introduced to Scottish emigrant David Murie and his twelve year old son Jimmie, who in exchange for doing their laundry, offered their yoke of untrained oxen.

On June 10, they started west with members of the Harmon Cutler Company which eventually included 262 persons, 63 wagons, 17 horses, 231 oxen, 171 cows, 154 sheep and 20 dogs. Early on, they found that their load was too heavy. This presented the difficult task of choosing which items to leave behind. They also were given a second yoke of oxen which turned out to be as untrained as their original team. The four animals were soon out of control, alternatively stopping still or running wildly in circles, while David Murie hung on valiantly and Mary frantically ran along the side of the wagon, picking up supplies falling off in all directions. Once, the cattle turned quickly and sharply, nearly crushing her between their bodies and the wagon. They had fallen behind the rest of the group. Finally, a young teamster/scout, Oscar Winters, found them stalled in the middle of the road. He took over the teams and insisted on driving them to the river crossing. By the time they arrived, Murie had a better understanding of how to control them.

Cholera struck the company one evening after a rope ferry river crossing. Several men had been in the warm river all day steadying the raft and had liberally drunk the water. Mary used her homemade concoction of charcoal and molasses, laudanum and paregoric, camphor and a little cayenne pepper with as much raw flour as charcoal, and it proved to be a good remedy, for all that took it recovered except one elderly man.

A group with about twenty wagons, including Mary and her family, decided to move ahead as more and more of the larger group were suffering with cholera. Despite occasional violent rain and wind storms, they “plodded on day after day, sometimes making a fifteen mile drive but oftener twenty – no hurry – you could not change the gait of the oxen, but had to wait patiently their motion. No danger of getting left – most anyone can walk as fast as a yoke of oven can travel.” The others never caught up. It was later reported that the group behind was attacked by Indians and all their horses were stolen, leaving them frightened, but alive.  

Mary Ann wrote in her autobiography that their team had settled down and finally made steady progress. The women could now knit and sew comfortably in their wagon, as the ground was quite level and the oxen were under control. “Our morning’s milk we put in our tea kettle, placed a cloth under the cover, put a cork in the spout, tied a cloth over that and tied it to the reach under the wagon; and no matter how hot the day was, the draft under the wagon made it very comfortable for our dinner, for there was a piece of butter the size of a teaspoon which was very fresh and sweet and the children took turns having it on bread.”

On August 16, 1852, a month before reaching their destination, the group came to a beautiful grove of trees at Deer Creek, now in Wyoming, where they discovered a primitive wooden stand and benches.  Mary Ann wrote that the “sight of it was inspiring to the emigrants for it really looked like going to meeting again as they were used to doing in the groves and boweries before they started on their journey, and all moved around with cheerful quietness and reverence for it seemed a visible testimony that God was with us and leading us on. There was a sacredness about it all that subdued all sounds and strengthened and encouraged to renew diligence. All labors were hastened to prepare for the Sabbath; the tires were wedged and tightened, the repairs completed, washing and cooking done and all retired to rest, but with the early dawn all were stirring again for the birds were singing a Sabbath chorus of praise.

“In the grove every heart was light and joyous for we now had passed the sickly portion of the journey and were nearing the goal of our hopes and desires. The sun arose on a scene of calmness and beauty. After the quiet breakfast and at a given signal all repaired to the grove with happy hearts to listen to the words of inspiration…That familiar hymn, ‘How Firm the Foundation’ was sung, and after prayer by one of the aged brethren, and another hymn, testimonies were borne and counsel and instruction given by the Captain…After the close of the meeting and the noon luncheon had been partaken of they enjoyed a season of quiet rest until the lowering sun.

“Just as the evening meal was about ready, a carriage was espied coming from the east…it was Apostle Lorenzo Snow just returning from his mission to Italy. He was making a rapid journey across the plains with a carriage and horses, stopping with the camps overnight and traveling on to the next in the daytime.”

At that point, a romance which had begun during the last days in Nauvoo and blossomed during the journey west, culminated at Deer Creek, Wyoming. That evening, Apostle Snow married teamster and scout Oscar Winters, age 27, to Mary Ann Stearns, age 19.  The bride later wrote that she wore a green gingham dress and worried that she had no looking glass to make certain that her hair was arranged perfectly. Their wedding meal was “bread baked on a bake skillet, a piece of meat, a little lump of fresh butter with a cup of cold water.” Her wedding gift from her husband was a dollar to buy a few “necessities” when they arrived in Salt Lake. Over the years, family members have celebrated this event by recalling, “a Snow married a Winters to a Frost” (Mary Ann’s mother’s maiden name).

Arriving in Salt Lake on September 10, Mary turned to her long time mentor Patty Sessions for help. Oscar and Mary Ann Stearns Winters were soon sent to Battle Creek, a new settlement forty miles south of Salt Lake City. Mary, Olivia and Moroni remained in Salt Lake City.

