Mary Elvira Mendenhall Perkins
Contributor: BarbaraLeishman Created: 1 year ago Updated: 1 year ago
Mary Elvira Mendenhall
Mary Elvira Mendenhall was the daughter of George Madison Mendenhall and Celestia Ann Mecham. The family settled along the west bank of Bear River at the far north end of Cache Valley at a place called the Franklin Meadows. Franklin Meadows, later called Bridgeport, was a part of the Idaho frontier when Mary Elvira Mendenhall was born on September 3, 1868. Bridgeport was a crossing point on the Bear River on the freight route between Cache Valley and Fort Hall and the Oregon and California Trails as well as the mines in Montana. For a time Bridgeport was a relay station for the overland stage. There were five households on the river bank, occupied by members and relatives of the Mecham family.
Nathan Packer, the husband of Elizabeth Mecham, built a ferry in the early 1860’s to facilitate movement from one side of the valley to the other. He constructed a toll bridge in 1869, and the ferry was discontinued. George Mendenhall came to Bridgeport when the mines of the Montana and upper Idaho territories started to ‘boom’. There were cabins, corrals, and storage facilities for hay and grain to accommodate the oxen, mules, and horses. Bridgeport had to be self-sustaining, and so gardens were planted and orchards laid out, pastures fenced, and fields cleared of brush and stones. Although some the Plummer Gang and other known troublemakers passed through the station they never caused the Mendenhalls any trouble. Virie learned from her father how to judge a good horse and to love the animals.
Virie’s family’s first home was a log cabin with a sturdy dirt roof and a pounded clay floor. Its strong planked door faced toward the north. It was as safe and as pleasant as such houses could be made, but her parents knew that it was only a temporary home until they could afford something better. The cabin was moved from the place just south of the junction of Deep Creek with the Bear, and placed on the banks of Five Mile Creek, within the boundary lines of George Mendenhall’s property where it overlooked the meadows and ranch land that would be their permanent home.
Virie learned responsibility, discipline and hard work early. As the eldest daughter she did the best she could to help with the younger children. Her brother, Georgie, came along in 1870 then Valerie Jane, born on Christmas Eve 1872. She and Georgie were packed off to a relative’s home. Early on Christmas morning, her father came to pick them up and take them home to a wonderful Christmas present, a tiny baby sister. Virie and Georgie were so pleased with little Valerie that they did not think of other presents until lunch time. Thomas Leslie, born September 24, 1874 , Moses LeRoy born June 24, 1876, and Arthur John born June 3, 1878 joined the family, it was a busy household, indeed.
Elvira’s mother, Celestia Ann Mecham, the proper daughter of a New England deacon, made certain that her family’s manners and personal habits were correct. Even on the Idaho frontier there were books and a cultured environment. Although George Mendenhall was a rough, poorly educated man, he enjoyed the refined attributes of his wife; and gladly provided the “finer things” for his family when he could. Virie’s schooling began at her mother’s knee. Celestia read to her children and taught them from the time they were young. Celestia had been a teacher in several Cache Valley settlements and could provide the basics while the children were at home. When school was in session in Franklin, Virie went to live with her aunts and uncles there. Uncle Clint was her favorite teacher when he taught at Franklin school. Elvira was active and cheerful. Although she was quiet-spoken and gentle, she was charged with vitality and a love of adventure. During her early years cousins from both sides of the family were her closest associates.
One hot, summer day, Virie and two of her Mendenhall cousins were ordered to keep the pigs from escaping from a hole in the pigpen while her father got some planks and tools to repair it. The girls began to play and forgot about their duties. Suddenly they became aware that one little porker was missing. It was spotted immediately, and the girls were after him. Both the pig and its pursuers were frantic, so the race was a fast one, full of dodging and turning. The frightened pig forgot completely where the hole was, and the girls were so intent upon getting him in that they failed to realize how hot it was. Finally, the pig was cornered and captured, but it was overcome by heat exhaustion, it lay down and died. Her father’s disapproving look let them know they had failed in their duty, but he did not punish the girls. He lectured them about the importance of being dependable. It was a lesson that lasted a lifetime.
