Sarah Thompson Phelps
by Barbara Ann Phelps Allen, a
Grandma was born March 20, 1820. Her parents were
James and Leah Lewis Thompson. When she was four years old, her father
died leaving her mother with seven small children, making it necessary
for her to start out early in life making her own way. In spite of
poverty, she succeeded in acquiring sufficient education to be able to
When she was eleven years old, the gospel came into their home. She,
together with her mother and other members of the family except one
brother, joined and were baptized into the Church of Jesus Christ of
Latter- day Saints. After they joined, their friends turned against them, and from then on their trials began. They were driven from place to
place and finally forced to flee to the Rocky Mountains. She was brave
and courageous as a young woman.
She taught school when she was a young woman. It was customary for
teachers to board among the homes of their pupils, which she did, and in
doing so she learned many of the plots and schemes of the mobs to
assassinate the Saints. She kept the saints posted, and when the final
plot came for the general roundup of the saints, she made a dash on
horseback to give the alarm to her people. She was followed for five
miles one time, but her horse being fastest, she made her escape.
Another time when she was teaching, she went to a home to collect her
pay, and the people refused to pay. They said their intentions were to
drive all the Mormons out and take the crops that they had recently
harvested. She told them what she thought of them. While she was
speaking, a voice came to her telling her to leave the next morning as
soon as she arose. She did, and as she was leaving, she saw the mob
coming and they tried to kill her.
At the time of Haun’s Mill Massacre, she lived but a few miles from the
mill on the creek; some of those who were fortunate enough to get away
came to her home. While the mob was going through the country, they
crossed the creek where Grandma and all the women were washing clothes.
She told many times how they looked, saying they had their faces painted
and were disguised in every imaginable way. Some of the women were so
frightened, they fainted, but grandma shouted, "Hooray for the captain!"
Two of the men rode up to her and asked if she wasn’t afraid of them.
She said she hadn’t been raised in the woods to be afraid of owls. They
asked her if she didn’t recognize them, and she said she did not. They
told her she should, they were her old neighbors. She then asked them
what they intended to do, and one replied, “Kill everyone on the creek.”
Grandma asked what they had done that they should be killed. Their reply
was they did not know, they were only obeying orders. On two different
occasions, she was chased by a mob who tried to shoot her, but their
guns refused to go off.
One time when they had been driven from their home, she said they had
traveled all day in the rain driving their cattle. She had on a
sunbonnet that was quilted so that cardboard slats could be inserted.
The rain had dissolved the slats, and the front of her bonnet flopped in
her face. She was soaked to the skin, weary and tired after plodding the
mud all day. As they were passing a farm house, a lady saw her and
invited her into her home to dry her clothes and get warm. She was taken
into the parlor by the fireplace. There were two young ladies and their
boy friends sitting there, and when they saw grandma they burst out
laughing. She said she was nearly in tears; she looked them in the eye
and said, “You must have been born in the woods.”
Grandmother and her mother were charter members of the first
organization of the Relief Society in Nauvoo that was organized by the
Prophet Joseph Smith.
As a young woman, she was loyal to the church and all the leaders. She
was personally acquainted with the prophet and during her life, she
never tired of relating the stories of the early rise of the church, the
wonderful manifestations as well as the persecutions, they had to
The last time she saw the prophet was when he was being taken to
Carthage jail. She said quite a number of people were standing in groups
along the sidewalks. He stopped to get a drink of water and turning to
them to tell them good-bye, he said, “Remember, if I never see any of
you again, I love you.”
March 27, 1842 Grandma married Morris Phelps, a widower with five
children. She was at the meeting when Sidney Rigdon made his claim as
rightful leader of the church. She, with hundreds of others, declared
that when Brigham Young arose to speak, the mantle of Joseph Smith was
upon him so that he looked like Joseph, and his voice was the voice of
Joseph. The saints were assured that Brigham was the one to be their
A short time after Grandma was married, Grandpa was called away and a
young woman came to stay with her. They moved everything into one room
to make it appear that the house had been vacated. One night when a mob
made a raid on the little town, some entered her home (the vacant room),
built a fire in the fireplace and spent the night. Grandmas and those
with her heard them tell the awful things they had done to the helpless.
She had piled everything against the door so it couldn’t be easily
opened. The mob wasn’t aware that someone was in the other part of the
Troubles of a different nature came into Grandma’s life after her
marriage. Her first two baby daughters died, one Laura Ann, being little
more than thirteen months. She was buried in Nauvoo cemetery, and Sarah
Diantha lived but two days and was also buried in Nauvoo. After she
died, Grandma had trouble with her breast. Dr. Wooley said it would have
to be taken off, but she refused, saying she would die first. The
brethren fasted and went to the Temple and prayed until they had a testimony
that she was healed. While they were praying, her breast started to
discharge and continued until the core fell out of the sore.
