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Mary A. Phelps Rich, 1829-1912

Autobiography (1829-1846)
"The Life of Mary A. Rich," typescript, HBLL


I, Mary A. Rich, was born in 1829, in Tazewell County, Illinois, near Peoria. My father's name was Morris Phelps, my mother's Laura Clark. Father was born in Massachusetts and mother in Connecticut. Both of their parents moved, when they were children, to Ohio, and my father and mother were married July, 1825 in Illinois, near Chicago.

They embraced the gospel of the Latter-day Saints in 1831, removing to Jackson County, Missouri, the winter of 1831-32. They bought them an inheritance in Jackson County and worked in unison with the rest of the Latter-day Saints until they were driven from their homes in 1833. From there they moved to Clay County, Missouri, and in 1835, while in Clay County, Zion's Camp came up, the Prophet Joseph coming and preaching at our house, which was the first time I ever saw him. While at our house, he put me on his knee and blessed me, and I know him ever afterwards, and he always remembered me.

From here my father was called on a mission to preach the gospel, and left my mother with three small children to support without any means. She taught school and practiced obstetrics. My father went to Chicago and while there, converted my mother's father, mother and family. They came to Missouri to where mother was living and helped her look after her family, while father proceeded on his journey to Kirtland, preaching the gospel. While in Kirtland, he worked on the temple to help get it finished, stayed there most of the winter, and received his washings and anointings in the Kirtland Temple.

When he returned from his mission he bought him a home in Caldwell County, Missouri, moved there and soon had everything comfortable around him.

In the meantime, the persecution still followed the Saints and they were threatened with extermination, their enemies forming in companies, burning houses, plundering and committing all kinds of crime. My father was thrown into prison with Parley Pratt and four others at Richmond Jail, while Joseph and Hyrum Smith, with five others, were taken to Liberty Jail, Independence, the jail at Richmond not being large enough to hold them all. Father had his trial at the same time that Joseph Smith had his mob trial at Richmond. He was told many times that if he would burn his Mormon Bible and quit the Mormon Church, he could go free; they said he had no business there, but he chose to be firm to his religion. So he was held in prison all winter, and mother had to support her family the best she could, her provisions and everything having been destroyed by the armies when they came. They would even come into her yard and shoot the chickens and kill the pigs. Mother had her house full of women and children, in the meantime, who had been driven from their homes by the enemy. These women wanted mother to go into the woods to escape the mob, but she told them "No," that if she had to die, she would die in her own home, so they decided to stay with her.

During that winter, my mother would visit the prison where father was confined once every two weeks, taking him provisions, he not having anything provided for him that was fit to eat. The prisoners remained at Richmond Jail until spring, when the court sat, but as no one appeared against them, their case was continued. However, they took a change of venue and moved to Columbia, Boone County, Missouri. (Mother was present at the trial.)

In the meantime, mother had to leave the state, driving her own team. She went with her father's family, but she drove her own team from Missouri, leaving father in prison. Just before we left, she took us to the prison to let us see our father. The jailer allowed father to step downstairs with us and carry the baby. We left our home and everything; we just packed up what few things we could and came away. We never got a cent for our property.

My mother's father, [blank] Clark, was thrown into prison also, but he was very old so they let him out on bail. There were three or four hundred of the Saints who were taken prisoners at the same time, under the pretense of being witnesses, but they were all bailed out except those mentioned above. Father said he was present at the time one of the guards was bragging of the crimes he had committed with the Mormons (it tells about this in church history), when Joseph Smith got up and rebuked him and commanded him not to open his head, for if he did, some great calamity would befall him, after which the guard did not say a word.

When the prisoners started for Columbia, my father and Parley Pratt were chained together, and could lay no way except on their backs. They were bound that way for three days before they arrived at their destination. It stormed all the time, but they found their new quarters more comfortable than they were at Richmond, and they had better food to eat. The place, however, was very dusty and full of cobwebs (it had not been used for a long time), but the jailer had it cleaned for them. They expected the court to sit the first of July, when they hoped for some change.

