A HISTORY OF MARY WILKINSON SMITH PLUMB
Left Back Row; Charles Merlin, Ruth Mary, Joseph Alfred, Unknown
Left Front Row; Alma John, Charles Riley, Seth Eugene, Mary Smith Plumb, Trilby Elizabeth
Compiled in 1990 by her granddaughters: Mary Christenson Huish Higgins, Theda Plumb Shelly Adams
Mary Wilkinson Smith was born into an LDS family on October 22, 1870, near the Muddy River in St. Thomas, Nevada. She was the fifth child of Mary Wilkinson and Charles Pears Smith. Her four older siblings were: Charles William, John Walter, Elizabeth Ann and Sarah Cecilia. Her mother had joined the LDS Church in 1857 and her father in 1845. Shortly after her birth, Mary was blessed by, James Readhead, the Bishop in St. Thomas.
When Mary was four months old the family moved at the suggestion of Brigham Young to the Long Valley Fort (now Glendale), Utah. The Smith’s back yard was the front yard of one of Brigham Young’s nephews. Mary remembers seeing Brigham Young on several occasions and sitting on his lap during one of his visits. At the Fort, Mary’s younger sister, Emma, was born. Unfortunately, both she and Mary’s brother, John Walter, died. Mary remembers her father being very sad with tears rolling down his cheeks and being too young to understand what was happening.
The Smith Family moved out of the Fort into a house when Mary was four. That same year, August 23, 1874, her younger brother, Joseph Wilkinson Smith, was born. After Joe came into the family Mary was no longer the baby. She did not get as much petting as usual and this made her quite jealous.
The family moved again when Mary was five. This time to the Sucker Spring Ranch near Bear River, Wyoming, where Mary’s sister, Martha Alfreta, was born. The Smith’s stayed only one winter at the Ranch. It was an uncomfortable winter with the severe cold and snow. However, this was the first birthday Mary remembered - when she was six, living on the Bear River.
The next Smith home was Henry’s Fork, Wyoming, on a tributary of the Green River. During the year at Henry’s Fork Mary’s older sister, Elizabeth (Lizzy) married Frank V. Goodman. This was a memorable year for Mary. At age seven, she started school. John Campbell, her teacher, was considered by most to be very good. Mary’s closest schoolmate was Lizzy Stool.
The following year, the Smiths moved to a new home on the Green River, twenty miles below Ashley, Wyoming. The children did not go to school, but were taught by their father. Mary picked potatoes for an old Irish man, and her eighth birthday was celebrated by roasting potatoes. The family spent the next four years, from 1878 to 1882, living on a ranch on the Green River. During this time, two younger brothers were born, Samuel and Thomas. Mary spent much of her time as a cowgirl, herding and tending the cattle. In 1951, her younger sister, Martha, wrote:
"Mary was a very proud, beautiful and capable girl. She milked several cows; night and morning, besides doing the family laundry and heavy housework. If father had a particularly difficult job, such as finding some lost cow or horse, he always called Mamie (as we called her) and she generally got results. Mary seldom used a saddle. She buckled a strap around the horse and then tucked her toes beneath the strap and rode like the wind with her bonnet hanging down her neck. She loved it."
There were several Indian scares during these years on the Green River, but because Mary’s father was friendly with the Indians, they never did any harm to the Smith Family. Other settlers would move to the fort to live during a scare, but the Smiths always remained on their ranch. Mary related the following incident to her granddaughter, Mary Christenson:
"My parents had gone to town for supplies leaving me home to take care of the smaller children. I used the last of the flour to make enough bread to last us until our parents returned. That was all the food we had. While in the house baking, I heard a noise outside. I looked up at the window and staring in was a huge Indian. My father had taught me that if the Indians ever came while he was away, to give them whatever they wanted and they would do me no harm. Although I was frightened when the Indian came in through the door, he just took the bread and left. We were very hungry when our parents returned two days later, but grateful no harm had been done to us."
