Elizabeth was the second child of John B. and Keziah Keturah Van Benthuysen Rollins. Her father perished in a storm at sea when she was a small child, after which the mother and her children moved to Kirtland, Ohio where they lived with an uncle, Algernon S. Gilbert and wife Elizabeth. They received the message of Mormonism which was preached in their neighborhood by Oliver Cowdery, Peter Whitmer and Ziba Peterson. Mary Elizabeth became the wife of Adam Lightner by whom she had ten children. The following excerpts are taken from her autobiography:
Quite a number of the residents of Kirtland were baptized, among them mother and myself, in the month of October, 1830. A branch of the Church was organized and Father Morley was ordained an elder to preside over it. He owned a large farm and meetings were held at his place. A good spirit and one of harmony prevailed for sometime. But after Oliver and his brethren left Missouri on a mission to the Lamanites (the Indians) a wrong spirit crept into our midst and some were led away.
About this time John Whitmer came and brought a Book of Mormon, then called the Golden Bible, and when our family learned he had a copy of that wonderful book we had been hearing about, I made up my mind I was going to see it as soon as I could. There was to be some kind of a meeting of Brethren at his house that night so I slipped out and went to his house and asked to see the book. When he put it in my hand I felt such a longing to read it that I could not refrain from asking him to let me take it home. He was surprised and said, "My child, I have not read one chapter yet and the brethren will want to see it tonight at the meeting." When he saw my disappointment he said, "Well, it is a business meeting tonight and we may not have much time so, if you will promise to have this book back before breakfast tomorrow, you may take it. But mind that you are careful and that no harm comes to it." If any one was ever happy, I was. I ran home and told by family. "Oh, I have the Golden Bible." There was consternation in our house. Uncle Gilbert and Aunt Elizabeth were Methodists. I was severely reprimanded for being so presumptuous and bold as to ask such a favor when Brother Morley had not read it himself. However, we all took turns reading until very late. As soon as it was daylight I was up and learned the first paragraph by heart. When I reached Father Morley's house he was just scraping the ashes [p.306] from his kitchen stove. Very much surprised he said, "Well, you are early. I guess you didn't read much of it." I showed him how far we had read, then I repeated what I had learned and gave an outline of the history of Nephi. He gazed at me in surprise and said, "Child, you take this home and finish it. I can wait."
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Before I finished the last chapter the Prophet Joseph Smith came to Kirtland and moved in part of Newel K. Whitney's house. Whitney was Uncle Gilbert's partner in a mercantile business. Brother Whitney brought the Prophet to our house to consult Uncle Gilbert on some business connected with the store. He was introduced to the older ones of the family. I was outside. In looking around he saw the Book of Mormon on the mantle shelf and asked how it came there. He said that he had sent it to Brother Morley and it was the only one in that part of the country. Uncle explained how his niece had been bold enough to ask for it. The Prophet said, "Where is your niece?" I was sent for and when I entered the room he looked at me so earnestly I felt afraid. I thought, "He can read my every thought," and I noticed how blue his eyes were. After a moment he came and put his hand on my head and gave me a great blessing, the first I had ever had. Then he made me a present of the book, saying that he would give Brother Morley another copy. We all felt he was a man of God. He spoke with such power, as one having authority.
A few evenings later the Prophet moved to Kirtland, Ohio and mother and I went over to their house. We wanted to hear more about the Gospel. There were other visitors so when Joseph saw the crowd he said, "We might as well have a meeting." The men soon fixed some planks and boxes in the large room. After prayer and singing, Joseph began talking. Suddenly he stopped and seemed almost transfixed. He was looking ahead into space and his face outshone the candle that was on the shelf back of him. I thought I could see his cheek bones. He looked as though a searchlight was inside his face shining through every pore. I could not take my eyes from him. After a short time he looked at us very solemnly and said, "Brothers and Sisters do you know who has been in your midst this night?" One of the Smith family said, "An angel of the Lord." Joseph did not answer. Martin Harris was sitting at the Prophet's feet on a box. He slid to the floor on his knees, clasped his arms around Joseph's knees and said, "I know, it was our Lord and Saviour, Jesus Christ." Joseph put his hand on Martin's head and answered, "Martin, God revealed that to you. Yes, Brothers and Sisters, the Saviour has been in your midst. I want you to remember it. He cast a veil over your eyes for you could not endure to look upon Him. You must be fed with milk and not meat. Remember this as if it were the last thing to escape my lips. He has given you to me and commanded me to seal you up to everlasting life; that where He is, there you may be also, and when you are tempted by Satan, say 'get thee behind me, Satan.'" Then he knelt as did the rest of us. I have never heard anything like the prayer he [p.307] uttered. I felt he was talking right to God and the power rested on us all. His prayer was so long that some of the people got up and rested awhile and knelt again. This is the only meeting of this kind I have ever heard of. Many were baptized during those days, among them my Uncle Gilbert and my aunt.
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In the fall of 1831, in company with Bishop Partridge, Father Morley, W. W. Phelps, Cyrus Daniels and their families, my brother Henry and sister Caroline, mother and myself, and Aunt Gilbert, left Kirtland under the guardianship of my Uncle Sidney A. Gilbert for Independence, Jackson County, Missouri, where there was quite a settlement of the Saints. Uncle opened a store of dry goods and groceries while his partner, Newel K. Whitney, kept their store in Kirtland. A two story printing office was erected in Independence and all were busy and prosperous, both temporally and spiritually. Oliver Cowdery, John Whitney and Thomas B. Marsh often spoke in tongues while addressing the Saints on a Sabbath day.
I was a very inquisitive girl and after becoming so well acquainted with the Prophet I asked many questions. We had many conversations together; I was thrown in his company continually as my uncle was in partners with Brother Whitney and a good member of the Church; the Brethren came to our house to talk business and I guess I managed to be around as much as I could to ply my queries. When I grew older, he told me more serious things.