In the meantime, mother arrived at Quincy, Illinois with her family, but did not remain there long. The Saints were just purchasing what was then termed Commerce, afterwards called Nauvoo. It was just a little town with a few houses in it, situated on the banks of the Mississippi. We continued our journey until we arrived at Commerce but, after a few days, went on across the river to the Iowa side where my grandfather and his sons had decided to locate, seven miles west of Montrose, the town where we landed.

My mother looked around to find a place for herself and children and found an old house in the middle of a corn field. The people who had lived in it had built a new home, which they were living in at this time. They told mother that she was welcome to go into the old house, but they did not think it was fit for anyone to live in as they had stabled horses in it, and it was in a very bad condition. After looking at the place, however, mother decided that any place was better than to be right out of doors, where the sun was getting so very hot. So we unpacked our things and went to work cleaning the place up. We turned the clapboards over there were on the loft, swept the dust off them, laid them down again, shoveled the manure out, whitewashed the place, and then washed the floor (it had a slabbed floor) and moved in.

In the meantime, my mother had gotten a letter from father, comparing her to a star, and telling her how dark and dismal everything seemed since his star was out of sight. She immediately decided to go and visit him, and be there at the trial, so she went to Nauvoo to see Joseph Smith and tell him what she was thinking of doing and ask his council. He laid his hands on her head and blessed her and told her to go. He said, "Sister Phelps, perhaps you can accomplish more than we can. We have done our best to get those prisoners liberated, but all our plans have failed."

She went and engaged an old lady by the name of Stevenson to come and stay with her children while she was gone, and made arrangements with her brother, a young man, John Wesley Clark, to accompany her to Columbia, it being 150 miles, she would have to go on horseback. It rained a good deal of the time after she and her brother had gone. Her horse swam one river with her on it. Some men, who were on the other side of the river, seeing her about to go into the river, called to her, telling her not to go in or she would be drowned as the water was so deep. But she tucked up her feet and started in. She knew the animal she rode was safe and she arrived on the other side safely. These men wanted to know what her business was that she would venture her life in that way. She told them she was going to get her husband out of prison (but, of course, she did not know how); they said, "Call as you come back and tell us what luck you have."

She and her brother arrived in Columbia, Boone County, all right, where they found Brother Orson Pratt, Parley Pratt's brother, who had also come to attend the trial. The prisoners were tried again, but no one appeared against them, so they still continued the case. The jailer and his wife bragged that they had had several in the prison who had died of old age, because they would just continue their cases and keep them in prison. They allowed mother to stay in the prison with father, but of course, they searched her before they allowed her to go in. When she got in, she could stay all night, and she and father could talk as much as they pleased. At this time father, Parley Pratt and a Mr. Follet planned to break jail, mother taking the news to my uncle and Orson Pratt.

The people were going to have a big celebration on the Fourth of July, and when the door opened for supper, father was to grab it and slip out. Parley Pratt was to go also and he was not to let anything hinder him. They planned to break jail just as the sun was going down. On the Fourth, the prisoners took a piece of a white shirt and cut red letters that spelled the word "Liberty," which they fastened to the piece of white cloth, and got a pole from the jailer and put it out of the window. This pleased the people so that they took the prisoners some of the public dinner.

Orson Pratt and my uncle pretended to start for home, taking mother's horse with them. They had three horses. Mother's horse was for Brother Follet. They told the jailer they were going to leave mother there to visit with her husband longer, but in reality mother was giving up her horse and trusting in the Lord for her deliverance, as she knew they would be so angry with her after the prisoners had escaped that they would either turn her out or hold her as a prisoner. They went within one-half miles of Columbia and secreted the horses. The prisoners could just see a dry limb of a tree out of the jail window where they would find the horses. The two men were to help them on their journey when they got there.

