IIELIZABETH ATKINSON MACDONALD - 1841-1922
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Elizabeth Graham Macdonald Webb Brown's Mother
Elizabeth "Lizzie" Atkinson Macdonald
Elizabeth Atkinson was born May 18, 1841, in Annan, Dumfries-shire, Scotland, where she grew up. One of her fondest memories was recalling how she sat on the steps of her home and dangled her feet in the water as the tide came in. She retained a lifelong love for the ocean as her life played out, ironically, in the arid deserts of Utah, Arizona, and northern Mexico.
Nicknamed "Lizzie," Elizabeth was the only child born to William Atkinson and Margaret Ashbridge, but she had seven half-brothers and sisters, her mother's children by her first husband.
The Family Joins the LDS Church
Lizzie was two years old when her father was baptized a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints in 1843, and her mother was baptized five years later in 1848. Her parents were anxious for Lizzie to be baptized and encouraged her to read the scriptures. But for a child, reading the Book of Mormon seemed difficult. Said Elizabeth, "They have too many 'and it came to passes' in them." However, she continued to read, and one day she became ill, and confined to her bed, she made reading the Book of Mormon a matter of prayer. She related that she received a forceful witness of its truth. With tears in her eyes, she told her parents, "It's as true as God lives," and she prepared to be baptized. That testimony remained steadfast, and she was a faithful member of the church until the day she died.
Elizabeth had a beautiful soprano voice, and family tradition says that as a young woman she sang in the music halls of Scotland. When she and her parents came to Utah, she continued with her music until her father intervened and forced her to stop singing publicly. He feared life on the stage was too worldly an environment for his daughter. Lizzie was also a very talented seamstress and became a dressmaker while still living in Scotland.
Immigration to America, Marriage and Children
About 1862, Lizzie and her parents immigrated to America. Elizabeth's obituary states that, crossing the plains in a wagon train, she walked one day and rode the next. Ultimately the family settled in Provo, Utah, where Lizzie met Alexander F. Macdonald whom she married on October 22, 1864. (Alexander also married Agnes Aird the same day.) Alexander, also a Scottish immigrant, was a prosperous young man in Provo who had built a fine home on the town's main intersection along with Brigham Young and Heber C. Kimball, church leaders who visited the area frequently.
In Provo, Lizzie had the first of her four daughters on October 19, 1865, and named her Margaret Atkinson, known as Maggie all her life. She was her father's first daughter after nine sons. Annetta (sometimes spelled Annette) joined the family June 24, 1867 in Provo, and died on June 7, 1868 at the age of almost one year. She was buried in the Macdonald family plot in the Provo Cemetery.
Move to St. George
In the early 1870s, the Macdonalds were called by church leaders to St. George, Utah, and Lizzie moved with the rest if the family to the southern Utah community. While in St. George, Lizzie gave birth to her third daughter naming her Elizabeth after herself and adding "Graham" to honor her husband's first wife who had eleven sons and no daughters. Young Elizabeth Graham Macdonald was called Bessie by family and friends. On August 27, 1876, Maude Atkinson Macdonald was born also in St. George. Maude died on July 5, 1878, and was buried in the St. George Cemetery. (Lizzie told her granddaughter Marguerite Webb Shill, daughter of Elizabeth "Bessie" Macdonald, that Maude died from a violent illness caused by eating a poisonous weed. Understandably, the death of Lizzie's two daughters was a great sorrow to her.
Lizzie's third daughter and namesake, Bessie, was said to be Alexander's favorite. His first wife had born only sons, but no daughters. One day when Bessie was two or three years old, Alexander came to Lizzie and instructed her to gather Bessie's belongings and take her to his first wife, for he wanted Bessie to live with him and his first wife. Lizzie did as she was requested and took Bessie to live with Alexander and Elizabeth Graham Macdonald. Lizzie said to Elizabeth G., "Here's Bessie, and I expect you to bring her up right. Teach her all the things she should know, and do by her just like I would do." Elizabeth G. handed Bessie back to her mother and said, "Take her back." She doubtlessly knew how it would feel to give up one's child. Besides, she had her hands full with eleven sons. Lizzie was overjoyed to take Bessie back home with her.