On a cold winter night of February 26, 1846, while they were camped
on the bank of the Mississippi River, she and eight other women gave birth
to babies; hers was Hyrum Smith Phelps. The family was en route to the
Rocky Mountains. They started in 1847 but stopped at Mt. Pisgah for two
years. They did not reach Salt Lake until September 25, 1852.
They settled in Alpine and suffered many hardships along with other
saints. My father, Hyrum, said she never knew what it was to have a good
time, but always enjoyed herself by doing good to others. Said father,
“I never knew her to have a house of her own that had anything better
than a dirt roof.” He went with her many times to the canyon to gather
service berries to dry to make something extra for Christmas. He said he
had gone to bed many times while she washed and mended his clothes.
In 1865 President Young called them to help settle Bear Lake, Idaho.
They settled in Montpelier. Grandma’s daughter Olive tells of their
severe hardships there. Their cattle and horses died from starvation and
cold, all but a cow and a span of horses. Grandma did the weaving and
other things while Aunt Martha, Grandpa’s third wife, took care of the
Morris Phelps died in May, 1875, so in October 1878, in company with her
son Hyrum, she left Montpelier for Mesa, arriving in January 1 879. She
was made president of the first Relief Society organized in Mesa.
She lived with us most of the time, but as a midwife, she was gone a
lot. She was a large woman and weighed about 210 pounds. Mother did her
sewing. I think she used the same pattern for all her dresses for years.
Nowadays they would call them princess style. I slept with her most of
the time. I remember in the coldest weather, she would sleep with her
feet out of the covers. She had asthma, and the only thing that gave her
relief was to smoke a plug of tobacco. About 4 a.m. she would begin to
wheeze and cough, and in order to get relief, she would get up and smoke
her pipe, which I had to light for her, and I took a few puffs until
Papa found out.. He ended that.
When she was called out in the wintertime to deliver a baby, we would
hear the rumble of a wagon in the distance, and it never failed to stop
at our house. Wind or rain, it was the same. Mother (Mary Elizabeth
Phelps) would get up and
her get off. When she left, she would be wrapped in a heavy shawl.
Sometimes she would go before she was needed and stay a week or two, and
always ten days after. When her job was finished, she would nearly
always be given a five-dollar gold piece.
She did her spinning in the summer time out under the shade of a tree,
and often the Indians passing would stop and watch her. After the yarn
was spun, she would knit socks. She also knitted in the summer while she
made soap. It would take all day and sometimes longer to make a batch.
She told of her experience in making soap while crossing the plains. She
said one day as they were traveling, she prayed that the Lord would
teach her to make soap. She came across the bones of a buffalo that
still had marrow in them. She gathered them up and collected ashes from
the camps, put them in a kettle, poured water on them and boiled them.
After she poured the water off into another kettle, put it over a fire,
and when the water boiled, she added the bones and boiled it until it
became soap. After the women saw her soap, they were always on the
lookout for green bones.
Grandma used to make straw hats for the Barnett boys. She would get a
bundle of wheat straws, select the ends of a uniform size, soak them in
water and braid with about six straws. When the hat was finished, it was
larger than anyone could buy.
Grandma dearly loved the Prophet Joseph Smith. In winter time we would
sit around the fire and listen to her tell of the suffering and
persecution of the saints. In her later years, she seemed to lived in
She was a great reader. It seemed to me that she read the Deseret News
from cover to cover, as well as story papers and novels.
She was quite a superstitious woman and would tell spooky stories such
as evil spirits working her loom at night, and if one would turn out of
a funeral procession, they would be the next one to have a death in
their family. The night her daughter Amanda died, an owl hooted on the
roof of the house just above her bed. She called Mother and asked if she
heard it. I heard it too and was frightened. She worried and said she
knew she would hear bad news, and she did.
She had a very dear friend, Grandma Everett. The last time she talked to
her they agreed that the one who died first would tell their folks on
the other side how they were getting along. They both died in the month
of January. Grandma Everett died January 1 , and Grandma January 31,
She was loved by everyone who knew her and was known as Aunt Sarah. In
1870 Eliza R. Snow came to Idaho and organized the Relief Society and
Grandma was made president. About 1873 Apostle Charles C. Rich called
her to be a midwife and set her apart as a nurse and midwife. She was
promised that if she was faithful she would never lose a mother . She
delivered 580 babies and never lost a mother. Of her seven children,
only two outlived her, Hyrum and Olive.