Before going, my uncle gave mother strict orders not to touch the prisoners, nor try to assist them in any way, as that was a penitentiary act. The prisoners had to go through the kitchen to get out of the jail, so mother left them in the afternoon and went down to the kitchen. They told her whatever she did, not to let the jailer bring their supper until just as the sun was going down; so she went down and talked with the jailer and his wife. Just as the sun was going down he said, "Well, I must go up and give the boys their supper." Mother said she sat back on the bed in the kitchen and pretty soon she could hear steps and a rumbling noise. She heard the jailer call out and his wife rushed upstairs to where he was (she weighed about 200 pounds.) The jailer had father clinched, but father jumped down two pairs of stairs, six steps each, with the jailer's wife hanging onto one of his arms. He would get rid of her when he jumped, but she would clinch him again when she again reached him. She could make better progress than he because the jailer held on to him, and in that condition they got down to the kitchen. Here Parley Pratt and Mr. Follet made their escape, and left father in the hands of the jailer.

Mother said she did not feel that father would be overpowered. She thought she could pray if she could do nothing else. She thought she was whispering a prayer, but they said she hollered just as loud as her voice would let her, and she said, "Oh! Thou God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, deliver Thy servant." Father said he felt as strong as a giant when he heard those words. He just pushed the jailer and his wife off as if they were babies and cleared himself. When he got to his horse, the enemy had retaken Brother Follet, and they had mother's horse, as she had given up her horse to Mr. Follet. Father was so exhausted that uncle had to help him on his horse and put the whip in his hand, and that was the last my uncle saw of father until they met in Quincy. It soon commenced to storm and father had had his hat knocked off in the struggle with the jailer, so he was bareheaded.

The enemy returned with Brother Follet on my mother's horse, which, of course, was pretty plain evidence against her. The jailer called her everything, and told her to be gone out of his sight. She told him to get her shawl and bonnet and she would leave. He told her to go upstairs and get them, but she said no, for them to bring them to her, as she knew the windows were open up there and she thought they might throw her out of one. She had paid her board bill and had everything square before that so they could not say she owed them anything.

A gentleman who had brought in some of the public dinner, seeing the doorway crowded with men and boys, said to the jailer, "How do you expect this lady to get out of this place?" The jailer said he did not care how she got out. He wanted her out of his sight, and if she did not get out of his way before dark, he would soon put her out of the way. This gentleman said he would see her safely out, so he took her by the hand and led her. As they went out, she picked up father's hat. She sat down in the courthouse yard, and while there, two young men came and wanted her to go to a hotel. They said they would pay her fare, and for her not to stay there and suffer the abuse of the jailer. But she said she felt that people might think she was not just what she ought to be if she went to the hotel, so she did not go.

During this time there was a little boy who had been there and had seen all that was going on. He ran home to his mother and told her that the prisoners had broken jail, and that the young man's wife was down there and the jailer had thrown her out of doors. He said he wished it would get dark so he would get her out of the way. The little boy was crying as though his heart would break. His mother told him to go out and tell his father. The father came in and wanted to know what his boy was worrying about, and when he found what the trouble was, he and his wife and the little boy went down to the courthouse, where mother was. When they saw mother, he said to his wife, "Elizabeth, you take this lady by the hand and take her home to our house. If her husband was the greatest murderer in the world, we could not see anyone in our town treated with such cruelty as this." Mother said she thought they were true friends, and so she got up and thanked them and told them she would go with them. As she was going, she saw the enemy throw the side-saddle off her horse, and put a man's saddle on it to go after the prisoners. The gentleman and his wife, who had thus aided her, were named Richardson.

They took her to their home, and treated her just as kind as they could treat a mother or daughter. They did everything they could for her comfort. Mr. Richardson and his wife went to the prison with her the next day and she picked up all the little trinkets that she thought might belong to father and took them with her. They also searched around and found her side-saddle. Mr. Richardson was a saddler, so he took it and fixed it up better than it was before, and got some men to watch out for her horse so that he could get it for her if they brought it back. After three days, it was brought back to the livery stable. He went and got it and took it home with him. The horse was almost dead, they had ridden it so hard. But with good care he soon had it in good shape again.

