Maria Smart Parkinson (1851-1915)
by Luella Smart Parkinson Cowley

In the early days the New World was like a great magnet drawing people from all nations of the earth. Some came to seek their fortunes, others for religious freedom. Among the latter were my grandfather, Thomas Sharratt Smart, and his family. He said he was impelled by an inward force he could neither understand nor resist, which no doubt was the spirit of truth preparing him for the reception of the Gospel.

In 1848 they came to the U.S. in a sailing vessel and settled in St. Louis, Mo. Shortly after, they heard the Mormon Elders speak for the first time and were convinced of its truthfulness and were ready for baptism, which took place a few weeks later. They were baptized into the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in 1851.

This same year another blessing came to them--the birth of their daughter Maria, named after her Grandmother Smart. President Brigham Young asked all the Saints who could to come to the headquarters of the Church at Salt Lake City, Utah. About 10,000 responded, including Grandfather Smart, who in 1852 was made Captain of a company of seventeen wagons and twenty families going to Utah. His own family consisted of his wife and five children, from one to ten years old. It rained most of the time on the journey, but there was no serious sickness and all of the company survived. They arrived in Salt Lake in September 1852.

After a few weeks they were directed to settle in American Fork. Four years later Thomas was asked to move to Provo to take charge of a tannery and shoe shop which was failing. Under his supervision it was freed from debt in one year.

In 1860 he with about fifty families, including my father, Samuel R. Parkinson, who was then living in Kaysville, settled in Franklin, Idaho, the oldest permanent town in that state. Mother was nine years old when they settled in Franklin and grew up there in a family of ten--eight girls and two boys. Mother always said if her father showed any preference for the children it was in favor of the three oldest, his wife's children by a former husband, whom he adopted. Mother, with the other children, went into the fields and gleaned bushels of wheat, after the reaper had done its work. Wheat was scarce, and all the children of the town joined in to save the precious grain. They took the wool fresh from the sheep, washed, picked, carded, spun, and wove it into cloth on a weaver's loom. They also spun wool into yarn for knitting their stockings.

At the age of 17, in 1868, she entered plural marriage as the third wife of Samuel Rose Parkinson, a pioneer. Her eldest sister, Charlotte, had become his second wife in the same order of marriage the year before. The events leading up to the marriage of these two sisters was very romantic. While living in Kaysville Father lost his mules. After looking for them several days without results, a neighbor told him of a man who had a peep stone and had located lost horses, cows, and other things. That evening Father and his wife went to see him. Father described his mules and the man looked in the stone and saw them in the canyon lying down by a tree. He asked Father if he would like to look and see if he could see them. Strange to say, some could see, but other couldn't. Father looked and said, "Yes, I'd like to."* To Father's great surprise he could see his mules lying under the tree. Father then turned to his wife and said, "Is there anything you would like me to inquire about?" She answered, "Ask to see your other wife, if there is one for you." At that time there was a great deal said about men taking plural wives, so Father asked to see his "other" wife. Immediately he saw two young girls dressed just alike, and they stood arm in arm. He called his wife to come and look and to her surprise she saw the two girls. She described them many times to others. Going home Father asked his wife: "If you ever see those two girls will you consent for me to marry them?" And she answered: "Yes, but never until then."

Five years passed and they were called as pioneers to Franklin, Idaho. Thomas Smart, whose home was in Provo, was called to go there about the same time. These two men started a gristmill and sawmill. Because of their business association they visited very often in each other's homes.

In the summer of 1865 President Young was coming to visit the Saints in Franklin and elaborate preparations were being made for his visit. The day finally arrived and my father, being in the bishopric, sat on the stand at the meeting that was held in President Young's honor. While the opening song was being sung, two girls, dressed alike and walking arm in arm, came in. They had on new hats, the first imported hats worn in Franklin. Father recognized them as the girls of the peep stone. Even though he knew them well, as they were the daughters of his friend, Thomas Smart, he never had thought of them before in this way. At the close of the meeting he took his wife where they would meet them face to face. When she saw the girls, she, too, recognized them. Father said, "Who did those girls remind you of?" She reluctantly answered that they were the girls she had seen in the peep stone. In less than a year Father married the older girl and a year later, he married her sister. He never told either of them his experience until after they became his wives.

The two sister wives, Charlotte and Maria Smart Parkinson, lived together and kept busy carding, spinning, dyeing, weaving cloth, and doing the many other things connected with housekeeping and the rearing of their families. They were in the same house but separate apartments until they had seventeen children between them. One waited on the other in confinement except when the children were too close together for that, two of them being only 24 hours apart. They gave these two twin names, Hazel and Hazen. Those were happy days, but then the family had outgrown their house. Father moved Aunt Charlotte and family to another home just three blocks away. I remember how lonesome we all felt after they had moved.