Home in Arizona
Having recently returned from a mission to Scotland, Alexander had hoped to move his families back to Provo and settle there. However, in October 1879 he was appointed president of the Salt River Mission in central Arizona by John Taylor, then presiding over the Church, and on November 10, 1879 he was set apart for that calling. Plans to move to Arizona were set in motion. Part of the family, including Lizzie and her two little girls, remained in St. George for two years until Alexander could prepare a place for them in Mesa.
A. F. Macdonald arrived in Mesa in January 1880, and immediately assumed his responsibilities of leading the struggling community. He was responsible for many church and community civic, also being elected Mesa's first mayor. Along with his wives, they experienced their share of hardships in developing a community from the raw frontier. In addition, living in polygamy and being responsible for several wives and children was no easy task. It required patience and forbearance for all involved.
About 1881 Alexander moved Lizzie and daughters to Arizona in a covered wagon. It was a two or three month trip from St. George, Utah to Mesa, Arizona. Elizabeth and the two little girls settled in the little community of Jonesville located three miles north of Mesa. It was the area where the pioneers had originally settled when sent to Arizona by Brigham Young. Later the name of the community was changed to Lehi and is still known by that name today, even though it has long since been incorporated into the city of Mesa.
Missionary to the Indians and Relief Society President
Alexander was always very interested in the Indians he encountered after he immigrated from Scotland to the American West. He had studied them and their cultures when he lived in Utah, and he continued that interest in Arizona. He did not neglect their spiritual welfare and called several people to labor as missionaries among the Indian people in Arizona, including his wife, Elizabeth Atkinson Macdonald.
In the minutes of the church record book in1888, Elizabeth A. was called to serve as the Lehi Relief Society president and served in that capacity until 1892 when she was called to be the stake Relief Society president. These were responsible positions in the Latter-day Saint community and reflect Lizzie's competence and the regard others held for her. There was a membership of 26 sisters in the Lehi organization, and during the years she served there, the sisters met about once a month. At these meetings they would gather to sing, bear their testimonies, encourage one another, and work to serve those in need. The Relief Society sisters also made all the clothing in the community and prepared the dead for burial. In the division of labor among the women, Lizzie Macdonald made yeast from potatoes which she traded for flour made by other sisters.
Anti-Polygamy Campaign and Move to Mexico
In 1882 the Edmunds Law was passed by Congress, greatly strengthening the federal government's ability to eradicate polygamy. By 1884 indictments were issued for the arrest of several of the brethren in the Maricopa Stake, including A. F. Macdonald. After much tribulation, and under the advice of church leaders, A. F. moved to Mexico in January, 1885, although he continued to maintain his homes in Mesa and visit often. For a time, it was not definite where he would settle permanently, so he was not officially released as Maricopa stake president until December 5, 1887.
When he initially moved to Mexico in 1885 he took his wives Agnes Aird and Fannie Van Cott with him, and they settled in the town of Colonia Juarez, which Alexander surveyed and laid out for settlement. Agnes's sons were grown and remained in Arizona, but Fannie's two children, Byron and Lucy, were small and went to Mexico. She had hers and Alexander's last child, Flora Hermosa, in Colonia Juarez in 1888.
In the early 1890s, Alexander established a new colony in the Sierra Madre Mountains 35 miles from Colonia Juarez. He named the settlement Colonia Garcia and built a log home there for Agnes. Fannie remained in Colonia Juarez where her three children could attend school. During these early years of the Mexico phase of the family's history time, Lizzie stayed in her home in Lehi, Arizona near Mesa.
Lizzie Goes to Mexico
Agnes Aird Macdonald was murdered in February 1898 in her home in Colonia Garcia, and as a result, Lizzie, age 57, left her home, family and friends in Lehi and went to Mexico to be with her husband. She moved into the same log house where Agnes had lived, a three-room log home with pine floors. Lizzie worked hard to make a clean and pleasant home in primitive conditions. She continued to make yeast and exchange it for flour, salt and sugar. She also cared for the cows, pigs and chickens which provided milk, eggs and salt pork. A little extra money was earned by providing lodging and food for travelers who were passing through Garcia. Of course, that meant their horses had to be fed and cared for.