Mother stayed there ten days. She never heard a word as to whether father was dead or alive, but mother was a woman with lots of faith and courage. When she had been there ten days and had not heard a word, she told them she felt as though she could stay no longer. They begged her to stay as it was not considered safe in the country for a woman to travel alone, on account of the Negroes. But Mr. Richardson saw that she got uneasy and restless, so he told her there was one thing he could do. He would see the mail boy and find out how far he would go her way, and if it was safe they were willing to let her go. So arrangements were made with the mail boy for her to travel with him. They had to travel late at night and start out early in the morning, but she told them she could stand it.

She had preached Mormonism to them all the while she was there, and she left a Book of Mormon and a hymn book with them. She had also sung them the songs of Zion, as she was a great hand to sing. They made her promise that if ever there was any great calamity coming upon the state of Missouri, that she would write to them.

She left in the afternoon and traveled 30 miles before night. The next morning they got up at daylight and traveled 30 miles more before breakfast. She got her breakfast at the hotel she had stopped at when she was going up to Columbia, at which time she had told them she was going to get her husband out of prison. When she came back they wanted to know what success she had had. She told them that her husband was out of prison, but she could not tell them whether he was dead or alive, but she wanted some breakfast, after which she would talk to them. She left the mail boy here. She had to go seven miles to where her father had left some cattle when they moved. She thought perhaps there would be someone there who could tell her something about the whereabouts of her husband. Arriving there, she questioned the people, but they had heard nothing and there had been no one after the cattle. She did not get off her horse but rode on, although she was very hungry as she had eaten nothing since breakfast.

Soon she struck the bottoms of the Mississippi River. She had been riding 50 miles and was just starting into the woods (the timber in that country was very thick), and she said this was the first time her courage failed her. She had a lonesome, dismal feeling come over her, and there was six miles yet to travel before she would reach a hotel. She did not know what would accost her before she got there because it was getting dark. She looked into the woods as far as she could see and saw a man coming up on horseback. He was a white man, and when he came up to her he looked at her and she looked at him, and he said, "I wonder if you are not the woman I am looking for?" She said, "I believe you are the man I am looking for." Then he asked what her name was. She told him, after which he told her he was Mr. Follet's son, and he had a note from my father saying he was safe. As they had heard nothing from her, they feared she might be in prison, after doing what she had done. His errand accomplished, Mr. Follet turned around and rode on with mother. They arrived at the hotel safely and stayed there all night.

The next day they got to Quincy where father was. The sisters took her in the bedroom where father was, before he knew she had come. He was quite sick from exposure and from being confined in prison for eight months, during which time he had the chills and fever, and then riding horseback and getting so wet. He was three days and nights without anything to eat, not daring to go to any house for food, because his enemies were searching the country for him. He would lay down to sleep, while his horse was eating, using the saddle for his pillow, and tying the horse to his feet.

After staying in Quincy two days, they decided to start for Nauvoo. They found that Orson Pratt and John Wesley Clark had arrived safely in Quincy, but had walked all the way. After a few days' travel, father and mother arrived in Iowa, but when they got there it was not safe for father to stay on account of the enemy. They were afraid that he would be re-arrested at any time. His health was broken down. He counselled with the brethren, and they thought he needed a change. So he decided to get up a conveyance and take mother and the baby to Kirtland, Ohio to visit his parents. Mother had never seen his parents.

In the meantime, they made arrangements for my older sister to stay with a Mr. Foot, and myself and younger sister to stay at Mr. John Murdock's. My father was to furnish our clothing, bedding and a cow. Father had kept Father Murdock's little boy for seven years when he was preaching the gospel so he wanted to do a little to repay this kindness. Father had not charged him anything. Father bought a carriage and a span of horses, and after taking us to Father Murdock's he, mother, and the baby started in August.

OH! What a strange place it was. Brother Murdock had just married an old maid. She was very particular and everything had to be done just so. At just such a time, we had to have just such an hour to eat, go to bed and get up. It seemed like we were in prison. We never were allowed a light to go upstairs to bed, but we would go up, get into bed, hug each other and go to sleep the best we could. They were very particular, however, about making us go to meeting every Sunday, and Mr. Murdock was a school teacher, so he let us go to school. Mrs. Murdock was a fine seamstress and she taught me to sew. I had to knit a half hour every evening after supper was over and the dishes washed. She never manifested the least affection; it was just a matter of duty with her. We were taken very sick with the chills and fever. Both myself and my sister were sick six weeks. Well, during that time we had to have better care, but as soon as we got well, we went to work again. It was a regular house of discipline. Mr. Murdock was a very stern man. Still they did not abuse us. But we never had the privilege of seeing any of our relatives while we were there. It was ten months before father and mother returned.