One day after asking him about the Golden Bible and its contents, about all the ancient cities, etc., he told me if I lived 30 years after his death I would hear and read things to prove to me that it was true. I said, "Are you doing to die?" He answered, "I must seal my testimony with my blood; the testimony is of no force until the testator is dead. They say I am a fallen Prophet, but I am more in favor with my God this day than ever before in my life. They little know who I am, and I dare not tell. They will not know until they meet me at the bar of God." Another time in our talk he mentioned a woman's name who had sinned and said, "I would like to do something for her so she can be saved." I said, "Brother Joseph, how do you know that you yourself will be saved ?" to which he replied, "I know I will—I have the oath of God upon it and God cannot lie."
About this time there began to be terrible threats against the Mormon people. We were too much united to suit the inhabitants of Missouri. They did not believe in the Mormons nor their religion. The Mormons did not believe in slavery so they were afraid of them, though the Latter-day Saints were counseled to have nothing to do with the slave question, but to mind their own affairs. But mobs soon began to collect in the town setting fire to grain and haystacks in the yard of Bishop Partridge. All were destroyed. Then they began stoning the houses, breaking doors and windows. One night a great number of men got together and began stoning our house, part of which was logs, the other part or front was brick. After breaking all the windows they [p.308] started tearing off the roof amid fearful oaths and yells that were terrible to hear. We were all but frightened to death and stood against the walls between the doors and windows.
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Soon after this I saw Bishop Partridge tarred and feathered in the street, also Brother Charles Allen. My sister and I saw them cover them with tar and empty a pillow of feathers over them. A friend helped to wash the tar off from Bishop Partridge. She said it came off as easy as dirt. Whereupon a man who had helped put it on said, "Well, if they can wash it off that easy, I'll use this." He then held up a cat-o-nine-tails. Just then a masonic sign was given and he was left in peace.
Just before these troubles I went to work for Peter Whitmer, a tailor by trade. He was crowded with work and Lilburn W. Boggs, who had just been elected Lieutenant Governor, offered him a room in his house as he wanted Peter to make his suit for inauguration ceremonies. Peter made the suit and I stitched the collar and faced the coat. Mr. Boggs often came in to watch us work and as I was considered a very good seamstress he hired me to make his fine ruffled-bosomed shirts and assist his wife in sewing. I worked for them sometime, during which they tried to induce me to leave the Church and live with them; said they would educate me and do for me as if I were their own daughter. They had one little girl two years old and two sons; one was near my own age, 14 years. Their persuasions were of no avail.
The mob renewed their efforts again by tearing down the printing office, driving Sister Phelps with her family into the street; she was living in a part of the building. My sister Caroline and I were in a corner of the fence tremblingly watching the proceedings and when they brought out a pile of large sheets of paper saying, "Here are some of the damned Mormon commandments," I was determined to have some of them. Sister said she would go too, but added, "They'll kill us." While their backs were turned tearing out the gable and prying about the roof, we ran and grabbed our arms full and were turning away when one of the mob yelled for us to stop. Two started after us, but we ran as fast as our legs could carry us through a gap in the fence into a large cornfield, laid the sheets down and then we laid down flat over them. They hunted around for us, coming very near and making our hearts beat with fear as we could see their legs at times beneath the corn, but they finally left. We had a hard time finding our way out not knowing which way to go but finally we found some trees that had been girdled to kill them. We followed these and came out on the other side, finding an old unused stable where Sister Phelps had already gone and she was carrying in brush to prepare beds for her children. When told what we had done she took them from us, making us feel very sad, but later she had some bound and gave us some.
I saw grain and haystacks burned and much property destroyed. Uncle Gilbert's store was broken into, the goods thrown into the public [p.309] square. Families went to the Temple block where the Bishop and first counselor, John Carrill lived for mutual protection, while some Brethren were hiding in the woods, food being carried to them in the night.
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They found there was not enough money in the crowd to carry all over the river and none wanted to be left for fear they would be killed. Some of the men thought they would try to catch fish, thinking the ferryman might take them for pay. They put out lines in the evening. In the morning they took in the lines and found several small fish and one catfish weighing 14 pounds. On opening it, to the astonishment of all, there were three shining half silver dollars. This was considered a miracle and caused rejoicing as that was enough to pay the ferryman. At length we settled in Clay County, Missouri where my mother married a Mr. John M. Burke, a widower with two children, his wife having died with the cholera in St. Louis in 1831. I stayed with Uncle Gilbert most of the time until Zion's Camp came up in 1834.
When the cholera broke out Uncle Gilbert was preparing to go on a mission, but he was among the first to die; then Jess Smith. Five died at Uncle's house and nine at a neighbor's house, named Burgett. The bodies were wrapped in blankets and buried as everyone was too frightened to go near. This was in the month of June. But not one died after the Prophet came and administered to them. Uncle died on the 29th of June, 1834. Shortly after this the Camp left for their homes in Kirtland. I began teaching a few children writing, reading and arithmetic. I did not know so much about grammar but had commenced the study of it in Jackson County, Missouri along with Sabrina Phelps, Oliver Cowdery, John Whitmer and others, but the mob stopped us. Being well versed in geography, I continued teaching with success for two years. On the 11th of August, 1835, I married Mr. Adam Lightner of Liberty County, Missouri.
Shortly after this our people moved to Far West, Caldwell County and soon had a flourishing town and settlement of farms all around. The Brethren persuaded Mr. Lightner to move there and keep a store as the Church was not able to start one then, as most everyone had been stripped of all they had. He went, built a log house for the store, leaving me in Liberty until it was finished, after which we moved there. My husband furnished supplies for the farmers until they could harvest their crops, it being customary among the Missourians to credit the farmers until harvest was gathered. There a son was born to us, on June 18, 1836, named Miles Henry. In the latter part of 1837 we went to Milford to start another store for my brother, James H. Rollins to care for. But rumors were about of troubles again with mobs so we hurried back to Far West. We had left our store in charge of a Mr. Slade. We found all our provisions gone, our carpets ruined and mobs gathering in great numbers, threatening our people, driving off their stock, committing depredations too numerous to mention. Grievances were almost unbearable. The Brethren determined to defend [p.310] themselves and as there was very little powder in the place, they decided to send for some and as Mr. Lightner was not a Mormon they asked him to go to Liberty for a keg. Homer Duncan went with him. They got the keg, bought 20 yards of carpet, wrapped it around the keg and placed it in a barrel of beans. On returning their wagon was searched twice by ten men who thrust their bayonets into the barrel but did not hit the powder. They arrived home safely to the joy of all. Then men with teams were sent out into the settlements to collect all the provisions they could. Two men armed with guns to guard each wagon went along. Mr. Lightner and George A. Smith were guards over one wagon. Plenty of provisions were brought in and stored in Sidney Rigdon's and other men's houses. We soon heard the heart-rending news of a battle between our people and the mob at Crooked River in which David W. Patten, Patrick O. Banion and Gideon Carter were killed.
