Friday, November 16, 2012

William Harrison Speirs family

Standing rear: Charles, George, William Asa, Isaac "Ike", Thomas
Seated: Janet "Jennie", Mary Jane Walters Speirs, Mary, William Harrison Speirs, Lorenzo "Ren"
In front: Alvin, Lillias
William Harrison Speirs & Mary Jane Walters Speirs
            William was born on June 19, 1849 in Kilmarnock, Ayrshire, Scotland, the eldest son of George and Janet Lyon Speirs.  They had accepted the gospel.  When William was seven years of age, they emigrated to America.
            They stayed in New York City where the father worked at his trade of weaver and in a store in order to replenish the money that had been stolen from him while on the ship.   William attended the public school.  They lived there for two years.
            The family crossed the plains in the Jesse Murphy ox team train and arrived in Salt Lake in 1860.  They moved to Tooele in 1861 where William grew to manhood.  He worked in his father’s store where he learned mathematics and basic carpentry.  He herded cows in the summer.  Being like other boys, he was always hungry.  He told me how he learned to eat the bulbs of sego lilies which grew in abundance and how he gathered the wild fruit – strawberries, chokecherries and serviceberries.
            As he grew up, he acquired a farm with cows and horses and started to build a house, but it was not finished when he and Mary Jane Walters were married in the old Endowment House in Salt Lake City on March 17, 1873.  They lived for a short time with his parents until they could move into their new home.
            Mary Jane was the daughter of Asa and Sarah Jane Walters.  She was born December 1, 1850 in St Heliers, Isle of Jersey.  She was the only daughter who lived to maturity in a family of ten children.   Elder John Taylor who later became president of the Church was the missionary that brought the gospel message to them.  She tells the story of her journey to Utah: “When I was sixteen years old, I left the island with my parents and three brothers.  On June 26th the packet ship ‘Constitution’, one of the last sailing vessels which brought any large companies of Saints, under the leadership of Harry H. Cluff, 457 British, Swiss and German Saints.  We sailed from Liverpool, England.  We arrived in New York City on August 5 and continued by rail to Fort Benton.
            “We had one bad storm while at sea and it jarred our old ship pretty badly.  They had to pump water out of the bottom of it, and one sailor was washed overboard and lost.  From Benton we went to the Platte River and stayed a week so that everyone could get rested a little and cleaned up.
            “Captain John Gillespie was in charge of the ox train of 54 and arrived in Salt Lake in due time.  We would travel all day with just one hour for noon.  I walked most of the way and can still recall how hot the days and how cold the nights were while crossing the Wyoming desert.  We went to Tooele in September of 1868.”
            In June of 1880 William and Mary Jane arrived in Bear Lake Valley with three small sons – Isaac, Will and George.  It was a fearsome journey through Logan Canyon – rough, rocky roads and the dangers of Indians and outlaws.  All their possessions were in the wagons drawn by a team of mules and a team of horses.  They also had a few assorted head of cattle, the dog and a pet white cat.
            They homesteaded a farm in Bennington where they lived the rest of the time.  They suffered the same hardships all the other settlers did – frost, drought, squirrels, the short summers and the bitter cold winters.  Their home was two log rooms with a dirt roof that grew tall pig weeds and red roots.  As their family grew, William built a large “lumber” room at the back to accommodate the fast-growing seven boys.
            About 1882 William was made the ward clerk.  It is believed that he held this position until his death.  During this time all tithing was paid “in kind”.  It took a great deal of time receiving hay, grain and cattle.  One time even a horse was brought as well as eggs, butter, chickens and turkey which had to be prepared and delivered to the merchants in Montpelier. 
He with four other men formed the constitution and bylaws of the Bennington Irrigation Company, one which still stands and has survived through all the troubles and law suits incident to such an organization.  He served as secretary as well as watermaster for many years.  He taught school, served as justice of the peace, and sexton.  He was an exacting workman so he made many coffins.  Mary Jane would help with the finishing and trim.  He was instrumental in getting the seed for the hardier, faster-growing and maturing wheat, rye, oats and alfalfa from his father in Tooele.
            William had an abiding faith in the truthfulness of the gospel and in spite of poor health he always attended to his duties, holding many offices.  He was first assistant in the Sunday School, ward teacher and was one of the presidents of the seventies quorum at the time of his death which occurred on the 19th of June (1908-he was 59), his birthday, at home in Bennington, Idaho.
            Mary Jane was a very fine seamstress as she was apprenticed to an English tailoring shop and could make men’s clothing as well as girl’s and women’s.  She was artistic in her work and always added a touch of lace or velvet.  We always felt like our dresses were special.  She was very much the lady with her kind, gentle ways.  She had a firm testimony of the truthfulness of the gospel and taught principles of truth to her large family.  She made beautiful quilts and lovely crocheted and knitted things for her home and family.  How much we all love and honor her memory!
            She passed away quietly at home on the 16th of December 1928 and was laid to rest beside her husband in the Bennington, Idaho, cemetery on the 18th of December 1928.
By Lillias Speirs Wright, their daughter

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