Mother had remarkable health and energy and was a good manager in the affairs of her home. Her time was so full in the routine tasks of the day that she often worked into the night, putting the boiler on to heat water and doing the family wash at night, setting a quilt in frames to work on, and finishing other jobs when the small children were in bed and she was free of interruptions. She was the mother of thirteen children, ten of whom grew to man- and womanhood: five boys and five girls. She made the clothes for the family, was an excellent cook, a good housekeeper, and an all-around, capable homemaker. She laid great stress on the attractiveness of the home and "keeping up with the times" in new furnishings and replacements. She always saw improvements ahead and worked to that end, with a frugal sense of economy and good purchasing. A new carpet, a better machine, or other household equipment was a joy in Mother's life.

Members of the Church who lived polygamy were persecuted by State and Federal government authorities. In 1877 because of this persecution Father moved Aunt Charlotte and Mother to Richmond, Utah, just over the Idaho line, where Mother's fourth daughter, Olive, was born. I remember a sad thing occurred while in Richmond. It was on a wash day. My older sister, Charlotte's daughter Anne, made the starch and was carrying it to the table, when my younger sister, Belle, came running in from outside, where she had been playing. She struck the pan and the boiling starch burned her from her chin down. They immediately sent for a doctor who lived nearby. As we took off her clothes the skin came with them. The doctor laid her on a sheet and covered her with molasses and soda and rolled her in a sheet. She screamed with pain, said it was like a bed of fire. They went to Franklin and brought Sister Molly Thomas, a midwife and doctor. She took chicken feathers and washed the molasses off with linseed oil, then mixed linseed oil and lime water, which was cooling and healing. Belle soon fell asleep. The burns left scars all down her body which she carried to her grave.

After eight months of trial and hardships away and with only the smaller of their ten children with them, they returned to their homes in Franklin for a few years, as persecution had subsided.

Later, in 1885, when they each had young babies, Hazen and Hazel, they had to leave home again, this time going to Paradise, Utah, to stay with dear old English friends of Grandmother Smart's. They were received with open arms by this dear couple, Bro. And Sister Price. After four months away from their families, Father decided it would be better for them to be home and for him to go in hiding. Mother and Aunt Charlotte returned to their families, who were greatly in need of their mothers to guide and direct them. While they had been gone, Mrs. Cottle, a neighbor, used to get their stockings to take home to wash and mend.

After about a year's absence, Father was arrested and his trial was held in Blackfoot, Idaho. He told the court that he married his wives for the faith he had in the principle of plural marriage and the love he had for them. "I have been married to these wives about twenty years. In my three families I had twenty-seven children. I cannot make any promise to discard my families and turn them out in this cold world. I would suffer myself to hang between the heavens and the earth right here in Blackfoot, but, your honor, I am here to pay the penalty, whatever your honor sees fit to place upon me." The judge sentenced him to six months imprisonment and a $300 fine. He could not help but admire Father's stand and requested that his head not be shaven, as was the routine for prisoners. Those were trying times.

Mother was large of stature, with gray eyes, high cheekbones and a clear, ruddy complexion; and she had fine, even teeth. Her hair was very thick and carefully combed. She dressed neatly and was dignified in manner and posture. She was modest, never boasted, and was easily embarrassed by a compliment. She was naturally serious-minded and intense about things generally, but had a nice sense of humor and often laughed until her face glowed.

She loved flowers inside the house and out. In season the yard was always in bloom and there were inside flowers and plants the year around. She had a talent for making things grow. Her affectionate interest in shrubs, plants, vines, and flowers beautified the home; and she generously passed on to friends and neighbors seeds, slips, and starts for their gardens, with advice for best results. Our place always looked inviting and homelike with shrubs and various plants and vines.

Our home was always one of hospitality and a center of attraction for young and old. Often the neighbor children would gather at our place for games of Hide and Seek, Run Sheep, Pomp and for watermelon feasts, birthday parties, and bonfires with baked potatoes. As the family grew older, home was a gathering place for a variety of festive family affairs, wedding festivals, anniversaries, missionary farewells, missionary homecomings, and always "Thanksgiving at Grandmother's."

Mother experienced the sorrow and heartache of laying away three of her children. The first, baby Chloe, aged 4 months, was take October 19th, 1887, with whooping cough. In 1888 Mother left home, going to Logan to be "on the underground." She was away about a year. Here her twelfth baby, Lenora, was born. Mother suffered the grief of its passing away when it was 5 months old, after three days' illness from pneumonia. The body was taken to Franklin in the night. Her husband, Samuel, and mine, Matthias Cowley, buried her in the same grave as her sister, Chloe, so there would be no extra grave to prove her birth. Mother had an attack of gallstones at the time, the same malady which many years later caused he death. Through all of these troublous times it was Mother's faith, courage, and humble submission that led her to say, "Thy will, Oh Lord, be done." Nine years later her son Henry, thirteen years of age, left us after a short illness, to join his two sisters who had preceded him.