In1883, when Mary was 13 years old, her father decided to move south to a warmer climate. The family first settled in Winslow, Arizona. They were there just long enough to earn the means to travel on to Pleasanton, New Mexico. While in Pleasanton, New Mexico, Mary’s youngest brother, Hyrum Leroy Smith was born. June 22, 1984. While living in Pleasanton, Mary was able to attend school for the first time since she was six. The fee for attending school was $1.00 per student per month. Unfortunately, after three weeks the teacher, Charlotte Webb, became ill and the school was discontinued. When school opened again the Smith children were able to attend for four months. This time the interruption came when the Smith’s moved two miles out of town. Years later Martha Riggs, Mary’s sister, described this time in Mary’s life.
"Mary had very little opportunity for an education, but she was very quick to learn, especially mathematics. She had a splendid business sense. She was honest to the extreme she never gave an ounce over and could have been a fine businesswoman, had she had the chance. Mary had little time in her busy life for boys until she was fifteen. That year a young man came to visit our neighborhood. Mary seemed to be very much interested in him and he in her. Although he was only there for a short time and she never saw him again, he seemed to have made a lasting impression on her.
When we moved to New Mexico we seemed to have some very lean years. My sister Sarah (or Sadie as we called her) had to go to a small town ten or fifteen miles away and get work. That left Mary to take over the heavy milking and working in the fields, but Mary was equal to the task before her, and she did her work well. She was always very thorough in everything she did."
When Mary was 16, the Smiths moved to Eden, on the Gila River. During the move Mary drove the cows and horses as she had done four years before on the trek from Utah to New Mexico. In Eden Mary was able to attend two terms of school. At the end of the second term, she met Charles Riley Plumb. Mary quit school and they were married March 8, 1888. Mary was 17 years old.
Having suffered from malaria for two years prior to her marriage, Mary’s health was not very good. Child bearing was an additional strain. Although she continued to work very hard, Mary had poor health for the rest of her life.
Mary and Charles Plumb settled in Eden, but her parents moved their family to the Chiricahua Mountains in southeastern Arizona. In the fall, the Plumbs also moved to the Chiricahua Mountains. The nearest post office was Wilgus. For fourteen years Mary and Charles lived near Wilgus, while Charles freighted for the sawmills at the nearby settlements – Bisbee, Wilcox, Douglas, and Tucson.
Mary’s first child, Ruth Mary, was born April 4, 1890. Charles Merlin was born September 27, 1891, and Alfred Joseph, October 10, 1893. Martha Riggs wrote:
"Mary had her family very close together, which so taxed her strength that she became quite anemic by the time her fourth child was born. Because of this her milk did not have the proper qualities to sustain him. Angus Leroy was born May 12, 1896 and died October 12, 1896. Her husband was gone at the time of the death and so our brother, Joe, went for a doctor, but only got some medicine, which did not help. With the help of some neighbors the baby was buried in a little pine box covered with a white sheet and trimmed with some white lace I had bought for my wedding dress. I was glad that I could do that bit to soften the terrible sorrow for Mary. We laid Angus away under an oak tree a short distance from the house with no ceremony except the Lord’s Prayer. Mary’s husband returned home the next day.
By the time her next child, Delbert Riley, was born (February 20, 1898), I had married and came to see her. He was such an ugly baby, I joked her about it. She said the joke was on her. In less than a year, I had a boy, Walter, who was so much uglier than hers, she laughed on me and we decided the joke was on me.
Mary married a good, hard-working man, but a man who did not have very good business judgment. Her family was always in poverty. This seemed to break Mary’s proud spirit, so she became cynical and hard in her judgment of others as she grew older."
In 1900 Mary and Charles moved to St. David, Arizona. Their son, Alma John, was born the next spring on April 9th. Charles Merlin, Mary’s oldest son, described the family’s move to St. David:
"In the fall of 1900 my folks decided to move to St. David, Arizona. We lived in the only house that was for rent, the tithing house for the LDS Church. While living in this house, I helped Jessie and Paul Lofgreen grub the stumps of the tithing lot. Mother always tried to find something for us boys to do. That spring father came home. He had been back at the sawmill. We moved back to Wilgus to live. I remember Uncle Parley P. Sabin wanted us to move back to St. David permanently.
Around 1904 we moved to St. David again. My father bought twenty acres from a lady by the name of Nealson. Father and I came first with a load of lumber from the sawmill. We lived in a tent while we built a two room house. It was down a muddy road and about 10 gates to open, with mesquite brush very thick.
