Thursday, November 15, 2012

Mary Jane Walters Speirs

Mary Jane Walter Speirs
Mary Jane Walters Speirs was born on the Isle of Jersey, England, Dec. 1, 1850.  She was the daughter of Asa Walters and Sarah Jane Westcot.  She left the Island when sixteen years of age with her parents and three brothers.  On the 26th of June they sailed on the ship “Constitution” for the United States.  They sailed from Liverpool, England with 457 British, Swiss and German Saints who were in charge or led by Harry H. Cluff.  They arrived in New York Aug. 5th after which they continued by rail to Benton.
During the time they were on board the ship, the Saints were called to have their prayers night and morning.  At one time there was a great storm during which time all the people were shut down beneath the deck and the waves washed over the deck.  This storm lasted several hours.  It took six weeks to make the journey across the Atlantic.
One young sister was left at New York because she was ill.  From Benton they went two miles to the Platte River and stayed there a week so the Saints could get cleaned up and rested.  Capt. John Gillispie was in charge of the company about to leave for the West.  There were 54 wagons and oxen with about 500 immigrants, which left Benton August 24th.
While crossing the plains it was the custom to make a corral by placing the wagons in a circle.  The oxen were quartered inside the corral.  During the evening the Saints would sit around the campfire and sing the songs of Zion and visit or perhaps dance.  Some of the teamsters had instruments, which they would play.  It was here that Mary Jane learned to dance.  No one was allowed to leave the camp.  Prayers were said morning and night.  Everyone had to be in bed by 9 o’clock each night.  The wagons were heavily loaded and her father was ill.  She walked from Fort Laramie to Salt Lake.  They arrived in Salt Lake City, Sept. 15th.  On Sept. 16, 1868 they went to Tooele and lived there.
She married William H. Speirs in the Endowment House in 1873.  They moved to Bear Lake in 1880.  Mary Jane is the mother of ten children.
Following is a sample of some of the routine duties of my mother.
In our younger days, water was not obtained by turning on a tap.  We got water from a nearby ditch, which came from Bennington Canyon.  When this ditch was dry, we would have to go about a block away to get water.  On wash days we carried water from the ditch and heated it on the stove in a wash boiler, buckets and pans.  Our stove did double duty by cooking our meals, heating our water and keeping us warm in the winter.  In the wintertime we melted snow in order to obtain our wash water.  Mother put lye in the wash water to soften it, after which she would skim the scum from the top; then the water was ready for the family wash.
Sometime during the busy morning, while feeding and dressing her children and stoking fires with wood that burned all too rapidly, Ma found time to sort the dirty clothes.  They lay in piles on the kitchen floor and the little ones jumped and rolled on them.
All these years Ma had a washboard and tub for her washing machine.  It stood in the middle of the kitchen, flanked on two sides with tubs of rinse water sitting on backless chairs.  The second rinse was colored a pale azure with a few drops of Mrs. Stewart’s Bluing.  Cleanest white clothes went in first—baby’s flannels, pillowcases, bath towels.  Then after scrubbing the clothes on the washboard, Ma would wring the clothes out by hand and put them into the boiler with some soap and lye to bleach and sterilize by boiling.  After this process the clothes were lifted with a stick and drained a few minutes, then put through the two rinses.  Then they were ready to hang outside on the lines and occasionally some on the fence.

Several batches of clothes went through that water—hand towels, dish towels, long underwear, then the sheets, colored clothes that didn’t fade, next stocking and colored clothes that did fade, and finally the overalls.

Sometime during this constant activity, Ma found time to make starch and cook it into a thin paste to stiffen our dresses and shirts.
Ma loved to hang the clothes out on a bright blowy day but quite often the snow piled high and a lot of shoveling had to be done first.  She would have to go in and warm her hands often and then the clothes would be frozen before the last of them were hung up.  The underwear looked like beheaded stiff men.  If the wind didn’t beat out the frost before we needed the garments, we brought them in and melted them enough to hang on lines over the stove to dry.
When the weather became warm the ditch water would be full of wigglies (mosquito larvae) which we had to strain out.  Sometimes we kids would put a horse hair in the watering trough and wait for it to turn into a snake.  I guess bacteria grew on the hair, causing it to move, but for a long time I thought we were making snakes.
Ma made the clothes for all her family.  This required many, many hours of night-time sewing.
Saturday night was the night we all had a bath in the family wash tub.  The youngest child would be bathed first, then the next youngest and on up to the eldest of the family.  This was quite an event.
Sundays we attended Sunday School and meetings.  Even Sunday was not a day of rest for Ma as it was no small task to get her family ready for church.
Ma always had good meals on time and served regularly three times a day.
Ma gave birth to and nursed and raised ten children.  She never had electricity, a telephone or even a gas mantle lamp.  She loved to read but had very little time to read.  Her life was mostly hard work, but she got a lot of satisfaction in seeing her family clean, healthy and happy.  She wouldn’t have traded her children for the best automatic washer on earth.  Of that I am sure.
                                                                        William A. Speirs
                                                                        28 August 1961
                                                                        Montpelier, Idaho

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