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About this time occurred the Haun's Mill massacre where the mob killed 17 men and hurled their bodies down a well. Oh, what a time that was! One man was shot several times. He crawled into the brush. The men followed him. One said, "Shoot him." Another said, "No, let him suffer. He's dying anyway." But he did not die; he lived to go to Utah and lived to a good old age. He lived in the same town as I did and I've heard him tell many times that story as well as other incidents connected with that terrible massacre. His name was Charles Jameson. He told of a boy whose mother dragged him away from the mob when he was very weak from loss of blood. In despair she prayed to know what to do. A voice told her to take slippery elm bark and bind on the wound. She did so, the bleeding stopped; he got well. This boy was Warren Smith.
In the midst of all this sorrow word was received that the militia and hundreds of men were marching to our city to destroy its inhabitants. A part of the bloodthirsty mob camped near the outskirts; placed a cannon in the road intending to blow up the place. They sent in a flag of truce demanding an interview with John Clemensen and wife and Adam Lightner and wife (John Clemensen's wife was my husband's sister). The four of us went out to meet them. A number of Brethren were there well armed. General Clarke, who was with the mob, shook hands with Mr. Clemensen as he knew him, and said that Governor Boggs had given him an order for safe removal before they destroyed the place. I asked General Clarke if he would let all the Mormon women go out. He said "No." I asked if my mother's family could go out. He said that the Governor's orders were that only the two families were to go out; all others to be destroyed. I said, "If that is the case, I refuse to go; for where they die, I will die. I am a full-blooded Mormon and not ashamed to own it." He said, "Oh, you are infatuated. Your Prophet will be killed with the rest." I said, "If you kill him today, God will raise up another tomorrow." He answered, "Think of your husband and child." I said my husband [p.311] could go if he chose and take the child with him, but I would suffer with the rest.
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Just then a man who was kneeling near some brush jumped up. I saw it was Heber C. Kimball. He stepped between the General and myself and said, "Sister Lightner, God Almighty bless you! I thank my God for a soul that is ready to die for her religion. Not a hair of your head will be harmed for I will wade to my knees in blood in your behalf." "So will I," came from Hyrum and others. The General pleaded with my husband without avail. The next morning, the Prophet and his brother Hyrum were given into the hands of the mob militia. A few days later my husband's brother came from Lexington for us to go to his home 40 miles away. As we found our people were not to be massacred, we concluded to go for a time. Clemenson's family and ourselves took a change of clothing and were ready to start when we heard a posse was hunting for my brother Henry, who had not been married long, so we took him in the back end of the wagon, covered him with a feather bed, his wife sitting near to uncover his head when no one was around. We passed through Clarke's troops of 500 men, one half on each side of the road. They did not molest us as we feared they would. We had a Negro driver and Mr. Lightner's brother who was well known, walked beside the team. Henry would have been killed had they found him with us. We reached Lexington safely, but had a hard time crossing the Missouri River as large cakes of ice would almost upset the boat. The officers found where brother Henry was and came for him. They put him in Richmond jail with the Prophet, Hyrum and others. They were treated like brutes and threatened to be shot every day.
My husband being a non-Mormon, the mob was always trying to find some way to work through him. But Adam loved these men and wanted to do all he could for them. We found that they were hunting Mr. Lightner to make him go against the Prophet so we hurriedly packed a few belongings, took a quilt for a wrap and a change of clothes and rode day and night to Louisville, Kentucky where his Uncle lived. Our goods were left in Far West. The Uncle, we found, had moved to Pennsylvania. We rented a house for six months, paying the rent with a gold watch which cost $200.00 in New York. We bought a bedstead and two chairs, a kettle and skillet and started housekeeping. Our money soon gave out and no work to be had. At last, I told a man our condition, that we were strangers. He gave me two fine shirts to make saying if they suited he would give me all the work I wanted. When I returned with them, he was delighted. I asked to be paid for the two I had just brought. He offered me 30 cents for the two. I knew the regular price was $2.00. I refused to do more at such a price and left; spent the 30 cents for cornmeal and molasses on which we lived for days. I painted some pictures which sold for a fair price to buy food.
One day while at the wharf, Mr. Lightner met Frances Higbee who said our people were at Commerce, Illinois and my brother in [p.312] Alton, Illinois. We sold out for enough money to go to my brother. The boat we sailed on was so old that it had to be repaired every few days. I improved the time by giving painting lessons to a lady on board. Got six dollars. At Alton we met a man who had been befriended by us in Far West. He was keeping a boarding house. He having some empty rooms we asked to leave our trunks in one over night. He consented. We walked a mile up hill to brother's house. Two families were living with him. Oh, how glad we were to be with friends again and get a good meal. Next day we went for the trunks and were charged our last half dollar for letting them stay in an empty room all night. The baby was very sick; no money for medicine. A doctor's wife gave me something to help him for which I was very thankful. I went from house to house and secured a number of students for painting lessons. We went to board with a private family, paying four dollars a week for both of us. I earned $60.00 besides paying board. This paid our way to Montrose where my mother lived and here I was to be sick with my second child. They were in a log house and received us joyfully. On October 18, 1838 daughter Caroline was born. When she was three weeks old we moved to Farmington. Mother let me have a bed, some dishes and flour, also other necessities. An Irishman gave us a bushel of potatoes and some squash. Work was scarce all around the country so we were always moving to get something to do.
