1850 – 1924

Mary Jane Oviatt JenkinsMary Oviatt Jenkins was born of February 1, 1850, at Council Bluffs, Iowa, the daughter of Ruth Bennett and Ira Oviatt, who both came form the State of New York.

Her mother, Ruth Bennett, was born on September 28, 1808, in Bainbridge, Chenango County, New York, some miles southeast of Palmyra.  She was a school teacher and had gone to Smethport, Pennsylvania to teach school, where she met her husband Ira Oviatt.

Her father, Ira Oviatt, was born on December 8, 1804 in Berlin, Rensselaer County, New York, just across the Hudson River.  His father was a carpenter, but Ira wanted to be a blacksmith and to learn this trade it was necessary to go away for instruction.  His father wouldn’t allow him to go because he said, “All the blacksmiths partook of the ‘hilarious cup’ too frequently”, but told him when he found one who didn’t drink he could go to him and learn.  While looking for such a person, he learned the carpenter trade from his father.

He finally heard of a blacksmith in Smethport, Pennsylvania who didn’t drink and went down to him.  There he learned the blacksmith and wheelwright trades.  He was so proficient at his three trades, and such an expert wheelwright that he was called by Brigham Young to remain at Council Bluffs, Iowa, for three years to outfit the wagons of the pioneers for crossing the plains, otherwise he would have been in the first company to enter the Salt Lake Valley in 1847.

While Ruth Bennett was in Smethport teaching school and Ira Oviatt was learning the blacksmith trade, they met and were married on January 29, 1829, and had three children, Henry, Franklin, and Sarah, before returning to the home of their parents.

The Prophet Joseph Smith was translating the Book of Mormon in this section of Pennsylvania at this time, and it probably was about this time and place that Ruth and Ira Oviatt heard of the gospel because they were the only members of their respective families to join the Church.

They came west with the Saints and lived in Nauvoo across the street from the Prophet Joseph Smith.  Ruth Bennett Oviatt told her grandchildren about sitting on her doorstep or in her rocking chair and listening to the Prophet preach to the people in his front yard.  When the wooded country was cleared to build houses, a large tree stump was left in the Prophet’s front yard and when people came to him for advice he would mount this stump as the crowd became larger and larger, and speak for hours.  His voice was clear and distinct and he could be heard across the street with ease.  No matter what their task, they would be ready to stop and listen, and could feel his influence as soon as they heard his voice.  When Joseph and Hyrum were tarred and feathered by the mob, they came to her house and obtained clothing to put on before going home.

Mary Oviatt, the youngest member of the family was born during the family’s three-year stay at Council Bluffs.  She heard her parents tell of the martyrdom of the Prophet and his brother and about their bodies being brought home.  Also of the incident when several men came forward and claimed leadership of the Church, the mantle fell on Brigham Young and his voice was so much like that of the Prophet Joseph that many in the room turned and thought the Prophet was in the room.

Mary Oviatt was a tall, slender, very good-looking young woman.  She had dark hazel eyes, black hair, and a fair complexion.  She was artistic and dressed in becoming clothes, and was a prominent member of the community in which she lived.

The Oviatt family came to Salt Lake Valley with the first independent company in 1851.  They soon went to Farmington to make their home, where Mr. Oviatt built a rude blacksmith shop so that he could work at his trade.  He made the mill irons for the first mills built in Salt Lake City and Farmington.  The miller generally relied on him for his judgment as to how course the corn meal should be; he would loosen the bolts to make it course, or tighten them to make it finer.  They often had corn meal (“Johnny Cake”) for their supper.

Mary Oviatt often watched her father make his own coke for blacksmith work.  This was accomplished by placing several logs in a pit and burning them; while still burning they were covered with dirt and left for several days after which they became pieces of coke ready for use.

They owned a few sheep, and Mary washed the wool in home-made soap, corded and spun it, then she or her mother would weave it into cloth.  They made their soap from grease and lye boiled in a large copper kettle; they made their starch from potatoes; their water softener from wood ashes placed in a tub of water the day before, and indigo blue was used for washing.

She often went to meeting in the old Bowery and heard Heber C. Kimball, John Taylor and Brigham Young speak;  remembering Brigham Young say on several occasions, that they had been driven out like the children of Israel, that they must walk uprightly before the Lord, and be humble and prayerful.
She helped herd sheep on the hillside, and often had as her companion a little Indian girl who had been rescued from the Indian war at Salmon River.  Her name was Nellie Leathhead.

Her mother, Ruth Oviatt, was credited with being the organist of the first Sunday School in the Farmington Ward, and at the first celebration, her picture hung on the front wall with this honor.  Sunday was a strict day of rest.  Saturday night, the children were all bathed; Sunday morning they were dressed in their best, and Mary, with her brothers and sisters would gather round to listen to Bible teachings from their mother.  Soon other children came, and this was the beginning of the Sunday School.