On another occasion the girls found a large wasp’s nest hanging from the limb of a bush not very far up the creek. They were warned to stay well back if they watched the insects. And they did, for a time. Then came the day when Virie and Rhoda decided that they could hit the nest with a rock, duck down and hide, so the wasps couldn’t find them. Their aim was good, and both girls hit the nest. The wasps swarmed from the damaged nest. The girls lay low while the wasps swarmed outside the nest. Waiting for some young people is a difficult task and as soon as the insects seemed to be quieting down, Rhoda peeked up to see what was going on only to be stung squarely between her eyes. Both eyes quickly ‘swoll’ shut. The girls ran toward the house finding her grandfather, Thomas Mendenhall, who calmed her down and showed her how mud packs work. From then on wasps and bees were accorded the respect they deserved.
In the early spring of 1879 diphtheria swept through the towns and farms in southern Idaho. It struck the Mendenhall family especially hard. So great was the fear of this disease that no one dared come near to help the stricken family. The parents held and tried to comfort the children, who all became sick one after another. There was nothing the parents could do. The fever and congestion began to take four of their children one after another. All they could do then was prepare each child for burial in the family cemetery on the bluff overlooking the river.
Relatives outside the quarantined household prepared small wooden boxes in which to bury the children and left them near the cabin door. George Mendenhall placed each of his children tenderly in the coffin and carefully fastened and sealed the lid. When everyone else recovered, the four boxes were carried up the hill and buried in the private family cemetery on March 24th, March 27th, and April 10th 1879. Elvira and Arthur had the disease, but survived.
Spring came late that year. The remaining Mendenhall children were weak and regained their health slowly. Celestia was sick and overcome with grief, as well as the discomfort from her sixth pregnancy. When summer finally came, it brought more sadness. Virie’s grandfather, Moses Worthen Mecham, died on July 22, 1879.
George and Celestia discussed the possibility of Celestia and the children spending the winter with Grandma Mecham whose health was failing down in Provo. Celestia would be close to a well-trained midwife in Provo, and Virie would be close to a school. The family arrived in Provo the first part of September 1879, with a big box of clothing and a pony being tied behind the wagon in case there were errands to be run. Within an hour of arrival some rules about pony racing had to be contrived. Virie rode side-saddle as all true ladies should, and her horsemanship amazed the Mecham cousins.
Celestia started to get homesick the minute her husband drove out of the gate and started back north. Within a week all plans to stay away for the winter were abandoned. The Mechams teased George that he only took half as long to make the journey down to take Celestia home as he had bringing her down
The winter of 1879-80, was long and cold. Estus Clinton was born at Bridgeport on January 8, 1880. Although he was a beautiful child, he never was healthy. He didn’t eat well and cried continuously. Effie Marie was born on October 7, 1881. Estus weakened and died on April 9, 1882. Sorrow swept over the entire family at Estus passing; it was just three years since the other four children were laid to rest in the little cemetery on the hill. When the spring flowers were at their peak, Elvira brought home an armful. She and her mother with young Arthur and baby Effie went up to lay them on the tiny graves. Father George and Grandfather Thomas returned a little earlier than had been expected and saw the family up at the cemetery. They drove up to the graveyard to bring the rest of the family home. Elvira remembered that afternoon as her parents stood together at the graves with tear-filled eyes. She turned to see Grandfather Thomas holding fast to the side of the buggy while the teardrops coursed down his age-creased cheeks.
In the fall of 1880, a school opened at Dayton, Idaho, about four miles to the west. Virie rode her horse from her ranch home and back each school day. Roads were poor much of the school year. Her classmates waited eagerly to see her come up over the hill. She loved to ride at a full gallop when conditions permitted. If the weather was bad, she stayed at the home of her friend, Minnie Callan in Dayton.
The Mendenhall ranch had developed into a successful enterprise. Although Arthur could handle a team, more help was needed, so several young men young from the area hired on to help with the ranch work. Among the families to join the Dayton ward was that of Margaret Perkins. This Welsh family had been called to settle Franklin. But as the years passed, trouble developed between the Perkins over Joseph Perkins’ desire to take an additional wife. Sister Perkins, after a few years, came with her three sons to live in Dayton. They were honest, hard-working people and fit well into the little community.
