Monday, December 3, 2012

May McEwan Bain Smith headstone

The headstone of  May McEwan Bain Smith in the Mountain View Cemetery, Beaver, Utah.

May McEwan Bain Smith


May McEwan Bain Smith and her husband, Alexander Smith, lived in Dundee, Scotland.  They were very religious people and taught their children to observe the Sabbath.  Jane Smith Coleman was one of their daughters and was born in Dundee on September 22, 1838. 

Alexander Smith was a good provider.  He had a china shop in the front room of their home.  He was a good businessman and did well with the shop.

The gospel (or Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints) was brought to them by an uncle, William McEwan.  The family all joined the church except the father.  He did not take kindly to the new religion, but he took them to church, then went to his own church.  Later, he would call for them after church was over.

In 1850 he was stricken with typhoid fever and died.  After the death of their father, Jane and her sisters worked at weaving, working from 6:00 am until 6:00 pm each day.  They earned $2.00 per week.  The family had a desire to immigrate to Utah and they saved in every way they could.  They went without bread every day and bought rolls only on Sunday.  The older brother worked as an apprentice to a baker so they were able to purchase the rolls at a discount.  The main food for the family was oatmeal porridge.  Jane got so tired of this porridge that she told her mother to make it thick and lumpy.  When she came to America she never wanted to taste it again.  They all worked for four years to get enough money to come to America. 

The oldest brother, Robert, had earned his way to Utah by being a cook on a ship.  He settled in Lehi, Utah.  He wrote and urged his family to come in the spring.  Mrs. Mae McEwan Smith, widow of Alexander Smith, left Dundee, Scotland on April 30, 1856 with her family consisting of four daughters and one son: May, Jane, Mary, Betsy and Alexander Joseph.  Euphemia Mitchell, a friend, accompanied the family.  In May, they sailed from Liverpool, England.  Before landing in New York seven weeks later, they passed through some rough storms.  In a few days, they reached Iowa where they stayed 11 weeks, waiting for the handcarts to be completed for the journey.

Mother Smith was 52 years old when they started on their way to Utah.  The captain of the handcart company was James Grey Willie.  There were 120 handcarts and 6 wagons.  Of the 500 people to begin the trek, 66 died on the way.  In the handcart they carried personal belongings and bedding and the rations for the day.  They soon became accustomed to traveling 20 to 26 miles per day.  They had to ford rivers in water to their waists.  They also had to carry or put Alex on the handcart as he had been crippled by the Black Measles when he was only six years old.  While fair weather and full rations lasted they were alright. 

They had traveled five weeks, never stopping, even for Sundays, when they reached buffalo country.  Here the cattle that hauled the provisions and some of the cows were stampeded by the Indians.  The company stayed there for five days while the men hunted for the cattle, but only a few were found.  Owing to the loss of the cattle, 100 pounds of flour was added to each handcart.  The captain thought that they had done wrong by not keeping the Sabbath Day holy.  They started stopping on Sundays to pray, worship and rest.

By September cold weather was coming and the company was on half rations.  Many were dying from the hardships of the journey and then snow started to fall.  Jane prayed to the Lord that she wouldn’t feel the pangs of hunger.  She never did.  Through the Black Hills, 16 people died and had to be buried at the same time.  Mother Smith traveled for 15 miles with the little boy on her back because of the deep snow.

One terrible stormy day, the oxen refused to go any further.  They were frightened of the thunder and lightening.  Captain Willie always rode a mule.  He dismounted and stood in the middle of the road.  He took off his hat and looked up into the sky.  As the wagons and handcarts came to where he was, the other men came and stood with him, their hats in their hands and their eyes toward heaven.  Captain Willie prayed and it was as if one man were talking to another.  It was a wonderful prayer and when he was finished, everyone could feel that God was near and the storm parted to the left and to the right and the Saints hurried down the pathway to safety.  At this time, only about 100 handcarts were left.

One time the company was camped on a hillside and it was raining so hard the creek started running through the tents.  Everyone prayed they would be spared to reach the Valley.  Mother Smith said if she would only make it to the Valley, she would never complain no matter what she was forced to go through and she kept her word even when she went blind in her aging years.

Later, their rations were cut to 4 ounces of flour a day with no soda or salt.  Captain Willie had told the company where to comp and he rode on ahead to trade with the Indians.  The company came to a grove of trees with a lot of marshy springs all around.  They thought this must be the place to make camp.  There were wild parsnips growing just thick everywhere, and the people were so happy to have found food.  They prepared the parsnips and ate their fill.  When the captain returned he was horrified when he realized what they had eaten.  It was poison. The captain prayed to Heavenly Father, explaining that they did not know any better.  When he finished the prayer, he told them they would be alright, but from this time forth, they were not to eat wild parsnips again.  One man said he had eaten all he wanted and they didn’t hurt him.  He announced he would eat them again in the morning.  They buried him before they left camp the next day. 

The company was so low in provisions; each person was allowed only one griddle cake each day.  The people sometimes became so weak and tired they often lagged far behind, so that the captain had to pop and crack his whip above them to keep them moving forward.  One day the Smith family was so late coming in catching up to the company, they were forced to camp on the outskirts of the camp near some large rocks.  The next morning, when they woke up, they were in the middle of a whole nest of rattle snakes.  The warmth of their bodies had brought the snakes out of their dormant stage and they were moving about.  Fortunately no one was hurt.

October came and the flour was gone.  Two Mormon scouts rode into camp and told the suffering saints that help was on the way.  Two days later their older brother, Robert, came with a team of oxen and a wagon.  They shed tears of joy.  As they climbed into the wagon they found on the floor some old dried up potato peelings.  They thankfully ate them as Robert took them on home to the Valley.









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