Preparing to migrate west with the Saints in 1848, Mary Fielding Smith faced many hardships. During her stay at Winter Quarters, some of her oxen had been stolen, and many of her cattle and horses had died in the severe winter. Strong oxen were necessary to making the trip west in safety.
Mary’s son Joseph, then nine years old, was given the job of driving one of the ox teams. Because they didn’t have enough oxen to pull their wagons, they tied two wagons together and used their few oxen to pull both wagons at once. Though this slowed their progress, they managed to make it the twenty-seven miles from Winter Quarters to the Elk Horn River, where their company was forming and where they hoped to obtain more oxen or horses.
The man who supervised the cattle in the company urged Mary to stay behind, saying, “If you start out in this manner, you will be a burden on the company the whole way, and I will have to carry you along or leave you on the way.”
Undaunted, Sister Smith told him, “I will beat you to the valley and will ask no help from you either.”
Such courage and faith characterized this determined, resourceful pioneer mother. Mary Fielding was born July 21, 1801, in Honidon, Bedfordshire, England. When she was thirty-three years old, Mary moved to Canada, where her brother and sister were living. In 1836 they were all baptized by Parley P. Pratt. One year later they moved to Kirtland, Ohio, to live with the Saints there.
On December 24, 1837, Mary married Hyrum Smith, the brother of the Prophet Joseph. Unselfishly she cared for Hyrum’s five small children, whose mother had died earlier. Hyrum and Mary also had two children of their own—Joseph F. Smith, later the sixth President of the Church, and Martha Ann.
Recognizing the importance of her husband’s work, Mary supported Hyrum through all the persecutions he suffered for his belief in the Gospel. Shortly before the birth of Joseph F. on November 13, 1838, Hyrum, along with his brother, Joseph, were imprisoned at Liberty Jail. Despite her many trials—she was very ill for four months following the birth of her son, her husband was in jail, and a mob had broken into her home to steal her husband’s possessions—Mary never ceased to believe in the Lord.
Even later, when Hyrum was martyred with Joseph on June 27, 1844, Mary’s faith still did not waver. She wrote to her brother, “Though I have been left, for near six months, in widowhood, in the time of great affliction, and was called to take joyfully or otherwise the spoiling of almost all our goods, … yet I do not feel the least discouraged.”
Mary and her family moved from Nauvoo to Winter Quarters. One time they traveled to St. Joseph, Missouri, to get supplies for the westward trek. Joseph F. and his uncle Joseph Fielding went with her. One morning they woke up to find that the oxen had strayed from camp. Joseph and his uncle searched all morning for them. In despair, they returned to camp. They found Mary kneeling in prayer, asking the Lord to help them recover their lost team. She then started toward the river and soon found the oxen by a clump of willows.
Although Mary managed to get some additional cattle to help pull the wagons to the Salt Lake Valley, the trek still tested and refined her faith. One day one of her best oxen became very sick, lay down, and was apparently near death. Had this happened, she could not have continued on the journey to the Valley. Mary got a bottle of consecrated oil and asked two brethren to administer to the sick ox. Although administration to the sick had only been used for humans, Mary believed that the Lord would heal the animal that she needed so desperately.
After the blessing, the ox got up and was soon ready to pull the wagon again. Two more times other oxen became ill, and twice more Mary asked the brethren to bless them. Each time, they were healed instantly. Despite all difficulties, Mary and her family arrived in the Salt Lake Valley on September 23, 1848, a full day before the rest of the company.
The first winter in the Salt Lake Valley was hard for the Smith family. Food and shelter were scarce. When summer came and the family finally had a crop, Mary insisted that they pay a full and honest tithe. In those days, tithing was often paid in goods. Mary selected her best potatoes and headed for the tithing office. When William Thompson, a tithing clerk, saw her, he questioned her need to pay tithing, because she was so poor. Mary retorted, “William, you ought to be ashamed of yourself. Would you deny me a blessing? If I did not pay my tithing I should expect the Lord to withhold His blessings from me; I pay my tithing, not only because it is a law of God but because I expect a blessing by doing it.”
Mary continued to pay her tithing, whatever her circumstances. She remained independent, raising chickens, sheep, and cattle. Her faithfulness impressed her children with the importance of tithing.
At her funeral, Joseph F. said, “Nothing beneath the celestial kingdom can surpass my deathless love for the sweet true, noble, soul who gave me birth—my own, own mother! She was good! She was pure! She was indeed a Saint! A royal daughter of God.”