Grandfather Thomas Mendenhall, who had shared George’s home, quietly passed away September 2, 1888 and found a resting place with the young grandchildren in the family plot on the hilltop. The family was blessed with additional children when Jimmy was born August 16, 1883, Lucinda on the 9th of May 1885 and exactly two years to the day later, Elsie joined the family on May 9, 1887.
One summer day before noon Virie took the spring wagon and went to Preston for a load of supplies. As her father worked around the yard, he watched across the river bottoms to where the long dugway led down to the bridge over Deep Creek. Suddenly he saw Virie racing her wagon down the road against one of the best known buggy racers from Franklin. Virie’s wagon seemed at a disadvantage to the high-stepping bays on the light sports buggy. George watched intently as Virie braced her feet on the front of the wagon box and leaned forward urging every ounce of speed from her horses. Her opponent was applying the whip on his animals. George saw Virie swing onto the bridge first, she had won. He stood by the gate and waited as she came on home slowly, seeing that her father had watched the whole incident. “The horses look like they’ve been in a bit of a hurry to get home.’ She confessed to agreeing to the race. With a quiet chuckle he said, “Don’t you ever let that team get passed you. He’s tried time and again to outrun me, and lost. He thought he could outdrive one of my girls. Don’t ever let him win!” He never did.
In 1888 Uncle Tom hired the Perkins boys, Al and Nephi to help get the crops in. Nephi became a regular hand, and took a full share of responsibility. Soon both families of Mendenhalls were kidding Virie and Rhoda about Nephi. Before the fall plowing was finished, Nephi decided that he had found his perfect companion in Virie. George Mendenhall had no objections to this young man as a son-in-law; he was dependable and quick to do extra work, and so the wedding date was set.
Nephi was one of a group of men called the ‘Sagebrush Democrats’ who disagreed with the bishop of the Weston Ward on politics. The Bishop disfellowshipped Nephi and several others over the elections that fall. Wedding preparations were made and on January 17, 1889 Virie and Nephi Martin Perkins took the bobsleigh and two of their school friends, Minnie Callan and Hattie Miles and drove up Weston canyon to the home of the Bishop LePlay. Several guests gave favorite recitations. Nephi and his cousin Dave Evans sang and then they rolled back the rugs and danced. It was a custom at that time to “put the bride and groom to bed.” Sleeping apparel was exchanged; the bride was packed into the groom’s nightshirt while the groom was decked out in a nightgown, over their regular clothing. Then together the couple would be tucked into bed.
During the evening, Virie was seen to tuck a key in the top of her high-buttoned shoe. The time came for the festivities to end; time for the great joke. But the couple was missing. No one had seen them slip away. Soon everyone was laughing and calling through the locked door of the little upstairs bedroom. Someone asked George for the extra key, but all keys were gone. Then came the realization there would be no “putting to bed.” Aunt Celia pounded with both hands and laughingly shouted, “You just wait until the next time you two get married!”
Within a few weeks the young couple was established in a small frame house just around the point of the hill to the north of the Mendenhall’s place. Although the place was small, both Nephi and Virie were full of energy and set to work to make their home comfortable.
Virie had a baby brother born that year, Elmer Mecham Mendenhall, and Nephi and Virie announced that their first child would arrive early the next year. Nephi helped on the ranch and did odd jobs for people in the community. Both he and Virie were active in church, despite Nephi’s membership status. Nephi’s loyalty to his family and his church was unwavering; he knew in the end he and others would be reinstated.
On Sunday, the twelfth of January 1890, their first child, Cloie, was born. Nephi resolved that as soon as possible they would be sealed in the temple. He talked over the matter with the presiding Elder of the Dayton Branch. On August 7, 1890, he was rebaptized. On the twentieth of November 1890, Nephi and his little family made the trip to the Logan Temple where the temple ordinances were performed.
The Perkins family was anxious to have land and a home of their own. Nephi bought a piece of ground up Five Mile Canyon west of Dayton a mile or so from his mother’s home. Before the ownership on the dry farm was achieved and a house constructed, another baby joined the Perkins family. Leonard Mendenhall Perkins was born on February 11, 1892, while the family still lived at the Mendenhall home. Grandmother Mendenhall had a young baby herself. Zella Mecham Mendenhall was born September 21, 1891. The two families lived and worked together until the place up the canyon was ready.
