Question: What difficult decision did the widow Mary Bell Muir make after she joined the Church in Scotland in 1848?
Answer: Mary Bell was born May 9, 1815 in Levenseat, West Calder, Midlothian, Scotland to John Bell and Mary Paterson. She married Walter Muir on November 15, 1835 in West Calder.
Walter Muir was born on January 29, 1809 in West Calder to Walter Muir and Agnes Mackie/Mackay. Walter was a miner.
After they were married, Walter and Mary had their first five children in Bankhead, West Calder, Midlothian, Scotland. This was a little village of fifteen houses. They then moved to Crofthead, Whitburn, West Lothian, Scotland and had seven more children. It was while Walter and Mary were living in Crofthead, that two missionaries of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints made their way to the Muir home. Walter was baptized on April 23, 1848 and Mary was baptized on May 6, 1848, twenty-one days before her seventh child was born.
Walter died at age 51, two months before Mary’s twelfth child was born, leaving her a forty-four year-old widow with eight children under seventeen years of age (two older girls were married; their second daughter, Agnes, had died at age 14 in 1851; and they had a little son, Robert, who died before 1855). Walter’s death certificate states he died from “consumption.”
Robyn Golding tells Mary’s story, as recorded in the Mar/Apr 1994 issue of the Mormon Heritage Magazine under the title “Scottish Mother of Israel.”
“On a cold winter day in November 1888, friends and family gathered in Mendon, Utah, to honor and say a final farewell to a feisty, loving, and dedicated lady. Motivated by her desire to live her life according to her beliefs, she had brought her family across an ocean and a continent. Her name was Mary Bell (Ross) Muir.
Near Crofthead, Scotland
“For twelve years, Mary and Walter were actively involved in building up the Church in their area and raising their children. Persecution and criticism of the Church, the missionaries, and members was common. Walter and Mary met with frequent challenges to their faith.
“There were also, of course, the personal struggles that added to their burden. In 1850, Mary’s eighth child, Robert, was born but died shortly after his birth. In 1852, tragedy again struck the Muir family, when their second child, Agnes, died at age fourteen. Having now lost two children and about to give birth to her twelfth, Mary’s heaviest blow came in August of 1860–her beloved Walter died, leaving her a widow at age forty-four. Mary was left alone, not only to raise and support nine children, but to face the challenges her membership in the Church had brought into their lives. In 1864 her daughter, Jane and her husband, left for America. In 1865, her daughter, Janet and her husband also left for America.
“So it was that in early 1866, Mary was left with a frightening decision. Her daughter Margaret had recently decided to marry someone who was not a member of the Church. This caused Mary to think that perhaps she needed to leave her beloved Scotland and join with the Saints in Zion. A decision was made and plans begun. Margaret decided to stay in Scotland, and Mary’s oldest daughter, Mary, was also to stay behind with her husband. So Mary prepared to go alone with her six younger children.
“On 5 March 1866, while preparations were being made for the journey, tragedy struck again. Mary’s ten-year-old daughter Elizabeth died. Mary must now leave three children and a husband buried in Scotland, plus two other daughters she thought she would never see again. With her faith in the Lord unshaken, and her resolve firmly placed, Mary continued the preparations.
Mary and four of her Children.
Back: Walter Muir, Jr., Annie Muir Bird, Front: Jane Muir Muir, Mary Bell Muir, Agnes Muir Richards
“Now with five children accompanying her, Mary (age 50) went to the dock and said a last good-bye to her native land. She boarded the ship Arkwright, a two-deck sailboat, with 450 other members of the Church. After landing, the company went by train to Albany where they booked passage on an open cattle boat which was flat surfaced and had a chain loosely hung around its edges. They went up the Hudson River in a downpour, holding on to their belongings and children to keep them from sliding off the old boat. After landing in New Haven, Mary and her children boarded a train which would eventually take them to St. Joseph, on the banks of the Missouri River. The train trip was spent sleeping in cattle cars and riding wherever they could find room. They arrived in Missouri on July 22, 1866.
“In St. Joseph, the company was formed into a wagon train. Two days were spent buying supplies and preparing for the long journey still to come. Mary had already spent nearly two months traveling. The group was now under the leadership of Daniel Thompson, an experienced wagon train guide. They left St. Joseph on July 24th. Mary’s few possessions and smallest children rode in the wagon. Mary walked alongside the oxen to guide them. She was to walk the whole distance to the Salt Lake Valley…One of the things Mary would later say she was most proud of in her life, was that, except for the Green River, she had successfully brought her own wagon and children across each river unassisted.
Home in Mendon, Utah
“The wagon train entered the Salt Lake Valley on October 9, 1866. She and her children had survived the hard journey. After a couple of days of well-deserved rest, Mary headed north into Cache Valley to find her daughter Jane who had settled in the small town of Mendon, Utah.
“Mary found her daughter Jane living in a small house with her young family. Because of the tight quarters, Mary and her youngest children spent the first winter in Mendon living in a dug-out. With the front and partial sides of the home built from wood, the rest of the residence was a man-made cave in the mountains. It was here that they lived until property could be obtained and a home built.
“Mary began working as a midwife and nurse for the area, pulling on knowledge and experience gained from her childhood as she watched her mother in the same profession. She was therefore able to support her children and provide a modest income.
“On 17 May 1884, Mary attended the dedication of the temple. As the years went by, Mary’s children married and began families of their own. When Mary died on November 27, 1888 at the age of seventy-three, she had sixty-two grandchildren and twelve great-grandchildren. Mary is buried in the Mendon City Cemetery.
“Mary Bell (Ross) Muir was not unlike many other mothers in Israel whose greatest desire is to see their children strong in the gospel. Her faith, her courage, and her dedication have left her descendants with a priceless legacy. Her blessing states that her “name shall be handed down to the latest generation.” And so it is.” Of Walter and Mary’s twelve children, seven of them lived to be married (one son and six daughters): Mary Muir, Jane Muir, Janet Muir, Walter Muir, Margaret Muir, Annie Muir, and Agnes Muir.