Back Up Next

Mary Ellen Frost

(Compiled by LaRae Skeen Fonnesbeck)

This information was found in histories written by Mary E. Gee, Annetta Kerr Johnson, Marie Danielson Benson, and the auto-biography of her son, Joseph Lafayette Rawlins, "The Favored Few", published by Alta Rawlins Jensen.

Mary Ellen Frost was born in Knox County, Tennessee, on January 28, 1827 the daughter of John Frost and Nancy Pate. Her father was of English and her mother of Irish descent. Her great grandfather on her mother's side was born in Ireland about 1730, and lived to be 104 years old. Her father moved with his family from Tennessee to Illinois where he died from exposure in the northern climate soon after their arrival, leaving his wife with five children. Mary Ellen and her brother Lafayette became converts to the Mormon faith, and left with her husband, Joseph Sharp Rawlins and his family for the westward trek on May 12, 1848. At this time they had been married four years and had a three year old daughter, Nancy Jane and a twelve day old baby girl, Helen, who was born at Council Bluffs on the east side of the Missouri River on "Honey Creek" where the family had remained during 1846 and 1847. There they planted and gathered corn, potatoes, and other food products to provide for and last them until new homes could be found in the west. This was a time of great hardship. When it was suggested to Mary Ellen that her departure for the trip across the plains be delayed because of her illness, she stated, "we are going now." she endured the hazards and difficulties of the thousand-mile journey with a staunch, uncomplaining courage which was to become typical of her throughout her life.

Her brother, Lafayette Frost, enlisted as a member of the Mormon Battalion at Council Bluffs. He crossed the continent to San Diego, undergoing incredible hardships, and was officially commended for exceptional bravery. He died not long after his arrival in California.

When they reached Salt Lake Valley, they were directed by Brigham Young to establish homes in Mill Creek. Their Son Joseph Lafayette Rawlins, was born on March 28, 1850 in a small adobe house adjoining a larger two-story house of his grandfather, Charles Rawlins. Later that same year they were asked to move south to Draper, where they built a house of adobe brick which was made from mud clay dug from the south side of the house. The fire place was used for both cooking and heating, and was also built of adobe. There were andirons, and two cranes swinging from each side of the fireplace on which kettles could be suspended over the fire. These were frying pan, the skillet for biscuits and the dutch oven for baking loaves, with live coals placed beneath and on the side for heating.

John Siser assisted Mary Ellen's husband in making a spinning wheel. She carded with hand cards the sheep's wool, spun the rolls into yard on the spinning wheel, dyed the wool various colors, set the warp upon the hand-loom, wove the yarn into cloth and made the cloth into clothes needed by her family. She also made shoes, cutting the soles from a hide tanned in the neighborhood, to which she fitted and sewed the uppers.

There were wolves, coyotes, bears, snakes and hostile Indians to contend with. Some of their precious livestock were killed by wolves from time to time. For several months it was necessary for Mary Ellen to manage without her husband while he was on an assignment by Brigham Young to Elk Mountain in 1854. During this time she clothed and fed her children, milked the cow, churned, spun, wove, cared for the animals, hauled and gathered wood, and fought off wild beasts. It was necessary to pacify the hostile Indians who surrounded and invaded her home, frightening the children and seeking food which was very scarce. Grasshoppers were again devouring the grain, and she had to try to save it by flailing at the insects with her broom. She was able to pacify the Indians, maintain her courage before the children, and carry on her many responsibilities until her husband returned safely after harrowing experiences near Moab where two men were killed by Indians.

Her husband was subsequently called to make seven trips to assist emigrants to come to Salt Lake, and also served as bishop in South Cottonwood where they built a home in 1870. He served as bishop there until his death in 1900. During these years she was left with the full responsibility of her family a great deal, and served admirably as mother of the ward as well as caring for their family, with the hardships, dangers, and problems of pioneer life.

Mary Ellen and Joseph Rawlins were the parents of three children: their oldest Daughter, Nancy Jane, was very helpful to parents. She was married in 1859 to Robert Marion Kerr, and moved to Cache Valley where they became the parents of nine children. She died September 18, 1928, at the age of 83.

Helen, who was a baby when her parents left to come west with the pioneers, died at the age of thirteen, while her mother was visiting Nancy Jane at the birth of her first child.

Joseph Lafayette, their only son, became a lawyer and taught at the university. He later was appointed city attorney, became active in politics, served in congress, and was elected to the office of senator. He was influential in obtaining statehood for Utah, and helped in the restoration of confiscated church property. He worked closely with Brigham Young as an advisor in legal problems, and contributed much to the community. He died in Salt Lake City in 1926. He and his wife, Julia Davis Rawlins, whom he married in 1876, were the parents of seven children.

Mary Ellen was noted for her gracious hospitality, and enjoyed entertaining visitors in their comfortable home. Her granddaughter, Mary Gee recalls staying with her while attending Primary and M.I.A. conferences. She also remembered with pleasure the elaborate wedding dinner Mary Ellen prepared at the time of Mary Gee's marriage. Mary Gee told of an orphan boy, Orson, who was adopted by Mary Ellen.

Her life was filled with faithful service and devotion to the church for which she gave up security in her girlhood home and endured the hardships of the long trek across the plains, and the difficulties of pioneering in a strange land.

When she was eighty-three years old there was a picture taken of the five generations: Mary Ellen Frost Rawlins, Nancy Jane Rawlins Kerr, Marion Joseph Kerr, Mary Ellen Kerr Gee, and William Marion Gee, great great grandson, who was four years old at that time.    She lived to see several more of her great-great-grandchildren, and died during the winter of 1917 at the age of ninety.