The new log cabin had a lean-to room and a earthen roof. It had an attic room divided by a curtain to serve as a bedroom. An orchard was been laid out and with plums and apples. A large grape vine grew up in the apple tree. The garden was watered from the creek, but drinking water sometimes had to be carried from a spring across the road. A vegetable garden was planted to provide green produce in summer and other goods for winter storage. Nephi was a good hunter and fisherman, and provided many a good meal with his catches.
George Arland was born in January l895. Then came LeRoy Mendenhall, born February 7, 1897. Ada Mendenhall Perkins born July 23, 1901 was curly-headed, and full of action. Nephi Mendenhall Perkins born October 18, 1903 was called Menden as a small child, but took his father’s name after his father’s early death. He was much like the man whose namesake he was; he was quick and active and a strong leader. Harold, also curly-headed, was born March 1, 1906. He was quiet but resolute, a dependable workman and a man of strong character.
In 1893, the Dayton Branch became a ward. Philo W. Austin, the new bishop, chose Nephi as one of his counselors. Nephi was one of the few people who could read a melody from a printed page of music, so he had many responsibilities. In describing him, Bishop Austin said he never knew a more sincerely spiritual man than Nephi, nor one whose advice was more reliable. In all decisions he relied upon the Lord. For twelve years he helped carry the burden of the ward as well as providing and being responsible for his family.
Virie sometimes suffered with gall-bladder problems, but nothing stopped her in her service to her family and her church. The fact that the house was small did not stop her from caring for her younger brothers and sisters during the school year. Virie was twice counselor and then Primary president.
In 1902, while the household consisted of both Perkins and Mendenhall children, diphtheria again appeared. The families tried everything they knew how to do, but all efforts to help Zella proved futile. She died on December 6, 1902 just eleven years old. Six days later, December 12, 1902, Elsie, age fifteen also died. The rest of the Mendenhall children went back to their own home. The fear of the disease was so great that the responsibility of preparing their loved ones for burial fell on the grief stricken parents.
Nephi and Virie improved their house and homestead at every opportunity. With the coming of mechanized farm machinery, neighbors formed “change work” crews to provide the necessary manpower to plant and get the harvest in. During haying and grain cutting time, Nephi was gone for weeks at a time, only being home on Sundays.
Nephi received a letter from the presiding authorities in Salt Lake City that filled them with wonder and apprehension. Nephi was called to fill a mission to the North Central States Mission; he was to be ready to go the first part of December. Virie was about three months along on her eighth pregnancy and she was not as well and strong as she had been with the other children. Times were hard financially. The boys were very young to take on the responsibilities around the farm, but the call was the fulfillment of a lifelong desire to carry the gospel.
At that time, mission calls came without previous planning and discussion, so the circumstances were not unusual. Bishop Austin proposed to write to the authorities in Salt Lake City, and ask for a one year deferment, but Virie and her parents agreed that the Lord needed him when he was called. Somehow backs would be strengthened to bear the burden. To refuse the call was never considered. Leonard, although only fourteen years old, insisted that he, with the other boys’ help, would run the dry farm. The Mendenhall grandparents and the Perkins uncles would help. The days sped quickly by. The whole family was sick with heavy colds when on December 5, 1905, Nephi kissed his little ones good-bye, and boarded the train for Salt Lake City. The final whispered words to the great love of his life were, “Do mind those children’s colds, Virie.” In a few minutes, the train was gone. The Mendenhall grandparents drove home with the family.
Nephi’s letters and faith were a strengthening influence in those hard times. He had been assigned to labor in Indiana and within a few months held positions of district president in the mission. But he found time to write letters of encouragement to the family back home.
In February the family was stricken with whooping cough. Grandmother Mendenhall insisted that Virie remain in bed for a week. Both family and friends helped as much as was possible; but the farm was about a mile’s distance up the canyon, and everybody had farms and families that required attention. The Mendenhalls were sure Virie had contracted the disease as child, but now she had it again. Bishop Austin seriously feared for both her and her baby’s lives. The concern deepened as the Mendenhalls steadfastly watched over Lucina who was desperately ill. Talented, beautiful and only twenty years old, Ciny died February 11, 1906.