The Family finally moved to St. David and we started clearing the land. Uncle Parley Sabin dug us an artesian well. Father went back to the mountains to freight. Uncle Sam Smith came and rented the garden spot on shares. He peddled the produce to Johnson and Pierce. After Uncle Sam went back to the mountains, we continued with the garden. I peddled the produce. Mother often went with me."
Charles Plumb earned his living driving teams for other men and working on ranches. For five years he was away from home most of the time. With Sam Smith he decided to grow a big garden in St. David and peddle the produce to Bisbee and other surrounding towns. On one of his trips to Bisbee he was helping a brother build a house when he fell off the roof across a pile of lumber and hurt his back. Charles was in bed for more than six months it was over two years before he could do any physical labor. During this time the burden of making a living fell on Mary and her oldest son, Charles. Also, during these years another son, Seth Eugene, was born on December 20, 1905.
It was a number of years before the Plumbs were able to build their permanent home, a four-room adobe structure. A fireplace was used for heat along with a wood-burning stove; also used for cooking. There was a bedroom for the parents, one for the children, a living room with the fireplace, and the kitchen, which was large enough to hold a table for eating. An attic with stairs starting in a closet in the kitchen and wide porches on both the north and east sides of the house made it seem bigger than it was. When Trilby, Mary’s and Charles daughter, reached her teens she chose to have the attic for her bedroom and leave the downstairs room for the boys.
Water was carried into the house from the artesian well, thirty feet from the kitchen door. A bench by the kitchen door always held a bucket of fresh water with a dipper for drinking.
In his history, written at age 74, Mary’s son, Delbert, wrote:
"My folks were very very devout people and I can never remember a time my father didn’t call us around the table and have family prayer. None of my brothers or sisters smoked, I was the only one. We all filled missions, except Alfred.
St. David was a little Mormon settlement on the San Pedro River. Everyone was very poor and had a hard time making a living, especially us after father was hurt. I can remember going to bed hungry. Father and mother worked very hard. They raised a good garden so we had plenty of vegetables in season. Father used to crawl on his knees up and down the rows pulling weeds as he couldn’t stand or bend over. Father also had a little blacksmith shop where he did all kinds of work while sitting on a stool."
In 1908 Mary and Charles decided to go to the St. George Temple to be sealed and have their children sealed to them. Mary later stated that it seemed like everything was made to help them go. They prepared and saved their money all year and left on the journey in September 1908. Having lived in southeastern Arizona for so many years where the grass was knee high and there was grazing for cattle even in the winter, they did not realize how sparse available cattle range was in northern Arizona and southern Utah. Mary’s son, Delbert, described the journey:
"Dad rigged up two wagons and a four horse team – three broomtails and one mustang. They were small, but Dad knew how to make them pull. The mustang, old Nell, was a mean horse. They had to tie her head to a tree to put the bridle on. But, she was always fat while the other horses were poor. Dad, being a freighter, knew how to handle horses.
We traveled through Benson, Dragoon Pass, Texas Canyon and on through the Sulfur Springs Valley. At that time there was a big lake, which we had to go around to get to Wilcox. From Wilcox we went to the Gila Valley where we stayed several days with Uncle Hyrum Smith and other relatives.
We were given, among other food items, a hundred pound sack of flour. The flour was put in one of the wagons next to a can of kerosene that sprang a leak and the fumes penetrated the flour. Mother was so angry she said we would have to eat it anyway. The bread tasted awful, even though mother put sugar in it to kill the kerosene taste.
We continued down the Gila River to Rice, a small Indian village. We then followed the Black River to Pinetop. Friends and relatives from Gila Valley traveled with us to Pinetop. That was a fun part of the trip having Frank Fuller and his wife, Maley, and Uncle Ben Thatcher and Aunt Sarah and their three little boys travel with us.
From Pinetop we crossed Coconino County to Winslow in Navajo County. Then we headed west down a long valley, which led to the Colorado River. I had heard dad and mother tell of the awful road that led down to Lee’s Ferry. They had been over this road before, when they were small children and came with their families to Arizona. They called this road, Geronimo’s ribs, because it was so rough. You could see the river about a mile straight down. Our teams took us down to the ferry without a bit of trouble.
We crossed the river on a ferryboat. How glad we were to reach the Utah side."
