Mormon Literature Sampler:
Florence A. Merriam Bailey
The brownies' faithful care of the old grandmother, and the sight
of the troop of little grandchildren carrying flowers to the old
grandfather's grave, gave me a tender interest in the poor old lady,
who, they said, was "grieving" so sorely in the little house behind
the trees across the street.
The old people had been married "most sixty years," our
school-teacher told me, "and they were never separated but two days in
all that time when grandpa went to see his son in Salt Lake."
Now the little grandmother was left alone. It was too late to
uproot her, she could never be content even in her children's homes;
so they went to take care of her in the old house. I was touched by
the thoughtful tenderness with which they cherished her. Her daily cup
of tea was carried over "so mother won't have to build a fire at
noon--it's so hot;" at the baking an extra loaf was set to rise "so
she won't have to bake;" some one went to sit with her at her lonely
meals, "she misses father so, to eat alone;" and she was never left
long by herself in the desolate house, "she grieves so, all the time."
When I went to see her, I found her in her little kitchen. There
were two big rocking-chairs, one on either side the stove--one empty
now. A pathetic old pipe still lay on the mantelpiece, an old hat and
coat still hung against the wall; later, her children put them
tenderly out of her sight. "I couldn't bear them," the dear old soul
"He was so kindly to me," she sobbed, when telling me of her
desolation. "He was so kindly to me--always so kind. Since I was took
with the lameness--two year this April--he always had my stockings
warm for me in the morning--always so kind. Oh! nobody knows, nobody
knows the miss of it!" she cried out in her loneliness.
When less borne down by her grief she rambled on about their happy
life together. All her memories of sixty years were bound up with the
thought of "father." She told me that when the old man used to go out
in the yard, the hens would all follow him,--seventy-five or
more,--and the neighbors going by would stop at the fence and laugh.
Then her mind would wander back to the early days of their married
life in England, and she would recall with tender pleasure how,
"before I had any children, my husband would bring me young birds and
lambs, for I always wanted something young always must have something
She told me how rich they might have been if her husband had gone
to Australia to raise sheep "he was always such a hand with sheep."
But the Mormon missionary found them, and they came to America. "Not
all the gold in California," the old lady said impressively, "not all
the gold in California would have taken us from our home, but we come
for the gospel, and so were happy in doing right;" and her beautiful
face bore out the testimony.
She had had a remarkably varied and interesting life, and I liked
to get her to talk about it when I went to sit with her. At first she
used to ask me to go into the front room where the "Book of Mormon"
lay on the centre-table, and a bust of Brigham Young stood on the
mantelpiece. But I preferred the spotless sunny kitchen, where I could
draw up my big rocker opposite hers, and watch her dear old face as
Her smooth white hair fell in curls beside her cheeks under bunches
of purple flowers that decorated her black English cap. After all her
troubles not a line of her face bespoke impatience or complaint the
record was of a life of loving-kindness. What she said made little
difference to me. When she ran on with the garrulousness of old age,
it was enough simply to sit and look at her serene old face.
When telling about England, her old eyes lit up with memories of
her girlhood; and she fell easily into the quaint English dialect when
talking to her family, though with me she rarely used the old
She had lived in one of the watering places frequented by the royal
family, and it had been a familiar sight of her childhood to see Queen
Victoria, herself a child then, riding her donkey about the hills "Oh,
such a handsome donkey!"
When in her teens, she bad been lady's maid for a child of the
royal family. "Lady ----always dressed me in Swiss muslin. The
foot-men in livery waited on us, and we waited on the ladies," she
told me with pride; exclaiming, "Oh, I tell them I've been with the
highest and I've been with the lowest with the royal family and in a
tent on the plains."