Two weeks later on the 1st of March, Virie gave birth to a tiny premature boy who was named Harold. It was a miracle that he lived. A neighbor, Jemimah Kemp, made a small bed for him on the oven door and watched him constantly for two weeks. Within two hours of his birth, Harold’s cough established the fact that he had developed whooping cough.
With Nephi in the mission field the older children did the work of adults. The younger children cared as much as was possible for themselves and did household chores and the garden planted. Nephi enjoyed his family’s cheerful letters and sent his blessings to them all.
With the harvest, Leonard and Arland ran header boxes and worked in the “crew” to get the grain cut. It was a good crop and all seemed well until September when word was received that Nephi had become ill with malaria. President Ellsworth believed it would be better to remove him from the damp climate, so he was sent to live with a family of Saints where climate and living conditions were better. Here he found good care and loving concern. He seemed to be recovering and wrote cheerful notes to his family at home.
Two of Elvira’s ancestors, the Derby sisters manifested a definite gift of spiritual vision and the ability to communicate with their deceased loved ones. Elvira and Cloie inherited this gift. On the morning of October 11, 1906, while it was still very early, mother and daughter lay in the big bed, playing with the baby who lay between them. As babies so often do, Harold had awakened at first light and was playing with his adoring mother and sister. Suddenly he stopped; his full attention fixed on a point just above and towards the window near the back of the bed. Then he smiled and acted as if someone were standing on that side of the bed playing with him. Both Elvira and Cloie watched in rapt attention for several seconds. Then they both saw the shadow of Nephi Perkins silhouetted on the wall as he walked towards the foot of the bed and away. Cloie must have looked at her mother with questioning eyes, because it was Elvira, with perfect control of her emotions who said, “Pa is dead.”
She told Cloie that word of his death would be brought to the family that day. And she admonished Cloie to “hold up” and “be a brave girl” for the sake of the younger children, and to say nothing of the event that had transpired. The rest of the family were roused and sent to their chores. Virie spent enough time during the morning hours in tears and prayer to be able to be face to the ordeal at hand.
When the telegram from President German E. Ellsworth telling of Nephi’s death at about seven o’clock in the evening of October 10th in Portland, Indiana, reached Bishop Austin, he “went all to pieces with the shock of it.” As soon as he had regained control, he took his team and white-top buggy and went to the ranch of George and Celeste Mendenhall. These three bore the sad news to the Perkins’ home. Bishop Austin said it was as if Virie and Cloie were waiting for his message which, in fact, was exactly what they were doing. Later when he learned of the visit of Nephi’s, he said he felt sure that the Lord in mercy and as a result of their righteousness had prepared them for the disaster.
But in circumstances such as these, the weight of grief is too heavy to be borne without leaving a scar. With Nephi’s death something of the cheerful nature that had been such a characteristic of Virie faded. Virie and her young family worked and saved and proudly lived by their own efforts. But when it seemed that the Pages would be moving down out of the canyon leaving the Perkins family alone, the Oneida Stake combined with Nephi’s brothers in building a better house down in Dayton. In February 1909, they moved into the new frame house with two large rooms, a pantry and a closet under the stairs on the ground floor and two large bedrooms upstairs.
The family income was supplemented by boarding the local school teacher, Miss Alberta Griffeth. Virie worked very hard. She cooked for harvesting crews, and the construction crews for the Twin Lakes Irrigation Company. She cared for her family by supervising the growing of a good garden and yearly storage. Her boys were young but highly responsible. That spring Virie’s mother died. This was a heavy loss. Her mother’s encouragement and counsel had always been a steady influence. Virie also assumed more care of her now blind father and the youngest brothers and sisters.
The winter of 1916-17, was cruel. Heavy snow and furious blizzards combed the landscape and laid drifts up to the eves. Influenza accompanied by pneumonia, meningitis or other serious infections began to take a toll in the small community. Grandpa Mendenhall’s Franklin stove was set up in Virie’s front room, and it’s red glow fought the chill.