Mary Oviatt, having a school teacher mother, was better educated than most people of her day.  At spelling matches she was hard to beat; even at the age of seventy-two years she could spell with any student, and she passed this ability on to her children.

She remembers the grasshoppers and the crickets.  They were so numerous that the children had to help with a rag on a stick to drive them into trenches where they were buried, or down to the river where they were drowned.

About the only medicine she remembers, was yarrow and herbs taken as a blood purifier in the spring of the year.

They were not at all alarmed when the report came that Johnston’s Army was coming, because they felt that this was the location that the Lord had chosen for a resting place for his Saints and they had confidence that the Lord would protect them if they were worthy.

By way of recreation they played the same games as are played now; Fox and Geese, Checkers, Pomp, Run Sheep Run, and they would often meet at a private home to dance to the music of a violin, mouth organ, or accordion.  They did not dance the same dances all evening but had many variations.  They did the Cicillian, Scoth Reel, Sir-Rodger-de-Coverly, Cotillian, Varsovienne, plain quadrille, and the Schottisches.  When dances were held in a public place the people would go early and take lunch.  After dancing a while, they would stop for refreshments, then dance again.

On December 28, 1867, Mary Oviatt was married to John Jenkins in the old Endowment House by Heber C. Kimball.  Her father being very ill and passing away soon after, she remained with her mother until 1869, when she and her husband went up to Cache Valley looking for a home.  Her baby, John Franklin, born in 1868 was very ill with cholera infantum.  There was an epidemic of this dreaded disease going around which seemed to be contracted by children during the teething age.  Many small children, including her sister Judith Wilcox’s baby had passed away.  Her baby had not been out of her arms in many weeks and had been so ill that it looked as though every breath would be his last.  On their way to Cache Valley they stopped by a spring near Ogden and the baby got down and started to play; this seemed such a good omen they were encouraged to go on and make their home in Cache Valley.

They drove up to Clarkston and set the wagon box on the ground and lived in it while the husband got logs for a house and hauled them to Newton.  There was only one house in Newton when they went there, a log house owned by Mr. Myler.  After a return trip to Farmington to get their belongings they went to Newton and started their home and stayed there through the winter, being among the first settlers who spent the winter of 1869 in Newton.  The climate was much milder than in Clarkston and there was no snow until after Christmas.  They had no doors or windows in the house and had quilts hung up in their places.  The house was unfinished because the sawmill which had been bought in Wellsville and floated across the Bear River, had not been set up.  Also other public constructions had kept

John away from home most of the time.

Having no doors was very unsafe, for the Indians were troublesome.  Sister Jenkins could hear them yelling along the river, and it was not unusual to look up and see a big Indian standing in the doorway.  She would grab the baby, for the Indians took delight in kidnaping white children.  A child had recently been stolen at Wellsville and never returned.

The following year (1870) her second son, William Evan, was the first baby born in Newton.

They had a fireplace which served as heating plant, where they also did their cooking, and Mary Oviatt Jenkins was an excellent cook.  She was the first one in Newton to own a stove, a sewing machine, and a clock.  She was a good seamstress and made men’s coats and pants for her family as well as for others.  She made hats from blue and brown denim with fancy multiple stitching  on the brims.

She never was in want for food or clothing; what she had she was always ready to share with the less fortunate.  Many times when death came into a home she would take clothing that she had on hand and use it for the departed.

When they house-cleaned they had no brush, but would fasten a sheepskin on a stick and whitewash the walls with it.  She had a great deal of company, often distinguished guests and she always had the house in order and good food to serve.  Her heart and home were always large enough for one more.
She was a great lover of flowers and always had beautiful flower beds in the front and back yard, and a profusion of flowers all around the house.  In her later years she spent most of her time caring for her flowers.

In the early days, the people would take turns entertaining, and the young folk always enjoyed spending their evenings at her home.  She was an accomplished
accordion player.  On Sundays there was sure to be a crowd at her home, singing and being entertained.

She never complained at not having sugar, but used honey and molasses.  She gathered ground cherries, currants, and English currants, and preserved them in honey and molasses.  Molasses that had crystallized at the bottom of the can was used as sugar.

Sister Jenkins was acquainted with Martin Harris, went to his funeral in Clarkston, and saw the set of Church books placed in his coffin.
Mary Oviatt Jenkins was the mother of ten children, five boys and five girls:  John Franklin, William Evan, Louis Ira, Edmond D., Phillip Eugene; Alice, Eva, Ruth Ann, Bell, and Rhoda.  She seldom spent more than three days in bed at the birth of any of her children, and had help with the washing for only two weeks afterward.