Her stories of court life were like pictures from an old novel. One
romance she liked to dwell on. A handsome headstrong boy of noble
blood had fallen in love with a wealthy tradesman's daughter who was
visiting the baths; and on the spot he swore he would marry no one
else. Grandma evidently had a soft spot in her heart for the handsome
boy who had confided his love affairs to her fifty years ago, and it
was interesting to bear her talk about him and tire "beautiful lady,"
and wonder why it should be a sorrow to his family to have him marry
her; though she moralized that there was a difference between the real
gentry and the rich trades-folk; you could tell by the way they
treated their servants, the nobles were so simple and kind.
After she left court life and had married the tollgatherer, and her
boy was a baby, the royal physician came to get her to nurse a "great
heir." She recited with a touch of pride the interviews with the grand
personages, telling how the "great physician" begged, and the
"dowager" cajoled, and how she refused with spirit at first, only
compromising at last on half her time, because, "I wouldn't starve my
baby for nobody."
Her native independence, increased perhaps by her American life,
made it possible for her to criticise hesitatingly the customs of the
"gentry," whom she still held in reverence. She told with disapproval
how the mother of "the great heir" came into the grand nursery merely
to pass down orders about her child, never offering to take her little
one in her own arms. "She was no mother," the dear old grandmother
With her next breath, however, she would tell me how she used to
dress her little girls in their pretty pink and blue frocks, and when
"the great ladies" would drive by, they would stop to admire the
pretty children. She remembered with pleasure that Lady ----, whose
maid she had been, once came to see her, and actually drove to the
apothecary's herself for a lotion she found was needed.
She liked to tell me about the old English customs, the church
fasts and feasts; the day when "the clubs walked,"--a procession of
some society that carried gilt-headed clubs and walked past the castle
gates to the church; after the service joining in the games and
She said there was great strife among the carol singers to see who
would get to the house first on Christmas morning, for the one who
came first got the best present.
It was considered bad luck to have a girl come first, she said.
After she came to Utah, two girls "came first," one year. "They did
not mean any harm, but came on an errand; and though father went down
cellar and cut them a rasher of bacon, he always said we had bad luck
all that year--our girl died that year." "There may not be anything in
it," the old lady acknowledged, "but I love to see a boy come first."
When I looked through the window at the new moon she shook her head
with disapproval it was bad luck to see it through glass. "Father used
to laugh at me and tell me it was an old woman's notion, but he would
call me outside to look at the moon."
In her old English home there had been a tradition of a
neighborhood giant who had "fallen in the moat and been drowned." "I
couldn't say as it was so," she confessed, but the dear old soul
evidently had a relish for the tale.
She loved to talk about the "shady lanes" of England, and the
"nightingale that used to sing in our yard. Father and I used to
listen to it moonlight nights," she recalled tenderly; adding, "There
isn't any here: you don't have them here. Father used often to say,
'Oh, there is no nightingale here.'" Again and again, she told me with
a smile that when they left England, "on the 26th of March, the
sweetbriar hedges were in bloom."
She liked to remember the voyage over. "I love the sea," she
exclaimed, with a noble light in her eyes. "We had a terrible storm,
but no Latter-Day Saint was ever lost at sea, which shows that we were
guided and blest--doesn't it?" she confused me by asking, in her sweet
It was like reading a page of history to hear her tell about
crossing the plains. At Iowa they left the railroad and took to
emigrant wagons. Their company was a wealthy one of fifty teams, and
they had a merry time in crossing the plains. Even after traveling all
day they were not too tired to dance at night. "We had splendid
singers in our band," grandma said with a smile of pleasure at the
memory of those happy days. But it was not all brightness. They met
with one of the tragedies so common in pioneer life their oxen
stampeded and killed a number of women and children. Grandma pressed
her own children thankfully to her heart, and the mourners buried
their dead on the lonely plain and went on their way.
Grandma came over with a rich "Independent Company," but one day
while I was sitting with her, an old woman came in and told us her
experiences with a "hand-cart company;" one of the poorer companies
that walked and drew part of their baggage in hand carts instead of
having it carried by ox teams.