Father and mother went to Kirtland, Ohio, and visited with his father's family. He tried to teach them the gospel, but they did not want anything to do with religion. Yet they treated them very kindly. They stayed there most of the winter, but early in the spring they went to Indiana. My mother had a sister living there, and here my mother was confined. She had a baby boy. They called him Jacob. They stayed there a month, and then started on their journey for home, arriving the 1st of July, 1840. They gathered up what they had left here and there, and their children. We were overjoyed at seeing our father and mother again. No tongue could express our feelings at being together again, all alive and well. I was then almost eleven years old.

We moved to a town 20 miles from Nauvoo called Macedonia. Here we located and soon all our friends. Father was a carpenter, and we soon gathered things around us and were comfortable. We lived there about a year and a half. These were the happiest days of our lives. Then my mother was taken sick and died, leaving her five children, three girls and two boys, the baby one and a half years old, with my father heartbroken, and her children not knowing how to manage. Father took mother's body to Nauvoo to be buried. She was quite young when she died, not 33 years old, but her nervous system was broken. Joseph Smith said she had lived her life so fast. (He and Heber C. Kimball both spoke at her funeral services.) He said her salvation was sure, that if she had lived until she was one hundred years old, she could not have done any more.

It was now that the knowledge which I had gained at Brother Murdock's was of such a benefit to me. My little baby brother died the next winter, and my father eventually married again, so my home was never home any more. Still father was always ready to give his children good council and advice at any time, but was so poor that he was not able to help support us.

I used to stay with my mother's relatives who lived in Iowa a great deal and when they and their neighbors had their wool to spin (everybody spun wool in these days), I could always get work. I never worked out at housework, but I used to spin a good deal for other people, making my home at my uncle's.

Soon after this, my father moved to Nauvoo, partly built a two-story frame house, and got things around him so they could comfortably live again. But the lady he had married was so different from my mother. Well, I guess she did the best she could, but she had no management, and my mother was such a fine woman to manage and keep things going along. This made it very hard for father. He would work on his house part of the time. He worked on it until he got one room so they could live in it, then he would work on the temple, which took the greatest part of his time.

At this time, the persecutions commenced to rage again. The Prophet Joseph's life was threatened. He was arrested many times, but there never was anything found against him. Finally in 1844, he saw that he could not stand it much longer, so he planned to leave and go to the Rocky Mountains. But his family persuaded him not to do so, as they thought it was cowardly to leave his church and family. So he came back and decided to stay and let the consequences be what they would. In the meantime, Governor Ford had ordered his arrest.

At this time I was 15 years old; I was almost everywhere there was anything to be seen. I saw the Prophet when he was standing on the frame of a building delivering his last speech to the Nauvoo Legion.

When he found he had to go to Carthage, he wanted a man by the name of Rosecrantz, who was well acquainted with the governor, to go with him. He sent word by Mr. Rosecrantz, asking me if I would go and stay with Mr. Rosecrantz's sick wife while he went to Carthage with him. I went to stay with Mrs. Rosecrantz, and as they were going, they called at the gate with their company of about 20 men, and Joseph Smith asked me if I would bring them out a drink of water. I took a pitcher and glass and went out and gave them a drink. The Prophet said to me, "Lord bless you. You shall have a disciple's reward." This was the last time I ever saw him alive.

When they got to Carthage, the governor put the Prophet, Hyrum Smith, Willard Richards and John Taylor in prison. Of course, now Mr. Rosecrantz could do no more good so he returned home, while many of the brethren stayed to see how things were going. I went home to father's place. Then came the awful tragedy of his murder. When the sad news came to Nauvoo, the Saints were all plunged in grief, not knowing what to do.