Both of Alexander's and Lizzie's daughters had in the meantime grown to adulthood. Maggie married Soren Sorenson in 1893, and they resided in Lehi where they raised their seven children, six boys and one daughter.
Bessie married Pardon Milo Webb in 1894, and to that union were born two daughters: Elsie in 1894 and Marguerite in 1897. However, Bessie's marriage to Pardon ended in divorce, and she and her two little girls soon went to live with her parents in Colonia Garcia, Mexico. Later she went to Colonia Juarez to attend the Juarez Stake Academy to study nursing.
During this period in Colonia Garcia, around 1902, granddaughter Marguerite recalls that Joseph F. Smith, then president of the LDS Church, was visiting in the Macdonald home. A. F. Macdonald provided his comfortable red velvet house slippers to the visiting prophet, and young Marguerite, unhappy at seeing someone else with her grandpa's slippers on, scolded President Smith, saying "Off trodes shun," which translated means, "Take off Grandpa's shoes!" Another time Alexander tapped the table with the handle of his knife and asked, "Who is talking to the table?" Marguerite replied, "I is not talking to the table. I is talking to Grandma."
Grandma Mac, as Lizzie was called, was a good cook. She always made her own bread, churned her own butter, made cottage cheese and pressed cheese. She always had a garden and raised her own vegetables in the summer time. There were potatoes, celery, pie plant (rubarb), onions radishes, turnips, carrots, cabbage and cauliflower. When the vegetables were harvested they were put down in the log cellar and covered with straw and sacks to keep them from freezing in the winter months.
At one time, Nelle Spillsbury Hatch, a long-time resident of the Mormon colonies in Mexico and a gifted local historian, spent some time as a young teen-ager with Alexander and Lizzie Macdonald. She later wrote:
"My life that summer with Aunt Lizzie was equally satisfying and interesting as that with Brother Macdonald. She was so generous and kind that everyone loved her. She had a laugh for everything. For the first time Brother Macdonald realized her real worth. She was just what he needed. She took care of his every need and was a tonic for his every mood. She was just as good for me too. Aunt Lizzie made a place in my heart." Alexander once said to his wife, "Lizzie, you have been given the gift of prophecy, so prophesy well."
Death of A. F. Macdonald
In 1903 Alexander Macdonald became very ill and went to El Paso to seek the help of a doctor, though he maintained he didn't need one and would soon be all right. With Agnes's son Jim Macdonald driving the wagon, Alexander and Lizzie left for El Paso. They were informed by the doctor that he had Bright's Disease in an advanced stage, and little could be done for him.
They took the first train home as far as Nuevo Casas Grandes. By this time Alexander was in poor condition, so they went to the home of Mr. Elldredge, editor of the El Progreso newspaper, and were treated very kindly. Everything that could be done for him was done, and Lizzie never left his side. She later said, "Mac was in a state of coma by the time he was put to bed. Hardly had he been tucked in bed than he asked, 'Lizzie, who are those men standing by the door?' 'There is no one standing by the door, Mac,' I answered. 'But there is someone,' he insisted. I said 'No one but you and me - and Jim, if he gets here in the night [from Garcia].' 'No, someone is there. It looks like Moses or some of the prophets.' Lizzie's chuckle died when she looked at his face. His eyes were set, and the pallor of death covered his features. In another moment he was gone, and Lizzie said 'I was alone among strangers, although very friendly strangers. But they were not of our faith and could do nothing toward giving a fitting burial to a staunch Latter-day Saint. There was nothing to do but . . . seek . . . help. . . . . I asked Helaman Pratt [a member of the stake presidency living in Colonia Dublan, two miles away] to help me in my dilemma, or to take me to someone who would.'"
With tears streaming down her face Lizzie said, "How glad I am I made that decision. I found not only a friend, but he was instrumental in giving Mac the type of funeral and burial he deserved. 'Just leave it to me,' he [Pratt] said, 'and we will see he has everything that money and friends can get for him.'"