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In Farmington we commenced housekeeping in two rooms. One room Mr. Lightner used for a shop as there were no carpenters in the place who could make beautiful furniture like he could. The people let him have all the tools he needed, also lumber, and took his work for pay. I got work from a tailor and earned our clothes. We built one large room toward a home, expecting to add to it. Mr. Lightner bought a great lot of choice lumber to make dressers, chairs, etc., but finding that we were in a very unhealthy part of the place, we sold our house for two hundred cash and went to Montrose to get mahogany and other lumber he could not get where we were. We were there just a short time when a steamboat brought word that the bank where we had our money had failed. We got 25 dollars out of our savings. We were about discouraged but worse was ahead for on looking out one morning he saw his kiln on fire. Not a plank was saved. This was the expensive lumber he had bought for fine cabinet work as he was an expert at such things. Winter coming on, no money, no work, made us feel very sad. While trying to plan in some way to manage, my stepfather, Mr. Burke, came from Nauvoo and seeing our condition offered us a home with them until we could do better. We considered it a God-send and gladly accepted. He lived near the Temple. While in Nauvoo I was busy painting. I painted masonic aprons of two degrees by Joseph's instructions. On the 23rd of March a baby boy was born to us, George Algernon. Mr. Lightner settled his debts in Montrose by giving his tools. Some of the Brethren owed us [p.313] about two thousand dollars so we were hopeful; but those who owed the most took out the bankruptcy act and refused to pay. One man offered to let us have a barrel of pork and a coffee pot if we would give him back his note of 500 dollars which we did. When we opened the barrel the meat was sour and full of weevils.
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As my husband could get no work I commenced giving painting lessons to Julia Murdock Smith, Steven Mark's daughter, and Sarah Ann Whitney. I bought a lot below the Prophet's mansion and we enjoyed the friendship of his family for sometime.
Work being scarce Mr. Lightner got a job up the river about 15 miles at a place called Pontusuc. He got a log house and we prepared to move there. Joseph felt very sad when he knew we were going to leave, and with tears running down his cheeks he prophesied that if we left and got away from the Church we would have plenty of sorrow; that we would make property on the right and lose it on the left; that we would have sickness and lose our children; that I would have to work harder than I ever dreamed of and then added, "And at last when you are worn out and old you will get back to the Church." I thought those were hard words as it seemed things were about as bad as they could be, so I felt to doubt them, but his words came true. Before leaving Nauvoo to go to Pontusuc there was a general parade of the Legion on the fourth of July. As I was a neighbor, Emma Smith, the Prophet's wife came to borrow my dining table and chairs as the officers of the Legion were to dine with them. Joseph, the Prophet, was the General of this Nauvoo Legion. While Emma was in my house to get the chairs the Prophet came in, spoke to his wife then pointing to my aunt, brother Henry and wife and myself said, "I want you and you and you to be baptized, I have been commanded to baptize you today." As this was to be the last parade of the Legion and a great day his wife said, "Why Joseph, why is this, they have always been good members of the Church and the officers will be in for dinner soon." He answered, "Never mind, I can wait for my dinner." Emma said, "Well, you certainly are not going in those clothes." To which he answered, "No, but you folks be ready when I get back." As we lived on the banks of the river we were soon there, Mr. Lightner carrying our baby. As my husband had never been baptized perhaps the Prophet thought he might let him perform it that day. After we were baptized and confirmed the Prophet turned to my husband and said, "Now Adam, it is your turn." Mr. Lightner answered, "No, Joseph, I'll wait until I quit smoking. I don't feel worthy. I will some other time." Joseph could not persuade him, though he tried hard. As we walked back to the house my husband walked ahead with the baby. Joseph was by me and he said, "Mary, this man will never be baptized in this life, unless it is a few minutes before his death." Though he lived to be 73, and was just 20 at that time, crossed the plains, enduring all hardships, saw many prophesies fulfilled and often said he would be, still he never was. He was the kind who looks at the acts [p.314] of men instead of the true principles of the Church and lets acts influence him. A few minutes before he passed away he seemed to want something, looked all around and finally said, "It is too late now." I wondered if he thought he still could be baptized and many times since I've thought perhaps we could have used a galvanized bath tub, brought it to the bed and perhaps had him baptized, but we didn't do it. So in all of the 52 years the Prophet's prophecy held good.
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Well, we decided to go to Pontusuc to live as it seemed the only way to make a living, even though I dreaded to leave my good friends and their spiritual contact and uplifting conversations which made my faith stronger. How much better it would have been if we had heeded the Prophet's admonition. I took in sewing so with my husband's work we managed for awhile. A lady called one day and asked if we had a cow. When I said no, she offered me a cow and two pigs if I would let her have my bedstead. I gladly let her have it and we slept on the floor until my husband could make another. Soon after my little boy, George, took sick and died. I was alone with him, my husband having gone to a neighbors for help. An elderly woman helped me dress him and my husband made the coffin. The two grave-diggers and a little girl were all who came to see my darling buried. I felt that Joseph's words had commenced to be fulfilled.
We moved to a better house where my son Florentine was born. When he was two months old, I began to teach a few children reading and spelling, but in a short time, through catching a severe cold, I had inflammation of the bowels and was so low my life was despaired of. Mother was sent for. She came, brought some consecrated oil; I was anointed and felt better so I persuaded her to fix quilts in a big chair by the bed and let me sit up for awhile to have the bed made. She was afraid to try it as the doctor said I could not live over three days. By tipping the chair back like a bed I was lifted in a sheet. Mother was very nervous, tucking quilts all around me. She put on my hose and slippers. We were in a large room upstairs. While I was lying there, a severe storm came up suddenly. It was terrible. Our house was struck by lightning which shocked all of us and made us unconscious. I was the first to come to my senses. I was across the foot of my bed. As I looked around and saw the folks on the floor I supposed that they were dead. I called for Mr. Lightner, who had gone into the next room just before the lightning struck. Not getting an answer I got up, walked through a hall and found him on the floor as rigid as a corpse. The windows in the hall near to a side hill had been torn out; the water was pouring in so fast and deep that I could dip it up with a cup, which I did, pouring it over my husband's face to see if it would revive him. The door casing was torn out, striking mother on the shoulder and making an awful bruise. Soon the doctor and neighbors came in. They had seen the lightning strike and thought we must all be dead. When they saw me they were astonished. The doctor wrapped me in a quilt and carried me to neighbors. This was [p.315] about 4:00 p.m., June 6th, and it was 9:00 p.m. before Mr. Lightner could be revived and use his legs. He said he suffered more in being treated to live than if he had died, while I, who had been dying, was restored. I soon dressed myself and went about my duties.