The next day the Nauvoo Legion went part way to Carthage to meet the bodies. The inhabitants were all out in the streets, on the housetops and everywhere to see if they could get just a glimpse of him. But he was in a new wagon, which had no cover other than green bushes which had been laid over the top of the box. Hence, they could not see him. As they drove around to the mansion (the Prophet's home), the people were almost frantic to get one little glimpse of him, but they were driven back by the marshall. The wagon was driven inside of the back gate and the gate was locked. No one was allowed in the yard except the guards and the Prophet's special friends.

The traitors were in high glee.

My father was at the mansion all night, doing what he could to help them. In the morning he came up early and told me that if I would get up I could go down, as he had gotten permission for me to see Joseph and Hyrum Smith as they lay at their home. I went down, saw them and laid my hand on Joseph's forehead. The blood was oozing out of the wound in his shoulder, and the sheet that was around him was stained with blood. Still he looked very natural; Hyrum had been shot in the face and therefore he did not look very natural. The funeral was held at one o'clock that day. The Saints were all allowed to go and view the remains after they were dressed.

My father was still working on the temple. Every able-bodied man was needed to work on it in order to get it completed, so that the Saints could receive their ordinances. He worked all the next fall and winter, during which time the excitement grew worse. The mob burned houses and drove the Saints from other settlements into Nauvoo.

In the meantime, Brigham Young was appointed to lead the Saints. The enemy issued orders for him to be arrested, so he could not hold public meetings nor be on the streets very much.

On January 6, 1845, after considerable deliberation, I embraced the principal of celestial marriage. I was married to Charles C. Rich with the full consent of his first wife, I being his third wife. We lived in the hope of soon moving to the Rocky Mountains, where we could enjoy the rights and liberties of our religion.

The temple now being almost completed, our enemies were raging. The Saints had to guard the temple night and day to keep it from being destroyed. Early in the fall of 1845, the enemy came in determined to exterminate or drive the Latter-day Saints out of the United States. Seeing there was no other way for them, the Saints met with the officers of the enemy and surrendered their arms, and made a promise that they would leave the next spring. They thought during that winter they could have their endowments and do a great deal of work in the temple.

As soon as possible, the temple was opened and dedicated to the Lord. They opened it to all the worthy Saints, and gave their endowments, sealings and ordinances to just as many as it was possible. This only enraged the enemy more. There were Saints working in the temple every day except Saturdays, and a greater part of the night, giving endowments until the first of February. During the winter every able-bodied person was making wagons, clothing and preparing for the journey, as they expected to start by spring for the Rocky Mountains. On the first of February [1846] the temple was closed and everything was taken down. The spirit of the Lord was greatly manifested during that winter, and we all enjoyed the privilege of having our endowments and sealings. I received all these blessings in the Nauvoo Temple in common with my husband and family.

On the 12th day of February [1846], my husband prepared two wagons loaded with provisions, ready to start. He decided to have me leave and take the wagons (I had two boys to drive them) to the Iowa side to my uncle's, E. T. Clark. Then as quickly as he could get ready, he would bring the rest of his family and effects. He then had no feed for his cattle. We crossed the river at Montrose and went seven miles to my uncle's and stayed there one week. Then my husband and his family arrived, that is, all except one wife whom he left with her baby but a few days old in Nauvoo with her mother. My father could not come at that time. He had to wait until the next summer on account of means.

We went from my uncle's to my husband's father's, Joseph Rich. We stayed there a week until the company was ready to leave Sugar Creek, which was where the main company was camped. Then we started on our journey to the Rocky Mountains in earnest, traveling every day, more or less. It rained and snowed and we had a terrible spring. Finally we arrived at Mt. Pisgah, which is located on a fork of the Grand River. Here the whole company stopped for nearly a month. This was in April, and they decided to have some of the Saints stay there. My husband and family were called to stop and look after the Saints that were left here. Father Huntington was appointed president and Mr. Rich was his councilor, but Mr. Huntington was very old and feeble so could not do much. He was soon taken sick and died, leaving the whole care of the company on my husband.