She suffered much through the sickness of her children, especially the boys. She had not enough nurse for them and was obliged to raise most of them on the bottle. Her son Clarence was especially afflicted in his babyhood, so much so that his life was almost despaired of. Each Sunday after meeting Father would bring the elders to administer to him and finally he was made well.

In all these trials Mother was patient and uncomplaining, acknowledging the hand of the Lord in her trials and maintaining at all times her loyalty to her husband and to the principle of plural marriage, which she cherished and believed with all her heart. Polygamy had its compensations. Men, women, and especially children all developed a high degree of unselfishness. If wives had difficulties, they usually settled them among themselves. Father was a devoted, wise and just husband and father, truly capable of being head of his large family, and was loved and respected by them all.

Perhaps it was her difficult experiences that gave Mother such charity for others. Mothers came to her when in trouble and always received comfort. Her home was one of hospitality. She not only fed friends, but no tramp or vagrant ever went hungry from her door. She visited the sick and always comforted those in distress. She always had a remedy and cure in her mind or tucked away in a drawer for every ailment imaginable. We often laughed at her never-ending supply of recipes and recommendations.

Once or twice a year she would prepare dinner for all the old people and widows in the ward, dividing them in groups of about ten, or as many as she could seat around the table. They would spend the afternoon and often remain for lunch in the evening. They all enjoyed going to these dinners and felt they had missed a real treat if they did not go. She knew how to make people enjoy themselves and feel at ease.

In those days a great deal of work was done in the home. It was important that all shared in the responsibilities, and with a large family there was plenty for all to do. But Mother never kept the children home a day from school or Sunday School, no matter how pressing the work was at home. Four of her sons went on missions and all of her ten children were married in the temple. Also she stressed social affairs and good things for the children, and they were always fr4ee to accept invitations, even though it meant extra work for her at home. It was easy for her to sacrifice for any development and advancement for her children.

A loyal wife and mother, in training and example, she taught the children to respect and appreciate their father and his abilities. He was a remarkable and outstanding character as seen through her eyes, as well as their own, and all others. Also his other wives, Aunt Arabella and Aunt Charlotte, were fine women to be admired and looked up to. And father never like the children to refer to each other as "half" brothers and sisters.

Mother's interest and anxiety for her children's welfare did not lag when they married and left the parental home. She went to her children's homes to help when their babies were born or sometimes they came home to be confined. Also, if their husbands went on missions, they were invited to come home and bring their children, to give them encouragement and help with their expenses.

In these and other ways Mother was known and appreciated by the husbands and wives of her children as a wonderful mother-in-law. In the marriage of her children her interest and anxiety was still intense in their behalf, and she was always a factor for peace and harmony in the new family relations. She went to their homes and waited on them when babies were born, or they came home for her care in confinement and convalescence. An appreciation which could have been voiced by each of them is in a statement by Ezra Monson, Olive's husband, "We feel that we owe her much. There never was an emergency in our home that she was not there to cheer us along and help us through."

Hers was a practical religion. She said little and did much. For twenty years she was a Relief Society teacher and for five years was a member of the Missionary Committee in Franklin, Idaho.

Mother lived in Franklin until her children were grown. Then she moved to Preston while her youngest son, Glenn, attended the academy there and then on to Logan, Utah. Father built a home in Logan for her, where Glenn could go to school at the Agricultural College and where Father and Mother could work in the temple.

Her charity extended not only to the living but to the dead. Father had a large genealogical record of about 7,000 and Mother's father, Thomas S. Smart, had a record of about 5,000 family names, so there was plenty of temple work to be done. They believed implicitly in the words of the Prophet Joseph Smith, that genealogical and temple work was the most important work of this dispensation; that we could not be saved without our dead, neither could they be saved without us. Mother enjoyed this sacred work and spent much of her time during the last ten years of her life doing it.

Mother like socials and readily entered into the spirit of the occasion. She had a nice sense of humor and relished a good joke and a hearty laugh. Only a few months before she passed away, she took part in a costume dancing party given by the Relief Society in the Logan Fifth Ward. She dressed as a young girl, with her lovely thick gray hair in braids and ribbons. They danced as the judges awarded the prize, and Mother was the winner. We remember how she entered into the frolic of the occasion and how radiant she looked in the part.

Mother was a great reader and kept abreast of the times. She loved good books and read the church works, histories, biographies, church and other magazines, and fiction. Many a night she sat up late to see how a story turned out. It is natural to visualize her with a book in hand. And she was such a good speller that she often spelled words for her grandchildren writing their college compositions. They amused themselves trying to spell her down.