As the woman was very lame--just out of a hospital--she did not
draw a cart as the other women did, though she walked most of the way.
She had a thrilling story to tell, and we drew up our chairs to
listen, grandma often breaking in with some sympathetic explanation or
pertinent question suggested by her own experience.
The company made their first five hundred miles very comfortably,
walking about fifteen miles a day. But then a herd of buffalo
stampeded the oxen, and they were forced to put cows before the
wagons, transferring part of the baggage to the already loaded hand
At Laramie, where they had expected to find provisions, they found
nothing but a few barrels of sea biscuit. The company had left Iowa
too late. They reached the mountains to find them deep under winter
snows, and they had to go on with insufficient clothing for the cold
weather, and with systems enfeebled by low rations.
"At last we got so that we had only fourteen ounces apiece, for a
three days' allowance. Some of the people boiled raw hide and ate it."
"Yes, I know you did," grandma exclaimed sympathetically.
"How did it taste?" I asked.
"I ate it once, and I never wanted any more," she replied.
"We slept in the snow," she explained, and, when I exclaimed in
horror, added ironically, "Snow is warm. You get up in the
morning and there is a steam around you. The only way I kept from
freezin' in the daytime was by taking the blankets I slept in and
wrapping them around my shoulders. Eleven froze to death in one
night." Seventy died in all. Those who survived became so hardened
from suffering, they were hardly like human beings. "The sight of a
dead dog would be more to me now than a dead man then," the poor woman
told us. She said, "I saw a woman fall dead at table and her husband
go on eating as if nothing had happened."
"Oh! you suffered shockin'," grandma cried with a sad shake of the
head; mourning, "Such hardships as the Mormons have been through!"
Brigham Young sent out a rescuing party as soon as he heard how late
they started, but when it reached them, nearly a fifth of their
company were already dead. The early emigrants found Utah very
different from the country they had left. Grandma told me how they
suffered. "It was a wilderness of sagebrush" then, she said,--"nothing
but sagebrush!" But still she spoke no word of complaint. "It was all
different from anything we'd been used to," she said patiently.
The house grandma came to from her spacious English home had but
two rooms and was covered with a mud roof. "Father used to say it
rained hardest after the rain was over," she said to an old neighbor,
and he nodded his head emphatically, exclaiming, "That it did--that it
The mud dropped down on grandma's white counterpanes--she had never
seen colored patchwork quilts till she came to America, she told me
with pride; they seemed so "curious" when she first saw them.
Under the dripping mud roofs there was no place for the fine linen
she had brought from England, and the settlers were in great need of
clothing; so she consented to sell them some of hers. "The women told
me they had never seen so many white blankets," she said with
house-wifely satisfaction, adding, "and you know they were no good to
me then. The women gave me a great deal of gold for my clothes. There
were no four-posted bedsteads here, so I took my fine white dimity
curtains, and had them dyed to make dresses for my girls."
The "plague" of grasshoppers came soon after grandma came to Utah.
The men went out in bands and made ditches, into which they drove the
grasshoppers, making the young hop into open sacks. "If they lay their
eggs with us, we've got to support them," grandma explained.
After the "plague" came the "famine," when the crops having been
destroyed, the starving settlers had to go "down on the bottoms for
roots," and up in the mountains for service berries and the bulbs of
the sago [sic] lily. "They ate everything of the vegetation,
grandma declared, "everything."
Money could buy little in those days. "The first pound of sugar I
bought," she said, raising her forefinger and shaking it
emphatically,--"the first pound of sugar I bought I paid one dollar
for; and I didn't think it was much of a pound, either." She paid the
dollar willingly, however, for "father was sick and couldn't eat, but
said to me, 'I think I could eat a cup of sop,'"--an old
country mixture of sugar and bread and milk.
The dear old lady's rambling talk threw strong side lights on the
way in which she took up this new life, accepting uncomplainingly all
that was strange and hard; bravely carrying the burdens of her whole
family; and going out to minister to her neighbors whose sufferings
were greater than her own.