From Winslow to St. George there was very little feed for the horses. The land was naturally quite barren, with the Indians’ sheep keeping the land grazed. Already there was frost at night, which prevented any new grass from growing. By the time Mary and Charles reached Lee’s Ferry the horses had almost starved to death. The only solution was to leave one wagon over the difficult Buckskin Mountains to St. George.
About twenty miles outside of St. George, the family could see the Temple. The children spoke of always remembering their first sight of the Temple, so pretty and white, shining in the sunlight. Mary Wilkinson Smith and Charles Riley Plumb were endowed, sealed and had their seven children sealed to them on November 4, 1908.
The family stayed in St. George for three days. One day for the temple work and two days to feed their horses. James Larson and Joe Hall, Charles’ brother-in-law, helped them. Joe brought his team of large gray horses and helped the family cross the Buckskin Mountains on the return trip to Lee’s Ferry. At Lee’s Ferry they planned to buy flour and pick up their other wagon. The horses were in such poor condition, it was evident each team could not pull a wagon. Unfortunately, there was no food for sale at Lee’s Ferry.
The wagon left at Lee’s Ferry was traded for two burros, a mother and her colt. Charles packed each animal as heavy as possible, hitched both teams to the stays and began the long trip home with his family. In order to spare the horses, Mary and the children walked most of the way from Lee’s Ferry to Flagstaff. They were also able to kill a few rabbits along the way. In Flagstaff they bought flour.
In his history, Delbert wrote:
"Dad decided to take another route home from Lee’s Ferry. We had to cover part of the bad road we came over on and then branched off and went close to Flagstaff and then we followed the route Mormon pioneers made a few years before by Mormon Lake. It was beginning to get awful cold and the lake was almost frozen over and the great pine forest we went through never let the sun shine. We hadn’t gone far before it started snowing. It never let up, but kept getting colder and colder as we plodded along. We couldn’t go very fast on account of the snow that covered up the road, and we had to get out and hunt for it.
The horses began to shiver with the cold and Dad went to hunt another road and got lost. We had to fire the Winchester several times to let him know where we were as he was crippled and couldn’t walk far.
That night a blizzard began to blow the snow in big drifts, the horses left camp and went off looking for warmer places. The next morning my brothers, Charles and Alfred, went looking for them and found them in a little ravine, two of the horses were frozen to death. They brought the other two to camp and built a big fire to keep them warm.
The wind drove the snow through the wagon covers and got everything wet, including our bedding. It was pitiful sight. Mother began to cry and pray at the same time, and I think her prayers saved us. The wind ceased and the big cloud that hung around us went away.
Father found a blazed trail that seemed to go in the right direction. We hadn’t gone but a mile or two when we came to several small ranches on Strawberry Creek. We camped there a week, staying in a farmer’s barn, while we sent word to relatives in Gila Valley to come and help us. While in Strawberry, Mom and Dad cleaned the snow off the farmer’s corn patch and were paid for their work. The burros wandered off and were not seen again."
Ben Thatcher, Mary’s brother-in-law, and Preston Plumb came with a large wagon and four horses and helped Charles, Mary and the family get to the Gila Valley. They stayed in the Gila Valley for two weeks, resting from the ordeal and feeding their remaining two horses. While there Charles made headstones for his parent’s graves. Parley Sabin, another brother-in-law, helped the family travel home to St. David. They arrived home in January 1909.
Trilby Elizabeth, Mary’s youngest child, was born December 11, 1909. This was a difficult time for the family. Charles was limited in the work he could find, because he was crippled. He did odd jobs – blacksmith, drove a school bus, gardened, and took care of his livestock. Mary found living with a large family and no extra income especially hard. Her sister, Martha was supported well by the Riggs family. This contrast was another burden for Mary to bear.
The first of Mary’s children to marry was Joseph Alfred. He married Della Curtis May 27, 1914 in the Gila Valley. On July 7, 1914, the oldest child, Ruth Mary, was married to Otto Mads Christenson. Otto’s father, Charles Otto Christensen, changed the spelling of his last name from "sen" to "son." It is reported that he said he was tired of being a sen and wanted to be a son. All birth certificates, marriage licenses, and other official documents now have the name spelt "son."