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Our house was torn to pieces; the lightning had run from the roof to the ground in seven places and people came from distances to see it and wondered that we were not all killed. A few days after, when we were somewhat settled, I went out one morning to milk the cow. When about finished she just stepped over the bucket and fell dead. This was a sore calamity for she was the source of most of our living. We had moved to a nearby house. About this time the Prophet and his brother Hyrum were taken to Carthage Jail. Soon the men around Pontusuc formed a company to go to Carthage, they said, to protect the Smith Brothers, also to go against Nauvoo if commanded, but I felt they were not truthful and meant mischief. They asked me to make a flag. I refused for I was so low in spirits I felt like weeping all the time. There was no one there who knew how to make a flag but myself and they compelled me to do it or suffer the consequences as I was the only Mormon in the place. At last I said I would cut out a flag and their women could make it, but I had to do it. This company left for Carthage, returning during the night. In the morning a number of the men called us to the door and said, "The Smiths are dead and they do say a great light appeared when they were killed." I said, "That should prove to you that he was a Prophet of God." One man answered, "Oh, that proves that the Lord was pleased with what had been done." They said if we attempted to go to the funeral we would be shot. We could not leave there and soon we were all down with chills and fever, except my husband who did all the nursing and work. My case proved to be the worst kind of billious fever and again I was given up to die. A little girl came to care for the house and do what she could for me while Mr. Lightner took the baby on a pillow and rode horseback to Nauvoo to have mother care for it. The thought of leaving my children under such conditions was terrible. I realized that all Joseph had told me was coming true. I dreamed an angel came to me and said if I would go to Nauvoo and call for a Brother Cutler, who worked on the Temple, and be administered to by him I should get well. They could not get a team, and all tried to persuade them not to take me; said they would not get a mile away before coming back with my dead body. However, a bed was made in a wagon and I was carried to it. Neighbors bid me good-by though none were of my faith. An oxteam and a boy to drive was sent right at that time by my brother Henry who felt that all was not well with us; they had not heard since the baby was taken to mother. After traveling a mile or so the wagon was stopped, and all gathered around, the children crying bitterly. I still had my senses and motioned to go on. A few miles further we stopped at a house and Mr. Lightner asked to stay all night. The woman was willing until she came out and saw [p.316] me. Then she refused saying I would die before morning and she didn't want me in her home. My husband said, "She certainly will die if left outside all night in an open wagon." She finally let us in, fixed some food and gave me a drink of tea which made me stronger. We reached Nauvoo with me in a very precarious condition. Mr. Lightner immediately asked Mr. Burke, my mother's husband, if there was a man who worked on the Temple by the name of Cutler. When he said yes, he was told my dream and Brother Cutler was sent for. He came, administered to me and I got up and walked to the fire alone. In two weeks I was caring for my family. When Mr. Lightner went back to Pontusuc for our things he had to pay most of them for doctors bills and rent. My clothes had been taken and we had been robbed of many things but I was glad to get away from such a place with my life.
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About this time the Temple was finished for endowments. Brigham Young sent word for me to go to Winter Quarters and the Lord would bless me. I was destitute for clothes and so were the children. Later, we went to Galena on the War Eagle and managed to get some work for a while. In the last of June, 1847 I was washing and got a needle in my wrist; it broke off, leaving half in the arm. The pain was excruciating. Four doctors gave me help. It was months before I could do much with that hand. On the 9th of February a son was born, John Horace. Later, I took in sewing and made forty pair of pants at forty to fifty cents a pair, receiving store pay.
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There was very little work for my husband so a Mr. Houghton, editor of the Galena Gazette, offered us fifty dollars a month and passage free to go to St. Croix Falls and oversee a hotel in which he was interested. We considered this a blessing and gladly accepted. We found a good cook already employed with 50 boarders. We did well for awhile, then Mr. Lightner was taken sick with brain fever and the baby with chills and fever. My heart and time were full; never undressing for two weeks. After each calamity my hopes were raised thinking there would be no more trouble, but my hopes were in vain. My feet began to swell and turn purple. The doctor said that one needed to be amputated to save my life. Another doctor offered to save it from amputation after I had been praying earnestly to have it saved. After some days, the pain gradually lessened and the swelling went down. Oh, how thankful I was to my Heavenly Father that I could once more go about my duties and care for my children. My Aunt Gilbert came from Nauvoo to live with us. She was a great help as none of my relations were near us. We were once more getting along nicely as all our provisions were furnished and my aunt was such a help with the work, assuming much responsibility. She was a splendid cook and housekeeper. We could have our salary to buy our own things.
On the twentieth of September a stranger came to our hotel purporting to be a physician from Quincy, Illinois. He wanted to sell us some medicine; he had a root he said would cure any kind of [p.317] a cold, liver complaint, or bleeding of the lungs. We did not want to buy any, but Aunt had liver trouble and he gave her some to eat. He said it would do us all good. We ate some and gave some to the two little boys who came running in. After he left in a few minutes we were all taken violently ill. At three o'clock my two boys, three and ten, were dead. We thought Aunt had died also. All three were laid out and covered with a sheet. Mr. Lightner and I were not expected to live. Two doctors were in attendance, giving no hopes. After nine in the evening to the amazement of all, Aunt came to life, but had convulsions for two weeks when two or three men would have to hold her. The doctors were all surprised at her recovery for ten men had pronounced her dead, about five hours before she returned to life. The Mormons were so generally hated that we supposed this man took that way of killing us thinking we would not live to tell the tale. The whole town turned out to see justice done. The man was caught, a rope put around his neck and my window raised so I could see him hung. He had a pleasing countenance, an elderly man. When they asked me to look my last upon him, I begged them to stop and try him by due course of law. My deep sorrow and the thought that I would soon join my children kept them from hanging him. They confined him to a building they thought secure, but he had a friend or accomplice in the place who assisted him to escape that night. There was a light fall of snow. They tracked him for several days but to no avail. The next spring a man named Leach from Quincy, Illinois opened an office for land entry in our house. Hearing of our trouble he found the man was in a hospital in Quincy in a critical condition. He told Mr. Leach he got lost in the woods, had both feet frozen, and would have died but some friendly Indians found him and took care of him 'till Spring when he was taken aboard the first boat that went down the river to be a sufferer all his days. Mr. Leach said he had escaped the vengeance of man but not of God.