Brother Jenkins had contracted dyspepsia from poor food and exposure during the many months spent on the plains, having been called by Brigham Young, after arriving in Salt Lake Valley, to go back after emigrants.  He made three of these trips by ox team in three years.  His health was so bad during the first part of his married life that he was able to do no work, so was given the position of cow herder for the town.  Sister Jenkins would milk their cows, put up his lunch, go out and saddle his horse, and bring it to the door for him.  Many times she had to help him on the horse.  In spite of all this, John Jenkins lived to the ripe age of ninety two years.  Through strict dieting, he was completely cured before his death.

On September 21, 1873 Brother Jenkins accepted the doctrine of plural marriage when he married Ann Clarke in the Endowment House in Salt Lake City.  This was at first difficult for Mary to accept, but she soon reconciled herself to it and tried to live it as it should be lived.

In 1882, John Jenkins accepted a call to the mission field in Wales, the British Isles the land of his ancestors.  He left on October 10, but after a year was released to return home on account of ill health.  The summer while he was away Mary’s mother, Ruth Oviatt, came to stay with the family, and here she related many interesting historical events to her grandchildren.  Mary Jenkins had six children under fourteen years of age at the time, but she accepted the responsibility of the children, the  home, and the farm.

Before leaving, John Jenkins married his third wife, Maria Jensen, who came to Mary’s home and was cared for and treated as a member of the family during his absence.

In May 1884, Brother Jenkins and his wife Mary had an invitation to attend the dedication of the Logan Temple, but Bear River was so high from the spring thaw that the approach to the bridge was completely submerged and water was all around it.  They had to be rowed out to the bridge which they walked over to the high bank on the opposite side where wagons met them to take them on to Logan.

On October 6, 1887, their daughter, Eva, a beautiful girl of thirteen years of age, died of typhoid fever.  This was a severe trial for Sister Jenkins to pass through, as her husband was “on the underground,” a condition brought on because he had accepted the doctrine of plural marriage.  He was in Idaho, and the officers were watching for him to return home, guarding the house day and night, and the moment he came he was placed under arrest.  These officers were usually apostates from the Church.  He could not even return for the funeral.  Sister Jenkins felt that much comfort came from her friends and neighbors who were ready to help in her hour of need.  She always faced life with courage and determination; her life was one of helpfulness, being one of the many who fearlessly and courageously pioneered the State of Utah.

Two years later she lost her baby, Rhoda, two and one-half years of age, who died from an attack of cholera infantum on May 11, 1889.  Mary again faced this trial alone, but did it bravely.  Philip, her youngest boy was born a few months later.

She had practically the entire responsibility of rearing her family, which she accomplished successfully to the end that her children were a credit to her and to the community.  Besides her able teaching in the home, after they completed the grade school, her children were among the first to go away to college, placing them in the position to be leaders in the communities in which they lived.

They had one of the first rock houses in Newton, built by a stone mason brought up from Farmington, named Tom Hughes.  It contained a large dining room  where they could set two tables; one was a long table with detachable leaves, the other was a round oak table which had a large center-piece holding the food, that turned around on a pivot in the center.  The plates and service were placed on the stationary section outside the revolving center-piece.  This table seated twelve or more.  The center-piece was large enough to hold the entire meal, including dessert, and had a scalloped nickel band around the outer edge, extending above the surface about an inch to prevent dishes from sliding off.  It turned in both directions, to be stopped at any plate.  This table was a novelty and great attraction especially to visitors, as well as an aid in serving the meal.

Sometimes the young folk gathered for dancing in this home. During one summer, Fast Meeting was held there on Thursday afternoons.  Brother Jenkins played the violin for dances, and was often called to other settlements to play.

Mary Oviatt Jenkins was treasurer of the Newton Relief Society organization for twenty-five years, and in the early days when donations were made in commodities, this was a huge task.  The goods were delivered to her home and she kept them in her front room until distributed to the needy.  She would carry the eggs to the store and exchange them for cash and groceries.  Other commodities such as homemade soap, bacon, honey, bottled fruit, cabbage, and butter, would be given cash value and proper credit placed on the books to the women who contributed them.

Mary Jenkins passed away at the age of seventy-four in Star Valley while on a visit at the home of her son William E. Jenkins at Freedom, Wyoming, on December 20, 1924.  Her body was taken back to Newton and buried in the family plot.

She was a sturdy pioneer, a faithful Latter Day Saint, and a truly remarkable woman.

(Compiled by her daughter, Alice Jenkins Christensen Barker, using in part a life sketch given to Mary Dowdle by Mary Oviatt Jenkins herself many years ago.)   July 30, 1948


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