Once a terrible snowstorm overwhelmed the village, and for two days
she and her family had to stay in bed to keep from freezing. Even then
her little children grew chilled in her arms. Her mother's heart was
full of dread and anguish, but she kept up the courage of her husband,
and quieted the little ones, hiding her tears from them. "I never let
him see me cry," she said protectingly of father "that would have
distressed him." In the same way in going about among the sick of the
village she would "never tell them how sick they looked, the way some
folks do, but always tried to cheer them up."
Her loving heart was ready to respond to any appeal. At Christmas
time in the year of the "plague," she found a poor sick neighbor
grieving because she had nothing for her children for Christmas. "I
couldn't have it that those children shouldn't have anything in their
stockings," she said; so she came home, baked some little English
cakes at night, and filled their stockings with cakes and apples. "I
think one of the girls was hearkening, but the rest didn't
know,"--smiling at the memory, "and the mother never forgot it."
"Everybody in the village loved grandpa and grandma," our
school-teacher told us. And I could see the respect that must have
been mingled with that love. The old lady spoke with kindly sympathy
to the old serving-woman to whom she sold her eggs, but the woman
asked their price with timid deference. Even now there was a touch of
authority and a strain of simple dignity in her bearing. When her
little grandsons, the brownies, came into her kitchen, they stood
behind the stove with their hats in their hands, abashed before the
little white-haired grandmother. She held a position of dignity in the
neighborhood. She was the mother of a respected race--thirty
great-grand-children blessed her memory. She had lands and cattle, and
kept her private accounts, holding in mind the business of "the
But mixed with her sound common sense and ability were the sterling
virtues of a noble old English woman, while her whole nature was
beautified by the deeply religious spirit that enabled her to idealize
the gospel of Mormonism.
Her homely piety was touching in its simplicity. One day, when the
family had left her in our care, I went over to sit with her at her
lonely meal. The scene reminded me of a picture by one of the old
Dutch painters. She drew her rocking-chair to the table, in her little
kitchen, and spreading her loaf, bowed her dear white head and prayed,
not a meaningless grace, but a fervent prayer for pardon for "sins thy
pure eyes see." Afterwards, without a word, she raised her head and
quietly began her meal.
She had been brought up in the Church of England, and in talking
with her you might have thought her merely a devout believer in the
Christian doctrines. The Book of Mormon and the words of Joseph Smith
and Brigham Young had been merely added to the faith of her childhood.
In telling me of her happy life with father, she said: "At eight
o'clock we would have prayers, and then he would take his light and go
to bed, and at nine I would shut up the stove and follow. My husband
used to talk about the judgment day, when we'd be sitting here at
night alone in the dark. He'd say it would be a wonderful time of
great joy and great sorrowing, when we come up to be judged for the
deeds done in the body, good or evil. He used to talk beautiful about
it," the dear old wife said reverently.
Then she wandered on, as we sat in the twilight, talking about life
and death and her faith. "It is such a short time here," she said;
"life is so short seems as though but a breath and then there is all
eternity. I never could have borne what I have--lost my children--my
Alice,"--her voice always grew tremulous when she spoke of this
daughter; "and now the great trial--separated from my beloved
husband," her voice breaking, "I never could have borne it all if it
had not been for my hope, my great hope."
*Florence A. Merriam Bailey (1863-1942), a non-Mormon, was an
ornithologist of wide renown. Born in New York State and educated at
Smith College and Stanford University, Mrs. Bailey is the author of
Birds through an Opera Glass (1889) and several other volumes of
bird lore, including Among the Birds in the Grand Canyon
(1939). She spent a few months in Utah in 1893, about which she wrote
My Summer in a Mormon Village (1894). The village was most
likely Bountiful, a few miles north of Salt Lake City. We include this
section of her book because it is full of rich insights into a Mormon