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The next spring we moved forty miles down the river to Stillwater on the banks of Lake St. Croix. We then moved to Willow River on the Wisconsin side of the Lake. On the third of April my daughter Elizabeth was born. The snow was two feet deep. As soon as I was able to travel my husband bought a small farm of 65 acres on the opposite side of Stillwater. Part was timber, the rest under cultivation. We built a four-room house but it was not finished when we moved again. Mr. Lightner bought a horse and cow. In a week the horse was found dead in the stable. We hired a man to drive the cow a few miles. He drove her so fast that she died the next morning. Everything went against us. As winter was coming on we accepted an offer to keep a three-story hotel for three hundred dollars a year and all supplies furnished. We were glad to get into a warm house as winters were very severe there. The work was too hard so the next spring we went back to our house and on the ninth of April my daughter Mary was born. We stayed home that season then went to Willow [p.318] River and kept a hotel for a Mr. Mears for two years. On the 17th of March, 1857 a son was born, Charles. When he was four weeks old, I was called to attend the death bed of my only sister. I went by steamboat to Keokuk and from there to Farmington by stage. I stayed five weeks when she passed away, leaving four children. I returned home taking the eldest girl with me, leaving the rest with friends until we could send for them.
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The next year we moved to Marine on the Minnesota side of the lake and rented a hotel at 500 dollars a year. After two years we purchased a two-story house and large lot. Then we built a five-story hotel, for business was increasing at a rapid rate, so the house where we were would not accommodate them, not even the traveling public, and we had 40 regular boarders. We went in debt some to get the new place furnished. We were doing well, but in the meantime we had to mortgage the property for the debt, expecting to pay for it in a few months. Then the war of 1861 came on. Our boarders began to enlist until we had lost so many we could not meet the mortgage when due and we lost the whole of our property for which we had labored so hard with many denials. We left the place which held so much misfortune for us, going to Hannibal, Missouri where we lived a year waiting for letters from brother Henry who had gone to Utah with the first Saints who were expelled from Nauvoo. We did not hear from him as soon as we expected and being afraid to stay there, as we were for the Union, and all there were slave owners, we went back to Minnesota where, on October 28th, 1861 my son Adam was born, being my tenth child.
While living at Marine, I will always believe that one of the three Nephites came to our house. We were getting ready, with extra cooking, for a big crowd to attend a ball at the hotel and also looking for a stage full of people to the next meal. A man came and asked for something to eat. My nephew, (one of the boys my sister left when she died) came to the kitchen to tell me a man was there and asking for food. I went into the dining room and told him he could have some food. I had a very queer feeling as though I wanted him to bless me. He had no socks on; said he had come a long way. I looked at his shoes as the roads were very dusty. They were not dusty and his clothes were neat and clean. I told him to sit in the dining room at one of the tables. I went through another room into the kitchen and began dishing up some food. My aunt said, "Shall I cut him a piece of pie?" I said, "No. You know there will a crowd on the next stage and there is plenty for him without pie." Then on second thought I said, "He might as well have it as anyone." I took a piece to him. When I put it beside his plate he picked it up, raised from his chair and placed it on the other end of the table. I felt queer and astonished and said, "Why, don't you like pie?" He answered, "I don't care for any today." While eating he said, "Where I stayed last night the people think they are Christians, but they are not. They are not as good as you." [p.319] When he stepped out of the door we all looked at each other and someone said, "Did you ever have such a queer feeling? Wonder where he is going." We went to the door but he was nowhere in sight. It was a mystery to us where he could have gone so soon. I know he could not have heard our conversation in the kitchen as we were too far away and the dining room was a large place. So we were all puzzled. Very soon we went back to Minnesota as we were for the Union. At last the long delayed letter came from Henry informing us that a large company of men with teams were being sent from Utah to Omaha and that one would be for us. It seemed too good to be true. We sold all our belongings and after all our misfortunes we were ready to go to the mountains in Utah.
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On May 25, 1863 we embarked on the steamer Canada for St. Louis. Our quarters were neat and clean, but we had to sleep with our baggage. The next day they began taking on wheat until the boat was heavily loaded. The two young children came down with the measles, but we had no comfortable place for them. When we arrived at Rock Island bridge, which is a very dangerous place for boats to pass through, we saw several boats or vessels nearby ruined. Our passengers were panic stricken after we tried five times to pass through before succeeding. Two days after they took on 17 horses which made the air so foul it was unbearable. In the evening some soldiers came aboard. On the 29th, they unloaded grain at Montrose. Nauvoo lies on the opposite side of the river and looked deserted.
On Saturday we arrived in St. Louis and went aboard the steamer Fanny Ogden for St. Joseph. We were to have a cook stove, so laid in a supply of provisions. We were transferred to the upper deck until the storing of government supplies was completed. Then 500 mules were taken aboard, so we had to stay on the upper deck all the way from there to Omaha with just dried beef and bread to eat as the deck hands had stolen our supplies. We were crowded and for two days sat by a box containing a corpse. Progress was slow; half the time on sandbars. A steamer passing gave word that the rebels were gathering in great numbers. There was a cannon and soldiers on board for our protection. The men built a breastwork of sacks of grain and tobacco and all hands prepared for action. June 3rd was all excitement. At Lexington the town was almost destroyed by cannons. There my husband's brother was killed. We passed a gloomy night, some doubled up on trunks; anyway to get a little sleep. Strange as it may seem, not a shot was fired at us though we were in a rebel community.