In April 1917 the United States entered World War I. Virie’s son, Arland, and her brother Elmer volunteered to serve in the U.S. Expeditionary Forces in France. When Roy, who was so young, was drafted, Leonard and Uncle Ren tried to get the draft board to let Leonard go in his stead, but Roy was required to go into the service. It was evident that the end of the war was at hand. The troop ship on which Roy was to have been carried to France was held up for an hour, and then canceled.
Two days after the end of hostilities, Elmer Mendenhall died from wounds received in the Battle of St Mihiel between September 12 and mid-October 1918. Virie always wondered if he was aware that the war to “end all wars” had ended. Elmer died November 13, 1918, and was buried at St Mihiel American Cemetery in Thiaucourt, France. Virie went to Salt Lake City to see the 145th Infantry parade down Main Street in Salt Lake and bring Roy home.
Arland returned, thin and pale and refused to talk about the war. By July he was unable to work, he had been among those poisoned by a German gas attack and without his knowledge, he had been sent home to die. During the days of delirium which followed, he lived the horror of the conflict over and over. He died December 20, 1920, and is buried beside his father in the Dayton Cemetery.
During the winter of 1922-23, Elvira went to live in Logan with her two younger sons while they attended high school. Many happy weekends were spent with Uncle Arthur’s family in Richmond. Leonard and Harold felt that they could do better by buying a farm on Fish Creek a short distance out of Lava Hot Springs. Nephi, the only child left at home worked the old farm as best he could and for the Twin Lakes Irrigation Company.
The veterans organization became aware that the Perkins home had no indoor water, or bathroom facilities. Since Arland had been mustered out of the army without receiving any benefits, the veterans felt that his mother was entitled to his pension, and some from his insurance policy. With the support of her family and help from the veterans organizations, Elvira endured the court battle for Arland’s death benefits which, at last gave her money to add a downstairs bedroom, a bathroom and a few modest comforts to her home.
Nephi married Lella Kay Sant but refused to leave his mother alone. He still took much responsibility for the old home. As much as possible, the other children stayed near her. As the grandchildren grew she became an important part of their lives. Aunt Min, Sister Archibald and other friends loved to quilt and spent many hours making beautiful bedding and teaching eager but clumsy granddaughters.
Virie continued to receive compensation from the government one large check, and one smaller check each month. One evening after the larger government check had come in the mail, Nephi and his wife took a little ride in the evening, and Virie went early to bed. She had only been in bed a short time when she was seized and choked by unknown masculine hands. Her attacker did not speak but choked her to unconsciousness. She prayed fervently that her life would be spared then a car’s lights flashed through the window as Nephi turned into the lane. The intruder threw her down and fled, upsetting the ironing board and clothes in the front room. In a moment her family revived and comforted her. Nephi went hunting for the assailant. Neither she nor Nephi ever speculated on who the assailant was, although the fact that the dog ignored the intruder made it appear that the attacker was a close neighbor.
Thanksgiving became the traditional day when the entire Perkins clan all met. The family had grown, so that there had to be a table in the kitchen for the children, and the formal table set up in the front room for the grown-ups. Grandma’s steamed plum pudding, and the big turkey with its herb flavored bread stuffing were the slowest cooking and most aromatic food in recorded history. Often Grandpa Taylor, patriarch of both the Taylor and Perkins families offered a long, heartfelt prayer. Then the feasting began, dignified and proper in the sitting room, but the kitchen table had its full share of clowning and fun. Ada and Lillian, who usually ate with the youngsters and acted as serving ladies for the grown-ups table, played police force in the kitchen and enjoyed the laughter in both places.
For those still living close enough, however, a Christmas visit from her was a highlight. Thanksgiving of 1932, was near perfection. It was held at Leonard’s place near Lava Hot Springs. The weather was bright. A few brilliant leaves hung to the autumn trees. Five new grandbabies had been added to the family that year. All seemed well and there was much rejoicing. But that Christmas, Grandma stayed at home, and let the children come to her. Her health began to deteriorate rapidly and there seemed little anyone could do. Throughout the holidays and into January she suffered recurring gall bladder attacks. She bravely endured the intense pain that ended her life, which ended on Feb 15th 1933.
The motto of her life was a saying Ada remembered: 'If there is room in the heart, there is room in the home'.