Mary’s oldest son, Charles, felt responsible to help support the family. He worked for ranchers – including Mary’s brother, Bert Smith, in the mines in Bisbee, and wherever he could find employment. In 1916 he went on a mission to the Northern States Mission, based in Chicago, Illinois. At the time of his mission call, Charles only had $300. His uncle Bert Smith loaned him the additional funds he needed for the mission. He repaid his uncle by working in the shipyards in Seattle, Washington at the end of his mission.
Two years after returning from his mission, on April 2, 1920, Charles married Ada Barney, from the Gila Valley. His younger brother, Delbert Riley, married Bertha Matilda Barney the following year on September 15, 1921.
Two of Mary’s younger sons, Alma and Seth, were able to go on missions by borrowing money from their oldest brother, Charles. They both served honorable missions and were scrupulous in repaying Charles. Alma John married Lucille Marriet Montierth on May 23, 1929.
On January 7, 1927 a great tragedy occurred in Mary and Charles’ family. Otto Christenson, the husband of their daughter, Ruth Mary, was killed when a train ran into his truck at a blind railroad crossing in Naco, Arizona. The train conductor had forgotten to pull the train’s whistle. Two years later, Ruth became ill with the flu. This turned into pneumonia and she died on May 17, 1929. She left five children under the age of 14. The children went to live with their grandparents, Mary and Charles. Soon it became apparent that this arrangement was too difficult for the grandparents to handle and Evans, the oldest boy, went to live with his uncle, Charles Plumb and his wife Ada, and Loraine went to live with another uncle, Delbert Plumb and his wife Bertha.
Ruth and Otto had purchased 30 acres next to Ruth’s parents and were living there when Otto was killed. After his death, Ruth brought a lot on Highway 80 across from the school. With the help of her brothers, Alma and Seth, she built a small house on this lot. She had planned on moving there with her children in order to be close to the school.
Charles and Mary lived on the 20 acres they had originally purchased when they first came to St. David. There were two artesian wells, livestock – cows, horses and chickens, a large garden, a shop, barn, and a four-room adobe house. By the time the Christenson children came to live with them, Charles required more care from Mary. With the three small Christenson children to care for, the animals and gardens, as well as Charles, everything became too much for Mary.
In order to help ease the burden, Charles went to live with his children, first one and then the other. He also spent time in the "Pioneer Home" in Prescott. At this time Loraine was unable to stay with Delbert and came home to St. David. Mary and her children were moved temporarily to a small house her oldest son, Charles, owned west of the LDS Church. They lived in this house for two years.
It was decided by the family that to relieve Mary of some of the responsibility of raising the grandchildren, Lewis would be sent to live with his uncle, Alma Plumb in Utah. Mary Christenson and her brother, Lewis, were near the same age and very close. In order to spare her the trauma of parting, Lewis was taken away at night. Mary Christenson remembered all her life the sorrow of waking up and finding her favorite brother gone. Unfortunately, the situation with uncle Alma did not work out and Alma put Lewis in an orphanage. Lewis later ran away.
Seth built a second bedroom for the boys onto the three-room frame house and a bathroom without the plumbing. It was too cold to take a bath in the room and all baths were taken in the washtub in front of the kitchen fire. Because the water had to be hauled in and heated in pans, Mary would take her bath first, then her granddaughter, Mary Christenson, and then the boys, all in the same water. The laundry was done outside with a washboard in a tub. The white clothes were boiled and everything was hung on lines to dry.
Mary and her grandchildren lived very frugally. They had a cow named Molly, who supplied enough milk for drinking, cream for butter and extra milk to make cottage cheese. The cheese was hung in a bag from one of the trees by the ditch. While the whey was draining, anyone who passed the tree would squeeze the bag to hurry the process.
The lot had two apricot trees, a peach tree and enough room for a large garden and a chicken pen. The chickens were kept for laying eggs until they were too old to lay, then they were roasted and eaten. Mary always had eleven hens and one rooster.
Each fall after the weather turned cold enough to freeze, Mary’s brother, Thomas A. (Bert), brought a shoulder of beef, which was hung from one of the trees with a cloth over it. When meat was needed, it was cut off the shoulder and cooked. The weather was cold enough during the winter that the beef did not spoil. If a warm day, someone would spray the cloth with water to cool the meat and keep it from spoiling.