On June 6th we arrived at St. Joseph, found the river banks lined with Indians who were being removed by the government to Minnesota for massacreing the whites. From there, we boarded the Emilie for Omaha; some Saints came aboard for Utah. I rejoiced at seeing them for I had not been with any of the Saints for 1 year. Landed at Omaha in a heavy rainstorm, rode 6 miles to Florence without a [p.320] cover on the wagon. Stopped at a cabin, all wet through and no chance to make a fire; had to get as much rest as we could with wet bedding. The next night I had the cholera and the baby had a bowel complaint. Thursday, some immigrants arrived with small pox. Two died and ten more were sick. One of them spent the evening with us; we shook hands but he said nothing about the disease. The next day they were sent to the hills where tents were provided for them. On Saturday many persons arrived from England en route for Salt Lake City. This was the gathering place for those who intended crossing the plains. Each day more arrived from Africa and Denmark. Their tents were scattered all over the hillside and when the camp fires were lighted at night it was a beautiful sight; it made me think how the Children of Israel's camps must have looked in the days of Moses when they were journeying in the wilderness. Three deaths occurred in the Danish camp, also three weddings. My children picked three dollars worth of wild strawberries that helped much with our food as they sold most of them. On the 20th my sister's husband, Edwin Bingham (this was a half-sister), arrived from Utah to take us to the valley of the mountains. How glad we were to see him. Sunday we prepared for a march and Monday we started in a terrible rain. The night before, the thunder and lightning and wind were so terrible we did not sleep; also rained our first night on the road. The next morning we dried our clothes, milked the cow and were ready for another day's journey. One company of 60 wagons was just ahead of us and a number behind. At night a corral was formed of the wagons and the cattle all driven in the center to keep them safe. Meetings were held each evening after camping.
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July 3rd we were up with the dawn, cooked breakfast with buffalo chips. 4th: Caught up with the company ahead, John R. Murdock, Captain. Had a dance in the evening. Traveled well the next day. We saw many beautiful wild flowers. 10th: We are on a vast prairie, seeing many buffalo herds. Passed through a prairie dog village; cunning little fellows dodging in and out of their burrows.
August 1st: Among the hills and rocks but dust inches thick. Saw a telegraph station, two log houses and a good well of water which was appreciated. Baked a shortcake for supper and fried bacon, all after dark. Lost the children's pet rabbit. 2nd: A train of government soldiers passed us to settle some difficulty among the Indians and gold seekers. The young folk danced and played till midnight. We always have prayers in the evenings. 3rd: Saw some returned Californians; they spoke well of the Mormons in the Valley. One of our cows died from drinking alkali water. 4th: A child fell out of a wagon, both wheels run over its legs but it doesn't seem to be much hurt. 8th: Stopped at a telegraph station. Saw a long freight train. Had some coffee, bread and thickened milk for dinner, then caught up and passed through the train ahead. 10th: Passed another station, crossed the Platte River bridge—a good structure. Elizabeth crazy all [p.321] night with toothache. 11th: The anniversary of our wedding—twenty five years of joy and sorrows never to be forgotten. Came to the Devil's Backbone, a long range of rocks, looks as though it had been thrown up from beneath, and pointing up like ice in a jam. A company of gold seekers camped near us. 13th: Passed another station, also a place called Devil's Gate, which is two mountains of rocks so near together that a wagon could just pass through, perpendicular walls so high. 15th: Had a breakfast of bacon, fried cakes and coffee. Traveled on good roads. When we stopped to cook dinner the wind blew a gale of sand all over us. We will get proverbial peck of sand or dust long before we get through. Had sage hen and rabbit today. We have had fresh meat just once since leaving the Mississippi. On this side of the mountains the rivers flow toward the Pacific Ocean. 17th: Saw snow on distant mountains. Been going up and down hills all day. Camped in a good place for a wonder. I am writing by firelight while baking bread, poor sinner, while everyone else is at prayers. I don't much like our preacher, he strokes his beard too much and speaks too low. 18th: Saw many antelopes—two were killed. Captain gave us a nice piece. Camped on a hill, a clear day, so cold the ice formed thick in our buckets. The Captain says we are greatly blessed to what some companies are. We are on the highest land on this side of the Mississippi. A 400 pound bear was killed. It was divided among the company but I did not eat any. Crossed Green River Sunday evening. A beautiful stream with trees lining its banks. Two trains of wagons are behind us. Makes us hurry to keep ahead as the roads are so dusty we can hardly see ahead. Stopped at a station where our men were required to take an oath of allegiance to the United States Government. Our wagons were searched for powder. Mr. Lightner says if he finds the people in the Valleys as good as these in our company he will join the Church. Still looking at the acts of men, instead of the principles of the Gospel. Saw stage coaches and wagons passing today which makes it seem a little more like in the land of the living. Snow in the mountains and down here we are almost smothered with dust. A stage passed with two missionaries, one was Brigham Young, Jr. Arrived at Fort Bridger, a substantial building—looks comfortable. Days very warm, nights cold. Last evening we bought some onions and potatoes which were a treat. They did us good as were getting canker from so long a diet on salt pork. 31st: Passed through mountains in a round-about way, they look solemn in their grandeur, rising so high with verdure of many colors. I would like to paint them. A curiosity here is a spring of tar—they use it for the wagons. The rocks here are reddish and sprinkled with pebbles. The earth looks like burnt brick. Nearby is a large cave in a rock called the Cascade. Some fruit was brought in at famine prices, apples eleven cents each.