She also loved to travel. She and Father visited her birthplace in St. Louis, also Father's brother William and sister Sarah who lived there, and two cousins--Elizabeth Howell and Susanna Parkinson--who lived in Silver Lake, Kansas. The relatives welcomed them heartily but didn't care to hear anything about our religion. They were devout Baptists and were satisfied with their religion. On this trip they also went to Independence, Missouri, important in church history.

Later Father and Mother went to Hood River, Oregon, to visit their daughter Olive and her husband and family. While there, they took a boat trip up the Columbia River.

I had two lovely trips to California with Mother--one to San Francisco to meet her son Clarence on his return from a mission in New Zealand. I shall never forget the excitement and thrill we felt as we stood with hundreds of others watching the boat come in. Some had pictures of their loved ones whom they had never seen, who would have different-colored ribbon tied around the arms for identification, other waving handkerchiefs of various colors. Of course, we didn't need any of these identifications as Clarence had only been gone three years. We watched the crowd anxiously. Finally Mother spied Clarence waving a white handkerchief to attract our attention as he say us in the crow. Needless to say, it was a glorious meeting.

In January 1913, Father, Mother, and I went to southern California. We spent a month in San Diego, then planned and took an ocean trip from San Diego to Los Angeles on their forty-fifth wedding anniversary, February 14th. It was a very pleasant trip. We spent most of the day on deck, Father telling us of his trip around the world and adventure tales of his youth, while Mother reminisced and told of the outstanding pleasant experiences of her married life. While in Los Angeles, we stayed with Mother's brother, Thomas Smart, and his family from Logan, who were spending the winter in California. Father, Mother, and I spent seven weeks together. It is one of my dearest and sweetest memories.

Glenn, the youngest son, took Father and Mother up to Grace, Idaho, to visit Susie, the youngest daughter, and her family the latter part of June 1915. They had a very fine visit. July 3rd Mother came over to my home next door early in the morning and asked how I would like to go to Preston to their 4th of July celebration. We could see all our old friends and have a nice visit with Belle and family in Preston and call at Olive's in Franklin on our way home. Laura [Luealla's daughter] said, "Oh, that would be fine. I'll look after things at home," so we decided to go on the train in the evening. But lo and behold, Ezra Monson called in the afternoon to see if Mother would like to go home with him and spend a few days. She told him our plans and said we would be delighted to go and stay all night with them and perhaps they would like to go to Preston to the morning meeting and have a visit with Belle and family. We were soon on our way to Franklin with Ezra, had a nice visit, and all wen t to Preston next morning, surprised Belle and family, and all went to meeting together. Mother saw so many of her old friends, which she thoroughly enjoyed. We all had dinner with Belle. She made ice cream. Sisters Head and Merrill called to see Mother and had ice cream and cake. We all had a pleasant afternoon and returned to our homes in Logan next day.

Carmen Daines, Belle's oldest daughter, was with Mother attending summer school at the Agricultural College. She loved being with Mother and we all enjoyed her. July 10th Mother had another bad attack of gallstones, which proved fatal. The doctor did all he could, but July 18th her spirit left its earthly home. Her passing was very sweet, just as a gently sleep and the peaceful expression on her face indicated that something very beautiful took place as her spirit left its earthly home. She was buried in the family plot in Franklin, Idaho, cemetery. She had lived most of her life in Franklin, where she had moved as a nine-year-old child with the group led by her father which founded the oldest town in Idaho.

She was a wise counselor, a dear companion, and a good neighbor. She was an inspiration to everyone: at the bedside of the sick and dying, feeding a vagrant at her door, opening her home in hospitality, taking food and necessaries to the needy, searching for a remedy for the sick, gladdening the heart of the weary, doing temple work. We owe it to our dear Mother, Maria Smart Parkinson, to be true to her teachings and her example. May her good name be forever cherished and honored among her posterity. Some one has said, "God could not be everywhere so He made mothers." Only those who have had such a Mother as ours are able to appreciate the real significance of that statement.

She visited the sick and the afflicted. Hers was a real practical religion with little or no profession of boasting words. She said little and did much. Her charity extended not only to the living but to the dead, for she did what she could for the departed ones, what they could not do for themselves.

The above biography is the talk that Luella Smart Parkinson Cowley gave at her mother's funeral. From Samuel C. Monson, Monson Family Biographies(1998), 74-80.

* In the manuscript Samuel Monson drew on for his book, the peepstone story is cut off here. I've filled in the rest from another published version by Luella in Kate B. Carter, ed., Our Pioneer Heritage (Daughters of Utah Pioneers, 1964), 7:576-77. --BP '01