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Larger-than-life heorine honored

Progenitor of prophets kept her family faithful

Mary Fielding Smith, whose faith, grit and determination were the quintessence of heroism in Mormon pioneer women, was honored by many of her descendants July 21 with a bronze statue of her likeness unveiled at This Is the Place Heritage Park in Salt Lake City.

The life-size statue, sculpted by Stan Watts, was placed at the entrance to the Joseph F. Smith Memorial Grove in the park's Old Deseret Village living-history attraction. The park is in Emigration Canyon, where President Brigham Young first gazed at the Salt Lake Valley on July 24, 1847. The Memorial Grove, which includes a reconstruction of Mary Fielding Smith's 1848 cabin that stood in the valley's Mill Creek area, was dedicated three years ago on Pioneer Day by Elder M. Russell Ballard of the Quorum of the Twelve in honor of Joseph F. Smith, the sixth president of the Church, and Mary Fielding Smith, his valiant mother. (See Church News, July 29, 2000, p. 5.)

As they did earlier with the grove, the organization of descendants funded the sculpture. They celebrated its unveiling with speeches, string music and square dancing.

The widow of Patriarch Hyrum Smith, brother of the Prophet Joseph who was martyred with him at Carthage, Ill., Mary Fielding Smith is the only woman in history with the distinction of being the mother of one future Church president, Joseph F. Smith, and the grandmother of another, President Joseph Fielding Smith. Elder Ballard is her great-great-grandson through Joseph F. Smith.

Beyond her illustrious posterity, Mary Fielding Smith distinguished herself through larger-than-life acts of fortitude and faith, recounted by two of her descendants during the program at the unveiling, which was held on the 202nd anniversary of her birth.

The sculpture itself is reminiscent of one often-told story of her faith. She is depicted as carrying a basket of her best potatoes. It is said that after she settled in the Salt Lake Valley, she went one day to take her tithing to the bishop's storehouse. A tithing clerk chided her for paying tithing, saying that others who had more than she were being assisted from the storehouse. She reprimanded him, saying she paid her tithing because she expected to be blessed.

"Mary Fielding was called, by some, an elect woman of God," descendant Silas S. Smith said at the monument unveiling. "Such a woman is prepared in the pre-existence to overcome the vicissitudes of mortality. She knew who she was and she was decisive with her solutions to problems."

Great-great-granddaughter Yvette S. Ungricht recounted that Mary Fielding was a 36-year-old British convert to the Church from Canada when the Prophet Joseph Smith was impressed that she should marry his brother Hyrum, who had suffered the death of his wife Jerusha. Mary thus took on the care of his five surviving children, ages 10 years to 18 months.

Sister Ungricht told of Mary's home in Far West, Mo., being ransacked by a mob while Hyrum was imprisoned in Liberty Jail with Joseph and other Church leaders. A mattress was thrown over the infant Joseph F. during the raid, and he almost died. All things of value were taken, and Mary, her sister Mercy, their seven children and two elderly permanent house guests were left destitute.

During the imprisonment, Mary went with family members to visit the jailed Church leaders at Liberty. There, she showed Hyrum his new son, Joseph F., "and spent the night with the prisoners in that fetid jail," Sister Ungricht said.

"Less than two weeks after their return from Liberty, Mercy and Mary were forced to flee Far West. It was up to Mercy to get the bed-ridden Mary and their household of 11 dependents out of harm's way and to Quincy, Ill."

Later, after the founding of Nauvoo and the subsequent martyrdom of Joseph and Hyrum, Mary and her family went west with the saints. Circumstances prevented them from leaving Winter Quarters, Neb., until 1848. When she caught up with a departing wagon train the company captain demanded she return, as he did not want to be responsible for her care. She told him she would reach the valley before he did without his help.

"Thus began a slow, long, bitter race to the valley," Sister Ungricht said. "To compound matters, Mary would not let 9-year-old Joseph F. Smith stand guard duty at night because she needed him to drive a team by day. [The company captain] retaliated by sneaking up and shaking her wagons at night, full of little kids, remember, telling the occupants that Indians were coming. When two of Mary's oxen sickened, Mary asked [her brother] Joseph Fielding to administer to them with consecrated oil. They miraculously recovered."

The night before she reached the valley, Mary's cattle were scattered. The next day, the company left without her as her family gathered up the scattered stock. "Meanwhile, a sudden violent thunderstorm mired the wagon train," Sister Ungricht said. "Mary drove her team around them and arrived in the valley at 10 p.m. that night." The rest of the company arrived late the next afternoon. She had won the race.

Mary Fielding Smith lived only four years after settling in the valley. But, said Sister Ungricht, "she lived her life motivated by her strong testimony of the gospel. She was dedicated to ensuring that her family would remain with the saints. Because of her hard work, suffering and risk taking, today there are over 15,000 descents of Hyrum Smith, most of them still associated with the Church."

E-mail: rscott@desnews.com

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