Lizzie said, "I just sat and watched every wish of my heart for him come true. I saw him dressed in the nicest clothes that could be had, laid away in the trimmest casket that loving hands could do. I saw banks of flowers, mostly potted plants, for it was March, decorate the room and with some to be carried to the cemetery. I heard the finest tributes paid him by men who knew his worth and were aware of the service he had rendered the Church in early colonization days. I saw the house packed with neighbors and loved ones who thronged to pay their last respects, and then saw him laid to rest by hands that could have done it no more tenderly had he been their own father." Alexander F. Macdonald died March 21, 1903.
Lizzie was apparently the only one of Alexander Macdonald's wives to attend his funeral. (In Mexico, the dead must be buried within 48 hours of death, leaving no time for family members to travel long distances.). She returned to Colonia Garcia and her humble home alone.
Lizzie Raises Four Grandchildren
Lizzie's daughter Bessie, as stated earlier, attended the Juarez Stake Academy for a time, and soon met Orson Pratt Brown whom she married (the only child of Alexander Macdonald to marry polygamously). She moved with O.P. Brown to Colonia Morelos, in the neighboring Mexican state of Sonora, where she had two sons, Donald Mac in 1902 and Duncan in 1904. She died of typhoid fever on October 23, 1904, leaving four small children. Three of the four children went to Colonia Garcia to be raised by their recently widowed grandmother. They were 9, 7, 2 years of age. Orson Brown felt Duncan was too young to go with the other children, so he was nursed and cared for by Aunt Eliza, one of Orson's other wives. When Duncan was about three years of age he too went to Garcia to live with Grandma Mac and his other siblings.
As the children grew, each of them was given chores to do which became their responsibility. There was no running water, so Elsie and Marguerite carried the water from the creek up to the house. This was quite a distance and the return trip was uphill all the way. They carried a small galvanized tub between them and a bucket on each side. When they got a little bigger they were allowed to take clothes to the creek and wash them there.
They also learned to scrub the pine floor boards on their hands and knees because Grandma Mac wouldn't allow them to use a mop. The floors had to be scrubbed with lye soap, and they had to be ever so careful that no line or tide marks showed.
There were chickens and livestock to feed, and as the children grew older they helped milk the cows. The little boys helped care for the animals and Donald once exclaimed, "Damned if I'm going to feed all those pickens and chigs." The cows were milked in the morning and then turned out to graze during the day. In the evening they would come home, the cow bells hanging around their necks ringing and clanging as they walked. The children would throw hay out of the manger onto the ground, then they would have to scatter it about for the cows to eat. One time as Marguerite went to scatter the hay, two of the cows had locked horns and proceeded to butt her right out of the way. Only her pride was hurt, but it was a frightening experience.
Praying for the Cows to Come In
Grandma Mac was a woman of great faith. When the cows were going to have calves and could no longer be milked, Grandma Mac would turn them out to pasture in the foothills. When it came time for them to calf, in family prayers Grandma Mac would pray, "Put it into the hearts of the cows to come home." Sure enough, the cows would come with their baby calves. Marguerite said she never doubted for a moment that those cows would come home.
One time four of the cows had calved, but only three calves came in with the cows. As the children tried to put the animals in the corral the mother cow who had lost her baby kept running away and would not go to the gate. Marguerite followed her, and some distance away a tree had fallen across the path, and the cow had hidden her calf under the tree. The mother began licking her baby, and soon the little calf got up on its wobbly legs and followed its mother home.
For chewing gum the girls learned to pick the hardened sap from the bark of the pine trees. They never knew if the sap was going to be bitter or pleasant to the taste. If it was too hard the sap would crumble in their mouths, and they would try to soften it with saliva so they could chew it into a ball. In the process of chewing it the crumbs would stick to their teeth. Once it was formed into a chewable ball their jaws were so tired they were almost ready to spit it out.
Darkness came early in the evenings in Garcia. When the cows were milked, the chores done and the supper dishes finished, one of the favorite pass times was to gather around the organ and sing. Elsie and Marguerite took turns playing the organ. Neither girl had had music lessons, but they played by ear.