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September 1st: Passed through Echo Canyon. Scenery beautiful to behold—such rocks I have never seen. Passed a few houses and potato patches. I am weak today as we have been on short rations for [p.322] a week and breathing so much alkali dust no one feels well. 2nd: Camped near the town of Weber. Then over the narrow side of the mountain. Looks dangerous. Came to W. Kimball's place, a ranch. He is rich in cattle and sheep. 3rd: Rained last night. The first since leaving the Platte River. 15th: Arrived in Salt Lake City on Emigration Square. Went through some of the streets, some beautiful homes, orchards and shade trees. 17th: My brother Henry whom we had not seen for twenty years came to meet us with his mule team and we started our journey southward toward Beaver County. Stopped at an old friend's house in Springville. Had a nice visit, plenty of fruit to eat. Traveled on through lovely country. Saw a boiling spring and a cold one so deep that they never found bottom. It was full of fish. Arrived in Minersville on September 20th, 1863. There were my dear mother and sister Phoebe, all well and happy to see us. We were truly thankful to find friends and a home after an arduous journey of over one thousand miles with an ox team and wagon, besides our awful trips in the steamers from Stillwater to Omaha. At last, as Joseph the Prophet, my friend, had prophesied, I was back to the Church and Saints. In time we got settled and Mr. Lightner, being a carpenter, there was plenty of work and odd jobs. I could always have sewing, making men's suits etc., and they came from all around to have me make buttonholes as I was quite proficient with the needle. I taught school, even having married men in the classes; plenty of everything to keep me busy with my five children, the youngest a year old. For my teaching I was paid in vegetables. My noon meal was of raw vegetables. Our bread was very coarse and brown but I've since learned that such food was good for me.
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We had many ups and downs through the years. The children all married except Adam who died at the age of 28. The Church authorities stopped at our home whenever in the town and Brigham always came to see us. He would have moved us to Salt Lake City if I would consent to go. It seems I was destined to live in Southern Utah until after my husband passed away, then I went to Ogden to live with my son and finally, years later, I came back to Minersville to live with my daughter, Mary Carter.
At one time Amasa Lyman came to Minersville and wanted me to join the Godbeites. My husband said he would join. Amasa said I would be well taken care of and be as high up as anyone. He gave me every inducement but I was not converted to his idea. As my husband and I sat talking about it one day I had a queer feeling come over me and went to lie down. I call it a dream as I immediately had a trance or some kind of an unusual feeling and experience. It was so plain in every detail that I felt that it had come to guide me. A being came to me in a boat and took me with him to the various harbors or showed me by illustrated pictures of different harbors and with explanations just which was the safe one for me to anchor in. I was shown, with explanation as to the different colors of rock, cement or [p.323] day, the strength or weakness of each. I was shown the Godbeite Harbor, the Brighamite Harbor, the Josephite Harbor, all of different materials. It was a marvelous representation, and after seeing these there could never be any wavering on my part as to where I wanted to anchor or stay no matter what persuasions there were. I told my husband there would be no joining Godbeites; that we were in the right place if he would only do his part. End of Journal
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On December 17, 1913 Mary Elizabeth Lightner passed away in Minersville, Utah. She was nearly 96 years of age. Unto her last days she bore a strong testimony of the truthfulness of Mormonism. Her husband died twenty-eight years before, never a member of the Church but always a staunch friend of those who espoused its cause.
The following are from letters written by Eliza R. Snow to Mary in 1869 and 1870:
My dear Sister Mary:
Yours of the 10th was duly read and appreciated. I was pleased to hear from you and that the Female Relief Society has been organized in Minersville and was also pleased that you were appointed to preside over it. It is truly a very responsible position, requiring much wisdom, patience and perseverance. By living humble and relying on God for assistance, you will be enabled to fill it with dignity and honor to yourself and much good will result to the community through your labors. According to the words of Joseph, the Presidency of the F.R.S. is to preside over the Sisters just as the First Presidency presides over the church. There are now many branches and each branch stands in the same relation to its respective Bishop as the first organization stood in relation to the Prophet Joseph Smith. In most of the branches a Board of Appraisers has been chosen by vote of the Society. This board should consist of three or more individuals who will be in attendance at the meeting where the donations are brought forward, appraised and labeled, with the price attached to each article—while the Secretary and Treasurer takes minutes of the name written in full of the person who donates and places the price of each article in the margin. The Secretary reads the minutes of one meeting at the succeeding one, and thus the Society are all posted with what is donated and who donates. The Treasurer should receive and take care of all the properties and money belonging to the Society and keep accurate acc't of all disbursements, and to whom. The Secretary should make a quarterly and annual report which should be read before the meeting and a vote taken on its reading. If accepted she is to record it in its proper place according to date, in her book, which should be a respectable one and of sufficient size for writing the history of the Society, In getting up the report the Secretary will call on the Treasurer, who will furnish a list of all disbursements in cash and property.
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Concerning ordination of teachers or visiting committees: It has never been done. The time probably will be when the Society will set apart its different officers—but as yet we have to work with much crude material and it seems wisdom to merely by vote. Joseph Smith in setting the pattern in this Dispensation only ordained the president and Councilors. Tell the Sisters to go forth and discharge their duties in humility and faithfulness and the spirit of God will rest upon them and they will be blest in their labors. Let them seek for wisdom instead of power and they will have all the power they have wisdom to exercise.
With regard to your standing, giving any rights I would merely express my opinion. I never have felt that position or standing afforded me any claims whatever. If my experience and faithfulness qualify me for any calling or office, it is more in my estimation than all the rank that mortals can boast of. I expect no honor, no preferment on any other principle than that of honestly earning it by faithfulness and integrity. I never yet have claimed any preference on account of what my standing has been. We shall all be rewarded according to our works, and if that is the principle by which we shall hereafter be judged I think it just as applicable now.
Am truly thankful to hear from you and your F.R.S. and that you are prospering so well. I think you have been greatly blessed in accumulating means in these very full times. But as you are well aware means temporally is not the main object of the organization. I know you already realize a manifest moral and spiritual good resulting from the associations of the Sisters. They have a great tendency to unite and to arouse a spirit of energy and enterprise which are improving and elevating in their results. When motives which are ennobling in either nature are placed before the Sisters how readily their minds and feeling grasp and imbibe them. To improve and elevate society it is necessary that somebody should lead out and how beautiful the organization of the F.R.S. is adapted to this great end. How evident its heavenly and divine origin. How very blind to their own personal interests those Sisters are who hold themselves at a distance and take no part in this glorious institution....
I rejoice with you and your society in your success so far. It seems rather a bold step for you to undertake building so soon but I glory in your courage. If we wait till we see every step before we take one, we shall never move forward. It is a common and I think true saying, "God helps them that help themselves." The saints must work by faith as well as by means....
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[It end abruptly here, I will try to confirm the original Our Pioneer Heritage copy.]