December 6, 2012
Mary Ann West’s Short Life Manifested The Power of God.
By Melanie Jensen Johnson
Little Mary Ann Young West didn’t live long. The three and a half years she lived were long enough to allow Heavenly Father to ‘manifest His works through her.’
Mary Ann was born in London, England in 1860, 10 years after her parents joined the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. For those 10 years, her parents Charles Henry John and Eliza West worked hard and saved money in order to immigrate to America and join with the Saints. To spur them on, they sent two of their daughters to America with another family in 1861.
The girls made it safely to Salt Lake City, to the great relief of their family back in London. Borrowing from the Perpetual Immigration Fund, and with a bonus from Charles’ boss, they left for America.
As Eliza paid the final emigration money to the agent, he made a promise to Eliza. He knew of the sacrifices the family had made to emigrate. He declared, “All of your family will arrive safely in Zion and not one of you will die on the way.” This statement reassured the family.
Mary Ann would have been too young to remember much of the rough voyage across the sea. They encountered rough winds most of the trip. Mother Eliza experienced sea sickness so severely that father Charles ended up preparing all of the meals until they landed in New York harbor. But little Mary Ann probably enjoyed the time to play with her siblings.
Arriving by rail and steamboat in Florence, Nebraska, the family gathered up their wagon and provisions with the other pioneers in the company. The plains were so different from London, and their trip was adventurous. Camping each night, walking all day, the family did their best to stay cheerful as they anticipated seeing their 2 girls in Utah. Wood was scarce along the wagon trail. Eliza and her daughters would gather up dried buffalo chips in their skirts for use in cooking dinner each night.
Young Mary Ann was probably spared this chore, as she struggled with illness since disembarking from the ship. She probably rode in the wagon while the others walked. Charles wrote of an answer to prayer in her behalf.
“Our little daughter Mary Ann Young West was sick more or less while crossing the plains. Her appetite failing her, I thought I would go to the riverside, being near one, and get a fish. I knew it would do her good. The river being very low and leaving small puddles of water, I would try and chase the fish by my hands into shallow water, and so catch one. I did not succeed in getting any. I then and there prayed to God that I might get some if it was only one. I was about to leave to catch up with the wagon train when a man came along with a string of fish and offered me one. My prayer being answered, I went along rejoicing.”
The family made up their minds to be cheerful no matter what. Charles wrote,
“We had made up our minds to enjoy the trip without grumbling and found it the best way, we had a few grumblers in the camp. We had to wade up to our breasts some rivers we had to go through, if the current was very strong we would hold hands. I would sometimes have a child in one arm and holding on to another. If we got wet we would let our clothes dry on so we would not take cold. We would average in traveling 20-30 miles each day. Sometimes we had to travel by night in order to get to good camping ground.”
The family reached Salt Lake on 4 October 1863. The family was thrilled to attend their first General Conference taking place that week. But they were more exited to reunite with their girls who were living in Provo. Within a few days, they reached their daughters and settled in the area.
As promised, no one in their family had lost their lives in the journey. But Mary Ann wasn’t well. Her condition worsened and she died a few weeks later on 22 October 1863 in Provo, Utah. The family had gone to bed early to save the few candles the family possessed. During the night, she awoke and tried to get out of bed. Charles encouraged her to go back to sleep. Reluctantly, she settled down to sleep again. But first, she called each family member by name and bid them a goodnight. She died in her father’s arms in the night.
The distraught family found no comfort among their new neighbors in Provo. Neighbors stayed away from the new family, assuming that the illness that killed Mary Ann was communicable. No service was held to remember or honor her, and if any had, no one would have attended. Bishop Miller lent his buggy and horse to carry her rough coffin to the Provo cemetery. Gloom filled each member of the tired pioneer family. But again God had His eye on this family.
Charles wrote, “We had done the best we could and did not feel like murmuring. Yet the loss of our daughter sent a gloom that seemed more than we could bear—What had we done, we reflected, that our child should be taken from us? What sin had we committed?” The sad family pondered these things deeply when a remarkable experience occurred. Charles recalled,
“A tall gentleman came in without knocking. He sat down on the only chair we had and commenced comforting us in our trouble and blessed us. He was with us about one half to three quarters of an hour. During the time we both felt a heavenly influence, and all our troubles ceased and we felt happy. When he left he stepped backwards toward the door, opened it and went out. I followed him directly after but could see nothing of him. He was very grey and his beard came down to his chest.”
The next day, while thanking Bishop Miller for sending this kind man to their home, Charles was surprised to hear that Bishop Miller had no knowledge of him. Bishop Miller declared, “Brother West, we have no such teacher as you describe. You have been blessed with the visitation of one of the Nephites that was to remain on earth.”
Whether it was one of the Three Nephites, an Angel, or a divinely prompted Latter-day Saint neighbor, Heavenly Father sent someone to comfort and bless the grieving family.
Little Pioneer Mary Ann Young West may not have contributed much in the few years she lived. But her illness prompted the faithful family to seek divine help in her behalf. And her death plunged her family into the depths of grief, alone in a new country to suffer such sadness to need divine comfort. These entreaties resulted in the miracles showing the power and love of God for Mary Ann and her loving family.
Disclaimer: This story was written in good faith using the resources available to the author at the time it was written. She is solely responsible for this content.
"A Short Biography of Charles Henry John West." 1 Feb 2013. Saints, Witches and Murderers. 1 Feb 2013.
Lewis, Hazel West. "Charles Henry John West, A Man of Faith and Integrity." 1 Feb 2013. Saints, Witches and Murderers. 1 Feb 2013.
Olsen, Kevin V. The Story of the West Family. n.d. http:free-web-design-promotion/west10090/thewestfamily.doc. 12 Dec 2012.
West, Charles Henry John. "A Letter from CHJ West to Thomas Charles West, July 12, 1893." 1 Feb 2013. Saints, Witches and Murderers. 1 Feb 2013.
—. "Charles Henry John West-- journal." 5 June 2010. Our Book of Remembrance. 1 Feb 2013.
Wheelwright, Shauna. They Came Before Us. 3 Feb 2011. 1 Feb 2013.