Even though life was hard and everyone had their struggles, there were many happy times too. Weekly dances were held at the church house for children and adults, but just as today, the children were not allowed to attend the adult dances until they were fourteen years old. Everyone danced to the music provided by the fiddle and the organ. Plays were also produced in which the community people participated. Men also played baseball, and sometimes the married men played against the single men.
Occasionally Grandma Mac would make trips back to Arizona to visit. The children would stay in Garcia and were cared for by neighbors there. There were no clothes to be bought in Garcia, so Grandma Mac would bring material back with her to make dresses for the girls.
Whenever he could Orson Brown came to Garcia to visit Grandma Mac and the children. He loved to sing, and Elsie would play the organ. Orson was a generous man, and whenever he had any money he would always spare what he could and give it to Grandma Mac.
Exodus of 1912
Troubles arose for the Saints in Mexico During the Mexican Revolution. In 1912 the Saints were forced to flee from their homes and make their exodus from Mexico. Elizabeth and her grandchildren were among them. They only had about a three-hour notice to make ready to leave. Most of the Saints were only able to come out of Mexico with the clothes they were wearing. Before leaving, Grandma Mac had a large hole dug by the grainery and there buried a trunk containing Grandpa Mac's journals and records that he had brought from Scotland. (She thought were going to be away only a few days.) She worried and worried about it, wondering if she had done the right thing, but one night she felt Grandpa Mac lay his hand on her shoulder and pat her. From then on she was relieved of her anxiety, for she felt that he was telling her that it was all right.
Return to Lehi
Grandma Mac's daughter, Maggie was living in Lehi, Arizona, so, Following the Exodus, Lizzie and the children returned to Lehi to live. The children were now 17, 15, 10 and 8, and Elizabeth was 71 years of age, quite a responsibility for a woman of her age.
Life continued to be hard, and there were many struggles. Each of the children learned the value of hard work. Marguerite said she could remember Grandma Mac gathering eggs and taking them to the store and trading them for 50 cents worth of meat. She would make stew out of the meat and stretch it as far as she could. Marguerite said it was the best stew she ever ate.
As difficult as it was, Grandma Mac insisted that the children go to school and get an education. They attended Lehi Elementary School and later Mesa High School. Marguerite said they always brought their friends home and Grandma Mac always made them feel welcome. All four of the children graduated from Mesa High School. Duncan, the youngest, was an outstanding athlete, and he attended the University of Arizona for two years and was then given a football scholarship to Iowa State in Ames where he graduated. Both Donald and Duncan became successful farmers and businessmen. All four of the children married and raised lovely families.
Marguerite dearly loved her Grandmother Mac and had great respect and admiration for her. She expressed appreciation for the many things she learned from her grandmother and the principles she taught her. She said, "Grandma Mac was a woman of integrity and strong moral courage. Grandma often said 'there is no substitute for honesty.' She lived what she taught and she taught what she lived."
Each evening Elizabeth would walk over to her daughter Maggie's home to get a pail of milk. One evening as she was returning home she stumbled and fell. An intestine ruptured, and she passed away that night while undergoing surgery at the Community Hospital. Thus, on February 4, 1922, Elizabeth Atkinson Macdonald's sojourn on earth ended, and she died at 81 years of age. As her family was preparing her for burial they found her clothes neatly in order, for she had made them, and folded inside was an envelope containing one hundred dollars in currency for her burial expenses.
Funeral services were held at the Lehi Ward Chapel in Lehi, Arizona. Bishop John Jones presided. Those who spoke at the funeral were Daniel P. Jones and Joseph E. Robinson. She was laid to rest in the Mesa Cemetery.
As Nelle Hatch wrote, "She died as she lived, asking nothing of anyone that she could do for herself . . . . She faced life as she found it."
PAF - Archer files = Orson Pratt Brown + Elizabeth Graham Macdonald Webb < Alexander Findlay Macdonald + Elizabeth Atkinson.
Memories of Elizabeth's granddaughter, Marguerite Webb Brown Shill, recorded and written by Betty R. Shill. Also "Recollections of Elizabeth Atkinson Macdonald" by Nelle S. Hatch
Copyright 2001 www.OrsonPrattBrown.org