Each fall Mary would buy one case each of string beans, corn and peas. Her brother, Bert, brought her a hundred pounds of flour and a hundred pounds of sugar. With the fruit bottled from the trees in the yard, and the apples and a hundred pounds of beans given to her by her son, Charles, they had sufficient food for the winter. During the summer, the garden furnished all the necessary vegetables.
Mary gave her grandchildren one row each in the garden. They would sell anything they grew in that row. The money was theirs to spend, as they liked. Mary Christenson, her granddaughter, remembers working all summer growing sugar beets and selling the tops. She made 50 cents from her summer’s work. Occasionally, Mary would let her grandchildren take an egg to the store to sell. They would be paid a penny and usually spent it on a candy sucker. The sucker was licked and laid aside, licked and laid aside, all through the day. Once cent gave great pleasure for a whole day.
The flour and sugar sacks were sources of material for her granddaughter’s panties and slips. The heavier flour sack for the panties and the finer sugar sack for the slips. Strings from the flour and sugar sacks were kept wound on a ball and used to crochet pretty doilies and other useful items.
Mary and her grandchildren attended church regularly and Mary served as a visiting teacher. Cynthia Patty, her granddaughter, remembers that during these difficult years, Grandmother Plumb was a kind, hard-working woman, who always found time to help any of her children who needed her. She attended the births of her grandchildren and stayed with the mothers for a week or ten days following each birth. Cynthia arrived a half-hour before her dad, Charles, and the doctor came from Benson. Grandmother Plumb tied the chord and took care of things until the doctor arrived. When Cynthia graduated from high school, her grandmother gave her a book of poems, "The White Cliffs of Dover."
During this time, Loraine ran away to live with his father’s relatives in Idaho. He did not return to St. David. Evans also ran away from Charles and Ada’s home and joined the service. He was injured and released. In 1939 he married Virginia Olsen and came home to St. David to live. They moved in with Mary and the other grandchildren. Mary and her new daughter-in-law did not get along. Virginia thought many of Mary’s ways were old fashioned and refused to obey her.
Mary was tired, growing older, and could not handle all the problems which Evans and his wife brought into the home. The family felt that Virginia’s presence was not a good influence on Mary’s granddaughter, Mary Christenson, so she moved in with her uncle Charles and his family in St. David. She was in the eighth grade and spent her four high school years with Charles and Ada. On December 15, 1942, she married Billy Hugo Huish and moved to Douglas, Arizona.
Seth, Mary’s youngest son, helped his mother purchase a small trailer. She decided to leave the house to Evans and his wife, since the original house had belonged to Evans’ mother. For several years Mary took turns living in her trailer in the yard of each of her children, all of who lived in Arizona. Her trailer did not have any facilities. It only had room for Mary’s feather bed, a chair and her clothes.
A stay in the hospital, where morphine was used as a painkiller, was followed by several weeks of painful hallucinations of rats in her bed. It took some time before she could feel free of the effect of the morphine. At this time, Mary lived in the home of her daughter, Trilby, in Binghampton, Arizona. Trilby was a nurse and was able to assist her mother with the proper medication.
In 1945, on her way to Douglas, Arizona, to visit her granddaughter, Mary Huish, she stopped to see her brother, Bert, and had a stroke. She was taken to the hospital in Tucson, where she had two additional strokes. Her granddaughter, Mary, went to see her after the second stroke and brought her a new great grandchild to see. Mary reached up, took the tiny hand and said: "I guess you know enough now to be able to take care of your family."
A few days later, on February 28, 1945, Mary had another stroke and died. She was buried next to her husband, Charles Riley Plumb, in the cemetery at St. David, Arizona.
Mary’s granddaughter, Theda Plumb Shelley, remembers:
"Grandma Plumb was always a tired little lady whom I remember as someone we visited most Sundays when I was growing up. As a family we would drive to her farm on Sunday afternoon, where the adults would sit in chairs on her porch and visit while the children made crowns, baskets, and other things from the weeping-willow trees. In the years she spent in the trailer at our home, I only remember her as someone who didn’t feel too well, but often had stories to tell."
Mary’s granddaughter, Mary Christenson Huish, recalls:
"Grandma really taught me well. Mostly by the way she lived. How she coped with her problems, how she put the gospel teachings into our lives, both spiritually and physically. She taught me how to make the best of the time I spent with her. I will always love her dearly."
See Photo of Mary Wilkinson Smith
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