Mary did not accompany  Olivia and Moroni when they were invited to see Parley days after his return on October 18 from an eighteen month mission to California and Chile. It appears that she felt no desire for a face to face confrontation. He responded with a letter reiterating previous, but now highly exaggerated complaints about her use of the money promised from the sale of their home, half of which was given to Parley’s brother, Anson.

In the letter, Parley’s demand that the children receive his daily care and attention is another exaggeration. As had always been the case, his mission calls required his absence for months at a time. He had just returned from an eighteen months mission and would soon leave for fifteen more months.  Mary had for years supervised the welfare and education of their children, and continued to do so on her own.    

There was no warmth in his letter, which is probably to be expected, but there is a disquieting disrespect. If she had returned to seek a reconciliation, the letter did not encourage it. He was stiffly offering to take care of her, but only under his conditions. It seems unlikely that he helped her until their divorce. She was a very resourceful mother and was capable of making it on her own. Since she later supported herself and children as a midwife, it is probable that she associated with her longtime friend and relative, Patty Sessions, while she remained in Salt Lake City.

After Brigham Young approved their divorce on March 5, 1853, one of around 1600 he granted, Mary and their children quietly settled into a small log cabin at the southwest corner of the new fort in Battle Creek.  

 A year later, Parley stopped in that town on his way to another mission in California. Mary was present at the talk he gave to residents, but he recorded in his journal that they did not speak, although he did visit with his children and presented them with gifts. Painfully, he further wrote that Mary was now his enemy.  

Olivia was almost sixteen when she married Benjamin Driggs on February 16, 1857. They had twelve children. Over the years Benjamin worked with his wheelwright father, served in the militia that faced off Johnston’s Army near Fort Bridger and was a participant in the 1866 Black Hawk Indian War in central Utah. He was also a blacksmith, a contractor for grading a portion of the Union Pacific Railroad, as well as a successful local merchant. He had a second wife and served, under the Edmunds-Tucker Act, six months in the Territorial Penitentiary as a result.

Moroni and his wife Caroline Beebe raised ten children. He did not take a plural wife. Most of his education was obtained from his mother and stepsister Mary Ann. He was an avid reader and had a natural talent for music, manifested by his conducting an orchestra for many years, as well as excelling on the violin. At some point, he invested in ox teams and wagons and was one of the drivers that moved back and forth across the Plains to the Missouri River, carrying supplies as well as emigrants. As a member of the militia that fought the Black Hawk Indian War in 1866, he was later made an honorary Adjutant General for his efforts to obtain federal pensions for the participants. He served Church missions to New England and England in between operating a saw mill in American Fork Canyon.

Except for four years when Mary traveled with Oscar, Mary Ann and their growing family as they served a mission to teach school in several newly formed central Utah towns, they all remained in Battle Creek, which eventually became Pleasant Grove. There, Oscar and two sons developed a farm and a molasses mill using sap from Maple trees growing abundantly in the nearby canyon. Mary Ann taught school in their home. Four of their five daughters received advanced educations at the University of Deseret in Salt Lake City and taught school. Two of them married LDS apostles, Heber J. Grant and Abraham Owen Woodruff.

Mary served for years as the only midwife in Pleasant Grove. According to granddaughter, Augusta Winters Grant, “out of the hundreds of births at which she assisted, she never lost a single case.” She had her own recipes for soothing teas, salves and lotions.       

Augusta further wrote that her Grandmother Pratt was “by nature energetic, self-reliant, and blessed with enormous energy. She took charge of everything and everybody, even my tiny mother [Mary Ann] who was little bigger than a child, and who always depended on her for aid and advice.” In his biography, son Moroni was quoted as describing his mother as “an affectionate, well-educated, refined and ambitious woman, equal to any and every occasion.”

When she wasn’t tending to a birth or someone in need, Mary often could be found carding, spinning, dyeing and weaving wool. She also spun and wove flax from which she made yards and yards of fine lace “netting” for trimming undergarments or her handwoven linen squares.

In 1880, Mary authored an article printed in the Salt Lake City Women’s Exponent entitled “Give to those Rights to Whom Rights Belong,” a forceful statement encouraging women, as equal partners with their husbands, to educate themselves on current issues and then speak out against inconsistencies in some man-made laws. Six years later, another of her  statements was published in a pamphlet entitled “Mormon Women’s protest, An Appeal for Freedom, Justice and Equal Rights.”

Mary Ann Frost Stearns Pratt died on August 24, 1891. Her tombstone reads: “Her dear weary head is at rest. Its thinking and aching are ‘ore. Her quiet immovable breast is heaved by afflictions no more.”


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